By J. L. Starkey
“I look back on the way I was then, a young, stupid kid. I wanna try to talk some sense to him…but I can’t.
That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left. I gotta live with that.”– Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, The Shawshank Redemption
It was a mystery that was supposed to be solved in 2020, but it didn’t work out that way.
When we last heard from him, he had married at least six times, fathered at least five children, and served at least three prison terms. His story was like that one book that you just can’t put down. You know the one…you just have to know how it ends.
But in genealogy, we can’t find everyone. Some ancestors seem to disappear, and we never learn what became of them. That was the case with Eugene, because despite everything I tried, the end of his story remained elusive. I had missed something in my research, but what was it?
Finally, I decided to start at the beginning.
And by rebuilding the beginning, I found the ending.
Eugene – or William?
Shortly after his acquittal on Mann Act charges, Eugene (also known as William Fisher) returned to the Pacific Northwest and found work as a plumber. On 26 March 1937, he married Ada Louise Dillon Stone, a divorcee from Hillsboro, Oregon .
But this marriage, like the five that preceded it, was destined to fail, and on 23 December 1938, a judge granted Ada’s request for a divorce on grounds of desertion .
Desertion, you ask? Well of course it was for that. Eugene/William had certainly not changed his ways. Heck, he probably had another wife waiting for him somewhere. (Spoiler alert: he actually had more than one.)
But the paper trail grew cold after his sixth divorce. His siblings’ obituaries indicated that he died after 1955, probably in Washington or Oregon, but other than that, he disappeared.
Eugene wasn’t always so elusive. Records from his younger years were detailed and plentiful. Born in Palouse, Washington, in 1888, he was the second-youngest of Jared and Mary (Hardin) Fisher’s five children. The family originally settled in Cowley County, Kansas, and it was there that Jared married Mary, while his brother Justus married Mary’s half-sister, Esther. That situation made for a slew of double cousins back home, and Eugene probably had many memories of his large extended family. He probably also remembered his great-grandfather Horace Catlin, who served as guardian to both his mother and his Aunt Esther, and was the only real father the girls ever knew.
Born into wealth and raised in luxury, Eugene seemed destined for success. But reality was far different than expectation. Eugene didn’t have one double life, he had several, and he seemed to live them all at the same time. At last count, I had documented eleven aliases (and almost as many marriages) for this wily cousin of mine. He was so convincing in his lies that some researchers incorrectly assume that one of those aliases is actually Eugene’s younger brother!
But the man known as William Monte Fisher was not a real person (well, at least not until the 1930s).
Certainly, Eugene may have had five siblings, but the paper trail doesn’t support that theory. Census records list five Fisher children, and while Mary noted that she gave birth to six, one of those children died prior to 1900 . Additionally, Jared and Mary both left detailed wills that listed each child by name to avoid legal issues .
Finally, each of the five Fisher siblings from those census and will records can also be found in Palouse school records .
In short, if there WAS a sixth Fisher child, his name is nowhere to be found in pre-1930s records.
And why is that?
The answer is simple. It was because Eugene Clairmont was William Monte…but not until around 1933!
William Monte may have gotten a late start in those vital records, but he quickly caught up with the rest of the family. Marriage licenses, directories, news stories Check, check, and check. William appeared in all of those documents, and whaddaya know, he was the son of (wait for it) Jared and Mary (Hardin) Fisher, just like Eugene was!
So much for covering his tracks to stay beneath the radar. Eugene never did care about things like that. But this time, his deception actually worked. This time, he didn’t get caught.
And when he didn’t get caught, well…he got bold.
Rules were made to be broken, weren’t they? To that end, Eugene/William falsified his voter registration, his draft card, and even his social security application . And with that, William Monte was “born,” while Eugene Clairmont simply ceased to exist.
But what of the rest of the family? Did his siblings know about Eugene’s deception? More to the point, did they go along with it? To find out, I conducted another search for his siblings’ obituaries. While I knew that Eugene/William probably died in Washington or Oregon after 1955, I still didn’t know where he died.
And more importantly, who was he at that time?
Clues from Clyde
Since details can differ from one newspaper to the next, I tried to find at least two obituaries for each sibling. That extra step paid off when I discovered a second obituary for Eugene’s older brother, Clyde, who died in 1955. A jeweler by trade, Clyde had no children of his own, and perhaps that was why his obituary included so many details about his extended family . It even listed each sibling: Eliza, John, Ellis, and (surprise!) William, a resident of Centralia, Washington.
On a hunch, I consulted the 1955 Centralia directory. Sure enough, it contained a listing for “Wm M Fisher,” a plumber who resided at 1126 South Tower Avenue with his wife, Fay .
Where He Went
Another marriage? But…that would make a total of seven, wouldn’t it?
On the surface, it appeared that the seventh time was the charm, because by 1955, William and Fay Fisher had been together for decades. According to records, William and the former Fay Opal Byers married prior to March 1938, welcomed their daughter Mary Fay in July 1939, and lived in Washington or Oregon for the rest of their lives .
That was their story on paper, anyway. Ada Louisa Dillon-Stone-Fisher-Bowman-Lull would probably beg to differ with certain parts of the timeline.
It was a stroke of luck that the Fishers lived in Washington. If you have ancestors there, then you already know about the state’s amazing digital archives website. It’s free to use and easy to search, and many records can be downloaded (also for free!) immediately.
Still, finding the correct Fisher in the digital archives was a long shot. A search of “William Fisher” returned 117 results in death records alone. But of those 117 records, there was only one for a man named William M. Fisher who died after 1955. What were the chances that this was William/Eugene? After so many dead ends, did my foundation rebuild work?
In a word: YES.
On 2 December 2021, at precisely 2:15 pm, Eugene/William’s story finally had an ending. The death record was indeed for William Monte Fisher, a plumber who was married to a woman named Fay . And there, in item 14, was the maiden name of William’s mother. According to informant Fay Fisher, William was the son of “Mary Catlin.”
“Yesssss! It’s him! It’s him!” I yelled loud enough for the neighbors to hear me, and I probably interrupted my husband’s Zoom call, but there are times when that level of enthusiasm is warranted.
This discovery was one of those times.
As I inspected the document, I thought about the foundation of this family. I began doing genealogy when I was twelve, and one of the first documents I received from my mentor, cousin Alberta, was a hand-drawn chart of the Fisher/Catlin connection.
As I looked at William’s death certificate, I was suddenly twelve again, studying that chart and wondering about my Fisher and Catlin ancestors. Little did I know that I was laying a foundation back then, and that almost forty years later, things would finally come full circle.
It was finished. The mystery of Eugene was solved at long last.
Or was it?
I finally found the end of the story, but the rest of the story? That will have to wait a bit. Get ready to grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable, though, because Eugene/William has a few more tales to tell!
This is the latest installment in a series chronicling the life of Eugene Clairmont Fisher. If you’re new to his story, you can catch up by clicking here to read part I. Part II can be accessed by clicking here, and part III can be accessed by clicking here.
- Washington State Archives, Olympia, Washington; Marriage Records, 1854-2013 for William M fisher, Clark County, Marriage Certificates 1937 Jan-Apr, digital image 657 of 1185. Retrieved from Ancestry.com. Washington, Marriage Records, 1854-2013 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
- Divorce record for Fisher, M. Oregon, U.S., State Divorces, 1925-1968, image 114 of 393. Oregon Center For Health Statistics; Portland, Oregon, Usa; Oregon, Divorce Records, 1925-1945. Retrieved 9 Jan 2022 from Ancestry.com.
- 1887, Whitman County Census, Whitman County Territorial Auditor – Jared Fisher, 1887, Whitman County Census, Whitman County Territorial Auditor, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://digitalarchives.wa.gov, accessed 1 Dec 2021. [See also: “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MM59-79R : accessed 2 Jan 2022), Jared Fisher, Bethel, Palouse, and Turnbow Precincts, Whitman, Washington, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 92, sheet 1A, family 1, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,753.]
- Washington, Whitman County, Wills; Author: Washington State Archives. Eastern Regional Branch; Probate Place: Whitman, Washington. Washington, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1851-1970 for Jared Fisher [database on-line]. Whitman, Wills, Vol 7, 1925-1930, Digital image 229 of 664, Retrieved from Ancestry.com, Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. [See also: Washington. Superior Court (Whitman); Probate Place: Whitman, Washington Washington, Wills and Probate Records, 1851-1970 for Mary F Fisher [database on-line], Whitman, Wills, Vol. 8, 1930-1937, Digital Image 524 of 668, Retrieved from Ancestry.com, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.]
- “Whitman, Washington, United States Records,” images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GTM3-97FR : January 9, 2022), image 116 of 1097; Eastern Washington Regional Archives (Cheney, Washington). [See also: “Whitman, Washington, United States Records,” images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9TM3-97QF : January 10, 2022), image 210 of 1097; Eastern Washington Regional Archives (Cheney, Washington).]
- “Oregon, Multnomah County, Voting Registration Records, 1908-1958”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:WMJX-M5MM : 21 October 2019), William Monte Fisher, 1944. [See also: “United States World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJT-FKWL : 10 March 2021), William Monte Fisher, 1942; citing NARA microfilm publication M1936, M1937, M1939, M1951, M1962, M1964, M1986, M2090, and M2097 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); and U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line] for William M Fisher. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007.]
- “Fisher, Clyde,” The Spokesman Review, Palouse, Washington, 27 Sept 1955, p. 34, col. 6. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- Fisher, Wm M (Fay O). Centralia, Washington, City Directory, 1955, p. 99 [digital image 52 of 273]. Ancestry.com. U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
- Year: 1940; Census Place: Centralia, Lewis, Washington; Roll: m-t0627-04350; Page: 61A; Enumeration District: 21-10. Retrieved from Ancestry.com. [See also: “Notice of Application for Letters of Administration” Stillwater Gazette, Stillwater, Oklahoma, 25 Mar 1938, p. 7, col. 6. Retrieved 3 Dec 2021 from newspapers.com; and “Oregon, Multnomah County, Voting Registration Records, 1908-1958”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:WMV5-53T2 : 21 October 2019), Fay Opal Fisher, 1944.)]
- Death Certificates, July 1, 1907-1962, 1964-1996 – William – Fisher, Department of Health, Death Certificates, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://digitalarchives.wa.gov, retrieved 2 Dec 2021.