Saturday, May 11, 2024

The Sad Tale of Walter Engell

I haven't posted anything on this blog in quite some time, but that is going to change soon. Today, I am going to share with you the story of Walter Engell. Now, this story isn't going to be a very long story but it is still a story worth sharing with you. First and foremost, I want to give a big thanks to Megan at the Ione Public Cemetery in Ione for her help with this one. 

According to Megan, they had a record at the cemetery of Walter Engell's death, but that he wasn't actually buried there. He was listed as a ward at the Preston School of Industry who sadly passed away at the school due to pneumonia. Megan reached out to me regarding this story and I went searching for that name in my records. Sure enough, I had a record of an Engell in my ward's list, but it was the wrong Engall.

So I started researching and uncovered Walter's story, a story that hasn't been told in one hundred years!

Walter was born in 1903 to Raymond G. Engell and Gussie Adams.  Walter's father was a German immigrant while his mother was born in New York to German immigrants. In 1910, the family was living at 324 W. Sepulveda Street in San Pedro, California. Walter's father was bar tender, which doesn't surprise me given the incident that led up to Walter ending up in Preston, but we will get to that shortly.

The family lived at the home with 7 year old Walter, his parents and his two siblings, Raymond Jr., and Gladys.  By 1920, the census shows the family residing at 1159 W 52nd Street, and by this time Raymond is going by his middle name Gerhard and is listed as a proprietor of a restaurant. The family has grown since then, as they now have a younger daughter, Alice, who is 8 years old at this point. Walter is listed as 16. 

By April 14, 1921, in the middle of prohibition the Los Angeles Herald publishes an account of a "Purity Brigade" arresting 10 people in a "kicky cider search." Among those arrested were Walter, only 17 by now, and his father, Gerhard Engell. 

Sadly, this is the event that would send underage Walter up to the Preston School of Industry, where he would eventually get sick and develop pneumonia which would end his life. The fact that his father had a role in what led to not only his son being arrested and going into the "system," but also his own death is something inconceivable to a normal parent. 

His body was removed from Preston, to C.W. Swain  coroner and undertaker in Ione, who made arrangements to send Walter's remains to San Pedro, where they would end up at the receiving vault at the Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles. His body sat in the receiving vault until he was cremated on July 7, 1924. It appears he remained in permanent storage in their "vault" until January 31, 1952 when his funeral card states "IWR" which I can only think meant "interred with relatives." 

Sadly, because he was cremated and he was later removed from the cemetery, there are no further records showing where he is located, and I haven't been able to locate where his parents are buried as of yet either. So for now, Walter Engell's final whereabouts remain a mystery.

I can only wonder what happened to Walter at Preston to cause his untimely death? Did he just catch a cold that developed into pneumonia, or was he exposed to such bad conditions at Preston that caused his illness to get worse to the point he died? I only think about this based on the fact that during the 1920s, the school was developing the reputation "The Preston School of Scandal," and Leon Adams wrote an expose' on the school and how the boys were living in pretty bad conditions at the time. Could Walter's life have been saved had he been allowed proper medical care, and better living conditions? Or was it simply just natural causes that couldn't have been changed either way? We will never know for sure.

To read more about Leon Adams' investigation into the school, please pick up a copy of "Behind The Walls" today!

J'aime Rubio - Copyright 2024 - 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Preston's Forgotten Builder - C. W. Swain

"From all over Ione you can see Preston Castle peering from atop the hillside, seemingly watching over the town, the farms, and yes, even the cemetery. An interesting fact is that from the area where Mr. Clarence W. Swain is buried in the Ione Public Cemetery, you can literally see that majestic structure in the distance, the very castle he helped construct. 

Everyone knows that Preston Castle was named after E.M. Preston, and that Charles Schultze drew the architectural plans, but no one ever talks about the man who was in charge of building it. That man was Clarence Warren Swain. 

So just who was Clarence Swain, you might ask? 

Mr. Swain was born on October 24, 1856 in Petaluma, California. Said to be the son of a Massachusetts Sea Captain, Clarence decided to get involved with construction as his field of trade, finding himself working as a contractor in San Francisco by the time he was a young adult. By 1882, he moved to the little town of Ione, and was made Superintendent of Construction for the Administration building at the Preston School of Industry. 

During this same time period, Swain designed and constructed his own house on Church Street. He adorned his beautiful home with the bricks around the foundation, using the same exact sandstone that was used for the castle. 

During the course of Clarence Swain’s life, he built many homes in Ione, as well as building the former Dry Creek bridge that once spanned over the creek in town. He also superintended the building of the original grammar school and the original county hospital, as well as the Pitt Street bridge, all located in Jackson.

Besides being a construction contractor, architect and carpenter, he also acted as the town of Ione’s undertaker for 40 years. Aside from his regular work, he spent his spare time with the youth of the area. Long before the Boy Scouts of America had even been founded, Clarence was organizing scout groups that he took on hiking trips and taught basic skills. He also spent a lot of time working with the boys at Preston, acting as the Sunday School Superintendent at the Methodist Church in Ione, and also buying out extra time in his busy schedule to coach an all-Miwok baseball team. It appears that he was never too busy to help out, teach, encourage and inspire the local youth. 

Clarence married Mary Kraemer on October 22, 1901. The two adopted a daughter, Margaret, though they did not have any biological children of their own. Perhaps due to the fact he did not have a large family of children, that added to his interest in the youth of the area. Either way, his efforts to inspire the children and young adults in Amador County was remarkable. 

Grave of C.W. Swain - J. Rubio

On April 6, 1941, at age of 85, Clarence Swain passed away. His obituary mentions that he “seemed to have had a great love for the youth in the area,” which I believe was his greatest achievement. Yes, he helped construct this magnificent piece of architecture that still stands high above Ione, but his lasting mark will live on forever in the memory of his philanthropic works. Mr. Clarence Warren Swain’s grave is located at the Ione Public Cemetery in Ione, California. "--from the book, "If These Walls Could Talk: More Preston Castle History," by J'aime Rubio ( ISBN-13: 9781548569907)


Swain House & Grave of Clarence Swain-- J'aime Rubio

Photo of Clarence Swain - courtesy of Find-a-grave

Monday, January 31, 2022

Anna Corbin's Lost History - Preston Castle

At Anna's final resting place (East Lawn Cemetery)

I have been researching the life, and death, of Anna Corbin for nearly 15 years now. What started out as a dream to research and share the true story of what happened to her so many years ago, when she was brutally murdered in the basement at the castle, also turned into a career long desire to share Anna's life story. 

Over 11+ years ago, I became friends with Anna's great-granddaughter Lily, who has offered me a plethora of information to use in my research and writing about Anna. In my research which has spanned over 15 years, I have also been able to provide the family with additional information they were not aware of as well. 

One of the facts that had eluded me for many years until just recently was Anna's home address. I always knew she lived in a house in Ione, not at the Castle, as so many people have tried to claim. The newspapers reported at the time she died said very clearly that she lived in a house in town. One newspaper stated that it was a 5 room house on Marquette Street. Well, there is no "Marquette Street" in Ione.  There is a Market Street, and there is a Marlette, but which one was it?  The library at the time had no directory index for the time period Anna lived in Ione, which left me stumped for a very long time.

When I published my book "Behind the Walls," back in 2012, I had to leave that bit of definitive information up in the air, so I mentioned the house was located either on Market or Marlette, but I was never certain the address. 

Well, by way of Robert Corbin's Will Records I was able to find the exact location.

The house itself sits set back on the corner of Market and Amador, and is in fact one block from Marlette, too. So it is easy to see how the journalist back in 1950 got confused. So today, I am posting this blog to state as a fact that Anna Corbin DID NOT live at Preston Castle at any point in time, just as I have always stated, and that she in fact lived in her home, just as the newspapers in 1950 had stated all along.

Photo Courtesy of Lance Pryor

Photo: Roland Boulware

Photo: Roland Boulware

Photo: Roland Boulware

To find this home was like solving puzzle that had been out of my reach for so long. Although I had pieced together Anna's life and death over a span of 15 years, I have finally found the missing piece, her home! Originally listed as 204 S. Amador, but is now technically 206 S. Amador, the home is located on the corner of Amador and Market Streets in Ione, California. 

Originally owned by Martin Van Buren French and his wife, California "Calla" French, the home was possibly built sometime around 1895, according to the current owner's research. The county records state the home was built in 1880, but I believe that was when the land was mapped out as an individual property, not necessarily having a house on the land at that point. 

We do see the French's living in Ione by way of the 1880 Census, but the specific location is not mentioned.  Martin passed away in 1885, which is why on the records I found, only Calla is mentioned as Mrs. California French. According to the current owner's, the Sanborn maps do not show a structure on this site until at least 1898, meaning the house was built sometime between 1893-1898 based on the Sanborn maps.  At the age of 72, Calla French then sold the property to Charles Kirk in 1922.

Kirk also owned the adjacent lot on the corner of Marlette and Amador Street, which is literally next door. Robert and Anna Corbin purchased the property sometime around 1935, upon arriving to Ione to work at the Preston School of Industry. After Anna's passing, her daughter Avis Barone sold the home to Russell Doss, and since then the home has had 8 more owners (including Mr. Doss). 

During my research to locate the address of Anna's home, I also learned that Anna used to drive a 1941 Pontiac (similar to this photo) to and from work, and that she even had 2 horses on her property on the hillside. I can only imagine the wonderful times she spent there in that beautiful home. 

So, last Saturday I happened to be on my way up to Jackson and so we stopped by Anna's house to take a look at it in person, and to take a photo outside. I saw the owner was outside working on the picket fence and my fiance' told me to go up and start a conversation with him. I am not a big social person, so that isn't easy for me to do, but I did it anyway. And I am sure glad that I did. 

After bringing up the topic of Anna & Robert Corbin having had owned the house long ago, he confirmed that he knew the story and that he had just recently read an article online about her life, and had even printed it. After talking to him about it, I confirmed to him that the article was written by yours truly.  Both the owner and his wife were the kindest, most genuine people and they so generously invited us into their home for a grand tour.

The first thing that I noticed upon entering the house was the lovely kitchen with towering cabinets and a window just above the kitchen sink. I stopped for a second and imagined Anna standing there, looking out that very window as she washed dishes and wondered how many times she must have stood there, thinking, wondering, maybe even deciding what she planned to make for dinner. :-)

I also started imagining the scenario of an old Victrola playing "Moonlight Serenade" by Glenn Miller, while Anna and her husband Bob stood there as she washed the dishes and he dried them (Sort of like the scene in movie, "Catch Me If You Can.")  Looking out the window of the front of the house, I could imagine Anna sitting on the porch, watching the sunset. The memories she shared with her children, her husband and their friends, too. I thought of her route to work, or that she may have walked down the hill to the Methodist Church for Sunday services with her hat and gloves, just the way my grandmother did back in that time period. There are so many things now I can really ponder now that I have a visual spot to imagine her at.

I also imagined the lovely 25th Silver Wedding Anniversary she celebrated with her husband in 1943, at that very home surrounded by her loved ones. How beautiful she must have looked, donning her wedding gown, while Robert Corbin past their marriage certificate around for all their guests to sign. The music playing, the dancing and the cutting of their anniversary cake, all must have been wonderful memories shared behind the walls of that beautiful home. 

The photo posted is a copy of Anna and Robert's wedding photo taken in 1918, and is property of the Corbin/Barone family. Anna's great-granddaughter gave me exclusive permission to share this photo, but I watermarked it for safety so that no one else can share this photo, as it is not anyone's right to share. (DO NOT COPY OR SHARE)

The owners verified that there has been some work done to the property since they purchased it some 30 years ago, but they have restored it back to the way it once was with some modifications. The backyard has seen some changes over the years, and now it is like a beautiful garden. There once was Wisteria growing in the back, which eventually overcrowded the carport area and it had to be removed and the carport demolished. There also were lots of cherry plum trees all over, which have been removed as well. An old shed dating back to the 1940's was out back but was also razed, to remodel the backyard into a gorgeous space with plants, a pool and lots of shade. 

Inside, there is still crown moulding around the doorways and the ceiling, original hardwood flooring, etc. The walls are decorated in a gorgeous wallpaper, although the owners confirmed it is not the original wallpaper. The kitchen is the same, although the room has been extended a bit.  I can honestly say this property is a gorgeous oasis of peace and tranquility, and the owners have also let me know, it is NOT HAUNTED. 

It was a dream come true being able to visit Anna's home, to see where she lived, and walk the floors that she walked. Although there are some changes, the house still looks the same on the outside. 

So, today I decided to share this blog with the hopes that if you really want to know Anna's story, you need to get to know Anna. Not only by my sharing the information about her house, but also by my sharing of information about her as a person.  So, just who was Anna Corbin? 

Well, there is a lot more to her than just the fact she was a head housekeeper at Preston who was murdered! She was a very well educated, spirited, generous, kind and loving human being. She was a good Christian woman, a loving mother and a loyal wife. She was a very hard working person, who not only worked full time at Preston, but she devoted a lot of her time to her Church as well. 

I have written so many blogs, chapters in books and even dedicated an entire hour long podcast to Anna's story, just to make sure her story is told correctly, and with respect. There has been so much misinformation for so many years spread about her death, even claiming she lived at Preston.

From people giving tours there, to Ghost Adventures claiming she lived in the upstairs apartment area, down to the film "Apparition" which made the character "Anna" (which was based on Anna Corbin) also living in the Administration building. All factually incorrect, yet, continuously perpetuated which misleads the public who for the most part do not bother to verify everything they read, see and hear. 

By sharing with you Anna's life, I can make her a real person to you, not just a ghost story.  In my mind, I see her there, in that house, happy. Not a lonely ghost wandering the empty halls of an old abandoned school. And no, I don't believe she haunts the house, I just mean the memory of her there. Again, the owner's stated the home is NOT HAUNTED. -- 

Also, being that this is a private residence, please show respect and DO NOT DISTURB the owners if you happen to drive by to look at the house. 

If you would like to know more about the true history of  Anna Corbin please follow the links below to my podcast where you can hear all about it, or you can read the blog below.

PODCAST:  Stories of the Forgotten - Preston Castle History: Anna Corbin's Story Revealed 


Thank you for visiting Preston Castle History!

- J'aime Rubio (Copyright 2022)

-- Thank you to the Pryors for the lovely tour and to allow me permission to write about your home. Thank you to Roland Boulware for the photography of the outside of the home. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Infiltrating The Castle - Preston Castle History

Daily News Archived Clipping

When I started investigative writing, only one thing was on my mind, revealing the truth. I think I can speak for all reporters and journalists who truly love their jobs, when I say that being a writer is a passion that drives you to do some pretty insane things at times. One good example, crime reporter Scott Thomas Anderson had put himself in harm’s way when he spent time traveling the country with various departments of law enforcement to investigate the harsh element of meth driven crime, in his book “Shadow People.”

It’s just a known fact that sometimes, in order to get the scoop or just to unravel the pieces of an intricate and enigmatic puzzle of a good mystery, a writer must immerse themselves in the element they are researching. One person that stands out as an original truth seeker, and one who may have very well been the first truth seeker at Preston Castle, was a reporter by the name of Leon Adams. 

In 1923, Adams, a reporter for the San Francisco Daily News, was assigned to investigate the Preston School of Industry undercover as a ward. His assignment was to expose the school for all the terrible things that were being done, not only to the inmates but also within the administration. In order for Adams to fit in as a real inmate, he had to be arrested and convicted in a criminal court. He was purposely “framed” for attempted burglary, to which he was brought before the court and pled guilty, requesting to be sent to Preston. 

In his series of articles exposing the Preston School of Industry’s dark secrets of mistreatment and torture, he states: “Upon seeing Preston at close quarters, one wonders that any boys go “straight” after leaving there. Terrible punishments that impair mentality and physique are administered by officers who are unable to control the youths they guard unless they make an example of every offender.” It was obvious for Adams that the element he had thrust himself into was going to be a tough one to deal with.

In his first article, he mentions the fact that he had to get into trouble there, in order to witness firsthand the brutality inflicted on the other wards. “No one at Preston knew who I was. To reach the cells, I had to “fake.” I had my choice of running away, disobeying an officer, assaulting a guard or continued defiance. My pick was the mildest-disobedience. It wasn’t hard. I picked a fight with Jack Hindsman, who always “had a chip on his shoulder.” We went to it. I soon found I had picked the wrong opponent, but didn’t mind so much. As we fought, the officer stood by and watched.

Fighting is against the rules at Preston, but it didn’t matter there, Capt. J.W. Sibole was enjoying the sight. We finally quit from the exhaustion. My face was bloody, my lips cut, and both eyes beginning to swell. Looking defiantly at Sibole, I silently dared him to enforce the rule which so often is violated at the school. He took the dare and ordered the two of us to stand the “guard line.” Boys on guard line must stand erect, facing the wall, while others rest. It is a physical punishment. 

 After a few minutes, on the line, I sat down.” As his story went on, he explained that his refusal to stand the line made Sibole angry. Adams was then sent to the detail office to receive a punishment for his insubordination. When questioned about the fight and his disobedience, Adams refused to answer, thus only getting him into more trouble. He then was sent down the hill to the cell house with his punishment awaiting him, an order to withstand 15 days in solitary confinement.

He described the original detention building being too dark and having two tiers of barred doors set in a solid wall made of stone. He states that the doors were fastened in four ways, and each cell having two gates. Windows were high above their reach, also barred. The inner gate was a solid oak lined with quarter-inch steel, while the outer gate was metal. After being ordered to strip naked and lay face down on the icy cement floor, a guard handed him a piece of canvas that he was supposed to fashion as some sort of undergarment. He then had to follow the guard up the iron ladder to cell No. 22. 

“My cell was 10 feet high and 9 feet wide. A faucet, a bowl and an iron bunk, two dirty blankets, a little wad of cloth for a pillow - that was my furniture.” He goes on to mention that the windows had heavy wire screens on them, layers of bars and opaque glass that kept the light out, leaving the inmates in total darkness, day or night. 

“My tomb, I called the place. It was the tomb of many boys before me. Scratches on the wall revealed the presence there of an assemblage of notables, names were followed by crosses....Before an hour had passed, I began to calculate how long it would be before I left my dungeon. Fifteen days, each with 24 long hours, seemed like years. What I am trying to tell about is impossible to conceive. Think, think and suffer. That's all one can do in a cell. Sleep affords no rest. Some even counted up to 13 and 14- evidently the number of days a prisoner had spent in the place. I didn’t spend the full 15 days in the cell. Watson took me out on the 11th day, when I was too sick to sit up and reach for the cup of skimmed milk that came through the little hole in the thick cell door.

For the first three days I only received one thin slice of bread, one cup half full of thin milk, shoved at me by a hand belonging to a face I never saw. On the fourth day, came a dish of cold meat, cold gravy and cold potatoes. That night I became deathly sick. I think I cried out once, but don’t remember much about that. The nights that followed weren’t quite so bad. I hadn’t enough strength to cry out much more.” Adams’ account of his eleven days in solitary ended with the guard removing him from the cell and forcing him to “stand the line” for ten hours. The first night they forced him to do such a thing, he fainted. For that, they made him stand even longer the next day. 

While Adams was in solitary confinement he found the name "Tuffy" Reid etched into the wall, following "third time over the hill." Other names were also scratched into the walls along with marks of how many days spent in solitary. Adams claimed that the name "Tuffy" kept standing out in his mind, and later he remembered where he had heard it, the media!  Tuffy was a death row inmate who made headlines in the newspaper for a murder in Los Angeles in 1923.

In his article, Adams’ makes a moving statement: “What earthly good can come to a boy in a cell? What human ever was worth a straw whose spirit was broken?” That statement rings true in so many ways. It was apparent to him that the disciplinary actions or rehabilitation that Preston was inflicting on their wards was doing more harm than good. In Adams’ article “Youths Kept in Dark Basement,” he goes on to state that the Administration building’s basement was being used to hold 50 boys in the dark. He also mentions that the basement held six solitary confinement cells where boys had been kept for weeks at a time while there was also a flogging room to beat the boys. It seemed that although Preston was content with their methods of punishing the boys, that the results weren’t really making a positive effect on anyone at all.

The statistics alone were proving that Adams’ opinions were correct. The boys who endured any time at Preston were leaving the place more corrupted than when they had arrived in the first place. In his exposé of Preston’s goings on, he revealed the following statistics from that time period: 

“Only two out of every 100 boys who were taught trades at Preston School of Industry follow those trades after being released. Ninety boys over every hundred who leave Preston are back again in some state institution within five years. Seven of the 127 prisoners in the San Francisco jail today, were at Preston at some time or another Out of every 100 criminals at San Quentin State Prison, four are “graduates” of Preston. Many of California’s most notorious crooks received their “education” at the reform school.” 

In his published articles, Adams revealed not only the harsh treatment but also the filthy living conditions, proof of the managerial incompetence of the Superintendent and also his advice on the measures that should be taken to make the necessary changes for improving the school. When Superior Court Judge Louis H. Ward had heard of Adams’ experience at Preston he felt so moved with emotion that he was quoted saying: “I’ll never feel comfortable again in my conviction that I am doing right when I commit a boy to a reform school."

Thankfully, a man in his position of authority had been reached and moved by the proof Adams had been able to expose about Preston. Unfortunately, the school seemed to be untouchable, even after all that exposure and not much changed over the years. With all that Adams went through in order to shed light and truth for the world to see, unfortunately, as many stories related to Preston, this one was long forgotten in the archives, waiting for someone like me to find it. 

Although there may have been other writers, like myself, who have written about Preston Castle and its mysteries, Adams was the one who paved the way. He was the first truth-seeker to expose Preston and call them on all the horrendous things they were doing to those boys. For that, I tip my hat to Leon Adams and his incredible journalism. "

--- from the book, "Behind The Walls: A Historical Exposé of the Preston School of Industry," By J’aime Rubio

ISBN-13: 978-1481075046 - Copyright 2012,  All rights reserved. J'aime Rubio identified as the AUTHOR of the work in accordance with U.S. Copyright Act 1976 and all U.S. Copyright laws. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission by the author/publisher.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Cadets Who Served In The Military


During World War I and World War II, many of Preston's wards or cadets wanted to do their part to serve their country, or at least aid in the war effort the best they could. One such person was Percy Blanchfield.  He was paroled from Preston in January of 1916, and because he grew impatient to join in the conflict, and since the U.S. hadn't involved itself just yet, he moved to Canada. In Vancouver, B.C., he enlisted in the Canadian Infantry, 47th Battalion. Percy was originally a native of Canada, having been born in Toronto. His father worked at the post office there but later moved his family to Fairbanks, Alaska, and even later to San Francisco.

The Sacramento Union dated May 28, 1918, quotes a letter from Percy, addressed to his Parole Officer in 1917:

"I have enlisted in the Canadian army here; at first it was more for an adventure, as it did not seem possible that this enormous and useless expenditure of lives and resources could or would continue much longer. When I return I want to resume my interrupted program and prepare to matriculate at the university. While here I received a letter from  my father and also from you in which you stated you would like to hear from me so that you could include my name in your report and help me on my way toward an honorable discharge from the school. That cheered me immensely and I hope I can remain in good standing. I want you to understand that I will act in good faith with you and that is my earnest desire to prove myself worthy in every respect. I remain, your friend, Percy Blanchfield."-

Historic Photo of soldiers who fought in the Battle for Hill 70 (Canadian Govt)

Sadly, Percy would not return home from the war,  but would face his fate at the Battle of Hill 70 near Lens, France. The article in the Sacramento Union goes on to state that Percy was "instantly killed on a battlefield." According to Captain Howard of his company, Percy stood post in a "gallant manner during all the ten days fighting."

Percy Blanchfield's body remained in France, on the outskirts of Lens, where a small grave was marked by a white cross at the time. He was the first former Preston cadet to die in a war. Canadian Veterans Affairs records state that Percy Joseph Blanchfield, Military Service # 826820, died on August 27, 1917. His name, along with thousands of others who died during that battle, has now been inscribed and honored by a memorial in Pas de Calais, France.

The Ione Valley Echo states that in 1918, twenty-five boys from Preston volunteered to be recruited into the military and were brought to Fort McDowell, on Angel Island in San Francisco. Unfortunately, due to their commitments, all were rejected and sent back to Preston, though three of the twenty-five boys ran away. This set back didn't deter other wards from wanting to be involved in the war effort though.

In WWI alone, there were approximately 148 boys that were on parole from Preston who went to serve their country. In between WWI and WWII, a number of boys joined the services.  According to the "Preston School of Industry: A Centennial History," 378 boys who were former wards were serving in different branches of the military by WWII. 

Because of the strict military training and discipline instilled in each cadet while at Preston, this better prepared many of these boys for military life. I am sure there were many more young men from Preston who went to war during WWI and WWII, some who many have even sacrificed their lives to serve their country. Whatever mistakes they had made earlier on in their youth would now be forgiven and forgotten the very moment they made the decision to think of someone other than themselves. Let us never forget this chapter in Preston's history as a positive one. ----

From Chapter 14. Cadets Who Served In The Military, from the book "If These Walls Could Talk: More Preston Castle History," by J'aime Rubio.

Copyright © 2017 J’aime Rubio, Author ISBN-13: 978-1548569907 ISBN-10: 1548569909

Monday, December 30, 2019

Deaths at Preston Castle

When you watch a paranormal television program, or maybe even one of the films that have come out that exploit Preston Castle’s history, you will find a common theme: Ghosts. This is because of the fact that it is documented that there were some people who died on the property over the many years that the school was in operation.

So many times, when people re-tell history, the stories are told incorrectly, over embellished or just made up all together. Once these over-the-top ghost stories get started, well, it’s hard to stop it. I am not just talking about Preston Castle stuff either, this happens in all sorts of historic locations all over the world.

This bothers me because I stick to the facts, and although I do believe that there is a spirit realm and that it does in fact exist, I choose not to go there with my work unless I have to.  My primary purpose for sharing history with the world is to share an accurate telling of the past. And in turn by telling the truth, and shining a light on that truth by way of debunking the false stories and sharing the documented facts, I am honoring the very souls that have been lost to us in death. That is my gift to those who have passed on, to remember them – with respect and with accuracy. To be a voice for the voiceless, and honor the forgotten ones so they will be forgotten no more.

Here is a list and summary of some of the deaths that have occurred at Preston Castle. This list is so that those who are truly seeking the facts about the souls who have lost their lives here can have accurate information in their quest for Preston Castle’s history.

Natural Deaths At Preston

To give you a list of all the deaths at Preston would be nearly impossible. Reason being is that so many of the records of the school have been purged over the years, and what is left at the State Archives do not reflect all of the wards who have walked through those castle doors. It is a known fact that there were deaths from the time the school opened until it closed (even the newer facility).  The first death at the school that was due to illness or health related issues, was Adolf Antron who died on February 20, 1895, from Pulmonary Edema.  The next boy who died that year was Grant Walker, which I will get into a little further in this blog.  Both Adolf and Grant are buried out back behind the castle in the cemetery. (The Preston Cemetery is not accessible; it is on Cal-Fire property. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO VISIT).

According to the Preston School of Industry’s Biennial Report, dated August 1, 1896, the school’s physician, A.L. Adams report states that given the conditions the boys were in when committed to the school, they were not surprised by the high rate of “hospital inmates” as he put it. In fact, he speaks of the entire facility having been exposed to some of the worst illnesses including incipient phthisis (known today as Tuberculosis), typhoid fever, scarlet fever, epidemic influenza, tonsillitis, malarial fever and pneumonia, as well as chronic illnesses such as epilepsy, chorea, and the regular fractures, bruises, abscesses and contusions.

Another thing I would like to add is that even though there was an outbreak of the Spanish Influenza between 1918-1920, and despite the fact that half of the officers working there and a third of the wards committed there were affected by the virus, none of the infected died from the illness.

In total, there are 18 boys buried in the Preston Cemetery. Of these 18 boys, 15 are ones that are listed as dying from illnesses.

Adolf Antron (1/22/1877-2/20/1895) COD: Pulmonary Edema

Grant Walker (7/15/1886-6/17/1895) COD: Typhoid Fever (?)

William C. Williams (8/26/1879-6/6/1897) COD: Acute Meningitis

Nicholas Hamilton (1/13/1878-5/17/1898) COD: Pulmonary Tuberculosis

Frank Ward (unknown- 7/17/1898) COD: Paralytic Dementia

Woolrich Leonard Wooldridge (5/23/1880-10/17/1899) COD: Acute Cerebral Meningitis

Hugh Simms (6/4/1893-1912) COD: Tuberculosis

Roy Scoville (9/14/1895-4/29/1913) COD: Meningitis

Eddie Heath (7/19/1894-5/13/1913) COD: Myocarditis

John Miller (8/13/1898-6/13/1913) COD: Meningitis

Joseph Howe (10/20/1897-12/11/1913) COD: Tuberculosis

Peter Miller (6/28/1897-1/20/1914) COD: Stroke of Apoplexy

Benjamin Kealohi (5/13/1897-6/17/1915) COD: Acute Nephritis, Peritonitis, Appendicitis rupture.

James Lopez (4/7/1903-12/23/1919) COD: Bronchial Pneumonia

Raydell Holliday (1/31/1909-3/23/1922) COD: Influenza, Rheumatic Fever, Heart disease.

The only reason we have such detailed information for the above boys listed is because of the fact they were buried on the property. Why were they buried there? Well, the school gave a certain allotment of time for next of kin to claim the body of the deceased so they could have funeral arrangements made elsewhere, but unfortunately many times the boys either had no family to notify or their family were destitute, meaning they had no financial means to recover their child to bury him properly. In that case, the school had the cemetery available to bury their unclaimed dead there, so they could rest in peace, properly.

We know there were other illness related deaths at the school over the years, but since their families came to retrieve their remains, we do not have a complete list of all of them.

Unnatural Deaths at or around Preston Castle

When I say unnatural death, I mean that the death was either a homicide, accidental, suicide or questionable. Four of these listed are buried at the cemetery on the property. These are the deaths that I have found in my many years of researching this school. 


Grant Walker  (died on June 17, 1895)
Going back to Grant Walker, you will notice he is listed as one of the boys who died from illness on my first list above (typhoid fever).  However, the 1896 Biennial report lists two deaths that year and one of the deaths was from accidental burns, intestinal ulceration. It is as if he ingested something toxic which burned his insides. Now, the only two deaths listed that year were Grant Walker and Adolf Antron, and Adolf's death is listed in the Biennial Report matching the description of the one with pulmonary edema. So how did Grant die? Did he have typhoid fever, or did he accidentally ingest something toxic? And if so, what did he ingest? That is a mystery to which we will never have the answers to. We can only speculate, and so, this is why I have listed him on both lists (Natural and Unnatural Deaths).

Joseph Morgan (died July 1899)
Shot after escaping the school, his wounds proved to be fatal. He was not killed on Preston property, but instead he died at Sheldon which is located near Elk Grove, California. 

Herman Huber (died October 17, 1911)
At the time that staff was ringing the dinner bell, Herman and another friend, John Kirrane, attempted to escape the school in the dark. The night watchman J.D. French went after them. Although French claimed he only meant to shoot a warning shot to to sound the alarm so that the Superintendent would know something was happening, another ward, Ernest Reed, claimed that he watched French shoot Herman in cold blood. 

Tahema Vann (died on June 6, 1914)
According to official reports, the boys from Company (I) went down to the pond to swim about twenty minutes after finishing their supper. Captain Enright told the boys that if they were not good swimmers, to stay at the shallow end of the pond. Tehama claimed that he could swim "dog fashion" just before he dove in head-first. The boys who witnesses the incident said that he came up once for air and raised his hand and arms in a panic, just before he went under and never surfaced again. Two boys, Robert Rains and Albert Rubidoux tried to dive in after him, to no avail. It wasn't until the next morning that they were able to retrieve his lifeless body that had sunk to the bottom of the pond. He is buried at the Preston Cemetery.

Frank Cardarella (died February 12, 1917)
Frank was found in his cell, dangling from a water pipe above him. He had ripped his sleeping shirt into pieces, fashioning for himself a makeshift noose in which he used to commit suicide. the day before, he had been suffering from seizures due to epilepsy. Instead of the staff sending him to the infirmary to be treated, they took him back to his cell and left him there. Such a sad ending for a young man who just needed someone to care for him. 

Sam Goins (died April 19, 1919)
After escaping the school, Sam made it all the way to the Thornton ranch, Northeast of Lodi.  He threatened to kill anyone who attempted to apprehend him. J.E. Kelly, who had gone after Sam, shot aiming at Sam's leg to stop him. But at the same moment Sam was attempting to jump over the wire fence, he tripped. As he fell, the bullet hit him in the back and this wound proved to be fatal. The staff brought him back to Preston, where he lived a short time on the way up there. He admitted to the men who apprehended him that he knew he was at fault for the incident and therefore he exonerated Kelly from being responsible for his death. 

Frank Aljers (died May 13, 1922)
Frank arrived at Preston on May 6, 1922. He had been in a motorcycle accident just prior to him being sentenced to Preston. His injuries were worse than they expected and when he arrived at Preston he went straight to the hospital at the school. He died a week later.

Ray Baker (died July 26, 1924)
While in an attempt to escape, Ray Baker attacked and tried to murder guard Thomas Dooley, by choking him. During the struggle, Dooley managed to get his pistol out and he shot Baker. The ward died 10 minutes after arriving at the hospital.

Leland Price (died December 1924)
During the middle of a Saturday night football game at Preston, a fight between wards Edgar Hough and Leland Price broke out. As a punishment the two were locked in the basement alone. The fight resumed, and at some point Price was knocked down or slipped, fracturing his skull on the concrete floor. He fell into a coma from which he never recovered. He died the following morning.

William Reppert &  Henry Herstein (died December 4, 1928)
While digging a sewer ditch on the school property, six boys were buried alive when the trench the boys were digging in, caved in. Four of the boys were saved, but both William and Henry perished in the ground. Their bodies were recovered and Henry's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school.


Anna Corbin (died February 23, 1950) 
The most widely talked about murder that took place at Preston, is that of Anna Corbin's death. There is no way I can summarize her murder in one short paragraph as there is so much complexity to the case. The facts of the case was that she was found in the basement store room in a half-sitting position in the corner. Rugs had been placed in an attempt to hide the body. She had been choked and bludgeoned. Her cause of death was from skull fractures due to her head hitting the concrete floor of the basement. 

To read in depth about her life and death please visit my blog here: The Life and Death of Anna Corbin. 

James Wieden (died December 5, 1965)
On December 2, 1965, Preston's agricultural teacher James "Jim" Wieden was brutally attacked by two wards on the Preston property. After assaulting Wieden, they stole his vehicle and his wallet and escaped. They were eventually caught and tried as adults. Although the "Ghost Adventures" show tried to claim that the "agricultural teacher" was murdered at Preston, history proves that he was transferred to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries and passed away on December 5, 1965. 

Non-Staff/Non-Ward Death:

Fred Downs (died August 4, 1902)
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 "He was a great favorite with all who knew him, and his sudden and untimely death would be deplored by all."

Liberto Mendes  (died February 13, 1932)
This death took place in the Preston hospital after Liberto was badly injured in an explosion at the Kennedy Mine in Jackson, California. Two of his other co-workers were killed instantly, while the fourth was badly injured but survived to tell the tale. To learn more about this story please click here. 

George Robertson  (died May 15, 1901)
This death may or may not have taken place at the Preston hospital. According to records found during my research for my latest book, "Down Below: A History of Deaths at the Kennedy Mine," I discovered that although George was fatally injured on the Kennedy property, he was taken "to Ione, where he was placed in charge of local physicians. They concluded that an operation was useless, and after intense suffering he died  Wednesday morning.”--- Amador Ledger Dispatch May 17, 1901.



In ending, these are the forgotten ones of Preston's past that I strive so hard to protect and respect. I hope that those of you who are honestly seeking to learn the truth about Preston and its very complicated history, enjoy reading my research. 

(Copyright 2019 - J'aime Rubio,

APParition Distorts Real Preston Castle History

With the latest film that came out, APParition (2019) there has been a flood of misinformation that has been spread about not only the history of the Preston School of Industry, but that of Anna Corbin, a victim of a heinous murder that took place there in 1950. This blog is to sift through what has been spoon-fed to you by way of Hollywood, and what the real facts are, so that you can make an informed opinion about the real history of Preston.

First and foremost, The Preston School of Industry had gained a bad reputation over the years that it was open. There is no doubt about that. In fact, my blogs that I initially published on my "Dreaming Casually" blog site exposed a lot of the true stories that took place there that no one had written about since the events had taken place, some in upwards of over 100 years or more.

Later on, I moved my blogs over to this blog and also published my books on Preston's history. Had I not published these stories in depth on my blogs or in my two books, most people today wouldn't even know about these stories in the first place. Even the people who took over running Preston as a tourist spot weren't aware of most of the real facts behind most of these stories. Besides myself, John Lafferty (former Preston Librarian and author) and Scott Thomas Anderson, a crime reporter/journalist, there really hasn't been many people out there willing to do the research into the history of the school or events that took place there.

After my first book, "Behind The Walls" came out in 2012, even some of the docents that worked there figured out much of the stories they had been sharing with the public were not factually correct and a few of them started using my book as a means of sharing the facts with their guests to make sure they had the stories right. I have since published a follow up book, "If These Walls Could Talk: More Preston Castle History, which has even more information and forgotten stories from Preston's past.

You see, most people over the years had heard rumors about deaths or knew names, but that was about it. They had sensationalized ideas passed down to them from friends or family members, but no one had actually researched and shared these stories with cited sources.  Many of the stories I cover in my two books were not even mentioned in John Lafferty's original Centennial History book. When I was finding the stories, I went to the library in Jackson with a list of stories I had previously uncovered and went through his book to see if he had written about any of these stories so I could reference them. As it turned out, most of the ones I had found earlier on in my research were stories he had not written about, so I was excited to share newly found stories that had been lost to the annals of history. The incidents that Lafferty had covered in his book, that I had also found in my research and put on my list, were in chronological order in his book, mostly with brief mentions of the events in short paragraph form.

For the record, Lafferty's book is a great source for a timeline of events going on from the start of the school until it closed, and his research is invaluable to anyone who wants to get a run down on the school's history. He has been a great support over the years and I have gone to him many times for advice in my research on Preston. In fact, without Lafferty's help no one would have figured out the exact location Anna Corbin had been found. I always knew that she was found in a larger store room in the basement based on witness testimony, but which room it was I was uncertain of. I always knew it wasn't the closet "cubby hole" that everyone else has tried to insinuate, and I have published that time and time again on my blogs and in my books. But thanks to John Lafferty, for transcribing the testimony of Goula Wait, we now know that the store room was the room with the plunge bath.

Going back to my work, when I decided to publish my research, I wanted to do something different with my books than anyone else had done. I wanted to take the time to write in more detail about very specific events, and  I wanted to make sure I did a thorough job detailing every part of each person's story that I possibly could so that these stories would be told with respect but most importantly with accuracy.  I took such care into researching these stories because I knew that for the most part, no one had ever read about them before since they had made headlines at the time the events took place. I also wanted my work to be easy to read and concise, so that my readers could be engaged in the story and not feel like they were reading a boring history book from school, but one that made Preston's history come alive.

This blog post is to go step by step with you to explain that what you saw in the movie APParition is not based on facts. Yes, they took the name of a person who died there but they twisted and distorted the history in such a way that there is nothing left of the real story and all that is left is the fabricated one pushed in the film.

For one, Anna Corbin (whom the character of Anna Collins was inspired by) was never involved romantically with the Superintendent. He also was never called a "Warden" either. He also didn't kill her. Anna did not live at the Castle, and she did not have a baby there either. Anna was in her 50's when she died. She was not found in a closet under the stairs, she was found in the basement store room where the plunge bath is located. At that time period the plunge bath had not been in use for decades, and that room became a store room for supplies. The pool part had been boarded over long before Anna came to work there. Anna was not a cook, she was the head of housekeeping. Anna did not witness any boys being abused or mistreated. She allegedly walked in on two wards, Eugene Monroe and William Mercer in the middle of an "act of sexual perversion" (what it was considered back then), and that was alleged to be the reason Monroe later killed her, to keep her from talking about what she saw. Did she really witness this act? There is no way to know for sure, but according to ward William Mercer during the trial, he claimed this was true.

Anna took her job seriously and proved to be a motherly influence on the boys at the school. So much so, that after news broke out about her death, many of the wards there said that if they found out who killed her they would take revenge themselves for her death. Had she witnessed staff abusing the wards there, there is no doubt in my mind that she would have said something or done something about it. She kept a daily journal of her life and there has never been any mention that she ever accused the school of abusing its wards during the time she was employed at Preston.

As far as the abuse and mistreatment of the boys goes in the film, there were times in Preston's past that there was documented proof that staff mistreated the wards. There were some deaths that can be blamed on the staff, but the place was not a "murder house." There were no boys beaten to death, no boys burned to death with acid, nothing like that.

Going back to the late 1890's with Superintendent O'Brien, he was a real tyrant and there are affidavits that prove that he abused wards. Did he kill any of them? We will never really know that, so we cannot definitively accuse him of murder.  We do know that he beat a ward, A. Ascensio very badly, and he hurt another ward Nicholas Hamilton (ward # 170), who did in fact die 6 months after the news got out about O'Brien's mistreatment to him, but documentation always insisted he died of tuberculosis. O'Brien even threatened a young boy who lived in Ione, who came up to visit the school (since back then it was an open-campus, meaning there were no fences). There were a few other Superintendents over the years who had been accused of using harsh corporal punishment on the wards as a form of disciplinary action, but there were never any accusations that the boys at Preston were being beaten to death.

As far as the deaths during an escape, Joseph Morgan was shot in Sheldon in 1899, after having escaped, although the guard in charge told the other guards not to shoot, they did it anyway.  Herman Huber was shot wantonly in 1911, and this is one of the few instances that I truly believe the guard who shot him, did it in cold blood. Why he did it, no one knows. Maybe he just didn't like Huber. But there was a witness to the murder who once paroled went straight to the Governor's office to tell him of what happened. He also admitted that at that time period the staff was abusing the wards, whipping them on the back and he showed the Governor the lash marks he had on his back from his multiple punishments. Sam Goins was shot in 1919 at the Thornton Ranch after he failed to surrender and continued running. He tripped over the fence (as witnesses stated in the inquest records) and as J. Kelly went to shoot his leg to stop him,  because he was in mid-fall, the bullet penetrated his back. He lived long enough to admit to everyone that he knew it was his own fault for being fatally injured.  Another example of negligence on the part of the staff.  Then in 1924, there was the death of Ray Baker, who in attempt to escape he fought with guard Tom Dooley, choking him nearly to death. During the tussle, Dooley was able to reach for his pistol and shot Baker, fatally wounding him. That was a classic case of self-defense, and Dooley was exonerated for any wrong doing.

Any other deaths of the wards that took place at Preston were either accidental, suicide or caused by illness (natural). The only two staff members that I could ever find who were murdered were Anna Corbin (1950) and James Wieden (1965). For the record, although he was attacked on the farm property of the school,  James did not die at Preston. He passed away at the hospital.

I hope that with this short but concise blog out there for people who are earnestly seeking the facts, you will be able to decipher between Hollywood's fakelore and the real facts surrounding Preston Castle.

Happy History Hunting!

(Copyright 2019 - J'aime Rubio,

For more information on Preston Castle and it's complicated history, please check out this blog or either one of my books on the subject which can be found on AMAZON here!