March 10, 1895 – William McLean was found collapsed in front of Gus Semmler’s Saloon near the western end of Main Street about 7 am. William had been stabbed three times and died shortly afterwards, without naming his killer.

Street lined with historic commercial buildings

Mendocino’s Main Street looking westward, c. 1905-1908. On the north side, edged by a long boardwalk, are commercial buildings. The large two-story building with an enormous sign on its eastern wall was “Gus’ Saloon,” once owned by Charles Gustavus “Gus” Semmler, a former tallyman at the Shipping Point. This building was located on the property where Ocean Quilts is now and was demolished in the 1970s.

Born in Ireland in 1859, William had made his home in California since 1886 and was employed in the Albion Woods. He had come to Mendocino the day before his murder to attend a meeting at the Foresters’ lodge and planned to stay overnight at the Mansion House Hotel on the southwest corner of Lansing and Little Lake Streets. A friend had dropped him off at the hotel around 2 am.

The circumstances surrounding William’s murder quickly pointed to a suspect: Joseph Hagquist. Known for his quarrelsome nature, especially when intoxicated, Hagquist had threatened to kill William during a confrontation at the Occidental Hotel bar the previous evening. Incriminating evidence, including bloody clothes and bloodstains on the floor, were also found at Hagquist’s residence near Gus’ Saloon. Hagquist’s explanation was that the blood had come from cuts to his face sustained in a different fight with shoemaker William Wells.

Following a preliminary hearing, Hagquist was held for trial without bail. However, doubts arose during the trial, when the prosecution couldn’t connect Hagquist directly to the crime. The jury was unable to come to a unanimous verdict, with eight in favor of conviction and four for acquittal. The District Attorney chose to dismiss the charges against Hagquist instead of retrying him.

Fourteen years later, Hagquist was implicated in another murder in Humboldt County. Antone Stiner was fatally shot by Hagquist in a cabin near Eureka, and this crime was witnessed by others. Hagquist was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in San Quentin Prison.

New Exhibit! Mendocino Whale War – Visit the Kelley House Museum during March to view posters, photographs, and news clippings in an exhibit about the 1975-1976 protest against illegal whaling. “The Boy Who Talks to Whales,” a film based loosely on one of the festival founders, will be viewable at the Kelley House Museum during March. 45007 Albion Street, Mendocino. Friday-Sunday, 11am – 3pm. Now until March 31.