In 2001, a federal prosecutor named Thomas Wales was assassinated in his own home. No witnesses have ever come forward and the killer has never been caught. According to a February 21st press conference, the Department of Justice, the FBI, and its task force hope to change that this year.
We’re going to take a look at the murder of Thomas Wales, a federal prosecutor in Seattle who was killed nearly 17 years ago. No one saw anything and no one has ever been tried. We’ll look at what we know about the murder, the potential suspects, and how the FBI plans to help bring the killer to justice. We’ll also update you on what was announced at the press conference on February 21, 2018, including a change to the reward being offered.
Who Was Thomas Wales?
Thomas, or Tom, Wales was a man who wanted to make the world a little bit better. He had attended Harvard and then Hofstra Law School (now known as the Maurice A. Deane School of Law) as part of this goal. He became a lawyer in part to make a difference.
Working hard, he rose through the ranks, eventually becoming an assistant U.S. attorney specializing in banking and business fraud. Not content with that, Wales would lend his voice to other causes and volunteer in helping them. When a student at his son’s school shot and injured two people, Wales began to work as a volunteer to try and incite gun reform in Washington state.
And then Thomas Wales was murdered.
A Well-Planned Murder
On the evening of October 11, 2001, Wales went down into his basement office. Unbeknownst to anyone, a killer was heading into the backyard towards a window that had a good view of Wales at his desk.
The killer managed to not trigger any of the security lights in the backyard. They aimed and shot Wales through the window, striking the prosecutor in the neck. Wales died and the killer got away.
Until recently, there was very little to go on in terms of evidence. Wales’s assassin has managed to avoid detection, and while they did leave a shell casing at the scene, it has yet to be traced to the gun that fired it or the person who pulled the trigger.
In fact, a lack of apparent motive created one of the first issues for the case. To date, Tom Wales is the first federal prosecutor murdered on the job. But was he murdered on the job or because of the job? If he was murdered due to his position as a prosecutor, the FBI would take on the investigation. If he was murdered due to a personal matter or anything else beyond his career, the case would go to the state police.
Eventually, the case was handed to the FBI, but important time had been wasted due to the jurisdictional red tape. Some sources say that it took until January 2002 for the case to get fully on track.
In terms of suspects, Thomas Wales was a federal prosecutor, so there were more than enough people with some sort of grudge or motive against him. But how many of them held a large enough grudge to actually try and kill him?
Many of the FBI’s leads ended at a pilot that Wales had prosecuted for fraud in a business the individual had been an owner of. The pilot was also an avid gun enthusiast. The fraud charges would eventually be dropped, prompting the pilot to sue the government for wrongful prosecution. The lawsuit was dismissed.
A reward of $1.0 million had been posted, but no witnesses or additional clues have come forward. Despite the reward and the case being designated a “major case file” by the FBI–putting the case up there with Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber,” in terms of priority at the time–the case eventually went cold.
16 Years Later, an Update
Now the FBI has started to connect a number of previously hidden dots that not only point to the pilot but a plot. The FBI is now focused on the pilot and a small group of people who very much know who murdered Thomas Wales and why.
Investigators also believe that whoever actually pulled the trigger on Wales was not an amateur. Due to the precise nature of the crime, the lack of clues, witnesses, and the skill of the shot, it is thought that Wales’ killer may have been a professional hitman who had been hired for the job.
Press Conference: “The Killer Will Be Held Accountable”
At the February 21st press conference, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein confirmed that the Department of Justice is still offering a $1.0-million reward for information that results in the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for Wales’ death.
In addition, Mike McKay, the president of the National Association of Former United States Attorneys Foundation (NAFUSA), announced that his organization would be adding an extra $525,000 on top of that million-dollar reward.
The FBI and Seattle Police Department are leading an active task force that continues to work tirelessly on Wales’ case, following up on countless leads, serving subpoenas, and investigating every potential avenue.
Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein said, “We will continue to pursue this case for as long as it takes to achieve justice. The killer will be held accountable.”
The FBI also recently posted a new video about the case featuring Tom Wales’ now-grown children, in hopes it will prompt renewed interest in the case and new leads.
Anyone with information on the shooting of Wales or his possible killer should contact the FBI by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at (206) 622-0460.