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Looking Back to February 1936: One person killed, suspect commits suicide 

Looking Back Paso Robles

This look back at Paso Robles history comes from local newspapers in the Paso Robles Area Historical Society collection. News for this column is selected with the assistance of the society’s Vice President Nancy Tweedie and Research Director Jan Cannon. Newspaper photography by GiGi Green.

Excerpts from Saturday, February 8, 1936, Paso Robles Times:

Ralph Hagerman commits suicide after arrest for killing Jesse Sledge

Ralph Hagerman, arrested after killing one man and wounding two others, committed suicide Saturday morning by leaping from the second-story window of San Luis Obispo County courthouse window.

A drunken row, which ended in death for Jesse Sledge, 45, of this city, and serious injury to two others, came to a climax at 6:30 last night at the home of Frietas Gerst, on Chestnut Street, near 16th.

Five persons were directly concerned in the fatal tragedy, Ralph Hagerman, whom police accuse of the crime; Earl Pickering, a guest at the Gerst home; Gerst, who until an early hour this morning, lay fighting for his life at the Atascadero hospital; Sledge, and his daughter Betty June, aged 10, who was a witness to the terrible shooting.

Gerst was the first to report the triple murder attempt. He staggered, weak from loss of blood to the B.J. Doughtery residence at 303 15th Street, where he collapsed after asking Mrs. Leslie Hardie to summon Aid.

Both police and ambulance were sent for and the injured trio was taken to Ramage Nursing home for first-aid treatment. Sledge had succumbed to the fatal shot, before help could be administered.

Gerts was transferred, via Kuehl Ambulance to Atascadero hospital, about 7:30 p.m., where X-rays revealed that the bullet was lodged somewhere near his spinal column, at a point below the abdomen, where it had entered. An immediate operation for its removal was performed.

Paso Robles history

Pickering, the least injured of the three, was resting at the home of sister after medical attention had been given his right hand. The shot pierced that member at the back, coming out in the palm just below the thumb-line, fracturing several small bones.

Hagerman tells his story of shooting

Ralph Hagerman, 32, accused of the fatal shooting of Jesse Sledge and the attempted murder of Gerst and Pickering, was interviewed by a representative of The Times in cell at the local jail, Friday evening.

Hagerman related, “Sledge stole my gun from my bureau drawer, where I always keep it and got me to drive him over there (Gerst’s). I didn’t know he had the gun and I didn’t know where we were going. He showed me how to go. “

“I sat out in my car, and he went in. After awhile, they called me in to have a drink, and I went in. They were having an argument. I went into the backroom and pretty soon the fireworks started.

“Bang, bang, bang! And then it was all over. I walked into the front room and there two of them were. Sledge and Pickering, lying on the floor. Gerst walked out. The gun was on the floor.”

Hagerman went on to allege that Sledge, who roomed at the Hagerman home, said that “Gerst had stolen his wife away from him, and he said he was going to take his knife and cut the hearts out of both of them. I always snapped him out of it.”

“So after they were all lying on the floor, I picked up my gun and went home — my wife is home sick with the flu. I thought I’d better go home and take care of her.”

Eye-witness accounts

Witness account from 10-year old Betty June Sledge is that an argument broke out and Sledge pulled the gun from his pocket. Hagerman, who had entered the house in the meantime, took it away.

All were drinking and after about an hour’s time, during which Hagerman had the gun, the argument grew hotter.

Suddenly, Hagerman is alleged to have shouted: “This is about as good a time as any to stop this fight,” and a pistol began to blaze, police reported.

Hagerman jumps from two-story window, dies

At 10:15 o’clock Saturday morning, while left alone for a few seconds in the office of Assistant District Attorney Quaresma on the second floor at the courthouse in San Luis Obispo, Ralph Hagerman opened a window and leaped out, landing on the cement walk in front of the Sheriff’s office. He was killed instantly.

It is claimed that he took a running start in making the fatal jump by some people who happened to see the tragic feat.

Read previous Looking Back articles

Thank you to sponsors of Looking Back

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.