A Tale of two Theories: Murder or Suicide

Paul drexler
4 min readMar 4, 2022

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, Issac was happy, Issac was miserable, Issac loved his wife, Issac hated his wife, Issac was murdered, Issac killed himself.

Only this was certain: Issac was dead. On June 1, 1897, at 6:45 p.m., a night watchman found Issac Hoffman lying on the floor of his San Francisco office with three bullet wounds in his head. Another bullet hole was in the wall.

The autopsy report said, “..one bullet entered the skull at the top of the head, upon the left side. It split from contact with the bony structure part passing under the scalp, emerging from the cheek at a point half way between the eye and ear, producing the second wound. The remainder of the bullet passed straight down and tore through the skull, passing between sections of the brain. The second bullet entered the left cheek upon a line with the other two wounds.”

Circumstances pointed to Theodore Figel, Hoffman’s bookkeeper. Figel was seen with Hoffman, a partner in Hoffman, Rothschild, & Co., 30 minutes before his body was discovered, and it was Figel’s gun that shot Hoffman. Police Chief Isaiah Lees, San Francisco’s legendary detective, questioned Figel.

Two days later, to everyone’s surprise, Lees declared that Hoffman had committed suicide. But why? Hoffman’s business was prosperous, and he seemed to be in the best of spirits. The answer was a subject near and dear to 1950s comedians: his mother in-law.

There was great discord in the Hoffman household. Hoffman’s mother-in-law was the widow of his former business partner. She felt cheated by the amount Issac had paid her for her husband’s share and was suing him. Hoffman’s wife sided with her mother and complained bitterly about her husband’s stinginess. Letters that Issac had taken from his wife suggested a tempestuous relationship between them. And just minutes before his death, Hoffman asked a friend, “How can I be happy when I have such a mother-in-law?”

Paul drexler

Paul Drexler is the author of “Notorious San Francisco” and over 50 true crime stories for the S.F. Examiner. He received the Oscar Lewis Award for his writing