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Murder and Explosions Aboard Depoe Bay Fishing Boats | Oregon Coast History

Published 05/15/21 at 5:55 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Murder and Explosions Aboard Depoe Bay Fishing Boats | Oregon Coast History

(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – Even the pleasant pastime of early Oregon coast tourism wasn’t immune to the problems of today, such as murder or a massive explosion. In fact, while the dramatic shipwreck of the J. Marhoffer in 1910– which gave Boiler Bay its name – was the first to explode in the area, it wasn’t the last. (Boat going under the bridge, 1939, courtesy North Lincoln County History Museum, Lincoln City)

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It seems 1939 and ‘38 were banner years for bad things on the central Oregon coast. Just two years earlier, major fires swept through Depoe Bay, Waldport, Yachats and the big one hit Bandon. But ‘38 and ‘39 saw a murder and a near-deadly ship explosion in the area.

Both happened in July, and both involved charter fishing boats.

According to newspaper reports such as the Capitol Journal (the precursor to the Statesman Journal in Salem), July 14, 1939 in Depoe Bay was a lovely, blue one. The sun was out in full force, and tourists and locals were milling about everywhere.

In the bay, a charter fishing boat called the Albacore was just getting ready to pick up a group of paid sports fishermen, when owners Charles Turner and John Williams started the boat and immediately an explosion occurred. Turner was thrown 20 feet by the blast, landing in the water. He managed to only get some minor burns.

Williams was still in the wheelhouse of the 45-foot craft when it exploded and was almost trapped by all the flames. He managed to escape and swim to shore.

Meanwhile, all this happened still inside the bay, and the burning craft was meandering by itself. It began to make a beeline towards another small vessel, causing 22-year-old Mickey Everett to jump into the bay to save himself. He was not hurt, but the newspaper reports he suffered from shock afterwards.

For a time, the furiously-burning ship “menaced” about 18 other vessels in the harbor, until someone was able to get a line tied to it and then tow it out to sea.

Williams and Turner had just purchased the boat for $7,000. The cause? The pair reported finding two valves open from the fuel tanks, spilling gasoline everywhere. They had accidentally left it that way the night before, but assumed all the gas had evaporated.

A little less than a year earlier, on July 18, 1938, a charter fishing boat captain was shot dead not far from his vessel with what initially seemed like a payment disagreement. This one feels a bit like an episode of Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.

37-year-old Richard Earle owned and ran the Pauline B. out of Depoe Bay, taking people out on deep-sea fishing expeditions. He was well known and liked in the area and had a wife and son.

Spouting horn long before the barriers, courtesy North Lincoln History Museum, Lincoln City

According to newspaper reports at the time, about 1:30 a.m., Earle and his biz partner, Everett Munson, disembarked with 33-year-old Portlander Henry Nelson and his 21-year-old companion Lucille Coenenberg. Though newspaper reports didn’t say why as the story unfolded. The boat returned about 5:30 a.m., and after that various witnesses reported seeing a major argument break out between Earle and Nelson over “insults” to his companion and that Nelson refused to pay the remaining $13 on a $20 fee.

At Nelson’s car at the seawall, he was seen to shoot Earle not just once but five times with a gun he had in his car. Reports at the time also indicated the girl “posed” as his wife for the week prior to that while they were vacationing in Newport.

Actual court records show something a little different. Nelson’s wife had run away with another man a year before, and divorce proceedings were in the wings. Meanwhile, he and Lucille had fallen in love and were anxious to tie the knot. Earlier that evening, the pair were drinking at the old Whale Cove Inn (not the one that exists there but the older building torn down in the 2000s), when they met Earle, the boat captain.

During this drinking session, Earle agreed to take the couple out that night to beyond the 12-mile boundary and perform their wedding ceremony, as that was where U.S. laws no longer applied – so the pair could get “legally” married. Court witnesses say Earle was hammered, and luckily it was Munson driving the boat. After performing the ceremony, Earle became aggressively sexual with Lucille, causing the bulk of the disagreement between him and Nelson.

During the trial, Nelson tried to plea insanity, but that failed. He was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison. (See the court record) MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Depoe Bay in the '30s with a lone gas station along a dusty road, courtesy North Lincoln History Museum, Lincoln City

Courtesy North Lincoln History Museum, Lincoln City

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