Solano searches for Edith Wolfskill: Part 3

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Sheriff Thornton had suspicions when Edith Irene Wolfskill, a wealthy 57-year-old woman living in Solano county, disappeared in July, 1929. Her brother, Ney Wolfskill, insisted that the woman had simply gotten lost on a lengthy walk, but Edith’s nurse had heard the woman tellings someone that she would not leave her home. Then Ney’s brother, Matt Wolfskill, arrived. The two men met with the sheriff shortly after Matt travelled from San Francisco. During the meeting it became even more apparent that something strange was happening. The brothers quarrelled loudly in the sheriff’s office. It was revealed that the two had been estranged for the past 20 years. Since Edith moved to Solano they had taken care of her by hiring nurses and coordinating their own visits so that they would never meet. The two had not spoken for decades. Now that they were brought together by their sister’s disappearance, they clashed. Matt insisted that Edith had been kidnapped. Ney believed that she had died of exposure in the hills. Ney was quoted in The Tribune sharing his theory. “They seem to think we know something about sister’s disappearance,” he said of law enforcement. “That’s all nonsense. She ran away because she didn’t like that nurse.” When local newspapers reported the brother’s fight, the family and their history was thrown into scrutiny. It was revealed that not only had they fought, they had argued over the use of the funds that had been granted to them to care for their sister. After this information was revealed, the Los Angeles bank that kept Edith’s inheritance hired a private detective to investigate Matt and Ney’s feelings toward their sister. In response to the sudden attention, the Wolfskills barricaded themselves in their home. Reid Wolfskill, Edith’s cousin, sat at the entrance of the property with a shotgun. The only people who were allowed in were the sheriff, a detective, and a woman from Fresno named Mrs. Comstock. Comstock was not associated with the family or with law enforcement. In fact, the Solano police had turned Comstock away. The Wolfskills, however, were swayed. She claimed to have invented a machine that could not only locate missing persons, but determine if they were alive or dead. According to her, all she needed was one of the missing person’s personal items. She would then place it in a wood panelled box, and, using the power of electricity, the missing person would be found. The official searchers were unimpressed by Comstock, but the Wolfskills believed her wholeheartedly. They insisted that police take the woman seriously. If the police ever consulted Comstock’s invention during their search, they did not share that information with the press. Comstock, while an elaborate scammer, was not an outlier. People across California were fascinated by the story of the missing heiress. Many tried to find Edith, others attempted to profit. A gas station manager in Red Bluff claimed to have seen her walk into his business, disoriented and unresponsive. The woman left before police arrived. A woman in Berkeley spotted someone matching Edith’s description sitting on the Cragmont Rocks and staring off into space. When police reached the rocks there was no trace of her. Olive M. Boyce of Santa Clara housed a woman who fit the description of Edith Wolfskill, but said that her name was Edith Kelly. The woman looked disheveled, and told Boyce that she was walking to Los Angeles. Edith Wolfskill had been raised in Los Angeles. Boyce immediately informed the authorities. As it happened, Kelly actually was who she claimed to be. She had taken up hiking several years before while recovering from a car accident, and in the weeks following Edith Wolfskill’s disappearance she had been “saved” and delivered to the police a total of seven times. She announced that she would write a book about her experience being mistaken for the missing woman. Closer to Edith’s home, in Solano county, people had heard strange cries in the hills the night that she disappeared. Though they didn’t know what it was at the time, they later assumed that this meant Edith had been attacked by animals. A posse was formed. “We are going to ride those hills for six days,” Stratton O’Kell, the posse’s leader said, “and if we don’t find Miss Wolfskill you can depend on it she’ll not be there.” Guards were set up on Currey Lake, in case Edith had drowned. Divers were hired. Pilots scanned the terrain from above. Even with all of these efforts, the only trace of Edith found that summer was a set of footprints in a muddy creek bed only five miles from her home. The prints crossed over a set of tire tracks belonging to a truck that had passed through just a day before. The prints matched a shoe from her home, and the walking pattern matched her gait. She was known to stop suddenly at small noises, then take a few steps back before starting again. The prints in the mud followed that same pattern. The find was incredible. On July 20, Edith was still alive. The search was reinvigorated. Then the clues stopped. The teams of searchers would never find Edith alive. Her fate would not be known until that October, when her body was found within a mile of her house, dressed in men’s overalls. Read parts one, two, and the final part in this series, part four.]]>

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