Hidden City Crime File: Seattle
Kurt CobainWho: Kurt Donald Cobain was born on Feb. 20, 1967, in Aberdeen, WA. His parents, Wendy and Donald Cobain, divorced when he was 7. Kurt was ashamed of the divorce, so he began to withdraw from friends and act out. His father went on to remarry and have additional kids. His mother entered an abusive relationship. All of this took a toll on Kurt. He had both musical and artistic talent, which ran in the family. Kurt dropped out of high school and ended up living with friends. He eventually got his own place and began pursuing music. He formed a band with fellow punk rock fan Krist Novoselic. They had various drummers and his band Nirvana went on to have great success.
What: Kurt Cobain had problems with drugs throughout his life. He had stomach issues that caused him a lot of pain, and the drugs helped relieve it. As a result, he became addicted to heroin. Cobain tried rehab several times. The final time he entered Exodus Recovery Center in Los Angeles after his wife, Courtney Love, and friends tried an intervention. He stayed a day and then flew back to Seattle. He was spotted several times in the city but then disappeared. Courtney Love hired a private detective named Tom Grant to look for him. Cobain’s body was discovered in the room over the garage of his Lake Washington home by an electrician who had arrived to install a security system. A suicide note was discovered; it appeared he had gotten high and then shot himself. There is much controversy over Cobain’s death and many, including private investigator Tom Grant, feel it was a homicide. Grant claims that based on statements from Cobain’s lawyer, inconsistencies in the police report and evidence, and weird occurrences such as credit card usage after his death, foul play was most likely involved. Grant documents his findings and thoughts on his site.
Where: Cobain grew up in Washington and lived in Seattle at the time of his death.
When: Cobain met Courtney Love on Jan. 12, 1990. After discovering that she was pregnant, they married on Feb. 24, 1992, and their daughter was born on Aug. 18, 1992. Cobain first tried to get clean in early 1992, before his daughter’s birth. He checked into the Exodus Recovery Center on March 30, 1994, but soon left. He was seen in Seattle on April 2 and 3. His body was discovered on April 8, 1994, and he was thought to have died on April 5.
In the Media: There has been much coverage of Cobain. Nick Broomfield investigated Grant’s claims about Cobain’s death and released a documentary called Kurt & Courtney in 1998. In 1999, Ian Halperin and Max Wallace released a book called Who Killed Kurt Cobain? They eventually partnered with Grant to write Love and Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain. Gus Van Sant loosely based his 2005 movie Last Days on the events of Cobain's final days.
The Wah Mee MassacreWho: Willie Mak was a 22-year-old Chinese immigrant who had gotten into massive debt with one of the clubs he worked at in Chinatown. He needed money and decided to rob the weathly Wah Mee gambling club. He enlisted the help of his old high school classmate, Benjamin Ng. Ng had a criminal record from when he was a juvenile. Mak also enlisted the help of Tony Ng (no relation to Benjamin Ng) who worked at his parents’ restaurant in north Seattle.
What: The 3 men entered the Wah Mee Club, stole about $10,000 and tied up and shot all 14 people in the place. There was 1 survivor-- Wai Chin, a 62-year-old dealer for the club. He was able to identify Willie, Benjamin and Tony. Benjamin Ng and Willie Mak were charged with 13 counts of aggravated first-degree murder. Benjamin received life in prison while Willie Mak was sentenced to death. He received a stay on his death sentence and instead got a life sentence. Tony Ng fled but was eventually arrested in Canada and brought back to the US. Ng received 5 years for each of the 13 counts of robbery with which he was charged.
Where: The Wah Mee Club is located in Seattle's Chinatown.
When: The massacre occurred on Feb. 18, 1983. By Feb. 24, 1983, Benjamin Ng and Willie Mak were charged and sentenced in August 1983. Tony Ng was arrested in Canada on Oct. 4, 1984, and tried in April 1985. On Nov. 10, 1988, Mak’s death sentence was put on hold and then overturned on Jan. 8, 1991. On May 3, 1993, Wai Y. Chin, the survivor of the incident, died of natural causes.
In the Media: Todd Matthews, who appeared in the Hidden City Seattle episode, wrote a book detailing the event. You can purchase it at http://www.wahmee.com/.
Barefoot BanditWho: Colton Harris-Moore was born on Mar. 22, 1991, in Camano Island, WA. Colton’s father had a drug issue and was abusive. He ended up leaving the family after an incident where he tried to choke Colton after an argument. Colton and his mother lived in a mobile home in the middle of the woods. She developed an alcohol problem and often neglected her son. By age 7 he was living out in the woods and stealing things needed to survive. His first conviction, for possession of stolen property, came at age 12. Within a few months of turning 13, he had 3 more.
What: After Colton’s initial convictions, he was placed in a group home. He escaped from there and started on a 2-year spree of crime. Over that period of time he committed nearly 100 robberies and stole boats and planes. Since he had no training as a pilot, the planes were often crash-landed. Harris-Moore earned the nickname Barefoot Bandit due to the fact he was seen robbing places with no shoes and leaving chalk footprints with the word 'c'ya' at some of his crime scenes. As word of his crimes spread many fan pages were started on Facebook showing support. After 2 years of eluding authorities, Colton was arrested in the Bahamas. Witnesses on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera recognized the 19-year-old and called police, who captured him after a high-speed boat chase. Harris-Moore was brought back to the US where he was convicted on many different charges. He received 7 years and 3 months from the state charges, and 6 and a half years for his federal crimes. They will run concurrently so he will be released after the state term.
Where: Harris-Moore committed crimes in Washington, Idaho, Canada and the Bahamas.
When: Colton’s crime spree started in 2008 and ended on July, 11, 2010, when he was arrested in Harbour Island, Bahamas. He was sentenced by the state on Dec. 16, 2011, and a federal court on Jan. 27, 2012.
In the Media: In April 2010, 20th Century Fox purchased the film rights to the book Taking Flight: The Hunt for a Young Outlaw, based on a proposal by Bob Friel (who was seen in the Hidden City Seattle episode). The $1.3 million will go to the victims of Harris-Moore’s crimes.