The Judge and the Murderer
By the time he was appointed judge in the Fourth Judicial District, Charles E. Bunnell had already been employed as a teacher, bank cashier, hotel manager and lawyer. With the judicial appointment in 1914 came a new direction in his life.
Bunnell presided over a few sensational criminal cases in which he sentenced the defendants to be hanged, but no other cased caused him as much trouble as that of William Stewart, alias William Dempsey.
Dempsey was convicted of two murders and received the hanging sentence for each. Against Bunnell's desires, President Woodrow Wilson commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. From the penitentiary, Dempsey began a letter-writing campaign, urging Bunnell to recommend release.
After years of repeated denials, Dempsey became embittered toward Bunnell. And Bunnell well remembered Dempsey's courtroom threat—given the chance, he would kill all court officials connected with the case.
Somehow on Jan. 30, 1940 Dempsey escaped the McNeil Island Penitentiary, never to be seen again. With his disappearance, Charles Bunnell spent his last 16 years looking over his shoulder.
By Claus M. Naske
This article appeared originally in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner Heartland magazine, Jan. 26, 1986.
Part 1 The Victim, The Investigation
Part 2 The Suspect, The Chase
Part 3 The Capture, The Confession
Part 4 Two Trials; Two Sentences
Part 5 Doing Time A Letter Campaign
Part 6 Merry Christmas, Please Release Me
Part 7 Escape! Epilogue