• Ashley

Episode 6: Pearl Kongsle

On this episode of Washed Away I’m gonna tell you about what could possibly be the oldest and coldest, unsolved case in Seattle’s history. It involves dynamite, a widow, and 60 years of mystery. Actually 61 years as of earlier this month. This is the truly bizarre story around the bombing of Pearl Kongsle.


Sources for this episode include: CBS News, History Link, Strange Company, and West Seattle Blog.

If you have any tips or information that could help solve this cold case, please contact The King County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit at (206) 263-2090 or mcutips@kingcounty.gov


This is what the house looks like now (via Redfin) it was last sold in 2001. I wonder if the owners know about the unusual history behind their front steps...

An important note: Please register to vote in the election coming up on November 3rd. If you're already registered - double check that it's still valid. If you're voting in person please be safe, wear a mask, vote early. If you're voting by mail get that ballot in a dropbox or mailbox as soon as you can! I'll be voting the easy and safe way - by mail - because I'm lucky to live in Washington state. And yes, I'll be voting for Joe Biden.


Transcript-

Ashley:

On this episode of Washed Away, I'm going to tell you about what could possibly be the coldest, cold case in Seattle's history. It involves dynamite, a widow, and 60 years of mystery... actually make that 61 years as of earlier this month. This is the truly bizarre story you probably haven't heard... around the bombing of Pearl Kongsle.

Mike Ciesynski:

Yeah, Pearl Kongsle. Hmm. I haven't looked at the case in quite a few years and, um, I got involved in it. Ooh, geez. Must be what, five years ago. Case has been unsolved for a long time. J. Edgar Hoover was looking at it cause he was the head of the FBI time. And um, I had a fun time reviewing that case and uh, looking at all these old black and white pictures. Cause a lot of times we don't look at any cases, that are that old because there's no evidence around, nothing like that. And, um, it was a very bizarre case.

Ashley:

That’s Mike Ciesynski, a retired detective, talking about his time working on one of Seattle’s coldest and strangest unsolved cases. You might have heard of Mike through his connection to the Chilly Willy crimes from the 1990s. "Chilly Willy" AKA DeWayne Lee Harris was actually the first serial murderer to ever be charged in Seattle. If that stat doesn’t sound right to you, remember Ted Bundy doesn’t really count. Despite being tied to this city and state forever in people’s minds, he was never held accountable for his crimes here in Washington. And The Green River Killer wasn’t caught until 2001. Mike also reviewed Kurt Cobain’s death file in 2014 which got a lot of media attention. And for the record - he agreed with the original finding that, Kurt had indeed died by suicide. Detective Ciesynski has clearly worked his share of unusual cases, but the one that this episode is about… has been the hardest to solve. And he tried to get some traction on it before he retired in 2017, but he didn’t have much luck.

Mike Ciesynski:

I was hoping I was going to get something out of that case, but I literally don't think I got one phone call, nothing, zero, zip. Then again, it was 1959. All the people that were involved in the case at the time, were all long dead.

Ashley:

So here's what happened: On September 2nd, 1959, a 62 year old widow named Pearl Kongsle went to dinner with her neighbor, Alberta Bowman. The women lived on a quiet residential street near Lincoln Park in West Seattle. And they had declined ordering dessert at a nearby restaurant that evening because Alberta had a pie waiting for them at home. Of course, it was the 50s. Once they arrived back at Pearl's place, Pearl went inside and another friend joined her: Edith Friedman. At some point, Pearl either made a phone call or answered a phone call. That's unclear. As is who she was speaking to. And Alberta stopped at her own place (remember she was a neighbor) to pick up their dessert. On her way back to Pearl's, she noticed a brown paper bag sitting on the front steps of Pearl's residence, according to some reports it had a straw sticking out of the top.

Ashley:

But otherwise it just looked like a normal paper lunch sack. Alberta kind of tried to pick it up, but it was really heavy. And she'd later described the object by saying, it seemed as if it were alive or breathing. Another report claimed that something may have rolled inside when she touched it or maybe she didn't touch it at all. It's hard to know. She called to Pearl from the front door and told her about this mystery package on her steps. Pearl hung up the phone, walked over to examine the bag and leaned closer... as Edith tried to tell Pearl not to touch it, but it was too late.

Mike Ciesynski:

Her and her two friends just came back from having dinner and the one woman lived next door, went next door and got the pie and brought the pie over and said, "Oh yeah, there's a bag on your thing. I wouldn't touch it. It seems like it's breathing or something." And Pearl went there. And um, looked at it, she had one foot on the stoop and the other one on the stair and then leaned down there and picked it up and BA-BOOM. I mean it buckled the roof, of the house, blew off her... they found, I think they found one of her thumbs across the street on the roof, blew her hand, blew her leg, burned her, you know, singed her, you know, it was quite an explosion.

Ashley:

Sorry about the birds chirping in the background. I know it's weird considering the subject matter, but I interviewed Mike earlier this summer on a particularly nice morning and he was outside. So.. yeah, birds. In all likelihood, Pearl died instantly from her injuries. Her friends, Edith and Alberta, they were thrown against the wall of the house by the force of the blast. But luckily neither of them were standing close enough to be seriously injured. Windows of nearby homes were completely broken. Where Pearl once stood, there was now a crater in her front yard. Reportedly a car could be seen speeding away, possibly with three men inside. It was a white, 1949 Chevrolet, but police were never able to track it down. It seems like such a crucial clue. So I asked Mike about that detail...

Mike Ciesynski:

I think what it was, probably someone just got freaked out. Some kids, you know, that heard the explosion and uh, "what the hell was that?" And they just kind of boogied. Uh, but looking at the file, there was, they couldn't find anything on that at all. And they interviewed over a hundred people, I believe. Um, from what the case said,

Ashley:

And this was a tough one because seemingly no motive, right?

Mike Ciesynski:

No motive, it was a nice West Seattle neighborhood. And uh, she had no known enemies.. I mean she was 62 years old.

Ashley:

Pearl had a roommate of sorts. He was her tenant, but I'm not sure if he lived in a separate part of the house or I don't know what the deal was. His name was William J. Meyers and he supposedly had a dog that barked a lot. This came up as possible motive for the blast. Maybe neighbors were upset or maybe he was the intended target. But William was in the VA hospital when the bomb went off.

Ashley:

Here's some more background on Pearl's life: Pearl's husband was a Puget Sound Master Mariner or a Captain. His name was Guy Kongsle and he died in 1949. That's 10 years before a bomb would kill Pearl. As far as anyone could tell... Guy didn't leave behind any enemies or debts or any reason for someone to want to hurt his wife in his absence. And in 1959, Pearl had started moving on with her life. She sold their old house, she bought a car, and she was planning a big move. Pearl didn't have any children, but she did have some relatives... In fact, Pearl's brother-in-law, Elmer Kongsle and his wife (who also lived in Washington state) had found sticks of dynamite scattered on their lawn just three weeks before Pearl would find a bag on hers. Those two events have to be connected. Right?

Mike Ciesynski:

...Yeah. I remember a little bit about that, I think it came out there was nothing. I mean literally nothing. What it was or wasn't, I don't think it was dynamite and um, yeah, but it was ...they ran that thing down to the ground. They thought this was like, you know, was the brother involved or was it a friend or something. Um, but yes, nothing came of that at all. There's all the little things that, you know, of course, you know, twists and turns and say, what could it be this guy? Could it be that guy? You know, I used to think it was a prank turned bad, myself. Cause you talk about a little overkill for some 62 year old woman, you know, and laid it out there in daylight and they were proficient enough to make a bomb like that, which is, you know, bombs scare me to death anyway. Um, but to take it and carry it, then go up the stairs and "is someone coming?", you know, and put it down on the stair like that. So they're proficient enough to make the bomb, but not proficient enough to put it to where it's going to get it's best use. That is, to kill somebody.

Ashley:

So I'm not sure if Mike meant that the dynamite found on the brother-in-law's lawn didn't actually happen or exist. Like it was just a rumor or that it did happen, but police couldn't tie it to Pearl's bombing. And so therefore nothing came of it. And to clarify what he was saying about the placement of the bomb, it was on her front steps, but not at the bottom or the top, where it would have caused the most damage. You'd think an experienced bomb maker would know where to place a bomb if destruction or murder was indeed their goal. And since we're talking about dynamite, here's a little extra info for ya: Swedish chemist, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite in 1867 as a way of stabilizing nitroglycerin. That way it was a little bit easier, safer, and more practical to blow up rocks so that you could tunnel into mines. Dynamite has nitrogen and oxygen, which leads to explosive, but delayed results. The mixture is not stable in damp environments. Water actually causes nitroglycerin in dynamite to start leaking away and explode unexpectedly. And of course, Seattle tends to be a pretty damp environment.

Mike Ciesynski:

It was a substantial amount of explosive, that was in there. And, uh, it was, it was just kinda weird in those, you know, seein' the pictures of it, you know, and, uh, and they gave a lot of information away. Like we wouldn't do today. We wouldn't have given all the information away, you know, saying exactly what kind of dynamite it was...

Ashley:

So Mike's saying the cops didn't keep enough details to themselves in this case, like the papers pretty much printed everything. And if someone were to come forward and falsely confess, that would make it really difficult because they wouldn't have anything that only the authorities knew to kind of cross check whether or not someone was telling the truth. And this was in the 1950s, before DNA and forensics, when that kind of stuff was incredibly important.

Ashley:

I was curious to learn about other bombings in Seattle's history. I found that six movie theaters were bombed in 1928, but couldn't find a reason or explanation. The University of Washington administration building was bombed in 1969. That was actually a big one. It caused an estimated $300,000 in damages, but there were no casualties and no claims of responsibility, which seems weird. DB Cooper claimed to have a bomb in his suitcase when he boarded a plane in Portland, Oregon headed for Seattle in 1971....and that story could definitely be saved for another time. But that's really all I could find when it came to bombings in Seattle's history. And this tragic Pearl Kongsle mystery is considered "the first time in Seattle's history that a private citizen had apparently been assassinated with a booby trap", but was she actually assassinated? That's a term usually reserved for presidents and other political figures. The actual definition of "to assassinate" is to murder an important person in a surprise attack for religious or political reasons. Pearl was by all accounts, just a normal citizen. She was a widow, a neighbor, and a friend.

Ashley: So do you think, just in your professional opinion and going over this case, do you think Pearl was the intended target or do you think it was like a random prank?

Mike Ciesynski:

I think, I don't think, well, nothing, nothing pointed that Pearl would have some criminal activity that she was doing, covering something up, and the husband was dead already for a while. I don't think it was something that was intentional, I don't know if it was a prank or somebody was wanting to blow something up but I don't think, I don't believe she really was the target to be honest with ya because it could have been the other woman that picked up the bomb when she was walking back with her pie. And as soon as she lifted it up, uh, that activated it.

Ashley:

Yeah that's true. The neighbor or the friend, you know, if they would have picked it up, it would have been them instead.

Mike Ciesynski:

Yes. Yeah, exactly.

Ashley:

It's unclear if any investigation was done into the backgrounds of Pearl's friends, I mean, they were her friends, they were her neighbors, and they were around her age at the time. So probably unlikely that they were involved in any way, but never hurts to look. And of course, since those women have long passed, not sure what exactly we'd be able to find out now.

Mike Ciesynski:

I'm thinking it was more, myself personally, I think it was more kind of like a prank or something. No, we all knew something, you know, growing up we all knew some weird kids, you know, that do some weird stuff, you know? Uh, but dynamite was easier to get back in the days then it is now, you didn't need identification for that kind of stuff.

Ashley:

That's kind of true now that we have access to the internet. You can get your hands on just about anything, but your purchases can be tracked as well. I mean, to your IP address or your credit card number or to the address it was delivered to. There's ways to track that stuff. So it'd be really hard to hide the fact that you bought dynamite in 2020, if you could. In 1959... I have no idea.

Ashley:

Obviously, there are so many questions that linger in this case. Who left a bomb on Pearl's steps. And why? Was it a prank gone horribly wrong? Like Mike, the, former detective thinks? What motive could anyone have to kill a 62 year old woman in such a brutal way? Could it possibly have had something to do with the dynamite found on her brother-in-law's lawn that may or may not have happened?

Ashley:

Was there something about Pearl that no one knew? Did she have a secret? Who was she talking to on the phone? Or perhaps did this all have something to do with her selling her house? Was a realtor upset with her or a neighbor or was her tenant the intended target? And if Alberta originally tried to pick up the bomb, why didn't it go off on her? Though it's possible that detail had been reported incorrectly. Maybe she never even touched it. We just don't know. And sadly after 61 years, it's really not likely that answers will come anytime soon, but on the off chance that you have any tips or any information that could help solve this cold case, please contact the King County Sheriff's Office Major Crimes Unit at (206) 263-2090 that's (206) 263-2090. You can also email them mcutips@kingcounty.gov

Ashley:

Washed Away is a Cosmic Bigfoot production.You can find my show notes... meaning images, transcripts, sources, that kind of stuff at washedawaypodcast.com. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter @washedawaypod. And if you'd like to help this podcast reach new ears, please leave a rating or review on Apple. I'm Ashley Smith. And I'll have another episode for you very soon. And before I let you go, wanted to make sure that I reminded you to vote in the upcoming election on November 3rd. I know you're hearing it from all sides, but that's a good thing. And you're probably already planning to vote, which is an even better thing. Early voting has already begun in some states and if you are able to vote early, please do. If you need to get registered or check your registration status, go to iwillvote.com. I'll also put some links in my show notes. And since I live here in Washington state, I'll be voting safely and easily by mail. Thanks for listening.

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