You lucky, lucky soul; you just won vacation property in Sonoma county! Tell your friends and family so they can rush to buy a lot close to yours!

That was the premise of a con game that swept the nation in the early 1910s. The land existed alright and you actually did own it, as long as you gave the promoters a few bucks for paperwork, sent the county a small recording fee and paid your county taxes. The gotcha was that the property was worthless because it was on a remote, steep hillside. The map showing a neat grid of streets and building lots was a fantasy, which led people in the know to call these "paper subdivisions." Another name used was “wildcat subdivisions” – they were on land only wildcats roamed.

Sonoma county was dotted with these imaginary little towns, mainly around the Russian River and north of Santa Rosa (outside of Cloverdale there was supposedly Cloverdale Heights, Cloverdale Terrace and Orange City, for example). Very few owners built on their property and almost all stopped paying taxes, letting it default back to the county. But a few years ago a tweak to state law allowed developers to invoke those old deeds as a means to bypass all modern rules and regulations - a crazy story explored here earlier in "NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED." This is the prequel to those events, explaining how the scam began.

Newspapers in the 1910s were virtually homestudy courses in land fraud, with hucksters selling Florida swampland as lakefront property and Montana scrub desert as homesites with exceptionally swell drainage. Much in the news was a particular swindle where conmen made today's equivalent of $2.25 million/year before they were busted in 1909. They sold over a thousand lots in Boise City, Oklahoma, "the garden spot of the southwest," promising no home was more than four blocks from the courthouse. "King Corn and King Cotton grow side by side" they boasted in mailers with photos of happy farmers. In truth, the newspapers later said it was an arid "No Man's Land" and the men didn't even own the property outright. Over 250 victims came forward to testify against them before they were sentenced to a couple of years in federal prison for mail fraud. The moral of the story, as viewed by other crooked "land sharks:" Better to rip-off the suckers in person.

Summerland was the most (in)famous and possibly the first of the Sonoma County scams, located in the high hills above Guerneville off of Old Cazadero Road (see map). Its origins are murky and might originally have been intended as a legit summer resort, like Rio Nido, Camp Vacation and many others where you could rent a tent-cabin for a week or buy a small parcel and build a bungalow to stay the whole season. The Summerland lots were platted out in 1910 - the year the Russian River resort scene exploded in popularity - and small ads for Summerland appeared in the "Summer Resort" section of Bay Area newspapers over the next several years. No amenities were ever specified except for "sanitary conditions," which presumably meant outhouses and maybe a well with a handpump.

There was actually more than one Summerland: Summerland Park, Summerland Villa, Summerland Addition #2 and maybe more. Before it was over there would be thousands of lots sold, which would have given the Cazadero area the largest population north of the San Francisco - had anyone lived there.

Behind the deals were three speculators (for reference, they were: the Enright Brothers, banker I. J. Truman and the Guerneville Land Company, all based in San Francisco). We don't know if any of them were directing the scams, but a man who worked for some/all of them as the representative for Summerland certainly started the ball rolling.

Robert Romer, a former stockbroker who was kicked out of the San Francisco Stock Exchange in 1907, was contacted by the Healdsburg Enterprise about the unusual lottery being held at the M & M movie theater in town. Romer said each night there was a drawing for a "free" lot - although the lucky ticket holder still had to pay the $6.50 county recording fee of course. He explained the goal was word-of-mouth advertising; the winners would be so enthusiastic they would tell all their friends to buy lots nearby at the regular price of $25.00, and they would tell their friends, and so on.

The obvious problem with this scheme was that Healdsburg really ain't that far from Cazadero - if the winner didn't know their prize property was in the middle of nowhere, one of the friends they were supposed to sucker into buying a lot probably knew it. So a few days later, an account appears in the Press Democrat about county officials being contacted by lucky ticket holders in Sacramento, wondering about the Summerland property they had just won at the movies.

As the new year of 1912 dawned, the Summerland scam spread over the nation like a flu epidemic. "Letters from other counties, from British Columbia, from Nevada, from Arizona, from Oregon and Washington are pouring in to the Recorder, the Assessor, the Tax Collector and to other officials of Sonoma, pleading for information regarding these peculiar transactions," wrote historian Tom Gregory at the time.

There were sightings during March reported in Oregon and Washington after police there became suspicious about the movie theater lottery where every attendee apparently "won." One of the Portland papers looked into the Summerland offering and told readers it was "said to be a mile from Cazadero, Cal., a milk station back in the hills."

Romer probably wasn't one of the two men who claimed to be from the "Exposition Developing Company" jumping from town to town in the Northwest making lottery deals with local theater owners. Instead, he was busy in Sonoma county, trying to sell $50,000 in stock for the "Northwestern Hotel and Water Company," which was going to build a hotel at Summerland with hundreds of rooms plus a complete utility infrastructure suitable for a town of 20,000 residents. According to the Petaluma Courier, Romer told the Board of Control they had already sold about 5,000 lots.

The Summerland movie lottery scam was made a misdemeanor in April 1913 thanks to a bill written by Santa Rosa's Assemblyman Herbert Slater (it's still on the books, but was generalized and renumbered to §532c in 1935). But that was only state law, and the scam was running at full steam everywhere except California.

When two Summerland agents were arrested in Kansas City at the end of 1913, they were charged with old-fashioned mail fraud. (Although the state law didn't apply, the county recorder and surveyor still went to Kansas to testify against them.) A wire service story stated the men had claimed to represent the "Hot Springs Heights Realty Company" of Sonoma county and had been active across the Midwest and South. It was a lucrative swindle - in Muncie Indiana alone, they pulled in up to $1,500 (over $37k today).



The movie theater bunco game fizzled out in mid-1914 - or at least, the Press Democrat reported the poor recorder's office was no longer flooded with deed filings. That year there was also a long list of these properties on the delinquent tax list, showing many owners had wised up to the property being worthless. Lots were still being sold, however - only now it was the suckers looking for someone to scam themselves. A 1916 for-sale ad ran for quite awhile in the PD offering a lot at Summerland with a 16 x 16 structure ("sold cheap if taken at once"). In Seattle, A. L. DeLong dumped his property on Effie M. Crowley.

The latter sale didn't involve Summerland, however - it was another of the wildcat subdivisions, called Glen Artney. It was the phony place nearest to Santa Rosa, in the hills south of Calistoga Road (see map) about four miles as the crow flies - but three times that far by road. And that was just to the edge of the property; a man seeking directions dropped by the Press Democrat offices and was "shattered when informed that he could not reach the lot on horseback, and would have a very hard time scrambling to it on foot."

The Glen Artney hustle is interesting to compare with Summerland. Both used the movie lottery ticket come-on, but the Summerland agents apparently "gave away" lots of lots hoping to sell a few more for about $25, plus picking up a few bucks for providing the paperwork. The Glen Artney hucksters picked just two winners each day and advertised others lots were for sale at $50.00 per - or at least that's what their ad in a 1912 Montana newspaper stated. That Glen Artney even had print adverts is another major difference from the Summerland guys, who slipped in and out of towns without publicity.

But don't presume the Glen Artney promoters were any more honest or virtuous; that ad from the "Russian River Resorts Development Company" read, "Glen Artney is a beautiful sloping tract 60 miles from San Francisco, reached by the Southern Pacific railroad and interurban car line. School house on property..." The train and trolley car only went to Santa Rosa, of course, As for the schoolhouse, that was the Pine Mountain district school on St. Helena Road, which was actually suspended in 1911 for lack of any students. Modern maps reveal that "beautiful sloping tract" has an average 40 percent grade.

And while the moneymen behind Summerland were the stereotype big city tycoons and land speculators, Glen Artney seems to have been a strictly local affair. There are three names on the fraudulent map that was recorded; one was John O. McIntosh, up until about then the owner of the popular Grapevine saloon in downtown Santa Rosa. John was well known and well-liked, as was his older brother, Don, a deputy sheriff often mentioned in these pages nabbing wrongdoers.

Enlarge the map below to find the other names are Manville and Frank Doyle, the much venerated co-founder of the Exchange Bank and his son. Although the notarized statement refers to the "map of our lands," we cannot say for sure this meant the bank was a partner in the deal - they might have been just the escrow agents. But since the Glen Artney property was so nearby, it's very difficult to believe anyone really thought a town about half the size of Santa Rosa was going to spring up on the side of a mountain along the twisty county road to St. Helena.

A survey made about thirty years ago suggested there were up to 424,000 lots in old paper subdivisions throughout the state, with the largest percentage of them - about 75,000 - in Sonoma county. We were the highest because of the number of high density fake town/resorts such as Glen Artney and Summerland, which begs the question: Why was our county Ground Zero for land fraud?

Aside from Summerland which clearly had backers from San Francisco, there was never any mention in the papers of who was behind these scams, which had to be very profitable. It came as a surprise to me that Glen Artney had a barkeep's name on the map, but perhaps many/all of the other schemes were similarly locally grown; after all, 1911 Santa Rosa was a pretty small town and details of the Summerland fraud would've been well known, particularly after the out-of-towners who discovered they were cheated came staggering into Santa Rosa saloons to drown their disappointments.

It would be a fun question to dig into further: Between 1911-1914, did Sonoma county have a flourishing cottage industry in scamming outsiders who were foolish enough to buy property here sight unseen? Were our own esteemed neighbors – the bankers, Chamber of Commerce businessmen and real estate wheeler-dealers – running a bunco syndicate?

"...[T]he main reason for stopping the practice was that the county was being given a black eye by reason of the misrepresentations of the lot sellers," commented the Press Democrat in 1914, when the craze was over. But nobody was ever arrested, except for a few traveling movie lottery hucksters; after all, it's not a crime to sell worthless land - even if it's on a slope so steep a mountain goat would begin to wheeze before halfway up.

1911 Glen Artney subdivision map


To Market Guerneville Realty

The firm of Enright Brothers & Co., realty brokers of San Francisco, has bought 400 [sic - it was 40] acres of land in the vicinity of Guerneville, and will subdivide it into small holdings, and place it upon the market. There is much fine farming land in that neighborhood, and quite a demand for small farms has lately been manifest; so that Enright Bros, seem to have bought in the right place at the right time.

Press Democrat, February 2 1909



"Summerland” is the name of the newest recreation spot for Guerneville. Mesgsrs. Eright, [sic] the brothers who recently purchased the Sutherland place have surveyed it into lots and already made several sales to the tired folks about the bay who want a quiet, pretty place to spend their hard-earned vacations.

- Healdsburg Tribune, April 13 1910



SUMMERLAND LOTS AT THE M. AND M. THEATER GIVEN AWAY FREE EACH EVENING
The Most Liberal Proposition Yet Offered The Healdsburg People To Secure a Summer Outing Lot

Last Thursday night Mr. Robert Romer gave an interesting sketch on the old and new methods of land subdivision. He explained that his company had allotted Healdsburg a number of free lots in this tract by means of public drawings at the M & M Theater each evening until the allotment has been exhausted. The object in giving those lots in this manner is to create a nucleus tor attracting by means of the winners the vacation and summer home seekers from this district. These winners become agents and a live advertising medium as long as they are deed holders of record. These lots are given away free to winners but they must defray their own expenses in having the title transferred, which amounts to $6.50 which includes the search of title, attorney fees, notary fees, drawing up the deed, etc., the same as any person is forced to do when they inherit a piece of property. He went on to explain that this very feature made their proposition stronger as it eliminated those winners who would look upon the proposition as a Nickelodeon premium and who would have nothing to lose by being inactive. When they pay to have the transfer made, it makes them look into the proposition deeper and is the best sign of good faith that they will become active boosters and attract their friends as buyers and home builders. How can the owners afford to give these lots away, was answered by him in another way. The amount that is generally spent in advertising is turned over to the winners who in turn act as live unconscious agents without pay. The value of any property is determined by the actual amount of deed holders of record which is the only magnet which will draw.

 By having the property made valuable by the winners, their friends are glad to pay $25.00 for which these lots are selling. And these buyers in turn attract other buyers which when once started forms an endless chain and they are the ones that actually pay for the lots that are given away. He also made another point to illustrate this which was keen as it is better understood. For instance in a suit club there are generally 25 members, one wins a suit the first month for $5.00 and the second one for $l0.00, but it is the other 23 in number that average up the difference. Some of the lucky winners this week were Mr. C. P. Miller, J. Silberstein, Mrs. H. Sacry, and Fred Boulden who is going to start to improve as soon as his deed is perfected.

- Healdsburg Enterprise, December 2 1911



SONOMA COUNTY LOTS WITH PICTURES

A moving picture house in Sacramento is bidding for popularity with its patrons by holding out as an allurement to ticket purchasers an opportunity to secure a “Lot at Summerland, Sonoma county, near Russian River.” When the lucky ones present their tickets, they are told that they must put up six dollars for a deed to the lot. Some of them put up the coin. Others do not. Inquiries are being made of the Sonoma county legislators as to the location of the lots, and as to their worth. But prior to their coming to Sacramento the solons had not heard of the inducements offered.

- Press Democrat, December 6 1911



The Northwestern Hotel and Water Company announces that it will soon erect a hotel large enough to accommodate several hundred summer residents at Summerland near Guerneville, in the near future. The company will also establish a water system for Summerland.

- Healdsburg Tribune, March 14 1912



PHILANTHROPISTS' SEEK NEW FIELDS
Persons Who Were "Given" Lots in "Summerland Park" Wonder If It's a Bilk.

Offices of the "Exposition Developing Company" in the Ellers building are closed today. The two strangers, names unknown, who acted as the concern's representatives, have flown, and a large number of plucked citizens here who paid $6.50 for a deed to a lot in "Summerland Park No. 2," said to be a mile from Cazadero, Cal., a milk station in the hills of Sonoma county, are wondering whether they were swindled.

The company operated through several moving picture shows here. Theatre patrons were given coupons entitling them to a "free" chance on a lot. Apparently every one won in the weekly "drawing," as scores of persons were visited by agents of the concern, during the two weeks it operated here...

...Among the motion picture show houses that innocently aided the company were the Rainbow and Cozy theatres on First street.

"The proposition the men made looked good to me," said G. E. Chamberlain, one of the owners of the Cozy, today. "They told us that all we had to do was to give away the coupons and that our attendance would increase when people learned we were giving away free lots.

"They furnished us with slides showing pictures of the lands they said they owned, and explained that the scheme was to advertise the park so they could later sell lots. We began to get suspicious, however, when every one seemingly drew a lot and we were getting ready to stop giving coupons when the police told us to quit. The strangers got wind of this and left Portland soon afterward..."

- Oregon Daily Journal, March 26, 1912




BUNCO-LOWING FOLKS WITH SUMMER FAIRYLANDS

The following is a funny yet plaintive cry of the "bungalow lot victim"--it should be called "bunco-low," but the humor of the statement must not hide the fact that in the name of Sonoma county this small, cheap bunco game is flourishing throughout our neighboring states. Those worthless patches of real estate are not marketed to the unwary in this county, nor now in this state. The scheme has become too well known except at a distance. And yet nothing can save the investors who are caught by the plausibility of the spielers' landscape descriptions, and the little coin demanded for such a priceless bit of domain. All these resort lots are worthless as the investor speedily learns after his money has passed. This communication is one of the many such which almost daily adds to Mr. Nagle's amusement and perplexity, as the writers tell him their troubles after they have been bunco-lowed.

Butte, Mont., Dec. 5, 1912
Mr. F. G. Nagle, County Recorder, Santa Rosa, California.

Dear Sir--We have your not of the second inst., returning the deed from Arthur Annis to E. S. Rodds, which we had sent you in our letter of November 29th for record, and wish to thank you for the information as to the worthlessness of the property.

We are, however, returning the deed with our draft for $1.00 to cover the recording fees, and would ask that you place the same on record.

Mr. Rodda had some information concerning the non-value of this property, before he asked us to send the deed. He is already stung a little, however, and thinks it is worth one dollar more, on the chance that some time petroleum or ginger ale or some other good chase may be discovered in commercial quantities on the land, or that some one might want it for a site for a factory for the manufacture of second-hand tooth brushes. He says he came west to take chances, and he is going through with this, even if it costs him another dollar.

Yours very truly, W. E. Collins,

- Santa Rosa Republican, December 18 1912




Fixing It So Can't Even Give Realty Away in This Place
Bill to Beat Moving Picture Game in Sonoma County Goes Through Assembly.

Up in Santa Rosa moving picture theater owners some time ago conceived the idea of boosting their business by advertising they would give away lots to patrons of their nickelodeons who happened to hold a winning number. This was an alluring bit of advertising, and business trebled within a short time. It was apparent from the start that the theaters were doing it up proper, for many there were who drew a winning number. The lucky person had only to deposit a filing fee to get a deed.

Many deeds were filed. In fact, so many were filed that, the Sonoma county recorder’s office was swamped. Assemblyman Slater was appealed to. He was told the lots were absolutely worthless, and that the moving picture men were getting a corner on all the money in the county. Accordingly he introduced a bill in the lower house the first part of the session making it a misdemeanor for any person to give away worthless lots and collect a fee for transferring or conveying them to the owners of persons drawing lucky numbers.

The assembly heard Slater’s explanation of conditions yesterday, and railroaded the bill through without delay. Tired clerks in the Sonoma county recorder’s office and amusement hall proprietors will probably await with interest the action of the upper house on the measure.

- Sacramento Union, March 14 1913



HERE’S THE END OF ONE SWINDLE
Assemblyman Slater’s Bill to Prevent Frauds Being Perpetrated Is Signed by Governor

The practice of giving away “free” tickets, entitling holders to lots of land, by moving picture shows and other places of entertainment, was checked Thursday when Gov. Johnson signed Assemblyman Slater's bill, which has added a new section to the penal code. After receiving their “free" tickets, holders have found themselves compelled to pay $6.50 for deeds in addition to paying a fee for recording. Gross fraud has been perpetrated in hundreds of cases, where lots have been said to be located in some sylvan dell and in reality have been perched on some bald rock or inaccessible jungle.

Thousands of deeds have been filed in a number of counties, and, after visiting their land, the deed holders have never returned for their deeds. The measure Introduced by Slater has been indorsed all over the State and was one of his "pet” measures.

The bill is as follows:

Section 1. The penal code is hereby amended by adding a new section thereto to be numbered 532a, to read as follows; 532a. Any person who knowingly and designedly offers or gives with winning numbers at any drawing of numbers or with tickets of admission to places of public assemblage or otherwise, any lot or parcel of real property for the purpose of charging or collecting fees for transferring or conveying the same, or who, under pretense of charging or collecting fees for such conveyance, receives money, labor or property for executing such conveyance, knowing such lots or parcels of real property to be inaccessible, unavailable for the use represented for it, worthless, or without market value equal to such fees, or charges, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

- Press Democrat, April 27 1913



Western Lots Are Put on Market at Wholesale

Lot selling was done in a wholesale manner in room 19 of the Metropolital hotel yesterday. The lots were located in Summerland Villa, Guerneville, Sonoma county, Cal...Women folk, lean folk, fat folk of a good natured kind, sleepy folk, and a few other kind, all seemed to be in a hurry to get a piece of California real estate...

...when callers, of which there were many, presented their cards they were informed by a portly appearing gentleman in that in order to get deeds it would be necessary to pay a fee for surveying the lot, and a few minor expenses, and that $8 good cash, earned by the sweat of the face under the beneficent sky of Missouri, would be necessary to have a look-in on the California real estate.

And some paid the $8.00, and some didn't. Some looked at $8.00 with a longing look, and after much consideration, came to the conclusion that $8.00 in the hand was worth more than a sand lot 2,000 miles away.

- Springfield MO Republican, June 27 1913



Alleged Land Shark Arrested.

C. E. Ditto, a reputed land shark, was placed under arrest Saturday afternoon on a charge of beating his board bill...The police, while the man is being held, are making an investigation of a certain land scheme which has been worked in Bloomington of late. The scheme is a new one, but it is thought that some real money was secured in some of the transactions.

The play has been put on at moving picture theaters, a ticket being given to each one who pays to see the show and the one at the close of the day who held the lucky number drew a card entitling him to property. The card states that they "are entitled to a lot in Summerland Villa, Guerneville, Sonoma county, Cal." The Northwestern Dev. Co., is signed to this card. It is said that several have presented these cards to the agent and are then told that to pay for the deed and abstract, that the sum of $9.60 is necessary. It is claimed that a few, thinking that they will get rich, have paid the sum asked and then gone on their way thinking of the riches which are to come.

The police will continue to make their investigation and Ditto will be held on the other charge until the matter is cleared up. Police officers the confident that Ditto is a swindler [sic]

Bloomington IL Pantagraph, November 17 1913



UNCLE SAM TAKES HAND IN “MOVIES” LAND LOT FRAUD
The Guerneville Lots Figure in Kansas City Arrests

The last session of the Legislature passed the Slater bill which was signed by the Governor and is now the law, which put a stop to moving picture houses and other concerns giving “lucky" tickets to lots of land in Sonoma county and elsewhere In the State, It had become such a nuisance and such a fraud in Sonoma county that the introduction of the measure was framed to check it, particularly as the lots were worthless and located in out of the way places and inaccessible places and-—well, the story has been oft told.

This is by way of introduction. Uncle Sam has come to the assistance of the State of California and has swooped down upon men in Kansas City and their prosecution will doubtless check the operation in “lucky" tickets for Sonoma county lots in other States of the Union, for today County Recorder Nagle is receiving deeds for filing and countless inquiries concerning the lots in question. A dispatcn from Kansas City says:

“Kansas City. Dec. 4.—An alleged land fraud which, according to postoffice inspectors, was conducted in several States through the medium of moving picture shows and the United States mails, led to the arrest here today of W. B. Emrich and N. H. Spitzer of Louisville, Ky. The two were arraigned before a United States commissioner on a charge of misuse of the malls.

“According to the federal charge, tickets were distributed among the spectators at picture shows and the announcement made that the holders of 'lucky' numbers would be given a deed to a camper’s lot near Guerneville, Sonoma county, California, It is alleged that the lucky ones’ were then required to pay more for the 'filing of papers’ than the lots were worth.

- Press Democrat, December 5 1913



CASTLE IN AIR IS CERTAINLY HIS
Man Comes Here With the Idea of Locating on His Moving Picture Ticket Lot

Joe Blakskowski of San Francisco spent $12.50 for abstract deed and filing fees for lot 16, block 17 In "Glen Ertney,” when he drew a free lot is connection with his moving picture show ticket two years ago. The land is a portion of Sec. 23, tp 8 n, r. 7 w., and is located on the mountain side about 14 miles northeast of Santa Rosa off the road to Callstoga.

Mr. Blakskowskl came here this week with the view of settling on his lot and purchasing more for relatives and friends as agents for the tract had interested them with his glowing description. When he arrived here and asked for directions to reach "Glen Ertney," his castles in the air were shattered when informed that he could not reach the lot on horseback, and would have a very hard time scrambling to it on foot.

Despite his ill treatment in this regard, Mr. Blaks, as he is commonly known, is planning to purchase property here for himself and relatives, and move here to make his home as he has been greatly impressed with the city and its surroundings.

Under the law no more tickets to lots can be given away is this State.

- Press Democrat, January 10 1914




SCORES OF ‘MOVIE’ LOTS NOW ON DELINQUENT TAX ROLL

The evil some time since of the giving away of tickets at moving picture shows to lots in Sonoma county, so much complained of in the past, is again to the fore in the announcement of the delinquent tax list of Sonoma county, prepared by County Tax Collector Frank M. Collins.

There is column after column of delinquents on lots that were purchased by the holders of tickets won at moving picture shows in different parts of the State and in other States. Many of the lot holders, after filing their deeds, placing the property on the assessment roll, have never taken any notice of their duties as landowners in the county, hence they have gone delinquent in payment of taxes, disgusted with their purchase.

At the last session of the Legislature, in 1913, the practice of giving away these lot tickets and the fraud connected therewith was stopped by the Slater bill, which was signed by the Governor, and heartily endorsed by the State Realty boards and other organizations. Hundreds of the lots had been disposed of prior to that time and the result is now shown on the delinquent tax list. This explains the length of the delinquent tax roil in large measure.

- Press Democrat, June 5 1914



LAW HAS PROVED OF MUCH GOOD
Recording of Documents Is Up to Date in the Office of the County Recorder

The copying of instruments in the office of County Recorder Fred G. Nagle has been brought up to dale and the well known county official is pleased to have it thus. Everything has been fine for some time.

It will be remembered that prior to the last session of the Legislature the County Recorder's office here and in other counties of the state were deluged with the recording of deeds to lots of land as the result of the giving away of tickets with moving picture shows in this state and outside. At the session of the Legislature, Assemblyman Herbert W. Slater of this county, introducing a bill which passed both houses and was signed by the governor which made the giving away of such tickets unlawful. The new law attracted much attention and was complimented in the official papers of the State Realty Board and in other papers as being one of the most useful pieces of legislation. Its effect was soon noticeable in a diminishing of the number of deeds.

Copies of the law were also forwarded by the author of the federal authorities asking for their co-operatlon and this has also proved beneficial in the punishment of persons who used the mails to make false representations concerning prarlically worthless lots in this county.

It was learned Thursday that the deeds for the lots obtained in the manner complained of, are very rare now at the county recorder’s office, there only having been one or two in the past few months, and otherwise the practice has been stopped entirely. This is why the county recorder is breathing easier and why the copying has been brought up to dale to the gratification of those who were unavoidably hindred from recording their documents on time as a result of the deluge.

With hundreds of deeds to the moving picture lots coming in weekly it was impossible to cope with the work of copying them and finally special books had to be provided for their speedy recording. But the main reason for stopping the practice was that the county was being given a black eye by reason of the misrepresentations of the lot sellers and Ihe protest was general.

- Press Democrat, September 18 1914

The Wickershams were brutally murdered in 1886 at a remote cabin west of Cloverdale, but the San Francisco police were the first authorities to learn of the crime - and they didn't share what they knew with investigators in Sonoma county or the press, as crucial days slipped by.

That's the surprising new twist in Sonoma's most infamous 19th century murder mystery. Yes, the history books say the Wickershams were killed by their Chinese cook (which may or may not be true) and he escaped by catching a ride on a steamboat back to China (which may or may not be true). But it's never mentioned the San Francisco Police Chief knew of the murders for 24 hours before the crime scene was discovered, and even then didn't share what he knew about the suspect. If he were too busy to telephone or send a telegram to our county sheriff, a postcard would have been thoughtful.

"Manhunt" is part two of the series on the Wickersham murders, and this section tells the story of what was said to happen during the first week afterwards. I've reluctantly split "Manhunt" in half because of its length - simply too much new information turned up which has never been examined by historians. The conclusion of "Manhunt" is about the pursuit across the sea and looks at who were the more likely killers. Part one explored the conflicting details told about the murders, but is probably not required reading to understand most of what follows.

In all parts of this series, the degree of misinformation which appeared in the papers is part of the story. Important details may be truth or fiction or something in between. Sometimes we can spot the fake news, but often we can't tell because much of the reporting was sloppy to a degree that would have been unacceptable, had the subjects not been Chinese.

We can't even be sure what his name was; it was first supposed to be "Ah Tai" but in the second week of press coverage a friend and fellow immigrant in Cloverdale corrected that he was "Ang Tai Duck." Newspapers at the time garbled both versions, the worst being a Washington D.C. paper calling him "Yai Duck." Here he will be referred to simply as "Ang," since the great majority of Chinese immigrants to California came from Guangdong (formerly Canton) province and 王 is common family name, often romanized as Ang.

And as you could probably guess, no photos of Ang are known to exist. Seen above and to the right is Ah Cheong, a Chinese immigrant who was arrested in 1883 for assaulting an officer on an Australian schooner. I selected his picture to be Ang's stand-in not only because he appears to be about the same age and was likewise a cook, but because of the intelligence and wariness in his eyes. The real Ang was either a reckless-but-lucky madman or a clever and innocent man who somehow managed to elude an entire state determined to find and hang him. My money's on the latter.  (This mug shot courtesy twistedhistory.net.au.)



Around 10 o'clock on Thursday morning, John Elliott Jewell peered through a window and saw his neighbor dead. He notified authorities as fast as he could, telling them Jesse Wickersham had been murdered in his cabin. No, he didn't know the whereabouts of Mrs. Wickersham, but she was probably killed as well. Also, their Chinese cook had disappeared, so he probably did it.

No more details were known for the next two days, as the Wickersham cabin was in one of the most inaccessible parts of Sonoma county. The absence of further details did not stop some newspapers from charging ahead with made up facts and innuendo.

"A CHINESE FIEND," screeched a headline in the Oakland Tribune the next day. "The deed is supposed to have been committed by some Chinese employees, with whom Mr. Wickersham has been having some trouble," the paper claimed, but that was not the worst of their phony reporting, as the article also claimed there was "a theory that Mrs. Wickersham was outraged before the murder," meaning that she was raped. "...There are the gravest reasons for believing that the unfortunate woman has also fallen a victim to the cupidity or revenge of her husband's assassin...and there are not a few people here who express the opinion that she may have met a fate worse than death." Although no evidence of sexual assault was later found, the lie that the Chinese man had "outraged" Mrs. Wickersham was continually repeated by some papers as if it were a simple fact when they printed updates about the story.1

Back-to-back heavy storms made travel hard for officers to reach the Wickersham ranch by horseback and wagon but they finally arrived at the scene on January 21, the day after neighbor Jewell had reported foul play.

 Jesse Wickersham was found in his chair at the table, with all signs he had been killed during Monday supper. He had fatal shotgun wounds in his right side and the back of his head. Sarah Wickersham was found in their bedroom, tied up with her hands behind her back and likewise slain by a shotgun blast. Again, read part one for details.

A search of Ang's room turned up nothing suspicious except for some of the same clothesline rope which was used to tie up Sarah. There was an open trunk with some clothing and other garments were neatly folded on the bed. There was also a tintype photograph, a few letters and "...three bottles of good whisky, which was at once sampled by the wet and exhausted Coroner and Marshal Blume."2

At the cabin late that afternoon the Coroner’s Jury heard testimony from the doctor who performed the autopsy and Jewell. From the Coroner's handwritten notes, Jewell told them he was certain Ang was the killer, but 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 - whose fate he did not discover until investigators arrived - Jewell said, "I do not know who killed her but believe it to be [the] Chinaman."3

Despite the preponderance of no evidence whatsoever, the Coroner’s Jury decided “ail evidence [was] pointing towards a Chinese cook in the employ of deceased.”

The manhunt was on.



From the New York Times, three days later:

CLOVERDALE, Cal., Jan. 24. -- Details reached here yesterday of the murder of Jesse C. Wickersham, a prominent farmer, and his wife at their ranch about 20 miles from this town...Strong circumstantial evidence points to a Chinese cook, Ah Kai, employed by the couple, who has disappeared. The murder was evidently committed on Monday night. It is believed the Chinaman took an early train on Tuesday at Cloverdale for San Francisco, and embarked on the steamer Rio de Janeiro, which sailed for Hong-Kong on Wednesday. The discovery of the crime was made on Thursday, but, owing to the bad condition of the roads, caused by the recent storm, no reliable information could be obtained earlier.

The Wickersham murders were already stirring up the state's roiling anti-Chinese racism (see part three) and now that it was presumed that the killer was on a Slow Boat to China there would be no resolution until Ang was arrested in Yokohama (or not). This would keep the story alive for at least three weeks and naturally, the Bay Area newspapers had to find something to keep interest whipped up in the meantime. That did not prove to be a burden for them.

"There was so much method in his cruel deed as to give rise to but one theory — revenge for some fancied injury," the Alta California reported. "It has been learned by Mr. Blume that for some time Mrs. Wickersham was annoyed by Ti's actions whenever her husband was absent, and the result was that she used to retire to her room and lock the door. Not long ago he made so much trouble that she complained of him to her husband, and he gave Ti a severe tongue-lashing, but used no violence. This affair is thought to have rankled in his heart, and, as he was in the habit of drinking heavily and, suffering from sullen fits of anger, he took the first chance to wreak his vengeance on the helpless victim."4

We can be sure that story would register as "pants on fire" on the truth-o-meter because its source was Petaluma City Marshal Julius Blume, who along with Constable Roland Truitt of Healdsburg pushed the false claims of rape. They also appear to be sources of the story that the killer left behind a piece of cake next to her, supposedly a Chinese offering to the dead. Blume was also telling the press "he had heard that the Chinaman had killed a man in Sacramento" and "the murderer talked of leaving Captain Wickersham at one time, and when asked why, said, 'Bossee velly good, but lady too much talkee.'" Any article that used either of them as a source can be dismissed as prejudicial and untrustworthy.5

While Truitt and Blume's fictions were quoted far and wide, the Petaluma Courier - which offered eyewitness reporting on the inquest at the scene of the crime that appeared highly reliable - interviewed a local man who sometimes worked for Wickersham and knew Ang. "Mr. Smith was at the ranch three months ago when the Chinaman first arrived, and has frequently been there since," the paper said. Directly contradicting Blume, the article continued, "Mr. Louis Smith is the reporter's authority that the Chinaman 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...[Ang] was regarded by Mr. Smith as a good Chinaman, as the Chinese go." No wire service or other newspaper reprinted Smith's favorable opinions.6

And then there was this: There was no reliable description of what Ang looked like. Louis Smith described Ang to the Courier as being heavy set, about 5 feet 4 inches and about 28 years old. He spoke English well and smiled while speaking. Other papers completely agreed except he was either an inch or two shorter or four inches taller plus being forty years old. Sometimes it was stated he had a mole or dark birthmark on his cheek. The official description always mentioned specifically he had a white spot in pupil of right eye and vaguely that there was a scar on his neck - or face.

Marshall Blume took the tintype photograph found in Ang's room and delivered it to San Francisco Police Chief Crowley so Ang could be identified. It portrayed four Chinese men - but was the image too old to be used for ID? Again from the Petaluma Courier: "On the day of his arrival at the ranch he showed Mr. Smith a tintype of himself, but the gentleman failed to see any resemblance between the picture and the alleged original."7



As days passed while waiting for news from the China steamer, focus shifted from Ang's presumed guilt to documenting his escape. His flight from the backcountry to San Francisco's Chinatown would take about 17 hours, including a quick stopover to make a odd  damning confession.

The Wickersham ranch was 18-20 miles from Cloverdale over the road that existed at the time and required fording two major creeks. Three days later, it would take the Coroner's party about twelve hours to cover this same distance on horseback and with a wagon, guided by local men. Ang was on foot and since he had only worked there for three months, was probably unfamiliar with the road and certainly wouldn't have known any shortcuts through the hills. Complicating matters further it was night - investigators presumed the Wickershams were killed during supper, probably between 5-6 PM on Monday. There was nearly a full moon that evening but it still was probably pitch dark, as a heavy storm was a few hours away (or might have already begun).

Anyone who made that winter's night trek through rough country would have been wet and filthy when he arrived in Cloverdale before dawn. He would also likely be shivering cold - a coat was one of the items found on the bed in Ang's room.

This is an example of the account which was in most newspapers days later: "Ah Ti, appeared at the wash house of his uncle in Cloverdale. He was mud bedraggled and much excite, and wished to talk privately with his uncle. The latter went out and talked with Ah Ti, who told him that he had killed his employers. It was then near the time of the departure of the down-train, and Ah Ti, rushed off to get aboard."8

That was a summary of a lengthy report about the San Francisco Police inquiry that didn't happen until the following week, when it was finally revealed how much the SF police actually knew. This was part of the full statement by the "uncle:"

"I have known Ang Tai Duck about seven years. For a number of these I did not see him, and our acquaintance was renewed when he went to Hopland to pick hops some six months ago. When he was through with that work he loafed about Cloverdale for a few days before getting a situation with the Wickershams. I am not the real uncle of Ang Tai Duck, but he calls me so because I bear the same surname."9

Between 4 and 5 AM of Tuesday, January 19th, there was a knock at my door in the rear of the laundry...On going out there saw Ang Tai Duck; I asked him: 'What is your business at this early hour?' He replied: 'I am going away to the city.' I asked him again: 'What important business takes you to the city?' In reply he said: 'I have killed two persons and must go.' With this he started and ran away, without giving me time to ask any further questions. I suppose he was anxious to catch the cars, as it was then about 5 AM and the station was some distance from the laundry, and the train left at 5:10.

The southbound train from Cloverdale actually left precisely at 5:00, but other than that I think the account rings true, if inexplicable. But why would anyone wake up an old friend only to blurt out a murder confession before running away?

My guess is that a change of dry clothes and something warm to eat would have been strong motivations to seek out his "uncle," and it's doubtful Ang carried a pocket watch; he probably only realized the train was soon to depart when he saw a clock at the laundry.

As for the confession, it's crucial to note their contact might have only lasted a few seconds. Could he instead have told his friend something more like, "I was there when two persons were killed," or "I'm getting out of here because they will blame me for killing two persons"? With such a very short conversation, I think it's quite possible his sleep-bleary buddy might have misunderstood whatever Ang was trying to say. If this was the only evidence of guilt (and it was), a prosecutor might have had trouble getting a conviction even back in 1886.

Ang indeed made the train, according to a Santa Rosa paper: "Conductor Moul, who runs on the early morning train from Cloverdale, says that Tuesday morning a Chinaman took passage with him for the city...He had the appearance of having walked some distance through mud and water, and was badly travel stained." Both the conductor and the newsboy noticed the man "on account of his peculiar manner and appearance" and the conductor thought "his actions indicated that he was anxious to find some one, or not to be found." The newsboy chatted with him at length and sold him some cigarettes. The conductor added the man "had a mole on his cheek of the same shape and size of the one said to have been on Ah Tai." This mole or birthmark was mentioned in only one other description, which seems unusual if it was really was such a distinguishing feature.10

From the very first articles about the investigation at the Wickersham's cabin, it was presumed the Chinese cook stepped off the Tiburon ferry that afternoon and went straight to the dock with the steamship Rio de Janeiro, bound for Japan and Hong Kong. It was even sometimes darkly suggested this was part of his escape plan after he committed premeditated murders of the Wickershams. Uh...no.

First, the Rio was supposed to depart before Ang's ferry reached San Francisco. Only because of rough waters due to the storm then hitting the Bay Area was the steamer delayed until the following day, making it even feasible for Ang to be aboard as it left port on Wednesday, January 20. There would be no other ships heading to the Far East from San Francisco for eleven days.

Nor did a Chinese immigrant in 1886 California simply walk up to a ticket window and buy passage on a ship. By an arrangement between the steamship operators and the "Six Companies," all departing immigrants were required to have an exit permit issued by the association where the man was registered as a member. And to get that permit he had to be up-to-date on dues and other fees as well as owing no debt for his passage to America - thus every Chinese immigrant leaving the country was positively identified. And on top of that, there was a Customs House officer examining all departing Chinese at the gangplank; if the immigrant did not also have a return certificate authorizing him to come back to America, a description of the man was recorded. In short: Everyone on that steamship in 1886 was better documented than passengers flying on a United 757 to China today.11

Whether or not Ang was on the boat is the big question examined in the next "Manhunt" segment. Before looking at that, however, there's another mystery: With all that the San Francisco police and Chinese authorities in the city knew about the Wickersham murders even before the crime scene was discovered - why didn't they share that crucial information with Sonoma County?


The details that follow come from the most respectable newspaper of the time (The Daily Alta California) and all of it concerns statements which were made to police, including direct quotes. There are problems because the reporter and/or editor did not seem to understand the structure of Chinese society in America, particularly the importance of the Six Companies and the exit permit system. The true identity of the man on the steamboat could have been determined by a reporter asking a simple direct question of the President of the proper company. Here's the summary of what appeared:

Ah Kum, who worked at the Cloverdale laundry with Ang's "uncle," was there the morning Ang arrived before dawn, "all covered with mud and looked very much frightened and troubled. We asked him what was the matter and what brought him there at that time of the night, but he refused to say anything until he saw his uncle, Ong Hin Lung."

Ang and his uncle spoke privately. "At last the uncle came back alone. He was crying and seemed to be in great distress. The rest of us suspected something at once and asked Lung what the trouble was, and what his nephew had done. He replied that Duck had committed a great crime; he had murdered his boss." Ah Kum and the others worried "we might all get into trouble when the police learned of the murder." It was decided he should take the next train to San Francisco in order to notify the company of Ang's murder confession so he could be arrested. Ah Kum didn't know the city, so he went to his uncle's place and waited for him to return home. When his relative came in at midnight, it was decided to wait until the next morning, when they contacted the company between 8-9 o'clock.

The narrative shifts to the remarks of Lee Cum Wah, President of the Ning Yung Company. Unfortunately, this crucial section is paraphrased with no direct quotes. And what's really unfortunate is that we don't know if this was the association to which Ang belonged, which was the only place he could have obtained the crucial exit permit. In another part of the Alta California coverage it is stated in passing that Ang belonged to the Hop Wo Company, and Ang had apparently gone directly to their offices on arriving in the city - but no one from that company besides a porter was interviewed. It would make sense that Ah Kum would reach out to his own company Ning Yung, as that was undoubtedly the only official contact he had in Chinatown.

On hearing that a Chinese immigrant had reportedly murdered some Americans, Lee Cum Wah immediately telephoned the Chinese Consulate, where Colonel Frederick Bee - an American lawyer who acted as the Western U.S. Consul for the Emperor - called the Police Chief, asking him to send officers to the steamer which was to depart in less than thirty minutes. A pair of detectives rushed to the dock.

They "made a hasty search with lanterns through the darkened steerage of the ship, but as they had no description of [Ang] with them they did not meet with any success. Their only hope was to find somebody who knew him and would point him out," the Alta reported. There were 73 Chinese passengers on the ship and alas, not one of them stepped forward to confess.

By the time Ah Kum and the company president arrived, the ship was already streaming towards the Golden Gate.

The Alta California coverage appeared on January 27, exactly one week after the steamship Rio de Janeiro departed (the official statements were made at the police inquiry on the 25th).

The Alta was a widely-read morning newspaper, and some papers that published in the evening - including Santa Rosa's Republican - shamelessly cribbed details from their coverage, which was not unusual for the time. Mistakes were introduced in the retellings; several editors didn't read the original story closely and mistakenly wrote Ang was a member of the Ning Yung association.

That last-minute rush to intercept Ang before the steamship departed happened 24 hours before neighbor Elliott Jewell peeked in a window and saw his dead neighbor Wickersham. To my complete amazement, not a single paper can be found questioning why the San Francisco police did not contact the Sonoma county sheriff immediately about what they knew about a serious crime - that a Chinese man from Cloverdale had come forward to say he had heard (admittedly secondhand) that Ang had supposedly confessed to a double homicide up in Sonoma. Ah Kum might not have known lots of details, but he knew the name of suspect, Ang's contacts in Cloverdale and was able to identify him a week later in the tintype photograph taken by Marshall Blume from Ang's room.

Like everyone else at the time, the Alta was absolutely certain Ang had to be on the boat. This led them to overlook three critical bits of information that came out during the police inquiry:

*
It was discovered the suspect was registered with the Hop Wo Company, but the Alta did not followup and ask the president of that association about the exit permit, which would have revealed his true identity.

*
Ang's uncle arrived in San Francisco three days after their encounter at the laundry and sought news from a man whose store was apparently a clearinghouse for Chinatown news and gossip. "I went direct to Sun Lee Lung, 761 Clay street, and asked him if Tai Duck was there. He said: 'We don't know Ang Tai Duck, but a person named Dar Ng Sang has gone back.'" This was an important clue that Ang might not have been on the steamship.

*
It was revealed the suspect bought a discount "poor man's ticket" - which only four passengers on the steamship had - and did not acquire a return certificate, which meant the Customs House had a name and description of the man.

A smart reporter or detective would have beelined over to the Customs House to take a close look at the entries on those four men - particularly since the Alta had reported both "no Chinaman answering the description of Ah Tai obtained a certificate for passage on the Rio de Janeiro" (Jan. 24) and "Customs officials took a description of him, which corresponds exactly with the one furnished to the police" (Jan. 27).

No one from the Alta checked their source, but a reporter from the Oakland Tribune did:12

Ang Ah Suang. When this man, who was no other than Ah Ti, went aboard the vessel, and, having no Consular certificate, he was examined on Wednesday, and the following description was entered on the book kept for that purpose: Ang Ah Suang, aged 35; 5 feet 2 inches; scar on left eyebrow; residence, Sacramento; came to the United States for the first time in 1871.

But the suspect "who was no other than Ah Ti" looked nothing like him - the age and height were different and he was lacking the characteristic white spot in the pupil of his eye or black spot on his cheek. This meant there was no evidence that Ang was heading for China.

NEXT: MANHUNT PT. II: PURSUIT



1Oakland Tribune, January 22, 1886

2Daily Alta California, January 25, 1886

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

4Daily Alta California, January 25, 1886

5Daily Democrat, January 26, 1886 and Sacramento Record-Union, January 25, 1886

6Petaluma Courier, January 27, 1886

7ibid

8Petaluma Argus, January 30, 1886

9Daily Alta California, January 27 1886

10 Daily Democrat, January 24 1886

11It was a common myth in the 19th century and later that the Six Companies were the driving force behind Chinese immigration, bringing over peasants who were then indentured to the association for the cost of their passage and finding them work. To the contrary, it was usually American businesses (such as the railroads) using Chinese or American contractors to recruit workers from Guangdong province and arrange their transport - Cornelius Koopmanschap, a Dutchman, famously claimed to have brought 30,000 laborers to California. The contractors made their money by usurious markups, such as charging $175 for a ticket which cost $50, then seeing the employer docked two-thirds of an immigrant's wages until the debt (plus any other fees or interest) was repaid, which was tantamount to servitude. While the Six Companies didn't often play a middleman role in bringing immigrants here or finding them work, the exit permit system acted as strong-arm enforcement on behalf of the labor contractors to prevent debtors from skipping out and returning to China. See: Chinese America: History and Perspectives, Chinese Historical Society, 1987, and also, A Century-old "Puzzle": The Six Companies' Role in Chinese Labor Importation in the Nineteenth Century, Yucheng Qin, The Journal of American-East Asian Relations Vol. 12, No. 3/4.

12Oakland Tribune, January 27 1886

Most folks are content to put their name on the mailbox and leave it at that. Paul T. Hahman put his moniker on his doorknob - well, his initials, actually.

The Hahman home at 718 McDonald Avenue is currently on the market for the first time in ages. The exterior and most of the interior is beautifully preserved, in part because the house has had so few owners. The original family lived there for the first 42 years and the listing agent says the current owners have been there for three decades. That's 72 out of the 107 years - more than two-thirds of its existence.

The monogrammed knob is a cute touch by architect Brainerd Jones. The 1910 Hahman House is the fourth Shingle Style design that Jones created in Santa Rosa and is the most conventional. Where the 1902 Paxton House, 1905 Comstock House and 1908 Saturday Afternoon Club were in the Eastern Shingle Style that tried to be both rustic and elegant, the Hahman House is more like an example of the Prairie School – an American Foursquare with Craftsman features. Still, it must have seemed shockingly modern amidst McDonald Avenue's pretentious Victorian mansions.

What the Hahman House most closely resembles is Jones' 1908 Ellis-Martin House at 1197 East Washington St, Petaluma - which coincidentally is also for sale. Although the Petaluma house was smaller (4,450 vs. 3,435 square feet) they share the same general massing and details, inside and out. There are corbels under the eaves and window boxes with brackets and rafter tails wherever possible and his trademark "Union Jack" pattern in small square windows. Both houses have high redwood wainscoting throughout the downstairs, a staircase with a fine oak newel post and handrail along with tight spacing between the balusters to ensure a small child could not squeeze a head through. (By contrast, the balusters at Comstock House are wide enough apart that a cat can launch itself between them to pounce on an unwary victim.)




1910 Hahman House and 1908 Ellis-Martin House. Photo credits Coldwell Banker, Century 21



 There are a couple stories of interest about the Hahman House. Harriet and Paul Hahman had two young daughters, Margaret and Henrietta who they took over to the property in 1909 for a ground-breaking ceremony. "They were each presented with spoons and told to 'Dig!' which they proceeded to do as if their little lives depended on it," the Press Democrat reported. "These spoons will be suitably engraved and in the after years may be handed down as family heirlooms."

The Hahmans also had the exceptional good taste to hire local master craftsman Frank S. Smith to create a complete set of living room and reception hall furniture intended to harmonize with the house. The furniture - described in the Santa Rosa Republican article transcribed below - took a year to make.

Paul T. Hahman was a pharmacist and and ran Santa Rosa's main drug store next to the Empire Building (picture here). He was part of James Wyatt Oates' circle and has often been mentioned here. My favorite story happened about a month after the Hahmans moved into their nice new house, when the town’s veterinarian staggered into the drug store asking for help, having accidentally swallowed a pill containing enough poison to kill several people. Paul gave him an emetic plus some sort of “hypodermic” as most of the doctors in town rushed to the scene, probably partially out of curiousity to see whether the antidote would work.

Paul's parents were Feodor and Henrietta Hahman. In the 1850s Feodor and his partners ran a store in the old Carrillo adobe and then - for reasons which have never been clearly explained - platted out a town they called Santa Rosa (see "CITY OF ROSES AND SQUATTERS").

Hahman Home at 718 McDonald Avenue (This Photo and doorknob: Jennifer Knef/Coldwell Banker)



 FURNITURE FOR HAHMAN HOME
Designed and Made by Decorator F. S. Smith

Frank S. Smith has just completed and delivered to Paul T. Hahman one of the handsomest sets of furniture which graces the homes of the City of Roses. Mr. Smith is a decorator, and does special works in furniture and draperies. The set which he has manufactured for Mr. And Mrs. Hahman is artistic and handsome in every way. The entire work was done in Mr. Smith’s small workshop on his premises at 1209 Ripley street.

The furniture made by the Santa Rosan was for the reception hall and living room of the handsome Hahman residence. A reception chair, cozy arm chair, table and tabouret were designed and made for the reception hall. The furniture for the living room included a mammoth Davenport, two large rockers, one large easy chair, a window chair, pedestal tabouret and large table with drawer.

Mr. Smith claims for this set of furniture that there has been nothing made where the identical lines are carried out and still secure the uniform lines are carried out and still secure the uniform lines as in the pieces he has turned out for Mr. Hahman. It was designed and made exclusively for the Hahman home, and to harmonize with the other furnishings and draperies of the residence. Mr. Smith manufactures furniture of different designs for each particular home. He has made an elegant dining room set for Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns of Kenwood.

All of the furniture for Mr. Hahman is upholstered in a silk damask of conventional figure, in two tones of brown. The elegant Davenport is 78 inches long and 30 inches deep. All of the furniture is equipped with sunken leather casters, which prevents scratching the polished floors of the home. It is all made of heavy quarter sawed oak and finished with a handsome piano polish, which makes it have an appearance of elegance seldom found in furniture.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, April 7, 1911



 Mr. and Mrs. Paul T. Hahman are moving into their handsome new home on McDonald avenue. Friends who have inspected the residence pronounce its arrangement calculated to prove most comfortable in all respects.

- Press Democrat, February 27 1910



Ground was broken for the erection of the Paul Hahman residence on McDonald avenue last week. The Misses Margaret and Henrietta Hahman, the cute daughters of the family, assisted materially in the work. They were each presented with spoons and told to “Dig!” which they proceeded to do as if their little lives depended on it. These spoons will be suitably engraved and in the after years may be handed down as family heirlooms.

- Press Democrat, September 12 1909



Mr. and Mrs. Paul T. Hahman were visitors in Petaluma yesterday, consulting Architect Brainerd Jones regarding plans for a new home to be erected at once on McDonald avenue.

- Press Democrat, June 5 1909



It was a fearsome crime and although newspapers in those days were packed with stories about terrible murders, this incident was so horrific that news of it spread nationwide, becoming the first time most Americans heard of a place called Sonoma county. Even your great -great (-great?) grandmother Augusta in far-away Minnesota read this wire story on the front page of her local paper in 1886:

CLOVERDALE, Cal., Jan 23--Details reached here to-day of a double murder, the victims of which are a prominent farmer, Jesse C. Wickersham, and wife....Wickersham was found sitting in a chair in the diningroom dead, with blood oozing from a wound in the breast and another in the head. Mrs. Wickersham was found dead on the bed in a bed-room up stairs, her hands and feet bound and a wound in her breast. The valuables on both bodies were intact, which showed robbery was not the object of the crime. All the wounds were inflicted by a shotgun. Strong circumstantial evidence points to a Chinese cook, Ah Kai, employed by the murdered couple. Ah Kai is nowhere to be found...1

The picture it painted portrayed nightmarish scenes: A woman tied up on her bed, the gruesome view of her husband, the idea that both were innocents slaughtered senselessly by a member of their household. That the supposed mad killer was a Chinese immigrant only confirmed what fear-mongering politicians and the press had been shouting for years.

But aside from the Wickershams indeed being murdered, most of the important facts in the article were wrong. Robbery probably was the motive; no evidence implicated the Chinese cook, who immediately became the prime suspect only because his whereabouts were unknown and other (more likely) culprits weren't considered.

The Wickersham killings had an immediate impact on Sonoma county and the state, leading to boycotts of Chinese businesses and expulsion of immigrants from towns - and its ripples even reached Congress as more anti-Chinese legislation passed in the following years. But despite its importance. actual details of the Wickersham case never have been closely examined.

What follows is part one, which dives into the conflicting stories about the double murder; part two follows the manhunt for the Chinese cook and suggests who were the more likely suspects; part three provides overall context, showing why our ancestors were quick to presume the cook was guilty and what they did immediately afterward.

This is a tricky tale to write because every newspaper added, omitted and/or contradicted details found in other papers. Often the differences were minor - but sometimes they were critical to interpreting events. In almost every case I selected a version that came from an interview with someone with first-hand knowledge, but some players were so eager to implicate the Chinese man that they apparently lied or exaggerated, and in one case, possibly tampered with the crime scene. Any non-trivial differences are discussed. If you want the complete scoop, newspaper transcriptions for the whole series will be available for download in a separate text file.

As we begin, keep in mind this is an important moment in our history only because of a perfectly awful set of circumstances. Had the Wickershams been murdered six months earlier or later the tragedy might have been little noticed - but it happened at the peak of local anti-Chinese frenzy. Had the Wickersham ranch not been so hard for authorities to reach, accurate details might have been reported quickly - instead, newspapers fed the public's hunger for news by printing lies and rumors. And even Mother Nature seemed to conspire to make any possible investigation difficult - there was a Perfect Storm before the crime was discovered which likely obliterated evidence.

Location of the Wickersham ranch and vicinity on the map from the 1898 county atlas
The winter of 1885-1886 was fairly mild and dry in Sonoma county - except for the third week of January, when the North Bay was slammed with torrential rains and high winds. There was snow on St. Helena and Sonoma Mountains; major roads were impassible, with the with the well-traveled route through the Sonoma Valley compared to a lake.

It was just before the biggest storm hit on Wednesday the 20th when two Indians showed up at Elliott Jewell's ranch, far from any town in the rugged northwest corner of the county. Jewell knew the men and considered them friendly. "You see Wickersham?" he was asked. "Wickersham" was Jesse C. Wickersham, who had a place with his wife about two miles away. Jewell replied he had not seen his neighbor recently. They asked again, "Where Wickersham?" and then, "You come Wickersham?" He promised to ride over the next day and check on his friends. 2

 With the weather clear mid-morning on Thursday, Jewell went over but did not approach the cabin. Apparently he saw no smoke from the chimney nor other sign of life. "I had already made up my mind something was wrong," he told a reporter a few days later, "possibly a murder." He detoured back to the Indian's camp about a half-mile away from the Wickersham place, where they had been hired to cut wood. 3

When had anyone last seen signs of life? He asked. Not since mid-morning on Monday; "they said they had gone down to the house, and fearful of approaching it, they had stood afar off and hallooed for Wickersham, but without an answer." 4

"Taking the two Indians with me, I attempted to open the door of the sitting-room but found it locked. The window was down and I pulled out the sash. The Indians then suggested that I should come round to the dining-room. I did so. The door did not yield. I went to the window, pulled aside the blind, and there my eyes fell upon the rigid form of my old friend - a blanket about his head and his feet in a pool of blood." 5

Without investigating further, Jewell immediately returned to his horse and went home, where he fetched his wife and headed towards Skaggs' Springs, the nearest place where he could seek help. 6


It was fourteen miles to the Skaggs' Hot Springs resort, where hopefully the telephone and telegraph lines were still up despite the overnight storm winds. Jewell knew the winding road well and in good weather he probably could get there in under three hours. That day it apparently took him twice that long. The weather had made the route treacherous; the next morning the county coroner's horse would slip and fall along this road enroute to the crime scene.

The long ride probably gave Jewell and his wife time to reflect. They had last seen the Wickershams about three weeks earlier, when the two couples spent the weekend together to celebrate the new year. "We were continually over at each other's places," he later told a reporter. But aside from the companionship of being the only neighbors within walking distance, they didn't have much in common. 7

Jewell was more of a gentleman farmer and the place he called "Castle Rock Ranch" was the couple's country home. At the time Jewell was 35 and owned the Petaluma News Depot, one of the most important businesses in south county because it handled all newspaper, magazine and book sales. Although his parents were rich he seemingly did well on his own, later owning a hop ranch near Fulton and trying his luck at gold mining in the Yukon. The couple mainly lived in Petaluma before moving on to Santa Cruz and San Francisco.

Jesse C. Wickersham had a very different lifestory. His uncle was Isaac G. Wickersham, the wealthiest man in Sonoma county and president of the National Gold Bank of Petaluma - one of nine banks in the state allowed to actually print money. Jesse was 52 and had lived in his uncle's shadow for years, working as an assistant cashier and notary at the bank, then as an insurance agent for another of his uncle's companies. He also married the sister of his uncle's wife, a widow who was his same age. He was also dependent upon his in-laws; he and wife Sarah lived with them in Petaluma, and his father-in-law was co-owner of the ranch.

There was something the matter with Jesse which was never explained. "About Wickersham being poorly - that is true," said a Healdsburg man who owned property near the ranch. "He is a weakly man - unable to ride and unable to look after the rancho properly." Jewell agreed he was "in a very sickly condition" when he first moved to the country, but said he was better now and "could ride about and do light work." 8

Or maybe the problem was psychological. Unlike the Jewells who came and went between their ranch and Petaluma, Jesse and his wife apparently remained there all the time. That they chose to live a reclusive life at one of the most remote places in Sonoma county is worth noting along with his earlier "failure to launch" - never advancing beyond menial clerical jobs, despite the remarkable advantage of his family connections.

Another important detail in his bio: Jesse was a Civil War vet who served almost the entire duration of the war, advancing to First Lieutenant (not Captain, as claimed in some of the contemporary articles). He was in the 2nd Iowa Infantry - where nearly half the regiment was wounded or killed - and fought in some of the worst battles, including Vicksburg, Shiloh and Atlanta; perhaps he had shrapnel that later dangerously shifted in his body, or maybe he had severe PTSD.

The cabin of Sarah and Jesse Wickersham as seen today. All photos here courtesy David Otero and Wickersham Ranch
The Jewells reached Skaggs' Springs in late afternoon and fortunately, both telephone and telegraph lines were functioning - no sure thing in rural Sonoma county even 25 years later, as outlying customers provided the wires to connect to the nearest company office, which in this case was Geyserville.

Jewell either spoke or telegraphed the coroner, sheriff and I. G. Wickersham. Some of the misinformation that spread over the following days was probably due to the lo-fi quality of the telephone connection - the wood cutters were first identified as Italians and not Indians, for example. And soon after that all lines to Skaggs' Springs went down, blocking reporters from asking questions or receiving any updates for two long days.

Although there was little more than an hour before the last "up-train" departed from Petaluma, the county coroner and marshal were onboard headed north, along with Fred Wickersham, the adult cousin of Jesse. They were joined by others in towns along the way;  the party that finally arrived at the Wickersham ranch included at least 17 men and likely more.

It took them around twelve hours to get to the ranch overnight from Cloverdale. The Dry Creek crossing was flooded out; there Sheriff Bishop turned back while the others swam their horses across. Other streams and creeks were swollen from the week's storms and they also had to swim the horses across Hot Spring creek. The coroner's horse fell, injuring him and Dr. Swisher "lost his horses" (no further details of what that meant). Healdsburg Constable Truitt called it "one of the hardest trips of my experience." 9

While they were still slogging through the mud heading to the crime scene, the rest of the county was afire with rumor and gossip. "The news was carried from mouth to mouth, and soon the horror was the theme of conversation on every hand." 10

The first published article appeared the same evening as Jewell's telephone calls, which is to say the only known facts were that Wickersham was dead and the whereabouts of his wife and Chinese cook were unknown. The Oakland Tribune set a low bar with its story datelined Santa Rosa: "...there are not a few people here who express the opinion that [Mrs. Wickersham] may have met a fate worse than death to a woman of her character, and that her former servant, after murdering his master may have carried her off to some hiding place, possibly aided by confederate of his own race, for the basest purposes..." 11

Wickersham's mysterious illness was the core of a widespread rumor the next day. An unnamed man "from near that locality" rode into Santa Rosa and claimed he knew what happened: "...Wickersham, who had been for a long time in low health, died suddenly, while sitting in his chair, from hemorrhage of the lungs. His wife, who had previously dispatched the Chinaman for the doctor, after finding that her husband was dead, threw a blanket over him, and started for the neighbors, fainting on the way." 12

The hemorrhage theory was forgotten once the bodies were found but another rumor persisted for weeks - that the Chinese killer had "outraged" Sarah Wickersham. The inquest report did not mention sexual assault and the family vehemently denied it was true. "The statements that have been made in the papers concerning foul outrages are not true, nor are they kind," Fred Wickersham said the day of the funerals. His banker father also asked for understanding: "Our feelings can better be imagined than described, but it makes the pangs of regret the keener when such reports are spread. It is bad enough, God knows, without making the facts worse." Ignoring their pleas, newspapers - particularly papers in Sonoma county outside of Petaluma, including Santa Rosa's Sonoma Democrat - continued to claim she had been raped. 13

Meanwhile, back on the ranch (oh, how I have longed for a chance to use that phrase) the party arrived a few hours after dawn Friday, having ridden all night except for a short rest at Skaggs' Springs. While others were unsaddling, Constable Truitt was the first to enter the house. This was unfortunate because he was an unreliable figure; he exaggerated his role in the events and gave the press an interpretation of Sarah's death which contradicted the coroner's report (he also pushed the "outraged" claim). That he was alone in the house for several minutes casts doubt on whether the crime scene was really undisturbed. 14

Scene of the Jesse Wickersham murder. The door to the left of the fireplace led to the kitchen, and the door on the left wall led to a bedroom, where presumably Sarah's body was found. A back bedroom can be partially seen through the open kitchen door.
When the group entered the cabin they found Truitt examining Jesse's body, which was in a chair with its back to the fireplace. He had been shot in the back of the head as the couple was sharing a meal.

“He was sitting at the table as though he had fallen asleep," Marshal Blume told a Santa Rosa reporter. "His head had dropped over to tbe left side slightly and the chin was resting on his breast...The plate was upset in his lap. The plate of his wife, which was opposite, had potatoes on it and was undisturbed. There was a piece of pie at each place. The chair which had been occupied by Mrs. Wickersham was overturned." 15

There was at least one reporter there who wrote a remarkably detailed account of the scene for the Petaluma Courier. Evidence showed the shotgun blast came from the kitchen doorway:

The kitchen door on both sides was painted white. 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. All present came to the conclusion that the murderer had certainly opened the door only a few inches, thus being able to level his gun on the husband without allowing it to project beyond the edge, while the door screened him from the wife's view. 16

Jesse had another shotgun wound on his right side. The coroner did not say which shot he believed was first, but believed either of them would have been fatal. The significance of this shot is discussed in part two.

For reasons unknown, someone had tried hard to stop the bleeding before he died. Again from the Courier:

Beneath the chair on which the body rested were two pools of blood, the clothing worn by the deceased also being saturated. 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 filled with it. From the corners and here and there on the edge only could it be told what the original color of the articles were. From the snowy whiteness of these spots, still stiff with starch, 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. 17

Sarah was found in their bedroom. Her wrists were tied behind her back with the same clothesline rope looped around her chest, the end tied to the bed (I'm guessing the rails of a brass bed). She was half-kneeling beside it with her head resting on the bed. She had one shotgun wound to her right side. The bed was neatly made and unruffled. The coroner made no mention of sexual assault, but he also did not describe the condition of her face, which several newspapers described as being "mutilated." One account claimed her nose was broken and the reliable Petaluma Courier reporter wrote her "face was swollen and bruised."

And then there was the cake story. "One of the most curious things discovered was a piece of cake, which had been placed by the murderer after accomplishing his diabolical designs on the pillow beside the dead woman. It is said that this is a custom of the Chinese to exorcise evil spirits from the bodies of the dead," wrote one Healdsburg paper. In another account there were five pieces of cake. 18

There is indeed a religious belief that the spirit of someone who has died violently can become a "hungry ghost," but it's hardly a secret that Chinese generally made food offerings to the dead. The meticulous Courier reporter does not mention anything about a piece of cake on the bed; the newspapers that did so were quoting or paraphrasing Marshal Blume or Constable Truitt, who also kept pushing the "outraged" claim even after the Wickersham family asked everyone to knock it off. In short, I don't think there's much question that this part of the story was planted in order to prove the Chinese cook had to be the killer.

The cook's room was also inspected, and will be discussed in part two; all that's crucial to know is that nothing incriminating was found there except for some clothesline like the rope used to tie up Sarah. Elsewhere in the house someone found Jesse's meticulously-kept journal with the last entry made after Sunday night supper. That and a burned-dry lamp on the table led them to conclude the murders happened between 5-6PM on Monday, four days earlier.

The house was not ransacked and Wickersham still had his watch and pocket change. "This shows that the object of the fiendish criminal was not robbery," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle, one of the papers pushing the outraged/cake angle. 19

But at least some times of the year, Jesse kept large amounts of cash around to pay ranch hands. Again the Petaluma Courier seemed to have the last word: "A small satchel, however, in which the rancher was known to sometimes keep money, was found open... No one present was able to state whether there was much or little money in the house before the deed was committed." The Courier also had an anecdote about Jesse unexpectedly settling a $100 debt with a neighbor - the equivalent of over $3,300 today. Another time he had to defer paying the neighbor because "He had nothing less than a twenty."

While the Healdsburg doctor did the autopsies, Marshal Blume took a party of the men to search the range for any signs of the cook. Finding nothing, the coroner's jury heard evidence from the doctor and Elliott Jewell, coming to the conclusion that the Wickershams "came to their death from gunshot wounds, inflicted by unknown hands, ail evidence pointing towards a Chinese cook in the employ of deceased."

And that was all, except for getting the bodies back to Petaluma for a funeral. It took them until Sunday to reach Healdsburg; the Alta California speculated the bodies were lashed in a wagon which was floated across the flooded creeks. 20

A Santa Rosa paper reported, "In consequence of tbe bad weather and swollen streams great difficulty was experienced in bringing them in. People gathered at every settlement along the roadside to get a sight of the sad procession." When the bodies finally arrived in Petaluma on the night train, "The crowd that awaited the arrival of the bodies at that depot on Sunday night was a large one, and when the rude coffins were placed upon two express wagons, the citizens forming about escorted the remains to the undertakers." 21

The funerals were held in Petaluma on Monday, and the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the mood of the town:

There was a Sunday stillness in the town of Petaluma yesterday. The stores, saloons, and even banks were closed. Conversation was carried on in undertones, but underneath that sorrow lurked a revengeful spirit, which displayed itself by frequent gesture and ill-guarded remark against the race from whom came the murderer that laid low in a foul and bloody death their esteemed town people. There were no Chinese to be seen on the streets. 22

Sarah and Jesse were buried in the Wickersham family plot at Cypress Hill Cemetery in Petaluma.







1 The Saint Paul Globe, January 24, 1886


2  "I think Indians are friendly" Jewell inquest testimony, page 3
 Dialogue from Jewell interview in Petaluma on January 25. San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1886



3 Chronicle, ibid


4 ibid


5 ibid


6 Some accounts state he rode immediately to Skaggs' Springs, but I found it doubtful that he would leave his wife alone, given that the murderer could still be in the area. Two people traveling in a buggy would also be slower and help explain why the trip took around six hours. 


7 Chronicle ibid


8 Interview in Petaluma with J. Seawall on January 22. San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 1886
op. cit Jewell interview Chronicle, January 26



9 Truitt quoted in the Daily Republican, January 25, 1886


10 Petaluma Argus, January 23, 1886


11 Oakland Tribune, January 22, 1886


12 Sacramento Record-Union, January 23, 1886


13 San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1886


14 Truitt interview in the Daily Republican, January 25, 1886


15 Daily Democrat, January 26, 1886


16 Petaluma Courier, January 27, 1886


17 ibid


18 Russian River Flag, January 27 1886 


19 San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 1886


20 Daily Alta California, January 24, 1886


21 Daily Democrat, January 26, 1886
San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1886



22 Chronicle, ibid



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