Murder at the House of Blood
Hi, thank you for checking out our new blog, Folsom Unveiled. My name is Kaitlyn Scott and I’m Folsom Historical Society’s historian. Each week I will be highlighting a different topic related to Folsom’s history that not everyone knows about by diving deeper into a place, event, person or piece in our collection.
If you have been reading this blog, I am sure you know by now that I love true crime (see the Ada Hill blog). I have been told by a few readers that they found it very interesting so I figured I why not write about a murder that happened in Folsom over 130 years ago but a little differently, because if you read the Ada Hill blog, you already know how I research.
I would like to say here that I am not trying to be too graphic explaining the murders, rather, I am just trying to get the facts across and while they died over 130 years ago, it is my intent to respect that the Kays were living people who had family and friends who loved and missed them. If you are sensitive to violence, please don’t read ahead. I promise I won’t be offended, and you can check back next week for a murder free blog post.
As with any town, Folsom had its fair share of crime, especially in the early days. While Folsom did have a dedicated police force who seemed to be very competent, it was a different time back then and without forensics available, crimes, especially murder, sometimes went unsolved. Unfortunately, this was the case for the Kays whose deaths have never been solved.
Before we get into all that, I want to tell you about the Kays. Samuel and Sarah came from England to Massachusetts where their only child, William, was born and then moved on to Folsom for the Gold Rush in the 1851. After he quit mining, Samuel worked in the lumber business as proprietor of the Folsom Lumber Yard and owned around 75 lots in Folsom with fifteen buildings. Census records show that William was the son of both Samuel and Sarah but some newspapers refer to him as Sarah’s stepson, either way, most newspaper accounts refer to him as a bit wild which may have been sensationalized as he became the number one suspect for his parents’ murder.
Folsom was a small town in 1885 and while all murders are tragic and shocking, the area was blindsided by this one. The Kays were in their 60s when they were murdered and had no ties to anything criminal. It must have been scary to hear about the nice old neighbors down the street being murdered, and I imagine many people were terrified.
We may think that it is just modern-day news that goes too far but in reality, news has always been sensationalized. Shocking themes make good sales and newspapers throughout California struck gold with this story and by preying on Folsom’s fears of a murderer in their midst. The Kay murder was reported everywhere with headlines meant to shock and thrill readers and nothing seemed to be off limits. The Kay home was referred to as “The House of Blood” (my personal favorite) and referred to Folsom as a “Breeding Place of Murders”. Like today, newspaper articles should be taken with a grain of salt but if you sift through the theatrics, there is a compelling story to be told.
So now that you are a little familiar with the Kays, let’s get into the murder. Sometime in the evening after 6:00 PM on October 7th, 1885, Sarah Kay was in her kitchen when an unknown assailant attacked her. She was strangled to prevent her from calling out for help, stabbed 5 times in the chest, disemboweled, beaten with a hammer and then dragged to the woodshed where her body was later found. At some point after this, Samuel Kay arrived in the kitchen where he was stabbed three times in the chest, beaten with a hammer and after his death, a knife was pushed through his throat to pin his body to the floor. The murderer then ransacked their house, stealing money and jewelry. The murder weapons were left in the house and were brand new. A strange fact reported was that it appeared as if whoever the murderer was had eaten food in the house afterwards, some pie and jelly with the knife left out. This fact bothers me, probably because I can’t imagine someone being able to eat after killing two people in such a violent manner.
The next morning around 8:00 AM, twelve-year-old Thomas Burke came to the house to deliver milk and found the kitchen door to be unlocked. He stepped in and saw Mr. Kay’s body. He ran out immediately and found William Nichols, a nearby neighbor, and Nichols ran for the police. Once police arrived, Nichols informed them that he had seen Samuel Kay the evening before around 6:00 PM and that it was well known that Kay kept money in the home.
Suspicions immediately turned to the Kays’ son, William. It was well known around town that he was a drunk and apparently father and son had fought recently with one witness in Folsom claiming that Samuel threatened to cut William off if he didn’t change and another witness claimed that Kay had written a will leaving his son with only $10 dollars, a will that now seemed to be missing. Kay’s estate was worth 30,000 dollars which is $792,955 today. The police and newspapers passed around William’s likeness, trying to find him for questioning.
One detective working on the case said at the time that he wouldn’t be surprised if William turned up dead as well. He believed that William was guilty and had worked with a partner and the partner had double crossed him, which is why they were unable to find William for questioning. He was proven wrong just days later, maybe not about William’s guilt, but of his death. William was arrested in Marysville on October 19th, claiming he knew nothing about his parents’ deaths until seeing it that day in the newspaper on October 13th. William swore that he was innocent and that he had an alibi to prove it, but, he did not have an explanation as to why he waited to go back to Folsom after seeing the newspapers. Upon his arrest, Kay also lied to police, saying that he was not William Kay but William Wilson from Arizona, something he later chalked up to being drunk.
William talked openly with Deputy Sheriff McComber of Folsom, a man he had known since he was a child. He claimed that he had been drunk for several days and had been working at Rose’s levee camp in Colusa County. Fortunately for William, his story checked out and a man named John Denver (not of “County Roads, Take Me Home” fame) came forward with proof that William had indeed been staying at the camp.
With William’s alibi came frustration for the police, if William was innocent, they didn’t have a clue as to who else could be responsible. Newspapers of course blamed the Chinese population as the Kays lived near Chinatown on what is now River Way, but there was no proof.
A year later, a man named Simmons claimed that a Chinese man had confessed to him while they were both in prison that he had murdered the Kays, but upon questioning, the man called Simmons a liar and Sheriff McComber was unable to find any evidence that the man knew anything about the murders at all and again the case went cold, this time for good.
William took over as administrator for his father’s will, which was not missing after all, and was the sole inheritor to the estate, many of which later burned in an 1886 fire. The will originally gave everything to Sarah Kay if she were to not precede Samuel in death, which Kay officially died first could not be proven so the estate legally belonged to William instead of passing to anyone else of Sarah’s choosing. William does not appear much in the newspapers again except for one comment saying that he had not stopped drinking and would no doubt drink through his money. Our archive has several deeds that show William Kay sold properties that his father had owned to other locals.
The Kay residence or so called “House of Blood” seemed to not recover from its title and was vacant for some time before it was used by Emma Spencer, Folsom’s madam as her house of prostitution. Today, the house still stands and has a much different use, it has been moved from River Way and is now a school.
While we will most likely never know who killed the Kay family, I do have my suspicions. The deaths were obviously extremely brutal. To me, they seemed anger fueled, especially the knife through Samuel’s throat, I think that they were committed by someone who knew the couple and had quarreled with one or both, the overkill suggests something deeper than just theft. Since the murders took place in the early evening, a time when anyone could stop by, there were probably two people involved, one to murder and one as look out. I don’t think that old detective was too far off when he said it was most likely a partnership…while William was cleared of any wrongdoing by an alibi, I still don’t think he was completely innocent. If I found out from a newspaper my parents died, I would go straight back home to find out what happened, not continue to drink for almost a week before being picked up by police.
What do you think? Let us know if you think William was really innocent or not, I am curious to know!