Lunch with a murder mystery thrown in

A friend and I went to lunch yesterday. Our birthdays are two weeks apart so we meet half way on the calendar and take each other to lunch. Except yesterday, she insisted that she would pay for both lunches that day. I arrived with a stack of books as I often do as I know she is a good reader and will accept my already-read books. She said that it is impossible to think of anything to buy for me (and she’s right) so she would buy lunch. Okay. She was one of the few people who had sent me a birthday card last week. I delivered her card with the books as it was one of those that takes extra postage (it sings a crazy little diddy).

After I got home from lunch I received a phone call from a friend who knows both of us August birthday girls. We had mentioned her at lunch so I was surprised to see her name pop up on my phone. She was calling about a request that had come into the church office where we were members for 40 years and where I had diligently worked on the church’s 130-year history. She thought it best to ask me some of the questions from this request since I knew the archives so well. No one has worked much with the archives since I left, 4 years ago. Heck, I figure they would like to clear out 135 years of records and make room for something else. The new pastor is not inclined to care about history.

Turns out, the questions go back to 1890 (the church started in 1882), and asks questions about member records for the time period. The man asking the questions is a writer, director, producer in New York City who is tying up lose ends to a murder case from 1890. A prominent Fresnan was murdered in a shoot-out in downtown Fresno. His murderer was found guilty and spent the rest of his life (only 5 more years) in San Quentin Prison. The murderer’s wife died only days after the murder as she was ill at the time. There were three small children and it’s those children that the writer is trying to trace. What happened to them after they were basically orphaned? His questions included ones about what the church did to help the indigent back then. Are there any records?

I’m not too sure we can help. We don’t even know if this family were members or attended church. The newspaper articles that the writer forwarded to me tell that the philanthropic ladies of the city collected funds and paid for the woman’s casket and burial. They also attended her funeral. She is in an unmarked grave in a local cemetery.

Could those ladies have been part of a group of such women from the church, The Welcome Class? I suggested to the friend who called me to look through those records to see if they went back that far. I know The Welcome Class was active in the early 1900s, delivering milk to poor families, taking bread to the homeless who were living in a park, making Christmas stockings for orphaned children. Would there even be a record of something like this?

Fascinating story, with not many leads for us to go on. If you want to know more about the actual murder, read here.



7 responses to “Lunch with a murder mystery thrown in

  1. Very interesting, at least you have her that small lead. Also it’s great that you have a good use for these books after you have read them.

  2. Well that was interesting. I’d be interested in knowing what happened to the children as well. As for the murdered man, if his wife was 19 when they relocated to Fresno and they’d already been married two years, that means he’d married a 17 year old child. Wonder what happened to her. If the book gets published, please let me know.

    • She died before he went to trial. She was not well, nor were the children. They were taken to the hospital after the husband was arrested. The wife was almost dead due to malnutrition.

  3. Yes, I saw Stillman’s wife died. Didn’t realize the children were sick as well. But I meant the young wife of the dead guy — John Dewey Fiske’s wife. Would be interesting to know what happened to her after her husband was murdered.

    • Ah, I see. I don’t know what happened to Mrs. Fiske, but she was a very wealthy woman, what with that very large building she surely inherited upon her husband’s demise. There is a man in town who studies the old buildings of Fresno, and even reconstructs them in miniature size. I’m going to put this question to him.

  4. I hope you can find out what happened to those children. If they were orphans and not well, perhaps they didn’t survive either. But I can hope at least one of them did. I know you’ll do your best to find out.

  5. Hello:

    I am Craig the person who has been searching for what became of
    Joseph L. and Mary Stillman’s three children in 1890. I am a historical researcher. Joseph L. Stillman first appears in any record, registering to vote in Fresno on July 20, 1888. The newspapers had claimed he arrived in Fresno about 1887. I have done extensive search on N.C. records where he claimed nativity and have found no birth or familial scenario of him. Similarly no marriage record in any state, nor a record of Mary’s maiden name. I have a copy of the will of a woman in Fresno who would have been very familiar with the Stillman’s from a benefactor and employer scenario. She passed away in L.A. in 1924, childless. Nothing in her will indicates that she adopted the three children. I have no indications that they were
    Southern Baptist’s other then an expert on the Stillman surname advised me that this was the religion predominantly associated with Stillman’s from N.C.
    As to Amanda (Minnie) J.D. Fiske’s wife. I have been searching for her for twenty years. I inherited papers from a Fresno professor who started looking for her in the 1970’s.
    Other people had been searching for her as early as 1915.Amanda was born in 1867 in Mt. Pleasant, New York. Please keep in mind that I estimate several hundred newspaper articles were written about Amanda Fiske, her murdered husband and Stillman from about 1885 until 1916.This drama spanned multiple states besides California.
    I would like to point out that the research I am doing really brings up new history about Fresno in this time period.
    If anyone would like to assist me in Fresno or San Fran, I would most appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.