Jan. 15, 2023

Hallie Illingworth // 146 // The Lady of the Lake

Hallie Illingworth // 146 // The Lady of the Lake

In July of 1940, the body of a strangled woman was discovered floating in Crescent Lake in Olympic National Park, Washington.  The cold water preserved the body, but the flesh had turned into a soap-like substance.  It took a while, but a dentist was finally able to identify the woman as Hallie Latham Illingworth.  She had been missing since shortly before Christmas in 1937 and investigators arrested her husband, Monty Illingworth.

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Transcript

Lake Crescent is located in the most northwestern corner of the U.S. In the Olympic National Park of Washington and the maximum depth is 624 feet. It is the second deepest lake in Washington. The area has been inhabited by two native tribes, the Klallam (klah-lum) and the Quileute, for thousands of years. The sandy bottom of Lake Crescent is cold and dark. Some say that earthquakes and a rock slide had dammed a stream and that created Lake Crescent. The Klallam Tribe tells a much better story about this. Legend says that Lake Crescent came into being when two tribes were fighting at the foot of a big mountain called, Mount Storm King. Now, Mount Storm King didn't like the fighting so he threw a giant boulder at the tribes. The boulder landed at the opening of the river which cut off the access and caused the level to rise and that's how the lake was created.


A Quileute storyteller says that she learned a story from her grandfather about the mist on the lake. They believe that when a person passes away, all the good parts move on and the negativity is left behind. Along with anything that would cause unbalance in the beyond. The darkness that gets left behind is known as Tsiyatko (See-ought-ko). It's believed that the mist hovering above the lake are the spirits that are trying to move on.


It was a warm afternoon on July 6th of 1940. Two trout fishermen, Louis Rolfe and his brother spotted an object floating on the surface of Lake Crescent in Washington State's Olympic National Park close to the shoreline near the walls that lead towards Sledgehammer Point. As the brothers got closer to the object, the realized they were looking at a body. They rushed to the dock of the Washington State Trout Hatchery to tell Superintendent A.D. Immenroth what they had found and he didn't buy it. He said, “Must be a deer, Louis.” The three of them went back to the scene and this certainly wasn't a deer. The superintendent contacted Ralph Smythe and Sheriff Charlie Kemp so they could pull the woman's body from the lake.



The woman was wearing a wool dress, underwear and silk stockings that were rolled with garters above the knees. She was hogtied with a heavy rope and wrapped in blankets and she had been strangled. The woman's face was completely unrecognizable, but her body hadn't decomposed. The body was taken to a woodshed next to a mortuary in Port Angles and investigators were called. 26-year-old Harlan McNutt had just finished his first year of medical school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He was on summer break when he was called to examine the body. He was a medical student, so he had seen dead bodies before, but he had never been faced with something quite like this.



The woman was lying on coverings that had been spread across the planked floor and she was hog-tied. Her legs, arms, thighs and waist were bound with rope. She was wearing a green wool dress with a belted waist, stockings with garters above the knee and shreds of two grey striped blankets hung from her body. Harlan saw that the upper part of the woman's face, her upper lip and nose were gone. Also, the tips of her fingers were missing from exposure, so they couldn't get fingerprints. 



The flesh had Saponified, meaning it turned into a soap-like substance that could be scooped away like putty. It was extremely soft. The saponification resulted from the specific minerals in the lake interacting with the fats in the woman's body and the lake's cold temperature had basically refrigerated her and stopped the decomposition. A medical student said there wasn't a smell or any decay. Saponification happens after death when a body undergoes chemical changes that transform the body fat into a substance called adipocere (ad-i-poh-sear) which is a byproduct of decomposition. It's an organic material with the consistency of semi-hard cheese and a soapy, waxy texture. It's been called corpse wax or fat of graveyards. Adipocere can form when the body is in an anaerobic or oxygen deprived environment. You also need specific bacteria for this, which is the kind found in the intestinal tract. 



When a body is exposed to these particular conditions, a chemical reaction occurs and the fat undergoes a type of hydrolysis, forming fatty acid salts and other materials that make up the adipocere. During this process, the water from the soft tissue is extracted, which makes the body inhospitable for further bacterial decomposition. The end product of this is a naturally preserved corpse, similar to a mummified person. The body would be covered in a soft, waxy gray substance and the word adipocere is from the Latin adeps (fat) and cere (wax). So, you're basically a soap mummy.



This is just a fun fact about soap mummies. It's common practice for German cemeteries to recycle graves every 15-25 years and it's expected that the bodies would be completely skeletonized by that time. Due to the soil conditions in some German cemeteries, the corpse wax buildup got so bad that the bodies just stopped decomposing. When the gravediggers started exhuming the bodies, they discovered that they had turned into soap mummies. So, they solved this problem with burial champers and expensive soil reconditioning.



One of the doctors, Dr. Kaveney said, “I never saw a corpse just like this one before. The flesh is hard, almost, waxy. She must be nearly as large as when she went into the water. I'd say she is about 5 feet 6 inches in height and that she weighted about 140 pounds when alive.” When a body is left in water, it typically bloats and is referred to as “floaters”, but that's not what happened here, she didn't bloat or retain any of the water. When the woman was discovered, she became known as the Lady of the Lake. 



Exposure to moisture and water can significantly accelerate the decomposition process. If the body is submerged in water, it could slow things down. The depth of the water, temperature, currents, and ecosystem surrounding the body are all different factors that can affect this. Typical decomposition changes will happen more slowly in water and this is primarily due to cooler temperatures and the anaerobic environment, meaning lack of oxygen, but once the body is removed from the water, putrefaction will likely be accelerated. Lake Crescent is known for having waters that are a brilliant blue color with exceptional clarity. This is caused by a lack of nitrogen in the water which inhibits the growth of algae. This literally provided the perfect mixture to preserve evidence.



The woman's body was taken away for an autopsy and she had clearly met a violent death. Her neck was bruised and discolored and her chest showed evidence of severe hemorrhaging. She had been beaten and strangled to death. After she was dead, she was hogtied with ropes, weighed down with rocks and thrown into the lake. The rope had rotted away and the saponification made the body unusually light, which is why it floated up to the surface. The pathologist estimated that she had been submerged for almost three years. She had bunions on her feet and there was a large bunion on her right toe. She had large breasts and brown or auburn hair. The initial theory was that the woman was Marion Frances Steffens of Chicago, who had disappeared in the Olympic National Park wilderness in September of 1939. The clothing on the victim actually matched the description of what Marion had been wearing when she disappeared. This was quickly ruled out because Marion had suffered a fractured neck vertebrae and the Lady of the Lake didn't have an injury that matched that. 



The medical student tried very hard to keep the woman's body intact as he did his examination. Her face was stiff and he tried to gently open her mouth. Sheriff Kemp was impatient and grabbed a piece of wood to pry her mouth open and her whole jaw fell off. This accidentally lead to an interesting discovery, the woman wore a very distinctive gold upper dental plate. It was a 6-tooth bridge made out of beaten gold, so it was pretty unique. 



Investigators put out a description of the woman, but no one seemed to know who she was and two months later, she was buried in the county cemetery. Sheriff Kemp sent out a circular to dentists with an illustration of the gold dental plate and offered a $100 reward to anyone who could identify the owner. More than a year passed before Dr. Albert J. McDowell, a South Dakota dentist, identified the dental plate as one that he made. The plate was for Hallie Latham in October of 1926, when she lived in Faulkton, South Dakota. Hallie's family had been looking for her and they insisted that she would be writing letters to them and staying in touch if she was alive. They were very close.



Hallie was a beautiful waitress who was last seen a few days before Christmas in 1937 in Port Angeles, a small mill town west of Seattle and about 15 miles from Lake Crescent. The lake water preserved Hallie's body which of course meant that evidence had also been preserved. Hallie had moved many times and she was always searching for something better, and chasing her dreams. 




Hallie Brooks Latham was born January 8th, 1901, in Greenville, Kentucky. She was the 5th child of Finis Marion and Mary Susan “Bunnie” Latham. They were a hard-working farm couple who made a living raising corn and tobacco. Hallie grew up taking care of her other siblings and by 1920, there were 13 of them. The chores on the farm took precedence over learning, so Hallie's formal education ended in the 8th grade. The family hit some really hard times when Hallie was a teenager and in 1917, they moved to South Dakota. Life just wasn't easy for them and Hallie craved something different. On September 26th, 1919, when she was 18 years old, she married Floyd James Spraker and he was an auto mechanic who had served in World War I. Hallie and Floyd were together for almost 10 years. They had a daughter, Doris Marie, and lived in a one-story bungalow. Floyd was a salesman and Hallie was a homemaker. She took care of their daughter and had a garden.



Hallie had an outgoing personality and she made friends easily. By this time, The Roaring 20s hit and Hallie got restless. She wanted something more out of life, so she started working as a beauty operator and a waitress and she took up poultry farming. She became independent. Hallie and Floyd's marriage ended by the late 1920s and soon after, the stock market crashed and The Great Depression followed. The droughts in 1931 and 1932 killed the South Dakota crops.



Hallie was 31 when she met Donald B. Strickland and he was in the restaurant business. She was 7 years older than Donald, but according to her marriage license, she put that she was only 2 years older and she said she was a widow. They got married on August 8th, 1932 and moved to Seattle. After about a year, their marriage fell apart and Hallie moved to the Olympic Peninsula. She got a job as a waitress at the Lake Crescent Tavern, a rustic lodge with rental cabins on the southern shore of Lake Crescent. 



In late 1934 or early 1935, Hallie was waiting tables and a tall beer truck driver named Montgomery J. Illingworth walked in. Monty was born in 1908 in Ruskin, Nebraska. He had been marred and divorced and his ex-wife Esther was hot on his trail, looking for child support for their daughter, Patricia. Monty was personable, friendly, and he liked to drink and party. He and Hallie hit it off right away. They both drank....a lot, and they fought. In 1936, Hallie and Monty were drinking at the Maple Grove Tavern, which is a resort close to Lake Crescent. Hallie was convinced that a woman at the bar was eyeing up Monty, so she walked over and knocked her off the bar stool.



On June 16th, 1936, the two of them got married, but their relationship took a dark turn as things became more violent. Five months into the marriage, the couple got into a terrible fight and the police had to break it up. Their landlady heard Hallie crying out during the fight and she showed up for work with bruises on her face and arms. There were even some occasions where Monty punched Hallie in front of her friends or coworkers.



The two of them lived paycheck to paycheck and any extra money was used on parties and alcohol. Everyone around them knew how toxic the relationship was. Monty choked Hallie so hard that she was unable to swallow and a friend had to feed her. Another time, he punched her in the face and she fought back and bit his arm. Monty sure knew how to push Hallie's buttons and he played on her vulnerabilities and her jealousy. He flaunted other women in front of her as well. Hallie saw Monty with another woman in his truck and she saw his truck parked outside of a brothel. When she stormed inside to look for him, he threatened to choke her. 



They both threatened to leave each other on many occasions, but it never happened. As the holiday season was approaching, the couple made plans to have dinner with friends at Lack Crescent on Christmas Day. At this point, they had been married just a little over a year. On December 21, 1937, it was cold and the winds were strong. The predictions were calling for snow, but Monty announced that he was going to a beer bust that night at Fort Worden, a military base in Port Townsend, west of Seattle. He and Hallie got into a fight about this. The weather was bad and Christmas was just four days away. Hallie still had shopping to do, so she headed out and got a Christmas card for her sister.



On that day, Hallie put on rayon underwear and a bra. She pulled a pair of stockings on, slid her garters on, and rolled the stockings and garters above her knees. She put on a green wool dress that Monty gave her money to buy and a belt was cinched around her waist. That night, she went to the Annex Hotel and tavern and she had a few drinks. She ended up picking a fight with a woman and the hotel called the police. Both women promised to be quiet for the rest of the night when the police arrived. Hallie and her friends left the hotel and drove to one of the friend's homes where they had more drinks. Around 2 AM, Hallie and a friend left the party and walked to Hallie's car. 



Hallie opened the car door and started driving. As she pulled away, she clipped someone with the car door and at some point, her friend ended up getting out of the vehicle and Hallie drove home alone. This was the last time Hallie's friends ever saw her. Around 2 AM, Monty was heading home and the winds were picking up and the snow was beginning to fall.



We already talked about the discovery of Hallie's body at the beginning of the episode and it took investigators more than a year to identify her. Once they found out who she was, this lead them to take a closer look at Monty because it was known that he was abusive. They tracked him down in Long Beach, California and he was working as a bus driver and living with a woman named Elinore Pearson. He had been starting rumors that Hallie was alive and living in Alaska, which sent investigators on a wild chase for awhile and this happened before they had identified her body. On October 26th, 1941, Monty Illingworth was arrested by Los Angeles sheriff's deputies and taken into custody in Los Angeles. That night, he was placed in room 238 of the Los Angeles County Hall of Justice for questioning.



Elinor Pearson and his mother visited him while he was being held in his jail cell and he said, “Mother, you know I didn't do it; I didn't.” His mother replied, “Yes, I know you didn't, son.”


Monty told investigators that Hallie deserted him. He said, “I was home and she came home. She had been drinking. I left. When I came home, she was gone. She took her stuff and left.” Monty claimed that she ran off with a Navy Lieutenant Commander. If that was true, why hadn't her family ever heard from her again? Detective Fultz asked him, “How do you account for the fact that no person has seen her since she was living with you, until we found her in the lake, wrapped in blankets?”



Monty replied, “Well, it is as much a mystery to me as it is to you.” Fultz said, “I think you killed Hallie. But I don't think you did it on purpose. You would beat her up. You would fight all the while. You came home that morning, and she was there. She was mad, and before you were through with Hallie, she was dead. You didn't intend to do it. I know that just as well as I am standing on my two feet talking to you.” Monty told investigators that he had obtained an interlocutory divorce decree which means you have a decree pronouncing the divorce of the parties provisionally, but not terminating the marriage until the expiration of a certain period. The purpose of this is to discourage a quick or easy divorce. In the US, the waiting period is typically 3 months to a year. Monty had filed for divorce just 5 months after Hallie's disappearance and that wasn't the reason he filed, he said it was on the grounds of incompatibility, not desertion.



Investigators were highly suspicious of Monty's relationship with the woman he was living with, Elinore Pearson. Hallie had known her, and Elinore even lived with Hallie's sister for a while, yet, somehow, only days after Hallie went missing, Monty and Elinore ended up together. Monty admitted that he was in an intimate relationship with Elinore within a month of Hallie's disappearance. When he was shown a picture of Hallie's body, he was like, how can you really know that's her?



Investigators told him that she had been identified by her teeth and her dentist confirmed it was her, but they had plenty more to go. Hallie had trouble getting shoes because the bunion on her right toe was so large, so that matched. She always wore elastic garters right above the knee and she wore reinforced brassieres because she had large breasts. After hearing all of this evidence, Monty says, “Well, if it is her, why would I do it?” Investigators were like, we already told you why. Monty denied killing Hallie and continued to say that she was alive and well the last time he saw her. 



The trial began on February 24th, 1942. Monty's attorney, Joseph Johnston, brought in witnesses who said they saw Hallie after 1937. DNA testing wasn't a thing, so that's all they had to do, was prove to the jury that she was still alive. He put experts on the stand who said that the body could not have been in Lake Crescent for 31 months. Hallie's dentist, Dr. Albert McDowell was grilled, but he held firm. He was positive that the dental plate found on the murdered woman belonged to Hallie. She had been identified by her brother-in-law, James Johnson. Hallie's friends and family had to testify, and they were shown her underwear and they had to tell the jury that it was the kind she wore. They reviewed hair samples and confirmed it matched her hair and they were shown articles of clothing that the woman was wearing so they could confirm that Hallie dressed that way.


Jesse Hudson Knapp was the clerk at Montgomery Ward who sold Hallie a green wool dress and testified that she used to add an extra notch to her belt because she had such a slim waist. Sure enough, the belt on the murdered woman had an extra notch.


Harry Brooks ran a resort near Lake Crescent Tavern and he testified that he loaned about 50 feet of rope to a beer truck driver. Experts were able to compare the rope remnants that Harry still had, to the fibers from the rope used to hog-tie the woman and it matched. The beer truck driver was Monty.



When Monty took the stand, he swore that Hallie left him that day after they both got home from drinking that night in December, but part of the problem, was that he told a different story to all of her friends and coworkers. He contradicted himself and at one point, he lost his cool and shouted in the courtroom that he didn't kill anybody.



The jurors deliberated for 4 hours and reached a verdict on March 5th, 1942. The jury found Monty guilty of second-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. The jury had agreed on the lesser charge of second-degree murder because they felt the crime had been one of passion, not premeditation. UNFORTUNATELY, he only served 9 years of his sentence and was paroled on January 10th of 1951. During the trial, rumors circulated that Monty didn't act alone, but no one else was ever charged with the crime.


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