Illustration by Ryan Garcia
At the eastern rim of Seattle, where Madrona Drive meets Lake Washington Boulevard, King County Metro bus drivers nearing the end of their route enjoy an unusual perk: A wide turnabout with a panoramic view. Sometimes a driver will step out of the bus to eat lunch or enjoy a cigarette along the knee-high wall composed of black basalt boulders. The overlook, built in the early 1990s, is a grand perch from which to observe Lake Washington and, on a clear day, Mount Rainier.
A commemorative metal plaque at the south end of the wall features the silhouettes of four figures, two adults and two children, in an illustrated scene astonishingly similar to the real scene that surrounds the overlook. The four walk seemingly where the viewer stands, taking in the same panorama. The same lake. The same mountain. “This overlook,” the script at the bottom of the plaque reads, “is named in memory of Charles, Annie, Derek and Colin Goldmark who loved Seattle and its open spaces.”
Three decades ago, arguably everyone in the city knew those names—had heard them repeatedly on local newscasts at night and read them above the fold in daily papers, had either learned what happened to the family of four or had assiduously avoided learning too much. (The details, once come to light, were hard to shake.)
Charles Goldmark, 41, was a successful civil litigation lawyer with a progressive political pedigree; his father had been a prominent state representative. Annie Goldmark, 43, was French and Swedish and a gifted translator. Their two sons—Derek, 12, and Colin, 10—attended Seattle’s prestigious Bush School.
If these names are new to you, that’s hardly a surprise. As a city, we don’t talk about one of the most heinous crimes in Seattle history. Which is to say, we don’t talk about how the Goldmarks were butchered by a man who believed a lie.
For more than 30 years, anniversaries have come and gone, essentially unobserved, at least publicly, and the reasons why are bewildering, but not nearly as bewildering as the events that led David Lewis Rice to the Goldmarks’ Madrona home at 7pm, Christmas Eve, 1985.
What we know about what happened inside the house during the next several minutes comes from limited forensics and Rice himself. What’s certain is that about half an hour later, guests arrived at the appointed time and knocked on the family’s wreath-adorned door, anticipating what had become a holiday tradition at the Goldmark house, a Swedish Christmas Eve dinner with friends and a gift exchange. The guests rang the doorbell. No answer. And the lights were inexplicably turned off. Concerned, they summoned Jeff Haley, a close family friend and neighbor, who had a key to the home. When Haley entered, a sound he'd heard from outside grew louder: a groan issuing from the second floor. He climbed the stairs and stepped into the master bedroom and beheld a bloodbath.
Haley discovered Charles prone on the beige carpet, his hands bound behind him with handcuffs, blood spilling from his head. Annie was also bound with cuffs; she bled from her head and chest. Feet away, the boys, Derek and Colin, also lie bleeding.
Annie was pronounced dead at the scene. Colin died four days later. Before Charles passed he hung on, unconscious, for 16 days at Harborview; Derek for an agonizing 37 days.
Rice later told police detectives that he arrived at the Goldmarks’ on Christmas Eve posing as a delivery man. Then, brandishing a toy gun, he ushered the family into the master bedroom, subdued them with chloroform, cuffed the parents, and began bludgeoning all four Goldmarks with a clothing iron. With a kitchen knife he stabbed at the cracks he'd made in their skulls, and stabbed Annie in the chest, to finish the job.
Asked why, Rice told detectives he believed Charles Goldmark was Jewish and a Communist (Goldmark was neither) and that a secret cabal of Communists conspired to destroy the United States—ideas Rice learned, in part, from the extremist right-wing group he’d recently joined. Rice was responding to a rumor, one that had started 23 years earlier by opponents of Goldmark’s father, an esteemed state representative in the 1950s and early 1960s.
The nature of that rumor bears uncanny resemblance to those spread today: ludicrous and waged to damage political rivals. When a man opened fire in a DC pizza parlor in 2016—after reading online message boards that claimed Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff ran a child sex ring there—it shocked the country. But Pizzagate represented nothing new. Bad information turned lethal menace is hardly novel. “Timothy McVeigh thought that the country was conspiring against citizens,” Joseph Uscinski, a University of Miami associate professor and author of American Conspiracy Theories, recently told me. “So he conspired right back and blew up the Oklahoma building.”
And after all, the internet didn’t invent conspiracy theories, says Ahmer Arif, a University of Washington researcher who studies how misinformation spreads online. “What the internet invented is a more and more sophisticated way to weaponize rumors and conspiracy theories, and to weaponize doubt and skepticism.”
The Goldmark saga, though, may show us the anatomy of a deadly lie. In Pizzagate, it only took months between when the seeds of bogus intel were planted and the actual gunfire. What happened to the Goldmarks took decades. A catastrophe in slow motion.
Nearly 40 years earlier, Okanogan County, in rural north central Washington, was an unlikely place for John and Sally Goldmark to make a name for themselves. He was a Harvard-educated lawyer and former Navy officer from New York state; his great-uncle was a Supreme Court justice. She was a New Deal employee from Brooklyn. They met and fell in love in DC and wed in 1942. After the birth of Charles, their first son, John did a military tour, disarming bombs in the South Pacific. When he returned the young family moved out west following a dream to live off the land.
By the early 1960s they had fulfilled more than that. The Goldmarks owned a 500-acre wheat and cattle ranch—25 miles from the nearest town, some 250 miles northeast of Seattle—and John had become a revered public servant, winning a seat as a state representative in Olympia in 1956, then a second and third term. And he did so as a Democrat in a very Republican county. He was poised to win a fourth.
The Goldmarks also now had two wildly intelligent, industrious teenage sons, Charles (who always went by Chuck) and his younger brother, Peter. “By giving us life on the ranch, John and Sally gave us something very special,” Chuck would tell a crowd decades later at an event honoring his parents. “The chance to learn things few people ever learn. How a cow reacts to a cutting horse. What the grass is like in the spring. What the wind sounds like in a blizzard. We were in a place where your life was what you made it. No one else was in control. No one else was able to decide whether you could make it through the next day.”
The boys were responsible for much of the work on the ranch. Planting crops. Tending to the livestock. Chuck trained the family dog, Kim, a purebred German Shepard, to do more than help herd cattle. Kim could climb ladders and sit in the saddle of a moving horse. In 1961, when the Wenatchee World sent out a reporter to investigate, 18-year-old Chuck regaled the scribe with Kim’s greatest exploit:
One day Chuck and Peter had placed the dog in the driver’s seat of a truck, his paws dutifully on the steering wheel. The brothers ducked out of sight and together motored and steered the vehicle down a dusty lane. “When the mailman saw this truck coming down the road with just Kim at the wheel,” Chuck told the reporter, “he almost ran off the road!”
In 1962, Chuck was a freshman at Reed College in Portland. His father was up for reelection. But something had turned. Two local papers ran pieces claiming that the three-term state representative and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee was a Communist sympathizer, using tactics similar to those employed by senator Joseph McCarthy during the previous decade.
John Goldmark was, according to a column penned by Tonasket Tribune editor Ashley Holden, complicit in “a monstrous conspiracy to remake America into a totalitarian state which would throttle freedom and crush individual initiative.”
Through newsletters and newspaper articles, Holden and his allies tried to imply a pattern of Soviet inclinations. They pointed out that Chuck attended liberal Reed College—which had recently invited a Communist Party secretary to speak—and, more persuasive, that Sally had once been on the party’s membership roster. True. During the Depression—and after she had to drop out of medical school because her family couldn’t afford it—Sally had joined the Communist Party because she strongly agreed with the part of its platform dedicated to helping those in need. She was young, idealistic. When she met John, no fan of Communism, she left the group.
But Holden and company exploited this infinitesimal grain of truth to sow doubt in the minds of Okanogan County voters. John lost by a landslide, not even earning his own party’s primary nomination in September.
The Goldmarks didn’t let it go. They had a reputation to protect. A good name to clear. They retained the services of Seattle attorney William Dwyer and filed a libel lawsuit against Holden and his confederates. The months-long trial became national news. To many it felt like a relitigation of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee hearings and others like it. Witnesses from Hollywood who had been under Senator McCarthy’s microscope testified on the Goldmarks’ behalf. So did their son: Chuck took the stand to inform the jury that his school was not, in fact, a bastion of Soviet ideals. The defendants, meanwhile, exploited the trial as a new avenue to slime John and Sally; they inferred that the Goldmark marriage was a sham, just another Communist plot.
The Goldmarks prevailed. The judge awarded $40,000 in damages.
Though another judge later reversed that decision—in part due to a federal ruling regarding a higher bar for libel in the case of public figures—John and Sally felt vindicated. As Dwyer later explained in The Goldmark Case: An American Libel Trial, his celebrated book on the ordeal, it was never about the money. A court of law had affirmed they weren’t who their adversaries said they were. The system had worked, shedding light on the truth.
But lies, even after exposed, die hard, especially those given so much oxygen early on. They hide in dark corners. They scatter to the unseen fringe. And so, the false claim that the Goldmark family harbored pro-communist, anti-American sympathies clung on. The rumor stayed alive as a whisper, down through the years and decades until, by 1985, it had reached the wrong person at exactly the wrong time.
David Rice believed 10,000 Korean troops lurked just over the Canadian border, and between 20,000 and 40,000 South American troops just over the Mexican border, all waiting for word from the Jewish-controlled Federal Reserve to invade and ultimately conquer the United States. The federal government needed those foreign troops, Rice believed, because it could not count on our own military to fire bullets at U.S. citizens. He believed there was, in his words, “a definite plan to turn this world into a one-world Communist government.”
These were not the delusions of a lone madman. These were assertions made by a man whom Rice admired, and whose writings he read with an almost religious fervor: retired U.S. Army colonel Gordon “Jack” Mohr. The self-proclaimed “national military commander” of the Christian Patriots Defense League, Mohr used his credentials as a veteran of World War II and Korea to tour the country, giving speeches on the threat of Communism. He also spread his ideas via articles that appeared in right-wing newsletters, some of which appeared in Seattle.
Among Mohr’s assertions: that “international Jewish bankers” dictate U.S. foreign policy; that in the 1970s a 27-ship Russian convoy landed off the coast of Baja, disgorging tanks and thousands of troops, all poised to invade California, Arizona, and Texas; that another invading army, this one of Red Chinese troops, lie in wait in British Columbia; that there’s a coming war and all able men must be ready to defeat the Communists’ and globalists’ plot to undo the United States.
Asked where he received his information, Mohr would answer vaguely that it came from a variety of sources, including tips via letters and telephone calls—and that he could discern tipster fact from tipster fiction due to his wartime experience.
You could say Mohr was the Alex Jones of his day. His outlandish assertions, fear mongering, and apocalypse-as-porn approach presaged that of the radio host and InfoWars.com founder and his claims that 9/11 was an inside job, that the massacre of Sandy Hook school children a liberal, anti-Second Amendment hoax, and that there’s a FEMA plot to round up U.S. citizens and place them in concentration camps.
David Rice was such a fan of Jack Mohr that after reading one of his articles he phoned the Mississippi-based author to discuss it. It seemed to Rice that in Mohr’s words he’d finally found a purpose. And it had been so long since he’d felt any purpose at all.
Born in Durango, Colorado, in 1958, Rice had been a loner almost all his life. His father, a construction worker, moved the family around the Southwest as he looked for work. David, at age four, ran into and shattered a sliding glass door, cutting his right eyebrow and leaving him partially blind in that eye. At 10, after an argument with one of his two brothers, he rushed to his room and locked the door. The family burst in just in time to stop an apparent suicide attempt with a rope. As a teenager he grew to a towering 5-foot-11—and eventually 6-foot-2—a giant among his high school classmates, who picked on him relentlessly. He dropped out in the 10th grade and joined the Navy but was discharged before he even finished boot camp. Nothing for David Rice seemed to work out. He married and fathered a son—and his wife left him. He found a job as a welder—and that ended in a layoff.
He landed in Seattle around 1982, where he lived in a car or in shelters before meeting Anne Davis, a 40-year-old naturopath. Despite the age difference—Rice was 13 years her junior—the two began a relationship and Rice moved into Davis’s Capitol Hill apartment.
She also introduced him to the Duck Club, an extremist, anti-Jewish and anti-Communist study group with a chapter in Seattle, and its local president, Homer Brand, a vociferously anti-government former Boeing employee. At their meetings Brand, Davis, and the others opined on the Constitution, the government’s intrusion into the lives of Americans—the sorts of themes that Jack Mohr addressed in his speeches and articles, which the Duck Club distributed in its newsletter. Rice’s imagination caught fire. Maybe there was something for him in this world after all.
Although rebuffed when he tried to call the man he gratefully held responsible for this awakening—the person who answered the phone said the retired colonel was busy—Rice was undeterred. He would be a soldier in the cause to defend America.
But who, exactly, was the enemy? At a Duck Club meeting, Homer Brand would later admit in court, the John Goldmark family and its supposed Communist ties may have come up. Rice pursued the lead, found articles at the library, and an idea bloomed. But along the way he somehow confused the father with the son. David Lewis Rice became obsessed with Charles Goldmark.
The boy who had trained a dog to ride a horse had become a man who could bend the world to his will. A beautiful wife. Two sons. A thriving law practice. And whispers of a possible future in politics.
After graduating from Reed, John and Sally Goldmark’s oldest son entered law school at Yale and, like his father, military officer school. In Europe he met his future wife, Annie, a French multilingual interpreter.
When they moved to Seattle, in the early 1970s, Chuck and Annie took up residence in a Tudor-style home pitched on a hillside overlooking Lake Washington, in the same neighborhood—Madrona—that John and Sally had decamped to shortly after their exhausting libel trial in Okanogan County.
Chuck landed a job downtown, on the 42nd floor of a featureless building at Fourth and Madison—a building so lacking in character that locals joked it was the box that the Space Needle came in. But the law firm with the interminably long name—Davis, Wright, Todd, Riese, and Jones—was a good fit. Chuck quickly made a name for himself (he argued a case before the state supreme court) and quite a few friends. These included Jim Wickwire, a world renowned mountain climber—one of the first two Americans to reach the top of K2—and Stephen Eugster, then a recent University of Washington Law School grad.
People enjoyed Chuck’s company, his easy manner, his habit of “raising one eyebrow with a half-smile that implied ‘I’ve just pulled your leg’ or throwing his head back, slapping his thigh, and pounding the table in appreciation at some remark,” Wickwire recalled in a memoir about his own climbing and professional career.
“Chuck was always composed,” Eugster recently told me. “I always considered him fearless.” As a young associate at the firm, Goldmark, like Eugster, felt the pressure. “But he was always in self control and I so much admired that in a person.”
In 1973, Annie gave birth to their first son, Derek, and to Colin two years later. In 1976, Wickwire and Goldmark left the firm to form another, Wickwire, Lewis, Goldmark, and Schorr. Eugster, meanwhile, moved to Spokane, but returned to Seattle frequently. When he did, he stayed with Charles and Annie Goldmark. “They’d remodeled their home and they let me have a nice room and a bathroom in the basement. They were so kind.”
Eugster estimates he visited nearly once a month, right up through to 1985. During that time he grew ever closer with the family. He watched Chuck and his sons play games on an Apple computer. (Chuck was crazy about computers.) He joined the family on hikes. During one, Eugster recalls, Derek and Colin spent the whole trek reciting the entirety of Douglas Adams’s comedic sci-fi yarn A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, their dad would blast Bach full volume on his top-of-the-line stereo, stirring the whole family awake. The boys were growing up bilingual—English and French—and attending The Bush School, the premiere private school not far from their house. Colin was in the choir; Derek’s art was to be featured in an upcoming student exhibit at Seattle Center. When she wasn’t doting on her sons, Annie was translating. Her father was Swedish, her mother French, and she spoke multiple languages.
In addition to his civil litigation work, Chuck also showed political acumen. He was the Democratic Party’s legal counsel in Washington state and appeared as a delegate for presidential candidate Gary Hart at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.
Friends wondered if he might follow in his father’s footsteps and run for office. John Goldmark had died in 1979. Sally a little later, in early 1985. Some would later offer that it was good she wasn’t around to see what happened next.
David Lewis Rice knew he was going to the home of Charles Goldmark. He’d staked out the blue Tudor-style house twice that fall. He’d showed up outside the offices of Wickwire, Lewis, Goldmark, and Schorr to get a look at him. What he didn’t know was that he was stalking the wrong man. Rice was, after all, responding to the rumor that John Goldmark was a Communist. And John Goldmark had been dead for six years.
But Charles Goldmark the lawyer is whom he nonetheless pursued, whom Rice believed was the “regional director of the American Communist Party.”
A few days before Christmas, with his girlfriend out of town, Rice tested the chloroform he’d purchased at a First Hill pharmacy on himself. It knocked him out for 20 minutes. Next he purchased a realistic looking toy pistol and two pairs of handcuffs.
His plan: gain entry into the Goldmark home, take Charles hostage, and force him to give up the name of other Communist leaders.
Here, according to Rice’s confession, is what actually happened: Around 7pm he stood before the Goldmark house holding what he hoped looked like a special holiday delivery—a white box. A Christmas wreath made of pine needles and a red and white ribbon festooned the family’s front door. He rang the bell. Colin answered.
“Charles Goldmark, please.”
When Chuck appeared, Rice produced the toy gun from behind the box, and guided Chuck, Colin, and Derek upstairs to the master bedroom, where Annie, in a bathrobe, had just gotten out of the shower.
Chuck asked if the intruder wanted money, and gave him the $14 he had in the bedroom. Rice also took a bank card from Chuck's wallet, and asked for the PIN. Then he ordered all four Goldmarks onto the floor. He cuffed Chuck and Annie’s hands behind their backs. Informed by Chuck at 7:10 that dinner guests were expected at 7:30, Rice knew he had to move quickly. He poured the chloroform onto a rag and one by one knocked the family out.
With guests showing up soon, his plan was falling apart. There would be no time to extract intel from Goldmark. And now the whole family could identify him, including the children, whom he hadn’t expected to be in the home. He rushed downstairs to find a weapon, settling on a steam iron and one of Annie’s kitchen knives, then back up to the master bedroom.
When he was done he turned off all the lights in the house, took the phone off the hook, and disappeared into the night.
Police had him in custody two days later. An acquaintance turned him in after finding a confession note Rice wrote. In addition to the note, Rice had also told Homer Brand, the Duck Club leader, that he’d just “dumped the top communist.”
Despite attempts by his lawyers for an insanity plea, the killer was tried and convicted on four counts of first-degree murder and received the death penalty, which a decade later was reduced to life in prison without parole. Rice, now 60 years old, is at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, Washington.
No one else was ever held accountable for the violence against the Goldmark family. But at the time, people were already asking: What responsibility do those who spread misinformation shoulder?
One of the more telling revelations to emerge during the court proceedings came from an evaluation commissioned by Rice's defense attorney and conducted by clinical psychologist Kenneth Muscatel. He interviewed Rice on five separate occasions, each session lasting about two hours.
In his report, which helped determine that the defendant was sane enough to stand trial, Muscatel admits that while Rice suffers from schizoid and paranoid symptoms, and occasionally hears voices that urge him to action, those symptoms are not, in the doctor’s opinion, what triggered the murders.
Muscatel pointed to the sway that literature by Jack Mohr had on Rice, but especially to the influence of those in his immediate circle, the Duck Club’s Anne Davis and Homer Brand. That’s where Rice had said he first heard about the Goldmarks, and where so many of his fears about the immediate Communist threat took shape.
“The point is that Mr. Rice did not cook up this stuff by himself,” Muscatel wrote. “Rather, he belonged to a subgroup of individuals who believed in and supported these ideas. In fact, these people validated these ideas as rational and important.”
Muscatel’s conclusions echoed those harbored by people close to the Goldmarks. “We all had concerns about that,” Stephen Eugster says, “that there were others involved.”
Jeff Haley, the neighbor and family friend who discovered the crime scene in the master bedroom, recently told me: “The people who spread this misinformation to the sociopath were tragically negligent. I thought at the time that they should be held by society to account.”
Thirty-three years later, we’re still grappling with the weaponization of misinformation and the question of who is accountable. We are after all living in a time when falsehoods fly at us with unprecedented velocity, and like Rice, some people—often highly susceptible and psychologically compromised people—have acted out violently in response.
Alex Jones, after spreading so many outrageous conspiracies, emotionally terrorizing victims’ families, and rousing a whole new generation of David Rices, has only recently begun to pay a price. In August and September, respectively, Facebook and Twitter kicked the radio host off their platforms after one too many unhinged rants.
The rumor that launched Pizzagate, meanwhile, has evolved, says Uscinski, the University of Miami professor who studies conspiracy theories. “There’s a gang of armed men running around the desert in Tucson right now looking for these supposed Satanic child sex traffickers.”
That ability for a lie to live on, to feed off its own oxygen frightens Ahmer Arif, the UW researcher who studies the spread of online information.
In the decades-long Goldmark saga—from the accusation in the 1960s that John Goldmark was a Communist sympathizer to David Rice murdering John’s oldest son, daughter-in-law, and grandsons in the 1980s—Arif sees a chilling lesson. “There’s something uniquely depressing about it,” he says.
“The story forces me to think about how some of the fallout and effect that we will be seeing for some of the narratives that get spread online.” We might not see the impact of today’s conspiracies, Arif says, for years to come.
For a crime that Seattle has seemingly tried to forget—the 30-year mark slipped by in 2015 without a single mention by any local mainstream media outlet—traces of its legacy sure show up a lot. In 1992, Seattle unveiled the Goldmark Overlook—with its illustrated plaque commemorating Chuck, Annie, Derek, and Colin and their enjoyment of the outdoors. The overlook enjoyed by Metro bus drivers and any Seattleite relishing a spectacular view of Lake Washington and Mount Rainier was paid for in part by donations from the Goldmarks’ friends and family.
Peter Goldmark, Chuck’s younger brother, ran an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Representative in 2006. He was later elected as Washington state commissioner of public lands. The murders remained a footnote in the media coverage throughout those political campaigns. His adult children now run the Goldmark family ranch in Okanogan County—the one John and Sally bought in the 1940s. (Peter Goldmark, through a family spokesperson, declined to participate in this story.)
And every year the Legal Foundation of Washington—which Chuck cofounded in 1984—presents the Charles A. Goldmark Distinguished Service Award “to an outstanding individual or organization that has assisted in providing deep and meaningful access to the justice system.” Handed out at an annual luncheon since 1987, the award has recognized the likes of state attorney general Bob Ferguson and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
The legacy lives on in ways less tangible, too.
In the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved them: “I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that I don’t think about those people,” says Stephen Eugster, who went on to become a Spokane City Council member in the early 2000s. “They’re just part of me and it’s hard to describe. They were just good, decent, extremely intelligent people.”
And possibly as a warning: If the story of what happened to Chuck, Annie, Colin, and Derek is kept alive, their friend Jeff Haley told me, it might lead “others to think about the harms of spreading misinformation.”
Perhaps the last word, though, should go to Sally, Chuck’s mother. It may be her name that stays with the city the longest.
If you’re in Madrona and you want to check out a library book, you will do so at the Madrona-Sally Goldmark Branch, so named because of her insistence—soon after she moved to the neighborhood, after the libel trial—that a moribund nineteenth century fire station be preserved and made a place for books and community.
Her love of literature extended beyond the books she read. Sally Goldmark, whose decision in the 1930s to join a controversial party inadvertently changed the course of her family's history, was a gifted writer. One with remarkable perception and an almost haunting foresight.
Just six years into John and Sally’s Okanogan County experiment—two city slickers daring to scratch out a life in the dusty grasslands—she wrote a letter from the ranch to her parents in New York, dated January 2, 1950.
The letter describes the severe conditions of a winter in the rural west—frozen pipes in the house, dead farm animals, and the existential threat of running out of firewood.
But Sally Goldmark, it’s clear from this letter, saw hope around every corner—saw beauty even in the harshest human conditions, and believed great adversities could be overcome.
In a passage that’s impossible to read without thinking of it as a blueprint for how the family would endure all that lie ahead, she wrote: “What one does first thing in the morning is what you do all day…. It seems you are intensely engaged in gathering yourself together. Pull you must and struggle you must, or else the wind and the cold will reduce the whole to a part of the landscape that…bites about you.”