Old Prospector Peter Voiss


In the 1930s San Francisco, Peter Voiss, an old prospector was making money by giving children rides on his donkeys, peddling his own poetry and selling postcards of himself in his “forty-niner” get up. He also charged a small fee to have his picture–‘of a picturesquely gnarled, full-bearded gaffer’ as Time Magazine called it–taken.

On April 23, 1936, a San Jose dentist Jaspar Gattucio snapped Voiss and his burro-drawn cart beside the Monterey Highway near Morgan Hill. From the wagon jumped Peter Voiss, 74, to collect a 50¢ fee. Dentist Gattuccio refused to pay and ran away. Later he stopped his car again to wave at Voiss, who interpreted this wave as a taunt. As Gattucio got back in his car and drove away, Voiss drew out his gun and pulled the trigger. The bullet pierced the dentistʼs rear window and lodged clean in the back of his head. The dentist was pronounced dead six hours later and Voiss was taken into custody. When he was booked, he mumbled something about people not paying him for taking his photograph.

He fretted about his donkeys, and asked who would feed them while he was in jail. The warden tricked Voiss into entering his cell by telling him that his donkeys were waiting for him there – even though the cell was located up a flight of stairs. Despite a psychiatrist declaring Voiss “hopelessly insane,” and despite his erratic behavior, Voiss was acquitted and set free. The jury believed that Voiss had only meant to threaten the dentist, when the gun accidentally went off.

In the above picture–the last Dr. Gattucio took–Voiss is shown leaping with rage as he runs toward the cameraman. Authorities developed the film and the photo appeared in the L.A. Times.

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0 thoughts on “Old Prospector Peter Voiss

  1. wow the only info i can seem to trace my family history back to is this?!? guess the next time someone doesn’t wanna pay up ill direct them to this! ironic as it is, it’s as real as it gets…

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