by Paul R. Spitzzeri
From her alleged engagement to former California governor and Los Angeles capitalist John G. Downey to the short and tempestuous marriage with Charles A. Storke and the explosive criminal libel suit which sent her to jail for a year, the life of the talented poet, writer and journalist Yda Addis was a series of sensational subjects for the media to cover for about a dozen years from the late 1880s to the end of the century.
The last and strangest of these came just two days before she was sentenced in the criminal libel trial and when she visited Grant Jackson, a Santa Barbara attorney who represented Yda in her divorce trial and then testified against her in the libel case. During the latter, Addis’ attorney John J. Boyce, who subsequently resigned as her counsel, asked Jackson in open court if the couple were married “by contract,” in other words, in common law, rather than through a solemnized nuptial.
Jackson, who was also accused by Yda as being the author of the letters that led to her indictment, trial and conviction and who stoutly denied the allegation, was also enraged by Boyce’s question and the two nearly came to blows. It appears that Jackson’s testimony against his former client, whatever their personal relationship, drove her to extreme measures, though she and Jackson, of course, gave very different accounts as to what happened.
Jackson stated that, at 3:00 a.m. on 8 July 1899, he was deep in the throes of sleep when he felt something on his nose, though he turned and went right back to his slumber. Feeling another tickling, however, he woke and sat up to find someone standing over him. When he asked, “who are you?” Yda responded, “It’s me, Grant, have you got a gun? When Jackson responded affirmatively, she pulled out a revolver from her dress and said she “had the drop” on him.
The attorney asked Addis why she was there and she replied “that’s my business” and asked him to keep his voice down so as to not awake others in the house. When Yda reached for a handkerchief that fell to the floor, Jackson leapt into action and “they grappled for ten minutes before Jackson overpowered her” and tied her hands behind her back. He called for a neighbor, who called for a police officer and Addis was arrested on a charge of attempted murder and taken to jail, though she apparently got on her knees before the officer arrived and begged Jackson not to have her taken away and that she would pay him a large sum instead.
The San Francisco Call, in its coverage, reported that Yda climbed through a window after cutting the screen. In a satchel she had bottles of chloroform, prussic acid and cyanide, though she only took out the former and was preparing to apply it to Jackson when he awoke. When a reporter from an unnamed newspaper talked to her at the jail, Addis said “I merely went to Jackson’s room because I knew I would find him in a better mood and then could talk to him undisturbed.”
Asked why she entered through the window, she responded “I have been accustomed to enter that way, as I have been in the house a number of times and at all hours of the night.” She claimed she had the chloroform “on account of heart trouble” and when asked about the prussic acid and cyanide she said “why I carry the other articles is nobody’s business.”
Jackson, though, stated that she said to him, “I am here to kill you and then commit suicide; so don’t be in a rush—we’ve both got to go.” He added that she demanded his gun and he complied and said “she has prowled around the house very often, but never seemed desperate in any way.” Moreover, Jackson continued, after he subdued her and tied her up, Yda “seized a revolver with both hands and discharged it, the bullet going through the floor.”
The paper concluded that “a number of persons have believed themselves in danger since the trial for libel” and the alleged attack on Jackson “will result in a vigorous attempt being made to place” Addis “behind the walls of San Quentin” for a lengthy stretch. Almost as an afterthought, the last sentence in the article said that, when Yda was searched at the jail, “she was found to have a second revolver with her.”
On the morning of 10 July, Yda was sentenced to a year in county jail for the criminal libel conviction, with Judge Frank Oster setting bail at $1,000 pending her appeal. Addis went back to jail and then that afternoon was taken out to be arraigned by a justice of the peace on the charge of attempted murder against Jackson.
When asked her name, she provided a surprise, telling the J.P. “Yda Addis Storke-Jackson” and adding
yes, that is my name . . . there is a difference of opinion between Mr. Jackson and myself about my assuming his name. I claim that I was married to him by a contract signed before the abrogation of the contract-marriage law in this State. He claims the contract was signed later.
A hearing date was scheduled and bail set at $5,000, but, without funds, Yda returned to jail. She was reported to say that “my mind has never been clearer than it is now . . . it is as clear as a bell.” Though she was mired in poverty, she averred that “even here I can find good work to do for the uplifting of humanity.” This included, apparently, teaching a fellow female inmate, writing short stories, and painting “small Spanish pictures.”
As for her purported marriage, she claimed she and Jackson began living together as man and wife in January 1895, but, alas, as with so many other items of evidence she insisted she had, the contract signed between them was stolen. She related that this was “to prevent her from testifying against him should he come to trial over the anonymous letters,” which, naturally, was never likely to happen.
When a reporter found Jackson to inquire about Yda’s claims, he “laughed at the idea of a marriage contract or at any kind of a marriage.” He said he had no relations at all with her “and grew angry when he spoke of her having taken his name.” He said that, as her attorney in the Storke divorce case he was “her intimate friend for years,” but “denies her right to the hyphen and to the name of Jackson.”
To add to the drama, there was a report in the Los Angeles Express of 12 June that authorities in Santa Barbara were considering whether to examine the likelihood that it was Yda who killed Mary and Ethel Richardson with the young man, Cyrus Barnard, who was killed by police seeking to arrest him for his role, being her accomplice. It was added that “the recent attack by Mrs. Storke upon Grant Jackson is regarded as evidence that the woman is a victim of a murderous mania.”
On 17 July, the Santa Barbara Independent published a piece under the heading of “The Villain Still Pursues” and in which it referred to the following by an unnamed figure of Frank N. Gutierrez, who appeared in the criminal libel trial under a subpoena and testified. The paper stated that while Addis was in jail, there were apparently citizens who did not believe she was “harmless” nor that she didn’t have “an influence of evil with her emissaries.” Yet, the Independent warned against “making a mountain out of a molehill” about the threat she posed to Gutierrez or others.
Another arraignment of Yda in the Jackson incident took place in early September and she had two attorneys present including Clara Shortridge Foltz, a remarkable figure who was the first female lawyer to be admitted to the bar in California and only the third in the United States. Foltz, who’d been in California since the 1870s, practiced law for a few years in New York before relocating to San Francisco earlier in 1899.
In 1906, she moved to Los Angeles, where she later became the first female assistant district attorney. She also was a major figure in the drive to provide women the right to vote in state elections, achieved in 1911, and published a magazine, The New American Woman, for a couple of years in the 1910s. In 1930, while in her early 80s, she ran for governor of California, garnering several thousand votes, and died four years later.
In the arraignment proceeding, Foltz tried to strike out information about the alleged crime from the record because of irregularities and then filed a demurrer to the criminal complaint on three grounds, including that “that the facts stated . . . do not constitute a public offence.” Elaborating on that point, Foltz claimed that the information used “does not charge the defendant herein with any act or omission that constitutes a felony” and that the language used in the charging document was not “sufficiently clear or intelligible” to know what was alleged.
While the district attorney tried to argue otherwise, the judge, who delayed his ruling, did state “that the language of the commitment . . . did not conform with the charge of an assault with attempt to commit murder as there was nothing that would tend to show that an assault had been committed.” He then overruled Foltz’ demurrer and Yda entered a plea of not guilty.
Yet, six weeks later, on 19 October, the “irregular proceedings” in the matter continued to be revealing of the justice court’s lack of attention to basic procedural issues. The San Francisco Chronicle reported “it was discovered that in the confusion of objections, motions and demurrers, and by the change of Judges on the bench, the formal arraignment of the prisoner had been overlooked in early September. The information of the case was read in court, but not by the clerk to the prisoner as required by statute.
Adding to the “irregular” elements of the situation, Yda no longer had Foltz or any other attorney working for her and handled her own defense. She appeared “looking haggard and worn” and asked to be taken “home,” meaning her jail cell, so she could rest. With her was a handbag, which, she claimed, “contains evidence which will, when the time comes, unearth a terrible conspiracy now going on in Santa Barbara, and which will unravel the mystery of the Richardson murder case,” which led to her libel conviction.
As the proceeding continued, she was asked if she wished to enter a plea, to which she replied that she did not have advice from counsel. The justice of the peace informed her that all she had to do was say whether she was guilty or not and she answered in the negative. After the county clerk asked her name and then asked for her plea, she opted to wait until she had an attorney present. A date was set for a new plea hearing and, “after paying her respects to the District Attorney in her usual sarcastic manner,” Yda was returned to jail.
The San Francisco Examiner, owned by William Randolph Hearst and known for its sensationalism in reporting, decided that Addis’ appearance was more noteworthy than the actual proceeding, and stated that she wore “odd attire” consisting of “a loose fitting bath robe, made apparently of a gray blanket.” The paper stated “the woman has clothing” but that “it is her habit in the jail to eat, drink and sleep in this gown.”
After she entered a not guilty plea, Addis sought a change in venue and provided affidavits from one of her attorneys, herself and two others and which “alleged a general hostility to the defendant” in Santa Barbara, including the claim that there were “certain men [who] were seeking through revenge to get her convicted.” Additionally, she alleged that the two main papers in town were painting her in terms of “ridicule and abuse.”
The prosecution, however, filed statements from her ex-husband, Charles A. Storke, her former attorney (and purported “husband by contract”) Grant Jackson and Sheriff Nat Stewart, with the first two declaring “they had no ill will” against Yda, while the latter said her case was not much discussed in the northern portion of the county, where Santa Maria is located. The judge required Addis to provide more evidence of bias, including newspaper clippings, and told her that, if the venue was changed, she’d be required to spend her sentence for the criminal libel conviction in the jail of whatever county hosted her new trial for the assault on Jackson.
On 3 December, however, the Santa Barbara County grand jury conducted an investigation of the allegations concerning her encounter with Jackson and “recommended that no further proceedings be had against her on this charge.” There was no explanation provided as to why the jury came to this conclusion.
A little over two weeks later, however, the San Francisco Call reported that Addis was under close watch in the Santa Barbara County jail because “complaints have been made . . . by persons who have received anonymous letters, charging them with the filthiest things.” This included young women who were alleged to have had relations with men “of questionable character” and “heads of families have also received pretenses of warnings.” Reportedly, all who were contacted had some involvement in the criminal libel case.
Moreover, Yda apparently wrote letters to people in Santa Barbara accusing the sheriff and jailer of “gross and criminal negligence” by allowing men and women to be together in the same cell and other issues. This led Sheriff Stewart to order that she be observed and “it was in this way that the officers were convinced that she was again sending out libelous letters.”
Yet, as her one-year jail sentence was approaching its termination and, with the Jackson case ending with the grand jury’s decision not to indict, the last phase of the remarkable public life of Yda Addis came into being. So, check back for that with the next post.