As a small-town dinner-theater actor, Bruce Hummel once played a confessed murderer who told the audience: "I got my revenge. Tell that to the sheriff." To him, it was an inside joke: He'd actually murdered his wife in 1990 but had been acting the role of an innocent man for almost two decades. Just how sick this was finally emerged when he was convicted of the slaying in 2009: he had killed his spouse so he could continue molesting their daughter. But now he's gotten revenge once more: a new trial, in effect a new stage.
Thus a new panel of Bellingham jurors will get to hear how Hummel, now 69, made his wife disappear in 1990 - never to be found - two days after she was told by their 12-year-old daughter that Hummel had been molesting her for years.
"Hummel forced [the daughter] to help him masturbate," the appeals court notes. Hummel also tried to force her to perform oral sex, and would drive the girl to remote areas and molest her.
When the girl came home from school one day, Hummel said her mother had left them. He had the daughter pack up the mother's belongings to send to her. Hummel in fact sold the belongings at a garage sale later that year. His son also saw Hummel pack a suitcase and boxes with his mother's belongings, saying he would send them to her. But the son later found the items hidden in the basement.
It was a cruel charade the father carried on for years, going so far as to forge a letter as if written by the mother, telling her children she no longer cared for them. Police suspected he'd killed her, but had no proof, nor body.
By 2004, after the children had grown and left, Bellingham police and FBI agents questioned Hummel, who had moved to Montana and remarried, about cashing his missing wife's disability payments.
That later spooked him into writing a rambling letter to authorities, admitting his wife was dead. He claimed she slit her wrists and he disposed of her body by floating it in a raft onto Bellingham Bay and dumping it. "I was too tired to cry but I remember saying a silent prayer" afterwards, he wrote.
He then went on the run, eventually winding up in Westport on the Washington coast where he joined the local theater group, the Grayland Players, and acted the role of a killer.
Authorities tracked him down in 2008 and he confessed to the check thefts, getting a 29-month sentence. He also admitted to authorities that he'd molested his daughter for more than a decade, starting when she was three.
But he denied killing his wife, and while serving his term for the check cashing, went on trial for the murder. Among the key testimony was that of a jail cellmate who said Hummel admitted helping his wife "get to a better place" by giving her a drink of apple cider mixed with poisonous pills.
He got 45 years, but has served less than three. Now he starts anew with a retrial and the advantage that some prosecution evidence or testimony might not still be available. With a pretend killer on the stand denying his real-life role, it could be true courtroom drama. Revenge will be left to the critics in the jury box.