Do you know where you live?
Sacramento’s seen grisly crimes, perhaps at your house
Time travel is possible simply by visiting Sacramento’s various residential neighborhoods. Beginning with the turn-of-the-last-century Victorian homes in downtown/Midtown, you can hopscotch your way out through the ensuing decades until you reach suburbia and today’s identically stuccoed boxes.
There is a dark flipside to our diverse, vibrant housing stock. So many people have passed through so many homes over the years that evil shit is bound to have happened at several addresses. Few know the secrets buried where they live, but I do. While researching my book California Justice–Shootouts, Lynchings and Assassinations in the Golden State, I came across hundreds of local addresses where horrible crimes were committed.
That got me wondering whether current residents know what happened where they live. Utilizing skills I developed as a process server, I started knocking on doors.
1373 47th Street
William M. Raugh, a middle-aged boilermaker for Southern Pacific Railroad, lived a quiet and respectable life mere blocks from the rich and fabulous. He tended a small koi pond in his backyard, but by the summer of 1935, he’d grown tired of cats and raccoons killing his fish at night. He jerry-rigged an electric fence around the pond to stop the slaughter. Bad idea. Raugh connected to the fence a 120-volt current directly off a nearby power line. One day, along came spunky little 7-year-old neighbor Patricia O’Hare … and you can guess where this is going.
No one knows why the girl tried to enter Raugh’s backyard, but she tripped on the knee-high electric wire, fell into the pond and was instantly electrocuted. Raugh was arrested on the technical charge of manslaughter. Local newspapers had a field day; a Sacramento Union editorial went so far as to call for his head. But following a hung jury in the first trial, the second was dismissed on day one, and Raugh went on with his life.
When I asked the owners of the modest two-story home on 47th Street if they knew about the death that happened in their backyard 72 years ago, they didn’t want to be quoted about the past incident nor have their names printed. But their response was a sad reminder of the state of modern neighborhoods. The woman of the home told me through her screen door that when they bought the home in 1975, the entire backyard was planted with zucchini squash, burying the evidence of a pond having been there. The neighborhood old-timers have either died or moved away; the owners don’t really know their neighbors anymore. The many old Craftsman-style homes have disappeared as well, replaced with what they called “monstrosities.”
3734 Robertson Avenue
Ambrose Griffin, a 51-year-old father of two, was shot and killed while unloading groceries from his car in the driveway here on December 29, 1977. Although nobody knew it for weeks, Griffin was the first victim of Richard Chase, the Sacramento Vampire. Chase rightly earns the title as one of the sickest murderers in the history of California, having killed six people over a one-month span, often disemboweling his victims and drinking their blood to feed a delusion about Nazis poisoning his own blood.
“We don’t want to give our names to your paper; it’s a free paper and every nut case in Sacramento will start calling us,” said the gregarious owners of the home, laughing. The couple, who lived in the neighborhood at the time of the Ambrose slaying, bought the place roughly one year later. “There were too many memories here for Mrs. Griffin,” said the man who now lives there, “so she put it up for sale.”
“It was a sad thing,” the woman of the house said of Griffin’s demise. “It was a totally random thing.”
2523 19th Avenue
The house at this address near Sacramento City College is in a Hispanic working-class neighborhood. There is no trace that in April 1987, a work crew digging a trench found 18-year-old Marie Apodoca in a shallow grave in the backyard. Months later, police found the body of 29-year-old Sharon Massey in another grave at the same address.
Morris Solomon had lived at the residence six months before the Apodoca discovery. A very disturbed man, he worked as a carpenter, usually living in the houses he remodeled. This came in handy, as he strangled at least seven women in the empty homes. His victims were poor drug addicts who sometimes worked as prostitutes to maintain their habits. Solomon, 64, has been on death row since 1992.
Ranchero music coming out of homes now fills this stretch of 19th Avenue. “I sleep good,” shrugged a Latino in his early 30s when I asked if he knew that his backyard was once a burial place for a mass murderer. “I have no problem with it; it was a long time ago.”
His young son, who helped translate, had a grin the size of a Frisbee. He had plenty to tell his school buddies the next day.
1426 F Street
Out on parole for duping mostly elderly victims and suspected, but never convicted, of having murdered her friend, the cunning Dorothea Puente married 77-year-old Oregonian Everson Gillmouth in 1985 and opened an unlicensed home for the elderly, infirm and alcoholic at this address. Whenever a tenant got too ill or problematic, she laced their food with Dalmane and let them overdose. If they didn’t die quick enough, she smothered them with a pillow. She also murdered husband No. 4, squashed him into a wooden crate, nailed it shut and had him dumped into the Sacramento River. Seven bodies were eventually found in Puente’s yard. She was charged with nine murders and is serving two life terms.
Her former home is surrounded by a locked wrought-iron fence, and it took me three visits before I found someone home. As I motioned from the other side of the fence, Teri Hayner at first shook her head no, as if she knew what I was going to ask her. Finally, the 20-something approached and when I explained my latest SN&R assignment, she exclaimed, “Because of your article (see ‘Bloody Sac,’ SN&R Feature Sidebar, October 25, 2007), we’ve had our mail stolen and had to put deadbolts on our gate!”
Hayner said about a half-dozen people a day peek through her fence or drive by staring at the house. But she was good-natured about the notoriety and eventually invited me into her basement flat, which was artistically decorated and comfortable in that arty, Midtown sort of way. Her lovable red and white pit bull wanted to sit on my lap.
Although a Sacramento native, Hayner never knew about Dorothea Puente until she signed the lease three years ago. “They had us sign a disclosure that there were murders here,” she said. “But it’s cool. Nothing haunted here. I get great phone reception. I sleep great. It’s not too bad of a neighborhood.”