Sunday, April 11, 2021
April 11, 2021

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Clark County History: Vancouver mayor went missing way back when


Grover R. Percival was so well-liked that a competitor nominated him to complete the term of retiring Vancouver Mayor Milton Evans. A unanimous vote propelled Percival into office in November 1917. As a councilman, Percival supported the Interstate Bridge project. Just 14 years earlier, he moved his wife and two sons to Vancouver. By 1909, he sold lots in Vancouver at $230 each from his Main Street real estate office.

World War I filled the Vancouver Barracks with troops. Committed to the war, Percival arranged a federal hearing on deepening the Columbia River channel, promoted the shipyard and spoke to the troops. Instead of combat, these soldiers found their way into the woods as lumbermen; 2,400 stayed to work at the Vancouver cut-up plant; others went to similar plants in Port Angeles or Newport, Ore.

With one mayoral term behind him, Percival decided not to run in 1920. On Sunday, Oct. 17, he went for a walk, stuffing private papers in his coat and leaving his money and wallet at home. By Tuesday, the town was unnerved. Businesses closed, hundreds of men formed search parties, boats cruised the Columbia River — all looking for a bald man wearing a dark gray suit, short black overcoat, an Elgin watch and black fedora with “Jas. J. Padden” on the sweatband. Their hunt prompted sightings from downtown Vancouver to Orchards.

Then, after nearly five weeks, a body turned up just before Thanksgiving. O.F. Williams found a man dressed like Percival hanging from a tree by a handkerchief in a Hayden Island wooded area 100 yards from the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railway bridge. After taking the body away, the county coroner pronounced despondency and ill health caused the mayor’s suicide. The next month, J.P. Kiggins assumed another mayorship and Percival’s son, Ralph, became treasurer.

Some consider Percival murdered and say he haunts the Interstate Bridge — interesting, like most ghost stories. But why was he murdered? He carried no money and his papers were found on him. And why haunt the Interstate Bridge when he died nearer the railroad bridge?

Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at


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