April 11, 2017 In 1852, one of the wealthiest landowners in California drowned crossing a river. The ensuing scramble for his fortune spilled blood and broke hearts. Note: The area in which this story takes place is now Gilroy, California, home of the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. Adult general admission is $20, parking $10 per day. Wear comfortable shoes.
Read a full transcript of this episode on the Something True website.
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Music on this week’s episode:
Tate Peterson – Theme in G
Cory Gray – Low Rollers
Josh Woodward – I’m not Dreaming
Krackatoa – Long White Cloud
Blue Dot Sessions – Stillness
Josh Woodward – Invisible Light*
*modified for the podcast.
Gilroy, California. Sixteen square miles and forty-eight thousand residents. It is the Garlic Capital of the World.
For three days every July, ninety-five thousand visitors flock to the town for the Gilroy Garlic Festival. There, they trade in garlic bread, garlic ice-cream, and garlic. All this occurs under the gaze of giant Herbie, mascot of the Garlic Festival. Clad in farmers’ overalls with a smiling garlic bulb for a head, he grants protection to the disciples who nourish themselves upon his sacrament.
What few of these garlic fans might realise, is that somewhere beneath their feet, deep in the soil of Gilroy, is buried a lost treasure worth more—or less—than all the garlic in the world.
You’re listening to Something True – stories from the footnotes of history. Written by Duncan Fyfe and read by Alex Ashby. This week’s episode: Malpaso.
On Christmas Eve, 1852, Maria Sanchez’s husband drowned while trying to cross the Pajaro River. Maria and Jose had met in Monterey County when she was sixteen. Jose was one of the wealthiest men in California, owning all the land that would one day become Gilroy, and even more besides.
When Maria entered the marriage, she was illiterate, and understood little English. In their twelve years together those things had not changed, but many other things had: Jose became a father to their five children, Jose became a drunk, Jose became violent, until finally, Jose became a dead man, his body rushing down the river in the pouring rain.
His death was a massive inconvenience to Maria. She didn’t care about him, particularly. She cared that he owned more land than almost anyone in California, and he hadn’t left a will.
These facts were not lost upon the local low-lives. If Maria had looked out the windows of her mansion, even within days of Jose’s death, she would have seen men poking their snouts around the cracks of her property sniffing for treasure, like treasure pigs.
The Government of Monterey County did not think Maria up to the task of managing her late husband’s tremendous fortune. It assigned as the official administrator of his estate, some dude who Maria never even heard of.
Maria was hardly surprised. She knew the courts would never allow her to legally handle her own affairs. She didn’t have proficiency in the English language, and she wasn’t a man. So, she married someone who did, and was: a lawyer, named Thomas Godden.
Thomas and Maria approached the judge responsible for the estate, asking to be appointed administrators themselves, since they lived there, and it was her house.
‘No, I don’t think that would be proper,’ said the judge, ‘but since you’re here anyway, Mrs Godden, I do have some good news for you: I’m taking away your kids.’
Thanks to an archaic law from when California was a part of Mexico, neither Maria nor her new husband Thomas could be the legal guardian of her five children. Widows who remarried lost that privilege. Maria could keep living in the same house as her children, but she would have no legal rights, and the judge would find some other guy to be their new dad. At the time, this was how the state protected children from opportunistic sleazes who married mothers and stole all their money.
Maria was outraged. ‘What a ridiculous law! As if I can’t be trusted to decide for myself who I marry!’
‘You’re so right,’ said Thomas, who was, secretly, stealing all her money.
He’d written checks from the Sanchez estate out to himself, totalling about $7000, and sold off some of Jose’s cattle. He arranged a ‘business trip’ to San Francisco to cash in further, and hopped aboard a steam ship, which exploded in the Pacific Ocean, killing him.
What a drag, thought Maria. Without a husband any legal power she had had was gone, so she quickly found a replacement: a respectable doctor, Henry Sanford, and they married two months after Thomas Godden blew up.
Around this time, the government completed its valuation of Jose Sanchez’s estate. Three hundred thousand dollars—approximately 85 million today. When the sheriff of Monterey County, William Roach, heard that number, he made what can only be described as a cartoon wolf noise. Because he had seen, so clearly, how that money could be his.
‘I wanna be those kids’ new dad,’ Roach petitioned the judge. ‘Make me their dad.’ If Roach became the Sanchez children’s legal guardian, he’d have access to all of that money.
‘I just feel very passionate about these four or five children, whose names I know, and making sure they have a good future,’ Roach told the judge. ‘And I know they would feel secure with me, if they got the chance to meet me, or knew who I was.’
‘Well, you make a strong argument,’ said the judge. ‘But you can’t be sheriff and the guardian to these kids at the same time. That would be a conflict of interest.’
‘Okay, then I won’t be the sheriff anymore.’
‘Well, in that case I’ve got some good news for you! I hereby pronounce you: New Dad.’
And so William Roach, now the ex-sheriff, became the legal guardian to Maria and Jose’s five children, with the authority to sell off any parts of the estate as the children’s well-being required, and he jumped straight into it.
Roach sought permission to sell off the entire estate—for the children. The judge agreed that he could sell half of it, with the remainder going to Henry and Maria Sanford. Roach, settling for that, quickly set about selling livestock and equipment, ending up with 73 thousand dollars in cash. Perhaps he considered, for a moment, putting some of that money towards the Sanchez children, but it is far more likely that he gathered it all up in a pile and stuffed it down his pants.
Eventually, when one of Maria’s daughters got engaged, she and her fiancée asked Roach if they could get the inheritance she was legally entitled to. Roach stalled. ‘Oh, what even is marriage, right? Why should some church get to define what your love is?’ The judge agreed with Roach, adding, ‘You know, some say that marriage is just a weapon of the patriarchy.’
‘This is insane,’ said Maria. ‘This is so obviously corrupt.’ Maria and Henry had to do something, so they hired David Terry, a hotshot lawyer from San Joaquin County and an avowed enemy of corruption. He hated corruption so much, that in a few years’ time he would stab a corrupt San Francisco man, shoot a corrupt California senator, and get away with both. This was the kind of antipathy towards corruption that Maria really needed right then.
David came up with a plan, ‘We’ll move this whole case to the courts in Stockton, so we can get it heard by a judge who isn’t corrupt, which, by the way, I hate.’ The new judge in Stockton demanded that William Roach, the False Daddy, give Maria Sanchez back the 73 grand in cash, plus whatever else he might have squirrelled away.
‘Fuck off,’ said Roach. Having just refused to comply with a court order, he was immediately arrested and thrown in jail. The judge ordered that Roach be held until he revealed the location of Maria’s 73 thousand dollars. For months, he refused to co-operate, until eventually, he summoned Henry Sanford and the hotshot lawyer, David Terry.
‘Look,’ Roach said. ‘I get it. You win. If you let me out now, I’ll tell you where the money is.’
‘No dice,’ David said. ‘You tell me where the money is first, then I’ll let you out.’
‘Alright,’ said Roach. ‘Alright.’ The former sheriff wrote a note for his wife, who was back in Monterey, asking her to tell David and Henry where the cash was hidden.
‘Smart move,’ said David. And as he left, he stopped, and said, ‘Roach, you’ll never get out of here. You can rot in Hell first.’
William Roach was not into that. He called over the guard, and said, ‘Hey, if you let me out of here, and if you can beat those dipshits to Monterey, half of that money is yours.’
‘Hot dog!’ said the guard. He rode to Monterey on horseback, with a new note from Roach to his wife, while Roach himself, let out of his cell, fled into the mountains.
The guard arrived before Henry and David and gave the note to Mrs Roach who grasped the situation immediately. She acted fast. The money, all 73 thousand of it, was in a safe in their house. She dismissed the prison guard, who said, ‘What? No, no, that’s fine. You’ll just give me the money later then?’ and called her brother Jerry, who took the cash and raced away to hide it somewhere else.
When David and Henry arrived, they tore up the Roach house looking for the money, but to no avail. It was gone, and they realised they’d been had.
Henry was devastated. What was he going to tell Maria? That money was her future, her children’s future—his future! He was furious. He called Maria and a friend and they all went out for a much-needed stiff drink.
Meanwhile, Jerry, William Roach’s brother-in-law, was very pleased with himself. He’d hidden the money in a safe place—so safe, he was the only one who knew where it was. He decided to celebrate, by going out for drinks at the Washington Hotel with his friends. And while he waited at the bar, he ran into Henry Sanford.
They recognised each other, and an argument broke out, then a fight. Then they both shot each other, and then they both died.
For Maria, who was upstairs in a hotel suite at that moment, this would have been a discouraging sight. Another husband was dead, for one thing. But as William Roach’s brother-in-law Jerry died, so too did any hope of recovering the 73 thousand dollars that remained of the fortune of the first of her dead husbands. Gone forever. Everything for which she had put up with Jose’s violence, married men she barely knew, fought the government… she watched it all disappear as the only man who knew where her family fortune was buried bled out on to the floor of a hotel bar.
In the years that followed, David Terry, the hotshot lawyer, would be sent to jail by a Supreme Court Justice, who had found him in contempt of court on an unrelated case. When David was released, he went and punched the Supreme Court Justice at a train station. The Justice, who had to be thinking, ‘That is insane, why would you even do that?’ had his bodyguard kill Terry.
William Roach, the former sheriff turned fugitive from justice, reunited with his wife and settled in Santa Cruz. Roach was out riding a horse one night, when a mysterious group of men lassoed him, tied him up, and drowned him in the town well. His murderers were never identified.
Maria married a fourth time, to a man named George Crane.
‘Just don’t die too,’ she begged. ‘Please don’t die.’
‘Maria,’ said George, ‘I can’t lie to you, I’m dying right now.’ George died from measles.
Maria married one last time, to Anastacio Alviso. Anastacio was an old ranch hand, and loved hunting. ‘I’m going out on a deer hunt, Maria!’ he called out one day.
‘Okay, please be careful!’
‘I won’t!’ he replied, before he was accidentally shot and died.
As for Maria, she died at age 71 in her home, from asthma, surrounded by her children. She died without a husband, and without the 73 thousand dollars that was her family’s great treasure, hidden somewhere that neither she nor anybody would ever know.
But, forget the money. Maria Sanchez lived the most fantastic and unusual life of anyone she knew, and had raised her children to be successful and happy. Were those treasures, in the end, not more valuable than any amount of money?
Of course not: it was seventy-three thousand dollars.
That was Something True, a podcast on the Idle Thumbs network, written by Duncan Fyfe and read by Alex Ashby, with artwork by Ray Chen. Music credits can be found in the description and on our website at somethingtrue.net. Follow us on twitter @atruepodcast, and join us again for the next episode: Ruska Pravda.