The Baronda Mayhem Trial

I wish to tell the true story of a real incident from a century ago when a local fire captain suffered the same fate as John Wayne Bobbitt, and it happened right here in San Jose. As a matter of fact, it happened on what is now San Pedro Square.

Narcisco “Frank” Baronda was a short, swarthy, mustached fire captain who considered himself quite a lover. A descendant of the very early Californio Baronda Family (there is a Barnoda Adobe in Salinas), Frank was married to Bertha and they lived together in a small adobe at 28 N. San Pedro Street.

There are two versions as to what led to the early morning May 30, 1907 attack. Frank stated on the witness stand that he and Bertha had been to the Jose Theatre and, after returning, she attacked him with a straight razor.

The more colorful story concerns his personal habit of finishing his shift and leaving by the front entrance of the station. He would walk a short block south until he got to El Dorado Street, then an infamous street that housed many emporiums for horizontal recreation. One had the colorful name of “Big Tit Mary’s,” and Frank frequented it often. (El Dorado Street became so notorious that its name was changed to Post Street in 1908.) On the night in question, he visited Mary’s place before returning home. Bertha was aware of his dalliance and when he returned she was waiting for him with an apparent purpose. It took some time for Baronda to become aroused, but when he was, Bertha took a straight razor and lopped off the organ.

Frank ran screaming from the small adobe where they lived and into the back of the fire station. Fireman Diamonte was the first to see Frank and tied a string around the stump. The firemen rushed him to the City Receiving Hospital at the 1887 City Hall where attendants managed to stop the flow of blood and save Frank’s life.

Bertha donned men’s clothing and attempted to flee, but was found and taken to a cell in the city prison and charged with mayhem. There was a great deal of public sympathy for Bertha and it was difficult to get a jury of twelve impartial men for Judge Welch’s court. But, on January 6, 1908, the jury convicted Bertha after only two hours of deliberation. I’ve searched newspapers from the period for records of Judge Welch’s sentence and have been unable to find documentation. However, a few years ago a newspaper article stated that she was sentenced to five years in state prison. When he recovered, Frank Baronda left the fire department and returned to the family rancho near Salinas.

There are two sequels to this yarn. While in the hospital, Baronda became enamoured of his nurse, married her and fathered a child. Then, in the 1940’s, during one of the many courthouse remodels, Clyde Arbuckle was called to inspect what someone called a “dungeon” in the basement area. While there, Clyde was shown a cupboard containing exhibits of past trials. Listed as exhibit A was a glass jar with a shriveled-up organ the size of an old prune preserved in formaldehyde—all that remained of Frank Baronda and the famous trial.

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