Steve Edmiston presenting his “Good Bootlegger” presentation at the Highline Heritage Museum on Sept. 18, 2021. Photo by Scott Schaefer.

Local lawyer/historian/filmmaker Steve Edmiston’s presentation on historic Northwest Rumrunner Roy Olmstead at the Highline Heritage Museum Saturday night (Sept. 18, 2021) concluded with a mystery for local historians – centered upon Olmstead’s secret underground liquor cache in Burien.

Roy Olmstead when he was a Seattle Police Officer, circa 1920.

The program – titled ‘Whiskey and Wiretaps: The Northwest’s Rumrunning King’ – was also sponsored by Humanities Washington.

After sharing Olmstead’s dramatic Northwest prohibition story and its many local connections, Edmiston challenged the audience to investigate one hyperlocal bootlegging mystery – finding the actual location of Olmstead’s “Viele Ranch,” reported in newspaper accounts in the 1920’s to be located in Sunnydale.

“The ranch was where Olmstead aggregated and warehoused liquor shipments that came in by speedboat to one of the many docks South King County docks – including, famously, the Woodmont Dock, the location of Olmstead’s final arrest,” said Edmiston. “The ranch’s underground cavern was the kind of hiding spot only Hollywood might invent, and it was here.” Edmiston shared a 1926 Seattle Post-Intelligencer account describing the initial discovery of the lair by federal agents:

”[At] that ramshackle old farm, [Prohibition Bureau legal counsel] Whitney said he found a trap door. Raising this, he beheld a ladder leading down into the earth, and at the bottom of the ladder, by aid of an electric light… a great, double room, with walls six feet high, thirty feet wide and sixty feet long. In this roomy subterranean cavern, sack upon sack, and bottle upon bottle, of whiskies, gins, wines, liquors – champagne, even, and benedictine and curacao – a veritable wonderland of contraband, a smuggler’s paradise.”

During the audience discussion, museum member Gina Glasgow-Wills conducted online research and found a reference to a “Ralph Viele” with property in Sunnydale in 1920 – and the search was on.

Have any tips on the actual location of the Viele Ranch in Sunnydale? Please email The Waterland Blog ([email protected]) or contact the Highline Heritage Museum. The Waterland Blog will update this story as we gather additional clues…