gishunseenenemy

WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH SANTA ROSA?

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 toilets draining into an open ditch in front of the building. 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.

 

“WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH SANTA ROSA?”

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
“WHAT’S THE MATTER HERE?” “NOTHING!” SAYS DR.TEMPLE

“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
THE TOWN O. K. PEOPLE WRONG
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

 

“OUR SCHOOLS FIRE-TRAPS” SAYS WOMAN IN LECTURE

“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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DOCTOR FIREBUG, M.D.

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.

HOUSES BURNED ON FIRST STREET
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


DR. C. W. LAWTON JAILED AS AN INCENDIARY SUSPECT
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

DAMAGING ACCUSATIONS ARE MADE AGAINST DR. LAWTON
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
DR. LAWTON RELEASED ON $1,000 CASH BAIL SATURDAY
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
THE GRAND JURY DOES NOT INDICT DR C. W. LAWTON
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

WON’T INDICT DR C. W. LAWTON
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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WHITE SLAVERY IN SONOMA COUNTY?

The red lights of Santa Rosa’s tenderloin district went dark in 1909, but not before an alleged victim of “white slavery” told authorities that she had been forced into a life of prostitution.

The story appeared in both local papers as well as the San Francisco Call, but the most detailed version was found in the Press Democrat. A 17/18 year-old Italian woman, Angelina Regiano, was coaxed to immigrate by her sister, Italia. Once she arrived in New York City, Italia and her boyfriend “beat her into submission and forced her into a disreputable house in New York. There she was held in practical slavery until the couple removed to this city, where her state was not improved.” Angelina escaped to San Francisco, where she met and married a photographer named Antonio Montpellier (in less than three weeks!) and soon thereafter, the newlyweds received a letter from Italia: Return my sister or we’ll kill Antonio. At that point the couple went to the police. Italia and her partner were arrested in El Verano by immigration authorities, who told the PD that the pair were expected to get five years in prison. Angelina was also held, sadly, on charges of violating immigration law “which forbids female immigrants leading an improper life within three years.”

So is the story true? “White slavery” was a topic causing roaring hysteria in the years surrounding the turn of the century.  On closer examination, however, those sensationalist accusations of white slavery frequently proved false. This tale is impossible to verify with certainty, but I feel there’s enough evidence to deem it true. The greatest obstacle is tracking names in historical records; as every genealogy buff knows, Ellis Island clerks and newspaper reporters weren’t great at accurately spelling “foreign” names.

Villainess Italia Regiano can be spotted coming to America in 1904, for example, but her name had two “g”s on the ship passenger list and she was from the town of Potenza, not “Patenza.” Angelina’s route is trickier, although she’s likely the young woman of the same age whose name was recorded as Angela Regina, sailing by herself on a ship that arrived in 1906. Her photographer husband Antonio Montpellier (who lost an “l” in the Republican paper) can’t be found at all. And if wandering in that labyrinth of names isn’t confusing enough, consider that the version from the San Francisco Call version had everything jumbled up – it was Italia Reggiano who was forced into prostitution by her sister “Silvia.” Huh? What? Wo ist Silvia? (Eine kleine Schubert Wortspiel, sorry.)

It’s also interesting to note that Italia and her pimpy sweetie Pepine were arrested in El Verano, the little resort town just outside of Sonoma. A couple of years later, it was to become the new center of operations for “Spanish Kitty,” an infamous Barbary Coast madam. (Her house is now the Sonoma Rose Villa Bed and Breakfast at 400 Solano Avenue.) Equidistant by train from Santa Rosa and the Sausalito ferry, El Verano was a great location for a rural whorehouse to set up shop, which is likely why Italia and Pepine  – “until recently said to be brothel agents in San Francisco,” according to the PD – were in town. Santa Rosa’s tenderloin had closed (or really, quieted down) less than a month before their arrest, and it’s my guess that some of those women had relocated with the pair to El Verano.

Also convincing is that the story appeared in the Press Democrat, whose editor Ernest L. Finley was loathe to admit Santa Rosa ever had any sort of problem with prostitution. He was the last person to desire publicity about a “white slavery” incident in Santa Rosa; the story was published on an inside page as if it were any other crime story. He surely would have liked to ignore it altogether, but it’s not every day that the United States marshal for the Northern District and an Immigration Inspector tromps through your back yard.

And finally, the story is far more believable because it appeared in 1909 and not a few years hence, when the white-slave mania was running at full throttle. It wasn’t until the end of that year that President Taft urged white slavery legislation in his first State of the Union address, followed by passage of the “White Slave Traffic Act of 1910,” better known as the Mann Act. A growing number of news articles began appearing after that, peaking in 1912 when more stories on the topic were found in California newspapers than the previous fifty years combined, according to a search of the state papers thus far digitally archived.

(RIGHT: An illustration from the 1910 book, “Fighting the Traffic in Young Girls” by Chicago Rev. Ernest A. Bell, who wrote, “I believe that there are good grounds for the suspicion that the ice cream parlor, kept by the foreigner in the large country town, is often a recruiting station, and a feeder for the ‘White slave’ traffic.”)

The intensity of “white slavery” hysteria in the 1910s is difficult to comprehend today. It was the central plot in a million dime novels and the subject of a million sermons. Politicians won elections fighting it, and newspapers won circulation wars by printing lurid tales about it. Want to draw an audience to your next club meeting? Announce that there would be an “expert” lecturing about the slavery dangers lurking everywhere. In the Bay Area, “The World’s Purity Federation” was formed, along with the “Society for the Abolition of White Slavery,” which urged the formation of a state police white slave squad (San Francisco police indeed had a white slave detail).

Today it’s recognized that their white-slave anxieties were a mash-up of many fears. It was partly the uneasiness about young people leaving rural communities for the dangerous big city; it was prudish discomfort with the concept that some women might sell their bodies without coercion (“white slavery” became a synonym for prostitution for some muckrakers and reformers); but most consistently, it was a warning about the dangers of foreigners. There was supposed to be an international cabal of Russian Jews tricking girls into Chicago and New York brothels; on the West Coast, the threat came from the Chinese stealing young women off the street to either ship them to Asia or force them to do unspeakable things in their opium dens.

The movement to fight “white slavery” a hundred years ago was more about racist fear-mongering than fact, but women and girls were indeed forced into prostitution in the early 20th century America – and still are today. Hopefully the girl with many names from Potenza indeed ended up with a happy life despite her monstrous sister’s detour.

BAD COUPLE ARE UNDER ARREST
Pitiful Story Told by a Young Woman Who Was Lured from Home to a Life of Shame

United States Immigration Inspector de la Torre made a very important capture Tuesday night when at El Verano, in this county, he arrested Italia Regiano and Pepine Pietra, until recently said to be brothel agents in San Francisco. The couple were taken to San Francisco Wednesday and placed under $10,000 bonds each by Commissioner Hart North to prevent their escape.

A “Black Hand” letter addressed to Antonio Montpellier, San Francisco photographer and husband of Angelina Regiano, a 20-year-old girl, who was brought to this country two years ago and forced into an improper life by her sister and her paramour until rescued by her marriage, has resulted in the capture of the miscreants who planned the girl’s downfall.

Angelina Regiano escaped from her bondage on June 13, according to the details learned in San Francisco, and managed to elude the pursuit of her jailers. While in hiding she met Antonio Montpellier, and her pitiful tale touched his heart. A marriage resulted and threats against the life of the husband immediately followed. On July 3 Montpellier received a letter threatening his life unless he surrendered the girl to Pietra.

This he placed in the hands of Inspector de la Torre and the capture of those who instigated it was consummated Tuesday night. The federal authorities believe they have accumulated enough evidence to send the pair to prison for five years.

Unfortunately the victim herself comes within the specifications of the law and is being held by the authorities under the statute which forbids female immigrants leading an improper life within three years. Her story is a touching one. In her little home town of Patenza she says she received urgent letters from her sister Italia to come to America, where she was promised marriage as soon as she arrived. When she came, however, her sister and Pietra beat her into submission and forced her into a disreputable house in New York. There she was held in practical slavery until the couple removed to this city, where her state was not improved. Finally she escaped but found that her troubles were not ended even when she met the man who is now her husband.

– Press Democrat, July 29, 1909

INHUMAN ACT OF SISTER
Arrested at El Verano for Her Depraved Acts

The story of the capture of two brothel agents at El Verano Tuesday night by United States Immigration Inspector de la Torre shows how low in the scale of life people may become. The two people arrested are Italia Regiano and Pepine Pietra, and they were placed under $10,000 bonds each. The former of this duet two years ago brought her own eighteen year old sister, Angelina, to this country from their native home, Patenza, Italy, with the promise that she would be married as soon as she arrived here. On the poor girl’s arrival she was met in New York by her sister and her paramour, the man arrested Tuesday, and by them was beaten and forced to lead an improper life. She was later brought here and was continued to be held as a white slave until she made her escape on June 13. She met Antonio Montpelier, a photographer in San Francisco and was married to him. A black hand letter was sent by the two under arrest to the girl’s new husband, threatening him with death if he did not return the girl to her persecutors. The turning over of this letter to Mr. de la Torre is what has led to the capture of the inhuman sister and her paramour.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 29, 1909

 ACCUSED OF FORCING SISTER TO LIFE OF SHAME

 Pepino Pietra and Silvia Reggiano were arrested by United States Marshall C. T. Elliott yesterday for bringing Italia Reggiano, a sister of Silvia Reggiano, to the United States from Italy for immoral purposes.

 The arrests, which were made in El Verano, Sonoma county, were at the behest of the immigration department at Washington, D. C.

 It is claimed by Italia Reggiano that her sister brought her to New York with the idea of marrying, but on her arrival she was compelled by her sister to live in a house of ill repute.

 – San Francisco Call, July 28, 1909

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