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Stabbing victim's death sends shock waves through community

'There was a very bottomless amount of love in her,' friend says

(An expanded version of an earlier story.)

Those who knew Kathy Hughes Anderson are reeling in shock following the news that the former Atherton town arborist and 62-year-old Menlo Park resident was found stabbed to death in her Valparaiso Avenue home on Wednesday, Dec. 12.


Francis Wolke. (Photo courtesy of San Mateo County Sheriff's Office.)
Police arrested 36-year-old Francis Wolke at Hughes Anderson's home the day her body was found and booked him into San Mateo County jail on first-degree murder charges, the Menlo Park Police Department reported. He had an outstanding arrest warrant from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office for prowling and possession of narcotics stemming from a 2014 case, according to a police department press statement.

Wolke, a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, lived in San Francisco as recently as 2014, police said.

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said that Wolke appeared in court on Friday, Dec. 14, and was assigned a court-appointed lawyer.

The case was continued to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20. No plea has been entered, and Wolke's bail was set at $10 million, Wagstaffe said.

"We believe we have the right person," he continued. "The real question is: ...Why was he in the house? Why did he kill her?"

There are still many unanswered questions about the killing and the circumstances leading to Wolke's arrest.

What happened

Police received a 911 call at 5:34 p.m. Dec. 12 from someone who reported that a woman was dead in the house.

Daniel Baggett, an ex-tenant, was the person who called police, Baggett confirmed with The Almanac. He told The Almanac that he was headed home from work Wednesday evening when he had a feeling that he should go check on Hughes Anderson. He, his daughter and Hughes Anderson had lived together for nearly eight years before he moved out about seven or eight months ago, he said.

His boss dropped him off at the house, he said, and he quickly noticed several things amiss: the waste bins were still out, all the lights were off, and the bedroom window was closed. Normally, he said, Hughes Anderson brought in the waste bins as soon as they were emptied, and some lights were always on. The bedroom window, he said, had "never been closed the entire time I've known her."

He called Hughes Anderson, received no response, then sent a text. He walked around the house, then noticed that the back screen and back door were open.

"That's when I started to panic," he said.

He entered the house and saw a glove on the kitchen floor. He started yelling her name and ran to the bottom of the stairs.

That's when he saw a man leave the guest room. "He looked very disheveled, like he was on something," Baggett said. "I could see blood on his pants."

He called 911 and started yelling at the man, "What are you doing here? Where's Kathy?"

The man, Baggett said, wouldn't say anything, just kept shaking his head. Baggett said the man later said that he was sick and needed help, and that he confessed to killing Hughes Anderson.

When the man tried to descend the stairs, Baggett said he made a calculated decision: to rush to the kitchen, grab a knife and keep the man from leaving. He made it back to the bottom of the stairs in time to keep the man from leaving the staircase.

Baggett said he told the man he would kill him if he came farther down the stairs, and the man sat down at the top of the stairs. He said he got frustrated with the 911 operator, hung up, yelled some more at the man, then called 911 again. After what felt like an hour, but was probably only about five minutes, Baggett said, he heard the sirens and the police arrived.

"Once it became clear she was gone … I wasn't going to let him leave," Baggett said. "I wouldn't call it bravery – I was just reacting to the situation. … He killed someone I loved."

When officers arrived, they found Hughes Anderson, who was "unresponsive." She was pronounced dead by Menlo Park Fire Protection District medics, police said.

Police said their investigation found that Hughes Anderson was "murdered by stabbing with an instrument other than a knife," according to the press release. Wagstaffe did not reveal what the weapon was, but said that the sharp object was "used as a stabbing instrument to her head."

Police are still investigating whether there was a connection between Wolke and Hughes Anderson.

Wagstaffe said on Dec. 14 that no prior contact or relationship between the suspect and the victim had been identified, but added, "that doesn't mean we won't find that."

Police detectives, along with officials from the the county crime lab and the DA's Office, took part in the Dec. 12 investigation at the home. Valparaiso Avenue between University Drive and Johnson Street was shut down during the investigation.

According to police department crime statistics, there hadn't been a homicide in the city since 2012. That year, there were two.

Baggett said he still doesn't know why the man picked Hughes Anderson to kill. He said that he and Hughes Anderson had a contentious, "love-hate" relationship, but remained friends, even after he moved out. They would meet for meals several times a week and he often helped out around the house.

"It's a hard relationship to explain, but we were really close," he said. "I considered her family, and my daughter did too."

He also told The Almanac that Hughes Anderson told him a few weeks ago that she had seen a "skinny white guy" staring at the house, and that it had really creeped her out.

Kathy Hughes Anderson

Hughes Anderson was well-known and well-liked in Atherton, and had connections there for many years, say those who knew her.

She worked for Atherton as town arborist for more than 22 years, from November 1989 until she retired in November 2011.

"The few people that were here (working for the town of Atherton) when she was are still in a state of shock," said Atherton Deputy City Manager Theresa DellaSanta in an interview. "She was just extremely well-liked by residents here in town."

According to a press statement from DellaSanta, Hughes Anderson played an instrumental role in developing the town's heritage tree ordinance, helped to designate "Arbor Day" in town, chose trees to be planted around town, assisted the town in achieving its status as a "Tree City" each year, and supported the town's environmental programs.

"Kathy was very passionate about her work as an arboriculturist and had a profound understanding of tree conservation and removal and landscape development and renovation," DellaSanta said in the statement.

"Kathy was tremendously respected by Atherton residents. ... It was the little things that Kathy performed around Town that residents remember and grew to love about her. Kathy was a beacon of positivity for all who came into contact with her, and her impact on trees in Atherton will carry on for many generations," the statement said.

Hughes Anderson's husband, Bill (Andy) Anderson, died in 2007 at age 64 due to complications from leukemia, according to an obituary posted on The Almanac's Lasting Memories page. He was a former owner of Dahl Plumbing and Heating, and had worked for SRI and PG&E.

Before she died, Hughes Anderson had been working to create a fund to plant new trees on national forest lands that had been scorched by fire, according to Atherton City Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis.

Valerie Gardner, a member of Atherton's Environmental Programs Committee and a longtime friend, set up the fund as a memorial in Hughes Anderson's honor.

Go to is.gd/trees735 to access the link to the memorial fundraiser.

"It's the weirdest thing that something like this would happen to someone like her," Gardner said. "She just seemed to always be giving."

Gardner added that Hughes Anderson had a strong sense of artistry when it came to arranging flowers and greenery.

"I went to her for almost every corsage or boutonniere my kids needed for their special events," she said. When she would ask for one boutonniere, Hughes Anderson would have prepared six to choose from, using flowers from her own garden, and offered the rest for Gardner's child to give away.

"There was a very bottomless amount of love in her," Gardner said.

"Kathy will be missed by all whose lives and trees she touched," Atherton Mayor Bill Widmer said in the town's statement. On behalf of the City Council and staff, our deepest condolences go out to Kathy's family and friends."

In an interview, Widmer said that Hughes Anderson had evaluated trees on his property and worked for the town during his first couple of years on the City Council.

"She was always so very knowledgeable about all different types of plants, specifically trees. She was very caring," he said.

"Many, many people knew her," he added.

He said she understood the value of having trees as a community presence, wanted to ensure that people took good care of them, and had a keen sense for which types of trees would thrive in town.

"She was a joy to have in the city," he said. "It's a terrible situation that we're facing today."

Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller said: "Like every Menlo Park resident, I'm horrified this crime occurred in Menlo Park. I trust in the competence of the (Menlo Park Police Department) to investigate it."

Lewis, the Atherton councilwoman, recalled that Hughes Anderson was "an unbelievably kind, loving person about the environment and about trees" who stayed in contact with many residents in town as a tree consultant and adviser. "We cannot put our heads around what happened. It's very surreal," she told The Almanac.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call the Menlo Park Police Department at 650-330-6300 or the anonymous tip line at 650-330-6395.

Correction: A previous version of this story identified Baggett as a neighbor, not a former tenant.

Julia Brown contributed to this report.

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Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Just the Facts
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 18, 2018 at 10:32 am

Just the Facts is a registered user.

A terrible ending to a life well lived. Rest in peace.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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