hypnosistitle

THE MURDEROUS SOMNAMBULIST

“I am the king of Siam,” the young man told the Marshal.

The officer and the hotelkeeper knew very well that he was not the king of Siam, who was not likely to be staying at the United States Hotel in Cloverdale. His name was Ed and he was well known, having lived in the town as recently as five years earlier.

“I am the king of Siam,” Ed repeated, adding that he had just killed several men, primary among them a judge whom he had shot 43 times. On a table behind him could be seen two revolvers, one covered in blood.

This scene took place at 2:30 in the morning on October 29, 1891, not long after he had drawn those guns on an elderly man, firing seven times. Four of the bullets hit the victim in the face but incredibly did no serious damage – his forehead was grazed along with the bridge of his nose, an eye tooth was knocked out and a bullet passed through his neck wattle.1 The shaken old fellow walked unaided to a nearby doctor’s house where his wounds were dressed.

livernashprofile(RIGHT: Edward J. Livernash, SF Examiner, Oct. 29 1892)

The next day Ed was taken to Santa Rosa, where a sanity hearing was immediately held in the judge’s chambers. Questioned about the shooting, he “told a story which revealed the workings of a mind that is in the habit of making excursions on its own account,” according to the Democrat newspaper, insisting that he had used eight guns to shoot the old man (whom he believed was actually someone else in disguise) 48 times. At the end of the hearing he was committed to the Napa asylum, “there to he held in custody until his sanity or insanity has been demonstrated.”

Normally this would have been the end of our story, and Ed would have been salted away at the asylum at Napa or elsewhere for the rest of his life. Yet five months later he was free awaiting trial and walking around Santa Rosa greeting friends. How could this be? That’s because he was not your average homicidal lunatic – he was Edward J. Livernash.

At the time of the assault Livernash was 23 years old and that was not the first time he had done something considered insane. An episode from just a month earlier will be told in a following part of this series; his peculiar life which followed the trial will be explored in part three.

Sanity questions aside, everyone recognized Livernash was absolutely brilliant. He had founded a newspaper (the Pacific Sentinel in Cloverdale) at age 14 and sold it two years later to buy the paper in the town of Sonoma. Before his 18th birthday Ed had passed the bar exam and was an attorney.

His smarts were well known in Sonoma County which often led people to give him plenty of slack – and nor did it hurt that he was married to the daughter of Judge Overton, one of the most influential men in this neck of the woods. His privilege can be seen in the gentle handling of his case in Santa Rosa’s Democrat newspaper. For trial coverage locals had to turn to the big San Francisco papers, particularly the Examiner. The Democrat didn’t even print the findings of the preliminary hearing held in Cloverdale, which included details that made the shooting appear less like the impetuous action of a madman and more like an attempt at premeditated murder.2

Livernash knew the 71 year-old man, Darius Ethridge, well from his time in Cloverdale; Ethridge was a wealthy bachelor and supposedly had no relatives. Days prior to the shooting, Livernash sent him a letter asking Ethridge to stay up late on a certain night because he would be passing through and wanted to conduct a business deal. Livernash signed the letter as A. P. Overton, his father-in-law.

When Livernash arrived in Cloverdale, he met Ethridge and said Judge Overton and others were coming later that evening to buy his livery stable. He gave Ethridge a gift bottle of what he said was fine wine. Authorities later determined the wine was poisoned with prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide).

Livernash returned to his hotel room intending to rest but could not sleep. Around 2AM he climbed down from his second floor balcony with his revolvers and headed for Ethridge’s house.3

Rousing Ethridge from bed, they made smalltalk while supposedly waiting for the others. Livernash remarked on two portraits on the wall and was told those were his niece and nephew. “I thought you had no relatives,” Livernash said.

livernashethridge(RIGHT: Darius Ethridge, SF Examiner, Oct. 29 1892)

Livernash became restless and began pacing. He put $150 on the table as good faith money towards buying the stable and asked Ethridge to write a receipt, but then stopped the old man from taking the money.

Suddenly Livernash pulled out his guns and pointed them at Ethridge’s face. “Make out your will in my favor or I will kill you, God damn you!”

“You would not kill me would you?” asked the startled man. Livernash began firing the guns. Ethridge ran out the door and made his way to the doctor. When he returned home after Livernash was in custody, he found the $150 and the receipt gone, along with the letter forged with Judge Overton’s name.

News of the incident reached Santa Rosa the next morning, where it immediately became the talk of the town. From the Daily Democrat:

The town is divided in opinion on the case. Some say he is crazy, while others say it was a premeditated attempt at murder, as Mr. Ethridge is an old bachelor with no known relatives and quite wealthy, and if Livernash could have scared him into making his will he would have forced him to drink the poison or shot him and people would thought he committed suicide. The will would probably have stood, as there were no relatives to contest it and no one who would ever have suspected anything wrong, as Mr. Ethridge used to be a great friend to the Livernash’s when they lived in Cloverdale.

What did seem suspicious was that Livernash seemed to be able to turn the crazy talk off in a snap. After his arrest he was allowed to remain in his hotel room overnight under guard of the town constable, it appears all the king of Siam jabber ended. He sent a telegram to the most prominent lawyer in Santa Rosa, asking him to stand in his defense. He tried to bribe the constable to let him sneak back into the scene of the crime. He asked for the return of his blood-stained shirt cuffs, commenting that he knew as a lawyer that they could be used as evidence against him.

At the preliminary hearing following his release from Napa the court also was told by Dr. Gardner, Superintendent of the asylum, that Livernash was a somnambulist and at the time of the shooting was unaware of what he was doing.

The judge would have none of that. While acknowledging that Livernash’s mind may have unhinged after the shooting, everything he had done up to that point showed he was sane. Edward J. Livernash was ordered to be tried in Santa Rosa for attempted murder.


WHAT WAS WRONG WITH LIVERNASH?

Was he actually mentally impaired in some way, or faking it to avoid punishment? Here are some possibilities, which might have also existed in combination:

* He suffered hallucinations because of temporary psychosis caused by acute sleep depravation (he had chronic insomnia and regularly used chloroform or a “sleeping powder”)

* He sometimes lost touch with reality because of a neurological disorder such as schizophrenia

* He had a chronic inflammation of the brain such as encephalitis (his cause of death at age 70 was post-encephalitic syndrome)

* He had a rare form of temporal lobe epilepsy where seizures were followed by spontaneous acts of violence and amnesia (“petit mal intellectuel” or postictal agression) which his brother reportedly sometimes exhibited

* He had bouts of delirium which caused personality changes

* He had delusional thinking which led him to take daring risks and believe he could get away with crimes

* He was an addict recklessly cycling between drugs to put him to sleep and keep him alert

* He actually was a homicidal sleepwalker, which sometimes has been used successfully as a legal defense

The trial opened exactly a year after the shooting. Little new evidence was introduced – the whole case rested on whether or not Livernash was in a “somnambulistic state” while he was blasting away.

One new detail solved a lingering mystery: Why didn’t Ethridge drink any of the poisoned wine? He might have, until Livernash said it came from the hotel where he was staying. It turned out Ethridge believed there was a conspiracy against him by others in Cloverdale, and the owner of the U.S. Hotel had been paid $500 to poison him. As the reporter for the Examiner quipped, “a little insanity has before been proven a very good thing.”

The centerpiece of the defense’s case was to be Dr. Gardner placing Livernash into a hypnotic trance on the witness stand, where he would be able to recall in exquisite detail all the events of that night. Before Gentle Reader snorts at this premise, recall all this is taking place in the early 1890s. In the sources transcribed below is the description of a popular lecture given in Santa Rosa shortly after the trial, where our ancestors were told that hypnotism exercised a spiritual “sixth sense” and that the hypnotist’s power over the subject “was far greater than it is possible for any man to exercise over his own mind or body.” Good grief.

That was also an era when we believed the mentally deranged could toggle between good/evil personalities. The gruesome Jack the Ripper murders happened just four years prior and were still talked about (the same issue of the Democrat that reported Livernash’s assault also had an item about a Ripper-like killing in Germany) and it was assumed that Jack lived an otherwise respectable and nondescript life. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was both a best-seller and a popular stage play in the year before Livernash’s trial, while the San Francisco Examiner introduced its trial coverage with a headline calling him “an involuntary Jekyll and Hyde.”

The courtroom exhibition began with Dr. Gardner holding a small mirror in front of Livernash. Soon his eyes were unfocused and half closed. Dr. Wachendorf, the expert for the prosecution, approached Livernash and pulled a punch aimed at his eyes. He did not flinch. Dr. Gardner stuck pins in his cheek, ear and hands. He did not react. Then he was asked to tell his story.

The first part was dreamlike nonsense with a crying baby, seeking a man named Smith and wandering the streets. He told of sending the letter asking Ethridge to stay up and signing Judge Overton’s name to it.

“I went to Cloverdale to work out a scheme I had,” he said. “There was a general conspiracy among those men against me.”

“Those men” were led by San Francisco Judge Joachimsen, who had fined Livernash $100 in the incident discussed in the next part of this series. There were fifteen in all, including his brother, father-in-law, most lawyers in Santa Rosa and the reincarnated presidents George Washington, Benjamin Harrison and James Garfield.

“I wanted to make sure whether Ethridge was a man who ought to be on the list,” he said, and asked the hotel owner about him. Livernash said he was told that Ethridge was an “obstacle to progress” and “it would be a godsend if he were taken out of the way.” (Maybe the old man had good reason to be paranoid about his neighbors!) Livernash met Ethridge and they looked at the stable, with an understanding that Livernash would return with Overton and make the deal.

Back in his hotel room, he began to worry The Fifteen might show up early. “If they got to drinking they might not drink my stuff,” he said. So he took his poisoned bottle over to Ethridge (climbing down from the room’s balcony) and declared it was choice wine for Judge Overton. He went back to his room (“it was hard to climb up, but easy to go down”) and tried to sleep, but couldn’t find his sleeping powder.

Late that night was the confrontation. As soon as he saw Ethridge, he knew he was really Joachimsen in disguise. “I found confirmation of all my fears and all my suspicions…they wouldn’t fool me any longer.” Livernash pulled out his guns and ordered him (Ethridge? Joachimsen?) to make out his will:

He wrote a couple of words and turned round as quick as a flash and grasped one of my revolvers. Then there was no foolishness. If he got that revolver I was a goner. I felt as weak as I could. He struck out and hit me, but do you suppose be could hurt me? Not the least particle. I was invulnerable. He fought like a tiger, but it had no effect. I kept shooting at him, I judge forty-three times.

Asked by the prosecutor if he thought he had a right to shoot him, Livernash replied “Think? I know it! He was transgressing one of the fundamental and ultimate principles of fate – of nature.”

Livernash described his arrest, being the king of Siam and such, although his version had, as the Examiner put it, “his eerie, insane philosophies permeating it all.” Dr. Gardner told him to wake up from his trance. He seemed flustered and noticed a needle was still in the back of his hand and he pulled it out, wincing.

The next day Livernash testified without hypnosis. “His story was plausible, logical, and though simply told, forceful and dramatic. Surely there is much beside insanity in that long head with the shock of tumbled hair,” reported the Examiner. “He could have more than held his own with any man in the courtroom, or with all.”

The big news in court that day was that Livernash couldn’t buy a small dose of prussic acid from a druggist, so he went to a wholesaler where he purchased two pounds worth. “Answering a quirk of his crazy brain, he might have wiped out a city,” gasped the Examiner reporter.

Dr. Wachendorf testily told the court that Livernash was faking and not acting like someone actually under hypnosis. In later cross-exam, it was revealed that Wachendorf was no expert on hypnotism and barely a doctor. He had obtained a degree in homeopathy just a few months before and learned about hypnotism via “instruction from different experimenters.” He expounded at some length on his theory that the phase of the moon affects “natural somnambulists,” which amused the Napa doctors greatly.

Dr. Gardner also told the court that he had proved Livernash could not be faking. The night before at the asylum he was placed in a trance and a bottle of concentrated ammonia was placed under his nose for a minute, without him having the slightest reaction. The powerful-smelling bottle was passed around members of the jury, but for reasons not explained, the prosecutor took Gardner’s word that he had been unresponsive so the test was not performed in court, much to the disappointment of spectators.

The case went to the jury, who were out for 30 hours. They came back undecided, with eight voting for conviction and four against. Livernash was held over to await retrial.

Dr. Gardner hypnotizing Edward J. Livernash in court. SF Examiner, Oct. 29 1892
Dr. Gardner hypnotizing Edward J. Livernash in court. SF Examiner, Oct. 29 1892

Back at the Napa asylum, Livernash wrote to Congressman Thomas J. Geary. “Friend Geary: Will you come to the rescue and get me out of the unfortunate muddle in which I am involved?”

Geary was the attorney who Livernash telegraphed the night of his arrest and had represented him at the arraignment in Santa Rosa. As he was in the area while campaigning for reelection he also testified at the trial as a character witness – never mind that Livernash had named Geary among The Fifteen men he wanted to kill.

In his letter Livernash seemed awfully sane, complaining his defense attorneys made mistakes which almost led to his conviction because they were not “pushing forward the theory of hypnotism with overwhelming evidence of insanity” that should have put acquittal within “easy reach.”

He had three lawyers at his first trial, but at the next one he would be representing himself alone. That risky decision could have been driven by the manic side of his personality or by necessity. Everyone assumed his wife’s father had paid for his defense, but now that it was revealed Overton was among The Fifteen – not to mention that Livernash had exploited his name to trick Ethridge – it would be understandable for Pops-in-law to not feel so generous anymore. Livernash further told Geary that he wanted to hire the lawyer/congressman although he was “not in a position to pay a cash fee” at the present time.

The second trial began about five months after the first. It was less about evidence than flair.

Jury selection took two days because Livernash examined each “very particularly as to the jurors’ association with various prominent citizens and as to their ideas of hypnotism and insanity” (Sonoma Democrat). This time there would be no courtroom hypnosis; what he was seeking was to discover if they believed in what was then often called “auto-hypnosis” – that the meek-looking overachiever could suddenly be triggered to turn into a monster.

His defense was simply that he sometimes went crazy – as did others in his family – and at those times was unable to distinguish between right and wrong. He introduced this argument in what was called a “brilliant opening statement” (SF Chronicle):

The theory of hypnotism, so strongly dwelt upon at the first trial, was not adhered to. Livernash claimed that he would be able to prove that be inherited from his parents an impaired nervous system, and that in his constitution there had always been lurking a tendency which, if unchecked, might develop into insanity.

In his defense he called several witnesses (including Geary again) who testified that, yeah, he went nuts sometimes. The Napa doctors came back and said again that he really had blackouts and wasn’t faking. The prosecutor brought out those various prominent citizens (including Exchange Bank founder Matt Doyle) who said Livernash was completely untrustworthy. The biggest excitement came when the county assessor was called and said, “I won’t go on the stand until that man is searched. He is a dangerous man and may have weapons and might hurt somebody.”

The retrial wrapped up with another show of his eloquence. As the Healdsburg Tribune put it, “His plea to the jury was one of the most remarkable ever heard in Santa Rosa. It abounded in brilliant metaphor and biting sarcasm.” He spoke for five hours.

The case went to the jury and they were out but seven minutes. Verdict: Not guilty. Ed Livernash walked out of the courthouse a free man.

COMMENTARY:   As of this writing (2021), I’ve pondered over the Livernash case for eight years. In that time more newspapers have come online that added new details (particularly coverage of the first trial), although they haven’t significantly changed the story. There are also now many more medical resources available on the internet which discuss the various psychological or physical conditions he might have suffered, as are listed above. (An interesting paper: “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: a case of epilepsy in the late nineteenth century“.)

My conclusion is that there is no simple binary explanation. At some points of his life he did abnormal things – but mostly he was completely rational and a man of extraordinary accomplishments. There are three episodes to the story for Gentle Armchair Detective to consider separately:

*
PLOTTING THE CRIME   There is little doubt he schemed over several days (weeks?) to make himself the beneficiary in Ethridge’s will before murdering him with the poison. He bought the revolvers, bought the the poison, wrote the fake Overton letter and traveled to Cloverdale, all acts which seem to show he acted with deliberation and premeditation – but whether he could have executed such a detailed plan while in his “Mr. Hyde” persona must also be weighed. Note he also had motive, as up that point in his life he was perpetually broke.
*
BEHAVIOR DURING THE ASSAULT   Livernash either intended to force Ethridge to drink the poison after writing his will or hoped he would already be dead after having sampling the wine when alone – in that case, he presumably planned to forge the will. The plan fell apart when he saw the portraits on the wall and realized the old man did have heirs (after Ethridge died in 1894, the Cloverdale City Marshal had little trouble finding his niece in San Jose). That led him to draw his guns and begin firing wildly, which can only be considered a moment of raw madness.
*
BEHAVIOR AT THE FIRST TRIAL   It’s my firm belief that his trance testimony was completely faked. The king of Siam business was laughable, like a child’s idea of what a crazy person might say. The tale he told the court in his “trance,” in contrast, was a complex narrative involving a conspiracy of reincarnated presidents (among others) and the man he hated having taken possession of Ethridge’s body.

 

From their testimony, Gardner and the other asylum doctors showed they were entranced (sorry) by Livernash, who was not the run-of-the-mill lunatic they normally treated. He was very, very smart and exhibited no evidence of mental impairment aside from a dependency on sleeping aids. Dr. Gardner spoke excitedly of having “discovered his real condition” – that his patient had an exceedingly rare condition “that made him capable of leading a dual life.” But as Livernash wrote to Geary, his own objective wasn’t to be cured of a mental illness – he was just trying to be acquitted due to “overwhelming evidence of insanity.”

 

Over the course of his months at the Napa asylum, it appears the doctor and the patient developed a codependent relationship. The doctor was given an exciting case study in the burgeoning field of psychology – and in turn, he inadvertently coached Livernash in developing a story about somnambulism which would hold water with other doctors. Together they needed to sell that yarn to the public to advance the doctor’s reputation and obtain the patient’s freedom. And together, they did just that, convincing a jury he used to be a murderous Mr. Hyde but now he’s back to Dr. Jekyll, completely cured and perfectly harmless. As it turned out, this wasn’t a milestone in the progress of medical science or legal precedent; it was, however, one helluva show, and something that Santa Rosa still talked about years later.

 

COMING NEXT: SUCH A VERY STRANGE MAN

 


1 Although it was agreed that he was struck four times, newspaper descriptions of his injuries were inconsistent over the following two years. It was variously reported he was shot twice in a shoulder, that a bullet passed through his mouth and through both cheeks, that each cheek was grazed and the tip of his nose was now missing.

2 The court report on the preliminary examination appeared in the Cloverdale Reveille, April 30 1892. Several details vary from later testimony as reported in the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle.

3 From Livernash trial testimony in the San Francisco Examiner, October 29 1892.

 

sources
 

Old Man Ethridge Shot by E. J. Livernash.
Strange Story Concerning the Conduct of the Attempted Slayer.
THE CLOVERDALE TRAGEDY
Ed. J. Livernash the Author of the Shooting, Pronounced Insane.

A report from Cloverdale that E. J. Livernash, formerly editor of the Healdsburg Enterprise, and more recently of the Livermore Herald, had shot and killed a man by the name of Darius Ethridge caused a great sensation, and was the principal topic of discussion on the streets for the rest of the day. The reports were very conflicting and unsatisfactory. It was first stated that the shooting was the outgrowth of a quarrel over a poker game, and later it became noised about that Livernash had borrowed money from Ethridge for a legitimate business enterprise, and that they quarreled over a settlement. No one could judge between the accuracy and truth of these and many other rumors, and people waited anxiously for the arrival of the afternoon train from Cloverdale, in the expectation that Livernash would be brought to the county jail.

The supposition proved correct, and with the arrival of the 3:30 train came Livernash in the charge of a Deputy Sheriff from Healdsburg, and accompanied by his attorney T. J. Geary, his brother, John Livernash. Dr. Weaver and M. Minehan, of Cloverdale. He was taken at once to Judge Dougherty’s chambers in the oourt-house, and no time was lost in summoning another physician to participate in the examination of his mental condition.

The story of the shooting was related to Judge Dougherty and the physicians by T. J. Geary and Mr. Minehan. It seems that Livernash arrived in Cloverdale on the evening train Wednesday and went directly to the United States Hotel. Mr. Minehan, the proprietor, noticed that he was feeling badly and did not eat. He sat in the hotel office reading a paper for some time, and at the suggestion of Mr. Minehan went to bed. He arose and dressed himself between 1 and 2 o’clock and went across the street to a small house occupied by Ethridge. As soon as he entered the room he told Ethridge that Judge Overton and Mr. McElarney were coming up on the morning train from Santa Rosa to buy his (Ethridge’s) livery stable. Ethridge said he had no desire to sell his property, but Livernash urged that it was a fine bargain and threw $150 on the table in front of him as earnest money and asked for a receipt. While in the midst of their discussion about the proposed sale Livernash suddenly changed the subject by demanding that Ethridge should draw up his will and make Livernash his heir. Mr. Ethridge very naturally declined to do so, whereupon Livernash drew two revolvers and began shooting. He stood very close to Ethridge, and the bullets flew around the latter’s head like pellets of ice in a hailstorm, and four took effect. One passed through the fleshy part of the throat under the chin, another grazed the bridge of the nose, and the other two abraised the skin on either cheek. None of the wounds were serious.

Livernash thought he had killed the man and returned to his room in the hotel. When the constable and marshal, with Mr. Minehan, knocked at his door, he opened it immediately. He was dressed and the two revolvers laid on a table farther in the room. He told the officers that be had killed several men and informed them where the bodies were to be found. He was particularly certain that Ethridge was Judge Joachimsen, of San Francisco, who he said had closed out his business in San Francisco and opened chambers in Cloverdale. At the intercession of Mr. Minehan he was allowed to remain in his room the rest of the night in charge of the constable.

When a Democrat reporter entered Judge Dougherty’s chambers Livernash was weeping and his brother, John, was trying to comfort him. He did not recognize the Democrat representative at first, but a few words recalled his memory and he shook hands in a passive way. Before Dr. Smith arrived Livernash approached the reporter and expressed the hope as best he could in a choked voice that the Democrat would not make sport of his misfortune. The request was a natural one and his manner failed to reveal any taint of insanity.

When questioned as to his conduct at Cloverdale he told a story which revealed the workings of a mind that is in the habit of making excursions on its own account, unaccompanied by its guardian’s reason and will power. He said he had gone to bed at the suggestion of Mr. Minehan, but finding he could not sleep, had gotten up and dressed and started out for a long walk. He wanted to go to his father’s old place of business, about which clustered a thousand tender memories. If he could stand in front of the old place once more he thought he might give vent to the feelings within him. At this point he broke down and sobs choked his voice. He soon regained his composure and told about drawing up ten wills for people living in Cloverdale, and then he went off into a rambling account of his grievances against Judge Joachimsen, of San Francisco, before whom he was taken after his masquerading escapade. He knew the Judge had gone to Cloverdale. In fact he had seen him, and knew he was in the house where he found Ethridge. When he entered the house Ethridge told him that be was not Judge Joachimsen, and in order to humor the man he pretended to believe that he was talking to Ethridge and not Judge Joachimsen. He said he knew all the time, though, that the Judge was deceiving him, and he watohed tor a chance and began firing at him. He thought he had put forty-eight bullets into the Judge’s body. The next he remembered was running down the street and into the arms of a man. The man grabbed him so that he could not shoot and then robbed him of $600 in gold which he had in his right-hand trousers pocket. A hundred and fifty dollars in his other pocket was not touched. He tried to shoot the man but could not. During the oourse of his rambling story he took ocoasion to explain the two kinds of sleep to which he is accustomed. One, he said, was a semi-consciousness where the mind was free to act, but without the aid of the will power. The other was darkness, a total blankness which he characterized as a natural slumber.

John Livernash testified that he had noticed a change in his brother ten months ago. He, Ed, had not been able to sleep, and when he did doze off his slumber was accompanied by constant talking and muttering. He knew that he had been in the habit of taking narcotics for some time.

Without many minutes lost in deliberation the physicians pronounced Livernash insane and his commitment to the Napa Asylum was made out and signed. He will be taken to the asylum to-day.

LATER.

We later learn that Judge Dougherty has ordered the Sheriff to hold Livernash until further order is made, as the fact of his arrest upon a complaint filed in the Justice Court of Cloverdale township was not made known at the examination.

 

 

Another Account.
Special to the Democrat.

Cloverdale, Oct. 29.—Ed. J. Livernash, the young man who created a sensation by appearing on the streets of San Francisco in the disguise of a negro woman, added another link to his unenviable reputation in this town this morning by shooting and dangerously wounding D. Ethridge, at his home in this place. Mr. Ethridge, who is an old bachelor, was awakened this morning about 2 o’clock by a rap on his door. He got up and found it was Ed. Livernash, who told him he had a purchaser for his livery stable, and wanted to pay him some money on it so as to bind the contract, as he wanted to leave on the early train. Mr. Ethridge, suspecting nothing, invited him in, when Livernash counted out $150 and laid it on the table, setting a bottle on the table at the same time. He then pulled out a contract and asked Mr. Ethridge to sign it, which he did. When Mr. Ethridge had signed the contract he looked up and found Livernash pointing two revolvers in his face. At the same time Livernash demanded that he make a will, leaving all his property to him (Livernash). Instead of complying with his demand Mr. Ethridge grabbed him, when Livernash fired at him three times in rapid succession, one shot just touching the nose, knocking the skin off, another just grazing the mouth, knocking out a tooth, and one hitting him in the neck, passing through the flesh, making a very serious wound. Livernash then grabbed the money he had counted out on the table and the contract Ethridge had signed, jumped out the door and disappeared. Mr. Ethridge then walked over to Dr. Mason’s residence and had his wounds dressed. In the mean time the City Marshal, J. S. Conner, was notified and went to hunt Livernash and arrest him. He found him at 2:30 a. m., one-half hour after the shooting, locked in a room at the U. S. Hotel, where the Marshal placed him under arrest. He had in his possession when arrested two revolvers, one of which was cocked and had blood all over it, showing how close he was to his intended victim when he did the shooting.

The City Marshal then went around to the residence of Mr. Ethridge and secured the bottle Livernash left setting on the table and failed to take when be grabbed the money and contract, and found it contained a deadly poison. When arrested Livernash said he was the king of Siam and that he had shot Judge Joachimsen, or some such name. He said he did not take his sleep powder last night and felt bad.

The town is divided in opinion on the case. Some say he is crazy, while others say it was a premeditated attempt at murder, as Mr. Ethridge is an old bachelor with no known relatives and quite wealthy, and if Livernash could have scared him into making his will he would have forced him to drink the poison or shot him and people would thought he committed suicide. The will would probably have stood, as there were no relatives to contest it and no one who would ever have suspected anything wrong, as Mr. Ethridge used to be a great friend to the Livernash’s when they lived in Cloverdale. Livernash was taken before Justice Abraham this afternoon, who ordered him to be sent to Santa Rosa for trial.

– Daily Democrat, October 30 1891

 

Another Order.

Judge Dougherty made another order Friday night committing Livernash to the asylum at Napa, there to he held in custody until his sanity or insanity has been demonstrated. If he proves to be sane he will be brought back for his preliminary examination on charge of assault to murder, but in the event that his mental irregularities are genuine and not purposely induced he will remain in the asylum.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 7 1891

 

Wants a Jury Vindication.

Santa Rosa, March 15. It has been learned that Ed J. Livernash, the Livermore newspaperman, who was arrested for masquerading in female attire in San Francisco last Fall, and who afterward attempted to kill Davis Ethridge at Cloverdale, will be brought here for trial on the latter charge next month. After Livernash’s attempt to shoot Ethridge he was examined on a charge of insanity and committed to the Napa Asylum, where he has been ever since. He is in a fair way to recovery, and as soon as discharged from that institution he will be brought here for trial. His relatives will insist that he be tried, as many have charged that he was not crazy when he made the attack on Ethridge, and they desire to see him vindicated by a jury.

– The Napa Register, March 18 1892

 

Ed. Livernash called on us Monday. He is looking quite well.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 16 1892

 

EVIDENCE AND DECISION IN THE LIVERNASH CASE.
Justice’s Court, Cloverdale Township April 26, 1892.
THE PEOPLE VS. ED. J. LIVERNASH.

Preliminary examination of defendant on the charge of felonious assault with deadly weapon upon one Darius Ethndge, held April 6, 1892. The prosecution proved, among other things the following:

[..]

The defense then established the following:

That the defendant was of a very nervous temperament and that the least trouble or excitement would cause him great mental distress which would be followed by his being low spirited, melancholy and moody lasting for period of days. That while in this condition he was always quiet and orderly with one or two exceptions.

The evidence of Dr. Gardner, Superintendent of the Napa Insane Asylum, was to the effect that the defendant was a somnambulist; that his condition was such that he was living a dual life; that is he was subject to frequent moments of unconsciousness and at the same time acting and doing things of which he knew nothing when he would return to his lucid moments. That at the time of the committal of the deed, by the defendant, he was in this somnambulistic state, and that it was some time after the defendant was placed under his care at the Napa Insane Asylum before he was able to restore him to his normal condition. The Doctor further stated in his testimony that after studying the case of the defendant he discovered his real condition and became able himself to put the defendant asleep when desired, and could have perfect control over him, having the defendant do whatsoever he commanded.

[..]

The defendant was proven to be a person having a highly disordered, nervous organization and that great excitement would throw him in a state of somnambulism. It is perfectly consistent with the theory of sanity that he was conscious of the act and for weeks prior thereto and having worked himself up to a state of great excitement consequent upon the shooting he shortly afterward lapsed into the somnambulistic state. Believing then that the defendant was sane at the time of the shooting it is ordered that defendant be held to appear before the Superior Court with bail fixed at $3000.

– Cloverdale Reveille, April 30 1892

 

SLEEP PROMPTS MURDER.
Remarkable Somnambulistic Affection of E. J. Livernash.
He Is Held on a Charge of Attempting te Kill a Cloverdale Citizen for Refusing te Make a Will in His Favor.

[Special to the Examiner.] Santa Rosa, April 26.- Ed. J. Livernash, the young man who created a sensation in San Francisco last October by appearing on the streets disguised as a negro woman, and who, the morning of October 29th, created great excitement in Cloverdale by attempting to kill D. Ethridge of that place, has been held to appear before the Superior Court for trial. Livernash’s preliminary hearing was held before Justice Abraham of Cloverdale two weeks ago, but decision was not rendered until this afternoon.

The trial promises to be one of the most interesting ever known in California. Livernash claims to have been in a somnambulistic condition when he made his attempt to kill Ethridge, and that he knows nothing about the affair.

The morning of the assault he went to Ethridge’s house and ordered him to make a will in his favor, leaving him all his property. Ethridge demurred, and then Livernash fired four shots at him, two of which took effect, but only slight wounds were inflicted. Livernash was arrested, and told such wild stories about having put forty bullets into Judge Joachimsen of San Francisco who, he said, had assumed the person of Ethridge, that he was examined for insanity and committed to Napa Asylum. A few weeks ago he was discharged from that institution and pronounced cured. He was then brought back here to answer to the criminal charge preferred against him.

At the preliminary examination at Cloverdale Drs. Gardner and Robertson of Napa testified that Livernash was subject to a somnambulistic influence that made him capable of leading a dual life, and that when in his somnambulistic state ha was not accountable for what he did. In their opinion he was in that condition when he made the attack on Ethridge. Opinion is divided upon the matter among the Sonoma county people, and the case will be stubbornly contested on both sides.

– The San Francisco Examiner, April 27 1892

 

An information has been filed against Ed. Livernash, charging him with an assault with intent to commit murder. His arraignment has been set for next Monday,

– Sonoma Democrat, May 14 1892

 

HE HYPNOTIZED HIMSELF.
The Remarkable Defense In the Case of E. J. Livernash.
AN INVOLUNTARY JEKYLL AND HYOE.
It Is Claimed That the Assailant of Ethridge, the Cloverdale Capitalist, Was Mentally Irresponsible.

[..]

– The San Francisco Examiner, October 26 1892

 

MENTAL FREAKS AND FANCIES.
An Extraordinary Trial Now in Progress in the Superior Court of Sonoma County.
The Wonderfully Endowed Mind of E. J. Livernash “Jangled Out of Tune” Whether He Sleeps or Wakes.
IS HE SOMNAMBULIST OR LUNATIC?

[..]

– The San Francisco Examiner, October 28 1892

 

HIS MIND ON COURT PARADE.
Livernash, the Duplex Mental Wonder of Sonoma, Appears Before the Bar in a Trance.
An Exhibition of Dual Intellect practically Seen for the First Time in Any American Court.
TELLS HIS CRIME UNDER A SPELL.

The trial of Edward J. Livernash at Santa Rosa yesterday developed something startlingly unique in California courts – probably in all the courts of America and possibly in the courts of the world…

…The skies were “ashen and sober” on the morning of this “lonesome October” day, entirely befitting the story of a clouded mind and of a man in a trance, conscienceless, purposeless and uncontrollable, ready to commit murder at any suggestion of his crooked brain – a roaming, scheming monster, like that of Frankenstein.

[..]

– The San Francisco Examiner, October 29 1892

 

…Ethridge testified to-day aa follows: “I received a letter from the defendant from San Francisco stating that he had a purchaser for my stable and arranging for a meeting at my place on the evening of October 28th. Livernash came to my house in the evening and said the purchaser would arrive that night and asked me to remain up. At 11 o’clock he came over with a bottle containing a liquid, saying that it was a choice wine. He returned to his room at the hotel and at 1 o’clock knocked at my door saying the parties were in town and would be over presently. He paid down $150 to bind the bargain and when I attempted to take the money told me to leave it alone.

“He then drew two revolvers and pointing them at my head commanded me to make my will, leaving everything to him. I told him that I could not write and he replied, ‘Write quick or I’11 kill you!’ I said, ‘You would not kill me would you?’ Immediately he fired seven times, six shot taking effect but not seriously. I ran for a doctor and on my return found the light out and the money and receipt gone.”

[..]

– The San Francisco Chronicle, October 29 1892

 

LIVERNASH HIMSELF AGAIN.
With Mind in Fine Poise He Patches With Sanity the Breaks in the Story of insanity.
But With All His Weird Actions and Unnatural Impulses Dr. Wachendorf Persists He Was Shamming.
HIS BROTHER’S MENTAL MALADY.
Enough Poison in the Hands of an Uncontrolled Madman to Have Wiped Out a City – The Man of Two Lives shows Himself at his Best, Fencing the Attorneys With Rare Skill and Enthralling His Hearers With the Dramatic Vividness of His Recital.

Santa Rosa, October 29.-Yesterday developed Edward J. Livernash in a hypnotic trance, peering with glum eyes into the beyond, and living over again the days of a year ago, when, moved by grisly fancies, be walked tba earth to murder men and ghosts. To-day found him at himself – out of the spell, acute, argumentative, dramatic – justifying Dr. Gardner’s estimate of him: “One of tba brightest men in tbe State of California.”

[..]

– The San Francisco Examiner, October 30 1892

 

PUT TO THE AMMONIA TEST.
Experts Subject Livernash to the Influence of the Pungent Drug.
They Declare That the Result of the Experiment Proved Him to Be a True Hypnotic.
NO SIMULATION BY THE ACCUSED.
The Representations of Doctor Gardner and Robertson Disputed by Dr. Wachendorf, Who Discourses Elaborately on Moon and Magnetic Theories and the Differences Between Artificial and Natural Somnambulism – The Five Hundred Dollar Mystery Unsolved.

[..]

– The San Francisco Examiner, November 2 1892

 

Napa Asylum.
18th Nov. ’92

Friend Geary:

Will you come to the rescue and get me out of the unfortunate muddle in which I am involved? Of course I refer to the charge of assault to murder pending against me.

Your absence in Washington and your subsequent duties on the street naturally forbids any request of the nature heretofore; but now that you are somewhat less engaged I hasten to ask your aid, feeling that if anybody in the state can clear me fully your are the man.

Confidentially, my case most damnably mismanaged at the trial recently concluded. The surprising thing to me was that a conviction did not result. Pushing forward the theory of hypnotism with overwhelming evidence of insanity [illegible] our easy reach was an almost fatal error and it was supplemented by a score of omissions and weaknesses that could readily have been avoided. And while I am not unmindful of the kindly intention of my attorneys, I have the greatest indisposition to have them appear for me at the second hearing.

You know my situation well enough to guess that I am not in a position to pay a cash fee; but you may also guess that I know the value of the service I solicit and would compensate you at the earliest opportunity. Once I get upon my feet again I think I can reach out for opportunities as well as though the calamity had not befallen me.

[page/pages missing]

ting together whatever is likely to be useful in the direct examination of our experts and in the cross examination of experts called by the People.

Now, my dear Geary, this request is put forth in the utmost earnestness. If you can at all imagine to appear for me you will have my gratitude through life. I am nearly worn out by Burnett’s vindictive persecution and I feel that you can clear the trouble away in a manner that will silence opposition and leave my future unclouded by suspicion.

I shall be here for a fortnight to come, and a letter addressed to me at the asylum will be promptly delivered.

Sincerely yours,
E. J. Livernash

 

Dr. Truesdell’s Lecture.

In Dr. Truesdell’s opening lecture on Hypnotism at Armory Hall Friday evening the lecturer presented the expert testimony of the doctors as given in the Livernash trial, and then proceeded to show that tbe spiritual power of the hypnotizer over the subject was far greater than it is possible for any man to exercise over his own mind or body, and hence a power for good or evil of fearful magnitude, and one that could be controlled for good only by knowledge and law, and not by ignorance or prejudice.

He claimed that the sixth sense was a spiritual, and not a physical sense, as seeing, hearing, etc., and could only be understood through the facts of hypnotism, somnambulism, trance, clairvoyance, etc., and could only be relied upon when truth appealed through it.

He also showed how the well [sic] were paralyzed by hypnotism or the paralyzed restored by the same power. At the close of the lecture questions were asked in relation to important points of distinction between hypnotism, somnambulism and mental and spiritual influences, in which a prominent minister of this city proved himself most thoroughly informed on the whole question.

The doctor will continue his series of instructions on the same subject next Wednesday evening, at the same place.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 19 1892

 

HYPNOTISM HIS DEFENSE.
Livernash on Trial Again at Santa Rosa.
The Man Who Was Placed Under Mesmeric Influence to Testify In His Own Behalf-A Case Without Precedent.

[..]

– The San Francisco Examiner, April 14 1893

Read More

bogleheader

KILLER DOCTOR

The eyewitness heard the first shot and turned to look up the side street. He saw the doctor standing on the sidewalk and pointing his pistol at a man across a backyard fence as more shots were fired in rapid succession. The victim slumped to the ground while the doctor pocketed the gun and headed downtown. Someone who passed him thought he was whistling.

This unfortunate event happened on a cool April evening in 1900, near the corner of (modern day) Seventh and Mendocino. The shooter was Dr. Samuel S. Bogle, a 32 year-old physician who had been in Santa Rosa less than two years. The victim was James M. Miller, a Civil War veteran aged 60 who owned a paint and wallpaper store across from the courthouse.

Neighbors who heard the shots rushed to help Miller, carrying him into his house. “I’m done for, I’m done for,” Miller said. “Why should a man treat me like that after what I’ve done for him? If I get up out of this I’ll fix him.”

By this time, the eyewitness had reached the office of Dr. Jesse a couple of blocks away. When the doctor was told the shooting involved Bogle and Miller he presumed it was Bogle who had been shot – Miller had blabbing all over town that he was going to “fix” Bogle for not paying a bill.

(RIGHT: Dr. S. S. Bogle c. 1908)bogle1908

Meanwhile, Bogle had arrived at the sheriff’s office, where he went to surrender and turn over his gun. No deputies were present at the time so he gave himself up to the county jail’s cook. He also visited his lawyer (a former state senator) and by the end of the evening was arraigned and freed on $10,000 bail.

On the advice of his attorney Bogle didn’t speak to reporters, but the Press Democrat still cobbled together a story which was summarized by the San Francisco papers and wire services.

The PD wrote that Bogle passed Miller’s sideyard as he was walking downtown after supper. (Bogle and Miller were next door neighbors, a coincidence which had nothing to do with the bad blood between them.) Miller was outside and saw him. Insults were passed and Miller rushed toward the gate with a knife in his hand. Bogle pulled his gun and fired, striking Miller twice.

Dr. Jesse told the paper Miller was expected to survive. He had a flesh wound on a forearm and the other bullet hit the middle of his left hip, passing between the tail bone and top of the femur before exiting the other side above his groin.

But Dr. Jesse was wrong. Miller died three days later of peritonitis, the bullet having punctured his intestines. Bogle was rearrested and charged with murder.

miller1900(RIGHT: James M. Miller. San Francisco Call, April 29, 1900)

The dispute between Bogle and Miller began a week or more earlier. Before buying the paint store, Miller was the owner of the Santa Rosa Stables where Dr. Bogle frequently rented a horse and buggy to visit patients. Bogle had a charge account there, and Miller did not close the accounting book promptly after selling the business; by the time he got around to it, Dr. Bogle had treated the wife of one of Miller’s paint store employees. As the livery bill was about $20 and the medical bill was about $20, they agreed to call it even-stevens – Miller would just take the twenty out of the painter’s salary.

But before that happened the painter “lost his position,” which presumably meant Miller fired him. In Miller’s view, this meant Bogle now owed him the money, and he demanded it be paid at once.

Gentle Reader’s eyeballs are now probably rolled so far back that they risk being permanently stuck. “All of this was over a lousy TWENTY BUCKS?” Yes, but remember it was 1900 – the average worker’s paycheck was less than $13 a week, and the modern relative wage of that works out to about $2,200 today (see discussion).

When the case came to trial there was particular attention to confrontations and threats that took place before the shooting. Miller had said that there was someone he “would fill with lead if he did not pay his bill,” and he “would cut his —- — — —- heart out.” Miller also confessed the paint store wasn’t doing so well, which probably explained why he had to fire the painter and needed the $20 so badly.

A couple of days earlier, the two men bumped into each other at the corner of Fourth and Mendocino. Several witnesses overheard or saw the showdown. Miller, who everyone agreed cussed like a preacher’s son, called Dr. Bogle a “thieving —- — — ——” the PD reported in its trial coverage, the paper thoughtfully using lines of varying width so you could try to puzzle out the censored words. Another witness said Dr. Bogle replied: “If you say I am a —- — — —- you are a —- —- —- — — —-.” (Contest: Submit your best guesses!) Miller flashed a jack knife. Bogle whipped out a pen knife. They parted ways after a couple of minutes.

As they lived next to each other, Bogle later testified he hung back as Miller walked towards their neighborhood. He was watching as Miller turned the corner, apparently to enter his house via the side gate. A few minutes later, he said Miller was back out on Mendocino and heading downtown. Bogle told the court he assumed Miller had gone home to arm himself.

The next morning (now a day before the shooting) Miller was overheard to say, “if he does not pay it I will kill the G—d d-—n —- — — —.” Later in the day that person told Bogle what he had heard and the doctor replied, “All right, I’ll keep an eye open.”

Miller already had intimidated Bogle earlier that day, when he saw the doctor go into his old business, the Santa Rosa Stables, to rent a horse and buggy. Miller followed him in and began stalking back and forth at the front of the stable, looking angry and nervous. “I wish you would hurry,” Bogle urged the hostler. One of the owners came out from the back because he “thought there might be trouble.” When Bogle drove off in the buggy Miller also left.

The owners of the stable were old friends of Miller, and later in the day both had separate conversations with him. Miller – who was drinking heavily that day – wandered back to the barn, where one of them told Miller he was glad there wasn’t a confrontation with Bogle. Miller admitted he had followed the doctor “for the purpose of having trouble,” but didn’t want to cause a problem for the owners. Besides, he planned to “see Bogle later” and “hurt him.”

The other owner saw Miller coming out of a saloon and followed him. In a joking manner he asked Miller, “Are you fixed?” and frisked him. To his surprise, he felt a knife in Miller’s coat pocket. The friend told Miller he was a fool and should go home.

That night there was a final incident when Bogle passed Miller’s place. Bogle’s two year-old daughter ran down the sidewalk to greet him; taking her hand, they were walking up their steps when Miller came out of his house, screaming “I’ll fix you yet, you G—d d—-n —- — — —-. I’ll fix you yet.”

“Illustrated Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity,” 1909
“Illustrated Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity,” 1909

The Press Democrat’s coverage of Bogle’s trial was excellent – as was typical of the newspaper’s court reporting in that era – but the San Francisco papers lost interest and only ran terse summaries. After the initial report about the knife-wielding lunatic charging at the good doctor, it seemed obvious Bogle would be found innocent on account of self defense.

And yes, the jury found him not guilty – but only after deliberating over three hours and taking nine votes. One or more jurors held out for a manslaughter conviction until it was past midnight. But if the case really was so cut-and-dried, why was there any doubt?

Because there was no evidence that Miller had actually done anything to harm Bogle, including attempted assault. Yes, he was foul-mouthed, had frequently made colorful threats and physically tried to intimidate the doctor, but there were no acts of violence.

Ah (you pipe up), what about the attack that led to him being shot? In the initial PD story, the paper stated: “…Brandishing a knife which he either already had in his hand or else hurriedly took from his pocket, Miller made a rapid step forward…”

During the trial it was shown that none of that was true. Miller was not holding a knife and was 10+ feet away, next to his back stairs. Either the reporter made this up or (more likely) the story was the fabricated consensus of the “knots of men gathered on the streets discussing the matter” who actually hadn’t witnessed anything.

When Miller was carried inside after the shooting his wife and others removed his clothes to examine his wounds. In his pocket was found some money, keys, and a small pocketknife. At the coroner’s inquest witnesses testified they saw no knife in Miller’s hand, although one believed “he saw the handle end of a knife.” The first neighbor on the scene testified he saw no weapon but Miller had a toothpick in his mouth, which the neighbor removed. It was solemnly entered as “People’s Exhibit, No. 1.”

Bogle himself never claimed there was a knife, but thought Miller had a gun behind his back. In his trial testimony, he said Miller came down his back stairs with his right hand in his pocket. Continuing his testimony, as reported in the PD:


As he reached the bottom of the steps he took his hand from his pocket and put both hands behind him. Continuing to advance he cried, “I’m going to fix you, you G—d d—-n — — — —, I’m going to fix you, and don’t you think I won’t!”

Bogle testified he told Miller to stay back.


“I don’t want to have any trouble with you,” he continued. Miller continued to advance, both hands still held behind his back. At that moment, witness testified, he heard two sharp, distinct clicks, resembling the cocking of a revolver. Hurriedly drawing his own pistol he fired four shots at Miller in rapid succession. At the fourth shot Miller sunk to the ground. As he fell, witness heard some metallic substance strike the stone pavement upon which he had been standing.

Looking up the street Bogle saw that the shots had drawn attention and he walked away, “knowing that assistance for Miller was therefore close at hand.”

There are several problems with this story, starting with Bogle’s view of whatever Miller was doing with his right hand, since Miller’s left side would have been facing the street. The nut of his defense was that he believed Miller palmed a gun in his completely unseen right hand, then hid that hand behind his back while deftly pivoting toward Bogle to completely conceal what he was holding. There’s some choreography to doing that, particularly while crazily screaming “God damn dash dash dash dash.”

Now we come to the shooting, and note Bogle said he fired four times, not three – although that doesn’t really matter. If Miller was advancing on him with both hands behind his back, how on earth could a bullet graze his forearm?

Mentioned only briefly at the trial was the course of the fatal bullet. The autopsy found it “ranged upward and forward” from the entry point of his left hip. In other words, Miller was either above Bogle (as he would have been if he were near the top of his steps), or below Bogle, having already fallen and lying on his side. Bogle was asked to explain the evidence and said he could not, but he had a “theory” which was not shared with the court.

Nor could Miller have begun advancing towards him, as he was found crumpled at the base of his steps.

And finally, Miller was lying on his side, with one of the stray bullets lodged in the stairs while a mark on the concrete sidewalk showed it was struck by another bullet. All of this suggests Bogle was firing downward – that Miller was already on the ground and slightly turned the other way when the fatal shot was fired into his hip. It was Bogle’s great good luck that no one happened to be close enough to witness that he shot an unarmed man in cold blood.

The Samuel S. Bogle story has both an epilogue and a personal postscript.

Dr. Bogle became quite a big cheese in Santa Rosa – this is the 20th article here that has mentioned him in some manner. He was county physician for ten years and head of the county hospital for 25 overall. “Sammy” was also a president of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce and was long on their board of directors.

The obl. Believe-it-or-Not! angle for this story is that he was also a well trained surgeon, and was probably the only physician in Santa Rosa who might have been able to save James M. Miller’s life.

It’s also worth considering that instead of self-defense, a more honest plea might have been temporary insanity. Bogle – who did not usually carry a gun and had brought his revolver home from his office the night before – was surely stressed out by the escalating threats and convinced Miller really would attack him. When Miller charged out the back door screaming murderously, Bogle might have felt empowered by the weapon in his pocket and blasted away in a panic.

As it turns out, the antihero of this journal, James Wyatt Oates, was a pioneer in the temporary insanity legal defense, having published an analysis, “Homicide and the Defense of Insanity.” He argued that courts should accept that the accused might irrationally (but honestly) believe circumstances forced him to kill – which fits the Bogle/Miller case like a glove. Oates’ paper was a significant intellectual work and can be found cited in law journals up to the 1940s. Oates, who lived on Tenth street at the time also saw the post-shooting commotion as he was walking home on Mendocino and joined in the effort to aid Miller. Oates was hired as co-counsel defending Bogle and was vigorous in cross-examinations. The two men became quite close and Dr. Bogle was one of the executors of Oates’ estate.

This tale of Miller’s 1900 killing is obscure stuff. Except for a few days of interest right after the shooting, little was mentioned in any newspaper until Bogle’s trial, and that was only well covered in the Santa Rosa papers for a couple of days. The story has never been written up by any other historian (as far as I can tell) even though I think Gentle Reader will agree that it’s a pretty interesting episode in Santa Rosa’s history.

I would not have learned about it if not for the late Neil Blazey, a fellow history spelunker who stumbled across an item on the killing while researching something else on microfilm and recognized it was a helluva unusual story.

Over the years Neil tipped me off to other gems, particularly the sad tale of the bigamist’s second widow. He had a strong science background and we debated far-flung topics such as whether it might be possible for “Historical Human Remains Detection Dogs” to find bodies buried for 170 years, how many gold coins could be realistically transported in a 22.5 horsepower runabout, and whether the post-earthquake fire in 1906 was hot enough to break down lime-based mortar into fragile quicklime. He will always be greatly missed.

Dr. Samuel Saffell Bogle (1867-1941) Image courtesy Sonoma County L:ibrary
Dr. Samuel Saffell Bogle (1867-1941) Image courtesy Sonoma County L:ibrary

 

sources

STARTLING AFFAIR
J. M. Miller Shot By Dr. S. S. Bogle
WOUNDS NOT FATAL
The Result of a Disagreement Over Money Matters
Three Shots Fired at Close Range Two of Which Took Effect – Trouble Had Been Brewing for Several Days

Last night shortly before 7 o’clock residents in the neighborhood of Mendocino and Johnson streets were startled by the loud report of three pistol shots which suddenly rang out upon the cool evening air.

A crowd hurriedly congregated and it was ascertained that as the result of trouble growing out of a discussion concerning money matters Dr. S. S. Bogle, the well known local physician, had shot and badly wounded J. M. Miller, the paint and oil dealer, whose place of business is situated on Hinton avenue a few doors south of the express office.

The shooting occurred near the corner of Johnson and Mendocino streets, not far from the Presbyterian church, Miller being at the time in his back yard and tho physician standing on the sidewalk outside. The two gentlemen occupy residences adjoining but while Dr. Bogle’s residence fronts on Johnson street the Miller house faces Mendocino street and sides on Johnson.

Dr. Bogle had just finished his supper and was on his way down town. As he passed out of his front gate and started down Johnson street towards Mendocino Mr. Miller was standing on the narrow walk leading from the side gate to the house. Dr. Bogle made some remark, to which Miller replied in, a highly acrimonious manner, and referring to a topic which had been before under discussion he embellished his remarks with an insulting epithet. A few words back and forth followed the result which was according to Mr. Miller’s statement made later in the evening, a remark from Dr. Bogle to the effect that the matter might just as well be settled then as any time.

Brandishing a knife which he either already had in his hand or else hurriedly took from his pocket, Miller made a rapid step forward, whereupon the doctor quickly whipped a revolver from his pocket and fired three shots, two of which took effect, the third finding lodgment in the back steps of the Miller residence.

Attorney John T. Campbell, who lives three doors east of the scene of the affair, Colonel James W. Oates, who was passing down Mendocino street at the time, and J. L. Durivage were among the first on the scene. Carrying the injured man into the house. Dr. Jesse, whose office was only two blocks away, was hurriedly summoned, as was also Dr. Neal, and the wounds were given careful attention.

Dr. Bogle in the meantime had proceeded quietly to the sheriff’s office where he gave himself up. His attorney, Senator James C. Sims, being summoned a consultation followed, the result of which was that the doctor was later in the evening admitted to bail by Judge Brown in the sum of ten thousand dollars with Frank Koenig, Dr. J. W. Jesse, F. H. Newman and A. B. Lemmon as sureties.

While Dr. Bogle, acting upon the advice of his attorney, refused to be interviewed, and while a statement from Mr. Miller was necessarily difficult to obtain, it was ascertained that the cause of the trouble was about as follows: Up until a few months ago, when the place was purchased by Vanderhoof & Koenig, Mr. Miller conducted the Santa Rosa Stables. At tho time he sold out, Dr. Bogle owed him a bill amounting to about twenty dollars. The bill was not presented for some time, and in the meantime Miller had engaged in the paint and oil business. A man working for Miller at that time owed the doctor for professional services, and it was proposed and agreed that Miller should collect the amount from his man and thus square both accounts. A short time afterwards and before the matter had been adjusted, the painter lost his position. Miller thereupon came back on the doctor for the original bill. From this situation the discussion arose.

Miller is said to have been quite vindictive in his actions regarding the matter. The two men met a day or so ago on Fourth street and it is claimed that both drew their knives, but trouble was averted for the time being at least. The next time they met was last night, and while the misunderstanding as outlined is said to have been the starting point of the trouble, the real cause for the sensational outcome was of course the feeling engendered by the discussion.

George Felix, an employee of the California Northwestern railway, was an eye witness to the shooting. He was riding down Mendocino street on his wheel and was just in front of the Miller residence when the first shot was fired. Turning down Johnson street from whence the sound of the shooting proceeded, he says, he saw two more shots fired in rapid succession. At the time the second and third shots were fired the two men were about twelve or fifteen feet apart. One of the bullets was picked up later close to the gate where the two men first came together.

One ball struck Miller in the forearm, inflicting a flesh wound. The other ball entered midway between a line drawn from the articulatum of the sacrum and coccyx bones and the great trochanter of the femur, ranged upward and forward and passed out in the opposite groin.

At midnight it was learned at the Miller residence that the sufferer was resting easily at that time. Dr. Jesse had just called and Dr. Neal had left shortly before. Dr. Jesse said that he did not consider that Mr. Miller was in a dangerous condition. He had no fever then and gave evidence that his constitution was good.

The affair naturally created a great sensation. Ail evening knots of men gathered on the streets discussing the matter. The time of Dr. Bogle’s examination has not yet been set but he will probably be arraigned today, Assistant District Attorney Berry and Court Reporter H. A. Scott took Miller’s examination at a late hour last night as he lay in his bed.

Dr. Bogle came to Santa Rosa about a year and a half ago from Monterey where he enjoyed a large and remunerative practice. Since taking up his residence in this city he has made many friends. A number were early on hand last night with offers of assistance. Mr. Miler has resided here a number of years. For some time he was engaged in the carpet business, later he became the proprietor of the Santa Rosa stables, and several months ago he purchased the paint and oil store formerly conducted by J. E. Gannon on Hinton avenue.

– Press Democrat, April 28 1900

 

MILLER DIES AS THE RESULT OF HIS WOUND
Dr. Bogle, the Santa Rosa Physician, Held for Murder Without Bail.

SANTA ROSA. April 28.— James M. Miller, the Hinton avenue paint and wallpaper dealer who as the result of a misunderstanding over money matters was shot by Dr. S. S. Bogle in the back yard of his residence on Mendocino street Wednesday evening died this morning shortly after 11 o’clock of his wounds…

– San Francisco Call, April 29 1900

 

Coroner’s Jury Charges Dr. Bogle With Murder.
The Latter Was Rearrested and is Now Awaiting Trial on a Murder Charge – The Inquest.

The remains of J. M. Miller who was shot at Santa Rosa by Dr. S. S. Bogle, will be taken to San Francisco Tuesday morning to be cremated. Miller’s last request was that his body might be cremated. At 4 o’clock Monday afternoon funeral services were held at the Miller home, Rev. Wm. Martin and Rev. S. P. Whiting officiating.

The deceased was a Grand Army man and as soon aa his death was known Commander W. A. Dougherty of Ellsworth post ordered a guard of honor to stand watch at the Miller home. The body will be escorted to the train Tuesday morning by a Grand Army escort…

…Dr. Bogle, who shot Miller, is in jail charged with murder. As soon as Miller died the doctor, who was out on bonds of $10,000, was rearrested. He was charged by the coroner’s jury with having caused Miller’s death…

…The evidence at the coroner’s inquest indicated that Miller was shot while standing about ten feet from Bogle.

One witness who helped to carry the wounded man into his house testified that Miller said, “I’m done for, I’m done for. Why should a man treat me like that after what I’ve done for him. If I get up out of this I’ll fix him.”

Dr. Neal testified that from the manner of the wound Miller must have been in a stooping position when he was shot.

Several witnesses testified that they saw no knife in Miller’s hand but J. L. Durivage said that he saw the handle end of a knife in Miller’s right hand. When help came Miller was lying at the foot of the back stairs.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, April 30, 1900

 

THE BOGLE TRIAL
Many Witnesses Were Examined on Thursday
Incidents of the Trial Before Judge Carroll Cook — Mrs. Miller One of the Witnesses

The case of the people of the State of California against Dr. S. S. Bogle came to trial in department two of the Superior Court Wednesday morning before Judge Carroll Cook of San Francisco, sitting for Judge Burnett.

[…jury selection…Oates calls for dismissal of charges…a map of the scene is presented by surveyor Smyth…]

…When he was excused D. B. Hart was the next witness called. Witness Hart stated that on the night of the shooting he came at the beckoning of Mrs. Miller to her residence, where he saw Mr. Miller lying on the ground near the back steps. He was moaning at the time. About the same time that he arrived Dr. Neal and Will R. Carithers, also came. The witness stated that he saw no deadly weapon on Miller, in fact he made no examination anyway. The witness produced a toothpick In court, which he testified he took from Miller’s mouth after the shooting.

The Hon. John Tyler Campbell who resides near the Miller residence, testified that he was dining on the night in question when he heard either three or four shots. He came to the front of the house and then J. L. Durivage called to him that some one had been hurt. He saw Mr. Miller being carried to the house. The witness was also asked questions concerning the location of place of the shooting and the view thereof from the place where he was standing.

Eugene Fisher, who now resides at San Rafael and who was formerly employed as cook at the county jail, testified that after the shooting Dr. Bogle came to the jail to give himself up to the officers. He left a pistol (produced by the district attorney) with the witness. The pistol was then admitted in evidence and was marked “People’s Exhibit, No. 2,” the toothpick produced by the witness Hart having been marked “People’s Exhibit, No. 1.” Court then adjourned for the noon recess.

The first witness called at the afternoon session was Dr. J. W. Jesse. Being summoned a few moments after the shooting, he found Mr. Miller lying upon the couch to which he had been carried. Investigation developed the fact that he was suffering from the effect of two gunshot wounds. One was in the right arm, the bullet having entered at a point about half way between the wrist and the elbow, coming out just behind the elbow joint. The other bullet had entered about the middle of the left hip, penetrated the intestines, and came out on the other side of the stomach just above the groin. Death resulted, in the opinion of the witness, from peritonitis. caused by the wound last mentioned. After further testimony of a professional nature, the witness was excused.

Dr. William Finlaw was the next witness. Together with Dr. Jesse be had performed the autopsy held a short time after Mr. Miller’s death. He examined the wound made by the bullet entering the hip, but not the other one. In his opinion death resulted from peritonitis, caused by inflammation resulting from the wound described.

W. R. Carithers was then called. While on his way home on the evening of the shooting he had been attracted by people running towards the Miller house. Witness was then just [a]cross from the Miller residence, on Mendocino street. Hurrying across the street he found Mrs. Miller [s]tanding at her front gate. She told him to go to the rear of the house. There he found Mr. Miller lying with his head on the lower back step. He assisted in carrying the injured man into the house and in removing his clothing. He did not know what the pockets of his clothing contained. He had heard either three or four shots fired, hut was not certain which.

Mrs. J. H. Barrickio was called and sworn. She resides next door to the Bogle residence on Johnson street. On the evening of April 25 she heard four shots fired. Rushing to the window and looking in the direction from which the sound came she saw Dr. Bogle standing on the sidewalk at a point about opposite the fence dividing the Miller and Bogle lots. She illustrated the time elapsing between the different shots and after [s]ome further testimony was excused.

Clinton Demmer, being called, took the stand. On the evening of the shooting he was standing in front of his father’s store on Mendocino street, about a block from the Miller residence. Hearing four pistol shots he started in their direction. In front of the Riley residence he passed Dr. Bogle on his way toward the courthouse, also another man going in the opposite direction. Arriving at Mr. Millers side gate he found several persons assembled there. Mr. Hart, who lives opposite, was just entering the house by the rear door. Witness described but not very minutely, several bullet marks he noticed in the neighborhood of the steps. When he passed Dr. Bogle some one was whistling, but witness was not sure whether it was Dr. Bogle or the other gentleman referred to.

Thomas Bonner was sworn and gave the result of certain investigations made yesterday as to the positions on Mendocino street from which two men standing in the rear of the Miller residence on Johnson street could be seen.

Mrs. J. M. Miller, wife of the deceased, next took the stand. After identifying a map showing the relative location of the Miller and the Bogle residences she testified that on the evening of April 25 she and her husband had supper about 6 o’clock. Mr. Miller started down town, going out the back door and down the back steps. A few moments later witness heard four shots fired. Rushing out the back door she found her husband lying on his side on the lower steps. She did not see Dr. Bogle. Running around the house the other way she made her way to the front gate. She saw Dr. Neal passing and motioned to him to come in. Mr. Miller was carried into the house and his clothes were removed. From the pockets of his clothing she took a note book. $15 in gold, three dollars and some cents in silver, a knife and some keys. The knife, a small pocket affair, was identified and placed in evidence. In response to a question from the district attorney, Mrs. Miller testified that at the time of the shooting her husband did not have a pistol upon his person.

Newton V. V. Smyth, the surveyor, was next called. He had at the request of the defense examined the location of the Miller and Bogle residences and told the jury of the height of the buildings, steps, etc.

Clinton Demmer, being recalled, told of having found a bullet mark on the cement walk leading from Miller’s side gate to the back steps. He was not sure as to the exact location of the mark.

At the conclusion of young Demmer’s testimony court adjourned until Friday morning at 10 o’clock.

 

MUCH EVIDENCE IN
Very Strong Testimony At Dr. Bogle’s Trial
The Court and Jury Taken to View the Scene of the Shooting on Johnson Street

At the opening of the proceedings of the case yesterday Mrs. J. M. Miller, the widow, was recalled by the prosecution to the witness stand. The main purpose of her additional testimony was to identify her deceased husband’s clothes.

C. D. McDuffy was the next witness called. On the night of the shooting he was sitting in his buggy on Johnson street near the Durivage home. He heard the shots fired and so far as he knew there were three. If there was a fourth shot fired he did not hear it. He did not see the shooting.

The witness saw a man standing on or near the sidewalk outside the Miller residence near the gate. He afterwards learned that the man he saw was Dr. Bogle. The Doctor was standing with his face turned partly towards the Miller residence. The witness staled that he took no interest in the shots until he learned that some one had been hurt and did not get out of his buggy for several minutes.

George Felix, who is employed on the California Northwestern, was the next witness called. He was probably the only eye-witness to the shooting. He testified that on the night in question he was riding his bicycle on Mendocino street and that he got off near the corner on Johnson street. He looked up Johnson street and saw Dr. Bogle standing on the sidewalk outside of the Miller residence and also saw Mr. Miller standing at the corner of his residence near the back stairs. He saw Dr. Bogle put his hand in his pocket for his pistol which he raised and fired at Mr. Miller. Miller had his hands down at the time, as far as he could see, and after the third shot he fell, the witness testified. After the occurrence he (the witness) jumped on his wheel and went for Dr. Jesse.

During the cross-examination of the witness Felix by Attorney Ware, he was asked a number of questions to make certain the statement he made on direct examination that he was off his wheel when the first shot was fired and was looking up Johnson street at the two men. The witness’ testimony at the preliminary examination was read to him. At the preliminary hearing he testified that it was hard for a person to measure distances while on a bicycle. The witness yesterday claimed while he was on the stand that he was pretty certain that he was off his bicycle when the first shot was fired.

Upon further cross-examination by Mr. Ware the witness testified that he did not see either of Mr. Miller’s hands when the first shot was fired. He further testified that when Mr. Miller staggered back Dr. Bogle ceased firing and put the revolver in his back pocket. The witness was asked many more questions as to distances and as to his testimony given at the hearing before the magistrate. His answers differed from his previous testimony in some points. When the witness was excused, District Attorney Webber announced that the case for the people was rested.

Attorney Ware then made the opening statement for the defense. He told the jury that they proposed to lift the curtain over Dr. Bogle’s life and would show his record and that they expected to show by the best men in Monterey and Sonoma counties and other places that his character for peace and quietude had been irreproachable. Counsel proceeded to point out that the defense would show that trouble over a bill was what led up to the unfortunate affair and he detailed some of the circumstances in connection therewith.

The defense expected to show. Mr. Ware said, that Miller had openly stated that if Dr. Bogle did not pay the bill that he would kill him. Further they would show that this threat had been communicated to Dr. Bogle by a gentleman who would be called as a witness. Counsel stated that the defense would show that similar threats had been made by Miller at different times and that Dr. Bogle had been warned of them. They would show that Miller had followed Dr. Bogle around and that the Doctor had tried to avoid him. They would show that a few days before the unfortunate occurrence the two men met on the public street and that after Mr. Miller had used some harsh words in talking with Dr. Bogle that he drew a knife upon him.

After outlining the course to be pursued by the defense. Attorney Ware turned to the events of the night of the shooting. He said the defense expected to show that Miller directed an epithet at Bogle and threatened to kill him and that he (Miller) reached for his pistol pocket and advanced towards Bogle and that Dr. Bogle, mindful of the threats made upon his life, shot Mr. Miller.

R. W. Moore was the first witness called for the defense. He is the man with whom the bill over which the trouble occurred originated. Dr. Bogle attended Mr. Moore’s wife during her illness. Moore at the time was employed by Mr. Miller and between the three an agreement was reached as to the payment of the bill.

Judge Cook, however, would not allow the details concerning the bi!l to go in evidence. He, however, permitted Mr. Moore to testify that there had been an agreement regarding the bill between himself and Mr. Miller and Dr. Bogle. The witness was then excused.

At this juncture Colonel Oates, of counsel for the defense arose and asked the court to permit the jury to go with an officer to view the premises where the shooting occurred.

His Honor said that he thought the case was one where such a course would be perfectly proper. An adjournment was taken and the judge, defendant, jury and bailiffs, court reporter, clerk, counsel on both aides, composing tbs entire court, proceeded down Mendocino street to Johnson street. At the suggestion of counsel Judge Cook acted as guide and pointed out the various places referred to in the case, including the Miller, Bogle, Barrickio, Campbell and Durivage residences, the fences, foliage, etc. The jury also viewed the places from the different points suggested in the evidence they had heard. After this the court and Jury returned to the court room and the noon adjournment was taken.

Ney L. Donovan was the first witness called at the afternoon session. Being duly sworn he stated that the evening of April 23, two days prior to the shooting, he had been attracted by loud talking at the corner of Fourth and Mendocino streets. Dr. Bogle and Mr. Miller were doing the talking. Mr. Miller had a knife in his hand, a pocket knife, and he held it with the blade partially up his sleeve. The first words the witness heard were spoken by Mr. Miller. He called Dr. Bogle a “thieving — — — —-.” Miller was greatly excited. His manner was aggressive. Dr. Bogle was also excited. Dr. Bogle stepped back, however, and told Miller to put up his knife. Witness remained in the neighborhood until the two men parted. Dr. Bogle crossed the street, and Mr. Miller made his way up Mendocino street. The meeting described occurred about opposite Claypool’s tailor shop on Mendocino street. Miller afterwards returned.

Upon cross-examination the witness stated he was positive he had seen the knife in Mr. Miller’s hand. If he was whittling anything at the time witness did not notice it. Witness admitted that Dr. Bogle had a knife in his hand later, but he did not consider Dr. Bogle’s actions aggressive. Mr. Miller on the contrary was quite so. He made one move toward Dr. Bogle at least and the latter stepped back. Witness did not see Mr. Miller take the knife out of his pocket. He had it in his hand when witness arrived upon the scene. Mr. Miller did not raise the hand in which he held the knife, but the movement referred to was one of the whole body. Witness stoutly maintained that in his opinion Mr. Miller was the aggressor.

S. B. Claypool was then called. On Monday evening, April 23, between the hours of 6 and 7, while preparing to close his place of business, he saw Miller and Bogle engaged in a discussion on Mendocino street. Miller made the remark “You are a — thief.” To this Dr. Bogle replied that he was not a thief. One word led to another, several hard names were called, and Dr. Bogle said. “Put up your knife.” This was the first time witness had noticed the knife in Miller’s hand. Both men were excited. but Miller the more so. In witness’ opinion Miller was the aggressor. Dr. Bogle told Mr. Miller to put up the knife at least once before he took his own knife, a small pen knife, from out his vest pocket.

Upon cross-examination witness admitted that both men had engaged in the exchange of verbal compliments. He did not see Miller draw his knife — it was already in his hand when he noticed it.

Upon re-direct examination witness stated that Miller’s knife was a jack knife, the blade open being about three or three and a half inches long. Miller held the knife in his hand with the blade pointing backward and upward.

Walter V. Middleton was called. He conducts a saloon at the corner of Fourth and Mendocino streets. A couple of days before the shooting he saw Miller and Bogle together near his place of business. Mr. Miller angry and was abusing Dr. Bogle. Mr. Miller called the Doctor a thief and several other hard names. To one Dr. Bogle replied: “If you say I am a — — — — you are a — — — — — —.” Miller had a knife in his hand. Witness could not remember in which hand Miller held the knife. Both men were angry. Witness also saw a small pen knife in Bogle’s hand. Miller’s knife was a good-sized pocket knife.

Upon cross-examination witness admitted that he had not seen Miller make any motion to strike Bogle.

Gene Ross was called and sworn. He was in this city on the evening of April 23, and saw the meeting described by the previous witnesses. Witness heard Dr. Bogle say that Miller had a knife in his hand. At the time Bogle’s hands were empty. Bogle took his knife from his pocket later on. Miller was angry and made a move forward, at which Bogle stepped back. Miller held his knife with the blade pointed backward The two men confronted each other probably two minutes or so.

Upon cross-examination witness slated that he did not think Dr. Bogle was much excited. He did not see Miller make any attempt to strike Bogle. He made a movement forward however, at which Bogle jumped back and took his own knife from his pocket.

Dr. C. W. Reed, the dentist, was called. His offices are in the Masonic block, a few doors from Mr. Miller’s then place of business on Hinton avenue. On a certain occasion he went into Miller’s store to see about paying a bill. Miller during the visit said that Dr. Bogle owed him a bill and “if he does not pay it I will kill the G—d d-—n — — — —.” Later in Bernstein’s cigarstore. he told Dr. Bogle of the circumstance and warned him to “look out” for Miller. Thornton Preston, witness thought, was present and had heard him tell Dr. Bogle this.

Upon cross-examination witness stated that when he told Dr. Bogle of Miller’s actions the physician replied, “All right, I’ll keep an eye open.” The conversation with Miller occurred on the morning of April 24. as near as he witness could remember.

Thornton Preston, a clerk in Bernstein’s cigar store, next took the stand. He corroborated the testimony of the previous witness to the effect that he (Reed) had warned Dr. Bogle to “look out for” Miller, and had related to him the circumstance of his visit to Miller’s store and the conversation there had. To this Bogle replied that he would keep his eyes open.

Upon cross-examination witness was not positive of the date of this occurrence but was of the opinion that it look place a day or two before the meeting on Mendocino street described by the previous witnesses.

M. V. Vanderhoof took the stand. He described a meeting that occurred between Dr. Bogle and Mr. Miller in the Vanderhoof and Koenig stables the day before the shooting. Dr. Bogle came in to get a horse and buggy. Miller also came in. While the rig was being hitched up Dr. Bogle said to the hostler. “I wish you would hurry.” Miller was walking up and down in the front part of the stable and appeared nervous. Witness was first in the rear of the stable, but came up front because he “thought there might be trouble.” Dr. Bogle got in the buggy and drove out. Miller also went out.

Later in the day Mr. Miller came into the barn again. Witness then congratulated Mr. Miller upon the fact that he had not had any trouble with Bogle that morning. Miller replied that he also was glad, because he had come into the barn “for the purpose of having trouble,” but out of regard for witness and his partner (Frank Koenig) he had refrained. He said he Would “see Bogle later.” however, and would “hurt him.”

Upon cross-examination witness admitted that there was nothing unusual in a physician entering a livery stable and calling for a horse and buggy in a hurry. He did not see Miller make any threatening moves. Witness reiterated his statement, however, that he had come from the back of the stable because he anticipated trouble, knowing that the men had had trouble the night before.

Frank Koenig was called and corroborated the testimony of the previous witness regarding the occurrence in the livery stable. Later in the day. witness stated, he saw Miller coming out of Orr & Stump’s saloon. He crossed the street and entered Fine’s butcher shop. Witness, knowing Miller very intimately, followed into the butcher shop and began to “josh” him. “Are you fixed?” he asked. Placing his hands on Miller’s sides, he felt a knife in Miller’s outside coat pocket. Witness then drew back, and told Miller he was a fool and had better go home. Miller laughed, shrugged his shoulders and said nothing.

Koenig’s cross-examination was very brief. He was asked whether or not he had ever seen Mr. Miller threaten Dr. Bogle and replied In the negative.

Thomas Bonner being called to the stand, testified to having seen Mr. Miller walking up and down in front of Vanderhoof & Koenig’s livery stable on the day mentioned. Witness had intended talking life insurance to Mr. Miller, but when he saw him decided not to do so and did not even speak to him. The reason witness changed his mind was because whoa he got close to him he saw that Miller appeared angry. Witness had known Miller very well for several years but never knew or heard until after the homicide that he had a crippled hand. After a brief cross-examination witness was excused and court adjourned to 1 o’clock this morning. It is hardly likely the case will be concluded before Monday night.

– Press Democrat, September 22 1900

 

BOGLE NOT GUILTY
Verdict Rendered at Midnight
THE TRIAL ENDED
The Jury Deliberated Three Hours and a Quarter
A Big Crowd Listens to the Brilliant Arguments Node by Counsel on Monday

Saturday was an interesting day in the trial of the state against Dr. S. S. Bogle, which was resumed at 10 o’clock in the morning before Judge Carroll Cook. Dr. C. W. Reed, the dentist, was the first witness called. He was asked a question by District Attorney Webber as to whether he had made a statement regarding the trouble between Bogle and Miller. The Doctor replied that he had said that Miller had said that he would kill Bogle.

City Surveyor L. E. Ricksecker was the next witness called for the defense. He was asked by Colonel Oates if Dr. Bogle had ever been to see him regarding his trouble with Miller. Mr. Ricksecker replied that the Doctor came to him and begged him to see Miller and get him to arbitrate the matter. He (the witness) unfortunately was not able to see Miller.

A. J. Wheeler was called and related a conversation he had with Mr. Miller a short time before the shooting. At that time Miller told him that business was not satisfactory but that it would be better if some of those persons who owed bills and did not pay them “were plunked full of lead.” He further stated that there was one man in particular whom he “would fill with lead if he did not pay his bill.”

George F. King, the Fourth street grocer. testified that he had a conversation with Mr. Miller in his store in which Miller related his trouble with Bogle. Miller then threatened that he would kill Dr. Bogle.

Oscar McNally, employed at Frank Koenig’s livery stable, was called. He testified that on one occasion Mr. Miller was following another man across the street whom he thought was Dr. Bogle. The witness testified that he heard Mr. Miller make a threat against Dr. Bogle, saying that he “would cut his — — — — heart out.”

Dr. J. W. Jesse was recalled by the defense. He testified that when George Felix rode up to him and informed him of the shooting he (Felix) stated that Miller had killed Dr. Bogle, and that when he (Dr. Jesse) started for the house he expected that he was going to see Dr. Bogle. The Doctor further testified that Dr. Bogle had consulted him about his trouble with Mr. Miller and he (the witness) believed that he had on one occasion advised Dr. Bogle to put Mr. Miller under bonds. Dr. Jesse further testified that Dr. Bogle’s “reputation for peace and quietness” prior to April 25, in the community was good.

M. J. Striening of the Santa Rosa Bank was called and also testified that Dr. Bogle’s reputation for peace and quietness was good.

W. F. Wines, assistant cashier of the Exchange Bank, testified that Dr. Bogle’s reputation was good.

F. H. Newman, the druggist, whose place of business is on the corner of Fourth and Mendocino streets, testified that he had known Dr. Bogle, both in Monterey and Santa Rosa for many years. His reputation for peacefulness and quietness was very good in both places.

Other character witnesses were W. H. Pool, Allen B. Lemmon, Supervisor T. J. Field of Monterey county, all of whom testified that the defendant had enjoyed a good reputation. The district attorney asked each character witness whether or not he was a member of the same fraternal order to which Dr. Bogle belonged.

Witness Field in reply to the district attorney, stated he had never heard of Dr. Bogle being connected with an election scandal in Monterey but that he had been one of many citizens who had assisted in probing an election scandal.

Dr. O. S. Trimmer, president of the board of trustees of Pacific Grove, testified that he had known Dr. Bogle and that he had borne a good character. He testified that he had never heard of any one having taken a shot at Dr. Bogle.

R. F. Johnson, chairman of the board of trustees of Monterey, testified that Dr. Bogle’s reputation for peace and quiet was good. In reply to a question by Mr. Webber, the witness testified that he had not heard of Dr. Bogle having been mixed up in an election contest, neither had he heard of any one having taken a shot at him. The person whom the district attorney intimated had taken a shot at Dr. Bogle was named Selvay.

City Engineer W. C. Little of Pacific Grove testified that he knew Dr. Bogle’s reputation was good. H. C. Snodgrass of Pacific Grove, a retired Presbyterian minister, gave similar testimony.

At this stage of the proceedings Judge Carroll Cook, stated that as six people from Monterey had given character testimony that he thought that more witnesses from that section were unnecessary, as the district attorney was not going io introduce rebuttal testimony on the question of Dr. Bogle’s character. The court, however, stated that counsel could call one or two more witnesses from Santa Rosa.

County Recorder Fred L. Wright was called. He testified that Dr. Bogle’s general reputation for peace and quietness was good. Similar testimony was given by Waiter S. Davis of Davis & Crane’s insurance and real estate firm.

J. L. Durivage was the next witness called. He resides on Johnson street adjoining the Presbyterian church. On the night of the shooting he heard the shots and went to see what had happened. After the first glance at the man lying on the ground, the witness said, he ran to call Judge Campbell. The witness then detailed the arrival of others on the scene. He also said that he saw what looked like a pocket pruning knife in one of Mr. Miller’s hands. He also described circumstances subsequent to the discovery of the body. When the witness was excused court adjourned for the noon recess.

Thomas Bonner was recalled at the opening of the afternoon session, and testified us to the positions on Johnson street from which the back steps of the Miller residence could be seen.

John A. Stump, of the firm of Orr & Stump, next took the stand. In response to the questioning of Attorney Oates, witness testified that on the afternoon of April 25. Mr. Miller had taken “an extraordinary large” drink of whiskey over his bar. Witness noted the fact because Mr. Miller’s drinks were usually moderate in size. The purpose of this testimony, as explained by Mr. Oates, was an attempt to show that Miller had been preparing for trouble.

The next witness called was Dr. S. S. Bogle, the defendant. As he took the stand and began his story of the shooting and his recital of the trouble which led up to it, a murmur of suppressed interest and excitement passed around the court room and every spectator leaned unconsciously forward. For the first time Dr. Bogle was to tell his story of the unfortunate affair, and how Mr. Miller met his death.

The witness began, in response to queries from Mr. Ware, by giving his age and occupation and outlining his career before coming to this city about two years ago. previous to which time he practiced his profession in Monterey. When asked if he had ever had any trouble in Monterey, as intimated by the prosecution at the morning session, witness replied indignantly in the negative, saying he had never before been in trouble of any kind.

In telling of his trouble with Miller, the witness began at the very beginning. He told of the disputed account, of the meeting on Mendocino street when both had drawn their knives, of the threats Miller had made to kill him, of his attempt to have the matter settled by arbitration, of Miller’s actions at various times, and finally of the shooting itself.

On the evening of the meeting on Mendocino street after the two parted Miller walked up Mendocino to Johnson street, turned down Johnson and disappeared from sight around the corner. Bogle crossed over to Speegle’s stand and watched him do so. Three or four minutes later Miller came back around the corner of Johnson street and started downtown. Witness’ opinion was that he had gone home and armed himself.

Having no desire to meet Miller[,] witness then made his way through Orr & Stump’s saloon, which is located in the Dougherty-Shea block, into the lot in the rear and by the back stairs entered the building and made his way to his office. This office is in the Dougherty-Shea block just mentioned. He remained in his office about half an hour and then taking his revolver from his desk, placed it in his pocket and went home. No further trouble resulted that night.

The next morning, when about ready to start down town, witness noticed from the window that Miller was out working in his yard. He was driving a stake, using an axe and standing on a step ladder. He kept glancing continuously toward the Bogle residence. Witness called his wife’s attention to the fact, and at her request did not leave the house that morning. When he did go down town witness did not pass the Miller house as was his usual custom.

Instead of doing so he walked down Johnson street the other way and passed down Riley alley, thence on to Fifth street and down to Mendocino that way. This was the day he asked Mr. Ricksecker to see Miller and as a friend of both parties suggest the matter of arbitrating their differences.

That night, which was the night preceding the shooting, witness started home about 6 o’clock. As he reached the corner of Johnson and Mendocino streets, where Miller’s residence is situated, his little daughter, two years old. came running down the street to meet him. Taking her by the hand they walked down Johnson street the length of the Miller property to the Bogle gate and started up the steps. As they entered the gate Miller came out into his yard, and as witness and his little daughter were making their way up the steps Miller shouted. “I’ll fix you yet, you G—d d—-n — — — —. I’ll fix you yet.”

Wednesday afternoon, the day of the shooting, witness about half past 2 o’clock drove over to Sebastopol. He returned about 5:30. Before starting home from his office some one asked him: “Have you seen Mr. Miller? He is looking for you.” He made his way home, however, without incident. Although he had tried to do so. witness could not recall the name of the man who had told him Miller had been looking for him.

That night after supper witness started down town according to his usual custom. As he reached a point on Johnson street about opposite the fence dividing his property from that of Mr. Miller, the latter opened his screen door and stepped out onto the back porch. He then started rapidly down the steps towards witness. Miller had his right hand in his hip pocket. As he reached the bottom of the steps he took his hand from his pocket and put both hands behind him. Continuing to advance he cried, “I’m going to fix you, you G—d d—-n — — — —, I’m going to fix you, and don’t you think I won’t!”

Witness told Miller to go back. “I don’t want to have any trouble with you,” he continued. Miller continued to advance, both hands still held behind his back. At that moment, witness testified, he heard two sharp, distinct clicks, resembling the cocking of a revolver. Hurriedly drawing his own pistol he fired four shots at Miller in rapid succession. At the fourth shot Miller sunk to the ground. As he fell, witness heard some metallic substance strike the stone pavement upon which he had been standing.

Witness then put his pistol up. Looking down Johnson street he saw a man standing near the Durivage home. Knowing that assistance for Miller was therefore close at hand, he walked down town and to the county jail to give himself up. Jailer Piezzi was not there, but witness left his revolver with Eugene Fisher, the then deputy jailer, and made his way to the Grand hotel and to the office of his attorney, J. C. Sims. Afterwards he surrendered himself at the sheriff’s office.

Upon cross-examination witness remained unbroken. When asked if he could tell why it was that one of the bullets had entered Miller’s hip, witness replied that he could not. He said he had his theory of the matter, however, but he was not permitted to give it.

Serafino Piezzi, jailor and deputy sheriff, was called to the stand to identify the pistol with which the shooting was done, but the identity of the weapon was admitted, as was the fact that the pistol at the time Dr. Bogle left it at the jail contained one unexploded cartridge. Piezzi was consequently excused, and the defense announced that it rested its case.

Miles Peerman was then called to the stand in rebuttal. He testified that on the morning of Dr. Bogle’s preliminary examination he heard Dr. C. W. Reed make the remark that he (Reed) had heard Miller make some remarks which if known “would help Bogle out.” Reed evidently referred to Mr. Miller’s threats to kill Bogle If he did not pay the bill previously spoken of. Upon cross examination witness’ testimony remained unshaken.

Mrs. J. M. Miller was also called to the stand in rebuttal and asked as to the condition of Mr. Miller’s right hand. She stated that never since his service in the army had he been able to close his hand or grasp any small object with it. Upon cross-examination however Mrs. Miller admitted that her husband was always able to eat with his knife and fork, but said that when driving he usually wrapped one of the lines around the right hand.

Mrs. W. R. Farion of Indianapolis, a sister of Mrs. J. M. Miller, was sworn. She had known J. M. Miller for about thirty-five years and knew that his right hand was injured. The injury was the result of a wound received while in the army.

Walter P. Price, deputy internal revenue collector, was called by the defense. He had often seen Mr. Miller hitch and unhitch horses but had never noticed anything the matter with his hand.

Deputy County Clerk Maitland G. Hall was also called. He had seen Mr. Miller use a pen many times. Miller wrote a good business hand. Witness never noticed that he wrote or held his pen any differently from any one else, or that there was anything the matter with his hands.

At the conclusion of Mr. Hall’s testimony the attorneys announced that the case was concluded. Judge Cook admonished the jury as to their duties and gave certain instructions, as to the way they should be treated over Sunday, after which court adjourned till Monday morning at 10 o’clock. The argument will then begin, and the case will go to the jury some time Monday or Monday night.

MONDAY’S PROCEEDINGS

Morning afternoon and evening the courtroom was crowded to its fullest capacity with men. women and children who never lost interest in the proceedings throughout the entire day. The arguments of counsel were heard with the closest attention, not a sentence being missed by the auditors. It is seldom that a more distinct wave of interest is noticed in a courtroom.

Monday is the usual calendar day in both departments of the Superior Court. On this occasion, however, so as not to lose any time Judge Cook continued the entire calendar for one week and at 10 o’clock took his seat on the bench and instructed counsel to proceed with the argument.

District Attorney O. O. Webber, who prosecuted the case vigorously, made the opening argument for the prosecution. He was followed by Colonel James W. Oates and Attorney A. B. Ware, the able counsel for defense. Then the district attorney closed the argument. All the addresses were very able and at times the learned gentlemen waxed eloquent. The arguments were classed as being some of the ablest heard in the court.

When the argument ended about half past 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Judge Cook announced that he would deliver his charge to the jury, at half past 7 o’clock in the evening. At that hour the courtroom was packed with people. The Judge’s instructions to the jury were lengthy, the delivery of the charge occupying about an hour and a half. While the court was speaking the silence was such that a person could almost have heard a pin drop.

The court gave the Jury a large number of instructions both for the prosecution and defense. One of the most important instructions given for the defendant was No. 22, which was as follows:

If the Jury find from the evidence that defendant knew deceased was angry with him and he had recently seen demonstrations of anger towards him on the part of the deceased, and that he had been informed by a person he regarded as reliable that deceased had threatened to do defendant great bodily harm or kill him, and had been advised to look out for deceased, and that this did create in defendant’s mind an apprehension that, he was likely to be attacked by deceased, he had a right to arm himself for his protection; and if soon thereafter defendant was passing by deceased’s house along the public sidewalk and deceased began a quarrel with defendant, deceased being in his own yard and defendant on the public sidewalk, and deceased advanced towards defendant and made any demonstration by words and acts calculated to produce in the mind of a reasonable man situated as defendant then was, seeing what he saw and knowing what he knew, including the fact of hostile feeling towards him on the part of deceased and of his former acts and threats against him communicated to defendant, if any, and did create the belief in the mind of defendant that deceased was then and there about to assault him with a deadly weapon, and that his, defendant’s safety required that he shoot deceased, he had a right to shoot until he saw that such impending danger was removed, and if the actions of deceased were rationally calculated to create the belief and did create the belief in defendant’s mind that deceased was probably armed with a pistol, defendant had a right to act upon such appearance and take his measure of defense accordingly. And if you believe from the evidence that the deceased had made threats to kill or do defendant great bodily harm, and that the deceased at the time of the shooting made a demonstration that meant as ordinarily observed among men that deceased was drawing a knife or pistol. or any other deadly weapon, defendant was not required to wait to see which it was; if deceased started to draw a weapon or put his hand behind him as if taking something out from his hip pocket, defendant had the right to act upon the assumption usually and reasonably flowing from such acts of deceased.

The jury took with them into the jury room five forms of verdict as follows:

We, the jury, find the defendant, S. S. Bogle, guilty of murder in the first degree.

We, the jury, find the defendant, S. S. Bogle, guilty of murder in the first degree and we fix the penalty at life imprisonment.

We, the jury, find the defendant, S. S. Bogle, guilty of murder in the second degree.

We, the jury, find the defendant. S. S. Bogle, guilty of manslaughter.

We, the jury, find the defendant, S. S. Bogle, not guilty.

Deputy Clerk Hall next swore in the officers to take charge of the jury. The officers were Deputy Sheriffs Logan Tombs, Serafino Piezzi and J. L. Gist. The jury then retired, the eyes of the spectators following them until the door of the room closed upon them and Deputy Sheriff Tombs turned the key in the lock. The hour was a quarter to 9 o’clock. The general presentment that the Jury would be out only a short time caused the crowd of spectators to remain seated for some time. Gradually the seats were vacated until comparatively few people remained. The closing scenes of the trial were memorable.

At a few minutes after the clock in the courthouse dome had struck twelve Monday night the jury in the case of the People of the State of California vs. S. S. Bogle returned the following verdict:

“In the Superior Court of the County of Sonoma, State of California. People of the State of California, plaintiff, vs. S. S. Bogle, defendant.

“We, the jury, find the defendant S. S. Bogle, not guilty. Valentine Watson. foreman.”

The verdict was returned after the jury had been deliberating about three hours and a quarter. At about twenty minutes past 11 the court had the bailiff bring in the jury. His Honor questioned them as to whether they wished any further instructions regarding the law. Several jurors replied in the negative and one stated that they would like to have a little while longer. They were taken back to the room and at midnight they announced that they had agreed upon the verdict stated above.

After Clerk Hall had recorded the verdict and the jurors had affirmed it, the court made the order releasing Dr. Bogle from custody. The Doctor’s friends in the courtroom crowded around him and his brave little wife, who had not left his side during the trying ordeal of the day and shook hands with both. The Doctor shook hands with the jurors as they filed from their seats.

It is understood that the jury before arriving at their verdict took nine ballots and that up the last ballot they stood eleven for acquittal and one for manslaughter.

– Press Democrat, September 26 1900

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stofenvault

WHO ROBBED THE COUNTY TREASURY?

Santa Rosa made national news in the days after Christmas, 1894. Hundreds of newspapers nationwide, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to the Wah-shah-she News in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, ran a wire story that began this way:


Santa Rosa, Cal., Dec. 28.—Santa Rosa had the biggest sensation in its history today. The county treasury was robbed of nearly $8000 and County Treasurer Stofen was left insensible in the vault to suffocate by the robbers, who locked the door of the vault on him. The robbery occurred about 9 o’clock this morning, but was not discovered until about 5 o’clock this afternoon. All this time Treasurer Stofen lay on the floor of the vault gasping for breath, fearing every moment during conscious intervals would be his last.

Stofen told reporters the next day that he had opened his office at the county courthouse as usual on Dec. 28 and was bringing coin trays out of the vault (it was 1894, remember, and “money” meant gold and silver coins, not greenback dollars). Suddenly there was a man in front of him holding a large dagger. “Drop that money,” he ordered. The 58 year-old Stofen put the tray down and either was struck on the head or fainted. The next thing he knew was waking up to discover he was locked in the vault.

“I pounded on the door, but of course no one could hear me,” he told reporters. He knew there was a faint draught at the bottom of the door and lay with his face near it. He passed out again.

Meanwhile, his two kids stopped by at noon to drop off his lunch. Not finding dad in the office and the door locked, they hung around waiting for him. A man from San Francisco wanted to make a payment and was annoyed to find the office closed, as he did not want to make another trip to Santa Rosa. The sheriff – whose office was next door – suggested he give the money to Stofen’s 18 year-old daughter which he did, since it’s 1894 and you can trust a teenager you don’t know with making cash deposits and there’s another reason I wish we were all living back then.

In the middle of the afternoon Mrs. Stofen drops by the office after a day trip to Cloverdale. Finding his lunch outside the door, she goes home, fearing he might be ill. Not finding him there either, she rushes back to the courthouse and learns no one had seen him since morning. She has the janitor open the door and finds the office in disarray. “Then I screamed and immediately heard knocks coming from the vault,” she told the SF Examiner.

She tries the combination of the vault, since it’s 1894, of course the wife of the country treasurer knows the combination to the county vault and is the only other person who does. It doesn’t work. She tries again, and this time the door opens. “When we got Mr. Stofen out,” the janitor told the Sonoma Democrat, “he looked pale and much prostrated. The meeting between Mr. and Mrs. Stofen was one of the most painful things I ever saw in all my life.”

Mr. and Mrs. Stofen, San Francisco Examiner, December 30 1894
Mr. and Mrs. Stofen, San Francisco Examiner, December 30 1894

It was decided that the robber got away with $8400.79 total – over a quarter-million dollars today. Of that $7,815.79 belonged to the treasury; also taken was $585 of Stofen’s own money and non-treasury accounts, such as unclaimed funds collected on behalf of estates.

Stofen and the sheriff formed a theory that the robber had been in the courthouse for hours, maybe overnight. Between the treasurer’s office and the sheriff’s there was a closet-sized gap, as each office had its own lockable door. The space was used only for light storage. There was also the question of the three push-button alarms in the treasurer’s office; it was discovered a corner of the carpet was ripped up near that little passageway and the wires connecting it to the sheriff had been cut.

Stofen was all but useless in providing a description of the robber. In the few seconds before he was clubbed or fainted, he fixated on the knife blade with its sharp edge. “The closest description I can give of him is that he was a large man, had chin whiskers and had no shoes on his feet.”

Assorted suspicious characters were recalled. Assistant DA Leppo saw “a German looking man” walking up steps inside the courthouse turn around when he seemed to notice he was being observed. Two men were reported driving away quickly in a buggy. Another German-ish stranger matching the vague description was supposedly hanging out around the train station before dawn. Given that seven hours had passed since Stofen was locked in the vault the sheriff assumed the robber(s) were far away, and sent out telegrams to be on the lookout.

The robbery also caused legal problems for Stofen. County officers were held personally liable for any funds found missing during their term in office; Stofen and other candidates had to show they were bonded for significant losses. As a member of Santa Rosa’s monied elite, his bondsmen were five of the top bankers and investors in town.1

A petition began circulating which asked the legislature to make up for the loss but nothing came of it. In mid-March – ten weeks after the robbery – the Board of Supervisors filed a lawsuit against Stofen and the bondsmen for the recovery of $7,815.79.

At the first hearing for that case it was revealed the defense would argue Stofen and the bondsmen were not liable because it had been a robbery. California law was unclear if that was a valid defense – in fact, a similar case was then waiting to be heard by the state Supreme Court which involved the robbery of the Healdsburg treasurer a year earlier. (In that theft everything was stolen except for some petty cash, leaving the town so flat broke it had to release prisoners because the jailer could no longer afford to feed them.)2

It took the Supreme Court months to decide, but in the summer of 1896 they ruled that yes, robbery is a valid defense – but it must be proven that a robbery indeed took place.

By that time there was growing suspicion that Stofen was either an accomplice to the theft or had made up the robbery story to cover up embezzlement.

The Daily/Sonoma Democrat was firmly in Stofen’s corner from the beginning. A few days after he was found in the vault the paper offered a long item praising his good character: “The boon of a good name was never more fully shown than in the case of County Treasurer Stofen. No man in this city who knows the treasurer, for a moment doubts his thorough honesty…” The Democrat went so far as to downplay or ignore new details that contradicted his story; fortunately all of the major San Francisco papers were interested in the case and had stringers reporting from here.

Light-fingered treasurers were surprisingly common; in 1857 the Sonoma County Treasurer was convicted of stealing state money, county money, and county school funds, a perfect trifecta of embezzlement. Crooked treasurers also had a habit of making up dime novel-type stories about stickups to hide their crime. The San Francisco Chronicle remarked, “in nearly every instance investigation of detectives has shown that the robbery was mythical.”

Several aspects of Stofen’s story didn’t jibe. He kept adding more details; although he first said he only noticed the robber’s whiskers and lack of shoes, a year later he described him as about six feet, stout and wearing a pistol on his hip. Except for a “slight swelling” on his head he was uninjured, casting doubt on whether he had been knocked out. And then there was the matter of trying to get help.

He said initially he had “pounded on the door,” but experiments were made with someone locked in the vault and hitting the door; the noise could be easily heard on that floor of the courthouse. Attorney Frances McG. Martin was in her nearby office that day and heard nothing, nor did the deputy sheriff on duty next door.

The Grand Jury looked at the noise question and passed an inconclusive resolution that it could have been either a “real or pretended robbery.” When the lawsuit hearings resumed, most of the testimony centered on whether door pounding could be heard in the corridor just a few feet away.

In Dec. 1896 – almost two years after the incident – Judge Dougherty ruled in favor of the county. Stofen had not proven that a robbery had taken place, as the only evidence that it really happened was his word.

Stofen and the bond boys requested a jury trial, citing the usual sorts of legal hairsplitting. While that was being considered, there was a sensational twist: A witness came forward to say he saw the likely robber leaving the treasurer’s office.

George Peery, who was taking his brother’s place as courthouse engineer that day, claimed a stranger with a big satchel came out of the treasurer’s office. (If the stolen money was mainly $20 gold pieces, the haul would have weighed around 30 pounds.) In his statement he described the man as rather small and wearing a light overcoat. Peery claimed he asked if the treasurer was in his office and the stranger said he was.

Asked why he had waited over two years before coming forward, Peery said he did not want to get involved, but claimed at the time he had spoken about it to his late wife and a friend in Santa Cruz. Peery’s affidavit was added to the bundle of documents filed with the court asking for a new trial. It’s unknown whether anyone realized at the time that Peery was a crazy drunk who made up stuff. He would spend much of the next five years in an asylum.3

In August 1897 Judge Dougherty denied the motion for a new trial, saying nothing had changed since his original decision. “No person but Stofen knows what the truth about the matter is. No other person can say that he was robbed or was not robbed. If he was robbed it is his misfortune.” An appeal was made to the state Supreme Court, and in 1899 they affirmed Dougherty’s decision.

With about $12k now due thanks to four and a half years’ interest, the bondsmen made a deal to settle with the county for $8,089.24. Under the civil code they could sue Stofen for repayment, and one of them did. He signed over the deed to his house on Third street, although the family had been living in San Francisco for at least three years.

The Stofen robbery – um, the alleged Stofen robbery – is an intriguing little whodunnit.

stofen1900(RIGHT: Peter N. Stofen, detail from photo of 1900 family picnic. Image: Sonoma County Library)

At the time of the robbery Peter Stofen had been the county treasurer for six years, but it probably wasn’t because he needed the paycheck. He was called “Captain Stofen” because he and his brother famously owned steamers and schooners running to San Francisco from Petaluma and Sonoma; there is spot on Sonoma Creek still called Stofen’s Landing. He had owned houses on Second and Third street, a ranch around Schellville (where he died), and spent his last years in San Francisco while traveling frequently. In short: He didn’t appear to need the missing money, and even losing the Third street house – which likely had a value around $1,200-$1,500 – would not have caused serious financial harm.

There’s no question his story was shaky and the court and Grand Jury were right to focus on proving he had not “pounded” on the vault door to draw attention. And even if they thought in 1897 that Peery was a credible witness, his account of the mysterious stranger with the satchel wasn’t proof of anything.

But as a graduate of ACU/Wingback (Agatha Christie University, Armchair campus), I find two other details stand out as suspicious – yet were not mentioned in any coverage of the case.

The incident occurred when there were just four business days remaining in his term in office. If Stofen knew there was a shortage – intentional or no – it would soon be discovered by the incoming treasurer. If he had embezzled the money, the imminent handover would have been a motive to fake the robbery.

There was also the curious bit about $585 of his own money being stolen as well. Why did he keep so much personal cash around the office? That was the equivalent to a full year’s pay for most skilled workers at the time.

One possibility is that the $585 wasn’t there at all – it was a fib to make the robbery look more real by giving him the chance to say, “hey, I lost money as well” (h/t to Ray Owen for suggesting this).

Another theory is that Stofen had some private business on the side that required ready access to cash. Two that come to mind are loansharking or gambling – the latter either by placing large bets himself or acting as the bank for bookies. This was turn-of-the-century Santa Rosa, remember, and the town had a sizable underground economy centered around gambling and prostitution, as has been hashed over here many times. And 1894 was a major year for sporting events; besides lots of horse racing, the craze for competition bicycle racing was catching fire. So in this scenario perhaps there really was a robbery by one of his clients, but Stofen couldn’t reveal who did it without risk of exposing his own crime.

Peter N. Stofen died in 1910 and is buried at the Mountain Cemetery in Sonoma. None of the money was ever recovered and no one was ever identified as a suspect. None of his obituaries mentioned the robbery, only that he was a well-respected member in the community.


1 Peter Stofen’s bondsmen were Matt Doyle, A. P. Overton, Con Shea, J. H. Brush and Hollis Hitchcock.

2 In October 1893, the Healdsburg city marshal discovered the iron doors of the city treasury open but Treasurer George V. Mulligan could not be found. Much of the town joined the search party that found him handcuffed to a manzanita tree in the park next to the cemetery, but otherwise uninjured. Mulligan said he had been jumped by two men with pistols who forced him to open the safe. According to the San Francisco newspapers the town was divided between those who thought he was scrupulously honest and those who believed he was an accomplice. Strong circumstantial evidence suggested one of the two men who found him shackled to the tree was involved in the robbery. Mulligan died five months later with stomach cancer and the missing $3,560 was never recovered. After his death the Superior Court ruled his estate and the bondsmen were liable for the loss, as the robbery could not be proven. A lawsuit followed where a jury ruled for the city. The bondsmen settled in 1897 and agreed to pay $4.6k.

3 George E. Peery – a sometimes insurance agent, schoolteacher and reporter – was first committed to the Mendocino State Hospital in Ukiah by Judge Dougherty in 1898. He was diagnosed as having “alcoholic insanity” and addiction to narcotics. During his hospital stays of 1898-1899 and 1901-1902 notes on his records state he had delusions of grandiosity, spoke with imaginary persons, and was called in 1902 a “mental wreck.”

 

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THE COIN ROBBERY.
Treasurer Stofen Interviewed at His Home.
He Offers a Reward for the Arrest and Conviction ot the Robber.
Attorney Leppo Saw a Suspicious Stranger in the Courthouse — Janitor Hassett’s Story.

Captain Stofen was seen by a Democrat representative on Saturday morning at 11:30 a. m., and lying in his bed told again the now oft-told story of his terrible experience, which was in substance as already stated.

As to the looks of the villain, the Captain has not the slightest recollection. His attention was directed to the knife, which he says was a double-edged dirk with a blade probably six or seven inches in length, held in the man’s right hand with the blade downward, ready to do its deadly work at the slightest movement of non-compliance. The captain does not remember putting the money on the floor, but says the glance he caught of the man’s clothes was that they were dark and that he was in his stocking feet. Then everything became blank. The Captain does not know whether he received a blow or fainted from the effects of the shock. His head had received a bump, but that might have been caused by his being pushed into the vault. He has no idea when he awoke, as he seems to have been only partially conscious for some time; but an intense coldness of his feet made him try to pull off his boots, which were wet with perspiration, as was also his whole body, and rub them as hard as he could; he seemed unable to get his blood to circulate. Then came the sound of voices and making as much noise as possible to attract their attention, he heard the combination click and recognized his wife’s voice, and when it missed and did not open he sank back utterly exhausted, but another try, which was more successful, brought the sunlight with wife and friends.

Treasurer Stofen is resting quietly and it is expected he will he able to go to his office in a few days.

In discussing the robbery with a number of citizens the general opinion is that the robbers had got such a good start after the deed was done that it would be a difficult matter to overtake them.

Sheriff Allen has telegraphed to all the chief points where the robbers might be headed off.

The following notice has been sent out offering a reward:

ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS REWARD.
The above sum will be paid for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who assaulted County Treasurer P. N. Stofen and robbed the Treasurer’s office of Sonoma County, California, on Friday, December 28, 1894. Signed,
P. N. Stofen.
Dated Santa Rosa, Cal., Dec. 29, 1894.

While Mrs. Stofen was visiting at Cloverdale a friend invited her to go to Ukiah to spend Friday and at one time she had almost decided to go. Had she accepted the invitation her husband would have died, as no one else would have discovered the robbery and no one else knew the combination of the vault.

No clue has yet been found. There was a report on the street Saturday night that a man had been arrested on suspicion in Vallejo who had considerable coin on his person, but no confirmation of the report could be obtained from the officers here.

Assistant District Attorney Leppo told a Democrat reporter Saturday that he noticed a German looking man on the landing of the stair leading to his office, as he started to come down stairs. The man changed his mind, apparently, when he saw Mr. Leppo, for instead of continuing his ascent he turned and went down stairs again. His notions struck Mr. Leppo at the time as being rather peculiar, and he recalled the man and his actions as soon as he heard of the robbery later in the day.

Mr. Stofen had a number of friends to call upon him Saturday, but he is not in any condition to see many people.

Janitor Hassett says the night before the treasury robbery he left the building at 7 p. m. He returned at 2 o’clock the next morning to begin his work. He went in by the lower Fourth street entrance, going first into the sheriff’s office; cleaned it up, and was in there an hour. Leaving there he went to the surveyor’s and then to the district attorney’s office, then went into the third story; came down after 5 o’clock, and during this time he did not hear a sound or see anything out of the usual run. He remained in the building until 8 o’clock, then went to the hall of records, and returned to the courthouse at 7:30 o’clock. The janitor only cleans the treasurer’s office on Sunday, and so did not go into that office. Mr. Hassett thinks the robber got into the private office with a skeleton key. Mr. Hassett saw Captain Stofen’s mail and lunch at the door during the day but gave it no thought, as Mr. Stofen was in the habit of going away without saying anything about it. He did not know, nor did others, when the treasurer went to Sacramento and returned. The janitor opened the door and went in with Mrs. Stofen. “When we got Mr. Stofen out,” says Mr. Hassett, “he looked pale and much prostrated. The meeting between Mr. and Mrs. Stofen was one of the most painful things I ever saw in all my life.”

Treasurer Stofen was able to be at his office Monday. It is now known that the robber or robbers got away with $7,200 on Friday last. No definite clue has yet been found of the perpetrators. It is the opinion of some that the robbers are not fifty miles away from Santa Rosa. It is hoped they will be caught when perhaps some of the coin will be recovered.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 5 1895

 

A GOOD NAME.

The boon of a good name was never more fully shown than in the case of County Treasurer Stofen. No man in this city who knows the treasurer, for a moment doubts his thorough honesty. He is exact, punctual, economical and careful in his methods to an unusual degree. The misfortune which came upon him is in no way his fault. So fully is this recognised that at least three of his five bondsmen, Matt Doyle, Mr. Hitchcock and Con Shea have been heard to say since the robbery that sooner than see Mr. Stofen give up his home they would willingly draw their checks for $1,530 each, their share of the loss. No doubt his other bondsmen feel the same way. They all, so far as they have spoken, have the utmost confidence in Mr. Stofen. At the time this unfortunate occurrence took place the treasurer had nearly $200,000 in the banks at his command. The actual amount of cash in the safe in the office was, fortunately, on that day much below the average usually kept there. The expressions of confidence in the treasurer by Messrs. Doyle, Hitchcock and Shea must be extremely gratifying to Mr Stofen in this time of his great misfortune. It is only at such times that true friendship and good will can be shown. Of those who know Captain Stofen not one will pass him by on the other side. His friends here and in Sonoma, and everywhere he is known, have the most unlimited confidence in his integrity and the deepest sympathy for his misfortune.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 12 1895

 

…[Sheriff Sam Allen] wore a puzzled look yesterday when he was asked if there were yet any clews to the big robbery of the County Treasurer’s office, which occurred about a year ago.

“It is a mystery yet,” he said, “and as much a mystery as It was on December 28, 1894, when it was committed. I have employed different detectives and have followed all the clews, but all the work counts for nothing.

“It is as strange still as when the safe was unlocked and Captain Stofen, the County Treasurer, was taken out of the vault.

“I have gone over the entire field. It has cost considerable to investigate the matter, but that wouldn’t count for anything if we had caught the guilty persons. I am at a loss today to tell about it.

“The robbers got $8000. We followed a good many different clews, but we always came up against a stone wall.

“We didn’t discover anybody who was spending any unusual amount of money, and if the offenders are yet in the county they have always been too smart to spend the money. They are either staying there and laying low, or else have goi out of the county entirely. I do not know which.

– The San Francisco Call, December 28, 1895

 

…There have been doubts openly expressed whether there really was a robbery or not.

Of these doubts the Jury seem to have taken cognizance of for they made some experiments In regard to the doors locks ventilation and acoustic qualities of the vault, intended to test the probability of the account of his robbery which Mr Stofen gave. Just what conclusion if any the Jurors came to as the result of these experiments they failed to make known in their report. It would seem however that their belief in the reality of the robbery was not made complete by their use of the expression “alleged robbery.” Suit has beep begun for the shortage and the question of whether there really was a robbery or not may be made an issue in the trial.

– San Francisco Chronicle, February 16, 1896

 

…One of the Grand Jurymen was locked in the vault and his hammering on the walls could be heard on the second floor of the Courthouse. Stofen claimed that he was unable to make noise enough to attract the attention of passers-by in the passage within a few feet of him.

At our last session we passed the following resolutions: That having spent much time in the examination of witnesses in connection with the alleged robbery of the county treasury, and having heard the supplementary report of the expert on the accounts of ex-Treasurer Stofen, this Grand Jury hereby records its opinion that the accounts of ex-Treasurer Stofen are correct up to 1894, and we could find no explanation of the reported deficiency of nearly $8000, except a real or pretended robbery.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 22 1896

 

THE TREASURY CASE.
Sonoma County vs P. N. Stofen and Bondsmen.
Numerous Witnesses Called and the Case Submitted Without Argument.

The case of Sonoma County vs P. N. Stofen and bondsmen came up regularly in Department Two of the Superior Court Thursday.

The Supreme Court decided in the Mulligan case that robbery could be plead as a defense, and the Stofen case being a parallel one, that part of the case was eliminated from the present trial and the only point left to decide was whether it was robbery or not.

Captain Stofen was the first witness called and testified to the main facts of the robbery, also as to how his books were kept and the amount of money he had on hand on December 28, 1894, the day of the robbery.

Mrs. F. McG. Martin testified that she was in her office during the day of the robbery, but heard no unusual noises in the treasurer’s office.

Deputy Sheriff Brophy also testified to this.

Messrs. B. M. Spencer, W. T. Mears, Ben S. Wood Jr., James Hassett, L. E. Ricksecker, E. F. Woodward and W. V, Griffith were called as witnesses. They had all been present when experiments had been made with the vault in the treasurer’s office to test how far the sounds of pounding in the vault could be heard in different parts of the court house.

After the testimony was all in the case was submitted without argument.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 3 1896

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