Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Roseville rail yard explosion revisited

By: J'aime Rubio 

It was the morning of April 28, 1973, when Phoebe Astill was violently awakened from her sleep, having been thrown literally out of bed by a terrible concussion that rocked her house.

"At first I thought it was a plane that had crashed,”  the lifelong Roseville resident remembered. “I thought it may have been one of the planes headed for McClellan, but it turned out that wasn’t it.”

In fact, that explosion would be the first of many that would wreak havoc on the Southern Pacific Rail Yard and adjoining areas for the next 32 hours, and leave a terrifying mark on their memories that would last a lifetime. “It was a hot wheel that caused it,”  explained Locomotive Engineer David Epling, who is familiar with the historic catastrophe. “As the train made its way down the pass the wheel overheated, building friction.”

The wheel overheating led to sparks and initially set the oak floors of the railcar on fire. Once one those first flames started, they led to the additional cars catching ablaze. That is when the 7,000 MK-81 bombs that the Naval Ammunition train was transporting en route to the port in Concord, and headed for Vietnam, became dangerously hot and started the chain reaction explosions. “These were thousands of 250 lb. bombs, very destructive,” Epling added. 

The bombs were armed with 90 lbs. of explosive, and were said to be lacking the two fuses necessary to detonate. However, they did ignite — in a massive disaster that destroyed the rail yard, leaving it riddled with craters. The explosions started out sporadically but then became more frequent and powerful. The more significant blasts shot debris hundreds of feet into the air and lasted for nearly five hours. 

Throughout the day, thousands of explosions continued to rock the area, some large, some small — all very destructive. A number of train and rail yard workers were thrown in upwards of 100 feet or more.  Confusion and panic began to set in. People were hurrying to find cover. Others were wondering if it really was an accident. 

The State Capitol building, nearly 17 miles away, was not immune to the sounds of the blasts either. Worrying of the possible damage and danger to visitors, the State Police Captain gave orders to close the Capitol for their weekend tours. Countless buildings, homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed from Roseville to Citrus Heights. The community of Antelope was completely leveled as well as the Citrus Heights Firehouse. There were fences blown down from the blasts, fiery shrapnel flying and landing everywhere as well as other heavy debris scattered for miles. The blasts blew out nearly every plate glass window along downtown Roseville streets. 

Hundreds of people were injured though no one died. When asked about some of the things she remembered that day, Astill recalled, “I remember the explosions were so powerful that my mother’s ‘57 Chevy Station Wagon was lifted from one lane into the next, on the road heading back to Roseville.” Astill also remembered that — out of all the injuries — the one that just with her was a young girl who had lost an eye.

“It was a miracle that no one died,” the museum curator said. 

When the smoke cleared and the skies returned to its powder blue color, there were many questions left unanswered. After this accident, it became a requirement that all railcar wheels have non-sparking brake shoes and spark shields installed. The circumstances surrounding the magnitude of the event also led to Congress passing the Transportation Safety Act, which implemented numerous regulations and safety protocol from various agencies into one publication, specifically placing responsibility and accountability on all parties involved in transporting hazardous materials.

Many years later, after Union Pacific took over the rail yard, more bombs were unearthed from the ground during their remodeling project. One of the remaining bombs that had not exploded in the disaster is now on display in the city’s Carnegie Museum, by way of the Roseville Historical Society’s exhibit, “Roseville, A War Zone.” The exhibit will remain on display until the end of May (2014) and features newspaper accounts, photos and other memorabilia from the disaster.

(Originally published on May 29, 2014 in the Roseville Press Tribune, written by J'aime Rubio. Photo: Archival Photo)

Publisher/Editor's Notes: This is one of a series of articles that I wrote for the Roseville Press-Tribune/Placer Herald several years back when I used to write the historical articles for them.  According to my old editor, since I wrote the content I can repost the articles. I have also obtained permission by Gold Country Media a few years back to republish my stories, too. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Story of Nellie Hill and her Two Graves

Hill Family Plot, Lodi Memorial Cemetery

I have been  meaning to write about Nellie Hill for about 8 years now. It seemed that every time I began to plan to sit down and write her story, something happened in life that distracted me, or I had other responsibilities (such as finishing my latest book) that took precedent. Since we are all stuck at home during this health crisis that will certainly go down in history, I am here today, penning this blog just for you, my readers to finally learn about the story of Nellie Hill and her two graves!

To begin, I  must start with the story of George Washington Hill and Mary Hill of Lodi.  George was born in Brownfield Center, Maine on September 28 of 1846, (According to his death certificate he was born Sept 20, 1845), who came to California in 1869. He married Mary Lewis (daughter of Mary Jane Johnson and Philander Lewis of Ann Arbor, Michigan). The two settled in Lodi, and had two children,  Nellie Etta Hill (Born: 1883) and Maurice Hill (Born: 1899). George was an established jeweler, watch maker and cabinet maker.

When Nellie only three years old, (around 1886), while playing in a rocking chair on the front porch, she rocked the chair forward causing it to lose balance and tumble forward, resulting in a spinal injury that damaged Nellie for the rest of her life.  Because of such an injury, she never grew to the normal size expected, and at the age of 20 was only 4 foot tall with a 2 shoe size.

Around 1901, the Hill family built their beautiful Queen Anne Victorian home at 115 S. School Street in Lodi, which was located literally across from the Post Office. George Hill designed the home himself. In 1948, the home was moved to its current location at 826 S Church Street, which was protested by neighbors in the community who had just built new homes on the street and didn't want the home to be brought there. Still, they managed to do it, and it cost roughly $3,000 in preparation alone to get the home moved in two pieces. Wires had to be elevated on the street and trenches dug, just to get around the electrical and telephone wires in order to safely move the structure.

Nellie Etta Hill
Going back to the story, although Nellie had her physical obstacles, she was committed to being positive and doing what she could to be involved in the community. She loved music, like her brother, and she tried to maintain a social status by being involved in various groups including the choir at the local Lodi Methodist Church. She loved to play the piano, and she even composed a piece of sheet music titled "The Soldiers Farewell" back in 1905, which was considered the first published song by a Lodian. She also loved photography and took many photos which are still within the collection at the Hill House.

Maurice, Nellie's much younger brother grew up to become a concert pianist and composer who often traveled abroad. I have often wondered if Nellie was actually the biological child of Mary and George, given her very dark complexion, and lack of  similar physical characteristics in the family, but I have no proof to provide to you. That is purely my speculation. With that being said, according to an article in the Stockton Record, "George doted on his beautiful and frail daughter Nellie." --

Sadly, at the age of 29 years, Nellie succumbed to pneumonia in her home on January 30, 1912. Her headstone reads January 31st, while others have claimed January 29th.  Her funeral was held on February 2, 1912  at the Methodist Church in Lodi, with Rev. E. B. Winning officiating.  Her casket was then interred into the Hill family plot at Lodi Memorial Cemetery. It was said her funeral was one of the largest funerals at the time.

Original Marker Where Nellie was Buried
Her parents George and Mary soon followed. George passed away on February 22, 1927 from basically a really bad UTI/bladder infection, (cystitis with chronic hypertrophy of prostate) and Mary passed away from heart failure on October 12, 1934. Their death certificates said they would be buried at Lodi Memorial but the family plot only has Nellie's name and inscription on it.

For years I had wondered where George and Mary were since it appeared they were not with Nellie. Tracking down Nellie's brother, I had later found out that Maurice, who died in 1984 was interred in a niche in the mausoleum on the other side of the cemetery. After doing a little sleuthing with my fiance (the very person who originally introduced me to Nellie's grave in the first place), we decided to go check out the Mausoleum niche's to see Maurice's spot. Lo and behold, there was George, Mary, Mary's half-sister Daisy, Maurice and guess what?  Nellie! You read that right, there is a niche with Nellie's name on it.

(Courtesy of Roland Boulware)
This was cause for visiting the cemetery office to ask about the oddity of her having two graves. After speaking to the staff at the cemetery, they explained to us that someone had just talked to them about the same story that week earlier, and as it turns out, Maurice was deathly afraid of being buried in the ground. So, although his parents were buried alongside Nellie in the family plot, he had arranged in his will that upon his death he would be put in a niche in the Mausoleum, and that his family would be exhumed and re-interred with him there. Thus the reason why he didn't bother to put his parent's names on the family marker in the cemetery. Sadly, though, they made quite a few errors on Nellie's plaque, as it reads 1881-1911 when she was born in 1883 and died in 1912.

Obviously, when Nellie died in 1912, George and Mary had planned to be buried there beside their daughter, so that was why they purchased the large plot and had such a large family monument to be placed there, with enough space for all four of their names to be inscribed.

For all these years I had been visiting Nellie, and she wasn't even there. She was on the opposite side of the cemetery all along, well since 1984 anyway.  Now Nellie and the rest of her family are resting side by side, above ground in the Mausoleum.

If you would like to visit Nellie, her niche is located at the south side of the mausoleum on the eastern side of the property. Her original grave, which is still there, is on the far west side of the property near the first driveway. You can't miss it.

In ending, the Hill House is a marvelous piece of Lodi History encapsulated within its walls. The whole house has been beautifully kept up and holds much of the Hill family's belongings and treasures. If you get a chance to visit it, you should, and why not stop by and visit the Hill family at the Lodi Memorial Cemetery as well.

(Copyright 2020 - J'aime Rubio www.jaimerubiowriter.com)

Photo of  Nellie's original grave by J'aime Rubio
Photo of Hill House (in color) by J'aime Rubio
Photo of Nellie's plaque in Mausoleum by Roland Boulware
Photo of Nellie Hill from Lodi Sentinel Archives
Photo of Hill House (black and white) Lodi Sentinel Archives

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The lost children of Placer’s White House

Placer County's "White House"  - located in Auburn

By: J'aime Rubio

Located directly across the street from Auburn’s grand historic courthouse, the towering Victorian known as the White House continues to stir mysteries. The house has had many lives over the years, including being used as a residence, a law office and several restaurants. The plaque outside the White House states it was built in 1870, though county records suggest it may have actually been built a decade before that.

Its first owner, Walter B. Lyon was a Placer County Recorder as well as the Editor and Business Manager of the Placer Weekly Argus newspaper. He was also the Grand Secretary for the California Lodge of Odd Fellows. He was a true pioneer of the county. In 1875 Lyon’s stately abode had passed into the hands of John White, earning its lasting moniker. But surviving archives show the house had already experienced a string of tragedies before White came to own it.

Walter B. Lyon and his wife Mary had seven children, though only two survived into adulthood. Placer County death records indicate that between February and March of 1866, the Lyon’s 7-year-old son William, 3-year-old son Charlie and 1-year-old infant George, all passed away. The family devastation continued when on May 2, 1874 – just one year prior to John White taking over the family home – Lyon’s 7-year-old daughter Mary Helena also died after a lingering illness.

Archives of the Placer Weekly Argus noted, “Nearly every girl and boy and lady and gentleman in the town of Auburn and vicinity attended the funeral service and burial of the daughter of W.B. Lyon. The Band of Hope, composed of the little juveniles of our town, marched in twos to the graveyard.”

The newspaper added that many of the young girl’s classmates “wept unremittingly” during her funeral and that “at the grave the soft and gentle voices of the children echoed through the still woods as they sang ‘Beautiful River.’”

Other interesting history about the history of the home reported to the Auburn Journal by former restaurant owner, Pete Enoch, spoke of a mystery tunnel that connected under the Courthouse to the basement of the White House.  Said to have been used as a holding cell for inmates due for court appearances, the secret passageway was a means of transporting prisoners away from the public view.  If those stories are true, the area facing Maple Street bears only remnants of the old archway that has long since been sealed off, leaving only an old brick retaining wall visible from the exterior of the home.
Maria Helena Lyon's Grave

After visiting the White House, a trip to the Old Auburn Cemetery was next on my list. Having never been there, and solely relying on my GPS, I found myself wandering around the final resting place of many of the old pioneers of Auburn. As I walked the spacious grounds, I came upon a name I recognized, Walter B. Lyon, and sure enough, right there in the family plot I found little Mary Helena’s small obelisk. The tiny, stone monument that sits peacefully with her siblings and parent’s graves, remains a physical remembrance of young, forgotten lives lost in Placer County long ago, contributing to the questions we feel today about the region’s haunting history. 

The Lyon Family Plot, Auburn Cemetery

(Originally published as one of three stories on October 29, 2015 in the Placer Herald)
Updated/edited October 21, 2017
Photo of White House/Lyon House: Roland Boulware
Photo of graves: J’aime Rubio

Publisher/Editor's Notes: This is one of a series of articles that I wrote for the Roseville Press-Tribune/Placer Herald several years back when I used to write the historical articles for them.  According to my old editor, since I wrote the content I can repost the articles. I have also obtained permission by Gold Country Media a few years back to republish my stories, too. 

Historic Rocklin death a puzzle for early pathologists

Photo Credit: William Tatum 

There was a chill in the air on a cold December day in 1891 when a coworker of Albert Bertelsen came calling at his home two miles east of Rocklin. Bertelsen’s friend knocked and, after no response, entered inside to stumble upon a corpse sprawled across the floor.

Bertelsen had lived on a ranch near the Lee Drift Mine. According to the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper, clues around his homestead suggested that he might have been attacked outside. His wounds appeared to have been caused by buck shot from a gun hitting his face, chest and the side of his body. The marks on the ground also led the authorities to wonder if he had then been dragged into his home.

The citizens of Rocklin wanted to know who could have done this? And why? Newspapers all around Placer and Sacramento counties ran with the story, detailing the condition of Bertelsen’s body and creating a community mystery around the question of foul play.

A native of Denmark, Bertelsen was born in 1850. He immigrated to the United States in the late 1860s. A decade later, he was living in Lincoln and working on a farm. State records show that on Feb. 21, 1872 he filed an official “Declaration of Intention” to become a U.S. citizen. Bertelsen soon married Jane Gray of Coloma. The two remained together for nearly 14 years until tragedy struck and Jane passed away. 
Photo Credit: Little Orange in the Big Apple

The cause of her death is not recorded, though documents confirm she was brought to the Siebenthaler Home for funeral services at 20th Street in Sacramento, and was later taken to the Masonic Cemetery for burial. Bertelsen worked managing the Lee Mine at the time. Just weeks before his own death, Bertelsen quit his longstanding position and went to work at the local quarry. It was his failure to show up to this particular job that prompted his friend to come over and make the grisly discovery.

Questions continued to swirl around the topic of whether Bertelsen was murdered. After investigating, the coroner shocked many in the community by ruling the death “accidental.”  Archives from the Placer County Herald newspaper shed light on what apparently took place that cold December day. It seems that around the one-year anniversary of Jane’s death, Bertelsen decided to start removing the tree stumps from his property by blowing them up.

The coroner ascertained that he was using blasting powder while working in the field, and somehow ignited an explosion prematurely. Bertelsen was hit by the force of the blast. Not dying immediately, he dragged himself back to his house. Closer examination of his body proved that it was gravel and dirt debris that was embedded deep in his skin rather than buck shot. The fact that it took several days before his body was found, and its state of decomposition, suggests Bertelsen might have been killed on the one-year anniversary of his beloved wife’s death. His longtime friend Phillip Siebenthaler traveled to Rocklin to recover his body and bring it back to Sacramento to be buried next to Jane at the Masonic Cemetery. Unfortunately, Bertelsen doesn’t have a marker or headstone, but grave maps show he is next to his wife in Section H, Block 60.

In the end, what was originally believed to be a murder turned out to be a terrible accident; but if Bertelsen did actually die on the anniversary of his wife’s passing, some may wonder if it was entirely a coincidence. Could the ranch manager have been so caught up in his emotions that day he made a careless mistake? The only thing that is known for sure is that he and his wife were reunited once and for all at their final resting place.

Photo Credit: Lin McNamara

(Originally published on August 7, 2015 in the Placer Herald)

Publisher/Editor's Notes: This is one of a series of articles that I wrote for the Roseville Press-Tribune/Placer Herald several years back when I used to write the historical articles for them.  According to my old editor, since I wrote the content I can repost the articles. I have also obtained permission by Gold Country Media a few years back to republish my stories, too. 

Photo credits to: Lin McNamara (Findagrave), Little Orange in the Big Apple (Findagrave) and William Tatum (Findagrave). 

Extra Sources:
Sac Daily Union—December 9, 1891

Sac Daily Union- December 8, 1891

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Brutal Rocklin murders of 1877 a forgotten saga

By: J'aime Rubio

Over the years, several news articles and books have been written about the painful history of the Chinese expulsion from Placer County in 1877. Yet often times the precursor to that event, a brutal triple-murder, gets only a brief mention; and much of its real story is often cut short or left out entirely.

It was a tale with its share of victims and villains – and it also came with a few heroes as well. The triple-murder took place September 15, 1877 at the Old Ryan Ranch on the outskirts of Rocklin. The Sacramento Daily Union newspaper reported that a 40-year-old man named H.N. Sargent, who was well known and respected in the community, was living on the property once owned by a Mr. P.D. Ryan. Sargent was a member of the firm Himes & Company, which had purchased the ranch near Secret Ravine. He’d been living and working there for about two years before the September 15 tragedy.

In the week leading up to the shocking event Sargent sold a small mining claim in the area to a Chinese man named Ah Sam for $120. Ah Sam was a former cook who had worked for several families in Auburn. He and three or four of his friends reportedly decide to trick Sargent into taking them out to another mining claim they pretended to have an interest in buying. After leading Sargent down the road a short distance Ah Sam and his cohorts shot him in the back four times and then, for added measure, put another bullet in his the head.  It was suspected that the motive was pure greed. Thinking they had finished Sargent off, the group proceeded to head back to their victim’s house. Arriving, they attacked his housekeeper, Mrs. Oder. Both Mrs. Oder and her husband, Xaver Louis Oder, worked on Sargent’s ranch and vineyard. The couple would be the second and third victim in a triple homicide that was about to shake Rocklin to its core.

Xaver Oder was a 55-year-old native of Bavaria. Before coming to Rocklin he had been living with his family for many years in Drytown in nearby Amador County. Mrs. Oder was a native of New Jersey. She was only 28-years-old at the time of her murder.

Once inside Sargent’s house Ah Sam and his fellow assailants shot Mrs. Oder several times before driving an axe into her skull. The men also chased after Mr. Oder, killing him outside on the property. Sargent’s abode was ransacked. Newspapers later detailed how the killers had torn into his drawers and broke open his trunks with the same bloody axe used to kill Mrs. Oder. They found the money Ah Sam had originally paid Mr. Sargent for the claim and then looted his home for all valuables.

A young boy later stumbled on the carnage when he dropped by to ask for permission to pick some grapes on the grounds of the ranch. He was soon staring at the mangled body of Mrs. Oder. News spread quickly through Rocklin. Authorities instantly launched a large scale hunt, both searching for the perpetrators as well as answers to what had happened to Sargent.

 Unbelievably, when Sargent was discovered in the woods it turned out he wasn’t actually dead. The search party brought him back to Rocklin to undergo surgery. Sargent would ultimately die from his wounds, but not before he recovered enough life to tell the authorities who had attacked him.

With an idea of who committed the heinous crimes, volunteers from Rocklin and Roseville flooded in to help search for Ah Sam and his partners. At one point, about 15 Chinese residents were held in custody at the Rocklin Exchange Hall, though only four were eventually arrested and sent by train to the Auburn jail to face charges.

The historic record shows this tragedy sparked a fire in the hearts of Rocklin residents, prompting them to demand the Chinese be driven out of town. Chinese residents learned the very morning after the arrests that they had to leave the area before sundown – or be driven out by force. The location known as Chinese Camp was abandoned and then demolished. The hunt for Ah Sam continued.

Newspaper clippings from the time recount that a railroad detective named John Craig Boggs enlisted the help of his own Chinese cook in finding the murderers. The cook led Boggs to Folsom where one of the suspects, Ah Fook, was hiding out in an opium den. Boggs’ cook went undercover, befriending Ah Fook and waiting until he was deeply under the influence of “the Dragon.” Boggs’ cook eventually gave a signal that allowed the detective to come in for an arrest.   

Ah Sam continued to elude authorities. Boggs kept hot on the trail, following him to Gold Strike Mine near Greenville and then into the mountains. It wasn’t until five months after the murders that a man named Ira Wentworth came across a badly emaciated and nearly frozen Ah Sam in the high north Mother Lode. According to the book “The Illustrated History of Plumas, Lassen and Sierra County,” Wentworth was on his way to work when he stumbled on Ah Sam at a campsite. He offered the stranger some food and told him how to get to the Chinese Camp for help, having no idea that he was speaking to a wanted criminal. The next morning at Rich Bar, Wentworth told his friends about the incident and only then learned the starving man was likely the fugitive from Rocklin. Immediately, two young men, Thomas Stentz, 29, and Alexander Buvinghausen, 24, headed up the mountain to assist in Ah Sam’s capture.

What ensued was a dramatic standoff on a cliff side that saw the armed fugitive promising Stentz and Buvinghausen that he would never be taken alive. With the two young men closing in, despite warning shots, Ah Sam pointed the gun at his own abdomen and fired on himself. He succumbed to his wounds two days later. 

Prior to his death, Ah Sam refused to speak about his involvement in the murders. His body was brought back through the snow to Spanish Ranch and then onto Quincy, where it was loaded onto a stage for Reno before returning to Rocklin by train. Ah Sam’s remains were offered to Chinese residents near Placer, who wanted nothing to do with him, disgusted by his acts. 

The harsh and sudden choice to drive out Rocklin’s Chinese population and the irrational act of displacing a hardworking community for the heinous crimes of a few men served over time to obscure the complete story of the three original victims: Today, H.N. Sargent, Xavier Oder and Mrs. Oder, who have been largely forgotten. Although their end was violent and ghastly, the lives of these three residents are a part of Rocklin’s history waiting to be remembered again.

(Originally published on September 10, 2015 in the Placer Herald)
Photo: Archival Photos

Publisher/Editor's Notes: This is one of a series of articles that I wrote for the Roseville Press-Tribune/Placer Herald several years back when I used to write the historical articles for them.  According to my old editor, since I wrote the content I can repost the articles. I have also obtained permission by Gold Country Media a few years back to republish my stories, too. 

Roseville killer’s vanishing in 1921 a troubling mystery

By: J'aime Rubio

The “Good Samaritan” parable is as familiar as ever, and it still comes to mind when people discuss the choice of getting involved in someone else’s ongoing domestic strife. On a September afternoon in 1921, a Roseville woman faced that very dilemma when she heard blood curdling screams coming from her neighbor’s home.

The woman, whom newspaper accounts referred to as Mrs. Kruse, knew there was a reoccurring issue at the nearby Catalano home. Kruse decided to call the Roseville city clerk and demand to know what she needed to do to stop a man from continually abusing his wife. Kruse made it clear the screams suggested Joseph Catalano may end up killing his spouse. The city clerk was reportedly not too worried, simply relaying a few technicalities to the caller. Frustrated with the runaround, Kruse phoned police directly a number of times.

  A law enforcement officer eventually paid the Catalano home a visit – setting off a chain of events that lead to discovering a bloody, gruesome mess. Investigators would come to realize that Louise Catalano had been viciously murdered by her husband during the interim that Kruse was trying to bring help to the property. 

Joseph Catalano was an Italian immigrant from New York. Journalism of the era indicates he had a long history of abusing his wife. The couple had four daughters: Mary, Josephine, Carrie and Rosa. In February of 1921, the family relocated to Roseville after Joseph was offered a new job at the Pacific Fruit Express Company. The Catalanos had not even been in Placer County for 8 months when the slaying took place.

Investigators soon learned that, before law enforcement arrived, Kruse had been watching out her own window and noticed 7-year-old Mary Catalano run outside with “a look of unspeakable horror on her face.”  Kruse also mentioned hearing the girls’ cries to her father, asking him not to hurt her mother.

After the killing, Joseph Catalano thoroughly cleaned the home and then refused to come to the door when the officer knocked. At first the lawman assumed no one was home and left. Again Kruse found herself calling to convince police to return to the scene. When an officer made a second visit, Catalano and his four children were long gone.

At that point, investigators began searching the property and found a suspicious trunk. Opening it unveiled a ghastly sight: Louise Catalano’s badly mutilated body was stuffed inside. According to the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper, Joseph Catalano had severely broken his wife’s body, slashing, hacking and choking her in “one of the most gruesome murders in criminal annals.”

Louise Catalano
Even Placer County Deputy Coroner West claimed that the crime was “most revolting in its cruelty.”  Placer County coroner deputies found an axe in the kitchen, which they believed was one of the weapons used in Louise’s murder. They also found love letters between the deceased woman and a man named Mateo Manreal, who had been a boarder in the Catalano household.

Manreal worked with Joseph Catalano at the Pacific Fruit Express Company. The revelation of a love triangle gone wrong elevated the murder into the pages of newspapers across California. Four of the letters were published in the Sacramento Daily Union, outlining an affair that had reached a point where Manreal was trying to take Louise away from her violent marriage. The letters also hinted at Louise’s own jealous, insecure and volatile personality, including the married woman threatening to kill Manreal if he should be unfaithful to her.

It appeared that the many years of emotional and physical abuse Louise received at the hands of her husband created her own dysfunctional mindset. Newspapers soon had another development to report when Roseville attorney A.H. Broyer came forward to say that on the morning of the murder Louise Catalano visited him to request help in filing for divorce. 

Meanwhile, the search for Joseph Catalano continued. After fleeing Roseville with his four daughters, Joseph abandoned the children at a storefront in downtown Sacramento. An eyewitness later told police of seeing the wanted man turn to walk away from the girls, only to rush back to kiss and hug them before trying to leave again.

The scene reportedly went on for several minutes before Catalano finally disappeared. A concerned family on the street took the girls in for the evening without knowing they were connected to the slaying in Roseville. When news broke, authorities arrived to interview the children. Mary, the oldest daughter, refused to speak and was likely traumatized.

The heinous nature of Joseph Catalano’s crime quickly made him one of the most wanted men in the state. Trains, hotels and ports were actively searched in hopes of finding him. Media accounts of the day indicate that many assumed Catalano had jumped on a ship to Italy or possibly headed back to friends and family in the Italian boroughs of New York. Records indicate he was never seen again.

After speaking to members of the Catalano family in 2017, it is believed that Joseph evaded capture with help from friends and family in the area, who kept him hidden until he could move elsewhere. Allegedly he hid out on a farm in Weed, California and remained in the United States, living as a wanted man for the rest of his life.

Although Mrs. Kruse’s attempts to save Louise Catalano on that violent day in 1921 were unsuccessful, her efforts did shed light on the crime for police, as well as force newspapers, local authorities and California officials to see how serious – and sometimes fatal – domestic disturbances can be.

(Originally published on December 19, 2015 in the Roseville Press-Tribune.)
Updated information: October 21, 2017.

Publisher/Editor's Notes: This is one of a series of articles that I wrote for the Roseville Press-Tribune several years back when I used to write the historical articles for them.  According to my old editor, since I wrote the content I can repost the articles. I also obtained permission by Gold Country Media a few years back to republish my stories, too. 

A more in-depth take on this case can also be found in the book, “Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered,” by J’aime Rubio.
Photo: Sac Daily Union, September 11, 1921