Two months after the 1906 earthquake, Mrs. August Herbst was strolling in Oakland with her husband and 11-year-old daughter. She was distracted for a moment and the next thing she knew, her husband and child had vanished. Days passed, weeks passed, with no sign of them. She moved to Santa Rosa to live with friends. And finally, four months later, she decided it was time to report their disappearance to authorities.
Her daughter was found months later and had a remarkable tale to tell. She had been taken to Arizona where her father ordered her to say her name was Miller, not Herbst. She was told that her mother would be joining them “soon.” It sounds like a classic parental abduction except that dad began distancing himself from the girl, taking a job where he was seldom home. When she received a letter that he was now living in another state, she asked strangers for help. Mom was eventually located in Santa Rosa, and she was reunited with her daughter about seven months after the child had been spirited away.
Just as she had been remarkably patient waiting four months for her hubby to return with her daughter, she now was uncommonly generous excusing his behavior: “Mrs. Herbst believes that the earthquake and fire have affected her husband’s mind and that he is hardly responsible for the things that have transpired and the anguish he has caused her to suffer.”
Yes, there were undoubtedly many who suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the earthquake, and some even likely died later as a result – see the cases mentioned in casualty wrap-up for a few examples – and Mr. Herbst’s wandering ways certainly make him seem like a candidate. Still, there’s a “dog that didn’t bark in the night” mystery to this story; why did she wait so long to report her child missing, particularly if she feared that her husband had become unhinged?
WOMAN FEARS SHE WAS DESERTED.
Asks Police to Aid Her in Locating Husband and Little Daughter
MAN ACTED QUEERLY
OAKLAND, Oct. 23–Mrs. A. E. Herbst, whose home is in Santa Rosa, today sought the aid of the local police in locating her husband, August E. Herbst, and her 11-year-old daughter, Gladys Herbst, who have been missing for the last five months. Mrs. Herbst fears that she has been deserted by her husband, and that he has taken his daughter with him.
Shortly after the San Francisco fire Herbst, who until that time had resided in San Francisco, removed to this side of the bay, and up to the time of his disappearance resided with his family on Redwood road, in Fruitvale. On June 28, Herbst, with his wife and family, were walking on Broadway, and in some way the wife became separated from her husband and daughter. Since that time no trace of the missing father and daughter has been found. Some time after the disappearance of the husband Mrs. Herbst went to Santa Rosa to live with friends.
[…]– San Francisco Call, October 24, 1906
GLADYS HERBERT IN SANTA ROSA
Mystery of Father is Deep as Ever
Gladys Herbst, the girl whose father took her away just after the April earthquake and fire, and whose mother has been almost heartbroken over the continued absence of the father and daughter, arrived at her home here on Monday morning. She is now safe with her mother and both are happy in being reunited.
The mystery concerning the disappearance of the father, and the causes which impelled him to desert his wife and take the daughter with him to Bisbee, Arizona, are not cleared up in any manner by the return of the daughter. The girl is between eleven and twelve years old and the father’s actions caused here to be frightened. He refused to talk to her concerning the matter and refused to permit her to talk to any one else. He forced her to tell people her name was Gladys Miller and compelled her to assume that name from the time they left San Francisco together. When the heartless father finally deserted the child in Bisbee, she was fearful of his wrath if she divulged her true name of Gladys Herbst.
The time since the separation from her mother has been as a hideous nightmare to the little girl. Living among strangers, seldom seeing her father, and being refused permission to talk, and fearful of his wrath, the days have seemed like years to the child.
When the mother and other members of the family came here according to arrangements, Herbst pretended he wanted to get Gladys a dress and some things. After separating from his wife, the father left Gladys at a residence in Oakland, where she was not acquainted. He went to San Francisco to straighten out some affairs pertaining to a lodge, and returned for the girl that evening. Together they crossed the bay to San Francisco and took the coast route toward Los Angeles. They went straight to Bisbee, where the father, unter the name of Gus Miller, secured a position superintending some timbering in the tunnel being driven by the owners of the spray mine. He seldom saw his daughter, because the mine was a couple of miles from Bisbee. He gave the girl to understand that they were soon going to her mother, and the child was happy in this thought.
When her father left her stranded in Bisbee, among strangers, the child’s plight was desperate. Letters were received from Herbst, or Miller, as he was known, saying he had gone to El Paso. Friends whom the girl had bade undertook to find her father for her, and finally she told them her name was Herbst, not Miller. Attorney Ross, an influential member of the legal fraternity at Bisbee, took the child to his own home and through his influence and kindness, assisted by the ladies of the Episcopal church in Bisbee, the mother’s whereabouts were found and the child returned.
En route to this city the protection of the Episcopal ladies was around the little girl. She came to Oakland with a couple of ladies of that denomination and remained in an Episcopal home until she started for Santa Rosa.
There were tears of joy as mother and daughter met in a long embrace Monday morning, and they will not be separated again soon.
Mrs. Herbst believes that the earthquake and fire have affected her husband’s mind and that he is hardly responsible for the things that have transpired and the anguish he has caused her to suffer.– Santa Rosa Republican, January 14, 1907