The Murder of Edith Irene Wolfskill
From the San Francisco Call, Aug 28, 1903, p. 14
DEMENTED YOUNG WOMAN ESCAPES
Police Are Searching for Edith Wolfskill of Los Angeles
Disappears From a Hospital Where She Was Under Treatment
The police were notified Thursday morning of the disappearance of Miss Edith Wolfskill, a highly accomplished young lady 22 years of age, and all stations throughout the city, were furnished with a description of her with instructions to take charge of her if she should be seen and return her to her friends.
The young lady's parents live in Los Angeles, and she is related to State Senator W.C. Ralson. Her mind became wrecked recently from overstudy and it was decided to send he to the Callifornia General Hospital at Eighteenth and Douglass streets, presided over by Dr. Winslow Anderson, for treatment.
She escaped from the institution on Wednesday night scantily clad. Her nurse had left the room for a few moments after seeing that she was made comfortable in bed. When the nurse returned the bed was empty and she sounded the alarm. A thorough search of the premises was made, but no trace of the missing patient could be found.
Senator Ralston was notified and he at once laid the case before Chief Wittman, who took prompt steps to locate the missing young lady as far as lay in his power. The young lady's friends are very indignant at the hospital authorities for allowing her to escape, as they are afraid that in her present condition something serious might happen to her.
The young lady is suffering from religious mania and prior to being sent to the institution would kneel on the sidewalk in a crowded street and pray, thus attracting a crowd. It is expected that she may indulge in this form of devotion which may lead to her discovery.
From the San Francisco Call, Aug 29, 1903, p. 14
MISSING GIRL FOUND PRAYING
Detective Trails Miss Wolfskill to Lonely Canyon
Is Returned to the Hospital From Which She Made Her Escape
After wandering aimlessly around the hills near Colma for Forty-four hours Miss Edith Wolfskill, the demented young woman who made her escape from the California General Hospital, was found by a Pinkerton detective yesterday about noon and taken back to the hospital at one. Her clothes were badly torn from walking through the thick brush, but otherwise she was non the worse for her experience.
The moment that the girl disappeared from the hospital at Eighteenth and Douglass streets a search was instituted for her. Her relatives, besides notifying Chief Wittman, employed Pinkerton detectives. One of these detectives, under instructions from Captain Kemble, who is in charge of the Pinkerton office in this city, hired a conveyance and drove down to Colma yesterday. On Thursday the young woman had been reported to have been seen near Mussel Rock and the man was told to make a thorough search in this neighborhood.
Abandoning this carriage near San Pedro Point, the detective climbed a high hill and caught sight of the young woman at the bottom of a deep canyon. She was kneeling and did not appreciate her danger. With difficulty the detective descended the steep sides of the canyon and by the exercise of great strength succeeded in dragging the girl up to the level gorund.
The carriage was then signaled for, but Miss Wolfskill when it arrived refused to enter the carriage and she was driven to Colma kneeling on the floor of the vehicle. At Colma the detective notified the Pinkerton office in this city that he had secured the girl, and he was instructed to take her back to the sanitarium.
[Edith Wofskill was also in an institution, one in South Pasadena, during the U.S. Census of 1920].
On the trip to the city, the girl refused to speak to any one and showed in her manner that she resented bing found.
Miss Wolfskill's mother, who lives in Los Angeles, is at present staying at the Bella Vista Hotel. Senator W.C. Ralston is related to the young girl
From the Woodland Daily Democrat, July 17, 1929
WEALTHY SOLANO WOMAN LOST
Missing since Sunday, when she suddenly dropped from sight, Miss Irene Wolfskill, 55 [actually 49-years old], wealthy member of a pioneer family of Suisun Valley, was the object of an extensive search today.
Posses under the direction of Sheriff John R. Thornton of Solano county are scouring the country around Fairfield. He is assisted by two brothers of the missing woman, Matt and Ney Wolfskill of Los Angeles.
The missing woman is the daughter of John Wolfskill, who lives in southern California. Her father is a brother of Joe [Joseph Cooper] Wolfskill of Suisun. The John and Joe Wolfskill families are cousins of the Sarshel Wolfskill descendants at Winters.
The only possible indication as to her whereabouts was a report, reaching Fairfield last evening, that woman's tracks had been seen in the foothills five miles west of Green Valley. Sheriff Thornton sent searchers to that point.
Miss Wolfskill disappeared from her home shortly before the noon hour Sunday. She was bareheaded and was not dressed for travel, and Sheriff Thornton said he was positive Miss Wolfskill had not gone away on her own volition.
Miss Wolfskill is rated as a millionarie, and is said to have over $600,000 on deposit in a Los Angeles bank. A reward was to be offered for information leading to her whereabouts, the sheriff said.
From the Woodland Daily Democrat, July 18, 1929
Not Clad for Hike
One phase that heightens the mystery of Miss Wolfskills disappearance is that she spoke of going only for a short walk and was not clad for any extended hike. When she left the ranch house at 7:30 o'clock Sunday morning she was bareheaded and clad in a light dress with a white shirtwaist and a Japanese coolie coat. She wore her hair, which she had never bobbed, in braids.
From the Woodland Daily Democrat, July 20, 1929
FOOT PRINTS IN GORDON VALLEY ROAD UNDER PROBE
A woman's footprints across a mountain road in Gordon Valley held interest of authorities today as they pressed their search of Irene Wolfskill, eccentric 57-year-old [49-year-old] possesor of a fortune, who had been missing from her Suisun Valley rancho since Sunday.
Sheriff John R. Thornton of Solano county declared the tracks fitting Miss Wolfskill's shoes and indicated the woman was still alive and had not been kidnapped.
Drops Drowning Theory
Thornton dismissed the theory of drowning, either by accident or design, when his posse of twenty-two mounted trailers reported that all lakes and deep pools had been searched and no footprints found.
The horsemen were still kept afield in the hope they might pick a clue.
Search from the air was equally futile, a plane from Willford Field, Santa Rosa, piloted by Harry Doolittle, with Clarence Wolfskill, a nephew, and Frank Grant as observers, having flown twice over the hills.
From the Woodland Daily Democrat, Sept 10, 1929
BOOST REWARD FOR HEIRESS
Ready to "spend $100,000 in the search if necessary," J.W. Bachman, trust officer of a Los Angeles bank, announced today a reward of $5,000 for the discovery, dead or alive, of Edith Irene Wolfskill, eccentric 57-year-old [49-year-old] heiress to $800,000, who disappeared from her Solano county on July 14. The reward was raised from $1000 by Buchanan, whose bank is guardian of Miss Wolfskill's estate.
On the advice of Sheriff John B. Thornton and Deputy Sheriff Charles Perry, Backman will employ divers to search for the woman's body in Curry lake, the source of Vallejo's water supply.
From the Auburn Citizen (New York), Friday, September 20, 1929
HEIRESS' BODY FOUND; MURDER THEORY IS HELD
Fairfield, Cal., Sept. 20 - (AP) - Mystery surrounding the disappearance three months ago of Miss Edith Wolfskill, 55-year old [49-year old] heiress to an $800,000 estate, whose body was found near her ranch yesterday, deepened as officers endeavored to determine whether the woman had been slain.
There were indications of foul play, according to Sheriff John R. Thornton, who said he was unable to account for the fact that the woman's body was clothed in man's overalls.
Hundreds of searchers had tramped many times over the spot near a creek bank where the body was discovered by Donald [actually Bernold Glashoff] Glasshoff, 18-year-old son of a rancher [Hermann Glashoff]. He stumbled on the body while searching for a pole to knock apples from a tree.
Relatives said Miss Wolfskill under no circumstances would have donned mens clothing. They said it was possible that she had wandered away from her ranch and died by exposure.
The theory of death by exposure, however, was discounted by officers who pointed out that the spot where the body was found was only a mile and a half from the Wolfskill ranch. Fruit trees, heavily laden, also would have provided food for the woman the officers said.
The body was in such an advanced state of decomposition that a cursory examination did not reveal the cause of death. Whether there was evidence of foul play awaited an examination by the coroner.
When Miss Wolfskill disappeared last July relatives asked the authorities to search for her, fearing she had been kidnapped or attacked and slain by an itinerant fruit picker.
Footprints made by the woman's high-heeled shoes were traced for some distance from her ranch, but when scores of searchers took up the trail the prints were obliterated.
From the Woodland Daily Democrat, Sept 20, 1929
WOLFSKILL BODY OPENS KILLER HUNT
That Miss Edith Irene Wolfskill, $800,000 heiress, was alive for at least a week after she had disappeared, was the opinion expressed today as Solano county officials scoured the countryside in search of clues that might explain the finding of her dead body a mile and a half from her ranch early Thursday evening.
The theory was based on the fact that repeated searchings of the terrain in which the body was found were made immediately following the heiress disappearance. Police are working in the belief that the woman was lured to the sport after the searching parties had relaxed their vigilance and then killed.
"The dry creek in which the body was found," said C.S. Perry, deputy sheriff today, "was thoroughly searched at least fifty times. It was never the same posse who did the searchings, either".
"It is puzzling to Sheriff Jack Thornton and myself how the body could have lain there throughout the intensive search without someone stumbling onto it."
Instead of solving her disappearnace July 14, the discovery deepened the mystery. For there are indications that she had been murdered.
Reward For Youth
Bernard [Bernold] Glashoff, 18-year-old son of Herman Galshoff, rancher, found the body and ended one of the most intensive searches in the history of California. He is eligible to receive $5,000 reward offered by the Los Angeles bank which handled Miss Wolfskill's financial affairs.
Glashoff found the body in a creek in Wooden Valley, on the Williams ranch.
Foul Play Hinted
M.A. Harris, Burns detective, who had led the search, declared that foul play was indicated.
The body was positively identified as that of Miss Wolfskill.
Miss Wolfskill's clothing had been changed. The body was clad in a pair of brown carpenter's overalls.
The spot where the body was found had been examined several times previously by searchers without success. This was conceded most significant.
It was lying face down, the leg dangling over a slight hillock.
Sheriff Jack Thornton announced that an early inquest will be held and a thorough investigation will be launched. Every phase of Miss Wolfskill's life will be studied for a possible motive for murder, he said.
Miss Wolfskill and her brothers, Matthew and Ney Wolfskill, inherited an estate of $1,600,000 from their father, John Wolfskill, who died in 1913.
The family was prominently connected with early California history and sold the Escondidio grant in southern California to a group of capitalists. Miss Wolfskill's grandfather, John Wolfskill [actually her great uncle], was the first white settler in the Solano valley. Her sister Aldanita Wolfskill [actually her cousin], gained fame about ten years ago as an opera singer. She [Aldanita] is from Winters.
From the Woodland Daily Democrat, October 1, 1929
Wolfskill Brothers to Wage Court Battle Over Estate
Fairfield - What promises to be one of the greatest legal battles in the history of the Solano county superior court loomed on the horizon when Matt Wolfskill, through his attorney, Joseph M. Raines, filed an opposition to the petition of his brother Ney Wolfskill, asking for letters of administration in the estate of Edith Irene Wolfskill, deceased, in which he asks the court that he be appointed to act over the large estate of his sister, the deceased.
The petition filed by Ney Wolfskill gave the assets of the estate as approximately, $750,000 all being in stocks, bonds and cash with the exception of a [28-acre] ranch in Suisun valley of the value of $40,000. In spite of the fact that E.O. Heinrich, Berkeley criminologist, and Dr. A.A. Berger, San Francisco autopsy surgeon, scouted the idea of foul play in the death of Miss Wolfskill, Sheriff Jack Thornton Tuesday stated he had information which would indicate that "the mad heiress" was murdered.
From the Woodland Daily Democrat, October 30, 1929
WOLFSKILL DEATH LEFT MYSTERY BY CORONER'S JURY
In ten minutes yesterday a coroner's jury wrote the official end to a three and a half months mystery - the disappearance and death of Edith Irene Wolfskill, eccentric $800,000 heiress of the Suisun Valley. "Death from causes unknown," the verdict read, after an inquest at the Solano county court house, at which six witnesses testified and the findings of Drs. A.A. Berger and A.M. Moody and Professor Franklin Green, scientist, were read, declaring that they had found no evidence of foul play.
The witnesesses were Bernold Glashoff, 18, ranch boy, who found the body, and gained the $5000 reward; Chales F. Perry, undersheriff, and Arnold Maupin, undertaker, who brought the body to Suisun; Ney Wolfskill, a brother, and Mrs. Nelda Wolfskill, a niece, who identified the remains, and Dr. Andrew Finan, who conducted the first autopsy.
From the Woodland Daily Democrat, March 9, 1931
Wolfskill Home Farm Sold for $20,000
The residence and 28-acre fruit ranch, near Suisun, owned by Ney Wolfskill has been purchased by M.R. Wolfskill, nephew. More than $20,000 was paid. This was the home of the former heiress, Edith Irene Wolfskill, 55, who disappeared from her home July 14, 1929, and whose body two months later was found at the bottom of Wooden valley creek.
From the Vacaville Daily Republic, August 17, 1986, p. A1 & A11-A12.
The killing remained unsolved . . . again
By Randy Bechtel
FAIRFIELD - More than a half-century has passed, but 86-year old Art Garben [one of the county's foremost amateur genealogists] remains cautious when he discusses [past murders]. He turned to [a] victim's name, one among a list he described as "The Unsolved Murders of Solano County." All the murders except one occured in the 1920s.
[Often] Sheriff John "Jack" Thornton was unable to name suspects let alone arrests. "It's another unsolved murder," was a common expression in Solano County during the 1920s, Garben said.
There was nothing commonplace about the disappearance of Suisun Valley's Irene Wolfskill, the 57-year old granddaujghter of one of California's foremost pioneers. Although the two-month case kept Thornton's track record intact and inspired only two modest articles in Fairfield's weekly Solano Republican (publisher David Weir chose instead to focus on news of the Fairfield Lions Club and other civic activities), it sparked investigations from Red Bluff to Los angeles and was labeled by the Chronicle "one of the most baffling cases in Northern California."
Accounts of the case occupied the front pages of the state's major newspapers, inspiring such banner headlines in the Chronicle as "Ranchers Search Solano Hills for Lost Heiress," "Brother of Missing Heiress Rows with Posse," "Footprints of Missing Heiress Discovered by Posse," "Lost Heiress to $800,000 Found," "Brothers Charege Heiress murdered."
It was a real mystery," said Garben, a banker at the time. "And it involved money."
Indeed the Chronicle's first account of the disappearance appeared on the financial page July 18, 1929. Assessing the Wolfskill assets, the newspaper wrote: "The Wolfskill ranch is one of the most famous holdings in California and the family was been identified with the history of this section 'before the Gringo came.' Miss Wolfskill's grandfather [actually her uncle], John Wolfskill, was the first white settler in the Solano Valley, taking up 14 sections."
"These are practically intact today, and extend from near Suisun through Solano Valley and into Gordon Valley, the source of the water supply for Vallejo."
"Irene Wolfskill, and her two brothers, Matthew and Ney Wolfskill, inherited an estate of $1.6 million from their father, who died in Pasadena in 1913. The first of the Wolfskill holdings in southern California, the original Escondidio Grant of 13,000 acres, was purchased by her father in 1866 from Judge O.S. Witherby of San Diego."
"Irene's father was a former state senator and a picturesque character of the pioneer days."
The expression on Garben's face showed the Wolfskill episode made for interesting times.
"She was an eccentric - an incompetant. She lived just beyond Mankas Corner and was in the custody - the alternate custody - of the two brothers. They would trade off every month. It was during one of those changes of . . . the guard . . . that she slipped out."
"There was a feud between the brothers (Matt and Ney). They never spoke to one another." Garben suddenly grimaced, "No, I can't say they never spoke to one another. As a banker there are things I can't talk about."
According to the Chronicle, Irene Wolfskill, declared legally incompetant 20 years before, left the house at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, July 14, for a short walk. She was bareheaded, clad in a "light house dress, with a white shirtwaiste and a Japanese coolie coat."/P>
She had moved to Solano County from Los Angeles two years earlier, and resided there alone with nurse, Bessie Ritchards. During those two years "no one was allowed beyond the front stoop," reported the Chronicle. "All callers were barred by Reed Wolfskill, her nephew" and a Solano County resident.
Although the brothers, both residents of Los Angeles, said their sister "was in excellent health and had no worries that would cause a temporary mental aberration," her disappearnce occurred shortly after Matt fired Ritchards July 2, the newspaper reported.
Ritchard's replacement - Mary Conklin - arrived at the ranch the very day of the disappearnce. Ritchards, who supposedly returned to Santa Barbara, was reportedly seen in Fairfield that same Sunday.
On July 20 the newspater stated Ney Wolfskill admitted to reported in Fairfield that "he and his brother Matt had not spoken to each other for 20 years." It also reported the "the Los Angeles Trust Company had been the guardian of Miss Wolfskill's esate, while the two brothers were guardians of her person."
According to an official of the trust company, A.W. Bachmann, "$135,000 was set aside by a Los Angeles court for Miss Wolfskill's support," the newspaper reported. "About a year ago, according to Bachmmann, the court asked for an accounting of this $135,000. Only $60,000 was found, it was asserted. Whereupon, according to the story told the sheriff by Bachmann, the two brothers were allowed $5,000 a year each for their personal services to their sister, this amount to be credited to the $135,000."
The disappearance sparked one of the the most massive manhunts of the day, fueled by the Los Angeles Trust financing a $10,000 search effort and offering a $1,000 reward for information as to the whereabouts of the missing heiress.
"Do you know how much money that was in those days?" asked Garben. "There were all sorts of people coming in. There were all sorts of plainclothes what-do-you-call-its, and even an airplane was used in the search." The plane, according to the Chronicle, was chartered by the heiress' nephew and Solano County resident Clarence ["Judge"] Wofskill.
With sightings of Wolfskill being reported around the state, [Sheriff] Thornton boldly announced that he was investigating the possibility of a kidnapping. "At the same time the sheriff admitted himself in the dark motive for the kidnapping." reported the Chronicle.
On July 21, the Chronicle reported an investigation whose plot had become pea soup. On July 20, Fairfield constable R.L. Oliver led the posse back to town after rambling footprints matching the heiress vanished in the dry bed of Wooden Valley Creek in the Napa hills. Oliver then recieved word from Los Angeles police that under questioning, Ritchards said she was convinced the heiress was dead and that "her body would be found within a thousand yards of the house dressed in a blue gingham dress."
Oliver led the posse to the ranch house, confronting Matt wolfskill, who had just undergone a five-hour interrogation by M.A. Harris of the Burns Detective Agency. Hired to investigate the Wolfskill family by the Los Angeles Trust, Harris announced: "I would like to believe Miss Wolfskill wandered off and is lost. I can't believe that in view of what I discovered."
Oliver accused Matt Wolfskill of having concealed the disappearance of his sister 24 hours and having failed to aid searcers. Wolfskill responded by demanding Harris, Oliver and the posse leave the ranch. They complied, although Oliver and the posse returned that night with orders to repel resistance and search the ranch.
July 22: Mary Conklin suddenly revealed that shortly before her disappearance, the heiress blurted: "I say I will not leave. This is my home." Conklin reportedly added the only other person at the house beside herself and the heiress was the wife of nephew Reed Wofskill. In the meantime, an intensive search with dogs of the 3-mile radius of the ranch house proved fruitless.
All suddenly became quiet - until Sept. 19, 1929.
"He was only 18 and the thing affected him a great deal," recalled Wenonah Glashoff. "It was an ugly thing. At the time he was knocking prunes near the creek and he found her. She had been laying there for a long time and there was grass growing through her hair."
Glashoff was referring to her husband Bernold, who made the grisly discovery at a spot, according to the Chronicle, less than two miles from the Wolfskill house that had been combed by "hundreds" of searchers "fifty times." Clad in man's overalls and flannel shirt - but with underwear identified as that of the heiress - the body had been reduced to a "mummy" but summer heat, stated the newspaper.
"He (Bernold) had to get a lawyer to collect the reward," recalled Glashoff. "Because it was an accident and he didn't know who he found, they said they didn't have to pay."
"My sister was kidnapped and murdered," Ney Wolfskill, who identified the body by the hair and a gold tooth, declared in a prepared statement. Ney further pledged "he would never rest until the slayer was punished," reported the Chronicle. In a news conference, brother Matt, who declined to view the body, agreed with Ney's assessment.
Staging a news conference of his own Sheriff Thornton said he suspected the heiress disappeared before July 14, the date reported by the relatives. However Thornton conceded an investigation could not proceed unless the cause of death was determined as murder.
Wrote the Solano Republican Sept. 29: "Since the discovery, many and varied have been the rumors, but doctors Berger and Moody of San Francisco and Professor Heinrich, famous criminologist for the University of California, all called here to examine the remains, have made no statement as to whether the woman was murdered or died of natural causes."
For Garben, however, the cause of death was clear. "The saying used to be, 'If you want to commit a murder, go to Solano County.'"
Newspaper articles to follow up on: