Saturday, September 21, 2013

When Two Similar Stories Collide- Anna Corbin and Bessie Lewis

Anna Corbin
If you have read my previous article about the life and death of Anna Corbin, the head housekeeper of the Preston School of Industry in 1950, then you are aware of the fact that I have taken a personal interest in her story. After years of research I have posted findings on my blog and in my  book, "Behind The Walls," that makes it very clear (based on the evidence) that the information various other websites, television shows and other groups have come forward with through the media in the past has either been partially tainted with fictional aspects or all together incorrect.

This article is meant to bring more interesting information to light, to show you the link I have found to another brutal and vicious attack to another head housekeeper at Preston just 29 years earlier. You see, Anna Corbin is not the only head housekeeper from the Preston School of Industry to be viciously attacked and left for dead on the grounds of the school. In fact, Mrs. Lewis' story happened before Anna Corbin's death.

Head Housekeeper Attacked at Preston- 1921

It was October 26, 1921 and the head housekeeper known as Mrs. Lewis was severely beaten and locked in a closet by four wards in their attempt to make an escape from the School. The story made headlines in the Ione Valley Echo newspaper, dated October 29, 1921.
Ione Valley Echo (10/29/1921)


"Wednesday morning, about 9:30, Mrs. Lewis, in charge of housekeeping for Company A, at the Preston School, was viciously attacked by four boys of her squad. She was knocked down and her head was pounded on the concrete floor several times. She was rendered unconscious, tied, gagged, her keys taken. Then the four boys make their escape. Another boy, who had recently been operated on for appendicitis, pretended to make a fight to save Mrs. Lewis. But it is believed he was faking. Officers hurried to A Company quarters and found her where she had been thrown into a closet. After many hours she regained consciousness, but became hysterical, then unconscious again. Yesterday morning she was regarded as quite ill, and suffering with possibly a clot of blood on her brain.

The four boys were caught at 3:30 in the afternoon by Officers E.E. Hooker and Mr. Cain on the Borden Ranch, who brought them safely back to the school. It is said these two officers "influenced" these four boys to come right along, or "perhaps" it might have been unhealthy.

Superintendent Close is absent, but the whole community is pleased at the prompt and efficient action of Assistant Superintendent Morrin in handling these vicious young criminals, and also at the successful work of messengers Hooker and Cain."----Ione Valley Echo, Saturday Edition, October 29, 1921.

What Does This Have To Do With Anna Corbin?

So you may be asking that question, "What does this have to do with Anna Corbin?" Well, a lot actually. You see, from the time I started researching and reading about Anna's death, even before I wrote about it in my book, I kept hearing and reading accounts where people describe her being locked in a closet. Some people said she was locked in a pantry in the kitchen, some say a small closet under a stairwell in the basement is where Anna was found.

Historical evidence disproves all of that. The persons who found Anna, found her in a larger room (the storage room) which adjoined a supply room which was in the basement. The newspapers quoted the eye witness account of Robert Hall (the ward who found Anna's body with housekeeper Lillian McDowall) which even specifically stated the room as being 16 x 35 in size. Now does that sound like the little closet to you? After speaking to historian, John Lafferty, and comparing our research notes, we both agreed that the room Anna was found in was the room with the disinfecting pool, in the basement. At the time of Anna's death, the pool had been boarded over and was being used as a store room.

So where did the "Closet" idea come from? Well, that is where I believe the story of Bessie Lewis* comes into play. Perhaps over the years the story of Mrs. Lewis' brutal attack and that of Anna Corbin's has been unintentionally fused with one another. The details of Mrs. Lewis being beaten, tied up, gagged and locked in a closet may have been confused with similar details of Anna Corbin being attacked, bludgeoned, strangled and locked in the store room in the basement. I think it didn't help  matters that a few newspapers reported Anna was found in a locked closet when the story first broke in the headlines, further confusing people. As time went on though, and witness accounts were actually quoted, it showed that Anna was found in the storage room covered by a rug or carpet.

The story of Bessie Lewis doesn't state whether she was in the basement or not, although it speaks of her head being pounded into the concrete, so she must have been in some area that would have concrete floors and the basement does have that. I am not certain which area Company A quarters was located at by the 1920's, whether it was the Administration building or another house on the property. I do know that when the school opened in 1895 Company A's quarters were in the basement, but over the years things did get changed around a bit, (example: the plunge bath room was later boarded over and used as a store room by the 1950s) so we may never know exactly where Bessie was attacked. However, I am fully convinced that certain aspects of Bessie Lewis' story has become a misinformed attachment to Anna's story, which is very sad for both of these women.

What Happened To Bessie?

I have searched the Census records for Amador, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Calaveras Counties for 1920 (one year prior to the accident) and could not locate a Bessie Lewis or Elizabeth (since Bessie is usually short for Elizabeth). I searched the archived microfilms of both the Ione Valley Echo and the Amador Ledger to no avail, there was never another mention of Mrs. Lewis or what happened after her brutal attack. I checked the obituaries from late October up to the end of the year in 1921, and still, no information on Mrs. Lewis.  Being that there were no more headlines or articles mentioning the outcome of such a brutal attack, one can only assume that she recovered from her injuries. It is also possible that she moved away from the area, perhaps to stay with relatives in another area, so we don't know what happened to her after that.

A Sad Thing

In conclusion, I want to remind all who read this that both Bessie Lewis and Anna Corbin were just like you and I. They were people who had feelings, hopes, dreams and fears. They had loved ones and family. I believe that it is not only a dishonor to Anna's memory by others continuing to tell her story incorrectly, but it is also dishonor to the memory of Mrs. Lewis by her story being completely forgotten for nearly 92 years.

I will keep diligently searching for answers in regards to what happened to Mrs. Lewis and where her life ended up down the line. I think we owe her that much. In the end I hope that whomever reads my blogs or my books sees that this is my passion, to uncover the truth. To set the facts straight and speak for those people who can no longer speak for themselves.  I do my best and hope that others who appreciate history and truth, will also appreciate the work I do.

(Copyright September 21, 2013- J'aime Rubio)
Also published in the book, "If These Walls Could Talk: More Preston Castle History," by J'aime Rubio, 2017.

Thank you to Becky at the Amador County Library for all your help!

Amador County Library
Ione Valley Echo, 10/29/1921
Stockton Record, 2/24/1950
State Archives
Behind The Walls: A Historical Exposé of The Preston School of Industry, J'aime Rubio
Preston School of Industry A Centennial History, John Lafferty.

* Footnote: John Lafferty's book, Preston School of Industry a Centennial History, briefly mentions this incident and also mentions her name as Bessie Lewis.

You can also read more about Anna Corbin and Bessie Lewis in both of my books,

"Behind The Walls"  & "If These Walls Could Talk" available on Amazon.

As well as on my other blog,  Preston Castle History. Hope to see you there!

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