Shots rang out at the Milwaukee Hotel in Seattle’s Chinatown around noon on Thursday, April 22, 1915. The police arrived and found George Grasty lying on the floor in a third floor washroom. He was severely injured, with a bullet wound to his abdomen and another in his right hip. The police located the shooter — a young woman — in a guest room on the fourth floor. Her gun was sitting on a nearby dresser. When she was told that Grasty was seriously injured and might die, she cried, “I am sorry.”
The woman was taken to jail. Grasty was taken to the hospital, where he died of his injuries the following day.
Three months earlier, Grasty had been released from McNeil Island Penitentiary, a federal prison off the coast of Washington State, after serving a 9 month sentence. He’d been convicted of violating the Mann Act, also known as the White Slave Traffic Act. The law was passed in 1910 out of concerns that men, particularly immigrants and African-Americans, were luring young white women and girls into prostitution. But it was also often used in cases in which an unmarried man and woman crossed state lines together.
Unfortunately the press didn’t cover Grasty’s case.
George Grasty was born in 1886 in Culpeper County, Virginia. His father, Enoch Homer Grasty, was a mixed race man who was born into slavery in 1846. Enoch may have been the son of his slaveholder, William Clark Grasty. An early graduate of Howard University, Enoch Grasty raised a large family in Culpeper, where he worked as a farmer, teacher and pastor. George was the fourth of seven children born to Enoch and his first wife, Fannie Bickers.
In 1913 Grasty worked as a barber in Billings, Montana. His penitentiary record indicates that in 1914, before he was imprisoned on McNeil Island, he worked as a waiter and a barber in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He also had a wife in Minneapolis.
When he got out of prison in January 1915, Grasty made his way to Seattle.
According to the story the shooter later told the court, her husband, Sueki Kawata, was armed with a gun and out looking for her when she happened to meet George Grasty, an old acquaintance from Montana. He offered to hide her overnight and she accepted. She and Grasty spent the next eight days drinking and smoking opium together. She claimed that due to his light complexion and pale eyes, she thought Grasty was white.
The party came to an abrupt end when she found out that Grasty had stolen a diamond necklace from her. An argument ensued and she shot him. However she also claimed Grasty had forced her to take the drugs and gloated over her while she was helpless from their effects. She claimed he told her that she had no choice but to go with him and live in a house “below the line” where she would have to work as a prostitute.
The big question on everyone’s mind was not why she shot and killed a man, but why had she married a Japanese man? The shooting of Grasty evidently seemed like a minor faux pas by comparison. Literally no one in Seattle spent any time crying over “the white slaver’s” fate.
“I married Kawata because he was good to me. He has been kind. He has cared a great deal for me and has stuck with me through this trouble, too,” she explained. But it is strange that someone so kind and caring had gone looking for her armed with a gun. Perhaps he heard she was with Grasty and took the gun in case things got ugly.
She came off as well spoken and educated when reporters visited her in jail. She was described as wearing conservative clothing that she kept neat and clean and never wearing makeup. Her husband visited her daily in jail, where he sat outside her cell.
At her trial for murder, the public was thrilled by the details of the time she and Grasty spent in opium dens prior to the murder. Because of all the opium she’d smoked, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity. She was sent to the Medical Lake Insane Asylum in eastern Washington for an evaluation of her mental state.
Six months later she was found to be sane and released from custody. There’s no doubt about it — she played her cards right and got away with murder.
She probably did have a rough childhood. She claimed that before she met Sueki, all men had been cruel to her. “If I cared for them they cared nothing for me. Once I loved a man who beat me,” she said. But she also lied about her name and her past. After she was arrested, she told the police her name was Martha Kawata. She claimed that she was born in Tennessee, but various genealogical records also list her as having been born in South Dakota and Missouri.
There’s no record of her existence prior to her marriage in October 1913 to Sueki Kawata under the name “Mabel Worthington.” It could be that she was orphaned when she was a child or that she ran away from home. It’s also possible that she had a criminal record and the name she used on the marriage record was an alias.
Sueki Kawata sued Mabel for divorce on the grounds of cruelty and desertion in 1919. Both remarried, but by 1940, both were again divorced. Sueki and his son from his second marriage, Harry, were interned at the Minidoka Concentration Camp in Idaho during World War II. Sueki died in Seattle in 1952. Mabel’s death date is unknown.
As for George Grasty, did his family back east mourn his death? Did they ever even find out what happened to him?
Featured Images: George Grasty’s mugshots from McNeil Island Penitentiary (National Archives) and a photo of Mabel Kawata published in the The Seattle Star on May 3, 1915
I’m very pleased to announce that my biography of the infamous criminal, Sophie Lyons, will be released soon. The research and writing of the book took about two years, but I think it was worth it!