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TERRIFIC GUY, TERRIBLE MARSHAL (CHARLIE HOLMES II)

Everyone in Santa Rosa knew him; Charlie Holmes had lived here since he was a small boy, and it’s safe to say he was the most popular guy in town at the turn of the century. When his first term as City Marshal expired in 1900 he ran for reelection, and at the local Democratic Party convention he was given their support by unanimous vote.

He was in great demand as a toastmaster and speaker at banquets and such because he had a gift for telling funny stories and reciting comic verse. Following him in the PD is like taking a Grand Tour through the halls of fraternal social clubs, all pungent with the odor of 5¢ cigars. Not only did he entertain at events held by well-known groups such as the Elks, Druids and Native Sons, but he did humorous recitations at a Pumpkin Pie Social for the Woodmen of the World and a smoker hosted by the Knights of the Maccabees. He surely held the town record for the person treated to the most free meals.

The chummy, good ol’ boy tenor of those gatherings was quite different than the sides of Santa Rosa he saw as City Marshal (which was the same as being Chief of Police – see part I).

Santa Rosa police department, c. 1901. Clockwise from upper left: Constables Don McIntosh, Ike Lindley, John M. Boyes, Marshall Charles Holmes, Herman Hankel. Image source: Chester Crist collection, "Santa Rosa A Nineteenth Century Town" by Gaye LeBaron et. al. 1985
Santa Rosa police department, c. 1901. Clockwise from upper left: Constables Don McIntosh, Ike Lindley, John M. Boyes, Marshall Charles Holmes, Herman Hankel. Image source: Chester Crist collection, “Santa Rosa A Nineteenth Century Town” by Gaye LeBaron et. al. 1985

Holmes and his four-man police force were busy, making 225 arrests in the first three months of 1900 alone. That seems like a lot considering the population was smaller than Cotati has today but little of it was serious law-breaking, at least if you went by what appeared in the newspapers. Offenders riding a bike on the sidewalk were subject to arrest; so were curfew violators (anyone 18 or younger out after 8:30PM “without any lawful business”). Boys with air guns were shooting at chickens. Laundry burglaries were a thing, which presumably was stealing off clotheslines. In 1901 they thought there was a serial laundry thief, but Holmes tracked the culprit down – it was a “big dog” dragging away coats, shoes and rugs to gnaw on. It sometimes seemed Marshal Holmes and Santa Rosa must be down the road a piece from Sheriff Andy and Mayberry.

But my longtime Gentle Reader knows this was not at all the case. In the late 19th-early 20th century Santa Rosa was awash in vice and corruption, being something of the “Sin City” in the Bay Area. There was a large and flourishing redlight district just two blocks from Courthouse Square, while saloons and hotels were openly providing illegal gambling – all of it was encouraged by our city leaders, eager to attract out-of-town visitors. Holmes’ successor as Police Chief later said there was nothing he could do to stop it even if he wanted to: “I am powerless to do anything if the Council will not back me up.” A webinar and overview to articles on this topic can be found in “AN UNMITIGATED NUISANCE.”

Santa Rosa’s biggest dirty little secret didn’t come out until 1905, when a pair of muckrakers briefly took editorial control of the Republican newspaper. Until then both of the town’s papers censored and suppressed almost all news concerning the prostitution and gambling scene – except for an incident that was, in the view of the Press Democrat, indescribably awful.

While the redlight district was centered around the intersection of First and D streets, in 1900 Holmes was pressured to shut down a house on Adams St. The women were told to leave town or face jail, but he found one of them was gravely ill and not receiving any medical care. Officers also discovered an infant buried in the backyard. The PD said the coroner would investigate the cause of death yet nothing more about the case appeared in the paper, as far as I can tell. The short article ended with, “There are circumstances and details in connection with this case which are unfit for publication.”

Only one other bordello was even fined during his years in office, so we can presume Holmes was no more diligent in enforcing laws against vice than other Santa Rosa marshals before and after. Not so his policies on the Chinese. For the first time since the 1886 heyday of the Anti-Chinese League, police began raiding our little Chinatown on Second St. A few weeks after returning from military service he proclaimed a ban on all Chinese gambling including card games and arrested six Chinese men.

Then there was this in 1901: “City Marshal Holmes has commenced a crusade against the opium dens in Chinatown and on Saturday morning personally notified the Chinamen in whose places, three in number, the drug is smoked, that they must not allow white boys or girls to ‘hit the pipe.'” As documented here several times, it’s true some “white boys or girls” were found seeking to get high. (The smoking form of opium was legal in California until 1911 though opium-based “nerve tonics” predominantly used by whites remained for sale.) Chinatown raids became common of the next 10+ years, Police Chiefs sometimes forming a posse of citizens interested in joining in the ransacking of their homes and businesses. It was nothing less than an excuse for terrorizing the Chinese community in hopes of driving them out of town.


SANTA ROSA’S DOGGY DILEMMA

Holmes had non-police duties as City Marshal.1 His least favorite job was being in charge of the dog pound, which was subject to frequent complaint. The pound was next to City Hall and the small public library was on the second floor (the famous Carnegie Library wouldn’t be built until 1904), so “the barking and whining of the dogs floating up into the library room made the patrons nervous and a ‘quiet read’ was anything but quiet.” City Councilmen pressed Holmes to come up with a solution.

There was no easy fix because Santa Rosa was teeming with dogs – at a City Council meeting Holmes estimated there were over 1,000 and at the time the city was tiny, roughly 1.5 sq. miles. Regulation wasn’t working. A dog license was $2/year (over $75 today) and mandatory; any without tags were taken to the pound, where they were put down after two days. I do not want to think about how they would have done that job back then.

Holmes partially solved the problem by moving the pound to somewhere on the First street creek bank. But in 1901 he told the Council there was an urgent need for a place to bury the 400 dogs they were destroying on the average every year. A lengthy discussion ensued, where one of the councilmen promoted a notion the animal’s remains should be cremated in the city trash burner. Another argued the dogs seen around town were so malnourished they would not be consumed by fire without using loads of additional fuel. The city clerk suggested the dogs be embalmed and presumably stored. It won’t be my top priority but once my back-ordered time machine arrives, I swear I will visit the City Council meeting of Jan. 21, 1901 to hear that bizarre debate where our top elected officials pondered whether our dead stray dogs had sufficient meat on the bones.2

Besides being city marshal, poundmaster and a few other things, he also wore the hat of city tax collector – arguably his most important job. People drifted in to his office all year round to make every sort of payment (it was where you got a dog license, even) but in 1901, November 18th was particularly busy because it was the last day to pay city taxes.

The next morning they found the marshal’s safe had been robbed. It was first estimated about $1,000 was taken – close to two year’s pay for most skilled workers at the time.

It was assumed the crime occurred between 5 and 6AM, a gap when no policeman was on duty. There were no suspects although a witness saw a man he didn’t recognize “with his hands in his outside coat pockets” quickly walking away from the direction of City Hall during that pre-dawn hour.

The Press Democrat’s story on the crime was excellent (transcribed below) and surely raised eyebrows – namely, many of the details suggested it might be an inside job.

Some evidence appeared planted. The marshal’s door leading to the lobby was ajar – did the burglar supposedly brazenly walk out the main entrance of city hall? There was no sign of forced entry into the building, but a small window was newly broken from outside. As the PD reporter observed, “…a table thickly covered with dust stands in front of the window…several pieces of glass that lodged on the table when the window was broken still remained there embedded in the dust. No one could have climbed through the window without leaving marks in the dust.” Read the transcript to find other questionable points, such as how the burglar could be confident of breaking into the safe.

Whoever did it was familiar with Holmes’ office, starting with knowing the place was empty between the night patrolmen’s shift and the arrival of the officer on morning duty. It appeared the thief gained access to the main office with the safe via a small, non-public back stairway that led to the holding cells downstairs. He would have had to go through three doors, forcing a simple doorknob lock on one of them. All navigated in the dark. It was also suggested the robber possibly got into that passageway the day before and hid there overnight. The tax robbery was looking more and more like a replay of the Stofen affair from seven years earlier.

In 1894, the county treasury was robbed of $8400. Treasurer Peter N. Stofen was held up as he was opening his office and locked in the vault until his wife found him there hours later. In the investigation that followed, there was growing suspicion Stofen was either an accomplice to the theft or covering up embezzlement. The Grand Jury concluded it could have been either a “real or pretended robbery.” (For more, see “WHO ROBBED THE COUNTY TREASURY?“)

Like treasurer Stofen, tax collector Holmes was required to be bonded because they were held personally liable for any funds found missing during their term in office. The only way out of that obligation was to prove a robbery indeed took place and neither Stofen nor Holmes was able to do that. Holmes had the additional problem of not knowing how much money was stolen. It seems the man who collected all the money due Santa Rosa (including dog licenses! Do not forget the dog licenses!) couldn’t be bothered with doing simple bookkeeping.

It came out that Holmes never officially recorded the money passing through his hands until he got around to it, usually at the end of the month. You visited his office and made a tax (or dog license!) payment and he accepted the money, made a note related to it on the bank deposit slip, then later used that slip to record all the transactions in the “cash book” – which was supposed to be always kept current. Trouble was, there were always a few hours between the time Holmes deposited the day’s receipts at the end of banking day and when the marshal/tax collector closed his office door. Any late afternoon payments were stored overnight in the office safe and it was (supposedly) just those monies which were stolen. No deposit slip, no record of who paid what.


THE THREE (OR MORE) FACES OF CHARLIE HOLMES

Charles H. Holmes Jr. was surely the most talked about person in Santa Rosa 120 years ago, and that wasn’t always a good thing.

OUR OWN TOM SAWYER
TERRIFIC GUY, TERRIBLE MARSHAL
OH, LOATHSOME ME
BOSS SQUEEDUNCK

It was left to Charles’ memory to recall who paid what during those hours. The PD reported the next day, “Mr. Holmes and an assistant worked on the books checking up the sheets and by evening he had become practically sure enough to state the robbery would amount to the figure named.” Yeah, I’m confident he remembered everyone who came by on the busiest day of the year.

A week after the robbery, Holmes received an envelope postmarked from San Francisco that contained a few checks the thief had scooped up along with the money in the safe. This was another head-scratcher, like the mystery of how/when the burglar got in City Hall. Why would the robber go to the trouble of returning unredeemable checks instead of destroying them? And for that matter, was there proof they came in the mail, other than Charles’ word? Yet having the checks in hand was a boon for Holmes because he could now eliminate those payments from the missing sum he was still trying to determine.

To hopefully straighten out this mess, the City Council hired expert accountant William H. Pool to do a forensic audit of the accounts from the start of Holmes’ second term on April 1, 1900. The report he made to the council at a special session gave no joy.

The main point in the report was that there was no magic wand to wave and show exactly how much money was in the safe at the time of the robbery. Pool revealed Holmes’ bookkeeping was always funky and at the start of that November – weeks before the theft – about $800 was already missing. Perhaps it was sitting in the safe waiting for Holmes to eventually deposit it; there was no way for the accountant to know. By the end of the year 1901, Pool believed the account was short at least $1,299.16.

The PD interviewed Holmes and his answers only cast more suspicion. He did much hand-waving, insisting his books were only off $34. As to the $800 missing before the robbery, he made a bewildering denial: “…while perhaps technically justified by figures, is not borne out by facts. On the date mentioned, as I remember, I paid a considerable sum over to the city treasurer several hours before the close of business…” So it was the treasurer’s fault he didn’t keep receipts?

Holmes and the Maryland company that held his bond were commanded to pay the nearly $1,300 shortage, which he did under protest. He was gonna prove bad guys robbed his safe and then demand the bond money back, yessir. And he could do it too – after all, he was the top lawman in Santa Rosa.

But not for much longer. The accountant’s report and paying back the money happened in mid-January, 1902. Six weeks later the Democratic Party in Santa Rosa held their convention to determine the candidates they wanted on their ticket. Where Charles had been unanimously chosen for the marshal/tax collector job in 1900, this time he came in fourth.

He went back to being a plasterer, although right after he lost the city job he was briefly manager of the Campi, the most popular restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa. He still was a popular speaker at banquets and marched in every parade. But over the next five years his personal life was marked by turmoil, particularly after he was charged with rape.

NEXT: OH, LOATHSOME ME


1 Holmes was also chairman of the investigation committee of the Associated Charities which distributed clothing to the needy, and was for a time the acting health officer with power to issue death certificates

2 The City Council formed a special committee to handle all dog pound questions and there was discussion of hiring a “Dog Impounder” who would be paid from the dog license fees. It is not clear whether the position was created, but it was a regular council agenda item over the next four months. Part of his duties would have been to bury the dogs

  

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DESERVES A SECOND TERM

Charles H. Holmes, Jr., the Democratic nominee for city marshal, needs no introduction to the people of Santa Rosa. He has lived here ever since he was a boy and has grown up with the town. Two years ago he was elected city marshal, defeating by a good majority a man of acknowledged strength. He has just finished one good term, and deserves a second, and his many friends feel confident that this is a recognition and a courtesy which will not be denied him.

In the discharge of his duties Mr. Holmes has been faithful and efficient and has demonstrated the fact that the interests of the department will be safe in his hands. He has served the city well. A few months after his election two years ago war with Spain broke out and in conformity with the plans of the war department the Fifth regiment, N. G. C., composed of companies located in different parts of the state, was ordered to mobilize at the Presidio preparatory to being sent to the front. As First Lieutenant of Company E of this city Mr. Holmes was in duty bound to answer to the call, and did so. With almost his entire company he enlisted in the Eighth California volunteers and became a member of the regular army.

Through the speedy and unexpected termination of the war the services of the Eighth regiment were not required and after remaining under orders for several months the regiment disbanded, and Mr. Holmes returned to his home in this city and to the discharge of his duties as marshal, which during his absence he had left in good hands. The people of Santa Rosa have not forgotten the scenes attendant either upon the departure or the arrival home of Company E, and the facts here narrated are familiar to all our citizens. During his occupancy of his office Mr. Holmes has never proved recreant to a trust and his record ever since the time he came here as a boy has been a creditable one. He has shown himself to be a good citizen both in and out of office, as well as a good official while in office, and ho deserves a second term in the position he now holds. And unless the Press Democrat is very much mistaken in the people of Santa Rosa that is what he will get.

– Press Democrat, March 17 1900

 

BROKE UP THE NEST
City Police Department Makes Several Arrests
Coroner Pierce Will Inquire Today Into The Cause of an Infant’s Death

City Marshal Holmes and the police have broken up a disreputable house on Adams street in this city. As a result of the disturbance of the nest two or three women whose characters are sadly tainted have been arrested and will be given a chance to leave town for good, under penalty of imprisonment for failure to do so. A youth was given a month’s imprisonment yesterday for complicity in the matter and it is believed now that the atmosphere will be purer in that vicinity.

Yesterday Coroner Pierce was communicated with and today will inquire into the circumstances which caused the death of an infant, whose body was unearthed in the back yard of the house by officers. From Marshal Holmes a Press Democrat representative learned that many complaints have been made about the conduct of the inmates of the house and that he had sufficient evidence to warrant him in adopting the course he took. When the police visited the house they found a woman there, lying dangerously ill, not having the care of a physician or even a nurse.
There are circumstances and details in connection with this case which are unfit for publication.

– Press Democrat, October 24 1900

 

CITY’S SAFE ROBBED
Bold Burglary at the City Hall
CARRIED OFF $1,000
Tax Money Stolen During The Early Morning Hours
Unwelcome Visitors at the Office Of City Marshal and Tax Collector Charles H. Holmes Jr.

Early Tuesday morning, presumably between the hours of 5 and 6 o’clock, the safe in the office of City Marshal and Tax Collector Charles H. Holmes Jr. in the city hall was robbed of a large sum of money, estimated at $1,000, the proceeds of tax collections received the previous day after banking hours.

The robbery was discovered by Mrs. Jane Samuels, the city hall janitoress, who arrived as usual to begin her duties about 6 o’clock. When she arrived upon the scene Mrs. Samuels noticed that the front door of the marshal’s office was ajar. At first she gave little heed to the fact, presuming that Officer Don McIntosh, who goes on duty at that hour, had arrived before her. Subsequently she saw that the safe door was also open, and suspecting that something was wrong at once summoned Officer McIntosh and informed him of her discoveries. An investigation revealed the fact that entrance to the office had been gained by forcing the small door opening from the passageway that leads down outside the marshal’s office to the cell room in the rear. The wall here is a thin board affair and by springing the partition in slightly the door can easily be forced. This door was found open, with the tongue of the lock protruding. The door in question does not lead directly into the marshal’s office, but opens into a closet, which in turn opens into a small room directly in the rear of the office. Another door, which was not locked, opens from this room directly into the main office in which the safe is located.

A small window looking from the back room above referred to into the rear hallway was broken near the catch, but while the burglar or burglars may at first have intended gaining an entrance through the window, if such was the case the plan was apparently abandoned. A table thickly covered with dust stands in front of the window and no evidence of its having been climbed over could be noted. Several pieces of glass that lodged on the table when the window was broken still remained there embedded in the dust. No one could have climbed through the window without leaving marks in the dust on the table or without knocking at least some of the pieces of glass onto the floor.

The marshal’s office is also used as police headquarters. When, after coming in from their night’s vigil and making the usual change of clothing. Officers Hankel, Boyes and Lindley left the place, a few minutes before 5 o’clock, everything was in the usual order. An old cripple who had been given a bed in one of the cells in the rear of the city hall says that he heard the sound of breaking glass along about morning, but his physical and mental condition is such that nothing like a concise statement can be obtained from him.

The safe from which the money was stolen is an antiquated affair, and was purchased by the city from Lee Bros. & Co. a year or two ago. It at one time belonged to G. N. Savage, a former auctioneer and real estate man of this city, and went through the fire that something like twenty years ago destroyed the block of wooden buildings that at that time extended from where Dignan’s drug store now is up to the rear of the old hall of records on Fourth street. It was originally a key safe, but after the fire was fitted out with a combination lock, a cheap contrivance long since out of date.

The money was in gold, silver and bank checks, postal or express orders, and had all been placed in a steel compartment or drawer in the bottom of the safe. This drawer fastens with an ordinary lock and key such as is used in bureaus or tables of ancient pattern. Marshal Holmes states that as far as he knows he holds the only key to the drawer, but this is a fact of little importance as the drawer could probably be opened with a button-hook or an ordinary wire.

So far no clue has been discovered pointing to the perpetrators of the deed, but several suspicious circumstances are being investigated. While on his way to work about half past 5, and while passing down Fourth street towards Mendocino, Al Reed, who is employed at Koenig’s stable, says he saw a man wearing a long coat and with his hands in his outside coat pockets, walking hurriedly out diagonally across Hinton avenue from the direction of the city hall toward the northeast entrance to the courthouse grounds. In the semi-darkness, Mr. Reed says, he at first took the stranger to be one of the officers, but such was not the case and he paid no further attention to him.

Charles Staley, a carpenter of this city, passed the city hall in company with his brother on his way to work shortly before 7 o’clock. Just at the entrance to the passageway leading from the street to the cell room in the rear he noticed a queer-looking object. Picking it up he discovered that it was a false beard and sidewhiskers. He carried it with him, examining it and laughing about the matter with his brother, until he had passed around the corner of the hall of records, onto Third street, when he tossed it up onto a window ledge of the latter building. Later Edward Beatty, coming down town from the opposite direction, saw it and picking it up brought it on down town with him. It is presumed that the false beard may have been part of the disguise used by the burglar.

About $400 of the money stolen was in the form of checks and current exchange. As none of the paper had been endorsed, and as its payment has been stopped, the actual loss will probably be about $600. Owing to the system of book-keeping employed in the marshal’s office the exact sum stolen could not be ascertained yesterday. The books are not balanced each day during tax-collecting time, but once a month. Monday was the last day allowed by law for the collection of city taxes and several thousand dollars was paid in. $3,748 was deposited in the Santa Rosa Bank Monday afternoon shortly after 3 o’clock. The usual list of belated taxpayers kept the collector busy yesterday, and the work of figuring out the exact amount missing was not completed last night. The task will be completed today, however.

Marshal Holmes states that when he left the office Monday evening about 10 o’clock everything was all right, and while he knew that the sum on hand was a large amount to have in such a place, it seemed about the only thing to do. Until recently Marshal Holmes had been in the habit of leaving any money on hand at night with T. A. Proctor, but Mr. Proctor not long ago notified him that it was against the rules of Wells, Fargo & Co. and the practice was accordingly discontinued. Upon being informed of the robbery Mr. Holmes at first thought that a joke was intended. Upon learning the true condition of affairs he at once informed Sheriff Grace and steps were taken to do everything possible towards apprehending the guilty parties.

– Press Democrat, November 20 1901

 

In his report concerning the accounts of City Tax Collector Holmes, Expert Pool states his inability to give the exact amount taken at the time of the alleged safe robbery in November, but shows there was a deficiency in the accounts of the tax collector’s office of $1299.16 on January 1, 1902.

– Press Democrat, January 8 1902

 

A SANTA ROSA SENSATION.
Popular City Official Said to Be Short in His Accounts.

The report of Expert William H. Pool on the amount of the shortage in the office of City Marshal and Tax Collector Charles H. Holmes of Santa Rosa was given to the common council at a meeting of that body Tuesday night.

In addition to the shortage of $1,299.16, which is due to the alleged robbery of the office on November 18th, the examination of the books discloses the fact that for a number of months during the last year the official has been in arrears in his settlements with the treasurer in amounts varying from $30 to $803.43. The latter amount was due the city on the first day of November, 1901. The marshal is ex-officio tax collector, and as such began the collection of taxes on October 21st. It is said he kept a crude record of his collections, but failed to make a balance of the receipts of any day during the period embraced from the date mentioned until the close of the collections on November 18th. During the time between 5 o’clock on the morning of November 19th, when Officers Herman Hankel, John M. Boyes and I. N. Lindley reported off duty, and 5:45 oclock when the janitress appeared on the scene to perform her labors, some one entered the office and opened the small safe. The taxes collected after banking hours on the 18th were in ths safe and the amount was extracted. Owing to the system of bookkeeping the entire receipts of the office had to be gone over to ascertain the amount of the shortage.

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, January 8 1902

 

EXPLAINS FIGURES
Interview With City Marshal Chas. H. Holmes Jr.
Denies Absolutely That He Was Short in His Accounts Previous to The Robbery on November 18

“…on October 17 I was square with the city except for a matter of some $34. On that date I figured up my books and paid over what I owed — or what I thought I owed. The way Mr. Pool figures it, I made a mistake of $34; but whether he is right or I was right, I certainly thought I was square with the city on that date. I did not make a complete settlement between that time and the date of the robbery just a month later, although of course I paid in different sums upon several occasions.
“That portion of Expert Pool’s report stating that I was behind with the city $803.43 on the first day of November, some two weeks before the robbery, while perhaps technically justified by figures, is not borne out by facts. On the date mentioned, as I remember, I paid a considerable sum over to the city treasurer several hours before the close of business….
“Some of the city papers have stated,” Mr. Holmes concluded, “that the affairs of my office were in bad shape for several months before the robbery. The report of the city’s own expert shows that just one month before the robbery occurred I was square with the city — or at least within thirty-four dollars of it, and as I say, I thought I was square to the last cent.”

– Press Democrat, January 10 1902

 

THE COIN PAID OVER
Text of the Protest Made by Marshal Holmes

“In line with what I stated at the first to the effect no one should lose the money but myself I idemnifled my bondsmen by a deed on my home for $800 advanced by them. I advanced $500 myself and will bring a suit for vindication, in the event of proving a robbery was committed, which I fully expect to do, shall leave the money in the City Treasury as the suit is brought for vindication alone.”

– Press Democrat, January 23 1902

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iva eyes2

CRAZY EYES

There were 49 prisoners awaiting execution but only one was a woman. That woman was Iva Kroeger.

On May 1, 1963 she was sentenced to death for the murders of Mildred and Jay Arneson and sent to the California Institution for Women at Frontera (AKA Corona State Prison) to await a decision on her appeal to the California Supreme Court. And to the surprise of many, the justices ordered her sentence be reconsidered on a technicality.

The court agreed her trial was fair and did not dispute her first degree murder conviction. But when giving instructions to the jury during the penalty phase of the trial, the judge erred by telling them a sentence to life imprisonment would make Iva eligible for parole, so there was a chance – however microscopic – she could be back on the streets in as little as seven years. Iva soon found herself headed back to San Francisco for a new (partial) trial.

But first: More medical reports – and guess what? The new experts contradicted all the previous experts!

Doctors at the state prison declared Iva had “chronic brain syndrome and central nervous system syphilis.” Her history of syphilis came up during the trial. A quarter-century earlier she was treated at a hospital and the medic at the San Francisco jail infirmary thought she had signs of paresis, which is a kind of chronic brain inflammation often found in late neurosyphilis. A doctor at the trial testified he didn’t believe it because she didn’t display the typical symptoms: “I won’t mention them unless you make me,” he said, “because she might have them tomorrow if I do.”

Iva was also seen by two new court-ordered psychiatrists. The three who had examined her before the trial said in court she was a “pathological liar” and a criminal sociopath putting on a show in hopes of avoiding punishment. The new crop of experts diagnosed her as fully psychotic.

Now certifiably physically and psychologically impaired, Iva was once again before Judge Neubarth, who had sentenced her to death almost exactly a year prior. This time she had two lawyers, one of them being famed litigator Melvin Belli whose law firm had also represented her in the damage suit over the injury that caused her incurable limp, which seemed to come and go.

Neubarth and the prosecutor had already agreed it would be a bench trial, as she was such a “mental defect” it would be inhumane to risk a new jury condemning her to death because such a verdict would be easily overturned on appeal. With no objections from her lawyers, Judge Neubarth reduced her sentence to life without parole. “When I say life, I mean life,” Neubarth stated. “She should never be returned to society. I am going to file a special report in which I will urge that she never be released.”

The hearing was over in 25 minutes and the shortened proceedings deprived Iva of a stage where she could perform for her fan club in the gallery. Still, she “…trundled into court in a wheelchair with her left leg bandaged heavily (apparently her own idea and not that of Corona physicians),” according to the San Francisco Examiner.

Afterwards she spoke with reporters in the hallway. “I never had a trial…I don’t believe the judge knowed the truth. I have 108 witnesses to prove my innocence.”

(Curiously, the Press Democrat didn’t have Bony Saludes or any other reporter at the hearing, choosing to print only a 150-word wire service brief which appeared in many other papers.)


HOW GUILTY WAS RALPH?

Iva and Ralph Kroeger were tried together for the Arneson murders, shared the same lawyer and both received a death penalty, but their trial judge rejected the jury’s decision and commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. The couple also filed their appeals to the California Supreme Court together – although the reasons asking for a mistrial were quite different.

Iva’s appeal had eight arguments that a white shoe lawyer might call desperatis precibus – let’s throw everything against the wall and see if anything sticks. Some of them were that she was forced to testify against herself, she didn’t have her own attorney, Ralph testified although he was her spouse and she deserved a sanity hearing even though the experts said she was not crazy. Most of these pleas were rejected because she had not brought them up as objections during the trial.

Ralph’s appeal had a single point: He should have had a separate trial. As summed up by the Supreme Court, he argued “…it is reasonable to believe he would have received a different verdict had the case been tried in the usual tranquil atmosphere of the courtroom, but that Iva’s misconduct during the trial so inflamed the jury that it returned its verdict against him out of passion and bias.” Again the high court tossed the argument because there weren’t earlier objections.

No one considered Ralph had any role in planning or committing the murders, and two of the newspaper reporters who covered the entire trial expected him to be acquitted. But he did tell deliberate lies in court and during questioning. Some of his statements and actions were likely to appease his volatile wife (see “The Hapless Husband” section in chapter two) but others point to him covering up crimes or suggest he knew more than he was willing to admit. Some examples:

*   In the summer of 1962 he claimed not to know the whereabouts of Iva, which he told authorities probably meant she was dead. In truth she was apparently hiding at the San Francisco house until she left on her cross-country bus trip in late June. Similarly Ralph said he never knew about or saw her two grandsons, even though a neighbor viewed Iva and Ralph with the kids through a window in August.

*   He said he believed Iva when she told him she was managing the Santa Rosa motel for a physician who bought it from Mildred Arneson in February, 1962. The prosecutor confronted Ralph for having said the mysterious doctor was paying for motel equipment two months before his supposed involvement.

*   Ralph denied cosigning bank loans from the Santa Rosa branch of Bank of America and the Exchange Bank. Handwriting experts testified it was indeed his signature under the name “Ralph Long,” the alias he and Iva used in Santa Rosa.

*   He never noticed the two crude concrete patches in his garage/basement, he insisted. Yet when the cement contractor came to pour a new floor and “picked up a sledgehammer and began to break some of the old cement,” stated the Supreme Court case overview, “The Kroegers angrily stopped him and said they did not want the concrete broken.”

So Iva went back to prison where she was supposed to stay until she died. Not that she minded it much; also in her hallway interview she said, “…I’ll be happy when I go back [to Corona] because they treat people like human beings down there.” In that era it was described as being like a college campus and the cell blocks like dormitories. It’s not hard to find interviews with prisoners insisting that no, it wasn’t all lollipops and puppies and yes, taxpayers should be assured they were being adequately punished.

A 1966 profile quoted the superintendent as saying she “looks very well.” Iva was being her usual sociable self according to the Oakland Tribune, “acting as a runner for the other sixty inmates in her cottage, carrying notes or going on errands.” Ralph wrote to her weekly and tapped his small pension to send her pin money to get cosmetics and such at the prison canteen. Later that year Ralph died of cancer at Folsom State Prison; he is buried at the Lakeside Memorial Lawn Cemetery in Folsom.

The article didn’t mention Iva’s trademark limp, but the superintendent said she was using crutches. She also told the paper that Iva was going blind. “She can’t see from one eye at all. We’re getting her started learning Braille.”

Gentle Reader may recall Iva had a permanently blown out left pupil (a condition known as anisocoria) but neither eye reacted to light. There are several possible causes of the condition; most often it’s from some sort of traumatic brain injury. During her months in Santa Rosa Iva incessantly complained she had to have an operation to fix her gimpy leg, but immediately after being apprehended by the FBI she switched gears – now some sort of expensive eye surgery was needed to save her vision. Anisocoria does not cause blindness.

Time passed. Iva and her horrible deeds were still rehashed in tabloid crime magazines. When reporters and cops who worked on the case retired or died, new details or observations emerged from interviews and obits: “She had 97 different personae. She could be anything she wanted to be.” “Every day was something new. She turned out to be a class A psychopath.” “She even admitted in court, when her husband was sentenced with her, that she had done it all by herself. ‘I lowered them into the hole with wires,’ she screamed.” Were all of those things true? Yeah, maybe. Sure.

The San Francisco Examiner kept track of her for awhile, with little items noting her first parole hearing in 1972 and how she always sent a Christmas poem to Judge Neubarth and birthday greetings to prosecutor Frank Shaw. When Governor Pat Brown made an inspection tour she told him “I was convicted by the newspapers,” and he muttered something that encouraged her to start boasting she would “have a job in the Brown administration” once she got out of the joint.

But it was the Press Democrat and not the Examiner that turned up the real scoop. Gaye LeBaron made an idle query in 1977 to find out how the state might treat a geriatric psychopathic killer. She was surprised to hear “the strange, stumpy, gabby little woman” was paroled in August, 1975. She had served 12 years and three months.


She’s 56 now [Ed: she was actually 59] and totally blind, perhaps from the same disease that killed her husband. Her parole officer says she uses her middle name, Lucille, makes no trouble, “she’s just a bit of a nuisance.” She rides all over Riverside on the city buses with her white cane and likes to tell people how she “served 13 years for a crime she didn’t commit.” She’s going to college, taking sociology classes at UC Riverside and UCLA both, and writing a book about her life which ought to be some story. She has become an active Scientologist and holds much hope for the future…

LeBaron remarked the terms of Iva’s parole (supposedly) legally enjoined her from returning to Northern California, but news that “Grandma” Kroeger was loose still caused “some sweaty palms in town.” The widow of Herbert Willsmore, the tradesman Iva threatened to shoot, said he believed to his dying day he was going to be her next murder victim. The Forestville couple who held the actual mortgage on the Santa Rosa Ave. motel likewise feared she was going to come after them.

In a subsequent column Gaye explained she tried to find out why the parole board released Iva despite her lack of contrition for the gruesome crimes and Judge Neubarth’s plea to toss away the cell door key after locking her up forever. Alas, LeBaron was told details of those prison records were lost in a fire. All we know is the board’s decision was “based on her behavior while she was incarcerated.”

Yet it’s très facile to picture the scene at the parole hearing – after all, she had rehearsed for this performance all of her adult life. Iva walks in – sorry, LIMPS in – with her white cane, probably leaning on the arm of an officer. She is so darn sweet and lovable and has suffered such a difficult life the most hard-hearted member of the parole board wants to reach out to give her a big hug and promise everything will be better. She is the kindest kind of grandmother and arises each dewy morn with a prayer that she will find new ways to inspire everyone to be their better selves. If such a saint doesn’t deserve clemency, then who?

(RIGHT: Iva Kroeger shortly after her 1962 arrest in San Diego. Photo enhanced using HotPot AI)ivaflutter

The most interesting question to debate is how much her near total blindness weighed in the board’s decision. It surely was impossible for her to offend again (not that she would!) and releasing a severely handicapped prisoner would save the Dept. of Corrections more than a few bucks – Gov. Brown was warning there was a need for “public sacrifice” in 1975 because of a very tight budget, even as the California prison population was growing year over year. On the flip side, she had no close family to help care for her and might require even more support from the state once freed.1

As Gaye LeBaron revealed, it turned out Iva was able to get along just fine. After her column appeared the Examiner followed with more details in its own Iva update. Her parole officer told the paper she lived alone in a small apartment in Riverside with an income of $334/mo. from Social Security and disability. “She has extremely limited vision, but she has gone to the Braille Institute and reads Braille very well.” Nonetheless, she had a B+ average at UC/Riverside and was majoring in sociology. And, of course, “she maintains her innocence to everyone.”

The saga of Iva Kroeger might have ended with her continuing on that path for the remainder of her life – content to be out of jail with no worries of being destitute, which seemed to be her driving fear. Free to pursue her offbeat metaphysical beliefs and pestering strangers for attention by wailing about her unjust fate.

But there’s a final chapter to her story that’s on par with many of the other outrageous stunts she pulled. Only this time there was an underlying question about herself that dwarfed the actual crime: Was Iva actually blind – or even visually impaired at all? Had she fooled prison officials, doctors and even the Braille Institute, she was unquestionably one of the greatest confidence artists of all time.

She disappeared after her parole ended in the early 1980s. Her former parole agent told LeBaron she was then living in Long Beach and a religious group in Hawaii offered a permanent administrative job (clue #1 she might not be totally blind). But she instead reverted to her original scam which was impersonating a nurse. She traveled around the country by bus, picking up convalescent jobs.

On one of those bus rides she met a real nurse from San Diego named Edna Weitzel and claimed to be a wealthy landlord who needed a trustworthy assistant to help manage her extensive real estate portfolio. Edna agreed to work for her and they spent a couple of days together gambling in Las Vegas before Iva disappeared. At the time Edna was unaware Iva had swiped her credentials until months later when she was notified by police looking for Iva.2


THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF IVA KROEGER

MURDER MOTEL ON SANTA ROSA AVE

GRANDMA’S MURDERS

ELUSIVE IVA, WHO IS EVERYWHERE

DISORDER IN THE COURT

CRAZY EYES

By 1983 she was mainly working in Florida, where she had relatives. Gentle Reader might recall when Iva was on the lam in 1962 she visited her son who lived near Fort Meyers, taking his young sons back to California with her, where she promptly abandoned them. Whether by coincidence or no, her brother and his extended family also had a home in a different Ft. Meyers suburb. That two branches of her family happened to be near each other would later confuse investigators and newspapers who assumed they must be the same.3

A crisis began in July 1986 when the 18 month-old daughter of Iva’s nephew drowned in a swimming pool. Her father was co-owner of a grocery in Cape Coral and was at work on the day of the child’s death. The nephew and his family didn’t believe his long hours played a role in the accident but Iva took the notion the toddler wouldn’t have died had he been home. Specifically, she blamed his partner Andy Pitcher for scheduling her nephew to be at the store at the time.

And then the death threats began. Instead of her usual M.O. of using an alias, she started calling the Pitcher home and making sure they knew it was Iva Kroeger on the line. “I’m an old woman and I’ve already served 16 years [sic] and the only thing I haven’t decided is how I’m going to kill you.” She had nothing to lose and “if you don’t believe me, check the records. I’ve killed before,” she reportedly said, before describing exactly how she murdered the Arnesons.

Iva told the family she knew “who took the kids to and from day care” and even “where he sat at church.” Pitcher bought a gun and told the kids not to play outside. Their housekeeper took their youngest children, age four and six, to stay with someone on the other side of the state.

Those harassing calls went on for weeks until there was a knock on the door at 12:30 AM. Andy Pitcher opened the door to see an elderly woman. When she asked if Andy lived there, he knew it was Iva. He noticed she was carrying a plastic bag with what appeared to be the barrel of a handgun sticking out the top.

“Hey, you’ve got the wrong house,” he told her.

Incredibly, the bluff worked. Iva wandered away and began waking up neighbors, claiming to be an aunt trying to find Andy’s house. He immediately called the police.

“This lady’s Iva Kroeger and she’s here to kill me!” Pitcher told the policeman answering the call, just as Iva was returning to his house.

Iva – always the most adroit of liars when cornered – gave the officer a fake name, said she was from out of town and lost, trying to find her nephew. She didn’t know anything about this Andy Pitcher fellow or why he was saying bad things about her.

The rookie cop believed the sweet old lady completely. He didn’t look in her bag and gave her a lift to a downtown Holiday Inn. And true to form, she disappeared. That was the last contact law enforcement would ever have with the infamous Iva Kroeger.

It took several weeks for word to reach California that Iva had resurfaced and was again threatening to kill someone. Both the Examiner and Press Democrat refreshed reader’s memories of the 25 year old Iva murder saga, while Gaye LeBaron tied up a crucial loose end: “Police in Cape Coral, Fla., said yesterday there was nothing to indicate she had difficulty seeing when she went to the home of a man she had declared responsible for the death of her grandnephew [sic] and threatened him with a gun.”

EPILOGUE

We know about her Florida escapades thanks to Cape Coral police detective David Stadelman. After Pitcher’s complaint reached his desk, Stadelman tumbled down the Iva Kroeger rabbit hole, spending a month looking into the history of the killer grandma before seeking a warrant for felony aggravated assault.

Detective Stadelman was a thorough investigator, although delving into Iva-ology from Florida couldn’t have been easy in 1987, sans internet and the ability to read all the old newspaper coverage of her life and crimes. He presumably contacted the San Francisco police and likely the FBI and Sonoma County sheriff as well. He soaked up all he could from the Pitchers and the family of Iva’s nephew. He studied her diaries and mementos left behind when she fled. And one of the things he found revealed she had been back to Santa Rosa.

She may have been (supposedly) prohibited from returning to Northern California but that was just while on parole. So although there was no legal prohibition from her being here afterward, it raises the question why she would want to do so – it’s a strain to imagine she had any friends in the area dating back to her crime spree a couple of decades earlier. And how was she supporting herself? Was she working here in nursing homes under an alias, as she did elsewhere?

Let’s jump now to 1989, over two years since she was last seen in Florida. Charlie Raudebaugh, the San Francisco Chronicle reporter who had covered all of Iva’s 1963 murder trial was now retired and living in Oakmont. One February morning he was at Montgomery Village where “he spotted two women about 10 feet away, obviously killing time waiting for a shop to open,” as he said to Gaye LeBaron. Here’s what else he told her:


… One was tall and white haired, quite well dressed. He said he thought, “There’s a dignified-looking middle-aged lady taking her mother out,” and then he realized the “mother” was Iva Kroeger. “Her gestures were the same. She had the same gimp (Kroeger was lame). She moves her hands in an unmistakable scoop-like fashion.” He is absolutely certain it is the same woman who led police on a nationwide chase and made horrifying headlines so many years ago. She realized she was being watched and looked at Raudebaugh. “There was a light of recognition,” Charlie said. “Her gaze intensified and then she turned away”…The woman Raudebaugh saw Monday had no white cane.

As with the Press Democrat’s Bony Saludes, the trial was arguably the biggest and most memorable story of his career. Counting the court hearings before and after, Raudebaugh spent about three months within a few feet of Iva. Sure, he possibly could have mistaken someone else for her – goddesses know so many people did when she was a fugitive – but there were few who could be considered a more reliable witness to identify her. But again, why in the world would she be comfortable being back in Santa Rosa?

Whether or not he really spotted Iva here in 1989, she was then 71 years old and a woman with few options left. It’s impossible to imagine the family would have anything more to do with her. She probably couldn’t get anyone to hire her; even with a stolen or fake ID stating she was younger (and you just know she would have had one) she was a petite and frail-looking old lady who hardly seemed capable of the long hours and physical rigors of convalescent nursing. Perhaps that “dignified-looking middle-aged lady” was someone she conned into supporting her, at least for the moment.

Hard times were on the horizon. We know that in Oct. 1991 she was in contact with Social Security, probably to update records on where her checks should be sent. She was then living in Boston at the Pine St. Inn. It was a homeless shelter.

The charity had a “Women in Transition” program, funded by HUD and the Massachusetts welfare dept. where indigent women could stay up to two years until permanent housing could be found. Iva had reverted to using her birth name Lucille and had also reverted to using a white cane. A May 20, 1993 article in the Boston Globe mentioned her: “Lucille Kroeger, 69, and a Women in Transition guest, is blind and listens to tapes from the Perkins School for the Blind in her cheerfully-decorated room. She has written 418 poems, many at the inn.”

Shortly after that she was moved to St. Helena’s House, a 73 apartment building for the elderly owned by the Boston Archdiocese. Iva lived there the rest of her life.

Iva Lucille Kroeger died June 26, 2000 at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, which was Harvard’s teaching hospital. She had cervical cancer but her cause of death was a heart attack. Her remains were cremated.

True to form, her death certificate contained multiple lies. She was 81 (not 77). She had taken a couple of years of college classes but had not completed two years towards a specific degree. She wasn’t a homemaker. She didn’t own a house. And her name was never legally Iva. In death as in life, she wrapped herself in fog.

 

1 A 1974 paper in Stanford Law Review stated paroled inmates in California were required to participate in a work or training furlough program on release. That article, however, was specifically about men and does not say what conditions were imposed on those who were disabled and/or elderly.

2 Curiously, no articles about the 1986 incidents can be found in any Florida newspapers currently online. Besides the Press Democrat items cited below, the main source of information came from the Feb. 15 1987 San Francisco Examiner.

3 “The Florida police say she isn’t a Grandma at all, that the children she traveled with in 1962 and abandoned in Oakland weren’t her grandsons but her nephews. One of them may be the father of the drowned child which set her off on her latest rampage.” Gaye LeBaron, Feb. 18 1987

 

sources

 

(Press Democrat articles related to this chapter only)

 

LAWYER HAGERTY TO APPEAL LIFE SENTENCE FOR RALPH (May 2 1963, no byline)

HIGH COURT REVERSES IVA’S DEATH SENTENCE (March 31 1964, UPI byline)

KROEGER RETRIAL TO START (May 13 1964, no byline)

IVA ESCAPES GAS CHAMBER (July 3 1964, no byline)

IVA KROEGER GOING BLIND IN PRISON (February 27 1966, Oakland Tribune reprint)

SR KILLER DIES IN PRISON (August 26 1966, no byline)

GAYE LEBARON (October 16 1977)

GAYE LEBARON (October 28 1977)

GAYE LEBARON (October 14 1984)

GAYE LEBARON (October 24 1984)

KILLER GRANDMA HUNTED IN FLORIDA (February 16 1987, Robert Digitale byline)

GAYE LEBARON (February 18 1987)

‘SWEET’ IVA KROEGER’S GRIM CAREER (February 22 1987, Bony Saludes byline)

FLORIDA POLICE STILL PURSUE ELUSIVE LITTLE OLD LADY (February 22 1987, no byline)

GAYE LEBARON (March 2 1987)

GAYE LEBARON (February 15 1989)

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guiltytitle

DISORDER IN THE COURT

It wasn’t a courtroom; it was a theater stage, it was a circus ring, it was the geek tent at the carnival sideshow. It was the 1963 double murder trial of Iva Kroeger and since you couldn’t attend in person, you eagerly soaked up every news report describing her daily antics.


ABOUT THIS SERIES

This wasn’t intended to be a story about Iva Kroeger’s murders.

My original purpose was to write a tribute to Bony (Boniface) Saludes, who died May 21, 2023. He was a reporter for the Press Democrat and his colleague, Chris Smith, wrote a fine obituary which I ask you to please read.

Bony’s career began in the PD’s Golden Age, which was (in my opinion) the twenty years following WWII; I’ve written about that era and the paper’s stable of talented writers. As he was usually the crime/courthouse reporter the kind of news stories he covered sometimes stretched over weeks or months, and it takes a special talent to write and edit that kind of longform journalism. You have to presume subscribers remain familiar with the bones of the story so every article doesn’t have to rehash basic details, yet still provide enough context to make it clear why the latest developments are newsworthy. His coverage of the Iva and Ralph Kroeger murder trial was a masterpiece of this sort of narrative. What better way to salute him than highlighting excerpts from his coverage?

Problem was, Bony Saludes’ excellent court reportage won’t make much sense unless Gentle Reader understands why Iva was on trial. Normally I would offer a short summary of the backstory and offer a link to find more information elsewhere online. But there’s no Wikipedia page about her and while there are umpteen entries on the internet about her crimes, none are very thorough and all have errors, sometimes large. Thus to showcase Bony’s work it was necessary to first properly introduce Iva. Not that doing so was much of a sidetrack; comments on social media about this series shows there are many Santa Rosans who remember her story and the unpleasant attention she brought to town.

The trial lasted over two months. Bony’s articles totaled north of 25,000 words, which is about what you would expect an experienced journalist to produce in that period of time – except, of course, he wasn’t working from a desk in the newsroom, but spending his days in a San Francisco courtroom covering the proceedings. Essentially he was working two full-time jobs, which makes the quality of his work even more remarkable.

While this chapter mainly concerns the trial, kudos goes to all of the Press Democrat’s reporting on the Iva Kroeger story. If it wasn’t for the bulldog tenacity of reporter Neale Leslie, the Sonoma County sheriff and other agencies might never have suspected the sweet old grandma of cold-blood murder. Reliving the arc of events today through the paper’s 1962-63 coverage is captivating and sure to leave you with more than a few goosebumps.

Iva was captured by the FBI in September 1962 and the trial would not commence until the following January. She and husband Ralph would be put on trial together and they shared the same defense attorney, Emmet Hagerty of San Francisco.

After Iva had been in jail six weeks – interrupted only by court appearances for the Grand Jury indictments and attorney delays (including an effort to move proceedings to Santa Rosa per a theory the murders were committed here) – she pleaded innocent by reason of insanity and Ralph made a plea of simple innocence. The judge appointed three psychiatrists to interview her and a month later, all agreed she was sane at the time of the murders.

The trial potentially would have three phases. Should the jury find Ralph and Iva innocent, proceedings would be over. But if the verdict was guilty, the next phase would consider whether Iva was insane at the time of the murders. And if she was found sane, jurors would decide between the death penalty or another sentence. There were eight women and four men on the final jury.

In the interim before the trial there were several new developments. The Santa Rosa branch of Bank of America had already filed an attachment on the Santa Rosa Ave. motel and the San Francisco house for $5,000 plus attorney fees. She further had loans from Exchange Bank for $1,177 and a Bank of America branch in San Francisco for $3,100 – taken together, the equivalent to $92k today. Another lien on the property was made by John Mazurek of San Francisco, who had one of those Believe-it-or-Not! encounters with Iva the con artist. It seemed she answered his 1961 classified ad to sell a dining room set. Iva didn’t pay Mazurek for the furniture, of course, but also borrowed $975 from him (!!) – I swear, that woman’s powers of persuasion were supernatural. His lien was for $1275, covering the sale price of the dinette and the loan she didn’t pay back.

Gentle Reader might recall from part one that a couple of months after Mildred Arneson’s disappearance her family received a mysterious telegram and typewritten letter demanding all of them to “keep your nose out of my affairs.” It was so out of character they had no question someone else had written them, but the Sonoma County sheriff’s investigator only yawned. But when the department did bother to ask questions about the letter they discovered Iva had borrowed the typewriter from Inez, the Native American woman who lived in Santa Rosa and often acted as Iva’s chauffeur. As for it being postmarked from Tijuana, Inez told them Iva was in San Diego at that time (probably attending Rosicrucian Fellowship meetings).

There was also pre-trial chatter about whether Mildred was killed in Santa Rosa or San Francisco, much of the speculation centered on a large steamer trunk that was at the motel. What happened to it? Was it the same trunk that would hold Mildred’s body?

On December 16 1961 – the day after Mildred was supposedly murdered – Iva hired two local kids to empty out a trunk which fit the general description of the one found in Mildred’s grave. After the boy and girl burned the contents in the oil drums behind the motel, Iva paid them $1 each and bought a canary for the girl (Bony Saludes mentioned she named the bird “Pretty Girl,” which was a nice detail). Inez, who drove Iva between Santa Rosa and San Francisco several times, said the trips involved hauling furniture and other items but she did not recall a trunk being part of a load.

The day after Walter Hughes dug Jay Arneson’s grave in San Francisco (or a few days thereafter), Iva hired him to dig a hole at the motel in the carport of Unit Four. The owner of the neighboring motel, Nigel Dodge, saw it shortly afterward and told the PD it was big enough for a body, but not a trunk. He later noticed it had been further expanded and could now possibly fit a trunk. “Somebody else finished digging that hole,” he told the PD, “and I think it was Mrs. Kroeger.”

When the sheriff’s office did “clue digging” at the motel they found no trunk, but the soil was disturbed to a depth of four feet. The detective’s working theory at the time was that Iva killed Mildred in Santa Rosa, placed the remains in the zipper bag and buried it for a few days in the carport hole until she had the chance to sneak the body and trunk down to San Francisco. (Revealing the sheriff’s poor grasp of the timeline, note that the hole was actually dug a month after Mildred was killed.)

That brings us to the only unsolved mystery in the story: Who dug Mildred’s grave in the garage?

The police believed it was a man named Leo Minick, another of Iva’s handymen that were seemingly ever present. Minick, his wife and five kids showed up at the Santa Rosa motel two or three days after Mildred’s disappearance and he did odd jobs around the place as well as driving Iva somewhere on “side trips.” Iva refused to pay him (surprise!) so Minick forged an $80 check from “Eva Long” and cashed it at the A&B Market on Petaluma Hill Road before skipping town. When the check bounced and cops asked for her help in finding him, she refused to cooperate and declined to file a complaint against him. Minick was never found although his name significantly pops up later in our story.

While jury selection was underway in mid-January 1963, Iva set the tone by again insisting she was born in Germany and not as old as the press had reported. Then she pulled this stunt:


Mrs. Kroeger, [the] unpredictable 44-year-old grandmother who now claims she’s 41, got the trial off to a surprising start by going through the motions of casting a spell on one of the prosecuting lawyers. During the noon recess, she broke free from Deputy Sheriff Matron Anne Barrett, reached into her bosom and draped a string of Rosary beads over the shoulder of Assistant District Attorney Frank Shaw, and whispered something into his ear before scuttling away. Mr. Shaw, who said he did not understand her remarks, brushed the beads off his shoulder before realizing what they were. He picked them up and handed them to Defense Attorney Emmet Hagerty saying, “I think these belong to your client.”

Asked what her intended message was supposed to be, she said “I just wanted to remind him of the chains he put on me.” That wasn’t the only time she dabbled in courtroom voodoo. During jury selection a woman said she couldn’t serve because Iva was giving her the “evil eye.” She also threatened some sort of astrological curse on witnesses whose testimony she didn’t like. From the SF Examiner: “‘I want to make up some charts. I’m going to find out the birthdays of all the people in that trial…’ and her voice dropped, ‘and if any of them is lying maybe I’ll come up with some surprises.'”


THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF IVA KROEGER

MURDER MOTEL ON SANTA ROSA AVE

GRANDMA’S MURDERS

ELUSIVE IVA, WHO IS EVERYWHERE

DISORDER IN THE COURT

CRAZY EYES

From the first day of the trial all 125 seats in the courtroom gallery were filled and Iva played to her audience. “Iva made several sudden outbursts which brought rumbles and laughter from the spectators.” wrote Bony Saludes in the PD. As the week progressed, the line of people seeking to watch the trial kept growing and part of the corridor outside the courtroom was roped off to keep the crowd manageable.

Of all the reporters covering the trial, only Bony seemed to appreciate how important the gallery was to the proceedings. Other newspapers sensationalized Iva’s insanity stunts while casting court proceedings as her backdrop. But in the PD stories the spectators were highlighted for serving as a kind of Greek Chorus, cheering, laughing, booing and otherwise encouraging Iva’s performance. It was an important part of the courtroom scene.

The next day was even worse with Iva continuously interrupting proceedings, but the judge never threatened to eject her or hold her in contempt. He was so remarkably tolerant it likely further encouraged her to escalate her misbehavior:

Judge Neubarth, a grey-haired jurist with a kind face and easygoing disposition, has sat practically unnoticed throughout the trial. He conducts his courtroom with a homey atmosphere, allowing reporters and photographers to roam at will and not once has he admonished spectators for their outbursts of laughter when Iva postures or when testimony is comical. Fact is, he has joined in the laughter on several occasions.

It’s nigh impossible to overstate what a big deal the murder trial of Iva and Ralph was in the Bay Area. There were six reporters covering it full time, not counting star bloviators who sometimes parachuted into the courtroom to claim a trial byline.1 In their quest to win the day for their newspaper there were exaggerations and facts made up, sometimes making it difficult to interpret what really happened in court. On November 27, for example, the Oakland Tribune described Iva appearing “serene” with her face unlined with worry. Yet in the Press Democrat, “both look glum and showed the strain of 10 weeks of incarceration.”

There was further a nasty situation with Ed Montgomery, a San Francisco Examiner crime reporter who falsely claimed credit for breaking the case. Montgomery – who had won a 1951 Pulitzer for a series on tax fraud – went on Channel 2/KTVU and said he tracked down Walter Hughes and uncovered the snapshot of Iva and Ralph standing in front of the motel. He boasted he had an exclusive on the story until the bodies were found, which was too much for Sonoma County Undersheriff Joseph Cozzolino to bear. The officer was interviewed by the Press Democrat, where he correctly pointed out that PD reporter Neale Leslie did all the initial investigating and Montgomery was only rewriting what appeared in the Santa Rosa paper. “Tell me, how can he get away with something like that? Doesn’t the truth mean anything?” Worse, Newsweek repeated Montgomery’s claims. When contacted by the PD the magazine’s senior editor agreed they had been misled, but apparently did not print a retraction.

At times the courtroom had an air of normalcy; witnesses were called, testimony was given, there was no cause for the kindly judge to admonish anyone.

Employees of The Emporium in San Francisco were apparently the last to see Mildred alive on December 15, which was also the day that Mildred went to the Santa Rosa notary to sign over the motel’s deed to Iva (as noted in part one). A motel tenant told the jury he saw Iva and Mildred together at the motel between 5-6PM and the department store clerks testified the women were shopping there in the evening. The prosecution argued Iva and Mildred went from the store to Iva’s home where she committed the murder.

The FBI agent who arrested her in San Diego testified the first things she said when caught was, “I’m glad it’s over,” and “I don’t know anything about those people up there”

New details emerged about her custody of grandsons Charlie and Willie. A bus with the three of them arrived in San Francisco on Aug. 15 and the next day she tried to place them in a private foster home. Telling the home’s operator their names were Kenneth and Patrick (the names of her actual adult sons) and she had been sent by the welfare department, the place only had room for the older boy. Iva returned a day later and took him back, saying she would return him after the weekend. The operator testified she did not see Iva or the boys again. When the jury was shown photos of the children she began yelling. “These are my babies! They’re mine! They’re my babies!” Turning to reporters, she insisted, “They’re my babies! I’m not their grandmother. They’re my own!”

Her attorney made the startling claim that Iva was completely innocent – the real killers were Inez and handyman Leo Minick. It was such a bizarre Hail Mary defense the lawyer didn’t even try to prove motive or opportunity. Neither of them were around at the time of Mildred’s murder and they didn’t know each other, much less have any reason to kill the Arnesons.

Despite her regular outbursts, Iva had not seriously interrupted the trial during its first three weeks. All that changed as week four began.

On that February 4th sometimes she was cheery; she pointed to a juror and waved, calling out “That’s Domino! Hi, Domino!” Sometimes she cast herself as a victim, charging the prosecutor of stealing $20,000 from her safety deposit box and the police matron of beating her with wet towels. Often she repeated her demand for a mistrial. “Let’s go to San Jose. A million Rosicrucians in San Jose say I’m not getting a fair trial here!”

Bony Saludes wrote of that day: “Iva went on a rampage. She threw temper tantrums, hurled accusations at the prosecution, wrestled with the matron and for the first time in the trial, she shed real tears. Iva, her limp and her disposition growing progressively worse, also became embroiled in several heated arguments with Defense Lawyer Emmet Hagerty…at the end of the day, Mr. Hagerty, his face flushed, indicated he was just about fed up with Iva’s tactics. ‘She’s getting progressively worse,’ he said. ‘I don’t know if I can stop her from here on out.'”

That was also the day the prosecution said it was resting its case, which caught attorney Hagerty off guard. Saludes reported the lawyers met with the judge in chambers where Hagerty named several new witnesses he intended to call. Most intriguing were officers of the federal District Court in Chicago, where Iva was allegedly found to be “border-line mental deficient” for impersonating a Navy nurse in 1945. He also wanted to subpoena doctors from the Stealey Medical Clinic in San Diego, who found – again, allegedly – Iva was schizophrenic. Alas, none of those experts testified, and those potential witnesses were never mentioned again. The best Hagerty could do was have a San Francisco county jail physician testify he thought she was schizophrenic. But under cross examination, the PD reported the internist “conceded he was not an expert in psychiatry but said he felt qualified to diagnose a mental disorder.”

Later in the trial, one of the court-appointed psychiatrists said “She is cunning, cruelly vindictive, cool and calculated. She has evil conduct and is a devil.”

Her mind “works like a Swiss watch,” he said, and she was “a very, very good actor as good as or better than actors on stage or on television” leading Iva to pipe up, “I never watch television.” She was fully aware of what she was doing and did not actually have delusions, the doctor said. Asked what treatment he would give her as a patient, he answered “I’d pray. She’s not normal, she’s naughty.”

The main hope of Iva’s lawyer was the jury not find her guilty of first degree murder, which could mean the gas chamber. “Her mental capacity is such that she could not form and hold premeditation and the specific intent necessary to commit first degree murder,” he said. She had a “supercharged mother impulse” and was prone to hallucinations. When he began to mention the situation with her grandsons she interrupted him: “Oh, no, they’re my own babies, I’m no grandma, they’re my babies.”

The three court-ordered psychiatrists were clear: She wasn’t crazy. One stated the main thing wrong with her was that she was a “pathological liar.” During their four sessions she couldn’t keep any story straight, even concerning trivial details about her past. He did concede “she has emotional disturbances and is on the borderline of psychosis” which caused Iva to blurt out, “I’m the mother of God!”

19630208pd
The trial was not without its big reveals. Recall from the previous chapter that a few months after Jay Arneson was killed, Iva hired a contractor to pour concrete in the San Francisco garage. When he finished she told him she couldn’t pay unless he gave her a ride down to Oceanside, where she could retrieve bonds stored in a safety deposit box. There were no bonds (of course) and the poor man was never paid. It came out in court she pulled the same stunt with another workman the same month, this time convincing a guy to drive her to Cheyenne, Wyoming. That fellow was Herbert Willsmore, who had installed a water softener system at the motel and was the man who Iva threatened with a gun – a weapon she had stolen from the concrete flooring contractor during his futile roadtrip with Iva. More about this very strange trip to Wyoming in a moment.

Willsmore was asked by the defense attorney whether he knew Ralph and Iva. “I have good cause to be acquainted with them,” he answered. “They tried to kill me.” At that point Iva began shouting. From the PD:

“He’s an FBI man, he said he was an FBI man. You’re lying. Let’s see you get your FBI card out.” Mr. Willsmore said his financial dealings with Iva were “real strange” and that she “set me up” to obtain money. “I laid the ground work so that she could embezzle the Bank of America in Santa Rosa,” Mr. Willsmore said. “Everything she done was diabolic. She set up everything in advance.”

To the sage legal advice of absolutely no one, Iva’s attorney wanted her to testify in her own defense. When called to the stand she refused and began screaming she needed her “papers” stored in a safety deposit box at the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco.

Bony Saludes wrote: “Iva jumped from her chair and banged her hand on the table, shouting ‘Not until I get my papers.’ From here on out the dignity of the court was completely shattered – everyone was talking at once, the prosecution objecting, the defense counter-objecting, Iva continuing to scream at everyone, and the spectators hooting and laughing…she took off her right shoe, waved it around and then banged it on the table before her husband reached out to restrain her. Later when asked what she intended to do with the shoe, Iva said, ‘I had a nail in it. See?'”

Spoiler alert: It took a couple of days for the lawyers to gain access to the bank box. Inside they only found “old receipts, insurance papers and a notebook with nine black pages.” [Ed: Typo? “nine BLANK pages”?]

When she did limp to the witness stand the next day – without those important “papers” – Iva declared she was completely innocent and never had much to do with the Arnesons, whom she presumed were living happily in Brazil. “Iva, hardly stopping to take a breath, rambled for an hour about injustices and indignities she said she suffered for many years…” wrote Saludes. She said “I was born with syphilis and have a 20-year [astrological] chart that Nicodemus [prosecutor Mayer] here didn’t get hold of. I’ve been psychiatric all my life. It’s no shame to be born that way.”

“Iva’s testimony was confusing,” reporter Saludes remarked. “At times she was incoherent, jumping from one story to another. She would begin one sentence, then trail off on another subject as a new thought flashed through her mind.”

But what she really wanted the jury to know concerned the man who supposedly had been blackmailing her for years, threatening to expose her impersonation of a Navy nurse after WWII. Although she told investigators after her arrest she didn’t know his name (but described him as “tall, reddish blond, maybe 40 or 50”) she now could reveal it was a Santa Rosa businessman: Herbert Willsmore, the water softener guy.

Iva had obviously worked up a sweat developing her lunatic storyline. The tale had her first meeting Willsmore in a San Francisco bowling alley in the late 1950s, then running into him by chance at a Santa Rosa dime store in 1961. (Wait, wasn’t she supposedly paying her blackmailer for five years? Oh, well…) Herb introduced her to the Arnesons and told her to purchase their interest in the motel. He was always present when she was with Mildred. Herb and the cement contractor formed a conspiracy to murder and bury the Arnesons.

Then there was the trip to Wyoming. No, the purpose wasn’t to fetch bonds from a safety deposit box so she could pay him; it was Willsmore’s plan to find Mildred’s ex-husband because. She put an extra horrible twist on her lie by telling the jury that Herb stopped the car in the Nevada desert, pulled out a gun and “took improper liberties with her.”

Spectators surely anticipated Iva’s testimony would be prime entertainment, but she was nothing if not unpredictable. From the PD: “Some who were delighted at first became somewhat disgusted over the manner in which Iva was answering questions. She was argumentative, demanding, stubborn, evasive and repetitious. She went into long, disjointed dissertations on irrelevent matters and continuously insisted, she was insane.”

The trial had now been going on for four weeks and the courthouse scene was growing rowdy, the PD reported.

The crowd, meanwhile, has become larger and more unruly as the trial progresses. Extra police were on hand last week attempting to keep order. Minor fights and arguments developed both outside and inside the courtroom by spectators trying to get in and trying to get a seat once they got inside. The inner-rail area was about as jammed as the spectator section. So many “friends of the court” decided to take in the trial, that some members of the press found themselves without a place to sit except the floor. Easy-going Superior Judge Harry J. Neubarth for the first time Friday admonished spectators to refrain from laughing or he would have to clear the courtroom.

On her fourth day on the stand, “Iva staged one of the most spectacular courtroom dramas in San Francisco’s court history,” wrote Bony Saludes. Aside from calling Ralph her father, she claimed not to know anyone in court, why she was there, or where she lived. She sang “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” because “That’s what I used to sing to my babies – the ones they took away from me, you know.” She shouted, “My name’s the Mother of God!”

Her lawyer insisted Iva was “emotionally unhinged…her bizarre behavior shows a mind that is out of touch with reality. She is completely spent and her mind is without power to react.” The prosecutor wearily answered, “She’s done just what the court-appointed psychiatrists predicted. She put on the same act in front of them.” As she wrapped up her non-testimony, the PD described how she stunned the court:

…she grabbed for documents at the prosecution table and started rummaging through them, shouting, “Where’s my papers?” The matron and the bailiff took her by the arms. She screamed and fought to break loose, then the bailiff picked her up and carried her out of the courtroom and put her into a holding cell adjacent to the courtroom. Her hysteria continued for 10 minutes, her screams resounding through the corridors in the third floor of the Hall of Justice. She was still screaming when a matron put her on an elevator to take her to her jail cell. When she was brought down for the afternoon session, Iva was crying and her eyes contained a far-away look.

Unbelievably, the next day was even crazier:

Iva Kroeger threw a fit in court today, passing out and going into a convulsion just before her trial started. The latest wild episode erupted as the accused trunk murderess entered the courtroom, walked briskly to her attorney’s table and pushed his briefcase on the floor. She then turned to the prosecutor’s table, scattered his papers on the floor and yelled, “Free papers for everyone.” When a matron tried to restrain her, Iva fought, fell to the floor, went into a convulsion and appeared to froth at the mouth.

Undated, uncredited photo of Ralph and Iva Kroeger with police matron
Undated, uncredited photo of Ralph and Iva Kroeger with police matron

She was taken to the county jail infirmary and sedated. The attending physician said “it apparently was a hysterical attack.” The prosecutor told the Oakland Tribune: “Of course she’s upset; Ralph is testifying against her.” That wasn’t exactly the case, but his testimony certainly left the impression she was more conniving than crazy.

Yep, on the day Mildred was supposedly murdered, Iva was gone until the following morning. Nope, Jay Arneson couldn’t lift his hands to fight someone from strangling him because he was so weak from Parkinson’s Disease. Yep, Iva hired Santa Rosa handyman Walter Hughes to dig the hole that became Jay’s grave.

What likely shocked jurors was how complaisant Ralph was about her siphoning off what very little money they had, to be used for purposes unknown. When he was working they lived on $35-40/week because she supposedly needed expensive blood transfusions. After he quit his manual labor job to do Iva’s bidding in fixing up the Santa Rosa motel, he tapped a savings account to cover weekly expenses (including those imaginary blood transfusions). And after she took off on her cross-country getaway to avoid arrest for threatening to shoot Herb Willsmore, one of her first stops was Pine Bluff Colorado, where Ralph happily lived for many years and still maintained a savings account with $6,000 in it. She forged a check and took every cent without mentioning it to him.

By the time week six of the trial began, Iva dialed down her crazy act – she still was loud and obnoxious but there was no more writhing on the floor or snatching things away from lawyers. Sometimes the mood in the courtroom was downright chummy, as if Iva were simply an eccentric doyenne at a big dinner party.

“Iva babbled on so much that Judge Neubarth finally told her to be quiet. ‘If you stopped talking my headache would go away,’ the judge said. ‘You got a headache?’ she asked. ‘Yes.’ the judge said. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘put a cold cloth on your forehead. That helps me when I have a headache.'” When another court session finished, spectators clustered together at the gallery rail to be as close to her as possible. “Goodbye, everyone!” She called to them. “Goodbye, Iva,” they chirped in reply.

Seymour Ellison, her attorney in the lawsuit over the auto injury that (supposedly) gave her the limp, was called to testify and submitted to the court an odd suicide note Iva had sent to his office several months earlier.2 In a comic moment described in the PD, Ellison, the prosecutor, the defense attorney and the judge all got lost in the weeds, giving Iva the final word:

His testimony was punctuated by verbal skirmishes among him, Mr. Mayer, Mr. Hagerty, the judge, and of course, Iva. At one point, Judge Neubarth commented to the jury, “See what happens when three lawyers get together?” During a pause Mr. Ellison was thumbing through some documents at the conclusion of one of the heated arguments, Judge Neubarth asked, “What are we looking for?” “I don’t know,” Mr. Mayer said. “I don’t know,” Mr. Ellison said. “I don’t think none of them know anything,” Iva shouted. drawing chuckles from the spectators.

The prosecutor’s closing arguments spanned two days, the first one a marathon of three hours and 15 minutes. A reason it took so long was because he was “under a severe handicap – the constant heckling and outbursts by Iva Kroeger,” wrote Bony Saludes, who kept track of 150 times Iva interrupted him. “It was necessary for Mr. Mayer to speak loudly to drown out the 44-year-old accused murderess’s comments. Sometimes he just gave up and rested his head on his fists, waiting for Iva to stop ranting. Her husband, Ralph Kroeger, meanwhile, sat quietly and tried to restrain his wife by poking her in the elbow.”

But Iva was even more disruptive on day two: She fell asleep in court. “Your honor,” said her defense attorney, “I think she’s either asleep or drugged.”

Unable to rouse her, she was carried out in her chair to the county jail infirmary. The press speculated this incident was related to the muscle relaxant pills a physician had prescribed following her seizure-like event two weeks earlier. (The jail physician later diagnosed it was probably hyperventilation.) She was back for the afternoon court session and made a show of her drowsiness, yawning, closing her eyes and announcing how sleepy she was. Saludes suggested the jurors found this off-putting: “Most members of the four-man, eight-woman jury ignored Iva’s comments. Some deliberately looked up to the ceiling and others gazed at Iva with a disgusted look.”

The only small surprise in the prosecutor’s long-winded summation was insisting Ralph was as guilty of first degree murder as Iva – by not keeping a tight rein on his “missus” he became part of conspiracy. Reread that sentence again and then take a walk around the block to cool off.

He did bring up a salient point almost never mentioned in the mountain of news coverage – that the reason Iva came to Santa Rosa was because she had already targeted the Arnesons as prey. (He overlooked, however, that it was reported Iva first met Mildred and Jay Arneson at a September, 1961 Rosicrucian lecture in San Francisco.)

Mr. Mayer also made an issue of how the Kroegers happened to pick Santa Rosa as a place to live. “Did they really go to Santa Rosa to avoid creditors?” Mr. Mayer asked. “And did they just happen to register at the Blue Bonnet Motel? Or was it that somewhere along the line they had met (the Arnesons)… Mr. Mayer read a letter which Mrs. Arneson wrote on Dec. 14, 1961 in which she said she had met a rich woman who was going to lend her $10,000 and that she was going to go to Brazil. It was Mildred’s life-long dream to leave the country and go to Brazil,” Mr. Mayer said. “She had problems at the motel and she had a problem with Jay. “It wasn’t difficult for someone with a clever, conniving mind to work on Mildred. She was a cinch for someone like Mrs. Kroeger.”

Given that there were 189 exhibits, everyone expected the jury to be out several days. Bony Saludes polled the five other reporters who had covered the trial daily. All thought Iva would be found sane and guilty; four thought Ralph would be convicted of first or second degree murder and a couple thought he might even be acquitted. The jury deliberated only 5 hours and 12 minutes and found both Iva and Ralph guilty of murder, first degree.

When it came, Iva reacted with relative composure. It was Ralph Kroeger, usually impassive who seemed moved to violence. Some observers read frank fury on his face. His face drained of its color. He clenched and unclenched his massive, calloused hands. “They is dead wrong,” he muttered, bitterly. She moaned slightly. Then her breath rate began to increase and she repeated between gasps, “I don’t know nothing about nothing.” She had shouted the phrase before during the trial, but now she whispered huskily. She was silent as she got to her feet to begin her limping exit. Suddenly she blurted, “I’ve got a clean clear conscience.” Then she said savagely, “Them jury people must have got paid off.”

Iva’s sanity trial began after the jury had a break of a couple weeks. The same psychiatrists came back and said the same things: Yes, she was sane and yes, she knew what she was doing at the time of the killings. Iva was a criminal sociopath who was putting on a show in hopes of avoiding punishment. “She’s in a jam, she knows she’s in a jam and there’s nothing deluded about that.”

New information came out about her medical history – she was treated for syphilis at the Louisville General Hospital in 1938, four years after her marriage. Yet “the fact that a person has had syphilis does not give that person a permit to kill someone and throw them in a basement,” Chief Prosecutor Francis Mayer remarked.

The jury agreed with the psychiatrists: She wasn’t insane and knew right from wrong. Asked if he expected that decision, Ralph said “Yep, I guess so, but I think she’s nuts.”

With that over, the trial moved to its third phase: deciding how Ralph and Iva should be punished. By now the jury had been in session for ten weeks.

After deliberating 7¼ hours over two days, the verdict for both of them was death.

Ralph stood up and addressed the jury. “I request you to be present at the execution. And I want [the prosecutors] to drop the [gas chamber cyanide pellets] in person. I want them to finish the job. They seem to want it. Let them have it. I’d rather have death than prison.”

The unpredictable Iva pulled out all stops. She confessed to being in the garage and watching Mildred Arneson die. “I was there, sure. Sure. Where else. But I was doped.” The riveting scene was described in the PD: “[She] talked rapidly and the more she talked the louder her voice resounded in the courtroom. She shouted and gestured wildly as the huge crowd of spectators closed in, some pushing and others merely staring blandly.”

“We didn’t do nothing!” she screamed at the jurors. Then she whirled around, pointed at her husband and said, “He wasn’t even there.” She turned to reporters, protesting the jury had been “dead wrong” about Ralph, whom she had stubbornly tried to protect during the trial although he gave damaging testimony against her. “I’m not afraid to die, but I can take you out there to the house and show you exactly what happened. They had a whole keg of nails and long pipes and little white pills. They held a gun in my face,” she ranted on. “What could I do? They said they were going to shoot her to the moon.” Asked who she meant by “they,” she said, “Wildegard (the name she has given to Mr. Willsmore) and Inez Willits. They did it.”

The final court hearing in the Arneson murder case came May 1, when Ralph and Iva appeared for sentencing. A wire service story about this ruling appeared in newspapers of every state except for Alaska and Mississippi.

Judge Neubarth said that “after countless, sleepless nights and prayerful contemplation” he came to view Ralph as another “victim of her evil doing.” His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

As for Iva, he offered no leniency: She was to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin. Neubarth predicted “she would kill again” if the opportunity arose because she could not be rehabilitated. “She will always be a menace to society. For her, life has never had any meaning.”

Iva began shouting the prosecutor would never leave the courtroom alive. “Do something!” she ordered the public spectators.

19630010d

And so it was over, apparently. Ralph shuffled off to the California State Prison at Vacaville, Iva to the California Institution for Women at Frontera. His lawyer filed for a new trial and as she had been sentenced to death, under the law an appeal was automatically made to spare her from the gas chamber.

Some who were involved with the investigation or trial fondly viewed those times as a career highpoint. In FaceBook comments on this series, relatives of Santa Rosa and San Francisco law enforcement members recall dad’s man-cave had keepsakes such as framed photos showing exhumations in the Kroeger basement and scrapbooks of newspaper stories mentioning his role in the case.

kroegermagazine(RIGHT: “Startling Detective” magazine, March 1979)

The murders quickly became a mainstay of the tabloids and pulp magazines; I’m told it wasn’t unusual to regularly spot a story on newstands concerning the crime or her personally into the 1980s. This has continued into the internet era, where the true crime genre has flourished; a search for “Iva Kroeger” will turn up multitudes of podcasts, videos, social media posts and books with chapters on famous murderers. Warning: The misinformation is deep, young Skywalker.

But the Saga of Iva did not end with her trial. What happened afterwards is lesser known, although it’s really the most astonishing part of the whole story. And, of course, involves a con job.

 

NEXT: CRAZY EYES

 


1 The daily trial reporters were Charles Cruttenden, San Francisco Examiner; Charles Raudebaugh, San Francisco Chronicle; Hadley Roth, San Francisco News-Call Bulletin; Herb Mickelson, Oakland Tribune; William Howard, UPI and Boniface Saludes. (Press Democrat, March 11, 1963)

2 Seymour L. Ellison worked at the law firm of Belli, Ashe & Gerry, which was headed by famed personal injury lawyer Melvin Belli. When Iva was on the run from the Sonoma County sheriff for threatening Willsmore, the law office received this letter dated June 14, 1962: “Dear Mr. Belli, I am going to the Golden Gate Bridge You see I am sick and owe bills and on top of it acuesed (sic) of sumthing (sic) I don’t even know about. And my husband has left me. Mr. Belli, I love my husband very much. When you settle the case, please see that my husband gets the money from the case when it’s settled also my motel in Santa Rosa … By the time you read this I’ll be in the Golden Gate Bay … All I ask is light a candell (sic) every birthday, May 16, and always remember me. Love from Iva Maria Kroeger.”

 

(TOP: Ralph and Iva Kroeger hearing Judge Neubarth pronounce the death sentences. Oakland Tribune, May 1, 1963)

 

sources

 

(1962 Press Democrat articles related to this chapter only)

 

WAS SANTA ROSA TRUNK USED IN THE MURDER? (August 23, no byline)

WAS MRS. ARNESON SLAIN AT SANTA ROSA MOTEL? (August 24, Bony Saludes byline)

SHERIFF STILL HAS MYSTERY TYPEWRITER (Sept 17, no byline)

ONLY EMPTY ENVELOPE IN IVA’S SR BANK BOX (Sept 18, Bony Saludes byline)

KROEGER WITNESS HUNTED (Sept 18, no byline)

SF REPORTER’S VERSION OF ARNESON CASE HIT (Sept 18, no byline)

IVA KROEGER PLEADS INNOCENT (Oct 25, UPI)

IVA TURNS SHY IN COURTROOM (Nov 27, no byline)

IVA KROEGER RULED SANE BY DOCTORS (Nov 30, no byline)

 

(1963 Press Democrat articles related to this chapter only)

 

IVA OPENS ARNESON TRIAL WITH A ‘HEX’ (Jan 15, no byline)

IVA, MRS. ARNESON SEEN TOGETHER IN SF (Jan 15, no byline)

THOSE KROEGER JURY SEATS ARE DIFFICULT TO FILL (Jan 18, no byline)

KROEGERS MONDAY FACE MOUNTAIN OF EVIDENCE (Jan 20, Bony Saludes byline)

PROSECUTION ASSAILS KROEGERS (Jan 21, Bony Saludes byline)

PROSECUTION STARTS WEB AROUND IVA (Jan 22, Bony Saludes byline)

SEVEN WITNESSES POINT FINGER AT IVA KROEGER (Jan 23, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA KROEGER HECKLES SANTA ROSA WITNESS (Jan 23, Bony Saludes byline)

COURT’S DECORUM SHATTERED BY IVA (Jan 24, Bony Saludes byline)

HOLE IN IVA’S BASEMENT UNDER PROSECUTION SCRUTINY THIS WEEK (Jan 27, Bony Saludes byline)

INEZ WILLITS ACCUSED OF ARNESON MURDERS (Jan 29, Bony Saludes byline)

BANKERS TELL FINANCIAL WOES IN DEALS WITH IVA (Jan 30, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA’S LAWYER SUGGESTS SHE’S ‘SCHIZOPHRENIC’ (Jan 31, Bony Saludes byline)

WE MAY NOT KNOW IT BUT GRANDMA’S A POET (Feb 3, Bony Saludes byline)

HECTIC DAY IN COURT WITH RAMPAGING IVA (Feb 5, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA’S LAWYER ALMOST SAYS SHE’S GUILTY (Feb 7, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA’S DEFENSE WITNESS DOESN’T HELP HER MUCH (Feb 8, Bony Saludes byline)

WILLSMORE TELLS OF TRIP WITH IVA (Feb 11, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA SCHEDULED TO TAKE WITNESS STAND TOMORROW (Feb 12, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA YELLS, RANTS; WON’T TAKE STAND (Feb 13, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA PICTURE OF INNOCENCE ON STAND (Feb 14, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA QUIZZED ON MURDERS, BUT ANSWERS ARE EVASIVE (Feb 15, Bony Saludes byline)

KROEGER TRIAL MAY GO TO JURY THIS WEEK (Feb 17, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA’S ATTORNEY TO SEEK MISTRIAL (Feb 19, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA THROWS A FIT, COLLAPSES IN COURTROOM (Feb 20, Bony Saludes byline)

A PEACEFUL DAY IN COURT FOR A CHANGE (Feb 21, Bony Saludes byline)

RALPH KROEGER TRIPS IN CROSS EXAMINATION (Feb 22, Bony Saludes byline)

TESTIMONY OF S.R. MAN CHALLENGED AT SF TRIAL (Feb 25, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA KROEGER GIVES FREE ADVICE TO ALL (Feb 26, Bony Saludes byline)

PSYCHIATRIST DESCRIBES IVA AS ‘ACTOR’ AND ‘DEVIL’ (Feb 27, William Fowler/UPI byline)

IVA CAN’T LIFT SACK; MURDER TRIAL RECESSED (Feb 28, UPI byline)

MAYER CONCLUDES AS IVA HECKLES (March 4, Bony Saludes byline)

CONTINUING CONSPIRACY BY KROEGERS CHARGED (March 5, Bony Saludes byline)

SLUMBERING IVA TAKEN FROM COURT (March 5, Bony Saludes byline)

DEFENSE OPENS FINAL PLEA TO SPARE KROEGERS (March 6, Bony Saludes byline)

HAGERTY CONCENTRATES ON DEFENDING RALPH (March 7, Bony Saludes byline)

IVA IN FINAL OUTBURST AS TRIAL GOES TO JURY (March 8, Bony Saludes byline)

KROEGERS GUILTY, BUT IT’S NOT OVER YET (March 10, Bony Saludes byline)

RESERVED FOR BONY SALUDES (March 11 column)

IVA’S BEHAVIOR IS ONLY A PLOT (March 21, Bony Saludes byline)

JURY TO BECOME JUDGE OF IVA’S MENTAL STATUS (March 22, Bony Saludes byline)

‘MYSTIC’ IVA FEELS JURY WILL METE DEATH PENALTY (March 24, no byline)

RALPH INVITES JUDGE AND JURY TO EXECUTION (March 27, no byline)

ARNESON FAMILY AGREES THE JURY’S DECISION JUST (March 27, no byline)

DEATH FOR IVA, LIFE FOR RALPH! (May 1, no byline)

LAWYER HAGERTY TO APPEAL LIFE SENTENCE FOR RALPH (May 2, no byline)

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