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

Friday, April 24, 2015

Lost into the Sea - The Tragic Story of Agnes Jaycoax

Cypress Point, 1908
I took a trip down the coast of California recently. While I was there admiring the scenery, I thought of a story I began researching a few years back. I had started to work on it, but sat it aside to finish at a later time due to my busy schedule.

The story was of a Sacramento school teacher named Agnes Jaycoax. I had first heard about her on a website where someone mentioned that her death seemed suspicious. It was also thrown around that perhaps she had committed suicide and that her death was not an accident as the papers said. I really wanted to get down to the facts of the story but became side tracked with other investigations and every day life, and so Agnes' story was shelved temporarily.

So as I mentioned above, while on a trip down the coast I started thinking about Agnes again and decided that now was the time to write her story, finally.

Who Was Agnes Jaycoax?

Agnes Jaycoax was born Agnes L. Stevenson, in New York on June 12, 1846. The Census records I found for 1850, show Agnes (age 4) living with Susannah (age 38), Elizabeth (age 48), Mary (age 50) and Head of Household, James Stevenson (age 70) who was a physician.  Their neighbors were also named "Stevenson," so it is safe to assume they were related. There is no roles listed in the Census so we are not sure how any of them are related to Agnes, although Elizabeth is buried near Agnes at Sacramento City Cemetery, so I believe she was Agnes' mother.

Agnes and Charles Edward Jaycoax (sometimes spelled Jaycox) were married at some point in the late 1860's.  The Census records show they lived in Placerville, where Charles worked as a landscaper and painter. Agnes worked as a school teacher in the basement of the old Methodist church on Main Street. On December 1, 1869, Agnes gave birth to a son, Burgess Bonte Jaycoax. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Sheldon, California. It was in Sheldon that baby Burgess grew very ill and later passed away from "brain congestion," on August 11, 1872. He was only 2 years, 8 months and 11 days old.

It appears that after the death of their son, Agnes and Charles' marriage fell apart. Charles went back to El Dorado County while Agnes chose to move to Sacramento. The 1874 Sacramento Directory shows Agnes as a "grammar school teacher" and living on the West Side of 7th Street in between K and L Streets. By 1876, Agnes was living between 10th and 11th streets on  I Street.

Losing her child must have devastated her, although I believe that keeping busy with the children she taught at school may have been the best thing to keep her spirits up. In fact, she was loved by her pupils so much that they bestowed the greatest gift, a golden watch as a token of their love and appreciation for their teacher. The feeling was mutual for Agnes. In fact, the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper proves this when she published a message to her students thanking them for such a wonderful gift.

Sac Daily Union, 5/16/1874

On March 9, 1876 the 6th District Court gave Agnes a divorce decree from Charles. Agnes continued her teaching in Sacramento, later being promoted to Vice Principal at Sacramento City High School in June of the same year. Only 30 years old, divorced and now a Vice Principal of a high school,  it seemed that her life was on its way to become even greater. Sadly this was not the case.

Tragedy Strikes

On the night of July 3, 1876, after visiting friends on the coast at Cypress Point near Monterey, Agnes reached the end of the line. Eye witness accounts claimed that she had ran out onto the rocks and was blissfully taking in the beautiful scenery when sudden waves struck her causing her to lose her balance, and falling into the cold waters.

One of the members of the group was quoted with this statement:

"Mrs. Jaycoax, venturing out too far on the rocks, was washed to sea by the waves.  I was not in sight of her at the time, When I reached the embankment she was already floating. We watched the body till it disappeared from sight. Mr. Jacks took off some of his clothes, but being assured that it was sure death to undertake her rescue, desisted....The party consisted of four ladies, two gentleman, and a boy, all of whom, except myself, saw her swept away. I was told that the second wave swept her off, and that she made little or no outcry. The body floated off and finally disappeared alltogether."--- Sac Daily Union, July 14, 1876

Honestly, I think they should have let Mr. Jacks go in after her. A gentlemen risks his life for another, and I wonder if that haunted him the rest of his life that he allowed the group to stop him from what he was compelled to do? Yes, he may have lost his life in the process but he would have died knowing he was doing the right thing, trying to save another person. I have often wondered just what type of friends they really were to Agnes, knowing she fell in and yet no one attempted to go in after her?

It took some time but Agnes' body washed up at the mouth of the Salinas River, 15 miles north of where she had fell into the sea.  The son of property owner, Mr. Keating discovered Agnes' body on July 6th. Her body appeared to be in good condition for a corpse, with the only mark noticed being on her knee. Another thing that Mr. Keating noticed was that she had on her person, a golden watch. I believe this was the same watch that her students had gifted her in 1874.  Mr. Keating, along with Mr. Caldwell and Mr. Williamson, retrieved the body and brought it to town where it was properly identified and returned to Sacramento for burial.

Agnes' mother had died earlier that year, and so Agnes was then buried next to her mother and her infant son, Burgess, who had died just four years earlier. The headstone that sits on top of Agnes' grave was donated by her students who raised the money to have it placed there. The scroll on a small marker cites her name and age, as well as date of death. On the top sits a dove holding an olive branch. The dove symbolizes peace, while the branch symbolizes Agnes' untimely or premature death.


When I was out at the beach recently, not too far from where Agnes died, I witnessed the same beauty Agnes witnessed over a century earlier. I was compelled by joy and overtaken by the sheer beauty of nature and the sea, that I ran out to the waves myself. I could understand how she felt just moments leading up to her death. I am sure she had no idea how dangerous it actually was, being so close to the water. Standing on those rocks, as those waves slowly crept in, perhaps around high tide, she just was too close and lost her balance.

Did she kill herself? I don't think so. Do I think her death could have been prevented? Yes. I think her friends gave up to easily and that cost Agnes her life. I wonder what those people in that group thought of themselves after that tragic day. Did they feel bad? Did they move on with their lives, and never give it a second thought? From the way it appeared in the papers, the only one who seemed truly concerned was Mr. Jacks.  Was he her male suitor? Did he care for her? So many questions, and not enough answers.

I believe that although Agnes faced many hardships in her life: the loss of a child, a failed marriage, the death of her mother, she also experienced great joys. She was needed by her students, by the school and by all those who looked to her as an anchor of security, knowledge and stability. Her own words published in the newspaper just two years earlier said it all by showing she liked to focus on what the future held for her, and her incentive to get there. That watch represented great memories of the past and for the future. She had that on her when she died. It just doesn't seem logical to me that she would purposely end her life, then and there, at that time.

If you ever stop by the Historic Sacramento City Cemetery, please stop by Agnes' grave in Section 63. Remember her as the dedicated teacher, the mother who suffered the loss of her own baby, the daughter who lost her mother and remember that tragic day she lost her own life, into the sea.

Rest In Peace, Agnes!

(Copyright 2015- J'aime Rubio)


Family Search
Sacramento City Directories
U.S. Census
Great Register
Sac Daily Union
3/10/1876, 8/15/1872, 5/16/1874, 7/14/1876
Marysville Daily Appeal

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Interview with Scott Thomas Anderson: "Truth Seeking Rather Than Profit Seeking"

Scott Thomas Anderson, Author
In the past I have posted various interviews with actors, artists and authors that seem to be making a positive mark in the world. I am delighted to have interviewed Scott Thomas Anderson, who is not only an award winning crime reporter, investigative journalist and author, but also a very driven newspaper editor. Scott has dedicated several years researching in depth into many of the dark elements that most people would rather avoid thinking about: crime, drugs and prison culture. In a world where the truth seems to be swept under the rug, ignored or buried, Scott works even harder at uncovering that truth and shining a light on it for all to see.  Readers of my blog who know me and what I stand for, know that I am 100% a truth seeker. That is why although most of my posts here are my own investigative stories, every once in awhile I will take the time to interview someone or write a review about a book if I feel strongly for their cause or passion. 

Scott Thomas Anderson goes the extra mile in order to get the real story out to the public. That is something I admire and respect as a writer, and as a person of integrity. He does not buckle under pressure or take the easy way out, and his work proves that. I have had the esteemed pleasure to interview him briefly about his new book, as well as asking him a couple choice questions that have really been on my mind, as well as many others today in regards to the field of journalism, the obstacles the industry faces and the credibility of writers today.  


1)  What do you think is the biggest problem journalists face today in mainstream media? (newspapers, television news, etc.)

Scott Thomas Anderson:

"The biggest challenge newsrooms are facing today is that most of them are completely outmatched by the resources and personnel numbers of the government agencies they are supposed to be watch-dogging. The newsrooms may not be outmatched by talent on an individual-to-individual level, but they're outmatched by bodies and budgets. For example, one of the part-time writers who works for me at the Roseville Press Tribune recently published a simple 750-word news story on the amount of money California is spending to house prison inmates with private, for-profit corporate detention centers. Within hours of his story publishing online, two full-time "public information officers" from the Department of Corrections had collectively written me more than 4000 words of text in emails, all in an attempt to alter, change or control that story. Think about the ratio of resources between the newspaper and the government on that single report: One part-time journalist on a limited deadline versus two full-time spin doctors with seemingly unlimited amounts of employee hours dedicated to pushing back on the story - all paid for with tax dollars to boot. A government agency like the California's Department of Corrections has far more former journalists working at its "information center" than most of the newsrooms in the state have actual reporters investigating issues. As newsrooms are hit with continual layoffs, major cities, counties and law enforcement agencies are all hiring more and more of these "public information specialists" to gain as much control as they can over news stories; and the shocking thing is that it's really starting to work."      

2) Do you feel the impact the internet has made has caused a decline of print journalism?

Scott Thomas Anderson:

Courtesy: Scott Thomas Anderson
"I don't think you can blame all of print journalism's challenges on the Internet: And the main reason is that there was a mind-staggering amount of greed on the part of newspaper ownership groups back in the 1990s, when their net profits were incredible, and they were still cutting back the quality of their products to make as much money as they possibly could. That management culture created a newspaper industry that was completely unprepared by 2004 to ask people to pay for its content over free, less-polished imitations. What the Internet did to journalism is really a History question now. At this point, I think it's more vital to be asking the question of what the Internet can do to rescue journalism through innovation and opening new platforms for both professional journalists and talented writers and bloggers."

3) Would you agree or disagree that journalism is a dying field? Why or why not? 

Scott Thomas Anderson:

"To look at the pay and stability attached to most journalism jobs right now, it certainly looks like a dying field. However, I think at some point enough communities will be rail-roaded by powerful special interest groups, exploiting companies and bad political actors that a sense of outrage will remind the public about why local and regional journalism matters so much. At that point, I think they'll be a lot of smart and concerned people trying to figure out how a community can pay for professional reporters."

4) Why do you think many journalists have taken to blogging as well as writing for the mainstream media? Do you think bloggers are taken seriously? 

Scott Thomas Anderson:

"There are so few news agencies who are willing to support real investigative journalism and meaningful beat coverage these days that I think walking away from that to start a news blog becomes appealing to a lot of talented individuals. I also think that some bloggers who have never been professional writers are being taken seriously now by the public if they have skills, drive and passion. We're a story-telling species, and blogs that find a way to illuminate fascinating stories that haven't been told before are going to resonate with people emotionally - they are going to find an audience and be important to that audience. The only concern is that some blogs will try to pass off nonsense and rumors as "factual reporting." Readers have to be more careful than ever to check and cross-reference the blogs they decide they are going to follow. I don't think blogs can take the place of journalism as profession, but I think good blogs can help push back against some of the ways that journalism is being devastated as a profession." 

 5) Your new book, "The Cutting Four-piece: crime and tragedy in an era of prison overcrowding" is a new, eye-opening approach in publishing today. You are going around the big publishing houses, who do not hold the same high factual standards that are upheld in magazines and newspapers, and making your own way to get the facts to the public. Please tell me more about your book and why you chose this approach? 

Scott Thomas Anderson:

Courtesy: Scott Thomas Anderson
"Similar to my first book, "Shadow People: how meth-driven crime is eating at the heart of rural America," this new journalism project is reaching the public with the help of publishing forces that are grant-funded as opposed to profit-motivated. In my experience, a book publishing house whose main concern is a specific earning margin is going to make the book more expensive than it needs to be, meaning a lot of people can't afford to read it, and - more disturbingly - is also going to try to cut the most uncomfortable sections of the journalism because of a belief the public can't handle it, and therefore the book's marketability is diminished. Working on "The Cutting Four-piece" has been a three-year mission for me to bring to light all of the corners of the American justice system people never hear about, but are affecting the safety of their neighborhoods and the health of their communities. 

It takes the readers into the streets to see how prison overcrowding, prison culture, the power of addiction and the crumbling of the U.S. mental health care system are all connected in ways that rarely if ever get reported. Like "Shadow People," I spent a lot of time embedded with law enforcement for it - but this time I also spent a good deal of time with the people rotating in and out of the prison system. Hopefully that split lens in the storytelling gives readers a kind of unified vision of American crime that they might not have seen before. Right now, people can order advanced copies on for $10, which also pledges into a fund that will help us get hundreds of free copies to community foundations and other nonprofit groups. I know people like buying from Amazon and their local book stores, but in this case I'm hoping folks who want to read this particular book get their copy from Kickstarter, partly to send a message to people in my industry that journalism is still about truth-seeking rather than profit seeking."----

Having lived for several years in a high crime area, not unlike the element that Scott's book is focused on, I couldn't agree more with his approach and his message. I don't know about you, but I am very excited to read this book and simply cannot wait to get my copy. Please check out the video on his Kickstarter page and see for yourself what Scott's book is all about!

To order your advanced copy, simply click on the link that will take you over to Scott's KICKSTARTER page : "The Cutting Four-piece: crime and tragedy in an era of prison overcrowding"

Website:  Check out his FACEBOOK: Scott Thomas Anderson, Author

(Copyright 2015- J'aime Rubio, Dreaming Casually)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Long Way Down-- The Story of Elna Zimmerman

R.A. Long Building
She stood there for a moment, pausing to take it all in, and then after the moment had passed she took one last breath, clasped her hands together and dove headfirst as if diving into a swimming pool. Sadly, it was not a pool that she was diving into. No, on February 10, 1914, Miss Elna Zimmerman had just committed suicide, by jumping off the northwest corner of the R.A. Long building near the fire escape into the alleyway below.

Leaped To Her Death

The newspapers were quick to grab the story, literally detailing the moments leading up to and after Elna's fatal last steps. According to eye witnesses, she was a beautiful woman, dressed in very "fashionable" attire. The newspaper reported that she paid the head elevator man 10 cents to take her to the roof. Why on earth he left her there we'll never know. It makes you wonder if he was fired for that horrible lapse in judgment. 

After getting off the elevator, Elna had made her way to the rooftop on the northwest corner of the R.A. Long building, located at 928 Grand Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri. With $6.75 tucked away in the pocket of her overcoat, a very well dressed Elna made her way to the parapet. Inching along to the edge she stopped to remove her plumed hat, as witnesses across the way in the building next door screamed in horror as they watched her plunge to her death. 

The Topeka State Journal read,

Plumed Hat, Model 1914
 "The body was identified as that of Miss Elna Zimmerman, a stenographer, employed by an implement company. The cashier of the company made the identification. At the house where Miss Zimmerman roomed it was said that she had shown despondency for weeks but had confided in no one. She had attempted to take her life before by swallowing acid, it was said.

So carefully did the woman choose the point from which to leap, few persons passing in the street knew of the suicide until long after the mangled body had been taken away....The woman removed her hat, a black beaver affair with two plumes, before she climbed over the parapet and leaped.

L.L. Adams, with office in a neighboring office building, saw the woman climb over the parapet. The woman evidently made a premeditated dive for death. She struck headfirst and that part of the body was badly mangled. She wore a gray overcoat, black gloves, a grayish silk waist, and had dark brown hair. Dr. Fritz Moeninghoff, deputy coroner, said death was instantaneous. Several telephone linemen were working the alley. As the woman jumped they saw her and screamed. A clerk in the New York Central offices in the R.A. Long building, heard the scream and ran into the alley."--

So what caused Miss Zimmerman to feel that suicide was her only way out? 

According to the newspapers, her roommates stated that they could tell she had been depressed and had not spoken to anyone about it.

But why was she depressed? 

Quickly rumors started to spread that she may have killed herself over an ended love affair, but this idea was quickly dismissed by Elna's friends.  "She had many friends..but I never knew of her going out with young men," a friend, Mary Lamb stated.

So if it wasn't a love affair gone wrong, why then was Elna in such a volatile state of mind that day? After digging deeper into her background the pieces of the puzzle started to make a little more sense. 

Family History

Elna was born in August of 1883, in the state of Kansas, to parents Isaac and Flora Zimmerman. She had two older brothers, Walter and Miles.  According to accounts I found, Elna's mother was very ill for many years and was considered an invalid.  In August of 1901, after a severe heat wave, it seemed that mental state of 45 year-old Flora had been affected. Perhaps she was tired of feeling like a burden to her family, not being able to care for them but instead needing them to take care of her. 

After Elna had went to bed for the night, Flora knew that it was her only chance to make a move. You see, Elna took care of her every single moment she could, literally staying by her mother's side to care for her every need. Obviously, Elna didn't see that taking care of her mother was a burden at all, but instead lovingly accepted the task to show her mother the same care she had once received from her. Sadly, once Elna had went to bed there was no telling to what Flora had in mind. 

After fashioning for herself a makeshift noose, Flora attempted to hang herself. Succeeding only in the sense that she was dangling by the neck, but not well enough to cause sudden death, she hanged there until she was discovered by a family member. Although not dead when she was finally cut down, she expired shortly thereafter.

One can only imagine the terrible loss that Elna must have felt, especially since she had taken it upon herself to care for her mother. It is only natural to wonder if Elna had some feelings of guilt, although it was beyond her control what happened to her mother.

The tragedies didn't stop there.  The newspapers mentioned that her older brother Miles had passed away, along with mentioning another very sad story about Elna's father.  In May of 1908, Isaac Zimmerman shot himself in the head in his hotel room for reasons unknown. After that, the only family Elna had left were her grandparents in Oberlin, Kansas, where she was originally from, and her brother, Walter in California. At one point Elna moved out to California to live with Walter for an undisclosed amount of time, only returning to Kansas City, Missouri, about a year prior to her suicide. 

In concluding this story, it is obvious that Elna had seen her fair share of death. Perhaps she felt its sting swarming around her at every turn. Maybe, just maybe she felt that she could not bear one more loss, deciding that her own demise would be the only peace she could find. Due to so many suicides in her family, I wonder if both of her parents suffered from some sort of  mental illness, or perhaps severe melancholia. One can only speculate since we have no further information.

c/o Sherry @ Findagrave
In the end, Elna chose to take that tragic leap over the edge, to the darkness of death that waited for her below. The sadness and pain she must have felt inside had to have overwhelmed her to the point she couldn't stand one more moment on this earth. It saddens me that she was unable to reach out, or be reached by someone that could have possibly made the difference between her life and death. Maybe then that terrible tragedy could have been averted that day on Grand Avenue.

Elna is buried at Mount Washington Cemetery in Independece, Missouri at Plot: River Terrace 72-3834.  To visit her Findagrave memorial CLICK HERE! 

(Copyright, 2015- J'aime Rubio)

Photo Credit for Elna's grave : Sherry on Findagrave

Topeka State Journal, Feb 11, 1914
The Guthrie daily leader. (Guthrie, Okla.) 1893-1996, February 11, 1914
The Day Book, February 11, 1914
The Daily Ardmoreite. (Ardmore, Okla.) 1893-current, February 10, 1914, 
Omaha Daily Bee., February 11, 1914, 
The Guthrie daily leader. (Guthrie, Okla.) 1893-1996, August 10, 1901, 
Topeka Daily Capital, Feb 11,1914 
Hopkinsville Kentuckian, Feb 14,1914
1900 Census Records

Monday, January 26, 2015

Two Little Girls And An Ice Box- The Story of Mary and Marina Paiva

It was September 1, 1934,  a cool autumn day at the Wilton Ranch, just south of Sacramento.  Mr. & Mrs. Henry Paiva, a family of Portuguese field workers living on the ranch with their children, left around 4 p.m. to pick up hops at a nearby ranch. Thinking that they could safely leave their younger children at home with their older sons, the Paiva's left the ranch knowing nothing of the horror they would return to the next day.

Marina, 7, and Mary, 6, were at home under the watchful eye of their brother Cieverino (or Siverino) along with their brother James, 9, and younger siblings. It is uncertain how many of the older children went with their parents, but the majority of the younger ones were left with Cieverino, 16. By the next day, when some of the older children left to go help their parents on the ranch, Cieverino continued to stay at home watching the younger children. 

It wasn't until around 8 p,m. on September 2, that the family made a gruesome discovery. When Adelaide, 18, noticed there were dishes of food from the refrigerator sitting on the edge of the kitchen table and a large chunk of ice left outside the ice box, melting, she decided to see why. When she opened the door, she discovered the mangled bodies of her younger sisters, Mary and Marina. 

Within the 12 x 16 inch space someone had shoved the body of Marina and forced the small body of Mary into an even smaller area. Folding their bodies to fit into the box, like rag dolls. Their knees jammed against their heads and blood smeared on the inside of the doors, proving they fought with all their might to free themselves, to no avail.

But who would do such a horrible thing to such young, innocent girls?

The Sheriff's deputies on the scene searched painstakingly for any clues to what happened and who could have committed such a heinous crime. At one point they thought it could have been a hired worker on the farm that may have came into the area and attacked the girls while their parents were away, but questions remained. Where were their older brothers when this took place? Did they not realize what had happened? Did they not notice they were missing?

No one seemed to know anything, and at one point the girls 2 year old brother pointed to the ice box in front of authorities, saying something along the lines of "sissy" which made them wonder if they were accidentally locked in the fridge while playing an innocent game of hide and seek.

According to the Medical Examiner, Dr. C.H. McDonnell who performed the autopsies on the girls, that theory just didn't fit. "The girls died of suffocation, but they were brutally ravished first," the doctor stated. In fact, evidence showed that the girls had been sexually assaulted prior to being locked in the ice box. They were definitely murdered.

It was days after the funeral of the girls, that James came forward and explained that he saw Cieverino lock the girls in the ice box after they made him upset. "Cieverino said he'd put them in the ice box if they didn't behave. They said they didn't care.. [he] put them in the ice box and left them there...we went back to the fields."  Another documented statement from James read, "Cieverino said he was going to kill them, then my biggest sister said don't hurt me and then he closed the door and we went to the hop fields. When we came back they were dead." 

Although later on during the trial James repudiated his statement, it was enough to arrest Cieverino and charge him with the murder of his two sisters. Eventually he would confess to the crime, twice. Initially he claimed that he locked the girls in the ice box because they didn't wash the dishes to his liking, and he was teaching them a lesson. He later confessed a second time while in the presence of four witnesses. His written confession read, 

San Quentin Records, 1935.
"I got the two of them and put them in the ice box and shut the door. The reason that I put them there was because I started to rape them then changed my mind. And I was out of my head. That is the reason I done it. My brother was with me when I done it then we went up the hill with my bicycle and then we went over to the hop fields and that was all. Also while I was doing it my brother kept telling me not to do it."--

When the trial came, Cieverino's attorney, Clinton Johnson went on record for the papers, "We Deny Everything!!" It was an obvious attempt for the Defense to ignore the fact that Cieverino had previously confessed. It didn't take long after the jury was sent to deliberate for them to reach a decision. They went in at 5:38 p.m., and it only took 3 hours for them to come back with a verdict. At 8:38 pm, they returned from deliberations, finding Cieverino Paiva, guilty on both counts of first degree murder and secondary incest charges.

It was thought that he would be sent up to the Preston School of Industry until he reached 18, before he would be sent up to State Prison, however I found accounts that state he was immediately sent to San Quentin to serve his sentence as inmate # 57514. Although he filed for a new trial after his conviction, his appeals were denied. I have not located the date of his release, but I hope he spent most of his life locked away, unable to hurt another innocent person. Death records indicate that he passed away on January 16, 2005 at the age of 86.  

Mary and Marina were buried at Saint Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Sacramento shortly after their deaths. There they have been for the last 81 years and will continue to be. Their bodies were interred together, forever resting side by side. Protected from their brother's sinister reach they will stay, where they will never be harmed by him again. 

(Copyright 2015, J'aime Rubio)

Photo from San Quentin Prison Records
People v. Paiva [9 Cal.App.2d 10]
Ellensburg Daily Record, 9/6/1934
Salt Lake Tribune, 10/10/1934
Lodi News, Feb 14, 1935
Lodi News, Feb 16, 1935
Lodi Sentinel, Sept 4, 1934
Inmate Records, 1940 US Census, San Quentin
Death Index
Miami News Sept 3, 1934
Berkeley Gazette, Sept 4, 1934

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The True Story Of Octavia Hatcher - History vs. Myth

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Other possibilities...

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Hatcher 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Rest In Peace, James, Octavia and Jacob Hatcher!

(Copyright 2015- J'aime Rubio)

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

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