|This case has remained unsolved for 22 years, 1 months, and 27 days.|
The Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, Washington (WA) is a beautiful area with a highly-educated populace of all sorts of workers. Thomas C. Wales was one such man, living in Queen Anne while working as an Assistant US Attorney and with a focus on fraud investigations. He was very involved in politics, especially an anti-gun group called Washington CeaseFire.
Then, in October 2001, someone shot Wales through his basement window. Authorities and paramedics rushed to the scene, but they were unable to save Wales, and he ended up passing away. His murder launched an extensive investigation with many suspects examined. As a prosecutor, Wales had his fair share of enemies, and any one of them could’ve been behind the man’s murder. Furthermore, as an outspoken anti-gun activist, some gun enthusiasts might’ve had a reason to want him dead, too.
Over 20 years later, the FBI thinks they know who was behind orchestrating Wales’ murder, but there have never been any arrests or convictions in this case. Who murdered Thomas C. Wales? And why?
Table of Contents
About Thomas C. Wales
Thomas Crane Wales was born on June 23, 1952 in Boston, Massachusetts (MA). He grew up in Southborough, MA and even attended the prestigious Milton Academy. There, he met his future wife, Elizabeth, and the two would go on to marry and have two children.
Aiming at furthering his education and studying to become a lawyer, Wales went on to attend Harvard University and then Hofstra Law School. In 1983, Wales became an Assistant US Attorney in Seattle, WA, specializing in fraud prosecutions.
Political Activist and Anti-Gun Advocate
In what free time he had, Wales was active in civic organizations and served as a member of the Seattle Planning Commission. He also was on the Mayor’s Citizen Advisory Committee and was constantly trying to make positive changes in his community. “He spent his whole life to help others make this world a better place,” said Joseph Kennedy, a former MA congressman who was Wales’ roommate while at Harvard.
It was also well-known that Wales was an anti-gun advocate, which started when a student at his son’s high school brought a gun to school and shot two classmates. Wales eventually ended up becoming president of an anti-gun group called Washington CeaseFire.
In addition to his more altruistic pursuits, Wales enjoyed hiking and cooking and was said to make excellent fruitcakes for family and friends.
Life Was Good
In 2001, Wales had been working for the Western District of Washington for over 18 years. He had two adult children by then, and he and his wife had divorced amicably in 2000 due to his wife coming out as a lesbian. He’d started dating a new woman and seemed to be in a happy relationship with her.
Overall, things in Wales’ life seemed to be good — or at least there was nothing that might indicate that Wales would end up dead in his Queen Anne area home.
The Night of the Murder
There isn’t a lot of information about what happened leading up to the murder, but it seems that Wales was simply going about his business in his Queen Anne-area (a neighborhood in Seattle) home when he was murdered.
On October 11, 2001, Wales had planned to spend the afternoon with his girlfriend, a court reporter who lived in Seattle. However, he had some work projects to catch up on, and he told her he needed to head home and finish those. It wasn’t uncommon for Wales to work hard and late into the night.
That evening, Wales arrived home around 7 PM. He gave the cat her nightly arthritis medication, then prepared to install some drywall along a stairwell. After that, he went downstairs to the basement of his home, writing some emails on the basement computer with a glass of wine. The last email he sent was to his girlfriend, timestamped 10:24 PM.
At around 10:40 PM, shots rang out in the quiet Queen Anne neighborhood. Someone had come along and shot Wales through a basement window repeatedly, then fled. Authorities have not revealed exactly how many shots were fired, but it’s believed to be somewhere in the range of 3–6 shots.
An elderly neighbor called police immediately, reporting hearing gunfire, and an off-duty police officer arrived at the scene within minutes. Witnesses reported seeing a lone male suspect fleeing the scene, and Wales was transported to a nearby trauma center. A number of people had gathered in the hospital, including Seattle’s chief of police, another US attorney, and some of Wales’ closest friends.
Wales Passes Away
Unfortunately, Wales passed away early the next morning, just before dawn. Those who had gathered to support Wales were all devastated to learn that he didn’t manage to pull through, and a murder investigation began.
Once Wales passed away, the search for the shooter became a murder investigation. Several different law enforcement agencies were put on the case, and there was a brief scuffle for control of the case.
Tension Between Law Enforcement Agencies
At first, it wasn’t clear who would have jurisdiction over the Wales murder case. The Seattle Police Department (SPD) thought they should lead the investigation while the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suggested that they should.
Ultimately, jurisdiction would depend on the motive: if Wales had been murdered due to a personal dispute or because he was the president of Washington CeaseFire, then the SPD should lead the investigation. If Wales had been murdered because he was a federal prosecutor though, then the FBI should lead instead. Eventually, the FBI took the lead, appointing a special prosecutor to oversee the case.
FBI Designates Case as a “Major Case File”
In the wake of Wales’ murder, the FBI classified the case as a “major case file,” a rare occurrence for most murders. In the years from 1976–2001, only 186 investigations were classified as such, including famous cases like the Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski).
Wales Had Many Enemies
Perhaps it goes without saying, but a prosecution attorney is bound to have a number of enemies, especially if they’ve been sending defendants to jail for decades. Wales was no different. At the time of his murder, he’d been a prosecutor for over 18 years and had sent many people to prison for fraud-related charges. Any one of those he prosecuted might’ve had a grudge against him—and was perhaps angry enough to resort to murder.
Type of Gun Used Identified
Authorities determined that the type of gun used in Wales’ murder was a Makarov pistol with an aftermarket barrel produced by Federal Arms. With this information, the FBI has tracked down thousands of these specific types of gun barrels, which are rare in the US. The hope was that law enforcement would track down the guns and be able to determine if they’d been used in the murder of Wales by doing test firings and ballistics testing.
Unfortunately, none of the ones that have been tracked down so far match the lands and grooves (specific markings unique to each gun barrel). The FBI also acknowledges that it’s likely that the gun used in the murder was discarded long ago.
A Potential Suspect
One of Wales’ neighbors reported that they’d seen a man pulling a black nylon suitcase in the neighborhood a few weeks before Wales was killed. It’s not clear if this man was somehow involved in the murder, but authorities had a sketch produced.
This man was described as being in his late 30s or early 40s, slim, with black hair, tobacco-stained teeth, and a chipped front left tooth. It’s not clear if this man has ever been identified.
The Main Suspect: An Angry Pilot
During the course of their investigation, law enforcement combed through a list of potential suspects, eliminating some and evaluating potential motives in others. Many people were ruled out this way, but there was one suspect that authorities were unable to cross off their list: a commercial airline pilot from Bellevue who was one of the targets of a fraud case that Wales was pursuing.
This pilot was a part-owner of a business that was being investigated — a potential motive for murder, argued investigators. The pilot was also said to be involved in drug smuggling and may have even had ties to the notorious Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel.
Worse yet, the pilot was said to be “violent and retributive.” Even the court suggested that information ought to be gathered behind closed doors in the interest of witness safety. And, after Wales’ death, the charges against the pilot and other individuals involved in the business were eventually dropped.
Pilot Refused to Cooperate
Feeling the heat from law enforcement, the pilot refused to be interviewed by authorities. Additionally, others with key information also refused to speak with police. Some witnesses claimed that they’d heard the pilot saying threatening comments regarding Wales, even suggesting that he wanted to kill the man.
Part of the reason the pilot was so upset with Wales, in addition to the fraud case, was because Wales was staunchly anti-gun. He’d gone on a local cable news network a few weeks prior, speaking against the idea of pilots carrying guns in the cockpit in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The pilot, on the other hand, was adamantly pro-gun. This might’ve been another source of tension between the two.
Did the Pilot Have an Alibi?
The FBI learned that the pilot had gone to see a replay of 2001: A Space Odyssey in a local theater that night with a female friend. They’d left the theater around 9:30 PM, and the theater was only about a 10-minute drive from Wales’ house.
Another friend claimed that the pilot had made a call from his Bellevue home around 10:30 PM. If this is true, it would have been impossible for the pilot to have made the call at 10:30 PM from his home and then shot Wales at 10:40 PM because Bellevue is about a 25-minute drive from Queen Anne.
Additionally, the pilot is said to have made other calls that night — both before and after Wales was shot. Is it possible that he really was home on the night of the murder? Some have suggested that he might’ve hired someone else to pull the trigger for him.
Pilot was Never Charged
While authorities have plenty of circumstantial evidence against the pilot, they apparently didn’t have enough to arrest him. Despite collecting DNA, calling his family and friends in front of a grand jury, and searches of the pilot’s home, law enforcement was still unable to bring a case before the courts.
Pilot Sues Government
The pilot ended up suing the government, claiming that he was wrongfully prosecuted and had spent upwards of $125,000 in legal fees. Even though some of the charges against him were dropped, other charges were resolved because the company he partly-owned pled guilty to violating Federal Aviation Administration procedures.
Theories on What Happened
For a case that was determined to be a “major case file” by the FBI, there are really only a few theories that seem to be plausible after these few decades have passed. Let’s look at what might’ve happened to Wales.
The Angry Pilot Had Wales Murdered
Many suspect that the angry pilot is really the one who had Wales killed — even if he didn’t pull the trigger himself. Authorities have suggested that Wales’ murder might’ve been a hitman-for-hire job in which a low-level criminal was hired to kill Wales but didn’t know who he was or why the hit was ordered. This would add credence to the theory that the pilot had Wales killed, even if he wasn’t there at the scene of the murder.
Someone Else Targeted Wales
Another theory is that someone else was upset with Wales, either for his work as an assistant US prosecutor or as an anti-gun advocate. It’s possible that someone else targeted him for one or both of the aforementioned reasons and flew under the radar when it came to law enforcement’s investigation of the case.
The Shooting was Random
The last theory is that the shooting was a random one, with the shooter just trying to wreak havoc in the Seattle neighborhood as a gang initiation or random attack. However, according to the FBI, only about 15% of homicides are committed by strangers while the rest are carried out by acquaintances, significant others, or other known persons.
What Do I Think Happened?
Although we know what ultimately happened in this case (Wales ended up murdered), we still aren’t sure what the motive was or who killed him. I do think that Wales was specifically targeted, and likely because of his work as an Assistant US Attorney.
Random Shooting Unlikely
Although random shootings do happen, I doubt that was the case here. Why would someone take the time to go into a random person’s yard (and potentially leave evidence behind) to carry out a random shooting? It’s possible, but unlikely, and statistics prove that you’re much more likely to be harmed by someone you know than someone you don’t.
Targeted Attack Very Likely
Given all the publicly-available evidence, it seems to me that Wales’ shooting was a targeted attack. The circumstantial evidence against the pilot is compelling, but clearly authorities don’t think it would be enough to get a conviction in a court of law.
Circumstantial cases work best when there is no other reasonable alternative for the crime. I think part of the issue that law enforcement is having in this case is that there are a number of other people who might’ve had it out for Wales, either because he put them behind bars or caused them to rack up thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Any defendant could and would use this fact to put some reasonable doubt into a jury’s mind, and since there isn’t a “smoking gun” when it comes to suspicions about the angry pilot, it would probably work.
All that being said, the pilot seems to be the one who had the motive, means, and opportunity (by hiring someone else to commit the crime) in this case, and although there isn’t enough evidence to convict him, I would guess that he had something to do with Wales’ murder. If it wasn’t him, then it was likely someone else who had a grudge against Wales.
Wales Deserves Justice
From the research I’ve done about him, Wales seemed to be a good man, had a strong work ethic, and tried to make the world a better place. In a commencement speech he gave shortly before his death, he told the students:
“Be engaged; be involved in what goes on around you. Be present in your own life. Find something you believe in passionately and get into it. Get outraged. Take a stand.”Thomas C. Wales (Source: The New Yorker)
And after over 20 years, it’s time for this case to be solved. Those who have additional information need to come forward and speak with relevant authorities. As Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said, “Somebody knows something about this murder, and we want to do everything we can to encourage them to come forward now.”
There have been a number of interesting case updates, but none of them have led to the arrest or conviction of anyone for the murder of Thomas C. Wales.
2003: A Cellmate’s Confession
In 2003, a man by the name of Scott Lee Kimball was working as an FBI informant and told agents that a former cellmate of his had confessed to murdering Wales. This ultimately turned out to be untrue, and in a strange twist, Scott Lee Kimball was later determined to be a serial killer.
2011: Thomas C. Wales Park Dedicated
A park named after Thomas C. Wales was dedicated in 2011, providing “a site that can be used for recreation and open space as well as to promote the value of arts and culture.”
2019: Woman Indicted
In 2019, a woman by the name of Shawna Reid was indicted for lying to a grand jury by the Department of Justice. She had formerly been involved with a man who the FBI suspected of acting as a lookout the night that Wales was shot. It was hoped that the prosecution of Reid would bring forth more information about the murder, and although she eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor, no further evidence was garnered.
Do You Have Information?
There is currently up to a $2,500,000 reward for information in the Thomas C. Wales murder case. If you have information, please reach out to the FBI at (800) 225–5324 or (206) 622–0460, or email email@example.com.
Cold Case Questions
- Do you think the murder of Thomas C. Wales was a targeted attack?
- Who do you think is responsible for Wales’ murder?
- Will this case ever be definitively solved?
Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!
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