South Lake County, CA
THE STORY OF THE MURDER OF
Copyright © 2020 Bill Wink
P.O. Box 814
Middletown, CA 95461
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, modified, rewritten, stored in a retrieval system, or transferred in any form, by any means, including mechanical, electric, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the express prior written permission of the publisher.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
First printing, 2020
Library of Congress Control Number: 00000000000
Hamlin Nelson Herrick (the father of the murder victim) was a true 49er. He along with tens of thousands of others rushed to the gold fields of California seeking their fortune.
Born in Kentucky in 1827, Hamlin N. Herrick was 22 when he struck out for California. He actually wound up farming in the Napa area for several years. He eventually re-located to Lake county where he became a merchant and acquired several hundred acres of land.
He then went back to farming.
He settled in the Lower Lake area of Lake county, around 1860. He was appointed Postmaster of the Lower Lake Post Office October 22nd, 1860. He, along with Joseph and Max Getz, opened a general merchandise store in Lower Lake and another near the northwest end of Coyote Valley, which eventually closed and Getz moved back to Lower Lake.
On the evening of September 25th, 1862 a man plotted to rob Herrick and Getz’s store in Lower Lake. The local constable, Charles Stubbs, got wind of the plot and went seeking his man, one William Laffin. It was thought that Laffin was using an assumed name and the man was really an escapee from State Prison. Stubbs was accompanied by his assistant, Frank Harrington. They located their man having supper with Augustus M. Akins, who happened to be an employee of Herrick and Getz. However, the two men eating supper together did not know each other. Upon approaching Laffin, Stubbs told him; “You are my prisoner.” Laffin replied, “All-right”. Laffin was seated and when he stood he produced a large butcher knife and charged Stubbs who drew his pistol and shot Laffin. Laffin was shot in the chest near the collar bone. He lingered for several hours finally succumbing to his wound. Stubbs had an examination before Justice J. R. Hall and was acquitted on grounds that he acted in self-defense.
That same year, 1862, Hamlin N. married Mary Elizabeth Akins. Mary was the sister of Augustus Akins who was, we know, then employed by Herrick and Getz. Together they had six children. The first born was daughter Clara, then her brothers; Hamlin “Ham” Webster, Ossian Revere, Augustus Middleton, Silas Byrd and Edward L. Clara, the oldest, was born in 1863. Edward, the youngest was born in 1875.
By 1880, the census showed Hamlin Nelson Herrick living in Morgan Valley and his marital status was divorced. His occupation was farmer. Clara would have been 17 and Edward 5. It seems all the children were living with their mother on the same ranch.
The boys were all raised as farmers working on the family farm in Lower Lake, however, they eventually found their own way.
In 1887, daughter Clara married Benjamin F. Hunt, a man from Middletown.
For several years Hamlin Webster was a very successful teamster with his own freighting business in southern Lake county.
Ossian engaged in teaming, working for others. In the 1900 census, Ossian was living in Leesville, Colusa county, California.
Augustus rented the family farm and continued to farm in Lower Lake.
Silas became a well-respected agriculturist and in 1898 he went to the Hawaiian Islands where he became the general foreman of the Kappa Hulu estate which was an extensive dairy ranch. He returned to Lower Lake in 1900.
Edward became a blacksmith and hired on at the New Idra mine in San Benito, California. Eventually returning to Lower Lake then to Middletown. He and a brother also dabbled in mining.
In 1890 Hamlin Webster, “Ham”, married Alice Maude Lewis, a native of California. They originally made their home in Lower Lake but in a short while relocated to Middletown. In January 1892 they had a son, Fred Raymond.
Brothers Ham and Silas opened Herrick’s General Store in Middletown in 1900. It was an immediate success and their reputation around the area grew.
In 1907 Silas married a local Middletown girl, Cora Brooks.
Ossian R. never married. He lived with his mother on the family property until she passed.
On April 10th, 1908 Hamlin Nelson Herrick passed at the age of 72. His final resting place is in the Middletown Cemetery.
In 1912 the Herrick brothers, Ham and Silas formed the Herrick Company that consisted of three members. Those were, Mr. and Mrs. Hamlin Webster Herrick and Silas Herrick. By this time they were also agents for the Wells Fargo Express Company.
Ham and Alice’s son Fred, at this time, was going to school and working as a bookkeeper in Sacramento.
May 6th, 1914. Ham and his brother Ossian were in the store in Middletown on Calistoga Street.
There was a moving picture showing in town that evening and it was about 9:30pm when three strangers entered the store.
The local Doctor, who was relatively new to Middletown, was passing by the store and noticed the three men. Not recognizing them as anyone he knew he passed on by. A few minutes later he heard a gunshot, but that was nothing new for Middletown and he gave it little or no attention.
When the three men entered the store two of the men were clean shaven and the third had his face covered. They brandished weapons and demand the brothers put their hands up. Ossian did as was told but Ham took a step toward the robbers. One of the three men opened fire hitting Ham in the head. Ham fell to the floor dead. They pushed Ossian to the back of the store, gaged him and tied him up. They left with about $50.00 and never touched the Wells Fargo safe.
Seems their original plan was to make Ham open the safe but one robber panicked and ruined the plan.
Several of those attending the moving picture had left their horses tied outside. The murders each helped themselves to a horse and made their escape.
The three stolen horses belonged to; Willie Hardester, Roland Clark and Leonard Reese.
After about half an hour, Ossian freed himself and raised the alarm regarding the robbery and murder of his brother Ham.
Five miles east of Middletown up Bucksnort Canyon was the Hardester mine where the Hardesters had a cabin. It was reported that the three murders were holed up in the mine shaft.
As one of the three suspects came out of the brush heading for the cabin to get food he was surprised and captured by the Sheriff’s posse and didn’t put up a fight. His capture was effected by Deputy Sheriffs John Crabtree, Newton Booth, W. D. Jeffreys and F. R. Penny. The man they captured was identified as Jack Crane. However, during questioning, he said his name was Arthur Fitzgerald. He was wearing a bloody shirt.
Within a short time the identity of the three suspects was determined. The one in custody was for certain, Arthur Fitzgerald, the others were; Arthur’s brother Earl “Eddie” Fitzgerald and Robert “Bert” Bell, all known criminals.
There were ten posses of five men each scouring the area for miles around the Hardester mine, searching for the other two men, but to no avail. The two desperados were able to slip through all that man-power.
It was reported that the two fugitives stopped at a home on Union Street in Napa and got food. There are conflicting reports about the reception they received at that house.
Eventually they made it all the way to Pennsylvania, where in September, they split up and went different directions.
On July 9th, 1914 the Healdsburg Tribune Enterprise reported:
“TO PRISON FOR LIFE
Arthur Fitzgerald, found guilty of murder in the first degree by the jury, in his trial for the killing of Hamlin Herrick at Middletown on May 6th, last week received his sentence of life imprisonment from Superior Judge M. S. Sayre in Lakeport, and was taken to San Quentin. Mrs. Fitzgerald, mother of the prisoner, accompanied him.”
The same newspaper had reported a week earlier: “Fitzgerald practically convicted himself, when he admitted on the stand his participation in the robbery of the store, although he insisted that he was coerced into the crime. Damaging evidence against the man was given by Detective P. Fisher of Sacramento, who testified that Fitzgerald was a member of a holdup gang, the other two members of which are still at large.”
After Ham’s death, his son, Fred, moved back to Middletown to work in the store.
Early in 1915, January, it was being reported that fugitive Bell had been captured by a Wells Fargo detective. The arrest took place in Coffeyville, Kansas where Bell had been seen and identified by an associate he had served time with in prison. Bell was returned to Lakeport.
Bell’s trial started in April and on April 23rd, 1915 the Weekly Calistogian reported:
“BELL IS GUILTY; GIVEN LIFE TERM”
It took the jury only three hours of deliberation to reach their verdict and most of that time was spent debating whether the punishment should be death or life in prison.
Bell was sent to San Quentin to join Arthur Fitzgerald.
Lake county Sheriff McKelly had sent out reward circulars with photographs of Fitzgerald and Bell and soon received information about Earl Fitzgerald.
It was reported on July 30th, 1915 that Earl Fitzgerald had been captured in Missoula, Montana. He had been arrested on a robbery charge and identified as Fitzgerald by Sheriff McKelly’s circular. Extradition papers were filed and soon Fitzgerald would be returned to Lakeport.
On August 13th, 1915, the St. Helena Star reported the following:
“Sheriff Lon McKelly and Dr. W. R. Prather, of Lake county, returned Tuesday from Missoula, Montana, accompanied by Eddie Fitzgerald, one of the trio accused of the murder of Hamlin Herrick, a year or more ago. Fitzgerald was arrested in Montana for a highway hold-up and lodged in jail as Moran. The sheriff decided that the fellow looked like the photograph of Fitzgerald so communicated with the Lake county Sheriff. The result was that Sheriff McKelly and Dr. Prather left ten days ago for Montana and on Tuesday evening reached Napa with their man. Fitzgerald was lodged in the county jail at Napa until Wednesday when he was taken to Lakeport to face trial on the charge of Murder.
Bert Bell and Arthur Fitzgerald, the two other men arrested for the killing of Herrick, are now serving life sentences in San Quentin prison.”
ARTHUR CURTIS FITZGERALD was the older of the two Fitzgerald boys. He was born June 25th, 1888 in Tucson, Arizona. When he was eleven years old he was living in San Francisco on Folsom St. with his family and younger brother Earl. He was 26 when Hamlin Herrick was murdered.
By 1926 Arthur was now serving his time in Folsom State Prison. He had a parole hearing during the month of June of 1926, having served 10 years of his life sentence. Parole was denied.
In April of 1927, Arthur was transferred to the state hospital in Stockton, California for the criminally insane. He died there on October 12th, 1929. His death certificate says he died from General Paralysis of the Insane.
“General paresis, also known as general paralysis of the insane (GPI) or paralytic dementia, is a severe neuropsychiatric disorder, classified as an organic mental disorder and caused by the chronic meningoencephalitis that leads to cerebral atrophy in late-stage syphilis. Degenerative changes are associated primarily with the frontal and temporal lobar cortex. The disease affects approximately 7% of infected individuals. It is more common among men.
GPI was originally considered to be a type of madness due to a dissolute character, when first identified in the early 19th century. Then the cause-effect connection with syphilis was discovered in the late 1880s. Subsequently, the discovery of penicillin and its use in the treatment of syphilis rendered paresis curable and avoidable. Prior to these events, paresis was inevitably fatal unless another terminating illness intervened, and it accounted for as much as 25% of the primary diagnoses for residents in public psychiatric hospitals.” – WIKIPEDIA
EARL JOEL FITZGERALD was born February 8th, 1890 in San Francisco and by 1908 he was the leader of a gang of robbers. He was at that time known as “Eddie” Fitzgerald. By the time he was involved with the murder of Ham Herrick he had already served time in San Quentin Prison, was on probation and was a hardened criminal. He had already used a gun and fired at a police officer who was pursuing him. He was 24 when Ham Herrick was murdered. He was more than likely the shooter of Ham Herrick.
LOS ANGELES HERALD - November 12th, 1908:
“SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. A clue furnished by Eddie Fitzgerald, a youth accused of the robbery of a Sutter street car a week ago, detectives went to the Old Italian cemetery near the Golden Gate last night, and after waiting until 3:30 this morning succeeded in arresting Ralph Harris and Harold Webster, two boys, and in securing a quantity of valuable loot stolen from the Hotel El Rio, concealed in an old shack. The boys are said to be members of an organized gang of robbers.”
Turns out Robert Bell was a known accomplice of Earl “Eddie” Fitzgerald.
SAN FRANCISCO CALL – December 4th, 1908:
“YOUNG CROOK CAUGHT WITH STOLEN GOODS
Robert Bell Is Accused of Entering Seven Places in Oakland and Four Here
Robert Bell, alias Charles Hogan, a notorious young crook, was arrested late Wednesday night in a room at Buchanan and Eddy streets by Detectives Conlon and Mackey after he had returned from Oakland with two valises filled with plunder. He is accused of entering seven different places there and also four places in this city within the last two or three weeks. The places in this city were a rooming house at 1912 Fillmore street: Mission Central hotel. 504 Valencia street; Webster house, Turk and Webster streets, and the Hotel Tyrone, 397 Golden Gate avenue. Price Houston, a negro barber at Buchanan and Ellis streets, was arrested yesterday for receiving stolen property from Bell. Both names are registered on the detinue book at the city prison. Most of the property stolen by Bell has been recovered. Bell was a member of the notorious gang of thieves headed by Eddie Fitzgerald, now waiting his trial on a charge of robbery. He is 20 years of age.”
SAN FRANCISCO CALL - January 21st, 1909:
“Judge Dunne Says Twenty Years Will Be Minimum
A stern warning to highway robbers was uttered by Judge Dunne yesterday, morning in sentencing to 10 years' imprisonment Earl Fitzgerald, who robbed a car conductor of $4.90. "This is the last 10 year sentence that will be imposed in this court in a highway robbery case," said . Judge Dunne.
"Such crimes will in the future be punished by imprisonment of from 20 years to life. The court wants it absolutely understood that 20 years will be the minimum sentence. So far as this court has the power highway robbery will be stamped out in San Francisco."
Fitzgerald, who is 18 years old, pleaded guilty. His offense was aggravated by the fact that after he robbed the conductor and was running away he fired several shots at the policeman who was chasing him. He held up a Clement street car at 6:15 on the morning of November 3. 1908. Fitzgerald's mother was in court when he was sentenced. She screamed and fainted, and was assisted from, the court by the bailiff.”
SAN FRANCISCO CALL - March 16th, 1909:
“CHARGED WITH BOBBERY— John O'Keefe was Identified yesterday by Charles Wood, conductor of a car, as one of the three men who held up his car on the : morning of the election last November at Clement street and Twenty-fifth avenue and was booked on a charge of robbery. Eddie Fitzgerald, the leader of the trio, is serving a term of 10 years.”
Earl tried to escape a couple times but never made it off the prison grounds. In late 1930s Earl petitioned for parole several times. In 1937 the Healdsburg Tribune ran the following story.
HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE - January 7th, 1937:
“Relatives Protest Parole of Lake County Murderer
Lakeport, Calif., Jan. 7. —Protest against the parole of Earl Fitzgerald, Lake county murderer, will be filed by Fred Herrick, Lakeport business man and son of Hamlin W. Herrick, who Fitzgerald and two others murdered on the night of May 6, 1914 in Middletown. Other protests will be filed by Mrs. Herrick, widow of Hamlin Herrick, H. B. Churchill of Santa Rosa who was District Attorney at the time the crime was committed. Fitzgerald applied for parole. His hearing will come up in March. Arthur Fitzgerald, one of the trio that entered the Herricks place and robbed it after killing Herrick, has been dead for several years it is reported. Robert E. Bell, the third member of the trio, is still serving time.”
Three years later the same newspaper reported this story.
HEALDSBURG TRIBUNE – February 19th, 1940:
“Lake County Slayer Will He Paroled August 9
Earl Fitzgerald, who entered prison on August 9, 1915 to serve a life sentence for the murder of Hamlin Herrick in Middletown during a hold-up, will be given his freedom on August 9, of this year after serving 25 years.”
Earl resided in Oakland for a short while but by August of 1943 Earl was back in San Quentin. In 1946 he was transferred to Folsom State Prison. In 1949 the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports this story.
SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL – November 1st, 1949:
“Three Prisoners To Face Murder Charge At Folsom Sacramento, Nov. 1 (JP) Three prisoners at Folsom penitentiary have been charged with the knife murder of another inmate. The three men are accused of slaving Willard Borton the 'phantom burglar" who roamed Los Angeles' exclusive Bel Air district for years in the prison barber shop last October 11. Borton, 49, was found with the blade of a crudely fashioned knife stuck in his back. He was working as prison barber while serving a life sentence as a habitual criminal. He once boasted to police he had taken $1,000,000 in furs and jewels from the homes of film notables. District Attorney J. Francis O'Shea filed murder charges against the three men yesterday. They are: Louis F. Smith, 29, serving five years to life for a 1947 murder conviction in Sierra county. John Allen, 33, serving five years to life for a 1948 San Francisco robbery. Earl Fitzgerald, 59, serving life for murder convictions in both San Francisco and Lakeport.”
Earl Joel Fitzgerald died August 5th, 1952 while residing in San Quentin Prison. His remains are buried in a plot at the Napa State Hospital, Napa, California.
ROBERT E. BELL was born in Canada on May 5th, 1889. He was listed as an American citizen born abroad. He was living in San Francisco during the 1900 census and was counted as the son of John and Lennie Bell. He had an older sister, Winnie. At that time he was being called “Bertie”.
In his early teens was using an alias; Charles Hogan and getting in trouble. The San Francisco Call reported on September 15th, 1908 the following story:
“Robert E. Bell, alias Charles Hogan. was booked at the city prison yesterday by Detectives Lord and Kelly on a charge of robbery. He is accused of holding up J. E. Paulson, a jeweler, at Page and Steiner streets the night of March 1st and taking two valuable gold watches from him. His companion in this holdup, George Sullivan, has been sentenced to serve 20 years in San Quentin. Last week Bell was charged with holding up Thomas O'Connell in his saloon, 204 Octavia street, on the night of March 15.”
After his arrest, trial and sentence for his involvement in the murder of Ham Herrick he entered San Quentin Prison April 25th, 1915. Eventually he worked as a clerk in the prison office.
He was transferred to Folsom Prison January 12th, 1923.
In the 1930 census he was counted as an inmate at a convict prison work camp in Fresno.
In February 1937 he was issued a social security number and his address was Oakland, CA. He was living with his brother in law and his family. His mother was living there also.
In the 1940 census his occupation is listed as stevedore and showed he had been employed the last 52 weeks.
Robert Ernest Bell died in Oakland on July 2nd, 1947. He was 58 years old.
SILAS HERRICK, after the devastating Middletown fire of March 3rd, 1918, bought the remnants of the hotel Lake County House. He rebuilt a newer more modern hotel. The Herrick Hotel was in service by April of 1920.
Silas and Cora ran the Herrick Hotel for several years.
Silas passed December 19th, 1954 and is resting in the Middletown Cemetery.
About this time, Cora’s son, Loran C. Brooks and his wife Hazel took over operation of the hotel.
Cora passed on May 31st, 1958. In her later years she was affectionately known as “the Mayor of Middletown”. She is buried in the Middletown Cemetery.
In the book “Murder In The Mayacamas” Loran C. Brooks was the person at the hotel who spoke with the stranger regarding directions to the murder victim’s home. That was in November 1966. Loran passed October 13th, 1969.
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