On June 22, 1939, 75 years ago, the hills above Berkeley were the focus of a manhunt as police sought two escaped San Quentin convicts who had been "leaving a trail of robberies, kidnappings, and gun threats behind them."

The Berkeley Daily Gazette reported that "Mrs. Bruce Hammond, wife of a prominent Berkeley dentist," took alarm and called the police when two strange men separately came to her door to ask for food. She suspected they were the fugitives, James O'Connell and Ephraim Richards. Seven cars of officers and Doberman police dogs ascended the hills and conducted "a systematic search of every house, garage, and building in the vicinity."

At about the same time Oakland police were surrounding a suspected hideout in West Oakland. Both searches missed the convicts, who had escaped from a prison road gang in Trinity County two days before. They apparently fled south, and had stolen five automobiles and undertaken two robberies and kidnappings on their way.

Late breaking news reported them sighted in Hayward, then headed east through Livermore.

Train accident

Lawrence Eastman, a 43-year-old real estate agent living at 1851 Catalina Ave., "apparently neither saw the wig wag signal nor heard the warning whistle" of a steam train at Solano and the Santa Fe railway crossing on June 24, 1939. His car was hit and dragged along the tracks, finally coming to rest in a vacant lot. Eastman was killed. He left a widow, four children, and his mother and adult brother, all living in the same home.

Underage marriage

On June 24, "Helen Mayer, deputy in the court of Police Judge Oliver Youngs, was busy working at the counter in Judge Youngs' office this morning when she heard a sound as though someone else was in the room." Looking over the counter, she saw a boy and girl, about 5 years of age, holding hands.

"Is this the place where the judge is who makes people and wife?" the boy asked. "We want to get married."

They fled, however, before she could get their names.

Berkeley High

On June 29, the Berkeley Unified School District Board formally accepted the new "shop and vocational training building" at Berkeley High School. The building still stands on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, at Bancroft.

Fruit fracas

The Berkeley Women's City Club inadvertently hosted a prune brawl on June 28. The occasion was a meeting of the California Agricultural Prorate Commission and the State Prune Growers Association, held in the handsome building on Durant Avenue.

"There developed outspoken controversy," reported the Gazette; "The Santa Clara delegation, which claims a corner on prunes, raised such a rumpus that the session was thrown in an uproar. Chairs were overturned. Prune growers swung well tanned arms."

Berkeley police arrived, and things settled down. The meeting resumed after lunch. The article did not note whether prunes were on the menu.

Military prepares

The Gazette carried a photo on June 28 of a ceremony on the deck of the battleship USS California in Los Angeles Harbor. The occasion was a change of command at the "Battle Force, backbone of the U.S. fleet." Navy men stood at attention under the ship's huge guns, as Rear Admiral James O. Richardson took over the second-in-command position of the fleet.

The same day the paper reported that 15 Navy bombers had arrived at Pearl Harbor, "completing another spectacular mass transfer of U.S. fighting aircraft from the mainland."

Some two and a half years later the California would be sunk by bombs and torpedoes at Pearl Harbor; refloated and repaired, she would serve through, and beyond, the war.