by Paul R. Spitzzeri
While the extraordinarily messy and prolonged divorce battle between the talented writer Yda Addis and Santa Barbara lawyer/politician Charles A. Storke was finally adjudicated by early 1897, it wasn’t all that long before another fight flared up between Addis and Storke’s son Thomas, who turned fourteen after the couple’s marriage in fall 1890.
In the nine messy months that followed, Yda claimed that Thomas was rude and disrespectful and hit her on the arms as she held the reins of a horse-drawn vehicle they rode in. She insisted that Charles send his son away to school (the two Storke daughters, who with Thomas, were born to his first wife, Martha More, lived with her), but this didn’t happen. Charles, in turn, argued that it was not his son, but Yda, who was the problem.
While Thomas testified in court proceedings for the divorce, the focus of media attention was more directed, naturally, toward the relationship of his father and step-mother. Once the state Supreme Court decided that it would no longer intervene in the long-running legal battle, it turned out that the next brouhaha was between Yda and her former step-son.
In the 4 August 1898 edition of the Los Angeles Herald, a lengthy article was titled “A Family Fracas,” and reported that three days before Yda filed a complaint against Thomas in a Santa Barbara justice court charging Thomas with petty larceny and leading to his arrest. Notably, it was added that “in deference to the young man’s social position, all the Santa Barbara papers suppressed the news of his arrest.” Obviously, such an action wouldn’t have been thought of if it came to something newsworthy about Yda, but it is also important to note that the Santa Barbara County District Attorney was none other than Charles Storke!
Thomas, who was nearing 22 years of age, quickly filed a counter suit against Yda, accusing her of perjury and planned to add another of criminal libel in concocting the charge against him and she was arrested the day after he was. Yda’s allegation was that Thomas “had taken a letter from the postoffice addressed to her and containing a remittance of $1 in money order form sent to her by a San Francisco paper in payment for correspondence.” She added that he showed the letter to others and kept the money order, presumably for spite (and certainly not for its value).
Thomas replied that the letter was addressed to “I.M. Storke” stating that he “diligently sought for such a party” and, recognizing he had no reason to expect a $1 money order for work as a correspondent (though he might have considered that Yda would have), “he thereupon wrote the sender and returned the money.”
The following day’s Herald reported that Yda did not have legal counsel and “is at present under medical care,” a common issue with her over the years when she was embroiled in difficulties, so she could not answer to Thomas’ charges. On the 8th, the Los Angeles Times noted that she was still confined to her quarters and was unable to make bail, set at $500. Yda had two willing guarantors of bond, but neither wound up signing the instrument. After a couple of days, the justice of the peace allowed her to go free on her own recognizance.
On 11 August, a hearing was held in the justice court presided over by Justice of the Peace W.C. Gammill and Charles Storke had to recuse himself in favor of a Santa Maria-based prosecutor. The result that the case was dropped “after a thorough examination, which completely exonerated the defendant from any irregularity whatever.” Moreover, Addis did not appear, but sent a letter to the judge asking the matter be dismissed because “it was brought under a misapprehension,” though she was charged for accrued court fees.
The next day, it was Yda’s turn to face a hearing for the perjury allegation, but neither she, who remained ill, or her attorney appeared, so it was rescheduled. Thomas’ lawyer, however, while averring that the case would not be dropped, did offer “to allow defendant no chance to plead martyrdom on account of extreme rigor in legal technicalities.” In other words, Thomas was in it to win it!
So, it was with some shock when, on the 13th, the justice court convened to hear the matter only to find that Yda had skipped town and was presumed to be in Chihuahua, where she lived on and off for years. Meantime, another matter arose that went before the county grand jury on a recommendation from Charles’ district attorney’s office. It was not until just before Christmas that an indictment on criminal libel was returned, but not for her involvement with Thomas, and an arrest warrant was issued, it being learned that she was then in Los Angeles.
This incident was far more serious than the comparatively trifling matter involving Thomas and, after Addis was arrested in the Angel City on 17 February, the San Francisco Chronicle went into great detail on the “Romance of Yda Addis.” The paper noted that she’d been indicted on the criminal libel charge after hiding in Los Angeles “for some time.”
The paper then launched into a recitative of the “sensational career” of a
a bright and talented if not altogether agreeable member of the best society of Los Angeles some twenty years ago, where her trim little figure, her magnetic face, and brilliant conversational powers were counterbalanced by a singularly selfish and dictatorial disposition.”
Notably, the paper stated that Yda “cast discredit upon her father’s character” and, after repeating rumors that she had Mexican blood (why this mattered was not stated and it was not true, she being born in Kansas with her father from Pennsylvania and her mother from Indiana), it went into detail about her attractive physical qualities and that she was “vivacious in manner and possessed of a quick and flashing wit.”
It was about 1880 that she began to make a name for herself with stories in West Coast journals and publications with her work known for “their strength, originality and polish.” The Chronicle asserted that “it was apparent that a new star had risen in Western literature” especially in the untapped field of the borderlands of the American Southwest and northern Mexico and that “for a time she made the most of it.”
Moreover, she turned to “semi-historical study” and the example of her work on indigenous pottery, leading to an article in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, which, however, was not solely attributed to Yda and which led to a row between her and noted editor Charles Dudley Warner. It was added that she contributed material to newspapers in Chicago, Philadelphia and St. Louis, in addition to San Francisco, where she’d been published before, and in the well-known Overland Monthly.
The Chronicle continued with the acclaim, stating that “no writer in the West had a brighter or more promising future” and that “no woman author in the world had a richer field or was more untrammeled in her control of it.” It was up to her, the piece went on, as to whether she “should rise to as high a position as ever a woman had attained in Western letters” especially with the encouragement she was said to have received.
A dramatic shift in Addis’ fortunes transpired with “the tragical, ludicrous and the outrageous” affair involving her and ex-governor John G. Downey. The article, in telling its version, indicated that the two met during Downey’s trip through Mexico while seeking respite after the horrific death of his wife, María, in a train derailing at Tehachapi Pass, a disaster Downey survived while he watched her burn to death.
The paper reported that there was a court hearing on habeus corpus, dealing with a purported effort by his sisters and nephew to keep him under their watch, but Downey testified that he was entirely a free agent and stated very clearly that he was never in love with Addis, much less having promised to marry her. It was stated that “the utter and comical collapse of this case caused Miss Addis to disappear for a time from the public eye.”
It was then that Yda decamped to Mexico City, where, upon working for a newspaper there, she became involved with its editor, not named here, but who was Theodore Gestefeld and whose wife named Addis as a co-respondent in a divorce case filed in Chicago. Yda, the article continued, “came out with one of the most remarkable stories ever introduced into fiction,” propagating the idea that her previously unknown half-sister, Maud Wallace Addis, was actually Gestefeld’s lover and Yda was a victim of mistaken identity as she and Maud were, she claimed, nearly identical in appearance.
While the Chronicle reported that Yda found Maud dying in a New York hospital, which proved convenient for seeking to verify the latter’s movements and activities, Maud actually lived until 1893, several years after she was purportedly in Mexico City at the same time as Yda. Notably, the paper added that the Chicago Probate Court records were searched and the description of the “Miss Addis” mentioned in the Gestefeld divorce included a specific reference from him to his wife of “a marked peculiarity of Miss Addis’ teeth, which identified her beyond a question of a doubt.”
Next was Yda’s sojourn, presumably for her health, in Santa Barbara, where, after just six weeks of courtship, she wedded Storke, who, the paper reported, was “without the slightest knowledge of the lady’s past career” before he filed for divorce and the long, drawn out conflict ensued. After the Supreme Court affirmed the divorce decree, the Chronicle asserted that Addis “seemed to have settled down” though she was without means of support and “devoted herself wholly to thoughts and plans for revenge.”
This involved seeking to entangle her former stepson Thomas Storke, as noted above, on a petty larceny charge, but which led to her own indictment for perjury and her flight from Santa Barbara. Meantime, the latest and strangest twist in the long legal troubles involving Yda for the entirety of the 1890s loomed: her arrest, indictment and trial for criminal libel.
The next post will pick up the story from there.