The Blakely Island Killer

Angry Educator Murders School Director

In August of 1895, the quiet and lightly populated Blakely Island became the scene of a gruesome murder.

Forty-nine-year-old Richard Straub had been a local educator for more than a decade in the Puget Sound/Salish Sea area when he committed one of the more gruesome crimes in the history of the San Juans. On August 30, 1895, Straub enlisted the aid of young Irving Parberry, a 17-year-old neighbor of his on Blakely Island, to carry out an ambush on an innocent family.

Three months prior, Richard had lost his wife, Jane, to Bright’s disease. Unlike Richard, Jane was admired and loved by seemingly all who knew her throughout the region. She was remembered for her good works, kindness, and generosity. Jane and Richard married in Coupeville, WA in July of 1883 following the death of Jane’s first husband. The couple had one child of their own and cared for two children from Jane’s first marriage. While in Coupeville, Richard ran a local school and was involved in local politics running for Justice of the Peace and School Superintendent. A falling out with the local school district occurred in 1883 as Straub sued over a contract dispute. It is possible that this was the reason for the Straub family’s move to Decatur and Blakely Islands.

Richard continued to work in education in the San Juans but eventually, his reputation was tarnished when he was caught pillaging the J.C. Britain, a shipwrecked steamer, in 1893. He tried to scare off authorities at the wreck by waving a loading revolver at his pursuers. In fact, Richard made a great deal of questionable decisions and was known to have a temper.
Maybe Jane was the one person keeping Richard from going off the deep end. In the time between Jane’s death in May of 1895 and the murder in late August of that year, Richard had been in constant conflict with his neighbors. Over the summer of 1895, one of Richard’s neighbors, Mrs. JC Burns, accused him of shooting one of her cows and taking an ax to another. Meanwhile, Richard accused the Burns family of starting a burn that destroyed another neighbor’s cabin. Mrs. Burns denied the accusation and claimed it was Richard’s doing. Richard’s feud with the family was a poor choice considering his profession: Mrs. Burns’ brother just so happened to be Leone Lanterman, the local school director. Unsurprisingly, Lanterman blocked Richard from being hired as a school teacher. In a rage, Richard plotted his revenge.

On August 30, 1895, Richard enlisted a young Irving Parberry, then just 17, to march up the hill towards Mrs. Burns, Leone Lanterman, and R. H. Blythe who were out digging potatoes. Irving hurled abusive and profane language at the group while Straub hid in the bushes. Once Lanterman, Burns, and Blythe approached Irving, Straub sprung out and jumped on top of a log firing shots from his rifle. Lanterman was hit and tried to flee. Straub then pursued Mrs. Burns wounding her in the shoulder before turning his attention back to the 23-year-old Lanterman who was badly wounded. Richard Straub stood over Leone Lanterman and fired two bullets into his head. Blythe and Burns escaped to safety while Straub and Irving fled.

After the ambush, Richard took himself and Irving to Friday Harbour to confess to the crime. However, Richard had concocted a story that he had acted in defense of Irving and saved his life. His story crumbled during the trial when young Irving admitted that he had only gone along with Richard’s plan because he was afraid of him. His alibi ruined, Richard was sentenced to death. It’s possible that the threat of mob violence was a factor in the judge’s decision as shortly after the murder both Richard and Irving had to be moved to the Whatcom Jail from Friday Harbour when an armed mob threatened to lynch the two. Certainly, local residents were hoping for Richard’s execution.

Richard Straub was hanged on April 23, 1897, on the east side of the San Juan County Jail at Friday Harbor. He remains the only inmate of the jail to ever be executed. Before he died he clung to his story of defending Irving Parberry but spoke calmly and said he had no malice towards anyone. He spoke of religion and thanked Sheriff Newton Jones who he had gotten to know over the previous two years. Then at 11:15 AM Straub was executed for the first-degree murder of Leone Lanterman. Some say that to this day Richard’s ghost haunts the local Whale Museum, which used to be Oddfellow Hall, where he was tried and convicted of murder. Spectators watched his hanging from the second floor of the building, and it is said that his presence is still especially strong there.