More deaths from the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake have been found, although these victims died far away at an asylum.

Before getting into that, some bookkeeping is in order. The unofficial death toll for that disaster now stands at 82, with 85 being a reasonable bet. Although the full count can never be known, it’s still likely to fall in the 100-120 range.

This new total of 82 represents two asylum discoveries and an upgrade of three victims to “certain” status. A full list is available as a PDF or a spreadsheet, and a single-page 1906 Santa Rosa Earthquake fact sheet can also be downloaded.

Briefly: The upgrades are thanks to clearing up confusion dating back to the time of the disaster. There were four death certificates for “unknown” persons and the monument over the earthquake victim’s mass grave specifies “FOUR PERSONS UNKNOWN.” Rural Cemetery Archivist Sandy Frary uncovered the original death certificate for unknown #1 and found it was for three unknown persons, not a single individual. The monument also lists the unknown as “NOS. 1-4-6-7” which implied seven burials, so this now synchs up with a newspaper story at the time describing a coroner’s inquest of seven unknowns. All this is hashed out in greater detail in a previous article, “WHO LIES BENEATH?” which has been slightly updated to include the new confirmations.

Sandy Frary also came across an obituary I had overlooked. From the Press Democrat, August 13, 1907:

Mrs. L. W. Stebbins, who died in Ukiah, was buried here Monday from the Christian Church, the Rev. Peter Colvin conducting the services. Mrs. Stebbins’ death was directly due to the great disaster of last year. Her awful experiences in those April days racked and wrecked her mind and body. Her reason failed, and she was taken to the state hospital for treatment, but steadily declined in health…

(RIGHT: Smoke and downed lines on Fourth street in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, one of only two photographs believed to have been taken that day. Courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Emma Stebbins, a 40 year-old housewife who lived on Ripley street, had died at the Mendocino State Hospital at Talmage, near Ukiah. She had been there almost exactly a year, her mind gone because of “earthquake of [April] 18th and death of father,” according to her commitment record. She spent her days staring into space and answering questions incoherently. Then she stopped eating and died.

The Mendocino hospital was the only place in the North Bay for regular people who lost their wits; the asylum in Napa was then used for the criminally insane, and Eldridge (Glen Ellen) was mostly for those deemed “feeble-minded” – for more background on these mental hospitals, read “THE ASYLUMS NEXT DOOR“. Those admitted to Mendocino were usually alcoholics/drug addicts who cleaned up and went home or those with senile dementia who died there. In the wake of the great 1906 earthquake, there was a surge of people whose cause of mental illness was deemed to be the disaster.

Between the April 18 quake and the end of 1906, fifteen people from Sonoma county were sent to that hospital, almost half of them for reasons apparently linked to the quake. Of those six whose sanity was shaken by the shaking earth, three died. Besides Emma Stebbins, Jacob H. Schlotterback of Santa Rosa was sent there (cause: “earthquake of April 18, 1906”) and was dead in less than a month. Like Emma, he refused to eat. Emma and Jacob count as Santa Rosa earthquake victims #81 and 82. Here we’re only collecting names of people whose deaths were attributed to being caught in Santa Rosa’s disaster, but another local who later died at the asylum was William Newcom/Newcome of Healdsburg, committed because of the “shock of earthquake.” Should it be determined he was in Santa Rosa that morning he’ll be added to the list.

Not everyone with earthquake madness went to the asylum. America Thomas died at home about ten weeks later from “general disability following general neurosis caused by shock” according to her death certificate, and Elwin Hutchinson, a 15 year-old schoolboy who died at the end of 1906, suffered from “partial paralysis and nervous prostration” (Hutchinson’s death certificate did not specify the earthquake, so he is among the three unconfirmed disaster victims). Nor did everyone with serious mental problems die; Hattie Runyon’s family kept her breakdown secret for two years.

But there was a Santa Rosan who died during the quake at an asylum: 26 year-old Annie Leete, who was working as a waitress at Agnews State Hospital in Santa Clara. Agnews was the other general population asylum in the area – the South Bay equivalent of the Mendocino hospital.

The tragedy of what happened there is probably the last great untold story of the 1906 earthquake; the destruction at Agnews was worse than either San Francisco or Santa Rosa by comparison, with over ten percent of staff and patients killed (11 employees plus 107 of 1,075 inmates).

Los Angeles Herald, April 19, 1906. Note the misinformation about Santa Rosa

Helen Warwick, a writer for the Oakland Tribune who was in quake-ravaged San Francisco just a few days before, wrote “never, in all my life, had I dreamed or imagine anything so totally and absolutely demolished as the Agnew Asylum.” The roof of the administration building pancaked, all five stories of it. Some brick walls fell exposing the infirmaries and some floors collapsed.

It’s impossible to imagine the terror the mental patients must have experienced being captives in their locked rooms as the world seemed to collapse around them. They were lucky no fire broke out and immensely fortunate that hospital superintendent Dr. Leonard Stocking kept a level head. After digging himself out of the debris he freed the inmates without hesitation, mobilizing about forty men into a search-and-rescue operation. Given that the hospital would have been short-handed to supervise over a thousand unconfined patients even in the best of conditions, it was a courageous action.

Dr. Stocking later wrote a report where he claimed “very few wandered away,” but that was putting the best face on it. The Santa Cruz Sentinel wrote, “Scores of the demented escaped from the boundaries of the institution and are wandering, many half clad, about the surrounding country.” The San Francisco Chronicle reported “200 inmates of the asylum escaped and are roaming over the countryside,” although most newspapers were printing 40-50 had escaped.

Rumors of all sorts flourished in the following days. Governor Pardee had a staff to refute wild stories appearing in East Coast press that San Francisco had been hit by a massive tsunami and that thousands were dying of plague. Also circulating was the claim that the superintendent of State hospitals had ordered the shooting of a hundred patients at Agnews to prevent them from escaping.

(RIGHT: Agnews State Hospital in Santa Clara before the 1906 earthquake)

For months, papers were describing deranged people arrested around the state as being allegedly Agnews escapees. A man in Los Angeles who attacked a woman at the train station and tried to drag her away; a guy “in a demented condition” found near Fremont; someone in San Francisco who threatened his mother and others with a pistol.

Fortunately, few from the “ward of the desperately insane” seemed to have escaped. Their housing was on the top floor of one of the buildings most damaged, and seven died. Deputies from the Santa Clara Sheriff were quickly on the scene and followed by other officers – by remarkable good luck there was a state sheriff convention underway in San Jose. The most violent 99 patients were sent to the Central Valley asylum in Stockton by train, according to a wire service story, “crowded into two [rail] cars and were raving and yelling. Many of them attempted to jump from the cars and the attendants had great difficulty in restraining them.”

Volunteer doctors and nurses also poured into the grounds of the wrecked hospital, where medical care was provided under the trees to the approx. 180 patients injured. By nightfall a tent city had arisen. Dr. Stocking’s report described it in glowing terms: “..so comfortable and contented are they that many, both employees and patients, ask to be allowed to camp all summer.” But reporter Helen Warwick painted a different picture: “Some were chatting rationally enough, wandering about from one place to another, others stood and gazed, wild-eyed and dumb–an awful rigidity in face and figure arguing desperate insanity. Some were strapped to benches; some threw their hands in the air and grappled with some imaginary foe, while one woman shrieked and screamed, that the walls were falling, falling, and cowered to the ground begging the others to keep them off.”

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It’s hard to imagine a worst curse: May you be remembered through the words of a lunatic who hated you.

(RIGHT: Mary Ellen Pleasant photographed by the San Francisco Chronicle, 1899)

Our story so far: Mary Ellen Pleasant – AKA “Mammy” Pleasant, although she never replied to anyone using that racist nickname – was an African-American woman of historic importance before the Civil War and during San Francisco’s Gilded Age. Almost everything we know about her is filtered through the views of Teresa Bell, who lived with her nearly every day for at least thirty years and kept a diary. In the 1950s her diary was used to write a popular fictionalized biography, “Mammy Pleasant,” and today, almost all that can be found about Mary Ellen Pleasant – both online and in print – flows from that book with its wild stories of Pleasant running a bordello, practicing witchcraft, blackmailing, murdering and doing every other kind of evil deed imaginable from her spooky “House of Mystery.”

Ignoring the novelization’s invented dialogue and tacky purple prose, the credibility of the book rests on the accuracy of the diary and its author’s truthfulness. But here are two important facts not revealed in “Mammy Pleasant:” In 1899 Teresa Bell abruptly turned against Pleasant and did everything she could to destroy her old friend’s reputation, even after Pleasant died in 1904. Also important was this: Teresa Bell was barking mad.

(By the way: If you haven’t read part one of this series, “Seeking Mammy Pleasant,” some of the rest may be hard to follow.)

Bell was the wealthy widow of one of the Comstock Lode “bonanza kings” and spent the last thirty years of her life as a semi-recluse at her Beltane Ranch, halfway between Kenwood and Glen Ellen. Her days as a San Francisco socialite were long past; when she was mentioned in the papers it was usually because she was in court either being sued by creditors of her long-dead husband or fighting her grown children who were demanding greater access to daddy’s bank accounts. After she died in 1922, however, her name was on Bay Area front pages for weeks.

With her estate worth an expected $1,000,000, she left a will dividing it between the state, San Francisco orphanages and retirement homes, with the remainder going to “cousins if any are living” – a vague bequest made further difficult because she had claimed at various times to be from different families. Predictably, many “long-lost cousins” came out of the woodwork to claim a share of the fortune.1

To her five surviving children she left five dollars each, along with the denial she was the mother of any of them. It was surprising that she disavowed the entire family, but over the years as the children took her to court over inheritance issues, her first act of defense was to claim the plaintiff was no relation whatsoever. As needed by the particular suit, she swore under oath she was the mother of five, four, two, one and none of them. She insisted oldest son Fred, the first to take her to court, was just some foundling her husband took in before her marriage – but towards the end of her life, Teresa told a visitor he was her only child by blood.2 Courts heard from elderly priests clutching baptismal records and from so many people who claimed to be present at the actual birth of a particular heir there must have been a stand of bleachers in the Bell bedroom to accomodate them all.

The children sued to have the will thrown out on basis of Teresa Bell having an unsound mind. Naturally, they insisted it wasn’t about the money at all but rather keeping the family intact.

Newspapers had a field day when the court hearings revealed Teresa was addicted to a potent cocktail of opium and alcohol and suffered wild hallucinations. She believed she could fly and had “gazed from space into the face of her murdered mother.” She could draw electricity from the earth and light candles with the tip of her finger. A neighbor told the court she enjoyed “pounding the piano and shrieking at the top of her voice in no known tune.” A ranch worker testified she could have a violent temper and best avoided when she was “drinking paregoric and carrying a nine-inch dagger whenever she went about the ranch.” Another fellow said he was hired to prospect on the ranch for platinum, gold and diamonds which she insisted were on the property.

Bigotry was another recurring theme in her madness. The Chronicle reported testimony she thought “Italians” had rustled about 10,000 cows from her ranch (which would have been so many they would have had no room to move) and “she had often floated over New York city; that she had looked down from such serial excursions and had been attracted by the gleaming white eyeballs of negroes…” Her personal racism is significant because right after Teresa split with Mary Ellen in 1899, there was a particularly vicious court speech by Bell’s attorney attacking Pleasant as a “Black Mammy of the South…robbing and plundering” her employer.

San Francisco was titillated by the revelations that came out over six weeks of testimony (or at least, it delighted newspaper headline editors, who exhausted every possible combination of words such as, “Eccentric” “Heiress” “Insane” and “Delusions”). A surprisingly large amount of press coverage was presented as illustrated features, rehashing life in San Francisco’s Gilded Age and the Bell family’s connection with the mysterious and sinister Mammy Pleasant.

But San Franciscans were unaware that ten years earlier in 1913, the Santa Rosa newspapers had reported an incident at Beltane ranch which exposed Teresa Bell’s madness. The Press Democrat reported John Ritzman, a local carpenter, said Teresa once attacked him with a club and he had been warned to take along a gun when asking for his pay, as “she carried either a revolver or a dagger.” She refused to pay him the $100 (about three months’ work at the time) and ordered him to go away, threatening to beat him again. Ritzman admitted to pulling his gun and firing before her son-in-law intervened. The tale had an unusual twist in Ritzman’s wife being a former acquaintance of Teresa’s, although she was now in a sanatarium because Teresa had gotten her hooked on drugs and liquor.

It seemed the Santa Rosa papers didn’t know quite what to make of this business. Like Rudolph Spreckels and Thomas Kearns, she was mostly unknown in Sonoma county beyond the borders of her Valley of the Moon estate, so the local papers described her only in terms of money and class – “a wealthy San Francisco woman” and “a prominent resident of the valley.” The first story in the Santa Rosa Republican presumed Ritzman (who they misnamed, “Richmond”) had to be the crazy one: “He repeats constantly, even now, that he is sorry he did not kill Mrs. Bell…it is thought that he may be mentally unbalanced.”

When the case came before the court, Ritzman received a suspended sentence and two years’ probation. “The shot, it is said, was fired after considerable provocation,” the Press Democrat commented with no further detail, again probably deferring to her status. No matter what the court heard about the exact nature of the provocation, the episode had all the hallmarks of the stories which would come out in the fight over the will.

Even though the 1923 coroner’s jury didn’t hear about that story, it didn’t take them long to decide that Teresa Bell was of unsound mind when she wrote her will back in 1910. As a result, all the money went to the children.

(RIGHT: Teresa Bell and Mary Ellen Pleasant as drawn by a courtroom artist for the San Francisco Chronicle, 1897)

Normally our story would end there, with all the players dead and soon to be forgotten – but this is no ordinary tale. Just a few months after the will was settled, a new stage play began performances in San Francisco: “The Cat and the Canary” was a murder mystery set in an old dark house with a mysterious servant named Mammy Pleasant. The reviewer in the San Francisco Chronicle remarked, “Mammy Pleasant dominates the play, for one is never sure just what she may do at any moment. She seems capable of murder or witchcraft or some other horrible deed.” Now Mary Ellen’s reputation was being trashed anew for the entertainment of the bathtub gin generation. The play was made into a hit movie a few years later and several other film adaptations followed.

Those biographies written in the 1950s – which again, are the basis of almost everything repeated about Mary Ellen Pleasant today – are better viewed as novels about the backstory of the spooky Mammy Pleasant character in “The Cat and the Canary.” Which really is no surprise because they used the same primary source material: The mad, hateful ravings of Teresa Bell after she broke with Pleasant in 1899. But a playwright is not held to the same rigor as someone who claims to be a biographer such as Helen Holdredge, who had the further advantage of owning Teresa’s diaries which offered proof positive she was insane. Yet Holdredge embraced every crazy allegation in the diary as holy writ while ignoring parts which revealed she was out of her mind from drug abuse or mental illness or both. Critics of Holdredge further point out she covered up or whitewashed episodes which reflected poorly upon Teresa, including the nature of her ties to the odious James E. Brown Jr. and Bayard Saville, discussed further below.3

Ultimately every serious discussion of Mary Ellen Pleasant wanders off into a resentful rant against Helen Holdredge, and justly so. Her books were immensely popular even though she flunked as a truthful biographer, a factual historian and even as a competent writer. Want an example? Unpeel this sentence: “The rooms of the Octavia street house now contained something malevolent; the endless mirroring of the walls and the prisms hanging from the rock crystal chandeliers no longer reflected the lights and colors of the spectrum. Instead, they caught and held the dark and evil reflection of unspeakable things.” Golly.

To those literary and objective sins I’ll add another: It’s unforgivable that Holdredge also screwed up the climax of the story. Besides the death of Thomas Bell, the most significant event in the lives of Mary Ellen or Teresa since they met in the 1870s was their abrupt and emotional separation. Holdredge devotes less than four pages to the events, and much of that is made-up dialogue.

In that version, Teresa was confronted by a farmhand from the Schell ranch in the Sonoma Valley who demanded his wages, telling a surprised Teresa that Mary Ellen had always paid workers on that ranch.4 The women began to quarrel over that, followed by arguments over who owned pieces of furniture. It went on for days. Teresa ordered her evicted from Beltane ranch and the San Francisco mansion. Ironically, Mary Ellen actually owned both properties but could not admit it – she had just claimed to be insolvent in court and if she showed proof of ownership, creditors could not only seize the properties (see part one) but she could also go to jail for perjury. Mary Ellen Pleasant was in a catch-22, or, as Holdredge wrote in her perfectly awful prose, “Like the blue goose flying over the Louisiana swamplands, she had exposed herself to Teresa, crouched hidden behind a blind.”

As to what really compelled Teresa to completely break with Mary Ellen, Holdredge vaguely suggests in the months prior to the April, 1899 breakup her resentments were growing as she was feeling more self confident. Teresa wrote it was a “blessing” to learn some old business foes of her late husband had died, “a release from years of doubt and pain.” She was angered to discover Mary Ellen was allowing an impoverished widow to live on another of the Glen Ellen properties. She felt newly empowered by having done her own shopping for the first time in ten years (!) and having recently stolen from Mary Ellen some papers she felt rightfully belonged to her. Never, of course, did Holdredge mention Teresa’s insanity or drug addiction as a possible contributing factor.

Clearly something was seriously wrong with Teresa. Published excerpts of her diaries show her feelings shifted from a childlike devotion (Oct. 1898: “Outside of Mammy the world is empty to me” to blind hatred of the “she-devil” (May 1899: “Mary E. Pleasant has been my evil genius since the first day I saw her…a demon from first to last”). An armchair psychologist might diagnose this as someone with borderline personality disorder “splitting” – emotionally flipping from viewing someone as completely good to completely bad. That may be true although there was another crucial factor: Teresa’s hateful feelings were being fed by a man named Bayard Saville.

Speculate all you like about the nature of the relationships between Thomas Bell, Teresa and Mary Ellen Pleasant – and goddess knows people have been doing lots of lurid speculating for nearly 150 years – but this is a fact: Teresa thought Bayard Saville was the love of her life.

Saville appeared on the scene in 1894, less than two years after the death of Teresa’s husband. He was aristocratic (old Boston family) and charming and handsome and rich and ten years younger and looking for a wife. Of course, he was actually a con man.

(RIGHT: Bayard Saville mug shot, 1896)

Teresa waxed poetic in her diary about his visits to Beltane ranch, where they hiked and rode horses and did whatever she recorded with an “X” in the diary. “Went riding with Saville–X X X X,” was one entry. “These X X X are to remember something I never wish to forget.” Soon she named him manager of the ranch and soon after that they told the family they were engaged.

Pleasant or her lawyers discovered he was recently released from San Quentin where he served three years for passing rubber checks and forgery. Eldest son Fred rushed to Glen Ellen and confronted Saville, threatening to shoot his mother’s lover. It was partly because of their affair that Fred later tried to have his mother declared incompetent and removed as guardian of the younger children.

True to form, before they could be married Bayard forged Teresa’s signature on two checks, for $75 and $600 (more than an average annual income) and tried to pass them at the local drugstore. When arrested, the Call newspaper reported, “Mrs. Bell would not appear against him, as she was not only in love with him, but dared not make him her enemy.” In 1896 he began serving a fourteen year sentence in San Quentin.5

The next year Saville gave the San Francisco Chronicle a jailhouse interview where he complained Mary Ellen set him up, then lied to Teresa about paying his defense lawyers. He vowed revenge: “In my safe in the deposit vaults I have over a hundred documents concerning Mammy’s manipulations with the Bell and Schell estates, and when the right moment comes I intend to have no mercy on her.”

Saville’s determination to destroy the relationship between Mary Ellen and Teresa is shown in his letters smuggled out of prison where “he told his lover she was doomed if she didn’t get rid of [Mary Ellen],” according to what historian Lerone Bennett Jr. found among the Holdredge papers at the San Francisco Library. Saville’s threat of blasting out a cache of incriminating documents is mirrored in an odd thing Teresa said in her big fight with Mary Ellen – that she had cataloged Mary Ellen’s wrongdoings and mailed the proof to the Bancroft Library at UC/Berkeley (not true).

Nor was Saville alone in poisoning Teresa’s addled mind. She was in regular contact with writer James E. Brown Jr., a yellow journalist who would later burglarize Pleasant’s home with Teresa’s approval. It was Brown who convinced her Mary Ellen had killed her husband to stop him from changing his will. (Teresa famously later wrote in her diary that Pleasant not only pushed him over the railing but “put her finger in the hole in the top of his head and pulled out the protruding brains,” which would have been quite a feat considering his skull was unbroken.)

Although there was no byline, we know from Teresa’s diaries that Brown was the author of the “Queen of the Voodoos,” a feature in the Sunday Chronicle, July 9, 1899, which was about six weeks after the big quarrel and breakup. That she was named as “Mary Ellen” once and “Mammy” 49 times is about the least offensive thing about the article, which casts her as a sorceress, master manipulator and probably the least likable character since Simon Legree. No good deed is mentioned, even the smallest act of charity; the article is a matter-of-fact rehash of old gossip and awful rumors about her consumate evilness, including her “trapping” poor Saville. It probably goes without saying that many of the lies made their way into the Holdredge novelization.

“Queen of the Voodoos” was naked libel, but Mary Ellen was in no position to sue the Chronicle – she was claiming to be insolvent at the time, remember – so the article was left unchallenged. The bemused reader likely thought it to be an objective profile; after all, it carried the misleading subhed, “Remarkable Career of Mammy Pleasant and Her Wonderful Influence Over Men and Women.” Few were still around who remembered most of the events described in the article.

And that’s how Mary Ellen’s actual history came to be erased. While there had been ongoing newspaper items over the years concerning the creditor lawsuits and the earlier Sharon-Hill court fight, by 1899 she was half forgotten. An entire generation and more had passed since her glory days in the Gilded Age, when her team of horses famously raced through San Francisco streets carrying the proud black woman. All her enemies had to do was NOT remind people how she had utterly demolished race and gender stereotypes, building a fortune in the process. Without that, her narrative invited suspicion: How could a woman of her era – particularly an African-American woman – become so wealthy by legitimate means? Brown, Teresa and others were ready with stories to tell you.

Mary Ellen Pleasant died January 11, 1904 at the home of a married couple. The obituaries were mostly kind, insomuch as they often mentioned her association with abolitionist John Brown as well as supposed voodoo rites. Popular descriptors were “weird,” “mysterious” and “strange.” She left several wills, including one which named only the Bell children. Six years later it was decided everything went to the couple who nursed her, including Beltane ranch, now reduced to just 114 acres. That didn’t sit well with Teresa, who kept Mary Ellen’s estate in court until her own death in 1922.

When she wasn’t appearing in a courtroom, Teresa Bell spent most of her last thirty years at the ranch outside of Glen Ellen. After being dependent upon Mary Ellen for most of her life, forcing away her old friend and mother-figure was the most Pyrrhic of victories; as she was usually estranged from all of her children she was left with only a blind servant for companionship. Despite her foolishness and the troubles she caused so many, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Teresa when you imagine her there in the Valley of the Moon as decades crept by, always alone except for the voices she heard on the winds and the mad visions she saw as she flew.

1 Teresa Bell was born in 1846 or 1847 near Auburn, New York. Two women who said they were her birth sisters told the probate jury she was born Marie Clingan and taken in by a family named Harris when she was about four, following the Clingans being sent to the poor farm. Supporting this interpretation is the 1855 New York state census which shows 9 year-old Teresa Harris in the Harris household, but not there in the 1850 federal census. But the coroner’s grand jury also heard testimony she sometimes flipped the story, claiming she was born a Harris and adopted by the Clingans. “Whether she really believed herself a Harris or tried to make the world believe it, no one knows,” the Chronicle reported. An article in an Auburn newspaper (reprinted in the Oakland Tribune, Jan. 20 1881) confirms she was born a Clingan but also lived at two other homes besides the Harris family. She returned to visit Auburn at least twice, in 1872 with her first husband John Percy and in 1881 with her five year-old son.

2 A profile from an Auburn, NY newspaper (reprinted in the Oakland Tribune, Jan. 20 1881) stated she had “two children, and one more by adoption” with the adopted child being Fred, the eldest.

3 “The Mystery of Mary Ellen Pleasant,” Lerone Bennett Jr., published as a two-part article in Ebony magazine in 1979 and reprinted in 1993. A noted scholar and author of several books on African-American history, Bennett did original research in the Mary Ellen Pleasant document collection donated to the San Francisco Public Library by Helen Holdredge. His articles contain many details not mentioned in other research on Pleasant such as the condition of the Teresa Bell diaries, where “several pages and parts of pages have been cut out with a razor blade or some other sharp instrument.” 

4 As per usual, it is difficult to determine if there was any truth to what Helen Holdredge wrote about this episode. According to her book (“Mammy Pleasant”, pp. 224-227) Lucy Beebee was Mary Ellen Pleasant’s last protégée and among the Sonoma Valley properties purchased by Mary Ellen in 1891 was a ranch given to Fred Schell, Lucy’s brother-in-law. As a farmer Schell was such an abject failure, Holdredge continued, his wife “did not know whether she would have a pot of beans from one day to the next” and Pleasant was secretly paying his farmworkers. In truth, Lucy appears to be Fred’s cousin, as his mother’s maiden name was Beebee. The Schell family was well-established in the area by Fred’s father since before the Civil War with the Schellville railway station and crossroads village named after them. After several years of office work, Fred returned to farm on “the old homstead” in 1896, according to the Honoria Tuomey county history. In 1899 – the same year that Schell farmworker supposedly demanded his wages from Teresa – Fred established the successful Schellville Hatchery which shipped eggs and chicks all over the west.

5 Saville was released from prison in 1911. It is unknown if he again contacted Teresa in person. He lived in Santa Cruz and died in Venice, California in 1914.

Oil was found on Southern California property Teresa Bell inherited from her husband, and in 1905 she became a millionaire in her own right


John Ritzman, who has been employed on the old Mammy Pleasant ranch, near Glen Ellen, by Mrs. Teresa Bell, relative of Mammy’s, and a wealthy San Francisco woman, told District Attorney Clarence F. Lea yesterday afternoon that when he fired twice upon Mrs. Bell with a revolver on the ranch on Monday afternoon he did so because she had attacked him with a club and because prior to the near tragedy he had been warned to take a revolver with him when he went to demand of the woman a payment of his wages, as “she carried either a revolver or a dagger.” She refused to pay him the $100 she owed him in wages, he said, and when he asked her for it, he said, she called him bad names and demanded that he leave the ranch forthwith, threatened him with a club, he admitted that he fired twice at her but did not hit her. He might have fired again but his desire was cut short when John Lavere, another employee of the face hit him over the head with a water pitcher and floored him. Then the desire left him and the next thing he knew Deputy Sheriff Joe Ryan had him in custody. Deputy Ryan brought Ritzman to the county jail yesterday morning and he will be charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Ritzman’s wife is mentally unbalanced and in his interview with the District Attorney, Ritzman claimed yesterday that Mrs. Bell was responsible for his wife’s condition, as she had furnished her with liquor and drugs.

Mrs. Bell will tell her version of the attack upon her by Ritzman when the case is heard in court. Ritzman has five children.

– Press Democrat, September 3, 1913


Sonoma Woman Fired at by Man

John Richmond, a resident of Sonoma valley, was arrested Monday afternoon by Deputy Sheriff Joe Ryan and brought to this city Tuesday, where he was lodged in the county jail on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

Ryan states that Richmond fired twice at Mrs. Fred Bell, a prominent resident of the valley for whom he was working. Richmond was standing within a few feet of Mrs. Bell when he shot and her escape is considered miraculous. Richmond was about to fire again when another man rushed up from behind him and hit him over the head with a crockery water pitcher, knocking him unconscious.

Richmond admits the shooting and states that Mrs. Bell had been quarreling with him for several days. He is a carpenter and Mrs. Bell charged him with slighting his work and loafing on the job. He says that he lost his temper and determined to get even. He repeats constantly, even now, that he is sorry he did not kill Mrs. Bell. Richmond is a property owner in the Valley and has a wife and five children. He will be given a thorough examination, as it is thought that he may be mentally unbalanced.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 2, 1913


Man Who Shot Twice at Mrs. Bell Will Be Tried for Attempted Murder

Mrs. Teresa Bell, a wealthy San Francisco woman who owns a ranch near Glen Ellen, took the stand in Justice Latimer’s court here yesterday and told of the narrow escape she had when John Ritzman took two shots at her with a revolver on her ranch one day last week.  Ritzman’s preliminary examination on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to murder Mrs. Bell was held yesterday and Ritzman was bound over i n a bond of $3,000 for trial in the Superior court. District Attorney Clarence F. Lea prosecuted.

Mrs. Bell testified that Ritzman became very angry when she criticized the work he was doing in the erection of a building for her. He used strong language tolde her, she said, and when she walked away he followed her. Once she picked up a stick to protect herself. Ritzman continued his abuse and ran to his carpenter’s apron and pulled out a revolver and shot at her. But for the fact that the revolver caught in the apron, Mrs. Bell, testified, the bullet might have found a mark in her anatomy. Ritzman raised the weapon to fire again, but her son-in-law. J. Rullmith, struck Ritzman over the head with a water pitcher and the shot went wild. The son-in-law of Mrs. Bell was called as a witness.

Ritzman had very little to say. Of course he could not give the bail bond and had to return to jail. He claims that he acted in Self-defense and that he had been warned by another man to look out for Mrs. Bell. He claims his words with Mrs. Bell started when he asked her for wages. The question of wages was not brought out at the examination yesterday.

– Press Democrat, September 13, 1913


Aged John Ritzman Pleads Guilty and Sentenced is Suspended by Judge Seawell

John Reitzman, the aged carpenter, who took a shot at Mrs. Teresa Bell, a well known San Francisco and Sonoma Valley woman, on her ranch near Glen Ellen some time since, was allowed to go on probation after he had pleaded guilty in Judge Seawell’s department of the Superior court on Saturday. Sentence was suspended for two years and in the meantime Reitzman will report to Probation Officer John P. Plover.

The case was deemed one in which clemency could be extended. The shot, it is said, was fired after considerable provocation. Reitzman has had a great deal of trouble, his wife is in a sanitarium and he had a number of children who are dependent upon him. Ritzman was represented by Attorney Roy Vitousek. It is not likely that he will get into trouble again. Mr. Plover will assist him in straightening out his difficulties.

– Press Democrat, November 16, 1913


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Doctors often made house calls a century ago, but usually didn’t carry a gas can and a box of matches.

It all started on a Monday afternoon in mid-October, 1911, when the Santa Rosa Fire Department responded to alarms for two fires on First street. By the time they arrived flames had badly damaged a cottage on the corner of D street along with a fine adjacent old oak tree, sending up clouds of  smoke so black that some in town apparently thought the power plant was on fire. On the other end of the block near E street a new two-story house was simultaneously burning. Both fires were extinguished but it took some time, according to the papers.

Then on Thursday, again in the afternoon, the SRFD was called back to the second house; this time firemen put out a bonfire someone had ignited in the back hall using roofing shakes and papers. The Press Democrat reported what happened next:

Chief of Police Boyes was hurrying to the scene of the fire realizing than an immediate investigation was necessary. As he ran along Second street he noticed a man come out of the small alley that runs through from Second to First streets. He called to him to stop and as he did not do so, he grabbed him. The man appeared to be greatly agitated when told he must accompany the Chief to the police station. He was locked up in a cell. At the time he gave the name of C. A. Jackson, but was recognized as Dr. Lawton of Sebastopol, and a few minutes later admitted his identity, and begged to be let out of jail, saying that he would die if left there.

The suspect was Dr. C. W. Lawton, a 31 year-old physician and surgeon who had opened a practice in Sebastopol about three months earlier. “I don’t know what has happened. If I have done anything I don’t know what it is,” he told officers and the assistant District Attorney. “Dr. Lawton had been drinking,” the PD added. “He said so himself and explained that he had imbibed because he was despondent.”

The notion that a well-respected doctor was secretly a drunken arsonist set everyone back on their heels. People came over from Sebastopol to see if it could possibly be true; he was admired there and not known to have an addiction problem with alcohol or drugs. A Santa Rosa physician who consulted with him called Lawton “a brilliant man professionally and a skilled surgeon.” There were, or course, also know-it-alls who “suspected something was wrong with him” and told the papers improbable tales of small fires discovered in his Sebastopol office building, including “a trail of powder on the stairs leading to the door of one of the rooms.” I think not.

But the evidence against him seemed daunting. Several witnesses identified him being on the scene before the Thursday fire, after which he was captured by the police chief himself. As for the Monday fires, a shack behind yet another house on First street was found to be doused with coal oil and inside was found a greasy glove. A witness said “a man who answers Dr. Lawton’s description came and claimed it later, stating that he was a fireman.” Another witness corroborated his retrieval of that automobilist’s glove.

No doubt about it: Dr. Charles Lawton was in a pickle. Formal charges were filed – but for reasons unexplained, he was only accused of arson involving the two-story house he allegedly tried to burn twice. Bail was set at $1,000. His cousin from Los Angeles arrived and the pair left for the Southland immediately after paying his bond.

It would be three weeks before the Grand Jury would mull over his possible guilt. Over that time one might presume there would have been plenty of tongue wagging around Santa Rosa about the fiery Dr. Lawton and possible motivations, but that probably didn’t happen. During those weeks the town was shattered by a scandal so terrible as to make his crimes pale; likely when his name reappeared with the Grand Jury’s decision some people had almost forgotten. (Those tragic events are covered in the following post.)

The Grand Jury investigation lasted an entire day. The decision: No indictment. Since no one witnessed Lawton setting any of the fires the evidence was only circumstantial. And even if he was an arsonist, he was innocent on grounds of insanity, Jurors said: “The Grand Jury believed that at the time of the alleged commission of the arson Lawton was mentally irresponsible,” reported the Press Democrat.

That was the odd part of the story. In those days if someone exhibited any signs of madness – a suicide attempt, unsociable behavior or even simply being roarin’ drunk – it was enough for the county to convene a three member “lunacy commission” to determine if the person deserved being shipped off to the Napa State Asylum. Here a Grand Jury believed testimony he was “subject to spells during which he became mentally irresponsible,” yet he was not held over for a routine sanity hearing. Why? Maybe because he vowed never again to drink in the future and said he would leave the state. Maybe the three lawyers he hired after posting bail had something to do with his gentle treatment as well.

So was “Charlie” (the name he called himself) just a slightly-addled boozer who liked to play with matches? Maybe, but drunk-driving over from Sebastopol to set fire to the same house twice seems rather premeditated – more like an act of vengeance, perhaps. Was there anything linking together the houses he targeted? A possible clue may be found in the Santa Rosa Republican’s article about the Grand Jury, where Lawton was described as “the alleged incendiary [arsonist] of the tenderloin district.”

That throwaway bit about “the tenderloin district” is key historical information. Santa Rosa’s red light district around the intersection of First and D streets was officially shut down in 1909 by court order. (See TENDERLOIN CRACKDOWN for more background.) Although there was evidence suggesting little had really changed aside from the scene becoming less boisterous, there was never anything in the papers mentioning the tenderloin still existed in 1911 – until here.

Thus it may be noteworthy that the houses Charlie Lawton torched were both owned by men well known for renting to prostitutes. Savings Bank of Santa Rosa director Cornelius “Con” Shea was the landlord for a nearby bordello caught operating after the 1909 ban, although his son-in-law claimed there was a verbal agreement with the tenant not to allow prostitution. The other property owner was Dan Behmer, who had built a custom-designed bordello a few doors further down on First street. (Miss Lou Farmer, who lived nearby, had successfully sued Behmer over that building in 1907, setting in motion the eventual closing of the red light district.) The new Behmer house that Dr. Lawton tried to burn twice was right next door to Miss Farmer’s home, but it was never described how Behmer used the building.

When arrested the PD reported he was despondent, so maybe Charlie had fallen for a “soiled dove” who worked the tenderloin. Or maybe he had a grudge against the upstanding businessmen who profited from the trade, or maybe he intended to burn down all of Santa Rosa in numerical order, starting with First street. Maybe he burned down houses in other places, too. We’ll never know; Charles W. Lawton didn’t leave much of a trail. He was unmarried and had no children. Except for his short Sebastopol sojourn, he apparently spent all his life knocking around Southern California – before coming here he was in Soledad and before that, Long Beach. He died in Bakersfield in 1914, where he’s buried in an unmarked grave. But we have one last glimpse of Charlie when his name was in the papers for suing a man named Walter E. Scott.

That story began back in 1906, when Lawton was still a resident at California Hospital in Los Angeles. Scott sought medical care for his brother, Warner, who had a bullet wound in his groin that had been untreated for over 24 hours. Scott promised to pay Dr. Lawton $1,000 if he saved his brother’s life. Lawton agreed, apparently unaware the man making the thousand-dollar pledge was the notorious “Death Valley Scotty.”

The picture we have today of Death Valley Scotty has been cultivated by generations of newspaper feature and magazine writers who portrayed him as a lovable scamp (and whom the National Park System has since reinvented as a mascot for a lucrative tourist attraction). But in truth he was a career criminal who conned people into believing he owned a secret gold mine or knew where there was one and anyway, he would have his hands on a bonanza any day now – want to invest? His brother’s wound was the result of one of these schemes. A mining engineer who insisted on actually seeing the mine before recommending investment was undeterred when Scotty warned they would be passing through outlaw country, so Scotty arranged for a few buddies to hide behind rocks and pretend to ambush them. The theatrics took a serious turn when brother Warner actually was shot. (If the engineer had any question as to whether the ambush was legit or not, it was probably answered when Scotty then galloped toward the ersatz bandits while yelling for them to cease fire.)

When Warner was healed Dr. Lawton presented his bill – sorry, said Scotty, my pockets are empty. Lawton took him to court in 1908 and won a judgement of $1,001.25, which Scotty predictably didn’t pay.

In 1912 their paths crossed again. Scotty seemed to have a chronic condition of not being able to keep his mouth shut (call it “Yapper’s Disease”) and instead of telling reporters his mine would someday make him fabulously wealthy, now he boasted he had just sold it for $12 million, flashing a wad of bills that supposedly was the $25,000 down payment. Lawton read this news in his Los Angeles office; after the Sonoma County District Attorney dropped charges he hadn’t left the state after all, but began practicing medicine just a couple of blocks from his alma mater, USC. Lawton brought suit against him again, this time for $1,247.

In his court appearance Scott claimed he hadn’t sold his mine but had been paid $25,000 to reveal his “secrets.” Asked to produce the $25k, he claimed he didn’t keep books, and he might have thrown it away. After several days of such bullshit the judge jailed Scotty for contempt. To be released, Scotty had to confess all: “My hole in Death Valley is all a myth,” he told the court. He owned no mine nor ever had. He wasn’t a miner. He promoted himself with lies. The most money he ever had in his life was $3,000, which he carried in a roll “upholstered with $1 bills.” It must have been humiliating, more so for becoming national news.

Dr. Lawton never recovered a cent from Scotty (as far as I can tell) which probably was aggravating. Hopefully he also didn’t become as despondent as he had the year before; the Los Angeles tenderloin district was only about ten blocks away, much closer than the distance from Sebastopol to Santa Rosa, and he did seem a man prone to impulse.

Fire on Cherry Street–Department is Called Out Twice in Santa Rosa Monday

Fire partially destroyed the little one story cottage of Con Shea at 713 First street and damaged the two story house adjoined belonging to Dan Behmer at 739 First street, Monday afternoon about 4:15 o’clock.

A fine large oak tree along side the little cottage caught fire from the flames and sent up a cloud of black smoke which made those at a distance believe that an oil tank had caught fire. When the fire department arrived two streams were quickly playing on the buildings and soon the flames were checked but it took some time to get them entire extinguished. The loss will probably reach $2,500 and is covered by insurance.

The fire department was called out at 12:35 for a blaze in the cottage on Orchard street between Johnson and Cherry streets adjoining the new Seventh Day Adventist Church. A match carelessly thrown into a bucket sitting under a window set fire to its contents and the blaze communicated to the lace curtain. The window casing and paper were slightly burned, but the fire was put out before the department arrived.

– Press Democrat, October 17, 1911

Fire on First Street Leads to Arrest of Physician
Was Either Under Influence of Liquor or Drug at Time of Arrest by Chief of Police Boyes–Many Suspicious Circumstances

Sensation followed sensation in quick succession Thursday afternoon after the sounding of the fire alarm which took the department to First street. The first surprise came with the discovery that an incendiary had again attempted to burn the Dan Behmer house adjoining the one burned last Monday afternoon. The second and more surprising incident of the hour was the arrest of Dr. C. W. Lawton, a Sebastopol physician, by Chief of Police John M. Boyes and his detention in jail on suspicion of having started the fire. The torch had been applied to a pile of shakes and paper in the rear hall of the house. The flames were soon extinguished by the use of a chemical.

Chief of Police Boyes was hurrying to the scene of the fire realizing than an immediate investigation was necessary. As he ran along Second street he noticed a man come out of the small alley that runs through from Second to First streets. He called to him to stop and as he did not do so, he grabbed him. The man appeared to be greatly agitated when told he must accompany the Chief to the police station. He was locked up in a cell. At the time he gave the name of C. A. Jackson, but was recognized as Dr. Lawton of Sebastopol, and a few minutes later admitted his identity, and begged to be let out of jail, saying that he would die if left there.

Seen Hanging Around

On the way to the station Dr. Lawton is believed to have dropped a bunch of matches. Some matches were picked up and found to correspond with some he had in his pockets. Several women and Japanese living in the immediate vicinity of the house stated positively that they had seen a man answering the description of Dr. Lawton about the premises just prior to the fire. In his endeavor to get through the alleyway to Second street he ran into a Chinaman’s place and was then shown the way out. On the way he went onto the porch of the little Japanese house [? illegible microfilm] after the fire on Monday afternoon. George Ohara, a Japanese saw him there. A glove, such as is worn by automobile drivers was found on a bed in this house Monday afternoon and a Japanese woman says that a man who answers Dr. Lawton’s description came and claimed it later, stating that he was a fireman.

Left Auto on Street

A short time before the fire was discovered a man who looked like Dr. Lawton to a nicety, drove up alongside the saw mill at First and E streets in an automobile. The man left the machine and walked past the man towards the rear of the Behmer house. Several men in the mill saw him. In a few minutes her returned and went to his machine, cranked it, and had barely started away when the fire was noticed and the alarm was telephoned to the fire station by Bruce Batley, clerk in the lumber company’s office.

After he had admitted that his name was Dr. Lawton and that he had offices in the Kingsburg building at Sebastopol, he told Officer Andrew Miller that he had driven to town in his automobile and had left it on some street but he did not know where. The machine was later found at Main and First streets. A woman saw him leave it there and walk down First street. This was after the fire alarm.

Positive statements made by Miss Wilson and some Japanese say that the man was seen in the vicinity of the house prior to the fire and that they saw him prior to the previous fires, and the other circumstances pointed the finger of suspicion strongly at the doctor.

Arrest Causes Surprise

A short time after his arrest and after he had recovered somewhat from the stupor he appeared to be in, Dr. Lawton was taken over to the District Attorney’s office and Assistant District Attorney Hoyle questioned him. Dr. Lawton burst into tears and reiterated what he had previously told Chief Boyes that he knew nothing of what had transpired, and had nothing to do with the fire. “Whatever I have done I know nothing about it,” he said.

He was taken back to the county jail and locked up over night, the prosecutor realizing that it was a case for further investigation. Dr. Lawton had been drinking. He said so himself and explained that he had imbibed because he was despondent. He denied that he had been addicted to the use of a drug, that impression having been gained by some people who know him.

A puzzler for the officers is the motive that would prompt the man to set fire to the house considering the fact that he could not be personally benefited. Suggestions embodied the belief that he was mentally unbalanced and did not know, as he said, what he had done, supposing it was he who really started the fire. Up to Thursday night no one had been found who had seen him in the house or who had seen him apply the torch.

The news of the arrest created a big surprise in Sebastopol where Dr. Lawton has resided and practiced his profession for over three months past. People were found who stated that he had acted strangely at times.

When he came to Sebastopol Dr. Lawton stated that he had recently been in Los Angeles, following a length stay abroad. That he is skilled in his profession as a physician and surgeon is testified to by a local physician, who had been called into consultation with him at Sebastopol. The Santa Rosa medico states that Lawton is a brilliant man professionally and a skilled surgeon. So much so that he  [? illegible microfilm] should decide to locate in a town of the size of Sebastopol. Since locating in the Gold Ridge town, the Press Democrat was informed Thursday night Dr. Lawton has built up an extensive practice, considering the short time he has been there. He has visited Santa Rosa on a number of occasions.

A Suspicious Circumstance

One night some time since a man who some one recognized at the time as the Sebastopol physician was seen going up the stairways of several buildings on Fourth street by several citizens. The next morning it was learned that some one during the night had set fire to some toilet paper in one of the lavatories and that an occupant of one of the offices in the building scenting smoke had investigated and extinguished the burning paper. At this stage of the investigation this circumstance is regarded as suspicious by Chief of Police Boyes who was informed of the occurrence.

Only a few days ago Dr. Lawton was examined here for a life insurance policy and had it made out with a cousin as the beneficiary. [? illegible microfilm] As stated friends of the physician at Sebastopol are loath to believe him guilty of starting the fire and say that if he did it he did not know what he was doing at the time. When he was arrested he was either under the influence of liquor or a drug or else is a good actor.

Further Investigation Today

Assistant District Attorney Hoyle and Chief of Police Boyes and the other officers will continue their investigation of the case today. Inquiries were made at Sebastopol Thursday night. In view of all the circumstances connected with the case unearthed up to Thursday night things look rather complicated for Dr. Lawton. He made a significant remark to Officer Miller half an hour after his arrest. Through the barred opening in the little cell at the police station he said to the officer.

“For God’s sake let me out of here. If you keep me here I shall die. I may as well commit suicide if you keep me here. What shall I do?” He added again the statement already quoted: “I don’t know what has happened. If I have done anything I don’t know what it is.”

From Sebastopol came a report on Thursday night that there had been two or three incipient fires there recently that had been discovered in the nick of time and extinguished before they had gained any headway. Further than this there was no hint.

– Press Democrat, October 20, 1911

Is Identified by Many Persons at Scene of the Fire
Formal Charge Will Be Placed Against Physician Held as Incendiary Suspect Today, Prosecutor Intimates

A formal complaint will be sworn out today against Dr. C. W. Lawton, the Sebastopol physician arrested on Thursday and detained on suspicion of having set fire to Dan Behmer’s house on First street. Just what the complaint will charge Assistant District Attorney George W. Hoyle was not willing to state last night. He did admit, however, that the prosecution had been able to connect the physician with the crime right up to the striking of the match, indicating that the circumstantial evidence was very strong. It is known that Hoyle secured some very important detail which he was not willing to divulge for the present. The doctor is in a serious predicament.

Lawton was restless under the restraint the jail imposed on him yesterday and to use the saying of the street he was “all shot to pieces.” He appeared to be bordering on a mental breakdown or else, as intimated in this paper yesterday morning, he is a clever impersonator. A number of people from Sebastopol came over to town yesterday, anxious to learn the details of the case and the doctor’s connection with it. Some of them scorned the idea that Dr. Lawton could possibly be connected with a crime of which he is suspected here. Others had incidents to relate of how they had suspected something was wrong with him. He saw and conversed with Attorney Charles R. Perrier of the law firm of Libby & Perrier. After the conference Attorney Perrier said he would not discuss the case for the present. A relative of the man is expected to arrive here today from the south.

Positive Identification

Under orders from Chief of Police John M. Boyes, who arrested Dr. Lawton as he was hurring from the scene of the fire on Thursday afternoon, and with the sanction of Assistant District Attorney Hoyle, Dr. Lawton was taken from his cell in the county jail yesterday afternoon and was taken to First street and vicinity for the purpose of having people identify him positively as the man they had seen Thursday about the premise just prior to the discovery of the fire, and on the other days when fires had occurred. All the people seen identified Dr. Lawton without any hesitation…

Japanese Identify Lawton

George Ohara and wife, keepers of a Japanese lodging house on First street in the rear of which is the little house formerly occupied by Japanese, which was found saturated with coal oil last Monday afternoon after the fire in the house adjoining Behmer’s, furnished further identification of the physician. Mrs. Ohara stated unhesitatingly that he was the man who came to the house and said the automobile driver’s glove found on the bed saturated with coal oil was his. He told her he was a fireman…He was then returned to his cell in the county jail.

May Have Fire Mania

The suggestion has been offered that possibly if Dr. Lawton is the guilty hard to conceive how a man in his be suffering from a fire mania. [sic] It is is said that on more that one occasion a position would attempt the acts complained of unless he was temporarily unbalanced, particularly in broad daylight, with so many people around. This is what is puzzling Assistant District Attorney Hoyle, Chief Boyes and the other officers. There is something very strange about the man. But as stated yesterday, he denies that he has ever used drugs. He did this to a physician who visited him at the county jail on Thursday night.

Mysterious Sebastopol Fires

It was learned yesterday from Sebastopol citizens that on one occasion in the building in which Dr. Lawton’s offices are located at Sebastopol someone laid a trail of powder on the stairs leading to the door of one of the rooms where it ended at a pile of paper. A match was applied and the smoke that ensued attracted attention and the fire was extinguished without any damage resulting. At the time it was supposed to have been the prank of boys and nothing more was thought of it. Since the arrest of Dr. Lawton on suspicion of being the Santa Rosa incendiary, some Sebastopol people think that possibly it might have been Dr. Lawton who started the fire in his office building in the Kingsbury block at Sebastopol. It is said there have been other incipient fires that have been discovered in Sebastopol that were fortunately discovered and checked with no damage ensuing. It is said that on more than one occasion a pile of toilet paper has been found smoldering in the lavatory in the building where the physician was located. Of course these are all treated as suspicious circumstances.

People from Sebastopol interviewed here yesterday expressed surprise that Dr. Lawton had imbibed quite freely on his visits to this city, stating that he had not been known as a drinking man, or to have taken a drink in their town. He is said to have traveled the [? illegible microfilm] don’t know what to think of the case,” said a well-known Sebastopol banker last night. “I am very much saddened and disappointed in the man inf the allegations of suspicions directed against him are true.”

Lawton is a graduate of the University of Southern California of the class of 1905. The arrival of his cousin from the south may develop something of his characteristics and past life which may offer some solution of the predicament in which he has placed himself. His medical services bestowed on those desiring them during his residence in Sebastopol are said to have been entirely satisfactory and there is no question but what he is a talented man professionally.

Visited House Together

After the fire on Monday afternoon J. C. Donovan, the well known blacksmith, who was among those who rann to the scene, visited the Japanese house which had been saturated with coal oil. He stepped into the house at the same time as Dr. Lawton did. Donovan reminded the doctor of this fact yesterday afternoon, and the latter admitted that Donovan knew what he was talking about. At the time Lawton’s glove was on the bed and later he went back and claimed it.

– Press Democrat, October 21, 1911
Los Angeles Cousin Puts Up Money and He Leaves

Dr. C. W. Lawton walked out of his cell in the county jail on Saturday afternoon, his cousin Stanley Rutledge of Los Angeles, laving paid his ransom in a thousand dollars cash bail bond, demanded by Justice A. J. Atchinson. He left this city later in the afternoon and it is understood accompanied his relative to Los Angeles. He will later appear for preliminary examination on the charges of arson.

Former Charges Made

Saturday morning Chief of Police John M. Boyes swore to a complaint in the Justice Court charging Lawton with the crime of arson in setting fire to the Dan Behmer house on First street on Wednesday afternoon. Saturday afternoon after Constable John F. Pemberton had served the warrant and his cousin had arrived from the southland, Lawton was arraigned and was then formally admitted to bail in the sum named. He appeared very much relieved to gain his liberty.

No Trouble Before

According to Mr. Rutledge, this is the first serious trouble Dr. Lawton has been in before. Nothing like this would have been dreamed of, he said. He said further it seemed almost impossible that such a thing as Dr. Lawton committing arson could be true. He was acquainted with the nature of the evidence in the possession of the officers. Rutledge resides in Los Angeles county and appears to be a man of standing and wealth. It is understood that Lawton has other relatives residing in Los Angeles county. Attorney William F. Cowan, George W. Libby and C. R. Perrier have been retained as his counsel. There was no mistaking the fact that Lawton was glad to obtain his release from jail.

– Press Democrat, October 22, 1911
Believe that the Man Was Mentally Unbalanced

The Grand Jury of Sonoma county had under investigation yesterday the crime of arson against Dr. C. W. Lawton, the Sebastopol physician who was arrested here some weeks ago on suspicion of having set fire to Dan Behmer’s house on First street and with having saturated with oil a Japanese house in the vicinity.

After listening to the testimony of Dr. Lawton and that given by a number of witnesses and thorough investigation of the case which took up the entire day, the Grand Jury refused to file an indictment against the physician. They said that an entire absence of a motive and a belief that at the time he set fire to the premises, if he did, and while there was strong [? evidence of a circumstantial nature?] no one saw him actually apply the torch, the man was not mentally responsible for some cause led the Grand Jury to refuse indictment.

At the time of Lawton’s arrest it will be remembered he stated that if he had done anything wrong he did not know anything about it. He had the [? illegible microfilm] mentally deranged or else under the influence of an opiate.

Dr. Lawton expects to leave California at once for another state, and leaves for the [?] today. His case here was looked after by Attorneys William F. Cowan and George W. Libby.

From Los Angeles where Dr. Lawton is said to be prominently connected, and has relatives and friends, word has been received to the effect that at times Dr. Lawton has been subject to spells during which he became mentally irresponsible.

The failure of the Grand Jury to indict will end the case, and the complaint in the Justice Court will be dismissed. District Attorney Lea presented all the evidence at his command to the Grand Jury yesterday. As stated the Grand Jury believed that at the time of the alleged commission of the arson Lawton was mentally irresponsible.

– Press Democrat, November 15, 1911

Grand Jury Believes Him Mentally irresponsible

After an exhaustive investigation, which consumed the entire day Tuesday, the grand jury refused to indict Dr. C. W. Lawton, the alleged incendiary of the tenderloin district.

The man is out on bail of one thousand dollars, his arrest having been made on complaint of Chief of Police John M. Boyes on a charge of arson. The fact that none had seen the man apply the torch and that he was believed to be irresponsible mentally actuated the grand jurymen in their decision.

Dr. Lawton will depart for another state, and left Santa Rosa on Wednesday for his destination. He will again take up the practice of his profession, and has determined to eliminate all drinking in future. It is reported from Los Angeles that Lawton has been subject to spells which render him irresponsible mentally at times. District Attorney Clarence F. Lea will have the complaint against Lawton dismissed in the justice court.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 15, 1911

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