A Look Back: Seattle Spouse Slayer James Mahoney Executed

Main photo: Seattle Star headline on December 1, 1922 

SEATTLE, WA — On December 1, 1922, James Mahoney hanged in Washington’s Walla Walla penitentiary for the murder of his wife Kate. The murder, and Mahoney’s attempted cover-up, would later become known as one of Seattle’s most notorious and well-planned crimes of the era, and would be referred to in the press as the “Mahoney Trunk Murder.”

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Mahoney, 38, had been released from Walla Walla, the same prison where he would later be executed, two years earlier after serving time for assault and robbery. Following his release, Mahoney moved into a Seattle boarding house with his mother and sister. He soon had his eye on the house’s owner, Kate Mooers, and the couple began a relationship.

Gallows at Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla [Washington State Department of Corrections]

Gallows at Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla [Washington State Department of Corrections]

At 68, the reportedly homely and balding Mooers was almost twice his age, but she had other assets that Mahoney apparently found attractive — namely, the ones sitting in her bank account. Mooers owned a small hotel, was part owner of an apartment complex, wore expensive diamonds, and was estimated to be worth at least $200,000.

The couple married, and on April 15, 1921, Mooers — who was now Kate Mahoney — visited her safe deposit box, withdrew $1,600, and went to a bank to purchase $460 worth of American Express Travelers Cheques. She told family and friends that she and her husband were planning to take a train late Saturday night to begin their honeymoon to Minnesota.

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But 11 days later, Jim Mahoney returned to Seattle alone and said that Kate had extended her trip and planned to head to Havana, Cuba, with friends. Mooers was never seen again.

Meanwhile, Mahoney was busy converting her assets to cash. He filed a forged power of attorney with the King County Auditor that gave him access to Kate’s property. He then emptied her safe deposit box and started spending — purchasing diamonds, new suits, and spending nights out at clubs.

But Mooer’s nieces soon became alarmed and alerted police to their aunt’s disappearance, who began surveillance on Mahoney. Seattle police detective Captain Tennant, in particular, was convinced of Mahoney’s guilt and was determined to find answers.

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Captain Tennant’s suspicions grew further when he found Mahoney with $25,000 worth of Kate’s diamonds in his pockets. Mahoney told him that Kate had given him the jewelry to bring back to Seattle for safekeeping before meeting up with her in New York — but Tennant was not buying his story.

Mahoney was eventually arrested, but with no body, police were only able to charge him with forging documents. But police got a break when they finally found a trunk containing Kate Mahoney’s body on August 8, 1921.

James Mahoney headline, The Seattle Times, August 9, 1921

James Mahoney headline, The Seattle Times, August 9, 1921

An autopsy revealed that she had been poisoned with 30 grams of morphine, stuffed in the trunk while still alive, and been hit with a blunt instrument. Her body was also covered with quicklime. It later emerged that Mahoney had hired a company to move a steamer trunk to a houseboat on Lake Union, and then threw the trunk overboard.

Investigators also discovered that Mahoney had married Irene G. Ford in St. Paul on October 16, 1914 and, since a divorce decree was never granted, he was a bigamist as well as a murderer. His former wife told police that she left him when she discovered that he was smuggling opium. She also revealed that he had attempted to kill her.

Related: Doctor Satan: The Life & Murders Of Marcel Petiot

Mahoney was charged with Kate’s murder, and sentenced to death. When the court’s verdict came in, Mahoney won a cigar, as he had made a bet with a guard as to the outcome.

According to reports, Mahoney was in good spirits as his date of death approached. He wrote:

Now you must be brave and forget me. My whole life has been a torture to those who love me, and even as a little boy I used to dream of dying this way, and my dream has at last come true. If my soul can do you any good in the next world I will always be watching over you. Good-bye and God bless you all.

Additionally, he made a “hanging” pun to the Seattle Star, joking, “Well, boys, I have been given a suspended sentence.” 

In 1922, Thanksgiving Day was celebrated on November 30, which was the same day the gallows was erected to hang Mahoney. His last meal was a full, traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings.

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Main photo: Seattle Star headline on December 1, 1922 


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