History and Culture

The Lady of Crescent Lake

The lake was said to have been created to kill of warriors from fighting tribes. It never gave up its dead... until the Lady of the Lake surfaced in 1940.

The “Lady of the Lake” is a story about a oddly preserved corpse found floating in Crescent Lake.

The lake is no stranger to bloody stories. According to legend, the Klallam and Quileute tribes fought a bloody battle beneath Mount Storm King. The mountain became angry, broke off a chunk of rock from his peak, and threw it into the valley over the battlefield. The rock killed the warriors and dammed the river creating Crescent Lake. Generations of Native Americans would not go near the lake because of this legend. It was said that Crescent Lake never gave up its dead… until the Lady of the Lake surfaced in 1940.

The story of the “Lady” starts at the tavern on the edge of Crescent Lake in the northwest part of Olympic National Park. It was 1936 and Hallie worked at the tavern as a barmaid. At the age of 35, she had just ended her second marriage… unlucky at love. But Hallie gave it another try and married Montgomery “Monty” J. Illingworth in June that same year. He was a beer truck driver and she had met him at the tavern.

Hallie Latham Illingworth (1901-1937), n.d. Courtesy Mavis Amundson via History Link
Hallie Latham Illingworth (1901-1937), n.d. Courtesy Mavis Amundson via History Link

Poor Hallie. She had a habit of choosing the wrong man. Monty didn’t bother hiding his beatings. Hallie would come to work with bruises and black eyes, and she confided with a coworker that Monty had choked her and broken one of her teeth. After just five months of marriage, the police were called to break up a fight between the couple in the early morning hours outside of the tavern.

The Lake Crescent Lodge and Tavern in 1933.
The Lake Crescent Lodge and Tavern in 1933.

Hallie disappeared on the morning of December 22, 1937. Good ole’ Monty told everyone that Hallie had run off with a sailor from Alaska but the story seemed fishy. Despite suspicion, Monty was granted a divorce in 1938. He moved to California with the roommate of Hallie’s sister.

In 1940, a body surfaced on Lake Crescent. The body was wrapped in blankets and tied with rope. But that’s not the spooky part. The body’s skin had turned into a rubbery substance and was perfectly perserved. It was not bloated like most bodies held in water, and there was no decay. She was perfectly preserved other than missing facial features, fingers and toes. It also showed evidence of being beaten and strangled.

The doctors called it an “Ivory soap” corpse because of the skin’s condition. This was because of a process known as saponification which converts fatty acids into soap.

Lake Crescent’s depth is not known with certainty, but likely has parts that are deeper than 1000 feet. When the body had been submerged in the deep waters of the lake, the cold prevented decomposition and the salts and calcium in the water slowly converted the tissue into a material like soap, called adipocere. Just like soap, a body converted in this manner floats. although this one had been apparently weighted down, the ropes connecting to the weights eventually decayed, allowing the body to float to the surface.

Even though there could be no facial recognition or finger prints, police made a positive identification of the body as Hallie Illingworth because of the physical match, hair color, and dental records.

The police also had a clue to the killer – the rope. This rope, it seems, was peculiar to Sears and Roebuck. Through receipts, it was tracked to the tavern owner who had bought it to tie up boats. The tavern owner remembered that a beer salesman borrowed 100-feet of rope to pull his truck out of the mud. He had never returned the rope. And… the beer salesman was Monty.

Monty Illingworth was extradited from California and stood trial for Hallie’s murder. He claimed that the body wasn’t Hallie and that he had seen her alive, but Hallie’s dentist testified to her identification. Monty was found guilty and served nine years in prison before being paroled.

Sources: skullsinthestars | historylink | Google books