Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The True Story Of Octavia Hatcher - History vs. Myth

Photo by: IndigoJoy
Over the years, the urban legend swirling around Pikeville, Kentucky, in regards to the death of a woman known as Octavia Hatcher, seems to have taken on a life of its own. You can basically Google search her name and find all sorts of sites- paranormal and historical, claiming to know her story. There has even been television shows such as "Mysteries at the Museum", as well as local news channels that have done segments on this story.  The question here is...are these stories really true?

When I heard the story of Octavia Hatcher, the woman who was mistakenly buried alive while in a mysterious coma, I was taken by it. It was a tragic event that no one in their right mind would ever wish to experience or learn of a loved one experiencing. Watching these television programs or reading these blogs, it may sound like serious research must have been done on the subject in order for people to be so adamant that it actually took place, right? Well, I have got news for you, in most cases stories with over the top myth and lore usually start somewhere in reality but over time get blown out of proportion due to "fiction" being added in as fact.

Nowadays, no one questions stories such as these and so urban legends continue to be told incorrectly.  People assume that if it has been told the same way for all those years, it must be true, but in my line of work I have found more often than not that most stories can actually be proven false.

When I decided to research the story of Octavia Hatcher, I didn't go into it with the mindset of disproving the story. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I actually wanted to tell her horrific story to the world,  but I wanted to make sure it was told accurately. I wanted to find all the recorded information on her life and death that way I could tell her story correctly.  It was then that I started to notice something...too many people are regurgitating the same story verbatim. This is a red flag. It shows that people out there are not willing to do the research and look up the sources to tell the story, but instead just taking the last person who wrote about it and using their material.

How do you know where they found their information, especially if they do not cite their sources? You don't, therefore you cannot trust information unless it can be backed up by sources. Here is the information I have been able to dig up as well as my opinions based on my findings. My sources will be listed below.


Mrs, Hatcher was born Octavia Smith, to parents Jacob and Pricey Smith of Kentucky on May 21, 1870.  Her father appeared to be a successful dry goods merchant, having listed $7,000 in real estate value on the 1870 census records, which was a significantly larger amount than the majority of their neighbors at the time,

Octavia Hatcher (Findagrave)
In 1889, at the age of 19, Octavia married James Hatcher.  Jim, as people called him, was a store clerk in the 1880's. By the age of 18, he went into business himself, eventually becoming one of the most successful businessmen in all of Kentucky, dabbling in mining, timber as well as many more business ventures throughout his lifetime.  By Spring of 1890, Octavia became pregnant with their son, Jacob. On January 4, 1891, Octavia gave birth to their child, however the child passed away within hours of being born as his death date is the same as his birthdate. Devastated by her loss, Octavia fell into a dark depression.

By April, Octavia had grown ill to the point she was bed ridden, eventually slipping into a comatose state, and on May 2, 1891 she was pronounced dead. Soon after her death, she was buried at the Pikeville Cemetery alongside the grave of her newborn baby. In 1892, a beautiful monument was erected in honor of Octavia, commissioned by her husband James.

The Daily Review out of Decatur, Illinois, September 28, 1892, stated:

"Unique Tombstone. Cincinnati, Sept. 27.--

The most unique tombstone known in this section was shipped from this city. It is a statue of the late Mrs. James Hatcher, the deceased wife of a Pikeville, Ky., banker. It is in marble and is the exact hight [sic] of the deceased and is a perfect likeness of her, a cabinet photograph having been used as a model. In the right hand is a parasol, the handle having an immense ring. Even the fashion of the dress is copied."


Many websites that speak of Octavia Hatcher's death, do so by copying and pasting the information from a previous site. I noticed many sites refer to the "research" done by Troy Taylor and Herma Shelton which is found on a site called "Prairie Ghosts."  A lot of the history about James Hatcher, which is reiterated (almost verbatim) was from copyrighted material in Pikeville history, such as the book "The History of Kentucky" yet they do not list anywhere  on their site what their sources were or quote the information they used. In fact the only "sources" they list at the bottom of their article are :"Pike County News (1939 edition), Tour Pike County website (www.tourpikecounty.com), Personal Interviews and Correspondence"

As a historian who is publishing historical material you should always cite your sources. At least mention where you get your information within the material if you aren't going to list it at the bottom of the page. When you do not provide proof that these documents or records exist, how can we believe that this information is true, or accurate? We cannot.

So with all these websites copying and pasting the same old story, over and over, how on earth will Octavia's accurate story be found? You have to go back to the primary sources.  I have found many newspaper articles from the 1930's and 1950's, including a book that mentions Octavia's death. However, nothing strange was mentioned besides the fact that she passed away.

If Octavia had truly been buried alive, in a small town such as Pikeville, wouldn't it have been mentioned in a newspaper? Being found buried alive is big news and it would have been a tragic story that would be remembered for many years and even circulated in the newspapers all over the country.  I found no newspaper articles mentioning that she was found buried alive.

When James Hatcher died in 1939, there was no mention of the horrible ordeal of Octavia's death in the papers either. I found many times in the past that if your life had some sort of tragedy or scandal, when you died, your obituary would mention it. That was just how it went in those days. Yet, there was no mention of the "buried alive" story at all.

In the 1959 article that spoke about remembering "Uncle Jim" and his Hatcher Hotel, I found that it spoke of James Hatchers life, his interests and his character, but not one time does it go into detail about Octavia's death.  She is mentioned as dying young and that is basically it. Had there been a story to tell, surely it would have been told even then, but it wasn't.

More than likely it was a customized coffin with the escape hatch in it, which was an item on display at the Hatcher Hotel that may have sparked the myth or speculation behind why Mr. Hatcher purchased it. Some say he was terrified of being buried alive because of the tragedy that happened to Octavia. But do we actually have anything in writing that claims this?  Did James Hatcher's fear of being buried alive have anything to do with Octavia's death? Who knows.

Maybe deep down he always had a fear of being buried while still alive, I know I do, and I don't know anyone who has been through such an experience. With stories in the mid 1800s, such as Edgar Allan Poe's works 'The Premature Burial', 'The Black Cat' and 'The Cask of Amontillado' mentioning scenarios of being buried alive, this caused a lot of dread and fear among many and actually influenced "safety coffins" to be created in those days.

Yes, we know that Octavia Hatcher grew ill, went into a comatose state and passed away.  Perhaps other people became ill and recovered as the urban legend states, however I have not found any newspapers speaking of this either. Octavia Hatcher died and was buried, this is a fact.

If she was exhumed and found to have been buried alive, where is the proof of this? Where are the records? Where are the newspaper clippings and headlines of that time period? Why hasn't anyone over all these years posted any proof that this actually occurred? Where are the notes from the doctors who performed the exhumation and examination of her body? Where is the order to exhume her body? Most importantly, why has no one posted this information to the public if it is in fact true?


According to the "urban legend", Octavia as well as "other residents" in Pikeville grew ill with a mysterious "sleeping sickness." Allegedly, the other residents who fell ill and went into comas eventually recovered, leading the question as to whether Octavia was buried prematurely.  According to "research" done by someone named Herma Shelton, she came up with the theory that the tsetse fly caused this illness.

So we are to believe that an insect, indigenous to Africa, somehow traveled to Kentucky in 1891, without infecting anyone else in the process and first infected Octavia and only a handful of other residents in Pikeville?  Does that sound possible?

Her husband was a merchant and he did own a warehouse that provided most of the items for residents shipped in on steamboats to the area, but it seems highly unlikely that out of all the people the fly could have come in contact with on its way there, it waited to the end of the line to infect Octavia.

Other possibilities...

According to the book "A Fever In Salem," there was a mention of a strange sleeping sickness that struck residents in Italy during 1891. Those who recovered suffered symptoms of similar to that of  Parkinson's Disease. It was later diagnosed as encephalitis lethargica. Interestingly, this disease mentioned above is not the same as the "sleeping sickness" caused by the tsetse fly.

Although many records state that an pandemic of encephalitis lethargica swept across the the world during 1916-1927, the facts show that an earlier epidemic, they called "Noma", actually started in Italy and Austria in 1890.  Could Octavia had been in contact with something imported from Italy that made her ill? I think that if it is possible to believe a fly from Africa came all the way across the Atlantic only to first infect Octavia, that the idea that she may have been in contact with an imported item from Italy (possibly through her husband's shipping business) isn't too far fetched to ponder.

The television show "Mysteries at the Museum" claimed that it was a toxic gas or fume from the coal mines nearby that may have affected Octavia and the other residents who took ill, though they do not specify what type of toxin or gas in their statement.

No matter what was the cause of the mysteries illness that first struck Mrs. Octavia Hatcher, unfortunately without scientific proof of what afflicted her, we cannot say for sure what made her sick.


During my research into Octavia's life and death, I researched her husband, James Hatcher as well. What I found was an immense collection of information about his life and his interests. Something that stood out to me was that he was a history buff. In fact, he couldn't get enough of it. He was known for telling stories about the forgotten history of the areas in which he lived. One such story stuck out, as it sounded eerily familiar with the "ghost" stories that people have attached to his wife.

According to the fine article by Henry P. Scalf that ran in the Floyd County Times on  June 21, 1956 he mentions Jim Hatcher and his love for history, as well as the history of his land.

"Hatcher grew old, but his love for Ivy Creek never flagged. He went back there often from Pikeville and pondered upon the history and legends of the place. He could point out with exactitude the military dispositions of the Union general, William 'Bull' Nelson and the Confederate captain, Andrew Jackson May. 'Here sat May upon his horse just before the battle opened,' he would say, pointing to where his residence stood.

If you had traveled up the valley with him, he would have pointed out the Drappin' Lick, where early settlers lay in wait for deer to come down and lick the mineral waters. Farther up the road, he would stop beside a huge stone that decades ago had rolled down the mountain side and plopped itself in the middle of a bottom. You would listen to the legend he told.

Years ago, so long ago no one now living remembers when, a woman with a babe in arms was walking along this road. It was late in the evening, when the shadows were falling across the leafy trail. She was seen by someone, nobody remembers whom. When she was midway across the bottom, there was a roar from the mountain side, and the giant rock came crashing down hill. Suddenly there was long, piercing scream, and after that silence filled the twilight. People say today that the woman and her baby are buried under the giant stone. Some say that even today, on certain evenings, a woman draped in black can be seen walking around the eternal rock, looking for her child. Others say that each year, on the anniversary of her death, screams can be heard.

The Battle of Ivy Narrows is history, and the story of the rock is legend. Jim Hatcher loved both."--- (Floyd County Times, June 21, 1956)

This article right here is what I believe may have triggered a ghost story, but in the wrong way. You see, this story that Jim Hatcher spoke about was about a woman and her child from long ago...long before Octavia, he or anyone in the area had been born. He was talking about the history of the residents in that area of generations long before him. He was enamored with history and lore.

If you look into the stories surrounding Octavia's grave at the Pikeville cemetery you will find postings saying that on the anniversary of her death, people see a woman in black crying for her child. I think this story has been wrongfully attached to Octavia based on this story James Hatcher told locals about which had nothing to do with his wife's story.

If you search online, you will see posts about her stone turning its back on the town for burying her alive. It was proven that college students had been messing with the stone for years playing pranks as well as people vandalizing her monument over the years.

You will read that her monument once held a baby in her right arm, another added tidbit I believe is derived from the earlier story James Hatcher told of that rock at Ivy Creek. This idea that Octavia's statue had her holding a baby is also fabrication, as the newspaper I quoted earlier in this article states her right hand held a parasol with an immense ring on it. It just sounds to me like over the years, people have spread their own ghost stories mixing fact with fiction, creating this larger-than-life story about Octavia that is more than likely not true.

James Hatcher 

One thing that is very sad about this story is the fact that James Hatcher's life has been forgotten. There is so much amazing history behind this man, his life, his successes, his beliefs and his legacy, yet no one seems to want to remember him.

"The History of Kentucky" speaks of James Hatcher's life and early beginnings. He was born at the mouth of Beaver Creek in Floyd County. His parents were A.J. Hatcher and Mary C Layne. At the age of 18, Jim (James) decided to go into business himself and proved successful. He owned a warehouse that held all the goods being shipped in to the area by way of steamboat in all the area and surrounding counties at the time. He invested in the building of a steamboat the "Mountain Girl," which turned out to be a huge failure financially, despite being known as the finest boat on the river.

He went on to own vast areas of land which proved to be rich in oil and gas, making him a fortune. He went on to go into the timber business, making him richer and richer until he turned around and invested his wealth into the coal mining business. In 1886, he helped have the Court House constructed as well as serve as County Clerk. In 1916, he had the Hatcher Hotel constructed, claiming the 200 room hotel was fire-proof with it's steel construction.

 His obituary in the Pike County News, October 5, 1939 edition reads:
"James (Uncle Jim) Hatcher, wealthy land owner and a prominent business figure in the Big Sandy Valley for more than half a century, died at his home next to the Hatcher Hotel at 12:40 o'clock Friday noon, following an illness of several weeks. He observed his eightieth birthday September 22nd.

Funeral services were conducted at the Hatcher Hotel here at 2 o'clock Sunday afternoon and were attended by Governor A. B. Chandler, who, in a brief address, paid tribute to Mr. Hatcher; Lieutenant Governor Keen Johnson and other state officials, including E. E. Shannon, Dan Talbot, and Major Joe Burnham. Rev. I. S. Pineur officiated, and burial was in the family plot in the Pikeville Cemetery, in a casket he had especially constructed.

Pall bearers were Mack Bowles, John M. Yost, Hi Pauley, George W. Coleman, K. J. Day, Zach Justice, K. L. Arnold, Louis Polack, George Johnson, George Venters, John Bentley, Dr. M. D. Flanary, W. H. Caudill, and J. H. Cingett.

A pioneer in the timber industry long before the coming of the railroad and the development of the vast coal fields of this region, Mr. Hatcher floated hundreds of rafts carrying millions of feet of lumber down the Big Sandy to the Ohio, then on to the market points at Cincinnati, Louisville, and Evansville. His early timber operations were successful, and he invested practically all of his profits in land in Pike and Floyd counties until he became recognized as one of the biggest individual land-holders in the entire valley.

At Big Shoal, where he formerly operated the James Hatcher Coal Company, his holdings included 3,700 acres and in addition to this vast tract, his other holdings were estimated at 6,000 acres, much of which lies over rich coal deposits.

Entering business here at the age of 18, Mr. Hatcher soon opened a warehouse for merchandise, and at one time handled practically all of the merchandise which was shipped via steamer to Pikeville, which was the head of navigation for an extensive district including Pike, Letcher, and Harlan counties in Kentucky and Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties in Virginia. He was associated with R. M. Ferrell, W. O. B. Ratliff, and John C. Hopkins in building the steamer Mountain Girl, which he considered the finest boat on the river and also the biggest financial failure of the waters. Among other ventures Mr. Hatcher engaged in the contracting business, and in 1886 had the contract to erect the courthouse here.

A few years ago he erected the new Hotel Hatcher on Main Street, and this has become one of the show places of the Big Sandy. In the spacious lobby is a museum in miniature including ox-yokes, ancient hand-made furniture, weapons of bygone days, a huge old-fashioned fireplace, and utensils used in the days of the early settlers. The white walls of the lobby are literally covered with historical data of Pike and Floyd counties, mottoes, and philosophical sayings.

Mr. Hatcher had long been a prominent figure in Democratic political circles and several years ago served one term as Clerk of the Pike County Court, and in 1932 he was elected state railroad commissioner for this district.

Born at the mouth of Beaver Creek in Floyd County on September 22nd, 1859, he was the son of A. J. and Mary C. Layne Hatcher, being one of nine children born to this couple. He moved to Pikeville early in life and attended the school here. In 1889, at the age of 30, he was married here to Miss Octavia Smith, daughter of Jacob [s/b Jesse] Smith, an early settler. Mrs. Hatcher died on May 2, 1891 and a son, Jacob, born just before the death of Mrs. Hatcher, died also in infancy."--

Hatcher Hotel (Historic Photo)
As one of the articles I read stated, Hatcher had a fascination with the area at the mouth of Ivy Creek, as it was where he said that Colonel Andrew Jackson May, Prestonburg's Rebel leader "sat upon his horse and directed his green troops in the Battle of Ivy Narrows." James Hatcher was a history lover and he soaked it up.

His hotel was a virtual museum with all sorts of items from the past on display along with his favorite quotes painted on the walls. The hotel itself was part of him, and it showed. You could walk along the halls of the hotel and read many of the quotes he enjoyed, some might even make you laugh, others might make you think. Honestly, the guy sounded alright by me, and the more I learn about him the more I understood him.

When questioned about "Uncle Jim" as they called him, many people remembered him as a great man with a good heart that never refused a lodger even if they didn't have money to pay. He might sit you down and chew you out about it, but he wouldn't refuse you.

During the Great Depression, if a painter came through town, he would hire him to paint a few quotes on the wall in exchange for a night's lodging. As lodgers would come and go, many would add quotes to his list and he would go on to add them to his walls of the hotel. As you can see in the photo below.
Inside the Hotel, note Octavia's portrait hanging above

Although he never remarried or had any more children of his own, he raised 7 children of his nephew and put them all through school. In 1928, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet asked Hatcher if he would donate some of his land near Ivy Creek to "right-of-way" for the highway, and he agreed under one condition. The condition was that they construct a memorial arch to commemorate the Battle of Ivy Mountain, the history that Hatcher loved so much.  The Cabinet agreed to the terms Hatcher had given and it was included in the deed transfer to the Commonwealth of  Kentucky.

Sadly, they didn't keep their word. Even after Hatcher passed away the project continued to be delayed. In 1946, veterans from WWII reminded the Transportation Cabinet of their promise to Hatcher and that they had to make good on their word. Still, nothing was done.

Many years later, a writer by the name of Robert Perry took an interest in this subject and published an article that would reignite this story, allowing a campaign supported by descendants of Mr. Hatcher as well as many others, including the American Legion, American Veterans Post and the Floyd County Historical and Genealogical Society to pave the way to making this promise come true. On November 10th, 2001, just two days past the 140th Anniversary of the Battle of Ivy Mountain the formal dedication to a monument took place.  Thanks to the hard work and research of Mr. Perry, James Hatcher's dream of a monument commemorating one of his favorite historical sites came to fruition.

As Henry P. Scalf mentioned in his article in 1956, for the Floyd County Times,

"Men live and dream, like Hatcher did..... He was a bit of history himself, and, being the man that he was, he will be a legend, too, some day."---- Floyd County News, June 21, 1956


I have contacted several people in Pikeville that are involved in the history there, including their tourism website and the Big Sandy Heritage Center, yet no one has ever responded. I have asked if they can cite the sources of where the documents are, to prove Octavia's "buried alive story" as fact,  yet no one has responded.

If by chance, someone out there has documents to prove my theory is wrong, then please by all means show me the proof and I would be more than happy to correct my information. I would like nothing more than to make sure my story is told accurately. However, if there are no records showing that Octavia Hatcher's body was actually exhumed, and it was observed that she was in fact buried alive, then the story of this poor woman that has been going around all these years has been a farce, and out of respect it should be corrected.

In the end, James Hatcher was buried next to his beloved wife, Octavia and their precious baby, Jacob. They were reunited in death, resting in peace, together. The story of Octavia and her husband James has its share of  tragedy, as well as triumphs. Let's remember the both of them and the story their lives have to tell.

One of James Hatcher's favorite quotes that hung on one of the walls of his Hatcher Hotel, was "always tell the truth and you will never have to remember what you said." I think he would have appreciated the lengths I went to tell his wife's story truthfully and accurately, as well as his own. I also believe he would appreciate that I want to make sure the world remembered both of them, as I believe everyone has a story to tell, and no one deserves to be forgotten. In the end, it is James' and Octavia's opinion that only would have mattered to me anyways.---

Rest In Peace, James, Octavia and Jacob Hatcher!

(Copyright 2015- J'aime Rubio)

Thank you IndigoJoy from Findagrave for the photo of Octavia's grave!

Family Search.Com
1870 Census, Pike, Kentucky
Daily Review. Decatur, Ill. (9/28/1892)
Prairie Ghosts Website
Milwaukee Sentinel, (8/3/1959)
The History Of Kentucky, by William Elsey Connelly, 1922.
A Fever In Salem- by Laurie Winn Carlson
Framing Tropical Disease in London- Patrick Manson (1891-1902)
A Wake-up Call About Sleeping Sickness, by Peter G.E. Kennedy, M.D,(dana.org)
Mysteries At The Museum, Travel Channel, Air date: 20 December 2012 (Season 3, Episode 6)
Pike County News, (10/5/1939)
Add To The Legends Of Ivy Creek, by Henry P. Scalf (Floyd County Times, 6/21/1956)
The Man Behind The Monument, by Robert Perry
The Case of The Missing Memorial Arch, by Robert Perry

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Secrets in the Creek, The Mystery of Ella Newton


On the late afternoon of December 5, 1892, news spread quickly through Mount Vernon, New York, that the body of a beautiful young woman had been found, drowned in East Chester Creek. The circumstances surrounding her death at the immediate time were unknown. All that the Coroner and Police Department knew was that something terrible had happened.

When they found the lifeless body of this lovely young lady, it was noted that she was quite striking. Her slim figure, beautiful pale porcelain skin, and her glossy, raven colored tresses "hung loosely about her shoulders" as they pulled her body from the watery grave. 

She had been discovered in a swimming area of the East Chester Creek in Mount Vernon in the late afternoon approximately around 4-5 p.m. according to my research. Several newspapers mention that this was near the Webber's Hotel, although records indicate it was closer to the Invermere Hotel. Her body had been anchored down with a tight rope wrapped around her waist, and two heavy stones knotted to the rope to act as a weight to hold her down. The Coroner believed she had been in the water 36 hours, but I believe this was a typo in the newspaper and meant to read 3-6 hours given the time frame in which she was seen around town earlier before she disappeared.

On her person, inside the pocket of her dress the Coroner found these items:

  1. $. 35 cents
  2.  A pocket book 
  3. A blank piece of paper with letterhead of the Mott House (Tarrytown-on-the-Hudson) that only had the word “Dear", written on it.
  4. A business card that said “Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co., Silver Plated Ware, 36 East Fourteenth Street, Union Square, New York." The back of the card had handwriting that read :"6-46, Sat, Oct 22."
  5. Part of an envelope that was addressed: Lulu Newton care of G.Newton, Merchant Tailor, 158 Tenth Ave, New York City. (Post mark date illegible.)  
  6. Unused toothbrush (new) 
  7. Sewn into the lining of the waist of the dress, a rabbits foot (a symbol of good luck).
The Chief of Police searched the area for any clues as to what exactly happened to this lady and came up with nothing.  However, allegedly hours later, two other men who decided to do some "amateur sleuthing" claimed to have discovered more evidence that the police allegedly missed and basically claimed to have solved the case.

George Clough, Proprietor of Invermere Hotel, and employee John Grace claimed that after the police left they did their own “investigating” of the premises where Ella was found. This is what Mr. Clough had to say: 

“I found tracks that were such as hers in the snow, leading towards the end of the horse railroad towards the merry-go-round.  None of the conductors or the drivers on the road remember her, so it is supposed she walked the entire distance. I followed the tracks back to the shed, where the merry-go-round is stored, through a hedge, and there picked up a small cake such as bakers sell.  A little further on, we came to the big willow tree on the bank of the creek that is a landmark. It had been recently blown over, and the roots standing up in the air leave a big hollow. In the hallow we found the coat and hat of the girl.  The coat was neatly folded and the hat had in it a white silk handkerchief*, with a long hatpin run through the whole.  There was also a crumpled paper bag, from Stubbin’s Bakery with some crumbs in it. This tree is on the bank of the swimming pool, and the girl could have stepped off into water plenty deep enough to drowned her. The tracks of the girl led directly to the place, and were unaccompanied by other tracks.”—Quote from George Clough in New York Times.  

(* It was later reported the handkerchief had the letter "K" embroidered on it.)

Now this would be great if the information is true but upon researching into this deeper, I found myself asking more questions about just who Clough really is and how and why he came up with all this information?  

First of all, the young lady's body was found late in the afternoon. The Coroner stated her body had been in the water 3-6 hours. As you continue reading this story, you will see that there was a witness who reported seeing her alive around 1 o'clock in the afternoon. So if she was dead anywhere between 3-6 hours and her body was found around 4-5 pm, there was not much sunlight left in the day for anyone to go "investigating" after police finished up for the day. In fact, if Clough was being honest that they had actually gone back hours later, they would have been wandering around in the dark. In that case, it was highly unlikely that they found anything at all. Also, how were they were able to track the lone female footsteps after the police had canvassed the area in the mud and snow, hours before? That isn't even logical.

By the next day, the body had been identified as Miss Ella Newton, step-daughter of George Newton, and daughter of Lucy Newton, of New York. Newton was a tailor and had married Ella's mother when Ella was only a baby. According to the 1880 Census, Lucy and Ella were both originally from Massachusetts, while Mr. Newton had came from England, but were now all residing in New York.
Cortland NY Standard, 1892

Ella's step-father came to Mount Vernon, identified her body and had her returned to New York for burial.  Upon inquest into her family life, it was mentioned by neighbors that Ella was a model girl who was "quiet, unassuming, pretty...and a devout Catholic." The family lived at 1787 Amsterdam Avenue in New York, just above his tailor shop for the last six months. Ella had a good relationship with her step-father but had a very complicated relationship with her mother. As several  papers reported, Lucy Newton was a very heavy-set, harsh and unpleasant person. She was overbearing, controlling, verbally and possibly physically abusive. She had complete control on her husband's business affairs, the household and most of all, her husband. 

According to Mrs. Alfred Newton, the Ella's aunt, there had been an argument between Ella and her mother on Sunday, December 4th, which prompted Ella to walk out of the house and over to her aunt and uncle's home. Ella's aunt told her that she was welcome to stay as long as she liked but Ella was determined to go out and find a job and make it on her own. She spoke of the argument she had with her mother, and that she wanted to go to Tarrytown or Mount Vernon to find a job. She stayed the evening of Sunday, December 4th, and after helping serve breakfast the next morning, she decided to leave. Her aunt begged her to telegram her mother, at least letting her know she was alright. She even gave Ella $.25 cents but Ella never sent any telegram.


It appears that once Ella left her aunt's home at 455 Seventh Avenue, New York, she rode the train 18 miles up to Mount Vernon. According to a man by the name of Mr. Kearn, Ella went directly from the train station to his tailor shop in town. Two years previously, her aunt had sent Ella there to work as a seamstress, although Ella didn't take to the job as well as she had hoped and quit. She came back hoping that Mr. Kearn could employ her again. Unfortunately, he told her business was slow and he had no jobs available for her. He did refer her to a lady by the name of Mrs. Meyers who ran the local employment agency.

Upon arriving at Mrs. Meyers' office, she was sent to call on Mrs. George Bard at 129 Sixth Ave. Mrs. Bard had inquired with Mrs. Meyers for a nurse. Not knowing her way around town, Ella went back to Kearn's to ask for directions to the address on Sixth Avenue and went off on her way. When Ella arrived, Mrs. Bard refused to hire her after being unable to provide a home address at Mt. Vernon. Ella returned back to Mrs. Meyers and explained what happened. She left disappointed shortly before 1 o’clock in afternoon, not saying where she was going. Only hours later, her body was discovered in the creek.  

So what happened to Ella Newton?

Coroner Frederick Drews was convinced that it was murder from the beginning, although autopsy physicians, Dr. Smith and Dr. Wiess were convinced it was suicide. One strange note though, Dr. Smith argued that Ella had been assaulted before her death, while Dr. Wiess claimed that he saw no sign of any sort of assault. At least a half dozen "Hawkshaws" (or detectives) got into the mix of this investigation hell bent that Ella had been murdered and were determined to help solve the case.


What about the rope that was wrapped around Ella's waist and anchoring her body in the creek?  The autopsy physicians reported that the rope was bound so tight that it left bruising around her waist under her dress.
According to a man named Sailor Jack, he and other “seafaring men” swore that the fashion that the rope had been tied to the stones could have only been done by a man or person with experience in sailing. The knot used was a typical seaman’s fashion used to anchor or secure a boat. They believed a young lady, such as Ella, who was raised indoors as the daughter of a tailor, would not have had any knowledge on how to tie the rope in such a way.   

Newspaper account reads: “There was a splice in the rope near the body such as sailors put in ropes . The whole formed an anchor such as sailors use in boats hereabout. But no such boat has lost its anchor,  as found up to this time.” 

The New York Times reported that the police mentioned they believed Ella had been assaulted, murdered and her body was moved in a boat and placed there to appear as if she walked up to the bank and jumped in. --- they were NOT convinced it was a suicide at all.
Police were searching every possible lead they had, which led them initially to James Meyers, Mrs. Meyers’ son. James was a 22 year old, 300 lb loafer, who spent most of his time drunk in saloons or passed out in the back of his mother’s employment office. 

Then there was the possibility of two African-American men by the names of Walter Landrine and Joseph Aaron Pugsley who both lived in Pugsley Hollow in New Rochelle just  a town away. 

The police arrested the three men and held them overnight under suspicion of murder, but all three were able to secure alibis for themselves which allowed their release. James Meyers claimed he was with his mother Monday afternoon, and his mother swore that it was true.  Landrine claimed he was working, loading potatoes until after 5 p.m. Monday night, while Pugsley’s odd alibi put him at Flynn’s Saloon in New Rochelle around the time of the murder.

The police continued on in their search for suspects, eventually suspecting two more men, a man simply known as “Mr. White,” and James Rafferty.  White was the keeper of the Sportsman’s Retreat, a saloon that was located only a half a mile from where Ella’s body was found. It was also located on Post Road which was on the Street Car Line where they thought Ella may have gotten off on Monday afternoon. It was assumed she may have inquired about employment at the Saloon and became the object of attention from some very vile men who may have followed her upon leaving. 

According to White, he was very upset to hear what had happened to Ella and even stated that if he found out who did it he would physically harm them.  Rafferty was only a suspect because of his big mouth. It seems that while drunk he made up some stories, including that he spent the night with Ella at the Mott House in Newburgh, which raised suspicion. But it was impossible that Ella spent any time with this gentleman in Newburgh because she had spent the prior evening with her aunt and uncle in New York.  More than likely he had read about the items found on her, including the letterhead of the Mott House when her body was discovered. So trying to sound important he probably made up lies about being with her.  Neither men were arrested or held on suspicion.

What about the handkerchief with the letter "K" embroidered on it? The only person mentioned in this story with a K in his name was Mr. Kearns who Ella visited twice that day. Could she have gone back to his home after leaving Mrs. Meyers? Did he possibly give her a handkerchief to wipe away tears of disappointment in not being able to secure herself a job? This is still a mystery.


During the inquest, Mr. Clough testified that he had previously worked for Simpson, Hall & Miller’s Co. in New York. He also stated that a fellow employee of the establishment, a gentleman named Albert Dimmock of Woodlawn, ran into him on the train 3 days before the inquest and the conversation of Ella Newton’s death arose. Dimmock told Clough that he knew Ella quite well and that she would regularly visit him at the store. District Attorney Hunt recalled the card found on Ella’s body from Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co., so he subpoenaed Dimmock to testify in the inquest. During the inquest, Ella’s step-father, George Newton, claimed that he didn’t believe that Ella made any trips to Simpson, Hall, Miller, & Co. at any time, but that Albert Dimmock once lived above their tailor shop at 1787 Amsterdam Avenue only about six months earlier. He also mentioned that she was friendly with Dimmock’s family and that she would spend time regularly at their home and even mentioned her planning to visit them in Woodlawn in the future. 

Upon testifying, Alfred Dimmock, a salesman for an agent office of Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co., claimed he had seen Ella often at her father’s tailor shop. He also said his wife was fond of her and after moving to Woodlawn, she wrote Ella a letter asking for her to come visit them and possibly work for them. He claimed that the card found on Ella’s body had been sent with the letter and the information on the back of the card was the instructions for her to meet them at the 125th Street Station on Harlem Road for the “6:46 departure on Saturday, October 22.” He said that he didn’t think she got the letter, because she didn’t show. He also provided a letter from his employer, Charles Casper claiming he was working in the New York sales office on December 5th, providing him a much needed alibi.

Ella’s step-father, George Newton, stated for the papers that he knew nothing of any proposed trip to the Dimmocks. This actually contradicts what he had stated before, that Ella would spend time with the Dimmocks when they rented the house above his tailor shop and that she planned to visit them. He also made a strange statement in regards to his feelings towards Dimmock. “ I have no feeling against Dimmock other than that expressed here tonight, that he deceived us in planning to take Ella away. We are friends and will be.”
12/18/1892, NY Times
Dimmock’s stated in the inquest that it was "an outrage" to bring his name into Ella's death. "I know nothing about it, and never had twenty words in conversation with the girl in my life.”— This also seems to be contradictory to what he told Mr. Clough on the train. 

According to the New York Times, a boy named John Mandy of South Mount Vernon testified that he saw a hack (taxi carriage) that went down the Invermere Road the day of Ella's death. He also claimed that he saw a girl standing near the coal sheds as if in waiting for someone. He said the hack stopped and a man proceeded to get out of the carriage and was speaking to the girl, who he now believes was more than likely Ella. 

Despite this new clue into the murder of Ella Newton, something or someone seemed to be able to make it disappear. In fact in all my researching, I have never found such a story that the Coroner, the Police Chief and the District Attorney were certain that it was murder, yet in every step of the process others were attempting to discredit that theory. In this instance, by running with Mr. Clough's ideas they were taking the word of an ordinary citizen over the results of the original police investigation. An exception to this was the claims of another police officer, H.C. Beckwith, who went on the record claiming that he took Ella's shoe and went back to the scene of the crime a day later and followed the steps in the snow and mud that led him directly to where her body was found, stating that no other footprints were visible. Again, that is impossible, being that the day they discovered her body, there were many people walking around that area and the crime scene was basically tainted with foot prints after that time. Just like Mr. Clough who made such preposterous claims about going there hours after the police and finding her lone footprints in the snow and mud, this police officer's account is not only physically impossible but I would say is a lie. But why?

Was he paid off to make Chief Foley look bad?  Foley was adamant when Clough came the first time with his theory of finding Ella's coat and hat in the hollow tree that it was not there when he  investigated the scene. It had obviously been planted there later. Why was a fellow officer going by what Mr. Clough stated instead of his superior? 

Either way, the theory that anyone discovered "lone footprints" made only by Ella near the creek is not possible, unless the men who pulled her body from the creek, the police who investigated the grounds, Mr. Clough and his friend, and Officer Beckwith were hovering off the ground or flying because each and every one of them would have left sets of foot prints in the mud and snow. 

No, my friends, there is something terribly wrong with this story and sadly it gets worse...

On December 22, 1892 , despite the urging of District Attorney Hunt, Coroner Drews and Police Chief Foley, along with many other private detectives convinced that this was a murder, the inquest jury came back with a very odd verdict.  They didn’t rule it a suicide, but neither did they rule it a homicide. Instead, it was ruled that she “drowned by a person or persons unknown to the jury.”-- 

It was a big upset to everyone who had worked so hard to seek justice for Ella. With all the twists and turns to this story, I still find it quite odd that the man, G. Clough, who strangely claimed to have found new evidence to support the suicide theory, happened to be friends with Dimmock, who had lived just above Ella's parents tailor shop in New York.  How could so many people be so adamant that she was murdered, yet the jury chose not to lead to that conclusion? Could they have been threatened? Paid off?  

Could Ella's parents have been involved in any way? What about the envelope and the card found on her body? It appears as if Ella eventually received the letter Dimmock's wife had sent months earlier. Could she have found the letter at home, and upon asking her mother about it, that brought on the terrible fight that forced Ella to leave? We may never know for sure.

And now we are left with that unsettling feeling of uncertainty. Just who killed Ella that day? Who was the man she met near the coal shed? What did they speak about? How did she end up at the bottom of the creek with a rope wrapped around her waist, tied to stones in the fashion of a seaman's knot? Most importantly, why were so many people making such a stink to just brush Ella's death under the rug as a cut-and-dry suicide? Was there no compassion for this beautiful young lady? 

Ella died December 5th, 1892, nearly 122 years ago...and still we may continue to wonder forever, just who killed Ella, and most importantly, why?

Rest In Peace, Ella.--

(Copyright 2014- J'aime Rubio, Dreaming Casually Publications)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Let Anna Corbin Rest In Peace!

Copyright: J'aime Rubio
I am infuriated about how Hollywood continues to use Anna Corbin's murder as a way to make a buck these days. First it was Ghost Adventures and their pathetic attempt to make allegations that Zak Bagans was "possessed" by the spirit of Anna Corbin. Not only that, but the historical information they put out there was incorrect. Doesn't anyone do their homework these days?

Then a film company that makes B-movies, like the kind you see on the Sci-Fi channel or Chiller,  made the movie, "Preston Castle" to which they changed the title of the movie twice, once to "At Preston Castle" and then finally to "Haunting at Preston Castle." Either way, the movie was horribly done and the fact they stamped "Based on True Events" below the title, makes me even more livid. Please tell me how on God's green earth could they say they based any of the movie on "True Events" besides stating the Housekeeper was murdered? The character Bobby Wells was never a ward there, he is fictional. And being a "fictional character" he most definitely did not kill Anna Corbin, a real person. This is all a lie.

If that wasn't bad enough, now another television show, "The Unexplained Files" aired an episode about Preston Castle last night and they did the unthinkable. They reenacted the murder of Anna Corbin. First off, not only is that completely wrong on so many levels, but the fact they didn't even contact Anna's family for permission to have an actor portray her or her murder is ILLEGAL. How could they reenact a crime that they have no idea really what exactly happened or where? You see, no one knows exactly what happened except for Anna and her killer, and no one knows exactly where she died or was found because the basement is no longer the same as it was in 1950. A lot has changed over the years after the castle had been vacated and left abandoned in 1960, up until it was taken over and restoration on the building began later on in the 1990s. Also, during the writing of my book, I interviewed two gentlemen, one who worked at the Castle the day Anna was murdered and another who was a close family friend at the time of her murder. Both said the details of how she died and where she was found, in the basement, just as I state in my book and on my blog. I think I am going to go with documented evidence and accounts by people who were alive at the time this event took place.

I had been approached by the television show earlier this year before they filmed there, and after a phone interview I declined their offer to go on camera for a paid interview for that episode. I am glad that I refused the offer, as I had a feeling their true intentions were not honorable, and my gut was correct.

Myself and another writer, Scott Thomas Anderson, are the ONLY ones who have thoroughly investigated Anna Corbins's life and death and it would be highly ignorant of anyone to give a specific spot to claim where her body was found, as they did on both the Ghost Adventures show and "The Unexplained Files".

According to the ward and fellow housekeeper that found Anna's body the day that she died, Anna was found in the basement store room which adjoined to the supply room and was close to Anna's office, where she was initially attacked. The blood evidence supports this. The best answer when it comes to the question "Where was Anna Corbin found?" is that she died in the basement and was also found in the basement.  The person who killed her was never convicted, so technically her murder remains unsolved. However, based on evidence and similarities in 2 other murders, I believe that the main suspect, Eugene Monroe, who was tried and acquitted for Anna's murder, actually did kill her after all.  If you look into the deaths of Vesta Sapenter and Dorothy Waldrop you will see the ties to Eugene Monroe and Anna's murder.

Honestly, I am so sick of television shows and movies portraying Anna's story at all, especially when they do it wrong. Why can no one respect the dead?  Why do people have to continue to disrespect her memory over and over again? I have a very strong tie to this woman's story and I have profound respect for her life and her death. I would never want to see it disrespected in any way, shape or form. Not only for Anna, but for her family as well.

As far as the history is concerned, these shows continue to regurgitate the same erroneous information over and over.  "The Unexplained Files" claimed there had been 17 murders. Really? I wrote a book on Preston's history and I couldn't count that many from the research I did. So I would love to hear where they came up with that number.

I researched this school for over 5 years and my book only mentions a few "murders" -- several of which didn't actually take place at the school at all. Here is the list of murders or questionable deaths I have documented in my book "Behind The Walls", or added onto this blog or my Behind The Walls Facebook  page after my book was published:

1) Nicholas Hamilton -- His death is questionable; but not definitively murder.

2) Joseph Morgan-- Murder; he was shot after an escape attempt and died in Sheldon, near Elk Grove.

3) Herman Huber--Murder; he was shot on the grounds of Preston after attempting to escape.

4) Sam Goins-- Questionable death; he was shot at Thornton Ranch, near Lodi, allegedly holding a hammer running near a guard; died shortly after they got back to Preston.

5) Grant Walker-- Questionable death; the reports conflict in cause of death from typhoid fever but another record states
“accidental burn, resulting in intestinal ulceration.”

6) Leland Price-- Murder; fell into a coma and died as a result of fracturing his skull in a fight in the basement.

7) Ray Baker-- Justifiable Homicide; shot to death after attempting to kill a guard.

8) Anna Corbin-- Murder; killed in the basement.

9) James Wieden--Murder; attacked on the grounds of the property, died several days later in Hospital out of town.

The rest of the deaths that I have uncovered, which there are many, are mainly accidents or illness. Not to say there aren’t more murders or deaths that I haven’t found yet. But, if I haven’t found them, and they aren’t out there in any book or online anywhere, chances are they haven’t been discovered yet. So bottom line is (A) do your homework before you believe ANY shows or movies about Preston and (B) respect the people who lived and died there and anyone else who may have family who worked or lived there, staff or wards. These were people with feelings, family, and most of them are dead now. Let us respect them and their memories.

Let Anna and everyone else Rest In Peace!!---

(Copyright 2014- J'aime Rubio, Dreaming Casually Publications)

Friday, September 12, 2014

History Repeating Itself- The Death of Mabel Steele & Nadine Purdy

There's an old abandoned home near Interstate 80 and Hwy 65 in Roseville, California that has a sad and very tragic past. The facade of the building, left in arrested decay, holds only fragments of what once was. The home once belonged to the Purdy family. Rancher, Chester Stanley Purdy lived there with his adopted daughter Nadine in the early 1950s. After his wife Edith "Ida" Purdy passed away in 1940, at some point they moved from Klamath Falls, Oregon down to Roseville, California.

According to newspaper accounts,  Nadine, who was 24 yrs. old, suffered from some sort of mental disability. I am uncertain whether she was completely "mentally retarded" as the article claims or whether she just suffered from schizophrenia or mental illness. Either case, in his old age Chester was told by family members that Nadine needed to be put into an institution for her condition. Chester didn't want that for Nadine. He and his wife had taken care of Nadine from the time she was born and she knew no other life. Perhaps Chester was aware that he was not going to be around much longer, and he knew that in the event of his death that the family would go against his wishes and commit her to an asylum.

Sadly, he must have convinced himself there was no other option for Nadine, as he wouldn't allow her to be institutionalized. So, on January 27, 1954,  when Nadine was out in their yard, he shot her in the back of the head with his 410 gauge shotgun.  Chester was arrested by Sheriff Charles Ward, and put in jail for the murder of his adopted daughter. If the story wasn't bad enough, it turned out that just after completing the first day of his testimony in the trial, Chester Purdy fell and died that following Thursday at Placer County Hospital. Cause of death, partial heart attack and pneumonia.

Long Beach Independent, 1954
The entire case was dropped since he could no longer be convicted for her death. The entire ordeal  was a shock to the whole community of Roseville at the time and the story lingered, while the home eventually sat abandoned.

In his own mind, I am sure Chester felt it was a mercy killing because he couldn't see her suffer in an asylum, even though he didn't have the right to take another persons life. Perhaps though, the idea wasn't a new one. It seems that it had all happened once before, only 24 years earlier.

The First Mercy Killing- September 14, 1930

When I was researching the story about Nadine Purdy's death at the end of Stonehouse Court in Roseville, I noticed that Nadine was not Chester's biological daughter.  The census records I found in 1940 stated that she was their daughter, but that two other children were living with both Chester and Edith as well. Their names were Fredrick and Maeotta Steele. As I kept looking for a birth record for Nadine, I decided to do some more genealogy research on Edith, since one of the articles in the newspaper claimed that Nadine was Edith's sister's child. After finding Edith's parents and siblings online through my genealogy websites, I found a sister who died in 1930. Her name was Mabel Steele.  On her family tree listed a husband and three children, Frederick, Maeotta and Glenna Nadine.

It appears that soon after Glenna Nadine's birth, Mabel and her husband Glenn separated. Glenn basically left her and took their two oldest children and disappeared. Because he literally kidnapped the children from Mabel, she went frantic and had some sort of emotional breakdown. Not being able to care for her newborn baby, her older sister Edith stepped in and took the baby, changed her name from Glenna Nadine Steele to Nadine Purdy, and brought her home to the Sparks, Nevada area to raise her with her husband Chester.

Mabel's other sister, Ruth Weimer then had Mabel committed to the Sanitarium in Glendale. She was later transferred to the State Hospital at Norwalk and remained there for about a year before being released to Ruth's care in August of 1930.

LA Times, 1930
On the afternoon of September 14, 1930, tragedy struck the home at 418 W. 37th Street, in Los Angeles, California.  After an extremely emotional outburst between the two sisters, Mabel lay dead on the couch in one of the rooms, while a smoking revolver lay in Ruth's hands. Mabel had been shot three times in the neck and two extra rounds had been fired that lodged in the ceiling. Everything happened so quickly and before long Ruth was arrested for the murder of her sister.

The Morgue & Inquest

Shortly after the murder, the inquest was to be held at the morgue. Ruth was taken there and was allowed to see her sister's body one last time before the inquest started. Detective Lieutenants Condaffer and Ryan escorted Ruth to the morgue and held her by the arms as she "convulsed with sobs," when seeing her sister's corpse.

"No one can ever hurt her again, can they? She will never suffer anymore, will she?" Ruth asked the Detectives in a highly emotional state, almost as if she didn't realize the seriousness of what she had done. "I know I killed her. But I loved her just the same; I only did it to end her suffering because her husband took her children away."- (quoted from the LA Times, Sept. 17, 1930)

At the inquest a family friend and attorney, Benjamin Sheldon advised Ruth not to testify. Although off the record she did make several statements. When asked why she did what she did, her only reply was, "Did you ever see anyone you thought would be better off dead? I thought she would be better off dead, and that I would be better off dead, too. There are lots of things worse than death."

Ruth Weimer (LA Times)
Later when the case was on it's way to court, Ruth claimed she no longer had any recollection of the events that took place when she murdered her sister. That she remembered up to the time the death occurred but could not explain why or how she came to the decision to kill Mabel.  Attorney Benjamin Sheldon requested to reduce the charge of murder to manslaughter, given the strange circumstances of the case, however the Judge denied the request.  Somewhere down the line Benjamin Sheldon stopped acting as Ruth's attorney, and Nathan Freedman became her defense counsel.

The Trial

Judge Wood advised Ruth to plead "not guilty by reason of insanity", however she resisted. She was adamant that she wanted to plead "not guilty." It seems it went back and forth but she later did go with the insanity plea, but she claimed she suffered from "a temporary fit of emotional amnesia which inspired her to kill her sister out of sympathy to end her suffering."

Judge Fricke was assigned to oversee the trial and Deputy D.A., George Stahlman was acting prosecutor in the case. The D.A. wanted to prove that Ruth had planned to kill her sister, that she had animosity for her, for having to tend to her sister and put up with her mental illness. During the trial nothing but good character witnesses gave strength to the defense's case that Ruth was a good sister, who loved and cared for her sister selflessly.

Ruth and Mabel's niece, Evelyn Rains testified that she saw her aunt was not acting normally, and that she heard the gun shots go off and that Ruth attempted to shoot herself after shooting Mabel, but that the bullets just missed her head, lodging in the ceiling above. Rains claimed she called for Russell Smith, who had been outside at the time of the shooting. When he made it to the room where Ruth was, he discovered her searching for more bullets so she could reload the gun and commit suicide. It took Smith and another gentleman to detain Ruth until the authorities could arrive. She kept saying, "The worst part is I missed myself!"

When Ruth finally took the stand in her own defense, the courtroom was silent, waiting to hear Ruth's recollection of the events prior to the murder.  She stated that she was bombarded with constant prayers for death by Mabel, and that it had started even prior to her being released from the sanitarium. After her release to Ruth's care, Mabel continued with her cries of suffering and hallucinations. She mentioned Mabel's attempts to end her own life by poisoning herself and also trying to leap from an upstairs window just after her release from the sanitarium.

When it came down to the last events she remembered up to the moment she lost control, she asked the Judge to make her other sister Edith leave the courtroom. She didn't want her to hear what she was about to say to the court.

During her testimony, Ruth claimed that shortly after lunch, while she was ironing where she could keep an eye on Mabel, that her sister walked over to the piano for awhile and played some music and even asked her to join in. Ruth then accompanied her for awhile, playing a few duets together and had a good time, then Ruth continued with her ironing again. Then at one point, Mabel got up and walked right up to Ruth and stared at her and said, "I am dead already, can't you see the red blood streaming from my side? Don't you see the flesh falling from my bones?" Ruth claimed she tried to massage Mabel's feet and convince her that she wasn't really hurt, but it did no good. She was suffering from terrible hallucinations and they were getting worse.

"She said she wished she was dead. I said, 'you do?' she said, 'yes.' I rather wished I was myself. I went upstairs, I put her on the couch and said 'stop this noise and stop crying.' She said she wished she was dead. I said, 'do you really wish it?' She said, 'yes.' Then I went upstairs and got the gun and brought it down. I said, 'you wish you were dead? Then you are going to be dead!' She threw up her hands and I shot her three times before she crumpled. I pointed straight at her and shot, then pointed it at myself, but neither of the bullets hit me. I aimed to kill her. I couldn't stand to see her suffer year in and year out. She is out of her misery anyway. I don't care. My life is not worth much without her. She was the dearest thing I ever had on earth. You wouldn't understand."

The first evening of deliberations, the jury could not come up with a unanimous decision so they were sequestered to a local hotel nearby for the night. The next day, they resumed deliberations, eventually acquitting Ruth of all charges. According to a jury member, the original ballot was, 8- Acquittal, 4- Manslaughter. She was never in danger of being charged with murder. At the end though, they all decided that because of Ruth's openness about the whole story, that they felt she was sincere about the mercy killing.

According to the Los Angeles Times, this case set precedent being the first ever case in California to successfully use the amnesia defense in a murder trial. In the end, Ruth Weimer showed no animosity to the prosecution or the judge at any point. In fact, she had nothing but respect for them for just doing their job. When asked  about the entire thing, Ruth stated that she was very grateful and thankful to the jury and that wherever her sister Mabel was, she knows she is happy now.


After learning of this heart wrenching story of a sister who knew of no other way to end her mentally ill sister's constant suffering but to take her life, it only leads me to believe that poor Chester Purdy may have come to the exact same conclusion himself.

Although neither Ruth nor Chester had a right to end a life, in their minds they felt that was the only way to end their loved ones suffering. Murder is wrong no matter how you slice it. Sadly though, many times when crimes such as these are committed, reasoning has been thrown out the window and logic has been tossed aside as well.

Did the Weimer's and the Purdy's later believe that Mabel became more ill after her stay at the mental institution? Did Chester Purdy worry that Nadine would suffer the same fate if she was committed? Who knows. Perhaps the very thought of that led him to stop it before it could start. We will  never truly know what went on in his mind that day when he shot and killed Nadine.

In my opinion, this entire story is tragic for all who were involved. Ruth Weimer had to live with herself the rest of her life knowing she killed her own sister. Chester Purdy didn't live long after Nadine's death, but I am sure it would have haunted him the rest of his had he lived. The rest of the family must have all suffered from both deaths, being so similar in nature. In the end, history sadly repeated itself and both daughter and mother died the same tragic way, at the hand of a family member who just wanted to end their suffering.

Rest in Peace, Mabel, Nadine, Chester, Edith and Ruth....

(Copyright 2014- J'aime Rubio)

Thank you to my friend, Joan Renner -- the wonderfully talented archivist, historian and writer from the fabulous blog, Deranged L.A. Crimes. Thank you for your astounding help.

Also a big thank you to Ken Fisher from the Roseville Historical Society for giving me the lead to this story and pointing me in the right direction!

Daily Independent Journal, 1/29/54
Roseville Press Tribune 1/27/1954
Albuquerque Journal 1/28/54
U.S. Census, Family Search, Ancestry.com
LA Times Articles: (1930)
9/15, 9/16, 9/17, 9/20
10/10, 10/14
11/20, 11/21, 11/24, 11/25, 11/26, 11/28, 11/29
12/1, 12/2, 12/3, 12/4, 12/5, 12/6, 12/7

Photos of Purdy House: Copyright of J'aime Rubio and R. Boulware (2014) All Rights Reserved.
Photos from various newspapers, sourced.