Kathleen Schottky Jones from Napa came to visit the Courthouse Museum with her family the other day to view our “Shaping Justice” exhibit. Although I haven’t seen her since 2007, she was just as sharp and cheerful as ever. At the age of 97, Kathleen vividly recalls the time she came to observe her father defending a woman accused of murdering her husband in our superior courtroom. I knew she was referring to the Bertha Talkington case in 1934.
Kathleen is the only surviving child of Merced County legal defense giant, Andrew Robert Schottky. He, along with attorneys like Stephen P. Galvin and Terry W. Ward, took the majority of the defense cases before the establishment of the Merced County Public Defender office in 1949. Just in our “Shaping Justice” exhibit alone, Schottky appeared in four major cases including the one that Kathleen remembers.
Growing up in Los Banos, Schottky worked for Henry Miller for 20 cents a day milking cows. Being inspired by his English teacher Magdalene Ferrier to study law, Schottky passed the bar and started practicing law in San Francisco. In 1913, after he learned of his brother’s passing, Schottky relocated his practice to Merced so he could care for his parents.
One of the first cases in Schottky’s docket was the killing of the first game warden in Merced County history. His clients, Earl Farnsworth and Len Sischo of Los Banos, were both market hunters who refused to cooperate with the search of ducks in their vehicle by Deputy State Game Warden George Rodolph on a fateful Sunday, November 29, 1914. After an impasse, guns were drawn. Rodolph wounded Farnsworth first. Rodolph was shot and killed by Farnsworth while turning his attention to Sischo.
Schottky and his co-counsel, Henry Brickley, argued that Farnsworth, who acted in self-defense, was a victim in this unfortunate altercation. They further pointed out that the original investigation conducted by the District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office led to no complaints being filed. The charges against their client were unjust, and they called for a speedy and fair trial. Farnsworth and Sischo were acquitted of all charges by the jury.
Another high-profile defendant that Schottky had was Heaine Haislip (alias Francisco Lopez) who was accused of killing Tom Sablich in South Dos Palos in 1922. A dispute erupted after these two men had a few drinks. Haislip admitted killing Sablich with a knife and dumped his body by the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks.
Assisted by a state senator from Haislip’s home state of Missouri named P.R. Ely, Schottky attempted to exonerate the defendant with a self-defense argument as the District attorney H.K. Landram sought to secure a first degree murder verdict. The case was closely followed because Haislip was revered as a rebel who bravely fought back Sablich’s multiple attacks before he committed the killing. The jury returned a manslaughter verdict after only a half-hour deliberation. Public support for Haislip’s anti-hero persona ultimately benefited his defense especially with able counsel like Schottky.
Schottky must have had a very difficult job defending accused individuals in a small town like Los Banos where he knew both the victims and defendants. The tragedy of the Negra and Amabile families began when a business partnership went south. Antone Negra and Ralph Amabile were in the sheep business, and Negra was accused of killing Amabile for insurance money in 1928.
With overwhelming testimonies from the witnesses as well as physical evidence, the defense was facing an uphill battle. Schottky and two other defense attorneys were unable to persuade the jury, and Negra was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to hang in San Quentin that November. Negra was married to Amabile’s sister. Mrs. Negra lost not only a brother, but also a husband.
While Schottky was unable to save Negra from hanging, he was able to walk Bertha Talkington away from death row. In October 1934, Bertha and her husband, Lamar “Bob” Talkington of Watsonville, traveled on Westside Highway en route to visit her family in Modesto. Lamar Talkington was mysteriously killed, and Bertha made up this story about being shot by highway bandits for not handing over $1000. After close scrutiny, Bertha finally confessed to killing her husband in self-defense. Her trial began in December 1934, and she was represented by Schottky and Modesto attorney E.H. Zion.
The lengthy trial ended with a guilty verdict of murder in the first degree, but Schottky and Zion successfully appealed for a retrial on the basis of jury instruction error. In her second trial, Schottky and Zion continued to use the self-defense argument while emphasizing that domestic abuse and Lamar’s infidelity led to an unbearable marriage and Bertha’s fear for her own life. The jury ultimately acquitted Bertha Talkington of all charges.
When Schottky became a Mariposa County Superior Court Judge in 1939, it ended his prolific defense career and began a new chapter in his legal profession. For more stories about law and order, please visit our “Shaping Justice: A Century of Great Crimes in Merced County” exhibit this weekend. It is on display until October 20.
Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at email@example.com.