BULLETIN: Police arrest suspect in West Seattle totem-pole theft

(WSB photo from December 2, the base where the totem pole used to be)
Just confirmed with Southwest Precinct Lt. Steve Paulsen: Police have arrested a suspect in the theft of the West Seattle Rotary Viewpoint Park totem pole. As first reported here Thursday morning, the pole disappeared early last week; we contacted the Parks Department on Wednesday after a WSB’er sent us a note saying her family noticed it was gone. After our inquiry, Parks did extensive checking, then verified on Thursday that no one had been authorized to take it, and so they reported the 18-foot totem pole – installed when the Rotary Club of West Seattle donated the park to the city in 1976 — as stolen. As the story unfolded, WSB commenters recalled seeing what turned out to be the actual removal Monday night of last week – the crane truck hired to take it got stuck in the grass and mud, and required help from a tow truck. We’re not identifying the suspect, a West Seattle man, as charges are not filed so far, but what we’ve been told seems to go along with the storyline reported here, after we covered Rotarians’ attempt to find out what happened. Police have not yet recovered the totem pole but are questioning the suspect and hope to be able to recover the pole soon. P.S. We had asked Parks and police earlier today if the totem pole had been assigned a dollar value, just out of curiosity – so far we don’t have a number, but Parks spokesperson Dewey Potter notes that the Belvidere story pole installed in 2006 was valued at more than $61,000. (Pre-theft totem-pole photo used with Rotary’s permission.)

41 Replies to "BULLETIN: Police arrest suspect in West Seattle totem-pole theft"

  • Congrats to WSB December 9, 2009 (4:13 pm)

    I think it is safe to say that this case was solved because of the existence of this blog.
    In the past it might have taken longer to connect all the dots and any witness statements.

    • WSB December 9, 2009 (4:23 pm)

      Thanks “congrats” – we’ll take that in the context of, WSB = **everybody who contributes** – by commenting, by reading, by sharing something they heard or seen, e-mailing a question, posting in the Forum, calling in the middle of the night, making a Google map, so many ways to be part of a community-collaborative news source. The information someone shares can wind up helping somebody else in ways you’d never imagine. We’re glad to have the opportunity to do this for a living … in fact, today is the 2nd anniversary of the day I quit my corporate-news-media job to focus on WSB full time! … TR

  • Catherine December 9, 2009 (4:21 pm)

    I wonder what the thief thought they would do with said stolen totem pole. Put it in their back yard? Better have a tall fence. Maybe they wanted to put it in their front yard? Thieves typically aren’t the brightest people.
    Glad they have a suspect.

  • Catherine December 9, 2009 (4:24 pm)

    Happy Anniversary, TR!

  • r26 December 9, 2009 (4:25 pm)

    Yeah! YMCA Thursday AM Bootcamp missed it! :)

  • WSMom December 9, 2009 (4:26 pm)

    I sure hope the thief hasn’t destroyed to evidence.

    Thanks WSB for following up on this story.

  • toddinwestwood December 9, 2009 (4:32 pm)

    Hmmm, me thinks bringing back a small dose of public humiliation or public stoning might be in order.

  • Catherine December 9, 2009 (4:34 pm)

    WSMom- I was thinking the same thing. Hope they didn’t use it as fire wood :(

  • Cheryl December 9, 2009 (4:36 pm)

    Wow, I’m SO glad they’ve at least got a suspect. Now, let’s just hope we get our totem pole back in West Seattle. I really miss it!

  • I. Ponder December 9, 2009 (4:41 pm)

    This is a great example of what a terrific local news blog is about. While there are more important world issues, this one is close to home. I’ve been following the story and will continue to do so.

    I’d like to be there for re-installation, assuming the pole is recovered.

    • WSB December 9, 2009 (4:44 pm)

      We will be bird-dogging that one – I don’t think it’ll just be unceremoniously stuck back up in the middle of the night – TR

  • JunctionMonkey December 9, 2009 (4:50 pm)

    I am SO glad that the mystery is solved that in the spirit of toddinwestwood I will volunteer to get publicly stoned….oh wait..what?

    Yay for WSB!

  • Alki Area December 9, 2009 (4:55 pm)

    Way to go WSB! It really helps having a ‘neighborhood’ meeting place, even if it’s online like this, where folks can share observations and notes on a crime like this. What might have taken many days or weeks in the past, becomes a few hours of online communication.

  • JenV December 9, 2009 (5:17 pm)

    Huh. I bet the police are a little embarrassed that they unknowingly assisted with this crime – blocking traffic so the tow truck could help move the boom truck. I agree with everyone- the crime would not have been solved without a collaborative neighborhood meeting place like this!

  • sophista-tiki December 9, 2009 (5:20 pm)


  • miws December 9, 2009 (6:00 pm)

    Glad to hear this!


    Hopefully the Totem is found undamaged, and returned to it’s home ASAP. Not only should this (alleged) suspect serve some jail time, any assets he has should be tapped for any costs of re-installation. Same goes for the crane co, unless they are truly found to be an innocent party in this, which from what we’ve learned so far, I highly doubt.


    Even if they are found to be guilty of negligent actions, as opposed to intentional actions, they should pay a heavy monetary fine. Enough to cover the re-install and then some, with, perhaps the extra going to local Native American causes. If criminal intent by the crane co is found, then those involved from the company, should see some jail time too.


    As I. Ponder pondered, there are more important world issues. However, this is not exactly an insignificant crime either, and personally, I’m tired of some of these “lesser” crimes being plea-bargained down, resulting in litle, or no punishment.


    If for whatever reason it’s determined that any people found guilty of this should serve no jail time, for whatever reason, I’m all for some public humiliation. In the interest of not promoting violence and vengence here on WSB, I’ll stop shy of agreeing with toddinwestwood on the stoning part. Just don’t read my thoughts. So, in exchange for stoning, I’d vote for a high dose of public humiliation.


    Finally, good job by WSB, and the WSBers involved in solving this! And I, and others have said before, and I’ll say it again; if YOU, TR and Patrick, hadn’t planted the seed by launching, then choosing to devote full time 24/7/365 to this great news and community resource, WE wouldn’t have a place to contribute to such a great extent.



  • Chuck and Sally's Van Man December 9, 2009 (6:57 pm)

    I cheered out loud when I read this. Congrats to all and Happy Anniversary Tracy!

    p.s. can’t wait until the scumbag thief is outed. My money is on this person having some ties to the (possible underground?) arts world.

  • I. Ponder December 9, 2009 (7:04 pm)

    I was surprised at not seeing this story covered by other media. Unless I missed it.

  • JanS December 9, 2009 (7:25 pm)

    if it’s public humiliation we’re after, how about having to stand at 35th And Alaska for a month, every day, especially during rush hour, with a sandwich board saying exactly what he’s guilty of. Has to be served before April…no need to give him the better weather…

  • rob December 9, 2009 (7:34 pm)

    i think they should make the person who stole it reinstall it while everyone watches. do it on a sunday afternoon and invite the whole neighborhood out to watch.

  • yeah!!! December 9, 2009 (7:40 pm)

    Very glad to read this. I cannot believe this person had the audacity to get a crane. He deserves to be caught. I don’t know the customs for Totem Poles but it would be great to see it get a 2nd life with new paint/weather protection and a new installation ceremony. Just losing it made me appreciate it being there and how lucky we were to have it in the first place. Maybe that is the silver lining here.

  • YinWestwood December 9, 2009 (7:50 pm)

    WooHoo!!! Love WSB and this amazing, kick-butt community! A Friendly Reminder: Don’t mess with West Seattle! Happy Holidays to everyone!

  • madashell December 9, 2009 (8:21 pm)

    Ask the dude if he stole the Native American art off the Tillicum Village building on SW Avalon!

  • cathyw December 9, 2009 (8:45 pm)

    @madashell – You’re absolutely right! Good thinking! I hope someone does follow up on that. Also, the other day I was talking about this theft with someone who said the totem pole was probably long gone out of Washington State. Apparently there is a lucrative, underground market in stolen, Native American Art. I hope part of it isn’t sitting in someone’s living room on the East Coast by now.

  • hollyplace December 9, 2009 (8:45 pm)

    madashell I was just thinking the same thing? I bet the guy has been removing more than just the totem pole.

  • Johnston December 9, 2009 (8:57 pm)

    Happy anniversary TR and WSB. You are a great resource to our community and I salute your good work.

    Hope the totem is found and back home soon!


  • Dale December 9, 2009 (9:10 pm)

    Since this was an intentional act, make the convicted pay triple damages (this is what the state allows for cutting down a neighbor trees for trespass) as well as criminal time for the value of such.

  • Eric December 9, 2009 (9:13 pm)

    I often wonder about the soul of people who have no respect to other people’s property. I wonder even more with the theft of public art with a connection to Native American “spirituality”. I hope Karma bites this guy in the butt for the rest of his life (stoning or no).

  • Shawn Mac Avoy December 9, 2009 (9:30 pm)

    If the Pole is destroyed, or damaged beyond repair, Maybe a local tribe could donate a new pole, but one that is actually from the Western Washington area. Totem poles were more from the north, around here it was house poles, I may be able to get a house pole made in the traditional Salish style (but would need donations). I also have a totem pole that I rescued a few years back that needs a little restoration that I could donate if needed. It is 20 feet tall and needs a few hundred dollars of restoration work. I am a Washington Native Tribal Member and don’t live in the Seattle area, but I get the feeling that this was a big part of the local community and needs to be replaced.
    Remember, the local natives gave up ALL of the land that you currently live on, without a fight, so your ancestors could live in this area in peace. The government has broken almost every promise and treaty it has signed with Native peoples, and they have broken almost none. Please Respect the traditions and art of the Northwest Native Peoples. I thank all of you who have written about this sacrilegious tragedy on this sight. To most Native people this is on the same level as if a Cross or Jewish Star was stolen from a church or park.
    Hy’shka s’iam,

  • bongo December 9, 2009 (10:21 pm)

    Here is an interesting historical story kinda related:

  • k December 9, 2009 (10:30 pm)

    Thank you Shawn for your insightful comments and offer of another pole if needed.
    I hope Seattle Parks & Rec. are watching this thread…

  • cjboffoli December 9, 2009 (10:54 pm)

    bongo: Thanks for posting the link. The whole time I have been reading this story I have been thinking about the occasions in Seattle’s history when totem poles have been stolen from the Native Americans that made them.

  • LyndaB December 9, 2009 (11:07 pm)

    i have to second JanS’s suggested punishment. i had some thoughts along that line as well. i saw another truck today there but they were legitimately doing some wiring. at first i thought the pole was being returned. yes, this person has to return it and do it front of everybody!

  • WSB December 9, 2009 (11:39 pm)

    Since I mixed our anniversary into my earlier comment, this comment thread has been peppered with kind words for us, but I want to reiterate that it’s hats off to the local Rotary longtimers who decided they weren’t going to take this lying down – their club made the park and the pole happen, and they weren’t going to let anyone get away with ripping it off.
    They are already amazing dedicated community activists – the day we went along on their fact-finding run, they had been up since 5 (if not earlier) for the annual Christmas Shopping Spree, a huge logistical feat involving hundreds of beneficiaries and volunteers – and AFTER that, they went out to The Middle Of Nowhere (really) – I don’t know exactly how their legwork intersected with police and with what people posted in comment threads here, but the end result, progress in the case, was truly teamwork – with the entire COMMUNITY as a team.
    We’ll followup tomorrow to see what’s happening next … TR

  • Leroniusmonkfish December 10, 2009 (2:05 am)

    I just want to know where this tall and once proud totem resides now and when it will be returned to the ground it so deserves to stand.

  • shane December 10, 2009 (7:38 am)

    A certain blog we all know and love just got a plug on KIRO radio in regards to this story :)

  • Friend O'Dinghus December 10, 2009 (9:22 am)

    WTG! Thanks to WSB, WSRC, and all you stone-happy West Seattle-ites. I’m hoping the totem will be home soon.
    I also wanted to say another sincere thanks to the Rotarians for their annual Christmas Shopping Spree. That is a truly awe-inspiring tradition which fills the hearts and minds of everyone involved with love and joy each year. How fantastic is that????

  • Bernie December 10, 2009 (4:11 pm)

    I think West Seattle should have a big warming Totem Raising Ceremony when it comes back. Any word if they have located the evidence?

  • Bill December 10, 2009 (7:52 pm)

    It would be nice of some volunteers were able to renovate this landmark piece once it comes back to West Seattle. It’s been in a pretty sorry state of repair, looking like nothing has ever been done to it since it was erected in 1976. It’s in a pretty sorry condition in my humble opinion.

  • Jeremy December 23, 2009 (3:15 am)

    To bad you citizens of West Seattle have to allow these type of landmarks to just deteriorate away. I think it is appalling that no one cared about this Totem pole before, and now the Rotary wants to restore it, how about taking care of it in the first place. The last time the Renton totem pole was seen, it was lying on the ground. That’s why the other pole has MOSS growing on it. This blog and the Rotary are just jumping on the bandwagon, when it should have been used to restore the monument in the first place, leaving no doubt in anyones mind that it was cherished, and not allowed to just sit there and rot. The tribe should reclaim it and keep it safe, because the citizens of Seattle don’t deserve it.

    • WSB December 23, 2009 (3:20 am)

      Hi, Jeremy. No bandwagon to jump on here. We (WSB) — a news service, not a “blog” — are reporting a news story, and our coverage goes back to the discovery three weeks ago that the West Seattle pole was missing in the first place. If this is something that was known to you previously, did you call the deterioration to the attention of those responsible for the poles (Parks in the case of West Seattle, apparently Fred Meyer)? Certainly, many public-art pieces sit quietly in their installations for years without attention – there was quite some time when that was true of the Alki Statue of Liberty – not just totem poles. I also was told by the restoration experts at Artech, for one of the followup stories we have published, that there is some difference of opinion regarding the proper way to deal with totem poles – is it more appropriate for them to be kept in a natural state, which, since they are wood, invariably means some deterioration, or to have preservatives used and other preventive measures taken (the Artech folks spoke of potentially putting a “cap” on the pole if they become involved with this project, and also making sure it is not touching the soil to “wick up” moisture – fixing that problem was part of what they did with a Redmond totem pole whose reinstallation we covered in our story).

Sorry, comment time is over.