Oceanside has several notable landmarks including the Pier and the historic Mission San Luis Rey. However, one of the most notable and beloved landmarks is what we know as the “Top Gun” House. It has been newly restored, in all its Victorian-detailed glory, nestled within a new oceanfront resort on North Pacific Street.
To tell the story of the “Top Gun” house, we need to go back to the earliest days of Oceanside. Andrew Jackson Myers, a rancher in the San Luis Rey Valley, noted that a railroad line had just been completed Los Angeles to San Diego (by way of Riverside) along the Pacific coastline. Myers then applied for and received a land grant of 160 acres in 1883. The trains would travel directly over Myers’ new land grant making his property very valuable.
That year, a town was surveyed, laid out and streets were named. Myers began advertising his new town in newspapers all over Southern California. This new town of Oceanside was touted as a new “resort city” and excursion trains brought prospective land buyers from the inland valleys.
The train stopped at a simple wooden platform to unload passengers. There wasn’t much to see in those very early years, but one of the first commercial blocks contained the Hayes Land Office, the Louis Billiard Hall and Mayroffer’s Saloon.
Visitors wishing to wade in the Pacific Oceanside could use the bathhouse built by Andrew Jackson Myers, just below the bluff on the beach (located where the current Beach Community Center now stands) which afforded beach goers the opportunity to change into their bathing attire.
Described as a “seaside resort” in brochures and pamphlets, interest in the new town was great. With a name like “Oceanside” there was truth in advertising. In August of 1886 the San Diego Union published a story about our development, “The location is a most desirable one, combining a magnificent beach, high and level ground for a town site, magnificent climate and charming scenery.
The trains came from Los Angeles to Oceanside via Colton and passengers came to Oceanside as early as 1883 and 1884 to inspect the burgeoning town and invest in ocean and beach front real estate. Many residents of Riverside, Redlands and San Bernardino purchased property in Oceanside and built vacation homes here.
In 1886 Dr. Henry Graves of Riverside came to Oceanside and while here bought a portion of a lot on North Pacific Street for just $1.00. The following year Graves purchased two more lots, one of which was on the northwest corner of Pacific and First Streets (now Seagaze Drive). Lot 7 on Block 16 was purchased for $1050.00 and would be the site of new summer home for himself and his wife Sarah.
Henry Graves was born in Coshocton, Ohio on February 10, 1827. He attended medical school in Iowa, and later moved to Middleport, Illinois where he opened a practice in 1857. By 1860 Henry had married his wife Sarah, who was born in 1833, and was also a native of Ohio. The two were living in Hiawatha, Kansas and lived in house on Kickapoo Street. In 1868, Sarah Graves gave birth to a son, Henry E. Graves.
Graves was Post Surgeon at the Whetsone Indian Agency in 1871 as well as the Spotted Tail Agency in Sheridan County, Nebraska in 1871. The latter agency was the first to be constructed within the Great Sioux Reservation established by a treaty in 1868 and was named for Brule Sioux Chief Spotted Tail.
Returning to Hiawatha, Graves was appointed postmaster in1875 and operated a drugstore. In 1879 Henry Graves was elected to the city council there and was appointed chairman of the Republicans of Brown County committee. In 1883, Henry and Sarah Graves left Hiawatha, Kansas, and moved to Riverside, California where they purchased a ranch on Brockton Avenue. He continued his medical practice there but also engaged in citrus farming.
Dr. Graves undoubtedly read of Oceanside in the local papers where the excursion trips were posted and after making a trip of his own, was sold on the newly established town. Several months after purchasing his oceanfront lot atop Pacific Street, Graves had a home built. The South Oceanside Diamond reported on November 2, 1888: “Dr. Grave’s house, under the skillful management of Ed. Durgan is nearing completion.” (Note: It has been erroneously reported for a number of years that the house was built in 1887.)
The ornate Victorian cottage was built as a vacation home, Dr. and Mrs. Graves would “summer” in Oceanside and return to Riverside. The local paper described it is “their annual vacation by the seaside.” The couple continued to visit Oceanside each year. In 1904 they had an extended stay as the Oceanside Blade reported on May 21, 1904: “Dr. and Mrs. Henry Graves [are] down from Riverside and will remain in their cottage by the seaside until October.”
The Graves sold their Oceanside home in March of 1905 for $1800, to Charles H. and Lillian Burlock. Dr. Henry Graves died on October 20, 1905, in Riverside at the age of 78.
Charles Burlock was appointed deputy constable in 1897 by Benjamin Franklin Hubbert. Burlock married Lilian Wilcox in 1899 and moved to San Diego where he was the manager of the San Diego Gold Mining and Milling Company. The Burlocks sold the house to J. F. Anderson, and it was then transferred to Southwestern Realty in 1910. But even as late as 1914, locals continued to refer to the house at the “Graves’ cottage” because of its longtime association with Dr. and Mrs. Graves.
In 1921 the home was purchased by F. C. Janssen who was active in Oceanside real estate. The cottage was sold in 1926 to B. C. and Margaret Beers, the former being the President of the First National Bank of Oceanside and the developer of the Plumosa Heights subdivision on Alberta, Leonard and West Streets.
The cottage was sold again to Edward and Edith Deggendorf in 1928, who promptly sold it to Angeline G. Morgan who also purchased a house and lot behind the Graves house on Lot 6. Born Angeline Elizabeth Gregory in 1889, she was a native of Topeka Kansas. She moved to San Bernardino, California in about 1904 with her parents Merritt and Ruth Gregory. In 1917 Angelina was married to Alfred Powell Morgan of New York City, but the marriage was short-lived, although the union produced a son, William Merritt.
Angeline Morgan enlarged the former Graves cottage in 1929. She rented out the house until 1936 when she came to live there herself for a period of about five or six years until returning to San Bernardino to be nearer to her son. She relocated again by 1950 and her son, William M. Morgan, rented the house to the rear (112 First Street) for he and his family.
By 1966 Morgan had moved to Encinitas and the cottage was purchased by the owner of the beach amusement park, Pacific Holidayland. That year, Oceanside’s only oceanfront hotel, the Colonial Inn, was torn down. It had been built as the El San Luis Rey in 1904. Plans were to build a new resort hotel which never came to fruition. For six decades Oceanside went without a resort property, although in 2007 the Wyndham (which is a timeshare) and in 2013 the Springhill Marriot were built. What is a resort city without a resort hotel?
The Graves house reverted again to a rental property and over the years became dilapidated. Lynn and William Rego of West Covina, however, saw a diamond in the rough, and purchased the house in December of 1975 for $75,000. Much like Dr. and Mrs. Graves, they spent their summers in Oceanside looking over the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and renting it out the remainder of the year.
For over 90 years the house had been painted in dark hues, which is discernible even when viewing the house in black and white photos. Years ago, the original brown color was revealed in paint scrapings. It was the Regos who painted the house its signature blue color that most remember. Little did they know that Hollywood would notice their little blue Victorian cottage by the sea.
In 1985 the Regos were contacted by Paramount Pictures looking for a beach cottage for a film location. Paramount rented the house (including the property at 112 First Street) in June for two weeks. The crew prepped the perimeter of the property by removing parking and street signs and covering the curbs with sand. The movie being filmed was “Top Gun”, which became a blockbuster upon its release in 1986.
The movie made Tom Cruise a household name and the iconic scene of Maverick riding his motorcycle on palm-lined Pacific Street in Oceanside is every local’s favorite. Certainly, for Oceansiders some of the most memorable scenes of the movie “Top Gun” were filmed at the Victorian cottage, which was the featured as the home of Cruise’s love interest, flight instructor Charlie, played by Kelly McGillis.
Thereafter, it would forever be Oceanside’s “Top Gun” house. Fans of the movie from all over the world flocked to have their photo taken in front of the iconic house and stand on the porch.
In 1992 the Graves house was included in a Cultural Resource Survey prepared by S. Kathleen Flanigan along with Susan and Richard Carrico. This survey is an extensive list of homes and buildings eligible for historic register. It was noted that the house at 102 North Pacific Street was “one of the few 1880s beach cottages remaining in near-pristine condition.”
In 2001 the City of Oceanside acquired the Graves house through eminent domain to control future development of the oceanfront block in hopes of securing a resort project. Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) recognized the significance of the Graves house in 2001 and included it on their Most Endangered List of Historic Resources, saying: “This sweet Victorian era seaside cottage was built for Doctor Graves from Riverside. It is the oldest and last best beachfront cottage in Oceanside. Featured in the movie Top Gun, it has consequently been known as the Top Gun Cottage. The site is threatened by the huge hotel development proposed by Manchester Resort Hotels and the City of Oceanside. The cottage is on a corner of the property and could easily be integrated into the development and used as an adjunct facility to the hotel. Right now, it appears it will be moved off site, out of context, with its use yet to be determined.”
The Manchester project, a twelve-story, 475 room hotel failed, leaving Oceanside without its desired resort hotel overlooking the Oceanside Pier. However, two blocks fronting Pacific Street were cleared in anticipation of a new hotel project. Block 16 on which the Top Gun house was located, had four other historic homes. The house known as the Pishon house, located on the southwest corner of Mission and Pacific Streets was moved to a location on Maxson Street. Three other historic houses were demolished, including the house behind the Graves house, at 112 First Street (now Seagaze) which was used in the “Top Gun” movie.
By 2010 the “Top Gun” house was the only structure remaining on the block and seemed to be in the “Danger Zone.” With the house vacant, members of the Oceanside Historical Society kept an eye on it for several years, reporting break-ins and other issues. Twice the organization helped to hoist the sagging porches, had it painted and erected a large sign to inform passersby about the historical significance of the house and to assure those concerned that the house would be restored. In 2009 a fence was put up around the property, which was necessary to protect the house from further intentional damage.
In 2018 S. D. Malkin Properties, Inc. announced two new resort projects by developer Jeremy Cohen. Many wondered what would become of the “Top Gun” house. With the support and influence of Save Our Heritage Organization and the Oceanside Historical Society, the Graves house aka “Top Gun” house would be restored by S. D. Malkin and used as the “centerpiece of Oceanside’s much anticipated new oceanfront resort.”
Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new hotels were held in February of 2019. The cottage was relocated one block away for structural restoration. Curious residents peeked through fencing to view its progress.
Afterward much of the work had been completed, it was moved one block north of its original location in front of the beautiful new Mission Pacific Hotel. The cottage is still situated on North Pacific Street, facing the ocean, which was important in preserving its historical integrity and setting. There was still work to be down to the cottage at its new location, but brief glimpses made way to a “full reveal” as it reemerged to its adoring fans. Architectural Digest reported: “Among the projects were restoring the wood cladding and front windows, dismantling the original chimney, and rebuilding it with the same historic bricks, and bringing back gingerbread details. Both porches had also been damaged and were restored.” Beautifully painted the cottage has been reborn and to borrow from the movie’s famous love song, it’s sure to take your “breath away.”
The beloved “Top Gun” House celebrated its much-anticipated grand opening on May 20, 2022, as the home of the High-Pie Shop, which is filled with memorabilia from the hit movie. Just days later was the release of the long-awaited sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” starring Tom Cruise. To the delight of movie fans, a replica motorcycle like the one Maverick rode on his iconic scene in Oceanside, was placed in front of the house Lines now form around the house to view the interior and purchase a pie. People pose on the front porch for selfies and group shots and pretend to be Maverick on his bike.
With two new beautiful hotels, Oceanside has regained or fulfilled its resort status, envisioned so many years ago by our founder Andrew Jackson Myers. The careful restoration of the historic Graves House, aka the “Top Gun” house is a crowning jewel on the oceanfront. It is sure to hold a place in the hearts of locals as well as movie fans for many years to come.
Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department was a collector of many things, including three large scrapbooks in which he placed various photos of crime and accident scenes, along with a variety of newspaper articles dating from the 1930s to the 1950s.
One scrapbook contained a human-interest story of John M. Caves, a retired sea captain who was hospitalized in the Oceanside Community Hospital. This was not Caves’ first visit to Oceanside, and it wouldn’t be his last. Curious, about Mr. Caves and his peculiar claims, I did a bit of research and uncovered two different hoaxes perpetuated by Caves for over four decades. In between he would murder a traveling companion and serve time in prison.
John Murile Caves was born January 4, 1882, in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, a small borough of less than 2,000 person in Allegheny County. He was the second of four children born to Samuel T. and Martha Caves, who lived in a rather stately home at 713 Pennsylvania Street in the town of Oakmont. His siblings were Samuel Meredith, Henry Adams and Mary Caves. Their father Samuel Caves worked as a blacksmith with Verona Tool Works.
At the age of 18 John Murile Caves was still living with his parents but held no occupation, nor was he attending school, in an era where this would have been atypical. His brothers, one older and one younger were both employed at Verona Tool Works with their father.
In 1907, at the age of 25, John was arrested along with two other men for breaking into a train car. In the newspaper account, John Caves was described as a “cripple who walked with a crutch” and “peddled shoestrings.” This may have been the first of John Caves’ personas as he was not at all crippled, at least not permanently. T. B. Shaffer, the railroad detective, reported that Caves’ two companions seemed distraught about their arrest, but in contrast John Caves was “cheerful” about the encounter. Regardless of his hapless attitude, the arrest landed Caves in jail, awaiting trial for several months after which he was found not guilty and released.
Walking Career Begins
John Caves would begin an “illustrious walking career” two years later in 1909. No official record was found of the starting point or date but in September 7, 1909, the Quincy Journal announced that Caves had arrived in Macomb, Illinois.
Going by the moniker of “Happy Jack” the Journal reported that Caves had started his walk on April 6th of that year, starting from Boston. He claimed he ran away from home at the age of 9 and (incredulously) had already completed two walking trips across the continent. Now he was determined to travel around the world against a wager of $2,000 from “Bryan’s Commoner and Munsey’s Magazine”, which purportedly provided the route that he should travel.
According to Caves, he was not to ask for a cent from anyone along the way but could accept gifts. Apparently and supposedly people were very generous as he claimed to have eaten no less than three meals a day and stayed at the finest of hotels while on his journey.
Caves further claimed he had a year in which to complete his trip across the United States, but four years to travel the world. Caves announced his intention to make his way to Lincoln, Nebraska and from there to San Francisco where he would eat a Christmas Dinner. The article ended that “Happy Jack” was 28 years old and walked at an “easy gait of 5 miles an hour.”
On September 21, 1909, Caves had walked to, or at least arrived in, Burlington, Iowa by way of Fort Madison. The Burlington Hawk Eye reported that Caves had now walked 10,090 miles and that he was on his way to Des Moines to Omaha, then to San Francisco “by Christmas.” From there Caves said he would get “free passage to Japan and Australia, from Australia to London and from there home again.” Caves next stopping place on his route would be Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, the newspaper informed readers.
For the next several years John Caves would convince or at least amuse folks with variations of this tale, and it would be perpetuated from town to town, newspaper to newspaper. But the good residents of Ottumwa, Iowa saw through the tall tales and when Caves stopped through their town they were not taken in by his charm or his story. The Burlington Evening Gazette in Burlington, Iowa (where he been just days before) disclosed: “Happy Jack, the big bum alleged globetrotter, who is trying to fool the people throughout the country, was arrested for drunkenness in Ottumwa.”
The Ottumwa Courtier shared this news in September of 1909: “John M. Caves, who claims to be a globetrotter, has clasped to his belt of claims another item. Yesterday he proceeded to tank up as much of the brew down his throat, but before he covered as much distance in this direction as he claims he has covered over the country, he fell into the hands of Office L. Lightner. ‘Happy Jack’ was jugged, and in police court he acknowledged he was drunk. Judge Morrissey gave him three days to repent.”
After this encounter and 3-day jail stay, on September 27th Caves had reached Albia, Iowa, stating, “I’m still going. Roads are good. I’m making 50 miles a day. I will be out of the state, Saturday, October 2.”
Oh, but “Happy Jack” was still in the state of Iowa on October 5th where he was giving a lecture of his travels in Glenwood at the Opera House.
Did Caves ever make it to Omaha or San Francisco? It is hard to say. Perhaps he was detoured.
Eight years later John Caves was in the news again when in August of 1917, he was arrested for assaulting a railroad conductor with a knife while working as a restaurant cook. He pled guilty and was put on parole.
In September of 1918 Caves was working as a “blacksmith helper” at Verona Tool Works where his father was employed in Oakmont, Pennsylvania (his hometown), according to his World War I registration card. He seemed to have settled down for a very brief time, but he would soon be on the move again for another walking trip “around the world.”
But before that Caves found himself again in trouble with authorities when on May 22, 1921, he was arrested in Bellwood, Pennsylvania. After an altercation with members of a train crew, he was ejected and in retaliation threw a rock that subsequently hit the brakeman. Caves spent over two weeks in jail until his day in court. The Altoona Mirror reported: “Happy Jack Caves, an individual of tall stature who assured the court that he was ‘a sailor from the high seas’ who had come to this section of the country to visit some friend and became intoxicated, pled guilty to through a stone through a passenger car window near Bellwood.”
It is worth noting that Caves would again claim to be a sailor decades later. However, before that reinvention, he began another worldwide trek.
A Trip “Around the World” Begins
On April 1, 1919, (notably April Fool’s Day), Caves purportedly began a journey from Boston that would take him to every continent in the world, and every state in the U.S. Supposedly a total of 16 men began this trek, that would take them 99,986 miles in a period of three years. The winner of this race of sorts would allegedly win $30,000, which is equivalent to $500,000 today. The contest was supposedly sponsored by Johns Hopkins University and was the starting point.
Nothing was found about this race or contest until June 25, 1921 (two years later from its supposed start date) when the Times Herald in Olean, New York ran a story with the headline: “Happy Jack Is Ahead On His Hike Schedule.” The story stated that he had arrived in Olean, New York at 5:35 am from Eldred, Pennsylvania (a distance of about 13 miles). At that time Caves had claimed to have visited 42 of the then 48 states and that he 28 days ahead of schedule. He was due to return to Boston April 1, 1922.
The following details were included in the Times Herald article, and it is worth noting that similar details, which varied from time to time, would run in more than 50 articles from just as many newspapers around the eastern part of the country:
In every state and county which he enters he has to go to the capital and county seat. When he returns to Boston, he must have a dollar for every county seat and $5 for every capital.”
Additionally, he was to receive a signature from every town or city official that he passed through and dutifully mail these signatures to the “committee in charge.”
He was not allowed to “ask for rides or money” but he was allowed to accept “gifts of money.” The prohibition of rides included a reward of $500 to anyone who witnessed him riding rather than walking.
Happy Jack Caves walked an amazing 40 miles a day, at least according to the Herald piece, and at the time the article was written, he simply carried a knapsack weighing 65 pounds.
On July 12, 1921 the Hudson Columbia Republican newspaper reported that “Happy Jack” arrived in Hudson, New York from Albany. He had purportedly completed 70,182 miles, 23,000 of which were on foot. Caves claimed to have 20,804 miles to complete before April 1, 1922. From Hudson he was on his way to New York City, to Fall River, Massachusetts, then back to New York to Niagara Falls and then on to Canada and Montreal. Countries claimed already visited were: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Greece, France, Russian, England, Germany, Australia, Japan, China, as well as “every country in South and Central America.”
Caves arrived in Uniontown, Pennsylvania on August 15th. The newspaper there reported that Caves was walking to settle a $30,000 wager between the Boston Pedestrian Club and the Pedestrian Club of John Hopkins University. He was on his way to Greensburg next, but the newspaper also added the unbelievable detail that Caves had “circumnavigated a wheelbarrow around the globe during the years 1893-97.” (He would have been 11 years old based on Caves’ ACTUAL age.)
On October 7, 1921 Caves passed through Massillon, Ohio “enroute to New England and Canada.” The stories kept coming as Caves went from town to town. The journey expanded, he turned his 65 pound knapsack and instead began pushing a wheelbarrow and the wager or bet became prize money instead, which grew. Caves followed no particular route but seemingly meandered back and forth, retracing his steps while approaching “the last leg,” while the finish line seemed elusive.
On or about November 2, 1921 Caves arrived in Bucyrus, Ohio and then made his way to Marion, Ohio, where he stayed at the Royal Hotel on Main Street. In just five months his story had changed significantly. According to the Marion Star, Caves had traveled 91,000 miles, visiting every country in the world, but had eight of the U.S. states left to visit (not six) but he was now 38 days ahead of schedule. During this tremendous journey Caves claimed to have worn out 90 pairs of shoes covering 43,000 miles on foot. At this point, the traveler was accepting gifts as the article stated he “‘passed the hat” while giving lectures on his adventures.
The following day the Richwood Gazette in Richwood, Ohio informed its readers that Caves arrived in town. This time Caves was to walk 99,986 miles and had 5,000 to go but was still a full 38 days ahead of schedule. The Gazette reported that Caves could ask for nothing except water and the use of a telephone.
Caves made it to Newport, Kentucky (population 316) the following day – traveling over 140 miles to do so. Even at 40 miles a day it would take him over three days nearly a week to travel that distance, so it is safe to say that he hitched a ride or hopped a train. At Newport Caves claimed to have 2500 miles to go, adding that the money he collected from county seats and state capitols was sent directly to the “Pedestrian Club of Boston” who co-sponsored the trek with Johns Hopkins Hospital.
It was more likely that he simply pocketed any money he received from gullible officials who believed his elaborate stories.
Later that month Caves made his way 400 miles south to Huntsville, Alabama. He claimed to have been 38 days ahead of schedule of his deadline of April 1, 1922. In Huntsville Caves claimed that he was native of Norway and this “fact” would often be included in many subsequent stories.
There was no telling how much farther south he traveled and then supposedly headed north towards the finish line. Little is known of Caves and his travels until June of 1922, well after the supposed deadline.
The Baltimore Sun announced the arrival of “Happy Jack Caves” on June 26, 1922 with the headline “World Pedestrian Here.” Caves was on the “last lap of his journey” and now it seems he had four months (rather than three) to complete his trek. More new details were that he now pushed a wheelbarrow containing a tent and cooking utensils and a Great Dane dog was his companion.
Now he added a detail to his ever evolving story that 17 other contestants had begun with him, but they had all dropped out. In addition, out of the 99,986 miles required he had just 700 to go, although it was reported he had visited every “state in the Union” and in “every foreign country.” But if Caves was now in Baltimore, Maryland, the finish line (Boston) was just 400 miles away.
Three weeks later, on July 11, 1922 Caves was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania a mere 80 mile trip, but it seems Caves was no longer keeping his 40 mile a day pace. The Evening News of that city reported that he had “traversed every country, continent, ocean and sea, and river in the world” along with just 45 states (versus all 48). Although these details varied, Caves still had no less than 700 miles to go, despite the fact that he had traveled 80 since his last encounter.
Rather than traveling northeast to Boston to the “finish line”, Caves instead went west to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a distance of 24 miles, arriving July 24th. He then continued on a southwesterly direction to Shippensburg, (population 4300) a distance of just 20 miles, arriving July 26th.
A representative of the town’s newspaper interviewed “Happy Jack” who now claimed to have been born in 1861, coming to America in 1881 from Norway. Still on his “last stretch” but traveling in the opposite direction, Caves added to his tall tale saying that he had been in 4 wars. His story evolved again saying he had visited “all the principle countries” — Europe, Asia and Africa and had been to 47 states. To keep track from his last count of 45, what two states did he visit in two weeks as he had only been in Pennsylvania during that time frame?
If that wasn’t enough, Caves’ wheelbarrow was said to have weighed 165 pounds and he claimed to have worn out 5 wheels, 12 axles and exactly 284 bearings, along with 46 pairs of shoes. The article went on to say that Caves expected to arrive in Boston by August 18 or 20 (even though he wasn’t headed that way) and that he was going to beat the world record by 8 months. It concluded by saying that Caves was on his way next to Hagerstown.
It was noted by one newspaper that Caves offered proof of his travels by newspaper clippings that he collected about himself. It was also pointed out that while his wheelbarrow was plastered with photos, clippings and postcards of places he claimed to have visited, none of them were outside of the United States.
On August 30, 1922, Caves meandered his way northwest (away from Boston) to Saltsburg, to Blairsville and then traveled east to Indiana, Pennsylvania. The local newspaper there said that Caves eight months away now (probably because he wasn’t going in the right direction)! It went on to say that he was a happy looking man and that at age 61 (he was really 40) “looks good for at least that many more.” After his stay Caves was on his way to Punxsutawney.
Several months seem to pass without a “Happy Jack” sighting until December 9, 1922 when Caves traveled to Snow Hill, Maryland. This 300 mile route traveling southeast was nowhere nearer Boston and he most certainly did not complete his journey by August. Nonetheless the paper dutifully reported that Caves was on his “last leg” of his journey. Notably, Caves talents and skills expounded as now he spoke 17 languages, all of which he was “more proficient in than English.”
But Caves could top even that, by saying that in 1888 he had pushed a “hogshead” (a 63-gallon barrel) from Boston to San Francisco. By completing this fete he won $16,000. If that claim wasn’t wild enough, he added that next he had SKIPPED across the entire continent and out of 24 contestants he was the only one to finish and was awarded $12,000. (Caves also claimed to have roller skated from coast to coast.)
Did anyone question these claims? The newspapers seemed very happy to take him at his word or at least print them.
Finally, it seemed that Caves’ journey was over when the Boston Globe announced on December 19, 1922, that John Muriel Caves had finished his endurance walk around the globe after reaching Wilmington, Delaware. (Eight months later than one of his supposed deadlines).
The Journey Continues
But “Happy Jack” was not finished. It seems he started over OR more likely just kept his ruse going, traveling to towns he had not yet visited with the same story. No doubt this was a continuation of the “original contest” or journey, but no one seemed to know or realize.
On January 9, 1923 he arrived in Reading, Pennsylvania. Caves was on his “last lap” of a “hike” around the world. They happily put him up at the local YMCA, noting that Caves had “obtained the seal and signature of every burgess, mayor and county clerk, or prothonotary of every borough, city or county through which he passed.”
Martha Meredith Caves, John’s mother, died on June 14, 1923 at her home in Oakmont, Pennsylvania at the age of 71. It is possible that John was there for her funeral, but he did not stay long. Just about two weeks later he arrived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on June 27, 1923.
His arrival was regaled with a large photo in the newspaper with the headline that read: “Pedestrian Here is Near End of Journey Around the World.” Some of the “facts” remained the same: 1. The race started April 1, 1919; 2. Seventeen contestants began the race but only he continued; 3. Caves had to obtain signatures from every clerk, mayor (or king). Compared to his “previous race”, he had now worn out 47 pairs of shoes, 7 wheels, 28 axles and 284 ball bearings.
On July 5th the Chronicle Newspaper of Shippensburg, PA noted that Caves had passed through Lancaster and noted that he had traveled through Shippensburg a year prior. They did not question why he was back in the area, seemingly traveling in circles.
In May of 1924 the Edwardsville Journal, Edwardsville, Illinois announced that Caves was nearing the end of his “long walk.” He had until September 29 to arrive in Chicago, but since he was well ahead of time, he was “not rushing.” It was revealed he had been in a St. Louis Hospital for two weeks and that his dog had to be kenneled for sore feet. Caves had now worn out 52 pairs of shoes and 28 axles on his wheelbarrow. This time the newer added detail was that out of 17 contestants, Caves was the only one left, but the others had simply not quit, as previously reported, Caves now said that 5 died while walking and 2 were killed in accidents.
Happy Jack made his way to Columbus, Indiana on January 8, 1925. Embellishments of his travels continued, including that he was given 39 dogs by the Boston Kennel Club over the course of his trip as traveling companions. He spoke all of 21 languages and was an interpreter during wartime. It was also noted that he had worn out 83 pair of specially made boots, 9 wheels and 286 ball bearings. Caves purportedly was on his way to Indianapolis to obtain the signature of the governor and that after doing so his list of signatures would be complete. He then had until January 25th to reach Boston to finish. But he never made it to Boston because he was still on his “last lap” when he reached Greenfield, Indiana on January 27th.
He then made his way to Dayton, Ohio and from there to Marion, Ohio on February 25, 1925. The local paper noted that Caves was on his “return trip” and that he had passed through 3 1/2 years earlier. No one seemed to notice that he was meandering from town to town.
Caves visited Crestline, Ohio one month later on March 21st. The newspaper shared that Caves had just ten days to complete his walk and claim a $10,000 prize (considerably less than $30,000 to $50,000 claimed a few years ago). It was astutely noted that he would have to travel 100 miles a day to make that happen. Days later Caves “was found ill” and brought to the Monnette hospital to recover from an undisclosed malady.
On November 3, 1925 Caves was hospitalized again, for gall stones. He was still on the “last leg” of his journey, of course. This time it was disclosed he would receive $26,000. The following month he was in Kingsport, Tennessee. In April of 1926 Caves arrived in Wythville, Virginia where he declared he had just 930 miles to go.
Then finally, on April 22, 1926 it was announced that he had arrived at the Potomac Park Tourist Camp in Washington, D.C., which apparently was the new finish line or the completion of his 99,986 “required” mileage. The accomplishment took 8 years, 3 months, 21 days and 5 hours, according to Caves, but if he started April 1, 1919, it really took 7 years and just 21 days. (But who’s counting?) Caves claimed he continued without “a day’s interruption” which wasn’t true because of recorded hospitalizations.
Caves gave his usual statistics to the newspaper: he had worn through 90 shoes, 30 wheelbarrows, 28 axels and 30 dogs, which had all died according to Cave. He also kept track of his lectures which totaled 321.
Caves revealed that he was on his way next to Annapolis, and then headed north to meet up with his wife and 5 children! At least once he claimed he had 4 children and years later he would repeat a story that his one and only wife had died from scarlet fever while traveling around the Horn.
Whiskey and Bay Rum
Despite the completion of his required 99,986 miles, John Caves continued to travel and on May 27, 1927 he was in Plymouth, North Carolina where he was scheduled for a lecture at Darden’s Christian Church to talk about his travels. The lecture was well attended but it came to abrupt halt when church leaders determined Caves was under the influence of whiskey.
On January 15, 1928 Caves was a patient in the Allegheny Hospital after a “general breakdown” although doctors could not decide the cause of his illness. He had visited his sister who was a nurse at Pittsburg Tuberculosis Hospital and had fallen while on the road near the town of Creighton. Curiously, it was revealed that Caves had been unable to talk or hear for a period of two years and communicated by writing with paper and pencil. This, of course, was untrue because of his willingness and ability to give lectures from town to town.
The Pittsburg Press, who announced Caves’ hospitalization, also reported that “during his long walk, the best time Caves made was 8 miles an hour” and that he once walked 71.5 miles in 21 hours.
In early March of 1929 his travels came to another halt in Akron, Ohio after he was “picked up” by police after drinking too much Bay Rum, which was used as cologne and aftershave lotion. The newspaper reported that the 50-year-old (closer to his actual age than most reports) had been wandering for 10 years. Caves told authorities he was the only one left in the race and he had to do now was to walk to Boston. “No more bay rum for me,” as he allegedly continued on to the fictional finish line.
However, later that year, Caves was found by police in Lancaster, Pennsylvania after drinking nearly a half bottle of Bay Rum (which was 58% grain alcohol). Caves claimed that he was cold and in an effort to warm up he drank the highly toxic alcohol mixture that was used as astringent.
It seems as Caves continued drinking, the public began to question some of his claims. The Intelligencer Journal printed Caves’ claim that he had traveled 99,000 miles in 12 years (with a starting year of 1917 rather than 1919) and figured that Happy Jack would have to average 22 miles a day, each and every day including “Sundays and holidays.”
Lancaster police noted that Happy Jack was neither happy nor congenial and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
But things would get worse for “Happy Jack” when on February 20, 1930 the Morning Post of Camden, New Jersey revealed that Caves was penniless, his dog was dead and his wheelbarrow wrecked. The newspaper cited that Caves had started his “endurance trip” 11 years ago and noted that he passed through Camden in 1926, obtaining the signatures of the County Clerk. But now he hobbled into the police station on crutches, looking for food and a place to sleep.
Caves claimed to have been struck by an automobile at Kennett Square, PA a month earlier, suffering a broken ankle. As a result of the accident he was hospitalized nearly three weeks at the Chester Hospital. The hospital gave Caves enough money to reach Philadelphia and from there he had made his way to Camden. He was sent to the Salvation Army barracks but instead went to the police department located next door because the former institute was “too crowded.” Caves informed the newspaper that he had completed 99,286 miles (still 700 shy, even years later, of the required 99,986).
Murder in Macungie
Six weeks later “Happy Jack Caves” was arrested and charged with murder on March 30, 1930. The Berwick Enterprise of Berwick, Pennsylvania said that it was the same Caves “who gained fame” by pushing a wheelbarrow “from New York to Los Angeles.” Caves was arrested for the stabbing death of John Barrett during an argument at a “hobo camp” near Swabia Creek on the outskirts of Macungie, a small town near Allentown. He confessed to the stabbing but claimed self-defense.
A subsequent newspaper reported that Caves was “well known in police circles” because of his frequent arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct. No longer referred to as an adventurer, he was now simply a “wanderer,” an “itinerant” or even a “hobo,” and his walking expedition called a “stunt”.
Published accounts detailed that Caves stabbed Barrett after a dispute over milk and the killing was witnessed by four young boys. He was placed in the Lehigh County jail awaiting trial. Despite previous newspaper accounts that he was 62 years old, the jail records list his correct age at 48.
During his trial in June of 1930, Caves testified in his own defense including the fact that he was a “consort of wayfarers and hoboes” with colorful nicknames such as “Baltimore Whitie”, “Old Man Morrissey” and “Barrett the Barber”, whom he killed.
Barrett was given his nickname because he carried a razor around his neck. He was portrayed by others as ferocious and vicious.
Caves voice was described as thin and high pitched as he recounted how the two men had met in “The Jungles”, an Allentown hobo camp. Caves would beg for food for Barrett and himself, since he was a more sympathetic figure on crutches. After an argument over milk in the coffee, apparently Barrett was too liberal with the pour, Caves said Barrett struck him with a pocketknife and he in turn simply grabbed a butcher knife in self defense. The knife hit Barrett in the heart, killing him instantly.
The prosecution called four young boys to contradict Caves’ version of what happened. John Ritter, 12, Edwin Bortz, 13, Harold Rhoads, 10 and Donald Rhoads, 12 spent the entire afternoon with the two men and each testified that Caves “quarreled and grumbled” throughout the day about various things, including about a piece of liver.
The boys also testified that Caves had begged for and acquired turnips, potatoes, onions, and coffee. The two men, and apparently the boys as well, stole two kettles, two knives and “a big piece of suet” (animal fat). Caves had managed to collect $2.85 after panhandling which he used to buy bread, cigarettes and four containers of “canned heat” (Sterno). Perhaps the intention was to warm a meal with the aforementioned ingredients, Caves instead made an alcoholic mixture to drink with the liquid contents after squeezing it through a handkerchief and diluting it with water. This was not an uncommon practice during Prohibition, particularly in hobo camps.
While at their encampment, Barrett complained that Caves put too much water in the coffee and Caves in turn complained that Barrett put in too much milk. Angry, Caves lunged at Barrett with his crutches, hitting him in the mouth and cutting his lip. The incident resulted in the soup that would be the group’s meal being spilled.
Caves reportedly said to Barrett, “Are you sorry for what you did?” to which his companion replied, “Do you want some more?” Caves then responded angrily, “I’ll give you some more!” and suddenly drew a knife, stabbing Barrett.
Afterwards, Caves placed a pocketknife in the hands of the lifeless Barrett and went through his pockets. He found two coins but said in disgust, “Two lousy cents” and then kicked Barrett’s dead body. As he walked or hobbled away, Caves said to the boys, “This is the second time he tried to kill himself.” To which Donald Rhoads replied, “You killed him, you skunk!”
John M. Caves was found guilty of 2nd degree murder after the jury deliberated over 29 hours. The only relative that showed support by attending the trial was his sister Mary Caves, who took the verdict much harder than her brother. It was revealed that he showed no sign of emotion except what was termed “a sigh of relief.”
Caves was sentenced 6 to 12 years and sent to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Noted for its innovative wagon wheel design, the imposing prison once housed notorious gangster Al Capone. Caves was given the prisoner number of C-6262.
Records provided by Eastern State Penitentiary and the Pennsylvania State Archives indicate that Caves’ stay there was not without problems. He was sent to solitary confinement more than once for fighting.
The prison was visited by Dr. Doncaster G. Humm of Los Angeles, who specialized in “industrial psychology”, visited and interviewed several prisoners, including Caves, to “secure material for research.” He would later publish his findings and identified seven different temperaments defined as “normal, hysteroid, manic, depressive, autistic, paranoid and epileptoid.” Humm was of the opinion that “the marriage of those with a poor hereditary background should be discouraged. Sterilization and marriage education were suggested as eugenic ideals.”
Records show that on June 5, 1934 Caves was transferred to Graterford Prison, a newer facility, but he was returned on January 3, 1935. Nine days later he was transferred to the Lehigh County Jail, then released on parole June 26, 1936. In December 16, 1936 he was once again returned to Eastern State Penitentiary for violation of parole.
Cave was released again on parole on June 16, 1937, perhaps because his father died, but the Pittsburgh Press reported in October that Caves had nowhere to go and asked to go back to prison. He was returned on November 7th.
By 1940 Caves was paroled again, because in April of 1942 Caves filled out a World War II registration card (for men born on or after April 28, 1877 or before February 16, 1897). At that time he listed his address as 428 Fourth Street in his hometown of Oakmont, Pennsylvania. He was officially discharged from the penal system on January 3, 1943, which was nearly 12 years from his sentencing.
A New Life – A New Story
One year after his official release, John Murile Caves began a tour of the country with a new life story of adventure which again brought him notoriety and attention — that of an elderly seafaring captain.
On April 10, 1944, the Cumberland News of Cumberland, Maryland said that the “80-year-old former merchant marine captain, John M. Caves, Baltimore, was taken to Memorial hospital at 7:15 pm yesterday by Officer John G. Powers after being stricken with a heart attack near Central Y.M.C.A. His condition was reported to be fair.”
Seven months later Cave had made his way to the west coast to Southern California. In January 1945, he reportedly collapsed in Descanso, about 40 miles east of San Diego. He was picked up by the Highway Patrol and brought to San Diego and was described as “penniless and ill.” However, Caves’ story was filled with heroic yet fantastical details, saying that he was a merchant marine for 65 years, “shipping supplies in five major wars, six historical rebellions, captaining the lead ship in the first convoy to Guadalcanal, and losing his own ship January 16, 1942, off the coast of Newfoundland.”
He told Patrolman George Dowdy that he was hitch-hiking home to Philadelphia so that he could get medical attention and “get back into service again.” The San Diego Union promulgated this “fantastic story” but didn’t seem to question any detail. Caves, who claimed again to be from Norway, said that at age 10 he was a mess boy “on an old Norwegian sailing vessel” and that he had traveled no less than 208 trips around Cape Horn. When asked about a wife, he said he married a daughter of another sea captain many years ago, but she had died of scarlet fever while rounding the Horn.
Additionally, Caves claimed to have continued his career “through World War II and until, he left a ship at Richmond, California in December 14, 1943, his career was halted by a hit-and-run auto driver.”
He gave his date of birth as January 4, 1861 (21 years earlier than his actual birth year) and his birthplace as Upland, Norway. The newspaper article concluded with a story that Caves was the captain of the Jenny P. Higy (or Hickey in other accounts), which sunk off the coast of Newfoundland in 1942, “carrying 250 Polish refugees and a crew of 85.” All lives were saved but Caves lost his life savings. (Editor’s Note: No record could be found a ship by this name being sunk or a similar event.)
Rather than head to Philadelphia as planned, one month later “Captain” Caves was in Shreveport, Louisiana waiting for transportation to his “hometown” of Baltimore. It was a very familiar story published in the Shreveport Journal in February 1945, but with the added embellishment that he was the captain of the Paul Revere which brought needed supplies to Marines in Guadalcanal. His ship was torpedoed three times during 1941 and 1942. Caves shared the same story of losing a wife to scarlet fever.
The following month Caves arrived by train in Indianapolis, Indiana sickly and penniless. His age was given as 84 when he was really 63, but he happily told his yarns of his “long and colorful maritime career.” He was, he said, headed to Baltimore.
However, three months later he was in Ogden, Utah. Seemingly in much better health he was entertaining folks with his stories at a local canteen. The Ogden Standard-Examiner reported on June 23, 1945 that Caves was the “oldest seafaring maritime captain still on active duty” who had “a store of sea tales as long as his years of service.” These talks, of course, included the sinking of the Jenny P. Hickey, and leading a convoy to Guadalcanal. Caves however, was not trying to get back home (to either his hometown in Philadelphia or Baltimore) but “to pick up another ship and another cargo of supplies to carry somewhere across the sea.”
The following month, in July, Caves had not traveled east but west, and was in Tulare, California where he had collapsed from another heart attack. Information was provided that he was a retired sea captain but still “in service of the government at Port Hueneme.” His age was listed as 70 years old, which was a bit closer to his actual.
Just as when he claimed to have walked around the world, his only evidence of his seafaring career was saved newspaper clippings about himself from various towns he had visited.
In August of 1946, Caves was in a Bethsaida hospital in Maryland, after suffering yet another heart attack. Caves said he was “visiting” in Baltimore, but on his way to San Diego when he stricken.
One month later John M. Caves was in an Albuquerque jail for being in “a dazed condition.” It was assumed he was drunk (and likely he was) but because he claimed he was 87 years old, the police had pity on him and took him to the hospital. However, it was his second visit to the same hospital in as many days and the hospital said they could not handle him, so he was taken to the county jail. When taken to jail he “relapsed into a coma” and could not speak “from the effects of a medicine found in his possession.”
The police found previously published newspaper articles that Caves had collected about himself, one published out of Kansas stating that he was born in Superland, Norway and was a sea captain for 32 years. It seems while in Chapman, Kansas he stayed at a hospital there and officials discovered several receipts or bills for various hospitals around the country. Caves was crisscrossing the country, having “heart attacks”, telling his stories, collecting newspaper articles about himself, along with the bills, and going on to the next town.
He reportedly made his way to Newark, New Jersey in January of 1947 only to travel back west to California.
In February of 1947 he was found “writhing in pain” on a sidewalk in downtown Oceanside. It seems he had suffered another heart attack, but Captain Harold Davis took him to the local hospital where he made a quick recovery after taking “a heart pill.” Caves said he was on his way to Corona by bus but didn’t have any money. Davis bought the stranger some food, who claimed now to be 87 years old, listened to his stories of the sea and purchased him a bus ticket so he could go on to his next destination.
Months later, in October, Caves was in Redding, California where he suffered another one of his trademark heart attacks. However, the next month while in Sacramento it was determined he was “just drunk” and not ill and was booked in the county jail. In 1948 he was in El Paso, Texas where he was hospitalized for, (you guessed it) a heart attack.
In March of 1951 John Caves was back in Oceanside, California. The Oceanside-Blade Tribune reported the following:
“Police were called the other night to a modest room in a local hotel—an elderly man, a heart attack, not much if any money—and thereby hangs a tale. It’s a tale of the sea, of iron men and wooden ships, dating back to the middle of the last century. As it turns out, the tale has been told before, and Capt. Harold Davis of the local police department, along with a few other people, are wondering about it.”
Well, at least there was some skepticism but that didn’t keep the paper from sharing his stories, including how he was born in an igloo in Norway!
The account continued: “Further checking by Capt. Davis showed that the man suffered heart attacks in this city in January , and again in April, and there is evidence to show that his heart has put him in hospitals in other communities in California and Arizona at least. These circumstances, plus the fact that hospital nurses and Capt. Davis don’t think the man looks as old as the 92 years he claims to be, make observers somewhat doubtful. After all, a policeman of 20 years becomes so accustomed to hearing stories that he is inclined to believe nothing which can’t be documented. Still, it is a good story and the grizzled old gentleman tells is simply and well. He can’t prove it with papers, except for news clippings he has collected from other interviews, but on the other hand, his listeners can’t disprove it either. As far as we know, it may just be the best yarn since Edgar Allen Poe’s fabulous trans Atlantic balloon race.”
The Oceanside Blade Tribune then printed Caves’ “biography”, which was slightly similar in detail to other previous versions, but included mostly a new and different story of his early sea-faring career:
“Capt. John Murile Caves, a Norseman, was born in 1859 in the Land of the Midnight Sun in an igloo. One of several children, he went to sea as a cabin boy when he was 10 years old, aboard a barkentine bound for San Francisco, around Cape Horn. From there the ship loaded with wheat and barley bound for England, and then back to Norway.
Later he shipped again aboard a three-masted, full-rigged ship to Boston with a load of matches. When they docked, he tried to run away, but was caught and taken back aboard ship.
Young Caves made a number of voyages, spending 11 years on Norwegian ships. On one cruise in 1881 his ship had docked in Baltimore, and was ready to set sail for San Francisco, when Caves met a man who agreed to help him get off the ship just before it sailed. He put his bags and seat chest in the forecastle, and that night a small boat came alongside and took Caves ashore.
He lay low for three months, living in the attic of a large hotel outside Baltimore, and then went to the US commissioner to get his first papers. He became naturalized in 1886, went to sea again aboard a ship to San Francisco, and on that particular trip the vessel sprang a leak out on the Atlantic. The crew had to pump her by hand all the way around Cape Horn to Frisco to keep her afloat, Caves recalls.
After that trip Caves decided to become a steward, but one trip and went back to being an able-bodied seaman. He said the crews, who were often shanghaied in those days, complained too much about the food.
By hard work and the good fortune of having captains over him who could teach him, Caves eventually worked his way up. On Caves’ second cruise the captain of the ship had his family aboard, including, two daughters who were school teachers and who helped young Caves with his education.
In 1890 he joined the US navy to increase his seafaring knowledge, signing on for four years, but stayed in for 10 and took part in the Spanish-American war. When he was discharged at Norfolk, he took the examination and received his captain’s license.
All told, Capt. Caves has been in five wars, serving in the merchant marine in all but the Spanish-American. The others are the Boxer war, the Boer war and World Wars 1 and 11. In the last one, in 1943, he says his ship was bombed on a return trip from the Marshall Islands. For 32 years he sailed the seven seas as ship’s captain.
Since the war his health has not been good, and when he was taken ill here Tuesday night he had come from a US merchant marine hospital in Fort Stanton, N.M. He was en route to Santa Ana, where a government pension check awaits him, and then he planned to go to Port Chicago to see a nephew who is about to ship out on his first deep-sea voyage as ship’s captain.”
The article ended with this curious and telling notation: “Thursday afternoon, disappointed because the newspaper story had not appeared yet, Capt. Caves boarded a bus to Santa Ana.”
Just days later Caves was back in Oceanside. The Blade-Tribune said he had been in the hospital at Santa Ana for a heart attack. This return visit to Oceanside was not quite as welcoming as he landed in jail for vagrancy charges after panhandling.
After leaving Oceanside Caves traveled to Modesto three weeks later, had his requisite heart trouble but was jailed for vagrancy.
Two years later, in March of 1953, he stopped in Tucson, Arizona but was arrested for being drunk in public. Three weeks later Caves was in a Las Cruces, New Mexico hospital.
In June of 1953, Caves was on his fourth visit to Oceanside. This time he was given a Greyhound Bus Ticket by the “Oceanside Community Chest”, a local charity, for a one way trip to Los Angeles. The voucher was signed by Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department.
From 1956 to 1957 Caves traveled back and forth to Baltimore only to come back to San Diego, then on to Denver, Kansas City, Missouri, to Indianapolis, Indiana to Claymont, Pennsylvania and then to New York.
His brother Samuel Meredith Caves died in May of 1956. His sister Mary Caves, who faithfully attended his murder trial in support of her brother, died November 28, 1956 at the age of 77. On January 2, 1958 his last surviving sibling, Henry Adams Caves, died of a self-inflicted gunshot.
One of the last mentions of John Murile Caves was found on May 15, 1958 in the Evening Sun, Baltimore, Maryland. Isaac Berman, a real estate agent had been receiving bills from hospital and ambulance services all over the west coast addressed to “Capt. John M. Caves. Berman was quoted as saying, “Who is this man and why did he give my address?”
The Evening Sun announced that Caves was receiving welfare and had given the 228 South Broadway address as his home, and supplied it to the police as well.
Caves had been in the Maryland hospital in 1956, claiming to be 99 years old. He told the staff he came from New Mexico with money given to him by a minister. His next trip, he said, was to Washington, D. C. to see about his military pension. This was a story repeated in many of the articles, but he never received a pension because of the fact that he was never in the military or merchant marines.
He stayed for a full two weeks at the Maryland hospital and then just walked out one day. Although Caves claimed chest pains, the hospital had found nothing wrong with him, noting he ate “like a horse.” His two week stay in Room 528 was $400 which like dozens others went unpaid. Other bills were left unpaid as well. Exasperated Berman said, “I guess I’ll be sending mail back to the Post Office for him as long as I live.”
It seems that soon after this unwanted publicity, Caves was sent to stay at Delaware State Hospital Cemetery in New Castle. Many of the patients there were diagnosed with mental illness and a variety of disorders.
John Murile Caves died January 23, 1961, at the age of 79. He was buried in the Delaware State Hospital Cemetery and was given just a number to mark his burial spot.
According to Cris Barrish of WHYY, the cemetery “has 776 such cubes that are arranged in concentric circles in what’s now known as the Spiral Cemetery. A small and weathered stone angel with her hands clasped in prayer serves as a lone sentinel over the lost souls. Patients without families who would or could afford to bury them were instead laid to rest on site.”
With all the attention and publicity he had received for four decades, his nameless resting place belies the colorful, if not fabricated, and sometimes troubled life of an infamous wanderer.
Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department kept several scrapbooks in which he placed newspaper clippings, letters, and photographs, some of which were graphic in nature. Throughout these books, he wrote personal notes and memories about a particular crime or accident, or about a fellow officer he enjoyed working with in his long career.
Included in the many pages of one scrapbook were two mugshots of a Thomas Happel, along with two newspaper articles from the local newspaper. In his photos, Happel does not appear to be a hardened criminal, but he may just be one of the few, if not only person, to successfully escape from the Oceanside jail.
On September 25, 1951, Motorcycle Officer Hubert C. Russell spotted what he thought was a suspicious vehicle at a local service station. He noted a small corner window of the car was broken, and then noticed two teenage girls seated inside the vehicle while a young man talked outside with an attendant. A closer inspection of the car revealed keys that were broken off in the door locks and as the officer peered inside, “a jumble of blankets, clothing and other items.
With the likelihood of the car being stolen, Russell made contact with the driver, Thomas Happel, and instructed him to follow him to the police station. Happel seemingly complied and drove dutifully the few blocks to the Oceanside Police Department, then located at 305 North Nevada Street.
After pulling into the parking lot, Officer Russell waited for Happel to park, but instead Happel put his car into drive and sped away. Happel traveled north on Freeman Street with Russell in pursuit, joined by fellow Officer Paul Ricotta. As he attempted to make a left turn at Eighth Street (now Neptune) and make his way to Highway 101, Happel ran off the road and hit a house. Unhurt all three occupants of the car emerged and fled on foot. An unidentified Marine witnessed the trio running, followed by two uniformed officers, and took action, heading off Happel and bringing him down “with a flying tackle.”
After taking Happel into custody, Oceanside Police discovered that Thomas Happel was an 18-year-old Air Force private who had gone “AWOL” from Lowery Fareli Field in Denver, Colorado. Walking away from his duty station, he stole a 1950 Ford and drove to his home state of Maryland, some nearly 1700 miles away. In Brooklyn, Maryland Happel picked up the two girls, ages 15 and 16, and obtained Maryland license plates for the stolen car, using a “phony registration slip.” Then the trio drove headed west, driving across the country while Happel cashed or wrote bad checks to pay for gas and food. Just before coming to California, Happel stole two wheels and tires in Arizona.
The girls were never publicly identified because of their age, and were taken to the Anthony House in San Diego and then returned to their parents in Maryland.
Happel was booked and placed into a cell in the Oceanside jail, which was located on the second floor of the police station. That same night Happel escaped from his cell by breaking a bar off the grating of a roof ventilator and squeezing through a narrow opening. The Oceanside Blade Tribune described the scene: “The opening he made at one end of the grating was about seven inches wide and 10 inches long. Happel is about 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 130 pounds. The bar which he broke was not one of the original ones in the grating but had been welded on the cross-pieces after a similar escape attempt was once made through the opening.”
The account went on to say that “Happel must have had help from other prisoners in the cell block in order to get up to the ceiling and work the bar loose. When he had the piece of steel free, he used it to force the next bar over enough to get through.”
With Happel’s escape his list of charges continued to grow and the F.B.I. were now involved. On the run, Happel stole another car, a Cadillac, which he abandoned in Fontana, California. He apparently stole yet a third vehicle and made his way east.
Three weeks later the Oceanside Police Department received word that Happel had been apprehended by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and was in custody in Oklahoma City. The fugitive was caught after a traffic accident at Woodward, Oklahoma and apparently tired of running, admitted his identity to law enforcement.
It was reported that Happel would be made to return to Oceanside to face charges, including felony escape, but it seems he managed to “escape” extradition and perhaps served his time elsewhere. Thomas Happel, it appears, gave up his brief stint as an outlaw and went on to live a presumably quiet life in south Florida.
The scrapbooks of Harold Davis hold many more stories waiting to be told…
Boxing fans may be interested to learn about the history of the sport and the stories of two early boxers in Oceanside.
Fighters in the early 20th century like Jim Jeffries, Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey ignited interest around the country and filled arenas for both amateur and professional bouts. But shortly after organized matches were brought to Oceanside, boxing was banned here for two decades.
John L. Sullivan, a bareknuckle fighter who became the first American heavyweight champion in 1882, may have been the inspiration for Oceanside’s founder Andrew Jackson Myers. Myers, who was known to race a horse or two, was once featured in a local bout. The South Oceanside Diamond announced on August 10, 1888, that Myers would face the “Great Unknown” in a “grand slugging exhibition at the old Pavilion.” Spectators had to pay 50 cents to view the event, which also featured Myers’ son Joseph Myers and Charles Kolb in a bare-knuckle contest.
Local boxing enthusiasts were likely pleased when in 1908 the Oceanside Blade reported that the “Blake brothers have fitted up a gymnasium at the Mira Mar hotel for the free use of the young men of the town. The outfit is composed of a turning pole, swinging rings and trapeze. Some of the citizens intend adding a punching bag, boxing gloves, etc., which will make it very complete. The hall room is used for the purpose.”
Aloysius Cloud Thill, known as “Allie”, was one of the first local boxers to box professionally. He was the son of Andrew and Clara Thill who relocated to Southern California, along with younger son Francis around 1910.
Born October 29, 1898, in Buffalo, Minnesota, Allie Thill was both studious and athletic. He was the Vice President of the Freshmen Society at the Oceanside-Carlsbad High School and played on the school baseball team.
The elder Thill owned a popular barber shop for years and both he and his son Allie shared the occupation. The Oceanside Blade commented on Thill’s barbershop in 1914: “A. Thill recently placed in front of his tonsorial parlor on Cleveland Street one of the niftiest barber poles ever seen in these parts, it is of the rotary kind and when lighted up at night makes a fellow want to get shaved whether he needs it or not.”
In 1914 a group of Oceanside businessmen formed the California Social Club. Founding members included Hale Backensto and Andrew Thill. The club was formed for “educational and amusement purposes”. The source of amusement it seems was found in alcohol, which would find the club embroiled in controversy. But one other purpose of the organization was to hold boxing matches in Oceanside.
Hale Backensto, president of the Social Club, was in trouble for operating a “blind pig” or selling liquor without a license. He was arrested three times, and twice acquitted. He filed a $5,000 lawsuit against L. W. Stump, justice of the peace, and G. D. Love, constable for damages. Backensto’s arrests and subsequent lawsuit did not make him friends with the Oceanside City Council and Andrew Thill resigned from the social club.
Just before his 18th birthday, Allie Thill stepped into the boxing ring. He went by the name of Al Barber. The Oceanside Register shared some of the highlights of Al’s first fight against Fred Fadley on September 29, 1915: “Al Thill Wednesday night won an honor for himself and for Oceanside when be fought Fred Fadley in a four round go at the Field rink in San Diego. Although the fight was a draw Thill did splendid work and had fearful odds, his opponent being a trained fighter. Thill was supported by a score of local fans, whose voices were heard above the other 800 members of the audience. He won the favor of the whole crowd when he started the bout with an aggressive campaign against his opponent, giving him three punches for every one he received in the first round. In the second. Thill easily doubled the points over Fadley, but owing to lack of training, he tired out before the finish. With remarkable cleverness the local champ held off the well figured out blows of the San Diego fighter, but at two or three occasions failed to grasp opportunities to lay his opponent on his back. Had it not been for this, he would doubtlessly have been given the decision.”
Thill certainly made an impression, especially since he had started boxing only a week prior to his first match! Given direction by W. A. Roche, a member of the notorious California Social Club, Al Thill quickly became a local favorite, known for his heavy punch.
The excitement of Thill’s prowess and future success brought boxing to Oceanside when the following month several bouts were held at Mildred Hall on North Tremont Street. The Oceanside Blade reported that “Frank Fields of San Diego, outboxed Charlie Tapsico, an Oceanside product, for three rounds of what was to have been a four-round bout.” (Charles Tapsico was an amateur boxer only and a mechanic by trade.)
Summaries of the other bouts were as follows: “Red Gardner stopped Blacky Sandow in two rounds while Billy Howard performed the same service for Billy Patton in the third. Al Barber secured the decision over Shano Rodriguez of Tia Juana, the contest going four rounds in one of the bouts.” The article concluded with the sensationalized detail that “there was a satisfactory amount of gore visible to satisfy the fans and the crowd seemed to have obtained the worth of the fifty and seventy-five cents charged for the seats.”
Despite the previous lawsuits and scandals, in November of 1915 the California Social Club held a subsequent boxing match in Oceanside promoted by Frank Fields, former boxing champion and promotor of San Diego.
In March of 1916 Allie Thill began training with Frank Fields. Thill and Fred Fadley fought again the following month at Oceanside’s Mildred Hall but once again the bout ended in a draw. The fight drew over 100 attendees who also saw other matches, one with locals Frank Mebach and William Patton, followed by Joe Lopez who outboxed the Oklahoma Kid, and then another draw between Windy Briley and Shining Oscar.
Al Thill would finally get his first winning decision on April 29th in a four-round match against “Young Sandy.”
On June 10, 1916 Thill as “Al Barber” faced Joe Berry, known as the “Italian Crackerjack” in Oceanside. The Oceanside Register announced the bout touting both fighters: “Berry has a knock-out punch that has set many other fighters to flee and young Barber’s courage in taking him on will win still higher praise among his many local admirers.”
At the height of enthusiasm and growing excitement of boxing matches, sanctioned or hosted by members of the now defunct California Social Club, the Oceanside City Council put an end to any and all future bouts. In July of 1916 they passed Ordinance No. 226 “Prohibiting the Holding of Sparring or Boxing Exhibition for Profit.” The ordinance read “Any person, who, within the corporate limits of the City of Oceanside, California, engages in or instigates, aids, abets or does any act to further any contest, sparring or boxing exhibition between two or more persons, with or without gloves, for prizes, reward or compensation, directly or indirectly, or who charges, receives, accepts, gives or takes any ticket, token, prize money, or thing of value from any person or persons for the purpose of seeing or witnessing any such contest, sparring or boxing exhibition —- shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $300.00 and be imprisoned for a period not to exceed three months or both such fine and imprisonment.”
Nonetheless, the Oceanside Register announced on October 20, 1916, that “Thill the Barber here, is soon to return to the boxing game. He is known as Al Barber and will meet Sandy from ‘Frisco. They are both said to be in first class condition and are about equally matched, so it ought to be a good fight.” Due to the ban, this fight was likely not held in Oceanside.
Thill’s professional boxing career was interrupted in 1917 when he entered the Navy during world War I. Stationed in San Francisco, he met and married Cecilia Goodwin of Napa. (This marriage ended in divorce, but Allie married again in 1926 to Ethel T. Vesely by whom he had two children.)
Although it appears his boxing career was well behind him, in July of 1919, Thill took to the ring again to entertain spectators in an exhibition held at the Oceanside Beach. The Oceanside Blade reported: “Saturday’s amusements under the supervision of W. H. Trotter were enjoyed by a crowd almost as large as that of the day before and consisted of music, dancing, sparring matches, rodeo, ball game and other sports.The boxing took place at the new band stand on the beach. Al Barber, the “Pride of Oceanside,” sparred four rounds to a draw with Kid Dillon of San Diego. Frank Fields and Battling Clark went four fast rounds, also to a draw.”
In 1924 Thill took over his father’s barbershop which had relocated to the basement of the Palace Hotel on North Hill Street (which his father built). He and his wife Ethel raised their two children, LaGloria and John (known to friends as Gloria and Jack), in a home located at 801 Alberta Street. Thill remained a sports enthusiast, hunting, golfing, playing billiards, and was one of the founders of Oceanside’s annual rough water swim. Active in a variety of local organizations, he served as commander of the Disabled American Veterans.
Al Thill died in 1962 and was laid to rest in Eternal Hills Memorial Park. His son Jack was proud of the fact that his dad never lost a professional fight.
Another Oceanside resident who stepped in the ring and went professional was George Webler, better known to boxing fans as “Battling Doty.”
The son of Thomas and Mary Webler, George Napoleon Webler, born in Kankakee, Illinois in 1903, was one of six children, and the oldest of three sons. George was named after his paternal grandfather, George A. Webler, who arrived in Oceanside in 1904 and operated a restaurant in downtown Oceanside.
Thomas Webler supported his large family by working at the Oceanside-Carlsbad High School as a custodian and groundskeeper. The Webler children all attended Oceanside schools, both grammar and high school. The boys were athletic and known for the prowess in foot racing and particularly baseball.
Although George Webler was skilled with a bat, he was just as well known for his fists. William Reid Couts remembered him all too well. “I remember George Webler; [he] was two grades ahead of me. He used to beat me up pretty nearly every day. I always had a girl, you know, and Doty would want to take her away from me. I remember one time he was on top of me, beating the hell out of me, one of the teachers took him off of me.
“Doty was just a nickname they gave him; George was his first name. If you looked up his records for his fight, it was Battling Doty. He was a middleweight, I think he was a welterweight to start, but he wound up a middleweight.”
George Webler did not graduate high school but instead, at the age of 17, joined the Navy. The Oceanside Blade reported on July 24, 1920, that, “George Webler has signed up as a jacktar in Uncle Sam’s Navy.” A jack tar was a term used to refer to seamen of Britain’s Merchant or Royal Navy, but by World War I it was also used for those in the U.S. Navy. The following week Webler left for training at Goat Island, San Francisco.
Webler’s time in the Navy was short because by 1921 he was back on the local Oceanside baseball team, where he played off and on for three more years.
By 1922 Webler went from a street fighter to a professional one, using the name of “Battling Doty”. In November of that year the Santa Ana newspaper reported that Battling Doty of Wintersburg was scheduled to fight Joe Riley. (Wintersburg is a small area or neighborhood near Huntington Beach, established largely by Japanese. It is unknown how or why Webler became associated with Wintersburg, he possibly lived there for a brief time.) In Oceanside he was a local favorite and by all accounts he was a powerful puncher.
Webler lost his debut match with Riley on a technical knockout on November 15th but came back two weeks later in a rematch and won. A bout with Kid Tex ended in a win for Webler but he lost to Babe Orton in San Bernardino on March 1, 1923. Webler’s boxing career seesawed, with 28 wins, 26 losses and 7 draws. (Stats from boxerlist.com)
William Reid Couts, who spoke at length with his run-ins with Webler recounted vividly: “Man, that guy was ornery, even when he grew up he was ornery. Mean! I went to Escondido to see him fight one time, that’s when he was on his way down –when booze and women got him. He was a good fighter, Doty was. I seen him fight a couple of times. He fought everything in the west coast, the middle west. He was big time. But you just can’t battle that booze.
Webler was in Escondido for a scheduled fight in 1924. Couts recalled an encounter with Doty before the match: “I went over to Escondido and I walked in his dressing room, before Doty had this fight and he shook hands, ‘How are you?’ and all that and all of a sudden, WHAM, took me in the kidney, just WHAM. No reason, absolutely no reason at all. A professional fighter whacking you in the kidneys, they know where to hit, you know. So I picked up something, I think it was a chair. ‘I’m going to brain you, you son of a bitch.’ He said, ‘Come on, can’t you take anymore?’ ‘You watch your step,’ I said. I always told him, ‘Someday I’m going to kill ya.’
From January to April of 1925 Doty dominated in the ring. He won seven consecutive bouts, two by knock out.
In March of that year Webler married Ruth Chambers of San Diego. The marriage however was short-lived. Ruth filed for annulment on the grounds that she was underage when the two married. She was just 16 ½ years old at the time of their nuptials. A judge granted the annulment in June 1925.
That year Doty fought seventeen matches professional matches, winning eleven, five of them consecutively; two ended in a draw. He fought three opponents in just as many days in exhibition fights, which were just as long and grueling. In 1926 his win record was eight out of fifteen, with two draws. In 1927 Webler won just three out of eleven matches and was knocked out twice. His boxing career ended just after five years but his sixty-one professional fights, and numerous exhibitions took a toll.
Webler was working as a taxi driver in San Diego in 1928 and 1929. Perhaps his hard drinking caught up with him, along with the many hard punches his embattled body would have taken. Local newspapers circulated the sad story that he attempted to take his life by “inhaling gas in his room at 1334 Front Street.” He was taken by police ambulance and transported to the “psychopathic ward.”
He recovered and was released from the hospital but his life continued in a downward spiral. In 1930 he was arrested and found guilty of first-degree burglary while in Los Angeles. He was sentenced to 1 to 5 years and sent to San Quentin Prison on November 22nd. Paroled in 1934 and discharged from supervision in 1936, Webler stayed in Northern California after his release. He worked as a shoe shiner along the Embarcadero in the 1940s.
Unaware from his fall from grace, William Reid Couts, who had been the target of Webler as a young man, was still confounded by his assaults. “The last time I ever saw Doty I told him, ‘The day will come when I’m going to knock you from here to yesterday.’ Last I heard he was a merchant sailor.”
Then perhaps thinking of George’s probable age in 1987 (the year of his interview) added: “But he’d be 82, so I might not do it! But believe me, I might think about it if I see him!”
Couts was unaware of Battling Doty’s fall from grace, and his death which had occurred two decades previous. George Webler died May 31, 1966 in his hotel room at the Lincoln Hotel at 115 Market Street in San Francisco. Records indicate his cause of death was fatty degeneration of the liver, perhaps due to long term drinking. His sister Lillian Webler Newton paid his funeral and cremation expenses.
The City of Oceanside repealed the ban on boxing in June of 1938. The small town of Encinitas was featuring boxing every Thursday night and proved to be quite popular. Subsequently Councilmember Ted Holden stated at meeting that he had been approached by a “responsible party” about holding boxing matches of a “professional character”.
City Clerk John Landes informed him of the 1916 ordinance and an additional 1930 ordinance banning matches except those under the auspices of the American Amateur Union. Rather than amend the previous ordinance it was suggested a new one altogether and to update others as it was pointed out that there was an ordinance forbidding “a speed of more than 8 miles an hour for motor vehicles.”
Later that summer Jim “Dynamite” Dawson and Herb ‘‘Dangerous” Dunham faced each other in a three-round boxing bout at the beach.
In 1941 Oceanside’s Recreation Park hosted exhibition boxing. On August 29th the main event featured a three-round battle between locals Johnnie Dominic “The Vegetable King” and “Hit ’Um” Eddie Hubbard.
Amateur boxing matches were featured at the Oceanside Athletic Club shortly after it opened in 1949. (Wrestling, however, proved much more popular.)
Lee Ramage, a native of San Diego, moved to Oceanside in 1950. In 1931 he was the Light Heavyweight Champion of California and fought 105 fights over his nine-year profession career. At the peak of his career, he was ranked in the top five of heavyweight boxers. Most notably he fought Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, TWICE. In his first meeting with Louis in Chicago in 1934, Ramage held his own for seven rounds, but Louis won by TKO. Three months later they fought again in Los Angeles with the same result. Ramage operated a gas station/grocery store and trailer camp at 1624 South Hill Street (Coast Highway) in the 1950s.
Oceanside was thrilled to host Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson in 1958. Patterson stayed at a local hotel and trained at the Beach Community Center for his title bout against Roy Harris. Patterson was accompanied by his trainer and manager, the legendary Cus D’Amato who would train boxer Mike Tyson years later.
The Schuyler Building at 408 Pier View Way in downtown Oceanside is just one of a three surviving brick buildings erected in the 1880s. It was built a 133 years ago in 1888, likely with bricks made from the local brickyard in South Oceanside.
The building was originally owned by John Franklin Schuyler, who was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, July 2, 1836. According to a biography, Schuyler “received a common-school education” and “when sixteen years of age he went to learn the tinner’s trade, after which he worked as a journeyman in several of the western States. In 1858 he came to California, where he worked in several places, and returned to New York City in 1864.”
Schuyler married Ann Frances Barlow in 1864 and they had three children: Mary, Frank B., and Wilton S., all born in Nebraska, where they resided until 1884, when the family moved to San Bernardino, California.
John and Ann Schuyler moved to Oceanside in 1887 and opened his first hardware business on Second Street (now Mission Avenue) which he purchased from Oceanside’s founder Andrew Jackson Myers. In 1888 Schuyler constructed the two-story brick building at 408 Third Street (now Pier View Way). The South Oceanside Diamond newspaper reported on March 30, 1888 that Schuyler was moving “into his new building on Third Street.” Canvas awnings were added to the building in October.
Originally built with just two stories, the first floor contained a hardware store, which sold “general hardware, cutlery, stoves and tinware, water pipes, water tanks, pumps, gasoline stoves, crockery, and glassware,” as well as plumbing. The second floor was used for a fraternal lodge as well as a community meeting room, and one time even housed Oceanside’s early library.
A prominent and active citizen, Schuyler served on the first board of trustees when Oceanside incorporated, as well as President, a mayoral position in today’s terms. He also served on the Oceanside’s volunteer Fire Department and erected a small building to store the city’s fire equipment. Schuyler was the founding member of the Odd Fellows Lodge in Oceanside and his storefront also bore the lodge emblem which hosted the lodge meetings on the second floor.
John Schuyler died in 1907 and his death was announced in the Oceanside Blade: Word was received on Friday, by the local Odd Fellow lodge, of the death of John Schuyler, a former well known resident of Oceanside and the organizer of the Oceanside I. O. O. F. Lodge. Mr. Schuyler was one of the prominent businessmen of Oceanside about twenty years ago, being the pioneer hardware merchant in this city, and active in the civic life of the town during his residence here. For the past ten years or so he had been making his home in Berkeley with his older son, Frank. He is survived by two sons. F. B. Schuyler of Berkeley, and Wilton S. Schuyler of St. Joseph Mo., and one daughter, Mrs. John Bond of Berkeley. The body will be brought to Oceanside, arriving Sunday, and interment will be made in the Odd Fellow cemetery beside Mrs. Schuyler who died about fifteen years ago. Services will be held under the auspices of the local lodge and will take place at the grave at noon, proceeding directly to the cemetery from the depot.”
Years before his death the Schuyler building was sold to John H. Buchanan, who in turn sold the property later that year to Peter J. Brannen. Brannen came from Los Angeles to Oceanside and continued operation of the hardware business. In 1905 he helped to form the First National Bank of Oceanside along with D. G. Harrington, C. J. Walker, and others. That year he remodeled the interior portions of the former Schuyler building and opened it as a boarding house.
The building was sold in 1913 to Oceanside resident Mary J. Walbridge. She leased the ground floor to Jack Taylor and Refugio Romo who opened a café. The second floor was leased to Refugio and his wife Madge Romo, and together they operated the “Romo boarding house” for several years.
In 1920, it was sold to James B. and Ella Kolb in 1920. James Kolb was the son of Jonathon and Frances Kolb, who first settled in Pala and later Fallbrook. The Kolb family had ties to Oceanside as early as 1884 and son Jesse Kolb established the Oceanside Garage on Hill Street. James and Ella Kolb sold the property to Thomas Russell Harriman of Pasadena in 1923.
In late November of 1924 local grocers William Contreras and Carlos Gelpi rented the first-floor storeroom of the building. The Blade reported that the two businessmen had “bought the grocery line of L. W. Stump and will move the stock to the Romo building on Third street, where they will be open for business the first of the week. Mr. Contreras is well and popularly known as an employee of the Stump store for several years past and he and Mr. Gelpi are prepared to carry on the business in a manner that will win the approval of the public of Oceanside and this part of the county.” Contreras & Gelpi painted their names on the east side of the building, facing the alley.
Harriman dramatically altered the building in 1927 by lowering the ceiling to create a third floor as the Oceanside News reported:
The Harriman building, adjoining The News office, an old landmark in the city, will soon be a modern building. The contract for remodeling the building was let to a contracting firm in Pasadena, where Mr. Harriman resides, and work was started with a vim Monday morning.
The brick building, which is now two-stories, will be made into a three-story building. The two upper floors will be made into a rooming and apartment house and will contain 22 rooms. The ground floor occupied by Contreras & Gelpi, grocers, will be lowered to the street level and the old wooden floor will be replaced by a cement floor. A handsome and modern front will be installed.
The grocery is doing business under difficulties during reconstruction. They have removed their stock of groceries, vegetables, etc. to the rear of the building and are using the alley entrance for their customers. When the cement floor is placed in the front part, the stock will be moved back, while the rear part of the building is being reconstructed. When completed this will be one of the handsomest groceries in the Southland and the firm is more than glad to undergo grief to have a new storeroom.
A stairway leading to the upper floors will be constructed leading from the front on Third street. The cost of reconstruction is said to be $15,000. This building was one of the first brick blocks constructed in the city. It was a beauty in its day but is now hopelessly out of date. When reconstructed it will be one of the handsomest buildings in the city and one of the few three-story buildings.
After the building’s third story was added, the 2nd and 3rd floors became a 20-room hotel. In 1928 the Hotel Tours was managed by Joseph and Julia Liggett. The Oceanside Blade made the announcement:
Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Liggett have furnished their new hotel Tours in a very attractive manner. By the help of Clyde Mullen of the Borden Furniture Store, the furniture of the twenty rooms is complete in every detail. The rooms are finished in green enamel prettily decorated and other rooms are furnished in walnut, making in all a pleasing homelike apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Leggett, who recently arrived from Denver, Colorado, were looking for a place in Southern California in which to go into business and selected Oceanside as it seemed a thriving growing town with an especially enjoyable climate. As another inducement, Mr. and Mrs. Liggett found old friends from Missouri, Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Davis, owners of the Davis garage on Hill Street. The name Hotel Tours is the same as the hotel that the Liggett’s owned in Denver. Some of their guests were friends from Denver who stopped upon seeing a hotel with a familiar name and were surprised to greet old friends in the proprietors.
Dr. J. J. Willis, a chiropractor from Santa Ana, took over the management of the Hotel Tours in 1931. He also set up an office at the hotel to see patients, but his stay in Oceanside was a brief one.
In 1932 Robert and Jessie Dewitt briefly ran the hotel for two years, but then went on to open the DeWitt Hotel at 133 South Hill Street (Coast Highway), which was formerly the Keisker Hotel. It is likely that in the early to mid 1930s the brick exterior was covered in a block-patterned stucco, which dramatically changed the look of the building. In addition a fire escape was added to the front and rear of the building.
Oceanside jewelers Clay and Emma Jolliff moved their jewelry business from 511 Second Street (Mission Avenue) to 408 Third Street (Pier View Way). This too was a short-term venture, when in 1933, Harry and Pearl Crutcher leased the first floor, which was used a heating and sheet metal business. The Crutcher’s assumed the management of the hotel in 1934, advertising the rate of 75 cents and up for a “modern, clean, and refined” establishment near the beach.
Later that year the Hotel Tours was leased to Charles and Luella Cundiff, with Minnie Eckert as “hostess-manager.” An ad was placed in the Oceanside Blade Tribune in October which read:
“WANTED GUESTS – Economize in comfort in a modem, comfortable room with free use of community kitchen and sun parlor; rates as low as 75 cents day, $3 week; room and private bath, $1.50. Hotel Tours, opp. Post office.”
Harriman’s widow, Josephine, sold the building in 1941 to Berta Witzemann who in turn leased the hotel to sisters Teva and Katherine Ward and the name was changed was to the Avon Hotel. Many of the guests and long-term tenants included military couples newly stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton.
W. Frank Richardson, a local commercial photographer, set up shop on the ground floor of the building for just over a decade. In 1952 the first floor of the Schuyler building was leased to Bill’s Military Store and later Big 7 Military Store, while the upper floors continued to operate as the Avon Hotel.
At least three fires were reported over a ten-year period, which were the result of a hotel guest or resident falling asleep while smoking. No injuries were reported as a result of these fires.
Saul and Sophie Collen purchased the brick building in 1970. Saul Collen operated a number of hamburger stands, amusements and other businesses in town. He raised eyebrows and made headlines in 1955 when he added a dancer at Archie’s Burgers at 211 North Tremont Street. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported: “Something new in the technique of hamburger merchandising was inaugurated last night at Archie’s Burgers. The innovation was in the person of Jeanne Ford, a close-cropped blonde strip-tease who put on two shows on a small stage at the rear of the establishment for the benefit of the ground beef patrons. Oceanside police and Marine MPs were on hand to shoo the under-age leathernecks away and to see just how far Miss Ford went with her uncovering act. Officers reported that the management had the front window screened with canvas so that the floor show couldn’t be seen from the street.”
In 1975 the property was foreclosed upon. It appears that a retail or surplus store continued operation on the first floor, while the hotel ceased operations. Much of downtown Oceanside had become a blighted area and the Oceanside Planning Commission had noted in a 1977 report that “high and increased incidence of vice and violent crime in a concentrated section of approximately four square blocks bounded by First, Tremont, Third and Freeman Streets.” The Schuyler building was in the heart of this concentrated area.
In 1979 the building was sold to Edmond William Dominguez of Encinitas. Dominguez made alterations to the building in 1981, removing the fire escape, and changing out the windows of the front façade on the second and third floors. The building was painted in garish vertical stripes. In 1994 the property was conveyed to his niece, Marie Davies, owner of Pollos Maria restaurants in Oceanside and Carlsbad. The first floor operated as Jeanette’s Dry Cleaning and the second floor was used largely for storage.
The building seemed little more than an eyesore to many in the downtown area but in 2017 the Aldrich family purchased the former hotel with eyes to refurbishing and repurposing it as a boutique hotel. Thomas Aldrich, project manager and his sister Lauren Sweeton, hotel manager, are the great-great grandchildren of John and Jeanie Aldrich who came to Oceanside in 1926 from Connecticut. The early Aldrich’s purchased a large two-story house at 615 Second Street (now Mission Avenue), and opened a boarding house referred to as Aldrich Manor.
As renovation of the Schuyler building began, the stucco was painstakingly removed, slowly exposing the original brick exterior which had been hidden for decades. Emerging was the painted ad of grocers Contreras & Gelpi on the eastside of the building, along the roofline the faded words “Rooms”, harkening back to its day as a boarding house and hotel.
Historic names were considered but it seemed fitting to give it its own identity and the decision was made to call it “The Brick Hotel.” The restoration became a rebuilding project that spanned a five-year period and included earthquake retrofitting which required building a modern steel structure inside of the existing brick walls. This was accomplished by hand digging underneath the brick in small sections to ensure the building wouldn’t collapse, then pouring concrete footings to attach the steel to support the brick wall from earthquakes.
The Aldrich family, in Oceanside nearly 100 years, continues their legacy and early roots in the hospitality business. Their collective vision for this building has transformed and revitalized the block on which it sits. When completed, it will be modernly updated, both inside and out while retaining much of its historic charm and character. The Brick Hotel will offer ten beautifully appointed suites, as well as a restaurant and oyster bar on the ground floor, and a rooftop bar providing panoramic views of the city.
John Schuyler would be pleased that his building has not only endured but has been reborn. As The Brick Hotel it will create its own history and leave its mark on Downtown Oceanside.
Oceanside’s infamous adult club is no more. Demolition crews have torn down the Main Attraction and surrounding buildings. While a strip club and its clientele may be a loss to some, an eyesore to most, and a curiosity to others, the building dates back to the early 1940s and has an association with some of the biggest acts in Country and Western music.
Once owned by notable resident David Rorick, the two acre parcel of land had a small building fronting the west side of the coast highway. This building was leased or rented to William L. D. Hamilton and George A. Strahan, who operated Red and Bill’s Café. (Behind their café was a large vacant lot which was used for several years as a baseball field. It also served as the location for a traveling circus in the 1940s.)
“Bill” Hamilton and his wife Minnie lived in Los Angeles during the early years of the Depression, where Bill worked on the California Aqueduct as a cook. In 1935, Minnie Hamilton moved to Carlsbad to help take care of her ailing grandfather. Bill soon followed and began working as a cook at the Bridge Café, located near the San Luis Rey River Bridge on Highway 101 north of Oceanside.
While Bill Hamilton was working at the Bridge Café, he met George “Red” Strahan. The two decided to go into business together and opened a café of their own. In 1946 Hamilton and Strahan purchased the land on which their restaurant stood at 939 North Hill Street. Their café was so successful, they opened another in Solana Beach.
In July of 1948, the partners sold their café property to John and Mary Vieszt, who just three years later, sold the property to R. G. Hunter, a resident of Vista. It was likely at this time the building at 939 North Hill/Coast Highway was substantially enlarged. On May 1, 1952, with George Duros as the new proprietor, “The Wheel” held its grand opening featuring The Valentines, an “all girl orchestra” as entertainment. The Wheel, soon to be renamed the “Wheel Club” served food and cocktails with live entertainment and dancing. No longer just a small café, it became a popular night spot on the Highway 101.
The nightclub was not without scandal. In 1956 its then manager Jerome Apelby was arrested for showing obscene material. Described in local newspapers as a coin-operated “peep hole moving picture machine featuring five pornographic movies”, it was confiscated by police on November 2nd. At a hearing the films were shown on a screen in a courtroom and deemed “not decent by any stretch of the imagination.” Apelby was found guilty, fined and given a suspended jail sentence. In response, the club was declared “out of bounds” by military personnel at Camp Pendleton. The Alcohol Beverage Control department revoked the alcohol license due to the conviction and owner R. G. Hunter foreclosed for failure to pay rent.
In 1957 Jimmie (sometimes spelled Jimmy) Brogdon began operating the Club. Jimmie Clarence Brogdon was born in 1929 in Hornersville, Missouri. He was the third child of Clarence and Mary Irene Brogdon. Jimmie’s father, a piano salesman, was murdered over a heated business dispute in 1933 when Jimmie was just 4 years old. Mary Irene Brogdon moved her four children to Southern California in the mid 1940’s, and Jimmie attended his senior year of high school in South Pasadena in 1947.
Brogdon was living in Escondido in 1954 and it was there he played piano for the band “Hidden Valley Boys” at the Squeaky’s El Patio. The band played at the Wheel Club in September of 1954 and by 1957 Brogdon was managing the Wheel Club along with Milton Forester. Brogdon was successful in bringing notable acts to Oceanside, including Freddie Hart, who appeared on a weekly television program, along with Merle Haggard, Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Cash and the Maddox Brothers and Rose.
Known as “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band” the group consisted of four brothers, Fred, Cal, Cliff, and Don, along with their sister Rose. After leaving Alabama during the Depression, the Maddox family settled in Central California. Tired of endless hours of picking cotton to make ends meet, the Maddox siblings tried their hand at singing and by 1937 made their live radio debut when Rose was just 11 years old.
In the 1950s and 1960s Rose Maddox had over a dozen hits as a solo artist and four solid hits with legendary Buck Owens. She is considered one of the “grand dames” of traditional country music.
On December 7, 1959 Brogdon married country western star Roselea Maddox Hale in Las Vegas, Nevada. Lyle Duplessie wrote in 2015 biography of Rose Maddox: “Rose had met Jimmy Brogdon, owner of the Wheel Club in Oceanside. Brogdon was well connected in the music industry and his club regularly hosted such luminaries as George Jones, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, and the up-and-coming Merle Haggard. Brogdon would now host another star: Rose. It didn’t take long before Brogdon and Rose were in love.”
In an interview before her death Maddox said of her career in the late 1960s, “Times were changing. Nightclubs were using house bands instead of guest stars. We weren’t working as much. I found out I could make as much money as the whole family by myself. I had a son to support. I got married to a man in Oceanside. Jimmy Brogdon. He still lives in Oceanside. When I married him he was a nightclub owner. Now he owns half of Oceanside.”
Despite these claims, in 1959 Brogdon was living in a modest 700 square foot home at 410 Grant Street, behind Oceanside High School. However, by 1970, in addition to owning and managing the 101 Club, he was the general manager and owner of the Oceanside Ice Company on South Cleveland Street. In 1986 Brogdon stated that his company handled “between 50 percent and 75 percent of the cube ice delivery business in San Diego and Orange counties, providing 200 tons of block and cube ice per day to more than 1,500 convenience stores, markets and produce companies.”
Another star who performed at the 101 Club was Barbara Mandrell, a local girl who graduated from Oceanside High School in 1967. She performed with her family, The Mandrell Family Band, at various local nightspots and one of their first records was recorded in Oceanside. Barbara Mandrell would go on to be a huge star with several hits and a variety television show.
In 1971 Cpl Garry Lee Hanson was murdered outside the 101 Club after an altercation inside the bar. The City of Oceanside noted in a study that in a one year period a number of felonies had been committed at the Club, along with a dozen misdemeanors, a variety of reported crimes and an equal number of citations and violations.
But the City Council and planners were more concerned with the high concentration of crime in the downtown area, particularly what they termed “the honky tonk area”, establishments which were seen as “major deterrents to the revitalization of the downtown area, attracting prostitutes, drug peddlers, transients and other negative elements which produce a climate that seems to encourage crime.” The study presented in 1977, reported that in 1973, 47% of felonies and 51% of misdemeanors were reported in downtown Oceanside within a four to six block radius and arrests for felonies had increased 80 percent. So despite the declining reputation of the 101 Club, because it was outside of this “zone” it was not considered a public nuisance.
By 1979 the roadside club went from a Country & Western bar and restaurant to a disco called “First Edition”. An ad that ran in the Los Angeles Times that year seeking a part-time disc jockey and a fulltime promoter which went on to say “promotion [is] very important, unless experienced in promoting successful disco do not apply.”
Two years later the establishment was changed to “Francine’s” and advertised dancing and cocktails to “Top Forty” hits. One year later Francine’s introduced “Tuesday Night Ladies Only” which featured adult male entertainers, which was considered a novelty act at the time. Performers known as the Lone Ranger, Macho Man and Indian Jim were “regulars.”
Soon after its foray into adult entertainment, the club was renamed Pure Platinum, and featured female semi-nude dancers. Another name change occurred in the late 1980s when the club went by Dirty Dan’s, and lastly, in 1990 it was renamed The Main Attraction. Jimmy Brogdon dissolved his management company in 1987 and died ten years later on November 18, 1997.
For years people have mocked Oceanside for having such an establishment on Hill Street (aka the historic Highway 101) across from the Chamber of Commerce, no less. Some are now lamenting its inevitable demise. Regardless of its reputation, its association with country music is worth remembering.
The popular drama “Animal Kingdom” will soon finish filming its sixth and final season in Oceanside. But did you know that Oceanside has been a popular site for film and television studios for over 100 years? For almost as long as Hollywood has been making movies, Oceanside has been a film locale and our hotels used to house cast, director and crew.
For decades our locals have played extras while Hollywood has used our beaches, Mission San Luis Rey and other landmarks as backdrops. Oceanside has also been a getaway for movie stars and entertainers.
Many of the earliest movies filmed in and around Oceanside have not survived, but some still exist to this day. The following is a list of some (not all) of early as well as contemporary movies and television episodes that have been filmed in our City.
Beginning in 1914, the Laskey Feature Film Company stopped in town with film director Cecile B. De Mille. Noted as the “founding father of the American cinema” De Mille made 70 films between 1914 and 1958, and it is noteworthy that one of his first was filmed partly in Oceanside. De Mille, a registered guest at the Oceanside Beach Hotel, was here to film David Belasco’s drama, “The Rose of the Rancho” featuring scenes from the Mission San Luis Rey and Pala.
The Beach Hotel where De Mille frequented several times, was located at Third (Pier View Way) and Pacific Streets. This three-story hotel opened in 1904 and was originally named the “El San Luis Rey Hotel” after the Mission San Luis Rey. (It was reported that the fireplace mantle in the lobby was made from “one of the original timbers from the ruins of San Luis Rey bought from Father O’Keefe for ten dollars.”) The Beach Hotel was often used for a variety of film crews and actors over the years.
In 1917 the Signal Film Company used the San Luis Rey River Bridge for the scene of a “thrilling wreck”. Directed by J. P. McGowan, “The Lost Express,” took advantage of the old cement bridge over the San Luis Rey River which had washed away in the Flood of 1916. The film company ran a 1913 Studebaker off the north approach. The Oceanside Blade described the scene in which the two stars put themselves in danger: “When the car started it was occupied by Miss Helen Holmes and Eddie Hearn, and driven by a dummie chauffeur. In leaving the car, Eddie Hearn had a narrow squeak from taking a tumble himself. The auto jumped in the air then made two complete somersaults and landed on the wheels right side up, without puncturing a single tire.” After filming the film company donated the wrecked car to local resident Brownie Dodge of the Oceanside Garage.
In November of 1918 the Blanche Sweet Film Company shot scenes of a war film entitled, “The Unpardonable Sin”. One scene included an automobile wreck at South Oceanside, but most of the action involved chasing after “German spies” on the coast highway south of Carlsbad.
In 1922 Warner Bros. Studio filmed stunts from the “tops of moving trains and bridges”. While filming these daring scenes the movie cast and crew stayed at Oceanside’s Beach Hotel.
In July of 1922 the Cosmopolitan Picture Company established headquarters at Oceanside for the filming of Peter B. Kyne’s story, “The Pride of Palomar.” Scenes from the Santa Margarita rancho, San Luis Rey Mission, Rancho Guajome and Oceanside were used. The film company registered at the Beach Hotel.
Universal Pictures filmed scenes for a western, “The Love Brand” on the Rancho Santa Margarita in 1923 and it was noted that it featured a cattle roundup and “real buckaroo work”. The film starred Roy Stewart who played “Don Jose O’Neil”.
The local newspaper noted that Stewart, a San Diego native and an expert horseman. “spent much of his time on the famous Santa Marguerite (sic) rancho, one of the biggest and most famous in the West. After the style of vaqueros of the Southwestern cattle country, Stewart acquired a taste for beautiful saddles and bridles and eventually procured one of the finest looking outfits in the country. He utilized this equipment for the first time before the camera in “The Love Brand” his latest starring vehicle for Universal. The saddle is silver mounted, carved in a beautiful Spanish design, and the bridle is also extravagantly, though beautifully, decorated with silver. The outfit is very valuable, but Stewart never figures its value in dollars and cents. He wouldn’t part with it at any price. Stewart rides his own horse, a beautiful thoroughbred, in the play and other principals in the cast also ride horses from his famous stables, although dozens of horses were available for “atmospheric players” at the Santa Margarita rancho.”
When the film was released, it played at Oceanside’s Elysium Theater in November of that year and the theater owner noted in his weekly newspaper ad that the movie was locally filmed. It was a crowd favorite and Oceanside residents never tired of seeing the local landscape and notable landmarks on the screen.
Hollywood’s most famous silent movie stars and notable couple, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, were frequent guests to Oceanside. In June of 1923 Fairbanks and Pickford established a beach camp used by other film notables throughout that summer as well. Fairbanks reported that it was his “sixth season here and that Oceanside has undoubtedly the finest beach in California.” The June 21, 1923 Blade reported: “Among the guests of the tent colony of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford on the beach during the past week has been Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. of New York.
The Tiffany Company of the Bud Borsky Productions filmed a 1927 production on the ship “George Billings”. The boat was owned by local Harry Brodie. It was used to take groups out to sea to fish but for its Hollywood debut the boat was fitted with a new “suit of sails”. The cast included Montagu Love, Dorothy Sebastian, and Ray Haller and they along with the film crew stayed in Oceanside. The film was released as “The Haunted Ship” based on a story White and Yellow written by Jack London.
Many Oceanside residents became movie extras in the spring of 1936 while shooting for the picture, “Vigilantes,” by the Republic Production company, with the Mission San Luis Rey used as a background. The plot “centered on early California history … when the Fathers were having a struggle to keep the missions free from corruption, and invasion by the Indians”. Many local residents appeared in the picture, including well known resident Bill Lawrence. The film was released with a new title “The Vigilantes Are Coming” and was a serial with 12 parts, many of which feature the Mission San Luis Rey, its bell tower and interior. The film’s star was Robert Livingston who played a masked vigilante “The Eagle” and was a precursor to the more widely known “Lone Ranger” with his mask and white horse.
In 1942 comedian Bob Hope and members of his comedy troupe visited the 101 Cafe: “Herb Evers, of the 101 Cafe, at Hill and Wisconsin, says that he can’t get ahead of Comedian Bob Hope in wise cracks, but that Bob admitted Evers could prepare a better steak than he could. Hope and other members of the radio troupe stopped in the 101 this week for dinner and all ordered steaks. For a while the 101 was a regular radio show, while the troupe enjoyed their steak dinner.”
In 1949 “Sands of Iwo Jima” starring John Wayne was filmed at Camp Pendleton, and for which Wayne received his first Academy Award nomination. Other war films including “Flying Leathernecks”, “The Outsider”, “Battle Cry” and “Retreat, Hell!” were filmed at Camp Pendleton.
In 1951 Oceanside children were the “stars” in the “Kidnapper’s Foil”. This short film was just one of hundreds made by Melton Barker between the 1930s and 1970s. Barker traveled across the country hawking his vanity film projects in small towns. Each film would include hometown children as actors. Barker was paid by parents in exchange for the privilege of their child to appear.
The plot of each short film was repeated in each film: “A young girl is kidnapped from her birthday party and rescued by a search party of local kids. The relieved neighbors celebrated with a party where youngsters would display their musical talents.” The finished film would be shown on hometown theater screens to the delight of the children and their families.
In July of 1951, Melton Barker ran in an advertisement in the Oceanside Blade Tribune in which the headline read: “OCEANSIDE CHILDREN WILL STAR IN MOVIES”. The ad text provided the details: “Melton Barker will arrive in Oceanside to produce a two-reel comedy, according to an announcement by the manager of the Crest theater. The picture will be made In Oceanside using local children as well as children from surrounding territory in the cast After the cast has been selected, there will be two or three days of rehearsals, teaching them to act before the sound camera. There will be a small charge for this training. However, there will be no charge for registering or tryouts. Children between the ages of three to 14, wishing to try for parts, must register at the Crest Theater at once. When the casting director arrives in town, he will get In touch with those who have registered and arrange for tryouts.”
The film featuring the Oceanside children was shown at the Crest Theater after the movie “Angels in the Outfield” in October of 1951.
The Mission San Luis Rey was used for a backdrop in the popular “Zorro” television series starring Guy Williams . An episode entitled “Zorro Rides to the Mission” aired on October 24, 1957 and featured the cemetery gate of the Mission with the skull and crossbones. Some have attributed this to Walt Disney Productions, but this element of the cemetery gate predates the Zorro series.
Again in 1962 the Mission was the location for another television series: “Have Gun – Will Travel”. In Season 6, episode 10 “A Miracle for St. Francis” aired with the lead character Paladin, played by Richard Boone in search of a rare brandy and the Padre in search of a rare statue.
In 1972 “Baby Blue Marine” starring Jan Michael Vincent was filmed at the barracks in the 13 Area of Camp Pendleton. The Aaron Spelling/Leonard Goldberg production for Columbia Pictures told the little known story of the Marine Corps’ “washouts and misfits” and the title refers to the blue suits they were issued to go home in.
“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” a movie that is just as bad as it sounds, was filmed in Oceanside and San Diego in 1978. Although a very broad and silly “horror” film, a very serious and near-deadly helicopter crash occurred during filming. While filming at the Wackerman ranch off North River Road, a helicopter piloted by Thomas Watts with two actors, George Wilson and Jack Riley, crash landed and burst into flames. All three men escaped without serious injury but the crash captured on cameras was incorporated into the film.
In 1984 filming began on Camp Pendleton’s beach for a television miniseries based on James A. Michner’s fictional account of the American space program, which covered the years after World War II to the Apollo moon landings. Despite the crowds enjoying a summer day, the film crew captured footage of vintage planes in flight simulating air combat.
In 1985 filming began of what would become a box office blockbuster and when it was released on May 12, 1986 the film launched Tom Cruise to super stardom. “Top Gun” was shot on location at Miramar, San Diego and Oceanside. The “Top Gun” house at the corner of Seagaze and Pacific streets was featured as the home of Cruise’s love interest, played by Kelly McGillis.
Scenes in this popular movie featured Cruise on his motorcycle racing Oceanside’s beautiful palm-lined Pacific Street, overlooking the ocean. Today, the newly restored house has been moved just one block north and sits between two new resort hotels.
Beginning in the summer of 1986, Heartbreak Ridge was filmed at Camp Talega, Chappo Flats and Mainside at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton starring Clint Eastwood. Camp Pendleton Marines were used as extras. A barroom brawl scene was filmed at Carl’s Tavern in Vista. While the film was initially supported by the Marine Corps, it was not without controversy with its loose story line and the way Marines were portrayed as “undisciplined.” Still when it was released in December of 1986, it drew crowds of local moviegoers to Oceanside’s Mann’s theater.
In January of 1995 “The Women of Spring Break”, a television movie starring Shelly Long and Mel Harris aired on CBS. Much of the movie was filmed at Oceanside’s beach and pier with the characters staying at Oceanside’s Mira Mar Motor Inn, which had long seen better days. The made-for-TV movie was later renamed “Welcome to Paradise”.
In 2004 “Veronica Mars” starring Kristen Bell aired on the UPN television network. Many of the series’ scenes were filmed at Stu Segall Productions in San Diego, California and most of the scenes featuring “Neptune High” were filmed in Oceanside. The director liked that it was “a seaside town that still feels like middle-class people live there.” The setting of Neptune High, which was featured in the first two seasons, was also located at Oceanside High School, which was paid $7,750 for the use of the campus and extras.
“To Save a Life” was filmed in 2009 and released the following year. Featuring a large cast of locals, it was filmed at various North County locations including Oceanside High School, MiraCosta College and Eternal Hills Memorial Park.
Scenes of the popular 2010 cheerleading movie, “Bring It On” starring Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union were filmed at the Oceanside Amphitheater. It was so popular it became a franchise with a series of sequels.
Pop star Katy Perry filmed her music video “Part of Me” at Camp Pendleton. The video was shot over three days in February of 2012 and scenes were filmed at Red Beach and Camp Horno. The video depicted Perry as a Marine training with male Marines. Today this is now reality with female Marines training alongside Marines at the School of Infantry starting in 2018, for decades only training men.
TNT’s Animal Kingdom followed the fictional Cody family and their exploits while living in Oceanside. Viewers around the world see some of Oceanside’s best assets, the Pier, Harbor and Strand. Filming has been done in over 70 locations in our City including the Real Surf Shop and Surf Bowl on Coast Highway. Character Daren Cody’s fictional bar has been a popular location at 314 Wisconsin, as well as a beach cottage on the South Strand where character “Baz” lived with his girlfriend.
While Oceanside has been the backdrop for Hollywood for years, the Oceanside International Film Festival was established in 2009 to provide an opportunity for independent filmmakers to have their work screened and considered for wider distribution. Many local filmmakers, along with those from around the world, converge on Oceanside to show their films each year.
No doubt our City will “star” in another cinematic feature soon. It’s still as thrilling to see Oceanside through the lens of a camera as it was in the early days of film.
Shortly after the turn of the century, a large section of Oceanside’s Strand (once called Paseo Del Mar) was owned by the Oceanside Development Co., headed by C. J. Walker as President. This group of investors was from Long Beach and they held interest in Oceanside real estate, owning many lots throughout town, including several blocks of oceanfront land. The Strand Tract addition was recorded in 1904 and soon after the Oceanside Development Co. set about an advertising campaign throughout Southern California.
Trainloads of potential buyers and investors made their way to Oceanside. The December 17, 1904 Oceanside Blade reported: “About 600 excursionists from Los Angeles and Long Bench came down Wednesday on a train of seven coaches arriving about 11 o’clock am and leaving at 3 in the afternoon. The excursion was arranged by the Oceanside Development Co. to open the sale of their Strand tract on the beach, and many lots were sold there, though there were also sales in other portions of town. In the Strand Tract thirty-three lots were sold, including all of blocks 1 and 9, and lots in 4, 5, and 6.“
The 700 block of North Strand remained unimproved (or vacant) and in the possession of Charles J. Walker until 1924 when it was purchased by A. J. Clark.
Alfred J. Clark arrived in Oceanside in 1924 from Idaho, and subsequently purchased the Oceanside Bath House just north of the Oceanside Pier. Clark was also the manager of the “Fun Zone” a concession area near the Pier, as well as the manager of Oceanside’s newest and grandest theater, The Palomar, which was located on the 300 block of North Hill (Coast Highway).
In January 1928 it was reported that Clark had received a permit to build beach cottages on his property on The Strand at a cost of $25,000 by the Whiting-Mead Company. A row of twelve small cottages were built which the fronted The Strand and eleven identical cottages were built behind them, staggered and situated to afford ocean views. A larger cottage was built on the south end of the property and was used as both a dwelling and office. A structure to house automobiles was perpendicular to the office, and another similar structure was located on the north end of the property (but no longer exists). The name of these new cottages were “Clark’s Cottage DeLuxe” (or a variation of such) and were available for vacationers by the summer of 1928. Rental fees were as little as $3.00 a day.
Auto camps were established before modern motels. Municipal camp sites operated by cities, chambers of commerce or individuals allowed travelers a place to park their car, perhaps set up a campsite, for a small fee, and were offered basic amenities such as outhouses and running water. With a growing population on the move, a demand for better services made way for more traveler-friendly sites.
Leland Bibb and Kathy Flanigan wrote in the Role of Transportation in the Growth of the City of Oceanside (1997): “Camping [became] a popular recreational experience for many motorists in the 1920s. The Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, desirous of capitalizing on this activity, proposed the establishment of a municipal camp ground on its property located on Ditmar, Nevada, Third and Fourth in September 1920. By May 1921, with the City in possession of the block, work began on improvements necessary for vacationers. Water was piped into the area, and a fence and hedge surrounded it. A building, constructed in the center of the lot, provided toilets, lavatories and shower baths for men and women. The remainder of the land was divided into camping spaces with simple brick and concrete stoves placed along the tier of spaces on the west side of the block. Electric light was furnished. An existing house on the property underwent renovation for a caretaker. A small charge was to be collected for use of the park and its conveniences by autoists, basically to keep indigents away.”
Oceanside had several auto courts in the 1920s and 1930s. At least three survive today, one on South Coast Highway and another on South Cleveland Street. Roberts Cottages is the only surviving beachfront auto court. Cottage City (which was also located on the Strand) was first established as “Tent City” in about 1919 and offered few amenities to campers. In response to demands of the traveling public and long term vacationers, in 1925 Cottage City underwent extensive renovations and improvements. Ten two-room cottages were added, which featured kitchenettes, along with garages for automobiles. Cottage City was torn down prior to 1972.
Clark sold the cottages to A. S. and Pearlie Gholson in June of 1929, but before year’s end they had sold it Doren Perrine of Encinitas. Perrine and his wife Ella occupied the larger cottage while managing the cottage rentals. However, the Perrrine’s may have defaulted on the mortgage as Oceanside Lot Books still record Clark as the owner in 1930.
Later that year William Wallace Roblee of Riverside purchased the property and the name was modified to the “DeLuxe Cottages”. Roblee’s son Hewitt and his wife managed the property during the summer months. The June 29, 1934 Blade reported: “Mrs. M H. Roblee has arrived from Riverside to take over the DeLuxe Cottages on the north Strand.”
One Los Angeles newspaper described the beach cottages in 1934: “The Bungalows DeLux (successors to Clark’s Cottages) at Oceanside are as modern as your home. The bungalows of English style stucco are furnished most complete. Every bungalow has a picturesque ocean view from the Paseo Del Mar Drive” (The Strand).
In 1937 Marion and Margie Arbogast purchased the cottage property and it was during their brief ownership that the cottages were named “Surf Motor Court.” Unfortunately, the Arbogast’s defaulted on their loan and lost the property.
The Mutual Building and Loan Association of Long Beach sold the beach cottages to Harry and Virginia Roberts in January 1941. The Oceanside Blade Tribune announced on June 11, 1941 that the cottages were being remodeled and renamed:
An improvement along North Strand that is attracting attention is renovation of Roberts Cottages. Mr. and Mrs. Harry Roberts, for five years associated with Cottage City, purchased what were known as the Surf Motor Cottages in January, and have been remodeling ever since. This week the exterior of the 23 cottages are being painted. Woodwork is being painted a bright red and black trim to set off new concrete porches with a black railing.
Brilliantly colored beach umbrellas and bright colored beach chairs will be in front of each cottage. To complete the colorful effect red geraniums have been planted in containers in front of each cottage.
The interior of each cottage has been refinished. Walls have been plastered and all woodwork is in an antique finish. New showers, new furniture, new mattresses, new cooking utensils have been installed to make the cottage a cozy home that will appeal to the vacationer.
Mr. and Mrs. Roberts are enthusiastic over the future of Oceanside, and are pleased to contribute their beautification of North Strand to the progress being made in the community as a whole.
Harry Roberts was a native of Columbus, Mississippi and Virginia hailed from Texas. The two were living in Denver, Colorado before coming to Oceanside. They first purchased and managed Cottage City, a row of beach cottages on the south corner of the Strand and Sixth Street (Surfrider Way).
As their predecessors, the Roberts owned the cottages a relatively short period of time, but their name has been attached to the property to this day.
The cottages were sold to Reginald Willhoyt Hampton and his wife Mary in 1944. Hampton was a native of San Luis Obispo and a contractor by trade. The Hamptons owned the subject property just two years when it was sold to Ervin [misspelled as Irving] and Vera Willems.
In 1952 the cottages were sold to William B. Settle III, and his wife Gladys. Settle served on the Oceanside Planning Commission for nearly two years, and also owned the El Sereno Apartments at 835 South Pacific Street. The Settles relocated to Bakersfield in 1954 after selling the beach cottages to Harvey Olen and Ruth (Settle) Forquer the prior year.
The Forquers lived on the property while Harvey worked as a detention officer for the department of U. S. Immigration. Ruth Forquer was a sister of William B. Settle, the prior owner. The Forquers entered into a partnership with George and Zelda Henry, of Hollywood, to own and manage Roberts Cottages.
After an unsuccessful attempt to sell the cottage property, in 1956 it was suggested to break up the property and sell the cottages individually to separate owners. It has been proposed that this may have been “the first time someone had used the ‘own-your-own’ condo concept in California.”
Oceanside Realtor Tom Harrington had the listing to sell the cottages, with Wilma Stakich working as his sales agent. Harrington ran an ad in the local paper that there were “only 20 left”. The advertisement which first ran June 29, 1956, read: “Own Your Own Beach Cottage only $5,250 total. Completely furnished. Only $1,150 down. Tom Harrington Realtors, 1213 So. Hill St.” (now Coast Highway).
Just one month later Harrington announced that there were just 12 units remaining and by September 1956, just two cottages were left unsold. It was advertised that each cottage could be rented for $60 and that owners could “gross from $l40 to $175 per month in summer.”
Dean R. Hansberry and Jean B. Hansberry acquired Unit 24 in October of 1956. Dean Hansberry was a Captain the United States Marine Corps stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Jean Hansberry was a real estate agent. However, in 1958 it was discovered that Captain Hansberry, a disbursing officer had embezzled $63,000 “between December 1955 and June 24, 1957.” During the criminal investigation and trial, the couple had spent nearly $30,000 over their income in a two year period. It was also discovered that Hansberry had used $2,000 of the absconded monies as a “down payment on the 704 Strand Street property.” He was convicted and sentenced to six years in Federal prison.
In 1961 Wilma Stakich and her sister Grace Baker shared an interest in Unit 24 and managed the cottages for some of the owners many years, up through the 1980s.
Today many of the cottages are still owned individually and several rented out for vacation rentals. In recent years owners took to painting the cottages in different colors rather than the traditional pink they have been known for many decades. However, today the cottages are once again their customary color, while some trims vary slightly.
San Diego’s Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) has Roberts Cottages on their list of “Most Endangered List of Historic Resources.” They describe the 24 units as “a rare and finite collection of historic buildings” and “are the best surviving examples of auto-court beach cottages.”
SOHO goes on to note: “When leisure travel by auto became all the rage, convenient lodging along the way became necessary. The first generation of these auto-courts, built in the late 1920s, 30s and 40s, were known as cottage courts or traveler’s courts. Roberts Cottages is one of the first. These unique beach buildings represent an important part of Oceanside’s early tourism industry.”
Today Roberts Cottages are part of Oceanside’s wonderful beach landscape, an iconic feature that captures the attention and imagination of residents and visitors alike.
Many longtime residents of Oceanside will fondly remember Huckabay’s Department Store at 501 Mission Avenue. This building, located on the southeast corner of Mission Avenue and Coast Highway, is 109 years old and was originally the J. E. Jones Hardware Store.
Joseph E. Jones was born in 1873, and came to California with his parents in 1888. They family settled in the San Luis Rey Valley where they lived on a ranch. Jones attended the Santa Barbara Business College and in 1893 became a clerk for the firm of Irwin & Co., dealers in dry-goods and general merchandise at Oceanside, located on Second Street (now Mission Avenue) and Freeman Street. Jones was industrious and worked “his way upward through diligent attention to every detail connected with the business.” After clerking for Isaac Irwin for several years, Jones purchased a portion of Irwin’s business, as it pertained to hardware and farm implements in 1906.
Jones acquired the vacant lot on the southeast corner of Second and Hill Streets (Mission and Coast Highway) in 1911 with plans to build a new home for his growing hardware business. Excavation began in 1912. This two-story structure included a basement and was a decidedly modern addition to downtown Oceanside.
The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported on June 7, 1913:
J. E. Jones this week began the transfer of his hardware business from his quarters on the north side of Second Street to his new building on the corner of Second and Hill. The final touches were put on the new building the first of the week and the last of the work marks the completion of one of the best if not the best business block in San Diego county outside the city of San Diego.
The building, 85 x 100 feet in size, is of reinforced concrete construction throughout, walls and floors being of this enduring material strengthened with steel ribs. There are two stories and a basement, the latter being the entire size of the building and prepared and fitted especially for its use in the display and storage of hardware and implements. The first floor is the main store and here the finish and fittings are the very finest and most substantial to be had, everything being arranged for the convenient transaction of business. There are three entrances to the store besides the main doorway on Second Street, two on Hill Street and one from the alley in the rear. Access to the basement is gained by stairs in the rear of the first floor and by a freight elevator which is operated from the sidewalk in front.
The second floor has been left partly unfinished and will be finished up later, either for offices or apartments, as necessity may demand. The windows are plate and prism glass, affording ample light to all portions of the building. Scores of electric lights make provision for the lighting at night, there being fifty tungsten lamps in the main store alone, so that when the building is lighted up it is the brightest spot in town with a metropolitan appearance that would do credit to a large city. A nobby gold sign, the letters fastened in relief on the front and sides of the building, puts the finishing touch to Oceanside’s finest business block.
In addition to his business interests, Jones was active in civic life, serving as a city trustee (councilmember), later as city treasurer, and served two terms as mayor. He was also president of the Oceanside Federal Savings and Loan Association. Joseph Eli Jones died at his home at 904 Second Street (Mission Avenue) in 1944.
In 1928 Henry A. and Tracy B. Howe occupied the building and operated Howe Hardware until they moved into a new location just up the street at 517 Second Street (Mission Avenue).
Ike Glasser purchased the building in 1934. Glasser was a native of Austria and came to the United States as an apprentice tailor. He and his wife Lena came to Oceanside in 1929 and operated a mercantile store in downtown Oceanside.
In 1939 Hiram and Walter Huckabay bought the building. Hiram Huckabay came to Oceanside from Colton in 1934 and previously operated the Ben Franklin Variety Store at 201 North Hill Street (aka Coast Highway). The Huckabay’s opened their department store, which was a popular retail store in downtown for many years.
The upstairs of the building served as offices and storage. In June of 1945 Ray Goodman leased the upstairs and opened a dance hall and snack bar called the Silver Slipper Ballroom. Entrance to the upper floor was made via an entrance on North Hill Street aka Coast Highway. Longtime resident and Oceanside native Ernie Carpenter remembered in an interview: “When I was in high school, they had a dance hall on the top. Saturday night dances for the kids, it was really great. Now that was in the ’40s; that was the Silver Slipper.” When renovation of this building took place in the late 1980’s, an upper floor window was discovered with the name of the ballroom painted on it.
In 1951 Huckabay hired Richardson Brothers, local contractors, to build an addition to the building at a cost of $25,000. It was likely at this time that the building was “modernized” to include a large metal awning that wrapped around the front of the building.
In 1954 the local newspaper Oceanside Blade Tribune, featured the Huckabay’s:
The growth of Huckabay’s, well-known Oceanside department store, leads back to a period of 55 years ago when H.C. Huckabay as a youth went into the general store business in Marmaduke, Arkansas. This line of business he followed for a good many years, first in the Oklahoma town and then for a period in Foraker, Oklahoma, and Claremore, Oklahoma.In 1928 Huckabay retired and moved with his family to Colton, California where inactivity soon began to pall on him and he operated a broom factory in that city, an unusual but successful enterprise which continued until 1934 when he bought the G.A. Wisdom business in Oceanside. This latter business was operated in a Ben Franklin variety store in the location where Gilbert’s 5 & 10 now operates.
In 1938 he purchased a half-interest in the variety store business which less than 12 months later gained its present identity when father and son purchased their present department store at Hill and Second street from Ike Glasser.During the period from 1948 to 1951 Huckabay’s business underwent a considerable expansion program which saw the remodeling of the store exterior and the construction of a new addition to the building which doubled its floor space and made it possible for much larger stocks of merchandise display.
With the advent of shopping malls and shopping centers in the 1960s, retailers in downtowns across the country were negatively impacted, and Oceanside was not immune. Many downtown retails shops vacated the business district and relocated to the newer shopping centers that afforded free and ample parking along with convenience.
The Huckabay family continued to operate their department store even as the business landscape of downtown Oceanside was changing. Although they retained ownership of the building, they sold the business in 1977 to Edward R. and Gabrielle Meyers. The Meyers operated the store under the name Huckabay’s and Bargain Circus until 1981 when they filed bankruptcy.
When Harley Hartman purchased the building in 1989, it had been vacant and left in a neglected state. Hartman renovated the building at a cost of $1.4 million dollars and opened Fullerton Mortgage and Escrow Co. Among the changes made were the removal of the wrap around awning and elimination of a portion of the stucco façade that had covered the second tier of windows. Hartman did extensive interior improvements including the restoration of the decorative tin ceiling that was original to the J. E. Jones Hardware store.
Now the building is vacant once again and is waiting for a new purpose and perhaps another renovation and restoration.
In late January of 1931, newspapers across the United States published stories with a similar rumor: That famed gangster Al “Scarface” Capone was bringing his mobsters to Southern California along with plans to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita. The Los Angeles Times reported that if taken over by Capone, the vast property could be “fortified into an estate defying entrance, with a boat landing where liquor could be landed at will, defying Federal forces.”
Al Capone both terrified and captivated the Nation with his crimes and exploits. Two years prior Capone’s men were responsible for the deadly St. Valentine’s Day Massacre which killed seven men. Although he was not at the scene of the murders, it was believed he ordered it. He was then given the status of “Public Enemy Number One.”
The little town of Oceanside had a population of just 3,500 people. Residents enjoyed a quiet relationship with the owners of the Rancho Santa Margarita. The cattle ranch employed a number of locals and area farmers leased land to grow crops, including lima beans, sugar beets and alfalfa. This would seemingly come to a halt should the Rancho be under the control of the most infamous gangster in America.
Los Angeles law enforcement revealed that among various gangsters in the Southland included Frankie Foster, Baldy Nevins, Louis Frank, Bill Bailey and a brother of Ralph Sheldon. The men were said to be “all known hoodlums from the ranks of the gangster army.”
Charles S. Hardy, the general manager of the Rancho bordering Oceanside to the north, refuted the claims that Capone was buying the vast property. The Oceanside Blade published his statement: “We have had no call from agents relative to the sale of the rancho for some time,” said Hardy, “I am positive that neither Capone nor any of his men nor anyone representing him has ever made any overtures to purchase the holdings. I doubt very much that any of the Chicago gangsters ever heard of the ranch, much less started an attempt to purchase it.”
The Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores once belonged to Pio Pico, last Governor of Alta California under Mexican rule. Pico sold his interest to his brother-in-law, John Forster. After Forster’s death in 1882, the property was sold to Comstock silver magnate James C. Flood, who hired cattle rancher Richard O’Neill as manager. Some years after the death of James Flood, Richard O’Neill was given half ownership of the land, 133,440 acres. O’Neill gave his interest in the Rancho to his son Jerome. When Jerome O’Neill died in 1926, the rancho was inherited by his descendants who later hired Hardy to help manage it.
While Hardy’s statement sought to dispel the rumor of Capone’s interest in the Rancho, law enforcement was in fact “on the trail of men described as gangsters” who were associated with a series of recent crimes in Southern California. The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported that the suspects were believed to be members of the Sheldon gang, a notorious bootlegging gang in Chicago affiliated with Al Capone.
Despite Hardy’s denials, The Los Angeles Times reported “Heads of a local real estate firm are said to have reported three men representing themselves as agents of Capone recently offered $200,000 for an option on the ranch, which has an 18-mile ocean frontage and attempted to rush the deal before authorities could prevent it.” In another article, it was said that the men had a certified check ready to remit as a down payment.
Law enforcement believed a smuggling ring was particularly interested in the historic rancho because of the extensive ocean frontage it provided. “Long miles of unguarded coast line and Southern California’s easy accessibility to the Mexican border” were attractive to the “racketeers” and had in fact been used by smugglers and bootleggers for many years.
With the onset of Prohibition, boats were often used to transport alcohol that was smuggled from Mexico. The open coastline north of Oceanside was a perfect place to land small boats, and bootleggers made extensive use of the lonely beaches in landing their cargoes. Oceanside Police and other law enforcement were kept busy chasing bootleggers and confiscating liquor.
While authorities downplayed the Capone story near Oceanside, Southern California residents may have been surprised to hear that police admitted that “75 percent of the Hollywood speakeasies [were] under the control of a Chicago gang.” Bootleggers were assigned territories and promised protection as long as they agreed to purchase liquor from the gang. This takeover was described as an “octopus” with strength and muscle to control the area. The Times also reported that an “influx of Chicago, Detroit, New York, St. Louis and Kansas City gangsters” were an indication that Southern California would soon be a “smugglers’ paradise.”
Whether or not Capone was in the State of California, just two months earlier, Capone was blamed for what was called the “grape juice war” with California grape growers. It was alleged that Capone warned Fruit Industries, Ltd. to stop selling and distributing juice concentrate in Chicago, which could later be turned into wine and therefore compete with Capone’s illegal liquor sales. The Sacramento Bee reported that Capone had threatened that if sales were attempted against his orders that someone was “going to be bumped off”.
In Washington D.C. an elected official seeking legislation against Capone commented, “When Al Capone can go from Chicago to California and threaten the life of a man who is selling grape juice, something must be done.” Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation monitored the “grape juice war” and is included in the FBI files on Al Capone.
Los Angeles newspaper reporters claimed that they went to a ranch outside Los Angeles to an undisclosed location to speak directly to a man who identified himself as Al Capone (who told them not to divulge the ranch’s location). During the interview Capone denied involvement in the grape juice wars and instead blamed it on the New York mob.
Where was this ranch where Capone was residing in 1930? It may have been in Lancaster, California. Just days after the news that Al Capone had made an offer on the Rancho Santa Margarita, newspapers reported that there was a mob hideout in Lancaster, about 75 miles north of Los Angeles where bombs and weapons had been found. (It was later rumored but never substantiated that Capone also had a house in Fontana.)
Oceanside residents were rightfully concerned. What would happen if Capone took control of the Santa Margarita? Would local farmers lose access to their crops? Would gangsters seek control over the tiny beach town? Would access via the state highway through the Rancho be hindered? It was a lonely stretch of road that was even lonelier at nightfall.
Fears of the Rancho being taken over by gangsters subsided in February, when Capone was found guilty in Federal Court on a contempt of court charge and was sentenced to a brief stint in the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois.
However, in June of 1931, Homer Croy, a writer from Hollywood, resurrected the story in an article that he wrote for Liberty Magazine. The two page article declared that Al Capone had in fact “acquired a domain in California about two thirds as large as the state of Rhode Island, 35 miles from end to end and with many miles of seacoast.” A photo of Capone, along with a map of the Rancho Santa Margarita, was included.
Croy wrote that Capone would be well suited to Rancho life and that “horseback riding will do him good, for Al is getting overweight” and added, “Don Alfonso Capone can live on his hacienda, sit in his patio, and smoke and talk to his friends to his heart’s content about real estate.”
The Oceanside Blade Tribune suggested that Croy’s piece was fiction and “some good publicity” as the map provided in the article showed the San Luis Rey Mission and Oceanside’s proximity to the famed rancho.
And while Homer Croy’s article was written either tongue in cheek or for pure sensationalism, it didn’t matter. Liberty magazine boasted a readership of over 2 million, and was sold from coast to coast. The story of Capone purchasing the historic ranch once again attracted national attention and was front page news.
Charles Hardy once again went on the defensive, vehemently denying that the Chicago crime czar had purchased the property.
Whether Al Capone really attempted to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita is unknown. But if so, Capone would never have a chance to pursue or close the deal. Just days after the Liberty Magazine story was published and circulated, Al Capone pled guilty to tax evasion and prohibition charges under the assumption he would serve a light sentence as before. But on October 17, 1931, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and he would eventually be sent to Alcatraz. It was the end of his life of crime but he would long reign as America’s most notorious criminal.
Oceanside residents breathed a collective sigh of relief and a sense of normalcy settled back in. Little would change until a decade later when the historic Rancho became the largest military base in the country, training Marines for World War II.
On a quiet summer night off a dirt road in northeast Oceanside, California laid the body of Marine Staff Sergeant Carlo G. Troiani. He had been shot twice, once in the back and once in the neck. As he lay dead or dying, tire marks on his lower legs suggest he had been run over by a vehicle.
Troiani, who served his country in Vietnam, was killed, not by a foreign enemy but by one he would have considered a brother, a fellow Marine. The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis or Semper Fi for short, Latin for “always faithful”. But unfaithfulness would result in Carlo Troiani’s death. His murder was orchestrated by his wife of five years.
On August 10, 1984, Laura Troiani had lured her husband to a remote area under the pretense of car trouble. When her husband dutifully came to her aid in the middle of the night, she waited for her plan to unfold. As Carlo pulled off North River Road to help his wife, Laura tapped her brake light. This was a prompt that signaled two Marines who were in hiding to step out and to ambush Carlo. One of the Marines, later identified as Mark J. Schulz, shot the defenseless man in the back.
After being shot Carlo cried out to his wife, “Laura, I’ve been hit!” Laura watched impassively from her car as the scene played out. There was no attempt to save her husband, no attempt to help or abort the mission. She watched the Marines grab Carlo as he instinctively tried to find cover and crawl under the vehicle. They pulled him by his legs and shot Carlo again, this time in the neck with the bullet exiting his face as he collapsed. Laura watched it all. Her husband, the father of her children, was dead.
Laura and the two Marines, Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz then drove to a 7-11 convenience store on Vandegrift Boulevard where three other Marines, Russell Sanders, Kevin Watkins and Jeffrey Mizner, were waiting with Laura’s two small children. This woman who had coldly masterminded the murder of her own husband and watched him die, had left her two young children, ages 5 and 2, in the care of two men who had helped plan the murder of their father. Two little ones any caring mother would have safely tucked in bed hours ago, were instead left with strangers at midnight standing in front of a convenience store. The children, too young to know what was happening, had no idea they would never see their daddy again.
After her murderous plot was accomplished Laura took her children to a friend’s house to spend the night — instead of taking them home where they belonged. It was just before 1 am in the morning. She told Annabelle Thompson that she was coming home from a Tupperware party and had a flat tire. This story is simply inconceivable — what was she doing at a Tupperware party in the middle of the night with her children? But lies came easy to Laura Troiani. It did not matter to her that the story made no sense. It only mattered to her that she was free to do as she pleased. By dropping her children off, she was free of her children, and free of Carlo forever.
Annabelle watched as Laura hopped on the back of a motorcycle driven by a “Marine-type.” They took the same dark and winding route on North River Road where the murder occurred. On the way to Vista they passed by the lifeless body of Carlo Troiani. Another route could have been taken but the two callously drove past the murder scene, perhaps satisfied with their deed.
After Laura returned to her apartment she picked up the phone and called police, feigning concern for her husband who she claimed did not come home as expected. She called police twice more. Then Laura called her husband’s friend Marty Gunter saying that she had a premonition that Carlo was in danger. She called him three additional times in less than an hour.
Meanwhile, the Oceanside Police Department had been alerted by a passerby who had discovered the body of Carlo Troiani. John Brohamer, Jr. was the first Oceanside Police Officer to arrive at the murder scene at 3 am. He found Carlo Troiani face down in the dirt in a pool of blood. The engine of his Ford Mustang was still running with the headlights on, piercing through the darkness. Detective Ed Jacobs was notified and upon arrival he initiated the criminal investigation.
Detective Jacobs said in an interview that it was a “good crime scene” because it was done in a remote area and had therefore been left in pristine condition. As they waited for the sun to rise, nothing had been disturbed. Shoe prints left in the dirt, along with tire tracks were noted. These matched Laura’s 1968 Ford Galaxy which was found by police. It had a flat tire after being hit but a bullet from the same gun that killed Carlo.
It did not take long for Laura to be visited by Detectives Jacobs and Bob George. They went to her Vista apartment at 8 am. When advised of Carlo’s death, Laura did not seem at all surprised, nor did she exhibit any grief or sadness. She was taken to the police station for questioning and she would never leave their custody.
After a lengthy interrogation and numerous false stories, Laura Troiani would eventually confess and name her co-conspirators.
The Detectives also conducted interviews of the neighbors in the apartment complex where the Troiani’s lived, who confirmed Laura’s plan was to have her husband killed. They reported to police that she had solicited a number of men in recent weeks to accomplish the deadly task and there were at least two failed prior attempts.
Oceanside Police Sergeant Ron Call drove to Camp Margarita aboard the military base. The Marines were put in formation, then identified one by one, and eventually taken into police custody.
Police apprehended and arrested five young Marines, all under the age of 21, with the murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani. They were with H&S Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Camp Pendleton: Russell E. Sanders, 20, Kevin W. Watkins, 18, Mark J. Schulz, 19, Jeffrey T. Mizner, 20, and Russell A. Harrison, 19.
These Marines called themselves “The Gremlins,” after the movie Gremlins, which had just been released that summer, two months before the murder, about creatures that “transform into small, destructive, evil monsters.”
Laura Ann Cox was born in Los Angeles, California in the summer of 1961. By all accounts hers was not a happy childhood. She was a neglected child, raised by a mother who was described as self-involved and slovenly, spending hours watching daytime television and reading romance novels rather than tending to her three children. Without the love and proper care of a mother, the children were left to themselves, and as result, were poorly dressed, disheveled and dirty. Due to a lack of proper personal hygiene, Laura and her siblings were seen as outcasts at both school and church.
The family moved to Washington State where Laura would grow up. Laura’s parents separated when she was seven years old and divorced about three years later. She remembered it as a turning point in her life. Just two years after the divorce, Laura’s mother Catherine remarried in 1973. The marriage offered little stability in Laura’s life. Her mother was inattentive and labeled as a hypochondriac, caring more for herself than her family.
If her mother was a poor example of a parental figure, Laura’s biological father was no better. Lawrence J. Cox was described as angry and had a drinking problem. He was sent to prison for attempted murder after he shot at a neighbor.
Laura had a brief relationship with an unnamed man and became pregnant at the age of 17. Apparently the biological father was quickly out of the picture and Laura found herself alone. She met and married Carlo Troiani who told her he was willing to raise her unborn baby as his own. In Carlo, Laura found the security she never had.
Carlo Grant Troiani was 15 years older than Laura, born in 1947 in Seattle, Washington. His marriage to Laura was his third, and he had two children, one from each of his previous marriages.
Carlo was in the Navy, serving in Viet Nam in the late 1960s. He was released from the Navy and joined the Marine Reserves and later enlisted in the Marine Corps. Carlo was a Marine Recruiter in Tacoma, Washington from 1976 to 1979. His supervisor recalled that he was one of the “proudest individual in the Marine Corps” he had ever met, he loved being a Marine and worked “aggressively” as a recruiter to meet his quota and prove his worth.
Carlo and Laura were married August 3, 1979 in Pierce, Washington. It was a Marine Corps “full dress” wedding with Marines in their dress blues. After the ceremony, Laura and Carlo walked underneath an arch of swords, where a group of six to eight Marines stand on either side to create an arch as if to “shelter the bride” as she and the groom walk out.
Laura gave birth to a son and shortly thereafter, Carlo Troiani was sent to Orange County, California as a Marine Corps Recruiter. In 1982 Laura gave birth to another child, a daughter. Eventually Carlo Troiani was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Assigned to H&S Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group (1st FSSG), he was a military police or “MP”. The couple got an apartment in Vista on Foothill Drive.
Infidelity and Murder Plots
Laura Troiani may have found security in her marriage to Carlo but she did not find happiness. She was continually unfaithful. It was even reported that she had slept with her husband’s best man (before or after) their wedding. Carlo knew of her infidelities and was angry. However, he sought to salvage his marriage and the two attended marriage counseling in the spring and summer of 1984.
James Bondell, family and marriage counselor, would later describe Laura Troiani as a manipulator and a “hard person” who “tormented” her husband. The Troiani’s attended 20 sessions from April through July, wherein Bondell also noted that “Laura Troiani teased her husband by withholding sex from him, was the dominant force in their relationship and was otherwise ‘ambivalent’ about marital problems the couple was experiencing.” He also noted that Laura complained that Carlo wanted her to “stay home and be with him.” This statement would suggest that Carlo was aware, at least to some extent, of Laura’s extracurricular activities.
Despite Carlo’s attempts to save his marriage, Laura’s presence at the sessions seems disingenuous at best. Carlo was sent to Korea and while gone, Laura threw a party over Memorial Day weekend. There she met Darryl Nelson and was intimate with him that very day. During the two month affair, she asked Nelson if he knew anyone that could “do a hit” on her husband. When he asked Laura about simply getting a divorce, she replied in the negative, complaining that she would then have to get a job and take care of her children, which was apparently out of the question.
Jessie Montgomery, a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps attended a party thrown by Laura and noticed that Laura Troiani and a man emerged from her bedroom. Montgomery was then informed that Laura only married Carlo for security and that “the marriage was one of convenience.” Troiani spoke to Montgomery about getting rid of Carlo and even stated that she knew someone who would “put a contract out on him.”
Over this same weekend Laura talked to Kevin Manwarren and Bill Fenley, unambiguously telling them she wanted her husband dead. Manwarren, who would later claim to be joking, offered to kill Carlo Troiani for $5,000, to which Laura quickly offered: “Well, I can take care of it out of the insurance proceeds.” (Carlo had two policies that totaled $95,000.) Laura then followed up their conversation with several phone calls to Manwarren, anxious to elaborate on a plan to have her husband killed. He demurred.
Annabelle Thompson recalled that Laura had also told her that she knew a person in Tustin, California who would “take care” of Carlo and that he was “worth more dead.”
It appears that many of the men Laura encountered thought that she was joking and did not take her seriously, but she continued searching and sleeping with potential would-be assassins. None seemed willing to commit murder for her.
In July of 1984 Kim Hartmann moved into the apartment complex in which the Troiani’s lived. The two women met and Laura wasted no time by complaining to Hartmann about Carlo and that she wanted him killed. Hartmann said Laura talked about it constantly. Laura also told Hartmann that Carlo, keenly aware of her unhappiness, offered Laura a divorce, a way out, and said that he would pay her rent and child support. But Laura would not be dissuaded. She wanted Carlo’s insurance money and for that he had to die.
On July 19th Hartmann went with Laura to an E-club (Enlisted club) on Camp Pendleton. There Laura met Jeffrey Mizner for the first time and was introduced to the other Marines who eventually would be the accomplices to Carlo’s murder, including the triggerman Mark Schulz. Hartmann would later testify that Laura kept bringing up the subject of having her husband killed, even though she had just met them. Laura was unapologetically, unabashedly, out to have Carlo murdered and she apparently did care about first impressions.
It is significant to point out that in conversations with Kim Hartmann, someone she felt close enough to tell about wanting her husband murdered, Laura Troiani did not allege or assert to her that she was being abused by Carlo. Hate and money were her given motives. In marriage counseling, even when she attended one-on-one sessions without Carlo, she never complained of abuse of any kind, only that Carlo had a “yelling problem.”
Laura, was not one to be weighed down by marriage vows or motherhood. Her own son related his memories about their relationship: “I do remember a lot of her, actually, even at a young age. I remember she had Carlo crying one night in the bedroom. I remember she would just take off with whoever the boyfriend was at the time.” When asked if he remembered any abuse between his mother and stepfather, Chris replied: “As far as the abuse, no, none, not that I can remember. Honestly, seemed like they were never together, very rarely.” He added, “The abuse was more about neglect, [leaving] a 5 year-old to fend for himself. She was at the clubs doing it up. In no way was she a mother.”
The Marines began to plot with Laura Troiani, as the ringleader, the killing of Carlo Troiani. Mark Schulz told other Marines in his company that he had been “hired to waste someone” and was recruiting anyone else that might be interested in helping with the deed, adding their cut would be $500 to $600. Schulz along with Russell Harrison, Jeff Mizner, and Russell Sanders began to solicit information on how to kill someone, which including poison, making a bomb and using a firearm.
For several days in a row, Laura would take her two children and drive 35 miles each way to the remote base camp to visit with the Marines at Camp Margarita so that they could discuss their “options.”
August 3, 1984 was the occasion of the Troiani’s fifth wedding anniversary. Carlo, oblivious to the fact that his bride was planning to have him killed, toasted his wife that evening.
The First Attempt
On the night of August 6, 1984, Laura and Kim Hartmann went to the E-Club at Camp Margarita aboard the military base. There Laura plotted with the Marines to kill Carlo (This group included Kevin Watkins). All of whom seemed eager to carry out the plot. Harrison and Schulz had weapons, a knife and a gun, which they put into Laura’s car. They then traveled to the Del Mar Club, located near the beach of Camp Pendleton. At the club the conversation of killing Carlo continued. This was no fantasy talk or mere joking. The group planned to carry out the plot that night. Harrison suggested that the Marines “jump” Carlo at his car, attack and kill him with a knife, rather than attract attention with a gunshot.
Laura and Kim Hartmann were dropped off at a market in order to call Carlo and tell him that Laura’s car had broken down. She told Carlo that she was stranded in Carlsbad with their children. But exactly where were the children on a Monday evening, if not with her or Carlo? Like her own mother, it seemed she had no instinctual love and care for her children.
Hartmann claims that she tried to keep Laura from going through with her plans, saying it wasn’t too late and that she could still call Carlo back to keep him from being murdered by the Marines who were lying in wait. Laura’s reply was, “Nope, I got to get it over with.”
The Marines then hid in an area near Carlo’s vehicle, waiting for him to come out of his apartment. However, because his car was nearly out of gas, Carlo had called his friend Corporal Marty Gunter, to come and take him to look for Laura. Ambushing Carlo alone was not feasible and the group was unable to fulfill their deadly plan.
Carlo and Marty diligently searched for Laura and the children for four hours, to no avail. (This was before the convenience of cell phones.) Unsuccessful in their search, Marty dropped Carlo back at his apartment building.
When Laura discovered the plan to kill her husband did not go through, she was furious. She told the Marines that she “couldn’t stand it” and that it had to be done that night. Russell Harrison volunteered to go up to the Troiani apartment and to slit Carlo’s throat. Laura gave him the key. However sinister and bloody this particular scenario would have been, it is believed it was abandoned altogether as the group was spotted, likely by an apartment resident.
The Second Attempt
While the group did not want to be seen that night by outsiders, it was an open secret that Laura and the Marines were seeking to murder Carlo as they spoke about it openly to several people. The following day, Jeffrey Mizner told Robert Guerrero, a fellow Marine, about his “girlfriend Laura”, and that she was trying to get someone to kill her husband. Mizner asked his roommate “how to blow up a car by running a wire from the sparkplug to the carburetor.”
Apparently, this was now the chosen method of murder. Russell Sanders shared a story with yet another Marine how they had “practiced” by attaching a wire to the sparkplug of Kevin Watkin’s motorcycle and hooked the other to a mouse to electrocute it. They watched it die.
Satisfied that a similar technique would also kill Carlo, his vehicle was rigged with the wire from the sparkplug placed into the gas tank of his truck. The attempt failed and did not detonate. In fact, Carlo found the device and removed it. Marines in his unit remembered him laughing about it, thinking it was a harmless prank by one of them.
Jeff Mizner then complained to Marine Joseph Hickman that the sparkplug scheme did not work. Mizner even said that he had lost sleep over the failure and the plan was now just to shoot Carlo Troiani.
With at least two thwarted murder attempts, on August 9, 1984, Laura Troiani would not be denied. Mark Schulz borrowed a .357 pistol from David Schenne on the pretense of doing some target practice. That same day Laura went to the local Kmart (at the time located next to the Oceanside Police Station) to purchase bullets for the weapon and the group laid out their final lethal plan.
That evening between 8 and 9 pm, Laura went to the apartment of Diane and Randy Gray with her two children. Soon after Mizner, Harrison, Sanders, Schulz and Watkins arrived. The group huddled together, whispering their plots and because the Gray’s were concerned about the secretive behavior, asked what was going on. Sanders replied, “Never mind, we don’t want you to get involved further.”
The group left the apartment with Jeffrey Mizner riding on the back of Watkins’ motorcycle and Laura, Schulz, Harrison and Sanders, along with Laura’s two children, drove away in her car. The group pulled up to a 7-11 on Vandegrift Boulevard (which leads to the rear gate of Camp Pendleton).
Sanders and Watkins called Carlo Troiani, presumably as “good Samaritans”, to tell him that his wife’s car was broken down and they directed Carlo to a remote location on North River Road.
Meanwhile, Carlo had called Stephanie Howard, a friend of Laura’s, to ask if she knew where Laura and the children were. He was genuinely concerned for his wife, while she was getting ready to have him killed.
Laura, along with Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz, drove to the location they had chosen for their ambush to wait for Carlo, a dirt turnoff on North River Road, three miles east of Vandegrift Boulevard.
A clerk back at the 7-11 reported seeing two small children with at least one Marine (Jeffrey Mizner) standing outside near the ice machine. They were there for 45 minutes. Waiting … in the middle of the night …. while Laura completed her plan to have her husband killed.
Laura Troiani would describe herself as helpless to stop the murder of her husband, an event she had longed for, recruited for, and set in motion. As he was shot by Mark Schulz with bullets purchased by Laura, Carlo’s last words were to her, a cry for help. But rather than help him, she left her husband for dead by the side of that dark road.
After the murder, the trio drove west on North River Road back to the 7-11. The clerk there reported seeing a vehicle drive up with a flat tire. One of the men came into the store to buy a can of tire inflator and once the tire was sufficiently inflated the group departed.
The murder of Carlo Troiani was the last case Detective Ed Jacobs worked on before he retired from the Oceanside Police Department. After investigating the murder scene, he and his partner Bob George went to the Troiani apartment to speak with Laura the morning that Carlo’s body was discovered.
Detective George went through Laura’s car which had been impounded. He found evidence that Laura had purchased bullets at Kmart and interviewed the clerk, who specifically remembered Laura because he had given her wad-cutter bullets, commonly used for target shooting, and she insisted on lead caliber bullets.
Laura Troiani was taken to the police station for “routine questioning.” During the interview Jacobs said that Laura remained calm and was not visibly upset when told about her husband’s murder.
One of the first stories Laura Troiani told investigators was that she and her two children were abducted by three men who forced her to call her husband to lure him out to North River Road. She said she was separated from her children, and after Carlo was murdered, was taken to be reunited with them and warned not to tell anyone or that she would be killed.
Detective Jacobs and George listened as Laura then changed her story and said that she was at Kmart when five men on two motorcycles abducted her. When detectives questioned the veracity of that story and asked how five men were on just two motorcycles, Laura simply said, “I don’t know.”
Yet another story that Laura offered was that she and the children were driving around all day after Carlo said he wanted a divorce. She ran out of gas and then discovered she had a flat tire. Two strangers on motorcycles came to her rescue, one drove her and children to the babysitter’s house (Anna Thompson), and then one took her to her Vista apartment. When asked by detectives if she was worried at all by these strangers giving her a ride in the middle of the night, Laura replied, “No”, because she was “a good judge of character.”
Laura’s next defense strategy was her unfaithfulness. “Why would I want to have my husband shot? Sure, we had marital problems. Sure, I was having affairs on the side,” Laura told investigators. “I was having a ball, being married and fooling around.”
Detective Jacobs said that Laura Troiani never mentioned any abuse by her husband in the lengthy interrogation that spanned over nearly 12 hours. She eventually confessed and gave up the names of the Marines, who were all stationed in the same unit.
During a phone call while Laura was being held in jail, she told Marty Gunter that her husband had “suffered not more than two to three minutes” the night he was murdered. She thought her comments would come across as reassuring and compassionate but only served to further expose her lack of remorse and coldness.
Meanwhile Laura’s co-conspirators were bragging about Carlo’s murder to their fellow Marines on base. After taken into custody at the Vista Detention Center, Mark Schulz told a fellow cellmate about the murder, including that Carlo Troiani had begged for his life before being fatally shot.
Three years after Carlo’s murder, the murder trial of Laura Troiani began in the San Diego Superior Court, North County, located in Vista. She was the first woman in San Diego County to face the death penalty in California in 25 years.
Laura not only succeeded in having her husband murdered, her attorneys now went about destroying his character. Her defense team would portray Carlo Troiani as controlling, angry, having a drinking problem and being physically abusive.
But before the defense had its turn, District Attorney Paul Pfingst would send a myriad of witnesses to the stand, including the Troiani’s marriage counselor, who would testify that it was Laura, not Carlo, who controlled the family. Far from being fearful of an abusive husband, it was Carlo who “was in fear of [Laura’s] moods.” The counselor added, that Carlo “walked on eggshells most of the time, not wanting to upset her [because] she would become very mean to him.” While Laura gave her affections away to numerous men, Carlo was ignored. “He had a wonderful day if he got a kiss or she put her arm around him,” the counselor testified.
When asked if Laura Troiani was a “fragile” woman desperate for her husband’s approval for her self-worth, the counselor replied, “No. She didn’t need it because she was pretty much in control of the relationship.”
Stephanie Howard, who knew Laura since 1981, testified that Carlo Troiani loved his wife and was trying to improve his marriage. She went on to testify that Laura had Carlo “wrapped around her little finger. She’d be a cold fish one minute, and then when she wanted something (from him), she’d warm up.”
Howard also told the jury that Laura openly admitted to her that she “had more than one boyfriend.” More damningly, Laura told her “she wanted to hire someone to kill” Carlo and that “she wanted to make sure he was not in her life again.” In response, Howard said she tried to talk Laura out of it and suggested a divorce, but Laura would hear none of it.
Leeca Smardon, manager of the Foothills apartment complex, testified that Laura expressed to her that was not happy about Carlo returning from Korea. She reported that Laura told her, “I wish he’d never come back. That would make me happier.” Smardon added, “When Carlo was home, I never heard any screaming, shouting or disputes from their apartment. When he went to Korea, there was a lot of traffic into the apartment, and it was mainly males.”
Kmart employee Richard Deem testified to the fact that it was Laura, accompanied by a male, who purchased the bullets that killed Carlo. He remembered the event because there was a “price mix-up” and particularly noted Laura’s demeanor that day. “She was forceful and rude.” He said, “I was behind the counter, and the male asked for ammo, I believe for a .38 special. I was uncertain about what they wanted because there are different types of ammo.” Laura told the young clerk, “I want 158 grain (the weight of the bullets).”
“She was very specific about it,” Deem testified. “She knew what she wanted. I felt it wasn’t good to make her wait. I thought she was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste time.” The bullets that Laura demanded were high-powered ammunition, rather than something typically used for target practice.
Despite the testimony of others to the contrary, Laura’s defense attorney, Geraldine Russell described her as an “impressionable, simple young girl who was used by others looking for thrills.” She contended Laura was being abused by Carlo and had no way of escape. The defense portrayed Carlo Troiani as an “overbearing and obnoxious husband who cowed his wife into submission.”
Catherine Lewtas, Laura’s mother, testified for the defense and stated that while she witnessed Carlo being verbally abusive to Laura, she did not witness any physical abuse.
But even when interrogated for hours by police, Laura did not claim Carlo abused her. Instead Laura said she was perfectly happy being married to Carlo, all the while being unfaithful to him. She gave several scenarios as to how she was a kidnapping victim, but none on how she was the victim of domestic abuse.
Sergeant Ron Call was the supervisor on the Troiani case and he said that at no time during questioning did Laura Troaini bring up spousal abuse. He also said that Laura was neither upset nor emotional over the death of her husband.
A psychiatrist hired by the defense said that Laura was not capable of being manipulative and that rather than being a neglectful mother, Laura was so depressed that she had “trouble getting up and getting dressed and caring for her children.” Another expert witness dismissed the idea that Laura was a so-called “black widow” and put all the blame on the men, arguing that “organized violence is virtually a male monopoly.”
Anna Thompson, Laura’s friend who often watched her children, testified that she witnessed Carlo kick Laura when she did not change one of the children’s diapers. But she also said she had seen Laura hit her husband, and said that Laura would refuse to cook or clean and gave Carlo the “silent treatment” when she didn’t get her way. “Laura had control,” Thompson insisted.
The prosecution called over 45 witnesses, most of whom testified that Laura Troiani did not want to be married and that she “openly plotted” in the “company of others” to have her husband killed.
While presenting their defense, and closing arguments, the defense team claimed that Carlo’s murder was not orchestrated by Laura, but the Marines themselves. Laura was depicted as abused, vulnerable and helpless and that Laura’s codefendants alone were responsible for killing Carlo Troiani.
One of the last things presented to the jury by the prosecutor was the recording made by the Oceanside Police Department. The jury listened intently to the recording, as Laura concocted story after story, variations of different scenarios. And then finally, after hours of interrogation, Laura told detectives that she had in fact plotted, planned and agreed to pay at least two of the Marines to kill Carlo. As the courtroom listened to the recording, Laura Troiani sat emotionless at her own word as she described the murder of her husband, “half crawling, half staggering” before he was shot a second time, in the back of the head.
On August 26, 1987 Laura Troiani was found guilty of first degree murder after the jury deliberated over a two day period. Her trial was one of the longest and most expensive court cases in San Diego County history. She would now face the death penalty.
At her sentencing hearing, Laura’s father testified on her behalf. Lawrence Cox said that Laura was raised in a filthy home by a neglectful mother who had “the mentality of a six year old.” In some respects he could have been describing Laura, who reflected many of the same character flaws, especially when it came to motherhood. Cox said that while he was in the military he always worried that his children were not getting fed or clothed properly and that his wife “couldn’t cope with responsibility.”
After he and his wife separated he helped to move them into a new apartment. He said he had to hose out the refrigerator that it stunk so bad. He added that the apartment was filled with both human and animal waste.
Others took the stand to testify to the fact that Laura’s childhood was horrible, as if that were the cause or justification for Carlo’s murder. Laura cried for herself as she listened to their testimony, but she did not shed tears for Carlo.
In the end Laura Troiani was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life without parole. She was sent to the California Institute for Women in Chino, California.
On December 17, 1987 Jeffrey Thomas Mizner pled guilty to first-degree murder. In doing so he avoided the possibility of a death sentence or life in prison without parole.
Twenty year old Jeffrey Mizner knew Laura Troiani just three weeks, and yet he was willing to plot to have her husband killed. Laura told him that Carlo was molesting their two children. There was never any evidence to suggest such a thing and likely Laura made the statement solely to gain sympathy and then outrage, hoping to garner Mizner’s support and cause him to act on her behalf. When asked why he or Laura did not simply report the alleged abuse to authorities, Mizner answered, “She wanted him dead, and we went with it.” Laura also told Jeffrey that her two children were not Carlo’s biologically. Was her second child a result of an affair, or was Laura lying? It is anyone’s guess because she did both prolifically.
Jeffrey Mizner would later tell the parole board in his case that he never slept with Laura Troiani, and that his sole motive in the killing of Carlo was to protect the children from his alleged abuse. Shortly before the murder, Mizner found out that Laura had turned her affections to Russell Harrison, and was sleeping with him instead.
Russell Sanders pled guilty to murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 25 years.
Russell Harrison pled guilty to first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 26 years.
Kevin Watkins, whose trial was moved to Ventura County, was acquitted.
Mark Schulz (sometimes spelled Schultz) was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
A Second Chance
In December of 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown commuted Laura Troiani’s life sentence, saying that she had been rehabilitated. While this commutation did not release her, it gave her the chance for parole.
During a hearing held on June 21, 2019, Laura was asked what exactly she did that landed her in prison. Her response: “Prior to the actual brutal murder of Carlo Troiani, my spouse, I had put into motion several incidences leading up to Carlo being murdered. I was the mastermind. I was the one who utilized by codefendants as a tool and a means to, um, to, um, to murder Carlo.”
While she was willing to admit to being the mastermind of her husband’s murder, Laura seemed to shirk responsibility as her hearing continued. When asked about details and organizing discussions of Carlo murder, she started to backtrack and minimize her role as “mastermind” saying, “I did not organize [them], sir. They were — they — we were at a club or in a parking lot and discussion would — would come about. We’d go from normal discussion and that — and that would come about. Did I bring that up? I did not always bring it up. No sir.”
When asked about purchasing bullets at Kmart, she referred to the shooting of Carlo as “target practice” saying, “Initially it was to — to use the bullets for target practice, but in essence it was to use Carlo as the target. In other words, to murder him.”
In describing the murder, she placed responsibility on the Marines rather than her role: “They, uh, form — a plan was formulated that we would — we ended up leaving the children and three of the codefendants down at a 7-11, the car — three of us went up on a deserted rural road where a phone call from below had been made letting Carlo know that I was in distress and that I would be found in this area.“
Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you drive up to that area?
Inmate Troiani: I did not drive. No sir. Nor did I drive leaving. I was not the one driving that night.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Did you go voluntarily?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you remain in the car?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: How long did you remain there until Carlo got there?
Inmate Troiani: I honestly don’t know how long it was while I sat in the —
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Can you give me an estimate?
Inmate Troiani: Um, no more than twenty minutes.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: What happened when Carlo got there?
Inmate Troiani: Carlo left his car running. He walked over to where I was sitting in the passenger’s side, tapped on the window, and asked me if I was okay and then the bullets started flying.
When asked what happened next, Laura describes the shooter as a stranger in hiding, rather than a person she planned the murder with and drove her to the scene: “I witnessed what looked like a very large man running out of a bush toward Carlo firing a gun. Carlo went down and within 20 seconds we were leaving the — you know, we were leaving where Carlo was.” (She couldn’t bring herself to say the crime or murder scene.)
Laura was asked if she did anything else to accomplish the murder and only stated, “I was physically there.”
The parole commissioner continued to press her: “Okay. How did you convince them? You said you hit upon their training, but usually they’re trained to kill other combatants. This is very different than what they’re trained for. How did you convince them to participate in a murder?”
Inmate Troiani: “I was seen as a damsel in distress,” Laura answered, “And I played upon — I played upon that.”
Presiding Commissioner Castro: That’s why you think they got involved?
Inmate Troiani: I’m not sure why they got involved. I only know that they did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Just helping you out?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: So what’s in it for them? Anything?
Inmate Troiani: I didn’t recall this at the time, but I know it happened that they had hopes of receiving insurance money?
Presiding Commissioner Castro: How would they know about insurance money?
Inmate Troiani: Being in the military, you automatically sign up for a policy.
When asked why the Marines would think they were entitled to Carlo’s life insurance proceeds, Laura denied she offered insurance proceeds, but only agreed to pay them when they asked, saying, “Because I was asked to give them some money from the insurance policy.“
Laura then went on to deflect responsibility of Carlo’s murder by saying that she was in a disassociated state.
The Mayo Clinic describe this disorder: Dissociative disorders are mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and cause problems with functioning in everyday life. Dissociative disorders usually develop as a reaction to trauma and help keep difficult memories at bay. Symptoms — ranging from amnesia to alternate identities — depend in part on the type of dissociative disorder you have. Times of stress can temporarily worsen symptoms, making them more obvious.
Inmate Troiani: I continue to remove myself by going into my head when the consequences were too great. I had distorted thinking and then there was the childhood abuse, which brought about the distorted thinking and the disassociation.
Presiding Commissioner Castro asked, “What do you mean by disassociation?
Inmate Troiani: I would go into my head and come up with a different fantasy type scenario.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: What was the role in your — in your crime specifically?
Inmate Troiani: In the crime itself?
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Yeah.
Inmate Troiani: While I was sitting there waiting in the car for Carlo, that’s exactly what I did. I put myself in a whole different scenario.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay, when you’re having the conversations, planning these different plans, were you in a disa — dissociative state at this point?
Inmate Troiani: At times, yes, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you called Carlo asking him to come help you, so that he would leave the apartment, when you made that call, where you in a disassociated state?
Inmate Troiani: No until after I made the phone call, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Report says that you gave keys to Mr. Harrison.
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir. I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Were you in a disassociated state when you gave him the keys?
Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: You made admissions to the police, correct?
Inmate Troiani: I do not recall exactly what I said because I said so many different stories.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: There were different versions and they said that you had made some admissions about being involved in the murder. Were you in a dissociative state when you talked to the police after the crime?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, I was.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re buying the bullets are you in a dissociative state?
Inmate Troiani: I was in denial.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re being driven up to the location where he was killed, were you in a disassociated state?
Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not thinking about what was going on. I was actually not thinking at all.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. So you said the abuse, domestic violence, hopelessness, disassociation, distorted thinking, your childhood trauma. Any other reason why you decided to kill Carlo?
Inmate Troiani: I wanted the abuse to stop.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. Was the insurance money part of your motivation?
Inmate Troiani: Initially, no.
When questioned by Deputy Commissioner Lam, he asked why she didn’t try to stop the Marines from murdering her husband.
Laura answered, “When Carlo tapped on the window, before I could have even said anything, the bullets began to fly. There was not any time to say anything, think or anything else. So had the opportunity been there, I would’ve said something.”
Of course, Laura had time to say something. On the way to Kmart she could have aborted the plan and not purchased the bullets used to kill Carlo. She was the only one old enough to purchase them. On the way to 7-11 to drop off her children, she could have turned around. While on the five minute drive to the scene of the ambush she could have called it off.
For the twenty minutes it took Carlo to arrive, she could have stopped it. Even if the two Marines who were with her were hell-bent on executing their plan, when they exited her vehicle, she could have driven away, leaving them there. Carlo, looking for Laura’s car, would have driven by instead of being ambushed.
Certainly, she might have even been able to warn Carlo before he opened his car door. Lastly, she could have called the police to report the murder of her husband, if in fact she was a pawn in a murder scheme.
But she did none of those things.
Incredulous to her answers, Deputy Commissioner Lam asked, “May I ask why your version of what happened to the clinician only two months ago was so vastly different from the version today?”
Laura answered, “At the time I spoke with the psychologist, I was still in denial. I was not seeing my — how my actions were the — what led — what was — what was feeding this. How — how I was the one who was the mastermind and I was unable to say that and acknowledge to myself. Therefore I wasn’t able to even speak about it at that time. Since then I have been looking within myself and in my denial management class I am able to see that I — I was in complete denial. I rationalized, I minimized and I blamed.“
Then, just moments later, Laura again denied any knowledge about the murder plot saying, “I may have been the one that initiated it. I do not recall.“
The panel was not swayed by her insincerity and empty words. After listening to Laura fail to take responsibility for her role in Carlo Troiani’s death, the Parole Board denied her release.
However, on July 10, 2020, the prison’s Administrative Review Board approved an advancement of Troiani’s next parole suitability hearing date (at her request). Rather than having to wait three years, her next hearing is scheduled for January 22, 2021.
While Laura sits in prison, Jeffrey Mizner was released in 2013 at the age of 50. Russell Sanders and Russell Harrison have presumably been released as well as there is no record of them in the California Department of Corrections. Mark Schulz, who shot Carlo Troiani, is currently serving life in a private prison in Arizona.
Some may question why Laura Troiani would serve life without parole when she did not even pull the trigger. But it should be remembered that while these Marines helped plan, plot and carry out the murder of Carlo Troiani, it was Laura Ann Troiani who went looking for an assassin. It was she who solicited a number of men to kill her husband even before she met Jeffrey Mizner and his friends.
It was Laura Troiani who brought up the killing of her husband to the group — they were not looking for someone to murder — it was Laura who was looking for a killer.
It was Laura Troiani who gave an apartment key to Russell Harrison so that he could enter the apartment with the intent to kill Carlo.
It was Laura Troiani who purchased the bullets used to kill her husband. She even demanded the type of bullets with which he would be killed.
It was Laura Troiani who tapped the brake lights when Carlo pulled up on the place of his execution. Tragically it was for Laura her husband called out to when he was shot.
It was Laura Troiani who pretended concern for her husband and called police but who could not conjure up grief or remorse when told he was dead.
Laura Troiani, who only cried for herself, now presents herself as an abused wife and has fully embraced that role. While there was no testimony or evidence presented to suggest that she was ever abused by Carlo Troiani, she has continued to assassinate his character even while he has been dead for over 35 years.
And just like the Marines who she was able to persuade and manipulate, she successfully convinced the Governor of California that she was “a damsel in distress” (her words) and to commute her life sentence, declaring her “rehabilitated.”
In January of 2021 Laura Troiani faced the parole board but she again skirted responsibility for Carlo’s murder and continued the alleged abuse stories by her husband, as if to say Carlo deserved to be killed on that dark desolate road.
The panel was not persuaded and manipulated, as were her co-conspirators. She was denied parole based on her lack of insight, minimization of her role in the crime, and denial of certain aspects of the crime. She will not be eligible for parole for another three years, although she may petition the parole board for advancement of hearing.
Will Laura Troiani ever accept responsibility for the brutal, cold and calculating murder of Carlo Troiani? Or will she continue to present herself as the victim?
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
The Oceanside Beach Community Center is showing its age. At 65 years old it has weathered the elements, including the relentless salt air. Once the center of activity ranging from sports, to Marine Corps Balls, and even its use as the City’s first “senior center,” the building may seem like a doomed dinosaur to many. Some may feel it has lost its purpose, but if the walls could talk the memories would resonate with history.
The land on which the Community Center now stands was once occupied by an electrical plant and salt water plunge, built in 1904, located just north of the Oceanside Pier. By the mid-1930s, the plant and plunge were removed and replaced by an “amusement zone” and concession booths. In 1942 the City of Oceanside leased the property to Harold Long, owner of the Oceanside Amusement Center. He set up a series of carnival rides including a large Ferris wheel for several summers. Long’s amusement center included concession stands, games of skill, and novelty items, such as Harold Davis’ “House of Relics”.
In 1946 a building was erected in the center of the “midway” of the amusement center to accommodate the game of Bridgo. Bridgo Parlors were popular during World War II, but the game was deemed to be a form of gambling and soon closed by the State of California.
The amusement center was removed by the early 1950s and the Oceanside City Council considered plans for a new Community Center to be built in its place. In 1955 the City Council requested bids for a community center, but the move was not without controversy as many viewed a public swimming pool as more important to the community. (Two community swimming pools, at Brooks and Marshall Streets, were built just a few years later.)
Architect George Lykos drew the plans for the building. Lykos had received a Bachelor’s of Architecture in 1935 and his Masters the following year from MIT. In 1942 he partnered with Sidney I. Goldhammer and established the firm Lykos & Goldhammer. Their office was located at the Sprekels building in downtown San Diego. Among his works are the County Law Library, the San Diego Courthouse, the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest, the Ocean Beach Pier, Ryan Aeronautics and Waggenheim Middle School in Mira Mesa. The building contract was awarded to the firm of A. E. Betraun Co. in Vista, the firm also responsible for building the Star Theater in 1956.
Groundbreaking ceremonies being held March 18, 1955. Construction began in April and it was hoped that the project would be completed as early as June of that year. However, there were delays caused by labor strikes and a shortage of materials.
The Oceanside Beach Community Center was formally dedicated in September of 1955 and built at a cost of $131,000. One of the first events to be held at the new Center was the Marine Corps Ball in November of that year.
Over the years the Community Center has been used for meetings, social events, including adult and teen dances, as well as an early senior center. The Center has also been used for sporting events, including volleyball, table tennis, and basketball. It became the location of an early senior center known as the “Golden Age Club” in 1958.
Entertainment, such as performances by the San Diego County Symphony Orchestra, took place at the new Center. Parks and Recreation Superintendent J. G. Renaud booked a variety of entertainment acts to perform at Oceanside’s new Community Center to the delight of residents.
In 1956 recording artist Ernie Freeman and his band performed at the Center. Freeman played on numerous early rock and R&B labels in the 1950s and played piano on the Platters’ hit “The Great Pretender”. He made the Top Ten of the R&B charts with the single “Jivin’ Around”.
Local Swing dancers were thrilled when jazz musician Earl Bostic also performed at the Beach Community Center. Bostic, considered a pioneer of the “post-war American rhythm and blues style”, had a number of hits such as “Flamingo”, “Temptation”, “Sleep” and many more. A tenor saxophonist, Bostic was known for his “characteristic growl” he made on the sax.
Joe Graydon, who had a televised variety show, first in Los Angeles and then San Diego, hosted a show at the new Community Center. Renaud’s first rate entertainment continued with a “Western Roundup” and country western acts such as Hank Penny, Sue Thompson and Eddie Miller. Les Brown and his orchestra, who had performed with Bob Hope during USO tours, also entertained at Oceanside. The Community Center also presented movies, such as 1959’s now classic “Surf Safari” by John Severson. Admission was $1.25 for adults and 50 cents for children.
In 1958 Boxing World Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson trained for a prize fight using the Oceanside Community Center and entertained spectators with several sparring rounds. He was accompanied by his legendary manager, Cus D’Amato.
One of the biggest acts in Country Music came to the Community Center in 1961. Legendary Johnny Cash, along with the Maddox Bros. and Rose, performed for fans who flocked to see the “Man in Black.”
As neighborhood and seniors centers were built throughout the community in various neighborhoods, the Beach Community Center began to see a decline in use. In the early 1980s the Oceanside beach area was deteriorating. The Oceanside Pier was severely damaged (before being rebuilt), and the area was rundown. The Community Center, too, was showing its age.
By 1985, plans were underway to rebuild the pier and redevelop the beach area. Along with a “facelift” the Community Center was enhanced by the addition of several large concrete and stone pillars. Sets of three pillars forming triangles were placed on the front entrance (east façade) and on the west façade along the Strand. The pillars were then topped with large wooden beams, creating a more modernized look. These pillars and beams have been removed in recent years, returning the Center’s original facade.
In 1992 Marine-life artist John Jennings began work on a 45 foot ocean mural on the north elevation of the community center. Jennings donated his time and materials, estimated at over $35,000 as a gift to Oceanside.
The Beach Community Center was renamed the Junior Seau Beach Community Center in 2012 in memory of the beloved Oceanside native who had a notable career in the National Football League, playing with the San Diego Chargers for thirteen seasons.
The building now sits silently on The Strand, awaiting its doors to be reopened and for renewed activity and sounds to reverberate through its rafters.
I want to thank Michelle Foster for contacting me about Frankie. Her quest for information became mine and I am grateful for the personal stories and photos she shared to bring this story to life.
In a rather remote area of Oceanside, tucked away in the northwest section of the Eastside neighborhood, was a small house on a dead end dirt road near Lawrence Canyon.
The house was built in 1944 and owned by Anna Curran, who owned no less than sixteen lots throughout Eastside, several of which had small houses that she rented out. The rent she collected was likely her only source of income as her husband William Curran had been arrested for the murder of a Marine in downtown Oceanside that same year. After a lengthy trial, Curran was found guilty, but deemed insane and sent to an asylum to serve out his sentence.
Residents of Eastside were largely Mexican immigrants, many of whom were laborers who worked in the fields of the San Luis Rey Valley and the Rancho Santa Margarita (now Camp Pendleton). The neighborhood was segregated and separated in four ways: Geographically it was separated from “downtown Oceanside” by Lawrence Canyon; Children of immigrants were separated from other students and sent to the Americanization School on Division Street where they were immersed in English; The neighborhood had dirt streets while most of Oceanside enjoyed paved ones; Eastside had no sewer system.
Although some referred to Eastside as “Mexican Town”, more than a dozen African-American families settled in the neighborhood in the 1940s.
Frankie Elda Kidd occupied one of Anna Curran’s tiny rental homes, at 1420 Shoshone Street. Frankie’s birth name was Alta (perhaps a variation of Elda) and “Frankie” may have been a nickname that she acquired. She was born in 1920 in Imperial County, California and as best as can be determined, she was the daughter of John Zainina and Martha Bartley.
In 1930 Frankie and her family were living in Merced, California, where her father was working as a dairy farmer. By around 1935 she was living with extended family in San Bernardino, California, where she attended high school.
While attending San Bernardino High School, Frankie met James Scott, a handsome young man from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The two married in 1938 but the marriage was short lived as they were living separately just two years later. In 1940 Frankie was living with cousins and working as a housekeeper for a private home.
In about 1943 Frankie embarked on her second nuptials to Alfred Selester Kidd. It would be her second of six marriages. She was likely introduced to Alfred by her older brother Vernon, as the two men were rooming together while living in Oakland. Alfred Kidd, a native of Louisiana, was working at the Navy Yard at Mare Island.
Frankie arrived in Oceanside by 1945. Did Alfred Kidd accompany her? There is no record of him leaving the Oakland area. Perhaps this marriage was just as brief as the first. What brought Frankie to Oceanside is unknown, but perhaps she came because of job opportunities. Due to the establishment of Camp Joseph H. Pendleton shortly after World War II began, Oceanside was expanding at a rapid rate.
Because of the remote location of Frankie’s home on Shoshone Street, any traffic (pedestrian or otherwise) would have been largely limited to residents who lived on the dead end street. However, apparently Shoshone Street was getting a steady stream of traffic, so much so that area residents took notice and began to complain, which prompted an investigation by the Oceanside Police Department.
The Oceanside Blade Tribune newspaper reported that Frankie Kidd was arrested on February 4, 1945 for operating an “illegitimate business” along with another woman, Mildred Clark. Later this particular business was classified as a “disorderly house” which is a polite term for a brothel.
It seems that Frankie’s “visitors” were mostly servicemen, many of whom resided at Sterling Homes, federal housing built for the military just east of Holly Street. (Sterling Homes had paved streets, curbing and sewers for its occupants in contrast to the neighboring Eastside community.)
What brought Frankie to this profession is anyone’s guess, but despite her occupation she was remembered by local residents as being friendly, beautiful and “could hold her own against any situation that could come up.”
After her arrest, Frankie asked for a jury trial and the case was heard on March 7th. The jury of five women and three men listened to what must have been riveting testimony which lasted all the way up until 10 pm. (However, many of the witnesses were servicemen and reluctant to testify.) The jury deliberated for two hours and found Frankie Kidd guilty as charged. Judge Parsons fined her $300, with $100 suspended. But even a $200 fine was a hefty amount, equivalent to over $2500 today). She also received 150 days of probation. Initially appealing the case, Frankie paid the fine a few days later.
While Frankie continued to live on Shoshone Street, she was known to frequent a small establishment which was located just steps from the back of her home. It was called “the Hangout”. Situated at the back end of 1415 Laurel Street, was a small trailer that was frequented by many of the local residents and was a popular spot for military men. Charles C. Jones applied to the city for a permit to operate a café “specializing in barbecue and chicken sandwiches” but it was denied. Despite the city’s rejection, the Hangout operated without a permit and was a popular spot offering food, drink and dancing, with a little bit of gambling thrown in. Frankie was a regular and it was there she attracted her “customers.”
Although Frankie avoided any additional attention from law enforcement for several years, in 1949 she was arrested again — this time for a scuffle with another woman. On June 26th, Mary Morgan filed a complaint against Frankie for threatening her with a knife and a razor. Apparently Frankie had gotten too friendly with Mary’s husband George Morgan, and a heated argument ensued. After being taken into custody, Frankie requested a jury trial which was set for July, but on the day of trial, she pled guilty and was fined $100.
While the Hangout continued in popularity, as did Frankie, the raucous nature of this corner of Eastside changed when families began to populate the remote area of Laurel and Shoshone streets. Gilbert Woods purchased a lot just a few doors down from Frankie. In 1948 he had built a small home at 1430 Shoshone, where he and his wife raised their family. A cook in the Navy during WWII, his granddaughter Michelle remembers that he prepared and shared food with his neighbors, including Frankie, who was grateful for the kindness.
Another substantial change to the immediate area came when the Walker Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1949, one of the first Black Churches in Oceanside. The church was established at the behest of Johnny and Easter Foster, prior residents of Blythe, California. They wrote to the Church Bishop asking for an AME church to be established in Oceanside. Walker Chapel was built on the very lot that the Hangout was located, which remained standing and was still frequented by residents, even while parishioners attended services.
Rev. Jessie B. Browning was the first pastor of Walker Chapel AME. Shortly after her arrival to Oceanside the local newspaper announced the following: “Rev. Jessie Browning, a lady preacher of the colored Methodist church and her colored singers will appear at the Nazarene Church Sunday evening at 7:30, in the Woman’s Club house, corner of Tremont and Third streets.”
While the Eastside neighborhood was within city limits by 1887 and a residential neighborhood since about 1910, it took decades for the City to pave the streets and to add a sewer system, well after other residential sections had these same “amenities”. But even when a sewer project was approved in 1948, Shoshone Street and the 1400 block of Marquette Street were left out. Gilbert Woods worked for a needed sewer system for this “forgotten” area and he distributed a petition which was presented to the City Council, who initially rebuffed his efforts. Finally in September of 1954, Gilbert’s efforts were rewarded when the City Council finally approved plans for the Shoshone Street Sewer project.
In 1954 Edward Anderson purchased the home at 1420 Shoshone Street in which Frankie had lived for several years, and built an additional home on the lot, situated behind the original house. It is likely that Frankie resorted to living in the Hangout.
Construction began for a new elementary school on Laurel Street, just northeast of Walker Chapel, which opened for students in 1955. The area once known for a “disorderly and illegal business” was now gentrified. Eventually even the Hangout would be reformed, or shall we say “redeemed” altogether when the Walker Chapel AME church included the small building into its own when they enlarged their church years later.
The little house that Frankie once lived in at 1420 Shoshone Street was destroyed in a fire in 1982. The fire was so hot it reached upwards of 400 degrees and melted the Plexiglass face shields of the responding firefighters. Smoke inhalation took the life of an elderly blind woman, Mildred Taylor, who could not make her way out. Owners Ed and Margarethea Anderson, who lived next door said they had no insurance on the structure as it “was too old.”
Frankie Elda moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon by 1958. Her last known marriage was to Eugene James Witherspoon, whom she had married in Reno, Nevada on January 10, 1953.
Frankie died June 17, 2002, but was not forgotten. Michelle Foster still remembers the stories her mother, Alberta Woods Foster, shared with her of Eastside, the Hangout, and Frankie. Perhaps Frankie walked in the path of sinners, but her neighbors, like the Good Samaritan, showed her grace and compassion.
Harold Davis joined the Oceanside Police Department in 1930. His law enforcement career spanned over two decades. Davis was acting Police Chief six times before retiring in 1955 as Captain.
Davis was a collector of all types of memorabilia. Some of his most important and valuable items were three scrapbooks that he compiled of photos and articles of incidents, accidents and arrests during his time with the Oceanside Police Department. He chronicled his career, as well as those of his fellow officers. The newspaper articles he clipped and pasted in his books ranged from petty theft to murder. The numerous photos Davis saved were mostly traffic accidents, but also included graphic crime scenes.
In one of the scrapbooks, Davis cut and pasted a mugshot of Billy Blake Johnson along with a newspaper article and a typewritten index card with some details about Johnson’s criminal exploits. Just who was Billy Blake Johnson and why did Captain Davis include him in his collection? I wanted to find out…
Billy Blake Johnson was born December 3, 1933 in Ladonia, Texas. He was the son of Emmett and Edna Jewel Johnson. Emmett and Edna divorced when Billy was a young boy. By 1940 his father remarried and the family moved to Kern County, California where Emmett worked as a truck driver.
Nothing further is known about Billy’s growing up years, but in 1951 he joined the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton. His military career would be short-lived. In January of 1952, PFC Billy Blake Johnson was being held in the Camp Pendleton Brig for robbery.
On January 18, 1952 Johnson was able to open his cell door with the aid of a screwdriver he had somehow acquired. He then overtook a guard along with his firearm. Now armed with a weapon Johnson commandeered a car belonging to Captain George Atkin and made his way off the military base, headed to Los Angeles.
An “All Points Bulletin” was released and eventually two LAPD officers, L. K. Waggoner and G. L. Ward spotted the stolen vehicle occupied by Johnson. The Los Angeles Mirror reported that when ordered out of the car Johnson came out shooting, and shouted “This is it!” Officers returned fire but Johnson was able to escape injury and he jumped several fences before he was eventually taken into custody.
After his capture in Los Angeles, Johnson was returned to the brig at Camp Pendleton. He was sentenced to five years for burglary and theft, among other charges. He sat in his cell for several months likely contemplating his next move, when on a Saturday in late June of 1952 he escaped once again.
This time he had an accomplice, Bobby G. Davis, who had enlisted in the Marine Corps a year prior. The two made their getaway at 3:30 am in a green 1952 Chevrolet convertible with Texas plates. It was reported that the two were “armed and known to be dangerous.” No details were given as to how they had managed to escape the military brig, but they were apprehended a week later in Ehrenberg, Arizona.
After yet a third escape, and subsequent capture, Billy Blake Johnson eventually served his time and was paroled. But his years in lock up did nothing to rehabilitate him.
In January 1962 Johnson went to a service station in Haltom City, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth. He bought $3.43 worth of gas and then pulled a gun on the attendant and said, “Act right or I’ll kill you.” Johnson then took $100 from the cash register and forced Hilleary Beck into the car with him. Beck tried to fight off Johnson in the vehicle but was further threatened with the firearm.
After driving about a mile, Johnson ordered Beck out of the car and into a ditch and told him to lie down. Johnson drove away while Beck went to call authorities.
Law enforcement spotted Johnson and pursued him, with both parties firing wildly. Police set up a barricade on Highway 377 and while Johnson approached Denton, Texas Patrolman A. C. Ballard “leveled down on it with a sawed-off shotgun and blew off one of its tires.”
The car went out of control, rolled over and landed upright in a ditch. Johnson somehow managed to escape serious injury and the scene, which resulted in a large manhunt. He was eventually captured on a ranch in Denton County, Texas. While in custody Billy told the arresting officers that he had “escaped three times from military prisons and had served time in four civilian prisons.”
He was treated at a hospital for minor injuries and taken to jail in Tarrant County. Johnson went to trial for his criminal escapades but was found to be insane by a jury. (There was no explanation provided as to their conclusion.)
Billy’s criminal career did not end there. In 1964 Johnson went to the Bonham, Texas jail for the sole purpose of breaking out inmate Walter Ray Crews. The federal parolee was armed with a gun and overtook a guard. He forced the jailer Ed Fulcher to release Crews and the two men fled.
The pair made their way some 35 miles southeast to Commerce, Texas where they stole a car. They then drove over 300 miles to Fort Polk, Louisiana. While stopped on the side of the road, a state trooper pulled over to check on the two. Johnson robbed the trooper, Jerry E. Raines, at gunpoint and handcuffed him to a tree with his own handcuffs. Crews and Johnson returned to their stolen car and sped off headed north. The trooper was able to free himself with a spare key and alerted authorities. The duo was caught by an armed roadblock near Leesville, Louisiana.
Johnson was sentenced fifteen years and sent to the notorious Angola Prison in Louisiana, sometimes referred to as the “Alcatraz of the South”. The prison is bordered on three sides by swamp land and the Mississippi River. Conditions were so harsh and inmates so violent that that it had the reputation as “the bloodiest prison in the South”.
However, even a formidable institution such as Angola could not contain Billy Blake Johnson.
On February 22, 1969, Johnson and two other inmates armed with knives and a pistol, overpowered guards in two separate dormitories. The guards were locked in a closet while the escapees cut the power of the main prison.
Kester Lee Hall, serving 189 years for murder, was captured just outside the prison. But Johnson, along with Philip Hudgins, had managed to avoid capture … but they did not make it far. Authorities closed in on the two fugitives who were found in the swamp that surrounded the prison.
Billy Blake Johnson, however, had made his last escape. Overtaken by the waters of the “backed up” Mississippi, Johnson could not battle his way through the swamp. Hudgins tried to assist him and even carried Johnson for several hundred yards until he realized Billy was no longer breathing. He propped up the body of his fellow inmate against a fence and waited while guards closed in. Exhausted, Hudgins surrendered to law enforcement. (Hudgins would be released from prison in 1981. In 1983 he took a butcher knife and slashed the throat of his wife and stabbed two others.)
Billy Blake Johnson was buried in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Ladonia, Texas. Although a cold, calculating and elusive criminal, his mother still loved him. His headstone was engraved with the simple epitaph “Son.”
One quiet night in Oceanside, California a senseless murder was committed with no apparent motive or suspects. Days after the murder, someone claiming to be the killer called local police with an ominous threat that resulted in armed gunmen protecting city busses for several nights in anticipation of another death. But as shocking as it was, the incident slowly faded into obscurity and the murder went unsolved. The case was in fact forgotten about altogether until in 2017 when I stumbled upon a newspaper article while doing research on an unrelated subject. As I continued research on the murder I collected dozens of newspaper articles and discovered that the case had never been solved. I then contacted the Oceanside Police Department who directed me to their Cold Case Detective.
The Murder of Ray Davis
On the evening of April 9, 1962, the Oceanside Police Department received an anonymous telephone call. The unidentified caller stated cryptically: “I am going to pull something here in Oceanside and you will never be able to figure it out.” The call was likely dismissed…until two nights later on April 11th, when a body was discovered and the caller contacted the police again.
Patrolman Terry Stephens discovered the lifeless body of Ray Davis in an alley in the upscale beachside neighborhood of St. Malo at 1:45 am. The night of the murder, Stephens had not yet turned 28 years old, but was already a seasoned police officer. Born in 1934 in Escondido Stephens was raised in Oceanside where he lived nearly all of his life. At the age of 21 he joined the Oceanside Police Department and served on the force for 31 years before he retired.
The victim, Ray Davis was just 29 years old, a native of Michigan. Ray was estranged from his wife Marion, whom he had married in 1953 in Owosso, Michigan. At the time of Ray’s murder she was living in Pomona with two children from a previous marriage.
Ray and his brother Jack had moved to Oceanside in January of 1962. Oceanside had a population of less than 25,000. Jack got a job working at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Ray as a cabdriver for the Checker Cab Company. The brothers were renting a house at 525 South Tremont Street.
Ray Davis was working an evening shift, his cab parked on Mission Avenue in downtown. At 11:10 pm he reported to his dispatcher Lowell Sikes that he was driving a fare to South Oceanside. He never returned or responded to subsequent radio calls.
Ray’s body had been dumped in the alley behind 1926 South Pacific Street, the home of Oceanside’s former Mayor Joe MacDonald. Across the street was the home of Oceanside’s current Mayor Erwin Sklar. This was not a neighborhood familiar with violent crime, let alone murder. (Note: Few people realize that St. Malo does not begin behind its iconic gated archway, but also includes the 1900 block of South Pacific Street.)
Davis had been shot once in the back, through the driver’s seat, and once in the back of the head. His assailant unceremoniously pulled him out of the cab and drove away. Robbery did not appear to be a motive as Davis had a modest amount of cash in both his wallet and shirt pocket.
The bloodied cab was discovered at 6:30 am, left in the alley of the 400 block of South Pacific Street with its meter showing a $2.20 fare. On scene Detective Don Brown found a third shot had been fired through the windshield of the taxi.
On the front seat of the abandoned cab was a paperback novel, “Dance With the Dead.” Written in 1960 by Richard S. Prather, it featured a private detective who solved crimes, all the while encountering scantily clad women…very campy stuff.
Davis was taken to the Seaside Mortuary at 802 South Pacific Street where an autopsy was performed by L. H. Fairchild of the San Diego County Coroner’s Office. Two .22 caliber bullets were removed and given to Oceanside Police Detective Floyd R. Flowers.
The following day, April 12th, both the Oceanside Blade Tribune and San Diego Union Tribune newspapers reported the murder along with the fact that police had no motive or suspect. The story of Ray’s murder was also published in several Southern California newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. In Ray’s home state of Michigan, at least three newspapers reported the murder of Ray Davis. No mention was made of the mysterious phone call of April 9 as the Oceanside Police Department had not released that information.
Funeral services for Ray Davis were held at the Oceanside Church of God on April 13th. He was buried in a plot located in the “Sunset Slope” at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Virginia Davis, his bereaved mother, flew from Michigan to Oceanside for the services.
On April 16th the Oceanside Police Department disclosed to the public that an unknown person had called them on April 9th with a veiled threat that they now linked to the murder of Ray Davis. The second phone call came with a frightening warning.
Police Chief William H. Wingard described the caller as a possible “deranged killer” and released the contents of the call: “Do you remember me calling you last week and telling you that I was going to pull a real baffling crime? I killed the cab driver and I am going to get me a bus driver next.”
Who, but the original caller, would have known about the initial message? Who would taunt the police in such a way?
This threat was not taken lightly, considering the unknown caller seemed to have made good on his last one. Chief Wingard stated: “We have no reason to disbelieve the calls.”
In response to the threat, the Oceanside Police Department took measures to protect all city busses and armed military police were put on each bus going aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The newspaper reported that Frank Lilly, Oceanside’s City Manager gave Oscar Hatle, Bus Superintendent “blanket authority to take whatever steps necessary.” The unusual aspects of the murder and the unprecedented response of armed guards were big news. The story was widely distributed by the Associated Press and United Press International.
Three days passed without incident. Guards were removed from the busses, but on so-called “lonely routes” the bus company assigned two drivers. Oscar Hatle commented: “The situation still exists. We are taking no unnecessary chances.”
The police had no motive and scant evidence. They were desperate to solve the murder. Several people were questioned and released. One reported suspect was a fellow cabdriver, Charles Schofield, but the accusation had no foundation.
On May of 1962 an arrest was made of four Marines for armed robbery, but neither their prints nor ballistics matched. Another armed robbery suspect was arrested in November but again, the fingerprints were not a match.
The murder was all but forgotten about except for the Davis family. Years passed, then decades. Ray’s brother Jack died in 1990. Ray’s mother died in 1995 and was buried at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Ray had no biological children. After the death of his brother and mother there was no one left to remember.
Work of the Zodiac?
It is only speculative, but it is still worth noting that seven years after Ray Davis’s murder, a killer known as the Zodiac would mimic the same deadly scenario. In 1969 he shot and killed a taxi driver in San Francisco, contacted police taking credit for it and then threatened to target a bus, in this instance one full of children.
The Zodiac killed his victims in a variety of ways and weapons, including a .22 caliber gun (as in the murder of Ray Davis). It is believed that the Zodiac may have been in the military. It is now surmised that one of his first victims may have been Cheri Jo Bates, who was murdered in Riverside, California in 1966. While there are several theories surrounding Zodiac, is it too far-fetched to believe that perhaps he started his killing spree in Oceanside?
Many serial killers are known to taunt or toy with police and certainly this was the case with Ray’s murderer. Serial killers taunt because they crave the attention, they want the notoriety and many times they are convinced of their own superiority over law enforcement.
Theories and conjecture aside, to this day the murder of Ray Davis remains unsolved. It is likely the killer is dead … even if he was just 25 years of age in 1962, he would be 83 years old in 2020. Many of the police officers and detectives who worked so diligently to try to solve the case and protect the residents of Oceanside have passed. However, Roy K. Smith, a retired police captain, remembers the case as he was working the morning watch the night of the murder.
I first brought this case to the attention of Tom Heritage, a semi-retired law enforcement officer working part time in the Oceanside Police Department’s Cold Case files. Soon after his brief review of the file, Heritage permanently retired and moved out of the area. Detective Sylvia Guzman O’Brien then headed the department and she took a more thorough look into the unsolved murder.
In December of 2019 Detective O’Brien sent the latent fingerprint cards collected at the scene for entry into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). The Oceanside Police Department has kept silent about those results.
There may be DNA evidence. The murderer pulled Davis’ lifeless body out of the front seat of the cab by his belt loop but it is unknown if the evidence is sufficient to create a profile.
Detective O’Brien retired in 2021 and it is unclear if anyone is actively working this murder which is now 60 years old. The Oceanside Police Department solved a 27-year-old case in February of 2022, the stabbing death of Dolores Rabaya in 1994.
Regardless if there is a tie or link to the Zodiac killings, Ray Davis still deserves justice. Even if the killer has since died, perhaps this case could be solved through ancestral DNA forensics.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Walk the neighborhoods of Oceanside and you will find the sidewalks marked with the curious name “O.U. Miracle”. Many downtown sidewalks and curbs are engraved with this interesting name and many people may wonder what, if any meaning it holds, or who is this Miracle.
Orville Ullman Miracle’s parents were creative in thinking up their son’s name. Their beloved son’s initials lovingly proclaimed his birth to the world … and I can’t help but think Mrs. Miracle must have held her precious baby and whispered in his ear, “Oh You Miracle!” Little did they know but that this name would be used as a marketing tool second to none.
Born in 1871 in Neenah, Winnebago County, Wisconsin to James and Mary Miracle, Orville began a career in the cement business in about 1901. He later established the Miracle Pressed Stone Company, manufacturing and selling “Miracle Concrete Blocks” across the upper Midwest.
However, it was his cement business that brought him the most success. He traveled from Iowa to South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and even Montana, pouring cement for roads, sidewalks and curbing for cities and townships.
Miracle’s association with Oceanside began in 1927 when he was the low bidder on the contracts to improve streets throughout downtown and the ocean front. He laid miles of concrete sidewalks throughout Oceanside that have long outlasted other cement walks poured decades after.
In 1938 South Oceanside became the home of “Miracle Village”. Miracle purchased nearly all of the Tolle Tract in South Oceanside, along with other lots which included either side of Vista Way from Hill Street to east of Moreno Street. He advertised his “Oh You Miracle Tract” around the southland and began building single family homes and selling them from his office at 1932 South Hill Street. The San Diego Union reported that Miracle sold lots “cafeteria style” – prices were placed on the lots, no middlemen, and buyers simply picked out their lot and brought the price tag to his office to complete the purchase.
Miracle built a house at 2022 South Freeman Street where he and his wife Grace made their home. Growing up, Robert Morton, lived next door to Mr. and Mrs. Miracle. He shared with me that Miracle built the home for his mother Charlotte Morton and it was the last empty lot on the block at the time. Other neighbors included Dr. and Mrs. George Totlon, Bob and Johnson, Rudy and Jane Sonneman, and Harold and Alma Davis.
O. U. Miracle’s unusual name brought attention from many columnists across the country, including “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in 1934. In fact, O. U. Miracle appeared in a feature or advertisement in newspapers in nearly every state of the US between 1901 and 1949. His name was so familiar that a letter from South Africa simply addressed to “O.U. Miracle, USA” was delivered to him.
Described as an “ardent civic worker”, Miracle was also politically involved in the City and community affairs. He was involved in the Elks and Rotary clubs as well as the South Oceanside Improvement Club. O.U. died October 9, 1949 at the Oceanside Hospital at the age of 78. Up until his death he remained interested in the development of Oceanside.
Next time you walk through downtown, pause at each “little Miracle” you pass. It is a unique reminder of an Oceanside entrepreneur who left his mark on Oceanside in a very permanent way.
The Flying Bridge Restaurant at 1105 North Coast Highway (North Hill Street) is no more. Its unique “coffee shop architecture” and Googie stylings weren’t enough to save it from demolition. The prime location of the restaurant, providing panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and San Luis Rey River, will be redeveloped. It will not be the first time.
Before the Flying Bridge Restaurant (and Coffee Dan’s) was built, the expansive property was the site of an early auto camp owned by Frank and Anne Martin. The Martin Auto Camp was in an ideal location as it was the first travelers would encounter as they drove into the Oceanside city limits along the original Highway 101.
The auto camp was later sold to Tony Janek and Julia Ravast in 1924, who renamed it the Real Auto Camp. Sam Stock purchased the site in 1927 and continued ownership through 1944.
Dorothy and Frank Satten subsequently purchased the property and in 1951, they built eight new room units along with an administration center and opened the Bridge Motel. Although the property was jointly owned, Dorothy Satten is credited with the development and success of the motel, which continued to expand. A 1954 ad described the 18-unit motel as “one of the finest in the west” and offered wall to wall carpets, Beauty Rest mattresses, tubs and showers and “free” television.
By 1963 the motel had increased to 30 units and was renamed the Bridge Motor Inn of San Luis Rey with a large marquis sign erected at the motel site.
The addition coincided with the building of a new 8,500 square foot restaurant building that housed two separate restaurants: Coffee Dan’s was a casual diner operated by Joseph Bulasky, president of Coffee Dan’s, Inc. of Beverly Hills; the Flying Bridge Room was a formal dining eatery which jutted out over the San Luis Rey River and provided a view of the newly built harbor.
In lieu of a traditional groundbreaking ceremony, a unique “space breaking” event via helicopter was used to cut the ceremonial ribbon marking the restaurant’s opening. A wire connected to the building from the hovering aircraft was then cut by a pair of shears.
The local newspaper reported that “a marine décor is used in both dining places” and the Flying Bridge Room “has its walls decorated with wood carvings from old ships.” The motel-restaurant complex was considered “the town showplace, frequented by movie stars” and even California governor, Ronald Reagan.
Although other Coffee Dan’s in Southern California were designed with a Polynesian theme, the subject resource which housed both Coffee Dan’s and the Flying Bridge, was designed to mimic a ship. This ship theme was the overall design element inside and out. Even the name of the restaurant “Flying Bridge” is a nautical term for the open area of a ship which provides unobstructed views.
The restaurant was designed by Tom Hayward, an architect of note. The zigzag wall and saw tooth roofline on the east facing façade were distinctive features in other similar coffee shops in the Los Angeles area and could also be attributed as “Googie.” Googie architecture can be recognized by several design elements, which include cantilevered roofs, sharp angular or eccentric shapes that are built to resemble a specific object like a space rocket, and in this building’s case, a ship.
The Flying Bridge Restaurant was a trendy local spot for years. The banquet room hosted events for a variety of businesses and organizations. By the 1980s it was a popular spot for singles clubs.
In 1999 Jack McCabe gave the aging restaurant a $200,000 “facelift” reopening the coffee shop which had been temporarily closed and revamping the restaurant’s interior. For a brief time, it was even renamed McCabe’s Bridge Restaurant.
By 2001 the restaurant had changed hands to Patti and Dan Cannon and Jan and Ron DesRosier. The owners implemented “fundraising meals” which featured all-you-can-eat spaghetti and/or pizza for $8.50 to help non-profits and others with fundraisers. It was so successful the owners of the Flying Bridge were nominated and won KGTV Channel 10’s award for “Leaders of San Diego.”
In 2008 the restaurant closed, awaiting a new hotel development of the property which at the time seemed imminent. For the last fourteen years the restaurant at its prominent position near the north end of Oceanside was left to decay. Vandalized and boarded up the end was near, but it’s still a bit of shock to see a pile of rubble where once stood the Flying Bridge.
So much has been written about Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and its history as Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores. I won’t try to rewrite history but instead share a brief overview of the base taken from the 8th Annual Navy Relief Camp Pendleton Rodeo program, June 11 & 12, 1955
The Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, consists of three large training areas- the Base proper at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps Training Center at Twenty-nine Palms, California, and the Cold Weather Training Battalion at Bridgeport, California. The three facilities possess all the caries terrain and weather conditions necessary to adequately train Marines for combat roles in any part of the world. Hence, the Marine Corps Base, encompassing the satellite campus, is the training utopia for America’s most valuable asset — the United States Marine rifleman.
Camp Pendleton is situates on one of the most famous Spanish land grants of California history, the Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores. But the Santa Margarita of today is in startling contrast with the sleepy countryside that Don Caspar de Portola saw when he led one of the first Spanish expeditions into California.
In addition to a colorful history, the Marine Corps acquired three mountain ranges, five lakes, 250 miles of road, and 20 miles of beach. The hills and valleys, together with plains, rivers and coast, and the moderate southern California climate are ideally suited for the combat needs of the Marine Corps.
With the passage of the Second War Powers Act on March 27, 1942, the transformation of the Rancho into the world’s largest Marine Corps Base was initiates. Men and equipment sped to build the highways, railroads, water, sewage and electrical systems, barracks, warehouses, dispensaries, hospital and shop buildings- all that must be accomplished before troops and a military facility can function. Marshes were drained, unstable soil removed and hills made ready for barracks.
In September, 1942, six months after construction began, the Ninth Marine Regiment, under the command of Colonel Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., (now Commandant of the Marine Corps), moved into barracks at the new Base. Camp Pendleton was named after the late Marine Major General Joseph H. Pendleton, an illustrious figure in early California military development.
One year after construction started, the Ninth Marines embarked for combat duty in the Pacific. In training here were the Twenty-fourth Marines (Reinforced), the Amphibious Reconnaissance Company of the First Amphibious Corps, Pacific Fleet, and the First Amphibious Corps Tank Battalion.
Before the war ended, Camp Pendleton absorbed and trained units of the Third Marine Division and the entire Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions, in addition to thousands upon thousands of combat replacements.
It soon was recognized as an outstanding training base. Its vastness permitted use of every modern weapon. There was ample space for tactical maneuver, wide beaches for landing exercises, and there was afforded a variety of terrain for experimentation in practically all types of operations Marines were likely to encounter.
Camp Pendleton became the troop reservoir for the attack across the Pacific. The Base played similar roles during the Korean conflict as marine combat trainees quickly filled barracks and maneuvered over the California hills in training for duty overseas. Time was of paramount importance and training ground was immediately ready for the mission. Camp Pendleton once again became the springboard to the East as it made ready the hard-hitting First Provisional Marine Brigade in July of 1950.
Following the activation of the brigade, the First Marine Division staged at Pendleton before shoving off for Korea in August of 1950. And when the Third Marine Division moved out for Japan in the summer of 1953, it also had made ready at Camp Pendleton.
Because of the vastness of the Base and its 126,000 acres, camps within the Base were established. The Spanish influence prevailed in identifying some of the smaller camps; for example, there are Camp Pulgas, Camp San Onofre, Camp Del Mar, and Camp Margarita.
To the Marines of World War II, they are tent camps, one, two, etc., but the tents that housed these trainees have gradually disappeared, being replaced by permanent concrete structures of modern architectural design.
But the Marine in training here spends little time indoors. The four-week course of instruction in individual combat training conducted by the Second Infantry Training regiment at Camp San Onofre is action-packed; a large part of the instruction is conducted at night. Of course, there is always an inclement weather schedule, but it is seldom used.
The general pattern of training for a young leatherneck who has recently chosen the Marine Corps as his Service encompasses a ten-week course of recruit (boot) training at either of the two recruit depots- San Diego, California, or Parris Island, South Caroline. After a short leave, the young Marine reports to Camp Pendleton for a month of individual combat training before being assigned to a permanent duty station, school for specialists or replacement draft for overseas duty. If he reports firing the winter months, he also is sent through cold weather training in the High Sierras.
And it is at Camp Pendleton where the youngsters are buffed and polished. Ruffed conditioning hikes over hills to reach the best instruction sites keep the Devildogs trim. The four weeks of training stress the actions of the individual rifleman during fire team and squad movements. The individual learns the techniques of many military subjects, such as fighting in a village and street, attack of a fortified position, tank and infantry coordination, and use of all types of Marine infantry weapons.
Marines of the First Marine Division are busy daily in refresher training to maintain a high state of combat readiness. Individual and small unit exercises are held often in the Division, with large scale exercises periodically.
Adjacent to Camp San Onofre in the northern reaches of the Base is Camp Horno, the home of Marine Corps Test Unit #1. The unit carries on experimental maneuvers to test tactical theories in order to keep pace with the development of new equipment and weapons.
Also scattered throughout the Base are smaller combat units which are being formed and trained for eventual integration into larger combat and combat support units of the Marine Corps.
In order to subsist and administer to the needs of the Marine in training, supporting units are required. These are the usual found at many of the established bases. Headquarters and service units, motor transport units, a Navy Hospital, a support battalion, engineers, military police, communications, and maintenance, and disbursing units are a few of the combat service support and service support units which functions behind the trainee and Division front-line units.
In addition to training infantrymen, certain specialists’ schools are operated. The Supporting Arms Training Regiment includes units such as the field medical training battalion, tracked vehicle training battalion, the instructor orientation course, and the sergeant major and first sergeant personnel administration course. The Second Infantry Training Regiment, located at Camp San Onofre, operates the Base Non-Commissioned Officer Leadership School.
The Staging Regiment, also located at Camp San Onofre, is an administrative unit that readies Leathernecks for overseas assignments. Arrangements are made for dental and physical examinations, clothing and equipment allotments and final administrative processing of records before sailing. During the Korean conflict, over 150,000 Marines passed through this regiment before reaching their overseas units.
The Cold Weather Training Battalion conducts instruction in cold weather operations, including the use of cold weather clothing as well as survival and unit maneuvers in sub-zero temperatures under simulated battle conditions. Trainees during the winter months spend a week at the cold weather site. Marines selected for this training long remember the mock battles against aggressor forces while totin’ 60 pounds of combat and cold weather equipment.
The other distant installation is the Marine Corps Training Center located at the desert community of Twenty-nine Palms. Here are 450 square miles of desert and mountains that serve as an ideal location for the long-range artillery, bombing and anti-aircraft training needs of the Marine Corps.
Ample recreation and entertainment facilities at Camp Pendleton are provided under the direction of Special Services. Athletic fields, libraries, swimming pools, a golf course, a beach club, riding stables and numerous other recreational facilities provide for the Leathernecks’ recreation requirements. And Camp Pendleton is proud of its coast-to-coast ABC radio program, “Marines in Review,” which has been broadcast weekly to the nation for more than four years. It is written, acted and produced by Pendleton marines and the musical scores are played by the Camp Pendleton Marine Band.
Ham Ging Lung was born in Canton, China in about 1855 and was known by the more “Americanized” name of Sam Wing. He came to this country with his cousin Ah Quin sometime between 1874 and 1879. According to newspaper reports both Ham Ging Lung (“Sam”) and his cousin “performed manual labor for many years before getting ahead in this world.”
It wasn’t an easy road to success. There was a real anger and hatred of Chinese, particularly in California. Even though the Chinese played an enormous role in building the Transcontinental Railroad, they were considered “undesirable” and viewed with disdain. Although useful for hard labor, working arduous hours for little pay, Chinese immigrants were seen as a threat. Because they were paid lower wages than their white counterparts (through no fault of their own) they were accused of taking jobs from whites. In response to what was perceived as a growing problem, President Chester A. Arthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It halted Chinese immigration for a ten-year period and prohibited Chinese immigrants to apply for naturalization.
Then in 1892, California Congressman Thomas Geary introduced The Geary Act which extended the Chinese Exclusion Act for an additional ten years. In addition, it required Chinese residents to carry documentation, “certificates of residence”. If caught without this documentation, Chinese immigrants could be sentenced to hard labor and/or deportation.
Because of these laws, Chinese had to be smuggled into the country. (Chinese women had been banned in 1874). The Chinese were looking for work and their counterparts were looking for cheap labor.
Despite the unfavorable social climate, Ham Ging Lung (sometimes misspelled as Hong Gim Lung) immigrated to the United States, but nothing is known of his early years or his journey here. He first “settled” in San Diego and eventually made his way to the new town of Oceanside, which was established in 1883. In 1885 Wing purchased four lots on North Myers Street from Oceanside founder Andrew Jackson Myers. He eventually purchased a “truck garden” and sold his produce to locals. Wing also operated a laundry business on North Cleveland Street and offered Chinese merchandise including children’s toys.
Sam did well enough to regularly advertise in the local paper. An ad from 1888 in the South Oceanside Diamond contained the following text: “Help of all kinds constantly on hand. Officeof Employment and Information Bureau. Will contract to furnish any number of men, for all kinds of work.“
Intelligent and industrious, Wing was so successful that he was included on a list of the top taxpayers in the city. He was also one of the stockholders of Oceanside’s first pier (called a wharf). In December of 1888 Wing purchased a $400 lot near the Oceanside wharf and from there continued to buy other lots. He owned a home on the 700 block of North Tremont Street. Wing expanded his real estate holdings in 1907 by leasing 100 acres with a well from the South Coast Land Co. The Oceanside Blade reported that Wing would install a 24-horse power gasoline engine “and the land planted to potatoes and cabbages.”
However successful Sam Wing appeared to be, it was clear to many that he made more money smuggling men and opium. He was on the radar of local law enforcement and was suspected of running an “opium den”. In March of 1888 Marshal Charles C. Wilson raided Wing’s establishment and “arrested three Chinamen in a stupid condition.” Ironically, two white men were said to have “escaped in the darkness.”
Someone allegedly tried to murder the wealthy “Laundry Magnate” by poisoning him with strychnine in 1906. According to the Blade newspaper, after smoking his pipe one evening, Sam “took a few swallows from a bottle of Chinese gin” which he kept on a table by his bed. He noticed the intensely bitter taste and beginning to feel badly sent for Dr. Wall.” According to the doctor, the bottle contained enough strychnine crystals to kill 150 people. Wing was treated and made a full recovery, but he was robbed of $8.50, and his watch was stolen.
Wing attended a meeting of the city trustees in March of 1909 wherein he petitioned a reduction in his water bill, asking for the same courtesy extended to another resident, and none other than a city trustee. Sam’s appearance before the council was newsworthy and used as an opportunity to mock his English, with the headline “Pidgin English in Copious Flow, Trustees Addressed by Sam Wing, Eloquent Grower of Vegetables.”
Then the newspaper recounted the story in detail, taking the opportunity to hold Wing in esteem and ridicule him at the same time.
“Sam was paying more taxes than any man in Oceanside and the board could not refuse him a hearing. Sam paid his taxes regularly, never being delinquent a cent, but he learned that in several instances water taxes had been rebated to favorites of the council. An Englishman had induced the council to return to him half the water taxes he had put up. A trio of citizens who didn’t like the way the council was running things, took Sam in hand and rehearsed him for the part he was to play.
“On the night of the meeting, for the first time in his life, Sam wore a white, stiff collar and necktie. He was attired in a long black coat and his shoes were polished. The Chinaman, abashed for a few minutes, soon recovered himself and the criticism he hurled at that council made the ears of the members uncomfortably warm.
“Big high-tone Englishman,” shouted the Oriental, “he come to see ’bout water tax. He give you nodding an’ you give him half back! My same as cooley me pay eve’y cent. You dam’ fools you fool you-se’f.”
“One member suggested that Sam be ejected, whereupon Sam pointed an accusing finger at him. “How much you pay?” Sam demanded. “How much watah tax you pay? Let me see in book how much you pay.”
It is unknown if the council relented to Sam Wing’s passioned appeal.
Likely due to his notable wealth, Wing was robbed again in November of 1909 when Albert Page, a fisherman working for the McGarvin brothers, entered his house and stole two tourmaline gemstones or crystals, and an “opium smoking outfit.” When arrested and charged, Page confessed to the theft. They recovered one of the stones and Wing’s opium pipe along with two bowls which were turned over to the constable.
That same week Oceanside resident A. M. Matthews complained to the city the Wing’s dogs were a menace to public safety and the Marshal was ordered to have the dogs chained or destroyed.
Then in 1911 the Oceanside Blade reported that “Ham Ging Lung, locally known as Sam Wing, is being sought by the officers in connection with the seizure of ten cans of opium in Los Angeles Thursday of last week. The opium was concealed in a box of clams shipped to Yee Sing & Co., Chinese merchants of the Angel City and a letter captured by the officers with the box is said to have connected Sam Wing with the shipment.”
Newspapers in Los Angeles later announced charges of smuggling opium against Wing, and of his arraignment in the United States District Court. The Herald also noted that Wing conducted a “laundry at Oceanside” and that the “goods which he is alleged to have handled was seized at the Yee Sing company, 322 Marchessault Street (which was in Los Angeles’ Chinatown).
Sam was sentenced to a four-month jail term and given the notorious title of “King of Opium Smugglers” in the Los Angeles Herald. The article went on to say that Wing had confessed to officials and implicated others in the smuggling ring.
After Wing’s release from jail in February of 1912, another smuggling arrest was made and this time the newspapers reported that an unnamed law enforcement officer was involved in smuggling of “coolies”, saying the “possibility that more than one of the San Diego officials may be mixed up in the business is strongly hinted at by the local Immigration inspectors, who intimate that arrests may be expected at any time.”
Despite his arrests, Sam Wing was still highly thought of by many and in some regards well respected.
Chinese immigrants were sometimes buried in temporary graves due in part because they had intended one day to return to China and reunite with family members. However, if they died in the States (and abroad) many wanted their remains returned and buried in their homeland China. Even after several years, the remains would be exhumed, the bones cleaned and packaged, and then shipped to China. Because of his renown and status in the county, in 1913 Sam Wing supervised this careful and solemn ritual, tasked with the disinterment of three of his fellow countrymen who had been buried in an Escondido cemetery.
In January of 1914 Wing, who was well known throughout San Diego County by friends, customers and law enforcement, was featured in the San Diego Union along with his likeness. The inclusion of a photograph was not a common one, and this rare image was proof of Sam’s renown. However, while regaling his accomplishments and his net worth of $250,000 (touting him as the richest man in Oceanside), the article included derogatory slurs and made fun of his broken English. When the article was published in the Oceanside Blade, the headline read: “Alle Same Sam Wing Rich Man”.
The article provided Wing’s Chinese name of Hong Gim Lung, and noted his status as “pioneer Chinaman of Oceanside.” It went on to say that after arriving in San Diego forty years ago, Wing was “the owner of lands and ranches, town lots and other property, besides being heavily interested in Chinese mercantile houses in various coast cities.” And then, “He is nearly 70 years of age and still is a hustler.” It is assumed this is meant as a compliment. The article goes on to say, “He ascribes his financial success to his accumulation of land, together with his abstinence from the use of opium. His first savings went to buy an interest in a truck garden and he has been purchasing lands ever since. He has a fine sense of humor and likes to be in the company of white men. Of his deeds of charity hundreds of stories have been told, and it has been said that no person in need ever left Sam’s house without being given relief.”
The short-lived newspaper the Oceanside Record published what they touted as Sam Wing’s “orphic sayings” which included the following:
“Me just Chink, that’s all —all same coolie, but pay my debt to ev’ybody. Some high tone people no pay ’em’ up debt.’’ “When I live in China I got no shoe on foot —poor all time. Come to Oceanside an’ make ’em money. I no go back to China.”
Just days after the articles on Sam Wing appeared in the local papers, he reported to City Marshal Love “that a man on a white horse (another account said it was gray) shot and killed his favorite dog.” Included in the brief article was the following statement: “The Blade considers this a shame. It is known who the man is, but it is difficult to convict without more absolute proof.” Was this in retaliation of some sorts? Out of resentment? Was it A. M. Mathews who had complained just a few years earlier?
Ah Quin, Wing’s beloved cousin, died in February of 1914. Quin’s obituary stated that he was a “wealthy pioneer merchant of San Diego’s Chinese quarter.” The San Diego Union reported that Sam Wing brought a car load of carnations and other flowers from Oceanside for the funeral.
Then in March of 1914 Sam Wing was arrested by Immigration and Government officers and taken to Los Angeles by train after a prisoner turned state’s evidence against Sam. The Blade reported “unauthenticated rumors of a rancher, while carrying a lantern at night, being fired at by a boat at sea” and “a number of Chinamen being landed near here on Monday night.”
A month later Sam Wing along with Oceanside residents Clinton Culver and William E. Freeman, were indicted by a Federal grand jury. Culver and Freeman were accused of being in charge of the Chinese during the smuggling operation and Sam Wing was described as “the Oceanside Chinese who has been a thorn in the flesh of the immigration authorities for years.” While awaiting trial in Los Angeles, it was reported that Sam was doing laundry in jail and making $48 a month.
Both Sam Wing and Clinton Culver, a former deputy constable, were convicted of smuggling and sentenced to 18 months at McNeil’s Island in Washington. It was known as the Alcatraz of Puget Sound. Due to Wing’s then failing health, a petition for pardon signed by numerous residents of Oceanside was sent to President Woodrow Wilson but never acted upon. The harsh conditions of prison life took its toll and Sam Wing died in prison on May 30, 1915. His accomplice Clinton Culver had been paroled just 15 days earlier.
Sam willed his Oceanside property consisting of eights lots and his house on Tremont Street to his cousin Hom Ging Choy. His laundry business was sold.
One wonders if the remains of Ham Ging Lung aka Sam Wing were sent back to his homeland by his countrymen where he could be buried there and reunited with his family members.
An old boathouse slowly collapsed into the waters of the Buena Vista Lagoon in the 1970s, sliding into a watery grave. Many longtime residents remember this old boathouse but few may remember its history.
The Buena Vista Lagoon, once a slough, has a murky history much like its waters. Sloughs are “ecologically important as they are a part of an endangered environment; wetlands. They act as a buffer from land to sea and act as an active part of the estuary system where freshwater flows from creeks and runoff from the land mix with salty ocean water transported by tides.” (Wikipedia)
At times large areas of the slough were completely dry. In 1910 and 1911 residents from both Carlsbad and Oceanside gathered to race horses on a half mile track on the dried “lake bed.” In the mid 1920s the dried bed of the eastern end of the slough was considered for a landing field for planes. Of course, these activities were temporary because during heavy rains the slough would fill, sometimes past its natural capacity, and spill out over the Coast Road and into the Pacific Ocean.
In 1939 the County ended any hunting at the lagoon, although fishing was allowed. The area was declared a bird sanctuary eventually named after Bombardier Maxton Brown of Carlsbad, who was killed during World War II in action in North Africa.
Shortly afterward, a weir was built at the mouth of Buena Vista lagoon. A weir is a barrier used to control the flow of water for outlets of lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. Once in place, the weir changed the natural tidal flow of the slough, transforming it into a “freshwater brackish lagoon”.
Before the lagoon was altered in such a dramatic way, in 1901 the California Salt Company attempted to harvest salt from man-made evaporation ponds on the north end of the Buena Vista Lagoon. These ponds are shallow basins designed to “extract salt from seawater, salty lakes, or mineral-rich springs through natural evaporation.” As the water dries, the salt crystals are harvested by raking.
The July 13, 1901 edition of the Oceanside Blade reported: “The forces of the California Salt Co. are still at work in the slough between South Oceanside and Carlsbad. They are preparing to put down wells in the slough bed where points will be put in. The entire system will be connected to a pump and the brine pumped into the vats. Pumping operations are expected to commence in a few days.”
The endeavor failed, however, and in a few short years the Salt Company had left town, leaving the evaporation ponds intact which were visible for decades. Because of this some have assumed that the boathouse dated back to the Salt Company.
The first evidence of the boathouse in historic photographs (dating back to 1932) reveal that the boathouse was constructed by 1946. An aerial of that year shows the boathouse adjacent to the western end of the abandoned salt evaporation ponds. In 1999 Nancy Tenaglia wrote in an article about the lagoon that her father Kenyon Keith of St. Malo had the boathouse built to store rowboats and a small sailboat. However she stated that the boathouse was eventually “abandoned.”
The boathouse was then utilized by hotel owner Dr. Clifford Elwood Brodie.
Brodie, a chiropractor, was a native of Washington State. He moved to Oceanside in 1939 and was actively involved in both business and politics. He built his first hotel, the Brodie-O-Tel at 2001 South Hill (Coast Highway) in 1939. Described as “colorful”, Brodie was married no less than five times (one marriage lasting just two months after securing a quickie divorce from a previous wife in Reno). He served on the City Council, but was the subject of a recall in 1945 because in part of his “bickering” with other council members.
After opening a twelve-room motor lodge overlooking the Buena Vista Lagoon, Brodie an avid sportsman, sought to have the lagoon transformed into a recreational spot for boaters and fishermen. He housed a boat of his own in the boathouse which was accessible from his property by way of the salt ponds.
He advertised his hotel, Brodie’s Motor Lodge, on signage and newspaper ads that said, “Sleep Where It’s Quiet.” His boathouse was painted with the words “Motor Lodge”.
The hotel was put into “receivership” for a time during a hotly contested divorce in 1949 and during that time it was reported that the boat kept at the boathouse was stolen. It very well could have been Brodie himself who took the boat in order to keep his wife Florence from having it. Brodie was found in contempt by the courts, after locking the hotel and leaving with both funds and records (and perhaps the boat).
In 1950 Brodie attempted to sell his hotel at the lagoon, advertising it as a Mexican style hotel with a full length porch, panoramic views and sea breezes.
Despite his earlier recall, Brodie ventured into the political arena, running for county supervisor and later for an open council seat in 1952, but was not successful. He was, however, successful in renewing a relationship with one of his former wives, Edith Wolfe, and they remarried.
Clifford E. Brodie died in November 1953 after suffering a fatal heart attack. The lodge which bore his name continued operation.
In fact, in 1958 a very special guest checked into the Brodie Motor Lodge. Heavyweight Boxing Champion Floyd Patterson arrived in Oceanside in July of that year along with his manager Cus D’Amato. Patterson was training for his title defense against Roy Harris in a match held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, on August 18th. His training took place at the Beach Community Center, but he stayed “where it’s quiet” at the Motor Lodge overlooking the lagoon.
After his training camp ended Patterson published a personal note in the Oceanside Blade Tribune saying in part: “I’m certainly going to miss Oceanside. I know when I get back to New York I’ll be thinking of this place. I also know that wherever I go to train for my next fight, I’ll be remembering the fine time, the perfect climate and the wonderful people of Oceanside.”
By the mid 1960s the Brodie Motor Lodge was torn down but the boathouse remained on the lagoon. Eventually the paint faded and the wooden structure began to deteriorate. It began to sink, even while children and teenagers ventured in and around it, One of the last published photos of the boathouse was in 1978, with a young boy perched precariously on top of it to fish.
Eventually Brodie’s boathouse slipped under the waters of the Buena Vista Lagoon and while it may be lost to the elements forever, the boathouse lives on in the memories of many.
Thank you to Edith Wolfe-Badillo for sharing some of these wonderful photos with the Oceanside Historical Society.