Totem pole in West Seattle's Rotary Viewpoint park is stolen on November 30, 2009.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 5/11/2012
  • Essay 10071
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On November 30, 2009, the 18-foot-high totem pole at Rotary Viewpoint above the West Seattle Golf Course is stolen in broad daylight. The theft, engineered by a local West Seattle resident, occurs with the unwitting assistance of a local crane service, a tow truck operator, and the Seattle Police Department. Witnesses abound and police solve the crime within a few days. The missing totem pole is recovered in Keizer, Oregon, and trucked back to Seattle. The perpetrator, Charles Edward Jenks,  negotiates a settlement with the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office to avoid criminal prosecution and pays Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Rotary Club of West Seattle approximately $21,000 for the cost of recovery and restoration. A re-dedication ceremony for the totem pole will be held at Rotary Viewpoint on August 10, 2010.

Rotary Viewpoint

Rotary Viewpoint is located on 35th Avenue SW and SW Alaska Street, overlooking to the east the West Seattle Golf Course, the City of Seattle, and the Cascade Mountains. In 1974, the neglected piece of vacant city-owned property was adopted by the Rotary Club of West Seattle as a community project and eventually transformed into a small park. The project cost approximately $3,000 and took nearly three years to complete.

The park features a magnificent 18-foot totem pole sporting a large thunderbird with spread wings on top. It was carved by Robin Young, a Native American from South Dakota who taught woodcarving at Highline Community College. Other figures carved into the red cedar log symbolize Pacific Northwest history.

The Rotary Club presented the park to Seattle's Mayor Wesley C. Uhlman (b. 1935), on August 10, 1976, before a large assemblage of civic dignitaries and local residents. It was dedicated to longtime Rotarian, Chamber of Commerce member and West Seattle community activist Norman A. "Normie" Beers (1898-1991), who spearheaded the all-volunteer project.

A Big Job

At approximately 5:00 p.m. on Monday, November 30, 2009, a flatbed crane truck drove into Rotary Viewpoint park, hoisted the 500-pound totem pole from its base and lowered it onto the flatbed. While leaving the park, the heavy vehicle bogged down in the wet grass and the operator had to call for a heavy-duty tow truck. At approximately 7:00 p.m., a tow truck arrived at Rotary Viewpoint and proceeded to drag the crane truck out of the mud. Seattle police dispatched patrol cars to the scene to facilitate the recovery by redirecting traffic on the busy street.

On Wednesday, December 2, 2009, the West Seattle Blog (an online local new site), acting on a tip from a viewer, contacted Seattle Parks and Recreation Department to inquire about the missing totem pole. The Parks Department determined the totem had been stolen and the reported the theft to the Seattle Police Department. The replacement value of the totem pole was estimated to be at least $15,000. With plenty of eye witnesses to the messy event and the assistance of West Seattle Rotarians Ken Wise, Tom Wise, and Duane Ruud, the crime was quickly solved.

Pete's Towing in Des Moines (King County) confirmed that a tow-truck had been dispatched to West Seattle on November 30, and had pulled a crane truck, owned by Acy-Deucy Crane Service in Kent, off the grass at Rotary Viewpoint. Michael G. Smith, the owner and operator of the Acy-Deucy crane truck, said Charles Edward Jenks hired him to move the totem pole to Jenks' property on Lake Sawyer near Black Diamond. Jenks portrayed himself as a member of the Seattle Arts Commission who was in charge of having the totem pole restored. After getting mired down in the soggy ground, Smith called Pete's Towing, which requested Seattle police to block off 35th Avenue SW at SW Alaska Street and direct traffic at the scene. When the Seattle police arrived, Jenks, who was present at the park, asked Smith not mention anything about the totem pole. Later that evening, Smith delivered the totem to Jenks' property on Lake Sawyer.

Crime Solved

On Monday, December 7, 2009, Detective Nathan L. Upton, Seattle Police Department, contacted Jenks to ask about the missing totem pole. Jenks claimed ignorance and invited Detective Upton to meet with him at his property on Lake Sawyer and search his garage and work shop. Upton saw no sign of the 18-foot totem. He canvassed the neighborhood, however, and learned that Jenks had been talking about obtaining a totem pole for several months. He planned to install it in the stairwell of his two-story workshop/garage. One neighbor told Detective Upton that about 11:30 p.m. on Monday, November 30, a large crane truck with outriggers delivered something big and heavy to the Jenks property. Upton then contacted the building contractor for Jenks' house, which was under construction, and learned that Jenks had indeed acquired a totem pole with spread wings. It had been sitting in Jenks' driveway on Tuesday morning, December 1. The contractor and his workmen helped Jenks move the 500-pound totem pole into the garage.

The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office determined there was probable cause to believe that Jenks had stolen the totem pole and issued a warrant for his arrest. On Wednesday, December 9, 2009, Jenks was arrested by Seattle police at his West Seattle home on Palm Avenue SW. After consulting with his attorney, Jenks told police they could find the totem pole on a boat trailer in the parking lot of the senior center in Keizer (a suburb of Salem), Oregon. Keizer Police located the tarp-covered boat trailer and discovered it held two poles: the missing Rotary Totem and another, without wings, recently stolen from the Fred Meyer shopping center, 365 Renton Center Way SW in Renton. Seattle Parks and Recreation sent a truck to Keiser and hauled both totem poles back to Seattle, to be held as evidence.

Restitution and Restoration

In lieu of criminal prosecution, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, with the concurrence of Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Rotary Club of West Seattle, agreed to accept a payment of approximately $21,000 from Jenks to pay for the cost of recovery and restoration of the artifact. According to Deputy Prosecutor Dan Donohoe, Jenks, age 70 and a first offender, would likely not have been sent to prison for the theft. The Fred Meyer totem pole was apparently included in the agreement, but Jenks wasn't required to pay for its restoration.

In July 2010, Artech Fine Art Services of Seattle was enlisted to undertake the job of restoring the Rotary Totem Pole. After three days of fumigation in a sealed chamber, to kill carpenter ants, boring beetles, termites, and other insects, the rot was repaired with resin epoxy and the motifs repainted to their original colors. A crew from Artech reinstalled the totem upon its base on Wednesday morning, July 28. At 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 10, 2010, the West Seattle Rotary Club and Seattle Parks and Recreation held a rededication ceremony that included 70-year-old Robin Young, the original artist and woodcarver.

Absent from the ceremony was Kenneth G. Wise (1930-2010), age 79, who, along with his son, Thomas, and fellow Rotarian Duane Ruud, was instrumental in initially tracking down the purloined artifact. He died of cancer on August 1, 2010, but had the satisfaction of knowing the Rotary Totem Pole was back in the beautiful park he helped create.

Sources: Westside Story ed. by Clay Eals (Seattle: Robinson Newspapers, 1987) p. 207; Patrick Robinson, "Totem Pole Near West Seattle Golf Course Stolen," West Seattle Herald, December 5, 2009 (; Patrick Robinson, "West Seattle Rotary Club Visits the Totem Pole," Ibid., January 26, 2010 (; Patrick Shay, "Totem Pole Crime Resolved with Rotary," Ibid., May 11, 2010 (; Steve Shay, "Rotary Totem Pole Restorer from West Seattle, Also Handles DaVinchi, Monet," Ibid., August 7, 2010 (; "West Seattle rotary Club Totem Pole Rededicated," Ibid., August 10, 2010 (; "Kenneth G. Wise, Mr. West Seattle: 10/31/30 - 8/1/10," Ibid., August 12, 2010 (; Polly Lane, "Viewpoint: Park Being Reclaimed by Rotary," The Seattle Times, April 24, 1976, p. C-5; Viewpoint Park to be Dedicated in West Seattle," Ibid., August 10, 1976, p. B-5; "City Benefits from Volunteer Effort on Park," Ibid., August 10, 1976, p. B-1; Molly Rosbach, "Missing Totem Pole Recovered," Ibid., December 11, 2009, p. B-11; Carly Flandro, "West Seattle's Swiped Pole Returns," Ibid., July 29, 2010, p. B-1; Carly Flandro, "Tracking the Tale of the Stolen Totem Pole," Ibid., August 7, 2010, p. A-1; "History of Rotary View Point Totem Pole," Rotary Club of West Seattle website accessed March 2012 (

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