You might think of Washington as a progressive state. But unbelievable as it may seem, Washington State only fully abolished the death penalty in 2023. The state's last execution was just 13 years prior. Whether you approve or disapprove of capital punishment, there's a curious outlier among the 110 executions in Washington.

Only one man on that list was executed for a crime other than murder: Jack Marable.

Marable's journey from Alabama to Washington

Jack Marable - also known as Jack Harris - was from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He had a troubled criminal history and run-ins with the law. This included convictions for burglary (1920, 1931, 1938), theft of government property (1924), robbery (1926), and violation of the Harrison Narcotic Act (1928).

On New Year's Day of 1939, Marable joined a group of prisoners in a breakout attempt at Kilby Prison of Montogomery, Alabama. While many of those prisoners were killed, Marable managed to escape and began to drift across the United States. At some point, though it isn't clear, Marable recruited 16-year-old Robert Kimmich to join him. The two eventually ended up in Olympia, Washington.

Above: historical photo of crime scene. Below: Google street view of nearby area today.
Above: historical photo of crime scene. Below: Google street view of nearby area today. Credit: Actual Detective Stories / Google Maps

The crime: kidnapping and rape

As recounted in the Daily Olympian, Marabel and Kimmich approached a young woman on the steps of the Olympia post office on the evening of October 3, 1939. Mrs. Geraldine Roloff, 23 years old, was then kidnapped and forced at knife-point to drive herself and her two assaulters to an abandoned farmhouse in Grand Mound. There, the two allegedly took turns raping her before returning her to the post office near midnight.

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The entire story was narrated in Actual Detective Stories in December 1939 (available archived through the Espy Project). Because the publication was considered a pulp magazine, there is a possibility that some or much of the story has been fictionalized or sensationalized. As such, it's excluded as a source of information on the case, outside of the images that were available publicly at the time of Marable and the crime scene.

Inside crime scene of the Marable rape
Inside crime scene. Credit: Actual Detective Stories.

Trial and conviction in the Olympia courts

Due to evidence left behind at the crime scene, it did not take long for police to identify and apprehend Marabel and Kimmich. Both were tried in the state court in Olympia in November 1939 for kidnapping and rape, with a guilty verdict found on November 11, 1939. In sentencing, the jury found that Kimmich should be sentenced to life in prison, but that Marable should be executed.

It might be hard to fathom why Marable should be the only man in Washington's history to be sentenced to execution for kidnapping and rape when the rest of the state's historical executions were all for murder. Unfortunately, the records on this case are slim, but a clue to the mindset of Olympians at the time might be found in the Actual Detective Stories piece on Marable, whose leading subtitle was thus:

Why Will Olympia, Washington, Respect Forever This Woman Who Suffered Worse Than Death on October 3, 1939?

Our culture and times have changed regarding attitudes toward rape since then.

Marable's execution was on October 4, 1940 - nearly an exact year after the crime. He was hanged.

circa 1950: A selection of marijuana cigarettes, or reefers, seized by the Narcotics Squad. (Photo by Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images)
circa 1950: A selection of marijuana cigarettes, or reefers, seized by the Narcotics Squad. (Photo by Orlando /Three Lions/Getty Images)

Was Marable a victim of moral panic over marijuana?

One final odd twist to this tale: Marable's alleged use of marijuana during the crime, which took place during the moral panic caused by "Reefer Madness" propaganda. Marable's defense in court was that he was under the influence of rum and marijuana, and thus had no memory of the crime, or intention to commit it.

In the response to his appeal, Marable's counsel was quoted as saying:

- well, what happened, we will have to accept the state's word for that; that if he did this thing he was so drunk - he was too drunk to be able to entertain an intent to commit a crime.

However, no physical evidence was presented that showed marijuana or alcohol were involved on that day, and witness testimony indicated that the two men did not appear to be drunk. The prosecutors also contested the ability of Marable to offer specific driving directions to the scene of the crime if so heavily under the influence. The lack of any narcotics was also affirmed afterward by the Bureau of Narcotics.

It's worth noting that Marable's defense team also appealed on the basis of the prosecution eliciting additional sympathy for the alleged victim by introducing evidence that she had recently been ill with the flu and that her husband had undergone surgery. Such sympathy might push the jury to decide on the death penalty. However, the appeals court ruled that this evidence was relevant and added a parenthetical comment:

... if the evidence complained of be wholly disregarded, it would seem that the other evidence in the case, and against the reception of which no complaint is made, and particularly that describing Marable's treatment of the prosecuting witness in the abandoned shack, would of itself arouse all of the sympathy that the human heart is capable of feeling.

In other words, the appeals court pointed out that Marable's treatment of the victim was more than enough to disgust the jury and lead them to find in favor of the death penalty.

Was Marable's execution fair and just punishment for the crime? Tap the app and let us know your thoughts!

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