Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Strange and Mysterious Deaths

During my research into the history of the Preston School of Industry I have found a few strange stories. Most of the stories I would usually find were connected somehow to violence, but these two were just odd. Call it unfortunate circumstances, call it mysterious, but in each case people died or disappeared under "strange" circumstances.


During my years of researching the Preston School of Industry's various history, I've come across many interesting stories. This particular story was about a man who met his fate at the Preston Reservoir, but he wasn't a staff member, nor was he a ward. In fact, Fred Downs was just a regular guy who happened to have been on a hunting trip with his two buddies George Gorman and Ed Tibbitts when he met his fatal ending. 

The group of men were coming from Sutter Creek, but decided to hunt for doves near Mount Echo, just northeast of the reservoir. Nightfall was coming, so Fred made his last kill for the night, but the dove fell into the reservoir. Seeing that it was beyond his reach, he decided to go in after it and wanted to take a little swim as well. His friends claimed that he had only got chest deep in the water, wading normally when all of a sudden he went under. 

There was no sign of distress, no sound, nothing. In a panic his friend ran to the man attending the reservoir, Mr. Henderson, who arrived "within seconds". Fred's friends claimed they couldn't swim and that is why they didn't go in after him immediately, however given the amount of time between him going under and Mr. Henderson arriving it was said that it was nearly impossible for him to have drowned so fast. They pulled him out of the water, but he died on the banks of reservoir, before the doctor could reach him. 

They didn't know whether he drowned, collapsed in the water from heart failure or had some sort of heat stroke, but Fred Downs died suddenly and unexpectedly on Monday, August 4th, 1902. He was well liked within the community of Sutter Creek, where he was raised. He was 34 years old, unmarried and it was said that his "He was a great favorite with all who knew him, and his sudden and untimely death would be deplored by all."


Tuesday, December 4th, 1928-

While digging a sewer ditch on the property of the Preston School of Industry, six boys were literally buried alive after a cave-in of the 16 foot deep trench. After being being buried for some time, four of the boys were successfully rescued, only sustaining minor injuries after being pulled out. Sadly, two of young men were crushed and perished while buried under the earth. William Reppert (of San Francisco) and Henry Hirstein (of Sanger) were the two wards who died, and upon a Coroner's inquest of the incident, it was decided that their deaths were "accidental.


The information I could obtain about ward, Frank Aljers (also known as Frank Alves), was that he died from an "abscess of the brain" due to a motorcycle accident on May 13, 1922. The question is, what was he doing on a motorcycle at the school? Was this some sort of work related project at the school gone bad? Could Frank have been attempting to escape on a motorcycle when he wiped out and crashed? There is not enough information on the circumstances of his death, but just enough to leave me wondering. He is one of the eighteen boys buried out back behind the Administration building at the Preston School of Industry. (I will keep this blog updated in the future and post more information as I obtain it.)


In November of 1925, thirteen year old Billy Forrester, (boy on the left side of the photo), was paroled from PSI and literally vanished without a trace. Did he ever really step foot off the property at Preston? If so, where did he go? No one ever heard from him again. Even census records show no trace of him, although I could locate his parents numerous times, but no Billy.  

To learn why he was sent to Preston in the first place, check out his story here.

(© Copyright 2012-2015, J’aime Rubio, Originally published either on blog “Dreaming Casually” by J’aime Rubio, on my Facebook Page or in the book “Behind The Walls- A Historical Exposé of The Preston School of Industry” by author, J’aime Rubio.)

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