A Murder Over Stolen Butter, a Police Cover-up and the Rusty Revolver that Broke the Case Open
Murder is a crime where, by its nature, it’s impossible for a victim to get justice.
That’s what was on Tony Bamonte’s mind as he worked to solve those crimes as the sheriff of Pend Oreille County.
“The police, we’re the voice of the dead,” Bamonte said. “We’re there to defend them and stick up for them and try find out who killed them. That’s who we are. They have nobody else speaking for them.”
Not long before he retired in 1990, Bamonte went back to school for a masters degree. For his thesis he dug into old, unsolved murder cases, and alighted on one that happened all the way back in 1935. The victim was another lawman: George Conniff, the Marshall of a town called Newport. The crime scene was a creamery.
When Conniff was murdered, the country was mired deep in the Great Depression. Shortages of basic staples created a thriving black market for things like butter.
A group of burglars was looting a Spokane creamery when Conniff happened on the scene. There was an exchange of gunfire, and Conniff was dead.
No one was ever convicted of the crime. But a half-century later, Tony Bamonte and a newspaper reporter named Bill Morlin got a break in this cold case. And what they found led them to believe that Conniff’s murderer didn’t just get away: He was actively protected by the Spokane Police Department.
Bamonte and Morlin told Sound Effect’s Gabriel Spitzer their tale of true crime, police corruption and the hunt for a 54-year-old murder weapon.