Asotin is both the name of a small, lightly populated county in the southeastern corner of our state and its county seat.
You don’t hear too much about Asotin these days. But that was not the case 80 years ago when a 12-year-old boy named Herbert Niccolls Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting and killing Asotin County Sheriff John Wormell (shown here on the left, photo courtesy of Washington State Archives) on August 5, 1931. The murder trial made news across America and thrust the small county into the national spotlight. If this case had occurred now, it’s safe to guess that cable TV news and the blogosphere would be all over it.
More about this story can be found here and here. The Officer Down Memorial Page has this link about Wormell, who was a state representative in the Washington Legislature before wearing a sheriff’s badge.
One of our State Archives staffers, Patrick Williams in Records Management, came across the historically significant entry about Niccolls while writing the online introduction for the Asotin County Sheriff Jail Register, found on our Digital Archives website.
State Archivist Jerry Handfield said the historical sleuthing is another example of the value of Archives’ grant from the National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
“This was a national case that attracted lots of attention in many areas—judicial, social justice, and media,” Handfield said. “Today it would be featured by Nancy Grace and others! Preserving records and making them accessible to the public is a vital part of documenting our democracy. Our small grant from the national commission made this ‘buried history’ emerge as an important element in the evolution of our legal treatment of minors.”