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Hedlund helped break the Eglon murders of 1932 | A Glance at the Past

By Harriet Muhrlein

The picture this month is a representation of a true pioneer woman of the 20th century. I feel I must call it a “representation” and not an actual photo because it is from the pages of “Actual Detective Stories” magazine.

Bertha Hedlund of Eglon was born and raised in Sweden. When both of her parents died in the early 1900s she came to live with an older brother in Spokane. She trained as a nurse in a Spokane hospital.

Bertha and a nurse friend decided to tour parts of Washington state. They happened upon a small farm (10 acres) for sale in Eglon and decided to buy it. The two women lived on and worked the small farm. They cared for the minor illnesses and injuries in the community as well — the only doctor was many miles away.

Bertha’s friend eventually married a local farmer and moved. Bertha then lived alone with her dog for protection and company. She had electric lights, a radio, a good well and the only telephone in the area.

Late on the evening of Oct. 25, 1932, the caretaker of a nearby summer camp knocked on her door asking to use the phone. He had been at the camp drinking with Bertha’s neighbor John Martin and Martin’s two hired hands. He became very drunk and fell asleep, and upon awakening he found that he had been robbed of several valuable items and needed to call the sheriff.  The deputy answering the phone in Port Orchard said someone would be out the next day.

Early the following morning, a very beaten and battered John Martin appeared at her door. She cleaned and dressed his wounds. He told her that his hired men had beaten him while he was in bed as they tried to rob him. In the afternoon, she saw John Martin out plowing, an odd thing to be doing on a late October day and also considering his serious wounds.

Miss Hedlund continued to feel that something was wrong at the Martin farm. The missing hired men were not around. She told the sheriff her observations and theory but had no hard facts. About a month later, she saw John Martin beginning to take his barn apart.  She asked him why. He told her that he was moving the barn over to the area of the recently plowed field.

Bertha Hedlund called Sheriff Dan Blankenship in Port Orchard, telling him that she knew where the missing bodies could be found. The bodies were located and removed to the cemetery, where they were buried using only their known first names.

John Martin pleaded guilty to killing the men and served two consecutive 20-year terms at Walla Walla.

Bertha Hedlund continued to work her small farm and continued to practice nursing. She eventually sold the lower, waterfront five  acres. She died at the age of 95 in 1985.

Information for this article came from “Actual Detective Stories”; The Seattle Times, April 23, 1950; the U.S. Federal Census; the Social Security Death Index; and a Kingston community member who knew Miss Hedlund.

 

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