After months of lying low in Japan, the key witness in the attempted murder case against Burke was brought back to Sonoma County, amid new questions of who paid for her trip and who wrote the confession letters signed by her – letters not mailed until weeks after she had left the country.
(RIGHT: Lu Etta Smith and baby Willard. This photo from the Santa Rosa Republican, below from San Francisco Call)
Our basic story so far: In February, 1910, Dr. Willard Burke was arrested for allegedly trying to kill Lu Etta Smith and her infant son by blowing them up. Investigators discovered Burke, who owned a gold mine as well as the sanitarium near Santa Rosa, had visited his mine and was shown how to use explosives, departing with six sticks of dynamite. The Grand Jury indicted Burke for attempted murder, but in a surprising twist, also brought charges against him for performing an abortion on a different woman (abortion was considered second-degree murder at the time, but few were prosecuted). Smith testified she was Burke’s mistress and he was the father of her child. Not long after her court appearance, Lu Etta and her son disappeared. She was found to be in Japan, which was curious because she had no known income outside of gifts of money from Dr. Burke. The Sonoma County Sheriff issued an arrest warrant for perjury so she could be extradited back to the U.S. if she did not come willingly. More background is available in the previous article, and it should be noted that at this time in the chronology, the Press Democrat simply gave up in trying to summarize the backstory in each article, writing simply, “the public is already in the possession of so much detail concerning the case that repetition at this time is unnecessary.”
Also, here’s some missing background: Was the victim named Lu Etta, Luetta, Luella, Louella, or Lou Etta? Newspapers at the time used all these variations, sometimes more than one in the same article. By the time the trial began the Press Democrat just started calling her as “Lu.” But the name on her death certificate and in the only census in which she appeared was “Lu Etta.” And while we’re on the topic of her origins, she was born in Missouri in 1870 and had only a seventh grade education.
THE BURKE MURDER CASE
Lu Etta Smith’s return sparked renewed media interest, and the story was again front page news. Then a few weeks later in October, a powerful explosion destroyed the Los Angeles Times building killing 21 and injuring scores more. Union activists were suspected, but it would be several months before that was proven and arrests were made. All that was known in the weeks following the bombing was lots of dynamite was used and it was suspected to have been purchased by men posing as gold miners in Placer County, meaning there were now two high-profile crimes involving dynamite from the Sierra Nevadas on the front pages.
With the intense media interest surrounding both cases, a man registered at Burke’s Sanitarium a few days later. As told in an history of the LA Times bombing, he immediately raised eyebrows among residents at Burke’s because he didn’t appear to be ill and acted suspiciously; he didn’t socialize and hid whenever an auto approached. He had a “peculiar looking eye.” A suspicious resident at the sanitarium called the Oakland police and the captain of detectives soon arrived. In tow was a phalanx of reporters, apparently eager to somehow tie Burke into the new dynamite story. Dr. Burke told them the man – who was never precise on his exact name – had stayed only a day and claimed to be a private detective investigating another patient who was a possible suspect in the Los Angeles bombing. The fellow who called the cops quipped, “He said he was a detective in search of the dynamiters. I told him he jolly well looked like one of the dynamiters himself.”
LU ETTA SMITH IS ENROUTE TO U.S.Is Captured Through Efforts of Sheriff Jack SmithSome Startling Revelations Are Looked For When She Arrives–Officers Have Kept Her Coming Secret–District Attorney Lea Assists Sheriff
Lu Etta Smith, missing witness in the case against Dr. Willard P. Burke, will be here long before the trial of the case is set. The woman is now en route to this coast from Hawaii, where she has been for several days.
The witness is expected to reach here in a few days, and when she comes it is anticipated there will be some startling revelations concerning her disappearance.
Miss Smith and her child have been absent for some months, and owing to her absence the trial of the case had to be postponed until November. Now that the officers have her in custody a strict watch will be maintained on her to see that no inducements are offered to have her in custody a strict watch will be maintained on her to see that no inducements are offered to have her depart again.
It was a matter of common report that agents of Dr. Burke had negotiated for the disappearance of the woman when she left the File home in Berkeley some months ago, and made the journey to the Orient. It is believed she was paid a large sum of money to leave here and take the trip, with the idea that she would be kept away until after the trial of the case.
[..]– Santa Rosa Republican, September 20, 1910LU ETTA SMITH SAYS SHE WAS GIVEN MONEY TO LEAVE COUNTRYDistrict Attorney Clarence F. Lea Is in Possession of Very Sensational and Startling InformationWITNESS IN BURKE CASE COMING BACK
The international hunt for Lu Etta Smith, the missing witness in the Burke case…ended two weeks ago last Saturday. But it was only yesterday afternoon that the news of the apprehension of Lu Etta Smith in Tokio, Japan, and the fact that she is almost within sight of the shores of the United States was confirmed…
Two weeks ago last Saturday Sheriff Smith received a cablegram from United States Consul Sammons from Tokio, stating that Lu Smith had been apprehended…the officials determined on secrecy, their plan being to get the woman landed and have a talk with her prior to letting anyone know of her return. They had reasons. But the news leaked out and confirmation was given it, as said, yesterday afternoon.Was Furnished Money
When Lu Etta Smith, or “Mrs. I. L. Long”–she is traveling incognito, and both going and returning from the Orient she has been “Mrs. Long–steps from the steamer in San Francisco, or probably before the steamer docks, she will have further details of a startling story to tell. To the story District Attorney Lea furnished a startling introduction yesterday afternoon when he said:
“I have already learned from Lu Smith that she was furnished with money to get out of the country and avoid being a witness at the Burke trial. I will not state now who it was that gave her the money. But she has corroborated evidence I had already in my possession.”
“No. I cannot say who it was,” replied the public prosecutor when pressed by newspaper interviewers. “I will wait and see Miss Smith first,” he smiled.
…From witnesses examined at another Grand Jury investigation it was learned that Mrs. Marian Derrigg, a personal friend of the Burke family, had made a number of calls upon Lu Etta Smith at the File home in Berkeley. The purport and nature of the visits have not been told, but Lu Etta Smith may throw some light upon the matter.
[..]Not a Prisoner
Lu Etta Smith is not returning to this country as a prisoner under arrest in the legal meaning of the term. In Japan she had two courses open to her as regards her manner of return. She could either figure in extradition proceedings and come home a prisoner, or else return as a passenger, merely under the supervision of some of the steamship officials. She agreed to the latter course, extradition proceedings were unnecessary, and she is said to have exhibited a willingness to return.District Attorney Gets Letter
District Attorney Lea received a letter from Lu Etta Smith from a port in Japan. When asked concerning the contents of the letter yesterday he declined to state, and was equally uncommunicative as to whether the letter had tarnished him with the information concerning the identity of the person who is said to have furnished Lu Etta Smith with the money for her trip.
[..]Will be Cared for
Upon the arrival of the woman and her child they will be cared for until the trial. They will be given proper accommodations where a watch can be kept upon them and there will be no danger of any more ocean voyages.Will Explain Letter
District Attorney Lea is particularly pleased at the return of Miss Smith as she will be able to explain her purported signature to a letter forwarded to him some three weeks after her disappearance which contained an alleged confession of here that Dr. Burke had no connection with the dynamiting. District Attorney Lea has already learned that Miss Smith has not changed from this story of the details of the occurrence related by her from the first.
[..]– Press Democrat, September 21, 1910MARIAN DERRIGG GAVE LU ETTA SMITH MONEY TO LEAVEFirst Publication of Letter Sent to the District Attorney
Letter Lu Etta Smith Says She Did Not Write
San Francisco, Cal.
May 3, 1910
Mr. Clarence L. Lea
Sonoma Co. Cal.
Dear Sir–I hereby acknowledge that I very much regret the explosion which took place in my tent at Burke on the night of February 5, 1910.
I hereby exonerate Dr. W. P. Burke from all blame in this explosion and also hereby confess that I did this myself, and therefore ask that all criminal proceedings against him be dismissed at once. I would also ask you to have this letter put in the newspapers. I have written Dr. W. P. Burke exonerating him from all blame.
Very sincerely yours,
Lu Etta Smith
Lu Etta Smith and her child arrived in Santa Rosa last night on the 5:47 o’clock train, accompanied by Sheriff Smith and District Attorney Lea. These officials met them upon their arrival in San Francisco from Japan on the steamer Chio Maru yesterday morning.
With the return of Lu Etta Smith came the confirmation by her that she was given the money to pay for the passage of herself and child to the Orient by Mrs. Marian Derrigg. Mrs. Derrigg, as has already been told, was a patient for some time at Burke’s Sanitarium, and is said to be a personal friend of the Burke family. The statement by Miss Smith that Marian Derrigg had handed her the money was again reiterated last night. Mrs. Derrigg’s whereabouts at the present time are unknown. She was last seen in San Francisco at the time of the departure of Lu etta Smith at the File residence in Berkeley where the negotiations for the payment of the money were made.Was Cleverly Planned
It was a cleverly worked out scheme. Mrs. Derrigg went to Berkeley where she posed as a wealthy woman. She opened up negotiations with a real estate firm for the purchase of a piece of property known as Craig Mont. Craig Mont chanced to be in the vicinity of the File residence, where Lu Etta Smith was stopping. Having previously known Miss Smith at the Sanitarium, it was an easy matter to get an interview with her under the guise of the former acquaintance and solicitude for her welfare. Mrs. Derrigg is said to have told Miss Smith that it would be better for her to get away to some other clime where she could forget her disgrace. The woman listened, and when Mrs. Derrigg proffered the necessary money for the trip to Japan, Miss Smith agreed to go. While the negotiations were in progress Mrs. Derrigg was making trips to and from the Sanitarium. She is said to have given over the money in greenbacks, and to have visited the Sanitarium the night before. One of the first things Miss Smith did aboard the vessel was to tip a steward a five dollar greenback, taking the bill from a big roll.Denies Authenticity of Letter
Lu Etta Smith also positively denies the authenticity of the letter sent to District Attorney Lea on May 3, 1910, and postmarked San Francisco, which stated that Dr. Burke had no connection with the explosion and she herself was responsible. This letter was mailed three weeks after the departure of the woman and her child for Japan. They had sailed on April 19. From the start District Attorney Lea doubted the validity of the communication, and for that reason up to last night he had refused to make ti public. The full text of the letter is given above, published for the first time.Signed Several Papers
Miss Smith stated yesterday that she had sighed her name to several blank sheets of paper at the request of Mrs. Derrigg, being told that the signatures were wanted merely for samples of her handwriting. She knew nothing of the contents of the letter until told upon her arrival in San Francisco yesterday.Told Missionary Story
To the home of a missionary, a minister from Chicago, at Karagswa [sic – it was Karuizawa], Lu Etta Smith went with her child. The place is some distance from Tokio. To him Miss Smith told her story. The missionary communicated the facts to American Consul Sammons at Tokio, and he cabled the authorities here, telling of the location of the woman prior to this, on the way to the Orient, Miss Smith had disclosed her identity and had told her story to some women passengers on the steamer China.Payments Cease
Not only was the woman’s passage to Japan paid, but it was also agreed that she should receive payments from time to time. These payments were never forwarded to Japan.Crowd at Depot
The news that Lu Etta Smith and her child were coming on the 5:47 train last night resulted in a crowd of interested people gathering at the depot. When the woman and child alighted from the train in company with the sheriff the crowd pressed around her. While she looked pale, it was evident that the woman’s physical condition has improved by her trip abroad. She and the child were escorted to a carriage and were driven to the home of Special Officer and Mrs. H. T. Ramsey, where they will make their temporary abode, prior to the making of other arrangements. Miss Smith will be watched from now up to the time of the trial of the Burke case (during] the latter part of November.
No complaint will be sworn out against the woman to detain her here as a witness. She will be subpoenaed as a witness immediately. There will be no trouble about the matter, and she will not get out of sight again. She will willingly testify at the trial in November.No Complaints at Present
District Attorney Lea was asked last night whether there would be any complaints sworn out, in view of the confirmation of the story as to who paid the money to Lu Etta Smith to get her to leave the county and thus avoid being a witness at the trial of the case. He replied that there would be none at present. “It is unnecessary just now,” the prosecutor said. Mr. Lea did not attempt to take an official statement from Miss Smith yesterday. He went to the metropolis unaccompanied by a stenographer, and when the train arrived here last night, the woman and child were taken at once to the Ramsey residence.Amount Not Stated
District Attorney Lea last night declined to state the amount of money paid Lu Etta Smith. It is said to have ranged as high as $500, but this is only guessing. Mr. Lea, of course, has much other valuable information in his possession which he will not make public at present. Naturally the outcome of the case is awaited with considerable interest.
The letter quoted above, and whose authenticity as far as she is concerned, is denied, was in typewriting, a considerable space being between the last line and the signature “Lu Etta Smith.”
The public is already in the possession of so much detail concerning the case that repetition at this time is unnecessary.– Press Democrat, September 24, 1910