"I know death hath ten thousand several doors
For men to take their exits."
~John Webster, "The Duchess of Malfi"
It is difficult to solve a murder when you have a lack of obvious suspects. When the motive is equally mysterious, the task becomes nearly impossible. One of the stranger--and more gruesome--examples occurred in a quiet Seattle neighborhood in 1959.
62-year-old Pearl Kongsle had been widowed for ten years. Her late husband, Guy, had been a Puget Sound master mariner. The couple had had no children. Mrs. Kongsle had recently sold her home, and soon planned to leave Seattle on an extensive trip. On the evening of September 2, Mrs. Kongsle and a neighbor, Alberta Bowman, had dinner at a nearby restaurant. They skipped dessert, as Bowman planned to bake them an apple pie. At around 8:45, Bowman brought the freshly-baked pastry to the Kongsle house. As she climbed the front steps, she noticed a brown-paper bag had been placed on top of the steps. She tried to pick it up, but she found it too heavy. She noticed that "something rolled inside." Very fortunately for herself, Mrs. Bowman did not try to investigate the parcel any further.
She found Mrs. Kongsle in the living room with another neighbor, Edith Friedman. "Pearl," said Mrs. Bowman, "what is that sack on the porch? There's a noise in it and something going on in there."
Mrs. Kongsle went to investigate. When she began to examine the package, there was a terrible explosion. "When she picked it up, it went off in her face," Mrs. Bowman later recalled.
The blast broke the windows of nearby houses, blew the hubcaps off a nearby parked car, and caused about $5,000 worth of damage to the home. The place where Pearl Kongsle had been standing was now a foot-wide crater. Whoever left that package meant some very, very deadly business.
Alberta Bowman and Edith Freeman suffered burns and injuries from the blast, but thankfully they were far enough away to avoid serious harm. What was left of Pearl Kongsle was beyond any sort of aid.
A seemingly completely innocent housewife being assassinated by a homemade bomb was a crime totally unknown to the Seattle police. The device had been completely obliterated in the blast, leaving the type of explosive used, and how it was triggered, a mystery.
The motive also remained a puzzle. Mrs. Kongsle's entire background, as far as is known, had been one of placid, comfortable respectability. She had no known enemies, and no discernible reason for anyone to wish her harm. Was the crime meant to be a mere practical joke, created by someone who was both clever enough to put together a bomb and stupid enough to have no concept of how powerful it might be? Was the real target Kongsle's tenant, William J. Meyers? (However, Meyers was in the hospital at the time of the blast--something that surely would have been known by someone planning his murder.) Was it just the random act of a lunatic, with no motivation other a lust for pointless destruction?
The investigation into the murder only became more complicated when it emerged that this was not the only highly disturbing incident connected to Mrs. Kongsle.
Three weeks before Pearl's murder, her brother-in-law, Elmer Kongsle, and his wife Johanna found several sticks of dynamite scattered in the front yard of their home in nearby Alderwood Manor. The perpetrator was never found. Less than five months before this incident, Elmer and Johanna's oldest daughter Betty and her husband, Major Robert Douglas Baker, both suddenly and unexpectedly died at Ft. Lewis, Washington. At first, it was believed the couple had contracted botulism during a recent vacation in Mexico. However, tests ruled out any food poisoning. The cause of their deaths remained unknown. What made their deaths all the stranger was that their three young children remained completely healthy.
There almost had to have been some thread tying together the Pearl Kongsle bombing, the dynamite found in Elmer Kongsle's yard, and the mysterious deaths of Betty and Robert Baker. Something that would provide a coherent explanation for these eerie and seemingly senseless events.
If so, this thread has yet to be found. The Kongsle murder is still thought of as Seattle's "coldest cold case."