The weather was dismal and the same could be said of the mood in town. There was little light in the daylight hours; clouds hung heavy like dirty wool and the night differed only by being too dark to see their grayness. There was drizzling rain which sometimes rallied into something heavier. It was like a single miserable day that refused to end.

During those four days between the Sunday night riot and the midnight lynchings, our Santa Rosa ancestors found their situation unsettling and had little hope of their prospects improving anytime soon.

There still was seething anger over the murder of their sheriff and the other officers. They did not have the will to riot again themselves, but every single day there was talk that vigilantes from Healdsburg or San Francisco might descend upon the town for another battle with the sheriff.

Santa Rosa was finally receiving the attention from the Bay Area it had long craved - although it was exactly the wrong sort. Instead of being celebrated as the lovely little city of roses and picket fences, it was now linked to gangsters and the worst crime in memory. Nor would that soon be forgotten; the upcoming murder trials followed by inevitable executions at San Quentin would keep alive the memory of all that happened here.

This is the sixth chapter in the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID,” and describes what was revealed that week both to the Grand Jury and in jailhouse interviews, plus the media feeding frenzy to scoop other newspapers on those details. Questions are also raised about the credibility of key testimony given by a lawman. 

 

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 knew nightfall would bring trouble and it was already starting to get dark - but inside the sheriff's office there was no plan on what to do or even agreement on who was in charge. The telephones kept ringing. A crowd was forming in the street outside that had the makings of a lynch mob.

This is the fifth chapter in the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, "THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID," and describes events which happened later in the day of December 5. Just an hour earlier Sonoma County Sheriff James A. Petray and two San Francisco detectives had been gunned down as they were arresting a gangster in Santa Rosa.

Petray was highly popular, demonstrated both by how word of his murder spread with racing speed and the degree of anger it stirred. Normally some sort of public event would be promptly arranged - a ceremony on the steps of the courthouse perhaps, a church service, or better yet, a memorial gathering in his hometown of Healdsburg, far from the jail where his killer was in custody.

But if there was any hope of defusing the situation any such plan would have needed to made and announced immediately. Further complicating matters was that it was a Sunday afternoon; city and county authorities who could make decisions weren't in their offices or were even reachable - the District Attorney was enjoying a drive in the country.

Nor did it help when Coroner Phillips showed up at the jail to announce he was assuming temporary charge of the sheriff’s office, based on his other official title being the Public Administrator for the county. As he was a physician with no experience at all in law enforcement it was an audacious claim, particularly as he had to push his way through an angry crowd to reach the door. What progress had been made on mobilizing officers came to a halt as they waited for Superior Judge Seawell to come down and make a ruling. It was now past sunset.

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

Once that door is opened, events will be set in motion that are impossible to stop. Three men will be dead or dying within minutes, another three hanging by their necks by the end of the week. The town's cultivated image as the lovely City of the Roses will soon be shattered as the savagery of its citizens is revealed. It is about three o'clock in the afternoon of Sunday, December 5, 1920 in Santa Rosa as Sheriff Jim Petray raises his arm to knock on that door.

This is the fourth chapter in the series "THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID" about the 1920 lynching in Santa Rosa. As this part of the story began, the front pages of Bay Area newspapers had been filled for days about the police dragnet to track down members of the San Francisco "Howard Street Gang," who had gang raped a woman on Thanksgiving and two other women a few weeks prior. Five suspects had been caught and arraigned with another twenty believed at large.

San Francisco Detective Lester Dorman and Detective Sergeant Miles Jackson were working fulltime on the pursuit of the gangsters, and the day before these events Sheriff Petray notified them that some of the wanted men were reportedly in Santa Rosa. It was agreed the officers would drive up with three of the victims expected to ID them.

The man they expected to find was Charles Valento, who they mistakenly believed was in charge of the Howard street speakeasy. They also believed they would nab Louis Lazarus, who had been in Santa Rosa for part of the week and may have left as recently as that Sunday morning. It was reported in the Examiner that one of the rape victims had recognized him via his mug photo. (It's unclear whether he was identified before the Santa Rosa visit or if he was wanted only because he was known to be associated with the speakeasy.)

There were two others in our cast of characters you need to know: George Boyd (see previous chapter) and Dorothy Quinlan. Although it turned out she was innocent of any wrongdoing, she was first suspected of being a gang member herself. Had the mob succeeded in breaking into the jail Sunday night it's not inconceivable she might have been lynched along with the men.

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

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

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