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California’s Last Gilded Age House Murder And Intrigue

California's Last Gilded Age House

California's Last Gilded Age House

Jeanine Grinsell and Laurie McKenna found Carolands silent. The security officer who conducted the unlawful excursions ordered the high school girls to yell. He explained it was to test the strong concrete walls’ soundproofing.

Jeanine and Laurie explored California’s Gilded Age house. The man walked them through Carolands’ 98 rooms and ballrooms. The guard heard police dogs. He told the girls to hide in a safe until the police left. Jeanine and Laurie asked him to leave.

California’s Last Gilded Age House Murder And Intrigue

When he did, Carolands’ silence engulfed them.


One of America’s most spectacular homes is on a ridge near Hillsborough, 20 miles south of San Francisco.

Harriet Pullman, daughter of railway car billionaire George Pullman, started Carolands. Pullman’s heiress met Frank Carolan in San Francisco in the 1890s. Frank’s father made his fortune selling dry goods to miners during the Gold Rush. Harriet and Frank danced at a party. Blooming love.

Frank Carolan was outraged about street noise in 1914, according to the Examiner. Frank’s polo grounds were the last straw when the city demanded sidewalks. His affluent friends declared they were leaving.

Frank and Harriet bought 554 acres near Hillsborough and began designing a huge French chateau; on a clear day, you could see San Francisco. Harriet shopped throughout Europe in 1914. Harriet was refined, educated, and preoccupied with having the best. When $30,000 in jewels was stolen from her apartments at the St. Regis in 1919, she sued, alleging the accessories were “essential to her social existence.” Harriet was worried about three 18th-century French salons she’d bought before World War I. By October, Harriet returned from France with three rooms.

She desired a legacy. Harriet envisioned a library packed with California historical texts. She bought “the best Western collection” for her 30,000-volume library.

It was the “final residence of the age of elegance” that began with W.K. Vanderbilt’s home in 1881. The petition labeled it “perhaps the world’s best beaux-arts home.”

In 1916, the Carolans moved into their mansion, but their marriage soon deteriorated. Harriet made frequent, extended excursions to New York while Frank lived in San Francisco. In 1918, they hosted Col. Arthur Schermerhorn of the blue-blood New York family at Carolands. Harriet married the colonel years later.

Frank died at the Fairmont of a heart attack in 1923. Harriet had to go from New York for her husband’s burial. A year later, the widow married Schermerhorn.

The newlyweds returned to Carolands in 1925. But Harriet’s palace wasn’t home. Within a few years, she transferred the luxurious furniture to Cupertino and sold Carolands to a developer. One-sixth of Hillsborough’s land at the time.

A real estate corporation bought the house’s last acres in 1950. Redwood City Tribune: It planned to demolish it for 40 “suburban residences for the Bay Area’s highest income levels.”

Countess Lillian Remillard Dandini was a last-minute buyer. Dandini inherited the construction company that rebuilt San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake. Dandini married an Italian prince and converted Carolands into a San Mateo County social center.

Dandini died there at 93 in 1973. She left the house to Hillsborough in hopes it would become a library or museum, but the municipality refused. In December 1973, the San Mateo Times claimed that bringing the huge property up to code would cost $500,000; Hillsborough’s annual budget was less than $1 million.

Jeanine Grinsell, 16, and Laurie McKenna, 17, hoped to see Carolands. Raley greeted them at the estate on Feb. 5, 1985. After locking them in the safe, he “called Laurie’s name in a taunting, sing-song voice” He ordered the females to undress and opened the safe with a knife.

Raley sex-attacked Laurie and Jeanine while handcuffed. He stated he’d let them leave if they stayed quiet about the attack, but he lied or changed his mind. Raley battered and stabbed the girls before throwing them in his car’s trunk.

Raley’s Carolands shift wasn’t over. So he returned to work and spoke to a police officer who’d come to the mansion to talk about Raley’s new radio. Raley was a cop clout chaser; he liked emulating law enforcement and listened to police scanners.

Raley left work at 5 p.m. and traveled to San Jose. He left the girls in his trunk and went home for dinner. Raley played Monopoly with his sister till 11 p.m. while the girls shivered and bled.

Raley drove to a ravine along Silver Creek Road during the night. After another pounding, he rolled the ladies downhill. Laurie climbed the ravine as dawn broke. She reached the summit and alerted a passing vehicle despite 35 stab wounds. Jeanine died at the hospital where Laurie and she were sent. Laurie survived.

Police immediately arrested Raley using girls’ tips. He was executed for murder, attempted murder, and kidnapping. Currently 60, he’s on death row at San Quentin.


Carolands’ situation deteriorated. The leaking roof, millions in repairs, and Loma Prieta earthquake made everything worse. Even fervent supporters of the home accepted its demolition in the ’90s. No one wants to maintain a huge, pricey home.

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