Media Life: Infamous 1904 Weber murders still resonate in Auburn

By: Gus Thomson/Media Life
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Man or monster? The jury was out among the shocked populace of Auburn in 1904 after four Weber family members were executed one after the other in their comfortable home near what is now Old Town. Brought to trial was the lone survivor of the family. Weasel-eyed Adolph Weber, 19, was accused of the brutal Nov. 10, 1904, killings of his mother, father, sister and brother. Julius Weber, the wealthy head of the family and former owner of the Auburn Brewery, was shot in the heart as he sat on the commode. His wife, Mary, took a bullet in the chest as she was dialing for help. Bertha, 18, was shot in the heart. And 8-year-old Earl was beaten repeatedly on the head by the butt of a revolver. Botched coverup Weber tried to cover up the crime by burning the house down and incinerating any incriminating evidence. But the fire didn’t take hold the way he had hoped and bodies with bullet holes fully evident to all were pulled from the smoking ruins. It didn’t help that Weber was seen throwing blood-splattered clothing into the burning house or that he invited a group out for ice cream in the hours after the fire. At his family’s funeral, which he attended accompanied by a guard, he was observed to be indifferent, if not nonchalant as he nodded to acquaintances and stared at others weeping. Weber’s trial and subsequent hanging turned into an even more bizarre chapter in Auburn’s history when he was able to secure his father’s estate – worth $75,000 at the time and at least 10 times that in modern dollars – to hire one of the state’s best defense attorneys in his resolve to be acquitted. Convinced that he could win his freedom, he never admitted to the murders and never played the insanity card until hours before he was to be hanged and time was already up on any real hope of avoiding death. Weber was hanged on Sept. 27, 1906, at Folsom Prison. It’s been often repeated that 2-inch lengths of the rope used that day sold for $1.50. Fascination continues And 107 years later, the Weber killings continue to fascinate, whether it’s students on a tour of Downtown Auburn’s Union Bank stopping at a display of memorabilia from the Weber case, or a historian researching a new book on the murders and sharing some of his findings with an Auburn audience. The Union Bank is a descendent of the Placer County Bank. It was robbed May 26, 1904, by a lone gunman and evidence – including $5,500 in gold found buried on the Weber property – turning suspicion on the teen murder suspect. Already on trial for four deaths, Weber would tell a guard that if he did commit the heist “it was just to show what I could do.” The bank has a strand of hangman’s rope as well as Weber pistols, and a note from the damaged Weber mind: “My end seems at hand/But fortune favors those who are worthy/I am worthy/This I have hope.” With a fascinating story to tell, historian Michael Meloy of Sacramento will be presenting what is being billed as “Murder in Auburn in 1904: A Fresh Look at the Adolph Weber Case” at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 12. The two-hour program, which will include a Q&A, is on the second floor of the Bernhard Winery, 291 Auburn Folsom Road, and part of the Placer County Museums Division’s community education program. In a phone interview, Meloy said he’ll be providing an overview but also delving a little more deeply into the legal machinations on both the prosecution and defense side. After the trial, California legislators passed a law that would not allow murder suspects in cases involving parents access to an estate that could be used to pay for defense attorneys. As well as shedding new light on a notorious case, Meloy said he’s hoping that people will help him by coming forward with photos, artifacts and memorabilia revolving around the Weber murders. That would include not only Adolph Weber and his family, but also other key players in the larger-than-life drama that gripped Auburn more than a century ago. “It was about the struggles between the frontier and a more modern viewpoint,” Meloy said. “There were suggestions in the local paper that there were moments when the public nearly decided to take justice into their own hands.”