Tracking the tale of the stolen totem pole
A retiree went to extraordinary lengths to take a 18-foot totem pole from a West Seattle park in hopes of installing it at his new Black Diamond home, according to police documents.
By Carly Flandro
Seattle Times staff reporter
SEATTLE POLICE DEPARTMENT
The winged totem pole taken from West Seattle rests next to the one taken from Renton. The West Seattle Rotary Club will hold a rededication event Tuesday at Rotary Viewpoint Park to celebrate the pole’s return.
Some people adorn their homes with pink flamingos or garden gnomes.
Charles Edward Jenks sought to take it up a notch — he apparently wanted an 18-foot winged totem pole. The retiree, according to police reports, thought it would go nicely in the two-story garage stairwell of a lakeside home he was having built in Black Diamond.
So last fall, Jenks swiped the totem pole from West Seattle’s Rotary Viewpoint Park, according to police reports provided by the King County Prosecutor’s Office this week — even persuading a crane company to move it by claiming he was a city arts commissioner who was restoring the artifact.
After an eight-month hiatus and at least four stops — including at a pawnshop and a senior center in Oregon — the pole was returned to the park last week.
King County prosecutors decided not to charge Jenks with theft after he agreed to pay more than $20,000 for the restoration and return of the West Seattle pole and the return of another pole that had vanished from a Fred Meyer store in Renton.
Jenks has not responded to several requests for an interview. A man who answered Jenks’ cellphone Wednesday said he was “not interested” and hung up.
But the prosecutor’s paperwork, which includes statements by Jenks, witnesses and the police, provides the following account:
The totem pole went missing Nov. 30 when Jenks hired Acy Deucy Crane Service to take it from the park and haul it to the site of his new Black Diamond home.
Myke Smith, the owner of the crane company, told police he didn’t realize he was assisting in a theft.
“I was a victim of this,” Smith told The Seattle Times last week.
At the time, he had believed Jenks’ claim he was on a city art commission and was restoring the pole.
Jenks unscrewed the totem pole with large tools. Smith loaded the approximately 500-pound pole onto his truck, then got stuck as the heavy vehicle sank into the mud.
Smith called Pete’s Towing, which called Seattle police to block off the streets so it could tow the truck, according to police reports.
Jenks found out police were coming, and asked Smith not to mention anything about a totem pole. Smith said he thought Jenks was joking.
Police officers came to the park, and they, along with those in the tow truck, the crane and waiting cars, all unknowingly watched or assisted in the theft.
The totem pole was taken to Jenks’ Black Diamond property, where he hoped to put it in the garage. It didn’t fit. Smith left the pole outside the home.
Within days, Jenks was contacted by West Seattle Rotary Club member Duane Ruud and Seattle police officer Nathan Upton.
“I told them each time that I knew nothing about the pole,” Jenks later wrote in a statement to the police.
Jenks also told the police a Rotary member had come to his property to check if he had the pole.
“I was not comfortable with his intrusion onto my property and his accusations,” he told police.
Jenks invited Seattle police officers to his Black Diamond home to prove he didn’t have the totem pole.
When the officers arrived, Jenks was “immediately accusatory and verbally aggressive” and “made a big deal about us being honest with each other and not hiding anything or sneaking around,” according to the police report.
The report said Jenks kept referring to the totem pole as a telephone pole, as if he couldn’t remember the difference between the two. The officers didn’t see any sign of a totem pole and left to interview neighbors.
The neighbors reportedly told police Jenks had been talking about getting a totem pole for months. Police also contacted the contractor for Jenks’ Black Diamond house, who said he helped move a totem pole into Jenks’ garage the day after the West Seattle pole disappeared.
After gathering evidence, police decided there was “probable cause to believe … Jenks stole the totem pole.” They arrested him Dec. 9 outside his West Seattle home. Jenks told police they could find the totem pole on a boat trailer at a senior center in Keizer, Ore. Keizer police recovered the pole and another similar one, which was later discovered to have been taken from the Renton Fred Meyer.
When police went to pick up the poles, Jenks’ brother, Daniel Jenks, was with the trailer. He told them that a few days earlier his brother had brought the trailer with “unknown items covered with plastic” to his pawnshop.
Charles Jenks told him the contents were a secret. Daniel told Keizer police he moved the trailer to the senior center at the request of Jenks’ attorney.
When asked about the incident Wednesday, Daniel Jenks said he didn’t recall it. “Wow!” he said. “I’m not familiar with that.” He said he had a stroke a few years ago that has affected his memory.
The Seattle Parks Department retrieved both totem poles from Keizer. Jenks agreed to pay for the retrieval and restoration.
The West Seattle Rotary Club will hold a rededication event at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the park to celebrate the pole’s return.
The Fred Meyer pole also is being restored — though Jenks isn’t paying for that — and will be returned to its original site, according to Eric Georgia, a former store manager.
Carly Flandro: 206-464-2108 or cflan…@seattletimes.com