The would-be crooks and conmen of 1911 Santa Rosa and vicinity weren’t as criminally stupid as the 1909 crew (see part I), but good gravy, it’s still hard to believe anyone actually expected some of these schemes to work.
Start with the guy who wandered around the rural Todd district begging for handouts and pretending to be “deaf and dumb” (an offensive term today, but commonly used at that time). He approached a farmer named Wilson who thought the man was “drunk as a lord” and refused to give him money. “The residents of Todd district are a sober and energetic people,” sermonized the Santa Rosa Republican, “and they do not permit drunkenness to flourish in their midst, or encourage men in making beasts of themselves.”
Farmer Wilson watched the man as he stumbled next door to pester Wilson’s neighbor, then return to his place. “Wilson locked the door, and when the supposed deaf and dumb individual reached the door and discovered it was locked he remarked in good loud tones, ‘They won’t open the door,'” the Republican reported. His fraud exposed, Wilson “forcibly ejected the man from his premises.”
Apparently Wilson or another neighbor called the sheriff. Meanwhile, the man tried his story on a farmer named Nobles, who believed it and invited him in for dinner. While the guy was eating he overheard Nobles speaking on the phone with a neighbor and deduced the cops were coming. He started to leave and when Nobles tried to detain him, the man pulled out a razor and threatened the farmer. A deputy and policeman soon arrived and arrested him.
Faking deafness was an old scam even then and this fellow was a professional, insomuch as he was handing out printed cards. Less prepared were the three men arrested a few months later in Glen Ellen, who were all likewise passing themselves off as deaf with each carrying only a written note stating, “I present this as an explanation of my condition, having met with an accident caused by a gasoline explosion. This subjects me to epileptic fits and I have lost the use of my left arm.” It’s nuts for them all to claim to have the same infirmities but the explosion part of the story was a nice touch, as autos were still rare enough for most people to know only about gasoline’s volatile reputation.
But here’s the other interesting thing about our Todd road rambler: We can’t be sure about his name. He was James Mackay according to the Press Democrat and William Murray in the Republican paper. Such indifference to accuracy is a common thread in many of these stories; the papers just didn’t care about getting details right about these petty criminals. After all, Mr. Mackay/Murray probably wasn’t going to subscribe or take out an ad.
Editors loved to pump sensationalist angles in these little crime stories, however: “When Nobles sought to detain him, Murray drew his razor from his pocket and made a swipe at Nobles’ throat,” the Republican gasped. Another example is found in a story with the headline, “Hypnotized Woman and she Signed Checks,” where the PD reported “Arthur Freeh, a vaudeville actor from San Francisco…is charged that he hypnotized Mrs. Charles Weyhe, a daughter-in-law of the family he was visiting, and had her draw a number of checks…” Articles about Svengali-like masters of hypnosis forcing people to act against their will were staples in the yellow press during that decade, so it wasn’t a great surprise for readers to learn a woman in Forestville had been wrongly mesmerized.
When the case came to court, however, the details were anti-climactic. The “hypnotist” was 19 year-old Arthur Freeh (misspelled “Free” in the later article) who stupidly stole a check from his aunt and forged her signature. He was given five years probation, but not before the judge told him that he was a lousy dancer and should find an honest line of work. Lacking the spooky hypnosis angle but still hoping to milk a bit more out of the story, the PD headline this time was, “Told to Avoid Buck and Wing” (a kind of tap dancing sometimes called the “soft shoe”).
That story was unusual in that we learned its outcome (and that was probably only because the judge made the funny remark about the young man’s lack of talent); most of the crimes described here were misdemeanors, and the papers usually didn’t waste the ink. But a serious crime was committed by one of these characters who had a Santa Rosa connection – yet the local newspapers didn’t report anything about it.
Readers of the Press Democrat that summer saw a large graphic ad from “Professor” Russell De Sang, “clairvoyant and palmist” (shown at right). Hucksters like him blew into Santa Rosa fairly often, but advertised only in two-line classifieds; the last “psychic” to buy expensive newspaper ads here was a palm reader back in 1908.
From Santa Rosa, De Sang went to Ukiah with his buddy, W. H. Peterson. Within a week, the pair were arrested and charged with rape. A search for a “feeble minded” teenager led to the men’s hotel room, where the girl was found “in a half nude condition,” according to the Ukiah Democrat. Furthermore, the arresting constable told the paper he believed “the men are emissaries of the white slave traffic, and their sole purpose while here was to lead young girls to ruin.”
If statutory rape wasn’t newsworthy enough, the “white slave” angle should have captured the attention of the Santa Rosa papers – as discussed here earlier, the U.S. was gripped with “white slavery” hysteria in the 1910s. De Sang had just come from Santa Rosa where he apparently saw many people (the Ukiah paper, which did not run his ad, mentioned there he was “doing a good business with the gullible public”). Considering his recent visit and the sensational nature of the accusations, why didn’t either Santa Rosa paper mention anything about De Sang’s troubles? This might be another example of the PD censoring negative stories about its advertisers, which was shown most infamously the year before in the situation of the “Great Fer-Don,” a medical con man.
De Sang and his pal were released and not charged for lack of evidence, but he was in trouble again a few weeks later. The Ukiah papers kept track of his misdeeds but the Santa Rosa papers continued silence. The nature of his crime is typically fuzzy; in Eureka he robbed “a Finnish domestic” out of $700 (Ukiah Democrat) or “a poor servant girl” out of $800 (Ukiah Republican) or “two girls out of $1,700” (San Francisco Call). He supposedly hired a car to hustle him down to San Francisco, where he stiffed the driver out of his $200 fare. Later he was arrested in Oklahoma and extradited back to Eureka, but there the trail ends – Eureka newspapers from that era are not available.
The other dumb criminals of 1911 were less sensational. A pair of men claimed to be collecting farm information for the upcoming San Francisco exposition and tried to slip a promissory note for $100 among papers a farmer was asked to sign. Then the Press Democrat reprinted an item from a Sacramento paper that W. E. Nichols, a local builder and cement contractor (you can still see his name stamped into many sidewalks around Santa Rosa) was conned out of $500 in a “fake gas-lighting scheme.” Given that electricity was pretty widely available by then, it’s hard to imagine why he thought any gaslight business could be profitable. But then again, Nichols was the same man who placed an unusual ad in the papers after the Great Earthquake, announcing that he was “open to any kind of legitimate business proposition.” No sweeter words has a con artist ever heard.
DREW RAZOR ON W. S. NOBLESMendicant Objects When Alms Were Not Given
A man pretending to be deaf and dumb, and much the worse for liquor, ran amuck in the Todd district Thursday afternoon. He drew a razor on W. S. Nobles there and threatened to do bodily harm to that gentleman. He had just previously been forcibly ejected from the ranch of Frank W. Wilson, and strange to say, even with the rough handling to which he was subject there, he did not draw his weapon or make any threats.
Fortunately, Mr. Wilson was at home when the man called. On his first visit the apparently deaf and dumb man, who was as drunk as a lord, to use the expression of Mr. Wilson. He produced a card asking alms, but his condition did not prepossess Mr. Wilson with the idea that the mendicant was a subject for alms and he refused.
As the mendicant wandered down the road he was seen to enter the residence of Mr. Wilson’s neighbor, but he was not permitted to tarry long. The residents of Todd district are a sober and energetic people, and they do not permit drunkenness to flourish in their midst, or encourage men in making beasts of themselves.
After dinner, the mendicant returned to the Wilson residence, and Mr. Wilson, who was at home, saw the fellow wander up the walk. Wilson locked the door, and when the supposed deaf and dumb individual reached the door and discovered it was locked he remarked in good loud tones, “They won’t open the door.” After he had remained a brief time Mr. Wilson took the fellow and threw him off the premises through the front gate and told him to hike.
The mendicant went to the Nobles place and drew the razor, at the same time threatening violence. The officers here were notified earlier in the day that the man was in Todd district and badly intoxicated and they were requested to come out and take him into custody. No officer appeared for hours, and in the meantime, the belligerent nature of the man asserted itself and he would have used his razor had the opportunity presented itself.– Santa Rosa Republican, March 11, 1911
MUTE WHO TALKED IS LOCKED UP
James Mackay was arrested in the Todd district Thursday afternoon by Deputy Sheriff Don McIntosh and Constable John W. Pemberton, who were summoned there by telephone. Mackay had been begging as a deaf and dumb man and making himself very much of a nuisance. When he finally threatened to assault W. S. Nobles and displayed a razor and so far forgot his part as a mute as to talk, it was considered time to call the officers. A quick response was made and the man is now in jail awaiting sentence.– Press Democrat, March 11, 1911
DEAF MUTE WAS A FAKEWilliam Murray Must Answer to Serious Charge
William Murray, the man who acted as a deaf and dumb man recently in Todd district, and later uttered some articulate words and gave evidence of his hearing abilities being unimpaired, will be tried on a serious offense.
Murray frightened some of the residents of Todd district badly when he appeared there last Friday in a drunken condition, made known his wants of alms by passing cards to the residents he could reach, and would up by flourishing a razor at the throat of W. S. Nobles.
Nobles is expected to come in from his ranch and swear to the warrant this afternoon. At the residence of Mr. And Mrs. Frank W. Wilson, the man found the door locked and he remarked, quite plainly: “They won’t open the door.” After Wilson had forcibly ejected the man from his premises he visited other places, and wound up at the Nobles ranch.
Mr. Nobles was having a meal prepared for the vistor, whom he believed to be an unfortunate bereft of speech and hearing, and in the meantime went to his telephone and talked with some of his neighbors regarding the actions of the man. The officers here had been notified to come and arrest Murray, and Nobles was trying to keep him at the ranch pending the arrival of the officers.
When Murray had listened to Nobles discussing his antics in the neighborhood over the phone he became nervous, and started to leave when his arrest was mentioned by Nobles. When Nobles sought to detain him, Murray drew his razor from his pocket and made a swipe at Nobles’ throat.– Santa Rosa Republican, March 14, 1911
HYPNOTIZED WOMAN AND SHE SIGNED CHECKS
Arthur Freeh, a vaudeville actor from San Francisco, who has been visiting with relatives on the Weyhe ranch in the Forestville section, has been placed under arrest, charged with forgery.
It is charged that he hypnotized Mrs. Charles Weyhe, a daughter-in-law of the family he was visiting, and had her draw a number of checks, one of which he took and forging a signature, passed it in Sebastopol in payment for a suit of clothing and other articles he required.– Press Democrat, April 6, 1911TOLD TO AVOID BUCK AND WINGYoung Vaudeville Actor is Told to Behave Himself When Admitted to Probation Monday
“My advice to you is that you cut out this buck and wing dancing. There is nothing to it. It does not appear that you have been able to make a success of it and compete with artists who are naturally gifted. You are going to be given a chance to demonstrate what you can do to make a man of yourself.”
Judge Emmet Seawell, in submitting Arthur Free to probation, gave him some good advice on Monday morning. The youth was charged with forging a check for fifty dollars, to which he signed the name of his aunt, Mrs. Weyhe of Forestville. On Monday morning he withdrew his plea of “not guilty” and entered one of “guilty.”
District Attorney Lea told the Court that he thought this was a case in which the accused might be placed on probation and that Mrs. Weyhe desired that this course be pursued.
Judge Seawell suspended sentence for five years and admonished Free to avoid evil companionship and seek the paths of rectitude. He will report regularly to County Probation Officer John P. Plover.– Press Democrat, August 1, 1911
DEFRAUDS W. E. NICHOLS OF $500Former Santa Rosa Contractor Victimized by Snyder in Fake Gaslighting Invention
A dispatch from Sacramento has this to say regarding W. E. Nichols, a former well known Santa Rosa contractor:
“Sacramento, June 8–Governor Johnson today issued a requisition on the governor of Oregon for the return of M. M. Snyder, wanted in San Francisco on a charge of defrauding W. E. Nichols of Santa Rosa out of $500 in a fake gas-lighting scheme.”– Press Democrat, June 10, 1911
VICTIMIZING THE FARMERSSmooth Strangers Working in Rural Sections
Two smooth individuals have recently endeavored to victimize farmers in the vicinity of Healdsburg and residents of the rural sections should take warning by the experience of others. Word from Healdsburg is to the effect that a couple of genteel appearing men have recently been “working” that section of the county.
Their modus operandi is that one of the strangers calls on a farmer, representing that he is securing “data” for the big fair to be held in San Francisco in 1915. He questions the farmer closely regarding the acreage of his property, products of the ranch, family history and other things, and notes replies on paper which he carries. Later the second stranger appears ostensibly seeking to verify the information secured by the first stranger.
On the pretext of confirming the information authoritatively, the unsuspecting farmer is asked to affix his signature.
One cautious farmer, on reading the document he was requested to sign to “confirm the information authoritatively,” discovered that the “information” contained a promissory note for one hundred dollars. It is a good rule for everyone to refrain from signing any papers until they are absolutely certain of what they contain.– Santa Rosa Republican, June 10, 1911
ARRESTED AT GLEN ELLENThree Men Passing Themselves for Deaf and Dumb
Three men, Frank Perry, B. R. Vickers and James Boyde, are now lodged in the county jail, who were arrested at Glen Ellen on Tuesday for passing themselves off as deaf and dumb. Each carried a writing pad, and when they met any one would present this pad with the following. “I present this as an explanation of my condition, having met with an accident caused by a gasoline explosion. This subjects me to epileptic fits and I have lost the use of my left arm.” They also carried pieces of slate upon which they wrote.
They are believed to be ex-convicts and they have been photographed and their pictures sent to the the prisons to be identified.
They carry nothing with them in the way of blankets or clothing and were picked up at Glen Ellen. The authorities believe that they are not deaf and dumb, and are well able to earn a living, and have been begging from place to place using this means of gaining money.– Santa Rosa Republican, July 26, 1911