George Boyd on a cot in the Sonoma County Jail. Photo: Hamilton H. Dobbin collection, California State Library.


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 nights 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.

The town 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, Santa Rosa was now closely linked to gangsters and a heinous crime. 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.

Policewoman Kate O’Conner, victims Jessie Montgomery, Pearl Hanley, Edna Fulmer and San Francisco Detective Lester Dorman stand alongside the police car parked next to the Sonoma County Courthouse. The two men in the background are unidentified. December 5, 1920
Policewoman Kate O’Conner, victims Jessie Montgomery, Pearl Hanley, Edna Fulmer and San Francisco Detective Lester Dorman stand alongside the police car parked next to the Sonoma County Courthouse. The two men in the background are unidentified. December 5, 1920

Between the furor over the deadly shooting and the subsequent riot, it was all but forgotten that the original goal for that day was to see if San Francisco rape victims could ID the gangsters.

For Pearl Hanley and Edna Fulmer, victims of the Nov. 10 assaults, the drive to Santa Rosa was a welcome outing. They had agreed to come forward as witnesses on Friday and were promptly locked in the San Francisco county jail women’s dormitory under protective custody – a matter of bitterness, as the victims of the Thanksgiving attacks were staying at the home of police matron Kate O’Conner or in a hotel with police guards.

The victims and O’Conner were left waiting at the sheriff’s office while Petray and the officers went hunting for the gangsters.1 They were still there that evening during the ensuing chaos of the riot and watching from the windows, which led to a Believe-it-or-Not! moment.

Prominent among the rioters who were repeatedly attacking the door to the sheriff’s office with wooden and steel battering rams, Jessie Montgomery spotted her estranged husband Arthur Matthias, who was co-owner of a Petaluma garage (see chapter two). “I was amazed when I saw him,” she told the SF Call the next day. “He was about the last person in the world I expected to see in that crowd.”

They remained in the office through the evening although O’Conner left to comfort dying Detective Dorman at the hospital. At some point late that night all of the women were taken to a hotel. The next morning they were back to the jail to make identifications, accompanied by a troupe of reporters. The first they were taken to see was George Boyd, the confessed shooter who was mortally wounded himself. Pearl Hanley was the first victim brought to his bedside, and she had earlier told officers that one of her assailants was missing his right index finger.

The Press Democrat reported, “as she was ushered into the cell Boyd lifted his hand beneath the blankets covering him and it was shown to be without the index finger. The girl looked at him, and then with a scream went into hysterics.” She fled into the corridor and was taken into a room, where O’Conner and another woman “restored her to comparative calmness” (SF Call) for her to face him again.

“Oh, God. that’s the beast. That’s the lumber jack. Oh, take me away, please please? I can feel his fingers on my throat now. He’s choking me now.” (The Examiner felt compelled to add those remarks were “a literal trans-script by an unexcited auditor”.)

Boyd was identified by all three victims, both via his appearance and recalling others called him “lumberjack” – a nickname from having worked as a logger and having sought a logging job in Chico the month before the Howard street assaults. The women said he one of their most violent assailants.

One of the women also said Valento participated in the Nov. 10 rapes, but none recognized Fitts, which disappointed Jessie Montgomery and Edna Fulmer because they were just sure he had to be part of the “Howard Street Gang.” (Fitts’ link to Boyd, Valento and Louis Lazarus was from meeting them separately during his various stints at San Quentin and Folsom State Prisons.)

George Boyd on a cot in the Sonoma County Jail. Photo: Hamilton H. Dobbin collection, California State Library.
George Boyd on a cot in the Sonoma County Jail. Photo: Hamilton H. Dobbin collection, California State Library.

Before the women were brought to his cell, Boyd had denied having any involvement with the gang rapes in San Francisco, but he had plenty to say about the murders.

First he claimed he did not shoot anyone – that Louie Lazarus was hiding in a closet before popping out and starting to blast away at the cops (the Guidottis said Lazarus was never in their home and there was no closet in that room).

In his next confession, made to the sheriff, a couple of deputies and the Examiner reporter, Boyd admitted shooting all three lawmen. Not long after he told the District Attorney he had only shot Detective Jackson. A third (fourth?) “complete” confession followed which D.A. Hoyle would not reveal, saying he was saving it for the arraignment hearing on Friday. It was widely reported that conspiracy charges were to be brought against all three gangsters – that they plotted to kill the San Francisco detectives who were pursuing them and other suspects in the Howard Street rapes. It was Sheriff Petray’s bad luck to get in the way.2

Reporters were given access to Boyd and found him talkative as a scrum of them crowded into his cell. Except for denying any role in the gang rapes, what he said was uneventful: I didn’t get no education, fell in with the wrong crowd, became a gambler and a drunk. He said he deserved to be executed and ended with a plea “to keep little boys off the streets at night and tell them to leave booze alone.” It was the standard “momma, don’t let your babies grow up to be hoodlums” self-pitying jailhouse lament. Several papers including the Santa Rosa Republican printed the whole speech and the PD ran a few quotes before griping such “sob stuff” shouldn’t be published.

The Republican arranged for its society columnist Lillian Burger to interview Dorothy Quinlan in jail which was quite a scoop, as the rumor mills were then grinding away on the notion she was secretly a key member of the so-called Howard Street Gang.

Unfortunately, Lillian only got a few words out of her and nothing remotely interesting – only that she had been a waitress for two years and came here to hook up with Valento. Five sentences. Mainly the columnist described her discomforts about being in the jail, portraying it like a dismal Victorian-era hellhole: “It was dark, and if there is anything that I am afraid of it is the dark, mice and toads, and here I was to enter the door of the jail that harbored these desperate men…” (In truth, the Classical style building was less than five years old and designed by J. W. Dolliver, who was also architect of the beautiful courthouse.)

More newsworthy were her thumbnail observations of the gangsters as she passed by their cells. Aside from the jailers, she would be the last person to see any of them alive before the lynching party arrived. Fitts “seemed bright and willing enought to talk;” Valento sat “on the edge of his cot, his black, heavy-brooded face in his hands;” and Boyd – who had been so eager to yak with reporters that morning – was lying quietly: “Without moving or making any sign, he looked at me – then closed his eyes.”

Boyd was, in fact, dying. Shortly before she saw him, Detective Jackson’s bullet had been removed from his abdomen by two local doctors who turned his jail cell into an impromptu surgical room. Because of the unsanitary conditions and/or the bullet perforating his bowels he was developing septic peritonitis and likely would have died by the weekend, had not the hangmen taken care of him first.


On Monday morning the San Francisco Call hired a pilot to fly copies of its bulldog edition to Santa Rosa and return with the undeveloped photo plates taken by their photographer. The San Francisco Bulletin had the same idea, but when it landed at Noonan field (current location of Coddingtown) it broke an axle from skidding on the wet grass. The Call plane was also hobbled due to its wheels sinking into the mud at the fairgrounds racetrack. After much pushing by newspapermen that plane made it to solid ground so it could take off again.

Meanwhile, the Bulletin hired Ernest Ridley (who the PD called “one of the ‘wildest’ automobile drivers in the county”) to race their photos to a launch waiting at Sausalito. Ridley made the run in fifty minutes – a remarkable speed considering there was no highway and the road passed through Petaluma, San Rafael and other towns – with his racer hitting 75MPH on the straightaways. Despite Ridley’s considerable headstart, the Call’s plane still reached the city first and gave the paper its scoop for the afternoon editions.

On the day after the Santa Rosa murders every San Francisco paper published multiple “extra” editions, even though the latest might contain little new info from the extra printed a few hours before. The Press Democrat and Santa Rosa Republican each put out at least three extras.

Did the papers lose money doing all of this? Even if they sold 2x the usual number of their nickel newspapers the numbers might not pencil out. Newsgathering and editorial were just the tip of the production iceberg; to put out that many editions the newspaper printing plants would need to run almost nonstop, and both Santa Rosa papers had small crews of unionized press operators geared to turn out a single edition at a particular time of day. Then there was distributing an “extra” as fast as possible – can’t wait for the next train, so deliverymen would be rushing in all directions nearly constantly.

But the Santa Rosa events happened about two weeks before Christmas, which was always the start of the holiday shopping season – as well as the peak time of the year for advertising. Whatever the newspapers lost due to the additional expense of those “extras” was surely more than made up by impressing advertisers with their eye-popping circulation numbers.

Daily updates on Boyd’s condition appeared in every major Bay Area paper – he was expected to recover, odds were 50-50, the prognosis was poor, he may not die or he probably would. The D.A. vowed to carry him into the courtroom on a stretcher for the Friday arraignments. Or not.

Those items were among the flood of articles and illustrations with a Santa Rosa dateline which were appearing in every edition that week. The Sunday murders were rehashed after reporters were allowed in the Guidotti home; the Examiner ran a silly photo of four men sitting around the table at the crime scene, apparently to help readers imagine what four men sitting at a table might possibly look like. The Chronicle offered an exploded diagram of the house which forgot to include the front door. Then Tuesday brought the Grand Jury indictments and Jim Petray’s funeral, and the next day word of Boyd’s big confession that the D.A. was keeping secret and more rumors about Dorothy Quinlan. On and on and on.

To be sure, there was enormous interest in the story – how could there not be? Before the Santa Rosa doings reached the front pages, everything concerning the “Howard Street Gang” was already the biggest crime story to hit the Bay Area in years. Outrage was high and kept alive as new details emerged about the brutal assaults, while the thrilling pursuit of the gangsters (a chase across rooftops!) fed the public’s hunger for vengeance. San Francisco even turned a cold eye to its barely-underground vice scene; the city caused surprise by entirely shutting down pro/amateur boxing matches because two prominent boxers were among the rapists.

Covering all of this put tremendous pressure on newsrooms and they went to great lengths to beat the other guys to scoops (see sidebar). The PD bragged: “Just as rapidly as the press could send off the copies of the extra edition, and the regular edition which followed, bundles were piled into waiting automobiles, and distribution made to all the towns and communities of the county. Thousands of extra copies were sold as rapidly as they could be supplied.”

Bulletins about the murders, riot and lynchings resulted in both Santa Rosa newspapers selling an unprecedented number of copies at the start of the 1920 Christmas shopping season
Bulletins about the murders, riot and lynchings resulted in both Santa Rosa newspapers selling an unprecedented number of copies at the start of the 1920 Christmas shopping season

And so we come to the close of Thursday, just minutes before the lynch party would arrive at the jail.

It had been the quietest part of the week in Santa Rosa. Several from Sonoma County went to San Francisco for the funeral for Detectives Dorman and Jackson. Poor Dorothy Quinlan – who had been held in jail without cause since Sunday – was arrested for vagrancy. “The complaint charges that she roamed from place to place without lawful occupation and that she was in the company of known thieves” (PD). There was still speculation whether or not Boyd would be well enough to be carried into his arraignment on Friday morning. There would, of course, be no arraignments the next day; there was to be a Coroner’s inquest because the gangsters were now dead.


Before opening the chapter on the lynchings, there’s someone we need to discuss: Chief Deputy Sheriff Marvin “Butch” Robinson.

1920lynchingbutch(RIGHT: Sonoma County Chief Deputy Sheriff Marvin “Butch” Robinson c. 1920)

Robinson was a key player in what happened the night of the lynchings, even more important than Sheriff Boyes. It was Butch who had the most contact with the mysterious vigilantes, being forced to open jail cell doors for them. He testified at the inquest as the sole witness about that. But he also told the Coroner’s jurors about other events from earlier in the week and some of his accounts simply weren’t true. He either confused facts easily or was a fabulist – which in this context meant he was a perjurer.

His inquest testimony wasn’t extremely long, but there were three statements that need examination:

A SIMPLE MISTAKE?   “The shells [bullets in the murder weapon] were bought by Valento, so the lady down here at Dan Behmer’s place told me. Identified Valento as the man she sold the shells to.”
At the Grand Jury hearing on Dec. 7, Minnie A. Hutchinson, a clerk at the Merrithew & Miller gun store, testified she sold Valento the box of bullets. That store, however, was at the same location as Behmer’s gun store (410 Fourth st.) so even though the business changed hands more than a year earlier, Robinson might have still thought of the well-known previous owner. He was under oath, but this can be easily forgiven as a slip of the tongue.

BENEFIT OF DOUBT?   “I got back to the fence and I noticed a blonde woman through the window in this house. I went along and come back then and told these here boys that I thought the people we were looking for were in Pete Guidotti’s house…”
Here Robinson was taking sole credit for leading officers to the gangsters, claiming he spotted Dorothy Quinlan in the Guidotti home while standing in the side yard of the Toscano Hotel next door. Initial reports about events immediately prior to the murders said officers were searching the hotel and “…while there a bystander asked the officer if they were looking for a ‘little black fellow’ who had just entered the house next to the hotel” (PD). That was a fair description of Valento, who was short and had a dark complexion. After Robinson’s testimony the tip from the bystander was forgotten and his version has since been the only version repeated by historians. Some may want give him the benefit of doubt that he might have told the others about seeing her just before/after they were given the tip.

A COMPLETE FABRICATION   “He [Jackson] related the fact of Fittey [sic] getting him six years ago. He arrested him with Forty-year Smith and Fittey had shot him through the shoulder. I told him ‘Be careful Miles, when you get in there, don’t let them fellows get you again; he has got that gun, he is likely to shoot.’ He said, ‘He got me once but he will never get me again.'”
This was supposedly a snippet of conversation with Detective Sergeant Miles Jackson, and referred to a September 2, 1914 incident where Terrence Fitts was arrested as part of a gang plotting to rob a San Francisco jewelry store. Jackson was shot and wounded by another gang member and Fitts was not even present at the scene – it’s unbelievable that Jackson would have confused these details. Robinson was repeating an error he (or someone else) had read in the Dec. 6 Chronicle.

What to make of this? Were the first two items honest mistakes with only the last being an outright fib – or was Butch Robinson one of those people simply incapable of telling the truth? Gentle Reader might be inclined to put the deputy on the couch and ponder if he had issues that drove him to aggrandize his own role in these newsworthy events. Or maybe he was pumping up his reputation as a seasoned and eagle-eyed lawman to seek a position as a detective somewhere. We can’t know.

With those questions in mind, our 96 hour journey is now over. It is right about midnight and Butch is on duty at the Sheriff’s Office. The phone rings. A woman tells him she believes there is some trouble brewing at the cemetery because there are several cars there. A crowd is starting to gather. It was as if they are expecting something to happen.


1The sidebar in the previous chapter, “DECIPHERING BROKEN BREAKING NEWS” discusses issues with press coverage of the Dec. 5 riot and what might have caused reporters to file slightly differing accounts. Some of what the San Francisco Chronicle published, however, was plainly fiction. Although no reporter saw the prisoners during the riot, the paper stated they were “bordering on panic…their limbs trembling and teeth chattering” as guards “gazed on them in silent contempt.” In the Dec. 7 edition Edna Fullmer was quoted as saying, “…[we were taken] over to the house where we understood that Valento was spending the day. On the way Mr. Jackson heard that Terrence Fitts who had shot him ten years before was there too and he told Mrs. O’Conner to take us for a walk around the block.” None of that was true and as noted above, the Chronicle had falsely claimed the day before that Fitts had once wounded the detective.
2 Circumstantial evidence does suggest the gangsters had agreed on a plan to use the gun as a murder weapon. Although Fitts (accompanied by Boyd) purchased it from a Santa Rosa man he had only waved it around empty. Valento bought bullets for it two days before the killings, and when they came to the Guidotti home the loaded revolver was taken out of someone’s coat pocket and stashed under a sofa cushion within quick reach of Boyd. “The authorities believe that Boyd, because of his reputation of a crack shot was picked by the others to do the shooting” (Call, Dec. 8).





Dorothy Quinlan, Murder Gangster’s Paramour, Tells Of Death Visit to S. R.
By Lillian Burger

When I was told that I must gain an entrance to the county jail, through the seething, restless mob that had massed itself about the guarded and locked doors of the building that held the three desperate murders, my heart sank. How was I to do it? Here I was in a nice warm office, resting after nearly a 24-hour duty, tired and hungry. It was dark, and if there is anything that I am afraid of it is the dark, mice and toads, and here I was to enter the door of the jail that harbored these desperate men…

[Quinlan only says she worked at the department store and came here to meet up with Valento]

…Now came the minutes that my courage left me. I will admit that it took an effort to keep my heart in its proper place when I entered the jail and started to the woman’s ward, but now I was to see the gangsters – the only woman from the outside world who has been inside the locked doors.

Down long dark corridors, through locked doors and passages, miles, it seemed to me, I followed the jailer until I reached the compartments where the three desperate men were locked.

The first man I saw was Terry Fitts, who came to the door of his cell to give the jailer his cup. He wore his hat and was in his shirtsleeves, and seemed bright and willing enought to talk, and exchanged a few words with the jailer, returning to his cell in quest of his plate.

In a cell in an adjoining corridor sat Charles Valento on the edge of his cot, his black, heavy-brooded face in his hands. He neither moved nor spoke; he took no notice of our passing by.

More clanging of doors, unlocking of the mighty gates that kept the maddened throng from lynching these men, down long flights of stairs and we were in the padded cell where lay the sullen, thickset body of George Boyd.


Without moving or making any sign, he looked at me – then closed his eyes. “I’ll bring you some soup, later, George,” said Jailer Jewitt, but there was no response.

More unlocking of doors, more clanging of the great iron gates – down more flights of stairs, and through the dimly-lit corridors – and I was again breathing the fresh air – who cared if it was raining. I was out in the big wide world. I could move without fear.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 7 1920


Girl Gang Victims Returned to S. F.

After the Identification of Chas. Valenti and George Boyd in the county Jail here Monday by Misses Jessie Montgomery, Edna Fulmer and Pearl Hanley they were returned to San Francisco and the two latter girls from a photograph have since identified another member of the Howard street gang. The man sought is Daniel Logue.

The Fulmer and Stanley girls were attacked In the same manner as the Montgomery and Stanley girls and in addition to Logue the police are seeking Louis Lazarus in connection with that affair. Lazarus was known to have been here Saturday and Sunday but made his escape before the murders in the Guidotti house Sunday afternoon. All efforts to locate him since have failed.

– Press Democrat, December 8 1920


Poisonous “Sob Stuff”

IT MIGHT BE EXPECTED that, following such a tragedy as was enacted in Santa Rosa last Sunday, there sooner or later would come a reaction on the part of those chicken-hearted, supine people who, once the shock of such an occurrence is gone, begin to think of the poor dears who are languishing in jail for the crime.

It is true that there are such people. And, mortifying as it is to admit it, these people sometimes include one or two who are in a position to get poisonous propaganda into the newspapers.

In nearly all large cities there is usually at least one newspaper which fawns upon the criminal class, disseminates cancerous ideas about the poor “under dog” and in very device known to unscrupulous journalism, tries to lead the gullible public to believe that criminals really are not to blame for their actions but are victims of unfortunate circumstances.

When such an unmoral, corrupting force enters into our own life and attempts to undermine justice, we are inclined to believe that some offenses not now on the statute books ought to be placed there. To print “sob stuff” apparently designed to prove extenuating circumstance; for a hardened gunman, and before that gunman’s victims are even laid to rest – ugh! Words are inadequate to express the.repugnance which such work engenders.

George Boyd murdered three good men in cold blood. Boyd has been a gangster ever since he reached an age to become a gangster; he has wielded a gun before, has feloniously attacked and abused young girls and has served two terms in the penitentiary for serious crimes. He can offer no extenuating circumstances, and his spectacular warning to young boys to “keep on the straight and narrow” will deceive no one, regardless of what sympathetic treatment and prominent display it may be given by misguided sympathizers.

– Press Democrat, December 9 1920



Two hours before any other Santa Rosa paper was able to put out an abbreviated story of the lynching, The Press Democrat had issued a complete account of the circumstances in a comprehensive extra.

Before 5 o’clock the big Press Democrat press was turning out another edition, containing two pages of news about the second tragedy which has rocked the community in less than a week.

About an hour later a second extra was issued by another Santa Rosa paper, still incomplete, and containing less news than the first Press Democrat extra, issued three hours earlier.

At the same time as the Press Democrat was assembling the data of the lynching messages were flashed to the outside world. By Press Democrat service the Associated Press was enabled to put out 2500 words on the telegraph wire before 2 o’clock this morning.

Just as rapidly as the press could send off the copies of the extra edition, and the regular edition which followed, bundles were piled into waiting automobiles, and distribution made to all the towns and communities of the county. Thousands of extra copies were sold as rapidly as they could be supplied.

– Press Democrat, December 10 1920

Read More


MOB SIEGE OF THE JAIL (Dec. 5, 1920 Pt. 2)

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 while trying to arrest 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 lynchable killer was in custody.

But if there was hope of defusing the situation any such plan would have needed to be 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 a surly 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.

Phillips only had power to serve official papers, the judge ruled, then huddled with the Santa Rosa Police Chief on who to appoint in charge until the Supervisors could meet the next morning in an emergency session. That man was John M. Boyes, who had been on the Santa Rosa police force for 23 years, nine of them as chief. Once Petray was elected in 1918 he retired immediately and became a deputy sheriff. As he was the only man well qualified to take leadership, the call could have been made an hour earlier.

The judge also ordered all deputies be sworn in as Santa Rosa deputy constables to create a united, lawful police force. Boyes deputized 25-30 men. Another 20 additional special police officers were sworn in by the mayor. A San Francisco Police Captain was coming up on the late train with ten detectives from the city.

The crowd begins to gather in front of the Sonoma County Jail before dark on December 5, 1920. Photo: Hamilton H. Dobbin collection, California State Library.
The crowd begins to gather in front of the Sonoma County Jail before dark on December 5, 1920. Photo: Hamilton H. Dobbin collection, California State Library.

Deputies were placed outside the building to guard the door and keep the sidewalks clear, but that soon proved as impossible as sweeping back the ocean. “From Petaluma, from Healdsburg and from towns in the outlying section automobiles, crowded to their capacity swelled the mob in front of the jail,” said the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Several hundred people from Healdsburg, the home of Sheriff Petray, were early on the scene,” the Healdsburg Tribune reported, “and many took prominent parts in the agitation for a necklace party.”

Among them were Edward and Frank Petray, brothers of the murdered sheriff. San Francisco Examiner: “Sheriff Petray’s brother, heavily armed, managed to gain entrance to the outer offices of the jail. Swearing summary vengeance on his brother’s murderer if he could gain access to the cell rooms, he paced to and fro.”

“We brought guns,” said “Big Ed” quietly. “Jack, if you were to bring those three men out here now I’d kill them. Jim wouldn’t want me to. But I couldn’t help it.” At that moment, three feet away and at the other side of a flimsy glass door, the front ranks of the “mob” were howling for blood. Had “Big Ed” or Frank Petray taken one step to the door, turned the key that was in the lock, and said, “Come in, boys,” the magazine would have exploded.

As people continued pouring in, the crowd filled the street between the jail and east side of the courthouse. Cars blocked sidewalks. Between the din of car horns and shouted threats of lynching, few could hear the authorities who urged them to disperse or at least tried to lower the temperature. Here are some things which were reportedly said, according to newspapers the following day:

  Judge Sewell: “Don’t do anything that you and Sonoma County will have cause to regret.” Someone answered, “We won’t regret it, judge,” as the crowd roared.
  “Let the law take its course, men,” District Attorney Hoyle urged. “We have the murderers, and they will be brought speedily to justice. Give the law a chance!” He couldn’t finish speaking because they began shouting back, “They didn’t give Jimmy Petray a chance!”
  Boyes dangled the possibility one of the gangsters had gotten away: “You’re not giving us a chance to do our duty, you fellows. By keeping us here you are preventing us from making further arrests which we want to do in order to clinch the case against the prisoners.” As gangster Boyd was slowly dying of his wound, the Acting Sheriff added morbidly, “If you want to hang someone you’ll probably be able to hang a dead man by morning.”

By early evening there were an estimated 2,000 itching to lynch the prisoners. It was now a mob, and the siege of the jailhouse was about to begin.

Early in the siege on the Sonoma County Jail on December 5, 1920. The Santa Rosa police officers are Obe Cockrill, Herman Hankel and G. C. Feliz. Photo: Hamilton H. Dobbin collection, California State Library.
Early in the siege on the Sonoma County Jail on December 5, 1920. The Santa Rosa police officers are Obe Cockrill, Herman Hankel and G. C. Feliz. Photo: Hamilton H. Dobbin collection, California State Library.


The Dec. 5 1920 riot was the most well-covered event in Santa Rosa history, with reporters from eight newsrooms on the scene. But why are there so many differences in what appeared in papers the next day? Which sources can we trust the most/least? It’s always a complex question, but this story lends itself to being a good exercise for how to weigh accuracy.

Primary sources used in this chapter included the December 6 editions of the Press Democrat, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Call (the San Francisco Bulletin was also on the scene, but that newspaper is not online). Sometimes details which appeared in only one paper were also generally described by another reporter, suggesting that bit of info was (likely) accurate. But researcher beware when there’s no sign of confirmation elsewhere, and each version has one or more problems like this.

There’s also certain to be distortion because of the enormous and noisy crowd, making it impossible to hear and see very well. How much guesswork and hearsay crept into the reporting? Sources agree authorities pleaded with the mob to disperse, but there was no consensus of what was actually spoken, or when in the evening they said it.

As these highly newsworthy events were happening under pressure to make deadlines for the morning editions, were details garbled? Was the wooden battering ram a telephone pole? Did that attack happen closer to 10 or 11 o’clock? Was a single sailor involved or “a party of sailors”? And how much does the accuracy of those details matter, really?

Making the exercise more interesting are the different vantage points. The Examiner reporter was clearly in the jail with the police while the other newspapers were outside with the mob. Readers of the Examiner were told there was gunfire from the crowd; the Chronicle reported a tire exploded “like a pistol shot.” The Call mentioned a brother of Sheriff Petray was inside the jail, while the Examiner told readers he was armed and trying to kill the prisoners.

Other journalists present that night were from the Healdsburg Tribune, Santa Rosa Republican and Associated Press. Although their offerings did not add substantial information, these sources were used to confirm the likelihood of some details. More on the entire press coverage of the week of Dec. 5-10 continues in the following chapter.


The crowd continued to swell as hours passed. Two of the San Francisco papers noted it was not all men, with many well-known women of Santa Rosa scouted among their number.

The air crackled with tension and the disorganized mob kept waiting for something to happen. The PD reported, “Feeling ran high, and if there had appeared anyone with a strong personality to become a leader, there is little doubt that an attack in force would have been made.”

When an auto tire blew out it was mistaken for gunfire and the crowd went into a frenzy. Acting Sheriff Boyes posted additional officers outside the door and took all keys to the jail’s cellblock and sent them away to a secret location.

It was near 10 o’clock and there was an impossibly large number of people shoved together on the east side of the courthouse. The Press Democrat estimated over 3,000. The Chronicle thought there were over 4,000.

And then it began. A group of men raided a construction site a couple of blocks away and stole a long 2×4 (it was probably really a 4×6 meant for a roof beam) for a battering ram.

Dick Campbell, who owned a candy store in Monte Rio, took position at the front. “Let’s go!” he shouted.

The mob parted and the men charged towards the officers and the door.

“But the enthusiasm of those behind evaporated and by the time Campbell reached the jail door he was almost alone,” the PD said. “City Police Officer Herman Hankel collared him and thrust him through the door into the jail, where he was booked on a charge of inciting a riot.”

“Undaunted by one ineffectual attempt to reach the murderers, the mob retired a short distance for consultation,” according to the Chronicle. They returned with a far formidable siege weapon – a steel girder so heavy it needed over fifty men to lift.

Led this time by a sailor in uniform they rushed the jail, the mob at their backs ready to storm the building once they were through the door.

Deputy sheriffs and San Francisco detectives armed to the teeth ran out from the jail and leveled revolvers at the crowd. “Stand back or we’ll have to shoot!” they cried at the onrushing mob. (Chronicle)

Likely intimidated by the guns, enough of the rioters stepped away from the girder to make the attack unworkable. They backed off to regroup. The standoff resumed:

The authorities were determined to hold their prisoners at all cost and the mob seemed equally determined that the murderers should be tried and sentenced in the court of Judge Lynch. The mob, sullen and vengeful, was watching closely for any relaxation of watchfulness on the part of men guarding the jail. The slightest incident would have resulted in a concerted rush upon the jail. (Chronicle)

As 11 o’clock approached, the mayor ordered the fire engine into position. The hose was attached to the hydrant at the corner of Fourth street as the firemen awaited possible orders to drench the mob.

More deputies were sent outside to reinforce the line as the mob prepared another attack with the steel girder – apparently the sailor and others convinced themselves they would not be fired upon.

The 60 to 75 men with the heavy battering ram charged again towards the sheriff’s door. This time the officers were more than ready. Instead of threatening a massacre, the game plan was to leverage the girder’s weight against the attackers in a clever bit of jiu-jitsu.

At the very last moment before the end of the unwieldy ram was about to reach them, the officers deftly put their hands on it and shoved sideways so it smashed into the wall. As the mob dropped their metal weapon, “It struck the concrete walk with a loud clang and clatter,” said the PD.

Photo of the mob taken before the jailhouse siege began, probably between 7-9 o’clock as people were still gathering. Judging from the position of the jail faintly seen in the background, the group facing the camera were about 125 feet away from the northeast corner of the building. Photo credited to San Francisco Call, although it also appeared in the Press Democrat, Examiner and Chronicle.
Photo of the mob taken before the jailhouse siege began, probably between 7-9 o’clock as people were still gathering. Judging from the position of the jail faintly seen in the background, the group facing the camera were about 125 feet away from the northeast corner of the building. Photo credited to San Francisco Call, although it also appeared in the Press Democrat, Examiner and Chronicle.

“The mob made no move to disperse and at midnight excitement still was high. Threats of lynching had by no means abated,” the Chronicle noted, in what was surely the reporter’s final wrap-up phoned in to the night editor.

But it really was over, although fragments of the mob lingered as late as 3AM. There was talk of another assault on the jail that upcoming night, but authorities told the papers that state troops would be summoned if rioting continued.

When the sun rose farmers began drifting into town for Monday morning shopping and learned details of the long and horrible day that came before, from the murder of the sheriff to the reckless mob that might have ended in a massacre.

Only the reporter for the Call was up early enough to sum up the aftermath:

By 12 o’clock [noon] about 200 men had gathered about the county jail, and the doors of the jail were locked and deputies and police stationed on guard within and without the structure, ready for any emergency. The crowd was quiet, and officers believed it to be made up largely of “curiosity seekers.” During the morning little knots of men gathered at street corners and discussed the tragedy.

It had been Santa Rosa’s worst night since the 1906 earthquake – but by the end of the week there would be a night more terrible yet.





Crowd of 4000 Men Cry for Vengeance And Slayers’ Blood

2000 or more Santa Rosans, cursing the murderers and muttering threats against them, gathered in front of the jail, just across the street from the Courthouse.

The news of the murder spread like wildfire throughout the territory surrounding Santa Rosa. Grim visaged citizens parked their automobiles in front of the jail and rent the air with the din of their horns. Each horn held a menace for the murderers.

From Petaluma, from Healdsburg and from towns in the outlying section automobiles, crowded to their capacity swelled the mob in front of the jail. Within several hours following the capture of the gangsters the crowd had swelled to more than four thousand.

Sailors Arrive and Take Active Part

Up to this time there had been no actual violence, the mob confining itself to threats and curses hurled against the ruffians. Then a party of sailors arriving on the scene took the situation in hand. Immediately the mob grew more restive and the storming of the jail was imminent.

Deputy sheriffs of Sonoma county, reinforced by ten SF detectives under the leadership of Captain Duncan Matheson, at times using tactical persuasion, at times resorting to force to keep back members of the mob, who advanced menacingly, battled desperately to prevent a wholesale lynching.

“Let the law take its course, men,” the officers urged.

“We have the murderers, and they will be brought speedily to justice. Give the law a chance!”

“They didn’t give Jimmy Petray a chance for his white alley!” [sic] shouted a voice from the crowd.

“Think, think, men! You can’t do this thing,” one of the officers said. “Think what it will mean!”

“We know what it will mean!” bellowed another voice in the mob. “We’ll give the murderers whats comin’ to them. Let’s string ’em up!

“Here’s a telegraph pole!” roared still another voice.

“That’ll smash in the door! Let’s go!”

Fifty or sixty of the men with the pole held as a ram advanced toward the jail door. Deputy sheriffs and San Francisco detectives armed to the teeth ran out from the jail and leveled revolvers at the crowd.

“Stand back or well have to shoot!” they cried at the onrushing mob.

Men With Ram Are Hurled Back

The men with the ram reached the door of the jail and battered against it, but were hurled back by the officers before they effected an entrance.

While the mob stormed the jail, the prisoners trembling with fear cringed in their cells while deputy Sheriffs and detectives, companions of the men they had so ruthlessly murdered, stood guard at the doors of their cells to protect them from mob violence.

Undaunted by one ineffectual attempt to reach the murderers the mob retired a short distance for consultation then started another advance on the jaiL.

Again the authorities won and saved their prisoners from the noose. The fire department was called out and, with hose attached to the hydrants, the firemen stood ready to sweep back the crowds with streams of water.

Continue in Efforts To Enter Prison

At intervals throughout the evening the mob made ineffectual attempts to enter the jail and seize the prisoners. The mob made no move to disperse and at midnight excitement still was high. Threats of lynching had by no means abated.

The authorities were determined to hold their prisoners at all cost and the mob seemed equally determined that the murderers should be tried and sentenced in the court of Judge Lynch. The mob, sullen and vengeful, was watching closely for any relaxation of watchfulness on the part of men guarding the jaiL. The slightest incident would have resulted in a concerted rush upon the jail.

Exploding Tire Stirs Surging Crowd

A report like a pistol shot caused the mob to prepare for action and the din that arose from four thousand voices brought a condition to the prisoners bordering on panic.

“For God’s sake don’t let them get us! They pleaded to the officers, their limbs trembling and teeth chattering.

Their protecters gazed on them in silent contempt. They were risking their lives to protect cringing cowards who had not scrupled to outrage helpless womanhood and to shoot down in cold blood men with whom they had been associated for years – their pals.

The report that had almost precipitated another rush on the jail was from the bursting of an automobile tire.

Should further violence threaten the gangsters it may be necessary to reinforce the guard at the jaiL. State troops will be called for only as a last resort it was stated last night.

– San Francisco Chronicle, December 6, 1920






Shortly before noon the crowd, which had been dispersed at 3 a. m. after a night of terror, began to re-form.

By 12 o’clock about 200 men had gathered about the county jail, and the doors of the jail were locked and deputies and police stationed on guard within and without the structure, ready for any emergency.

The crowd was quiet, and officers believed it to be made up largely of “curiosity seekers.”

During the morning little knots of men gathered at street corners and discussed the tragedy.

The farming communities the surrounding towns were all represented in the crowds that walked the streets, and various rumors of violence being planned were afloat.

One rumor that gained circulation was that a second attempt to get at the prisoners and lynch them would be made tonight.

A crowd, which at its apex totaled probably 3000 persons, had disappeared from in front of the county jail early today after making strenuous attempts to break in the jail doors.

“Lynch them, Lynch them!“ cried the mob, individual members of which demanded that the prisoners be delivered to them.

Armed officers held the mob at bay, and attempts to batter down the jail doors with a steel girder and a heavy wooden beam were frustrated. Members of the mob armed with knives stood ready to slash fire hoses should the fire department resort to water pressure to disperse the crowd. But the three fire engines drawn up around the corner from the jail were not called into action.



The county was still at fever heat today. Farmers were reported to be laying down their tools and scores of them came into town during the day by automobile, train and horse drawn vehicles…



Reports of small bodies of armed men meeting in various pans of the county came to officers during the day.
The residents of the city and of the entire county are plainly in an ugly mood. Extra deputies are being sworn in to meet any contingency.

The crowd that stormed the county jail last night was in a murderous mood. Although none of the men displayed weapons, it was known that some of them were armed and that others carried ropes. The would-be lynchers had practically all gone, ostensibly to their homes, by 3 o’clock this morning.

Mayor W. E. Rutherford had sworn in twenty additional special police officers today to guard against possible outbreak by mobs. Twenty-five or thirty deputies had been named by Acting Sheriff Boyes.

Superior Judge Emmett Sewell, mounting the steps, tried in vain to quiet the mob.

He told the crowd that the officials were just as anxious as they were to secure justice, but desired to uphold the law.

Acting Sheriff Boyes also addressed the mob.

“You’re not giving us a chance to do our duty, you fellows.” he said, “By keeping us here you are preventing us from making further arrests which we want to do in order to clinch the case against the prisoners. If you want to hang someone you’ll probably be able to hang a dead man by morning.” He referred to Boyd, who at that at time was reported to be dying.

Officials were worn out as a result of their battle with the mobs which stormed the jail last night.


At one stage of the siege a group of men secured a steel girder from a building in course of construction two blocks from the jail.

With this hundreds of men tried to batter down the jail doors.

The deputy sheriffs and police succeeded in diverting the girder so that it crashed into the wall. The hand of one officers was badly smashed in the struggle with the crowd for possession of the girder.

Then the crowd secured a heavy wooden beam and once more began to batter at the door.

R. H. Campbell, who served in the world war and who is the proprietor of a confectionery store at Monte Rio, responded to the crowd’s cry for a leader.

He led the way to the jail door, but was arrested by Deputy Sheriff Herman Hinkel and taken inside the jail, but was later released.

Early this morning two score hastily sworn deputy sheriffs and special police were inside the jail and at that time newspaper men who wished to interview the prisoners were told that the keys to the jail had been sent away from the jail. The reason for this apparently was to guard against their possible seizure by confederates of the mob.

A sailor in uniform was prominent in the activities of the mob during the night. He led the attempts that were made to batter down the jail doors with a steel girder.


Sheriff Petray’s brothers were also active in the mob and once one of them gained entrance to the outer offices of the jail. He swore vengeance on the slayer of his brother.

Many prominent Santa Rosa women were noted in the crowd which jammed the street in front of the jail.

The crowd broke into angry roars from time to time and paid no attention to the pleas of those who addressed them. District Attorney Charles Hoyle urged the crowd to return to their homes, but it was not until four hours later that the crowd began to break up.

– San Francisco Call, December 6, 1920



Jail Surrounded By 3000 Persons; Leader Arrested

Up to 12:30 o’clock Monday morning several attempts to storm the county jail by the disorganized mob which swarmed about the building all night had proven abortive. Estimates placed the size of the mob at more than 3,000 persons during part of the evening.

Feeling ran high, and if there had appeared anyone with a strong personality to become a leader, there is little doubt that an attack in force would have been made.

About 11 o’clock, when the situation appeared particularly threatening, District Attorney George W. Hoyle attempted to speak to the crowd from a position on the jail steps, but was not allowed to finish his remarks. The mob was in no temper for pacific words, and howled him down. Hoyle attempted to point out facts which are obviously true: that the judges here are manifestly fair, that the officers are efficient and will uncover all evidence, and that full justice will be meted out.


One of the first real, concerted efforts to storm the jail occurred shortly before 11 o’clock. Several men secured a large piece of timber and shouted for a leader.

“Let’s go!” shouted R. H. Campbell of Monte Rio, and grabbed the front of the timber and started up the steps of the jail with a rush.

But the enthusiasm of those behind evaporated and by the time Campbell reached the jail door he was almost alone.

City Police Officer Herman Hankel collared him and thrust him through the door into the jail, where he was booked on a charge of “inciting a riot.”

Campbell, who is a veteran of the world war, at present in the confectionary business in Monte Rio, expressed great disgust at the lack of spirit shown by those who failed to support his efforts to storm the door.

About 10 o’clock a mob of 60 to 75 men, led by a sailor in uniform, came running toward the jail entrance bearing a heavy steel girder which had been brought from a building several blocks away. Amid the cheers of the crowd the mob prepared to storm the jail door, but the foremost members of the crowd dropped away one after another as the door was approached until it became too heavy for those who still remained so they were compelled to drop it before reaching the officers, who presented a solid front across the entrance way.

Shortly before 11 o’clock another attempt was made to storm the jail door and the huge steel battering ram was rushed almost to the entrance of the building, but the men were compelled to drop it again, and it struck the concrete walk with a loud clang and clatter.

Mayor W. E. Rutherford at 11 o’clock ordered the new fire auto engine to be stationed at Hinton avenue and Fourth street for use in case it should be necessary to quell the mob with a stream of water.

At 11:20 several of the deputy sheriffs who had been on duty inside the building were ordered to re-enforce the officers on guard at the jail entrance outside.

Valento was identified by Katherine O’Connor, the policewoman, and not by the girls as was at first reported. She says he is a member of the Howard street gang.

John Hayes and John Parks came up by auto Sunday afternoon for the Associated Press after the detailed story had been sent the San Francisco office by the Press Democrat, the authorized representative of the organization.


– Press Democrat, December 6, 1920



Good Police Work

Now that the nervous tension of the people at the time of the triple shooting Sunday is relaxing, they are remembering incidents which were important the night of the killing of the sheriff and his fellow officers.

Much favorable comment has been heard from Santa Rosa people and others of the manner in which the Santa Rosa police force handled the situation in front of the county jail when hundreds of angry men threatened to storm the door in an attempt to lynch the three gangsters within.

Of the Santa Rosa officers, Police Officer Herman Hankel’s method of dealing with the mob struck the right note.

Hankel joshed with the crowd at times and by his kindly sympathy, timely advice, and evident determination to do his duty, he commanded respect for the enforcement of the law which he represented.

At least twice Hankel persuaded the mob to desist from its plans to batter in the door. However, he demonstrated his ability to act with quickness and twice rushed into the mob with drawn club and forced them to drop their battering ram.

Officer Feliz also is receiving much favorable comment from the citizens of this city for his able attention to duty and his manner in addressing the crowds. In fact every man on the force performed his duty faithfully and the Santa Rosa officers have attracted attention in all parts of the state for the efficiency and earnestness.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 9, 1920

Read More



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.

Embed from Getty Images

After her capture, rumors flew that Dorothy Quinlan was part of the Howard Street Gang and tasked with procuring young women to come to their lair. She drew further suspicion when it became known she worked at the Hale Bros. department store in San Francisco, and the night she was in Santa Rosa it was robbed by a team of four safe-crackers who seemed very familiar with the store and the night watchman situation. While she was only a waitress at the store’s cafeteria, much was made in the press that her out-of-town trip seemed timed for someone wanting to create an alibi.

In truth she was Valento’s girlfriend, having known him for about a month. “He telephoned me that there was to be a party at the home of a friend of his in Santa Rosa and invited me to go. I thought he was all right,” she later told reporters. Part of her attraction was knowing he was a bootlegger. “I was a lonesome woman in a large city and I liked a good time. I was invited to a San Francisco resort where drinks were served and there met Valento,” she told the PD. “He made a fuss over me and I thought that he liked me.”

On that evening before the horrors began, all of our players were having a memorable Saturday night. Terry Fitts – the Santa Rosa hoodlum who brought the gangsters here – arranged a special dinner (its specialness undoubtedly meaning it included lots of illegal booze) to be served for Quinlan, Valento, Boyd and himself. Afterwards the four went to Casassa’s speakeasy on Guerneville Road where they drank and danced until 2AM. When the party returned to Santa Rosa, Dorothy and boyfriend Valento scooted over to the La Rosa hotel.

Elsewhere on that rainy and blustery night in Santa Rosa, Jim Petray and his deputies were at a banquet in honor of his close friend, State Senator Herb Slater. It was “a most happy gathering,” according to the PD.

All that was the quiet. Now comes the storm.

On Sunday morning Sheriff Petray welcomed the group from San Francisco.1 Besides Detectives Dorman and Jackson, Policewoman Kate O’Conner was the escort for the three women.

After Petray and everyone from San Francisco had a noontime Sunday dinner at a hotel restaurant, the sheriff and two deputies, the Santa Rosa police chief and the detectives set off on their hunt. As Terry Fitts and the others had no auto and were taking taxis everywhere it was well known where the gangsters were hanging out.

The first place they tried was Casassa’s ranch, where they learned the gangsters had been there until very late and there was now a woman with them. Back to Santa Rosa and its Italian district. On Adams street they searched the Torino hotel (which was owned by Casassa) and then the Toscano hotel, where Fitts and the others had that “special” dinner.

“While there a bystander asked the officer if they were looking for a ‘little black fellow'” who had just entered the house next to the hotel, the Press Democrat reported. It was first presumed this was a description of Louis Lazarus, but testimony at the Coroner’s Inquest revealed he was never there – the man spotted going in to the Guidotti home was Valento.2


A galling mistake still told about these events is that the murders happened at the Guidotti place because the gangsters were staying there. Even if Pete and Jennie Guidotti wanted to harbor the criminals they had no room for guests – the tiny house (about 900 sq. ft.) only had two bedrooms, no bath, and their family included two children, the youngest barely three years old.

Pete Guidotti’s connection to Fitts is unknown, although everyone in Santa Rosa seemed to be familiar with the infamous hoodlum. The association was probably via the Toscano hotel (the current location of Stark’s Steakhouse) being the gang’s favorite hangout and next door to their home. Pete and his two brothers were the hotel’s proprietors until early 1920 when they leased it out, although it was still commonly known as “Guidotti’s Hotel”.

What Pete Guidotti did for a living at the time of the murders is unknown. He and/or Jennie might have been employees at the Toscano but it’s more likely his source of income involved bootlegging. A few months after the family retook control of the hotel in 1921, a Prohibition search found seven 10-gallon casks of hooch in the tank house. Several times in the following years Pete would be accused of serving alcohol and sometimes arrested.

Just before the lawmen settled on a plan for approaching the house where the suspects were, a family friend of the Guidotti’s innocently popped by for a Sunday afternoon visit. When the bullets began whizzing around it was by great good luck that Dan FitzGerald was not injured (some might remember his children who spent their lives here and died in the 1990s: Abraham Lincoln “Dink” FitzGerald and Vera Moors).

The Guidottis had never met Valento or Boyd but they knew Fitts, who pulled Pete Guidotti aside in the kitchen. The reason they were there, Fitts explained, was because he wanted to borrow a thousand dollars, which would be secured by a note endorsed by his relatives – presumably the sisters were no longer feeling so generous about splitting their inheritance with their crazy, no-account brother. “I said it was out of the question, so let it go,” Guidotti recalled telling Fitts.

And very shortly thereafter there was a knock on the front door.

The Guidotti home in 1920. Photo: Hamilton H. Dobbin collection, California State Library.
The Guidotti home in 1920. Photo: Hamilton H. Dobbin collection, California State Library.

The description here of the shootings is a composite from accounts given to reporters by FitzGerald and both Guidottis within the first hours of the murders. Great coverage appeared in the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle but neither matched the excellent Dec. 6 reporting in the Press Democrat, transcribed below. Factual differences between the versions of what happened in those few minutes are trivial.

Pete Guidotti answered the door to see Petray and the two San Francisco detectives. “What do you want, Sheriff?” He asked.

“There are two boys in your house here that I want,” Jim Petray replied, with a disarming, easy laugh.

The law officers stepped into the small living room, where Boyd was reclining on a couch. FitzGerald and Valento came in from the kitchen and all the suspects except Boyd sat around a table with the lawmen, while Dorothy Quinlan and the Guidottis remained in the kitchen.

The cops didn’t know who FitzGerald or Boyd were, but the head detective and Fitts immediately recognized each other.

“I’m Miles Jackson.”

“I remember you,” said Fitts. “You sent me up for a jolt once and I was innocent.”

“No, you were not innocent,” replied Jackson. “You were sent to prison for breaking your parole.” (This was a 1914 incident where Fitts was part of a gang plotting to rob a jewelry store, and Jackson was shot and wounded by a gang member – see chapter six for more.)

Guidotti heard Petray (or Jackson?) arguing with Fitts and he stepped into the room to ask what was the matter.

“Just a little trouble,” Petray assured. Guidotti returned to the kitchen and heard raised voices again.

Detective Dorman stood and said to Valento: “Well, we want you to come along to the station [meaning the Sheriff’s Office and County Jail]. If the girls don’t identify you we’ll let you go.”

Sergeant Jackson added, “We’d better take the rest of them, too.” Valento and Fitts rose to go with the officers as Jackson went to the kitchen to summon the two deputies who had been stationed outside the backdoor.

George Boyd – who had remained silently lounging on the sofa as tensions in the room grew – swung to his feet. From underneath a pillow he drew Fitts’ 44 special Smith & Wesson “monster” and began firing as fast as he could pull the trigger and with uncanny accuracy, all the more remarkable because he would claim to be so drunk he didn’t know what he was doing.

Detective Dorman was hit, calling out to his partner as he fell, “Oh, Miles…”

Sheriff Petray, standing next to the Guidotti’s phonograph, was shot in the head and groin.

Jackson pulled his revolver and turned back from the kitchen. Boyd shot him as he stepped into the doorway. As he collapsed he fired twice. One bullet struck Boyd in the abdomen.

Deputy Robinson – waiting outside the backdoor – later testified at the Coroner’s Inquest,

All of a sudden we heard this disastrous shooting – eight shots very close together. We rushed to the door to get in and as we rushed to the door this blonde lady and Mrs. Guidotti, and she had a little girl by the arm, came out of the house hollering…Pete come running out. His wife had fallen down with the youngster. I told Pete ‘you better take care of your wife and get out of here.’

As the two deputies rushed in through the kitchen door, they ran into Fitts and Valento trying to escape. The other deputy handcuffed them together as Robinson entered the house. He found Boyd bent over in pain and repeating, “I haven’t done nothing. I haven’t done nothing.” The deputy hit him hard before locking on handcuffs.

Throughout this, Dan FitzGerald was paralyzed in fear. “Boyd looked at me pretty straight,” he told the PD, “and may have thought I came with the officers.”

Petray was face down. Deputy Robinson rolled him partially over and asked: “Are you done for, Jim?” The only sign of life was some hand motion and groaning. Robinson ordered FitzGerald: “Help me pack him out of here.”

They carried the Sheriff out to one of the police cars and someone raced him to the Mary Jesse hospital at the corner of Fifth and King streets. Jim Petray would die a few minutes after being hefted onto the operating table.

Detective Dorman was also taken there and survived a few hours, long enough for his wife to reach him from San Francisco. Miles Jackson died in the house, a bullet through both lungs.

Of the five shots fired by Boyd, four struck the law enforcement officers. The gun belonged to Fitts, but it was Valento who purchased the bullets at a Fourth street gun store a couple of days before – and he bought the soft-nosed kind that expands upon impact and causes the most terrible damage. Yet so powerful was that big gun all/most of the bullets passed through the bodies and were now embedded in Guidotti’s walls, ceiling and floor.

guidottiroom(RIGHT: “Santa Rosa’s Death Room” SF Call, December 7, 1920)

The three gangsters were taken to the County Jail. FitzGerald and Pete Guidotti were also held and questioned. Deputy Robinson found Dorothy at the train station crouching in a telephone booth and brought her in as well.

Word of the killings ripped through Santa Rosa and the Redwood Empire beyond – if someone wasn’t telephoning you about what happened, it was because you already knew and were on the line telling someone else. Even though there was only about an hour left before dark, a photo shows a crowd of men milling on the sidewalk outside the jail.

One soul who somehow didn’t hear about it immediately was Ransom Petray, Jim’s 16 year-old son. The family had moved into a house at the corner of Benton and Slater streets that October and Ransom was in the habit of going downtown at 5 o’clock to walk home with his father. “He was surprised to see the crowd and learned the sad news from those gathered there,” reported the PD. “He broke completely, and deputies led him to a private room.”

As the news continued to spread, more people in Santa Rosa headed downtown. Those living farther away drove towards here in their autos or jumped aboard the electric trolley.

Night fell and they kept on coming. And coming. And coming. And they did not stop.


1In some accounts the group arrived in Santa Rosa on Saturday night, but the presence of Petray and the deputies at the banquet along with the foul weather for driving make that very unlikely.
2As seen in his mug shot in the previous chapter, Valento had a Mediterranean complexion with both his parents being from Trieste; his nickname was “Spani,” being short for “Spanish.” The Republican referred to the 5’2″ Valento as a “diminutive black looking specimen of humanity.”





Dan Fitz Gerald, who was in the room when the shooting occurred, gives a graphic description of the terrible affair.

“When the officers came in,” he said, “they began talking. We were all seated around the room, and when they ordered Boyd to stand up he started to obey, but as he got up he pulled his gun and, quick as a flash, began firing. He picked them out fast, and it was ‘pop, pop, pop,’ as quick as he could press the trigger. Then, as it seemed to me, he turned his gun on himself and shot himself through the stomach. Anyhow, when I looked at him he was toppling over and doubling up, and his pistol was in his hand and seemed to be pointed toward his stomach.”

“It was cold-blooded murder, and nothing else.”

“I helped the officers pick up the wounded men and carry them to the automobile, and also helped carry Jackson into the hospital.”

A fact tending to weaken the theory that Boyd turned his pistol upon himself is the finding of a bullet under the carpet in the dining room. The bullet came at an angle from the kitchen door, near where the slain officers were standing, gouged a small hole in the carpet, and lodged in the flooring but a few inches from where it first struck.

A complete search of the dining room failed to disclose evidence of another bullet fired in this direction, or the mark of a bullet in the walls of the room.

The room was not disarranged and shows no signs of any struggle or quick movements. Cut glass sitting on the table between the officers and the men was not disturbed.

But another bullet struck the dining room door leading to the kitchen and imbedded itself in the wall. The two bullet holes and a pool of blood on the carpel near where Sheriff Petray was said to have fallen were the only evidences of the terrible crime visible in the house.


“Jackson shot Boyd from the kitchen door, declared Guidotti to a Press Democrat representative, “and I saw him do it. I was out in the kitchen helping my wife with the dishes and I saw Jackson pull his gun and fire. Jackson was on the floor, and partly sitting up when he pulled his gun and fired. I think shot twice.”

“Fitts came in with two men, and said he wanted to talk to me about money. He asked me if I could [illegible microfilm] note for a thousand dollars and I said it was out of the question, so let it go.’ Then he said, ‘How about a little soup? I told him all right, to sit down and have some. They sat down and had a plate of soup, and it was only a little while after this that the officers came in.”

Guidotti’s statement that Detective Jackson fired the shot that “got” Boyd, is borne out by the direction taken by the bullet found beneath the carpet in the room in which the shooting occurred.


Mrs. Guidotti states that she did not know any of the men except Fitts. He came to the house, she said, just a few minutes before the arrival of the officers, accompanied by two strangers. Fitts requested the loan of a sum of money, which was refused.

There was a knock on the front door, she said, and Pete Guidotti went to the door and admitted the officers. They walked in and told the three men they wanted to see them. One of the men replied, according to Mrs. Guidotti. “Well, take us up town to the proper place. Let’s have no argument in this lady’s house.”

Mrs. Guidotti immediately went to the kitchen and picked up her small child. Just then she heard shots, and with the baby in her arms rushed frantically out of the house.

According to other witnesses, who were on the scene immediately after the tragedy. Sheriff Petray fell beside a phonograph, Jackson staggered into the kitchen and dropped. The three men made a break for the back door and were captured by Deputy Sheriffs Marvin Robinson and Robert Dickson.


Fitz Gerald, who is said to be an old friend of the Guidotti family and a frequent visitor at their home, dropped in only a few moments before the officers arrived. Fitts, Boyd and the others were already there. He expressed himself after the shooting as of the opinion that the San Francisco gang might try to make it appear that he had something to do with the raid. “Boyd looked at me pretty straight,” said Fitz Gerald, “and may have thought I came with the officers. If he had taken a shot at me, I would not have been greatly surprised, under the circumstances. I guess I am lucky to have escaped.”


Dr. W. S. Stone, Northwestern Pacific physician, and surgeon at San Quentin for six years, says that Thursday he made a trip from Healdsburg to San Rafael, accompanied by his wife.

He says that at Santa Rosa Terry Fitts and Charles Valento boarded the train for San Francisco. Stone says that he spoke to Fitts and was introduced to Valento. The men said they were going to San Francisco but would return to Santa Rosa in the evening. Stone asked Fitts how he had been getting along since he left the penitentiary and, he says, Fitts replied that he had fallen heir to some money and was getting along fine.

Statements from all the arrested men were taken by District Attorney Geo. W. Hoyle. It is said that Fitts and Valento denied knowing anything about who did the shooting, saying there was so much smoke and confusion that they were more concerned about getting out of the way.


Boyd at first told a lurid tale of knowing who did the shooting and said that he could identify the man. He later is said to have admitted that he fired one shot at Sergeant Miles. Boyd said that he was intoxicated and did not know how the trouble started, according to Dr. Jackson Temple, Boyd is evidently a dope fiend, carrying many marks of the needle on his arms.

The gun with which the officers were killed was a 44 special Smith & Wesson, a long barreled weapon. According to officers, it has been identified as [illegible microfilm] to Fitts. Just how it came into the hands of Boyd will have to be explained.

Among the contents of Boyd’s suit case, which was secured by the officers and taken to the county jail, was a box of 44-calibre shells, with one round missing. The box originally contained fifty shells, and now contains but forty-four. The bullets are of the soft-nose variety and capable of doing great damage.

Sheriff Petray received information Saturday that members of the Howard street gang who had assaulted several girls in San Francisco recently were in hiding here or in this vicinity. He notified the San Francisco police, and made an appointment to meet representatives from the San Francisco department and three, of the girls who had been attacked. The officers arrived here Sunday morning in a police automobile.

The San Francisco party included Detective Sergeant Miles Jackson, Policewoman Katherine O’Connor, Detective Lester Dorman, who was chauffeur of the police automobile, and three of the girls who were victims of the gang, Jean Montgomery, who formerly lived at Petaluma, Pearl Hanley and Edna Fullmer.

After dinner Sheriff Petray led a raiding party composed of the two San Francisco officers, Deputy Sheriffs Robert Dickson and Marvin Robinson and Chief of Police George Matthews, on a hunt for the gangsters.

Petray and the detectives went first to the Torino hotel. The others went to the Cassasa place. At Cassasa’s they were told that the men described had left at 1 o’clock Sunday morning and had not been back. At the Toscano hotel they were informed that the men had been there, but had left.


While there a bystander asked the officer if they were looking for a “little black fellow.” and stated that such a man had just gone into Pete Guidotti’s residence. adjoining the hotel.

Sheriff Petray and the detectives were informed and went to Guidotti’s door, while the deputies spread out, planning to surround the place. Guidotti talked with the officers, who entered the house, and found Terrance Fitts, Dan Fitz Gerald, Charles Valento, George Boyd, and a woman giving the name of Dorothy Quinlan and Mrs. Guidotti.

Robinson and Dickson walked around to the rear of the house while the conference was going on inside and had reached the rear door when they heard a number of shots fired in quick succession. Instantly the officers broke in the back door and faced Boyd, Fitts and Valento. With drawn revolvers the officers ordered hands up and Robinson clapped his irons on Boyd, while Dickson, assisted by Robinson, handcuffed Valento and Fitts together.

The sight Which met the deputies eyes almost paralyzed them. On the floor lay Sheriff Petray and the two detectives.


Deputy Robinson turned Petray partly on his side and asked: “Are you done for, Jim?”

The only response was a groan. So far as is known Petray never recovered consciousness. He was picked up by Robinson and Fitz Gerald and carried to a waiting automobile in which he was rushed to the Mary Jesse hospital. Dr. G. W. Mallory, who was at the hospital, said he was alive when placed on the operating table, but breathed his last after a few minutes, without speaking.

The two officers were picked up and rushed to the hospital in other machines. Jackson was dead when taken into the hospital, and Dorman was found to be critically wounded, a bullet having struck him in his right shoulder, and ranging across the breast and hitting the opposite bone and dropping downward. It was said about 1 o’clock by the attending physician that his condition was critical and the district attorney’s office was advised to secure a statement if they desired his testimony in the case.


Deputy District Attorney Ross Campbell and Harry A. Scott, one of the official court reporters, took down the statement as it was uttered.

George Boyd, who claims to be an engineer from Seattle, is charged by Dan Fitzgerald with having done the shooting. Jackson, after he was mortally wounded, is said to have fired a shot which entered Boyd’s right side and ranged into the liver. His injury is said by Dr. Jackson Temple, who attended him in the county jail, not to be serious.

Dan Fitz Gerald had been at the Guidotti home only for a short time when Valento entered, and is said by the officers not to be involved in any manner in the trouble. The same is said regarding Pete Guidotti, but both men went to the county jail, where they were detained and thoroughly questioned by District Attorney George W. Hoyle, who had their statements taken down in shorthand.

As the news spread through the city and the county, phone calls to the sheriff’s office and The Press Democrat came pouring in for particulars, and soon a great crowd had assembled around the county Jail eager to gain any bit of information possible. Relatives and friends of the dead sheriff were soon here from Healdsburg, and some strong talk was indulged in, but a number of deputy sheriffs and the local police were placed on guard and the sidewalks and porch cleared of all, and no one allowed to enter who did not have business in the office.


As soon us it was known that Sheriff Petray was dead Judge Seawell was summoned and advised that the deputies all be sworn in at once as deputy constables, and assisted Oscar Mathews in drawing appointments for the deputies as fast as they reported to the office, so as to provide a lawful police force for the county as the jurisdiction of all deputies die [sic] with the chief under the law.

Coroner F. H. Phillips reached Santa Rosa at 5 o’clock, and assumed temporary charge of the sheriff’s office upon the theory that in such case the coroner automatically becomes sheriff.

Superior Judge Emmet Seawell ruled that Phillips has power only to serve official papers. At the same time he conferred with Constable Mathews who had sworn in all former deputy sheriffs os constables, and John M. Boyes, deputy, and former Santa Rosa chief of police, was appointed as officer in charge of all constables for the night.

A meeting of the board of supervisors has been called for 10 o’clock this morning when the immediate appointment of a sheriff to conduct the office will be taken up.


Deputy Sheriff Robinson picked up four revolvers he found lying on the floor of the Guidotti dining room after he had handcuffed the prisoners and sent the wounded officers to the hospital. These were taken to the county jail with the prisoners and locked up in the vault for safe keeping, and as evidence later when required. Robinson examined the weapons in the presence of other deputies and the Press Democrat representative. One weapon, long barrelled, was found to have five empty shells, while another held two. The former is said to be that of Geo. Boyd by both Dan Fitz Gerald and Pete Guidotti, who declared Boyd drew a long-barrel weapon and fired the five slots as rapidly as be could pull the trigger. The other is said to be the weapon of Detective Jackson.

Chief of Police G. W. Matthews spent an hour or more Saturday night in the vicinity of tho Guidotti hotel, looking for Terry Fitts, who was reported to be running wild with a weapon, and it was feared he would do harm io some one unless he was detained.


That Sheriff James A. Petray had no premonition of any trouble in rounding up members of tho Howard street gang here, still less of death and disaster, was indicated Saturday when he gave Press Democrat representatives confidential information that two or three members of the gang had been located here, and that they would be arrested Sunday afternoon.

“I’m going to have a mighty good story for you tomorrow afternoon about 3 o’clock,” he said to one reporter. But at 3 o’clock Sunday Jim Petray was dead, slain by one at the gangsters he sought in the performance of his duty.


Mixed with the sadness of Petray’s office staff is their happiness in having gathered with him at a dinner party Saturday evening, arranged in honor of Senator Herbert Slater. All of the deputies gathered at the table with the sheriff and the guest of honor, who has long been a close friend of the slain officer. Assemblyman A. F. Stevens and Assemblyman-elect L. E. Fulwider, were also guests of honor for the occasion, which was a most happy gathering.


L. A. Close, the taxi driver, had an exciting experience with Fitts Wednesday night when he was called to Casassa’s by phone for a passenger.

“When Fitts got into the car he showed plainly that he had been drinking heavily,” said Close, telling of his experience with the man. “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.”

Reports were made to the officers that 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. It was also reported that he went to the same house Friday night and when he could not gain an entrance laid down and went to sleep on the porch.

Captain Duncan Matheson of tho San Francisco office force, accompanied by Mrs. Lester Dorman, wife of the wounded officer, and the mother of the officer, arrived here with a party of friends on the late train from San Francisco, Sunday evening and hurried to the county jail, where the captain had a conference with H. M. Boyes, acting head of the office, after which he accompanied Mrs. Dorman and her friends to the Mary Jesse hospital, arriving there shortly before 9 o’clock.


When Captain Matheson was taken to the room of the wounded officer he greeted the officer encouragingly. Dorman appeared to rally slightly and recognize Matheson with a weak smile. When his wife stepped to his side he showed he recognized her, but was not able to speak so as to be heard. Within half an hour the end had come. Larry Jackson, a brother of Detective Jackson, was the first one from San Francisco to arrive at the county Jail after the shooting. He was completely broken up but bore up bravely, He was taken to the morgue as soon as possible where the body of his brother had been removed from the hospital.

When taken into the presence of the body he fell on his knees and wept like a child, repeatedly kissing the dead face, and crying out, “Oh, Brother, My Brother,” time and again as he continued to weep. Those who accompanied him wept silently in sympathy.


Ransome Petray, oldest son of the sheriff, came to the county jail Sunday afternoon about 5 o’clock to meet his father, something he frequently did since coming to Santa Rosa to reside. He was surprised to see the crowd and learned the sad news from those gathered there. He broke completely, and deputies led him to a private room.

Word was telephoned to Edward Petray of Healdsburg, brother of the Sheriff, and Frank Petray, another brother, came to town and visited the jail with a party of friends. Later they visited the morgue, where the body of their brother had been removed from the hospital.


Ed Faught, chief of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Police force, and Nick and Jahil Yeager, came to Santa Rosa from Sausalito on the night train and remained over night to see the prisoners, so as to be able to identify them in the future if necessity arises.

As news of the tragedy spread like wildfire throughout the county the deputies reported by phone, and many made haste to reach Santa Rosa. Among those who visited the jail were… and many others.


District Attorney George W. Hoyle at one o’clock Monday morning, having concluded the work of taking statements from all the persons who could be found whom had any knowledge of the shooting, said:

“From the best information available I believe that Sergeant Dorman was the first man shot, while Sheriff Petray went down next. Sergeant Jackson had undoubtedly stepped from the room into the kitchen, either to call the officers on guard, or to get an opportunity from door or window to get his man. Hearing the cry from Sergeant Dorman, “Oh Miles,” he must have turned and stepped to the door to receive the bullet which killed him, and as he fell fired the shot which hit Boyd. As two chambers of his revolver were empty he must have fired two shots before he became unconscious.

The news of the tragedy created a sensation in San Francisco, and the newspapers hurried a staff of writers and photographers by auto to Santa Rosa as soon as their local representatives began getting the story on the wires. Representatives of The Associated Press, The Examiner, The Chronicle, The Call and The Bulletin arrived in rapid succession and remained over night to handle further details today.

Dr. A. B. Herrick and Dr. R. M. Bonar were among the doctors at the Mary Jesse hospital who attended the wounded men on their arrival there.

– Press Democrat, December 6 1920





SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 7. News that Mrs. Dorothy Quinlan had been arrested by the police in Santa Rosa, Sunday, upon being found with the Howard street gangsters who murdered officers attempting to capture them, came as a great surprise to the persons who had known her at the Essex Hotel, Ellis and Larkin streets, where she was living, and those who were acquainted with her at the department store where she bad worked for about two years.

Mrs. Quinlan is the mother of two children, a girl 14 years old, who attends school, and a boy, 15, who works. Last evening the children had received no word from their mother, who is being held in Santa Rosa. Friends of the mother have taken the girl to their home. Both children lived with their mother at her apartments in the Essex hotel.

Mrs. Quinlan is a woman about 40 years of age, and at the hotel where she has lived for more than eight months was known as a quiet, respectable person, who went to and from her work with great regularity, and did not go out often and seldom had any callers. She was liked by all who knew her.

– Press Democrat, December 8 1920

Read More