Unlocking History

Peculiar case of the Perfumed Burglar

Herbert Repsold San Quentin booking photos with prison in the background.
Herbert Repsold, "The Perfumed Burglar," was sent to San Quentin in 1911.

Herbert Repsold, teen burglar, dies after escaping San Quentin

Perfume, purloined jewelry and a millionaire’s son form the complex story of Herbert Repsold, also known as the Perfumed Burglar.

In the early 1900s, Repsold was a troublesome youth. Growing tired of his son’s antics, the elder Repsold cut off his son’s cash and forced him to join the Navy. The teen didn’t last, deserting his post in 1909.

To fund his lifestyle, he turned to burglary. For two years, he swiped jewelry and cash from homes around Oakland. He was finally caught Feb. 10, 1911, after moving his burglary operations to Sacramento.

“He has always been rather wild and indulged in false pretenses even when a little boy,’’ his father told newspapers. “Finally it got so bad that I could not stand him any longer.”

The 19-year-old Repsold pleaded guilty, earning him 15 years in San Quentin.

“He stole a number of pieces of jewelry and made the mistake of selling them,” reported the Sacramento Union, Feb. 22, 1911.

After learning of his arrest, the commander of the Navy vessel ‘Pensacola’ requested he be returned to the ship from which he deserted.

According to news accounts, he hit 11 homes and gave some of the jewelry as gifts to his love interest in Sacramento.

“After his arrest, Repsold (helped officers recover) the stolen property both in Sacramento and Oakland,” the paper reported. “Judge Hughes (said) he could not understand why a boy who had every opportunity (should choose) to lead a life of crime.”

A few weeks later, Repsold’s mother died.

“Bertha Repsold, mother of the ‘perfumed burglar,’ died Monday at the Adler sanatorium. (She) was 49 years old and a native of Germany. She had been ill for five months. Her husband, Amandus Repsold, is a wealthy wholesale liquor dealer,” reported the San Francisco Call, March 18, 1911.

The following year, his father passed away.

“Amandus Repsold, millionaire wine merchant of (San Francisco), died last evening of heart failure,” reported the San Francisco Call, May 20, 1912. “He died in the ambulance.”

Final crime and fatal escape

Repsold landed a job helping balance the books at the prison but couldn’t resist skimming a little for himself.

“He manipulated (the books) so as to (embezzle) small amounts. Repsold learned that his petty plot had been discovered and he would lose his credits (so would need) to serve his full sentence,” reported the Los Angeles Herald, Feb. 7, 1913.

On Jan. 10, 1913, rather than face another dozen years in prison, he escaped.

A month later, the tale of Repsold, 24873, came to an end.

On Feb. 6, 1913, correctional officers, known then as guards, responded to a report of a body found by fishermen two miles from the prison. Prison officials believed Repsold slipped and fell on the rocks while attempting to get to a boat.

A handwritten note below his San Quentin mugshot simply reads, “The Perfumed Burglar.”

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor

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