Nora was just 15-years-old when she disappeared and became one of San Francisco’s oldest cold cases
Eleanor Maude Fuller, known to friends and family as “Nora,” was an American girl born in China around 1886. The daughter of Wilfred and Alice Fuller, Nora had three siblings: an older brother named Louis, a younger sister named Sybil, and a baby brother called Wilfrid. The family made their home at 1747 Fulton Street in San Francisco, California.
In January of 1902, Nora’s life was taken at just 15-years-old. That fact alone is tragic enough. The circumstances surrounding the child’s murder are baffling.
Nora Goes Missing
Mr. and Mrs. Fuller struggled financially and had become estranged. Nora wanted to ease her mother’s s burden, so she quit school and sought employment.
Nora responded to an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle that read, “Wanted — Young white girl to take care of baby; good home and good wages.” She was ecstatic to receive the following post:
“Miss Fuller: In answer to yours in response to my advertisement, kindly call at the Popular Restaurant, 55 Geary Street, and inquire for Mr. John Bennett, at 1 o’clock. If you can’t come at 1, come at 6. — John Bennett.”
Nora left for that meeting around 5 PM on January 11, 1902. Approximately an hour later, Nora phoned home. Her brother Louis answered.
Nora’s voice quaked as she told him she was in Mr. Bennett’s home at 1500 Geary Street, and he wanted her to start working right away. Lewis relayed the message to their mother, who suggested that Nora come home. Her new job could wait until Monday. The voice on the other end said, “Alright,” and abruptly hung up.
That was the last time anyone heard Nora’s voice; she never returned home. Little did she know, the ad and subsequent post cared were just bait. It was all a ruse to lure a girl like Nora into the snare of a madman.
Lewis went to a meeting at the local Masonic Temple after the call with his sister. He returned around 11 PM, to find his mother worried and in tears. Nora was gone. Lewis ran to the Popular Restaurants, but it was closed for the evening. He went to the Bennett address Nora gave, but it wasn’t a residence at all — it was an empty lot.
Lewis asked around, but no one had seen Nora. He contacted the police on Sunday, January 12. Detective Coleman was assigned to the case, and did everything he could to locate her or a Mr. John Bennett, but came up empty.
Detective Coleman spoke with F.W. Krone, owner of the Popular Restaurant. Mr. Krone knew who John Bennet was. He frequented Krone’s restaurant, and always ordered a porterhouse steak. Only, he never ate anything except the tenderloin portion. Staff nicknamed the patron, “Tenderloin,” although he told Krone his name was John Bennett.
The evening Nora went missing, “Tenderloin” came to the restaurant. Before ordering the usual meal, he asked the waiter to send anyone who might be looking for him to his table. Around 6 PM, John Bennett finished his meal and left. Krone told the detective he knew nothing further about the gentleman. No one asked for him that night, and he was positive he didn’t see Nora.
Detective Coleman took down Mr. Krone’s description of the man. The John Bennett he knew appeared between 35 and 40 years old, with broad shoulders and a muscular build. He stood about 5’11” tall, had fair skin, and a red mustache. He said he was studying to become a minister, and sometimes wore clerical clothing. Krone added that he “didn’t seem fit for the calling.”
As for Nora, she regularly attended the Methodist Episcopal Church. She enjoyed working at the church’s day school and had no known beau to suspect. Nearly a month went by with absolutely no sign of Nora Fuller.
Murder Most Foul
On February 8, rent on a two-bedroom rental property located at 2211 Sutter Street, San Francisco, went into arrears. The owners sent Inspector and Collector H.E. Dean to the house. He found the house eerily silent. Upon entry, he noted the bottom floor was absent of furniture.
Upstairs, he encountered a locked bedroom. He unlocked the door and entered the room. The shades were drawn, and the room was dark, save a sliver of light that peaked in from between the blinds and window sill. As his eyes adjusted, Dean made out a brightly colored garment resting on the floor. His gut told him something was terribly wrong, and he rushed to find a police officer.
Dean located Officer Gill and they returned to the rental. The pair walked into the bedroom. A bed and a chair served as the only furnishings in the entire home. Articles of Women’s clothing were strewn around. On the bed, wrapped in brand new sheets that had never been washed and a few quilts, was the naked and decomposing body of a girl that Officer Gill suspected was Nora Fuller. Her brother Lewis would later confirm this fact when he identified her at the morgue; Nora had been murdered.
Nothing much remained in the way of evidence other than a discarded cigar end, a bottle of whiskey, and a girl who had been dead for at least ten days. Downstairs, the police found letters addressed to someone named C.B. Hawkins.
Dr. Charles Morgan examined Nora’s stomach contents. He found no evidence to suggest Nora was poisoned, and there weren’t any signs of drug use. The lining of her stomach was slightly inflamed. Dr. Morgan explained that she likely drank from the whiskey bottle, and since she was a non-drinker, it irritated her stomach. Nora ate an apple in the hours leading up to her death.
Nora’s best friend, Madge Graham, stated that John Bennett was an older man who was courting Nora. Madge claimed the lovers frequently spoke over the telephone and met secretly. According to Madge, who only spoke out after the girl’s death, John Bennett dressed like a gentleman and had plenty of money.
However, Bennett disappeared from Nora’s life about three weeks before her death. Madge said she didn’t know where Bennett lived. What is clear, is that Madge Graham lived at 2088 Sutter Street—150 yards from the house where Nora died.
The rental home was managed by Umbsen & Company. Clerk C. H. Lahanier witnessed their renter sign a lease under the name C.B. Hawkins — the same name on the letters found at the crime scene.
The description Lahanier gave of Hawkins was identical to the description Mr. Krone gave of John Bennett, removing all doubt that Bennett, Hawkins, and the murderer were one and the same man.
Before moving in, Hawkins asked Lahaneir to remove the “rubbish” from the unit, and gave his address as Golden West Hotel. However, clerk Edward Petrie had no record of any guest by the name C.B. Hawkins. Although a man of that name had mail sent there.
Just four days before Nora vanished. Hawkins purchased a cheap bed and bedding from a local furniture salesman, Mr. Schnell. Mr. Schnell described the physical appearance of his customer, and his description was identical to the other two. Larry Gillen delivered the furniture to the address. He added that the man seemed nervous.
A neighbor recalled seeing a woman glance out of the window in the weeks before Nora died. Aside from that, no one came or left. The city was left with a description of an anonymous man. A palpable terror reigned over San Francisco, the likes of which would not be seen again until the Zodiac killings in the 1960s. They demanded an arrest. A list of suspects emerged.
Hugh Grant was a prominent attorney in San Francisco that boarded his daughter with the Fullers. Mother’s intuition told Mrs. Fuller that he might have had an unhealthy affection for her teenaged daughter. Nora herself said she was afraid of him, even after he bought her a rather expensive dress.
Attorney Grant shared no characteristics with the suspect as described, he was questioned extensively by Captain Seymour, the officer in charge of the case. He maintained he knew no man who answered to that description or by the names Bennett or Hawkins. Ultimately, Grant was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Charles B. Hadley worked for The Examiner at the time Nora went missing. Nora’s disappearance received considerable press coverage, especially around January 16, 1902. On January 18, Hadley’s coworker called the police to report that Hadley had also disappeared.
This wasn’t the first time Charles Hadley made an escape. Fourteen years earlier, he fled to Mexico to avoid financial troubles. He wore a false mustache to disguise himself then and had purchased one in 1899.
Detective Charles Cody obtained Hadley’s address at 647 Ellis Street. He lived with a lady called Ollie Blasier. Ollie noticed that the C.B. Hawkins signature bore a striking similarity to her acquaintance, Hadley. She gave the police Hadley’s photograph, which he signed.
Hadley’s handwriting proved to be identical to that of C.B. Hawkins. It is worth mentioning that people who choose an alias, often select one that sounds like, and contains similar letters to their own name.
Hadley was formally accused of the crime, and a reward offered for his capture. Unfortunately, he was never found. There is some evidence that he committed suicide.
Somebody got away with the murder of Nora Fuller. Madge Graham was Nora’s only intimate acquaintance that anyone could name. Hers was the only testimony different from the number of people who came into contact with the killer. It wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility that Nora knew perfectly well who rented the neighbor house. Perhaps she delivered an apple as a kindness to Nora, knowing what was about to happen. Maybe Madge was afraid. This angle has not been explored previously, and likely never will be. Though silence and fear have always been a killer of women.
Nora Fuller’s murder remains one of San Francisco’s coldest cases. All of the evidence and reports regarding her death was destroyed in the San Francisco Fires of 1906. It is unlikely that any new evidence will come forward. Nora’s case will, sadly, remain unsolved.