Dyed in Human Blood: The Vincent Murder House Haunting

May 13, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Hometown History, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sarah Peterson-Camacho

by Sarah A. Peterson-Camacho

That first night opened the door … to what, exactly, she wasn’t quite sure. But that was the night it all began—the rappings on the walls, the floorboards that creaked under invisible feet.

The second night ushered in the footsteps, which slid across the creaking floor like a snake stalking its weary prey—just waiting for the precise moment to strike.

The third night unleashed the phantom pistol shots, and the fourth? That was the night all hell broke loose …

Headline from “The Fresno Morning Republican”, dated Wednesday, May 9, 1894

“Fresno has a haunted house,” proclaimed The Fresno Morning Republican on Wednesday, May 9, 1894, “a house in which hair-raising, blood-curdling experiences may be had—sufficiently numerous and odd to satisfy the most exacting member of the Society for Psychical Research, or, for that matter, any other person.”

And it wasn’t just any old house; it was a murder house, one that had borne recent witness to a cold and calculated killing so heinous, its legacy was “dyed in human blood,” as one December 1890 headline put it.

“It has not been a very easy matter for the owner of the place to rent the house,” the Republican opined, “and it is said that those who moved in were glad enough to move out after a few weeks. Those who were ignorant of the foul murder committed there were soon enlightened by their neighbors, and made so uncomfortable by the knowledge—or by the peculiar noises to be heard there, at times—that they rarely did more than stay out their month.”

A diagram of the murder house, also from The Fresno Weekly Republican, dated Friday, Dec. 19, 1890

But the rent was so cheap, the “one-story frame structure, of weather-stained appearance,” never stayed empty for very long. So when a Mrs. M.F. Culp became aware of its vacancy, she and her children found themselves the notorious dwelling’s latest tenants.

On the last day of April, 1894, the single mother and her brood settled in at the southwest corner of I and Stanislaus, near downtown Fresno, with the help of a local barber who was lodging with the Culps. And although “she knew the character of the place beforehand,” Mrs. Culp “was too sensible a woman to give any importance to the rumors that it was haunted,” reported the Republican. “The rent was very cheap, and that was a weighty consideration …”

But as a fragrant spring darkness descended upon the Central Valley, heady with the sweet musk of night-blooming honeysuckle, the night was far from silent. The house creaked in ways that a house should not creak—especially if no one is up and about. Thunderous knocks and rappings shook the very walls. But granted, “it was a windy night, and Mrs. Culp attributed the noises to that cause, though the tragedy that had taken place there was fresh in her mind.”

And as the first of May dawned cool and clear, the Culp household found itself dragging and bleary-eyed, having slept hardly a wink. Surely the second night would offer a much-needed reprieve from the noise, as the gusts were to have died down by then. But no such reprieve was granted. The walls still shook, and the house creaked, most unnaturally, from every corner—and then there were the phantom footsteps.

“… [Mrs. Culp] also heard a sound as of someone walking through the house in his stocking feet,” the Republican continued. “The sound was particularly awe-inspiring, and impressed her with greater fear … There was something extraordinarily weird and malevolent in the sneaking footsteps—that froze one’s blood and made one tuck the cover over one’s head. It seemed as if the person gliding along over the floor was bound on some evil design.”

By the third night, Mrs. Culp was thoroughly shaken, and beyond grateful for her lodger’s presence; not only was he witness to the same unsettling phenomena as she, but the young barber provided a measure of protection should the cursed home’s invisible forces prove to be violent in any way, shape, or form. Which it did, though the violence was of the spectral variety; for upon that third night, Wednesday, May 2, 1894, “there was more rapping and creaking, when Mrs. Culp and her lodger were suddenly startled by the muffled report of a pistol, followed by the rattling of the tinware in the kitchen.”

Headline from “The Fresno Weekly Republican”, dated Friday, Dec. 19, 1890

Enough was enough. By turns exhausted and terrified, the frazzled lady of the house did not know if she could endure another night like the three previous. So when “the fourth night proved an equally noisy one … Mrs. Culp asked her lodger to make a light,” concluded the Republican. “[But] as he approached the bureau on which the lamp was standing and took hold of it, there was a loud rap at his elbow—that nearly caused him to drop the lamp in his terror. When light was obtained, everything was found to be in its accustomed place, and the disturbances did not occur again … Was the tragedy of Mrs. Vincent’s murder being enacted again?”

Enough was enough. After ten years of marriage to an abusive, cocaine-addicted drunk, Mrs. Annie Poole Vincent had had enough of Dr. Frank O. Vincent’s ugly antics. With an eight-year-old son and two young sisters to look after and provide for, the twenty-seven-year-old wife and mother stood her ground, legally separating from her foul brute of a spouse.

The site of the murder house (now a playground), at the southwest corner of Broadway (formerly I) and Stanislaus

By December of 1890, she had moved her brood into a modest one-story, six-room cottage at the southwest corner of I and Stanislaus, near downtown Fresno. The derelict doctor stayed away, for the most part, as Mrs. Vincent ran a successful dressmaking business out of her new home. But the day Dr. Vincent, thirty-nine, was served with divorce papers, he flew into a rage, vowing that the divorce would never come to pass.

On the morning of Thursday, December 18, 1890, the doctor called upon his wife’s close friend, Mrs. H.I. Rogers, “and urged her to call on [Mrs. Vincent],” reported The Fresno Weekly Republican of Friday, December 19, 1890, “and persuade her to withdraw the suit, and to live with him once more.” Mrs. Rogers, though, “declined to comply with his request. Fearing, however, that he might visit his wife and do her harm as he had threatened, she visited [Mrs. Vincent] about noon.”

When the vengeful doctor appeared at his estranged wife’s door within the hour, he found her in the company of Mrs. Rogers and a Mrs. Red, “a lady employed at sewing by Mrs. Vincent … [he] wanted to know if there was any good news for him; if she would withdraw the suit and give him a chance.” Flanked by her best friend and her sole employee, Mrs. Annie Poole Vincent refused to back down—and would pay with her very life.

Producing a vial of cyanide, Dr. Vincent informed his wife that she would be joining him in a fatal toast; again she refused, and the doctor drew his revolver firing over the screams of Mrs. Rogers. The first shot shattered the dressmaker’s left hand, and the second pierced her left breast, exiting her right side between the fifth and sixth ribs. The third bullet punctured the small of her back as she fled toward the back bedroom, and the fourth proved fatal, burrowing deep into her heart.

“Mrs. Vincent fell over into the arms of Mrs. Red, who swung around so that when she laid the rapidly dying body on the floor, it was stretched out in the alcove bedroom,” the Republican continued. “She breathed only for a moment or two. The cruel shot was a fatal one. As she fell, her shattered hand struck the sewing machine by which she had so long made her living, and left an imprint of blood upon it.”

With her dying breath, Mrs. Vincent implored her employee to immediately summon Special Officer Ragsdale, who lived next door. But the officer was already on his way, jumping over the side fence upon hearing the shots and the screams of Mrs. Rogers.

And while fleeing out the back door, “Vincent drew his revolver on the officer who, seeing a hatchet lying on the floor, grabbed it and felled the murderer to the floor with a well-directed blow,” The Selma Enterprise reported on Saturday, December 20, 1890, “and then marched him to the jail, bleeding like a hog from a wound in the head from the officer’s blow with the hatchet.”

“On his way to the jail, [Dr. Vincent] passed an undertaker whom he knew and hailed him with, ‘Hello, Crawford,’” disclosed The Fresno Weekly Republican. “The salute was returned, and Vincent said: ‘I want you to go up to the house and take charge of my wife’s remains; I have just killed her.’”

Upon reaching the jail, the disgraced doctor collapsed, having already ingested the cyanide he had offered to share with his now-dead wife. “Physicians were sent for—and remedies applied—and he was soon out of danger…”

Meanwhile, Mrs. Vincent’s young son Granville and her two young sisters arrived home from school to find her dead upon the floor—a thimble still upon her finger, wearing a corseted black mourning dress soaked in blood … mourning, for her marriage had preceded her in death.

Despite pleading innocence by reason of insanity, Dr. Frank O. Vincent was found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury of his peers on Tuesday, March 24, 1891. A death sentence swiftly followed, on Wednesday, April 8. “Vincent’s attorneys appealed his case through the state and federal systems,” writes Scott Morrison in Murder in the Garden, Vol. II. “The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed his appeal without a hearing in May 1893, and the case was returned to Fresno County Superior Court, where he was given an execution date of October 27, 1893.”

A gallows was constructed beside the Fresno County Jail in Courthouse Park, and on Friday, October 27, 1893, Dr. Frank O. Vincent was launched into Eternity at 11:59 a.m. He was pronounced dead two minutes later, “becoming the first Fresno murderer to be legally executed in the thirty-seven-year history of the county, and the only one ever to be lawfully executed locally” (Morrison 98).

Mrs. M.F. Culp and her family—including her lodger, the barber (whose name turned out to be Frank, ironically)—never spent another night in the one-story, six-room cottage at the southwest corner of I and Stanislaus.

Another photo of the site, taken from across the street, of the southwest corner of Broadway (formerly I) and Stanislaus

By Thursday, May 10, 1894, only a day after the story of the haunting appeared in The Fresno Morning Republican, a young married couple, by the name of Beck, had moved in with a raucous housewarming party, apparently tickled by the prospect of living in a genuinely haunted house.

And by Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, the Culps (and Frank) were residing right next door, grateful to be finished with the Vincent murder house poltergeists. All it had taken were four hellish nights, one for every bullet fired by the despicable Dr. Frank O. Vincent.

Works Cited
“Vincent’s Murder: He Brutally Shoots Down His Wife.” The Fresno Weekly Republican, Friday, Dec. 19, 1890, p. 5.
“Horrible Murder: Fresno County Again Dyed in Human Blood.” The Selma Enterprise, Saturday, Dec. 20, 1890, p. 3.
“The Fatal Day: Vincent to Be Executed at Noon.” The Fresno Weekly Republican, Friday, Oct. 27, 1893, p. 8.
“Justice At Last: Vincent, the Murderer, Hung.” The Fresno Weekly Republican, Friday, Nov. 3, 1893, p. 7.
“Dr. Vincent’s House: Said to be Haunted by Noisy Spirits.” The Fresno Morning Republican, Wednesday, May 9, 1894, p. 1.
“Only a Ghost Story: But There is a Little Mystery Left.” The Fresno Morning Republican, Thursday, May 10, 1894, p. 3.
Morrison, Scott. Murder in the Garden, Vol. II: More Famous Crimes of Early Fresno County. Fresno, CA: Craven Street Books, 2006, pp. 96-98.

Sarah A. Peterson-Camachois a library assistant with Fresno County Library, with a Bachelor’s in English and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from California State University, Fresno. In her free time, she makes soap and jewelry that she sells at Fresno-area craft fairs. She has written for The Clovis Roundup and the Central California Paranormal Investigators (CCPI) Newsletter.


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