Alfred Hitchcock made the wrong movie in Santa Rosa. Yes, Shadow of a Doubt is a great film, one of the greatest ever made, critics believe. But while he was here filming it in 1942, it's likely he heard about what had happened a couple of decades earlier - or at least, the condensed version still retold today. That gangsters gunned down some lawmen in cold blood, that vigilantes stormed the jail, that the bad men were lynched in an old cemetery.

But there was far more to the story; it had all the elements that Hitchock loved to work into the plots of his thrillers. Once the wheels of the story were set in motion, there was no stopping events. Guilt and innocence were sometimes ambiguous and people uninvolved with the crimes found themselves suddenly caught in situations where their lives were in peril. There was even a MacGuffin - a psychopath who was waving around a handgun so large he could barely hold it.

This is the third chapter of the series, "THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID" about the 1920 Santa Rosa lynchings. And like Shadow of a Doubt, this part began as a smoke-puffing train pulled into the depot at Railroad Square.

It was soon after Thanksgiving when three men stepped off the train. They were all ex-cons - one of them had been out of prison only a few weeks - and they had come to Santa Rosa to hide from the San Francisco police. The city had erupted in outrage that holiday weekend when it was revealed two women had been brutally assaulted and one of them gang raped by what the press called the "Howard Street Gang." There was a police dragnet for anyone believed associated with the group and a list of suspects went out to authorities statewide shortly thereafter. All of these developments were explored in the previous chapter.

They were led here by Terrance Fitts. Santa Rosa was his hometown and he visited here regularly - when he wasn't behind bars. Just two weeks earlier he had returned home to learn his father had unexpectedly died, leaving him nothing in the will. The family home on College Ave. would be vacant until the end of the year, however, and had more than enough room for the three of them (see chapter one).

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

They just wanted life in Santa Rosa to get back to normal, or at least something close to it. It was January 1920, the start of the sixteenth month of the Spanish Flu in Sonoma County. As there was no vaccine - or even antibiotics to treat the deadly cases of pneumonia which often resulted - all our ancestors could do was quarantine the sick, plus declaring a community lockdown whenever there was a local outbreak, banning public gatherings of any kind and requiring facemasks.

Adding to the sour mood in Santa Rosa was the Rose Carnival was cancelled for 1920 - the third year in a row. Preparing for the Carnival was normally a major pastime in town that kept people busy for months, forming committees and subcommittees on everything from building floats to deciding what to feed members of the band afterwards.

So there was considerable excitement when it was announced there would be a "Burbank pageant" here and it would involve a small army of performers and workers, starting with original costumes for 250 dancers. Heck, this even could be a bigger shindig than the Carnivals!

There were a few teensy problems: There was very little time to prepare as it was scheduled for only five weeks away, not the Carnival's usual five months. Rehearsals were impossible for most of January because Santa Rosa was under lockdown until the 26th. And also, no one knew what a "Burbank pageant" was.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

She stumbled down the darkened street, her face bloody and swollen. This was an industrialized section of San Francisco and no workers were around at such an early morning hour, particularly on that day because it was Thanksgiving. Nearly two blocks away she found an apartment building on a cross street where she roused a middle-age couple and begged them to telephone the police.

The woman was 22 year-old Jean Stanley. She had just escaped from a gang hangout where her friend, Jessie Montgomery, had been repeatedly raped. The public outrage following that vicious assault would set into motion the events which would soon lead to six men dead in Santa Rosa, three of them slain by a gangster's bullets and three hanging by their necks in the Rural Cemetery.

This is the second part of the series, "THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID" about the 1920 Santa Rosa lynchings. Although everything described below happened in San Francisco, this chapter aims to clear up misinformation concerning the crime and its victims, which were the sparks that lit a very short fuse.

For research I scoured all news coverage in the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle between November 1920 and February 1921. I found almost everything written about the events since then relied upon the earliest accounts - which often had errors large and small. More trustworthy details appeared in trial testimony and particularly the summary prepared by the state Attorney General's office (transcribed below for the first time), although even that report didn't cover some critical and shocking facts that came out late in the proceedings.

A broader goal is to offer context about what else was going on around the time of the lynchings, particularly to show the vigilante act in Santa Rosa happened amid a wave of vigilantism which suddenly swept across other cities in the state. And finally, before we get started, please note the stories about the gangsters who committed the crime and their punishments are not found here; for that background I again point Gentle Reader to the e-book, "The Fall of San Francisco's Notorious Howard Street Gang." Only two of the six men are mentioned here by name; from the viewpoint of our narrative, the rest can be thought of as interchangeable, faceless monsters.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

Anyone with the slightest interest in local history knows the story: About 100 years ago, a San Francisco gang sexually assaulted some women. Police tracked gang members to Santa Rosa where a shootout killed the Sonoma County sheriff along with two policemen. The gangsters were captured and taken to the county jail. A mob stormed the building and took the men to the Rural Cemetery, where they were lynched from a tree.

But that's not the whole story - far from it. Parts haven't been reexamined since events happened in 1920, and many details have never been revealed. And like the twice told tales about the 1906 earthquake in Santa Rosa, some of what has been written about it over the years is distorted or flat wrong.

It's also a surprisingly difficult story to tell because it is Rashomon-like, with three quite different ways to frame it. All versions interconnect as their storylines converge around the men who were about to be lynched - but each has people and places which are important to that viewpoint alone.

There's the San Francisco version, which is mainly about tracking down the Howard Street Gang and prosecuting them. Besides the assorted gangsters the main players are the District Attorney, police and politicians. This story winds up in 1928 with the capture of the last fugitive gang member. To learn more, you can't do better than "The Fall of San Francisco's Notorious Howard Street Gang," which can be downloaded as an e-book for three or four bucks.

The Healdsburg version has a narrow focus on seeking vengeance for the murder of Sheriff James Petray, who was from there and very well liked. Those who raided the jail and hanged the gangsters were not a typical liquored-up lynch mob - they acted with deliberation and precision, leaving many to presume they must have been San Francisco lawmen. Not until 2008 when the last member of the vigilantes died (at age 108!) was it confirmed they were all from Healdsburg and had conducted military-style drills prior to the operation.

And then there's the Santa Rosa version, which you're about to read. This story ends abruptly about one o'clock in the rainy morning of Friday, December 10, 1920 when the last of the gangsters twitches and dies in the beams of auto headlights. The main takeaway for this version is that the gangsters haddn't picked Santa Rosa as their hideout by throwing a dart at a map. One of them - the very worst of the lot - was a hometown boy, who by a quirk of fate just happened to have access to a big empty house here.

Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to meet Terry Fitts.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

This would be a nice weekend to put some flowers on the grave of your Great-Great Aunt Virginia, who passed away during the Spanish Flu pandemic - so grab some posies and trek over to where she was buried in 1918. Is she still there? Why, yes. A cemetery is a place with people who generally don't move around much. This is widely considered to be a good thing.

Should you find yourself lost in the cemetery, there's usually an office (or at least a telephone number) where someone in charge can direct you to Aunt Ginny's most permanent address. That helpful person would have had little trouble finding her because the major cemeteries in central Sonoma county have a map and a master index of names. Sometimes very old records might not be perfect, but overall the picture of who's located where would be still mostly complete (see sidebar). The sad exception was always Santa Rosa's Rural Cemetery.

At some point in the early 20th century the burial listing book for Rural was lost. Or maybe it never existed - there's no proof it did, although it's difficult to imagine how the historic cemetery could have functioned otherwise. If Virginia was supposed to be buried in the family plot, it would be a really good idea for the mortician to know exactly where to dig.

So the ultimate mystery of Santa Rosa's Rural Cemetery centers on discovering how all its records were destroyed, and when - but until that can be answered (if ever) the adventure lies in trying to recreate the burial listing book.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

It is where you might dream when you dream of Elysium. A gently sloping hill, dappled sun through the wild oaks, trails likely following the paths of cows that wandered there before the Civil War, greenery trimmed (but certainly not manicured) bestowing the peace of woods in its scent and hush.

Today this is the state of Santa Rosa's Rural Cemetery but until the late 1990s it was decidedly unlovely, choked with weeds, sapling trees, vetch and poison oak. Stories about the cemetery's abysmal condition are legion. It was said to be so overgrown at times that a hearse could not reach gravesites and caskets had to be carried in. A worker clearing brush came across someone's home - a vagrant had burrowed deep into a bramble patch and set up camp.

The cemetery has seen its moments of drama and chaos; there's the mass grave of 1906 earthquake victims and just steps away is the scene of the 1920 lynchings. But mostly it has been an uneventful place - although it also has mirrored the city's maddening pattern of chronic mismanagement. As often documented elsewhere here: A problem develops into a crisis and a quick fix is applied, only to find the same problem return (sometimes in a slightly different guise) and often worse.

This chapter about the Rural Cemetery tells the story of its changing conditions; the following article covers the extraordinary efforts made over a century by volunteers to document who lies there, and where.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

Without doubt, it is the most important book on Santa Rosa history ever written.

The new edition of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery book is out and it's unlike anything that came before. Normally such a listing of burials is a dry reference work only used by genealogists or someone seeking where great uncle Fletcher is buried on the hill. This is more like an encyclopedic collection of grand short stories, more than five thousand tales long.

Volunteers Sandy Frary and Ray Owen dedicated nearly fourteen years assembling the material via primary source research, scouring all manner of databases and conducting interviews with descendants. The result is both highly accurate and readable; although he may not be your great uncle Fletcher, you'll enjoy meeting him.

The co-authors were well-suited for this kind of project. Sandy worked at the County Sheriff’s Office for a quarter century and since then has spent years as a volunteer at the Coroner’s Office researching old records. Ray had 33 years of experience in security background investigations with the Army and U.S. Civil Service Commission (now the Office of Personnel Management).

The book will be available June 1 and cost around $40. To order, phone the Santa Rosa Recreation & Parks Dept. (The exact price and contact number will be updated on SantaRosaHistory.com when determined.)


The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

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