Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Exploiting the Dead On Television - Where Does It Cross The Line?

I have been researching the history of the Preston School of Industry for about 10 years. I have published many stories of former wards and former staff, some success stories but the majority have been about events that are not of the happy sort. I felt it was my duty as a historical investigative journalist to share with the world those stories I have uncovered so that the facts surrounding various events at the school were told accurately.

Some might try to say that by publishing a blog or my two books on the subject of Preston, that I myself am, in a way, exploiting the dead. And I guess to an extent anytime anyone writes about a deceased individual there is always a certain degree of attention the story will get. However, with the work I do, I strive to honor the memory of those deceased ones with love and respect, so their stories will not be forgotten, and I do not make it a practice to delve into the paranormal realm, so I personally do not feel my work exploits anyone.

But the real question is: When does others' storytelling cross the line into something bad?

With my writing I choose to stick to the facts and tell the history as it was. I prefer to steer clear of the paranormal lore that often follows these stories. By getting to the facts of the stories I research, I am able to present the accurate details of each case and in turn the reader is informed properly of the facts. With the ghost stories, 99% of the time the information is inaccurate and overly sensationalized, not to mention a complete disrespect to the dead. It is one thing to share the historical facts of a person that is public record, but it is entirely something else to perpetuate false stories or even insinuate their ghost haunts a particular place when we have absolutely no concrete evidence of such things.

Let's take the story of Anna Corbin for example. I have spent many years researching both her life and her death. I have published my findings in my various blogs and both of my books. Again, it is one thing to tell the facts, but it is something else to perpetuate her ghost is lingering at the castle and allow film crews to come in one by one and continuously misrepresent Anna's story. Not only has it been a disrespect to Anna herself, but to her family as well.

Back to "Crossing the Line"--  

Various television programs have been given permission to film at Preston over the years. And with each episode of each program came their own "version" of the paranormal activity that takes place at Preston. Starting from newest to oldest let's take a look at some of these television programs and movies that have been filmed at the Castle and the very sad exploitation of Anna Corbin's death. (I have links for you to click on each show to verify my findings).

1.    Lowe Files  (Season 1: Episode 1)  Aired: 2017

This program insinuated that Anna Corbin’s ghost still haunts the castle. The person representing the Castle not only tells inaccurate history of the school but also tells the wrong info on Anna’s death. When they do an EVP session with the spirit box they immediately try to claim it says “Corbin” and “Beat” as if she is talking to them through the box. Although I think Rob Lowe was sincere in his intentions, which is by far a lot better than the other shows, it still was a disrespect to the memory of Anna with the whole ghost “device” communicating scenes.-

2.    Unexplained Files  (Season 2: Episode 12) Aired: 2014

Halfway through the episode the television show airs an EVP recording of a woman saying “Please, Help Me” and the group tries to insinuate it is Anna Corbin. They go on to show a filmed reenactment of Anna Corbin working and being murdered there. They have a white male in a trench coat and hat strangling her with a wire (her murderer's name was Eugene Monroe. He was also black, and he was a ward at the school, not a film noir detective!) They also state the wrong room of where she was found, as always. The worst part of all is the fact they want to pin the voice to Anna Corbin’s story and insinuate that she is communicating from beyond the grave. The only good thing I found in that episode is that one of the team members tries to debunk the theory, thankfully. ---Another thing to mention, the person representing Preston that they interviewed on their program is not a historian although she was represented as one.

3.    Ghost Asylum  (Season 3: Episode 7) Aired: 2016

I could hardly stand to watch it and cringed through the entire episode. Besides the Ghost Adventures episode which will be included below, this is probably one of the worst videos to date. Mind you, this was filmed and aired in 2016, not long ago. So in this episode, they have their “historian” who says that a lot of boys died from illnesses and that Anna Corbin was killed by two boys, and that her ghost haunts the castle. She goes on to say she has seen her ghost and communicates with her. 

The show goes on to insinuate that the teacher who also was attacked at Preston, James Wieden, that his ghost is there. For the record, James Wieden was killed in 1965, a whole 5 years after the old Preston school had closed. He did not die at the castle, in fact he died at the hospital in Jackson.  He was attacked on the campus of the NEW Preston School next door.  

Then they try to say the ghost of Sam Goins is there. Again, for the record, Goins was not shot at Preston. He was shot 35 miles away from Preston on the Thornton Ranch near Walnut Grove. He died by the time they brought him back there, and because they didn’t get to a doctor in time. He was poor and he had no family to pick up his body, so he was buried at the boys cemetery out back. The people on the show claim they see a ghost of a boy, and think it’s Sam.  (Sam was just 2 months shy of his 20th birthday when he died, definitely not a child). 

They do an EVP session and bring devices into the little closet in the kitchen and based on their EMF machines going on and off, they determine that is where Anna was killed. That is NOT where she was killed, she died in the room with the plunge bath. Of course they were told the wrong information, as usual. They think that because their devices go on and off and flashlights go on and off upstairs that Anna's spirit is doing that. They continuously call out to Anna.  

Again, the person interviewed in this program is also not a historian but clearly represented as one. Many times people at Preston will adamantly deny that they say Anna’s ghost haunts there but as you can see from this video, this individual was happy to go on television and tell the world that Anna’s ghost is there, and she was the person chosen to represent Preston on national television. 

4.    Ghost Adventures (Season 2: Episode 1)  Aired: 2009

The issues I have with this particular episode was that the docent was promoting false information about Anna, her death and the history of the school itself, not to mention the haunted aspect of it. Anna did not live at Preston, so she did not have an apartment there.  She was not dragged down any stairs, she was not found in the kitchen pantry room either.  But the worst part of the whole thing is that the Ghost Adventures crew  went around trying to make contact with Anna and the other spirits alleged to be haunting there, and Zac pretends to be possessed by Anna. He even wanders up in the dark to the second level and goes in the room that the docent said was Anna’s apartment and he sits there acting strange on camera to make it seem as if he is being controlled by something else. It was so obviously faked, and again a complete disrespect to Anna and her family who believe she is resting in peace.

Watch the episode here:

5.    Ghost Hunters (Season 6: Episode 6)  Aired: 2010

I didn’t get to watch this episode though there is a summary typed about it online. It doesn’t look like much was said about Anna in this one, but unless I watch the video I can’t be certain.  Here is the link to the brief summary of that episode.


7.   MOVIE - “Haunting at Preston Castle” fka “At Preston Castle” (2014)

The opening credits try to insinuate the movie was based on real events which is completely false. The main scary character in this movie is a fictional ghost boy but they do briefly mention Anna Corbin as the "housekeeper" who was murdered there. Still I wish they would leave her story out of these horror films.

8.   MOVIE – “APParition” –  (to be released)

This horror movie is by TV and former radio personality Mark S. Allen. He wrote the script with director Waymon Boone.  I have confirmed with the director that part of one of the stories in the film is “loosely based” on Anna Corbin’s story but the name was changed to “Anna Collins.” I think it is safe to say that her story will be told inaccurately, as usual, and the murderer will not be what we expect either. Again, I wish these horror movies would leave Anna alone.

Here is the link to the IMDB page


I wanted to get this blog out there to talk about the blatant exploitation of the dead by various paranormal programs. I chose to focus on the many programs filmed at Preston given the fact that I have been researching and writing about Preston for many years and because Anna Corbin's life has been one near and dear to my heart for a very long time. 

I have never agreed with the fact that all of these film crews have been allowed to come and film at the castle for their paranormal programs, and I have often wondered why there isn't more of a push to promote the real history of the Castle? Why so much focusing on the paranormal aspect of it all? Is it because there is more money involved? Perhaps.

When you watch these programs be it about Preston or anywhere else for that matter, please take everything these TV shows say with a grain of salt, because it is a fact that they do not do thorough research beforehand, just take a look at these examples above. And because of their lack of concern for representing the history accurately, they in turn butcher the real history in the process. Anyone who is truly interested in researching or investigating various locations, please do your homework ahead of time, and do not, I repeat DO NOT believe everything you see on television.

(Copyright 2018 - J'aime Rubio

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Death of Sam Goins

"One story you may have heard while looking into the Preston School of Industry's history, is the story of Sam Goins. Goins was an African-American inmate who was fatally shot by John Kelly or J.E. Kelley (also seen spelled as Kelly). Samuel Goins was born on June 24, 1899 in Iredell County, North Carolina. He had been transferred to Preston from Alameda, where he was originally serving time for burglary charges. At the time of his death he was only 19, about to turn 20. 
According to the Amador Ledger dated April, 19, 1919 entitled “Guard Kills P.S.I. Escape,” states:
“Samuel Goins, colored, an inmate of the Preston School was fatally shot by guard J.E. Kelley last Saturday. Goins escaped from the school the day before and the guards found him at the Thornton Ranch. He threatened to kill anyone who attempted to take him. Kelly , failing to halt him by command, fired to hit him in the leg, but just as he pressed the trigger, Goins stooped to go under a wire fence and the bullet struck him in the back.
He lived several hours, and before dying, exonerated the guard, declaring he alone was to blame for the affair. Kelly was acquitted by the coroner’s inquest held Tuesday. The funeral was held in Ione, Wednesday. Goins was a native of North Carolina, aged 20 years. He went to the school from Alameda County for burglary.”       
         Samuel Goins was just two months shy of being released when he attempted his third escape. It was reported in the newspapers that ward J. Lopez, who was with Goins when he died, testified on J.E. Kelly’s behalf at the inquest. However, the inquest records state that his name was actually Joe Acosta. Acosta claimed that Goins, “tripped going over the fence and he got shot after he tripped over.” Eight months later, a ward by the name of James Lopez  died from bronchial pneumonia. He is also buried in the cemetery at Preston. It does not appear that Joe Acosta and James Lopez are the same person. 

Who Was J. E. Kelley?
According to census records and Amador County records there were only two men named John Kelly in Ione at the time, and one was named J.E. Kelley or Kelly and the other was J.K. Kelly (who was his son). I spoke with the grandson of a J.E. Kelly who claimed he had no knowledge of his grandfather being involved in any shooting of an inmate at Preston or that he ever worked there. I also spoke to the Amador County Librarian, Laura, who found the same information as I did about the two men named John Kelly in Amador County.
 According to records, one J.E. Kelly was born in 1865 in Plymouth, CA. He was the Constable of Ione for a lengthy period of time according to the old newspaper archives.  Another Kelly, J.K. Kelly was only 18 years old at the time of this incident and there is no record of him working for Preston. When this escape attempt occurred, John E. Kelly would have been about 54 years old. It is quite possible that he had been the Constable and also maintained a presence at Preston for certain incidents such as an escape. This would not be unusual.  If you recall, in Chapter 4, when Superintendent O’Brien threatened a young boy from Ione, his guard Officer Phillips was also an Amador County Sheriff's Deputy.
 So you see, in Amador County at that time, the local authorities and Preston’s officers were basically intertwined. Regardless of which Kelly it was, there were only two possibilities in Amador County at the time, so it had to be one or the other. According to Guard John Kelly’s statement, he claims he meant to shoot Goins in the leg and that Goins had waved a hammer towards the other guard Mr. Hunter approaching him prior to his running and ducking under the wire fence. John Kelly went on to say:
 “I knew what he told me before, that the next time he ran away whoever tried to catch him would either kill him or he would kill the person that was after him. I seen him watching Mr. Hunter and holding the hammer and I knew he would strike him if he would get a chance. He was nearing a low fence, I should judge it was three feet probably. It was what they call ‘hog wire’ on the bottom, two barb wires on top. As he neared the fence, I thought he was going to leap over it because I seen him jump before. He was a good jumper. I raised my gun and was just in the act, when he either tripped or fell as he was about to make the jump, and as I pulled the trigger, that I calculated on him jumping over, he fell through the fence. 
We went down to where he was. Mr. Hunter was the first one to him. He went to where he was lying and he said, “Goins, are you hurt?” He said “Yes, sir.” I went up to the house to get some water. Mr. Thornton came with me. I asked Mr. Thornton where was the nearest doctor?  He first said Burson, but afterward he said Ione was as near. I wanted to get medical aid for the boy. He said “no.” We then laid Mr. Goins in the machine, proceeded to Ione, drove to the doctor’s office. The doctor was not in. We then went to the school and left him there at the school and the authorities up there sent for Mr. Gall at Jackson.”
  After Goins’ death, the school made sure his funeral was taken care of and even mentioned it in the local papers. Most of the time when other wards died at Preston, their deaths were basically unmentioned.
Many people speculate that Goins was shot with little to no regard for his life, but I believe that was not the case here. Think about it. He had escaped from Preston and was on the run. He was a fugitive who had escaped in the past and who had already made threats that he would not be taken alive again. He had also threatened that anyone who stood in his way would be taken out as well. Kelly was aware of Goins’ past threats. Upon seeing Goins with a hammer that he had retrieved from a shack on the Thornton ranch, Kelly felt that he had to protect his partner, Mr. Hunter.
        Testimony showed that Hunter’s opinion was that Goins wasn’t really that much of a threat to him at all. Hunter claimed that he was too far from Goins for him to have struck him with the hammer and that Goins was running in front of Hunter. From Kelly’s perception, Hunter and Goins seemed close in proximity. In the inquest records testimony, Kelly remained adamant that he didn’t mean to kill Goins. He claimed that he meant only to wound him in order to stop him.  

         Several witnesses claimed that they did see Goins trip and fall just as he reached the fence, meaning one of two things. He was either shot and fell on the fence, or Kelly was telling the truth about Goins fall. Perhaps, he did shoot at him while Goins was in the act of attempting to jump the fence but instead tripped and fell, causing the bullet to penetrate his lower back as opposed to the intended target of hitting him in the leg.

         Testimony of  Dr. A. M. Gall, who examined Goins’ body stated that the bullet  “entered the back, mid-way between the lower rib on the left right side and the upper border of the pelvic bone. Passed through, slightly upward and the exit was about two and one-half inches from the sternum and below the last rib.”

        Sam Goins later died from his wounds, after claiming that it was no fault of anyone involved, other than his own. He was later buried at the cemetery out behind the “Castle.” His story is one that will always cast doubts in many minds. Did Kelly purposely shoot Goins? Or was it just an accident? Did Kelly honestly feel that his partner was in direct danger? Or did he just want to catch Goins by whatever means necessary? We may never truly know."-- Chapter 8. from the book "Behind The Walls" by J'aime Rubio.  (Copyright 2012 - ISBN: 13: 978-1481075046)

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Escape Artist - Robert E. Byrd

Photo: courtesy of the Byrd family

"The story of former Preston ward, Robert E. Byrd started long before his stay at the Preston School of Industry. In fact, to understand why he ended up there at all, one would need to know his back story.  Robert E. Byrd was born on January 8, 1882 to parents Joseph Edgar Byrd and Helen M. Wilder. His father, Joseph, was a Confederate Veteran from New Orleans, LA, while his mother Helen had been brought up the daughter of a farmer and former Union Soldier from Forestville, New York.
As certain as the tales of Romeo and Juliet, it was also obvious that the pair were in love. They even went so far as running away together against Helen’s father’s wishes, later eloping in Covington, Kentucky. Helen’s father did not approve of her marrying a “reb,” as Joseph was from the South while Helen’s family was from the North. After marrying his love, Joseph became a traveling salesman, who represented cotton brokers, publishers and dry goods suppliers to retail stores, while Helen became a seamstress to make ends meet. They traveled a lot during their first years of marriage, going from Louisville, KY, Evansville, IN, and Nashville TN.
In 1881, due to the tiresome life of being a traveling salesman with a family, Edgar Byrd chose to become an entrepreneur by opening a tavern in Florence, AL, hoping to make roots there. Unfortunately, this choice proved more harmful that good. In late December, Edgar Byrd became entangled in a fight with the former Mayor of Florence inside of his own tavern. The fight broke out and took to the street where it ended in a shootout, leaving the former Mayor dead. Although Edgar was indicted for murder, the charges were later dismissed due to “self defense.”  After being subjected to extreme stress, Helen gave birth to Robert two weeks later. Eventually, the family sold the bar and moved their family elsewhere.

  Around 1884, while traveling for work, Robert’s father, all alone in his hotel room, died from malaria. Suddenly, Helen became the sole provider for her children which must have put a strain on her. She eventually moved back to her home county of Chautauqua County, NY. Once there, she bounced from boarding house to rented houses for many years, never being able to give her children the sense of stability she yearned for. After the death of her youngest son William, Robert seemed to have strayed down a path of delinquency. This was more than likely due to the lack of a father figure, unending hurt from the loss of his father and brother and also instability at home.
  By the time Robert was 12 years old, he had been in trouble with the law. In 1894, he was sent to the Burnham Industrial School in Eastern New York State (now the Berkshire Farm School) where wayward boys were taught to farm. He received a rigorous education there, until his release on March 1, 1896. He then when home to Fredonia, NY, only to get arrested again three weeks later. By March 26, he was sentenced to the New York Industrial School near Rochester, N.Y.  For two years he served his time in a manufacturing trade school environment not so different from Preston. By January of 1898, he was paroled into his mother’s care, moving to Buffalo, N.Y.
As the Byrd family story goes, while Robert was working as a clerk in Buffalo, he became “restless.”  He then ran away to California at the young age of 17. Apparently, due to the stories of endless opportunities out west along with the romanticized folklore of the “get rich quick” life during the gold rush, he traveled to the Golden State with dreams of making it big. News accounts of that time period even mentioned that Robert went west “on a wheel,” meaning he rode his bicycle from New York all the way to California. By the fall of that same year, Robert had made it to Gardnerville, Nevada and then onto Reno. After finding himself in trouble once again, Robert sold his bicycle and bought a train ticket to San Francisco.

How Robert E. Byrd Ended Up In Preston (Ward # 416)
       In November of 1899, Robert had made friends with a piano player, Jesse Russell. Eventually the two teamed up and decided to steal a horse and buggy rig in Oakland.  Driving the buggy to Irvington, they stopped to stay at the Irvington Hotel and skipped out on their bill. Leaving the horse and buggy behind, they left on foot onto San Jose down the railroad tracks, more than likely hitching a ride on the train as it rolled by. By the time Robert had made it to San Jose, he stole another horse, this time taking it from a livery. He had played the part of a potential buyer wanting take it for a trial ride with the full intention on purchasing it, however he never returned. He rode that horse all the way to Solano, CA.  He was then apprehended on November 16, 1899, being charged and tried for Grand Larceny in January of 1900 and sent to Preston for three years. 

Within two months of being sent to Preston, Byrd had become an ‘escape artist’, walking out of Preston undetected. He did so by making a false key and opening his way out of the building. Within three days he was captured. Once again in July he attempted to escape only to be caught again. By December, it was reported that Byrd had broken into an officer’s room and stolen his revolver, concealing it for weeks while the officer never noticed his gun was gone. I don’t know about you, but one would think that as an officer at a boy's youth reformatory, how could you not know that your gun was missing for weeks?
That information from the officer makes me think the gun was actually planted in Byrd’s room to get him into trouble. How convenient that one random day, the staff just decided to raid his belongings and discovered the gun and a pack of red pepper. The pepper, they claimed, had been concealed for him to use at a later time in an escape to throw off his scent from any dogs used to chase him. Of course, because of this Byrd was punished severely and kept from being able to write his mother.
Superintendent Hirshberg wrote several letters to Byrd’s mother, claiming to be sincere at helping him and also making sure to reiterate that he “was not” keeping Byrd from writing his mother. Eventually the Superintendent grew tired of Byrd’s shenanigans and the ward was later deemed “wholly incorrigible and rebellious, not amendable to discipline and not fit for detention.” Hirshberg then shipped Byrd off to the Court in Santa Clara where he was sent to jail there for the remainder of his sentence.
What I find interesting is that after his ordeal at Preston, Byrd was never incarcerated again. In fact, he later went on to marry and have children and filed several patents with the Government for inventions he made. Byrd went on to work for and own several manufacturing companies including Pajaro Industries and R. E. Byrd Manufacturing in Erie, PA. Robert had done so well in his business, that in the 1920's his ads were seen published in various editions of Popular Mechanics magazine. During the 1930’s and the height of the Depression, Robert's manufacturing business was doing so well that he had over 150 employees working 3 shifts, 7 days per week. 
Robert’s legacy was then passed down to his sons, grandsons and great-grandchildren, who still  continue to remain in the manufacturing industry as successful entrepreneurs to this day.  Sadly, Robert didn’t live a long life, dying at the age of 48 from congestive heart failure and kidney failure. One good thing that Robert took with him when he left Preston was a trade. Learning how to manufacture the key that he used to escape from Preston, was the catalyst that inspired him later in life to become a manufacturer.
Courtesy of Kevin LeBeaume 
Robert E. Byrd’s experience at Preston was one of infamy as far as his many escapes, but the real legacy he left behind was the value of hard work and skills he acquired at Preston that catapulted his life into one of great success for the rest of his life. "
 --- Chapter 5. From the book. "Behind The Walls: A Historical Exposé of The Preston School of Industry" by Author, J'aime Rubio (Copyright 2012 - ISBN: 13: 978-1481075046)

UPDATE: Last year in 2017, I was contacted by a gentleman by the name of Kevin LaBeaume who discovered a small bird water whistle at an old antique shop that bore Robert Byrd's name on it. As it turns out it was one of many items manufactured by Robert's company the Robert E. Byrd Manufacturing Company of Erie, Pennsylvania back in 1920. I have since been able to get Mr. LaBeaume in contact with Robert's family and I am happy to see that Robert's legacy is still being appreciated even today. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Edward Rowe & Dan Gillette's Wild Escape From Preston

Preston Castle
If you have read my other blogs about the history of the Preston School of Industry, or if you have purchased a copy of my book "Behind The Walls," then you are aware of the many events that have taken place behind the ominous brick walls of Preston Castle. During my search for more stories to include in my upcoming special edition eBook, I stumbled upon a tale of attempted murder and a wild escape too good to ignore. This particular event took place in 1904, by two very dangerous wards determined to stop at nothing for their chance at freedom. In my latest book, "If These Walls Could Talk: More Preston Castle History," you can read about this story in even more detail.

"April 20, 1904- It was a Wednesday night, at approximately 10:00 p.m. when the night watchman in the boys dormitory upstairs in the Castle appeared for his shift. He hadn't been on duty for more than fifteen minutes when he decided to quickly use the restroom while the boys were supposed to be in bed.  When night watchman J.S. Phillips returned from the bathroom he noticed that two of the wards, Rowe and Gillette, were up at the water fountain (to the right of the door) getting themselves a drink.

Edward Rowe
Before Phillips could even get inside the room and lock the door behind him, one of the boys came up and struck him with a slungshot. They had used a woman's stocking and placed a hard, large rock inside of it and continued to hit Phillips over the head until they knocked him out. The boys then continued to beat on Phillips, kicking him in the head and leaving a deep gash. Had it not been for the rock tearing the hosiery and falling out onto the floor, Phillips may have died from being continually struck by it.

Once the boys had completely incapacitated the watchman, they climbed out the window of the dormitory and down the water pipe alongside the castle's brick walls. Barefoot and in their pajamas, the boys immediately separated upon reaching the outskirts of the Preston property.  Rowe headed out west and was caught the next day near Carbondale, California (which used to be about six miles northwest of Ione). However, Gillette went east towards Jackson, causing a big ruckus along the way.

Dan Gillette
While on the lam, Gillette headed down Ione Road and decided to break into the Cuneo residence. There he stole a change of clothing as well as a shotgun. When he was done scavenging through the Cuneo's personal belongings he then retreated off into the night.

By Friday,when he made it towards Martell's station, it was said that he hid his gun near some iron pipes outside. He then was spotted at the Kennedy Boarding House where he even managed to sneak in a meal, staying undetected as a wanted fugitive.  Perhaps he wanted to fit in with the miners and laborers working at the mine, but Constable Kelly (also spelled Kelley) was hot on his trail, apprehending him just outside the mine without any further bloodshed.

Gillette was then charged with "assault to commit murder" and later taken to Humboldt County on charges for a crime he committed before he had been sentenced to Preston. The authorities as well as the administration at the Preston School of Industry were intent that both Rowe and Gillette not return to the reform school but be sent to the State Penitentiary due to their brutal dispositions."----

PLEASE CHECK OUT "If These Walls Could Talk"-- now available at Amazon!

(Copyright 2013-2017-- J'aime Rubio,
Originally published on Dreaming Casually blog (2013)

California Prison Records (San Quentin & Folsom Prison Inmate Records)
Amador Ledger (4/22/1904, 4/29/1904)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

If These Walls Could Talk: More Preston Castle History -- Book Release

(Copyright: J'aime Rubio)

              My latest book, "If These Walls Could Talk: More Preston Castle History" is now available on Amazon for purchase.  This is a follow up to my original book on the history of the Preston School of Industry, "Behind The Walls." This title includes additional narratives discovered during my continued research of this school's history over several years. Learn about even more dangerous and sometimes deadly events that took place there, as well as some of the sad backstories of young wards sent to Preston because of poor circumstances, not having committed any crime at all. 
(Copyright: J'aime Rubio)
This concise but engaging read covers wild and crazy escapes to tragic accidents and everything in between. Also included are biographical sketches of infamous and famous former wards such as Merle Haggard, Rory Calhoun and Allen Smiley, to a list of former wards who ended up on death row, including the "Red Light Bandit, Caryl Chessman, as well as positive stories that also took place there. This is a must read for any Preston Castle enthusiast! 
I really enjoyed compiling all the stories within this book, as well as interviewing various people who were related to several of the former wards, including Allen Smiley's daughter, Luellen Smiley. She was a fantastic help in retelling her father's backstory, as well as providing me with the genuine copy of her father's court records that showed exactly when he was sent to Preston. 

Sample of my Introduction Page: 
"After publishing my first historical non-fiction book about the Preston School of Industry,  “Behind The Walls,” I had mentioned in the introduction that my work would never be finished. Back then, I had barely scratched the surface of what was hidden deep in Preston Castle’s past. For the last several years I have been continuing my research, publishing and sharing my latest blog “Preston Castle History,” with the world.
I felt that it would be a good idea to combine my latest research into an additional follow-up book to go along with “Behind The Walls.”  In this title, there’s a great collection of short stories of former wards of the school, along with details of what became of them upon leaving Preston.  This book also covers other various incidents that took place on the property involving employees and other Amador County residents that many people are often unaware of.
As I always state, Preston’s history will never be complete, not as long as there are still stories out there waiting to be found and to be told. I hope that with this additional book, you will enjoy learning even more about some of the people who once walked through the doors of one of Amador County’s most beautiful architectural treasures, Preston Castle!" -- from "If These Walls Could Talk: More Preston Castle History" by J'aime Rubio.

(Copyright 2017- J'aime Rubio,

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Lowe Files - What Did They Get Wrong?

First and foremost let me say that out of all the television shows that have been done about Preston, Rob Lowe seemed the most genuine about looking for answers. It is unfortunate though that (a) his team didn't do their research ahead of time properly and (b) the docent at Preston didn't give him the right history of the school (at least the parts that were shown on film).

This blog isn't to bash Lowe or anyone else, but it is to bring up the obvious misinformation that the show promoted. This has been an ongoing issue ever since Zak Bagans from Ghost Adventures started his B.S. (blatant sensationalism) about the school's history. 

Let's start out with some of the facts that were grossly misrepresented:

1. Anna Corbin's Story

For one, Anna Corbin was NOT found in that cubby hole near the kitchen, and I really wish the shows and the docents there would stop telling people the wrong information!

Both myself and historian John Lafferty have spoken about this before, and all records and witness statements show that she was found in the larger room across the hall. The room that has the plunge bath/disinfecting pool in it was the room in which she was found. In 1950, that room was used as a storage area and that is where her body was found, in a corner covered by carpet. Her office was literally adjacent to the room she was found in. 

Another thing I would like to ask is why does every show primarily focus on Anna? The administration building was open from 1894-1960, that is a long time. A lot of history took place there, good and bad. Why focus on one story over and over, when there are literally dozens upon dozens more they could have talked about? Her murderer was known, although he was acquitted. Technically, from a "legal" standpoint it is considered "unsolved," even if the evidence and common sense tells us he was guilty of the crime. Despite the fact that justice was never served for her death, the facts speak for themselves in her case as well as the other two murders he was responsible for. I just wish people would take the time to research the facts. And furthermore, why not let Anna rest in peace for once?

2. No Deaths of Spanish Influenza

During my research on Preston, I found one newspaper account reporting the first case of Spanish Flu at the school. This took place in January of 1919. It was a staff member, not a ward. Prior to that, there had been no instance of the epidemic because they had been under strict quarantine at the school to keep everyone healthy.  Historian John Lafferty was kind enough to send me more information from that particular time period (1918-1920) which was a cited source from Kenyon J. Scudder, who was the Psychological Examiner and Vocational Director at Preston during that time. His account states not one single person died from the Spanish Flu at Preston. Although many became ill, "half of the officers, and a third of the wards"; However, absolutely no one died from Spanish Flu at Preston.  In fact, this illness brought all the staff and wards together, because many of the wards who didn't get sick, helped take care of the school and were given even more responsibilities to keep things running smoothly until the epidemic passed. 

Another note, during 1918, 1919 and 1920, the time period that Spanish Flu was at its worst, the population of the town of Ione didn't even seem to change much. I went through all the records from the local cemeteries in Ione, and records show that only 12 burials took place in 1918, 15 in 1919 and 12 in 1920. Even then, we are uncertain if the flu played any factor in those deaths. The population in 1920 was 900 for both North and South Ione combined, so as you can see, the Spanish Flu didn't affect Ione quite as much as some may assume.

3. "Preston Republic" Facts

The "self governance" idea was to allow the boys who had a better attitude and intelligence level to be given more freedoms. There was a strict guideline the school followed, even with their "Republic". Not all boys were allowed to be in the groups of self-government. Many had to be monitored by officers of the school and if you were getting into trouble you would be in the "Disciplinary" group and if you didn't obey in that group you would end up in solitary confinement. They had a strict regimented system and various levels you had to move up to. If you did not, you would be demoted. 

Did some boys like to take over the groups? Yes, that is why they would segregate boys based on their personalities. If you had a follower mentality, or a leader mentality it would determine which groups you might be assigned to. The honor cottages were for the best behaved boys that were ready for parole, and working towards finishing their trade school training so they could find employment outside of Preston upon each one's release. 

The way that the docent made that part seem was like how the saying goes : "the inmates were running the asylum," and that just wasn't the case.  Preston may have had its times where they were strict, and then their times when they were more relaxed on things, but the school never allowed the wards to "take over." Yes, there was bullying, and incidents happened because of it, but the school was not taken over by self-governing wards.

For the record, there were three deaths of wards that I could find who died from gunshot wounds while "escaping", and two of the three were NOT on the Preston School grounds. Herman Huber was the ONLY boy shot and killed while trying to run away (escape) on the property, and that was in 1911. There is other stories of wards escaping, or attempting to escape, one of which a boy attacked a guard and was shot and killed, too, but he did not run away. He was trying to kill a guard and the guard shot him in self-defense. There were multiple escapes where the wards were not harmed.

Herman Huber was shot during his escape, and ward, Ernest Reed, who was paroled shortly after came before the Governor and told him that the guard, Jefferson French shot Huber wantonly. Nothing was done about it in the end, and the guard was exonerated. There were rumors that because of the "credit system" implemented there, that older wards who were just about to parole would "fake escape" and have the younger wards snitch on them in order to get enough credits to be released early. 

In order to leave Preston before the age of 21 you had to earn about 6,000-7,000 credits. From the moment you were there you had to earn a certain amount of credits a day to stay on track; However, those who snitched on escapees would automatically earn enough credits for an early release as a sort of reward for helping the school.  If you told on an escapee you would earn all  your credits in one shot, which would guarantee an early release. Also, the Preston School of Industry's Biennial Reports mention this "system" still going on well into 1918. 

To learn more about this please read "Behind The Walls." 

4. No Indian Burial Ground

According to research, Preston was built on top of of the remains of an ancient Miwok Village, but there has been no evidence that the castle was built on any type of "burial ground." Another thing to remember, the stories of ghosts and spirits haunting locations happen all over the world, so the idea that places are haunted because of an "indian burial ground" is about as far fetched as a Stephen King plot. (No offense Mr. King, I like your work!)

But really, come on...what about all the haunted "castles" in Europe? What about all the haunted places around the entire globe? Where are the "native burial grounds" there? There have been so many people living all over the world, that if we were to know where every single person had died or was buried we would be scared to build anywhere. Let's be realistic here. 

In ending, the information pushed as fact on the recent premiere of the Lowe Files was just about as fabricated as a Hollywood movie plot. The true accounts of events that took place at the Preston School of Industry are much more interesting than any made up story that Hollywood could conjure up, yet unfortunately it seems that no one in the film industry is interested in facts, just sensationalism. Such a shame.

(Copyright 2017 - J'aime Rubio,

Information from Historian John Lafferty: 
(Kenyon J. Scudder, Between the Dark and the Daylight; Berkeley: Univ. of Calif., 1972, )

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Was Eugene Monroe a Serial Killer?

Eugene Monroe
I have often pondered the thought that Eugene Monroe, the man accused of murdering Anna Corbin in 1950, at the Preston School of Industry may have actually been a serial killer. For those of you unfamiliar with Monroe or the fact that he was the prime suspect in three murders (one of which he was convicted), there were just too many similarities in the three cases for me to ignore.

This blog is to give you a little more background information on just who Eugene Monroe was and what sorts of crimes he was accused of and/or convicted.  It will also be a way for you to connect all the dots and make the decision on your own in regards to his guilt or innocence.

Eugene Monroe was born on January 31, 1931 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I am unsure when his mother died, but I could not find any mention of her in any records. It appears that he may have been removed from his home at an early age, as the 1940 Census in Taft, Muskogee County, Oklahoma lists Monroe as an inmate at the Institution for Deaf, Blind and Orphans. At this point he was only nine years old, and records indicate the highest level of education he had up to that point was 2nd grade.

According to newspaper accounts, as an young man Monroe had lived with his step-father whose last name was Jefferson, and Monroe went by the alias "Eugene Jefferson" at different times. I cannot confirm this for certain, but I believe that more than likely Monroe's biological father was not in the picture, and perhaps after his mother remarried to Mr. Jefferson, she may have passed away, thus the reason he would have been sent to an orphanage. Maybe upon his release from the orphanage he reached out to his step-father who took him in? There really is no way to know as of yet, for lack of records. What I can tell you for certain is that Eugene Monroe lived in both Tulsa, Oklahoma and Los Angeles during his lifetime.

By the mid to late 1940's Monroe ended up in Los Angeles, and going by the alias Eugene Jefferson. This is when I think he was living with his step-father. It was on July 18, 1947, when a young honor student by the name of Vesta Belle Sapenter was found raped and murdered in her upstairs bedroom, that Monroe was held on suspicion of murder. She had been sexually assaulted and choked with a thin hemp cord tightened around her neck. After questioning another young man who had walked Vesta home from school earlier that day, and given the time frame of Vesta's murder and the statement by Vesta's brother that Monroe was at the house at the time of her death, investigators were certain they had their man.

"Monroe, delivering furniture to the Sapenter home, talked to the girl’s younger brother and asked to use the bathroom, according to Coppage. While the brother remained outside, Monroe went upstairs, he said, and came back down. He asked the boy where his sister was and was told, that she was upstairs.

The suspect, according to police, said he had not seen her. The brother and Monroe then re-entered the house and found her bedroom door locked. This was broken down and the body discovered. Coppage declared. The slain girl had been keeping house for her father and brother and was hanging curtains when the murderer entered the room, the police officer declared.

Monroe, who was using his step-father’s last name at the time, was questioned but later released, Coppage said, since there no witnesses to the crime nor could evidence be corroborated. The knot that was tied in a rope around the young girl’s neck was also the same type of knot that was in the rope around Mrs. Corbin’s neck, investigators said. The knot had been pulled up tight behind the left ear in both cases, it was reported. Coppage declared today, “I am certain this boy did the job, but we were just never able to prove it. He was the only one in the house at the time and had ample time to commit the act.”--- Youth Quizzed In L.A. Slaying

Unfortunately, because of lack of evidence and no other witnesses besides Vesta's little brother putting Monroe at the scene, the D.A. didn't pursue the case and let him go.  It wasn't very long before Monroe found himself in trouble again, this time arrested on burglary charges. It was then that he was sentenced to the Preston School of Industry to serve his time.

The school at that point, under the supervision of Robert V. Chandler was under minimum security regulations, which he felt gave the wards a feel of a proper rehabilitation program and less of an institutional or prison like atmosphere. The only problem with that was that many of the wards there were violent offenders and should not have been able to be roaming the grounds of the school like some of the other non-violent wards. Eugene Monroe was known at the school for his violent temper and when in isolation he was known to tear up his cell, including his mattress and even ripped a pipe off the wall in one instance. He also was known for self mutilation, scratching his own face to the point that it left visible scars.

On February 23, 1950, one of the housekeepers, Lillian Lee McDowall and her ward helper, Robert Hall discovered the brutally murdered body of Anna Corbin, the head housekeeper. She had been attacked in her office and dragged into the storage room area which is where the disinfecting plunge bath is located. At the time that room was used for storage and the pool had been boarded over.  Her murderer had strangled her with a thin hemp cord, but there was a vicious struggle. Items in the room had been knocked over, showing that she fought to the very end. Sadly, in a moment of vicious rage Anna was thrown to the concrete floor where she suffered a fatal blow to the head, fracturing her skull. Her autopsy showed no sign of rape, although it was very apparent that her murderer had tried, as her undergarments were down around her ankles and there was shoe polish on them from her assailants shoes rubbing against them during the struggle. She was then dragged to the corner of the room and rolls of carpet were placed to conceal her body.

The whole ordeal concerning the investigation leading up to Monroe's arrest was enough to make any one's head spin. I have so much research on this case that it would be impossible for me to put everything in this blog. Perhaps I will write more on this subject later, but to summarize, the school was literally put on lock down while each and every person, inmate and employee were questioned. The Berkeley Police Department's lie detector expert, A. Riedel came to help in the man hunt for Anna's murderer.

Sheriff Lucot sat in with each and every session, as one by one, each ward came into an office, was hooked to the lie detector machine and grilled tirelessly searching for answers. According to the records there were originally three boys that the authorities initially suspected based on the fact their stories didn't check out and they all failed their lie detector tests. After more intensive grilling that proved Monroe had lied and also showed investigators his ill-temper, witness statements that put Monroe within 200 feet of Anna's office at the time of the murder, the fact that blood was found on Monroe's shoes and belt, and the fact the staff found his clothes in the incinerator, there was enough to officially charge him.

Another thing to note was the testimony of William J. Mercer.  You see, Mercer made claims that he saw Monroe strike Mrs. Corbin in her office but he ran off and did not witness the murder. He claimed that Monroe attacked her because she had witnessed them engaging in a homosexual act and she said she was going to report them. Although Mercer recanted his statement at the preliminary hearing, he later claimed at the trial that Monroe's attorney, Nathaniel S. Colley had threatened to have him killed if he didn't change his story. Mercer then recanted the story at the time out of fear that  Monroe's friends would "take care of him" after he got out, as told to him by Colley at the Amador County Jail. In the end it was his conscience that got the best of Mercer, so he risked everything to tell what he claimed to be the truth at the trial and admitting that his original statement was in fact true. Whether or not the jury believed he was credible was anyone's guess,  but Mercer was adamant that the only reason he lied was out of fear.

Officially charged for the murder of Anna Corbin on March 3, 1950, the first trial was in April, where a jury comprised of five women and seven men could not reach a verdict in the case. This upset the community, and the D.A. scheduled the second trial to take place in June. That also ended in a hung jury with the jurors voting 11 for conviction and 1 innocent. At that point Monroe's attorney, Nathaniel S. Colley requested that the third trial be moved out of Amador County and into Sacramento, which was allowed. The third trial ended in an acquittal for Monroe, and injustice done to the memory Anna Corbin's life.

Preston Murder Case Jury Disagrees
Jackson, April 29.-The jury trying Eugene Monroe, 19, Preston School of Industry inmate, for the murder of a school housekeeper reported itself hopelessly deadlocked late last night and was discharged by Superior Judge Ralph McGee. The jurors received the case at 3:10 pm yesterday but spent little more than two hours in actual deliberations before reporting they were deadlocked at 8 to 4 for conviction at 10:49 pm. Much of the time was spent in recess as they awaited the arrived of requested trial testimony from Placerville, where it had been sent for transcription. Monroe, who pleaded innocent, went to trial Monday on charges he beat and strangled to death the school’s head housekeeper, Mrs. Anna Corbin, in a storeroom last February 23. District Attorney Gard Chisholm said today he would try the case again.”---- Oakland Tribune, 4/29/1950

Third Trial Likely For Slaying Suspect
Jackson, June 19 –Prosecution attorneys say they “definitely” plan to try 19 year old Eugene Monroe for a third time on charges that he murdered a housekeeper at the Preston School of Industry last Feb. 23. Monroe’s second trial ended in a deadlock when the jury reported it was unable to reach a decision and was dismissed by Superior Judge Ralph McGee. At the time the jurors stood 11 to 1 for conviction. The first trial last April also ended in a hung jury.”----Press Democrat, 6/20/1950

Acquits Monroe
Sacramento, Oct 19. --Eugene Monroe’s third trial on charges of slaying a state reformatory school housekeeper ended in his acquittal today. The 19 year old Los Angeles youth was cleared of the death of Mrs. Anna Corbin, 53, by a jury of four women and eight men after two hours deliberation. His two previous trials, both in Amador County, ended in deadlocked juries. Mrs. Corbin was found beaten to death last February 23 at the Preston School of Industry at Ione. Monroe was an inmate there.”----San Bernardino County, 10/20/1950

After being acquitted for the murder charge, Monroe was paroled to Oklahoma to live with his aunt in Tulsa.  From the time of his release in late October of 1950 up until July of 1951, Monroe had been arrested four times on sexual perversion charges. It was while awaiting his day in court on one of those sexual perversion charges that he was caught slipping notes to fellow cell mates bragging about getting away with murder. Who was he bragging about? Could it have been the fact he managed to get through three trials in California only to be acquitted for one woman's murder, or was he bragging about the newest unsolved murder in Tulsa? Or could he have bragged about both?

All it took was questioning him about the note and running his fingerprints through the FBI database to find out his prints matched those found on the venetian blinds that came from the home of a recent unsolved murder of a young pregnant woman. Dorothy Waldrop's body was discovered on a grassy knoll near the apartment complex in which she and her husband lived. She had been brutally raped and strangled with a dirty handkerchief found knotted around her throat. After 11 hours of questioning Monroe confessed to the murder, but based on the circumstances of the crime, Judge W. Lee Johnson ordered that he face a trial by jury, for sentencing purposes.  During the trial there were 13 witnesses for the prosecution who came forward claiming that Monroe had confessed to the killing. The defense had no witnesses. Monroe was found guilty of Dorothy's murder.  Although he was spared the death penalty, he was sentenced to life in prison.

“Youth, Freed of Preston Killing, Confesses Murdering Woman
Eugene Monroe, 20, acquitted last October of the strangulation slaying of the head housekeeper at Preston School of Industry, confessed last night to another strangulation murder. Monroe, once linked to still another unsolved garroting, made his confession in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after he was hailed into the district court on a sex perversion charge. Police were informed while questioning him that his fingerprints matched those on a window shade in the apartment of an expectant mother, Mrs. Dorothy Waldrop, 22, who was found raped and strangled with a handkerchief on a nearby hilltop June 25.”--- Oakland Tribune, July 28, 1951

Records also indicate that he would also later be charged with an armed robbery at an Oklahoma City theater that had taken place prior to his arrest, where he received a 35 years sentence for that conviction, although he only served a total of 29 years in the Oklahoma prison system all together. During the 1970's he requested to be paroled but that request was denied. 

Eugene Monroe was sent to the state penitentiary in Oklahoma from April 25, 1952 to August 14, 1981, when he was paroled. He lived in Tulsa for a while but eventually moved back to Los Angeles and went M.I.A. in the ODOC system.  His last three residences were listed within Los Angeles County. Since he was listed on "inactive parole," eventually an officer within the ODOC started investigating Monroe's whereabouts and located his name on the Social Security Death Index. Monroe passed away on October 3, 2007. 

In conclusion, although Eugene Monroe denied having killed Vesta Sapenter and Anna Corbin initially, there is no way to know that he didn't brag about it while he was in jail later on. Witnesses claimed he did brag about getting away with murder, including Dorothy Waldrop's death. It is a known fact that if you are acquitted of murder, even if you brag about committing the act later on, you cannot be charged for the same crime twice due to Double Jeopardy laws. Perhaps his attorney told him about that, because it wasn't until after his acquittal that Monroe seemed to have become a bit too arrogant and mouthy which ultimately got him caught.

Although Dorothy and her unborn child received justice by way of Monroe's conviction, Vesta and Anna's deaths will forever remain officially "unsolved" and thus the justice for these two beautiful souls remains just out of our reach. I have researched all three cases meticulously and I truly believe that Monroe murdered all three of these women. Looking at all three cases, the M.O. was the same. Vesta Sapenter was raped and strangled, Dorothy Waldrop was raped and strangled. In Anna Corbin's case it was obvious by physical evidence left on her that her murderer had pulled down her undergarments in order to assault her, but Anna fought back. I don't think the perpetrator was expecting that, and I believe that is why she ended up beaten as well as strangled. Vesta was only 17 when she was murdered, and perhaps she was physically overpowered easier than Anna, who although she was older, was a tough lady and as her diary stated she "didn't scare easy." No, she was ready for a fight if it was going to come her way, and she did fight. Dorothy, being pregnant, I believe she was so scared for the safety of her unborn child that she was overpowered out of fear of her murderer punching or kicking her in the stomach.

I was physically attacked many years ago when I was pregnant with my second child. My stalker broke through the front door of my house and attacked me. I was scared for the life of my unborn child as well as my three-year old son who was clenching onto my leg for dear life, so I defended myself the best I could, but I was terrified that I might get kicked or punched in the stomach, which thankfully didn't happen.  I can see how Dorothy must have felt being attacked in such a fragile state, and to top it off, she was raped, which is way worse than just being physically attacked.

All three victims were strangled in the very same way, two of the three being choked with the same type of cord, while Dorothy was strangled with a dirty handkerchief. All three were knotted in the same way. Now you tell me these murders are all just coincidence? I don't think so. Whether or not you believe Eugene Monroe killed these women is entirely up to you, but if he did, who is to say he didn't kill more women, and he just never got caught? It is very possible that Eugene Monroe was a serial killer, and I for one believe that to be the case.  I am sure Vesta, Anna and Dorothy would have agreed, too.


(Copyright 2017 -- J'aime Rubio,

Photos of Vesta Sapenter and Anna Corbin (c/o archived newspaper clippings)
Photo of Dorothy Waldrop's grave (c/o Cameron Herrell @ Find-a-grave)

Some of my many sources:
Pittsburgh Courier (7/26/1947; 8/2/1947)
1947 Project- Larry Harnisch
Public Records
1940 Census
Stockton Record, 2/24/1950
Oakland Tribune, 3/9/1950;4/29/1950;7/28/1951
Press Democrat 6/20/1950
San Bernardino County 10/20/1950
Odessa American 1/11/1952
Albany Democrat Herald 7/28/1951
Fresno Bee 4/25/1952
Records from the ODOC
Social Security Death Index
California Death Records, etc.