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)
On Valentine's day, Frank was found in his cell, dangling from a pipe above him. He had ripped his sleeping shirt into pieces, fashioning for himself a makeshift noose in which he used to commit suicide. 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 24, 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."


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,

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