Officer learns about mystery tombstone discovered 12 years ago
VIDALIA — When Jim Boren invited Ralph Newton Fariss into his home, Boren had no idea Fariss was a train robber and murderer.
But since Fariss keeps to himself most of the time sitting outside in the carport of their Apple Street house, Boren and his family have learned to look past Fariss’ criminal history and accept him as part of their family.
“When I have friends over, I’ll say, ‘Come meet Ralph,’” Brittany Boren, Jim’s daughter, said. “He’s just a part of the family now.”
In 2001, a construction crew working near the Riverview RV Park found a tombstone inscribed with Ralph N. Fariss’ name, date of birth and date of death. The crew turned the tombstone over to the Vidalia Police Department, where it became Boren’s office companion for a number of years.
“I didn’t want anything to happen to it, so it sat up at the police department for all those years,” Boren said. “At the end of the day, it was somebody’s tombstone and it belonged to someone, so I felt like I needed to take care of it.”
When the police department relocated to the municipal complex last year, Boren brought the tombstone to his house where it has been since April.
The marble tombstone, which is in good condition except for a few chipped edges and scratches, lists Fariss’ date of birth as Feb. 14, 1889, and his date of death as Jan. 15, 1915.
Boren said he initially tried to find information about Fariss in hopes of one day returning the tombstone to a living family member.
“I just couldn’t find anything, so I brought it back here to the house,” Jim said. “I’m all about getting it back to where it belongs, but I just couldn’t find where or who to give it to.”
Earlier this month, Boren received an e-mail from Peggy Schrader, who gives tours of Union Cemetery in Bakersfield, Calif.
chrader told Boren that a Ralph Fariss is buried in the cemetery along with his father, mother and grandmother.
She contacted Boren after finding his name listed in a 2001 article in The Natchez Democrat from when the tombstone was initially found, he said.
Along with some genealogical information about Fariss, Schrader also sent Boren a speech she gives about Fariss during the cemetery tour.
In the speech, Schrader says Fariss was born in Iowa, but that his family relocated to California in 1890.
After several encounters with the law and a stay at the California State Reform School for robbery, Fariss began robbing trains.
In Dec. 1913, Fariss shot and killed a Southern Pacific Railroad employee onboard a train near El Monte, Calif.
Fariss evaded law enforcement officials for several weeks, but was eventually arrested and charged with the murder.
After a variety of legal proceedings pushed back Fariss’ execution date, he was eventually hanged on Jan. 15, 1915, at San Quentin Prison and was buried shortly after at Union Cemetery.
Schrader said she believes a cenotaph, or a maker that’s placed in remembrance of a person, was made for Fariss and possibly placed in Iowa. From there, it could have washed down the Mississippi River to the banks of Vidalia.
The story doesn’t seem all too farfetched to Boren.
“I believe it could have washed all the way down from Iowa, but I just didn’t know I had a train robber and murder in my house,” Boren said, laughing. “It’s amazing.”
Boren said he would continue communicating with Schrader with the initial goal of returning Fariss to a family member.
“I’m still all about getting it back to where it belongs,” Boren said. “But I guess for now, Ralph’s just a part of the family.”