In 1935, the Spokane police regularly extorted sex, food, and money from the reluctant hobos (many of them displaced farmers who had fled the midwestern dust bowls), robbed dairies, and engaged in all manner of nefarious crimes, including murder. This history was suppressed until 1989, when former logger, Vietnam vet, and Spokane cop Tony Bamonte discovered a strange 1955 deathbed confession while researching a thesis on local law enforcement history. Bamonte began to probe what had every appearance of widespread police crime and a massive cover-up whose highlight was the unsolved murder of Town Marshall George Conff. The fact that many of those involved, now in their 80s and 90s, were still alive made it imperative that Bamonte unravel this mystery. The result is Breaking Blue, a white-knuckle ride through institutional corruption and cover-up that vividly documents Depression-era Spokane and an extraordinary case that few believed would ever be brought to light.
About Breaking Blue
“No one who enjoys mystery can fail to savor this study of a classic case of detection.” —TONY HILLERMAN
On the night of September 14, 1935, George Conniff, a town marshal in Pend Oreille County in the state of Washington, was shot to death. A lawman had been killed, yet there seemed to be no uproar, no major investigation. No suspect was brought to trial. More than fifty years later, the sheriff of Pend Oreille County, Tony Bamonte, in pursuit of both justice and a master’s degree in history, dug into the files of the Conniff case—by then the oldest open murder case in the United States. Gradually, what started out as an intellectual exercise became an obsession, as Bamonte asked questions that unfolded layer upon layer of unsavory detail. In Timothy Egan’s vivid account, which reads like a thriller, we follow Bamonte as his investigation plunges him back in time to the Depression era of rampant black-market crime and police corruption. We see how the suppressed reports he uncovers and the ambiguous answers his questions evoke lead him to the murder weapon—missing for half a century—and then to the man, an ex-cop, he is convinced was the murderer. Bamonte himself—a logger’s son and a Vietnam veteran—had joined the Spokane police force in the late 1960s, a time when increasingly enlightened and educated police departments across the country were shaking off the “dirty cop” stigma. But as he got closer to actually solving the crime, questioning elderly retired members of the force, he found himself more and more isolated, shut out by tight-lipped hostility, and made dramatically aware of the fraternal sin he had committed—breaking the blue code. Breaking Blue is a gripping story of cop against cop. But it also describes a collision between two generations of lawmen and two very different moments in our nation’s history.
Timothy Egan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and the author of eight books, including The Immortal Irishman, a New York Times Bestseller. His book on the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, won a National Book Award for nonfiction and was named… More about Timothy Egan
Paperback | $16.95
Published by Sasquatch Books Aug 17, 2004| 256 Pages| 5-1/2 x 8-1/2| ISBN 9781570614293
Ebook | $7.99
Published by Knopf Nov 16, 2011| 267 Pages| ISBN 9780307800404
“As a former police reporter I can give Breaking Blue the ultimate complement—I wish I had written it. No one who enjoys mystery can fail to savor this study of a classic case of detection” –Tony Hillerman “An engrossing tale of corruption in the Nor