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TERRIFIC GUY, TERRIBLE MARSHAL (CHARLIE HOLMES II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


SANTA ROSA’S DOGGY DILEMMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE THREE (OR MORE) FACES OF CHARLIE HOLMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT: OH, LOATHSOME ME


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

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

  

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DESERVES A SECOND TERM

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, March 17 1900

 

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, October 24 1900

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, November 20 1901

 

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

– Press Democrat, January 8 1902

 

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

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

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

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, January 8 1902

 

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

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

– Press Democrat, January 10 1902

 

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

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

– Press Democrat, January 23 1902

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