Kato Family

Kato Family Tree (PDF)

One of the most compelling markers in the Auburn Cemetery is the Kato Family's. Mother Tora and all four of her children died the same year: 1937. What happened to the Kato Family? Was there an epidemic of some sort? Did they die in a car accident? Was there a fire?

The Kato Family Marker

The truth of what happened to the Kato Family is worse than any of those imagined tragedies. In actuality, Tora and her children were the victims of the worst mass-murder in Auburn's history. It happened on Valentine's Day when poverty, failing health, and isolation became too much for Tora and her husband Enichi. According to Enichi Kato, he and Tora reached the mutual decision to end the family's insurmountable troubles by committing suicide. They decided that they would give the children sleeping powders that evening; Tora would take a dose as well. Once the family was unconscious, Enichi went about the business of killing them. He shot Tora first, and then strangled two of the children. At that point he went back to the more expedient method, shooting the last two children as they lay sleeping.

The plan was for Enichi to then shoot himself too. Some people believe that he never had any such intention. Some think he simply lost his nerve. He later claimed that he was concerned that each of his family members should have individual markers in the cemetery, but he knew there was no money for such an expenditure. He buried the bodies in a pit behind his home and bought a train ticket for California. There he could find work and raise enough money for proper burial markers before committing suicide himself.

The authorities soon located him there and brought him back to Seattle for trial. By that time he had, in fact, located work and begun saving. Furthermore, he never attempted to hide his identity.

The jury (comprised exclusively of white males), nevertheless, didn't believe his story. They sentenced him to hang for the crimes. Extraordinarily, they took this step even before formally finding him guilty. His attorney pointed out that it is customary for a defendant to have a complete trial before sentence is imposed and was thereby able to attain a new trial for his client. Enichi Kato was found guilty after this trial, and this time was sentenced to life in prison.

After the bodies were found, they were cremated before burial in the Auburn Cemetery. The local Japanese community collected money for a shared marker and Jizo* for each of the children. Today, only two of the Jizo remain, and, despite Enichi's concern that his family members should have individual markers, they share a single stone to mark their final resting places.

* "In Buddhist tradition, Jizo is a guardian diety. Small statues of Ojizo-sama (an honorific from of Jizo's name) are often placed where tragedies have occourred, especially when they involve children." Flewelling, 140.

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All photographs published on this website, except where indicated, © Amerie & Kristy Lommen 2008 – 2017.
Please contact the site author(s) for permission to reproduce any material here published: kristy@lommen.org.