Most people settle arguments with words. Sidney Sloane, Spokane’s most infamous axe murderer and the subject of The Inlander’s most recent documentary, used an axe. Sidney and his father James had both been drinking separately. Despite only being 17 years old, Sidney frequented all of the local bars. He was 6-foot-3, and in 1906 there was no drinking age.
After arriving home, father and son began arguing over money. While James was eating, Sidney stormed into a neighbor’s woodshed and grabbed an axe. His father was too drunk to notice Sidney stuffing cotton into the keyhole of his door, or the axe concealed behind his back when he entered the room. James was still chewing his food when Sidney struck him six times in the back of the head. Sidney loaded his father into a wheelbarrow and dumped the body in an alleyway.
The next day James was found and immediately identified. He was well-known and well-liked throughout the community due to the grocery store he owned and operated on Sprague and Howard. Sidney was taken to the morgue to identify the body. After viewing it, he threw himself on the ground and appeared to weep. When he stood up, police detectives noticed his eyes were dry. After questioning, Sidney confessed.
The story sparked interest nationwide, but within the confines of the city limits, Sidney’s bizarre murder trial reached O.J. Simpson-level proportions. Every aspect of the trial, even jury selection, made the front pages. The population of Spokane was a third of the size it is now, and nearly every resident knew his face. Crowds waited outside the courtroom just to catch a glimpse of him. Sidney Sloane could easily have risen to the status of other American-bred celebrity killers (his crime was almost identical to Lizzie Borden’s, who killed her father with an axe 14 years earlier), but his strange life took a different turn.
“Sidney: Portrait of an Axe Murderer” is a 7½-minute documentary I wrote and directed that explores James Sloane’s brutal murder, the strange trial that followed, and the consequences of the verdict. Assembled from newspaper accounts, magazines, 100-plus-year-old photographs, and re-enactments that would make Unsolved Mysteries proud, the complete story is available in the video section of Inlander.com.