Murder was almost unheard of in early 20th century Santa Rosa and West County, but in the late summer of 1910 there were two that happened within weeks. And because both killers were Japanese men, the coverage of the deeds in the Santa Rosa newspapers give us a snapshot of media attitudes on race.

Events began with the July murder of Enoch Kendall, his wife and adult son at the Lion’s Head Ranch near Cazadero. Their bodies had been dismembered and parts burned in the cookstove, with their remains of charred bones and ashes piled in the yard. The body of Mrs. Kendall, sans head and both legs, was found in the woods. The Press Democrat’s headline proclaimed it the “Most Atrocious Crime in History of Sonoma County.”

(RIGHT: Kendalls and Yamaguchi, illustration from the Oakland Tribune, August 5, 1910

Suspicion immediately fell on Henry Yamaguchi, a young Japanese laborer who knew the owner of the ranch. The Kendalls were leasing the property from Mrs. Margaret Starbuck of Oakland, who had been trying to evict them for some time; she had filed four lawsuits against the family in Sonoma County, accusing them of stealing and selling some of her cattle. Yamaguchi, who had previously performed a few odd jobs for Mrs. Starbuck at the ranch and at her Oakland home, now worked at the Cazadero Hotel and volunteered to keep an eye on the Kendalls for her.

When the bodies were found the police contacted Mrs. Starbuck. She told them that Yamaguchi had appeared at her Oakland residence unexpectedly around the day of the murders. He appeared to have been beaten up and  told her that the younger Kendall had shot at him. He had fought “all three of them,” according to Mrs. Starbuck, and he told her, “I do ’em all up; I put ’em away. They no bother you no more.” She was alarmed by his remarks, but as the murders had not yet been discovered, Yamaguchi was allowed to leave.

But once the crime was revealed, Yamaguchi could not be found. The local Japanese association immediately called a meeting in Santa Rosa and vowed to help search for him statewide, even raising money for a reward.

At the inquest Mrs. Starbuck told a more incriminating story, with Yamaguchi yelling, “I shot him! I shot him! I shot him!” before saying, “I kill myself; I must kill myself.” The coroner’s jury charged Yamaguchi with murder.

Exactly a month after Yamaguchi’s indictment, the second killing happened in Sebastopol. During the performance of a Japanese play by a touring company in Lincoln Hall (McKinley Street, near the movie theater) Y. Yasuda shot another a man twice from the back. He was immediately arrested, as was another Japanese man who took money from the dead man’s pockets. Yasuda says he acted in self defense and was held over for trial.

Meanwhile, the Sonoma County Grand Jury was investigating the Kendall murder case. Testimony was raising questions about the truthfulness of Mrs. Starbuck. At the earlier inquest she had already contradicted her original story that Yamaguchi appeared to have been beaten; she told the coroner he did not appear to have any injuries aside from a possible bruise on a cheek. It also came out at the inquest that she was the only person who heard Yamaguchi’s confession. Mr. Starbuck testified he came home later and found his wife quite agitated and Yamaguichi sobbing that he would kill himself. The husband said he considered the story “too preposterous” to believe and “if Yamaguichi had fought all three of the Kendalls he could not have hurt them much.” As Yamaguichi was just five feet three and weighed 120 pounds, the crime would have been quite the job for him, what with all the butchery required.

Witnesses told the Grand Jury she remained determine to evict the Kendalls despite losing the four lawsuits against them. She instructed a man named Cox to find her a new tenant. Cox asked how she would get the Kendalls to leave, she allegedly told him, “there are more ways than one to get them off.” She also tried to sell the ranch, which she had denied in earlier testimony:

W. B. Quigley flatly contradicted Mrs. Starbuck regarding the proposed sale or transfer of the ranch to Japanese for colonization or other purposes. He testified that he had about completed negotiations for the sale of the ranch when a hitch occurred and the deal was declared off. Mrs. Starbuck later denied any such deal as that first above mentioned, had ever been contemplated.

While none of this incriminated Mrs. Starbuck in an actual crime, it certainly called into question her other testimony. At the end of the story the Press Democrat commented, “It is declared by those who know that there was sufficient shifting of both the testimony of Mrs. Starbuck and her husband to have considerable effect if the case ever comes to trial. There are those who believe she is still keeping secret more than she is telling in the case.”

Yamaguchi was indicted by the Grand Jury, despite the only thread of evidence against him being an alleged confession to a woman who apparently had a deep and irrational hatred for the Kendalls. Let me repeat that: A man was indicted for murder only on the word of a person who wanted the victims out of her hair. Such an outrageous abuse of justice makes it impossible to imagine racism was not a major factor in the Grand Jury’s indictment.

But the topic here is media racism: Did the 1910 and 1911 newspapers report this story – and the one about the Sebastopol murder – with prejudice? The answer is mixed.

Cheer that the racial slur “little brown men” didn’t once appear in either paper, although both used it the year before in almost every story about local Japanese. In 1910, “Jap” and “Nipponese” were as nasty as the name-calling got. Not that there wasn’t racist news reported that year; there was also a lecture on Japanese exclusion in Santa Rosa, ending with a resolution calling for boycotts against Japanese labor and businesses as well as anyone else who engaged with anyone Japanese.

The downside was that the papers made the two Japanese men into cardboard villains. Readers learned nothing about Yamaguchi, although the police description mentioned he was a member of a Methodist Church in Oakland and “was well known in Fruitvale.” The Press Democrat ran at least a dozen stories on the Kendall murders, several with front page headlines; couldn’t they have spared a reporter for an afternoon to interview people who knew him best? For the Yasuda shooting, we never learned about a motive, aside from hints such as, “the trouble that led to the shooting grew out of some gambling deals.”

There was no interest in reporting on the trial proceedings of a Japanese-upon-Japanese crime, so coverage of the Sebastopol killing instead relentlessly focused on any white people involved in the story, particularly Frank Harrington, the ticket taker at Lincoln Hall and only non-Japanese person in attendance.  Harrington disarmed Yasuda after the incident; according to the Santa Rosa Republican, it was an act of heroism straight from a dime novel:

Mr. Harrison the doorkeeper of the theater, showed remarkable coolness and presence of mind in the turbulent scenes which followed. As the Jap with the smoking pistol came toward him at the door he struck the man in the face, grasped the pistol from him and held him there until he was taken into custody. Had the Japanese escaped from the theater and mingled in the crowd, it would have given the officers difficulty to apprehend him.

Note the soft racism that officers would not be able to identify Yasuda if he was in a crowd of other Japanese. (Note also that the Republican was too busy turning the incident into a ripping yarn to spell the Harrington’s name correctly.) When the trial was held coverage in both papers was perfunctory, the main point of interest being that the Japanese translator was a white man. “The way he handled the questions and answers was a revelation to those in the courts who had rarely heard a Caucasian speak the language.”

Both stories had unsatisfying endings.

Yasuda was found not guilty by the jury, which must have come as a shock to Santa Rosans, as there had been no mention of evidence showing he could have acted in self defense.

Yamaguchi’s picture appeared prominently in newspapers in Santa Rosa and San Francisco and elsewhere, and a $1,000 reward was offered – half from the Governor and half from William Randolph Hearst’s Examiner. Despite false sightings in Oakland, Vacaville and a train bound for Mexico, he was never found.

Mrs. Starbuck and her husband divorced not long after the Kendall murders. History has come to judge her harshly; mentions of the incident found on the Internet today claim she was “implicated” in the crime, and sometimes it’s claimed that she sent Yamaguchi to the Kendalls with orders to “give ’em hell.” Neither were true.



At the meeting held in Trembley hall on Sunday night at which an address was delivered on Japanese exclusion, the following resolutions were adopted:

“Whereas, The petitions of the people of California and other Pacific Coast states demanding relief from Japanese and other Asiatic immigration are unheeded and ignored by Congress, and

“Whereas, the situation is growing more grave and inimical to the welfare of the white race, be it

Resolved, That a boycott be instituted against Japanese and other Asiatics.

1. A boycott against all articles grown or manufactured by Japanese

2. A boycott against all Japanese engaged in business of any kind

3. A boycott against all white persons engaged in business, manufacture or agriculture who employ or patronize Japanese

4. A political boycott irrespective of party against all candidates  who employ or patronize Japanese, or who hold stock in any corporation employing Japanese, or who are not avowedly and openly opposed to further Japanese immigration.

“It is further resolved to enforce and encourage said boycott by every legitimate and legal means to the end that coolie or servile labor may no longer menace the free institutions of this republic.

– Press Democrat, February 8, 1910
Japanese Slain by Fellow Countryman in Lincoln Hall at Sebastopol Sunday Night

From comedy to tragedy the scene was quickly changed in Lincoln hall at Sebastopol on Sunday night. Mimicry suddenly gave way to realism and real murder was done before the eyes of 250 persons, who, at the time were in the hall witnessing a production by a Japanese theatrical company, the play was one of the features of entertainment the Japanese had arranged. The actors were before the footlights and the Nipponese were applauding their offerings of mirth when all of a sudden and without warning, a pistol shot rang out, followed in quick succession by others. Instantly there was wild confusion, and a babel  of tongues. Chairs were upset and men and women scrambled to nearby cover. As described by Frank Harrington, who chanced to be the only spectator at the play and the subsequent slaying, it was certainly a time of terror for the Japanese. When the smoke cleared away Hisayama lay dead upon the floor, shot through the heart and chest. His assailant, Yasuda, still held the smoking weapon threateningly.

Harrington’s Nerve

Harrington took in the situation in an instant. He rushed to the side of the slayer and grabbed the hand that held the gun. A struggle ensued but Harrington wrenched the revolver from Yasuda and turned the weapon upon him, subduing any further onslaught upon anyone, and then kept the crowd at bay while he placed the murderer under arrest.

City Marshall Fisher Arrives

Yasuda was jailed by City Marshal Fisher and a message telling of the killing was sent to District Attorney Clarence Lea. That official jumped from his bed, rang up Court Reporter Harry Scott, and in a very short time they were starting for Sebastopol in an automobile, stopping to pick up Deputy Sheriff Donald McIntosh. At Sebastopol the District Attorney took a number of statements and Deputy Sheriff McIntosh took another Jap into custody on suspicion that he might have taken some coin from Hisayama’s pocket after the latter had been killed. The officials returned to this city at an early hour on Monday morning. District Attorney Lea, Sheriff Smith and Court Reporter Scott returned again to Sebastopol later in the morning and secured additional details. Coroner Blackburn was also notified.

Said to Be Gambler

The dead Japanese is said to have been a gambler and that the trouble that led to the shooting grew out of some gambling deals. Yasuda says he acted in self defense.

Coroner Blackburn will hold an inquest at Sebastopol this evening at seven o’clock.

– Press Democrat, September 27, 1910

Gambling Quarrel Between Japs Result in Death

Hisayame, A Santa Rosa Japanese, was murdered in the Japanese theater at Sebastopol Sunday evening by Y. Yasede, a Japanese from Asti. The murder was committed about 11 o’clock and was the result of an old gambling quarrel the two had had. The murderer was caught immediately after taking the life of his countryman. Frank Harrington, the ticket taker at the Japanese theater, apprehending him. Yasede was held in the city jail at Sebastopol over Sunday night.

Coroner Frank L. Blackburn came over from Monte Rio Monday morning…

…The murdered man was shot twice from the rear, and either of the wounds wound have been sufficient to have produced death. One of the bullets entered the man’s back near the spinal column and came out near the nipple of the left breast, evidently having passed through the heart. The other shot entered back of the right ear and came out at the right side of the man’s nose. He dropped in his tracks and expired instantly.

Mr. Harrison the doorkeeper of the theater, showed remarkable coolness and presence of mind in the turbulent scenes which followed. As the Jap with the smoking pistol came toward him at the door he struck the man in the face, grasped the pistol from him and held him there until he was taken into custody. Had the Japanese escaped from the theater and mingled in the crowd, it would have given the officers difficulty to apprehend him.

Coroner Frank L. Blackburn was over at Sebastopol Monday and looking over the matter…

 – Santa Rosa Republican, September 27, 1910

The Coroner’s jury at Sebastopol last night formally charged Y. Yasuda with the murder of Y. Hisayama in Lincoln hall in that town last Sunday night during the performance of a Japanese play. He is in jail here to await the holding of the preliminary examination.

Several witnesses were called at the inquest held by Coroner Frank L. Blackburn…The testimony was sufficient to warrant the formal charge of murder in the minds of the jurymen, and they did not hesitate in returning a verdict.

Medical evidence given showed that Hisayama’s death must have been instantaneous. One bullet severed the jugular vein and the other passed through the heart. The location of the shots indicated the deadly and murderous aim of the accused.

One of the principal witnesses was Frank Harrington, the only white man present at the Japanese play at which the murder was committed and whose evidence is very material. Mr. Harrington grabbed the pistol from Yasuda’s hands after the shooting to prevent further trouble.

Another Japanese has been arrested. He was arrested for having removed coin from the dead Japanese’s pockets. He was a close friend of the murdered man, and half of the money he took belonged to him, so he says.

– Press Democrat, September 28, 1910


At the trial of Y. Yasuda before Judge Emmet Seawell on Wednesday afternoon, F. W. Harrington and J. F. Ames were the witnesses examined. Yasuda is charged with the murder of O. Hisayama in Sebastopol.

Harrington is the man who wrested the revolver from Yasuda after he had killed Hisayama, and as he was trying to escape from Lincoln hall, where the murder was committed during the presentation of a Japanese drama. Harrington told the jury of the events prior to and at the time of the killing so far as they lay in his knowledge. Mr. Ames’ testimony was along similar lines.

At the morning session Thursday Ed F. O’Leary testified to the bullet holes in the clothing of the deceased, and the clothes were introduced in evidence and inspected by the jury.

Dr. J. E. Maddux gave the jury information relative to the course pursued by the bullet that had entered the body of Hisayama.

Fred R. Mathews told the court and jury of the arrest of the defendant, and of his detention awaiting trial.

G. Oka and F. Morseiya, Japanese, were witnesses also. They gave their testimony through an official interpreter.

At the afternoon session of the murder trial, the proceedings were quite brief. Y. Maruyama testified for the defendant, and another witness was recalled for further examination.

Attorney George W. Hoyle made the opening address for the prosecution and was followed by Attorney Thomas J. Butts. The closing argument was made by Attorney Hoyle.

Charles H. Gaffney, official interpreter of the Japanese language in the San Francisco courts, was the interpreter at the trial. The way he handled the questions and answers was a revelation to those in the courts who had rarely heard a Caucasian speak the language.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, March 23, 1911

Y. Yasuda, Charged With Murder of O. Hisayama in Sebastopol, is Found Not Guilty

Y. Yasuda, the Japanese charged with the murder of O. Hisayama, in Lincoln Hall, Sebastopol, last fall, during the Oriental theatrical performance, was acquitted Thursday evening by a jury after less than half an Hour’s deliberation.

The taking of testimony was completed shortly after the opening of the afternoon session. Assistant District Attorney G. W. Hoyle, who conducted the prosecution argued the case, reviewing the points of the trial as they had been brought out in the testimony and asked for a conviction.

Attorney T. J. Butts, who represented the defendant, made a strong plea for an acquittal, on the ground of self-defense, after which Hoyle closed the case and it was submitted to the jury. On the first ballot the jury stood 11 to 1 for acquittal, and after a few minutes argument and explanation, the one went over and the next ballot was unanimous for acquittal.

The verdict came as a complete surprise to some, while others who had watched the case expected no other action. Yasuda left the courtroom with his countrymen after he had shook hands and thanked each of the jurors.

– Press Democrat, March 24, 1911

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