Violent deaths were almost weekly news in Sonoma County a century ago, but I’ve never encountered a story quite as disturbing as this. Usually the cause is accidental death by stupidity (falling asleep on the railroad tracks) or gruesome suicide, such as the lumberjack and father of five in Occidental who chopped his head open with an axe then disemboweled himself (yet still lived for two days). This tale, however, reminds me of Frank Norris’ great novel “McTeague,” as a situation pinwheeled completely out of control.
In summary: A Santa Rosa carpenter and his wife visited a man near Cloverdale. They all drank a few glasses of wine. Mr. Cloverdale offered beer, which his guests refused. That made Cloverdale angry, and he threw the glasses and cussed at them. A fight ensued, and the carpenter smashed the other man’s skull with his fists. Amazingly, the coroner’s jury ruled it to be self defense.
SAYS HE ACTED IN SELF DEFENSE
Bilderdack Will Probably Not Be Prosecuted For the Fatal Beating He Gave J. McMillen
It is probable that there will be no prosecution of J. Bilderdack, the Santa Rosa carpenter, who administered a beating to J. P. McMillen, from which the latter died on the Brown ranch, a few miles from Cloverdale last Sunday night. At the inquest it was shown by evidence that Bilderdack had to fight for his life before he beat McMillen into insensibility. The Coroner’s jury found that McMillen died from the blows inflicted by Bilderdack. At the conclusion of the inquest Bilderdack was allowed to have his liberty, and he has left the scene of the occurrence. At the inquest he was represented by Attorney George W. Hoyle of Cloverdale.
According to the statements made by Bilderdack and other witnesses they had gone to the carpenter’s cabin to have some wine and several toasts were proposed. Finally when Bilderdack refused to drink any more McMillen poured out two glasses of wine and demanded that he and his wife drink it anyway. In order to have harmony they drank the wine, and then McMillen is said to have seized a bottle of beer and filled the glasses with the beverage. This the Bilderdacks say they positively declined to consume and this angered McMillen more than ever and he is said to have thrown both glasses and its contents at Bilderdack and to have followed it up with some abusive language directed towards Bilderdack and his wife. Then the fight was on and Bilderdack avers that he had to defend himself. McMillen died several hours after the beating. The injuries causing death were blows beside the head.– Press Democrat, September 14, 1906