There was no question who killed the Wickershams because no one questioned who killed them; it was definitely their Chinese cook - right?

This is the final chapter in the series about the 1886 killings of Sarah and Jesse Wickersham on their ranch at the most remote part of Sonoma county, between Cloverdale and the ocean. The same night, their cook - whose real name is unknown and here called "Ang" - ran away to San Francisco where it was presumed he boarded a steamship bound for China. This man was apprehended once the boat landed and he died in a Hong Kong jail cell - supposedly by suicide rather than face extradition to California. Further detail can be found in the chapters listed to the right.

- -
THE WICKERSHAM MURDERS


THE WICKERSHAM MURDERS

MANHUNT PT. I: ESCAPE

MANHUNT II: HOW (NOT) TO CATCH A FUGITIVE

WHO KILLED THE WICKERSHAMS?

SOURCES (PDF, 31 pages)

News that one of their countrymen had murdered Americans spread fast and far, and could have hardly come at a worse time for Chinese immigrants in the West. For months, anti-Chinese sentiments had been escalating from grumbling newspaper editorials to acts of violence, even mob riots. Eureka banished its 300+ Chinese residents, as did Tacoma, which followed by razing its Chinatown area. In Wyoming, white miners went on a rampage and murdered at least 28 Chinese men with many burned alive.

Ang was a perfect villain in that swirling torrent of racist hate and fear. The story being told was he had murdered the couple in cold blood for no apparent reason, shooting Jesse Wickersham in the back of his head while he was eating supper and tying Sarah to her bed before killing her as well (some versions of the story also falsely suggested she was sexually assaulted). As a domestic servant living under the same roof as them, the Chinese haters pointed to it as proof that none of the immigrants could ever be trusted, that they could unexpectedly turn on you like a rabid dog. And that fever burned no hotter than in parts of Sonoma county, where the Wickersham victims were members of an esteemed Petaluma family.

Trouble was, Ang made for a lousy suspect. There was zero evidence linking him to the double murder. He had no known motive nor history of trouble; a journal found in his room was translated and revealed a bent towards philosophy. Louis Smith, who worked frequently for the Wickersham's and seems to have known Ang better than anyone else, told a reporter that Ang "...got along nicely at the ranch and said he liked the place. When last asked how he was getting on he said all right, but he did not know how long he would remain..."1

But if it wasn't Ang, then whodunnit? I believe the culprit was apparent at the time, but swiftly overlooked because the focus entirely turned to the exciting pursuit of (the man believed to be) Ang enroute to Asia. Further, I believe reenacting the event based on the inquest and descriptions of the crime scene supports no other possible interpretation. Read on.



The first suspect to consider has to be Elliott Jewell, the neighbor who discovered the murders. Jewell said from the beginning he believed the Chinese cook killed them - in fact, he wouldn't shut up about it. As an honors graduate of ACU/Wingback (Agatha Christie University, Armchair campus), I can tell you that the character who keeps yapping "the butler did it, the butler did it" likely was the one who killed Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick.

Jewell told the Coroner’s Jury he was certain Ang was the killer, although he had no proof to offer: “I think China cook killed him; [I] should think so from the position of Mr. Wickersham and disappearance of Chinaman.” As for Mrs. Wickersham, Jewell testified, “I do not know who killed her but believe it to be [the] Chinaman.” Based on that (non) evidence, the Jury decided “ail evidence [was] pointing towards a Chinese cook in the employ of deceased.”2

Around two miles away, Jewell and his wife were the closest neighbors. “We were continually over at each other’s places,” he later said, and the four of them had just spent the long New Years' weekend together. The Jewell's ranch was something of a country retreat for the couple as both he and his wife were prominent in Petaluma society; he also owned an important business there and had investments.3

Like Ang, however, Jewell had no apparent motive to kill the Wickershams. While we can't rule out a crime of passion, shooting them separately and tying up Mrs. Wickersham doesn't seem like part of an impulsive act.

Still, this detail bothers: Jewell did not say anything about hearing the three (four?) shotgun blasts that evening. Even at two miles they should have been noticeable - and that two miles was by road, so the houses might have been closer by earshot. Remember that was 1886 and there was no TV, radio, motors humming or other distracting sounds, just mountain stillness a few hours after sundown on a winter's night.

But in the brief window before Jewell and the others put the spotlight on Ang, another sort of suspect was considered. In the very first article in the Santa Rosa newspapers about the killings, the Democrat wrote, "...The general supposition is that the crime was committed by parties who expected to obtain possession of his money, knowing that he had many men in his employ, and being such a distance from town they probably thought he kept a large sum of money in his house..."4

That's the simplest - and I argue, most likely - explanation of the murders: It was a robbery gone wrong. A criminal learned a middle-aged recluse had a sheep ranch in a very remote area. The man was weak or sickly and couldn't do much so he relied upon hired hands, which meant he must have cash money around to pay them. The man was a Wickersham, and everybody knew they were the North Bay's wealthiest banking family. The man was married, and rich wives must have valuable jewels.

As this history blog is concerned with Santa Rosa and the surrounding county, little has been mentioned here about what was going on outside our little bubble. But in 1886, it steadily became wilder and woolier as a traveler continued north. From Cloverdale onward it well could be considered frontier.

Today writers romanticize highwaymen like "Black Bart," the gentlemanly robber who left some poems. Forgotten are his vicious colleagues such as Buck English and his gang, who terrorized Napa and Lake counties with brazen stickups at gunpoint. Buck supposedly wasn't in the area at the time (I can't find conclusive proof of that) but there were plenty of his criminal colleagues around.

On January 28, a week after the Wickersham murders were discovered, the front page of the Los Angeles Herald neatly summarized the trends going on that week in Northern California. Item 1) reported the arrest of a man in Cloverdale who attempted to rob a stagecoach; 2) provided the latest details on the Wickersham case from Santa Rosa; and 3) mentioned a secret meeting held in Red Bluff to drive out their Chinese residents.

That thwarted stage holdup was not unusual; in 1886 there was a rash of other armed robberies in the region. About three weeks after the Wickershams were killed a couple of masked men robbed a convey of pack horses carrying mail outside of Cloverdale. The same month two armed robbers held up horse buyers on the road to Alexander Valley. There were at least three other highway robberies later that year around Cloverdale, according to the Santa Rosa newspapers.5

Sometimes the holdup guys were later caught (gotta admire those Wells Fargo detectives) or made jailhouse confessions, but none were implicated in the Wickersham deaths. And that may be the strongest evidence that highwaymen were not the real killers. Those dimwits seemed to squeal on each other eagerly, and there was an enormous $1,500 reward offered in the Wickersham case - although it's not clear whether or not it was specifically for the capture of Ang.6

I readily concede there is a real chance that everything happened as they presumed at the time, that Ang the Chinese cook went berserk for some unknown reason and murdered the couple. But once you strip away the racist notions about the Chinese being monsters, that interpretation makes little sense. Evidence shows it is far more likely that two (or more) robbers surprised them in their home, demanded money and murdered them not to leave witnesses. In this scenario, Ang is completely innocent but flees because he thinks they are pursuing him, or he anticipated (correctly) he would be presumed guilty.

Deciphering whatever really happened mostly comes down to answering this question: Who placed the napkins?



Four days after the killings, a party of 17+ men crowded into Wickersham's small cabin to investigate and hold an inquest. From there emerged six first-hand accounts of mixed quality.

All of the damning claims - that Sarah Wickersham had been “outraged,” that a piece of cake was left next to her as some sort of Chinese offering to the dead, that she feared to be alone with Ang and that he supposedly killed someone in Sacramento - can be traced directly to Petaluma City Marshal Julius Blume and Healdsburg Constable Roland Truitt, both of whom were quoted widely in the press. Any article relying entirely upon these highly prejudicial lawmen has to be dismissed as untrustworthy.

Fred Wickersham, the adult cousin of Jesse, confirmed some important details in a telegram to his family and later knocked down some of the stories being told by Blume and Truitt. As mentioned already, neighbor Elliott Jewell had little to offer aside from parroting "the Chinaman dunnit."

The most reliable sources were a description of the scene by a correspondent from the Petaluma Courier (no byline) and details found in the Coroner's report about the bodies, per testimony by the doctor who performed the autopsies. (Unfortunately, the inquest did not include any testimony concerning material evidence.) Based on those two accounts, here is the information we can trust:7

All signs pointed to the Wickershams being interrupted while eating supper. Food was still on their plates at the table and the lamp on the table had burned out of oil. Jesse was seated with his back to the fireplace, the door next to it leading to the kitchen. He looked as though he had fallen asleep in his chair. The autopsy found he had been shot twice, once in the back of his head with the other shotgun wound on his side.

Scene of the Wickersham murders showing the approximate position of the victims. In the actual crime scene Sarah was seated directly across the table from Jesse but is shown here at the side as to not obscure him from view. The people shown were selected from vintage images on the internet and are NOT either of the Wickershams. An untouched view of the room can be found in part one. Photo courtesy David Otero and Wickersham Ranch

Sarah was found in their bedroom (presumably the door on the left in the photograph). She was thoroughly tied up with clothesline, her arms pinned behind her back and the end of the rope tied to the head of the bed. She was in a kneeling position with her head resting on the mattress and was killed by a single shotgun blast to her side, likely standing but already tied up.

Most viewing the scene remarked on the evidence on the kitchen door. The Courier: "On the kitchen side, about four feet from the floor, were marks of powder burn almost as large as a man's hand. The gun from which the shot was fired that ended the life of the owner of the house was evidently held close against the door, and in that position the muzzle would have been only about five feet from the body of the unsuspecting victim."8

The shotgun was found in its usual position in the kitchen, leaning behind the door. "On the table was two empty shells, and two other empty shells were taken from the gun." As there were three shotgun blasts in the killings, it is unknown if the fourth used shell was already in the gun. There is a large bullethole in the ceiling in front of the bedroom door but it's unknown if that was made by the killers or was the work of some joker at a later time. No contemporary source mentioned it.



After mulling over the evidence for the better part of a year, here's my best guess as to what happened:

Around six in the evening on Monday, January 18, two or more men rode to the Wickersham ranch. Someone had been there before (one of Jesse's many hired hands, perhaps?) and knew how to find the place; it was off a lane which was then little more than a cowpath and far from main roads.

As they approached the ranch a heavy storm was brewing, if rains were not already lashing the hills. The flooding resulting from that and a following storm would hamper investigators later in the week, but on the night of the murders the bad weather only added to the enveloping darkness. There was no electricity at the cabin in 1886; the only light inside was the weak glow from candles and coal oil lamps, with the robbers certain to have carried in hurricane lanterns which would cast deep shadows as they moved around.

The small cabin has three rooms and a kitchen; there is a front door in the room where the Wickershams were eating. In the kitchen there is a back and a side door which the robbers probably used, likely holding revolvers or long guns. At the time everyone presumed the Wickershams were killed by Jesse's own shotgun, but no evidence of that was ever given - we'll just have to take their word because back then, they certainly knew about firearms.

The assault probably began with a shotgun blast fired from the kitchen into the front room. I believe this caused the hole in the ceiling, and which was intended to surprise and terrify the Wickershams.

I imagine the frightened couple must have jumped to their feet, throwing their hands in the air - whether ordered or not. The accomplice(s) likely made a quick search of the cabin, finding the coil of clothesline rope in Ang's room which they used to tie up Sarah, all the more to terrorize Jesse into revealing the whereabouts of his supposed strongbox.

Jesse likely protested there was little gold coin in the house - he usually paid everyone by a check from a Healdsburg or Petaluma bank account. This was borne out by others who later spoke to reporters, including neighbor Jewell, in one of the few moments when he wasn't yammering about the Chinese cook being the killer:  "He could hardly have been murdered for the sake of any money that he might have about the house, because in all our transactions I used to be given a check on the bank, Wickersham often telling me that he had strong objections to keeping money in the house". (True to form, Jewell followed that statement by volunteering, "the only solution that I can give you of the mystery is that the Wickershams have been murdered by the Chinaman.")9

Here's the most controversial part of my interpretation: I don't believe the robbers went there intending to murder anyone, and I think the shot that killed Jesse was accidental. The highwaymen mentioned above rarely fired their guns except to scare people.10

It appears everyone presumed Jesse was first shot in the head - but I believe the autopsy evidence proves not; the doctor said only that either shot would have killed him. He was meticulous in describing the buckshot in Jesse's body, and no wound was mentioned in his right arm. This suggests his hands were up when he was shot in the side and fired by someone slightly behind him. Like the blast from the doorway, the upward trajectory of the buckshot found in the autopsy suggests the gunman was firing the weapon from his hip, most likely holding a lantern in his left hand with his right trigger finger on an unfamiliar shotgun. It's easy to imagine how it could happen.

The bandit was not facing Jesse and probably still in the kitchen doorway, which is why the blast hit him "a little posterior to middle" between his fifth and sixth ribs (directly below the sternum), as the coroner wrote. He fell back into his chair, slowly bleeding out with buckshot through both lungs and heart. But the worst was yet to come.

Those pushing an anti-Chinese agenda made up details about the scene where Sarah was discovered bound by the rope, but all described her having been savagely beaten on her head and face. Her "...face was swollen and bruised, the appearance ghastly in the extreme," reported the Petaluma Courier, and another account stated her nose was broken. A witness who saw her body at the undertaker's said her "face was much discolored." There were further nightmarish descriptions which I am sparing Gentle Reader.11

The robbers left, but not before a point blank kill shot to the base of Jesse's brain - the amount of bleeding makes it apparent the first shot had not killed him. His "pool of blood" was mentioned more than any other detail, the Petaluma Courier noting specifically, "beneath the chair on which the body rested were two pools of blood..."

Besides the made-up stuff about Sarah's sexual assault and the ritual offering of cake, the other big canard was that nothing was stolen, thus proving it was an act of rage by a deranged Chinaman. But no one knew how much money Jesse had around to steal, if any. From the reliable Courier:

The orderly appearance of the house showed that after the double crime was committed it was not generally plundered or ransacked...In a bureau drawer was found a gold watch belonging to the deceased husband, gold-rimmed spectacles, gold bracelets, and one or two articles of jewelry belonging to Mrs. Wickersham. A small satchel, however, in which the rancher was known to sometimes keep money, was found open, and its only contents, when taken charge of by Fred A., the nephew, was few old and curious coins. No one present was able to state whether there was much or little money in the house before the deed was committed.

That the gold items were left might raise suspicion, but consider again the darkness problem: Oil lanterns cast light to the sides but obscure anything below, where the light is completely blocked by the base. Only by holding a lantern far above your head can someone peer downward - and if valuables are kept in a top drawer, it may not be possible to raise it high enough to see inside. Or maybe it simply wasn't worth much; a pocket watch that dated back to Jesse's days in the Civil War was probably of low value, and it's doubtful Sarah kept anything but costume jewelry on the ranch.

The thieves were also pressured to finish up and leave by not knowing who else might be around. Clearly they were in Ang's room and knew the Wickershams had a house servant; perhaps there was also a stableboy in the barn or a hired man herding sheep in the hills in advance of the big storm. Which brings us to the critical question: If Ang didn't do it, where was he all that time?

The Wickershams had just started eating supper and Ang had served everything, including the apple pie dessert and cups of tea. It was one of the few moments of the day when he time to himself. My guess is that when the highwaymen arrived Ang wasn't in the cabin but rather in the outhouse or barn. Once the curtain rose on the tragic play, all he could do was hide and hope he would not be sucked into it. There can be no doubt the robbers would have murdered a Chinaman without hesitation.

Ang probably remained hidden long after they left, terrified the killers might return. What he did when he finally crept back into the little house proves, to my mind, that he was not the raging mad killer as he was portrayed.

When the investigators arrived at the cabin four days later, this is how they found Jesse C. Wickersham, according to the Petaluma Courier: "...About the neck was twisted a large linen tablecloth, and underneath it several napkins. These were almost as thoroughly soaked with blood as if they had been dipped into a bucket...it was evident that the tablecloth was taken from the drawer in which the linen was kept for the express purpose of absorbing the blood..."

Incredibly, Jesse's heart apparently kept beating even after the second shotgun blast. Someone desperately tried to stanch the bleeding. It was not a rational act because anyone thinking normally could see he was nearly dead; it was the sort of compassionate thing done instinctively by someone in shock. And the only person around to offer such a  gesture of futile kindness was Ang.

What followed was hashed over in the previous three chapters, and I'll repeat only that I doubt Ang was the man who died in the Hong Kong jail, although it's certainly possible. But I am 100 percent certain the evidence shows he did not harm Sarah and Jesse Wickersham; trying to prove otherwise is like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle by hammering in pieces that don't fit.

Overall this is the most terrible tale I have ever told. Before and after 1886 awful things occurred in Sonoma county, but the impact of what happened on that lonely ridge rippled outwards through the Bay Area, throughout California and the West and influenced people who had never before heard of a place called Sonoma county.

Weep for the Wickershams who suffered horrible deaths, but also weep for the Chinese who were abused and sometimes killed in the aftermath; weep for the communities that acted disgracefully by turning into anti-Chinese vigilantes, and weep for all our American ancestors who were willing to believe there existed on this earth a race of people who did not share our common humanity. We can all weep an ocean of tears but it still will not wash away such a mournful legacy.




1 Petaluma Courier, January 27, 1886


2 Coroner’s inquest January 22, 1886, pages 3 and 2b


3 San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1886


4 Sonoma Democrat, January 22, 1886


5 North county violence (or threats of same) was not limited to highway robberies. Had not the Wickersham murders taken center stage, the county newspapers would likely have been buzzing about the threat to financier John A. Paxton. Just a couple of days before the killings, a woman and man were charged with threatening him. Minnie Kasten had been stalking men connected to a Nevada bank who gave her late husband a ruinous tip on mining stock some years before. She had horsewhipped one man (the wrong guy, as it turned out) and had pulled a handgun on Paxton's former partner (she was found not guilty by reason of insanity, in part because nobody believed her pipsqueak revolver could do much damage). Now she had shown up in Healdsburg looking for Paxton with a thug, who told someone, "That if Paxton did not look out he would get the drop on him, and then he would not be troubling anybody around there very much.” They were acquitted when it came out that Mr. Thug was a sometimes-San Francisco constable, and "that expression was used very much by that fraternity." (So death threats were okay as long as they were just cop talk?)


6 The reward was $500 from the governor and $1,000 pledged by the Chinese merchants of San Francisco


7 Coroner’s inquest January 22, 1886 / Petaluma Courier, January 27, 1886


8 According to details in the inquest and Petaluma Courier, the shot was fired with the door slightly cracked open to prevent the gun barrel being noticed. The Courier states there were powder burns on the kitchen side of the door. But it is currently hinged in towards the kitchen; it would have to be completely open, or then opened the other way, to leave burns from the muzzle of the shotgun. Either these sources are both wrong (doubtful) of the door was rehung to open the other way at some later point in time, perhaps when an addition was added to the back about forty years ago.


9 San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 1886


10 While few victims were injured during those stickups, a member of the Wickersham Coroner's Jury working as a stagecoach guard was shot to death by highway robbers between Cloverdale and Preston a couple of years later.


11 San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1886

Ah, 1913, the year Californians demonstrated how easy it was for untrained drivers to get behind the wheel, drive really fast and run people down.

On just one December day in San Francisco, a man named Caseilli was arrested for a hit and run of three children ("I didn't think they were badly hurt and they were picked up, so I went on"). A man named Roy Burton was charged with hitting a pedestrian (at least he gave the victim a ride part of the way home, dropping him off within two blocks). Louis Kantor was arrested as the suspect of a joy ride that killed a bank teller and the driver of an "auto hearse" ran down a four year-old. The child was not seriously hurt but at least that fellow stopped, although that may have been to check whether he had a new customer to ride in the back.

Those numbers weren't unusual; the Santa Rosa Republican offered an editorial that June, noting five were killed on a single day in Oakland. On the same day the Santa Rosa paper spotted a car racing down King street ("where police officers seldom come") at unsafe speeds. "Wherever it is believed the police officers are not plentiful or are too busy to see everything, some auto drivers will take advantage of the situation," the editor complained. "There seems no way to check the habit. The daily auto death toll grows larger."

It was a serious issue not being treated very seriously by the state, which still regarded a car as horse-and-buggy version 2.0. At the time the entire section of California law related to automobiles was only 19 short paragraphs and could easily fit on a pocket-sized card. All auto accidents were classified misdemeanors and as for hitting someone, the law stated: "In case of accident or injury to person or property car must stop and if requested, give name of owner" (emphasis mine). There was no requirement to help the victim or mention of what was required if the person was unconscious - or dead.

At least the law did say the driver and/or owner of the car could be sued for injuries or property damage, but a couple of earlier high-profile local accidents demonstrated how well that worked out - or didn't.

In late 1910 a Sebastopol farmer named Walter Elphick was driving a car at night on the road from Santa Rosa to Penngrove. (Before you ask, Elphick Road in Sebastopol is apparently named after his father Henry.) He hit the buggy of David Batchelor, who had a real estate and insurance office in Penngrove. Batchelor was thrown 25 feet from the buggy. His horse broke free as the car shoved the buggy 50 feet back. Elphick lied about his identity (he said his name was Jones and he was going to Cloverdale) but Batchelor noted the license number on the car. Bachelor sued for $3,000 damages.

At the jury trial Bachelor testified that the car was on the wrong side of the road and going over 40 MPH (this was 1910 and country roads were not paved). Elphick said he tried to stop but his tires skidded. As for the fake name, he claimed he didn't really remember that clearly, but he lied to "avoid publicity." The jury awarded Bachelor $700, which was about what the average family earned for a year.

But the matter still wasn't settled because: Lawyers.

Five months later, Elphick asked for a new trial. His lawyer was this journal's anti-hero James Wyatt Oates who built (what would become known as) Comstock House. A young apple farmer wouldn't normally be able to hire the top lawyer around, but Oates was a fanatical car nut who had just ended two terms as president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association, and likely took on the case gratis. Elphick now claimed "the accident was unavoidable and that Batchelor was not thrown from his buggy at the time of the impact, but was thrown later when his horse became unmanageable," according to the Press Democrat. After seven hours of deliberation, the jury knocked the award down to $125.

The other notable accident happened in 1911 when Sloan Boyd, a young man who lived in Rincon Valley, was hit while riding his bicycle home from work at night. This time the victim's injuries were quite serious; he was hospitalized for six weeks and "for several days he was delirious and it was not thought he would live," reported the Republican. The PD showed great interest in the case and offered regular updates on Boyd's improving condition but curiously, never mentioned who was responsible except for the initial story declaring it was "a San Francisco man." But even that was wrong; he was Samuel Stitt, the manager of a significant Los Angeles bank and the car belonged to his fiancée Hazel Farmer, a member of Santa Rosa's elite society.

The daughter of Dorothy Farmer (think Farmers Lane), Hazel and her mother were as crazy about cars as Wyatt Oates and both were part of the Oates' small circle of friends. In 1909 Dorothy had purchased a Packard in Los Angeles and the pair of them drove all the way back to Santa Rosa - no easy feat since those primitive automobiles broke down regularly and most roads between towns were horse trails. Both were often featured in the Press Democrat for their motoring adventures around the state.

The badly injured bicyclist sued for $21,720 - an amount so specific that it had to be itemized - and the suit was quickly settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Hazel married Stitt shortly thereafter and her name again regularly adorned the PD social pages. (As a little Believe-it-or-Not! aside, mother Dorothy lived to 100 and died in 1964, enjoying good health all of her life except for 1947, when she fell and broke her hip on the corner of Fifth and Humboldt streets - struck by a bicycle.)

Sloan Boyd was well compensated for having been hit by an heiress, while David Batchelor probably didn't have enough left over after paying his attorney to buy a new buggy wheel. But the bigger picture is that both were totally on their own after being run over; there was no requirement for car insurance (the first ads for it didn't appear in the Press Democrat until 1916) and no expectation the police would investigate whether or not the driver was driving dangerously.

Meanwhile, every year the new cars were bigger, heavier and faster - and there were lots more of them; by the spring of 1913, California had over 100,000 registered cars. That worked out to about one per every 25 residents, and you can bet more people than just car owners were driving them. Few had any kind of insurance and none were expected to pass even the most minimal driving test, as there was no license required to drive. What would you expect the outcome to be?

Always a good reflection of popular culture, nearly every Sunday the funnies found in city papers would have at least one cartoon showing some hapless soul losing control of a car and crashing. There was also "Motorcycle Mike," a popular comic strip where the whole gag was a reckless guy riding around accidentally causing random destruction and sending people flying. By 1913 there was also a new disturbing trend: Hit and run accidents.

"Hit and run" was not yet a common term in 1913, but Google offers an "Ngram Viewer" that scans all 30 million items in Google Books (which includes many magazines and journals) for words or phrases, and for the first two decades of the 20th century it shows a spike nationally around that year for accident-related terms such as, "hit by an automobile," run over by an automobile" and yes, "hit and run."

Locally there were at least three serious hit and run incidents in 1913. In Santa Rosa a man on a motorcycle was run down on Mendocino avenue near Cherry street and a bicyclist was knocked unconscious on Santa Rosa avenue. Those drivers apparently were not caught, but a Napa man named Oscar Godwin was arrested for rear-ending at high speed a buggy on the road to St. Helena, where two young women were thrown to the ground. Godwin's excuse for not stopping was that his passengers forced him to keep going.

Clearly, something had to be done. Lacking a workable set of rules of the road from the state, local jurisdictions were stepping in to set their own basic laws, such as Santa Rosa requiring exhaust pipe mufflers and drivers keep to the right side of the street (see "DRIVING LIKE A SANTA ROSAN"). Finally, the legislature revamped the entire section of code with the Vehicle Act of 1913.

The new state code was comprehensive - far too comprehensive to the likes of many. Drivers had chafed even under the old laws and griped they were being picked upon; the great cartoonist Rube Goldberg earlier had produced a cartoon for the San Francisco Call satirizing a tortuous visit to police court for a speeding ticket (the harassed driver looks suspiciously like Rube himself, BTW).

Rube Goldberg/San Francisco Call, May 7, 1911



Little, if anything, in the 1913 law seems controversial today. No street racing was allowed without a permit, no drunk driving, joyriding was illegal without the owner's permission and no one under the age of 16 could drive, for ex. Addressing hit and run, §367c of the new law finally required the driver to not only stop but provide help, while making it a felony to flee the scene.

But there were loud complaints that even those changes were overreach and an affront to liberty itself. A superior court judge in San Bernardino had declared all these rules were "discrimination" against drivers because similar restrictions weren't placed on people using horses. Even providing your name at the scene of an accident was unconstitutional, that judge said, because it could be self-incriminating - and again, not at all required if you were behind a horse. Because of this absurdly strict interpretation, hit and run was knocked down from a felony back to being a misdemeanor.

The rollicking statewide fight over the California Vehicle Act of 1913 would be a fun article to write (oooh, the passion!) but not for here. I'll close by adding there was even a squabble over the new requirement for an "automobile warning signal." Every vehicle had to have a signaling device "capable of emitting an abrupt sound, adequate in quality and volume to give warning of the approach of such vehicle." Further, it was illegal to use the signals "for any purpose except as warnings of danger." In other words: A horn.


 



SUES FOR INJURIES IN AUTO COLLISION
D. W. Batchelor Brings Action for $3,000 from W. R. Elphick Whom He Says Was Careless

For alleged carelessness and negligence on the part of W. R. Elphick, in driving his automobile into the vehicle in which D. W. Batchelor was riding on the night of December 11, 1910, Mr. Batchelor, through his attorney, Judge Samuel K. Dougherty, commenced a suit to recover $3,000 damages from Elphick in the Superior Court on Saturday. Mr. Batchelor cites in his complaint that he sustained painful injuries and that his vehicle was damaged. He was required to have medical attention and medicines and his business as a real estate man was interfered with. The collision occurred on the road from Santa Rosa to Penngrove.

- Press Democrat, January 1 1911



Will Contest the Case

Attorney J. W. Oates has been retained by W. R. Elphick to defend the action filed against him by D. W. Batchelor, to recover damages for injuries received in a collision on the county road on the night of December 11, when it is alleged Elphick ran into the buggy occupied by the plaintiff. Mr. Elphick denies any responsibility for the accident.

- Press Democrat, January 5 1911



DAMAGES ASKED IN AUTO SUIT
D. W. Batchelor Sues W. R. Elphick For Injuries Sustained in Automobile Collision

Before Superior Judge A. J. Buckles of Solano county, sitting in Judge Denny’s court, the trial was commenced of the suit for $3,000 damages brought by W. W. Batchelor against W. R. Elphick for injuries sustained and damage done near Penngrove, when Elphlck’s automobile crashed Into the buggy In which he was riding.

It was a Jury trial...

Surveyor Newton V. V. Smyth was called to explain a chart he had made of the scene of the accident. He also computed the speed at which the auto was going.

Batchelor testified that at the time of the crash he was hurled twenty-five feet and that the buggy was carried or dragged for fifty feet on the front of the automobile, the horse having broke loose.

Batchelor testified that at the time of the colllson he was on the right side of the road and the automobile driven by the defendant was on the wrong side of the road. He testified that the machine was being driven at a rate of not less than forty miles an hour. He testified that Elphick gave his name as "Jones," and said he was going to Cloverdale. Batchelor said he took the number of the machine and by this means learned the identity of the owner of the automobile. He testified that he was injured on the arm and shoulder and also suffered from shock.

 Mrs. Batchelor testified as to her husband’s injury and Dr. Bogle was called to the stand and said he found Mr. Batchelor suffering from a contused arm and complaining of pain in the region of the kidneys.

 J. D. Cook and son testified as to the manner in which the buggy had been dragged by the automobile and the indentations it had made on the side of the road.

 Chief Deputy Assessor J. C. Smith testified as to the assessed value of Mr. Elphlck’s property in this county.

 H. A. Atkinson testified as to Batchelor's having come to his office two weeks after the accident, nursing his arm and in a nervous condition. Geo. Vogt was another witness.

 At a few minutes to five o’clock an adjournment was taken until nine o'clock Friday morning. Judge S, K. Dougherty, counsel for Mr. Batchelor, stated that he had one more witness he expected to call before resting the case. Colonel James W. Oates represents Mr. Elphick, and he will call some witnesses. The case will probably go to the jury today.

- Press Democrat, July 7 1911



VERDICT GIVES PLAINTIFF $700
D. W. Batchelor Wins His Suit Against W. R. Elphick in the Superior Court

D. W. Batchelor was yesterday afternoon awarded a verdict of $700 by a jury in Judge Denny’s department of the Superior Court, against W. R. Elphick. Judge A. J. Buckles presided at the trial.

Batchelor asked for $1,400 for injuries and damages sustained on account of a collision between Elphlck’s automobile and his horse and buggy. The alleged details of the case have already been stated.

Elphick, Tony Veir and D. H. McReynolds were the witnesses called for the defense yesterday. Mr. Elphick testified that he only saw Batchelor’s rig when he was only a short distance away, and that he did his best to swerve to his side of the road. He said he did not remember fully that he did at first give his name as “Jones.” He did so as to avoid the publicity. He testified that his machine skidded at the time of the collision, and he could not avoid the impact.

Judge Samuel K. Dougherty, who represented the plaintiff, made the opening argument to the jury. Colonel James W. Oates, who represented Mr. Elphick, followed, and Judge Dougherty closed. The jury returned its verdict after a short deliberation. Judge Buckles granted a stay of execution.

- Press Democrat, July 8 1911



NEW TRIAL IS GRANTED IN DAMAGE SUIT

In an opinion received yesterday from Judge A. J. Buckles of Solano county, a new trial is granted in the case of D. W. Bachelor against W. R. Elphlck. This sets aside a judgment for $700 granted the plaintiff in the first trial, which was heard by Judge Buckles, sitting in this county. The action was for $3,000 damages for a collision between Batchelor’s buggy and Elphick's automobile. It was alleged in the complaint that Elphick’s automobile ran up behind the buggy and collided with it, injuring both the vehicle and the plaintiff. The plaintiff is represented by Attorney S. K. Dougherty, and the defendant by Attorney James W. Oates.

- Press Democrat, December 20 1911



ALL THE EVIDENCE IN ARGUMENTS TODAY

...Elphick took the stand in his own behalf at the trial on Wednesday and he alleged that the accident was unavoidable and that Batchelor was not thrown from his buggy at the time of the impact, but was thrown later when his horse became unmanageable. He went pretty thoroughly into his contention before he left the stand on direct and cross-examination.

- Press Democrat, March 14, 1912



JURY GIVES HIM $125
After being out for almost seven hours and casting many ballots, the jury in the suit of D. W. Batchelor against W. R. Elphlck brought a verdict into Judge Seawell's department of the Superior Court on Thursday night shortly before ten o'clock awarding the plaintiff a judgement in the sum of $125. covering all phases of the damages he sustained. Batchelor sued for over $3,000 damages for for alleged personal injuries received and damage done his horse and buggy when Elphlck's automobile collided with him as he was driving along the country road some distance from this city...

- Press Democrat, March 15, 1912



SLOAN BOYD IS SERIOUSLY HURT
Run Down by an Automobile on Saturday Night Out on the Sonoma Road Near Town

Sloan Boyd, a well known resident of Rincon Valley, while riding home on his blcycle from his employment at the National Ice Company’s establishment in this city on Saturday night, met with a serious accident. He came into a collision head-on with a touring car coming to Santa Rosa in the opposite direction. He was thrown with terrific force from his wheel and suffered serious cuts about the face and head and a bad contusion of the shoulder. A San Francisco man was at the wheel in the automobile.

The machine stopped and Mr. Boyd was hurried to the Mary Jesse Hospital in this city where his injuries were attended to by Dr. Jesse. It Is feared that he may be internally hurt also. He was detained at the hospital. Mrs. Boyd was also brought to the hospital to see her husband as soon as possible after the accident in the automobile which ran him down. The accident happened on a dangerous turn out on the Sonoma road not far from the city limits.

- Press Democrat, October 15 1911



AUTOIST RAN INTO FRANK KURLANDER

Frank Kurlander, a son of Mrs. Maurice Kurlander, was run down by an automobile driver Saturday evening on Mendocino avenue, near Cherry street. The Kurlander boy was riding a motorcycle at the time. Fortunately he was injured but slightly, but his motorcycle was badly damaged. The automobile driver put himself in a serious position by running off without stopping to ascertain what damage he had done and for not rendering assistance. The law is very severe on the auto driver who runs off in hope of not being recognized after he has run into a person. The authorities have the number of the machine which struck young Kurlander, and it will be an easy matter for them to locate the machine.

- Santa Rosa Republican, April 1, 1912



AUTO HITS MAN AND LEAVES HIM UNCONSCIOUS IN ROAD
Dashes Away Into the Darkness After the Collision

While riding a bicycle on Santa Rosa avenue Saturday night about half past seven o’clock, Fred Kruse, who lives at Fifth and Riley streets, was run down by an automobile and badly hurt.

The auto did not stop after striking Kruse, but the driver threw on more power and sped away into the darkness. The machine was running at a high rate of speed and had only the small lights burning and did not light up the roadway at all.

Kruse had been working on a ranch belonging to his sister, in Bennett Valley. He was returning to this city and his uncle, mother and brother were following in a buggy. When they turned from Bennett avenue to Santa Rosa avenue they came upon the unconscious form of their relative lying in the road. They picked him up and hurried him to the family home, where Dr. S. I. Wyland was hastily summoned.

The young man was found to have suffered a severe wrenching of the back and his right side and shoulder were badly bruised. There may be internal injuries, though this cannot be determined as yet.

When found Kruse was lying at one side of the road about ten feet ahead of his wheel, which was badly smashed. He was unconscious but was talking incoherently and kept asking why the auto did not stop. When he regained consciousness he could throw but little light on the accident. He said that he thought he had been struck by the fender of the machine. He heard the auto coming Just before it hit him and looked back over his shoulder. He says he instantly realized that he was about to be hit and swerved sharply to one side in an attempt to get out of the way The machine struck him and he called to the occupants of the car as he was hurled to the ground. He says there can be no doubt but that they knew they had hit him. He can give no description of the car. There is not the slightest clew to the Identity of the perpetrators of the outrage. It is about time such business as this was stopped.

- Press Democrat, March 2 1913



NEW AUTOMOBILE LAW SIGNED BY GOVERNOR
Owners and Drivers Will Be Affected by Its Terms
Stringent Regulations Provided for Auto and Motorcycles and New Rate of Licenses Is Provided While County Gets Half the Money Collected

Sacramento, June 14.—Among the bills signed by Governor Johnson today was Assembly bill No. 2095, the automobile registration bill, which transfers the department from the office of the Secretary of Stale and places it in the hands of the State Engineer and the State Treasurer, and provides a new schedule of automobile licenses.

This measure sets forth rules of the road; makes joy-riding, where the consent of the owner has not been obtained, a felony; provides that minors under 16 years shall not be licensed; fixes the speed limit at thirty-five miles an hour; prohibits intoxicated persons from driving an automobile or a motorcycle, and provides that "muffler cutouts" shall not be used within any incorporated city or city and county.

No races or contests for speed shall be permitted without first securing a permit from the proper authorities of the city or county. Motor vehicles must always be driven on the right-hand side of the highway and be under control of the driver, and in case of collision in which a person is hurt ths driver must stop and lend assistance and upon request of the person injured or whose property has been damaged the driver shall give his name and address and the number of his auto license.

Here is the schedule of licenses to bp charged: Motorcycle. $2 a year: automobile, less than 20 horsepower, $5; 20 and less than 30, $10; 30 and less than 40. $16; 40 and less than 50, $20; 50 and less than 60, $25; 60 and above, $30; dealers, for five or less autos. $50, $10, for every automobile In excess of five; dealers in motorcycles, $5 for five seals; every original chauffeur’s license, $2; renewal, $2, and additional seal of registration or license, 50 cents.

All fees or other moneys collected by the State Treasurer shall be placed in a fund known as "the “motor vehicle fund,” and one-half of the receipts shall be returned to the Counties from which they were received, and these funds shall be paid into the road funds of the counties receiving them. San Francisco shall, under the provisions of the act, be deemed a county.

Fines collected in the counties shall be paid into the county treasury, and placed in the "county good roads fund.” Applications for licenses shall be made to the State Engineer, and the licenses shall be issued by him, the money for the same to be paid to the State Treasurer, thus providing a double check on the business.

- Press Democrat, June 15, 1913



HURRY AWAY IN THE DARK
Auto Joyriders Leave Their Victims in the Road

Oscar Godwin, an auto proprietor and driver of Napa, is alleged to have collided with another vehicle near St. Helena last week--also with the new law which makes a crime of the neglect to stop and render assistance in the case of an automobile accident.

Godwin late Tuesday night at a high speed ran his automobile into the rear of a buggy driven by William Bradley. The buggy was wrecked and Misses Beth and Grace Nottage of Oakland were thrown out and severely injured. Godwin hurried on without stopping, though he heard the screams of the frightened and injured girls. In his car were E. Bailey of Napa and two women. The two men have been arrested. Godwin makes the lame excuse that his passengers forced him to drive on, and so to escape bodily injury he left his injured victims lying in the road. The offense is a serious one, as the maximum penalty is five years in the penitentiary, or a fine of $5000, or both. Both men have been released on bail of $1000.

- Santa Rosa Republican, June 16, 1913

Remember the pursuit of O.J. Simpson in his white Ford Bronco? Of course you do; that strange, slow-speed police chase mesmerized the nation for an evening in 1994. Now flip the calendar back to 1886, when an even slower pursuit of a man suspected of a double murder transfixed the country for nearly three months, with even the White House becoming involved.

In January, 1886, Sarah and Jesse Wickersham were found brutally murdered at their remote cabin west of Cloverdale. Suspicion immediately fell upon their Chinese cook who was nowhere to be found, and who was further assumed to have skipped the country on a steamer going back to China. Supposedly he also confessed to a close friend before fleeing.

As explored in "MANHUNT PT. I: ESCAPE," there are many serious holes in that story. The cook, whose name was usually reported as some garbled version of "Ah Tai" (he's referred to simply as “Ang” here) had no motive to kill his employers. Word about the supposed confession in Cloverdale came from second-hand sources and the name/description of the guy who was on the boat were very different. In sum: Not only was there actually no evidence Ang had killed the Wickershams, there was no proof he was heading for China either.

(RIGHT: Chinese passengers on a steamship probably bound for Hawaii, c. 1910-1915. Photo courtesy of the Hawaii State Archives)

It would be nearly a month before the steamship "City of Rio de Janeiro" made its first stop in Yokohama, Japan where authorities could take Ang into custody. But there were obstacles to first overcome, foremost being no extradition treaty existing at the time between the United States and Japan - more about that in a minute.

The other problem was simply getting a message from San Francisco to Japan. It was 1886, twenty years before the first trans-pacific cable. A telegram from here had to hopscotch 9-10 times across across Europe, the Mideast, India and China - and that was after it had already crossed the continent and reached the East Coast. The cost for all that was $2.50 a word, or about $85 in today's money. A week after the murders I. G. Wickersham, the wealthy uncle of the murdered man, "volunteered to defray all the expenses for telegraphing, even if they amounted to $500." As that would only pay for 125 words, he would come to regret that promise.1

The plan was for San Francisco Police Detective Christopher Cox to take the next ship bound for Yokohama and bring Ang back for trial. He would be accompanied by Sam Weston, a 23 year-old Petaluman who was following his father's path and learning the newspapering trade at the Argus, where he was something of a cub reporter when he wasn't knocking around looking for adventures. He apparently had visited the Wickersham ranch during his rambles and could recognize the suspect - but before Sam could leave for China to identify Ang, he had to go to Southern California to see if a man arrested near Fresno was Ang. Weston said no, he wasn't the guy.

The very next day, Japanese authorities cabled that the steamship Rio arrived and Ang had been arrested. Much excitement ensued; all that remained was for Cox and Weston to fetch him, so round trip tickets were purchased (by I. G. Wickersham?) for $350 each, or today over $24 thousand total.

But suddenly there was trouble: Japan wouldn't allow his extradition and the excitement turned into outrage. The editor of the Santa Rosa Republican howled, "Before the last election the Democrats cried themselves hoarse over what they would do when the got in power. Well, they captured a forgerer [sic] through the intervention of the Japanese government but refuse to ask the same assistance in apprehending this pig-tailed [sic] beast."2

Earlier that year a police detective went to Yokohama and brought back a forger who had stolen $14,000 from a San Francisco bank. The Japanese government explained that was different because the bank robber was an American being returned to America - while Ang was a Chinese national. The solution was a rather elegant diplomatic pas de deux choreographed by the State Department:

Japan would escort the Chinese man to Hong Kong, which was his intended destination anyway. Hong Kong was a British colony. There the Chinese Consul would receive the prisoner and turn him over to British authorities. As there was an extradition treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain dating back to the War of 1812, the suspect could then be held until he was taken into custody by an officer from California (because the murders were not a federal crime). The Secretary of State and President Grover Cleveland personally signed the arrest warrant.

That settled, Cox and Weston left for China on April 3. Pity no one in Hong Kong had bothered to cable them that it was a waste of time and money - the man believed to be Ang Tai Duck had hanged himself five days earlier.

News of the suicide did not reach the states until a steamer from Hong Kong berthed at the end of the month. An inquest conducted at the Victoria Jail in Hong Kong found that he hung himself from a peg high on the wall of his cell while his two cellmates slept.

The coroner's jury did not question that his a death was suicide, although they chided the British turnkey of the jail because "in view of the charge against, him, [he] should have been kept under more constant supervision."3

While negligence by the guards is certainly the most likely reason he died, it should be noted that in the U.S. at least, Chinese immigrants accused of killing whites had a habit of turning up dead in jail. A local example happened six years earlier in Marin when a Chinese cook suspected of shooting his employer "took off his undershirt tore it into straps, knotted it, and hung himself in his cell."4

- -
THE WICKERSHAM MURDERS


THE WICKERSHAM MURDERS

MANHUNT PT. I: ESCAPE

MANHUNT II: HOW (NOT) TO CATCH A FUGITIVE

WHO KILLED THE WICKERSHAMS?

SOURCES (PDF, 31 pages)

Other bits of news included a claim that the man had confessed to the Chinese quartermaster on the steamer Rio de Janeiro - but while he was being transported from Yokohama to Hong Kong in irons, he remained silent except to protest his innocence. Nothing was mentioned about the jury confirming his identity or Hong Kong authorities presenting evidence as to whom he was.

So was the man who killed himself in Hong Kong rather than face extradition really the Wickersham murderer? The San Francisco police didn't think he was on the ship at first, ransacking Chinatown for days in search of Ang - but since they assumed he couldn't possibly be anywhere but in SF or on the boat, came to believe he must be a passenger on the ship.

I. G. Wickersham soon became the most prominent skeptic, writing to the San Francisco Police Chief "announcing his doubt as to the identity of the Chinaman who sailed on the steamer." He was also concerned about the heaps of his money being spent on cablegrams to Asia, "...requesting that no further expense of international proceedings leading to the suspected man's capture be incurred." A year later, he asked the state to reimburse him over $2,000 related to the futile extradition.5

In Manhunt part one, it was explained that the man on the boat suspected of being Ang - and presumably, the same person who died in a Hong Kong jail - was named Ang Ah Suang and his appearance poorly matched the description of Ang circulated by authorities. So at best, we can ask the Magic 8-Ball if this was the guy and the answer will be, "Don't count on it."

But recall Sam Weston had been called to Fresno because the Deputy Sheriff there had arrested a man whom he was certain was Ang. The stranger appeared in the area just days after the murders and exactly matched the description of Ang, right down to the unique white spot in pupil of one eye. The man had an exit certificate allowing him to return to China and reportedly had several hundred dollars. He acted suspiciously, tore up papers when caught and was also said to be carrying a pistol.6

It's probably safe to presume Ang arrived in San Francisco in the afternoon of January 19th and obtained an exit permit allowing him passage on a China steamship. He could not have possibly been aboard the SS Rio de Janeiro had it departed as planned that same day, but the ship was delayed for over 24 hours because of rough seas. For Ang that was good fortune; he then had plenty of time to catch it the next afternoon. But by late morning of Jan. 20 - about three or four hours before the ship's departure - the San Francisco police and Chinatown authorities were alerted that a Chinese immigrant had reportedly murdered some Americans in Sonoma county.

There are two pressing questions: Did Ang realize he was being sought for the murders during the final hours before the Rio weighed anchor? Next, was he clever enough to anticipate that he would become a sitting duck if he boarded the ship, almost certain to be arrested on arrival in Asia?

With anti-Chinese bigotry already threatening to explode into violence, you can bet the news that someone from their community had supposedly killed whites would have spread like lightning through San Francisco's Chinatown that morning. If Ang were there at the time, ask the Magic 8-Ball if he knew he was being sought and the answer will be, "Signs point to yes."

As to his smarts, the one fact that's indisputable about the man who worked for the Wickershams is that he was intelligent. Besides being fluent in English, in his room he left behind a journal written in Chinese. Instead of finding incriminating evidence showing he was the killer, a translation revealed "...its contents prove the owner to have been educated far above his coolie employment. It is filled with notes of the sayings of philosophers and sages, interspersed with numerous original comments."7

Whether or not he committed the murders (see the next and final part) my bet is Ang recognized he was in imminent danger of being captured either before the boat left or on arrival in Asia, so he took a train south, possibly hoping to disappear within the large Chinese population in Southern California. And except for Sam Weston saying the guy arrested near Fresno was not the fugitive, the weight of circumstantial evidence points to Mr. Fresno being Ang instead of the fellow on the boat. Which leads to a final question: How well did Weston really know Ang? Did the young man stay at the Wickersham place for awhile and get to know their Chinese cook, or did he only stop there briefly while riding through? His qualifications as someone who could positively ID the man were never explained in any newspaper that I can find.

Nor did Weston apparently see the body of the man who hung himself in Hong Kong, arriving there about a month after the suicide. He and detective Cox arrived about a month after the incident, and authorities told them the same details as reported about the inquest. There was no mention if a photograph was taken of the suspect before or after death.

But it wasn't a total waste of time; Weston enjoyed the trip of a lifetime, completely free. "Sam Weston got back from his ocean voyage this morning," reported a Petaluma paper in early June. "He looks as if the trip had agreed with him."8





SS Rio de Janeiro


1 Alta California, January 27 1886


2 Daily Republican, February 22 1886


3>/sup> San Jose Herald, April 28, 1886


4 Sonoma Democrat, April 24 1880


5 Sacramento Record-Union, February 16 1886 / Alta California, February 18 1887


6 Alta California, February 16 1886


7 Alta California, January 28 1886


8 Petaluma Courier, June 2 1886

Heading back a century to visit Santa Rosa in your time machine? Remember this: Use swear words in front of women or children - or anywhere on the street where they could be within earshot - and you might spend weeks in jail or pay a stiff fine.

The Santa Rosa newspapers of the late 19th/early 20th centuries often reported men (VERY rarely women) being arrested for vile, obscene, profane or otherwise offensive language in public - and even in private, when the cusser was also accused of assault or another crime. Punishment was twice as severe as public drunkenness, and some spent months in the city jail for letting fly.

This topic has been visited here before in the context of cussing being a more serious offense in 1907 than parents starving their children or someone brutally whipping an animal. Another example like that from 1893 finds drunken "Windy Jim” tried to strangle his landlady in Healdsburg, only to be stopped by her son stabbing the guy with a fork and just narrowly missing his eye. But it appears ol' Windy got three months in the county slammer not for the choking but for the indecent language that she - as a woman - was forced to endure while he was trying to kill her.

It was never made clear what words were offensive. Was "damn" okay without a preceding "god"? What about compound phrases with "hell," "bastard," and "bitch?" Was "arsehole," "bollocks" or "shite" acceptable if the person saying or hearing it was from the UK? (Full disclosure: While we were reshingling the house, under the original 1905 tarpaper someone had written, "arsehole Baker" on the side of the house, "Baker" presumably being the shingle subcontractor.)

An assortment of items can be found transcribed below, but there were many hundreds of arrests reported in the newspapers over the years. These are a few of my favorites:

* In 1913, Joe Goess was arrested in the town of Sonoma for language that was "said to have been particularly flagrant." When brought before the judge, "young Goess turned on the justice and unloaded some unseemly language." He was locked up without bail.


* When Robert Butts’ hounds got loose in 1916, neighbor McIntosh took a few shots at them when they came on his property. Mr. Butts did not like that and went over to have words with his neighbor, where he "used some uncomplimentary language towards Mrs. Mclntosh in the absence of her husband." Butts was charged with disturbing the peace although there was apparently no one else present.


*  In 1922 a Cotati man named James Codioni was fined $50 for making obscene phone calls, with the interesting twist that it was telephone company employees who nabbed him and marched him down to the police.


Santa Rosa's obscenity law is really old, dating back to original town ordinances of 1867. Sandwiched between a ban on riding horses on the sidewalk and mildly discouraging prostitution was §5, which outlawed "...[within] the hearing of two or more persons, any bawdy, lewd or obscene words or epithets."

It appears no one was charged under the law for over ten years (although I really doubt that) when Charles Hall was arrested in 1877 for "using language calculated to cause a breach of the peace." Nothing more was reported about the case, possibly because the accusation was bogus; the guy accusing him was in serious trouble for brandishing a deadly weapon, having been turned in by Hall.

Obscene language charges began tapering off during the Roaring Twenties, and from then on were most frequently bundled together with more serious offenses, such as the arrest of a group of underage kids for rowdiness and drinking. It also remained a justification for divorce in those pre no-fault years often paired with accusations of spousal physical abuse.

Curiously, I've never read of anyone charged during those years with the related crime of obscene graffiti - although during the mid-1930s, Petaluma was itching to catch and arrest the vandals who kept painting dirty words on the "big hen" statue at the end of the town, seen here in 1936 with its most recent defacement not quite scrubbed clean. (Photography by John Gutmann)

 UPDATE: Someone on Facebook commented that these laws were a shout out to the "politically correct crowd." It's a lot more complex than that. I'm sure every town in the country had similar obscenity ordinances to appease its religious moralists, and some places enforced the law strictly and others mostly ignored it. It was sometimes exploited as a means of revenge, as per Mrs. McIntosh in 1916. But the obscenity laws were also sometimes used to deal with bad situations where no laws were yet on the books which were directly applicable - see the 1907 story about the drunk parents starving their children. That said, Santa Rosa seems to have turned the law into a cash cow during the 1900s and 1910s, with the local police dragging offenders into court to pay hefty fines or face months behind bars.



Justices Court.— Mr. L. Howard was arraigned before Justice McGee on Wednesday, charged by Chas. Hall with exhibiting a deadly weapon. He was found guilty. Sentence postponed until Monday, October 29. Howard then had Hall arrested under a city ordinance, for using language calculated to cause a breach of the peace. Trial set for Saturday, the 27th.

- Sonoma Democrat, October 27 1877




Police Court Docket for Tuesday: John Cummings, for using vulgar language, ten days; James Miller, drunkenness, five days; H. Beck, vulgar language, ten days; M. Quin, drunkenness, five days; Wm. Vail, drunkenness, $5.

- Sonoma County Daily Democrat, May 7 1890



HE USED INDECENT LANGUAGE.
"Windy Jim” Stinson Sent to the County Jail for a Term of Three Months.

Wednesday night a week Marshal Leard and his deputy, L. A. Norton, took into their custody the ex-policeman Jim Stinson, better known as “Windy Jim," at the instance of his landlady, Mrs. C. J. Lelouarn, in whose presence he used profane language. The prisoner made no resistance of arrest and marched to the bastile with little concern. He objected, however, to being confined in jail like an “ordinary” criminal and sent out a couple of men to hunt up sureties for his appearance in court, but they were not to he found and he had not ampIe funds on hand to put up cash bail, consequently he was compelled to go behind the bars. The next day he was arraigned before Justice Coffman on the charge, and when the testimony of the plaintiff and her two little sons was heard he was assigned to the county jail for three months without the alternative of a fine.

Stinson came here about three years ago from Petaluma, where, it is rumored, he was tendered an invitation by the citizens to make his residence elsewhere. Shortly afterward he look up his quarters at Mrs. Lelouarn's house in North Healdsburg, but only until lately did he compensate the lady for his board and lodging, when he furnished her with a few groceries occasionally. Mrs. Lelouarn is a widow, the mother of three young children and is a cripple. She depends on washing and housework for a livelihood. A week before Stinson’s arrest she alleges that he assailed her. That afternoon she had been at work for Mrs. A. L. Paul, assisting her in moving and when she returned home she found that Stinson had barred her out by fastening the door. When she forced it open the monster grasped her by the throat and she might have been strangled had not her son, Henry, come to her assistance with a table fork, with which he punctured the flesh over Stinson’s ieft eye. Of late Stinson had been drinking heavily and the neighbors say that such disturbances were of frequent occurrence. His absence from Healdsburg is generally hailed with delight.

- Sonoma County Tribune (Healdsburg), January 19 1893



Was Disturbing the Peace

Officer Boyes arrested a young man on Main street Saturday night upon a charge of disturbing the peace and using vulgar language in front of the Salvation Army headquarters. The fellow ran at the approach of the officer, but the latter caught him as he was disappearing down an alley in Chinatown and locked him up at the police station.

- Press Democrat, June 9 1901



USED BAD LANGUAGE
Man Arrested for Improper Behavior on Wilson Street Monday Night

George Bates was arrested on Wilson street Monday night and was locked up on a charge of using profane and indecent language in the presence of women and children. Bates will have to explain his conduct to Police Judge Bagley this morning.

- Press Democrat, June 26 1906



WAS FINED $30
George Deacon Punished for Using Bad Language on the Street

Thursday morning George Deacon appeared before Police Judge Bagley to answer to the compfalnt that he used disgusting language on Third atreet on the previous evening. A fine of $30 was imposed with an alternative of fifteen days in jail. Deacon paid the money after spending a few minutes In Jail.

- Press Democrat, August 17 1906



Bad Language on the Streets

On the complaint of S. Graham George Chester was arrested by Policeman Yeager on Sunday night charged with using vulgar and offensive language on the streets. Chester gave bail for his appearance before Police Judge Bagley.

The use of improper language, particularly when women and children are passing, is altogether too prevalent, and the officers mean to take steps to make examples of the offenders in this respect.

- Press Democrat, September 10 1907



MAN IS FINED FOR USING PROFANITY

Walter Petross paid a fine of $10 in the City Recorder’s court Wednesday for indulging in the use of profane language on the street Tuesday evening in the vicinity of the Nickelodeon. This shall serve as a warning to other profanity hawkers.

- Press Democrat, February 13 1908



Arrested for Disturbance

James Aker, a lad who used profane language and created trouble on the lake Sunday, is locked up In the county jail pending a hearing for disturbing the peace. As he has been in trouble on a number of occasions it is probable that he will serve some time in jail before being liberated.

- Press Democrat, May 24 1910



VILE LANGUAGE LED TO A THRASHING

Sheriff J. K. Smith was called to Cotati Saturday evening to arrest a couple of men whom, it was claimed, had assaulted a man there when he visited their camp, they being members of a hay baling crew from Stockton. On his arrival Sheriff Smith was informed that the visitor to the camp had used vile language in the presence of women and children, and failed to heed the warning to stop, and was then given a trouncing by members of the crew. The Sheriff hunted him up and informed him that it stood him in hand to drop the matter or he might find himself getting a worst defeat In th« courts. That ended the incident.

- Press Democrat, August 20 1911



USED VULGAR LANGUAGE BEFORE LITTLE CHILDREN

Joe Goess, a young man of Sonoma, was arrested there on Sunday afternoon by Deputy Sheriff Joe Ryan on a charge of using vulgar language in the presence of women and children. The alleged offense occurred on Main street, and is said to have been particularly flagrant. When spoken to about his conduct by Justice Campbell, young Goess turned on the justice and unloaded some unseemly language. Justice Campbell took the young into custody and turned him over to Ryan, who locked the offender in jail. His examination took place Monday.

- Santa Rosa Republica, April 28, 1913



SIXTY DAYS IN JAIL FOR INSULTING WOMEN

Monday was a busy time with City Recorder W. P. Bagley. There were thirteen cases in his court that day. Four drunks were dismissed, but one returned later and will face his fate Tuesday. One drunk had his case continued while two others paid fines of $5 each and two went to jail for three days each. One driver who stopped his auto on the wrong side of the street had his case continued, while one vagrant went to jail for five days and another was dismissed. A man who insulted women on the street appeared with an attorney, but it did not prevent him getting sixty days in jail for the offense.

- Press Democrat, May 20 1913



THE VULGAR TALK TO BE STOPPED
Police Will Endeavor to Check Behavior That is Devoid of Manliness

Chief of Police J. M. Boyes and his department are determined to put a stop to the practice that has become altogether too prevalent in Santa Rosa on the part of some persons who seem to take delight in using vulgar and unseemly language on the sidewalks or in public places.

The only way to reach the offenders will be to arrest one or two and make examples of them in the police court. The language complained of is generally used, possibly not intentionally, at times when ladies are in hearing distance. There is nothing manly in such conduct as this, and complaints have been made.

- Press Democrat, August 8 1913



Charged With Using Improper Language

Robert Butts, charged with disturbing the piece [sic]  by J. O. McIntosh, was arraigned before Justice Marvin T. Vaughan Saturday, and his case continued to be set. Butts was released on $250 bail pending a hearing. It is claimed that when Butts’ hounds got loose and trespassed on the McIntosh place, Mr. McIntosh fired at them, but failed to kill any of them. It is claimed that Butts learning of this went to the home and used some uncomplimentary language towards Mrs. McIntosh in the absence of her husband, which resulted in the complaint being sworn out.

- Press Democrat, March 26 1916



I see Gaye Lebaron has revisited the story of Dr. Willard Burke, the famous Sonoma county physician convicted of attempting to murder a young woman and her baby by blowing them up with TNT (Explosive act was 'Crime of the Century', June 24, 2017). I appreciate her nod to this journal where my ten-part series on the Burke case can be found - although it's a bit of an academic exercise, as the Press Democrat rarely publishes a URL from local businesses, organizations or otherwise non-PD sources. (Don't believe me? Visit the PD web page and search for "http", "www" or any other common part of an internet address.) That's a particular shame with this story, as the series offers lots to explore beyond the sordid tale of the 60 year-old Love Doctor and his dynamited lover. It's also an unusual whodunnit mystery and tense courtroom drama; beyond that, the Burke case has much to teach about the power of privilege along with gender bias.

- -
THE BURKE MURDER CASE
THE BIG DEAL OF THE CENTURY
THE DYNAMITE LINK AND LU ETTA DISAPPEARS
WHO HID THE KEY WITNESS?
DO YOU LOVE YOUR GOLD OVER YOUR CHILD?
DOCTOR OF LOVE
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
MYSTERIES ABOUND
COURTROOM BOMBSHELLS
BURKE TESTIFIES
VERDICT!
Always most interesting to me is that curious intersection where journalism and history overlap, and Lebaron's recent article has several good examples, such as this: "... [District Attorney Clarence] Lea, embarking on his own political career, reconstructed the tent cabin in the courtroom, using boards and canvas with telltale rips and burns, and destroyed it with a pull on a rope at a dramatic moment in his summation."

That was a truly memorable scene - but, uh, it didn't happen. Nor did the prosecutor risk blowing up the judge and jury by setting explosives in a reconstructed tent and dramatically striking a match, as was claimed in the Press Democrat during the 1970s. As a matter of fact, there wasn't even a tent built in the courtroom at all (details of what really went on are below).

 What's more important is that these goofs show how it's always important to go back to the original source material. The facts that came out during Burke's trial were first eclipsed by what supporters said to make the doctor into a sympathetic character, and then the whole story became larded in myth as it was retold and retold again.

Yet the Burke case offers a rare opportunity to examine events in extraordinary detail, as the PD coverage of the six week trial during 1910-1911 documented everthing that happened in court, including much verbatim testimony. Go back and read their excellent journalism and discover why the jury convicted him after only about two hours of discussion.

But Burke had no shortage of friends in Sonoma county, as seen by the hubbub surrounding his 1910 arrest; he was a well-known, likable and charismatic fellow who was a major employer around Santa Rosa, bringing lots of money and attention to the area. Many well-heeled visitors enjoyed his upscale sanitarium = his obituary singled out Leonard Howarth, as did Gaye Lebaron's new article.

The myth-making likely has roots in the petition drive of 1912-1913, which began shortly after the state Supreme Court turned down Burke's final appeal. The petitions for a governor's pardon seems to have their own fog of fuzzy facts; the Press Democrat reported on March 16, 1913 that "nearly fifteen thousand" had been collected - but four days later, the PD reported it was "signed by something like 50,000 persons." The paper did not explain how the rolls supposedly ballooned over 300 percent almost overnight.

By the time Burke died in 1941 the narrative had shifted entirely in sympathy to Burke. Where the petition pleaded for clemency because he was old or had suffered enough/atoned for his deeds, Burke's obituary in the Feb. 1 Press Democrat transformed him into a victim. Anyone reading that might think the true 'Crime of the Century' was actually the cruel and unjust persecution of the saintlike doctor.

"The story of Dr. Burke is a story of a lifetime of unselfish service in the interest of health, colored by one incident which failed to shatter the faith of his hundreds of friends..." weeped the PD obit. His "sensational court fight" is dismissed in a single sentence as lead-in to a description of the petition drive. The only quote in the front page article is from a 1920s-era former governor: "I am still confident of his innocence!"

Yeah, obituaries almost always accentuate the positive and put lipstick the dearly departed's blemishes - but what the PD offered thirty years after his conviction was mostly the sort of "untruth" drawn straight from Orwell's 1984. "Dr. Burke's work in the field of health has been an important contribution to the community and will be remembered long after other events are forgotten."

Sorry, but I don't think a premeditated attempt to murder an 11 month-old baby is casually an "other event" so easily overlooked. Nor do I like the modern implication that courtroom theatrics - which didn't even happen - helped lead to his conviction. Burke was unquestionably guilty as hell and I'll go one step further: That man was as close to being pure evil as anyone I've ever found.

Read the original coverage: Either via conspiracy or through intimidation of one of his employees (probably his sister-in-law), Burke intended to murder his mistress and her child because it appeared she was about to sue him for paternal child support. He could (and should) have been also charged with obstruction for initially trying to shoo away investigators, and then for a second count of attempting to murder the woman when he left a lethal dose of arsenic in an unmarked container for the attending nurse to innocently apply to her wounds. That's a whole bucketful of premeditated awfulness.

The details concerning the tent-related evidence can also be confusing unless the original Press Democrat coverage is read. About a week after the explosion, a deputy went to the scene and took the section of the tent torn by the explosion, which was mounted on a frame and shown to the jury at the beginning of the trial. The defense protested the entire tent should have been preserved.

(RIGHT: Dr. Burke portrait in the Illustrated Atlas of Sonoma County, 1898)

A couple of weeks later, a PD headline stated, "Presentation in Court of Shattered and Scorched Remnants of Tent House." The original article made it clear the "tent house" in question was an identical structure constructed at a Santa Rosa quarry, where District Attorney Lea and an explosives expert attempted to recreate the crime. Their first effort fizzled because of bad dynamite, but the next experiment reportedly created exactly the same pattern of damage as the attempted murder explosion.

Yes, Clarence Lea's closing argument was powerful, but according to the original PD coverage, it was just verbal fireworks concerning the dynamite: '"...much-needed evidence had been destroyed,' cried Lea in a dramatic manner as he suddenly turned and faced the aged defendant. 'But it was destroyed on the night of February 5, a year ago, by this defendant when he applied his match to the fuse beside the tent-cottage in which Lu Smith and her child lay peacefully sleeping.'”

Among other interesting bits in Lebaron's recent offering is that she writes victim Lu Etta Smith was "known locally as 'Crazy Lu.'" That phrase doesn't appear at all in the original coverage and is another tweak which apparently first popped up in the Press Democrat during the 1970s.

Smith was inarguably eccentric and had many fringe beliefs, but so did Dr. Burke; much came out at the trial about the screwy metaphysical ideas they shared. Singling her out as the only "crazy" one follows the black-and-white narrative Burke and his followers pressed hard to spread. As I wrote earlier in the "Doctor of Love" chapter, "even in the first hours after the explosion, Burke and his supporters were furiously spinning that Smith was insane. She was suicidal, they said, and had threatened to drown the baby. During the trial Burke’s lawyer offered hours of hearsay testimony that portrayed Smith as loopy and likely clinically schizophrenic."

But Lu Etta was never shown to be a danger to herself or anyone else - all she wanted was for Burke to admit paternity and pay child support. She made a half-hearted attempt to pursue a civil case against him for the murder attempt(s) and harm to her health, which is remarkable considering her financial situation was desperate. Nearly 40 with no education past grade school and no particular skills, she spent the years after his conviction seeking public aid and living at the Oakland YWCA, always begging the wealthy doctor to support his child. A few more articles about Lu Etta Smith's pursuit of justice are transcribed below (don't miss the one when she visits him in San Quentin as he hides in his cell, refusing to see her).

It appears she lived with her son Willard in Oakland for the rest of her life, sometimes listing herself as a "housewife" officially and sometimes not mentioning any job at all. She died on New Year's Day, 1950, about nine years after Burke. Son Willard Phillip Smith apparently never married, had four years of college and worked as an accountant for the WPA, then as a librarian the rest of his life. He died in 1984.

Then over three-quarters of a century after the night of the explosion, an odd little coda to the story appears in the Press Democrat. It was a tiny ad from the "Bureau of Missing Heirs," a now-defunct company that fished for relatives of dead people whose bank accounts and other assets had been transferred to the state. The ad appeared only once and apparently only in the PD. It wasn't a lot of money - it was roughly the equivalent of an average family's income back in 1910. Still, it was a hell of a lot more than Lu Etta ever saw from the monstrous doctor.

Press Democrat ad, July 2, 1987 



MAY EVICT MISS SMITH
Woman Wants Money Assistance from Dr. Burke

Regarding the proposed eviction of Miss Lu Etta Smith from her lodgings, the San Francisco Chronicle has the following in its edition of Monday:

With but $2 remaining in her purse and an order from the owner of the little Cragmont cottage in which she now resides that she must pay him $60 rent or vacate his premises immediately. Lu Etta Smith, complaining witness in the dynamiting case which caused Dr. Willard P. Burke of Santa Rosa to go to prison for dynamiting the tent in which she and her infant boy lived, has made a final appeal through Clarence F. Lea, district attorney of Sonoma county, to secure sufficient funds from Dr. Burke so that she can go back to Maine, where Professor Horatio W. Dresser of Harvard University has promised to take her as a pupil in the study of "New Thought." Miss Smith denies all statements that she will not work, claiming that she is desirous of securing any kind of honest work she is strong enough to pursue.

"It is because I have spent many years in the study of the doctrines of new thought, and because I am strong enough to become a professional healer, that I called for aid from the doctor to go east," claimed Miss Smith yesterday. "If Dr. Burke will only assist me, and above all, acknowledge the child, I will leave the state immediately and do all in my power to secure him a pardon. But until he recognizes the little boy, my utmost energy will be spent in preventing his release."

District Attorney Lea Monday denied that he had received any communication from Miss Smith regarding the securing of assistance for her from Dr. Burke.

- Santa Rosa Republican, June 3, 1912




DR. BURKE REFUSES TO ASSIST LU ETTA SMITH

SAN FRANCISCO, July 15.—The failure of Lu Etta Smith, the plaintiff in the dynamiting case against Dr. Burke at St. Helena, to force Dr. Burke to grant her money to go East, where she intended to take up the healing of disease by mental treatments, has resulted in her taking a position as a nurse in this city. Miss Smith, up to Friday, has been occupying the cottage of W. A. Allen at 20 High Court avenue, Berkeley. Forced to vacate on account of inability to pay the rent, she left for San Francisco, telling no one of her destination, as she claims she is to begin life anew.

Up to last week she lived in hopes that her petition through her attorney to Dr. Burke, demanding that he recognize the child and grant her an allowance for its support, would be granted. But when she received the news last Monday that all such attempts would be futile, she decided to take up her old occupation, and become a nurse.

- Sacramento Union, July 16 1912




LU SMITH VISITS DR. BURKE

Without announcing that she was going or giving any name Lu Etta Smith on Sunday visited San Quentin and asked to see Dr. Burke. When he reached the office and saw who wished to speak to him he fled to his cell and could not be induced to come out. Miss Smith sent message after message to him and finally she wrote a note asking aid for the child, if he would do nothing for her. She says she is sick and in need of money and unless he aids her the child will die of starvation. Dr. Burke has made no replies.

- Santa Rosa Republican, August 20, 1912




LU ETTA SMITH APPLIES FOR AID

Oakland, March 21.—Lu Etta Smith, who, nearly five years ago, was the object of an alleged attempt on the part of Dr. Willard P. Burke of Santa Rosa to dynamite a tent in which she and her infant child were asleep on the grounds of the Burke sanitarium and for which crime the doctor is now serving a term in San Quentin prison, is again in great distress caused by the depletion of her finances.

Accompanied by her child, which she declared is a son of Dr. Burke, she has applied for aid from Alameda county under the provisions of the Mothers' Pension Act. The matter, which was taken up with the county expert, will probably be unproductive of Miss Smith being given any material assistance under the Mothers’ Pension Act.

She applied for “half-orphan" aid, but her case does not come under the provisions of the act, the authorities declare. Miss Smith has been living in Berkeley, where friends interested in her case cared for her. At one time she became interested in several university courses with the Intention of fitting herself for a position where she could support herself and child after she had made vain attempts to gain support from Dr. Burke’s estate.

- Press Democrat, March 22 1914



LU ETTA SMITH SEEKS WARRANT

OAKLAND, May 7-- Miss Lu Etta Smith, who came into public notice several years ago when she charged Dr. W. P. Burke, head of a sanatorium at Santa Rosa, with attempting to kill her and her child, appeared before Prosecuting Attorney Ezra Decoto this afternoon and asked for a warrant charging the doctor with failure to provide for a minor child. The matter was taken under consideration by Decoto, who will look up the law.

- Santa Cruz Evening News, May 7, 1915



WANTS DR. BURKE TO PROVIDE FOR CHILD

Miss Lu Etta Smith, heroine of the sensational episode that attended the alleged attempt of Dr. W. P. Burke to kill her and her child in 1910 at Santa Rosa, is living at the Oakland Young Woman's Christian Association building and is making desperate efforts to support her 7 year-old son, Willard, whom she has always claimed was the offspring of Dr. Burke. Hindered by ill-health Miss Smith has found the road a stormy one, and she has arranged to take legal steps to force Dr. Burke to contribute to the child's support.

Dr. Burke is with his wife at his mine at Hurlton, in Butte county, and has no property in his own name through which his alleged victim may collect a judgement. She has retained as her attorney, Marguerite Ogden, who said Monday that nothing could be done in the matter until Dr. Burke was "financially responsible."

- Petaluma Courier, March 9 1916

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