The Murder of Edwin Pratt

In 1969, Edwin T. Pratt was a civil rights leader and the Executive Director of the Seattle Urban League. Most considered him to be a very intelligent, fair, decent human being. Somebody disagreed. On the night of January 26th, Ed was shot to death in the doorway of the Shoreline home he shared with his wife, Bettye and their daughter, Miriam.
He was 38. Nobody has ever paid for the murder. At the end of the 60's, Pratt pushed hard for school and workplace desegregation, the de-ghettoizing (his words) of neighborhoods, and an end to police harassment. (still goes on) He had a lot of biracial support, but there were of course haters. They sent angry letters, left threatening messages, and got up at public meetings to tell him he'd be killed. Ironically, fellow African-Americans were the most resentful. Some of them thought he was caving to the white man. They had issues with him having white employees and they surely would have rioted had they known Ed was having an affair with his white secretary. His wife knew about the affair and she too threatened to kill him if he left her. Ed was supposed to meet his mistress the night of the 26th but heavy snow stranded him at home. As Ed was sitting in a chair watching TV, he heard snowballs hitting the side of the house at 17916 1st Ave. NE. Betty was putting five-year-old Miriam to bed.
Pratt home, morning after murder

Ed opened his front door and saw two men under his carport. He asked who was there. Bettye was peeking out Miriam's bedroom window when she saw one of the men had a shotgun. Before she could warn Ed, she heard the blast of the gun. The slug tore through Ed's mouth and lodged in his neck. He fell back into the house and died almost instantly. Miriam was still awake. Witnesses reported seeing two men, both about six feet tall and in their late teens or early twenties, flee the Pratt home and head west onto NE 179th Street, where they jumped into a car and sped away. One neighbor told police that he thought the car was a two-toned newer model Buick Skylark. Because of the darkness nobody was able to tell whether the assailants were white or black. Thursday, January 30, 1969, was declared a public day of mourning for Edwin Pratt. All flags were flown at half-staff and a $10,500 reward was set up by several local businesses. Richard Nixon even sent Bettye a hand-written letter. There was a public memorial service for him at Saint Mark's Cathedral at 1245 10th Ave. East on Capitol Hill.

St. Mark's

The FBI also joined the investigation. After three and a half months, they were at a standstill. Detective Sergeant Gordon Hartshorn of the King County Department of Public Safety said "There's nothing to go on. Nothing. It's the most frustrating homicide I've worked on in my 14 years on the force."

Pratt Park

In 1976 a park was built and named for Ed at 1800 S. Main St. From the park, you can see all the way across Puget Sound to the Olympics.  It's in the neighborhood Ed wanted to de-ghettoize so badly. (hasn't happened) For the next 20 or so years, no new solid evidence or progress was made in the investigation. In 1994, journalist David Newman took an interest in the case and requested that the files be released under the Public Disclosure Act.
View from Pratt Park

Newman, along with former investigators, Pratt's daughter Miriam, and County Councilmen Larry Gosset, Larry Phillips, and Ron Sims were also petitioning the King County Police Department to release the files. After King County only granted a partial release of the files, excluding key documents and interviews with suspects, Newman filed a lawsuit against the county. A judge released the files to him. Newman's investigation into the murder led him to question how well the police handled the case. One officer reportedly told him, "I was unprepared for handling the homicide of a prominent person. In fact, this was my first homicide." This officer was the first to arrive at the scene. The crime scene was so poorly and improperly secured that it's used as a training scenario about potential mistakes in controlling a crime scene by the Sheriff's Department. On the night of the murder, a hundred or so police, firemen and neighbors wandered freely around the Pratt property, right through the middle of the crime scene. The closest police have come to solving the Pratt murder was a theory presented in a 1994 Seattle P-I article. They wrote that in 1970, Sergeant Hartshorn had a suspect in mind but that he had been killed. The suspect was Tommy Kirk, a 21-year-old drug user, dealer, and all around loser.
Tommy Kirk

Dan Raley, another reporter from the P-I met with Steve Butler, a former convict, recovering heroin addict, and acquaintance of Tommy Kirk. Butler said that Kirk, a guy named Texas Barton Gray and one other man had been hired by black construction contractor Henry Roney to kill Pratt. Supposedly, the contractor was angry at Pratt's efforts to integrate blacks into the workforce. Allegedly, Kirk fired the gun, Gray accompanied him, and the other man drove the getaway car. In May of 1969, Gray shot and killed Tommy in his car, at the corner of Boylston and Republican on Capitol Hill after an argument over a drug debt. Gray died in prison of a heart attack in 1991.
Boylston and Republican

Mike Jordan, the man Butler named as the driver said in an interview with the P-I that he had heard Kirk was Pratt's killer and understood how he could have been implicated in the crime. "I had a Buick GSX; it was yellow and black. That kind of car was seen in the neighborhood when this happened." He said that police had examined his car, but apparently found nothing. He died in 2006. Kirk's name had also surfaced in the investigation in 1974, when a man told detectives that on the night Pratt was murdered, Kirk showed up at his house with a shotgun and admitted to killing Pratt. The man, who passed a polygraph test, said that the gun was hidden in a Queen Anne storage locker. When cops searched the locker, no gun was found. Considering most of the players are all dead now, Edwin Pratt's murder will probably never be solved. Most people involved with the case feel Tommy Kirk was the killer. If so, karma got him that day up on Capitol Hill. RIP Ed.

Here is the house today