By Darin Z. Krogh
This Spokane crime wasn’t solved using the complicated laboratory science seen on television shows like FORENSIC FILES or LAW AND ORDER. In 1930, somebody sent a suitcase bomb loaded with dynamite to the Cowles newspaper office. In the photograph, a couple of Spokane police detectives, Arthur Leahy and James Malloy, are shown examining that bomb in the trunk delivered to the newspaper. The bomb’s battery was determined to have been purchased by Henry Ilse. Mr. Ilse, a Spokane fireman, had been accused of trying to blow up the Spokesman-Review Building some years prior but he beat the rap in court.
In his book “News For An Empire”, Ralph E. Dyar reported, “The Spokesman-Review itself narrowly escaped tragedy in 1927 when a large 15-pound coffee can, containing 102 sticks of dynamite, was discovered near a support pillar at the newspaper's front entrance. A fuse had burned to within three inches of the explosives. If it had gone off, the Review Tower and surrounding buildings would have collapsed. While police were investigating the mystery, a city firefighter named Henry Ilse showed up at Cowles' home and offered to tell him the identity of the "powerful, secret organization," behind the bomb plot -- for a fee of $50,000.
As you might expect, Mr. Ilse became a suspect himself in the above coffee can bomb attempt. At his trial he claimed that a group of his fellow fire fighters had made the bomb to punish the Spokesman-Review for negative editorials regarding the local fire department. Ilse claimed that the same group of fireman held a grudge against himself. The dynamite was traced back to Ilse. Ilse complained that the conspiratorial firemen broke into his house and stole the dynamite in order to frame him. The jury didn’t swallow Ilse’s story but they did agree that the case against him had not been sufficiently proven, so they acquitted him.
But not so in the suitcase bomb attempt. After acquitted of the coffee can bombing attempt, Mr. Henry Ilse moved from Spokane to San Francisco, where he was not well known.
Historian Dyar continues the story, “In 1930, a trunk was delivered anonymously to the Associated Press office in the Chronicle building, which was attached to the Review Tower building. It was found to contain 106 sticks of dynamite and a clock attached to a battery. One of the battery terminals had been broken off, preventing detonation.”
The trunk was delivered on a Saturday, with the timer set for Sunday. When the trunk got to the Cowles newspaper mailroom, it looked beat up enough to attract suspicion, and was opened by two reporters who happened to be around. The bomb was reported to the police who detached the timer and an investigation began.
Of course, Henry Ilse was an immediate suspect. He was arrested in San Francisco and brought up to Spokane. Witnesses testified that Ilse had sent the trunk to Spokane from San Francisco. The trial was held in San Francisco where the bomb had been constructed. Henry Ilse’s accomplice testified against him. Thomas Boyle had been hired by Ilse to assist in the bomb’s contruction and shipping to Spokane.
Boyle’s courtroom testimony included this insight into the festering mind of Henry Ilse:
“He (Ilse) said that he at one time controlled the bootlegging interests there (in Spokane) and they had driven him out and tried to railroad road him into prison. These people he said controlled the newspaper he wanted to bomb.”
“He explained the bomb would not destroy the building but only wreck the office of the Associated Press which he said would be vacant at the time of the explosion. The scheme was meant to harm the morale of the employees to such an extent they would refuse to enter the building.”
Boyle reported that Ilse believed that when no employees dared come to work, the Spokesman-Review and Daily Chronicle would fail and the town’s competing newspaper would thrive and assist the opposing political faction to regain power . Then Ilse would be able to return to Spokane and resume his former activities which at the very least meant control of the bootlegging in the Inland Empire.
Apparently the San Francisco Judge noted that Henry Ilse seemed to have bombing in his blood. Ilse didn’t get off the hook this time. He received five life sentences but died in prison after a few years, not able to put a dent in his debt to society. His aider and abettor, Thomas Boyle, got five years probation.
Like Spokane’s recent nutty bomber, the MLK Day “Back Pack” bomber, Henry Ilse was too stupid to actually blow anything up. However, other Spokane crackpots, like Charles Barbee had figured out detonation, and blew the hell out of several Spokane structures. And there have been other bombings, like the car bombing this summer on North Monroe Street. Explosions make me nervous.