trainshadowofdoubt

A FORESHADOW OF TERRIBLE DAYS

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. While he chose Santa Rosa because it looked like an idyllic small American town, during filming here he must have 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 tale, and it had all the elements that Hitchcock loved to work into the plots of his thrillers. Once the wheels of the story were set in motion, there was no stopping what was about to happen. 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 came 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. He was from Santa Rosa and 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. But the family home on College Ave. would be vacant until the end of the year and had more than enough room for the three of them (see chapter one).

georgeboyd(RIGHT: George Boyd, AKA Jack Slaven, AKA George Barron)

Of the three it would be a toss-up as to which of them had done more prison time – Terry Fitts or George Boyd. Both had criminal records marked by brutal robberies for very little gain. Boyd knocked a laborer unconscious just to go through his pockets for $18. Fitts nearly killed a 70 year-old man after he discovered the victim had no money on him. Prison boards declared Fitts was incorrigible and called Boyd an “all-around bad man.”

George Boyd was a complete mystery – we can’t be sure of his age, where he was from or even his real name. He served prison sentences under the aliases of Jack Slaven and George Barron. He variously claimed to be from Australia or from Seattle, where he provided an address for his mother on 23rd street (there is a 23rd AVENUE in Seattle). Then weeks after he was lynched, the warden of Folsom prison received a letter supposedly from a Mrs. Elizabeth Barron in Australia, asking about the whereabouts of her son. The Sonoma County Coroner replied by stating simply her son had died in Santa Rosa.1

The other gangster hiding here was Charles Valento; of the three he was the only one actively being sought by the San Francisco police. Misnamed as “Valenti” in early newspaper accounts, he was believed to be the owner or tenant of the Howard Street place – although the true connection was his brother-in-law, a real estate investor who owned the building and (supposedly) had no knowledge that it was a speakeasy and hangout for hoodlums.

Valento was likewise an ex-con but never charged with violent robberies like Boyd and Fitts. He was now 33 but in his teens he was a notorious San Francisco burglar, an agile second-story man known as “the porch climber” who robbed $30-40k in valuables over just a few months. After serving five years for grand larceny he had a clean record and the 1920 census taker recorded him as being a waterfront stevedore living with his brother’s family. When it came out that he was one of the men involved in the murders, much was made of him being in Santa Rosa a few weeks earlier when his San Francisco amateur baseball team played here.

charlesvalento(RIGHT: Only known photos of Charles Valento, taken 12 years before events in Santa Rosa)

And so began their languid gangster’s holiday in Santa Rosa. Fitts played host and tour guide; being a hometown boy he knew the place and the people. He also had fistfuls of money, probably for the first time in his miserable life. His father’s estate was worth about a half million dollars in today’s currency, and he was pressuring one or both of his sisters for a share. When he and Valento took a day trip to San Francisco he happened to meet the former physician of San Quentin, who remembered him; when asked about his current doings, Fitts told the doctor “he had fallen heir to some money and was getting along fine.”

It was early in their Santa Rosa stay when Fitts bought The Gun. Later the Press Democrat remarked, “Many witnesses have been found who have seen defendant Fitts with the monster .44 Smith & Wesson special…” The thing scared the willies out of everyone who saw it and it was likened to a “monster” more than once. It was over a foot long – about a half-inch larger than the “Dirty Harry” gun in the movies (see photo below).2 Besides Valento’s link to the Howard street building, it was Fitts’ reckless handling of this fearsome-looking weapon which drew the attention of law enforcement to their sorry group.

In one of his later confessions Boyd said he had been drinking all week and it’s a pretty safe bet they all were drunk most of the time. Accomplishing that was somewhat a challenge, being as it was the first year of Prohibition. During the days they hung out in Santa Rosa’s Italian neighborhood, particularly the Toscano Hotel at West Seventh and Adams streets (current location of Stark’s steakhouse).3 Besides offering a bocce ball court for sport, the Toscano had a bar which would have served “soft drinks” (wink, wink). In coming years that hotel and the Torino hotel at the other end of the block would be busted repeatedly for selling booze – the Torino bar was found to have a stash hidden behind a wall panel that opened and closed via an electric switch.

At night, however, the boys headed for Casassa’s place out on Guerneville Road. Domenico Casassa was 71 years old and the best known wine maker in the area at the time, aside from Kanaye Nagasawa. His original winery was destroyed in the catastrophic Woolen Mill fire of 1909, which threatened to take out much of the Italian district; afterwards he built the Torino hotel there, which was also his legal residence. (Long-time readers might remember the bizarre incident in 1906 when he was arrested for sending a box of dead robins to San Francisco, where authorities believed he was planning to have them cooked for a banquet – and was caught only because he tried to cheat on the shipping rate by labeling the contents as dried apples).

Casassa’s newer winery was six miles west of Santa Rosa, near Olivet Road. Wine production was shut down by Prohibition but he still had a substantial wine cellar which was supplying his speakeasy on the ranch. It had already drawn attention of the authorities, when he had been charged a few months earlier for selling wine to Indians.4 That trial was still pending while he was entertaining Fitts and the others.

It came out that Casassa was indirectly the source of Fitts’ money, as he was cashing hundreds of dollars in checks which presumably came from the sisters. Casassa told the Santa Rosa Republican he was helping Fitts because he had known the gangster since he was a boy and believed he had reformed. The old man also let Fitts crash at the ranch some nights when he was too drunk to go home.

One time he should have stayed overnight was Wednesday, December 1st. He called for a taxi and Lem Close arrived at Casassa’s. The driver later told the Press Democrat what happened next:


When Fitts got into the car he showed plainly that he had been drinking heavily. He placed a revolver to my head and said in Chicago they made the taxi drivers take them wherever they wanted to go, and not where the drivers liked. He asked me if I was game and I naturally replied that I was. He kept the gun at my head and told me to ’step on her.’ I did and took him to the Toscano hotel where I left him.

Whatever demons were sometimes whispering to Fitts were now screaming in his head and would not shut up. The PD continued by describing what happened the next morning:

Fitts had called at a private residence Thursday morning where he went through the place and flourished his gun with threats that he was going to get the girl or her mother before he left.

What to make of this? In a Hitchcock screenplay the woman would be one of his sisters and he would be trying to extort yet another check – except neither sister had children. Or since the family home was about to be transferred to the new owners in a few weeks it could have been a woman hired by the sisters to prepare for moving out family belongings. Whatever the story, Fitts went back to that house Friday night and tried to get in; failing that he eventually gave up and slept on the porch.

Meanwhile, taxi driver Lem Close had contacted Santa Rosa attorney William Cockrill and told him about his encounter with Fitts and the monster gun. On Saturday the lawyer called Sheriff Petray, asking him to come by his office on an urgent matter.

Cockrill told the sheriff something was deeply wrong with Terry Fitts and he should be considered “an extremely dangerous man”. Sheriff Petray passed this on to the Santa Rosa police, and “Chief of Police G. W. Matthews spent an hour or more Saturday night in the vicinity of the [Toscano] hotel, looking for Terry Fitts, who was reported to be running wild with a weapon, and it was feared he would do harm to some one unless he was detained.”

Sheriff Petray also contacted the San Francisco detectives who were working fulltime on tracking down gangsters involved with the Howard street speakeasy. Deputy Sheriff Marvin Robinson testified before the Grand Jury:5 “…we made arrangements with the detective from San Francisco to come up, we were pretty sure we had located some of this Howard Street Gang they were looking for, we had information they were friends of Fitts, and Terry Fitts was staying out here at Casassa’s…”

Sunday was lining up to be a pretty big day for Santa Rosa – every arrest connected to Howard street made the headlines in all the Bay Area papers. “I’m going to have a mighty good story for you tomorrow afternoon about 3 o’clock,” Petray told a Press Democrat reporter.

It was to be a mighty big story, but certainly not the one he expected. At the predicted time, Sheriff James A. Petray would be lying dead on a floor with a bullet in his head. A bullet from Terry Fitts’ gun.

NEXT: A KNOCK AT THE DOOR

 

1 The Australian letter from Mrs. Elizabeth Barron was likely a ruse to discover the whereabouts of Boyd’s remains – see chapter eight.

2 The gun was a Smith & Wesson “New Century 1st Model Hand Ejector .44 Special.” See this collector’s webpage for all you’ll ever need to know about this weapon and others like it.
3 Prohibition had a devastating impact on Santa Rosa’s Italian hotels, which largely depended financially on serving dinners with wine. Some closed and others, such as Hotel La Rosa, converted to being a rooming house. Prior to the dry law the Toscano had been operated by the Guidotti family; after closing for a few months it was leased to a Guidotti in-law and Pietro Basignani, who were running it during the week when the gangsters were here. The Guidotti family resumed direct control in 1921.

4 A 1908 county law made it illegal to sell alcohol to Indians, including anyone with as little as one-fourth Native American blood or someone who was associated with such a person.

5 Deputy Sheriff Robinson’s testimony to the Grand Jury contained several errors. He said Petray called the San Francisco detectives on Sunday when it had to have been the day earlier, that the bullets were purchased at Dan Behmer’s Gun Store although that business had been closed for a year, and so on. While these mistakes seem mostly trivial, it calls into doubt the complete accuracy of any testimony concerning events where he was not personally involved.
The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office had for many years a display case in its lobby showing the murder weapon, nooses, and other artifacts of the 1920 lynching. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office had for many years a display case in its lobby showing the murder weapon, nooses, and other artifacts of the 1920 lynching. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

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pageantgtitle

EVERYONE YOU KNOW IS IN THE SUN GOD SHOW

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 newspapers were able to report the pageant was going to be held on Luther Burbank’s March 7 birthday and called “The Sun Worshipers.“ The theme was supposedly inspired by a Burbank remark that all life on earth requires sunlight. That’s not completely true and it’s doubtful Luther ever said anything so banal, but let’s not quibble.

annexjuniorhighIt was very clear from the start this would be a high school production (this was when the high school was on Humboldt Street, and the year before the building burned down). The performance would be on the lawn of the next door Annex – which later became Santa Rosa Junior High – and have seating for up to 5,000.

Producing this spectacular were the heads of the English and Ag departments. Costumes were designed by the head of the Domestic Arts Dept. Freda Hodge, wife of the boys’ gym teacher, wrote the script; the girls’ gym teacher, Zilpha Dempsey, did the choreography. Should you be looking for a new password, something with “Zilpha” in it would be pretty secure.

Much was made of the announcement that Fred Carlyle of UC/Berkeley would direct the show. He was technically a dramatic coach but was admired as a jack-of-all-trades when it came to anything in the theater – dance instructor, chorus director, what have you.1

Another outsider to be involved was Madame Francisca Zarad, although she would only sing a bit before the real show began and then return at the end to lead the audience in the “Star Spangled Banner.” Zarad made a career 1917-1922 doing recitals in small American cities like Santa Rosa (Kent, PA, you should at least have a Wikipedia page!) where she was touted as “the famous Paris soprano” and/or a star of the Chicago or Vienna Grand Opera Houses, although there’s somehow no sign she ever sang at any of those places. And why such an acclaimed artiste was not asked to make a single recording will always be a mystery.

Then everything came to an unexpected halt when Santa Rosa went on lockdown again, this time for two weeks starting February 11. “The Sun Worshipers“ was rescheduled for May 1. Rehearsals continued when restrictions were lifted in Santa Rosa, amid news that several motion picture companies were planning to film the pageant for newsreels and possibly stock footage. Who knows? Perhaps in some silent movie there’s a shot of your winsome grandmother prancing about in an odd looking costume.

Which brings us to the storyline. The Press Democrat printed a synopsis before the performance and a review of the show afterward, but they don’t quite agree. From those articles and others (all transcribed below) and the photos, here’s my best guess of what the audience saw:

The stage set is large and dramatic, a fan portraying radiant sunbeams which seems to be built out of palm tree stalks. (Most of the known photos from the pageant follows this text.) Mme. Zarad comes onstage and sings two numbers plus an encore, all having some passing mention of the sun.2

Here comes Sol, the sun god! He takes his throne center stage wearing something on his head that looks like the Pope’s hat or a giant insect wing, but is probably supposed to be a beam of light. He is played by 16 year-old Joe Dearing, who would become a nationally known journalist and something of a Bay Area celebrity.3

On either side of Sol are bare-chested young men who appear to be wearing bronzer on their faces – it’s probably gold-colored, but the photos are black and white and their makeup isn’t mentioned in the newspaper descriptions. (I strongly doubt it’s supposed to be blackface but there’s so much in this show that makes no sense whatsoever I wouldn’t swear to it.) At either end of the stage are boys dressed as Roman soldiers with spears, although one is holding a pennant with a Christian cross because.

The show begins! We’ll see three cultures that worshiped the sun, sort of. The first are the ancient Egyptians.

pageantdrawing(RIGHT: Egyptian sun dancer as envisioned in the April 30, 1920 Press Democrat. The actual performers looked nothing like this.)

At the first of the two performances that day, the Press Democrat reported “some three thousand people sat in the warm sunshine and watched several hundred students gambol on the green lawn in flimsy clothing.” Not hardly. Except for bare arms, the Egyptian dancers are swaddled heavier than baby Moses in the bullrushes. They also have wide colorful sashes tied around their waists like 18th century pirates. Arrrgh!

This may be a good time to point out that the high school really did have a history department, and one of those teachers was involved with this thing. Her job was handling publicity.

Sol is worshiped by dancers “with typically Egyptian gestures, both angular and sinuous.” The highlight of this segment is the “Dance of the Rising Sun” by the Egyptian princess. It is performed by Lillian Rinner, who has been “taking special training for the part in Berkeley.” She is 44 years old, so the gamboling is being done by several hundred students but starring mom.

The sun god grows weary of this and waves the Egyptians off. Here come the Greeks!

“The maidens of ancient Greece worship him in the dance,” which is performed to “Dance of the Hours” from the Victorian opera, “La Gioconda.” Gentle Reader will surely recognize this as the same tune used in the immortal parody, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” (Honestly, I am not making any of this up.)

pageantcloseup(RIGHT: Let’s mashup thousands of years of history: Closeup of the Grecian tableau, with “elves” wearing crinoline party dresses in front of a bearded Roman guard holding a medieval Christian pennant.)

Several girls pile on stage and sit in front of the sun god. Three are wearing classical Greek women’s clothing; the rest are dressed in contemporary ruffled and tiered dresses, many with bows in their hair, as if they were waylaid en route to a birthday party.

The storyline is that we’re looking at Terra, the goddess of the earth (that was the name of the Roman goddess, not Greek) and Ceres, the goddess of agriculture (again, the Roman name) and the girls are elves (it’s well known that the Greeks were actually Irish). The goddess of rain, Flo (huh?), shows up and the dancers run away. I very much doubt anyone in the audience understood what the hell was supposed to be going on – or cared.

Now comes the Native American segment. The tribe is hungry because the harvest was poor. The chief offers his daughter in sacrifice as she performs the “Knife Dance” before the sun god. The synopsis continues:

But lo! Sol awakens! He has heard the wailing cry! He sees the girl about to plunge the knife in her breast at his feet – he rises to appeal! He smiles. The daughter is saved and there will now be plenty in the fields and the entire tribe rejoice in dance.

That was just profoundly awful.

Thus far the pageant consisted of fuzzy G-rated allegories about ancient cultures. To jump from that to a melodramatic tableau about human sacrifice – complete with a “Knife Dance” – was a jolt; to make it about an oppressed people was beyond the pale, feeding the worst racist tropes of Indians as savages.

Why didn’t Fred Carlyle or someone from the high school insist this part be revised or yanked entirely? Likely because they ignorantly assumed Indians and their culture no longer existed except (maybe) on remote reservations. This blind spot can still be seen today on social media – periodically someone in the Facebook groups will ask when the Indians around here were “wiped out”.

Making this all the more galling is that the Pomos of Sonoma County have always been renowned for their dancing. Had the pageant invited them to take part, it surely would have transformed that otherwise silly and forgettable show into something noteworthy.

The final segment is called, “The Endowment,” and features a boy supposed to be young Luther Burbank. The sun god has hidden his face and the boy’s plants aren’t growing, although the goddesses and their elves try to help. The “Spirit of Agricultural Science” appears and performs “The Dance of Human Aspiration.” The dancer is 37 year-old Agatha Leifrinck and the photo shows a scruffy-looking man standing to the side of the stage watching her. He is not mentioned in any description of the show.

pageanthobo(RIGHT: Did this guy just wander in from the street?)

Sol wakes up and smiles, handing Science his Wand of Knowledge. She passes the wand to the boy, who waves it over his plants, which perk right up and perform the Flower Dance. Everybody on stage plus “a big chorus of picked voices from the town” join in singing a hymn to the sun god.

The big finale involved dozens of boys and girls in flower and vegetable costumes; there were twenty kids just playing the wilted plants. There were fifteen poppies, eight corn, plus tomatoes, lilies and daisies. Clarence Felciano, who would become Santa Rosa’s top mid-century architect, portrayed a spud.

They didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the flu pandemic was over. On Friday nights the high school annex building became the “community social center” again, with free movies, refreshments and dance music. Schools reopened in August (they had started a month earlier in rural districts since those schools closed during fruit picking season). There was a county fair that set attendance records. Life resumed, but the facemasks weren’t likely thrown out, instead tucked away in the back of a drawer because you can never tell.

 

Madame Francisca Zarad singing at the May 1, 1920 pageant, "Sun Worshipers.” The man is probably there not only to turn pages, but ensure the piano on the grass does not topple over
Madame Francisca Zarad singing at the May 1, 1920 pageant, “Sun Worshipers.” The man is probably there not only to turn pages, but ensure the piano on the grass does not topple over
"Egyptian" segment of the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
“Egyptian” segment of the “Sun Worshipers” pageant
"Egyptian" dancers and partial view of audience at the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
“Egyptian” dancers and partial view of audience at the “Sun Worshipers” pageant
Sol, the sun god, hides his face while surrounded by "Greek" goddesses and elves
Sol, the sun god, hides his face while surrounded by “Greek” goddesses and elves
"Indian" dance in the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
“Indian” dance in the “Sun Worshipers” pageant
Agatha Leifrinck performs "The Dance of Human Aspiration”
Agatha Leifrinck performs “The Dance of Human Aspiration”

Flower Dance finale at the "Sun Worshipers” pageant
Flower Dance finale at the “Sun Worshipers” pageant


1 Between 1920-1940, Fred Carlyle was frequently involved in high school and community theater productions throughout the Bay Area. The 1920 show in Santa Rosa appears to be his first.
2 The first of Mme. Zarad’s numbers was identified as “An Involution to the Sun God.” According to an item in a 1913 New York paper, that was another name for “Far Off I Hear a Lover’s Flute,” a 1909 setting of a Zuni tribal melody. Part of the lyrics (which were written by a non-Indian) was, “I see the shrunken Mother Moon/Go forth to meet the Day.” Her encore was the maudlin ballad “The Little Grey Home in the West,” which was inexplicably popular for decades.
3 Joseph A. Dearing became an acclaimed photojournalist before and during WWII, best known for the famous portrait of General MacArthur after the Battle of Bataan. After the war he became a popular figure in the Bay Area known as “Uncle Joe,” the rod & gun columnist for the San Francisco Call-Bulletin. He was married to Margaret Hahmann of Santa Rosa in 1936 (she’s buried in the Rural Cemetery) and when he died in 1995, “Uncle Joe” was carved on his tombstone in Winters.

 

All photos courtesy Sonoma County Library
 

 

sources

Dancing Classes

Fred Carlyle dramatic coach from the University of California will give a course of aesthetic, barefoot, Russian ballet and fancy dancing in Santa Rosa and classes are under formation at the present time. Mr. Carlyle will assist with the Burbank Pageant at the high school.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 10 1920

 

 

ORGANIZE STAFF FOR PAGEANT TO HONOR BURBANK
Fred Carlyle Secured as Coach for Production of “The Sun Worshipers” by Schools of City to Honor Scientist.

At last the dream of a Burbank pageant is to come true. The question has often been asked here “why don’t Santa Rosa [sic], the home of Luther Burbank, arrange some fitting pageant representative of his great work?” “The Sun Worshipers,“ with its elaborate combination of rich setting, graceful costumed dancing, and fine symbolism, is the answer to the question.

Very practical evidence that the pageant is to prove more than a dream is to be found in the work of Richard Warner Borst, director of production. Through his efforts the various parts of the pageant are being rapidly assembled, solo dancers have been secured for the leading parts and Fred Carlyle of Berkeley has been induced to assist with the chorus dancing. The symbolic dance of the sun worshipers, in particular, is rapidly evolving into a performance of great beauty and variety.

The following staff is working on the pageant…

– Press Democrat, January 23 1920

 

 

The Walrus Said

March 6th. [ed. note: the date was wrong]

That’s a date for Santa Rosans to remember. Know why?

It’s Burbank Day, and on that day there will be a pageant at the High School in honor of the “man who made Santa Rosa famous.”

This pageant is called The Sun Worshippers, and is based on a saying of Mr. Burbank’s that the sun is the source of all life. The pageant will be a pretentious affair, with 250 dancers giving Greek, Egyptian and Indian national dances, which will be coached by Fred Carlyle of the University of California, Miss Zilpha Dempsey, Miss Mildred Turner, and Victor Hodge of the high school faculty. R. W. Borst of the English department of the high school and Charles L. Hampton of the Agricultural department will have general charge of the production.

Plans have been made to seat 5,000 people on the high school lawn to witness the production.

Of the pageant itself, I’ll have more to tell you later, but in the meantime don’t forget that date — it’s important — March 6th.

– Press Democrat, January 29 1920

 

 

COACH PERFECTS PAGEANT DANCES
Nearly 150 Dancers to Be Seen in Burbank Honor Event Here on March 6.

Dances for the Burbank Pageant to be held on the grounds of the high school March 6, are fast being put in shape under the direction of Fred Carlyle. of the University of California, Miss Zilpha Dempsey, Miss Mildred Turner and Victor Hodge of the high school faculty.

There will be three dances, each containing about 48 dancers. These are the Indian dance, which begins with the braves in deep dejection owing to the lack of attention paid their country by the Sun God, and changing to a big pow-wow when he smiles on them.

The Greek dance will be a regular Greek aesthetic dance, done to the Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda. It will contain the same number of dancers.

The third of the big dances is the Egyptian dance, with typically Egyptian gestures, both angular and sinuous.

The King’s favorite in the Egyptian dance will be Miss Lillian Rinner, who is taking special training for the part in Berkeley.

There will also be a Sunbeam dance with 25 dancers. Each of these will be dressed in a different shade of yellow, ranging from the daintiest of creamy yellow to the deepest orange.

Mrs. J. Leifrinck will dance for the Spirit of Science, a dance that she has originated, portraying the religious evolution of the mind of man from earliest times to the present. Miss Lolis May Alden will accompany Mrs. Leifrinck.

The part of the chief’s daughter in the Indian dance will be taken by Miss Virginia Pomeroy.

The finale will contain a big chorus of picked voices from the town to be trained by Miss Lydia Walker.

– Press Democrat, February 6 1920

 

 

MOVIE MEN COMING HERE TO FILM THE BURBANK PAGEANT
Much Interest is Being Taken in the Coming May Day Fiesta in Santa Rosa, Which Will Compliment Luther Burbank and Will Be in Every Detail a Spectacular and a Pleasing Production – Frank Carlyle, U. C. Dramatic Coach, to Direct the Presentation

Widespread interest is bring aroused in the Burbank Pageant. “Sun Worshippers,” which is to be staged in Santa Rosa, the home of the famous horticultural scientist, on May Day.

No less than five different moving picture concerns have stated that they will send artists and big cameras to take pictures of the various scenes depicted in the Pageant, which will be sent broadcast throughout the land and shown to hundreds of thousands of people in many moving picture houses. One of the big concerns having its movies here will be the International News Service.

Charles L. Hampton, director of vocational agricultural course in the Santa Rosa High School, and manager of the Burbank Pageant, stated Wednesday that the interest taken in the coming Pageant in the Bay Cities is keen. From him the news of the coming of the movie men was ascertained. The entire direction of the Pageant has been entrusted to Fred Carlyle, the well known dramatic coach of the University of California. Mention of Mr. Carlyle’s name and his recognized talent counts for success in every detail.

Mr. Hampton is sending out to the press of the state the following preliminary announcement concerning the coming Pageant which will be read with interest:

Santa Rosa is planning to honor her most prominent citizen – Luther Burbank — with a great celebration May 1, 2:30 p. m., Saturday. An elaborate open air pageant entitled “The Sunworshippers” will be produced under the direction of Fred Carlyle, dramatic coach for the University of California. Over 250 group and solo dancers will undertake an allegorical dramatization of the four great historical epochs of the worshipers of the Sun. The last act will portray Burbank’s creative endowment through the aid of the sun, which is so often quoted by this great plant specialist as the source of all plant and animal life. The coming event is being given wide publicity. Elaborate preparations are being made to welcome the thousands of people who will journey from different parts of the state to visit the home of Luther Burbank.

– Press Democrat, February 26 1920

 

 

Mme. Francisca Zarad Is Coming March 10

The recital for the benefit of the Luther Burbank Pageant being prepared by the high school students to be given in this city May Day, which had to be postponed when the ban was placed on public gatherings in Santa Rosa last month, will be held at the high school annex March 10.

Mme. Francisca Zarad, the famous Paris soprano, will be here on that occasion to render numerous selections and is sure to prove a delight to the music lovers as well as the general public, os she is in a class all of her own as a vocalist of international reputation.

– Press Democrat, March 2 1920

 

 

REHEARSALS ON FOR THE FIESTA
Frank Carlyle Resumes Instruction of Young People Who Will Be Featured in the “Sun Worshipers.”

Frank Carlyle, dramatic coach of the University of California. who is to direct the pageant “Sun Worshippers,” which is intended particularly to honor the creative genius of Luther Burbank, is this week actively resuming rehearsals of the dances and other artistic work in connection with the coming May Day presentation in Santa Rosa. Carlyle can be relied upon to present a finished production and one that will add fame to the many gorgeous fiestas that have been given in the City of Roses.

But for the ban which was placed by the health department on all gatherings during the late prevailing sickness, the pageant would have taken place next Saturday, Mr. Burbank’s birthday following on the next day. But rehearsing had to be put off and then it was determined to hold the pageant on May Day. And now rehearsals will be once more in full swing and will continue until the day of triumph.

– Press Democrat, March 4 1920

 

 

SYNOPSIS GIVEN OF GREAT ‘SUN WORSHIPERS’ PAGEANT

Not only is the coming May Day pageant “Sun Worshipers” attracting much interest here but assurance is given that hundreds of visitors will come to Santa Rosa to view the gorgeous spectacle and to enjoy the compliment it bestows upon Santa Rosa’s most distinguished citizen, Luther Burbank.

Manager Charles Hampton yesterday that the daily rehearsals being held have developed so much enthusiasm and interest among the performers that the presentation will doubtless be unique, highly pleasing and successful.

The special features, which will include the singing of Madame Zarad, the notable dancing of Mrs. Agatha Liefrinck and Miss Virginia Pomeroy, will be especially notworthy, [sic] standing out prominently from the otherwise elaborate program of song, dance and action. The staging and costuming will be dazzling and great throngs of people will be given a rare treat.

Here is a synopsis of the action marking the pageant “Sun Worshipers.”

I. Opening Song—Mme. Francesca Zarad.

II. Sol, the Sun God, takes his throne in state.

III. The maidens of ancient Egypt worship him in the dance.

IV. The Sun God’s favorite dances before him on the “Dance of the Rising Sun.”

V. The maidens of ancient Greece worship him in the dance.

VI. Ceres, goddess of the harvest and Terra, goddess of the earth, approach the sun god and kneels at his feet. Enter Fro (god of rain).

VII. The women of American Indian Tribes enter and worship the sun-god in a dance.

VIII. Hungry Indian children appeal to Sol that he shine upon tho faded earth.

IX. Indian braves, led by their chief, appeal to the sun-god to shine upon the earth.

X. The chief’s daughter, in the “Knife Dance” dances before the sun-god. She offers herself as a sacrifice to him for her people’s sake. But he saves her life through shining forth.

XI. Sol has again hidden his face. The farmer, tolling amidst his faded plants and flowers, despairs because of Sol’s unfriendliness.

XII. The Spirit of Agricultural Science worships Sol in “The Dance of Human Aspiration.” Sol awakes. He presents Science with the Wand of Knowledge. Science endows Farmer with the Wand of Knowledge.

XIII. He waves the wand above his faded crops and all growing things are revived. Other lovely flowers and plants now appear (Burbank Creations)

XIV. The Flower Dance.

XV. Plants and flowers now joyous in sunlight sing, praises to their Lord the Sun.

Finis.

– Press Democrat, April 24 1920

 

2 PERFORMANCES WILL BE GIVEN OF SUN WORSHIPERS
Net Proceeds From Brilliant May Day Spectacle to Be Used as Nucleus for Fund to Build Burbank Memorial Building.

Interest in the coming Burbank pageant to be staged here next Saturday on the grounds of the High School, increases daily.

On Saturday two important announcements were made hy manager Chas. Hampton. They follow:

First, in addition to the afternoon performance on May Day there will also be a night production of the pageant which will begin at 8 o’clock. The hour of the afternoon performance will be 2:30 o’clock.

Second, it is intended that whatever remains of the proceeds after the actual expenses of production have heen paid, shall form the nucleus of a fund to provide for the erection here of a Luther Burbank Memorial Agricultural Building.

Both these announcements will doubtless call forth hearty approval. Many people, who have learned of the merits of the pageant and who found is possible [sic] to be present in the afternoon had expressed regret that a second production could not be given at night. Hence on Saturday Manager Hampton, after conferring with a number of people, decided to repeat the effort on Saturday night, the stage and settings being illuminated properly for the performance.

Unanimous approbation is given the suggestion that the erection of a Burbank Memorial Agricultural Building would be a fitting tribute and form a most acceptable unit for Santa Rosa’s educational department.

Next Tuesday evening in the music room of the Annex under the direction of Miss Lydia Walker there will he a rehearsal of the final chorus “Hymn to the Sun,” and everybody who can assist by singing is asked to attend Tuesday night and help swell the volume of sound in Troyer’s hum of praise [sic].

Those who respond to the call are asked to be on hand at half past seven o’clock.

A full rehearsal of the “Sun Worshipers” was held Saturday under the direction of Director Carlyle, and it was pronounced a success. Those who have witnessed the rehearsal of the pageant declare that it will be worth going many miles to see.

– Press Democrat, April 25 1920

 

 

FINE TRIBUTE TENDERED TO BURBANK IN COLORFUL FETE, “SUN WORSHIPERS”

Luther Burbank. Santa Rosa’s world famed plant breeder and horticulturist, was paid due honor by the students of the Santa Rosa schools Saturday — May Day – when they presented the beautiful and dramatic pageant “The Sun Worshipers” on the lawn in front of the Annex at the high school grounds.

The setting was one long to be remembered and one which many of the easterners who recall weather conditions in their home states marveled over as some three thousand people sat in the warm sunshine and watched several hundred students gambol on the green lawn in flimsy clothing.

In addition to the marvelous display of the pageant itself, was the presence of Madam Francisca Zarad, the famous Parisian soprano, who delighted all with her charming personality and gracious manners. She sang for the pure joy of honoring Luther Burbank and aiding the students in giving their honors to the great man who sat smiling in the audience before them, enjoying it as much as anyone present.

“The great dynamo, the Sun, is the source of all life, motion, warmth: iho producer of all food and clothing. No wonder the ancients were inspired to worship the sun.” declared Mr. Burbank in an address recently. The statement was used as the basis for the pageant plot worked out by Mrs. V. N. Hodge, wife of Victor Hodge of the high school faculty, which resulted in the delightful program Saturday afternoon and evening.

The performance was to have been given March 7 in honor of the birthday anniversary of the noted Santa Rosan, hut had to be postponed owing to the influenza ban at that time.

Madame Zarad was heartily applauded for her songs. She was in magnificent voice and delighted all with her work. She first rendered “An Involution to the Sun God,” followed by “Sunrise, Sunset” and replied to an encore with “The Little Grey Home in the West.” At the close of the program she sang “America” and led the vast audience in the “Star Spangled Banner.” At its conclusion she called for a rising tribute to Mr. Burbank who had been taken to her side on the platform before the final song. This was given with hearty good will by all.

A synopsis of the plot follows:

SOL. the God of Sun, mounts his throne in state to review the separate, distinctive historical worshipers who have courted him in dance supplication and song.

THE EGYPTIANS were the first to recognize the power of SOL so their fairest maidens dance to him. To gain favor in the God’s eyes, the Egyptian King sends his favorite dancer to woo Sol – but the God soon tires of her and her chorus.

THE GRECIANS then flit before him and they place the Godess “Terra” with her little elves of the Earth (Calcium, Potasium, Sulphur, Magnesium, Iron), together with “Ceres,” Godess of Agriculture, and her helping elves near the Sun’s power for the Grecians recognize their importance. But “Flo,” the wild God of Rain, dispels the maidens with his storm as he bounds into his place in the worship.

THE INDIANS are mourning! Their harvest are too light. [sic] The Chief is in despair when his wailing children ask for foods, [sic] so he offers his own daughter in sacrifice to bring help to his people. But lo! Sol awakens! He has heard the wailing cry! He sees the girl about to plunge the knife in her breast at his feet – he rises to appeal! He smiles. The daughter is saved and there will now be plenty in the fields and the entire tribe rejoice in dance.

THE ENDOWMENT A farmer boy, impersonating Luther Burbank, is toiling with his withering plants. He despairs for their life. Mother Terra in pity for him sends out her little elves to sprinkle the salts of the earth at their feet. No avail. Mother Ceres, too, commands her little helpers lo brace and help the plants. No results. Then Flo scatters his rain drops, they drink deeply but again they droop! Ah! The Spirit of Science shows the farmer the light, the need to recognize the power of the Sun, Sol. He hopes, he prays, he perceives. Sol smiles, the plants revive. Science leads him to the throne, he adores and for his devotion Science awards him with the Wand of Knowledge which he now wields and with which he concieves and improves the wonderful Creations of Plant Life (Burbank Creations.) In praise the Flower Dance is given, then lift up their voices in the homage hymn to their Lord the Sun.

The cast follows:

[..]

– Press Democrat, May 2 1920

 

Erstwhile “Sun God” Now Tiller of Soil

Joe Dearing, who impersonated the Sun God in the Burbank pageant Saturday, took again to the practical side of life Monday, when he continued his agricultural work on his seven acres of land near here. Director Chas. Hampton accompanied him Monday afternoon to the place where he is to plant tomatoes and pumpkins. He has already planted his corn.

– Press Democrat, May 4 1920

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THE WOLVES’ THANKSGIVING

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, San Francisco Call and San Francisco Chronicle between November 1920 and February 1921. I found almost everything written about the events since then has mostly 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.

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IT WAS SUCH A DIFFERENT WORLD

American culture has changed greatly since 1920, and here are some differences particularly relevant to understanding this series:

DANCE HALLS were favorite places for Jennie and June to spend their evenings. The Winter Garden (it was formerly an ice skating rink, hence the name) near Pacific Heights was highly popular and considered a respectable place, complete with a checkroom for babies (!) while the parents were dancing. It had nice floors and live bands, charging admission for both men and women except for Monday and Wednesday being Ladies Night. More controversial were the eight “closed” dance halls in the city, where men bought tickets to dance with women who worked there on commission. In other cities they were sometimes the target of vice raids which turned up wanted criminals, prostitutes and runaway teenage girls.

BOXING enjoyed a popularity in 1920 that’s hard to imagine today. Public interest in boxers went far beyond how well they performed in the ring; prizefighters were regarded as celebrities. Sports writers obsessively reported on where they were and what they were doing, conditions of their health and how they were feeling. Besides being outraged by the details of the Howard street crimes, most people were likely shocked to learn two well known pro boxers were not only involved but the most guilty players.

PROHIBITION and the long reach of its destructive effects play out in every step of this story, including the Howard street crime scene being a safe haven for the gangsters because it was chosen as a secluded location needed to operate a speakeasy. And besides turning bootlegging into a major industry, it sharply increased violent gangsterism, up 25 percent in 1920 alone. Fun Fact: Prohibition not only cost the U.S. economy billions in lost revenue, it even created a tax-free security backed by booze. Since pre-Prohibition liquor was legal, some 69 million gallons of it had been deposited before 1920 in government bonded warehouses, where it could be withdrawn by the person holding the deposit receipt. Just before the events in this story the Supreme Court ruled those certificates could be sold in a manner similar to gold bullion, and as a result most of the receipts ended up held by banks which accepted them as collateral for loans.

Rewind the tape; it is now a couple of hours before Jean Stanley is running down an unfamiliar street looking for someone to help. She and her friend and roommate, Jessie Montgomery, are waiting outside the streetcar transfer station at 16th and Mission to go home, having spent the evening at the Winter Garden dance hall. A man pulls up in an auto and offers them a ride; they hop in because Jessie remembers him as being a nice guy from having danced together earlier.

But he drives in the opposite direction instead, stopping at a poolhall. He wants to introduce them to a pal of his, who also climbs into the car. It’s now around midnight on Thanksgiving morning.

The driver parks outside a café and the four of them go in. They all have a sherry (illegal – this is Prohibition, never forget) and the men order other drinks, which the women decline.

Two other men enter the café and join them. Both are prizefighters, which is to say they are Bay Area celebrities. One is Edmund “Spud” Murphy, a welterweight who could be a boxer straight from Central Casting; he has coarse, puffy features that make his face appear as if it had been recently pounded with a rock. The other man is larger and has movie star good looks – at least, compared to other boxers at the time; he is Edward “Kayo” Kruvosky (as in “Knockout” or “K.O.”).

There is a whispered conversation between the four men which the women can’t overhear. As they leave the café yet another man shows up and goes with them, with all seven people squeezing into the car. It would be uncomfortably tight for a long drive but they are only going about a block away.

The car stops and the three men from the café enter a small nondescript house, leaving the women alone with the driver and his poolhall pal. They entice the women to go in by one of the men saying, “oh, it’s just a refreshment parlor and I know every one in the place” and promising them ice cream. Once they are inside the door is locked behind them.

The little front room is nearly bare, with just a table, a few chairs and a rolled up mattress. A man they had not seen before comes out with a round of drinks. This brings the number of men in the house to six.

Jean refuses the gin fizz but Jessie drinks half a glass. The rest Kruvosky pours down her throat as her head is tilted back and her arms are held. Another glass is brought in and it is done again. And then she is led into the kitchen, where Murphy is waiting.

[I am herewith skipping the rest of what followed – I doubt you want to read the details and I certainly don’t want to write about them. Anyone who just has to know what happened can review the Attorney General’s summary of their testimony. What needs to be known here is that Murphy and Kruvosky used their fists; Murphy hit Jessie and knocked her down twice, then punched Jean so hard her nose was broken. Kruvosky also struck Jean, leaving her with a black eye and a broken tooth. Kruvosky initiated the sexual assaults against Jessie in the bathroom before turning her over to Murphy and the others. Jean managed to escape by breaking a window while she was left alone in another room. Jean was not raped; Jessie was raped by five of the six men.]

During one of the later trials a prosecutor tells a jury, “It was the psychology of the wolf pack that night in the Howard street shack,” meaning the rest of the men understood their lesser places in the hierarchy, patiently waiting for their turn to perform their unspeakable acts.

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News about the assault started appearing the day after Thanksgiving and updates would appear daily for more than a month. Most of the reporting mistakes from those first accounts would be cleared up in later stories (although some of those errors continue to be repeated today).1

San Francisco reacted in horror, although it was a city not easily shocked. Every police captain told patrolmen to give highest priority to finding the suspects as a dragnet stretched over the city. Jessie Montgomery was taken by police from her hospital bed that night to attend an amateur boxing match and scan the audience for their faces. The Police Chief assigned Detective Sergeant Miles Jackson and Detective Lester Dorman to the case fulltime. A few days later, both would be shot to death in Santa Rosa by one of the guilty men.

Over that post-Thanksgiving weekend every law enforcement agency in the state received the names and descriptions of the wanted men, even though this info was not released to the public. That was when the (soon to be lynched) group left the city for up here.

ednaperl(RIGHT: Pearl Hanley and Edna Fullmer)

Police announced they were investigating claims of more than twenty other women who said they likewise had been gang raped at Howard street, but it appears only two were considered credible.2 A week later they were named as Pearl Hanley and Edna Fullmer from Southern California. They described being similarly attacked on November 10, two weeks before Jessie and Jean, and said they never reported it because they wanted to avoid the shame and publicity.

Early in the investigation Detective Jackson said the police believed the gang maintained the Howard street shack to lure girls there for the purpose of assaulting them. That might have been partially true, but his remarks need clarification on several points.

Detectives later clarified the place was a speakeasy – specifically a “blind pig,” where liquor was usually sold through a walk-up window or via a pass-through. The day before the attacks on Jessie and Jean, the proprietor (who was also among the rapists) spent $1,100 on hootch – the equivalent to over $14k today – to prepare for the expected surge of customers over the holiday weekend.3

Newspapers were quick to call the building a “shack” and that label is still used by modern writers. But today most of us would call 1256½ Howard street a granny unit. It was small but from the photos appeared well tended; it had indoor plumbing, which was no given thing in 1920. The previous tenant was a hat maker and his family. It was behind and to the side of 1256 Howard, which at the time was the Eastern Broom Factory (surprisingly, it appears that building is still there).

Nor was the Howard Street Gang really a gang, except in the sense the men who hung out there coalesced as a rape gang on two or more occasions. Early on the papers took to calling Spud Murphy the gang’s leader, but there was no evidence anyone was giving orders – as the prosecutor said, they were more akin to a wolf pack on the lookout for prey. From mentions in the newspapers it seemed a Runyonesque set of characters drifted in and out of the Howard street speakeasy: Boxers and wannabes, hardened criminals, touts, toughs, hangers-on and every kind of idle, strutting bullyboy loser in between.

“Gang,” however, was quickly becoming the buzzword of 1920. San Francisco and other cities had experienced a significant uptick in all types of crime ever since Prohibition began at the start of the year. Stories about bootlegger arrests were daily fodder (contender for most outrageous headline of the year: “200-Pound Woman, Caught in Act of Making Brandy, Fights Off 6 Officers for Half Hour” – SF Chronicle, Nov. 27). There were an increasing number of reports about groups of men joining together to plot armed robberies, burglaries and commit gang rapes. Besides the intense coverage of the Howard street crime, newspapers around the state (including the Press Democrat and Healdsburg Tribune) used barrels of ink reporting on the prosecution of a particularly notorious gang in Fresno.

Big crime stories always make it easy to sell papers, and the reporting frequently slopped over the line into sensationalist yellow journalism. But a good thing was that it also brought a new awareness that violence against women was horrifically commonplace. As noted in the SF Examiner, in the latter half of 1920 there were 100 men jailed for abuse of women or children in the city, including 56 for contributing to the delinquency of young women, 11 for “tampering” (!) with little girls and 16 for attempted assault – with police saying there were many more but the assailant escaped. Los Angeles began offering police escorts to any women who had to be out after dark.

Vigilantism was in air the air before the lawmen were murdered in Santa Rosa, but it grew worse during the days following. In San Francisco vagrants and crooks were rounded up by police and told to “get to work or get out of town.” Prizefighting was temporarily banned in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and other places simply because of its association with Murphy and Kruvosky. The American Legion offered to aid in a “clean-up of undesirables” and the VFW said crimes against women were increasing because of lax enforcement, while pledging “active co-operation in any capacity.”

A Woman’s Vigilant Committee was formed in San Francisco to call for a greatly expanded police presence – although the force was already maxed out, with officers given only one day off every two weeks. The Committee further overreached by insisting the city government adopt their intolerant views of acceptable behavior and morality. There should be a strictly enforced 8PM curfew for children under 16 and a prohibition on “three or more minor youths from causing any disturbance at night.” They wanted the city zoned according to their “vice map” which would establish the degree of policing by neighborhood. They insisted pool halls be shut down along with the “closed” dance halls where they (falsely) accused the women working there of all being prostitutes.4

While this was brewing in December 1920, the Howard street trials were underway, with all five defendants charged with the same crimes.5 Security was tight in the courtroom, with extra bailiffs – Kruvosky’s father had threatened to kill him for bringing disgrace to the family.

The jury trials rolled along smoothly and four were convicted quickly – the exception was found innocent, guilty at his retrial, and finally had the charges dropped in 1922, after having spent a year and a half in county jail (he claimed to have gained 25 pounds behind bars because the food was so good).6 The gangsters mostly offered stupid-criminal alibis; they were at Howard street but left before the women were assaulted, they were there but in a different room in the tiny house and didn’t see or hear anything.

Jean Stanley and Jessie Montgomery testified eight times in all and none of the defense attorneys could shake their stories. Each time they both told exactly same story: the offer of a ride home, the stop at the poolroom, the café, being lured inside the speakeasy, the booze poured down Jessie’s throat, the beatings, the rapes, Jean’s escape.

Then after the trials were over came the real shocker: They both lied under oath, and had conspired to do so.

Front and side of 1256½ Howard street, San Francisco in 1920. The window that Jean Stanley broke to escape can be seen here boarded up. Photo: California state archives
Front and side of 1256½ Howard street, San Francisco in 1920. The window that Jean Stanley broke to escape can be seen here boarded up. Photo: California state archives

Let’s rewind the tape again, this time all the way back to the start of 1920.

In January, boxing promoter Billy Murray leased the top floor of a building on E. Washington in Petaluma as a boxing gym with an exhibition ring.

Petaluma could not have been happier; this would surely bring fame and fortune to the town because he was the former middleweight champ and a nationally-known figure. Articles about him appeared in the local papers almost every day that winter, particularly as the date approached for a series of bouts at the Unique Theatre on March 19, “an evening for the ladies as well as the men.”

Living in Petaluma at that time was Jessie Montgomery. Her father had been the Salvation Army captain in the town a couple of years earlier but his current assignment was in Eureka, where the family received a telegram from her in early February: “We are married, forget and forgive.” She had married Arthur Matthias, co-owner of an auto dealership in Petaluma, who she had only known for a few weeks.

She was 15 years old at the time.

After Howard street the newspapers first said she was 20, then began using her stated age of 17. It would be years later before it came out that she was really a year younger than that when she was assaulted (this is verified by census records).

The marriage was a short one. When Jessie was brought to the Sonoma County Jail in December to see if she could identify any of the three men being held for the murders, Arthur tried to see her but authorities would not let them meet, fearing it could cause trouble. The next day the Press Democrat reported,


They were separated in two months, his wife leaving him after Matthias charged her with too close intimacy with prize fighters who were training in Petaluma under the direction of Billy Murray. Matthias charges that she went to San Francisco with Kruvosky…

kruvosky(RIGHT: Edward Kruvosky)

Was that true, or was it a bitter lie told by an estranged husband? Had Jessie previously known one of her rapists (and having abandoned her marriage to be with him, no less!) it’s impossible to believe the defense attorneys would not have brought that up at the trials. They repeatedly tried to discredit her character with misogynistic attacks suggesting she was “unchaste.” She was badgered on the witness stand for using her maiden name instead of “Mrs. Arthur Matthias” as well as for having left her husband and having “boy friends” in San Francisco afterwards.7

But when Kruvosky came to trial he offered a defense completely at odds with what the other rapists made. From the Dec. 24 SF Examiner:


When Kruvosky took the stand in his own behalf yesterday morning he told a story of advances made by the Montgomery girl and of his final capitulation. He said that when he met her with Thomas Brady, James Carey and Jean Stanley at the Strollers’ Cafe shortly after midnight on Thanksgiving morning she moved over and invited him to take half of her chair, put her arms about him and told him that she liked him. He told of that same arm being about him as they drove in an automobile to the Howard street shack and of how he was followed by the girl into a small room there, where he said he submitted to her entreaties.

“She made me do it” is infamously the go-to excuse for men who abuse women in all kinds of ways, and the jury obviously didn’t believe a word of what he said. They were out only eleven minutes before declaring him guilty – just long enough to elect a jury foreman and take a single vote without discussion.

The last trial wound up in early February, 1921, about ten weeks after the crimes had been committed. But then came the bombshell: A defense attorney produced signed affidavits claiming Jessie and Jean had committed perjury.

Policewoman Kate O’Conner had acted as matron for Jean and Jessie throughout the case, and in early December they had lived at the O’Conner home with Kate, her husband, a San Francisco deputy sheriff, and their married 19 year-old daughter, Anita.

The deputy’s statement noted Jessie had never claimed one of the men was guilty of rape until she testified at his trial. He said he overheard her tell Jean that she was going to accuse him despite his innocence on that charge: “I know he didn’t do anything to me, but I hate him anyhow.” The deputy said he would testify to hearing that in court “to see justice done.”

More damning were Anita’s statements about her conversations with Jean.8 “You don’t know how I’ve shielded Jessie Montgomery’s character,” Jean supposedly told her. “I could go to the penitentiary for what I’ve told on the stand…”

The affidavit also stated Jean confirmed some of Kruvosky’s surprising defense claims: “..Jean Stanley also stated to me that said Jessie Montgomery ‘fell for Kruvosky’ in the Strollers Cafe and sat on the same chair with Kruvosky in the Strollers Cafe with their arms around each other…”

Once at Howard street, Jean told Anita she saw Jessie willingly going into the bathroom with Kruvosky. “I grabbed a hold of Jessie and asked her not to go into the bathroom with Kruvosky, because I knew that he would get the best of her. That was when I was struck for the first time by Kruvosky.”

Besides withholding evidence, they conspired to commit perjury, according to the affidavit:


Jean Stanley said to me, “I shielded Jessie Montgomery because she was a girl. Why, at the hospital, Jessie said: ‘We’ll say that they forced the drinks down my throat so that it will save my character.’ Kruvosky had been so mean to me that I thought it would be all right to say that he forced drinks down Jessie’s throat…whenever Jessie gets into trouble with men she always claims that she was either doped or that she was forced.”

These statements created an uproar statewide, pulling in the Attorney General and the Governor. Headlines suggested Jessie Montgomery was about to be arrested. The District Attorney said he would ask Jessie and Jean for their own affidavits declaring the other affidavits untrue. An Assistant D.A. resigned, saying Jean admitted having “lied and lied” in court.

A Grand Jury was empaneled and they decided – on the narrowest of grounds – “there was no perjury committed by Jean Stanley or Jessie Montgomery on any material point” that would affect the verdict of the single case then before the court. The judge who heard all of the cases said he would not issue a perjury warrant because what they supposedly said was “nothing that has not been whispered into every ear ever since Kruvosky was placed on trial.”

So the consensus was, “the women won’t be held accountable for perjury because it didn’t matter – we know these guys were guilty as hell.”

The obl. Believe-it-or-Not! epilogue to the story is that years later, Jessie wrote a letter to the District Attorney’s office in 1925 to confess that yes, she had lied. She lied about her age and that she was forced to drink liquor. More importantly, she had lied when she testified she was absolutely sure that two of the men took part in the rape.

“All the excuse I can offer for my falsehoods are that I was just a child and I was afraid of their getting free to kill me,” she wrote. (The whole letter is transcribed below.)

Her post facto confession made no difference to the District Attorney or Governor. No retrials were ordered, no prison sentences commuted and no perjury charges filed against Jessie or June, as the statute of limitations for that crime had now expired.

Jean Stanley. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library
Jean Stanley. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

Tying up loose ends:

According to the only interview she gave, Jean Stanley was from Portland.9 But during the trials the Oregon Daily Journal ran a photo of her on the front page with the headline, “Do You Know This Girl?” adding local reporters were unable to find anyone who knew her. (A friend did turn up, and a month later the Portland paper had an item claiming Jean was to appear in a movie.)

In the interview Jean said she left home at 17 and toured around in the Pantages vaudeville circuit on the East Coast, apparently as a dancer. After that she joined the famous Barnes circus (which had a major Santa Rosa connection during the 1920s) where she learned to ride bareback. Jessie and Jean were each given $600 at the close of the trials and Jean said she would use it for tuition at a business school. It appears she did, because she can be found in the 1930 Los Angeles census as an office stenographer for a department store. She died at age 39 on Nov. 11, 1939 (place of death and burial unknown).

Pearl Hanley and Edna Fullmer were never called to testify, although they were brought to Santa Rosa along with Jessie to see if they could ID the three gangsters. Still, the District Attorney wanted them available while the trials were ongoing and under protective custody – members of Murphy’s family (and possibly others) had tried to make contact with June and Jessie. But instead of lodging them with the O’Conners or giving them hotel rooms with police guards, Pearl and Edna were locked in the women’s dormitory at the county jail. No fun that. Shortly before Christmas, Pearl’s husband, Paul H. Hanley came to San Francisco and told a judge she had deserted him along with their 20 month-old baby, but he wanted to reconcile. Moved by his plea and the holiday spirit, she was released from jail and they went home – where he was immediately arrested. Remember how a vicious Fresno gang was in all the newspapers? He was allegedly part of their burglary team, while other members were being held for the gang rape of a fifteen year old.

Another gold star citizen was Arthur Matthias, Jessie’s husband in Petaluma. In 1922 he and his brother, along with two other fine hoodlums, ran a man down with their car and then beat him with brass knuckles before robbing him. They were arrested for that assault plus beating and robbing a Press Democrat linotype operator of his watch. Arthur was released from San Quentin in 1928 and died in a reckless driving incident near Penngrove two years later.

It seems Jessie Montgomery always had trouble telling the truth, even about things that didn’t matter. In her Dec. 17 testimony (see footnote seven) she must have thought the year 1920 had 13 or 14 months in it, because that many would be needed to account for her version of her whereabouts, scooting around between Petaluma, San Francisco and Reno, where her family usually was. Yet she didn’t mention being in Eureka at all – although that’s where the census taker caught up with her and the rest of the Montgomery family – or Seattle, which was where she met Jean.

Jessie told reporters she was going to use her post-trial $600 to study music but in 1922 she married Wilfred E. Miller, a Spokane, Washington truck driver. True to form, she told a string of lies on her marriage certificate – she stated it was her first marriage, that she was 19 instead of 18, her maiden name was June Matthais (yes, that’s how she spelled it), and her father’s name was J. M. Matthais from Kentucky instead of Lee L. Montgomery of Kansas. She and Wilfred had two children; she worked in beauty shops and then always went by the name June J. Miller. Jessie died in 1985 and is buried in Orange County next to Wilfred.

 


1 Among the errors reported in the Nov. 26-27 San Francisco papers were that nine men were involved; it was implied both women were raped and the attack went on for three hours; that the liquor forced upon Jessie was probably doped; that Jean had a broken jaw and when she returned with two policemen they caught a couple of the gangsters about to assault Jessie again (Kruvosky and another of the rapists were still in the house, but non-threatening at that moment).
2 Another possible victim named in the newspapers was 17 year-old Thelma Fulton, who said she and another young woman she knew only as “Bobbie” were raped at Howard street by Murphy and other men for three hours on Hallowe’en. Her story closely tracked with Jean and Jessie’s testimony, with them being offered a ride after a dance, liquor forced upon them and Bobbie making a surprising escape. Thelma claimed she had met Murphy at the “closed” dance hall known as the Metropolitan, but the manager there said Thelma and her friend had been barred weeks earlier for disorderly conduct. It appears the police didn’t give much weight to her story; nothing more about her appeared in the papers, other than the Chronicle printing a photo of her on Dec. 12.

3 While Detectives Jackson and Dorman believed for several days it was the HQ of a major crime gang, they came to realize it was run-of-the-mill speakeasy. The owner of the building was real estate investor James O’Sullivan, who was the brother-in-law of Charles Valento, one of the gangsters lynched in Santa Rosa. The building was rented to Allen McDonald who operated the speakeasy.
4 The Vigilant Committee’s desire for for a crackdown was supported by the federal Hygiene Board, whose representative stated the city “was so vice-ridden it was an unfit place for a naval base.” San Francisco did shutter the “closed” dance halls at the end of 1920. (The Winter Garden survived, but only after much scrutiny.)
5 The men were charged on four counts: Rape of Jessie Montgomery (called “a serious statutory offense” in the Examiner’s prurient reporting), attempted rape of Jean Stanley, assault with intent to do bodily harm and abduction.

6 For more on this interesting case see “The Fall of San Francisco’s Notorious Howard Street Gang,” which has an entire chapter on it.

7 The full transcript of Jessie Montgomery’s testimony is in the Dec. 17 San Francisco Call

8 The entire Anita Larrieu affidavit can be read in the Feb. 9, 1921 SF Call.

9 “Gangster Victim Tells About Night of Horror,” Press Democrat, Dec. 9 1920. This interview with Jean Stanley probably was not written for the PD, but no other copies can be found in other online newspapers.

 

NEXT: A FORESHADOW OF TERRIBLE DAYS
 

sources
Appeal of the defendant from a judgment of conviction of the crime of rape and from the order denying motion for new trial

[..]

The facts of the case are substantially stated in the brief of the Attorney General as follows:

On Wednesday evening, November 24, 1920, Jessie Montgomery (whose marriage name is Matthias) was waiting on the corner of Sixteenth and Mission streets, San Francisco, for a car to take her to her home at 315 Fifth street. James Carey, whom she previously had met and danced with, drove by in an automobile. After recalling himself to her he invited her and her chum, Miss Jean Stanley, into his car to be taken home. They were driven to Clark’s poolroom on Mission street near Twentieth, and there were joined by Thomas Brady, a friend of Carey. The four then drove in Carey’s car to the Stroller’s Café, Ninth and Folsom, where each had one drink of wine. Other drinks were served but were consumed by the men; the girls not partake of them.

While the four were in the café, Murphy and Edward Kruvosky entered. There ensued a whispered conversation among the four men, the nature of which girls do not know. But when the girls and their escorts left the premises by one door, Murphy, Kruvosky and a third man, named Boyd, left by another door and jumped into the machine in which the four were seated. The car was driven to a shack on Howard street and Murphy, Kruvosky, and Boyd alighted and entered the house, leaving the two girls and their escorts in the car. Upon one pretense and another Brady and Carey prevailed upon the girls to enter the Howard street place; they were admitted by Allan MacDonald, who locked the door after them. Carey and the two girls entered a front room, which was furnished with a table, chairs, and a mattress rolled up. Murphy had already gone out into the kitchen. Brady also went out into another room, and returned with Allan MacDonald, who brought in a round of drinks. The Stanley girl took none of them; the Montgomery girl took one-half of her own glass.

Kruvosky in the meantime had come in from the kitchen. With Brady holding one of her hands, Kruvosky put the glass to the Montgomery girl’s lips, tilted her head back and poured the liquor down her throat. Another drink was brought in, and the performance repeated. Brady next led the Montgomery girl into the kitchen, where Murphy and Kruvosky were. Murphy demanded that she sing and, she refusing, insisted that dance for them. Upon her refusal to dance Murphy struck her on the side of the jaw and felled her. Brady went up to her as she struggled to her feet and said, “Go on; take off your clothes and dance for them,” and upon her further refusal Murphy struck her to the floor a second time. This blow was so violent that she did not know what was going on; at times she did know anything, and at other times she knew everything that was going on but could not resist because her strength had failed her. The Montgomery girl screamed when she was hit and the Stanley girl ran to her aid. Kruvosky hit the Stanley girl in the jaw, and Murphy hit her on the face, breaking her nose. Murphy then picked her up by hips, held her on the floor and “binged” her on the floor. Kruvosky then dragged the Montgomery girl, weakened as she was the two fellings, into the bathroom adjoining, where he picked her up by the shoulders, threw her to the ground, and knocked her head against a washstand, pulled her to the floor, tore her dress from off her body, rolled her around upon the floor, soiling her underclothing, and finally ravished her. Murphy repeatedly thrust his head in the bathroom during this time and cried “Hurry up, hurry up!” The girl knew nothing more until she found herself on the mattress in the front room. Here Murphy and Kruvosky pulled her clothes off her in the presence of Boyd, Carey, and Brady, and here Murphy, followed by the others in turn, violated her. These acts were done without her consent and against her will after she could not resist because her strength was gone, and she was absolutely powerless. She was never the wife of the defendant and had never been married to him.

Carey had meanwhile led the Stanley girl into an adjoining bedroom and brought her a wet rag to bathe her bruised face. He left the room and defendant entered. Defendant demanded that she submit to him. She refused and he menacingly brandished a gun in her face. She persisted in her refusal. Defendant then picked her up and threw on the couch and held her legs; MacDonald seized her hands and Boyd her head, while Kruvosky, coatless and with trousers unbuttoned, advanced to the attack. She struggled, begging them to kill her rather than to torture her like that, and finally all left the room save MacDonald. The Stanley girl then got MacDonald to leave the room. She broke the window and jumped out. About this time Carey came to the door of room where the Montgomery girl was lying on a mattress and cried, “Hurry up, your coats on; the cops are coming,” and Murphy, Kruvosky, Carey, Brady, and Boyd left. The Stanley girl returned to the place with two police officers. Her face was all swollen, her eye blackened, and there was blood all over her clothes and upon her wrists.

Entrance to the Howard street premises was effected by one of the officers through the broken rear window. He opened the door for his fellow officer and the Stanley girl. They found Jessie Montgomery lying on a mattress in the front room doubled up a jackknife, her face against the wall and her hands over her face; she was perfectly nude; she was in a very hysterical condition and moaning that she had been raped. Kruvosky, who had returned was standing behind the door and MacDonald was sitting on a chair in the room. The Stanley girl dressed Miss Montgomery; the two were taken to the Central Emergency Hospital where they were placed under the care of a physician and nurse. The doctor found the Montgomery girl’s vulva to be reddened, and somewhat inflamed. The girls were removed before noon that morning to the San Francisco Hospital, where a physician examined the Montgomery girl and found her suffering from bruises over the left eye and in the temple region, and considerable swelling over the malar bone, the bruises extending over onto the upper eyelid. There were bruises on the arms, mostly on the right elbow, a small discoloration on the left wrist, several bruises on the legs, the medial aspect of the right thigh just above the knee, and the left knee, on both lower legs, the tibial surfaces of the legs, and several scratches on the feet.

[…description of the capture of Murphy, and that he and Carey were brought to the hospital to be identified…]

En route from the hospital to the hall of justice, while defendant and Carey were in the police automobile, there ensued a conversation between Carey and the defendant wherein Carey commented on fact that Miss Stanley had noticed his diamonds, and that she did not look to be 21 years old. He further remarked, “Those blondes are my jinx. The last time I got in trouble a blonde got me into that too,” to which the defendant rejoined, “She is a fighting bitch, all right.” Later the defendant declared that the Montgomery girl came prepared for what she got and that she got it.

Pacific Reporter September 26 – November 14, 1921, pp. 485-487

 

Spokane, Wash., Oct, 17, ’25.

Dear Mr. Riley:

I suppose you think it queer that I should write you such a letter after such a long time, but it has been heavy on my mind all these years. I suppose after all we have gone through I was tempted to make things stronger than was necessary,

jessieportraitI suppose you are wondering who I am, so I will tell you before I go on with my confession. I was Jessie Montgomery. I am now Mrs. W. F. Miller.

You will remember that I told you I was 17 years of age. I was only 16 at the time. I also said I was positive that Carey and Brady were there at the time I was assaulted.

I wasn’t positive, but my instinct said they were, and at no time did I hear their car start out in front, so therefore I swore I was sure they were there.

I also swore that Jean (Stanley) and I had met Brady before, but we had not. It was the first time, and neither was the booze they gave us forced down us. All the excuse I can offer for my falsehoods are that I was just a child and I was afraid of their getting free to kill me, as they had threatened the other two girls.

So if you want to use this confession for anything you know best. I felt as if I had to tell someone who would understand.

If you can give me Jean’s present address I would greatly appreciate it.

Unless you intend to use this for the righting of a wrong will you please destroy it? Yours ever grateful. JESSIE MILLER.”

 

Montgomery Girl is Wife of Petaluman

Jessie Montgomery, one of the victims of the San Francisco Howard-street gang, and whose plight as a good girl aroused such deep sympathy, is not Miss Montgomery, but Mrs. Arthur William Matthias, wife of a Petaluma automobile man.

Matthias, 23, and the Montgomery girl, then 16, eloped from Petaluma February 3, 1920, and were married at Novato, Marin county. They were separated in two months, his wife leaving him after Matthias charged her with too close intimacy with prize fighters who were training in Petaluma under the direction of Billy Murray.

Matthias charges that she went to San Francisco with Kruvosky, one of the Howard street gang, and that she has since posed as an unmarried girl.

Two months after she left Petaluma her father, Captain L. L. Montgomery of the Salvation Army, secured a transfer to Reno.

Matthias came to the county Jail Sunday night and demanded to see his wife, but was denied admission because it was feared he would make trouble.

– Press Democrat, December 7 1920

 

Pearl Hanley, S. F. Gang Victim, Aids Husband in Jail

FRESNO, Dec. 24.—Pearl Hanley, one of the girls who disclosed the brutality of the Howard-street gangsters in San Francisco, has come to the aid of her husband, Paul H. Hanley.

He is charged with burglary and with receiving stolen goods, his case being linked with those of the thirteen alleged Fresno gangsters.

The thirteen, three of whom have been indicted for alleged attacks on girls, are held in ball aggregating $261,000.

Frank Stefanlch, complainant against them on some charges, denies having been in collusion with them in bootlegging.

– Press Democrat, December 25 1920

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