The Murder on Pine
Doug Ramsay photo
Steve Humphries stands in front of the house on Pine Avenue in Snohomish that he believes to be the one where his grandmother fell in the front yard after being shot by his grandfather.
On the Memorial Day weekend of 1933, a mom lost her life
SNOHOMISH — He got enraged. That baby in his wife’s arms surely wasn’t his, he thought. He raised his weapon.
On May 28, 1933, blood shed at a house at Pine and Fourth with the crack of a gun.
Lizzie Humphries fled to the next-door neighbor’s home still holding the baby. John Conley Humphries pursued, and as his wife ran, he shot her again in the back.
Another one of their neighbors, from the Stites family, wrestled the 10-gauge shotgun away. But the damage was done. Lizzie Humphries died hours later. She was 32.
Their grandson Steve Humphries heard about this forgotten piece of Snohomish history from an aunt in the 1990s. He went digging into records, and isn’t finished with the hunt.
Chris Stites is Frank Stites’ granddaughter. In her family, this wasn’t a story that got passed around. She didn’t know until her father, Don Stites, mentioned it. Don Stites would have been six in 1933.
Lizzie Humphries ran to the house. John Humphries let off a shot that hit her near the front door.
She was put on the kitchen table for medical care, Chris Stites said. Why isn’t clear — Snohomish General Hospital was two blocks northwest (where the Snohomish Library stands now). Maybe they were trying to keep her safe from her armed husband, Steve Humphries said. She did make it to Snohomish’s hospital where she died before midnight, the Tribune reported.
County prosecutor Charles Denney called it premeditated first-degree murder. Humphries’s attorney entered a not-guilty plea claiming insanity. Left up to a jury, it took them about two hours to decide he was guilty of second-degree murder, which through this verdict meant they didn’t think Humphries acted with premeditation. A judge gave Humphries a sentence of at least 10 years, up to 20, in the state penitentiary in Walla Walla.
The 9-month-old baby went to a hospital to recover from wounds, as did Paul Heyner, a neighbor from Fourth and Cypress who Humphries shot in the foot in the melee, the Tribune reported at the time. The baby was the youngest of six in the family.
You’d think the story is over. It wasn’t.
John Conley Humphries was released early on March 9, 1940, on parole.
He went back to his old ways of drinking, Steve Humphries said he’d heard. Unfortunately, the children came back under the father’s custody.
In February 1948, he found his end. A car hit him while he was walking home drunk, Steve Humphries said he’d heard.
Steve Humphries wanted to share this story with the Tribune because the houses where it happened will be torn down for the future Pine Avenue fire station. His curiosity has had him digging at it since he heard it, collecting the court records on microfiche.
All the witnesses are gone today. When the houses get replaced, “a black mark of history is going away,” Steve Humphries, now 75, said.
The trial, by the way, went swiftly. The murder was on a Sunday of Memorial Day weekend; charges came Tuesday and Humphries gave his plea by the following Saturday in June. The trial began June 29, with the jury deciding July 11.
John Conley Humphries came to Snohomish from Texas, and brought Lizzie with him. The defense tried to get John’s Texas relatives to provide material corroborating the case of insanity.
Martha Elizabeth “Lizzie” Humphries was buried at Snohomish’s Grand Army of the Republic cemetery.
John Conley Humphries was buried in Skagit County.
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