Back in the fall of 2001, exactly one month after the 9/11 attacks, a lawyer in Seattle named Tom Wales was murdered as he worked alone at his home computer at night. Someone walked into the yard of Wales’s house in the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood of Seattle, careful to avoid sensors that would have set off flood lights in the yard, and fired several times through a basement window, hitting Wales as he sat at his desk. Wales died soon afterwards. He was 49, divorced, with two children in their 20s.
The crime was huge and dismaying news in Seattle, where Wales was a prominent, respected, and widely liked figure. As a young lawyer in the early 1980s, he had left a potentially lucrative path with a New York law firm to come to Seattle and work as an assistant U.S. attorney, or federal prosecutor. That role, which he was still performing at the time of his death, mainly involved prosecuting fraud cases. In his off-duty hours, Wales had become a prominent gun-safety advocate. From the time of his death onward, the circumstances of the killing—deliberate, planned, nothing like a robbery or a random tragedy—and the prominence of his official crime-fighting record and unofficial advocacy role led to widespread assumption that his death was a retaliatory “hit.” The Justice Department considers him the first and only U.S. prosecutor to have been killed in the line of duty.
You can read about the twists of the case in a 2007 story by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker, “An Unsolved Killing.” For the Seattle Times, Steve Miletich and Mike Carter have done a long series of stories. I have written about the case several times over the years—including in 2007, in 2008, in 2011, and in 2014—mainly because I had met and liked Wales during the two years my wife and I lived in Seattle soon before his death. One of his in-laws is a long-time very close friend of ours.