by Paul R. Spitzzeri
After securing some court judgments in her favor during the last half of 1891 as she sought a divorce against husband Charles Storke, Yda Addis, the talented poet, journalist and writer began the new year back in court as Storke sought every means possible to evade the orders and engage in tactics to portray his wife as insane. She, meanwhile, charged him with cruelty and insinuated that he also was mentally ill.
On 5 January 1892, Yda took the stand in the Santa Barbara Superior Court and the Los Angeles Express provided detailed coverage of her testimony, reporting that she told the court that she only received $75 a month for household maintenance and, while there was plenty of food, “it was too plain for her delicate stomach.”
After further examples of her husband’s purported parsimony, Yda revealed that, on 18 January 1891, “she took morphine with suicidal intent” and that this followed from her increasingly poor health, which began the prior October just after her marriage. She added that “Storke wearing old and dirty clothes would humiliate her and make her nervous” and, by June, “she was drinking two bottles of port wine every thirty-six hours to keep up her nerves.”
Yda was reported to be “very dramatic and excited at times” while on the stand and stated that her husband was almost always “coarse and cruel” towards her. She went into detail about a trip to San Francisco just after their nuptials and that he scolded her for going out to buy blankets and that, when she wanted something to eat at midnight and all they could find open was an ice cream parlor, he complained of the fifty cents it cost.
More notable was her discussion of an incident at her husband’s law office, where she told him she was going to Ventura to address a lynching party set on hanging a man named López accused of murder. At midnight she was preparing to leave by train and wanted Storke to accompany her for protection, but Charles refused telling her “no self-respecting woman would do any such thing.” She learned that the lynchers, however, gave up the idea of hanging López, so she remained at home, but she added that she wanted to go to write a story for the newspaper and that “there would be big pay in it.”
There was also a brief reference to “another subject causing a great deal of trouble,” namely Storke’s son, Thomas, whom the former told Addis he’d send away to school, but then apparently refused to follow through. But, more striking was testimony offered in a deposition by Yda’s maternal aunt, Mary Hillis Short, who stated that she witnessed abusive behavior from Storke, including a time in which he “seized Mrs. Storke and threw her on the bed and shook her severely” and that “he attempted to kill his wife at one time when she was ill by administering morphine and whiskey.” She added the father and son “cruelly abused” her niece and Charles “often used obscene language in the dining room.”
Apparently in reference to Mary Short’s affidavit, Yda told the court that, on 19 April 1891:
I was lying on the lounge and crying and said I wish I could die. He said if I wanted to die there were plenty of means at hand; there is plenty of morphine in the house; I will not interfere . . . I prayed that I might die, but he said the prayer was not sincere and that I was crazy. I said that I was no more crazy than he was. I told him to send for Dr. Knox, and he said he would send him up in the evening, and I said do you suppose I want to lie here crying all day? He then picked me up[,] threw me on the bed and said he did not think I was crazy, but only devilish.
The following day’s Los Angeles Herald titled its coverage of the trial “Naughty Tommy” with a significant focus on Storke’s son, whom Addis referred to on the stand as “the putative son of Storke” as she complained that “the disrespectful treatment I received from Tommy . . . irritated me very much and I could hardly endure it.”
She told the court that she demanded he be sent away to school, that he called Mary Short “the old hen with whiskers” and his stepmother’s friends “old cats,” and that he sometimes shook Yda and pulled her nose. She claimed that, while riding, he would order her to hold the horses’ reins a certain way and, if she did not, he “would strike her arms and hurt her.” Not only did Charles refuse her insistence that Thomas be put in a boarding school, but he purportedly told her “I might go if I wanted to.”
Reverting back to discussion about her husband, Addis stated that Storke only spoke about three things: horses, the Union Army or Grand Army of the Republic, and his time at the horrific Andersonville Civil War Confederate prisoner of war camp after he, at just sixteen, was captured on the battlefield and held there (and several other camps) until he was paroled several months before the war’s end.
There were other aspects of her testimony already referred to in the Express account, including her attempted suicide. On 19 April, the day of the incident mentioned above in the block quote, she said she was given a “certificate” from the doctor saying that she should leave Santa Barbara for “a change of air.” Storke, she reiterated, “did not bathe sufficiently” and “was very filthy in his habits,” including not changing his underclothes for some three weeks.
Yda also talked about an incident in which “her clothes caught fire and Storke picked her up and violently set her on the floor” and followed this with the claim that, at his office subsequently, he said she “was no wife to him” and that, when she touched him, he recoiled and stated “I would rather have a snake touch me; it is all over with us; you may sue for a divorce if you want to.” Purportedly, he added that, while a court could force him to financially support her, “he would starve me to death in the meantime.”
At one point, she did tell the court that “her temper was at time diabolical”, but that, when there was another break between her and Charles and she decided to go to Los Angeles, he first offered her $5 and then refused to give her the money.
On the 8th, the Express continued its coverage of the sensational trial with Charles Storke’s appearance on the stand and his assertion that “he had no suspicion of her unsoundness of mind” upon marriage, though, when they were in San Francisco, events there “caused him to suspect.” In early December 1890, Storke testified, he came home one evening and found her in bed “having a vacant look in her eyes,” after which she arose and felt along the walls until she left the room. It was not until late January 1891 when “the attempt to commit suicide” took place “that his suspicion was verified.”
Storke and a law partner were representing a murder defendant and, when the partner called Storke an assistant in the defense, Yda took offense and informed Charles that this denigration had to end and that she would make sure if did if he did not. Storke said he tried to laugh the matter off and went to bed, while Addis, saying she was nervous and could not sleep, remained in the adjacent parlor. An hour later, he awoke “and saw her bending over, scratching something on her dress . . . very soon I saw her dress on fire.” Charles said he rushed over and burned his hand putting the flames out.
The next morning, Storke continued, Addis “was hysterical” and kept demanding satisfaction over the perceived slight of Charles by his partner. At one point, he claimed, she became enraged and “tore the curtain from the window and hurled a book across the floor.” Subsequently, she had the city’s mayor come to the house, where she told him of the purported insult and then asked for money so she could leave. The mayor went to Storke’s office and related this information. Charles told the court “I got some opiates” and returned home and gave them to Yda to calm her.
The following day, however, she again demanded Storke do something about the matter and when he refused, she tried to tell the lead prosecutor “all she knew of the case,” and showed up at the courtroom where the trial was being held, telling the defendant “she was going to hang him” because of Storke’s partner’s insult.
He went on to tell the court that, when Addis demanded Thomas Storke be sent away, “she said that she was going to take the next train for Santa Barbara, and would kill Tommy.” This led Storke to contact the county sheriff to check on his son. He then introduced an unsigned typewritten letter written from Los Angeles (where Yda went when she left him) and which stated “someone had given Mrs. Storke a 38-caliber pistol and told her to kill him.” Aside from personal abuse of Charles, “the writer did not give his name . . . because he did not want to be summoned as a witness.”
On the 8th, as covered by the Los Angeles Times, Storke continued his testimony for a cross-examination by Yda’s lawyers with the same material covered from the prior day and “no startling developments” evidently revealed. Prosecutor J.J. Boyce from the murder trial was called to the stand by Charles’ counsel and related that he and a deputy sheriff went to see Yda, who told them of the slight involving her husband and his partner and “related what she knew of the testimony.” Boyce, however, replied that he knew of this material and left.
Several defense witnesses offered their testimony during the afternoon, with the owners of the boarding house where the Storkes lived saying that they did not hear anything unkind said to Yda by Charles or Thomas, while the druggist who treated Addis for her morphine overdose was said to corroborate prior testimony on the incident.
The following day’s proceedings, reported in the Times, included an extraordinary letter written by Yda to a woman who provided a deposition for Addis, but instead of helping her cause, was said to disprove a major point concerning what happened during the San Francisco excursion. The letter castigated the woman for not being a proper Christian and threatened that “I believe I could have you convicted of perjury,” while adding
I will leave you to lie down and rise and eat and live and die—for you must remember that you have to die—with the memory of your false witness resting upon you. If I should die, you would be in part my murderer. I shall not die.
After testimony concerning the morphine overdose, the Dr. Knox whom Yda said gave her a “certificate” advising she leave Santa Barbara was called to the stand and testified that Yda “was suffering from a form of insanity known as hysterical insanity.” Another physician was called to discuss the chronic states of such a malady. A pastor who stayed at the same boarding house and was “a peace commissioner between Storke and wife” testified he saw no ill treatment of Addis and that “she persisted that Tommy be sent away.” He did not, however, notice any indication of insanity on her part.
When Yda took the stand and claimed that it was Charles who sent her to prosecutor Boyce “to see what he knew of the defense,” Storke followed and denied this, stating “her actions had caused him mental suffering and ill health,” while another associate in that case said there were no problems among the counsel for the defendant.
Yda’s attorneys called witnesses who testified that they saw no indications of insanity with her, including two women who traveled with her to San Francisco in June 1891, while depositions were offered by prominent Los Angeles figures, including future mayor Thomas Rowan and Judge Henry O’Melveny (whose son was a classmate of Yda’s at Los Angeles High School), and who said she was “excitable and emotional” but that “they had never noticed anything approaching insanity.”
With the conclusion of testimony, Yda’s attorneys filed a motion for $250 in expenses for legal costs and asked for alimony in the complaint alleging cruelty. In turn, Storke asked for a divorce on the grounds of cruelty and insanity. The following morning, the court ruled that Charles pay Yda $118.45 as costs for the suit.
In early February, the judge, W.B. Cope, issued a ruling that Yda’s allegations were not proven, but that those of Charles “are true, but at the times the acts transpired the plaintiff’s mental and physical condition were such as to render her irresponsible therefor” and that “they do not prove cruelty as in contemplation of the statutes.” Finally, Cope ruled that Addis “prior to marriage was not insane, and that she is not know insane.”
Despite this, the matter was far from over and more drama burst forth in the summer, as will be discussed in the next post!