On January 11th, 1902, 15-year-old Nora Fuller left home to meet a potential employer. When she isn’t seen for almost a week, her mother finally notified the authorities. What they unravel are a series of calculated plans and secrets that still baffle some today.
Nora was the eldest of four children, so when her mother divorced from her second husband, Nora decided to quit school and look for work.
While looking through advertisements in the California Chronicle and Examiner on January 9th, she came across two similar requests for a nanny.
“Wanted- Young white girl to take care of baby; good home and good wages”
Nora Sent a reply with her interest in the position, and two days later she received a post card in the mail with the following response.
“Miss Fuller: In answer to yours in response to my advertisement, kindly call at the Popular Restaurant, 55 Geary street, and inquire for Mr. John Bennett, at 1 o’clock. If you can’t come at 1, come at 6. ‘John Bennett.”
When she received the postcard it was already too late for her to make the 1 o’clock meeting, she quickly changed into her best dress, and before she left her mother gave her some money to get groceries on the way home.
“Tell him you have had plenty experience with babies” Nora’s mother told her, as she headed out the door, eating an apple.
After 6 Nora called home, her younger brother Louis answered the phone. She told him that she was hired and he wanted her to start work at once. “I’m at Mr. Bennett’s home now, at 1500 Geary Street.”
Louis put the phone down and went to go tell their mother. “You tell her to come home and go to work Monday! What’s that child thinking of? She’s got her best dress and no change with her! And tell her to bring home groceries!”
He went back to the phone to tell Nora. “All Right” Nora replied “Tell mama I’ll bring them.”
It was the last time they heard from Nora
On Monday Mrs. Fuller searched through the phone directory in search of a number for John Bennett. But she couldn’t find a number for him. She assumed he must have recently just moved there and didn’t think more of it.
Tuesday came with no word from Nora, she went to the address that Nora had given to her, but when she arrived. She discovered it was just an empty lot. She though Nora must have gotten the address wrong.
It was on Wednesday that Mrs. Fuller couldn’t wait any longer, she phoned the police. “My daughter, Nora, she’s 15 years old, she has disappeared. I would like to locate a Mr. John Bennett, who has a baby. He hired my daughters to take care of the baby and now I can’t find out where she is…”
The Police, following up with Mrs. Fullers report, went to the Popular Restaurant and met with the Owner F.W Krone. He had stated that on January 11th, a man who had been a patron at the restaurant for 5 years, had come to him. He hadn’t known his name until today, but the man advised there was going to be a young girl coming in asking for John Bennett, and to direct her to his table.
F.W described the man as around 40 years old, about 5 feet 6 inches, around 170 pounds, he had a brown mustache and dressed well. F.W stated that the girl never showed and ‘Bennett’ became restless and left the restaurant, he walked up and down the sidewalk a few times before finally leaving.
They called Mrs. Fuller and decided that Nora was a runaway. “Girls are always running away these days. We’re sure you’ll hear from Nora soon.” Mrs. Fuller tried to protest, but the police dismissed her…
Let’s go back, to January 8th… Three days before Nora vanished…
A man, went to the real estate office of Umbsen & Co. with the interest of renting the home at 2211 Sutter Street. After looking over the terms of the contract he was pleased and wanted to move forward. C.S Lahenier, a clerk at the office requested references.
“I am a newcomer in town. I don’t know a soul in San Francisco”
The clerk looked at the man. “That makes it difficult. However, if you are willing to sign a lease and pay a month’s rent in advance, I think it can be arrange without much difficulty.”
The man agreed and signed the lease right on the stop. He signed with the name C.B Hawkins. He told the clerk that he was staying at the Golden West Hotel with his wife. He took the keys and left.
February 8th, a month later, a man by the name of H.E Dean was sent to the Sutter home to collect the month’s rent. He knocked with no answer, so he used his mater key to enter the home. The first floor was bare, no signs that anyone had lived there. He walked up the stairs to the upper floor, each room was bare, but there was one back room with the door closed.
He made his way to the back room and opened the door slowly, it was dimly lit by the light coming from the drawn shade, the room had an ominous feel to it, when he noticed a bright color dress on the floor and something else, that was enough for him. H.E hurried out of the Sutter home and went to the police station where he met with Office Gill.
“There’s something dreadfully wrong in that white house back there…It was so dark, I couldn’t see very well. But, there’s a girl on the bed, and I saw some bright object on the floor!”
The two went back to the house and up to the room, the office rolled up the window drape… There in the bed, was the body of Nora Fuller, undressed. Her hair was spread across the pillow, her clothes were neatly folded on the back of the chair, her hat, shows and underwear were in the seat. The bright object that H.E has seen was her brightly colored shirtwaist.
After a search from the house, they took note on what was found:
-The Sheets on the bed were new, never laundered
-The only other furniture in the home was an old chair
-No food or dishes were found in the house
-The heating and lights were not set up at the home
-The girls’ clothing and purse were located in the room
-No money was found in the purse
-There was a business card in her purse that read:
“Mr. M.A Severbrinik, Port Arthur”
-Cigar Butts were on the floor
– An almost empty whiskey bottle on the mantle in the front room.
At the morgue, an autopsy of Nora was underway, what was discovered was that she had been stuck over the head, then strangled. Her body was covered with knife wounds. They found pieces of undigested apple in her stomach, they placed her death within hours of her leaving her home.
They needed to find the tenant of the house, C.B Hawkins. They went to the real estate company who owned the home and spoke with the clerk who rented the house to C.B.
C.S Lahenier gave him the contract that was signed by C.W and told them, that on several occasions, they had sent men over to the house, but no one seemed to be there. One of the men, by the name of Fred Crawford, went to the hotel where C.B claimed to have been staying with him wife to ask about him. The hotel stated no one was staying there by that name.
The company gave the police a description of C.W: around 40 years old, about 5 feet 6 inches, around 170 pounds, he had a brown mustache and dressed well…. That description sounded familiar…. It was a direct match for John Bennett.
The police were looking for the same man, but who was he? It was apparent that the names ‘John Bennett, and C.B. Hawkins were false names…The police decided look into the name on the business card found in Nora’s Purse. Mr. M. A. Severbrinik, but the search ended quickly, M. A. left for China three hours before Nora even left her home on January 11th.
This case was growing more mysterious by the day, but then another unexpected thing happened. Madge Graham, a 17-year-old girl, claimed to have been friends with Nora. She told the police that she had boarded at the Fuller house until her guardian requested her to leave due to a frequent visitor at the house.
Madge said Nora often spoke of a friend by the name of Bennett, and she believes that the Nanny Advertisement was a lie. Madge continued by stating on more than one occasion, that Nora left the house to call her male friend, and even asked Madge to lie about her whereabouts.
With no way to prove the claims made by Madge, the police just took note of it and continued their investigation.
On February 19th, the Coroners Jury release the following verdict to the Press:
“That the said Nora Fuller, aged fifteen, nativity China, residence 1747 Fulton Street, came to her death at 2211 Sutter Street in the City and County of San Francisco, through asphyxiation by strangling on a day subsequent to January 11thand before February 4th, 1902, at the hands of parties unknown. Furthermore, we believe that she died within twenty-four hours after 12m. January 11th. In view of the heinousness of the crime, we recommend that the Governor offer a reward of $5,000 for the discovery and apprehension of the criminal.”
Numerous tips came, and many were arrested and released. There was one letter that came that requested a piece of Nora’s hair.
A dentist contacted Mrs. Fuller, he was shouting at her “Yes, I murdered the girl, and I’m glad you have captured me!” Turns out, he didn’t murder Nora, he was sniffing laughing gas and was simply mad.
Unfortunately, when the time came to return Nora’s possessions to her mother. They couldn’t, as all of her belongings were taken by souvenir hunters.
The murderer of Nora Fuller was never found… However, there was one theory.
Five days after Nora had disappeared, there was an employee of a local newspaper. He hadn’t show up for work in days. His name, was Charles B. Hadley. The detectives tried to follow up on the man, and found his place of residence 647 Ellis Street, he was living with a girl who was living under the false name of Ollie Blasier.
Ollie had a photograph of Hadley in her room with his writing on the back with him name C.B Hadley. When the press released photos of C.B Hawkins’ handwriting she saw the resemblance and turned the portrait over to Police.
While questioning Blasier on Hadley, she told them that he was clean shaven but often wore a brown mustache around the house. She made an official statement to the police:
“I now recall that after the disappearance of Nora Fuller, Hadley made a practice of getting up in the morning and taking the morning paper to the toilet to read.
On the day of his final disappearance he followed this practice, and after he left the house I found the morning paper in the toilet, and I noticed a long article about the disappearance of Nora Fuller. It was evident that his mind was greatly disturbed on this morning.
The next day, I was making up my laundry, and at the very bottom of the pile of soiled clothing, I found some of his garments which had blood on them. I burned them and also his plug.
On the evening of January 16th, Hadley telephoned to me that he would not be home. I confess that I suspect he committed this murder…..”