The mystery of Edith Irene Wolfskill: Part 1

Edith Irene Wolfskill, born in 1872 to a family of wealthy pioneers, was good at disappearing. She would disappear several times in her life before she was never seen again.

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Edith Irene Wolfskill, born in 1872 to a family of wealthy pioneers, was good at disappearing. She would disappear several times in her life before she was never seen again. Edith Irene was the granddaughter of Mathus Wolfskill, an early Anglo-American settler in Yolo county. Mathus was a native Kentuckian who travelled to California after his older brothers, John Reid Wolfkill and William Wolfskill, acquired a 17,755 acre Mexican land grant known as Rancho Rio de Los Putos. The Rancho covered land to the north and south of Putah Creek. John Reid, the first anglo settler in Solano county, built his home on the southern bank of the creek. He reported that he spent his early days on the property clearing brush for his future orchards and shooting grizzly bears. He claimed to have once shot five bears in the span of a mile. After John Reid began cultivating land to the south of Putah Creek, Mathus joined him. John Reid granted Mathus the land directly to the north of the him, where Mathus would continue to expand the family’s growing agricultural empire. This land  would eventually become Winters. Mathus’ orchards were the first in an industry that would dominate the town’s economy for over a century. This was the family that Edith Irene was born into. It was a family that held great economic and political power all the way from the fruit orchards of Yolo county to William Wolfskill’s profitable vineyards in Los Angeles. Her family even had the funds to send her away for a European education. When she returned from Europe Edith’s friends reported that she began acting strangely. She would be overtaken by what the newspapers later described as “religious mania”, and at times would kneel to pray in the middle of a busy street. Crowds would gather to watch her. Edith was taken to stay at the California General Hospital, at 18th and Douglass Street in San Francisco. “Her mind became wrecked recently by overstudy,” the San Francisco Call claimed. Edith disappeared for the first time in Aug. of 1903, when she was 22. On the night of Aug. 27, Edith’s nurse settled the young woman into bed and, after stepping out for only a short time, returned to find the room empty. The nurse raised the alarm. The news of a young heiress, clad only in her nightgown, running through the streets of San Francisco spread quickly. Maybe it was her seemingly charmed life that caused so much public interest when she left it. “DEMENTED YOUNG WOMAN ESCAPES” read the headline in the San Francisco Call and the Woodland Daily Democrat. A Pinkerton detective found Edith two days later. Someone reported seeing the young woman at Mussel Rock, in the sparsely populated region of Colma. After leaving his carriage and searching the area on foot, the detective spotted Edith kneeling, apparently in prayer, at the bottom of a deep ravine. Her nightgown was ripped by the tall brambles, but she seemed otherwise unharmed. The man clambered down the steep sides of the canyon only to find that Edith did not want to leave. He had to drag the woman to level ground, with her fighting him the entire way. Once they reached the carriage Edith refused to enter it. She spent the trip back to the Pinkerton office kneeling on the carriage floor. “On the trip to the city, the girl refused to speak to anyone and showed in her manner that she resented being found,” the San Francisco Call reported. Edith was returned to the California General Hospital, where she remained until she was relocated to Los Angeles to be closer to her mother and father. Decades later, after her mother died, Edith was put under the care of her brothers, Matthew and Ney Wolfskill. The two men were estranged, and were not known to have spoken for several years. However, their mother’s will required them to use a portion of her estate to care for Edith while she lived. They settled their sister into a small ranch in Solano county. The brothers took turns living on the property with her, scheduling their stays so that they would never meet. It was during one of the transitions between the brothers that Edith walked out of her home and was never seen alive again. Her final disappearance would lead to a statewide search, national headlines, accusations of murder and an ending that raised more questions than answers. Read part two]]>

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