Attorney General tries Adolph Weber case, tale ends at Folsom Prison
By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Adolph Weber was a young man from a well-off family. Why he chose to throw a mask over his face and rob a bank in 1904 is a matter of speculation. Even more shocking was the slaughter of his parents, 18-year-old sister Bertha and 8-year-old invalid brother Earl. Adolph was the sole beneficiary to the family fortune of more than $2 million in modern terms. The Weber case set in motion new laws to prevent family members convicted of murder from inheriting their victims’ assets. Decades later, additional laws were created to prevent criminals from profiting from their crimes. Weber’s case, prosecuted by the Attorney General at the request of the Governor, went all the way to the state Supreme Court and finally finished at the end of a rope at Folsom State Prison.
Wealth doesn’t deter rebellious son
The Auburn Brewery, owned by German immigrant Julius A. Weber, was a hub of activity in the late 1800s. In 1883, he married Mary Meyer in Auburn. A year later, the happy couple welcomed their first child, Adolph. Their daughter was born two years later. In 1895, the family patriarch sold the business and retired, saying he wanted to take care of his family.
By all accounts, Adolph was a normal child until he hit his mid-teens, then he began acting out and rebelling. Some accounts, including one put out by the family physician, indicate he began killing and torturing small animals for fun.
His actions escalated and his mood often turned sour. It all came to a head when he was a young man.
On May 26, 1904, a masked 20-year-old Adolph Weber “entered the Bank of Placer County, located at Auburn, and drawing a revolver, ordered the employees present to hold up their hands. He then stole $5,000 and disappeared. At that time, many circumstances pointed to Adolph Weber as the robber,” according to the 1910 “Celebrated Criminal Cases of America,” by Thomas Samuel Duke.
At the time of the robbery, Julius Weber noticed a homemade money bag was missing from the family home and he became suspicious of his son. Six months later on Nov. 10, the Weber home burned down.
A neighbor broke down the locked-door during the blaze and found two women in the front room. Both had been shot. The little boy, badly beaten about his head, was clinging to life but succumbed to his injuries a short time later. The next day, the father’s body was found. Suspicion fell on the only surviving member of the family – Adolph Weber.
Heir to family fortune suspected of murder
“When the fire was first discovered, a man named George Ruth broke in the front door and found the bodies of Mrs. Weber and Bertha in a room which had not been reached by the fire at that time. Bullet wounds were found and they had evidently been dragged into this room after being killed and an effort was made to set their clothing on fire. The little invalid boy, Earl, was not yet dead but died shortly afterward from the effects of blows delivered on his head by some blunt instrument,” according to the book.
The next day they found the father’s body in the burned-out home. He was 52 at the time of his death and had also been shot.
On Nov. 12, 1904, only two days after the fire, Adolph Weber was arrested on charges of murder. His aunt, Mrs. Snowden, said the young man threatened “your turn will come next” when she asked if he knew more about the killings.
During the trial, Mrs. Snowden revealed she and her sister were extremely close but Adolph was a source of trouble for his family. The Snowdens lived next door to the Webers.
“Adolph, however, kept the family in almost constant turmoil,” she testified, according to the San Francisco Call, Nov. 17, 1904. “He annoyed his father and sometimes would not speak to his mother. He was hateful and stubborn, but I never saw him strike anyone except his poor little crippled brother. … Last Thursday, he was unusually ugly. I went over to see my sister and took little Earl home to his mother. I had been taking care of Earl during the morning as Mrs. Weber was washing. When I walked over to the house my sister and I exchanged loving greetings. I told her Earl had been crying for his mother, so I had brought him home. I sat and talked with her for a while. Presently Adolph came into the yard. His mother said, ‘Dolphy,’ that being the name the family called him, ‘will you go down to the market and bring home some meat for dinner? Your father has been working very hard this morning digging postholes.’ … Adolph passed her by without saying a word. She asked him three times and finally he snapped out a cross and ugly ‘No.'”
According to the testimony, the mother told Snowden, “Adolph is so mean he will kill us all yet.”
Snowden testified to Adolph’s mean streak. “Adolph was hateful to his people. He thought they were in his way. Bertha was afraid of him, for she said to me one day, ‘I think Adolph is mean enough to kill anyone.’ The last time I saw Bertha was Friday afternoon, when she called to see me on her way from school. She was very happy and full of fun.”
She saw Julius Weber a few hours before the fire. “It was on that awful Thursday, about 5 o’clock, that Mr. Weber came over to my place for a pail of water. He was in a pleasant state of mind and talked and joked with all of us. He not only drew a pail of water for himself, but he drew several for us. He bad us a cheerful ‘good night’ as he went out through the gate.”
Piecing together the evidence
After the fire, investigators began retracing young Weber’s steps. Throughout the investigation and trial, Adolph appeared indifferent, according to newspaper accounts at the time.
When told of the discovery of the gold coins buried at the family property, the suspect said, “Oh, I thought you had discovered the motive for the murder. The bank robbery is a trivial matter. It’s not bothering me. It’s the other case I am thinking about. … If I did take it, it was not because I needed the money, but only to see what I could do,” according to the book, “Folsom’s 93,” by April Moore.
The case quickly came together as outlined in the court proceedings.
The evening of the fire, Adolph purchased a new pair of pants from a store in town. According to police, he then wrapped up his old pants and rushed to the burning home. Several witnesses reported seeing Adolph break a window with his hand and throw the bundle into the flames. The broken glass severely cut his hand and “he became weak from the loss of blood and spent the remainder of the night at the home of Adrian Wills,” according to the 1910 book by Duke.
The discarded pants, which were found to be stained with blood, also hadn’t burned.
On Nov. 21, investigators found a revolver hidden under the flooring of the barn behind the family home. The revolver held used shells and the pistol butt had blood and the little boy’s hair stuck to it. Police traced the gun to San Francisco.
“(Pawnshop proprietor) Henry Carr … positively identified this pistol as one he sold to Weber in July 1904,” the Duke book states.
On the night of the fire, J.A. Powell said at about 7 p.m. he saw Weber rush into the American Hotel’s washroom and begin scrubbing his hands, then fled without drying them.
On Nov. 23, officers searched the Weber home and unearthed a “5-pound larder can full of $20 gold pieces, which was evidently the proceeds from the bank robbery.”
The pistol used in the robbery, recovered when the robber discarded the weapon as he fled, was eventually traced to a Sacramento pawnbroker who also identified Weber as the buyer.
The case garnered headlines across the country. California Governor George Pardee put the state’s attorney general in charge of the case.
“In January 1905, I was requested by your Excellency to proceed to Auburn, in Placer County, and assume charge of the prosecution of Adolph Weber, who was there charged by information with the crime of murder. I complied with your request and the trial opened on Jan. 27, 1905, and concluded on the 22nd day of February with a verdict of guilty, without recommendation. From this judgment and appeal was taken to the Supreme Court of this state and on the 21st day of June, 1906, the judgment was reaffirmed,” wrote Attorney General Ulysses S. Webb in his 1906 report to the governor.
On Feb. 22 a jury found him “guilty of murder with the death penalty attached.” Weber vowed to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court. When the case reached that level, the justices upheld the lower court’s decision. After his numerous appeals and a stay of execution, he was hanged at Folsom State Prison on Sept. 27, 1906.
Inheritance laws tested in court
Two days before his death, Adolph Weber wrote a check to his lawyer for $11,000, the balance of his inheritance. In modern terms, it would be the equivalent of more than $300,000. He had spent the rest on his defense and appeals.
Adolph said it was a gift but the Weber family didn’t see it that way and sued the attorney. A few years after the hanging, the attorney finally forked over the money to the family, an aunt to Adolph. In 1917, the state was finally allowed to collect inheritance tax.
“An inheritance tax case which has no precedent has just been decided in favor of the state in connection with the estate of Adolph Weber, who was hanged in … 1906. … Two days before Weber paid the penalty of his crime, a check for $11,340.60 was transferred by him to Fred S. Stevens (his attorney. Eventually her turned over the money to) Annie C. Scott, an aunt of Weber. … The state claimed an inheritance tax on the ground that the transfer of the check was made in contemplation of death, though at the time of the transfer, efforts were being made to have the death sentence commuted to life imprisonment. The case is a singular one in that never before have courts been called upon to decide an inheritance tax, where the of death were not due to natural causes on the part of the one making the transfer. When the attempts were made to evade paying the inheritance tax, State Controller John S. Chambers instituted suit,” reported the Sacramento Union, Aug. 4, 1917.
The laws regarding inheritance were changed which opened the door for future legislation barring convicted criminals from profiting from their crimes.