By Jan Siegel
Sylvestro Morales was able to avoid capture. On August 20, he went to a cousin’s home near Rancho Santa Fe. He knew the 17-year-old stepdaughter would be alone. He kidnapped her. In the course of trying to get away from a posse, the pair hid in a corral. Hearing noise coming from his corral, Henry Charles went to investigate. As he entered the building, Morales shot him and then stole his horses. Henry Charles was dead. He left an estate of more than $100,000 mostly in land holdings, including property on River Street. Under property transfers in the Los Angeles Times on November 8, 1878, J. P. Fuller sold to Henry Charles 1.51 acres on River St. in San Juan Capistrano for $150.
Marshal Keno Wilson, who was leading the search for Morales, was able to get one of his former gang members, Ignacio Castillo, to help him capture his former boss in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Castillo knew all of Morales’ former haunts. The posse got lucky. Someone spotted Morales and his girlfriend and reported it. It was close to the home of his stepsister, so they just waited until Morales was alone. The posse was able to capture Morales without firing a shot. Taking the girl was easy.
On his person, at the time of capture, Morales had the watch that he had taken from his first victim. He claimed that it was the watch that did him in. Without it, there would have been no case. As to the horses that he stole, he said that “’horses just like to follow me.” He claimed murder charges were self-defense, but he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison at San Quentin.
Morales vowed to get even with Wilson and Castillo. In 1909, the governor pardoned Morales for good behavior. On October 14, 1910, he waited for Castillo. When he approached Castillo, he shot him. Castillo was mortally wounded but managed to get to the ranch house and say who killed him. Wilson led the search for Morales but was never able to catch him. Morales never got to Wilson. Wilson died at the age of 71 in 1936. Morales was never heard from again after he killed Castillo.
These are some of the figures who are part of San Juan Capistrano history. From Pablo Pryor, to Fr. Joseph Mut, from Henry Charles to Sylvestro Morales, these are the people who have helped define our community. Spend a “Moment In Time” and reflect on all of those who have come and gone before us and how we will shape the community for the future.
Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.