Anthony G. “Tony” Bamonte was born in Wallace, Idaho, on May 1, 1942, the son of Louis and Luciel (Starmer) Bamonte. He gently slipped into the Light of the Great Beyond on July 11, 2019, with his loving wife by his side, reassuring him he could go rest in the arms of our Beloved Father. He was a cherished husband, father, brother, grandfather, uncle, friend, and public servant. We will forever miss his piercing blue eyes, his electric smile, his great sense of humor, and, most of all, his kind and loving heart.
Tony’s early years were tumultuous. Local police were summoned to the home on domestic violence calls. Because of the kindness, comfort, and sense of protection the officers gave him, he wanted to be a policeman when he grew up. At the age of six, Tony’s tender heart was broken when his mother abandoned the family and left Louie to raise Tony, his older brother Dale, and younger sister Star. Tony adored his father. Though a strict disciplinarian, Louie loved his children and embraced the huge responsibility placed on him. In 1949, he moved the children to the country north of Metaline Falls in Pend Oreille County, Washington, where he worked long, backbreaking hours as a logger and miner. Despite a constant struggle to make ends meet, Louie did not overlook the importance of teaching his children impeccable manners, ethics, an appreciation for music and literature, and to be respectful and compassionate toward all living beings – and, as Tony often joked, the importance of brushing one’s teeth. Tony never quit grieving Louie’s death in 1966 from silicosis. The reunion with his father and his sister, Star, who died in 2011, must have been joyful.
Tony, a true renaissance man, lived with enough intensity of purpose to fill multiple lifetimes. His work life began early. As soon as he was physically able, he began working alongside his dad in the woods, becoming proficient at making cedar fence posts and poles. He developed an exceptional work ethic and a physical strength that was disproportionate to his size. In addition to 26 years in law enforcement, he was a logger, miner, construction worker, general contractor, licensed realtor and appraiser, private investigator, historian, writer and publisher. To stay physically fit and augment his income while serving as sheriff of Pend Oreille County, he built 11 log houses and an all-electric sawmill. Until pancreatic cancer changed his course, he never considered retiring. Even at the end, he still had a book project underway.
Soon after graduating from Metaline Falls High School in 1961, he left his job at the Pend Oreille Mines and joined the Army. From basic training at Fort Ord, Calif., he was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for military police training, followed by an assignment to Lackland Air Force Base, where he attended K-9 school. At the end of the training, he and his German Shepherd were stationed at the Nike Hercules missile base in Monroe, Mich., and later the one on Belle Isle in Detroit. While there, he was promoted to corporal. In mid-1963, he was sent to Vietnam, where he was assigned to the 560th Military Police Company at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Within weeks, he was assigned to MAC-V (Military Assistance Command Vietnam), the main headquarters for the brass in charge of the military actions in South Vietnam. In October 1963, he was one of eight military police chosen to protect and, if necessary, evacuate U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in Saigon, during the military coup that overthrew South Vietnam’s President Diem. Tony’s next assignment, as a helicopter door gunner, was with the Utility Tactical Transport Helicopter Company (UTT) at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. With only three days of training, mostly in first-aid and how to administer morphine, he was sent out on combat missions. After flying with other pilots, he was soon assigned to fly with Major Patrick Delavan, commanding officer of the UTT. By April 1964, when he was sent stateside, he had flown 42 missions, for which he received the Air Medal for meritorious achievement. He had been shot down twice and, as the result of injuries, also received a Purple Heart. Despite his honorable service, he rarely talked about his experiences in Vietnam. He suffered from the moral injury to his spirit for the rest of his life and wanted to forget the horrors of war.
On September 14, 1964, Tony was granted an early discharge from the Army to attend college and immediately began taking classes at Eastern Washington State College (now University). When his funds ran out, he returned to the Pend Oreille Mines before hiring on at Boundary Dam during its construction. In the winter of 1966, he took the civil service exam to join the Spokane Police Department and scored fourth highest of the 90 applicants. He was hired within two weeks and sent to the police academy in Spokane. During the next eight years, he served as a member of the SPD’s first SWAT team and five years as a motorcycle patrolman. He had the honor of being one of three motorcycle officers to escort President Nixon when he came to Spokane to open Expo ’74. Shortly thereafter, Tony left the SPD to take a political appointment as a deputy for the Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office, followed by three terms as the elected sheriff of the county. While living in Spokane, he had married Betty Williams, who had two young sons, Todd and Ken. Their son, Louis, was born in 1969.
During Tony’s law-enforcement career, he solved a number of high-profile cases, including, in 1989, the nation’s oldest active murder case, about which New York Times reporter Timothy Egan wrote “Breaking Blue.” Tony had been recognized by his superiors for good police work and for his respectful treatment of lawbreakers when writing tickets or making arrests, but his first case to attract media and public attention was in 1971. The Bon Marche was robbed and the cashier was killed in cold blood. Tony was the first officer on the scene. When apprehended, the shooter pulled out a concealed firearm and was a split second from shooting Tony at close range when Tony shot him. Though permanently disabled, the perpetrator survived and became the first person to plead guilty to first-degree murder in Washington State’s history.
Tony’s law-enforcement career has been written about at length and is readily available through other sources, including books he authored, but it’s the depth of character he brought to his role as an officer that will be remembered the most. He was proud of his career and made every effort to honor the oath he had taken to serve the public, particularly while protecting society’s most vulnerable, as he himself had been protected in his early life. He diligently studied the laws he was sworn to uphold and never lost sight of the importance of serving on the side of justice. Although he repeatedly found himself in the limelight, he neither sought it nor felt completely at ease with it, but if a higher good could be served, then he accepted the attention as part of his duty. However, it often came at a personal price, especially when he occasionally crossed public officials in his dogged determination to reveal the truth and hold them accountable. He was relentless in his pursuits, evidenced by the number of cases he was successful in solving or bringing to justice. Many viewed him as a local hero or legend, but that was never how he perceived himself. His focus was only to answer the call of duty. His high degree of integrity, ever-ready willingness to be of help, and the pursuit of truth underlay his law-enforcement career, as well as how he lived his life.
Despite Tony’s lack of interest in school when he was young, he worked hard to get an education in his adult years. While working days for the Spokane Police Department, he attended night classes at Whitworth College, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1974. While serving as sheriff of Pend Oreille County, he earned his Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University in 1990. Prior to enrolling in the program, he had been researching the history of the 10 sheriffs in Pend Oreille County who preceded him and the major crimes committed during their tenures. In the process, he discovered the unsolved murder of a Newport, Washington, marshal in 1935, which led to “Breaking Blue.” The project became the basis of his master’s thesis and, in 1991, was published as “Sheriffs, 1911-1989, A History of Murders in the Wilderness of Washington’s Last County.”
In 1991, following his divorce and losing his bid for a fourth term as sheriff, he moved to Spokane, where he opened a private investigator’s office and also began selling real estate. In 1993, he crossed paths with Suzanne Schaeffer at a party for an elderly mutual friend in Metaline Falls. A longtime resident of Seattle at the time, Suzanne had also grown up in Metaline Falls. They married on July 31, 1994, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and fell just 20 days short of celebrating their 25th anniversary when Tony passed away. But, during the two and a half decades of their marriage, they shared a passion for Inland Northwest history and a desire to preserve it. Their first endeavor was to coauthor “History of Pend Oreille County.” Nine more books followed that they wrote and published as a team, which were in addition to four books written by Tony. He was happiest when he was hard at work writing and studying history, especially when at least one of their many cats was lounging on his desk. Though not their original intention, they also published numerous regional history books for other local authors. Tony’s generosity knew no bounds, especially when it came to providing help and resources to anyone who expressed an interest in historical research and writing.
Tony is survived by his wife Suzanne; sons Todd, Ken, and Lou Bamonte; brother Dale Bamonte; five grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews. If anyone wishes to make a donation in Tony’s memory, please consider SpokAnimal or Hospice of Spokane, where he received such loving care in his final days. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, August 24, 2019, at 2:00 p.m. in the Grand Pennington Ballroom of the historic Davenport Hotel, 10 S. Post Street, Spokane.
Please share memories and condolences on his tribute wall. Use the link provided to read a tribute that appeared in the Spokesman-Review. https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2019/jul/11/tony-bamonte-spokane-historian-and-sheriff-who-exp/