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Some of my articles....originally published in the Press-Tribune.

Thursday, December 04, 2014  


By: J'aime Rubio, for the Press Tribune

1916 ‘La Mano Nera’ murder mystery shook Roseville


Not known for the kind of frequent scandals and murders that made San Francisco, Chicago and New York infamous, Roseville’s small railroad town appeared for much of the century to be far away from “the riffraff” that inhabited the larger cities. Or was it?  In the fall of 1916, Roseville became infiltrated by fear, terror and shock when the news broke of a double-murder involving a young mother and her child.

According archival reports from the Roseville Register, the story began Sept. 26 of that year, when Italian immigrant Musco Paolini claimed he'd left his home north of Roseville Union High School and headed down to the local butcher shop. Paolini made a meat order to be delivered to his doorstep, but when the butcher’s delivery boy showed up no one was home. Paolini himself later arrived home to find the dwelling empty. He originally assumed his wife, Clotide, and his two-year-old son Marino, had gone on a walk. After hours passed Paolini began to worry.

Getting in touch with his brother, Paolini also notified Roseville Constable Lou Hoke to aid in the search for his family. Newspapers recount that they canvassed the surrounding areas well into the night. Around 10 p.m., Hoke announced he was finished searching for the evening, though the Paolini brothers continued on. 

Around 2 a.m., the lifeless bodies of Clotide and Marino were found at a creek bottom in the ravine. Placer County Sheriff George McAuley was called to the scene to investigate. McAuley quickly noted that both of the victims had been shot in the head. It appeared there were no signs of a struggle, and that the two had been brought to the creek and dumped. Their faces also had powder burns, which McAuley knew meant their killer shot them at close range.

When the story made newspaper headlines, it immediately instilled panic in the surrounding neighborhoods. It is clear from existing records that the people of Roseville wanted to know who could have done this heinous act, and more importantly, why?

When the sheriff began questioning Paolini, he insisted he had no idea who would want to hurt his family. Neighbors reported that they saw no one visit the home, nor did they glimpse anyone leave it. It was as if Clotide and Marino had simply vanished prior to their killings. However, the backyard offered a slight clue in the form of a pile of dirt, indicating Clotide may have been interrupted while sweeping around the time she disappeared.  

McAuley, his deputies and Placer County District Attorney John Landis continued to be confronted by questions that were increasingly hard to answers. At one point the sheriff mentioned to reporters that he believed the murder could be connected to La Mano Neraor “The Black Hand.” There were many Italian immigrants in Roseville at the time, and it wasn’t too far from San Francisco, a place widely known for mafia-related connections. 

McAuley never elaborated on why he suspected the Black Hand, though his mention of the group was enough to make rumors swirl in Roseville: Could someone have been extorting Paolini? Did the Italian have unknown ties to the mafia? Did the immigrant know more about his wife and son’s deaths than he led on to?

While such queries were never answered Roseville city records do show that Clotide and Marino were buried together at the Roseville Cemetery, which was very close to their home. Now the only reminder of their existence — and the cold, calculated act that end them — is the small block of stone with their names and dates etched into it. It sits quietly in the cemetery, unable to tell us what really happened on that day in 1916.

11/25/2015 UPDATE:  After further research into this 99 year old cold case, I have found that there was a prime suspect in the murders, Anthony Avina (Antonio Avania). His statements were conflicting and he was also caught in a lie when questioned about his whereabouts at the time of the murder. Sheriff McCauley and District Attorney Landis were convinced that he had committed the murders but didn't have enough evidence to convict. It appears that no more was done and that Avina was not charged or convicted for the murders.  (10/21/1916;10/22/1916- Sac Daily Union archives).



Thursday, October 30, 2014


By: J'aime Rubio for the Press Tribune


Roseville’s Stone House has a dark legacy


Many cities have their own urban legends or folklore about haunted cemeteries or old, abandoned houses; and while such stories are often conjured by partial truths and overactive imaginations — once in a while a tale is based on reality.

Sitting at the end of Stone House Court in Roseville, just overlooking Interstate 80, is an abandoned, overgrown home once owned by the Purdy Family. Chester S. Purdy was a rancher, and the origins of Stone House may have started as a small, one-room building that was added onto over the years. Today, the building is a shell of its former self, with doors removed, floor planks torn up, broken bottles strewn and scattered and windows covered with boards.

 The foreboding sentence "Go Home and Never Come Back" is spray-painted across an upper partition viewed from the front porch.

Why has Stone House been in disrepair for so long? The answers may lie in the dark history behind its walls, and a tragic event that shocked Roseville’s tight-knit community back in 1954.

According to archives from both the Press Tribune and the Daily Independent Journal, on January 27, 1954, a mentally disabled young lady by the name of Nadine Purdy was shot and killed in Stone House’s front yard. The trigger man was her uncle, Chester Purdy.

Newspaper reports indicated the slaying took place after an argument within the family over whether Nadine would be put in a mental institution. Chester was 77 and worried he would not be able to take care of the girl. Chester’s wife, Edith, had passed away 14 years earlier. In the wake of the killing, Chester told reporters that he’d eventually decided he couldn’t allow Nadine to be placed in a mental hospital or insane asylum; so he made the only choice he thought he had left.

After the murder, Chester did not resist arrest. He fully cooperated with Placer County Sheriff Charles Ward’s investigation. A few months later a trial was commencing when Chester Purdy gave the court, and Roseville, another shock: Only a few days into his testimony, Chester died at Placer County Hospital from a partial heart attack and viral pneumonia.

Newspaper headlines had called the saga a “mercy killing.”

Over the span of 60 years Chester and Nadine Purdy’s story faded, leaving only rumors and gossip left to float around the ruins of Stone House. Opinions about Chester Purdy have varied over the years. Some have painted him as cold-blooded. Others have recognized the complexity of his situation. But delving further into Chester’s background, there may be a second layer to the story that Roseville’s community was unaware of in 1954 — an incident that took place 24 years earlier, which may have convinced Chester that ending Nadine’s life was his only option.

There was a reason Chester and his late wife Edith were raising Nadine instead of her actual parents.  

In 1929, just a few months after Nadine’s birth, her mother, Mabel Steele, reportedly had a nervous breakdown. Mabel was institutionalized for a year in Southern California, only to be released in a worse state than before. According to The Los Angeles Times, a month after Mabel’s discharge from the hospital her sister, Ruth Wiemer, shot and killed her.

Wiemer claimed at the time she only killed Mabel “to end her suffering.”

Newspaper reports indicate that Wiemer was actually acquitted of all charges around the death of her sister, with a Los Angles jury labeling it a “mercy killing.”

Did Mabel’s deterioration in the wake of a stay at mental hospital convince Charles Purdy that same sad fate would happen to Mabel’s daughter Nadine after he was dead?

Did the so-called “mercy killing” that took place in L.A. in 1929 directly inspire the shooting at Roseville’s Stone House in 1954? Only speculation remains; though one thing that's known is that — in life — Nadine Purdy suffered the same inner demons as her mother, and ultimately departed life in the same violent way.

When drivers on Interstate 80 pass by the vacant, weed-hemmed home on the hill, withering, deteriorating and fading in real time, few know its sad history. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


By: J'aime Rubio, for the Press Tribune

A murder unremembered: Rocklin Cemetery holds a dark tale


Situated under a large oak tree in the Rocklin cemetery sits the Chateau family plot. This little obelisk which marks the spot where many of the Chateaus are buried does not have any marker or engraving other than their last name, leaving no trace of the terrible scandal that rocked many of the communities in Placer County the Spring of 1910.

John M. Chateau, an employee of the Southern Pacific Railroad, met a tragic ending on May 19, 1910 after he was unable to recover from a gunshot wound inflicted nine days earlier. As it turned out, Chateau’s wife, Mary Ann, had reportedly been carrying on an improper relationship with one of her husband’s co-workers — a brakeman known as Michael Leahy — who became infatuated to the point of begging Mary Anne to run away with him and elope. Although there is no way to know how far Mary Ann allowed the affair to go, it seemed to go far enough to morph into a dangerous fatal attraction. After Mary Ann refused Leahy’s proposal, the jilted man threatened to kill her, giving her one more day to change her mind.

MaryAnn went to her husband to admit the affair and Leahy’s threats, prompting John Chateau to turn to the police. Records indicate a warrant was sworn out for Leahy’s arrest on charges of disturbing the peace. It was believed that Leahy left Roseville and that would be the end of it.

This was not to be.

In the early hours of May 10, Leahy sneaked onto the Chateau property and hid in the woodshed outside. When John Chateau strolled out in the morning to retrieve firewood, Leahy took aim and shot him. While John Chateau lay there bleeding, Leahy went over and picked up an axe, intending to finish the job. Yet several neighbors had heard the shot and quickly got involved — tackling Leahy to the ground and holding him until authorities arrived.

Leahy remained jailed in Roseville for several days until the news came that John Chateau passed away from his injuries. The San Francisco Call newspaper mentioned that anger towards Leahy in the Roseville community was so intense that a lynching was feared. Sheriff McAuley moved Leahy to Placer County’s seat in Auburn and announced that he would “use every possible means to protect his prisoner.”

When the charge of murder was added to Leahy’s case, the suspect was quoted as saying, “I blame the woman for this trouble. I asked her to elope with me and when she refused I found it necessary to kill her husband. I would have killed any other man just the same.”

Such words didn’t help his case.

Leahy tried to claim self-defense, saying that John Chateau shot first at him when he saw Leahy stooping down in the back of the woodshed. Witnesses to the event claimed the only shot that was fired was the fatal one that ended Chateau’s life.

The expeditious murder trial was held in Auburn, lasting only about six hours. It took less than 30 minutes of deliberations before the jury came back with a verdict. On November 23, 1910, Michael Leahy was convicted for the murder of Chateau. In court, before he was sentenced to die at Folsom prison, Leahy declared, “If I am hung, I’ll come back after I am dead and get even with some of these people who have been prosecuting me.”

In the book, “Folsom’s 93,” author and historian April Moore sheds light on Leahy’s story and his last days leading up to his execution. Moore’s book delves deep into Leahy’s saga.  

Moore writes in “Folsom’s 93” that during the time Leahy was awaiting trial, he refused to sleep or eat, paced in his cell and cried himself into exhaustion, leading others to believe that he was insane.

However, by the time the moment came for his execution on Feb. 8, 1911, Leahy’s attitude had changed significantly. It appeared he had accepted his fate.

“He spent his last evening telling stories to the evening watchmen about his time as a brakeman for the railroad,” explained Moore. “The papers even mentioned that he woke in good spirits and even joked with the Warden for a while.”

The San Francisco Call said that when it came time to take his long walk to the gallows Leahy met it with a “cool indifference that had marked his actions since his arrest.” He did not wish to speak to the reporters, nor did he have anything last words to say or requests to make to the staff at Folsom Prison.

At exactly 10:30 p.m., the trap was sprung and nine minutes later Leahy was dead. According to records, it was the quickest execution on the gallows at Folsom during Warden John Reilly’s term. After Leahy’s body was released to his family, it was brought to the cemetery in Rocklin and interred in the Leahy family plot.

In an ironic twist of fate, just as Leahy had vowed to haunt those who prosecuted him when he was alive, it turned out that Leahy’s final resting place is within eyes view of his victim John Chateau’s grave.

In the end, Leahy didn’t get the last laugh, in life or the afterlife. Instead he’s been doomed to spend eternity buried next to the man he murdered — an eternal reminder of why he lost his own life.



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© Copyright- J'aime Rubio, author and owner of (fka) Dreaming Casually Publications. All blogs published by J'aime Rubio are the property of said owner and publisher, J'aime Rubio, and all copyright laws apply. (Website Photo Header: Gibson Girl, Charles Dana Gibson, 1900. Public Domain)