The tiny town of Echo was rocked by a murder-suicide in July of 1908 after a popular young woman of the town refused the affections of her grandfather’s hired man.
Elsie Kenison, an 18-year-old recent graduate of Echo public school and a popular resident of the town, had been spending time in early July with B.R. Stoffel, a 24-year-old hired hand working for her grandfather, W.W. Whitworth, on the family farm. Rumor had it that Kenison told Stoffel she was not interested in pursuing a further relationship with him.
On July 23, 1908, at about 9:30 a.m., Kenison was in the house with an 8-year-old neighbor girl. Stoffel entered the bedroom where Kenison was working and shot her through the mouth with a .38 caliber pistol, the bullet passing through her body and out through the window screen into the yard. Kenison slumped to the floor across a chair and was dead within minutes.
Stoffel fled the house, tossing the pistol into a rocking chair on the front porch as he ran away across the low hills north of Echo. The neighbor girl, who was not in the room when the incident happened, entered the bedroom and saw Kenison on the floor. She ran to the barn to tell Kenison’s grandfather about the shooting.
Within moments the neighbors had been notified, and a posse of about 40 men was organized by Marshal Hoggard of Echo to track Stoffel down. Stoffel had about 20 minutes’ head start on the trackers, but Hoggard expected to run the suspected killer down without much trouble.
While the citizens of Echo were searching the sage brush-covered hills north of town, Stoffel circled around the foothills and returned to the Whitworth barn. Shortly before noon, two hours after killing Kenison, he hanged himself from a beam.
Several members of the posse had lingered behind to keep watch on the farm, and one happened to peek through a crack in the barn. He saw Stoffel’s body and, thinking the murderer was holed up inside and heavily fortified, the man shot through the crack, hitting Stoffel’s corpse. The defenders rushed into the barn to find they had shot a dead man.
Runners were sent to notify the posse of Stoffel’s suicide. An order for bloodhounds from Walla Walla was canceled. Umatilla County Sheriff Til Taylor and a deputy had joined the chase, and called the county coroner to preside over the bodies. Letters found in Stoffel’s pocket included one from Kenison, which told the man that she could not love him.