Author J’aime Rubio spent four years researching and compiling just a few of the many chilling stories that came out of the Preston School of Industry in Ione, California. From 1894 to 1960, the reform school, often referred to as “Preston Castle,” garnered a cruel and murderous reputation. The Castle has been featured on several television shows including Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures, among others, but no one has done more research and investigating than Rubio. In Behind the Walls: A Historical Expose of The Preston School of Industry, Rubio has uncovered countless true tales of what went on behind the castle walls that not only involve suspicious deaths and unsolved murders, but tales of unlikely triumphs from former wards. Truly, a fascinating read. My only knowledge of the school came from bits and pieces of my own findings while researching for my book. Two of Folsom’s 93 “served terms” at Preston:
#44, George Donnelly
Curiously, the document pictured above lists Donnelly as an Ione ward in 1884, ten years before the reform school opened. I suspect it’s a typo, possibly meaning 1894 instead. According to Behind the Walls, a young James O’Donnell was among Ione’s first seven wards in 1894. At this point, I can only speculate, but could this be the same man?
Then we have #53, Felix Sloper.
One of six children, abused by an alcoholic father who later abandoned the family, Sloper spent much of his young life in and out of prisons. He began with the Preston School of Industry, where he served two separate terms; one for seven years, one for two, and then escaped in 1914. (In January 1915, police arrested Sloper’s mother on a statuary charge after she married another man while still married to her childrens’ father. This earned her the nickname, “Sloper the Eloper.”)
Rubio, a former skip tracer, does a fantastic job unraveling these mysterious and often chilling tales, and bringing them to light, particularly the tragic 1950 murder of Preston housekeeper, Anna Corbin. The Preston Castle undoubtedly holds countless other secrets, but they’re no match for Rubio and her unyielding drive to seek the truth. You can order Rubio’s book on Amazon, or via her website. A dollar from each sale goes to the Preston Castle Foundation.