It was 1:15 in the morning when Dr. Phillips' phone rang at his home in Petaluma. As he was Sonoma County Coroner, this was not terribly unusual; people inconveniently die at all hours. It's the coroner's job to investigate when there are unusual circumstances and the good doctor was certainly kept busy in late 1920 looking into odd deaths - in the previous few weeks four people were killed when their car or truck was hit by a train and a seven year-old boy was decapitated in an accident at the fairgrounds. But Phillips had never received a call like this one: He was told there were three men hanging from a tree in the old Santa Rosa cemetery and nobody knew who killed them.

This is a postscript to the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID” and covers one of the conspiracies of silence following the murder of the gangsters: The mystery of what happened to their bodies.

As he drove to Santa Rosa he passed around a dozen cars on the highway headed south, which seemed unusual for that time of night. He unfortunately mentioned this to a Press Democrat reporter when he arrived at the county jail; the newspaper took it as evidence that the lynching party came from San Francisco and most papers in the city chased that angle for days, although it was already pretty clear the vigilantes came from Healdsburg or points north.

Before he left Petaluma, Coroner Phillips phoned Frank Welti, the Deputy Coroner for Santa Rosa and ordered an ambulance to be waiting at the cemetery to transport the bodies. After the dead gangsters were cut down they would be taken to the Welti mortuary, which doubled as the town morgue.

Phillips spent nearly an hour at the jail with the sheriff (probably joined by Welti) prior to heading for the cemetery. This was likely when they all had a very earnest discussion about what might happen next - their jobs were not over just because the gangsters were now dead. "He is in a measure responsible for the safe keeping of the bodies until such time as they are interred," the San Francisco Call reported after speaking with Phillips. And until the remains were shipped out of the county or securely buried, there was a clear and apparent risk that someone might try to get access to the corpses or even steal them.

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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