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Drug Murder, 1944

Drug related murders come and go with frequency in Mendocino County. However, never was the term so true as in February, 1944. 

The scene: Noon hour of a winter's day at the old Philbrick property near the Halfway House off the Orr Springs Road that connects Comptche to Ukiah.

The key figures: Roy Jackson, working on his brother-in-law's ranch. His sister-in-law, Hazel Mae, who flees the twelve-room ranch house. She bolts in an excited state. A quarter mile away she finds Roy at his labors. Her husband, John, is in an ugly mood she tells Roy. John threatened to kill me, Hazel Mae says.

Roy asks where this all took place. In the house, Hazel Mae points down the hill behind her. Somehow I managed to get out, away from him, her words ramble and her voice trembles.

Jackson steps past his sister-in-law I'll go down there and see what this is all about, I'll straighten him out. Hazel Mae, who has earned gainful employment in the past as a fortune teller, warns her brother-in-law that her husband is possessed by a violent state. He threatens to shoot me. He'll do the same for you. Don't go, she pleads.

Jackson strides down the hill, determined. His sister-in-law watches until he disappears from view. She turns her back and waits for the premonition to come true. Then waits some more. 

Two shots ring out and echo over the hills. Hazel Mae runs eastward into the brush and timber. She scrambles a circuitous route in terror that her husband is following, coming after her with a gun. Despite perspiration dripping into her eyes, she's sure he's coming. Finally, hours later, she breaks into a clearing at the Hanson shingle mill, approximate to the junction of Orr Springs and Low Gap roads.

The other central figure: John Leroy Drug. He purchases the Philbrick property about two years before the fateful day. He and Jackson married sisters, Nettie and Hazel Mae Isaac. Through this connection, Jackson has come to manage the stock on the ranch. Nearly from the outset, Drug and Jackson disagree as to property management. Jackson wants to run more livestock, in particular horses. Drug favors a chicken farm, expanding to include other fowl. 

The backstory:  Hazel Mae marries John Leroy Drug in 1936. Congeniality marks the first years of their union. Drug inherits money from his father a few years into the marriage. John feels the inheritance money must be invested in something substantive to safeguard it; hence, the purchase of a piece of the Philbrick property. John continues in his job with the Moore Drydock Company in San Francisco until October, 1943, when he and Hazel move to the ranch off Orr Springs Road.

By late in the afternoon of the February, 1944 shooting, storm clouds produce rain that turns heavy. Jackson's son and daughter return from Mendocino High School in the company of two young friends. The Jackson teenagers have been living at the ranch house. They find it burned to the ground. Looking through the ruins, with smoke wafting toward the gray heavens, they find a burned skeleton. So little remains, they conclude it's a pet dog. No adults are anywhere about. The children return down the hill to Pete Ciro's house, the closest home with a telephone. A call fails to reach the county sheriff's office in Ukiah. A second attempt to contact a deputy in Fort Bragg succeeds. 

Coastal deputy Ward Reis arrives at the burnt out scene minutes before two inland deputies, the county district attorney, and a court reporter. How did the inland authorities know about the situation when calls from the Ciro home failed to go over the hill?

Further backstory: A man drives away from the scene early in the afternoon, first down the hill to Comptche where he mails a letter. He then motors over the Orr Springs Road to Ukiah, to the home of District Attorney Busch, announcing he shot someone dead then burned a house down around the body.  Busch and the two deputies start for the scene of the crime at about 7 pm, immediately after calling Sheriff Bev Broaddus in Laytonville. Speeding southward through Willits in the dark and pouring rain, Broaddus' automobile collides with another. The sheriff survives the accident, though painful injuries take him off the case. 

The figurative trigger of the shooting went back only a matter of days. Hazel Drug ventures to Ukiah to meet former appellate justice Hugh Preston to seek legal advice. Namely, she wants to proceed with divorce from her husband. 

A day after the shooting, having been transported to Ukiah, Mrs. Drug tells the district attorney a similar account as that recounted to lawyer Preston. She relates that she owns an interest in the ranch. Her brother-in-law, Roy Jackson, owns interests in the livestock. Mr. Drug complains repeatedly to Mrs. Drug that Jackson doesn't pull his weight around the place. When the bespectacled Mr. Drug receives papers from lawyer Preston his anger magnifies to the point of rage. He turns to fetch a revolver or shotgun, she's not sure which. She runs from the house, to Roy Jackson, then at the sound of the shots races into the woods.

During his arraignment in March, John Leroy Drug pleads not guilty by reason of insanity. At trial, he admits to shooting Roy Jackson. He states, under oath, that the first six years of marriage proved contented ones. It pleases him, that in the City, Hazel Mae earns a decent amount practicing her astrology and fortune telling. The threat of divorce enrages him. He might lose the ranch by splitting assets with his wife and brother-in-law. He claims he asks for her to name a price, give him a year's time, and he will buy her out. Drug says he will be glad to see the day when Jackson and his kids leave the ranch. Mrs. Drug states that when the Jacksons go, she goes. Apparently, this response sends John Leroy Drug into greater paroxysms of anger, with the fatal consequence.

At the conclusion of an April trial the jury deliberates for several hours before bringing in a guilty verdict. Drug's sentence: five years to life for second degree murder and two to twenty years for arson.

  Sixty years of age at the time of conviction, Drug serves much of his sentence at San Quentin. Eventually, doctors and prison officials okay his transfer to the state hospital at Talmage. He dies there in September, 1968. The eighty-four-year-old's remains rest in a Santa Rosa cemetery.

Hazel Mae, married three times between 1913 and 1917 with two grown sons from one of those marriages, lives until 1994, never taking another husband. Whether she sees it coming or not, death beckons her over the final hill at age ninety-eight.        

4 Comments

  1. George Hollister November 22, 2021

    This is a story I have never heard anyone mention. Thanks.

  2. Frank Hartzell November 23, 2021

    Cool tale! I’d like to see your history stories on a map, where you could click and find out the story behind locations and properties.

    • George Hollister November 23, 2021

      How about a book, with a map/ I’d buy it.

  3. Patti Fereira November 25, 2021

    Love all your local history tales, and I love Mr. Hartzell’s map idea, too.
    Thanks!
    Patti Fereira
    PS: Ward Ries was married to my Aunt Addie (Fereira).

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