Separating fact from fiction: A look at The Old Hotel Art Gallery murder

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Rachel Pinkerton/courtesy photo The Old Hotel in Othello, where Deodies Curry shot 17-year-old Earl Tucker in 1974.

OTHELLO — Each town has its stories. Some are true; some are not. There are events that happened, but the truth is shrouded in a thick layer of mystery. Did it really happen? Did it happen the way the stories claim? In these cases, the truth is lost to time, taken to the grave of those who were there.

The Old Hotel Art Gallery in Othello is no different. While the basic fact is that someone was murdered there, some of the facts surrounding the murder have been converted to lore. There is also a lot of lore surrounding the man convicted of the murder.

Alfonso Zavala, an Othello native, began researching the murder after he first heard the story in October 2017 from Jenn Stevenson, director of the Old Hotel Art Gallery. As a student at Central Washington University, Zavala interned for the hotel in 2018 and continued his research. He has interviewed people who remember the man accused of the murder and dug through archives in search of what happened.

The Old Hotel was built in 1912 and was located close to the Milwaukee Railroad. Between the time it was built and 1974, the hotel housed railroad personnel and visitors to Othello. It also was a long-term home for some. Tales of prostitution have become part of the lore of the building. Various owners and managers ran the hotel down through the years. In 1964, the hotel came into the possession of a man named Benjamin Deodies Curry.

“He stands still a little as a boogeyman for Othello,” said Zavala. “He’s still a controversial figure for what he allegedly did. There are numerous stories about him in Othello from the late 1950s to 1974.”

Curry was born in Louisiana on Sept. 20, sometime in the 1920s.

“The year is under dispute,” said Zavala. “I come across 1920 and 1927. He might have lied about his year of birth or may have not known.”

He had property on the west side of town in Edson Tracts, the former name of the community down Cunningham Road on the west side of the railroad tracks. Curry was a pig farmer.

“In terms of personality, he was a complex individual in the way he interacted with people,” Zavala said. “It depends on the accounts of those who knew him and the people in their recollections. He was well known in Othello when he was here. He maintained a visible presence in town. He was seen driving along Main Street and frequenting Othello’s hotspots.” Stories of what Curry was like varied among the people that Zavala interviewed.

“Some say he was really outgoing, talkative, bright and chipper,” said Zavala. “Other people thought he was intimidating. His physical stature alone – he was a tall, muscular, imposing guy. It seems like he put on a facade for people to mask who he really was.”

A son of Pete Taggares, owner of Chef Reddy, a business from Othello’s younger days, told Zavala about the first time he met Curry. He was with one of his father’s hired hands.

“He was like 10 or 11 at that point,” related Zavala. “He was sitting on the grass where modern-day Simplot is. He said he saw Curry pull up in a Cadillac car. Curry was very immaculately dressed. He had gold fillings, a nice long-sleeved dress shirt, slacks and shoes. Bailey told him, ‘Do you know who this is?’ He said, ‘This is Deodies.’ That shows how much of a popular figure he was. People could recognize him. He was that well known.”

Other people remembered him in plain clothes with jeans.

“He was capable of switching it up,” Zavala said.

The lore surrounding Curry has him involved in the darker side of Othello business.

“In Othello, there are stories of him disappearing people in this community,” Zavala said. “They say he disposed of some of his murders by feeding his victims to the pigs to dispose of the evidence.”

There are also tales of drugs, alcohol, illegal ventures and prostitution. He was also rumored to have bribed county officials and possible city officials. Zavala said the prostitution and murders were what stood out the most.

In 1964, Curry took over the hotel from owner John White. White was also a pig farmer. What the arrangements between the two men were is unclear. Curry either bought the hotel or just became the manager.

“I never found a record of a change of title or a bill of sale,” said Zavala. “He might not have paid for the Old Hotel. There probably was an agreement to own or rent. I found no evidence.”

Whatever the arrangement was, the hotel reverted back to White in 1975. Sometime during his time in Othello, Curry married a woman named Shirley.

“There are accounts that Curry was promiscuous and had children with multiple women,” Zavala said. “All I am aware of are two daughters and two sons.”

In the early hours of Sept. 14, 1974, Curry shot 17-year-old Earl (or according to some sources, Errol) James Tucker in one of the downstairs rooms toward the back of the hotel.

“He shot the kid but he didn’t immediately kill him,” said Zavala. “He died of his wounds later at the scene. That’s what catapulted him (Curry) to fame and legend. People already talked about him disappearing people at that time. It elevated his myth even more. It made the Old Hotel infamous for what he did.”

What happened and why Curry shot Tucker is shrouded in mystery.

“It has basically been convoluted with the passage of time,” Zavala said.

According to legend, Curry caught Tucker in bed with Shirley. In the passion of the moment, Curry shot the 17-year-old. According to one of Zavala’s sources, Curry knew that something was going on between Tucker and Shirley.

While an affair was the reason alleged for the murder, there may have been another reason.

“It was alleged that Tucker was running drugs for Curry at one point,” said Zavala. “Apparently the night before, there was a stakeout at the Old Hotel. An undercover informant was trying to buy drugs from Tucker, but it fell apart at the last minute. Curry probably found out about that and possibly thought Tucker was speaking to the police. Maybe he saw him as a liability. That might explain another theory for shooting him.”

After the shooting, Curry fled. According to court documents and transcripts that Zavala found, he went to the East Coast before returning to Tacoma where he had family. In November 1974, Curry was arrested by the FBI and the Tacoma Police Department. He was extradited to Adams County, but his lawyer had this trial location changed to Spokane, citing that he felt his client wouldn’t get a fair trial in Ritzville. He was charged with first-degree murder, but it was later changed to second-degree murder. Curry was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years with a maximum of 20 years. He was released in the early 1980s, however.

“He had a tentative release date of July 1981,” Zavala said. “Some people think it was pretty lenient for second-degree murder. To go deeper into the lore, the sentencing banned him from ever going into the county again (Adams County). Apparently he violated that. He lived here for a period in the ’80s until he moved to the Tacoma area. He later moved to Louisiana where he died in 2005.”

“By 1974, Curry was at the pinnacle of his power,” said Zavala “He thinks he runs the town. He had a bold, audacious, untouchable mentality. That’s another part of the legend. If he’s portrayed as a mastermind, why would he be foolish to shoot someone in the city limits? It would suggest why it would have to be bigger to shoot Tucker than catching him with his wife.”

Rachal Pinkerton may be reached via email at rpinkerton@columbiabasinherald.com.

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