Glenn R. Stringer shoots and kills Herbert Lee Caples during an armed robbery in Vancouver (Clark County) on March 10, 1934.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 3/22/2013
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10278

On March 10, 1934, Herbert Lee Caples (1912-1934), a candy and tobacco salesman, is shot and killed at his home in Vancouver, Washington, by two unidentified bandits.  The murder goes unsolved until December 1935 when Glenn R. Stringer (1912-1936), serving time in the Oregon State Penitentiary, decides to confess and waives extradition to Washington state.  In March 1936, Stringer is tried and convicted of first-degree murder in Clark County and the jury mandates the death sentence.  With no funds to perfect an appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court and no advocates, Stringer is hanged at the Washington State Penitentiary on May 29, 1936.  His accomplice, Ralph L. Tremaine (1909-1964), alias James Ralph Cline, will remain on the loose until 1960 when he is discovered as an inmate at the Northern Indiana Hospital for the Insane in Logansport. Tremaine will never be charged with the murder of Caples, as Stringer was dead and many of those involved in the investigation had left the area or since died. Glenn R. Stringer is the fourth defendant sent to death-row from Clark County and the 39th prisoner to be executed at the Washington State Penitentiary since 1904.

Two Brothers and Their Business

Herbert Lee Caples, age 21, and his brother, Philip, age 24, operated Caples Brothers, a small business in Vancouver that wholesaled candy and tobacco products. Herbert spent much of his time traveling throughout southwestern Washington delivering merchandise and collecting money for the company.

On Saturday morning, March 10, 1934, Herbert Caples drove his wife, Mildred, age 20, and their one-year-old son, Herbert Lee Jr., to Ostrander in Cowlitz County, to visit her parents, Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Erickson. On the return trip, he was accompanied by his father-in-law and made several deliveries and collected payments. They arrived at Erickson’s daughter and son-in-law’s house in Vancouver at approximately 11:35 p.m. There was a birthday party in progress. Caples said he was going to his home at 3108 R Street to change his clothes, deliver the day’s proceeds to his brother Philip at 1916 E Street, and then return to the party.

The Shooting

Shortly before midnight, Asa J. and Nora M. Cook, 3100 R Street, were in their darkened bedroom, overlooking Caples’ garage. The window was open, covered by a screen, with the window shade raised. Nora Cook heard Caples arrive home in his delivery van and park inside the detached garage. A minute later, she heard loud voices, followed by several gunshots. She rushed to the bedroom window and saw two men run from the back of the Caples house toward R Street. The Cooks threw on their clothes, ran four blocks to a neighborhood store on S Street and telephoned Vancouver Police headquarters.

At 11:55 p.m., a radio-car was dispatched to investigate the disturbance and Patrolman Reuben Barney found Caples shot dead. The body was lying face down beside the cement walkway connecting the garage with the back of the house. Seeing the backdoor ajar, Officer Barney entered and found the house had been ransacked. It was later discovered the bandits had stolen a few items of minor value and a wristwatch. Clark County Chief Criminal Deputy Benjamin Pearson dusted the house for fingerprints, finding several at the point of entry, a basement window, and matching prints throughout the house. The only other clues were three empty .32 caliber shell casings found near the body.

Detectives soon concluded the motive for the murder was robbery. According to Philip, collection day for the Caples Brothers firm was on or about the 10th of each month and Herbert had been in possession the monthly proceeds, an estimated $560 in cash plus several bank checks. The bandits stole Herbert’s wallet, but overlooked $26.33 in change stuffed into the front pocket of his trousers.

An autopsy by Clark County Coroner William E. Cass revealed that Caples had been shot in the chest, thigh, neck, and in the face, an apparent coup-de-grace. The fatal wound was in the chest, fired at point-blank range from a .32 caliber pistol, as evidenced by powder burns on the victim’s clothing. A matching .32 caliber slug was found in the victim's head. Two bullets passed through the body and were not recovered.

Saying Goodbye

The funeral service for Herbert Lee Caples was held on Wednesday, March 14, 1934, in the chapel at Knapp Funeral Service, 215 W 10th Street in Vancouver, with Reverend Paul L. Kunzman, pastor at Saint Paul’s English Lutheran Church, officiating. Caples was buried in the Brush Prairie Cemetery, NE 117th Avenue and NE 113th Circle, Brush Prairie, Washington.

In addition to his wife, Mildred, and young son, Herbert Jr., he was survived by his parents, Charles W. and Anna Marie Caples, two sisters, Anna and Ruth, and two brothers, Charles and Philip. (Mildred E. Caples remarried on August 9, 1935, to Gerald C. Runyan, a watchmaker at Runyan’s Jewelry Store, 701 Main Street, Vancouver.)

Finding the Killers

The Vancouver Police and Clark County Sheriff’s Departments conducted a thorough investigation into Caples's murder, but the culprits were never identified and trail grew cold. On Friday, December 14, 1935, however, Vancouver Chief of Police Frank B. Osmond announced the Caples homicide had been solved. Glenn R. Stringer, age 24, serving 3 ½ years in the Oregon State Penitentiary for burglary, decided to confess to the crime. In his signed statement, Stringer implicated ex-convict Ralph L. Tremaine, alias James Ralph Cline, as his accomplice. On March 10, 1934, Stringer was staying in a rooming house in Portland when he chanced to meet Tremaine who told him about some “easy money” to be made in Vancouver. Tremaine had already cased the job and invited Stringer to participate in the heist. 

“Ralph Cline (Tremaine) and I started out from Portland, March 11 [sic], for Vancouver, taking a street car. We got off in Vancouver and walked to the Caples home and went over to a vacant lot across the street to watch it. We sat down and waited for him to drive into his garage. While waiting, we decided to enter the house, going in through a basement window. We took a watch and went outside. We waited about two hours and then Caples drove up with his truck, going into the garage. He came out the back way and walked around the garage. We met him at the opposite end of the garage. He asked us who we were and what we wanted. Then we put the guns on him and told him it was a stick-up. He just stood there, then started to back away. Ralph grabbed his arm and held him. He started to scuffle like he was going to break loose. We both shot. I shot him first. He fell, Ralph Cline shooting him as he went down. We took the money and checks and ran down across the street, walked on downtown and took a taxi to Portland. After we got back to Portland, we divided the money. I got about $275, while Ralph took his half and the checks” (“Caples’ Killing Believed Solved”). 

Stringer and Tremaine had stayed holed up in a Portland rooming house for a week, then Tremaine left for Medford, Oregon, where his family lived. Stringer remained in the Portland area for another month, committing more burglaries and spending his share of the Caples loot.

Glenn Stringer's Trial

Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Eugene G. Cushing’s initial plan was to leave Stringer in the Salem penitentiary until Tremaine was apprehended. Stringer had waived extradition to Washington state and agreed to testify against Tremaine at trial. Plans changed, however, and on Friday, December 20, 1935, Oregon State Governor Charles H. Martin (1863-1946) granted Stringer a conditional pardon and he was taken forthwith to Vancouver and charged with first-degree murder.

Glenn Stringer’s trial began on Monday, March 23, 1936, in Clark County Superior Court before Judge George B. Simpson. The court had previously appointed Vancouver attorney Peter J. Kirwin as Stringer’s defense counsel. The state was represented by Prosecutor Cushing and Deputy Prosecutor R. DeWitt Jones. The state mostly presented testimony corroborating Stringer’s voluntary confession. Noted criminologist and ballistics expert Luke S. May (1892-1965) testified that the .32 caliber semiautomatic pistol, in the defendant’s possession when he was arrested in Medford for burglary, was the weapon that fired the fatal bullet. Stringer declined to testify in his own behalf and Attorney Kirwin announced to the court the defense would offer no testimony.

In closing statements, the prosecutor, Cushing, asked the jury for a guilty verdict with imposition of the death penalty, while the defense attorney, Kirwin, without any defense or mitigating circumstances to present, argued against the concept of capital punishment. The case was delivered to the jury at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25. Just before noon on Thursday, the jury returned the verdict finding Stringer guilty of first-degree murder and recommending the death penalty. Judge Simpson advised Kirwin that under a new Washington state law, he had one week in which to file an appeal.

On Tuesday, March 31, Kirwin filed a motion for a new trial based upon improper arguments by the prosecution. On Thursday, April 2, Judge Simpson denied the defense motion and sentenced Stringer to be executed at the Washington State Penitentiary on May 29, 1936. The court released Kirwin from any further responsibility for his client and no further appeals were filed on Stringer’s behalf. Sheriff Leland F. Morrow took Smith back to the Clark County Jail to await issuance of commitment papers and the death warrant. Then he and an armed deputy drove Stringer to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Friends and relatives of the condemned prisoner petitioned Washington State Governor Clarence D. Martin (1887-1955) for a 90-day reprieve, hoping his accomplice, Ralph Tremaine, would be apprehended and brought to trial for Caples’ murder. They argued that Tremaine could never be convicted if Stringer was hanged. His voluntary cooperation showed remorse and should persuade the governor to grant him executive clemency. There had been no requests for a reprieve or executive clemency from the Clark County Prosecutor’s office, however, and Governor Martin made no move to stay Stringer’s execution.

Stringer's Execution

At midnight on Friday, May 29, 1936, two penitentiary guards walked Stringer from his cell on death-row to the execution chamber. He was accompanied by Reverent Peter Schmidt, prison chaplain and pastor of Emmaus Lutheran Church in Walla Walla. Warden James M. McCauley (1892-1940) read Stringer the death warrant before handing him over to the state executioner. His only comment was that Reverend Schmidt would speak later on his behalf. After mounting the scaffold, the executioner pulled a black hood over Stringer’s head, followed by the hangman’s noose. The trap door was released at 12:08 a.m., dropping him to his death.

Stringer’s body was taken down at 12:23 p.m. and he was pronounced dead by a penitentiary physician. After the hanging, Reverend Schmidt told the press Stringer was ready to die for Caples’ murder, and blamed bad companions, especially Ralph Tremaine, for his final downfall. Stringer admitted, however, he was old enough to know better. He was buried unceremoniously in the prison graveyard, marked only with his inmate number. He was the fourth person sentenced to death from Clark County and the 39th prisoner to be executed at the Washington State Penitentiary.

Ralph Tremaine 

On July 25, 1936, the Clark County Board of Commissioners posted a $250 reward for information leading to the arrest of Ralph Tremaine for Caples’ murder. The Medford Police had a warrant on file for Tremaine’s arrest and law enforcement authorities throughout the Northwest were looking for him. Vancouver Police detectives pursued all worthwhile leads and distributed wanted flyers all through the United States. But Tremaine was a drifter, used several aliases and constantly on the move, making apprehension difficult. He was close to being captured on four separate occasions, but somehow always managed to elude police. By 1938, Tremaine had vanished without a trace.

On March 29, 1960, Jerome Raymond Young, age 50, was arrested in Indiana by the Anderson Police for assaulting his wife, Myrtle, who had been seeking a divorce. A Madison County judge committed Young to Northern Indiana Hospital for the Insane in Logansport. Meanwhile, his fingerprints were routinely submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Crime Investigation Center (NCIC), for comparative analysis.

NCIC determined that Young’s fingerprints matched those of Ralph Tremaine, wanted in Vancouver, Washington, for the murder of Herbert Lee Caples in 1934. Clark County Prosecuting Attorney R. DeWitt Jones (1909-1993) decided against prosecuting Tremaine, as many of the witnesses had since died or had left the area. The case was officially closed.

His End

Ralph Tremaine had remained on the loose for 30 years and was never brought to justice for Caples’ murder, but eventually suffered his own horrendous death. On Monday, September 14, 1964, Jerome R. Young (1909-1964), alias Ralph Tremaine, was killed when his car veered off US Highway 421 near West Delphi, Indiana, plunging 45 feet into a stone quarry. An autopsy revealed that he had suffered a heart attack while driving.

A funeral service for Young was held on Thursday, September 17, at the Harold E. Rozelle Funeral Home in Anderson with burial in the East Maplewood Cemetery. According to his obituary, Young had been living in Anderson since 1940 and working at the Delco-Remy Corporation factory, which manufactures electrical parts for trucks and cars.


Sources: “Burglar Pardoned to Face Trial as Slayer,” The Bend Bulletin (Bend, Oregon), December 20, 1936, p. 2; “Brutal Slayer Object of Hunt,” Centralia Daily Chronicle, March 12, 1934, p. 2; “Mother Must Pay Her own Expenses if She Hears Trial,” Ibid., March 7, 1936. p. 1; “Faces Jury on Murder Charge,” Ibid., March 23, 1936. p. 2; “Youth Guilty of Murder Charge,” Ibid., March 26, 1936. p. 1; “Doomed Slayer Desires to Wed,” Ibid., March 28, 1936. p. 1; “Slayer Doomed to Hang Friday,” Ibid., May 26, 1936. p. 1; “Caples’ Killing Believed Solved,” The Oregonian, December 15, 1935, p. 1; “Slayer Suspect Stays in Prison,” Ibid., December 15, 1935, p. 19; “Scaffold Faces Ex-Medford Man,” Ibid., March 27, 1936. p. 7; “Stringer Hangs at State Prison,” Ibid., May 30, 1936. p. 4; “County Offers Reward,” Ibid., July 26, 1936. p. 2; Tony Bacon, “Man in Old Murder Case Found in Mental Hospital,” Ibid., April 6, 1960. p. 6; “Clues Lacking in Police Hunt for Caples Slayer,” Vancouver Evening Columbian, March 12, 1934, p. 1; “Police Dragnet Spreads Out in Caples Murder,” Ibid., March 13, 1934, p. 1; “Obituary: Herbert Lee Caples,” Ibid., March 13, 1934, p. 7; “Officers Report Little Progress,” Ibid., March 14, 1934, p. 1; “Question Many in Caples Case,” Ibid., March 15, 1934, p. 1; “Reward Offered in Slayer Hunt,” Ibid., March 17, 1934, p. 1; Caples Murderers Search Unavailing,” Ibid., March 24, 1934, p. 1; “G. R. Stringer Pays Penalty,” Ibid., May 29, 1936. p. 1; “Youth Hangs Courageously,” Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, May 29, 1936. p. 1; “New Trial for Killer Weighed,” The Seattle Times, March 31, 1936, p. 9; “New Trial Denied Stringer,” Ibid., April 2, 1936. p. 23; “Reward Posted for Asserted Slayer,” Ibid., July 27, 1936. p. 2; “Cliff Patient Murder Suspect,” Logansport Press (Indiana), May 20, 1960, p. 3; “Jerome Young, Donald Simmons, Killed in Crashes,” The Anderson Herald (Indiana), September 15, 1964, p. 1; “Young Death Attributed to Heart Attack,” Ibid., September 16, 1964, p. 1; “Funeral Notices: Jerome Young,” Ibid., September 17, 1964, p. 2.

Related Topics:   Crime

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