SPOKANE, Wash. — On Thursday, Spokane lost local legend Tony Bamonte. He was a veteran, police officer and author who wrote more than 10 books on Inland Northwest history.
Bamonte lost his battle with pancreatic cancer at 77 years old.
“Tony was like a second father to me. He’s honoring and hilarious and incredibly passionate about anything he does,” said publisher of Nostalgia Magazine Garrin Hertel.
Bamonte was also the subject of a bestselling book by writer Timothy Egan about Bamonte's time as sheriff of Pend Oreille County. In 1989, Bamonte solved the oldest open murder investigation in the country, which originally occurred in 1935.
His investigation started as part of his Gonzaga thesis project and many people told him the quest for answers was pointless.
But he pursued the truth anyway and pulled the murder weapon from the floor of the Spokane River while it was drained near Post Street 30 years ago.
“Tony always went after the truth,” Hertel said.
The murder investigation was also featured on the show Unsolved Mysteries.
Bamonte was born in Pend Oreille County in 1942. He began working hard labor jobs from an early age.
"He learned a lot of lessons about how life is sometimes unfair, and I think he took all of that and turned it into compassion in all of the work that he did,” Hertel said.
After a two-year stint in Vietnam, Bamonte moved to Spokane and became a motorcycle officer.
One incident people remember Bamonte for was the 1971 Bon Marche department store shooting. He shot an armed robbery suspect, hitting his sunglasses in between his eyes.
The suspect had drawn a gun on him, so Bamonte took action.
"Basically he would have survived as a gun slinger back in the old west. I mean, he was a dead eye with a pistol,” Hertel said.
While serving as an officer, Bamonte also rode in Nixon's motorcade during the 1974 expo in Spokane.
But Bamonte also had a soft side. A city prosecutor complimented him for leaving positive notes on tickets he wrote while patrolling, saying "the defendants, even though they are often found guilty, are left with kindly feelings towards the [police] department."
“He put everything into anything that he did,” Hertel said.
In 1978, Bamonte was elected Pend Oreille County Sheriff. He dedicated himself to the community for 12 years – even giving out his home phone number to residents.
Hertel described Bamonte as someone who never gave up and was relentless when it came to following a story, which is how he brought justice to people and became a great historian.
After retiring from the police force, Bamonte began writing books about Spokane history, including the Davenport Hotel, Manito Park and Coeur d’Alene’s mining district.
“Tony will take a place in history alongside Durham and Edwards and Keltier and Fayhee – all the big historians. He was the giant of his time,” Hertel said.