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THE WOLVES OF THANKSGIVING

She stumbled down the darkened street, her face bloody and swollen. This was an industrialized section of San Francisco and no workers were around at such an early morning hour, particularly on that day because it was Thanksgiving. Nearly two blocks away she found an apartment building on a cross street where she roused a middle-age couple and begged them to telephone the police.


THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID
Series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa

BAD TO THE BONE
THE WOLVES OF THANKSGIVING
A FORESHADOW OF TERRIBLE DAYS
FATEFUL KNOCK ON A COTTAGE DOOR
MOB SIEGE OF THE JAIL
96 HOURS TO HANGTOWN
VENGEANCE FOR SUNNY JIM
CONSPIRACIES OF SILENCE
    HIDDEN GRAVES
    A WELL-ORDERED MILITIA

The woman was 22 year-old Jean Stanley. She had just escaped from a gang hangout where her friend, Jessie Montgomery, had been repeatedly raped. The public outrage following that vicious assault would set into motion the events which would soon lead to six men dead in Santa Rosa, three of them slain by a gangster’s bullets and three hanging by their necks in the Rural Cemetery.

This is the second part of the series, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID” about the 1920 Santa Rosa lynchings. Although everything described below happened in San Francisco, this chapter aims to clear up misinformation concerning the crime and its victims, which were the sparks that lit a very short fuse.

For research I scoured all news coverage in the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Call and San Francisco Chronicle between November 1920 and February 1921. I found almost everything written about the events since then has mostly relied upon the earliest accounts – which often had errors large and small. More trustworthy details appeared in trial testimony and particularly the summary prepared by the state Attorney General’s office (transcribed below for the first time), although even that report didn’t cover some critical and shocking facts that came out late in the proceedings.

A broader goal is to offer context about what else was going on around the time of the lynchings, particularly to show the vigilante act in Santa Rosa happened amid a wave of vigilantism which suddenly swept across other cities in the state. And finally, before we get started, please note the stories about the gangsters who committed the crime and their punishments are not found here; for that background I again point Gentle Reader to the e-book, “The Fall of San Francisco’s Notorious Howard Street Gang.” Only two of the six men are mentioned here by name; from the viewpoint of our narrative, the rest can be thought of as interchangeable, faceless monsters.

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IT WAS SUCH A DIFFERENT WORLD

American culture has changed greatly since 1920, and here are some differences particularly relevant to understanding this series:

DANCE HALLS were favorite places for Jennie and June to spend their evenings. The Winter Garden (it was formerly an ice skating rink, hence the name) near Pacific Heights was highly popular and considered a respectable place, complete with a checkroom for babies (!) while the parents were dancing. It had nice floors and live bands, charging admission for both men and women except for Monday and Wednesday being Ladies Night. More controversial were the eight “closed” dance halls in the city, where men bought tickets to dance with women who worked there on commission. In other cities they were sometimes the target of vice raids which turned up wanted criminals, prostitutes and runaway teenage girls.

BOXING enjoyed a popularity in 1920 that’s hard to imagine today. Public interest in boxers went far beyond how well they performed in the ring; prizefighters were regarded as celebrities. Sports writers obsessively reported on where they were and what they were doing, conditions of their health and how they were feeling. Besides being outraged by the details of the Howard street crimes, most people were likely shocked to learn two well known pro boxers were not only involved but the most guilty players.

PROHIBITION and the long reach of its destructive effects play out in every step of this story, including the Howard street crime scene being a safe haven for the gangsters because it was chosen as a secluded location needed to operate a speakeasy. And besides turning bootlegging into a major industry, it sharply increased violent gangsterism, up 25 percent in 1920 alone. Fun Fact: Prohibition not only cost the U.S. economy billions in lost revenue, it even created a tax-free security backed by booze. Since pre-Prohibition liquor was legal, some 69 million gallons of it had been deposited before 1920 in government bonded warehouses, where it could be withdrawn by the person holding the deposit receipt. Just before the events in this story the Supreme Court ruled those certificates could be sold in a manner similar to gold bullion, and as a result most of the receipts ended up held by banks which accepted them as collateral for loans.

Rewind the tape; it is now a couple of hours before Jean Stanley is running down an unfamiliar street looking for someone to help. She and her friend and roommate, Jessie Montgomery, are waiting outside the streetcar transfer station at 16th and Mission to go home, having spent the evening at the Winter Garden dance hall. A man pulls up in an auto and offers them a ride; they hop in because Jessie remembers him as being a nice guy from having danced together earlier.

But he drives in the opposite direction instead, stopping at a poolhall. He wants to introduce them to a pal of his, who also climbs into the car. It’s now around midnight on Thanksgiving morning.

The driver parks outside a café and the four of them go in. They all have a sherry (illegal – this is Prohibition, never forget) and the men order other drinks, which the women decline.

Two other men enter the café and join them. Both are prizefighters, which is to say they are Bay Area celebrities. One is Edmund “Spud” Murphy, a welterweight who could be a boxer straight from Central Casting; he has coarse, puffy features that make his face appear as if it had been recently pounded with a rock. The other man is larger and has movie star good looks – at least, compared to other boxers at the time; he is Edward “Kayo” Kruvosky (as in “Knockout” or “K.O.”).

There is a whispered conversation between the four men which the women can’t overhear. As they leave the café yet another man shows up and goes with them, with all seven people squeezing into the car. It would be uncomfortably tight for a long drive but they are only going about a block away.

The car stops and the three men from the café enter a small nondescript house, leaving the women alone with the driver and his poolhall pal. They entice the women to go in by one of the men saying, “oh, it’s just a refreshment parlor and I know every one in the place” and promising them ice cream. Once they are inside the door is locked behind them.

The little front room is nearly bare, with just a table, a few chairs and a rolled up mattress. A man they had not seen before comes out with a round of drinks. This brings the number of men in the house to six.

Jean refuses the gin fizz but Jessie drinks half a glass. The rest Kruvosky pours down her throat as her head is tilted back and her arms are held. Another glass is brought in and it is done again. And then she is led into the kitchen, where Murphy is waiting.

[I am herewith skipping the rest of what followed – I doubt you want to read the details and I certainly don’t want to write about them. Anyone who just has to know what happened can review the Attorney General’s summary of their testimony. What needs to be known here is that Murphy and Kruvosky used their fists; Murphy hit Jessie and knocked her down twice, then punched Jean so hard her nose was broken. Kruvosky also struck Jean, leaving her with a black eye and a broken tooth. Kruvosky initiated the sexual assaults against Jessie in the bathroom before turning her over to Murphy and the others. Jean managed to escape by breaking a window while she was left alone in another room. Jean was not raped; Jessie was raped by five of the six men.]

During one of the later trials a prosecutor tells a jury, “It was the psychology of the wolf pack that night in the Howard street shack,” meaning the rest of the men understood their lesser places in the hierarchy, patiently waiting for their turn to perform their unspeakable acts.

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News about the assault started appearing the day after Thanksgiving and updates would appear daily for more than a month. Most of the reporting mistakes from those first accounts would be cleared up in later stories (although some of those errors continue to be repeated today).1

San Francisco reacted in horror, although it was a city not easily shocked. Every police captain told patrolmen to give highest priority to finding the suspects as a dragnet stretched over the city. Jessie Montgomery was taken by police from her hospital bed that night to attend an amateur boxing match and scan the audience for their faces. The Police Chief assigned Detective Sergeant Miles Jackson and Detective Lester Dorman to the case fulltime. A few days later, both would be shot to death in Santa Rosa by one of the guilty men.

Over that post-Thanksgiving weekend every law enforcement agency in the state received the names and descriptions of the wanted men, even though this info was not released to the public. That was when the (soon to be lynched) group left the city for up here.

ednaperl(RIGHT: Pearl Hanley and Edna Fullmer)

Police announced they were investigating claims of more than twenty other women who said they likewise had been gang raped at Howard street, but it appears only two were considered credible.2 A week later they were named as Pearl Hanley and Edna Fullmer from Southern California. They described being similarly attacked on November 10, two weeks before Jessie and Jean, and said they never reported it because they wanted to avoid the shame and publicity.

Early in the investigation Detective Jackson said the police believed the gang maintained the Howard street shack to lure girls there for the purpose of assaulting them. That might have been partially true, but his remarks need clarification on several points.

Detectives later clarified the place was a speakeasy – specifically a “blind pig,” where liquor was usually sold through a walk-up window or via a pass-through. The day before the attacks on Jessie and Jean, the proprietor (who was also among the rapists) spent $1,100 on hootch – the equivalent to over $14k today – to prepare for the expected surge of customers over the holiday weekend.3

Newspapers were quick to call the building a “shack” and that label is still used by modern writers. But today most of us would call 1256½ Howard street a granny unit. It was small but from the photos appeared well tended; it had indoor plumbing, which was no given thing in 1920. The previous tenant was a hat maker and his family. It was behind and to the side of 1256 Howard, which at the time was the Eastern Broom Factory (surprisingly, it appears that building is still there).

Nor was the Howard Street Gang really a gang, except in the sense the men who hung out there coalesced as a rape gang on two or more occasions. Early on the papers took to calling Spud Murphy the gang’s leader, but there was no evidence anyone was giving orders – as the prosecutor said, they were more akin to a wolf pack on the lookout for prey. From mentions in the newspapers it seemed a Runyonesque set of characters drifted in and out of the Howard street speakeasy: Boxers and wannabes, hardened criminals, touts, toughs, hangers-on and every kind of idle, strutting bullyboy loser in between.

“Gang,” however, was quickly becoming the buzzword of 1920. San Francisco and other cities had experienced a significant uptick in all types of crime ever since Prohibition began at the start of the year. Stories about bootlegger arrests were daily fodder (contender for most outrageous headline of the year: “200-Pound Woman, Caught in Act of Making Brandy, Fights Off 6 Officers for Half Hour” – SF Chronicle, Nov. 27). There were an increasing number of reports about groups of men joining together to plot armed robberies, burglaries and commit gang rapes. Besides the intense coverage of the Howard street crime, newspapers around the state (including the Press Democrat and Healdsburg Tribune) used barrels of ink reporting on the prosecution of a particularly notorious gang in Fresno.

Big crime stories always make it easy to sell papers, and the reporting frequently slopped over the line into sensationalist yellow journalism. But a good thing was that it also brought a new awareness that violence against women was horrifically commonplace. As noted in the SF Examiner, in the latter half of 1920 there were 100 men jailed for abuse of women or children in the city, including 56 for contributing to the delinquency of young women, 11 for “tampering” (!) with little girls and 16 for attempted assault – with police saying there were many more but the assailant escaped. Los Angeles began offering police escorts to any women who had to be out after dark.

Vigilantism was in air the air before the lawmen were murdered in Santa Rosa, but it grew worse during the days following. In San Francisco vagrants and crooks were rounded up by police and told to “get to work or get out of town.” Prizefighting was temporarily banned in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and other places simply because of its association with Murphy and Kruvosky. The American Legion offered to aid in a “clean-up of undesirables” and the VFW said crimes against women were increasing because of lax enforcement, while pledging “active co-operation in any capacity.”

A Woman’s Vigilant Committee was formed in San Francisco to call for a greatly expanded police presence – although the force was already maxed out, with officers given only one day off every two weeks. The Committee further overreached by insisting the city government adopt their intolerant views of acceptable behavior and morality. There should be a strictly enforced 8PM curfew for children under 16 and a prohibition on “three or more minor youths from causing any disturbance at night.” They wanted the city zoned according to their “vice map” which would establish the degree of policing by neighborhood. They insisted pool halls be shut down along with the “closed” dance halls where they (falsely) accused the women working there of all being prostitutes.4

While this was brewing in December 1920, the Howard street trials were underway, with all five defendants charged with the same crimes.5 Security was tight in the courtroom, with extra bailiffs – Kruvosky’s father had threatened to kill him for bringing disgrace to the family.

The jury trials rolled along smoothly and four were convicted quickly – the exception was found innocent, guilty at his retrial, and finally had the charges dropped in 1922, after having spent a year and a half in county jail (he claimed to have gained 25 pounds behind bars because the food was so good).6 The gangsters mostly offered stupid-criminal alibis; they were at Howard street but left before the women were assaulted, they were there but in a different room in the tiny house and didn’t see or hear anything.

Jean Stanley and Jessie Montgomery testified eight times in all and none of the defense attorneys could shake their stories. Each time they both told exactly same story: the offer of a ride home, the stop at the poolroom, the café, being lured inside the speakeasy, the booze poured down Jessie’s throat, the beatings, the rapes, Jean’s escape.

Then after the trials were over came the real shocker: They both lied under oath, and had conspired to do so.

Front and side of 1256½ Howard street, San Francisco in 1920. The window that Jean Stanley broke to escape can be seen here boarded up. Photo: California state archives
Front and side of 1256½ Howard street, San Francisco in 1920. The window that Jean Stanley broke to escape can be seen here boarded up. Photo: California state archives

Let’s rewind the tape again, this time all the way back to the start of 1920.

In January, boxing promoter Billy Murray leased the top floor of a building on E. Washington in Petaluma as a boxing gym with an exhibition ring.

Petaluma could not have been happier; this would surely bring fame and fortune to the town because he was the former middleweight champ and a nationally-known figure. Articles about him appeared in the local papers almost every day that winter, particularly as the date approached for a series of bouts at the Unique Theatre on March 19, “an evening for the ladies as well as the men.”

Living in Petaluma at that time was Jessie Montgomery. Her father had been the Salvation Army captain in the town a couple of years earlier but his current assignment was in Eureka, where the family received a telegram from her in early February: “We are married, forget and forgive.” She had married Arthur Matthias, co-owner of an auto dealership in Petaluma, who she had only known for a few weeks.

She was 15 years old at the time.

After Howard street the newspapers first said she was 20, then began using her stated age of 17. It would be years later before it came out that she was really a year younger than that when she was assaulted (this is verified by census records).

The marriage was a short one. When Jessie was brought to the Sonoma County Jail in December to see if she could identify any of the three men being held for the murders, Arthur tried to see her but authorities would not let them meet, fearing it could cause trouble. The next day the Press Democrat reported,


They were separated in two months, his wife leaving him after Matthias charged her with too close intimacy with prize fighters who were training in Petaluma under the direction of Billy Murray. Matthias charges that she went to San Francisco with Kruvosky…

kruvosky(RIGHT: Edward Kruvosky)

Was that true, or was it a bitter lie told by an estranged husband? Had Jessie previously known one of her rapists (and having abandoned her marriage to be with him, no less!) it’s impossible to believe the defense attorneys would not have brought that up at the trials. They repeatedly tried to discredit her character with misogynistic attacks suggesting she was “unchaste.” She was badgered on the witness stand for using her maiden name instead of “Mrs. Arthur Matthias” as well as for having left her husband and having “boy friends” in San Francisco afterwards.7

But when Kruvosky came to trial he offered a defense completely at odds with what the other rapists made. From the Dec. 24 SF Examiner:


When Kruvosky took the stand in his own behalf yesterday morning he told a story of advances made by the Montgomery girl and of his final capitulation. He said that when he met her with Thomas Brady, James Carey and Jean Stanley at the Strollers’ Cafe shortly after midnight on Thanksgiving morning she moved over and invited him to take half of her chair, put her arms about him and told him that she liked him. He told of that same arm being about him as they drove in an automobile to the Howard street shack and of how he was followed by the girl into a small room there, where he said he submitted to her entreaties.

“She made me do it” is infamously the go-to excuse for men who abuse women in all kinds of ways, and the jury obviously didn’t believe a word of what he said. They were out only eleven minutes before declaring him guilty – just long enough to elect a jury foreman and take a single vote without discussion.

The last trial wound up in early February, 1921, about ten weeks after the crimes had been committed. But then came the bombshell: A defense attorney produced signed affidavits claiming Jessie and Jean had committed perjury.

Policewoman Kate O’Conner had acted as matron for Jean and Jessie throughout the case, and in early December they had lived at the O’Conner home with Kate, her husband, a San Francisco deputy sheriff, and their married 19 year-old daughter, Anita.

The deputy’s statement noted Jessie had never claimed one of the men was guilty of rape until she testified at his trial. He said he overheard her tell Jean that she was going to accuse him despite his innocence on that charge: “I know he didn’t do anything to me, but I hate him anyhow.” The deputy said he would testify to hearing that in court “to see justice done.”

More damning were Anita’s statements about her conversations with Jean.8 “You don’t know how I’ve shielded Jessie Montgomery’s character,” Jean supposedly told her. “I could go to the penitentiary for what I’ve told on the stand…”

The affidavit also stated Jean confirmed some of Kruvosky’s surprising defense claims: “..Jean Stanley also stated to me that said Jessie Montgomery ‘fell for Kruvosky’ in the Strollers Cafe and sat on the same chair with Kruvosky in the Strollers Cafe with their arms around each other…”

Once at Howard street, Jean told Anita she saw Jessie willingly going into the bathroom with Kruvosky. “I grabbed a hold of Jessie and asked her not to go into the bathroom with Kruvosky, because I knew that he would get the best of her. That was when I was struck for the first time by Kruvosky.”

Besides withholding evidence, they conspired to commit perjury, according to the affidavit:


Jean Stanley said to me, “I shielded Jessie Montgomery because she was a girl. Why, at the hospital, Jessie said: ‘We’ll say that they forced the drinks down my throat so that it will save my character.’ Kruvosky had been so mean to me that I thought it would be all right to say that he forced drinks down Jessie’s throat…whenever Jessie gets into trouble with men she always claims that she was either doped or that she was forced.”

These statements created an uproar statewide, pulling in the Attorney General and the Governor. Headlines suggested Jessie Montgomery was about to be arrested. The District Attorney said he would ask Jessie and Jean for their own affidavits declaring the other affidavits untrue. An Assistant D.A. resigned, saying Jean admitted having “lied and lied” in court.

A Grand Jury was empaneled and they decided – on the narrowest of grounds – “there was no perjury committed by Jean Stanley or Jessie Montgomery on any material point” that would affect the verdict of the single case then before the court. The judge who heard all of the cases said he would not issue a perjury warrant because what they supposedly said was “nothing that has not been whispered into every ear ever since Kruvosky was placed on trial.”

So the consensus was, “the women won’t be held accountable for perjury because it didn’t matter – we know these guys were guilty as hell.”

The obl. Believe-it-or-Not! epilogue to the story is that years later, Jessie wrote a letter to the District Attorney’s office in 1925 to confess that yes, she had lied. She lied about her age and that she was forced to drink liquor. More importantly, she had lied when she testified she was absolutely sure that two of the men took part in the rape.

“All the excuse I can offer for my falsehoods are that I was just a child and I was afraid of their getting free to kill me,” she wrote. (The whole letter is transcribed below.)

Her post facto confession made no difference to the District Attorney or Governor. No retrials were ordered, no prison sentences commuted and no perjury charges filed against Jessie or June, as the statute of limitations for that crime had now expired.

Jean Stanley. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library
Jean Stanley. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

Tying up loose ends:

According to the only interview she gave, Jean Stanley was from Portland.9 But during the trials the Oregon Daily Journal ran a photo of her on the front page with the headline, “Do You Know This Girl?” adding local reporters were unable to find anyone who knew her. (A friend did turn up, and a month later the Portland paper had an item claiming Jean was to appear in a movie.)

In the interview Jean said she left home at 17 and toured around in the Pantages vaudeville circuit on the East Coast, apparently as a dancer. After that she joined the famous Barnes circus (which had a major Santa Rosa connection during the 1920s) where she learned to ride bareback. Jessie and Jean were each given $600 at the close of the trials and Jean said she would use it for tuition at a business school. It appears she did, because she can be found in the 1930 Los Angeles census as an office stenographer for a department store. She died at age 39 on Nov. 11, 1939 (place of death and burial unknown).

Pearl Hanley and Edna Fullmer were never called to testify, although they were brought to Santa Rosa along with Jessie to see if they could ID the three gangsters. Still, the District Attorney wanted them available while the trials were ongoing and under protective custody – members of Murphy’s family (and possibly others) had tried to make contact with June and Jessie. But instead of lodging them with the O’Conners or giving them hotel rooms with police guards, Pearl and Edna were locked in the women’s dormitory at the county jail. No fun that. Shortly before Christmas, Pearl’s husband, Paul H. Hanley came to San Francisco and told a judge she had deserted him along with their 20 month-old baby, but he wanted to reconcile. Moved by his plea and the holiday spirit, she was released from jail and they went home – where he was immediately arrested. Remember how a vicious Fresno gang was in all the newspapers? He was allegedly part of their burglary team, while other members were being held for the gang rape of a fifteen year old.

Another gold star citizen was Arthur Matthias, Jessie’s husband in Petaluma. In 1922 he and his brother, along with two other fine hoodlums, ran a man down with their car and then beat him with brass knuckles before robbing him. They were arrested for that assault plus beating and robbing a Press Democrat linotype operator of his watch. Arthur was released from San Quentin in 1928 and died in a reckless driving incident near Penngrove two years later.

It seems Jessie Montgomery always had trouble telling the truth, even about things that didn’t matter. In her Dec. 17 testimony (see footnote seven) she must have thought the year 1920 had 13 or 14 months in it, because that many would be needed to account for her version of her whereabouts, scooting around between Petaluma, San Francisco and Reno, where her family usually was. Yet she didn’t mention being in Eureka at all – although that’s where the census taker caught up with her and the rest of the Montgomery family – or Seattle, which was where she met Jean.

Jessie told reporters she was going to use her post-trial $600 to study music but in 1922 she married Wilfred E. Miller, a Spokane, Washington truck driver. True to form, she told a string of lies on her marriage certificate – she stated it was her first marriage, that she was 19 instead of 18, her maiden name was June Matthais (yes, that’s how she spelled it), and her father’s name was J. M. Matthais from Kentucky instead of Lee L. Montgomery of Kansas. She and Wilfred had two children; she worked in beauty shops and then always went by the name June J. Miller. Jessie died in 1985 and is buried in Orange County next to Wilfred.

 


1 Among the errors reported in the Nov. 26-27 San Francisco papers were that nine men were involved; it was implied both women were raped and the attack went on for three hours; that the liquor forced upon Jessie was probably doped; that Jean had a broken jaw and when she returned with two policemen they caught a couple of the gangsters about to assault Jessie again (Kruvosky and another of the rapists were still in the house, but non-threatening at that moment).
2 Another possible victim named in the newspapers was 17 year-old Thelma Fulton, who said she and another young woman she knew only as “Bobbie” were raped at Howard street by Murphy and other men for three hours on Hallowe’en. Her story closely tracked with Jean and Jessie’s testimony, with them being offered a ride after a dance, liquor forced upon them and Bobbie making a surprising escape. Thelma claimed she had met Murphy at the “closed” dance hall known as the Metropolitan, but the manager there said Thelma and her friend had been barred weeks earlier for disorderly conduct. It appears the police didn’t give much weight to her story; nothing more about her appeared in the papers, other than the Chronicle printing a photo of her on Dec. 12.

3 While Detectives Jackson and Dorman believed for several days it was the HQ of a major crime gang, they came to realize it was run-of-the-mill speakeasy. The owner of the building was real estate investor James O’Sullivan, who was the brother-in-law of Charles Valento, one of the gangsters lynched in Santa Rosa. The building was rented to Allen McDonald who operated the speakeasy.
4 The Vigilant Committee’s desire for for a crackdown was supported by the federal Hygiene Board, whose representative stated the city “was so vice-ridden it was an unfit place for a naval base.” San Francisco did shutter the “closed” dance halls at the end of 1920. (The Winter Garden survived, but only after much scrutiny.)
5 The men were charged on four counts: Rape of Jessie Montgomery (called “a serious statutory offense” in the Examiner’s prurient reporting), attempted rape of Jean Stanley, assault with intent to do bodily harm and abduction.

6 For more on this interesting case see “The Fall of San Francisco’s Notorious Howard Street Gang,” which has an entire chapter on it.

7 The full transcript of Jessie Montgomery’s testimony is in the Dec. 17 San Francisco Call

8 The entire Anita Larrieu affidavit can be read in the Feb. 9, 1921 SF Call.

9 “Gangster Victim Tells About Night of Horror,” Press Democrat, Dec. 9 1920. This interview with Jean Stanley probably was not written for the PD, but no other copies can be found in other online newspapers.

 

NEXT: A FORESHADOW OF TERRIBLE DAYS
 

sources
Appeal of the defendant from a judgment of conviction of the crime of rape and from the order denying motion for new trial

[..]

The facts of the case are substantially stated in the brief of the Attorney General as follows:

On Wednesday evening, November 24, 1920, Jessie Montgomery (whose marriage name is Matthias) was waiting on the corner of Sixteenth and Mission streets, San Francisco, for a car to take her to her home at 315 Fifth street. James Carey, whom she previously had met and danced with, drove by in an automobile. After recalling himself to her he invited her and her chum, Miss Jean Stanley, into his car to be taken home. They were driven to Clark’s poolroom on Mission street near Twentieth, and there were joined by Thomas Brady, a friend of Carey. The four then drove in Carey’s car to the Stroller’s Café, Ninth and Folsom, where each had one drink of wine. Other drinks were served but were consumed by the men; the girls not partake of them.

While the four were in the café, Murphy and Edward Kruvosky entered. There ensued a whispered conversation among the four men, the nature of which girls do not know. But when the girls and their escorts left the premises by one door, Murphy, Kruvosky and a third man, named Boyd, left by another door and jumped into the machine in which the four were seated. The car was driven to a shack on Howard street and Murphy, Kruvosky, and Boyd alighted and entered the house, leaving the two girls and their escorts in the car. Upon one pretense and another Brady and Carey prevailed upon the girls to enter the Howard street place; they were admitted by Allan MacDonald, who locked the door after them. Carey and the two girls entered a front room, which was furnished with a table, chairs, and a mattress rolled up. Murphy had already gone out into the kitchen. Brady also went out into another room, and returned with Allan MacDonald, who brought in a round of drinks. The Stanley girl took none of them; the Montgomery girl took one-half of her own glass.

Kruvosky in the meantime had come in from the kitchen. With Brady holding one of her hands, Kruvosky put the glass to the Montgomery girl’s lips, tilted her head back and poured the liquor down her throat. Another drink was brought in, and the performance repeated. Brady next led the Montgomery girl into the kitchen, where Murphy and Kruvosky were. Murphy demanded that she sing and, she refusing, insisted that dance for them. Upon her refusal to dance Murphy struck her on the side of the jaw and felled her. Brady went up to her as she struggled to her feet and said, “Go on; take off your clothes and dance for them,” and upon her further refusal Murphy struck her to the floor a second time. This blow was so violent that she did not know what was going on; at times she did know anything, and at other times she knew everything that was going on but could not resist because her strength had failed her. The Montgomery girl screamed when she was hit and the Stanley girl ran to her aid. Kruvosky hit the Stanley girl in the jaw, and Murphy hit her on the face, breaking her nose. Murphy then picked her up by hips, held her on the floor and “binged” her on the floor. Kruvosky then dragged the Montgomery girl, weakened as she was the two fellings, into the bathroom adjoining, where he picked her up by the shoulders, threw her to the ground, and knocked her head against a washstand, pulled her to the floor, tore her dress from off her body, rolled her around upon the floor, soiling her underclothing, and finally ravished her. Murphy repeatedly thrust his head in the bathroom during this time and cried “Hurry up, hurry up!” The girl knew nothing more until she found herself on the mattress in the front room. Here Murphy and Kruvosky pulled her clothes off her in the presence of Boyd, Carey, and Brady, and here Murphy, followed by the others in turn, violated her. These acts were done without her consent and against her will after she could not resist because her strength was gone, and she was absolutely powerless. She was never the wife of the defendant and had never been married to him.

Carey had meanwhile led the Stanley girl into an adjoining bedroom and brought her a wet rag to bathe her bruised face. He left the room and defendant entered. Defendant demanded that she submit to him. She refused and he menacingly brandished a gun in her face. She persisted in her refusal. Defendant then picked her up and threw on the couch and held her legs; MacDonald seized her hands and Boyd her head, while Kruvosky, coatless and with trousers unbuttoned, advanced to the attack. She struggled, begging them to kill her rather than to torture her like that, and finally all left the room save MacDonald. The Stanley girl then got MacDonald to leave the room. She broke the window and jumped out. About this time Carey came to the door of room where the Montgomery girl was lying on a mattress and cried, “Hurry up, your coats on; the cops are coming,” and Murphy, Kruvosky, Carey, Brady, and Boyd left. The Stanley girl returned to the place with two police officers. Her face was all swollen, her eye blackened, and there was blood all over her clothes and upon her wrists.

Entrance to the Howard street premises was effected by one of the officers through the broken rear window. He opened the door for his fellow officer and the Stanley girl. They found Jessie Montgomery lying on a mattress in the front room doubled up a jackknife, her face against the wall and her hands over her face; she was perfectly nude; she was in a very hysterical condition and moaning that she had been raped. Kruvosky, who had returned was standing behind the door and MacDonald was sitting on a chair in the room. The Stanley girl dressed Miss Montgomery; the two were taken to the Central Emergency Hospital where they were placed under the care of a physician and nurse. The doctor found the Montgomery girl’s vulva to be reddened, and somewhat inflamed. The girls were removed before noon that morning to the San Francisco Hospital, where a physician examined the Montgomery girl and found her suffering from bruises over the left eye and in the temple region, and considerable swelling over the malar bone, the bruises extending over onto the upper eyelid. There were bruises on the arms, mostly on the right elbow, a small discoloration on the left wrist, several bruises on the legs, the medial aspect of the right thigh just above the knee, and the left knee, on both lower legs, the tibial surfaces of the legs, and several scratches on the feet.

[…description of the capture of Murphy, and that he and Carey were brought to the hospital to be identified…]

En route from the hospital to the hall of justice, while defendant and Carey were in the police automobile, there ensued a conversation between Carey and the defendant wherein Carey commented on fact that Miss Stanley had noticed his diamonds, and that she did not look to be 21 years old. He further remarked, “Those blondes are my jinx. The last time I got in trouble a blonde got me into that too,” to which the defendant rejoined, “She is a fighting bitch, all right.” Later the defendant declared that the Montgomery girl came prepared for what she got and that she got it.

Pacific Reporter September 26 – November 14, 1921, pp. 485-487

 

Spokane, Wash., Oct, 17, ’25.

Dear Mr. Riley:

I suppose you think it queer that I should write you such a letter after such a long time, but it has been heavy on my mind all these years. I suppose after all we have gone through I was tempted to make things stronger than was necessary,

jessieportraitI suppose you are wondering who I am, so I will tell you before I go on with my confession. I was Jessie Montgomery. I am now Mrs. W. F. Miller.

You will remember that I told you I was 17 years of age. I was only 16 at the time. I also said I was positive that Carey and Brady were there at the time I was assaulted.

I wasn’t positive, but my instinct said they were, and at no time did I hear their car start out in front, so therefore I swore I was sure they were there.

I also swore that Jean (Stanley) and I had met Brady before, but we had not. It was the first time, and neither was the booze they gave us forced down us. All the excuse I can offer for my falsehoods are that I was just a child and I was afraid of their getting free to kill me, as they had threatened the other two girls.

So if you want to use this confession for anything you know best. I felt as if I had to tell someone who would understand.

If you can give me Jean’s present address I would greatly appreciate it.

Unless you intend to use this for the righting of a wrong will you please destroy it? Yours ever grateful. JESSIE MILLER.”

 

Montgomery Girl is Wife of Petaluman

Jessie Montgomery, one of the victims of the San Francisco Howard-street gang, and whose plight as a good girl aroused such deep sympathy, is not Miss Montgomery, but Mrs. Arthur William Matthias, wife of a Petaluma automobile man.

Matthias, 23, and the Montgomery girl, then 16, eloped from Petaluma February 3, 1920, and were married at Novato, Marin county. They were separated in two months, his wife leaving him after Matthias charged her with too close intimacy with prize fighters who were training in Petaluma under the direction of Billy Murray.

Matthias charges that she went to San Francisco with Kruvosky, one of the Howard street gang, and that she has since posed as an unmarried girl.

Two months after she left Petaluma her father, Captain L. L. Montgomery of the Salvation Army, secured a transfer to Reno.

Matthias came to the county Jail Sunday night and demanded to see his wife, but was denied admission because it was feared he would make trouble.

– Press Democrat, December 7 1920

 

Pearl Hanley, S. F. Gang Victim, Aids Husband in Jail

FRESNO, Dec. 24.—Pearl Hanley, one of the girls who disclosed the brutality of the Howard-street gangsters in San Francisco, has come to the aid of her husband, Paul H. Hanley.

He is charged with burglary and with receiving stolen goods, his case being linked with those of the thirteen alleged Fresno gangsters.

The thirteen, three of whom have been indicted for alleged attacks on girls, are held in ball aggregating $261,000.

Frank Stefanlch, complainant against them on some charges, denies having been in collusion with them in bootlegging.

– Press Democrat, December 25 1920

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BAD TO THE BONE


THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID
Series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa

BAD TO THE BONE
THE WOLVES OF THANKSGIVING
A FORESHADOW OF TERRIBLE DAYS
FATEFUL KNOCK ON A COTTAGE DOOR
MOB SIEGE OF THE JAIL
96 HOURS TO HANGTOWN
VENGEANCE FOR SUNNY JIM
CONSPIRACIES OF SILENCE
    HIDDEN GRAVES
    A WELL-ORDERED MILITIA

Anyone with the slightest interest in local history knows the story: About 100 years ago, a San Francisco gang sexually assaulted some women. Police tracked gang members to Santa Rosa where a shootout killed the Sonoma County sheriff along with two policemen. The gangsters were captured and taken to the county jail. A mob stormed the building and took the men to the Rural Cemetery, where they were lynched from a tree.

But that’s not the whole story – far from it. Parts haven’t been reexamined since events happened in 1920, and many details have never been revealed. And like the twice told tales about the 1906 earthquake in Santa Rosa, too much of what has been written about it over the years is distorted or flat wrong.

It’s also a surprisingly difficult story to tell because it is Rashomon-like, with three quite different ways to frame it. All versions interconnect as their storylines converge around the men who were about to be lynched – but each has people and places which are important to that viewpoint alone.

There’s the San Francisco version, which is mainly about tracking down the Howard Street Gang and prosecuting them. Besides the assorted gangsters the main players are the District Attorney, police and politicians. This story winds up in 1928 with the capture of the last fugitive gang member. To learn more, you can’t do better than “The Fall of San Francisco’s Notorious Howard Street Gang,” which can be downloaded as an e-book for three or four bucks. (The section about Sonoma County has many errors, however.)

The Healdsburg version has a narrow focus on seeking vengeance for the murder of Sheriff James Petray, who was from there and very well liked. Those who raided the jail and hanged the gangsters were not a typical liquored-up lynch mob – they acted with deliberation and precision, leaving many to presume they must have been San Francisco lawmen. Not until 1985 did one of the last surviving vigilantes confirm they were all from Healdsburg and had conducted military-style drills prior to the operation.

And then there’s the Santa Rosa version, which you’re about to read. This story ends abruptly about one o’clock in the rainy morning of Friday, December 10, 1920 when the last of the gangsters twitches and dies in the beams of auto headlights and their bodies are anonymously buried the next day. The main takeaway for this version is that the gangsters hadn’t picked Santa Rosa as their hideout by throwing a dart at a map. One of them – the very worst of the lot – was a hometown boy, who by a quirk of fate just happened to have access to a big empty house here.

Ladies and gentlemen, get ready to meet Terry Fitts.

Left to Right: Terrence Fitts in 1906, 1914, 1917 and 1919
Left to Right: Terrence Fitts in 1906, 1914, 1917 and 1919

Had someone written profiles of the three lynched gangsters and asked which of them would most likely become a cop-killer, there’s little doubt that Fitts would be the prime suspect. If he was not a psychopath he certainly did a darn fine job of imitating one.

When Terry was growing up in Santa Rosa he seemed destined to have a comfortable path through life. Born in 1877, he was the only son of Jonathan Perry Fitts who owned the major lumber yard in town, taking up the whole block at the intersection of North and College (where the YMCA complex is now). His dad was also a partner of T. J. Ludwig, the main building contractor in late 19th century Santa Rosa. Terry worked at the yard while growing up and it’s likely the family expected him to inherit the business.

The Fitts were Catholic so he attended the Ursuline “Convent school,” and the first mention of Terry in local newspapers was him being whipped in 1888 by the principal of the Davis street public school for “having an encounter with one of his pupils.” What exactly 11 year-old Terry did was not explained, although the matter came up before the Board of Education and “the various members were of the belief that they would have acted in a similar manner.”

(At that same meeting the Board heard several other charges against that educator, including objections he was teaching pupils Lincoln’s assassination was justified.1 He was also asked to reply to complaints from two parents for whipping their boys as well – although in one case, a 13 year-old “turned the tables on the Professor and whipped him.” Most relevant to our story is the identify of that teacher who whipped Terry Fitts as a child: He was Henry Calvin Petray – the older brother of murdered sheriff James Petray. That has to be the wildest Believe-it-or-Not! coincidence ever to appear in this journal.)

By his early twenties Terry Fitts was regularly getting into trouble. He was mustered out of the National Guard when his regiment’s service in the Spanish–American War ended in 1899, and within days of being back in Santa Rosa he was in front of justice of the peace Judge Brown pleading guilty to…something. We don’t know what he did because the Press Democrat didn’t print the charge against him or the judge’s ruling.

That wasn’t unusual – his crimes were never mentioned in the paper. And he got special treatment by the courts, too; it finally came out in 1906 that he had been arrested 23 times in Santa Rosa and charged with a felony, only to have each crime knocked down to a misdemeanor.

Here were textbook examples of the power of privilege. The Fitts’ were a socially prominent family in town; a search of the PD and its predecessor finds hundreds of items about Terry’s parents and sisters hobnobbing with other names familiar in Santa Rosa’s small town bluebook.

The news blackout ended when Oakland muckrakers took over the Santa Rosa Republican. They published two stories in early 1905 about Fitts trying to break out of the county jail and going on trial for maliciously breaking a restaurant window. Having been in town only a couple of months, the new editors didn’t know they were supposed to tiptoe around the town’s 27 year-old homegrown monster:

Fitts is the son of highly respectable and prominent parents of this city and his frequent appearances in the police court have been causes of great regret to these parents. Every opportunity has been afforded the youth to make something of himself and he has been given opportunities to start life anew many times. Each time he has fallen into dissolute habits and the temination has been in the police or justice court. His parents have thrown about the wayward son every safeguard which could be for his benefit and these have been ruthlessly thrust aside by him and ignored.

fitts1906(RIGHT: Terrence Fitts, 1906 San Quentin mug shot)

Then later in 1905 Terry and another thug got in serious trouble by trying to rob the operator of a railroad drawbridge in Marin. When they found the elderly man had no money on him “the toughs contented themselves with beating him into insensibility and then leaving.” Later the same paper (Sausalito News) reported “one of the men is Terry Fitts, a well known crook of Santa Rosa.”

The attack on the popular old man – dubbed the “Mayor of Greenbrae” – brought him before a judge outside of Sonoma County for the first time. He was sentenced to 14 years in San Quentin.

That conviction led the Press Democrat to finally break their omertà and remark that Fitts was “leader of the Gilhooly gang of thugs and hold-up men which operates in San Francisco and surrounding towns” (nothing more can be found about them, so it’s likely they were just a bunch of street punks).

From that point on he was mostly a fulltime jailbird, sometimes free for only a few weeks before breaking parole or committing new crimes. Out on parole in 1912, then back to jail for burglary in 1914. (In a lesser Believe-it-or-Not! item, he shot a policeman in the shoulder during that arrest – it was Miles Jackson, one of the two San Francisco detectives later gunned down in Santa Rosa. EDIT: This was a mistake that first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner’s 1920 coverage and has been repeated in years since. Fitts was part of a five member gang planning to rob a jewelry store. Fitts and two others were taken into custody without incident, but the leader of the gang and another man were arrested at another location, where “Forty-Year Smith” pulled a gun and wounded Jackson.)

After being paroled and again caught for a San Francisco burglary in 1917, the San Quentin board of governors declared Fitts was incorrigible, sending him to Folsom where he was placed in solitary. Paroled again (he registered for the WWI draft in 1918 stating he was a plumber) he violated parole once more and was back in Folsom until he was discharged in November 1919. The toll all this took on him can be seen in the photo – he appears to be much older than his 42 years.

fittsprofiles(RIGHT: Terrence Fitts in 1906 and 1919)

What Terry was doing in his last year of freedom is unknown, except he was in Santa Rosa at least some of the time. He obviously still consorted with criminals in San Francisco, as three of them followed him back to Santa Rosa when the manhunt was underway.2

Which brings us to the reason why Terry Fitts – a lowlife who rarely had more than two stolen nickels to rub together – found himself with the keys to a nice house large enough to hide a bunch of his criminal chums.

In late September, 1920, his father sold the famous lumber yard. The new owners would also get Terry’s childhood home at the corner of Stewart and College (now gone, part of the YMCA complex) but the deal allowed the 71 year-old man to continue to live there until the end of the year. Where he intended to go after that is unknown, but there was a married daughter in Bennett Valley with the other in Marin’s Mill Valley.

But his future address became a moot point when he died five weeks after the sale. Until January 1 1921, the sprawling Victorian would be unoccupied.

Terry knew none of this at the time. While he had been around earlier that week, his father’s death was unexpected and the family didn’t know how to contact him – career criminals tend not to leave forwarding addresses.

It was several days after the funeral before Terry again swaggered into Santa Rosa and learned of dad’s death. Terry learned something else surprising: His father had written him out of the will. An earlier version divided the estate (worth about $400k today) evenly between him and his two sisters but it was changed in March, 1920 to leave everything to the daughters while not even mentioning Terry.

The Press Democrat expected Terry to challenge the will in court and he probably would have – except things were about to start moving very quickly. A week later the women would be sexually assaulted by the Howard Street Gang. A week after that Terry would be back in Santa Rosa with his friends who were hiding from the police. And a week after that Terry would be swinging from a rope in the old cemetery.

As events in this tragedy played out over those three weeks, Terrance Joseph Fitts would be a key player in every scene except one – he was never actually associated with the so-called Howard Street Gang.

NEXT: THE WOLVES’ THANKSGIVING


1 A popular conspiracy theory among Confederacy apologists was that Booth’s reason for killing Lincoln had nothing to do with the Civil War – that it was a personal vendetta because Lincoln reneged on a promise to spare his friend from execution by granting a pardon. No part of that story was true (MORE).

2 Besides the two gangsters who were lynched with Fitts, Louis Lazarus was with the group but returned to the city just the day before the sheriff and San Francisco officers were slain. Lazarus was also the Howard Street Gang member who was not captured until 1928.

 

sources

 

CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION.
The Investigation of the Charges Against Prof. Petray.

…The writer also accused him of having punished a lad named Fitts, who attended the Convent, for having an encounter with one of his pupils. In endeavoring to administer a whipping to a 13-year-old lad named McGregor, the communication specified, the lad turned the tables on the Professor and whipped him. This part of the communication was very wordy and pictured the scene graphically, if not a little vulgarly. It was further specified that during the last term Professor Petray had delivered a lecture to his class, taking for his thesis the assassination of President Lincoln, justifying the act of Booth by stating that Lincoln had promised to pardon a friend of Booth’s who was to be executed for attempting to wreck a railroad train. The promise was not fulfilled, hence assassination….

[..]

…As the matter stood, it was the word of Professor Petray against that of one of his pupils. There was no difference of opinion concerning Professor Petray’s act in whipping the Fitts boy. The various members were of the belief that they would have acted in a similar manner.

– Daily Democrat 10 January 1888

 

Terry Fitts, who was a member of the San Rafael company of the Eighth regiment stationed at Vancouver barracks, arrived home last night. When the boys left Vancouver, he says, there was plenty of snow there, and the climate was nothing like as nice as it is here.

– Press Democrat, February 8 1899

 

Terry Fitts Pleads Guilty

Terry Fitts in Judge Brown’s court Tuesday pleaded guilty to the charge made against him. His honor will pass sentence this morning at 10 o’clock.

– Press Democrat, February 15 1899

 

Attempts to Escape

Terry Fitts a prisoner in the county jail made an attempt to escape from that institution last night by prying open the bars at the top of the window of the second story cell in which he was confined. The prisoner who is only a youth was arrested Saturday evening by Officer John M. Boyes and while being placed in a cell at the city prison attacked the officer viciously. The latter responded by striking the prisoner a gentle tap on the cranium with his revolver and the one blow sufficed to take the desire to fight out of the prisoner. The youth’s head was cut by contact with the revolver and blood spurted from it freely.

The prisoner was quite unruly when placed in the big cell with other prisoners and his propensity for making trouble began to assert itself. In order to give him a cell in seclusion he was transferred to one of the front rooms on the second floor. In order to effect his escape the prisoner used a portion of an iron bedstead as a pry with which to bend down the iron bars at the window and was provided with some pieces of rope and his blankets with which to lower himself to the ground. The plan was frustrated by Jailor Serafino Piezzi who chanced to learn what was being done by the prisoner and removed him to a cell in solitary confinement on the lower floor.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 2 1905

 

TERRY FITTS IS FOUND GUILTY

Justice Atchinson Will Impose Sentence Tomorrow on Youth of Respectable Parents

Terry Fitts was found guilty of a charge of malicious mischief this morning by a jury in Justice Atchinson’s court. He demanded a jury trial which was given him. The alleged malicious mlchief was in having broken a window in a restaurant to which Fitts entered a plea that a mythical stranger who was with him on the occasion had broken the pane of glass. Fitts made a poor witness for himself and was unable to give an description of the alleged stranger whom he alleged had broken the glass. The jury consumed a couple of minutes in reaching a verdict.

At the instance of District Attorney Charles H. Pond sentence was postponed until tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock. The maximum punishment for the offence of which he has been convicted is six months and owing to his previous record it is believed Justice Atchinson will give him the limit.

Fitts is the son of highly respectable and prominent parents of this city and his frequent appearances in the police court have been causes of great regret to these parents. Every opportunity has been afforded the youth to make something of himself and he has been given opportunities to start life anew many times. Each time he has fallen into dissolute habits and the temination has been in the police or justice court. His parents have thrown about the wayward son every safeguard which could be for his benefit and these have been ruthlessly thrust aside by him and ignored.

When his term of imprisonment is up there are two other warrants waiting for him. One of these is for resisting an officer and the other for threatening the officer’s life. These will be pressed at the proper time.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 2 1905

 

In the tanks of the County Jail at San Rafael Sheriff Taylor has two tough characters who are supposed to be the thugs who robbed and brutally beat aged Felix Sands, keeper of the Greenbrae drawbridge, two weeks ago. Sands has identified the men as his assailants, and they will be immediately prosecuted for a felony. One of the men is Terry Fitts, a well known crook of Santa Rosa, and the other gives his name as Woods.

– Sausalito News, December 16 1905

 

Grand Jury Will Investigate

Attorney Ross Campbell, who has been retained to defend Tom Fitts, who, with Jack Woods, is being held at San Rafael on a charge of assault with intent to kill as the result of an attack on Felix Sands, “Mayor of Greenbrae,” has received a letter saying that the case had not been acted upon before the Grand Jury, but will come up December 27.

– Press Democrat, December 21 1905

 

Fourteen Years in San Quentin

San Rafael, Feb. 23. Terence Fitts, leader of the Gilhooly gang of thugs and hold-up men which operates in San Francisco and surrounding towns, was sentenced today by Judge Lennon to fourteen years imprisonment in San Quentin. The crime for which Fitts was found guilty was assault to commit robbery against Philip Sand of Greenbrae. John Woods, a companion of Fitts, is undergoing trial for the same offense. Fitts formerly resided in Santa Rosa and is an old offender, having been arrested twenty-three times in his native town, charged with a felony, and escaping on each occasion through a reduction of the charge to a misdemeanor.

– Press Democrat, February 24 1906

 

Fitts Lumber Yard Sold to Newcomers

The sale of the J. P. Fitts lumber yard in College avenue, adjoining the Southern Pacific track, has been completed, and the new owners, George B. Fuller and John E. Columbo, took possession Thursday. The Fitts home goes in the deal, but Mr. Fitts will retain possession until Jan 1.

– Press Democrat, October 1 1920

 

CONTEST LOOMS IN FITTS WILL
Mrs. H. W. Pyburn Jr. Files Document for Probate Which Cuts Off the Son, Terrance

Mrs. Hattie Pyburn, wife of Harry W. Pyburn Jr„ filed the will of her father, the late J. Perry Fitts, for probate Saturday in the superior court. The will in hologaphlc, dated March 20, 1920 [ed. note: it was dated Mar. 7], and leaves the estate to the two daughters, Mrs. Pyburn and Mrs. Cecil Riley. It is stated that the estate, consisting of personal property, including money in bank, bonds, promissory notes, etc., is valued at about $30,000.

It is understood that there is another will which makes a number of small bequests to friends and leaves the bulk of the estate to the two daughters and son, share and share alike. The son, Terrannce [sic] Fitts, has not been located since the death of his father, and when he learns of his father’s death he may return to secure his share of the property and fight any will which leaves him without anything.

– Press Democrat, November 16 1920

 

Terrence Fitts Returns

Terrence Fitts, son of the late J. Perry Fitts, has returned home, not having learned of his father’s death until after the funeral. The young man had left here on Saturday prior to the death of his father on Tuesday night, and not having left any address could not be notified.

– Press Democrat, November 16 1920

 

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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.

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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

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