It was Santa Rosa’s Crime of the Century, Scandal of the Century, and when it became Trial of the Century, Santa Rosa was square in the national spotlight as it had never been before or has been since. Newspapers in East Coast cities and small Western mining towns alike were often publishing daily courtroom updates, sometimes with front page headlines. The crime in question was the 1910 attempted murder of a young woman and her baby – by blowing them up with dynamite.

In spite of all that newshound competition – or perhaps, because of it – the best reporting appeared in the Press Democrat. The big papers and wire services might have offered readers fancy graphics and the occasional scoop, but the PD churned out more than a hundred articles; so thorough was the coverage that during the trial entire pages were filled with court testimony.

So instead of blogging the usual modern summary about the story, I’d like to step back and let the original reporting tell the tale. Articles will be edited only for length and not everything will appear, but Gentle Reader will hopefully share the same experience people had in 1910 in following an unfolding suspenseful story.

The setting for the crime was Burke’s Sanitarium near Wikiup (the address was 733 Mark West Springs Road, about 1½ miles east of Old Redwood Highway). If you lived in Santa Rosa at the time you might have known someone who worked there because it was a large operation, but it was unlikely you would have known someone who was staying there; it was fairly expensive, with a shared room costing $20-27 per week, which was about half the weekly paycheck of an average Santa Rosan.

Burke’s Sanitarium was part nursing home, part resort. There were year-round accommodations to be had in the main building, which the previous owners originally intended to be a hotel – an item below mentions a retired gentleman who had lived there for six years. During warmer months guests could stay in the tent houses on the banks of Mark West Creek, which ran through the grounds. Advertisements touted their “cuisine is unrivaled” (it was decidedly not vegetarian, some ads boasting only the best quality meat was served).

On the medical side, Burke’s also had a nursing staff and modern equipment, including an x-ray machine and instruments needed in obstetrics and surgery. Ads claimed they could treat diabetes and “tumors of every kind,” although most of the ailments they listed were the same general complaints mentioned in patent medicine ads, such as rheumatism, nervous troubles, hemorrhoids, constipation, catarrh, obesity, insomnia and “premature old age.” They did not accept drug addicts seeking rehab or anyone with psychological torments.

Unlike the sanitarium near Cloverdale operated by Madam Preston, Burke’s was founded by a certified MD who was usually in residence. Dr. Willard P. Burke had a San Francisco office he visited twice a week and was shared with his brother, Isaac. Both were osteopaths, and for a few years Willard was president of the California College of Osteopathy in San Francisco. Dr. Burke also wrote most of the content for Health, a self-published monthly magazine. The sanitarium had made him a wealthy man, and he was much respected in Santa Rosa and well known in the state. As our story begins, he is 59 years old.


District Attorney and Officers Investigate Startling Affair Near Burke’s Sanitarium
Tent houses at Burke’s Sanitarium.
Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

District Attorney C. F. Lea and Sheriff Smith are investigating an explosion of either dynamite or giant powder in a tent at Burke’s Sanitarium on Saturday night. At the time of the explosion the tent was occupied by Luella Smith and her eleven months-old baby. The mother was hurled from her bed and was somewhat cut and bruised, but not seriously hurt. The baby, who occupied a cradle at the foot of the bed, escaped unhurt. A big hole was torn in the side of the tent and the explosion started a fire which was quickly extinguished. The report was heard in the main hotel building and in the cottages and caused some excitement.

In view of the fact that she had been apparently despondent for some time, and that a sister had died in an insane asylum, and another sister is said to be weak minded. It was thought that the woman had attempted suicide. She denies this, however.

The District Attorney and officers will continue the investigation today, and will satisfy themselves. The dynamite or giant powder was placed in the bed occupied by the woman.

– Press Democrat, February 8, 1910
Theory of the Crime Supplants That of Suicide

District Attorney Clarence Lea’s investigation of the explosion of dynamite in the tent at Burke’s Sanitarium occupied by Luella Smith and her baby, last Saturday night, has resulted in his arriving at the conclusion that the reasonable theory is that it was a criminal act on the part of some one. He so stated Wednesday night upon his return from the scene. Coupled with this declaration, however, he says that he will look deeper and more carefully into the past history of the woman as regards traces of insanity. He realizes that she is a woman of a very nervous temperament and as such is more susceptible to nervous disease that the ordinary woman.

Another startling development in the case Wednesday came from the mouth of the woman herself. It affected the paternity of her child, and the man upon whom she fixes the blame denies the accusation, says she has made similar charges before, and that they are an evidence of her insanity.

At half past nine o’clock last Saturday night the explosion in the tent occurred. Its force partially wrecked the tent, hurled the sleeping woman from the bed, cutting a deep gash in her arm and another on her head. The infant who occupied a cot at the foot of his mother’s bed, was unharmed. A fire started but the night watchman and others who were quickly on the scene, extinguished the flame. The woman’s injuries were attended to. The dynamite had been placed in the bed and was exploded by means of a fuse, which the District Attorney and officers are satisfied was lit on the outside of the tent.

The woman came to the Sanitarium on February 5, 1909, and has been there ever since, and there her baby was born. She says that she has been well cared for. Her condition at the present time, as a result of the injuries she sustained, is somewhat serious. It developed Wednesday that in the deep wound in her arm proud fresh has appeared.

As intimated District Attorney Lea will continue the investigation and there will be no let up until everything is probed in an endeavor to bare the mystery which shrouds the matter. Other developments are expected.

– Press Democrat, February 10, 1910
Developments in the Investigation Here Yesterday

Summed up at the close of the day practically the only new development Thursday in the investigation being made by District Attorney Lea into the mysterious dynamite explosion last Saturday night in the house tent occupied by Luella Smith and her baby on the grounds at Burke’s Sanitarium, centered in an interview over the telephone with her brother, Edgar Smith, whose home is in Upper Lake, Lake county.

Smith was asked as to the mental condition of his sister, Luella Smith. He replied that she had never exhibited signs of insanity. It was true, he said, that another sister had died in an insane asylum, but there had never been anything the matter mentally with his sister, Luella. He denied the published assertion that another sister was weak-minded.

Mrs. Ella Force, who resides in a town some distance from Santa Rosa, was communicated with. She and Luella Smith were school girls together. Mrs. Force said that as far as she knew there was never anything wrong with Luella Smith mentally.

Considerable importance is attached to the statements made by Mr. Smith and Mrs. Force, owing to the claims that have been made that Luella Smith is insane and that her statements as to certain matters are the product of a disordered brain. The woman says that the despondency from which she has suffered at times has been due to the position she has occupied at the sanitarium, particularly as regards her social ostracism.

Sheriff Smith has been away from town looking up a clue. He was expected home Thursday night, but did not arrive. He may come today and more or less importance attaches to the success of his mission.

While District Attorney Lea has announced that the reasonable theory is that a criminal act was committed, he is proceeding very cautiously in the matter, and is carrying out his intention to look deeper and carefully into the past history of Luella Smith as regards the presence of insanity.

Inquiry on Thursday elicited the information that the injured woman is making satisfactory progress towards recovery and it is believed that she will soon be able to be up and around again.

The developments in the case are being watched with much interest here and all over the State, as Burke’s Sanitarium is one of the best known institutions in northern California and yearly hundreds of people go there for medical treatment.

– Press Democrat, February 11, 1910


Newspapers All Have Special Men Here on Explosion Mystery
Dr. W. P. Burke, 1905.
Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

The effort of the authorities to probe the mysterious dynamite explosion at Burke’s Sanitarium last Saturday night, was yesterday transferred from Sonoma county to Berkeley, where District Attorney Clarence F. Lea and Court Reporter Harry Scott went to interview Dr. A. W. Hitt, a former surgeon at the sanitarium…it is reported, among other things, that Dr. Hitt while at the Sanitarium last December, wrote to a medical friend in San Francisco, a Dr. Naylor, predicting some such an occurrence as happened at Burke’s on Saturday night.

Sheriff Smith did not return from Oroville yesterday, as was expected. A dispatch from Oroville to a Sacramento paper announces the purport of Smith’s visit to Butte county as follows:

Oroville, Butte Co., Feb. 11–Sheriff L. K. Smith of Sonoma county arrived here yesterday and made some investigations in regard to the recent visit here of Dr. Willard P. Burke, owner of the now famous Phoenix mine, near Hurleton, and whose connection with Miss Lou Etta Smith, a patient at his sanitarium, is being investigated on account of the recent explosion in her tent, which nearly caused her death.

This morning the Sheriff went to Hurleton. He is trying to ascertain, if possible, whether Dr. Burke took any dynamite with him from here when he returned to Santa Rosa after his recent visit.

The Phoenix mine was purchased by Dr. Burke some time ago for $1,500 and he worked it for several years with poor success, spending about $60,000 before he struck it rich last May. In that month he took out about $500,000 it is claimed and since then has been getting $1,000 a month from it, according to reports.

It is recognized that much hinges upon locating the source of the dynamite or other explosive used in blowing up Luella Smith’s tent cottage. Until that point is made clear, all theories advanced must remain more or less speculative in their character. Every possible clue is being investigated and every possible source of information scrutinized, in the effort to probe the mystery to the bottom.

Outside Newspapermen Here

All the San Francisco newspapers have special men here, detailed on the case, and some of them have two or three. Frequent visits to the Sanitarium are made, and yesterday noon a hired automobile conveyed a party of visiting scribes to the scene of the explosion, most of whom remained the greater part of the day.

Injured Woman Described

While the reporters found it a difficult matter to interview anyone around the institution yesterday they saw the injured woman and are able to give a good description of her appearance. She was able to leave her bed yesterday, and take a little exercise. While she was walking through the grounds the newspaper men arrived. She had a bandage around her head and her arm was also bandaged. She is described as a woman not overly prepossessing in appearance, about five feet seven inches tall, with nose slightly upturned and prominent cheekbones. Her eyes are deep set,  and dull, while her face is almost without color and she wears a sad and worn expression. Her actions are quick, suggestive of extreme nervousness. She was dressed yesterday in a long, violet colored gown.

– Press Democrat, February 12, 1910
Woman in Hospital as Investigation Proceeds

Saturday abounded in interesting details in connection with the investigation of the dynamite explosion at Burke’s Sanitarium, although no great significance is attached to what developed.

District Attorney Clarence Lea drove out to the sanitarium in the morning, accompanied by Assistant District Attorney G. W. Hoyle, Undersheriff Walter C. Lindsay and Police Officer John M. Boyes. They were soon followed by other automobiles containing the newspaper representatives and camera men. The latter were equally as interested in the unravelling of the mystery and work with zest.


Incident of the Day

The newspaper men had a conversation with Luella Smith but her remarks were in the main along the line of the story already published. She passed the lie direct to Attorney Golden of San Francisco, whom she said had visited her tent on the day previous, representing that he was a San Francisco newspaper man. She became quite angry with him and said he had tried to get something out of her. He came in for a share of criticism from the newspaper men, too. He denied the allegation.


– Press Democrat, February 13, 1910
Another Arrest Made at Sanitarium Grounds

Deputy Game Commissioners A. F. Lea and B. H. Miller made an arrest at Burke’s Sanitarium Sunday afternoon. The man taken into custody is C. M. Bent, and is a guest at the sanitarium. He is charged with having trout out of season.

Bent put in part of Sunday in whipping Mark West creek in the vicinity of the Sanitarium for trout and when the sport ceased in the afternoon he had landed five nice specimens. While deputies Lea and Miller were beneath the residence of Alfred Burke searching for any clews [sic] to the dynamiting mystery, Bent came out of the creek bed with his fish.


– Santa Rosa Republican, February 14, 1910
Formally Placed Under Arrest Sunday Afternoon at Sanitarium Near This City-Released on $20,000 Bail
District Attorney Lea Makes Statement Regarding Case

Early Sunday afternoon, and shortly after Sheriff Smith’s return from Oroville, where he went several days ago under instructions from District Attorney Clarence Lea to investigate certain matters in connection with the mysterious dynamite explosion at Burke’s Sanitarium, Dr. W. P. Burke, the well-known head of that institution was formally placed under arrest and charged with the attempted murder of Luella Smith and her infant child.

The story of the mysterious explosion has already been told in these columns, and is well known. About half-past nine on the evening of Saturday, February 5, the residents of Burke and vicinity were startled by a tremendous detonation. Investigation soon developed the fact that the explosion had occurred in the tent-cottage occupied by Luella Smith and her child, some three hundred yards from the main building. The woman was hurled from her bed and badly shaken up and otherwise injured, but not fatally. The child, which occupied a cradle at the foot of its mother’s bed, escaped unhurt.

A great hole in the tent-cottage floor, and another in the side of the flimsy structure, evidenced the force of the explosive that had been used. Later a fuse some three feet in length was found near by. The woman claimed that an attempt had been made to murder her, but this charge was met by the assertion that she had attempted suicide while suffering from despondency, the result of her social ostracism. When questioned, she made the direct charge that Dr. Burke was the father of her child, and says this is a possible reason why he or someone connected with the institution might like to see her done away with. Dr. Burke met the charge calmly, and dismissed it with the remark that it was merely a vagary, the result of a disordered mind.

Several years ago Luella Smith first came to Burke’s Sanitarium as a patient. Upon regaining her health, she remained there in the capacity of assistant nurse, also performing certain other services as occasion required. She finally left the Sanitarium, and after the earthquake met Dr. Burke in Oakland, where he had established temporary offices. According to her story, their relations there became intimate. Early in February of last year she again returned to the sanitarium, where she gave birth to a child. The acquaintanceship of Dr. Burke and Luella Smith is admittedly of long standing, the Smith and Burke families having been friends years ago in Lake county. It is Dr. Burke’s contention that his relations with Luella Smith have at all times been only those of friend and benefactor the result of his long-standing acquaintance with her family, which began while she was a mere child.

The Specific Charge

The specific charge contained in the complaint is “using an explosive with intent to injure a human being.” The language of the complaint is copied from Section 601 of the Penal Code and Sheriff Smith swore to the complaint.

Dr. Burke Not Surprised

When the officers went to the main sanitarium building and the quarters occupied by Dr. Burke, Police Officer John M. Boyes asked the doctor to step outside. He acquiesced very willingly and as he stepped outside Deputy Sheriff C. A. Reynolds walked up to him with the warrant in his hand.

Dr. Burke smiled and remarked: “I suppose you are going to take me this time,” and without apparent surprise.

“Yes,” replied Reynolds.

Dr. Burke walked inside and donned his overcoat and hat and in a few seconds had taken his seat in the automobile.

Attorney Golden, a relative of the Burke family, counseled him at every step–“Don’t talk, don’t talk”–this said to prevent his saying anything to the crowd of newspapermen who were on hand.

Even as the automobile started up, Golden clung to the step repeating his admonition to Dr. Burke: “Don’t talk, don’t talk.”

Brought to the Courthouse

From the sanitarium the automobile was driven rapidly to the courthouse. Quite a crowd had gathered to await the coming, a rumor having gone ahead that the arrest had been made.

The automobile pulled up in front of the Fourth street entrance to the big building, and Dr. Burke walked nimbly up the steps and went upstairs into the District Attorney’s office, where he was closeted with District Attorney Lea for a short time.

Justice A. J. Atchinson, on whose court the complaint was sworn out, was on had and fixed the bail at $20,000. Cornelius Shea, the well known local capitalist, and G. T. Watterson, a retired San Francisco contractor, who has made his home at Burke’s for the past six years, qualified as sureties. James W. Oates, Dr. Burke’s attorney, was present to attend to the preliminaries, which were quickly arranged. Had Dr. Burke required more sureties they would have been forthcoming. P. H. Noonan, president of the Noonan Meat Company, Mr. Crane and others were present for the purpose.

Returns to Sanitarium

After his admission to bail, Dr. Burke left the courthouse, accompanied by Attorney Golden (the latter having in the meantime made a rapid trip to town), Mr. Shea, Mr. Watterson and others. He then drove home.

Search Sanitarium Premises

In the meantime orders had been given for the searching of some of the offices in the building at Burke’s Sanitarium for any evidence that might be forthcoming…Nothing was found, however. A search warrant for the purpose was secured by Under Sheriff Lindsey.

A Dynamite Explosion

For some days there has been a discussion as to whether dynamite or giant powder had been used in the explosion. District Attorney Lea, when asked as to whether the investigation had settled this point, replied with assurance:

“It was a dynamite explosion.”


Burke Would Not Talk

Advised by his attorney, Dr. Burke had nothing to say to the newspapermen who approached him. His attorney, Col. James W. Oates, had nothing to say, either. Colonel Oates said he deemed it ill-advised for his client to say anything at all on the matter at the present time, particularly to exploit any matters in the newspapers.

Woman Hears the News

After the arrest of Dr. Burke and its first surprise people turned their thought to Luella Smith and her baby, the occupants of the tent cottage blown up in the dynamite explosion. On Saturday afternoon the two were moved from the sanitarium to the county hospital and they now occupy a room there under the care of County Physician S. S. Bogle, Matron Miss Margaret Lindsey and the nurses attached to the hospital staff. On Sunday it was learned that Miss Smith was making satisfactory progress towards recovery and that her injuries were less painful.

When told that Dr. Burke had been arrested the woman started and inquired if it was really true. She did not seem very much surprised. There is no doubt but that she became much attached to Dr. Burke in the years she had known him. She has repeatedly said so. To a newspaper representative the woman gave quite a long interview, in which she told again the details of the rude awakening on the night of the explosion. It is not thought that Luella Smith will have to remain in the hospital more than a few days, that is if she continues to improve as she is at the present time.

Newspaper Reinforcements

Several more representatives of the San Francisco newspapers arrived here on Sunday night to look after details in connection with the Burke story. It has been years since a local matter has attracted so much attention. But Dr. Burke and his institution are widely known throughout the state.


Draws Gun on Newspaperman

Eugene Maxwell, an employee of the Sanitarium who had been temporarily left in charge of the main gate to the grounds Sunday afternoon, drew a revolver upon a Press Democrat representative, who failed to heed his orders not to enter the grounds. The reporter took the young man and his gun, and walking down the road turned him over to Sheriff Smith, who took possession of the revolver and after receiving the comment of the reporter, released him.

Naylor’s Mysterious Call

Mention was made to the Press Democrat Sunday morning of the mysterious visit of Attorney Charles Naylor here Saturday night. It was for the purpose of taking Luella Smith’s deposition, which will probably be used in proceedings to compel Dr. Burke to contribute to the maintenance of the child, which she avers is his.

Arrest Caused Surprise

The news of Dr. Burke’s arrest caused considerable surprise here. In spite of the sensational articles that have been appearing in the San Francisco papers almost every day for the past week, it was recognized that from the evidence as given out by the authorities very little of a positive character had developed to connect Dr. Burke with the alleged crime.

It was, of course, known that an explosion had occurred in the tent-cottage of Luella Smith, and that unless she had fired the charge herself someone else had done so; but even assuming that the latter view was the correct one, this was not saying that Dr. Burke was the guilty party. In the opinion of those who had followed the case most closely, it was generally admitted up to Sunday morning that despite the efforts put forth by the authorities, no positive evidence had been brought out against the accused. It is assumed that the links missing until that time from the chain of evidence woven around the man now charged with attempted murder, have been supplied through the investigation carried on at Oroville during the past few days.

Important Institution Here

Since the establishment of Burke’s Sanitarium here some ten or twelve years ago, the institution has played an important part in the business life of the town. Nearly all the supplies used at the sanitarium were procured here, and a number of persons from this city have from time to time been employed there in various capacities. Patients from all parts of the Pacific Coast have been attracted to the sanitarium through the knowledge of the many successful cures wrought there, and in addition to the business resulting from the sanitarium itself, friends and relatives of those undergoing treatment have been in almost constant attendance at the hotels and rooming houses, traveling back and forth as occasion required, and by such means as their inclination or fancy suggested. A number of these have purchased property and settled here. Dr. Burke and his associates have many friends here who will sincerely regret the fact that he has been called to face the serious charge now confronting him, and who hope that he may be able to clear himself of complicity in it.

– Press Democrat, February 14, 1910

Read More


Here’s a trio of odd little stories that probably had tongues clucking for a few days in 1910 Santa Rosa:


A farm family on Occidental Road woke up a few days before Christmas to find some of the windows open, hair scattered everywhere and their little girl nearly bald. Eight year-old Aldora Maria Souza insisted a stranger had crept inside late at night and cut off all her locks, leaving her very frightened. (The Press Democrat story mistakenly identifies her as being two years older and named “Madaline,” although the census and other records show neither could be accurate. These misunderstandings might be explained by the family speaking only Portuguese, with the presumed exception of Aldora who was attending country school.)

Authorities took the story seriously and the Deputy Sheriff in Sebastopol organized a posse to search for the deranged man. No one was found, but they heard there was a rumor she told a schoolmate that she was planning to cut off her hair, and supposedly she had once before told a similar story about an attack by a mad barber.

The PD reporter, writing rather skillfully in the tone of a parent trying to coax a child into admitting a fib, made it clear everyone believed little Aldora whacked off her own curls and made the crazy story up. Gentle Reader certainly believes the same, I’m sure. But in the next column on that page of the Press Democrat was a story about a Santa Rosa dragnet for Ray Glatfelder, a young criminal who escaped police custody the same night as Aldora’s haircut. An interesting detail about Mr. Glatfelder’s escape: He was wearing handcuffs at the time.

Ray Glatfelder

(RIGHT: Not long after his escape, the Press Democrat published Ray Glatfelder’s picture in an unusual “wanted criminal” item. As far as can be determined, Glatfelder was never captured.)

Ray Glatfelder was certainly more enterprising than the usual dumb clucks who made up Santa Rosa’s criminal class. Two years earlier, when he was 19 or 20, he had escaped from the county jail by digging through the wall of his cell and lowering himself from the second floor by means of knotted bedsheets. Captured a few weeks later, he was sent to the Preston School of Industry, the toughest reform school in the state – literally a San Quentin for children. When he escaped in handcuffs from Santa Rosa police in 1910, he had been recently discharged from Preston and was being arrested for burglary.

So it’s surely a coincidence that Glatfelder escaped the same night Aldora’s hair was chopped off a few hours later. It was another coincidence that there would be two simultaneous manhunts in Sonoma County the next day. (Had that ever happened before?) And it’s against all odds that a guy who happened to be a burglar and needed to steal a hacksaw or file would be clever enough to use a little child as a diversion to cover up his theft. The chances were even remote that readers would find any possible connections between the two stories that appeared side by side on the same page of the Press Democrat.



Man passes a fellow walking down the street and thinks, hey, I’ve got a suit just like that in my closet. Not anymore.



It was 3 o’clock in the morning when George Forepaugh woke up the Assistant District Attorney with startling news: Herman Hankel had killed himself.

The 43 year-old Hankel was a well-known figure in Santa Rosa, serving as a policeman on the town’s five man force starting around 1890 (he continued to serve at least up to 1926) and his adventures have been mentioned often in this journal. He was identified in the articles below as a “former police officer” because for reasons unknown – bad health? – he was not on the force in the years around 1910-1911, and was listed as unemployed in the 1910 census.

Forepaugh told the Assistant D. A. he was roused from sleep by his landlady. Her sister, Mrs. Julia Hankel, had phoned to say that Herman was upset about some property matter and told her he was going to commit suicide. He took his gun and went outside. She told her sister she heard a shot. Julia begged her sister for help, and she in turn woke up her tenant who in turn woke up the D. A. The men went to the Hankel home and looked about, finding no corpse in the yard. They were all gathered in the house and Forepaugh was about to telephone the police when in walked Herman, not dead at all and with a revolver in his hand. Forepaugh bolted out the door as fast as he could.

The next day, the Hankels were in fast rewind: No, there was no suicide threat and no shot fired, Julia said, effectively calling her sister a liar. No, Herman said, he had no gun (although the Asst. D. A. told the Press Democrat that Hankel was indeed armed). A followup item in the PD stated “The trouble is said to have grown out of family differences,” leaving readers to scratch their collective heads, pondering if the sister-in-law might have whipped up a story because of some sort of vendetta against Herman or Julia, or maybe tensions were generally explosive in the Hankel household because of his lack of work or other issues (Julia was a respected dressmaker, so the family had some income in that period).

And what of poor Mr. Forepaugh, who apparently was dragged from his bed and thrown into act III of the turgid Hankel melodrama? Why did he quickly flee when Herman appeared? Did he have some connection with Julia or Herman that involved him in their “family differences?” The next day, Herman spotted Forepaugh on the street and tried to beat him up. Herman was restrained by a crowd and arrested for assault, taken to jail by one of his former fellow officers.

“The story was being discussed about the streets last night,” the Press Democrat observed. I’ll bet it was.

As a bonus oddity, to the right is one of the ads that appeared in the 1910 Santa Rosa papers for Professor Whittier, exhibition roller skater; presumably he’s about to jump over those mismatched kitchen chairs instead of staring them into submission. But what’s with the “coast to death?” His big trick sounds risky yet oddly nonchalant. Perhaps he was imitating another performer who had a stunt called the “roll to doom” or “glide to the grave” or something.

Girl’s Story as to Attack By Man Armed With Scissors Believed to Be Fanciful

Did ten year-old Madaline Souza, daughter of a farmer residing some miles from Sebastopol on the old Occidental road take a pair of scissors and cut off her golden tresses or did some mischievous man ruthlessly despoil her flowing head of hair? Is the story she tells fanciful or real?

Madaline says a man, a stranger, who cut off a portion of her locks some time since, returned to her home on Tuesday night and completed the job, leaving her all shorn. Officers and others are inclined to believe that little Madaline, who attends the district school in her neighborhood, fancies all this.

When it comes to the fact that her hair has been cut there is realism beyond peradventure of a doubt in that ocular demonstration is sufficient to prove that part of the case.

At any rate when the girl’s family arose they found some of the windows, shuttered and barred on the previous night, were open Wednesday morning. They found Madaline’a hair strewn about here and there, and were met with the girl’s declaration that during the night a man, the same one who on a previous occasion had cut off a part of her hair, had returned and had broken into the house, finished the hair-cutting, and had departed, leaving her very frightened.

When the news spread through the community Wednesday morning, a posse was formed to find the alleged bad man hair-cutter, and Deputy Sheriff Fred R. Matthews of Sebastopol headed and directed the search among the Occidental hills and dales for the culprit. The search lasted all day and by nightfall the searchers had found nothing and were of the opinion, some of them at least, that Madaline had allowed her imagination, to run rampant, especially when a rumor reached their ears that another school girl had been told by the Souza girl that she intended cutting off her hair.

Things had quieted down a boit in the neighborhood Wednesday night and the earlier rumors of the daytime to the effect that an insane man had cut the girl’s hair were allowed to pass. Inquiry at Sebastopol on Wednesday night elicited the information that the girl was apparently the only one who had seen the strange man with the naughty scissors.

– Press Democrat, December 22, 1910
Hunt all Day and Night By Officers Fails to Locate Self-Confessed Burglar

Up to an early hour this morning Ray Glatfelder, self-confessed burglar, who on Tuesday night made his escape with handcuffs clasped about his wrists, had not been captured, despite the silly rumors that were afloat as to his death and arrest.

The officers were on the alert all day Wednesday and at night but he could not be found anywhere. He is believed to be hiding somewhere in town.

– Press Democrat, December 22, 1910
Man Prides Himself on His Taste as Dresser When He Sees How Well Another Man Looks–Burglar

Supposing you had a natty suit of clothes hanging in your closet at home, and one day while you were out for a drive you met a stylishly dressed man wearing a suit of the same pattern and cut as your own, and after congratulating yourself on your idea of taste in the selection of clothes you were to return home several hours later to find that during your absence a burglar had ransacked the house and among other things had carried off your new suit, and knowing that you had passed that burglar and suit on the road, wouldn’t it jar you?

In brief this is just what happened to E. H. Johanssen, who resides in the Sonoma Valley, near Sonoma. He recognized a suit of clothes that he could have sworn was his on the anatomy of another man and when he returned home he found that a burglar had visited the house during his absence and had carried off many articles of value including the suit of clothes he had just bought.

The burglar had a good start and though the officers were notified soon after the discovery of the burglary he had made his get-away. If Johanssen meets that suit out walking there will be something doing, though.

– Press Democrat, June 26, 1910
Assistant District Attorney Hoyle Called from Bed at Early Morn by Startled Resident

Assistant District Attorney George W. Hoyle was called from his slumbers about 3 o’clock Monday morning and informed that his neighbor, former Police Officer Herman Hankel had shot himself at his home nearby.

An immediate investigation was made by Mr. Hoyle and George Forepaugh, who had given the alarm, but as nothing could be found of the supposed suicide’s body. Forepaugh started to summon the police. He was just in the act when the supposed dead man appeared upon the scene with a gun, and Forepaugh mad his escape with dispatch, declaring afterwards that the doorway was not nearly wide enough for him.

There are various stories regarding the affair, but from them all it would appear that Hankel had been having some trouble over property rights, and finally informed his wife that he would end it all by killing himself. Telling her farewell he took his gun and going outside the house fired the weapon into the air. As Hankel failed to return, Mrs. Hankel feared he had carried out his threat.

Mrs. Hankel called up her sister, Mrs. Georgia Redwine, and informed her of the facts as she understood them. Mrs. Redwine called Forepaugh, who rooms in her lodging house, and asked him to find the body of the suicide. Forepaugh apparently did not relish the job, and so involved the aid of Assistant District Attorney Hoyle. Not being able to find the remains they were looking for, Forepaugh went to the telephone to summon the police and was just calling the number when the supposed dead man made his appearance. This cut short the investigation.

The story was being discussed about the streets last night, but when called upon Mrs. Hankel denied that there was any truth in the report of attempted suicide, and denied that she had heard any shot fired during the night or morning.

Forepaugh, however, tells the story as related above, and Assistant District Attorney Hoyle admits being called by Forepaugh with the statement that Hankel had killed himself, admits that he assisted Forepaugh in the search for Hankel’s dead body and admits he was present when Hankel came back into the house carrying a revolver in his hand.

– Press Democrat, June 22, 1910

Former Police Officer Herman Hankel assaulted George Forepaugh on the public street last night, and was arrested by Officer Yeager and taken to the police station, where he gave bail for his appearance this morning. Hankel is a large man and would make two or three of Forepaugh, but bystanders prevented any serious results. The trouble is said to have grown out of family differences.

Hankel Denies the Report

Former Police Officer Herman Hankel called at the Press Democrat office Thursday night and denied the report that he recently threatened to commit suicide. He maintains that he did not have a gun, and no gun was fired.

– Press Democrat, June 24, 1910

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The North Bay’s economic foundation was remarkably solid a century ago, but not thanks to grapes, hops, prunes or other agriculture; it was because we had the most asylums. In Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties the largest employers were the huge state hospitals used to warehouse the mentally ill. And while a crop might fail or market prices fall, the asylum business was always growing – California has never suffered a shortage of crazy people.

Insanity stories appeared regularly in the old Santa Rosa papers but they’ve been ignored here because there’s rarely anything interesting reported – typically a drunk/drug addict goes bezerk or a despondent person attempts suicide. A three member “lunacy commission” is convened. The drunk vows to sober up and maybe does a little jail time; the suicidal person’s fate usually isn’t mentioned, but he or she is likely sent away to live with relatives.

Then there were the tales of “wild men.” Newspaper editors around the turn of the century loved these stories, and would reprint accounts about some poor demented soul living in the woods even though it happened hundreds of miles away. Locally we had the “Wild Man of Mendocino” who was captured in 1909 near Cloverdale (apparently the “Wild Man of Cloverdale” didn’t have the snap) just a few weeks after an escaped asylum patient was found in the same hills. A Press Democrat article about the Wild Man mentioned a woman had written to the Cloverdale police asking if he could be her long-lost son; when the PD item was picked up by a paper in Arizona, her son saw it and wrote an “I’m alright, ma” letter to her from Yuma. Let that be a lesson into the power of the press, at least when it comes to Wild Man stories.

Certifiably Insane

Being hunted down as a Wild Man pretty much assured a one-way ticket to the asylum, but otherwise being declared certifiably insane required some doing, such as Ed Bosco repeatedly shooting at police officers. Herman Welti asked the sheriff to do something about the men controlling his mind “by use of a wireless instrument.” And then there was William Franklin Monahan, who went mad trying to count the stars.

When these men arrived at their particular asylum, each would have found the place bursting with erstwhile lunatics. In that era California was clocking an “insane ratio” sometimes above the state’s annual growth percentage – in 1903, one out of every 260 state residents was adjudged crazy. Many asylum wards were 300 percent over capacity with patients sleeping in hallways and basements. To make room, the institutions kept expanding and the state began looking closely at the immigration status of its asylum population; under 1907 federal law, any immigrant found to be insane within the first three years of residence could be deported to their native country. Superintendents also began an early release program, which certainly wasn’t good for anyone.1

Today California may have one of the largest prison populations but for fifty years starting in 1870, we were tops in the nation per capita for locking up people in asylums. And before wisecracking about California being the national nuthouse, consider that medical authorities were seriously raising that question 140 years ago. Speculation as to why relatively more Californians were committed to asylums included the nice weather, dashed hopes of striking it rich in the Gold Rush, the distance from family and friends on the East Coast and “fast living.” These explanations ignored that most of those deemed insane were simple laborers and housewives, not down-on-their-luck 49ers or burned-out Barbary Coast gamblers.2

In 1875 the superintendent of the state’s first asylum warned that the cities were using the place as a dumping ground for the senile or indigent elderly, incurable drunks and anyone “simply troublesome.” But whatever their problems, 19th century California sought to accommodate them by building five public asylums plus the California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble-Minded Children. (There were also three private asylums, but these never housed more than a tiny percentage.) More about the institutions in a moment.

Even as the state asylums were grappling with overcrowding, the legislature required by law that medical examiners adopt a new form to determine if a patient was certifiably insane.3 While the document sensibly begins by collecting vital statistics including nationality and length of U.S. residence, it goes off the rails quickly by asking questions that seem irrelevant to mental health. A sample:

* Have any relatives been eccentric or peculiar in any way in their habits or pursuits? If so, how? Have any relatives, direct or collateral, suffered, or are suffering, from any form of chronic disease, such as consumption or tuberculosis, syphilis, rheumatism, neuralgia, hysteria, or nervousness, or had epilepsy or falling sickness?

* Which parent does alleged insane person resemble mentally? Physically? Habits (cleanly or uncleanly)?

* Has alleged insane person ever been addicted to masturbation or sexual excesses? If so, for how long?

* Age when menses appeared: Amount and character before insanity appeared: Since insanity appeared:

* Has the change of life taken place? Was it gradual or sudden? How changed from normal?

* What is the supposed cause of insanity? Predisposing or exciting?

The final example reflects the 19th century notion (or maybe older) that a mentally ill person was either “predisposed” to insanity because of heredity or “excited” into madness by drugs, events or ideas. But many of the other odd questions have more to do with interest in the new pseudoscience of eugenics.

The history of the eugenics craze is discussed in the earlier article, “Sonoma County and Eugenics,” but let’s summarize that it was a set of crank theories that proposed some individuals – even entire races – were genetically inferior and prone to insanity, epilepsy, “moral degeneracy” and criminal behavior. Many educated and otherwise sensible people in the first half of the 20th century bought into this nonsense to varying degrees (including Luther Burbank) but no body of government was as eager to actually pass eugenic laws as California. At the same time as the new certification form was legalized, the state authorized forced sterilization of anyone deemed incurably mentally ill. These laws were extended in 1913 and 1917, and by the time ten years had passed, California had performed 2,558 sterilizations, about 4 in 5 of all such operations in the United States in the 1910s.4

Most superintendents of the asylums and the Sonoma State Home embraced the new asexualization law with gusto. Soon after it became law the Press Democrat ran an item that the director of Napa State Hospital “thought there were a number of patients in the Napa Hospital upon whom the operation should be performed” and it wasn’t long before they were doing an average of a procedure a week. The asylums at Stockton and Los Angeles were sterilizing every person being released of child-bearing age.

Since each asylum had its own policy on sterilization, it mattered a great deal where a patient was committed, but it appears it was fairly random and probably based simply on which hospital had an available bed. Someone found insane in San Francisco could end up in Stockton where a vasectomy was guaranteed. (A few early newspaper accounts mention castration although it is likely reporters didn’t understand the difference, and the law did not specify what “asexualization” technically meant.)  At Mendocino, the patient would probably escape the operation; that asylum and the one in San Jose were singled out in the 1918 state review for their “poor record” of sterilizing less than five percent of their inmates. But odds were always that anyone committed in the northern part of California would end up in the North Bay simply because we had the majority of asylums, plus the home for “feeble-minded children” in Glen Ellen.

The Napa State Asylum for the Insane was built to handle the overflow from the state’s premiere asylum in Stockton. Admitting its first patients in 1875, it started as a 500-bed institution and was the first building in the West following guidelines of the Kirkbride Plan, an early Victorian design for massive hospitals. Its architecture was viewed at the time as a form of treatment itself, offering patients humane lodging along with an infrastructure to support thousands of people – there was even a railway in the basement for transporting food, bedlinen, and whatnot. They were also gothic monstrosities that looked like the setting for a Stephen King horror novel, and the open floor plan made it easy for one screaming patient to upset hundreds of others. And then there was the problem of them falling down; the unreinforced Kirkbride-design asylum in San Jose collapsed in the 1906 earthquake killing 100, including a Santa Rosa woman. Napa’s “castle” was demolished in 1949, but the grounds still serve as a psychiatric hospital. Your obl. believe-it-or-not factoid: under 1874 state law, no alcohol could be sold within one mile of the hospital’s location – maybe the Napa tourist board should check to see if that’s still on the books.

The Sonoma State Home was discussed in the longer article about eugenics. It may have been called the hospital for “feeble-minded children” when its doors opened in 1891, but about one in five was epileptic. Its mission shifted after Dr. Fred O. Butler became superintendent in 1918 and it became an outright factory for asexualization surgery in California. By the mid-1920s, half of the women patients there were classified as “sexually delinquent,” and male patients were often “masturbators” or “passive sodomists.” Recall that “masturbation or sexual excesses” was a prominent question on the state form, and masturbation was the third most commonly reported behavior “indicating insanity.”5

Opened around the same time in 1893 was the Mendocino State Asylum for the Insane at Talmage, near Ukiah. The facility was intended to be the new overflow mental hospital for the state system, but records from the early 1900s show the great majority of patients came directly from San Francisco, for reasons not clear. Like the other hospitals it ballooned as its inmate population and staff grew to the size of a small town over the first half of the 20th century. But the story of the Mendocino Home takes several odd twists that Ripley might not have believed; for 25 years starting in 1929 it housed the criminally insane (a must-read story can be found here), then became an alcohol and drug rehab center during the 1950s and 1960s. In this era there were psychiatric residency and research programs that experimented with giving alcoholics massive doses of LSD. As the hospital was shutting down in 1972 because of a directive by Governor Reagan, cult leader Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple reaped a financial bonanza by setting up nursing homes to care for the former inmates. (It is also alleged that cult members who worked at the hospital before closing had stolen a stash of psychotherapeutic drugs like Thorazine and Lithium that would later be used to control dissenters at Jonestown.) Today the site is a Buddhist monastery that’s supposedly the largest Buddhist temple in North America.


1So Far Disordered in Mind: Insanity in California, 1870-1930, Volume 1, Richard Wightman Fox
2 ibid pg. 123
3 Certificate of Medical Examiners, Feb. 26, 1909
4 op. cit. pg. 27
5 ibid pg. 141


State Authorities Will Try Vasectomy on Insane Patients

Napa, March 22–A number of patients in the Napa State Hospital for the Insane will shortly undergo the operation of vasectomy for the purpose of their sterilization, as provided in the new asexualization law, applicable to certain patients and certain inmates of State Prisons.

A few days ago Dr. F. W. Hatch, Superintendent of State Hospitals, came here from Sacramento, and held a conference with Dr. Elmer Stone regarding the new law, the constitutionality of which has not been doubted by the Attorney General. Superintendent Stone of the hospital told Dr. Hatch he thought there were a number of patients in the Napa Hospital upon whom the operation should be performed. Dr. Hatch directed Dr. Stone to segregate these patients and get them ready for examination. When these arrangements have been made the patients will be examined by Dr. Hatch and Dr. W. E. Snow of the State Board of Health, and if the operation is deemed necessary will be ordered performed.

– Press Democrat, March 23, 1910

William Franklin Monahan was brought down from Fulton Friday afternoon by Sheriff Smith and County Physician S. S. Bogle and examined before an insanity inquisition. The man has become a star gazer and has attempted the impossible task of counting the stars in the heavens. Each evening he goes out and steadfastly gazes into the heavens. He was tried before Judge Thomas C. Denny and Dr. S. S. Bogle and Dr. P. A. Meneray and ordered committed to Mendocino hospital. He will be taken to that place on the evening train Friday.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 9, 1909


William Smith, an aged man who was arrested several days ago near Penngrove, at an early morning hour by Deputy Sheriff Rasmussen of Petaluma, and was to have been taken before a lunacy commission on Thursday to have the state of his mind inquired into, was put over for a day or two longer. Smith, who says he is a carpenter by trade, is apparently sans now. He blames his condition the other morning, when he was armed with an axe with which he had prepared for battle with an imaginary foe, to the mixing of beer and wine, and the imbibing of too copious doses. He told the Sheriff and Rasmussen Thursday morning that he honestly believes that he was suffering from the “d. t’s” at the time. He must have been, he said, for he firmly believed then that he was being pursued. The feeling then was a terrible one, but now it has disappeared. Sheriff Smith will have County Physician S. S. Bogle take a look at the man and if he passes inspection then he will be turned loose with his kit of carpenter tools. He says he can get a job.

In the corridor of the court house, in the presence of the officers and a newspaper representative, the man raised his right hand and swore that he had taken his last drink. “I will never touch a drink of wine, beer, or whiskey,” he said, “as long as I live.”

– Press Democrat, June 18, 1909

Escaped Inmate of Stockton Asylum

William J. Wash, an escaped inmate of the Stockton Insane asylum, was found on Monday night wandering in the hills, near Cloverdale. He was brought to Cloverdale, and detained there over night and Constable W. J. Orr took charge of him and accompanied him to the county jail here yesterday morning. Stockton asylum was communicated with and an officer was set to take Wash back there.

Wash is said to have escaped from Stockton about three weeks ago. He was wearing some of the clothes provided by the institution when Orr took him in charge. It is probable that he had been wandering in the hills ever since he made his getaway.

– Press Democrat, November 10, 1909
Cloverdale Constable Captures “Wild Man” After Search Lasting for Several Miles

Constable William J. Orr of Cloverdale headed a posse on Thursday who captured Amelio Regoni, who for some time past has been described as the “wild man of Mendocino county.”

Since last May there has been a lookout for the man who was run to earth seven miles from Cloverdale on Thanksgiving day. Numerous robberies of cabins and farm houses in the wooded hills of Mendocino county have been charged up to the “wild man.” He has been near capture on a number of occasions, but always managed to get out of the way and into hiding before his pursuers came up with him.

Constable Orr got word that a man had been seen dodging in and out among the hills near Cloverdale. He got a posse together and they tracked the man and he was captured in the fissure of a large rock. He was taken by surprise and covered with guns before he had time to reach for his rifle even if he had determined to resist capture. Thursday night Constable Orr landed his man in the Mendocino county jail at Ukiah. He is wanted in that county, as stated.

– Press Democrat, November 27, 1909
Victor Green Reads Story in This Paper and Writes to His Mother in Her Far Away Home

Two or three weeks ago when the Press Democrat mentioned the letter Constable Orr of Cloverdale had received from Mrs. Green of Pennsylvania, anxiously inquiring if her son, Victor Green, who had left home several years [ago] to come west, was the “wild man” Orr had captured in Mendocino county, a strong appeal was made if the item met the eyes of the boy that he at once write to his mother, and let her know of his whereabouts. The Press Democrat asked other papers to copy the story it published.

A Santa Rosan received a copy of the Press Democrat in Arizona and passed it along to a newspaper there. The story was published and it was read by the missing son, who at once wrote home from Yuma, telling his mother of his whereabouts. In turn Constable Orr and the Press Democrat have received the cordial thanks of Mrs. Green.

– Press Democrat, February 2, 1910

Herman Wells Placed Under Arrest–Has Threatened Residents of the Bloomfield Section

Deputy Sheriff William Coret of San Rafael has arrested Herman Welti at Tomales, charged with insanity. Welti is a frog catcher by trade and for many years has made his home in and around Bloomfield, but a short time ago removed to the Tomales section. He has been in the habit of spending his money mostly for liquor and at times would stay intoxicated for weeks at a time. It is thought that this is the cause of his present demented condition.

A few weeks ago he made threats to injure Wm. Minck the post master at Bloomfield, who is also a general merchant. Mr. Minck had had some trouble at times with Welti, owing to the fact of his coming into the Post Office intoxicated and using improper language before patrons and children, but Mr. Minck, having been previously warned through the mails to look out Welti, had managed to avoid any trouble. About the 2nd of December Welti wrote a long letter from Fallon’s to Sheriff Smith of this county and sent it by registered mail, wherein Dr. Cockrill and others were charged with holding a hypnotic spell over him, by use of a wireless instrument and claiming that they had followed him through ten or twelve counties of this state, trying to unbalance his mind. Sheriff Smith immediately remailed this letter from Dr. Cockrill at Bloomfield. The doctor was inclined  to treat the matter as a josh, but his son, W. A. Cockrill, reflecting what serious consequences might result from such persons being allowed their liberty, forwarded and the letter to Sheriff Taylor of San Rafael and requested him to get Welti and have him examined as to his sanity. Deputy Sheriff Coret made the arrest as stated before, but on arriving in the jail at San Rafael, Welti drew a pocket knife and attempted to stab Coret, and only for the deputy’s presence of mind probably would have succeeded.

Coret while parleying with the prisoner, made an offer to trade knives and in that way get possession of the knife which Welti had, after which he succeeded in locking him up without any further trouble. Welti will undoubtedly be adjudged insane and committed to an asylum when he comes up for examination.

– Press Democrat, December 15, 1909

Wandering About Barefooted and Without Hat

Ernest Bassanessi, formerly an employee of the Santa Rosa tannery, was arrested near Melitta Tuesday by Deputy Sheriff C. A. Reynolds and brought to the county jail. During the latter part of the morning of that day word was received over the telephone from Melitta that a man, supposed to be crazy, was in the neighborhood. The message stated further that the man was bareheaded and barefooted and that he carried a revolver. When the deputy sheriff took him into custody Bassanessi had no revolver, but was carrying a rock with which to protect himself from imaginary enemies which he believed were trying to kill him. An insanity commission will likely look into his case Wednesday.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 24, 1910

Ernest Bassanessi, the man who was found wandering around Melitta on Tuesday, is a man of good family and was born in Venice, where he taught school for some time. His wife was a native of Rome, and also a school teacher before her marriage. Mr. Bassanessi is a sensitive man and took the joking of his fellow workmen as an insult and their talk bothered him and preyed on his mind.

When he and his wife landed in this country from Italy, they had a sum of money with them, which they had saved, and immediately they were robbed. This was the first of their misfortunes and this and other things worried the man and he finally went insane.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 25, 1910
Former Resident of the Vicinity of Healdsburg Adjudged Insane and Not Sent to Penitentiary

Ed Bosco, an aged man charged with an assault with intent to commit murder, was examined on a charge of insanity in the Superior Court in Napa yesterday afternoon. He was declared insane by Judge Gesford and was ordered committed to the Napa State Hospital.

Bosco attempted to shoot Officer Ed Powers at Calistoga when Powers arrested him on a minor charge. Bosco, who formerly resided in Sonoma county, imagines that people have taken his land away from him. The officers in Healdsburg and in this city have had experiences with Bosco.

– Press Democrat, January 22, 1910

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