A week after a woman and her baby were almost killed with dynamite, Santa Rosa found a media circus camped in its backyard.
It was easily the biggest story on the West Coast at the time, and the Bay Area newspapers and wire services sent their top bylined reporters here to beat the bushes for the latest news. And one writer really was literally beating bushes; there was a rumor that unused sticks of dynamite were hidden somewhere in the nearby hills. Newspaper photographers were also on hand, with the San Francisco Call – and presumably, all competing papers – running front page pictures of even minor players in the drama. Our story so far, if you missed part one:
In February, 1910, an explosion awoke residents at Burke’s Sanitarium, a well-known nursing home and resort on Mark West Creek. The cause was dynamite in a tent house occupied by Lu Etta Smith and her eleven month-old baby; the child was uninjured and the woman suffered a couple of bad cuts. It was first said that it was a suicide attempt as she was reportedly despondent, and much was also made over the fact her sister had died in an insane asylum. A friend told reporters she was only despondent because she felt ostracized by the other residents, although she had lived there since shortly before her baby was born.
Within a couple of days the Sonoma County District Attorney came to the conclusion that it was an attempted murder case – a long fuse had been lit outside of the tent. But where did the dynamite come from? Suspicion fell upon Dr. Willard P. Burke, the owner of the sanitarium. Burke also had a mine in Butte County that famously struck gold the previous May, making him a very wealthy man. It was known that he had recently visited the mine, and the Sonoma County sheriff traveled there to try to determine if Burke had left with explosives.
THE BURKE MURDER CASE
In this first week after the incident, Lu Etta remained sequestered at the sanitarium and not available to any of the reporters from the San Francisco newspapers clamoring for an interview. She was allowed to speak to one man who she believed was a reporter, but was actually an attorney for Dr. Burke. Meanwhile, Burke’s sister-in-law emerged as a spokesperson for the family and repeatedly stated Lu Etta was mad as a hatter, had threatened to drown the baby, and probably had the stick of dynamite in her mouth before she lost her nerve at the last moment.
The DA had Lu Etta moved to the county hospital, where she was now available to journalists. She told them Burke was the father of her child – who was named “Willard P. Burke Smith” – and they had carried on an affair since 1906. When asked about this, Burke’s sister-in-law claimed many babies born at the sanitarium were named after the good doctor.
When the sheriff returned, Dr. Burke was arrested and charged with “using an explosive with intent to injure a human being.” The shocking news spread quickly around Santa Rosa and a large crowd gathered at the courthouse to see Burke arrive for his arraignment. The $20,000 bail was immediately posted, with Burke being represented in court by attorney James Wyatt Oates.
The account here continues with just local Press Democrat coverage of the story, as outside reporting was sometimes sensationalized and unpredictably muddled. Still, the PD did neglect to mention some important details, such as Lu Etta’s Berkeley connections, which were important to know in one of the developments transcribed below. She was studying philosophy at UC/Berkeley during 1907 and 1908, living at the time as a boarder in the home of William File, who told reporters she had no suitors but visited Dr. Burke in San Francisco once a week. After she moved out the File family received a letter that she had married and had a child. The PD also did not mention Burke having told a colleague months before the explosion that he expected she would someday commit suicide by using dynamite.
MINER THOS. RILEY GAVE DR. W. P. BURKE SIX STICKS OF DYNAMITEDispatch From Oroville Last Night Gives Startling DetailsMORE EVIDENCE IS SECURED MONDAYOfficials Go to Mine–Luella Smith Must Not Talk–Brother Visits Sister–Tent in Evidence–The Investigation
Oroville, Feb. 14–Positive evidence has been secured here that Dr. W. P. Burke, of Burke’s Sanitarium, Sonoma county, secured six sticks of dynamite from his mine at Kanaka Peak, Butte county, on December 20.
The officers declare that they have a complete case against him.
On December 20, while on a visit to his mine the dynamite was given to Dr. Burke by Thomas Riley, a miner employed by Burke. He was given careful instructions in regard to preparing and firing the fuse by James Hedge, the foreman, and Riley, and he listened to what they said with the closest attention. The men prepared and fired a charge for his instruction.
Dr. Burke explained that he wanted the dynamite for the purpose of blowing up a boulder at the Sanitarium.
Dr. Burke again visited his mine on February 1, and told the man, in response to the questions they propounded, that he had touched off the dynamite and it had completely shattered the rock.
Sheriff Chubuck of Butte county and Sheriff Smith of Sonoma county secured the final evidence. At first it was believed that the dynamite had been secured at the Phoenix mine at Hurleton, but the officers declare now that it was obtained at Burke’s mine at Kanaka Peak, which is far more remote and unfrequented spot.
District Attorney Lea, Sheriff Smith and Court Reporter Scott, all of Sonoma county, arrived here today and left for Kanaka Peak mine to take depositions.
That no time is being lost and no detail of importance overlooked in the investigation being conducted to fix the blame for the dynamite explosion in Luella Smith’s tent at Burke’s Sanitarium, was demonstrated on Monday morning in the departure of District Attorney Clarence Lea, Sheriff J. K. Smith and Court Reporter Harry Scott from Santa Rosa, their destination being Oroville, from which point the Sheriff brought important evidence, which led to the arrest of Dr. W. P. Burke on Sunday afternoon. Their mission was to take statements of people and thoroughly investigate…in Butte county, where Dr. Burke’s mine is located.
Luella Must Keep “Mum”
Assistant District Attorney Hoyle took a little run out to the county hospital on Monday, and while they cautioned Luella Smith not to permit herself to be interviewed by anybody regarding the case and absolutely not to talk. He left similar instructions with the matron, Miss Margaret Lindsay that no one be permitted to interview the woman. The object of this precaution is evidently to prevent any overtures being made to her, and to guard against the visit of any bogus newspaper interviewer solely for the purpose of getting some statement from her.Tent as Evidence
Deputy Sheriff Reynolds went out to the sanitarium on Monday and returned with the section of the tent torn by the explosion. This, of course, will be preserved as evidence for the trial. It is stored away in a safe place.Want no More Visitors
A party of newspaper men and women motored out to the Sanitarium on Monday afternoon for the purpose of talking, if possible, with one or two persons there. After they had called upon Bookkeeper Reese at the office and made known their desire he carried a message inside. The answer came in the person of Dr. Burke’s brother, who politely, but firmly told the party to leave the premises at once, and further that they need not return. So there was nothing to do but to go, and they did so. It was a very pleasant auto ride to the Sanitarium though, and the party enjoyed it.Sanitarium Not Closed
The rumor that followed the arrest of Dr. Burke that the sanitarium would be closed is not correct. The institution will be run as before and Dr. Isaac Burke, brother of the head of the institution, will assume active charge. A number of patients arrived at the sanitarium on Monday.Newspaper Woman Dines There
A woman writer on a San Francisco paper had supper at Burke’s Sanitarium on Monday night after her arrival on the evening stage from Fulton depot, where she left the train. She was assigned a room there and was for the time being supposed to be a new patient. Some one recognized her, however, and a hint was given that a horse and buggy and driver would be at her service for a drive to Santa Rosa. She preferred to accept the ride, although possibly she could have remained over at the sanitarium had she so desired.Woman’s Brother Here
Luella Smith’s brother, Edgar Smith, of Upper Lake, came to town on Monday and visited his sister at the county hospital. Tears were shed by both and they conversed for some time. He means to help his sister. Smith declares that there never has been any question as to the sanity of Luella Smith. Another sister died in the asylum. The brother is about sixty years of age.– Press Democrat, February 15, 1910WAS FEAR OF CONTEST FOR BURKE WEALTH A MOTIVE FOR THE CRIME?The Threatened Suit May Be Responsible for Several Sensational FeaturesMINER WHO TALKED HAS LOST HIS JOBDistrict Attorney Lea is Expected Home Tonight and the Grand Jury May Be Called Together Either Friday or Saturday
Dr. W. P. Burke having been formally charged with the explosion which narrowly escaped killing Luetta Smith and her 11 months-old son, it is now reported that the authorities will attempt to show that the motive for the crime lay in the fear of a legal contest for the wealth of the child’s alleged father, Dr. Burke, estimated at from $200,000 to $250,000. This theory, it is said, will be laid before the Grand Jury as supplying the motive for the crime. It may also offer an explanation for many of the sensational features that have developed in connection with the case.
It is known that Attorney Naylor has secured depositions in Sonoma, Lake and Alameda counties in support of the contention that Dr. Burke is the father of Luella Smith’s child. Naylor is still working along that line. As a result it is expected that suit will soon be brought against Dr. Burke in an attempt to secure a goodly portion of his estate for the use of the infant child and its mother. For the matter of a year or so it has been common report that as a result of a successful mining ventures Dr. Burke was rapidly becoming a wealthy man. Some are asking whether this phase of the matter has any bearing on the case.
Last Saturday night Attorney Naylor came up from San Francisco and shortly after dark made a hurried trip to the county hospital, where he is alleged to have secured a deposition from Luella Smith. He appeared anxious that his coming should not be known, and it was not until the following day that the object of his visit was ascertained. It is believed that one of Naylor’s important witnesses will be Dr. A. W. Hitt, formerly employed as an assistant physician at Burke’s Sanitarium. In a letter written by Hitt to Naylor last December he (Hitt) said he did not intend to remain at the sanitarium much longer. “There is too much talk of dynamite,” wrote he. The letter concluded as follows: “Please preserve this letter as we may need it later for evidence.”
[..]Talkative Miner Discharged
District Attorney Clarence F. Lea, Sheriff Smith and Court Reporter Harry Scott are now in Oroville, having arrived there last night from the Burke mine at Kanaka Peak. They are expected home this evening. A message received here last night from District Attorney Lea says that upon arriving at the mine they found that Thomas Riley, the miner, who last week gave out the information regarding Dr. Burke’s visit there in December, had been discharged. While the reason for the discharge is not known here, it is assumed that it was because Riley “talked too much.” Riley will be on hand an one of the witnesses for the prosecution when the case comest to trial.Dr. Burke in Town
Dr. Burke drove into town yesterday afternoon, for the first time since being placed under arrest Sunday, and had a consultation with his attorney, James W. Oates. It is reported that Hiram W. Johnson of San Francisco, a well-known criminal lawyer, and prominently mentioned as a possible candidate for Governor at the approaching election, is to be associated as counsel for the defense. Dr. Burke has apparently lost none of his calmness and dignity as a result of the sensational developments of the past few days, his appearance and demeanor being much the same as usual. He was accompanied by two ladies, one of whom was Mrs. Alfred Burke.
[..]– Press Democrat, February 16, 1910BURKE CASE COMES BEFORE GRAND JURY THIS MORNINGNewspaper Men Still Search in Vain for Missing DynamiteAttorneys Thomas J. Geary and J. R. Leppo Reported to Have Been Retained to Conduct Dr. Burke’s Defense
This is the day set for the Grand case and a number of witnesses are already on the ground. Dr. A. W. Hitt and Attorney C. E. Naylor came up from Oakland yesterday, and former Chief Clerk D. W. Dillard was likewise among yesterday’s arrivals. Thomas Riley, the miner, who found himself suddenly discharged after telling the details of Dr. Burke’s visit to the Kanaka Peak mine last December, is reported to have come in on last night’s train. Numerous summons were sent out Thursday for local witnesses and it is reported that altogether between fifteen and twenty people will appear before the inquistorial body.Where is That Dynamite?
It has developed that the real object of the systematic search made at Burke’s Sanitarium last Sunday was to locate if possible the five missing sticks of dynamite, which according to the theory of the prosecution ought still to be somewhere in that vicinity. Riley the miner stated that Dr. Burke took six sticks of the explosive away from the mine. The prosecution is convinced that one was used by Dr. Burke is an attempt to blow Luella Smith and infant son into eternity. If so, where are the other five? Some of the San Francisco newspaper men now here have put in part of their time during the past few days trying to solve this phase of the mystery, and repeated searches have been made of likely places in the hills surrounding the sanitarium. But so far their efforts have all prove unavailing.Attorneys Geary and Leppo
Attorneys Thomas J. Geary and J. R. Leppo will probably have charge of Dr. Burke’s defense. For several days negotiations have been under way looking to this end, and it is understood that they were presumably concluded yesterday. If Attorney Hiram Johnson of San Francisco appears in the case, it will probably be at the request of interested San Francisco parties.– Press Democrat, February 18, 1910GRAND JURY CHARGES BURKE WITH ABORTION AND ATTEMPTED MURDERPhysician Must Face Double Charge as Result of Sensational Development of the Official InvestigationARRESTED BUT OUT ON $25,000 BONDSSensational Ending of Grand Jury Session Which Lasted Three Days, and in Which Testimony of Many Witnesses Was Taken
Following one of the most sensational investigations ever conducted by a Sonoma county Grand Jury, Dr. Willard P. Burke, head of the well-known sanitarium that bears his name, was yesterday afternoon indicted upon two counts. The first of these is for the alleged dynamiting of the tent-cottage on the Sanitarium grounds occupied by Luetta Smith and her eleven-months-old babe on February 5 of the present year; and the second is for an alleged abortion committed upon a young married woman of this county on January 10, 1909.
The first indictment was not unexpected, in view of the startling developments that have followed from day to day since the news of the explosion was made public. The second indictment, however, came somewhat as a surprise, although in the earlier days of the investigation there were hints that proofs of such practices would be unearthed. The woman upon which the abortion is alleged to have been committed was subpoenaed to appear before the Grand Jury yesterday, but her extremely nervous condition, following a collapse when served with the subpoena at her home the night before, made her personal appearance out of the question. In view of her condition, her deposition was taken, setting forth the alleged facts in detail; and when this was presented to the Grand Jury at yesterday’s session, the indictment referred to promptly resulted.Dr. Burke Re-arrested
During most of the afternoon Dr. Burke had been closeted with his attorneys, Hiram Johnson and James Rollo Leppo, in the latter’s office in the Santa Rosa Bank building. At times he could be seen standing in the office window gazing across at the building before whose bar of Justice he will later be called upon to appear.
[..]Luetta Smith Testifies
Tall, a long black raincoat covering the inner dress that hung loosely about her gaunt figure, her thin face showing lines of trouble, Luetta Smith was ushered into the presence of the Grand Jury yesterday morning. She went through the ordeal of answering questions for about an hour, and was then excused. Later she returned to the county hospital where she and her baby have been since District Attorney Lea ordered them taken there.
Little by little she told again the story that has already been published this paper, amplifying the details. She told of her regard for Dr. Burke and her confidence in him, related his gifts of money, and his letters to her from time to time, and then told of his intimate relations and the birth of the baby of which she declared again he was the father.Mrs. Macey Testifies
She was followed by Mrs. Macey of Laguna street, San Francisco, with whom she lived from June, 1908 to February, 1910, when she came to the Sanitarium where her baby was born. Mrs. Macey corroborated Miss Smith’s testimony regarding the visits paid the latter by Dr. Burke at her home.
D. Warren Dillard, former chief bookkeeper at the Sanitarium, told the Grand Jury of the times he had heard Dr. Burke say that Luetta Smith would blow herself up with dynamite, reiterating practically the previous details he related in connection with the matter…
…Earl Edmunds and Miss Ada Clark, who were in the Sanitarium kitchen at the time of the explosion, described the startling incidents that followed, including the appearance of Dr. Burke and his alleged statements that Luetta Smith had carried out her previous threats to “blow herself up.”
[..]– Press Democrat, February 26, 1910OFFICERS ARE SEARCHING THE STATE FOR LOU SMITHFear the Woman Has Been Spirited Away
Where is Lou Etta Smith?
That is the problem District Attorney Clarence Lea, Sheriff Smith and the officers of the bay cities are trying to unravel.
Lou Etta Smith is the woman whose tent house in the grounds of Burke’s Sanitarium was dynamited last February, and the subsequent investigation of which led to the arrest and indictment of Dr. W. P. Burke.
Since April 19 Miss Smith, who with her eleven-months-old baby went to the house of friends in Berkeley a few days following the finding of the indictment, has been missing, and although District Attorney Lea and the Sheriff have been investigating for about a week the matter was kept quiet until Wednesday.
District Attorney Lea fears that Miss Smith may have been spirited away. He has information that certain overtures were made to her and while at present he will say nothing, the time may come when he will make public dates and the names of people implicated.
At the time Miss Smith left Berkeley it was presumably for a visit to San Francisco. She left considerable of her belongings in Berkeley, and they are there at the present time, but presumably nothing has been heard of her.
[..]– Press Democrat, May 12, 1910MONEY AIDED IN SPIRITING AWAY OF LOUETTA SMITH
…That some one furnished her coin there is no question for at the time she left the county hospital for the Files residence at Berkeley, and since, she was poverty stricken.
District Attorney Issa and Assistant District Attorney G. W. Hoyle are apparently not much worried that Lou Smith’s whereabouts will not be discovered. And Mr. Lea does not put much stock in the report that she is within a hundred miles of San Francisco, either.
Yesterday pretty Mrs. Marian Derrig, blue-eyed and blonde, was mentioned in connection with the disappearance of Lou Smith and as one in whom Miss Smith had confidence. Mrs. Derrig is said to be a personal friend of Dr. Burke, and at the time of the sensational stages of the proceedings, she was mentioned as possibly an important witness. Mrs. Derrig is said to have visited Lou Smith in Berkeley and to have promised her money.– Press Democrat, May 14, 1910MISS LOU ETTA SMITH HAS GONE TO JAPANPrincipal Witness in Burke Case Is LocatedTraveled on the Steamer China as Lou Ella Baum and kept her identity secret Until After She Had Left the Vessel
San Francisco June 25–On the arrival today from the far east it was learned definitely, according to those on board of the vessel, that Miss Lou Etta Smith left here on the vessel when she departed on her last trip out, traveling as Lou Ella Baum. The woman kept to herself, and it was not until after she and her child had gone ashore in Japan that her identity was discovered.
Sheriff J. K. Smith of Sonoma County was here today when the vessel arrived, and immediately boarded her to interview the Stewardess. The latter identified the picture the Sheriff had as the woman who had been on the vessel on the outward trip as Lou Ella Baum. The woman claimed to have relatives who were missionaries in Japan, and was en route for a visit with them.
[..]– Press Democrat, June 26, 1910CABLE SENT FOR ARREST OF LOU ETTA SMITH IN JAPAN
After securing a confirmation of the information held by the local authorities that Miss Lou Etta Smith, wanted here as the principal witness in the case against Dr. Willard P. Burke, had gone to Japan a cable has been sent the authorities at Yokohama to arrest and hold the woman as she was wanted here on a charge of perjury.
The announcement of this fact by [Sonoma County Sheriff] Smith yesterday prior to his departure to Los Angeles came as a surprise.
Sheriff Smith said that under the law a fugitive witness could not be brought back from a foreign country, but a criminal could. He also stated that a warrant had been secured for the arrest of the woman on a charge of perjury, and that District Attorney Lea had instructed him to cable for her arrest which he had done, and was now awaiting a reply.
If the arrest is made the extradition will have to be handled through the action of the State Department at Washington with the government at Tokio [sic]. In this way the case will come to be known as an international one.– Press Democrat, June 29, 1910