The day that Edith Wolfskill disappeared: Part 2

The story of Edith Irene Wolfskill’s disappearance continues.

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This is the second part of a continuing series on a mysterious disappearance that took place in Solano county. To read the first part of the series, click here. On Sunday, July 13, 1929, Mary Coughlin arrived at her first day of work in Solano county. She had travelled from San Francisco to take a position as a nurse to a wealthy 57-year-old woman living on small ranch several miles south of Lake Curry. This woman, Edith Irene Wolfskill, was an heiress to the fortune of two prominent families, but she had spent much of her life living in a psychiatric hospital.   Edith lived with mental illness, a fact would be written about incessantly over the following weeks. Articles often referred to Edith a “eccentric,” and headlines across the country dubbed her  “the mad heiress.” At some point journalists got the idea that Edith believed herself to be the “Empress of the World.” This phrase, whether it came from reality or invention, spread like wildfire. Dozens of newspapers claimed the Edith held the delusion that she was exiled royalty, who had been forced to leave her kingdom and her fortune behind when she moved to Solano. There were never any sources cited for these stories. But on July 13 Edith was still relatively unknown outside of Solano county. There was no “mad heiress” or “Empress of the World.” When Coughlin arrived at the Wolfskill property there were only two people in the main house: Edith and her niece, Mrs. Reid Wolfskill. Edith had no interest in meeting the new nurse. She had been comfortable with her previous nurse, Bessie Ritchards, before her brother Ney had fired the woman. Edith kept her distance from Coughlin, and seemed to be agitated. At one point Coughlin overheard Edith speaking to someone on the front porch, but could not see who else was there. Several hours after the new nurse arrived, Edith disappeared. When Sheriff John B. Thorton came to the ranch Edith had already been missing for several hours. By this point Ney and Reid Wolfskill had returned to the ranch. The family told the sheriff the events leading up to Edith’s disappearance. At some point after Coughlin arrived, Edith left the house. The sheriff was told that Edith had left wearing a light shirtwaist, casual shoes and a “coolie” jacket. She wore her hair, which she had never cut short in the fashionable style, in long braids. Her head was uncovered. It was not uncommon for Edith to take walks in the area. Local children often spotted her on the paths. She sometimes walked with a small piece of chalk, and the evidence of her presence was found in small, disjointed notes scribbled on fences and rocks. Ney was convinced that Edith had gone on such a walk and gotten lost in the hills. His theory was that Edith had wandered from her usual path and become hurt or scared. Sheriff Thornton had a different idea. From the very beginning Thornton was suspicious of Edith’s sudden disappearance. He believed that the woman had been kidnapped, and based this theory on the conversation that Coughlin had overheard between Edith and an unknown person earlier in the day. The Woodland Daily Democrat, as well as newspapers across the country, printed Edith’s last known statement. “I will not leave,”Coughlin had overheard Edith say. “This is my home.”]]>

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