The Unspeakable Murder of Kate Griffes

The disturbing slaying of Kate Griffes in an 1893 San Francisco saloon

Heather Monroe
12 min readJan 9, 2020
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco, California
29 Jun 1893, Thu • Page 4

On June 28, 1893, an Irish Immigrant named Kate Griffes was silently murdered on the floor of a barroom. Precious little information exists to document the life of Kate Griffes. The 1880 United States Census tells she was born Katherine Dooley in 1865, the daughter of Irish Immigrants. She lived in Pennsylvania, and worked in a cotton mill at age 14, alongside her sister, Annie. A marriage certificate out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, testifies that she was married on September 4, 1887, to a journalist named James H Griffes.

James would later tell that he met his wife in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and they moved to San Francisco after a brief stint in Chicago, where they had their only child, Frances.

One day of Kate’s life was very well documented, but none the less mysterious — the day she was murdered in a manner that even the most sensational of journalists claimed was “not fit for print.”

San Francisco

Panorama of San Francisco, Eadweard Muybridge, 1878, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Griffes moved to San Francisco in 1888, when baby Frances was six months old. James worked on his journalism career, while Kate worked on her social circle. She became especially close with Dr. Frances Gehricke Burnes, who she referred to as Nana, and her daughter, Mrs. Lou Bates. The families lived in the same boarding house while before the Griffes relocated to nearby Alameda.

In Alameda, James built a cozy little home for his wife, where she could garden and get out of the city. Anytime she needed company, San Francisco was just a ferry ride away. Kate ferried over often to surprise friends with a visit, or to indulge in the one vice she struggled to avoid; alcohol.

Kate didn’t need to drink every day, she did get the occasional hankering for it, and sips of beer turned into days long binges. She always had a place to stay with Nana and…



Heather Monroe

Welcome readers! Heather Monroe is a genealogist and writer who resides in California with her partner and their nine children. •True Crime• History• Memoir•