Profiled earlier was a Santa Rosa girl who died from a botched abortion in 1909. Now let’s meet the villain responsible for her pregnancy: Professor Forest C. Richardson, a 45 year-old teacher, husband, father and serial sexual predator.
If this story was less outrageous it’s doubtful the local newspapers would have covered it at all. Anything related to sex that might arouse prurient interests was downplayed and thickly coated in euphanisms; a child molester who lurked around the E street bridge in 1906 and repeatedly grabbed young girls was described in a Press Democrat headline as a “hugger.” The only time I recall seeing the word “rape” was in a 1909 PD item that did not mention the victim at all – although readers of the Santa Rosa Republican knew she was 13 years old (that paper, however, described the the crime merely as “assault”). Also taboo was abortion, which was dubbed instead the “criminal operation,” as discussed in the essay about the young Santa Rosa woman who died following the procedure.
It was apparently a mention of Professor Richardson in the San Francisco coroner’s jury findings that led Sonoma County District Attorney Clarence Lea to bring him in for questioning. Richardson and his family had been in Santa Rosa since 1905 and operated the Richardson’s Business College at 521A Fourth street, which was probably only a room or two of walk-up office space. As the Press Democrat pointed out at some length, it had nothing to do with Sweet’s Santa Rosa Business College, “a large and successful institution [that] stands high in the estimation of the community.” Those who attended Richardson’s school, according to the Republican paper, were “mainly poor girls, struggling to get along in the world and make something of themselves.”
From the accounts that appeared in the Santa Rosa papers and San Francisco Call, Richardson was emphatic that the District Attorney understood he had nothing to do with the girl’s abortion-related death. But yes, he confessed he had a “familiarity with her” that dated back four years – when she would have been 14 years old – and that there had been others as well. When any of the girls became pregnant he gave them some sort of pill that was supposed to be an abortifacient. Richardson was arrested after signing a lengthy confession and the Grand Jury indicted him on criminal assault (rape) and furnishing girls with drugs for illegal purposes (abortion).
The prosecutor dropped the rape charges – perhaps the four young women investigated by the DA were consenting adults? – and concentrated on a star witness. This woman testified Richardson had vowed to run away with her to another country and had given her a ring. When she became pregnant he gave her some of his special pills. They didn’t work and as childbirth drew near he didn’t provide the financial help promised. Thus she came to court and testified against him, bringing along their infant. Also in the courtroom were Richardson’s wife and four kids, which probably made for a few squirmy moments.
With excerpts from his confession being read in court and no defense made except to vilify the character of the witness, it was assumed that jurors would make quick work of their decision. They didn’t. The jury was deadlocked after being sequestered overnight.
When the retrial began a couple of weeks later, the Press Democrat could no longer maintain its pretense of journalistic objectivity, such as the nicety of using the word, “alleged.” One headline read, “State Calls Further Witnesses in Case Revealing Degeneracy of a Former Instructor” and while mentioning that Richardson’s family again was in the courtroom, sneered “the children being fortunately too young to grasp the meaning of the details of their father’s lust.”
The second jury found him guilty within five minutes, cheering themselves for a job done well. Richardson was sentenced to four years in San Quentin.
Richardson’s family remained here while he was in prison, living at 125 W 8th St. [UPDATE: It’s not the small house now at that address.] The 1915 city directory revealed he joined them and was again working as a teacher (yikes!) somewhere not mentioned. The last trace of him is in the 1920 census, where he was listed as a janitor at the Western Union office in Seattle.
PROFESSOR RICHARDSON FACES SERIOUS CHARGETestimony of Young Girls May Convict Teacher of Felony
Professor F. C. Richardson, of Richardson’s Business College in this city, is under arrest at the county jail and is being held to face a serious charge.
The exact charge against the accused is that he has supplied a girl with drugs to be used in an attempt to commit an abortion, and directing their use. This charge will not bar the district attorney from filing another complaint at any time on a more serious charge.
According to the evidence against the man, he has ruined a number of girls who have attended his school, and has used his office in that place to accomplish his purpose. Some of his victims are declared to be under the legal age of consent, while some of the charges against him are now outlawed.
Richardson was summoned to the office of District Attorney Lea Saturday morning and was there given an opportunity to tell his story. Previously Mr. Lea had devoted considerable time to investigation of the girls alleged to have wronged by this monster. It is alleged that Richardson admitted much of the charges placed against him.
As yet no warrant has been issued against Richardson. He was arrested by constable Gilliam and is being detained at the county jail.
The man’s offense is all the more heinous when it is considered that his victims were mainly poor girls, struggling to get along in the world and make something of themselves, while he has been at work tearing down their defenses and betraying them.
The penalty for the crime with which Richardson is charged is from two years to five years in the penitentiary.– Santa Rosa Republican, January 22, 1910CONFESSES GUILT OF HEINOUS CRIMEProfessor C. H. Richardson Arrested Saturday and is Now Lodged in the County Jail
Professor C. H. Richardson, who for several years conducted Richardson’s Business College in this city, occupies a steel-bound cell in the county jail, where he was lodged Saturday after he had told a shocking story to District Attorney Clarence Lea admitting improprieties with a number of young girls.
To men whose official duties frequently cause them to hear details of depravity, Richardson’s admissions, coupled with the evidence they have secured, constitute a case unsurpassed by any that has come to their knowledge. With some show of shame, Richardson admits that he has been “very foolish.” Beyond that he has little to say.
Richardson’s traffic in immorality, according to his own statement to District Attorney Lea, has covered something like four years, or practically ever since he took up his residence in Santa Rosa. In his former home in Texas similar charges were made against him, and he left there.
To District Attorney Lea Richardson on Saturday confessed to five victims of his lust. District Attorney Lea is withholding names, but it is known that one of the victims of the man now behind the bars was a young woman who died recently in San Francisco under suspicious circumstances and whose death it will be remembered was made the matter of investigation. Richardson states that his familiarity with her dates back four years ago, but he denies any complicity with the cause of her death.
The specific charge against Richardson in the complaint sworn out in Judge Atchinson’s court by Constable Boswell is that of furnishing drugs to girls for an improper purpose. When seen Saturday night District Attorney Lea said:
“There is no doubt as to the truth of Richardson’s admissions. He has been persistently and incessantly ruining young girls. The matter was first brought to my attention a day and a half ago, and since then we have worked diligently on the case, and when Richardson was arrested today we were quite sure of our ground. He later made a confession to me of his wrong doing.”– Press Democrat, January 23, 1910
UGLY CHARGES PUT PROFESSOR IN JAILGirl Pupils Accuse the Head of Santa Rosa Business College of Heinous Offense
(Special Dispatch to The Call)
SANTA ROSA, Jan 22.–With the arrest today of Professor Forest C. Richardson whispered rumors grew into broad tales of scandal concerning conditions at the local business college of which he is the head. A number of young Santa Rosa girls have been pupils at the institution and the revelations have shocked the community.
The investigations were begun by District Attorney Clarence F. Lea following the death in San Francisco of Leora Hendrison, an 18 year old girl, who had been a student at Richardson’s school. Miss Hendrison’s death was followed by the arrest of a San Francisco physician. The ensuing inquiry caused attention to be directed toward Richardson’s school.
The information that has come to the district attorney leads him to believe that the most serious accusations against Richardson are to follow. There are four specific cases under investigation. In some instances the girls involved were but 14 and 15 years old. There are charges also that many young women were compelled to abandon their studies shortly after enrollment because of the demeanor of the preceptor.
Richardson came to Santa Rosa six years ago from Corpus Christi, Tex. For four years he has conducted the business college. He is far from attractive in personal appearance. He is untidy of dress and of irregular features. He is 45 years old and has a wife and family of growing children. He has been active in religious undertakings and has professed sympathy with the local good government league.
Richardson was placed in a cell tonight. He will make no attempt to obtain bail for the present, believing he is safer in jail than out.– San Francisco Call, January 23, 1910NOT SWEET’S SANTA ROSA BUSINESS COLLEGE
A San Francisco paper refers to F. C. Richardson, now under arrest here on a serious charge, as “President of the Santa Rosa Business College.” This is not correct. The Santa Rosa Business College is conducted by James S. Sweet, former Mayor of the city, and one of the best known and most reliable men in this community and Richardson is not and never was associated with him or with that institution in any way.
Richardson ran a commercial class in a rented room on Fourth street. Sweet’s Santa Rosa Business College owns its own three-story building on Ross street. It is a large and successful institution, and stands high in the estimation of the community.
Readers of The Press Democrat should not confuse the facts in this case. Richardson’s commercial school and Sweet’s Santa Rosa Business College are two separate and very distinct concerns.– Press Democrat, February 1, 1910RICHARDSON CASE IS NOW ON TRIALFormer Commercial School Teacher Faces a Jury on a Very Serious Charge
[12 men] were yesterday chosen in Judge Seawell’s court as the jury to try the felony charge against F. C. Richardson, who formerly taught a commercial school in this city. Richardson was indicted by the Grand Jury on two counts. He is now being tried on a charge of furnishing medicine and drugs for the purpose of producing a miscarriage.
After the impannellment [sic] of the jury District Attorney Lea made an opening statement. Assistant District Attorney Hoyle is associate for the prosecution. William F. Cowan is the attorney for the defense.
The young woman who is the prosecuting witness took the witness stand and her testimony was damaging to Richardson. She admitted her yielding to the importunings of the defendant, and their illicit relations, the birth of the child, etc.
The witness’ testimony presented a disgusting state of affairs. Her allegations more than hinted at Richardson’s alleged depravity and cunning. She told of his avowed affections for her and of his having given her a ring (the ring being produced in court) and of his providing her with a veil so that her identity might not be revealed on the occasion of visits paid to secluded spots in the country, when opportunities in town, she said, had frequently availed. [sic]
The witness detailed that upon one occasion Richardson had told her that he could not marry her, but he would be willing to run away with her to a foreign country. She said further that he told her he had been familiar with other girls. The defendant’s counsel objected to the latter evidence as he claimed it was offered to liken Richardson to “a moral monster” in the eyes of the jury.
Under cross-examination the witness’ direct evidence was not shaken. She denied that she had ever received any money from Richardson. Twenty days before the child was born she admitted she wrote Richardson a postal card on which she had told him that she was waiting for money. She did this, she said, because he had promised to help her and had not done so.
Richardson’s wife and four children occupied a front bench in the courtroom while the prosecuting witness was relating her story.
Under cross-examination the witness was asked questions touching upon her previous character. The case will be continued today.– Press Democrat, May 18, 1910ALL EVIDENCE IN; ARGUMENT BEGINSRichardson Case Will Go to the Jury Today–Both Sides Have Rested Case
The trial of F. C. Richardson, charged with furnishing medicine to a young woman for the purpose of producing a miscarriage, was resumed Wednesday before Judge Seawell and a jury.
A startling feature of the evidence adduced Wednesday was the introduction of portions of a statement made by Richardson to District Attorney Lea and taken down by Court Reporter Scott, in which statement Richardson admitted his intimacy, with the young woman who is the prosecuting witness in this case. The statement was taken after the arrest of Richardson. In it he admitted giving the young woman pills.
When court resumed on Wednesday morning the prosecuting witness was recalled by Attorney William F. Cowan, counsel for the defense, and her cross-examination was continued. She amplified certain evidence given on the previous day. An effort was made to bring out that her character had not been all that it possibly should have been.
Medical and expert testimony was also a feature of the day, evidence dealing with the nature of medicine alleged to have been procured for the prosecuting witness by the defendant.
Thomas Price, for over fifty years an analytical chemist of San Francisco and a frequent expert in the courts, was called on Wednesday afternoon, and testified as to an analysis he had made, at the request of the prosecution, of a box of pills. He detailed the result of his examination, and gave the ingredients.
Another medical witness was Dr. J. W. Jesse, who was asked a hypothetical question regarding the medicinal properties referred to by Analyst Price.
Other witnesses were called during the day by the prosecution, including the foster parents of the prosecuting witness.
Only portions of the statement made by Richardson were read in evidence, the part telling of his conquests with other girls being omitted as not connected with the case at bar. The statement in full covers many typewritten pages.
During court recesses Richardson joined his wife, and they sat chatting earnestly together. Their children, four small ones, were not brought into court by their mother as on the previous day of the trial. The little baby in the case was in court for a few moments Wednesday morning.
[..]– Press Democrat, May 19, 1910RICHARDSON CONVICTED BY THE JURY LAST EVENINGVerdict Returned After A Few Minutes’ Deliberation
F. C. Richardson was on Thursday night found guilty in the Superior Court of the crime of furnishing medicine to a young woman for the purpose of committing an abortion. The young woman was a student at the commercial school of which he was principal. The maximum punishment for the offense is five years in the State’s prison. Judgement will be pronounced by Superior Judge J. Q. White at nine o’clock next Monday morning. Judge White presided at the trial for Judge Seawell.Five Minutes Deliberation
The verdict was returned into court after a few minutes deliberation on the part of the jury. At five minutes to nine at night the jury retired; twenty minutes later they were ready with their verdict of conviction.Two Ballots Taken
As is customary with juries, the first ballot taken is usually to ascertain the feeling of the twelve men and before deliberation of the evidence ensues. The course was followed out in this case and on the first ballot there were eleven for conviction and one for acquittal.
Just as quick as fresh slips of paper could be passed around another ballot was taken, with the result that all twelve men voted for conviction.Jurymen Cheer
Directly upon the taking of the ballot there was a cheer from the jury room, which could be heard echoing over the Court House. A few minutes later the electric bell connecting the juryroom on top of the Court House with the outside corridor rang boldly, and when Deputy Sheriff Reynolds answered the call and inquired whether the jury had agreed upon a verdict there was a lusty “yes” is response.
[..]– Press Democrat, June 10, 1910