Frank Parmenter’s mangled body was placed in a potter’s field in Courtenay, British Columbia with no family members present to mourn him. At just 38 years old, his body was whirled around a shaft in a shingle mill when his clothing became caught in a wheel. An inquest into his death was held and the incident was ruled an accident. And so ended the life of a mysterious and troubled man, a fugitive, an outcast, a loner and this genealogist’s greatest conundrum, until now.
Frank was born March 24, 1884 in Mount Carmel, Illinois, the first boy and number five of 13 children. His father, Charles Allen Parmenter, was a farmer by trade and a respected man from a family influential in Illinois politics and military history. Charles married Mary Broedel on Christmas Day 1874. He was only 19 and his wife 15 on the day of their marriage. On March 24th, 1884 with four daughters ranging from one to five (including my great, great-grandmother Laura Ethel), Charles must have been excited to hear that he finally had a son (the first of four).
Life in Mount Carmel was not easy for the Parmenters. In September of 1887 a tornado tore through the town, killing 16, leaving 100 families homeless and destroying all the government buildings including the courthouse. It is likely that the Parmenters suffered significant property damage. It took years for Mount Carmel to rebuild their community and recover from the hardship inflicted by mother nature. By 1902, Charles Allen and Mary Parmenter sold out and moved their family to Washington State and settled in Centralia where they commenced farming. Life in Centralia was peaceful and productive. Newpaper articles from the era show the family gathering often for birthdays, anniversaries and weddings. However, in 1907 the news had changed and brought incredible shame to the family.
Frank Parmenter was released from prison a few days later and while there was tension in the family, it was thought to be over. It was, until Frank was imprisoned again on April 16, 1909 for stealing another bicycle. This time when he returned home he was told he could never return. His father turned him out of the house and family letters from decades later say that he was never heard from again. Some family members said they heard a rumor that Frank went to Canada and died there but after nearly 15 years of searching for him I had almost given up.
Then, searching through an online newspaper archive I discovered something that sent my pulse racing.
So Frank hadn’t gone far. Just a few weeks after being turned away from home Frank robbed a hotel and landed himself in prison. This time he was sentenced and sent first to a labor farm in Skaget Valley and then, to the state peniteniary in Walla Walla. As luck would have it, the Washington State Digital Archives had Frank Parmenter’s mug shot and a detailed personal description.
Two years later Frank was released and made his way for the Canadian border. He stopped along the way in Bellingham and forged a document at a Western Union office with the name of his father’s neighbor in Centralia. Suspecting something wasn’t right, they called the sheriff and Frank was soon arrested and sent back to prison in Lewis County. Then, another search of the local newspapers and a BIG surprise:
Another article a week later indicated that Frank Parmenter had not been found. He never was. The rumor in the family that he had gone to Canada stuck in my mind and I began searching online to find Candian documents for anyone named Frank Parmenter. Within hours I located a WWI Draft Registration for Frank Parmenter. He was residing in Beesborough Bay, British Columbia and he was a logger at the time. He listed his father as his nearest relative. Excited by the new find I dug
deeper into Canadian records hoping to find a census record for him. My next search, however returned a British Columbia Death Index entry for just four years later. Heavy-hearted, I ordered the death certificate for Frank and the newspaper death notice from the library in Courtenay. The obituary of the man I had been searching over a decade for was too short:
Frank Parmenter has taken on legendary status in my mind. Leaving no wife or children behind, Frank would be all but forgotten if it hadn’t been for the family rumors and my inability to accept his disappearance. Now, more than 100 years after he broke out of prison, escaped the law and vanished from my hometown the mystery has been solved.