Betty Carey rattled around the huge mansion the winter of 1922, alone except for the 20-member staff who served her. She was waiting for a court decision; at stake was whether she could be kept there indefinitely, against her will.

She was a prostitute and a drug user who hated being at the 40-room “castle” outside of Sonoma, but was ordered to be sent there by San Francisco Police Court Judge Lile Jacks. After a month she begged the judge to let her leave, writing she’d “rather serve a year in the county jail than spend a month in the Valley of the Moon.”

“What awful, narrow-minded people are in the beautiful Sonoma Valley!” she wrote, according to the SF Daily News. “They said I was so wicked they wouldn’t have me in the city of San Francisco, that I have actually asked one of the insignificant farmers for a cigarette. I did, Judge Jacks, such a breach of etiquette! Such small town newspaper talk! They said a woman captured me. It took three men to capture me…”

It was true her neighbors in the Sonoma Valley did not want her there, and their “small town newspaper,” the Sonoma Index-Tribune, objected fiercely. One reason was because the place was a point of local pride: The old Kate Johnson estate on the grounds of the historic Buena Vista winery, with 645 acres of vineyards and manicured lawns which were once compared to Golden Gate Park. The mansion was a landmark by itself, being probably the largest private residence ever built in Sonoma county and where it was gossiped that Mrs. Johnson had devoted an entire floor to her hundreds of cats. (Not true; see “THE MAKING OF A CRAZY CAT LADY.”)

But what the locals really disliked was not Betty’s presence. It was the fear that her pending court decision might mean five hundred more Bettys would be coming to live indefinitely at the big mansion in the Valley of the Moon. And all would presumably have venereal disease.

This is part one of our history of the “California Industrial Farm for Women” – usually instead called some variation of “the Sonoma State Home for Delinquent Women” –  which explains the background about why the women were there; part two (coming soon) describes what happened after the Home opened and what became of the building.

It has been an uncomfortable article to write, which is probably why no local historians have touched this topic before. Understanding what happened/why requires wandering down some darker alleys of our past we’d like to forget; it requires coming to grips with how such unjust treatment of women was considered not only legal but embraced as fair and just – as were some unspeakable medical procedures which will make you cringe (or at least, should).

Also difficult to understand is how all this happened just as the women’s rights movement was at a historic peak, having just gained clout with the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920. Why wasn’t there backlash to the all-male legislatures and all-male courts declaring some women did not even have the basic constitutional right to bail or a trial? Surprise: The loudest voices chanting, “lock her up!” were other women – who believed people like Betty needed to be disenfranchised for their own protection.

This is a complex and grim story; although the Sonoma State Home for Delinquent Women was supposed to reform and benefit the women under its care, its real purpose was to protect men from venereal disease.

The estate where lonesome Betty Carey roamed was purchased by California in 1919 for a quarter million dollars 1920 for $50,000. Legislators didn’t seem to mind spending that much money for the grand old place, but from the start some were griping it could be put to better use than housing riff-raff like prostitutes and junkies, with a TB sanitarium or a home for disabled WWI veterans suggested as early alternatives. More on this thread in the following article.

That the state was spending such a large chunk of the budget on any sort of a female-only facility was considered a major victory for women. Starting more than forty years earlier, the W. C. T. U. and other temperance groups began beating the drums for a separate women’s state reformatory/prison; up to then female convicts from all over the state were crammed into small quarters at San Quentin. Some improvements were made after a shocking 1906 expose´ revealed there was no heat, rats ran loose and chamber pots were dumped into a hopper in the common room. But the women were still rarely allowed outdoors lest they be seen by the male prisoners, and windows in their quarters were whitewashed to likewise prevent men from peering in.1

RIGHT: Few of the women at San Quentin in the early 1910s were guilty of sex crimes. One exception was Laura Paulson, wife of a saloon and dance hall owner in Burke, Idaho, convicted in 1911 under the “White-Slave Traffic Act” (the Mann Act) for bringing over prostitutes from Washington state

The awareness of how poorly women were treated behind bars came during a period of explosive growth in social groups for women (that same year, the Press Democrat gossip columnist estimated there were 100 women’s clubs in Santa Rosa, when the town had a population of about 10,000). After California women won suffrage in 1911 the clubwomen became a formidable political bloc, and before the end of the decade the Women’s Legislative Council of California claimed it represented over 187,000 club members throughout the state. Improving conditions for “delinquent women” was among the Council’s top priorities – but what did that mean, exactly?

At the 1918 Council convention they urged the state to “establish rehabilitation farms and colonies for delinquent women and to establish a state boarding school for incorrigible public school children whose offenses do not demand reformatory treatment.” Take note first of “farms and colonies;” it was long presupposed by prison reformers and women advocates that rural, women-run institutions would transform law-breaking ladies into model citizens. “These pastoral prisons were supposed to accommodate the domesticity attributed to women’s natures,” explained prison historian Shelley Bookspan, because they could have “schooling and training in marketable female skills, such as sewing, mothering and nursing.”2

Second point: Even though the term was widely used, “delinquent woman” had no clear definition. Did it mean a sex worker/drug addict? A woman charged with any crime? Here the Council lumps delinquent woman together with juvenile delinquents (“incorrigible public school children”) which implies a D. W. is someone who makes poor decisions and may have committed petty crimes. The latter was indeed the definition earlier in the 1910s when legislators first considered a women’s farm; in a 1911 article transcribed below it’s stated that a delinquent woman was someone who had committed five or more misdemeanors such as drunkenness, vagrancy or shoplifting.

The clubwomen clearly expected a woman’s farm would be used for women who could be rehabilitated and released, but less clear is whether it was believed the place would be used to house all female criminals. Even as the opening date approached, there was uncertainty about who would be sent to Sonoma. Recently released from San Quentin was Dr. Marie Equi, who had served time for sedition.3 Shortly before Betty Carey became the test case, an Oakland Tribune reporter interviewed Dr. Equi, who apparently believed all the women inmates at San Quentin were going to the elysian gardens at Buena Vista:

The girls at Quentin are wild to get on the farm. They are housed in a little square mausoleum being permitted to go out among the green fields but once a week and having nothing to do to occupy their minds…The women inmates at San Quentin are not morons by any means…my cell mates at San Quentin were just the type of bright, pretty ‘chickens’ that the tired business man cultivates for his amusement. Check-passer, murderers, women of the street, forgers and narcotic addicts mingle together…

But although the April, 1919 act establishing the Home stated it was “to provide custody, care, protection, industrial, and other training and rehabilitation for the delinquent women,” none of that would be provided, except for custody and care. And few, if any, of Dr. Equi’s cellmates would be welcome. The Home was only for women like Betty Carey – prostitutes who were to be held under an indefinite quarantine because they had diseases considered nearly incurable at the time.

The Home never would have existed if not for the Wilson Administration’s obsession with the so-called “American Plan,” starting when the U.S. entered World War I and continuing on through most of the 1920s. Like Prohibition which soon followed, this was a morals crusade in the guise of patriotism – in this case, keeping our boys healthy before they went overseas to fight the Germans by attempting to eradicate venereal diseases.

There had been vice crackdowns in American cities before, or course, but the War Department decided the U.S. needed “invisible armor” around every training camp to protect soldiers against “heated temptations.” A five-mile radius “moral zone” was established around the camps where no alcohol could be sold; women suspected of being prostitutes could be detained and forced to undergo a blood test and gynecological medical exam. Even though any sexually active woman could have a venereal disease, every woman found to have VD was presumed to be a prostitute – and every prostitute was presumed to have VD. And that meant she could be locked up without due process.4

Besides local and military police, the Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA) created its own national Law Enforcement Division and even local public health investigators now had powers to arrest civilian women on suspicion. The dragnet expanded after Congress passed The Chamberlain-Kahn Act of 1918, which was not restricted to the immediate vicinity of military camps. It’s usually said 30,000 women were swept up, but Scott Wasserman Stern, the author of an excellent study on the American Plan (see footnote 4), believes that greatly underestimates the true numbers.

The need to lock up so many women created a problem of what to do with them all. Local hospitals and jails were kept full; state reformatories and orphanages were pressed into service and the CTCA began building detention camps. In a believe-it-or-not! twist, the feds decided that former brothels were ideal places to house them – just surround the place with barbed wire and add guards.5

Much of this was being paid for with money personally controlled by President Wilson, including $1 million from the Chamberlain-Kahn Act. And it wasn’t just for lockup; the CTCA was also charged with lobbying states to adopt a set of model laws it had written to curb promiscuity. Among the provisions were creating reformatories for women detained on “incorrigibility or delinquency” charges and outlawing all premarital sex. By 1919, 39 states had passed such laws.

To be sure, VD was endemic among prostitutes. A 1917 San Francisco study found 72 percent had syphilis, gonorrhea or both. In that year – just as the CTCA was starting – the city was lenient, allowing women who tested positive to sign an agreement to report to a physician or clinic within a few days. If she was not known to have a disease, a woman paid a $5.00 bail and was released, even though some were rearrested up to four times a night and certainly not retested every time. Under new pressure from federal officials, the bail was increased to $1,000 for the first arrest. As a result of the astronomical increase, many skipped bail and fled the city for places with lax enforcement.

Today it may seem odd that infected women did not eagerly agree to medical treatment, but in that pre-antibiotic era the options ranged from bad to awful; there was no guarantee of being cured – but weeks, months, or a lifetime of pain was assured and side effects could be crippling or lethal.

Arsenic-based Salvarsan was the first drug that could actually cure syphilis but problems abounded with the treatment: The shot was described as “horribly painful” followed by days of sustained misery – and the drug would be effective only if it were prepared immediately before injection under precise, nearly laboratory, conditions. Repeat for 4-8 weeks.

At the time the wonder drug for gonorrhea was 3-6 weeks of shots with a solution where the main ingredient was mercurochrome. Like the syphilis treatment, though, the compound had to be absolutely fresh and precisely formulated to cure. For women with untreated chronic gonorrhea – which most prostitutes suffered – doctors cut away or cauterized any parts of the reproductive system they deemed infected. Surgical procedures were routinely performed that today would be condemned as types of female genital mutilation.6

But let’s presume our misfortunate heroine, Betty Carey, was given the full course of treatment and it worked exactly as hoped. She’s now completely STD free. Maybe she sticks around the Buena Vista castle a little longer for followup tests to show that she’s really and truly cured; maybe she’s required to attend a class on contraception and safe sex taught by someone from Margaret Sanger’s new American Birth Control League. But after that, she would be given a pile of condoms and released, right?

Sorry, Betty – that might be the European Plan, but it wasn’t the American Plan. Over there prostitutes had to be registered so their health could be monitored for public safety; over there use of condoms was encouraged. Here prostitution was being driven underground by the new, harsher CTCA-written laws; here we didn’t even send our boys overseas in WWI with condoms, despite all the Wilson administration’s squawking about soldiers “keeping fit” and the president personally directing spending on ways to protect them from VD.

No, the state was not yet done with Betty; besides confinement and care, section one of the delinquent women act also calls for rehabilitation. What did that legally mean? How could Betty prove to a judge and the Board of Trustees that she was rehabilitated – and from what, exactly? Remember: She had not been convicted of prostitution or any other crime, but instead simply ordered to be sent to the Home by a justice of the peace.

Her court-appointed attorney immediately appealed when she was sentenced to the Home. For three months Betty would pace the empty corridors of the mansion awaiting a decision from the state appeals court. If she lost, they could keep her there up to five years.

Betty Carey’s fate was to be decided by the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento. As Gentle Reader already knows there’s more to appear here about the Home for Delinquent Women, it’s not much of a spoiler to reveal now that she lost her case. Badly. But it’s the court’s reasoning behind the decision that is a true jaw-dropper, and reveals how unjust and unconstitutional the overall concept was.

Had she won any of her points it would have been unprecedented. The first suits against such sentencing appeared not long after the launch of the American Plan; with CTCA encouragement, Seattle police had conducted widespread vice raids, sweeping up “suspicious” and “disorderly” women and men (including labor activists) during the winter of 1917, holding them without bail or court hearings and forcibly starting the painful treatments whether the person had VD or not. Judges dismissed the complaints, ruling the police were acting in the interest of public welfare.7

One of those cases made it to the Washington State Supreme Court in 1918 and set an astonishing precedent. An unelected official – in this case, Seattle health commissioner J. S. McBride – had virtually unlimited authority to declare someone had a contagious disease and thus hold the person indefinitely in quarantine. Dr. McBride even refused to allow those being held to communicate with their attorneys. Not only was venereal disease now in the same category as lethal communicable diseases such as smallpox or plague, it gave police the authority to arrest and deny rights of habeas corpus to anyone they claimed was “reasonably suspected” of having VD.8

It cannot be said Betty had a poor defense. The petition for appeal was brought by Darwin J. Smith, then a statehouse reporter for the Sacramento Bee, and the attorney arguing on her behalf was Charles E. McLaughlin, Director of the State Prison Board and a former judge on the same appeals court. Their defense had five basic points:

A police court doesn’t have the power to commit offenders to reformatories
A police court can’t commit someone to an indefinite sentence
Commitment to an indefinite sentence is cruel and unusual punishment
It is discriminatory to confine women to reformatories for sex crimes and not men
  It is discriminatory to confine women for soliciting sex yet not men for pimping, which is soliciting sex on behalf of a woman

All were strong arguments, and in another context or another time, at least some should have won the day. But the appeals court turned down everything, even though they had to frequently wander out into legal weeds. You can read the entire decision in a few minutes; it’s only five pages. But you might want to first make sure the windows are tightly shut because you’ll probably be screaming in outrage.

Let’s get the most absurd stuff out of the way first: The court claimed the law couldn’t lock up men in the way they were about to incarcerate Betty. Why? Because there was no such thing as a male prostitute (“men cannot commit the crime of carrying on the business of prostitution…a business that can be carried on only by women”).

Next: Betty’s indefinite sentence couldn’t be considered cruel and unusual – because it wasn’t actually indefinite. Today we’d call it a Catch-22 situation: “It has uniformly been held that the indeterminate sentence is in legal effect a sentence for the maximum term.”

Women had no more legal rights than children. In order to justify Betty’s commitment to the Home by a police court judge, the appeals court cited two decisions, one of its own and another from the state supreme court. Both concerned juvenile offenders being sent to reformatories. Part of the supreme court cite stated the police court was just acting in the same role “…which, under other conditions, is habitually imposed by parents, guardians of the person, and others exercising supervision and control…”

The court also used the comparison to juvenile delinquents to make the Orwellian claim that Betty wasn’t being incarcerated at all, but merely being required to attend a reform school. Again quoting the state supreme court regarding police courts sending children to reformatories: “…the purpose in view is not punishment for the offense done, but reformation and training of the child to habits of industry, with a view to his future usefulness when he shall have been reclaimed to society…”

The longest, and most important part of the appellate court decision, didn’t address any of Betty’s complaints; instead, it attempted to justify the need to quarantine and disenfranchise women like her. Prostitutes, the judges wrote, are a unique danger to the rest of “the human kind.” They are like “the chronic typhoid carrier – a sort of clearing house for the very worst forms of disease” and that they are “a constant pathological danger no one would question.”

…The statute in question does not purport to deal with her as an innocent person. On the contrary, the law appraises her as so steeped in crime and in so exceptional an environment that ordinary methods of reformation and escape are impossible. Every door is closed to her. Every avenue of escape is shut off. The state, realizing this, has undertaken to take forcible charge of this class of unfortunates and extend to them a home, education, assistance, and encouragement in an effort, otherwise hopeless, to restore them to lives of usefulness.

This mix of loathing and compassion matched the clubwomen view, and they likewise shared a belief that Betty and the others had to be locked up until they were rehabilitated. Given enough time, eventually they would have to emerge from their chrysalis as women of adequate moral character – just as Prohibition would surely transform every drunk into a fine sober citizen.

With the court decision lost, Betty was no longer alone at The Sonoma State Home for Delinquent Women, as the “castle” began to fill up with women inmates from San Quentin and other prostitutes sentenced directly from police courts.

As for the “education, assistance, and encouragement” the court promised she would receive, Betty told the San Francisco Daily News she was being treated like an imbecile or a naughty child, with nothing to do except caring for farm animals. “I feel like one of the goats out on this farm,” said the woman born in New York City, “I shall never milk these goats.”



1 A Germ of Goodness: The California State Prison System, 1851-1944 by Shelley Bookspan, University of Nebraska Press, 1991; pg. 74-75
2 ibid pg. 77-78
3 Under the Sedition Act of 1918, criticism of the U.S. government, the American flag or military uniforms was outlawed. As a socialist and outspoken pacifist while the country was gearing up to enter WWI, Dr. Marie Equi was an early target of J. Edgar Hoover, then a rising star at the Bureau of Investigation office charged with harassing “radicals.”
4 The Long American Plan: The US Government’s Campaign Against Venereal Disease and Its Carriers by Scott Wasserman Stern; Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, 2015 (PDF). Much of this section is sourced from this excellent thesis.
5 ibid, pg. 384
6 Mercurochrome was not universally accepted as a cure  for gonorrhea, and the medical journals c. 1920 show physicians experimenting with a wide variety of treatments which were frequently torturous. Because it was known that a sustained high fever killed the bacteria, electrical rods or cathode ray tubes (gauss lamps) heated to 112 F were sometimes inserted vaginally for up to four hours a session and repeated daily. The most common form of gonorrheal surgery was removal of the Bartholin glands, which would cause the women agonizing pain during sex for the rest of their lives. And if that wasn’t punishment enough, the gynecology department head at the San Francisco Polyclinic Hospital wrote in the 1922 AMA journal that the Skene’s gland also should be cauterized with a hot needle, which would have destroyed nerve endings (PDF).
7 op. cit. The Long American Plan, pg. 389
8 ibid, pg. 393


Collage of San Quentin mugshots, 1918-1919



Agricultural Committee Will Grapple With Delinquent Women Bill
Aim of Measure Is to Take Female Prisoners From Penitentiaries

[Special Dispatch to The Call]
CALL HEADQURTERS SACRAMENTO, Jan. 13.—Thanks to Lieutenant Governor Wallace’s determination to accept things for what they may appear to be, a bill designed to establish an indeterminate sentence farm for delinquent women who have been convicted of five or more misdemeanors reposes in the hopper of the senate committee on agricultural and dairy interests.

The bill, which Is a free copy of the New York law for the treatment of delinquent females, has the support of virtually all the women’s clubs of California. It provides for the appointment by the governor of a board consisting of the prison directors and two women to have the management of a state farm for the custody of delinquent females. The board is to select a site and upon approval by the  governor purchase it and equip it with buildings for the accommodation of at least 250 inmates. The farm is to take the place of custody for females over the age of 25 who shall have been convicted on misdemeanor charges five times. The sentences are for indefinite terms, but not to exceed 3 years.

The women’s organizations framed the measure and gave it to Finn, chairman of the committee on prisons and reformatory, for introduction. Finn sent it to the desk confidently expecting that Lieutenant Governor Wallace would immediately refer it to his committee. The reading of the title “state farm for the custody of delinquent females” was lost on none but Wallace. He gravely referred the measure to the committee on agricultural and dairy interests, A shout of laughter instantly went up, but it failed to perturb Wallace. A farm measure the bill was labeled and to Wallace farm suggested agricultural and dairying.

– San Francisco Call, January 14 1911


Recently Released Political Prisoner From San Quentin Says Newcomers to Delinquent Women’s Farm Here Will Be “Classy” Janes

There has been considerable specilation among Sonoma Valley folks as to the kind of wards the State of California is to care for at the new penal institution at Buena Vista. The former Kate Johnson place known as the Castle was purchased about a year ago to be used as a farm for Delinquent Women and according to Dr. Marie D. Equi, recently released political prisoner from San Quentin, the women are yearning to get here and will be bright, classy Janes. Here is what the Oakland Tribune reveals:

“Girl prisoners at San Quentin penitentiary are the smartest women felons in the United States, according  to Dr. Marie D. Equi, political prisoner, who has just been released from the prison and who says that the latest styles are all the vogue at the Marin county resort.

“The women inmates at San Quentin are not morons by any means,” Dr. Equi declared yesterday. “They roll ‘em down, wear ‘em high and the sleek silk-clad ankle and high-heeled shoe are always in evidence at the parties staged in S. Q. F. D.” The S. Q. F. D. means the San Quentin Female Department, she explained.

The high moral tone at the State prison, however, bars cigarettes for the girls, limits the night owls to 10 p.m., prohibits debutantes from going out unchaperoned, while at the same time countenancing the “shimmy,” the bunny hug” and the “San Rafael Waddle,” Dr. Equi says.


“Western women prisoners are greatly superior in all respects to the inmates of Eastern penitentiaries where the majority in the female departments are morons or lower,” Dr. Equi, a graduate physician of Portland continued.

My cell mates at San Quentin were just the type of bright, pretty “chickens” that the tired business man cultivates for his amusement. Check-passer, murderers, women of the street, forgers and narcotic addicts mingle together – crochet, sew, cook, read books, discuss the latest styles or dance in the big living room to the jazz tunes of a piano, just like their sisters outside.

“These girls are intelligent, not intellectual. Some of them are more intelligent than the intellectual free women. Their wits are sharpened from contact with the world.”


Dr. Equi is beginning a campaign to have the women prisoners at San Quentin transferred immediately to the new farm provided for them near Sonoma.

“Here the women will live an outdoor life and will be able to work and become more self-supporting,” says the Doctor. “The girls at Quentin are wild to get on the farm. They are housed in a little square mausoleum being permitted to go out among the green fields but once a week and having nothing to do to occupy their minds.

“Their removal from the prison to the farm is being held up pending the construction of a hospital. I contend that the women can be transferred and the hospital built afterward…

– Sonoma Index-Tribune, September 3, 1921

San Francisco, December 7.- Following the sentencing of Betty Carey, an alleged drug addict, to the new state home for delinquent women, near Sonoma, for an indefinite term, legal steps will be taken to test the law giving the courts authority to impose such sentences.

This was decided upon today by Police Judge Lile T. Jacks when he announced that he would pronounce sentence sending Betty Carey to the home.

Attorney Harry McKenzie, appointed by the court under agreement with Chief of Detectives Duncan Matheson, to appeal from the court’s judgment in the case, in order to test the law, expressed the hope that the law would be sustained.

Judge Jacks and Captain Matheson also declared their hope that the law would be upheld and thus give the courts clear headway in their efforts to cure the addicts who are brought before them.

The question at issue is whether or not the courts have the right to deprive an addict of his or her liberty for an indefinite period.

– Sotoyome Scimitar, December 9 1921


First Woman for Sonoma Farm

Miss Betty Carey, who lost a Christmas present of her liberty by failing to leave town as she promised Police Judge Lile T. Jacks, was Saturday ordered committed to the Sonoma Home for Girls. She is the first woman to be sent to the new home on court order from San Francisco county.

– Argus-Courier, January 9, 1922
Court of Appeals Upholds Act; Will Operate to  Protect Morality
(By Associated Press leased Wire)

SACRAMENTO, April 10. The constitutionality of the act establishing the state prison farm for women and also the right of police and justice courts to sentence women to the prison farm for a period not exceeding five years, today were upheld by, the third district court of appeals, denying the application of Betty Carey, an inmate of the farm, for a writ of habeas corpus.

Four points were urged by Judge C. E. McLaughlin on behalf of the petitioner in applying for the writ, as follows:

That it was beyond the jurisdiction of the police court of San Francisco where Betty Carey was arrested to sentence her to the prison farm for an indeterminate sentence which might amount to a detention for five years; that the punishment is cruel and unusual; that the act is discriminatory in that it applied only to women and that the legislation can not be general enactment modify an ordinance of San Francisco.

Replying to Judge McLaughlin’s first contention, Judge J. T. Prewett of Auburn, as the juristice protem, who wrote the opinion, declared the claim that the police court was without jurisdiction to sentence women to the prison farm was untenable. He cited Supreme Court cases upholding the right of police and justice courts to commit minors to reformatories and he held the same right existed in the matter of sentencing women to the prison farm. He declared the purpose in view is not punishment for the offense done but reformation to reclaim the women to society.

Being that the commitment of women to the prison farm is only for the purposes of assistance and reformation,” Judge Prewett held that the incarceration can not be regarded as cruel and unusual punishment.

Replying to Judge McLaughlin’s claim that the statute is unconstitutional in that it discriminates against women, Judge Prewett quoted from a Supreme Court decision holding that legislation may be directed to women as a class and that they may be segregated into groups or sub-classed in the interests of public health, safety or morals.

– San Bernardino Sun, April 11 1922


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Candidate for best headline ever in the Press Democrat: “The Town OK, People Wrong”. That was how the paper described one of the talks given as part of a 1913 lecture series titled, “What Is the Matter with Santa Rosa?” Some of the complaints were quite serious (corruption, unsafe schools) and some were personal gripes (our kids “are allowed too much of a certain kind of liberty”) but they all offered a unique window into life here a century ago.

Leading off the series was Rev. G. W. Henning, pastor of the Unitarian church at the corner of Third and D streets. His charges were broad and explosive: Our elected officials ignore the will of the people and we need a new city charter, “one under which ‘bad’ men can do no mischief.”

Most eye-opening was his complaint about “our partnership in the saloon and ‘red-light’ district,” going into some detail that we must rehabilitate the prostitutes “whereby they can earn an honest and decent living.” Santa Rosa’s tenderloin was supposedly abolished in 1909, although there were hints in subsequent years that most of the ladies were still working at several houses around the intersection of First and D streets. This is the first confirmation it was still an ongoing problem.

(RIGHT: Scene from “An Unseen Enemy” with Dorothy and Lillian Gish. This short silent film played at the Theaterette in Santa Rosa October 4, 1912)

It was also surprising to find the reverend insisting the charter must be rewritten to keep “bad” men from harming the town. That sounds like the accusations made shortly before the 1906 earthquake in the Santa Rosa Republican, when that paper was briefly operated by a pair of muckraking journalists. They charged city leaders were in cahoots with a “scheming coterie of gentlemen who manage to protect their private interests by the conduct of the city government through the present administration.” Nothing more about their detailed allegations of graft and corruption was discussed in the Republican after editorial control returned to the publisher after the quake.

The next speaker was City Health Officer Jackson Temple who complained he was underpaid and overworked, his department lacked funding, the water supply would likely be contaminated because the city was too cheap to improve it and someone’s gonna die because important public health decisions were being made by know-nothings like the mayor and police chief. Dr. Temple was probably lots of fun at parties.

The lecture with the winning “The Town OK, People Wrong” headline was presented by Attorney Frances McG. Martin, an eloquent suffragist in the 1911 fight to grant women the right to vote in California.

Press Democrat coverage of her remarks was slim, but the Republican newspaper reprinted all (or nearly all) of what she said. And some of it was pretty wild, telling the audience you can’t legislate morality, but you can criminalize immoral conduct and drive it into the shadows. (“…Even if immoral men and women are only forced to be secretly immoral, it is far preferable to flaunting their indecencies in the faces of young and old.”) Then she went on a rant against the lousy way Santa Rosa parents were raising their kids:

Young people of Santa Rosa are allowed too much of a certain kind of liberty. Children, disobedient to parents and teachers, bid fair to make very poor citizens. Young girls and boys are permitted to frequent our streets and public places of amusement at night, unaccompanied by parent or guardian, thereby incurring the gravest risks. High school girls, in many cases, attend school dressed as though for a social function, sometimes roughed and powdered and crowned with a wealth of rats and false hair. Elaborate dancing parties, given in club house or hall, are here considered necessary for pupils attending school, instead of simple home parties; and no ‘coming out’ will be possible for these young people when their school days are over, for a ‘bud’ once unfolded, can never again be a bud.

The PD didn’t cover the following talk at all, but Attorney Thomas J. Butts was the most cheery and optimistic speaker of the bunch. Our schools were good, churches plentiful, courthouse the best and “our city government is as good as we deserve” The following year Butts ran for mayor and lost by a considerable margin.

“The one great trouble with Santa Rosa is lack of co-operation,” said Butts. “We don’t work together. Take the matter of parks. The energy and zeal which it called forth is commendable, but there was no co-operation. Every section wanted a park. Every property owner want a park in his back yard. Consequently, we have no spot to which we may point with pride, much less where a person may rest.” The town’s lack of a single park was obviously a cause for Butts, who wrote an essay on the same theme a year before. As I commented then, you should read it and decide for yourself whether it’s the work of someone a little unhinged.

Butts also wanted the citizens of Santa Rosa to get serious about gardening. “We have Luther Burbank in our midst…All our gardens should be emulation of Burbank’s but we seem to prefer to raise cabbage.”

The final speaker was Margaret Stanislawsky, a parent and activist for better schools. She singled out the Fremont school (corner of Fourth and North streets) and Lincoln school (Eighth and Davis) as being “fire-traps,” invoking the tragedy of the 1908 Collinwood school fire, where 172 children were trapped and burned to death at an elementary school on the outskirts of Cleveland. Frances McG. Martin earlier had also commented on school conditions: “The Fremont school house has been the lurking place of contagious diseases for more than 20 years, and should fire break out on the lower floor, the faulty construction of this relic of the dark ages would surely cause the loss of many precious lives.”

These comments echo muckraking stories on the poor conditions of Santa Rosa schools which appeared in the Republican during Dec. 1904. The reporter found the elementary schools overcrowded and in poor condition, with only natural lighting so classrooms were sometimes dark. The South Park school didn’t even have a sewer hookup, with an outhouse and greywater from the building  draining into an open ditch in front of the building. (EDIT: on closer reading, the 1904 paper stated only water from sinks went into the ditch.) Like the investigative series on political corruption, there was no followup concerning school issues by either Santa Rosa paper after the muckraking duo departed.

Martin and Stanislawsky were also in agreement that the town treated people from outside the town like second-class citizens, even though Santa Rosa was “dependent on the farmers of the surrounding territory for an existence,” as Martin said. She chided the city for “refusing to supply them with hitching places for their horses,” a complaint which first aired in 1910 because hitching posts were yielding to parking spots. Martin also dropped the interesting statistic that there was then (in 1913) three hundred automobiles owned in Santa Rosa.

Stanislawsky further slapped the town for not allowing farmers to use its public library. “You people in town depend upon these neighbors as much as they depend upon you. If it were not for their support, there would not be much business in Santa Rosa-—not much business property to bear taxes for the sake of the library or for anything else. It is well worth your while to have the goodwill of the country people,” she said.



Reproducing in part the lecture of the previous Sunday evening, the Rev. G. W. Henning continued last Sunday evening to point out some of the things that are the matter with the city of his adoption. He said:

“We are not satisfied with out streets, our lights, our schools, our partnership in the saloon and ‘red-light’ district, and want these conditions changed. We have elected ‘good’ men—-the very best available to administer our municipal affairs, and yet are not satisfied—-in fact, we repudiate their sober propositions 15 to 1. We are sure we have neither efficiency, economy nor progress in our municipal management-—and will not be satisfied with anything else, nor less.

“But, I want it understood,” said Mr. Henning, touching the ’red light proposition, “that I will take no part in a campaign to drive out these unfortunate and sinful women, not to disturb them in any way until provision is made whereby they can earn an honest and decent living. They are driven for the most into vice by economic conditions our making—-and we-—the social body-—must bear the blame and the shame until we provide the remedy.

“In diagnosing the case of Santa Rosa, I have decided that it calls for constitutional treatment. Our charter is antiquated and unfit for a modern city. We must have a new one, adapted to changed conditions, one under which ‘bad’ men can do no mischief. We must have the latest and the best—-a city government after the pattern of Houston, Des Moines, Sioux City-—efficient, economical, progresslve.”

Mr. Henning announced the would be assisted in the case of Santa Rosa by Dr. Jackson Temple, Rolfe Thompson, Dr. I. H. Wyland and District Attorney Clarence F. Lea, whose several topics and dates would be advertised.

– Press Democrat, March 4, 1913

“You and I, and the rest of us—-we are Santa Rosa!” City Health Officer Jackson Temple told an audience of about 250 persons at Unitarian church Sunday evening. “There Is nothing the matter with us–that is, nothing that we ourselves may not remedy,” he went on.

The occasion was the first of a series of five lectures to be delivered by prominent citizens upon invitation of the Rev. G. W. Henning, on the subject “What’s the Matter With Santa Rosa?” Dr. Temple, as health officer, devoted his speech mainly to matters of sanitation. He favors a “commission” form of government, and would have the health department reconstructed, with a physician and a sanitary plumber as its working officers, rather than the present body, which consists of the Mayor, the Chief of Police, the City Engineer, one member of the City Council, and a physician, who is also health officer. Their duties are to enforce municipal ordinances and State and national laws affecting sanitation; enforcement of quarantine regulations, and recording the city’s vital statistics. The health department is handicapped by lack of equipment and by lack of funds,

“When I assumed my duties as health officer,” said the speaker, “I did so for the munificent recompense of ten dollars a month. I had to pay out of my own pocket more than that amount just for the filing of necessary records alone. This fault has since been partially obviated by increasing my salary to twenty-five dollars a month: but still I use that much or more for absolutely necessary expenses of the work, and I do the work for nothing. The same may be said of the other members with whom I serve. We have made periodic inspections of stores and restaurants: we have had backyards cleaned when they needed it, and have enforced the provision of fly-proof containers for such garbage as cannot be frequently removed. We have enforced the State law requiring all food to be screened from flies, and we have helped the State Dairy Bureau in improving your milk supply. Without expense to the city we have made bacteriological and microscopic examinations in contagious and infectious diseases-—there having been more than 250 of these in four months for diphtheria alone. The State board can do this work, but we can always do it 24 hours earlier than they can; and if the gain in time has saved only one life, it was certainly worth while to have the work done by the local board…

…”Our streets and their drainage present a trying problem. Our city has been laid out in disjointed sections, complicating the problems of the sewer system. The city’s water supply needs additional protection from contamination. Improvement has been made in this respect, but there Is more to be done. A concrete wall to keep surface water from the wells would cost approximately $2,000, and it is badly needed.

“Our present form of city government lacks the essential element of fixed responsibility. A commission form of government would change this. The people of Santa Rosa—-you and I and all of us-—should study these questions and solve them ourselves.” The Rev. Mr. Henning called upon those who endorsed Dr. Temple’s views to signify their approval by raised hands, and virtually all those present did so. Also the audience gave the health officer a vote of thanks for his discourse.

– Press Democrat, April 1, 1913
Attorney Frances McG. Martin Has Something to Say on “What Is the Matter with Santa Rosa?”

The question “What is the matter with Santa Rosa?” which is being discussed by various speakers at the Unitarian church, was ably handled Sunday night by Attorney Frances McG. Martin. A large audience greeted the speaker and her remarks were cordially received.

Mrs. Martin held that nothing was wrong with Santa Rosa, but that several things were wrong with the citizens of the community. She dwelt on the fact that although dependent on the farmers of the surrounding territory for an existence, the city treated the farmers in a most selfish manner, refusing to supply them with hitching places for their horses or a park in which they might spend a part of their long trying shopping days.

The speaker said that the question of cost had been raised, but pointed out that there were three hundred automobiles owned in Santa Rosa and that if the cost of each machine averaged $1,000 it would mean that $300,000 was spent for machines to take people out of town, while the cry was being raised that there was not money enough to provide accommodations for the people coming into town.

Mrs. Martin touched on many other points, and her argument was logical, clear and forceful. She was heartily applauded by her hearers at the close of her remarks.

– Press Democrat, April 8, 1913



“No community has the right to compel children to attend school in buildings wherein any precaution for their health and safety has been neglected. Attendance upon our grade schools in Santa Rosa is made compulsory by law. Can we say that sucn precautions are not neglected here? If catastrophe should come, with what horror-stricken eyes and aching hearts should we look back upon what might have been done!

“Does Santa Rosa need the lesson of Cleveland brought to her own doors? May God avert it! To my mind, remedy of this neglect is Santa Rosa’s most urgent duty.”

The speaker was Mrs. Henry Stanislawsky. Sunday evening at First Unitarian church, in one of a series of lectures by well known residents ot this city, upon the same topic—-” What Is the Matter with Santa Rosa?” Mrs. Stanislawsky has not lived in Santa Rosa so long as have others who had given lectures upon the same subject in the same church, but she is evidently a close observer and a thoughtful student. Withal she is a pleasing and forceful speaker, with an earnest delivery and a lucid diction that make her meanings clear. Improvement of the school buildings was her first and strongest demand.

“In the town where I lived before I came to Santa Rosa,” she said, “there was at the time of the terrible Cleveland fire a nearly new brick schoolhouse—-large, commodious, comfortable. The shocking disaster at Cleveland made every school district in the country at least momentarily alert to precaution for safety in case of fire. Then it was seen that our new schoolhouse was utterly and criminally unsafe. Fire drills had been frequent, but the exits from the upper stories were only two flights of stairs leading Into the central hall—-exits like to those that had murdered so many little ones at Cleveland-—exits quite similar to those of the Fremont school and the Lincoln school in Santa Rosa. It was seen that, if fire broke out, the large probability—-almost certainty-—was that the draft in those stairs and halls would make them the main pathway of the flame; exit there would be blocked, and the fire-drills would have proved worse than useless. A panic would be inevitable…

…If you cannot afford new buildings, can you not at least make, the old ones safe?”

Extend Library Privileges

“Another recommendation I wish to urge is, that Santa Rosa should make her public library free to her rural neighbors. True, the townspeople maintain the library, but to permit people from the nearby country to borrow books would involve no initial cost, and but a slight additional cost for upkeep. That courtesy to your neighbors would be appreciated. You people in town depend upon these neighbors as much as they depend upon you. If it were not for their support, there would not be much business in Santa Rosa-—not much business property to bear taxes for the sake of the library or for anything else. It is well worth your while to have the goodwill of the country people. It is a good business proposition…

– Press Democrat, April 29, 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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