Monday, October 17, 2016

Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered


It's been four years in the making, but it is now complete. What once was just an idea, now has finally came to fruition with the publishing of my latest book, "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered." 

In this book you will find some of my favorite investigations. Although some of the stories were originally published on my blog over the years, this book will give a fresh take on each and every one of those chosen stories, adding much more detailed information, citing all sources and revealing even more than ever before. Besides that, I have interviewed many people along the way, as well as adding several new stories that I have never been published before.

Come travel back in time with me to explore the stories of the forgotten. From suicides to drownings, accidents and natural deaths to unsolved murders, these fatalities occurred under the most bizarre and mysterious circumstances. From chapter to chapter, you will delve into each story with their own tumultuous twists and turns. Find out what really happened to Octavia Hatcher and Julia Legare, both rumored to have been buried alive. Read the details of the three equally mysterious drownings of Alida Ghirardelli, Ella Newton, and Agnes Jaycoax. Be shocked by the story of Rose De Fabrizio, the young bride who collapsed while walking up the steps of the church to be married. Find out the truth behind Savannah’s own mystery encircling the life and death of Corinne Elliott Lawton.  In San Diego County, let me show you the facts surrounding the Hotel Del Coronado’s “Beautiful Stranger,” as well as the puzzling account of Emma LeDoux, the infamous Black Widow of Amador County, and many more.  

Besides these narratives, I have covered many popular urban legends known throughout the country. See how I reveal the truth behind Burrillville, Rhode Island’s more recent folklore encompassing the tale of Bathsheba Sherman. Take a closer look at the origins of other urban legends within Niles Canyon, located near Fremont, California.  In each case, I present to you a thoroughly researched accounting of every story, allowing you to draw your own conclusions, and also learn where many of their graves can be found in cemeteries within the United States.

Learn the true stories of:

Enid Rimpau - In 1915, a beautiful young bride, who had just started a new life and married the man she loved, was found poisoned in her home in Anaheim, California. Did she kill herself or was she murdered?

Elna Zimmerman - Learn about the tragic suicide of Elna Zimmerman, and see what events happened in her life that led up to her suicide jump off a skyscraper in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Cora Casey- Another tragic suicide, this time inside one of the fanciest hotels in Tucson, Arizona. Learn all about her life and what transpired before her demise. 

Ella Newton- It was a cold, winter day in December of 1892, when the body of Ella Newton was found drowned in the creek of Mt. Vernon, New York. Who killed her? And most importantly, why? 

Agnes Jaycoax- A young teacher from Sacramento, California, with her whole life ahead of her takes one wrong step on the rocks at Cypress Point in Monterey, California, and loses everything.

Alice Curtis- The daughter of a well known Sacramento politician, Alice was found with a gunshot wound to the chest, but still alive. Upon questioning Alice refused to tell her secret: who really shot her?

Octavia Hatcher- A famous urban legend surrounding Pikeville, Kentucky, Octavia's story is investigated with a fine tooth comb to tell you whether or not she was truly buried alive.

Rose De Fabrizio- Walking up the steps of the church on her wedding day, Rose De Fabrizio collapsed just feet away from her groom. Learn the tragic story behind this heartbreaking tale.

The Ghirardelli Grandchildren - Not one, not two, but three of Domingo Ghirardelli's grandchildren died in tragic and mysterious ways. Learn the stories of Aurelia Mangini, Alida Ghirardelli and Edwin Ghirardelli, and find out the odd origins behind their family crypt at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.

Mabel Steele - Killed by her sister in an act of "mercy," learn the details behind Mabel and her daughter, Nadine's deaths. Although both killings took place decades apart, each included eerie similarities. 

Euphemia Hill- Claimed to be the inspiration for Barbara Stanwyck's character in the hit television show, "The Big Valley," learn the story of Euphemia Hill of the Hill Ranch in Camanche, California. The town no longer exists, as it is buried deep below Lake Camanche, but now her story, and the tragic story of her husband, Hugh Lawson White Hill's death has finally surfaced from the deep.

Lottie Bernard (Hotel Del Coronado's "Beautiful Stranger") -
Who died on the north steps of the Hotel Del Coronado that November night in 1892? Was it Kate Morgan? Lizzie Wylie? Or was it really Lottie Bernard? Go with me through all the documented records and decide for yourself: who was the beautiful stranger?

Louise Catalano- A woman juggling a secret love affair and a husband, along with maintaining a home and four young children, it was only a matter of time before her secrets were revealed. Read all the details of this gruesome murder that rocked the town of Roseville, California in 1921. 

Elizabeth Griffith- A spirited 17 year old from Louisville, Kentucky, Elizabeth Griffith was found dead on Christmas Eve of 1919, in the doctor's office where she was employed. To make matters worse, the gun used to kill her belonged to the doctor, who she had also been previously engaged to marry. Find out the details of her suspicious death and much more. 

Corinne Elliott Lawton- Buried in the historic Bonaventure Cemetery located in Savannah, Georgia, the tale of Corinne has enamored thousands who visit her grave. Learn the true story behind her life and death, and see new photos and information that has never been published before, revealing the identity of the man she was engaged to marry shortly before her death. 

Julia Legare- Rumored to have been locked in the Legare crypt while in a coma like state, literally sealed in alive, the story of Julia Legare is one you won't forget. Journey with me as I sift through the facts of this story that haunts Edisto Island, South Carolina.

Bathsheba Sherman- Infamously known as the evil entity or "witch" from the film, The Conjuring, come with me to Burrillville, Rhode Island, where I show you documented evidence clearing her name once and for all. I also delve into the history of the Old Arnold Estate, all the alleged deaths on the property and reveal where and who may have originally started this whole "ghost story" after all. 

The Urban Legends of Niles Canyon- Two eerie stories surround the area near Fremont, California, known as Niles Canyon. The "Lady in White" who appears on the side of the road or near the creek, and the "Vanishing Hitchhiker" who hitches a ride and disappears soon after crossing the Dumbarton Bridge. Learn the origins to these stories as well as true accounts of accidents and tragic deaths in the area. 

Emma LeDoux- The woman convicted for the "1906 Trunk Murder" of her husband, Albert McVicar in Stockton, California. Although eventually caught for this murder, it wasn't the first time she had been suspected of killing one of her husbands. Mrs. Emma LeDoux's story, with all its twists and turns, is one you will never forget. From her early beginnings through her scandalous adulthood and leading up to her death, read the most in depth account available regarding this calculating black widow.

(Copyright, J'aime Rubio - 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Flora Somerton - Nob Hill's Famously False Urban Legend

A few nights ago when I was driving my son home from work, and happened to be switching radio stations, I heard the mention of a "lady in white" frequently sighted in Nob Hill, San Francisco. The name of this alleged specter was presumed to be Flora Somerton.

The story relayed over the airwaves was brief but mentioned that the young lady mysteriously disappeared from a ball one night in 1876, only to be discovered 50 years later, dead in the same dress she had been seen wearing the night she vanished. The DJ was not very clear about what had happened to Flora during those 50 years. Was she dead all that time and they only discovered her body 50 years later? Or did she die 50 years later? I was intrigued by this story, even the just the small tidbits I heard over the radio, so I decided to go home and see if there was any truth to this story or not.

First, I searched her name and every variation of it: Flora Somerton, Flora Sommerton and Flora Summerton. Besides the many links to websites mentioning the story in almost a scripted, (copied and pasted) regurgitation of the same story, there was not one website that cited any concrete sources of where they got their information. It appears that each person copied from the other person, and so on, leaving the internet inundated with sites mentioning her story, but not really detailing facts.

Several "paranormal" authors mention her story as fact in their books, claiming that she was a real person who really disappeared in 1876. They go on to state that she was engaged to be married to someone her parents set up (basically betrothed), and that at her "coming out" ball she took off and disappeared. Several writers claim that her family were socialites in San Francisco's high society and that they offered large rewards for any information leading to Flora. There are mentions of $250,000.00 being offered as a reward from her family, as well as noting that the newspapers all over the country published this mystery.  Then the story goes on that nearly 50 years later, an indigent woman going by the name "Mrs. Butler" dies in Butte, Montana, and that when her body is discovered, she is found with the dress and newspaper clippings about Flora's disappearance in 1876. Allegedly the authorities put two-and-two together, leading to the conclusion Mrs. Butler is actually Flora Somerton and she is brought back to her family plot to be buried.

The ghost story surrounding Flora claims that she haunts California Street, between Jones and Powell Streets, where she once lived. This is close to the Fairmount Hotel. She is known as the "Ghost Bride of Nob Hill" or the "Lady in White."

In theory the alleged history of this woman's story sounds interesting, but I could not find any facts to substantiate any of these claims. Although these previous writers claim there were newspaper articles laying out the entire story from her disappearance to the discovery of her body half a century later, none of these writers ever cite the sources they used to base their conclusions on.

I diligently searched every archive database I could find and came up with no newspaper articles of that time period showing that any woman named Flora Somerton had been missing, nor were there any records in Butte, Montana, showing her death, or the death of this "Mrs. Butler," in 1926.

In reality, it appears that there was no Flora Somerton (spelled any way you try)....and if there had been, she did not live in San Francisco. There are no records of birth, death, census records, voting registries, nothing with Flora's name or anything that remotely comes close to it. The only newspapers that mention her at all are ones that mention the legend, the ghost stories, not the events that supposedly took place in 1876.

In my research I did find one family with that name, although they spelled their last name as Summerton. They also lived in San Francisco. The 1880 Census shows the father's name was George Summerton, and his wife, Matilda. George had two daughters from his first wife, Susan. Their names were Amelia and Elizabeth; however, neither one of the daughters disappeared. Another thing to note, the family did live in Nob Hill, but not on California Street. The Summerton's residence was located at 1417 Hyde Street, in between Jackson and Washington Streets, but again, these young ladies did not go missing.

I hate to rain on anyone's parade but there are no records or documented facts that prove Nob Hill's infamous "lady in white" was this woman Flora Somerton. Again, it is highly unlikely this woman "Flora" ever existed at all.  The "lady in white" stories go back centuries, leading us back into ancient folklore from Europe, such as France's "Les Dames Blanches." This tale is among the most popular in urban legend folklore that I have found in my research and writing. It appears every region has their own story of a mysterious "lady in white."

So in ending....whatever is roaming California Street in the dark of night and whatever you choose to believe it to be, one thing is for sure: it isn't Flora Somerton.

(Copyright 2016 -- J'aime Rubio

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ettie Humphreys And Her Forgotten Headstone

Nina Etta "Ettie" Russell Humphreys (photo: J. Rubio)
Ione, California is famously known for it's archaic structure that towers above the small town, up on the top of the hillside known as Preston Castle. Years ago, I wrote a book on some of the famous and infamous events that took place at that castle as well as early history that had been long forgotten.

Well, it turns out that the castle isn't the only thing in town made from that dark red sandstone, which is the same color of the red clay hills that surround the area. There is one headstone in the Ione Public Cemetery that bears the same color and stone to that which Preston Castle is best known for.

The stone was a mystery to many who would visit the cemetery. At first glance it appears that either time and the elements had washed away grooves into the stone, wiping the name and dates etched in the marker. It also appears that this could have been done by a person, too, but I hope that was not the case. Nevertheless, the identity of this grave had elluded many searching for it.

It was a hard thing, the first letters of the first name appear to be "ET" while the last letters of the last name read "WS" (or so we thought!) One thing clearly visible was the year of death, 1906.  I searched the death records for Amador County based on the year, to no avail. I even did a search in the Find-a-grave database for the cemetery and the cemetery index for any person whose name matched those letters, in both first and last names. Still nothing.

It was after posting the photo above on Facebook that a few of my friends got involved to help me figure out this  mystery.  Robert Mitchell, who is a historical researcher out of Louisville, was able to figure out that her name was Ettie Humphreys (although the cemetery had it under the name Humphries). I almost kicked myself when I saw the name, as I had come across that memorial on Find-a-grave during my search and disregarded it based on her last name not matching the letters on the headstone.  Upon further research into the archived newspapers, the May 11, 1906 edition of the Amador Ledger reveals her tragic story.

Amador Ledger, 5/11/1906
Nina Etta "Ettie" Russell was born on February 21, 1870, in Ohio. When she was just a baby, her parents moved to California, near Buena Vista. Later they moved to Chico and remained until 1880, when her mother passed away.  After the death of her mother, nine-year-old Ettie was moved from home to home, first living with Mrs. William Cook in Buena Vista, and then Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Norris, where she remained until she was married.

Ettie married George Humphreys in Amador County on February 23, 1890. She was 19 years old and he was 31. George had two sons from his previous marriage, Miles and Jimmy, (both were born in 1882 and 1884). By 1900, the Humphreys' were living in the Consumnes Township of El Dorado County, and her legal name was stated as "Nina E. Humphreys."  It is unknown when she moved back to Amador County.

According to the Amador Ledger article, Ettie was a "noble woman, always ready and willing to led a helping hand to those in need, and a loving mother, her first thought being of her boys."  This is very telling, especially since the two boys were not her biological children. Her heart must have been extremely loving and open, because she died on her way to help those who were affected in the Great Earthquake of 1906. In fact, it was only three days after the earthquake that left the bay area devastated with destruction, that she was determined to go and help locate friends and family who were displaced after their homes were destroyed.

"On the evening of her death, Ettie, as she was known by all her friends, was accompanying a friend to East Oakland that they might obtain a pass to San Francisco, to locate relatives who had lost their homes during the disaster, but as she neared her destination she rose from her seat on the outside of the car while in motion, and was thrown to the sidewalk, striking her head on the pavement, which resulted in almost instant death."--

The "car" as it is mentioned must have been a street car or trolley of some sort. The article goes on the state that her body was brought to Ione, California for interment to be next to her mother, Eliza Jane Russell.  The Rev. Hinkson of the Presbyterian Church conducted the services.

What is really neat about Ettie's grave, despite the fact that it is worn so badly you cannot read it, is that hers is the only red sandstone marker in the entire cemetery. Not only that, but in all the years I have been roaming cemeteries I have never come across a red sandstone marker like hers. That alone is a truly unique thing!

Ettie is buried next to her mother, Eliza Jane Russell (photo: J. Rubio)
In ending, let us remember Mrs. Ettie Humphreys, a kind and caring woman who died on her way to help others. She was only 36 years old, and a mother of two boys. After learning of her life and death, I felt that I could relate to her in many ways, as I am about her age and also a mother of two boys. I can only imagine that her last thoughts were of her husband and those two boys.

To Ettie Humphreys, may you never be forgotten, ever again!

(Copyright 9/14/2016-- J'aime Rubio,

Thank you Rob Mitchell!

1900 Census, Amador County
Amador Ledger, May 11, 1906
California, Amador County Marriages 1850-1952

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Possible Mystery Solved in Niles Canyon

I am a huge fan of urban legends, and when I first heard of the "White Witch of Niles Canyon" or the "Vanishing Hitchhiker"  tale I was very intrigued about how it all originated. If you have read my first blog on the subject, which I wrote nearly three years ago, you would see I never did find any documentation of a lady dying out in Niles Canyon. The only thing I found were more legends, and one death of a gentleman who worked on the railroads named William Harris who died after falling from a trestle on May 23, 1906.

Although I am sure there have been many car accidents up that winding canyon road, and more than likely many deaths over the years, I still could never find that one story that would tie to the "origins" of this urban legend that has circulated each generation in Niles and the surrounding areas.

One day when I was visiting Sunol, Niles and Pleasanton, a friend of mine told me to look up Lucinda Lowery, and that he had been told by an old caretaker at the cemetery in Pleasanton that she had died many years ago after being run over by cars.  When I got home I started a search, sure enough I found in the Pleasanton Memorial Gardens Cemetery index a "Lucinda Lowery" who purchased deed # 61, in Lot: 178 at the cemetery on September 24, 1895. It also showed that either the date of death or date of burial was September 24, 1895, the same day she purchased the plot. Something else stood out in the index, the wording, "killed by cars." After further research I found that the asterisk near her name on the list meant that cemetery employees added her name to the "deceased" years later. This meant her first name was not in the original book, it only showed Lucinda as the purchaser of the plot, not necessarily the one buried there, meaning that the person buried there may not be Lucinda after all. Still, I wanted to know for sure.

I started doing some online research and found several people literally copying and pasting verbatim the story from a "Halloween" themed article claiming that a lady with the last name "Lowery" had been on her way to a wedding and that the horses pulling her carriage were spooked by two of the first automobiles in town, and that she was thrown off the carriage, and run over by one of the cars.

That sounded interesting enough, right? I mean, it seemed so detailed...but did this actually happen?

For the record, besides the cemetery plot/deed index mentioning Lucinda Lowery's name and a "death by cars" noted under it, I had not found any records that show a lady with the last name Lowery (Lowerey, Lowrie, Lawry, etc) being killed.  Let me add though that just because I haven't found it, doesn't mean it didn't happen, but the likelihood of two people with the same last name having a similar tragedy in the same local area sounds a bit far fetched.

So who was Ms. or Mrs. Lowery? Well, I kept trying to search for her in Alameda County records, to no avail.  Then I found a Mr. John Lowrie (spelled different) who had a huge house and ranch near Niles in the mid 1850s.  He was a prominent man who had a lot of farm land in Niles, Centerville and Newark. He was so rich he paid to have a drawing of his home put in the 1878 Atlas of Alameda County. Interestingly, he and a business partner Samuel Marston, took their ship "Lady Anne" up to Alaska in 1882, where they struck gold while mining. Unfortunately on their way home their ship sank, taking not only their newfound treasure, but also their lives. According to historical write-ups, they were never heard from again.

John Lowrie's House (Atlas of Alameda, 1878)
When I saw the drawing of Mr. Lowrie's home I was instantly pulled into the picture. I imagined perhaps this girl in the urban legends, "Ms. Lowery", could have lived there. Maybe she was his daughter? Maybe she was the girl standing on the porch in this picture? Sorry to disappoint but she wasn't. According to records, John didn't have a daughter named Lucinda.

So I was at square one again.--

I kept digging and in another index of deaths in Alameda, I came across another Lowery who died in September 4, 1895. Could this be a coincidence? I think not! According to records Samuel Lowery (also spelled Lowry) was killed by the 91 train near Pleasanton. He was run over by the rail cars. According to the September 7, 1895, issue of the San Francisco Call, it stated that he was working as a farm hand for John D. Smith. The next issue of the San Francisco Call answered some more questions.

"The Coroner's jury in the case of Samuel Lowery, the man killed by a train near Pleasanton, were unable to determine whether it was a case of suicide or not. Coroner Baldwin has received a dispatch from the wife of the deceased, who is at Ballard, Washington., stating that she has no money and asking that the remains be buried here."--- 9/8/1895- S.F. Call

What I think happened was either (a) the town buried Samuel in a grave at Pleasanton Memorial Gardens and put Lucinda's name as the deed holder, or (b) she had to pay directly or even perhaps travel down to California and purchase the plot herself, thus the gap in time between Samuel's death and his burial.

I had wondered if maybe she had traveled to Pleasanton and purchased the plot, immediately taking her own life in order to be with him. (Trust me, it has been done). Of course the notion is a bit silly, sad, and morbidly romantic....but not the case.  In reality Lucinda didn't meet her demise in Niles Canyon, Pleasanton, Sunol or anywhere else in Alameda.

When Samuel died, Lucinda was pregnant with her first and only child. I believe that Samuel had come to California to work, perhaps in order to save for his pending family. Unfortunately, he was never able to see his son born or be reunited with his wife. Lucinda was now a 28 year old, penniless widow with a baby on the way. I can only imagine the fear, grief and shock she must have felt to be put in that position at such a time in her life, and during that era. As the years went by, city directories show her living at a boarding house on 3rd Avenue (corner of Shilshole) in Ballard, Washington. (1897 & 1899/ Seattle City Directory)

The 1910 Census shows her working as a cook, raising her son Alfred, who by that time is now a young man. By 1920, she is still a cook and Alfred is now working as a logger, helping to contribute to the household. On July 11, 1924, at the age of 57 years, Lucinda Lowry, left this world and passed on. She was buried in Section 6; Lot 38; Grave 7-A, at Bayview Cemetery in Bellingham, Washington.

So in ending, do I think that Lucinda Lowery is the girl everyone has been talking about over the years? Has her story and that of her husbands been seriously mixed up and turned into something completely different than the actual events that took place? More than likely I would say so, but now we know she didn't die in Niles or even in California for that matter.

Just as in my past article about the "Vanishing Hitchhiker," there has been many stories surrounding Niles Canyon and Sunol for many years, even going back into the 1920s, 30s and 40s teenagers have passed this story around over and over for so long. Who knows where the real story stopped and a new urban legend began, there is no way to tell.

Is it possible that another girl with the same last name died out on the road near Sunol and Niles? Anything is possible. However, as I always say, until I see evidence that proves this, I will have to just take this urban legend with a grain of salt and enjoy the fact it is a creepy story to tell your friends when you are driving through Niles Canyon on a dark night.

My biggest question now would be what happened to Samuel? Did he commit suicide, was it an accident, or was he murdered? Also, whereabouts on the train tracks did he die? That is a death you know for certain happened in the canyon on its way to Pleasanton, just like the death of William Harris who fell from the trestle in the canyon.  Next time you go out there, please think of  the real Lucinda Lowery, and the tragedy she experienced losing her husband. Also, don't forget about the real victims of Niles, Samuel Lowery and William Harris, and the tragic end they both faced along that treacherous track in Alameda County.

To learn more about all the urban legends surrounding Niles Canyon, as well as many more mysterious and bizarre tales, please purchase your copy of "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered" today on Amazon! 


(Copyright- J'aime Rubio 2015)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The History of Aden C. Hart (Hart Mansion History)

It's that time of year again, when people start looking online for creepy, haunted houses to go drive by or explore. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that one of my earlier blogs Hart Mansion Secrets, which went in depth about the history of the home at 2131 H Street in Sacramento, would get so much traffic over time. What is sad to me though, is that despite the fact I have debunked the whole "haunted" theories that have circulated the internet (and even news segments on television), the public just seems to love to ignore facts and instead believes pure fabrication. It is a disgrace not only to the history of the home, but to its inhabitants over the years.

The man who had the gem of a manor constructed was Aden Cavins Hart. He hired Alden Campbell to design the home, which if you really take a good look at, has a very interesting and seemingly intentional off-plumb design. Facing the home you see that the front door and porch is not even with the pillars, nor is the steps going up. Upstairs porch has a few windows that are not evenly aligned with the home, making the exterior quite unique. Naturally, everyone is used to things being symetrical to look normal, thus the reason perhaps people get an odd feeling when staring at the home is because their brain sees the
asymetry, and subconsciously thinks it looks a bit "off." Personally, I find the home quite gorgeous and if given the chance I would love to live in it!

The current owners, the Amoruso family, have held this home in their family estate for over 60 years. They are the second owners of the home, after the original owners, Aden and Alice Hart.  I have spoke with Peter Amoruso for several years about this property. The home is NOT HAUNTED and is NOT called the Martinez House.

This beautiful, stately manor is the Amoruso family home, and one that they love and plan on keeping. From my research online I see there has been a lot of busy-body nuisances within Sacramento who have tried their best to cause problems for the Amoruso family, claiming the home is an eye sore, that it is unsafe, neglected, abandoned or downright in "danger of demolition." If you ask me, it is a bunch of nosy people unecessarily involving themselves in other peoples business with too many rules and regulations for homeowners.

The home is not structurally unsound, nor is it a danger to anyone. It just needs some TLC to maintain it's beauty for another 100 years. But of course there always has to be someone out there making a stink about something.  Bottom line is that the home is lovely and is a historic part of Sacramento, and one that belongs to the Amoruso family and no one else. I stopped by there yesterday and took some photos, and it appears the Amoruso's have been busy working on the home, and it is looking terrific so far! With that being said, I strongly suggest anyone who wants to view the exterior of the home, to show respect when driving by or stopping to take photos.

History of the Original Owners

Aden Cavins Hart was born on May 7, 1868, in Colusa County, California, to parents James Hart and Sarah Owen Cavins. His older brother, E. C. Hart, grew up to become a Judge on the Third District Court of Appeal and Senator. Aden was not new to the Judicial System, it was in his blood. His two uncles were judges in Indiana,  Chief Justice Rhoades and Judge A. G. Cavins, as well as his grandfather, S.K. Cavins who was a prominent Attorney in the same state. It seemed though Aden had other career plans in mind. His heart was in medicine.  Hart attended and graduated from Stanford University of Medicine (Cooper Medical School) and returned to Colusa to start his practice. He married Alice Harvey-Chase and took in her son (from previous marriage) as his own, Lloyd Chase. The two never had any biological children of their own.

Before 1900 he moved the family to Sacramento and went on to become one of the most prominent of surgeons in the area. Besides his work as a surgeon and physician, he worked diligently helping to form and organize various medical groups which preceded the Sacramento Society for Medical Improvement, to which he was President.

Hart did not solely rely on the education earned at Stanford, but took the opportunity to travel the country and abroad to continue his education by way of real experience in the field. He was close friends with the Mayo brothers who founded the Mayo Clinic, as well as being strongly associated with Johns Hopkins Hospital.

By 1926, Hart was elected an honorary member of the American College of Surgeons, in recognition for all his services over the years. Besides the work he did around Sacramento County, he always found time to help charities as well as being a member of several fraternal orders such as: Sacramento Commandery No. 2 Knights Templar, Union Lodge of Masons No. 58, the Ben Ali Temple of the Shrine, and Sacramenton Chapter No.3 Royal Arch Masons.

When Dr. Hart retired, he and his wife, Alice moved to San Francisco to be closer to their son Lloyd, and his family. Dr. Hart passed away in the bay area on August 27, 1954. Alice died a few years later in 1957 and both were interred at East Lawn Cemetery in Sacramento.

Honoring a Pioneer

Section 6; Lot 22 @ Eastlawn Memorial Cemetery
When I do a simple "Google" search on this home once a year, I always find post after post about the home being haunted. Not only that but I find so many times that people are disrespecting the memory of Dr.Hart and his family. There have been many lies spread about Dr. Hart, claiming that he was a murderer, that he did experiments in his basement, killed his family, etc. Not one single bit of any of those preposterous stories is true. I am thoroughly disgusted with people who continue to spread such erroneous and slanderous information about a man who was pioneer in Sacramento history.

When looking into the history of this home, please show respect. Dr. Hart and his family were decent, upstanding people of this state and should be remembered as such. Dr. Hart did so much in his life, spending most of his life helping others. He was one of the original founders of Sutter Hospital and gave a lot of time helping charitable organizations. He was not an evil, murderous, mad scientist as some of these unbelievable internet sites claim.  As I always tell people, do not believe anything you hear and only half of what you see. Fact is always better than fiction, and it is important that when telling the history of a person, place or thing, that you actually do the research before regurgitating the same old information blindly. You owe it to the person you are speaking about to tell their story correctly, and with respect.

To Read More About the Hart Mansion: CLICK HERE-- HART MANSION SECRETS

(Copyright 2015- J'aime Rubio)

All photos are the property of J'aime Rubio-- copyright protected.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Petra Johnston's Traveling Headstone

Petra de Jara Johnston
Several months ago, I  traveled to Half Moon Bay, California, to visit the famous Moss Beach Distillery. On my way there, I noticed two cemeteries that were right along the main road, side by side. Both looked forgotten and neglected, as if life and time had continued to move forward around it. That little speck of land confined within the fencelines remained a part of the past, forgotten and neglected. The first cemetery I passed was the Odd Fellows Cemetery, while the second was named Pilarcitos Cemetery. After finding a parking spot nearby, I walked up the sidewalk to the entrance of the abandoned cemetery and curiously opened the gate to enter this "forgotten land."

Wandering around the cemetery, among the dry overgrowth of weeds, it appeared the ground was cracking and splitting all around the area. Cement plots were broken in half, probably due to uneven earth underneath, while monuments had either fallen or been broken on purpose by vandals.  Trash along the backside of the fenceline along with a tent farther back showed signs of homeless making camp in this forgotten place. I took several photos of the headstones and graves at both cemeteries and eventually went on my way to Moss Beach for the evening.

After returning home from my trip, I continued to think about that cemetery and all the forgotten people buried there. I started to do some research on the interments at the Pilarcitos Cemetery when I came across this haunting photograph of a woman, Petra de Jara Johnston.  The story surrounding Petra seemed to be something out of a mystery novel, intriguing me even more. Years ago, her headstone was vandalized or broken in half, and the top portion literally disappeared. For years it seemed that no one knew where or why it was taken, until recently.


Petra de Jara was born on October 23, 1833, in Mexico, but at some point moved to the Bay Area of Northern California. By the time Petra was 19 years old she became the young bride of successful San Francisco saloon proprietor, James Johnston on April 10, 1852.

A native of Melrose, Scotland, Johnston was born on October 7, 1813, and immigrated with his family to the United States in 1818. After first moving to Pittsburgh, PA, the family later settled in Gallopolis, Ohio, where James would be raised.  By the time the Mexican-American war had begun, James enlisted. He later traveled to California to start a new life in San Francisco, being one of the millions of "49'ers."

Photo Credit: Maude
It is stated that James went into the mining industry at first, and after striking it rich he found himself co-owner of the El Dorado Saloon in San Francisco, quickly making a name for himself. He eventually started investing in various properties including his purchase of 1,162 acres of the Miramontes Rancho de San Benito land grant that he purchased from the heirs of Juan Jose Candelario Miramontes. He later convinced his brothers to join him in the area, thus the Johnston family name soon became familiar in the Half Moon Bay areas history.

It was on that land that James had the beautiful saltbox styled house constructed that would soon become the family home, now known as The James Johnston House or The White House of Half Moon Bay. Construction on the house began around 1853 but was not completed until 1855, when the family finally moved in. The young family of four consisted of James, Petra, James Jr. (1852), and Alice (1854). While living in the home Petra gave birth to three more children, John (1856), Francis (1859) and Adelaida (1861).

Sadly, on November 16, 1858, their eldest daughter Alice passed away at the age of four years. It is unclear what ailed the young girl, but she was laid to rest at the Pilarcitos Cemetery. I can imagine that Petra never fully recovered from the loss of her child. In 1861, while giving birth to her 5th and final child, Petra suffered complications. The baby, Adelaida, passed away either during birth or a short time after. Petra followed soonafter as well, and both were buried next to Alice at the Pilarcitos Cemetery.

It seems that the loss of his wife was too hard to bear, so James left the children in the care of Petra's mother, Ursula. James then moved back to San Francisco for the remainder of his life, and his children were raised by their grandmother at the home in Half Moon Bay. The 1860 Census had shown James to be one of the wealthiest in the County, having a value of over $100,000 in real estate and personal property at the time.

Not even twenty years later, James had managed to lose his fortune completely, while his brothers seemed to find success and go on to prosper within the area. Sad and indigent, he chose to take his life in a hotel room on October 2, 1879. He was buried in his family plot at the Odd Fellows Cemetery which is literally separated by a fence, adjacent to the Pilarcitos Cemetery.

Part of the Mystery Solved

Photo Credit: RCH
Last October, a contributor who goes by the name "RCH" on Findagrave, posted a remarkable photo on Petra's memorial. It was the missing piece of Petra's headstone! It ended up at the Green Valley Cemetery in Sonoma County, a whole 100 miles away!  How he found it and the answers as to who put it there is still unknown. I had reached out to "RCH" but received no reply. I spoke briefly through email correspondence to "Maude" the person who originally posted Petra's memorial but was unable to reach her to do an interview on this matter.

I really wanted to see that Petra's headstone be brought back to where it belongs, at Petra's grave site. I made a few emails to the Sonoma County Historical Society, where I was finally able to contact Mr. Jeremy Nichols. Thankfully he was able to get in touch with the cemetery and make plans to return the headstone back to Half Moon Bay.

Recent Plans!

After speaking to Dave Cresson with the Half Moon Bay History Association, who was happy to hear from me, it seems apparent that the effort to bring back Petra's headstone may be able to happen after all. Hopefully with the combined effort of Mr. Cresson and Mr. Nichols, along with the Half Moon Bay Review, and quite possibly the Johnston House Foundation, they will be able to save, restore and preserve this piece of local history once more. I have had a blast researching the life of this woman, and trying so very hard to get the right people in touch with one another to make sure that Petra can have her headstone back in one piece again. It would be such a lovely thing if this also could bring the community together and possibly inspire others to make an effort to restore the Pilarcitos Cemetery alltogether. It is such a beautiful, small cemetery and it is such a shame to see it in the condition it's in today.

I will keep everyone posted on any updates and if and when Petra's headstone makes it way back home!

UPDATE:  The Half Moon Bay Review did an amazing piece "THE MYSTERY OF PETRA'S GRAVESTONE" on this story in their paper on August 5, 2015. (CLICK HERE TO GO THAT ARTICLE)

Thank you to Dave Cressom (Half Moon Bay History Association), Jeremy Nichols (Sonoma County Historical Society) Clay Lambert (Half Moon Bay Review), John Ryan at the James Johnston House (Johnston House Foundation), "Maude" (Dayna) and "RCH" on Findagrave.

Photos: from Findagrave (Maude & RCH)

(Copyright 2015- J'aime Rubio)

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Mystery Behind The Babes In The Woods, 1934

As a parent, I would do anything to protect my children by any means, no matter what. Most parents would agree with me when I say that loving parents would walk through fire to keep our babies safe. I think that is why this story really punched me in the gut when I came across it, leaving my mind still trying to understand what really happened that day in November in the woods of the Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania.
--A Horrific Site, The Three Girls Bodies --

One of the saddest of deaths I would say are the ones that involve children. Children are the symbol of innocence, purity and hope. The death of a child is a death unwarranted. They haven't grown up to make mistakes yet, they haven't even lived.  So anytime I come across a story about the deaths of innocent children, I think it affects me even more. This case would be no exception.

On November 24, 1934, John Clark and Clark Jardine were out in the woods on their way to chop some firewood, when they discovered a green blanket in the thicket. At first they believed that a hunter had killed a deer and covered it, planning to come back later to get it. As the two woodsmen approached the blanket covering a large mass, they lifted the fabric to reveal three little girls who appeared to be sleeping.  One of the men told the newspaper that he didn't realize at first that the girls were dead, and it took a few seconds for them to realize it. Quickly they rushed to town to call the authorities and news spread like wildfire of this horrendous discovery.

The identities of the girls eluded the people of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and for a time being, the rest of the country as well. Newspapers reported the horrific finding all over the nation, drawing people from all over to come to view the bodies, hoping to identify the children. Miss Mary Parker, the superintendent of the Children's Home of Baltimore County, Maryland flew to Carlisle to see if the three bodies found were some of the girls who had went missing from her orphanage, but no one could identify the children. Who were these three little girls? Where did they come from? And how did they die?

As mysterious as this was, things got even stranger when just about 135 miles away, the discovery of the bodies of the girls' father and his niece were found in a shanty near the railroad. They had both been shot in an apparent murder-suicide. This only added to the puzzling case that continues to baffle investigators to this day.

The Beginnings

The real story begins long before this tragic event. In fact, it begins with a young lady named Mary Isabel Hayford.  It was March 28, 1921, when Mary Hayford married Roland Sedgwick of Bountiful, Utah. Soon after their marriage she gave birth to a daughter, Norma. Somewhere down the line the marriage didn’t work out, and Mary filed for divorce in 1922, taking Norma with her.

By 1924, Mary had remarried, this time to Mr. Elmo Noakes, of Thistle, Utah, later having two children of their own, Cordelia and Dewilla. Before marrying Mary, Elmo had enlisted in the Marines at Mare Island on April 20, 1920 and was honorably discharged by April 19, 1922. He apparently traveled back to Utah prior to his marriage to Mary. During their marriage the couple moved around a lot, as seen in public records, going from Utah to Indian Valley, Plumas County, California and then back to Salt Lake City again living at  69 West 1st Street, which interestingly appears to be where the huge property of the Church of Latter Day Saints buildings are now.

Mary Noake's Death Certificate
On July 10th, 1932, Mary Noakes passed away at Salt Lake General Hospital after suffering from "Septicemia Hemolytic." The doctor who performed the autopsy concluded that her death was caused from a self-induced abortion. Mary Isabel Noakes was only 28 years old.

I had to wonder why she wanted to abort the unborn child? Maybe Mary reasoned with herself that she was sparing the child a life during the Great Depression. Maybe she thought that it was putting her other three children first, or maybe she was afraid of upsetting Elmo because it was speculated that he didn't want to have any more children. Those are questions we will never be certain to know the answers to.

After the death of his wife, Elmo decided yet again to move, this time back to California. Mary's first husband Roland attempted to gain custody of Norma from Elmo, but was not successful. Conflicting stories claim that because Elmo left the state, little could be done. While the other story claimed that the judge allowed Elmo to keep Norma, given the fact that he had physically raised her for the last 10 years and that he was more or less her "father." Little did Roland know that only two years later he would truly lose his little girl, forever. (Some articles claim that Mary was a widow when she met Elmo, but records prove that isn't true. Roland, Mary's first husband and Norma's biological father, died in 1969.)

After moving back to California, Elmo settled in the small railroad town known as Roseville, just north of Sacramento. Moving in with his sister, Elmo was able to find a job at the Pacific Fruit Express Company, while she watched the girls for him. Things seemed to be looking up for Elmo and his daughters, and by July of 1934, he moved out of his sisters home and into his own 2-bedroom house with the children at 511 Grove Street. The home was nothing fancy, built in 1916, but good enough for him and his little girls to make a new start. Unfortunately, that would not turn out to be the case.

A New Start Interrupted

After moving into his new home, Elmo's sister was unable to watch the children like she used to, so her 18 year old daughter, Winifred Pierce volunteered to help out. Eventually Winifred quit school to be a full time nanny to the girls during the day, and then would walk back home to her mother's house in the evening.  Winifred was said to be a happy young lady, but extremely self-conscious of her appearance due to a deformity on her foot.

Around the same time that Winifred started watching the children, rumors started to spread around the family that there were improper relations going on between Elmo and his niece. After looking into this story further, my personal opinion is that one of Elmo's sisters may have started this dreadful rumor and persisted at causing troubles for Elmo. It is my belief that one of Elmo's sisters were the ones who either started it, or allowed it to spread. Elmo's oldest sister Pearl, (and mother of Winifred Pierce) was adamant that there was never any sort of sexual or improper relationship between her daughter and her brother and it seems she spent many years trying to clear her daughter's name of further slander.

According to Elmo's brother, Robert, he stated that there had been problems with family for many years, and that he basically didn't hold it against Elmo for just disappearing like he did. In fact, Robert had done the same thing a few years earlier to get away from the grip of his meddling family members.  So it seemed to Robert that Elmo had just enough of someone in the family the day he up and left without a word.

What was strange wasn't the fact he left without telling his family, but the way he left. He didn't pack up his belongings and move, nor did he give a notice at his job. No, Elmo purchased a blue 1929 Pontiac sedan from Sacramento Car Dealer William Sutton on October 31, and then on November 11th he left. The oddest thing about it all was that he left without much money, he even skipped out on picking up his paycheck from the last two weeks work, meaning that he was leaving Roseville basically broke.

Let's stop and think about this whole thing for a second. That doesn't sound like he was moving away, it sounds like he was running from something...but what? 

Well, according to Russell Pierce, Elmo's nephew, not only were the rumors about Winifred and Elmo going around but the question about whether Elmo was fit as a parent came into discussion. Could it have been speculated that he was being abusive or neglectful? I believe that those questions must have arose, because Robert Noakes was adamant in his interview to the papers after this dreadful incident took place, he stated that Elmo "never raised a hand towards the children. I don't think he killed them as they say. He loved them. He was as good to them as any could be."
His statements lead me to believe that someone had questioned Elmo's ability as a parent, and possibly someone told him that they would have the children removed from the home.

Maybe after losing his wife, the thought of losing his kids was too unbearable for him, so he did the one thing that a desperate person would do, he ran. I also think Elmo was suffering from some sort of depression because of his erratic behavior of driving clear across country in just a matter of days with the girls. Personally, I think that Winifred saw Elmo making rash decisions and knew the girls were the ones who would suffer. Perhaps she asked him, "Who will watch the girls when you work? You don't want strangers watching them, do you?"-- and that is where I believe that when he was leaving that day, she decided to join him, not for herself, but for the kids. Maybe she didn't want to leave the kids with him alone for fear of his emotional state.
Norma, Cordelia, Dewilla

Yes, the newspapers had a field day unfairly depicting Winifred as this young harlot who had her sights set on Elmo and that the kids were just "in the way." It didn't help matters that her own aunt made such horrid accusations about her in the newspapers only adding more fuel to the fire. One of Elmo's other sisters went on record stating "I warned Elmo not to have anything to do with her. Winnie could make him do about anything she wanted him to do."---

The rest of the family had other opinions, all claiming that Winifred was not that type of girl and that there was absolutely nothing going on between Elmo and his niece. Either Winifred was able to pull the wool over everyone's eyes except her aunt, or the aunt was a trouble-maker looking to ruin several people's reputations. So which was it?

For two weeks the family in Roseville heard nothing. Pearl Pierce waited anxiously to hear from her daughter, or her brother, in hopes that everything was alright. Then the newspapers started to report about the bodies of three little girls being found in the woods in Pennsylvania and the connection that authorities started to make on a murder-suicide within the same state. Immediately relatives started speculating and that was when the feud started.

The Family Feud

When news got to the family of Winifred Pierce and Elmo Noakes, two of Pearl Pierce's sisters showed up to Enid and Harry Daniel's home on Thanksgiving day. According to reports, the police were called to the home and both women were charged with "disturbing the peace" after screaming obscenities to their niece when she refused them entry into her mother's home.

At court, Harry Daniels, Russell Pierce, son of Pearl Pierce, and his sister Enid went before Judge Don. L. Bass explaining that on the evening of Thanksgiving that their aunts showed up “abusing and cursing,” after they were turned away at the door. Enid Daniels stated that her mother was in no condition to receive anyone in the home at that time because of the shock and grief of learning of the tragedy. It was then that the two sisters started causing a scene forcing the police to be called to the home.

After hearing the testimony of family members, the Judge convicted the two women of the disturbing the peace and gave them 90 day suspended sentences. The two women had a fit in the courtroom, one even throwing herself on the floor, pounding the ground with her fists and kicking violently, until the Judge threatened to put her in jail. 

The Investigation 

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, detectives were still putting the pieces together to try to figure out the details of the case. Fingerprint analysis proved that the man found dead in the railroad shanty outside Duncansville was in fact Elmo Noakes. The rare foot deformity found on the foot of the female found at the scene proved Winifred Pierce's identity as well. Detectives confirmed that Winifred had been shot and that Elmo committed suicide with the same gun.

Earlier, in nearby Altoona, Winifred had sold her coat to purchase the old .22 caliber rifle that was used to take their own lives. Their bodies were eventually brought over to Carlisle, the same place that the three little girls were being held before burial.

The coroner determined the deaths of the three girls was due to “external suffocation.” There was no signs of struggle or attack on any of the children, leaving the authorities to believe that they were either smothered or that they died by accident, while inside the vehicle from carbon monoxide poisoning.

In a recent article by the Pennsylvania Sentinel Newspaper, letters from a resident of Carlisle were mentioned that brought to light several key pieces of information. For one, according to what was published in the newspaper, the letter by Mrs. Mamie Zinn to Pearl Pierce claimed that Winifred Pierce's body was examined by the local doctor in Carlisle prior to being buried, and he confirmed that she died a virgin. This is a big discovery, because it disproves all the rumors of her having some sort of sordid love affair with her uncle, when in fact, she died without having sexual relations.

Mrs. Zinn also mentioned the fact that the way the children were laid out, it was clear that "loving hands" had done it, meaning they took extra care on how they rested the girls on the ground and covered their bodies. The most important information that Mrs. Zinn gave was the one that may have cracked the case. You see, Mrs. Zinn told Pearl Pierce that Elmo and Winifred had been seen going from house to house, knocking on doors asking for food. They had left the kids in the car. Remember this was the end of November in 1934, and it had been cold and rainy. Many speculated that Elmo and Winifred left the girls in the car with the engine running and perhaps the fumes from the car overcame them.

I spoke to a friend who works on classic cars and he told me that in the old days a lot of times if an exhaust pipe had even a small crack, the exhaust could creep up into the floor boards inside of the older model cars. After discussing all the possibilities, he said that it was very likely if there was a crack in the exhaust pipe or even if they had backed into a space and parked where the exhaust pipe was not getting enough space for the fumes to escape, that they could very easily be pushed back toward the inside of the vehicle. This gives me enough reasonable doubt to believe that death by "carbon monoxide poisoning" was very possible.

Back in Roseville, the Chief of Police E.E. York was also convinced that the girls died by carbon monoxide poisoning even going so far as to state that he believed the girls died from fumes inside the car, and that must have been an accident.

Why Did They Leave?

The question on my mind was, if the girls died by accident, then why did they leave them in the woods? Why would they drive the car all the way to McVeytown, ditch it, and then hitchhike another 50 miles to Altoona?

I had to go back to the initial reason he left in the first place. If someone had questioned his parenting skills and even threatened him with taking the girls away, can you imagine what sort of fears he must have had once he realized that the girls had died?  I cannot speak for Elmo, because I cannot understand his reasoning.

After reaching Altoona, Winifred sold her coat to purchase the rifle that would ultimately take both their lives. After making their way up to a railroad shack near Duncansville, Elmo shot Winifred and then turned the gun on himself.

So why did Elmo and Winifred end their lives?

If it was an accident, did they believe that they would be blamed for the girls deaths? Did they feel guilty for leaving them in the car?  When looking over the facts of the case, I found so much more than I expected.  Sadly, as much as the evidence points to the possibility that the girls died by accident, it also leaves a possibility that they were smothered. If they were killed, the question is, why?

After the deaths many people came forward pointing the police in all different directions. Some people swore they saw Winifred and the girls on a bus from New York, others claimed they saw them in a restaurant or camp ground. Some leads were dead while others seemed credible. One of the families who came forward said that when they were dining at a restaurant in Philadelphia, they noticed a family matching their description and the father was going to make all three girls share one dinner plate. The mother of the observing family offered to let the youngest daughter eat with them and they accepted. While eating, Cordelia mentioned that her "daddy was looking for work." When leaving the establishment the owner claimed that a man who he later believed to be Elmo, stated that the girls were beginning to be a burden on him.

Could it have been possible that they ran out of money and Elmo, in a desperate and temporary  state of insanity somehow convinced himself that ending their lives was sparing them from a life of poverty? As much as I do not want to believe this alternate scenario, the facts are that this is also a possibility.

If the girls died by accident, more than likely Elmo took his own life and that of Winifred's because of the grief they both may have felt. Had he intentionally killed the girls, the murder-suicide was probably because of remorse or a guilty conscience.


Before the funeral of the three girls, their cousin Junius Pierce and uncle Robert Noakes were said to have attempted to go back to Pennsylvania to retrieve the bodies of all the family members. They wanted to have the three girls buried next to their mother in Salt Lake City, but their attempts were unsuccessful.

The residents of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where the girls bodies were found, buried the three girls in their local cemetery. The girl scouts and the boy scouts acted as pallbearers at the funeral and many residents chipped in to pay for all the costs. The American Legion held the funeral for the three girls in Carlisle, where over 1,000 people showed up to the viewing the day before.  Elmo Noakes was respectfully given a military salute funeral, while Winifred was given a spot in the same cemetery as well, after her family had to pay to have her body brought to Carlisle. The headstone at her grave was also paid for by her family. (Oddly, Elmo's headstone has his death date wrong).

In the end Elmo Noakes’ family seemed clearly divided on their theories of just what happened out there in the woods that day. Some of them believed it was an accident, while one of the aunts was convinced that it was Winifred’s manipulation of Elmo to get rid of the children. Something tells me that those ideas were unfounded, being that evidence showed that Winifred died a virgin.  It's likely that the rumors were just vicious lies used to hurt and embarrass Elmo and Winifred.

I have to wonder if certain people had only minded their own business from the beginning, if this story would not have turned out as it did. Yes, Elmo may have had some underlying mental illness that came out towards the end, and based on his actions leading up to the girls deaths, I would have to say he wasn't making the best choices. We may never know what really happened that day..was it an accident? Or did Elmo just snap? The answers seem to elude us even 80 years later. One thing we do know for sure is that ultimately five people died, and more than likely the entire chain of events started with one rumor.

It seems that only God knows what really happened, and in the end that is all that matters now..."The wages sin pays is death."-Romans 6:23

Rest In Peace,- Norma Sedgwick, Dewilla Noakes, Cordelia Noakes, Elmo Noakes and Winifred Pierce. --

(Copyright 2015- J'aime Rubio)

Sources;, Family Search
Census Records, Death Records, Birth and Marriage Records,
Various Newspapers
Lewiston Daily Sun 12/1/ 1934
Deseret News 12/21/1934
Berkeley Daily Gazzette 12/1/1934
Prescott Evening Courier 12/1/1934
Gettysburg Times 11/30/1934
Pittsburgh Post Gazzette 12/1/1934