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The Story of Tom Coumas and his Family

Posted by on in San Francisco
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The Greek Historical Society is seeking help in finding out more information regarding the Coumas family of Manteca, CA, a murder that occurred in 1932, and what happened to family members later in life. We are developing the story. If you have an information to share with us, please write to us sfghs@sanfranciscogreeks.com.


Tom Coumas Draft:


There are several stories regarding Greek criminals on sanfranciscogreeks.com.  Each one is interesting in their own way. Just when I think that all of the stories to write about are done, another one comes up. I have my mother to thank for this one because the story is set in her home town of Manteca. There is an interesting legal aspect to the story.


My mother spent her childhood in Manteca, CA. During the 1920s, Manteca was very rural and could be described as a farming community.  I believe you could say that today although the town is much larger. In the 1920s, there were many Greek farmers and they all knew each other.


This story is about Tom Coumas (1889-1974).  He was born October 28, 1889.  He immigrated to the United States January 4, 1907 at the age of 17.  He later became a US citizen in 1914. He met his wife Margaret (1893-1979 - A Belgian immigrant) in Portland, OR and by 1917 they were married.  The couple later moved to Manteca, CA. They had four children; Chester (1919-1996), Dorothy, John (1924-1940), and Peter.  The family bought land in Manteca in the 1920s which they described as a working ranch. He listed his profession as farmer.


Tom Coumas had a brother Gus (1895-1931) in the Manteca area and a sister Fotini in Calexico. Gus Coumas died in Manteca from injuries suffered in a tractor accident which occurred on the Lourentzos farm, on March 7, 1931. He was only married for six months to Bessie Kachiroubas Coumas of Tripolis, Greece, whom he married in Greece and brought to the United States.  Funeral services were held at the St. Basil's Greek Orthodox Church in Stockton and he was buried in Parkview Cemetery in Manteca, California.


During the period 1929-1932, Margaret Coumas was committed to the Stockton State Hospital for the Insane. Mr. Coumas’ younger children were put under the care of his housekeeper, Mrs. Cora Hickman. Margaret Coumas remained at the Stockton State Hospital until her passing in 1979. During this period their son Chester was living at the Lone Star Reformatory.


The children will enrolled at Castle School in Manteca. Their son John had Mrs. Olive Taylor as a teacher. She was 55 years old and had been a teacher for more than twenty years.  There were several instances where John came home and said that the teacher was not being fair with him. Mrs. Taylor treated the other children differently.  Mr. Coumas had a few conversations with Mrs. Taylor about his son.


On April 20, 1932,   Mrs. Taylor reprimanded John and Dorothy for bad behavior and spanked them.  Mr. Coumas was so angry he went to the school with a pistol and killed Mrs. Taylor in her classroom and shot the janitor, Mr. William Douval in the jaw.  There were several witnesses.  Mr. Douval later recovered. After the incident Mr. Coumas attempted to hideout with several Greek families including my grandparents.  California governor Jim Rolph (the long time SF mayor) offered a $500 reward for information leading to Mr. Coumas’ capture.


After the murder, the Kaloutsis family in Manteca adopted Peter Coumas.


Mr. Coumas fled the country to Greece abandoning his wife and children. In April 1933, he married a woman named Georgia adding bigamy to list of crimes. He opened a grocery business with her money.


While Mr. Coumas was in Greece, he was convicted of manslaughter in the US.  The US government attempted to have him extradited and the Greek government refused. However, the Greek authorities sentenced Mr. Coumas to five years in prison for the murder of Mrs. Taylor. He served his sentence was released.  At the beginning of World War II he moved into the Greek mountains to flee the German occupation.


After the war was over, he returned to find his wife and children.  On September 26, 1947 he was arrested for the murder of Mrs. Taylor. His defense was that he had already served his time and cannot be tried again. The case received a lot of attention at the time because the public wondered if his prison term in another country would count the same as if he served time in the US.  The California Supreme Court concluded that he cannot be tried again and he was released. He was never prosecuted in the US for bigamy.




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Guest Friday, 23 February 2018