William F. Gohl
February 6, 1873
|Died|| (aged 54)|
|Other names||Ghoul of Grays Harbor |
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
|Victims||2 (but possibly 100+)|
Span of crimes
William Gohl (February 6, 1873 – March 3, 1927) was a German-American alleged serial killer who, while working as a union official, allegedly murdered sailors passing through Aberdeen, Washington. He allegedly murdered for an unknown period of time and was a suspect in dozens of murders until his capture in 1910. Spared from the death penalty by a request for leniency by the jury, he was sentenced to life in prison at Walla Walla State Penitentiary where he died in 1927 from lobar pneumonia and erysipelas complicated by dementia paralytic caused by syphilis. Recent scholarship has cast significant doubt on the veracity of the accusations against Gohl, with historian Aaron Goings arguing that the numerous bodies discovered in Grays Harbor were the result of accidental deaths caused by unsafe conditions on the docks and in the timber industry, and that Gohl was unjustly blamed for these deaths by influential local businessmen hoping to do away with a powerful figure in the local labor movement.
Occupation and alleged murders
Little is known about Gohl's early life though at one point as an adult, he went to the Yukon chasing gold. He was unsuccessful, and on his return to Aberdeen he took on work as a bartender. During this time it was alleged that he may have been responsible for numerous murders. The bodies of migrant workers were found after washing up on the shores, robbed of any valuables or money they were known to have. Gohl is alleged to have started a fire which burned a saloon in Alaska. It is also alleged that a "Jacob Miller" and wife had "vanished" while living in a cabin owned by Gohl on Laidlaw Island (near Westport, Washington). Interestingly In March 1912, a human skull was found buried near the cabin owned by Gohl; another skull had previously been found near the same spot on a beach and was thought to have been of "Red" Miller who had "disappeared" and was believed to have been a victim of Gohl. Gohl was employed as a union official at the Sailors' Union of the Pacific. Before this he had been employed as a bartender after returning broke from the Yukon. Already an accomplished criminal, Gohl was accused of being responsible for many of the large numbers of deceased migrant workers that were found washed up on shore during his tenure as a bartender, as well as a number of other crimes.
In 1905, during the great waterfront strike Gohl was charged with "assembling men under arms" and is also alleged to have forcibly abducted non-union crewmen from the schooner Fearless for which he was fined $1,250 in the Superior Court. As a union official, Gohl used his reputation and intimidating size to discourage strikes and "recruit" new union members.
The Union building was allegedly a location that was ideal for his crimes, both in providing victims, and in concealing the evidence of their murders. Sailors arriving in the port of Aberdeen would usually visit the Sailor's Union building soon after disembarking. There they could collect their mail and, if they wished, set some money aside in savings.
Gohl would usually be on duty, alone. Typically, Gohl would ask if the sailors had any family or friends in the area. Then he would turn the conversation to the topic of money and valuables. If the sailor was just passing through, and would not be missed by anyone in the area, and had more than a trivial amount of cash or valuables on hand, Gohl would choose him as his next victim.
Gohl was accused of killing his victims in the union building by shooting them, reliving them of their money and valuables, and disposing of them in the Wishkah River, which ran behind the building and into Grays Harbor. According to some reports, there was a chute which descended from a trapdoor in the building directly into the river. Other reports state that Gohl would use a small launch to murder his victims[clarification needed] and dump the bodies directly in the harbor. Though suspected of being responsible for the large number of sailors who would disembark in Aberdeen and disappear, nothing was done to stop him until an accomplice, John Klingenberg, was brought back to Aberdeen after trying to jump ship in Mexico to escape prosecution, or possibly to escape Gohl.
Klingenberg was able to testify to seeing Gohl alone with a sailor, Charles Hatberg/Hatteberg, whose body had recently been found in the harbor at Indian Creek February 2, 1910, soon after his disappearance  on December 21, 1909. Hatberg had been shot with a .38 Automatic pistol which had been found in the salt flats by his body. The ownership was traced to Gohl. The motive according to Klingenburg's confession was that Gohl claimed Hatberg had told a "detective Miller" that Gohl had shot a cow the previous summer.
Gohl had already been arrested in February 1910 for the Hatberg murder and was convicted of two counts of murder, though suspected of 41 or more,note A found guilty May 12, 1910 and sentenced to life imprisonment and taken to the State Prison June 13, 1910. Besides Hatberg, the second count was for the murder of John Hoffman, a witness to the Hatberg murder who was shot and injured by Gohl on the night of the murder, and killed the next day by Klingenberg, for which Hoffman's killer was sentenced to 20 years.
Hoffman had been killed December 23, 1909, after the Hatberg killing, and had been robbed of $400.00 and also disposed of in the Harbor near Indian Creek. In July 1910, a human skeleton was found in Indian Creek; however, it is not known whether these were the remains of Hoffman. Other corpses found in the Grays Harbor area were suggested to be victims of Gohl, including the body of Carl O. Carlson, found on April 27, 1910, floating in the harbor. Gohl was later transferred to an asylum for the criminally insane, where he died in 1927. He is buried in an open field above West Medical Lake, Eastern State Hospital
- Hughes, John; Beckwith Ryan (2005). On the Harbor: From Black Friday to Nirvana. Stephens Press. p. 209. ISBN 1-932173-50-1.
- Lane, Brian; Wilfred Gregg (1995). The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Berkley Books. p. 179. ISBN 0-425-15213-8.
- Goings, Aaron (26 June 2020). The Port of Missing Men: Billy Gohl, Labor, and Brutal Times in the Pacific Northwest. ISBN 9780295747422.
- Allegedly, from 1905 to 1910, 40 bodies were found floating near Aberdeen."May Lynch Suspect". The Tacoma Times: p. 1 and p. 8. February 4, 1910.
- "Weaving a Web About Gohl". The Tacoma Times. February 5, 1910. p. 6. Argument workout on Billy Gohl pdf document
- "Skull found may be victium of Gohl" Aberdeen Herald March 7, 1912
- Morgan, Murray C. (1955). The Last Wilderness. University of Washington Press. pp. 122–128. ISBN 978-0-670-41936-4.
- "Sailors' agent is held for murder". The Colfax Gazette. February 11, 1910. p. 6.
- San Francisco Call August 23, 1906 reports that on a man from the Fearless was found drowned and that Gohl had led an armed party which taken two sailors from the Watson A West
- Los Angeles Herald May 3, 1910-Mayor Benn of Aberdeen in 1908 had heard of Gohl being responsible for the "Floater Fleet"; Benn had Police Chief Dean begin an investigation although it took over a year because of the scarcity of evidence for a prosecution
- "Murder by Wholesale" The Spokane Press February 3, 1910 .p.1
- "Slayer of Hadberg tells story of deed" The Newport Miner May 12, 1912 .p.3
- "Confession of Klingenberg" Aberdeen Herald April 27, 1910 .p.2
- San Francisco Call April 7, 1910 attributes the number of victims as 50 to 60
- "Mrs. Gohl Will Stick To Husband Who Has Been Found Murderer". The Tacoma Times. May 12, 1910. p. 6.
- "Slayer Taken To Prison". The San Francisco Call. June 14, 1910. p. 9.
- Los Angeles Herald February 6, 1910 reports Hoffman had withdrawn $450.00 prior to his disappearance; Gohl was also reported to have taken Hatberg personal belongings from the Indian Creek Shack where the victim had lived
- San Francisco Call October 16, 1910 Klingenberg was found guilty of manslaughter in Hatberg murder; the jury recommended leniency
- San Francisco Call April 7, 1910 reports it was Gohl who killed Hoffman
- "Sixty Murders traced to Gohl". The San Francisco Call, April 7, 1910.
- "Another Dead Body Found Near Aberdeen". The San Francisco Call. July 25, 1910. p. 2, at foot.
- "Items of Interest to Mariners in the Pacific". The San Francisco Call. April 28, 1910. p. 17. Retrieved April 24, 2013. At the Library of Congress.
- [The Spokesman-Review - Mar 6, 2004]
- Goings, Aaron (2020). The Port of Missing Men: Billy Gohl, Labor, and Brutal Times in the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press. ISBN 978-0-295-74741-5.
- Osborn, Andrew (December 2013). Face Down in the Wishkah. Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences History (Bachelor of Arts in History). University of Washington Tacoma.