The Murder of Ray Davis

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Shades of the Zodiac?

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 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.

It may be pure conjecture, 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.

Sylvia Guzman O’Brien, Cold Case Detective with the Oceanside Police Department has dug up and read over the case file. In December of 2019 she sent the latent fingerprint cards collected at the scene for entry into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). O’Brien stated that, “The crime lab will determine if the prints are of sufficient quality for entry in the database.”  In addition, the casings that were located in the cab driven by Ray Davis will be sent to the crime lab for entry in the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS). As Detective O’Brien stated, “Now it is just a waiting game.”

There is no DNA evidence. Neither AFIS or IBIS were available to law enforcement in 1962 and even when these systems were put in place years ago, this case had long been forgotten. If there’s a possibility to match the prints to a person or link the ballistics to another crime, the results of these searches may be the very last chance to solve the murder of Ray Davis.

O. U. Miracle

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A Name Engraved in History

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.

Office of O.U. Miracle at 1933 South Hill Street (now Coast Highway)

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.

Postcard advertisement for Miracle Village

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.

Charlotte Morton and children in front of their home at 2018 South Freeman Street in “Miracle Village” South Oceanside

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.          

Ad in The Los Angeles Times, Sunday, June 19, 1938

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 Bunker House – A Building With a Past

The Bunker House located at 322 North Cleveland Street was first owned in 1886 by Theodore C. Bunker. This two-story building is one of the first brick buildings in Oceanside and one of three brick buildings built in the 1880’s which are still standing.

The Bunker family arrived from Los Angeles and operated a store on the first floor and a boarding house on the second. Bunker also owned a single-story wooden structure next door, which served as a meat market. The Bunker House was used as a meeting hall as well as for dances and church services. 

After Bunker’s death in 1892, Ysidora Bandini Couts, wife of Col. Cave J. Couts, held the mortgage on the building and retained ownership.  The local newspaper reported that Katherine Mebach purchased the building in 1896. 

Frederick Rieke bought the brick building in 1904. Rieke was a general contractor and built many homes and buildings in Oceanside, including the house located on the same block at 312 North Cleveland Street. 

In 1923 the building was sold to by H. J. Crawford and it was subsequently deeded to two other members of his family: Thomas J. Crawford, and then to Samuel J. Crawford, a prominent attorney in Los Angeles who maintained ownership until 1945 when it was sold to George Haddox. 

It was in the 1940s that the building, which continued to serve as a boarding house, developed a rather “seedy reputation”. Longtime residents recalled as children they were forbidden to visit or linger near the building and its use by prostitutes implied. It should be pointed out, however, that despite rumors, it was never a brothel as brothels are illegal and would not have been allowed to operate as such. Nonetheless, it was known for illegal activity.

Ralph and Ella Rogers bought the property in 1947. By 1948, or perhaps earlier, the building was named the Traveler’s Hotel (as listed in phone directories) or Hotel Travelers (painted on building).

Rogers opened Rogers Music Co., also known as Rogers Phonograph Service, on the lower level and maintained the boarding house on the second floor.

In 1959, Ella Rogers operated Gale’s Café near the Oceanside Pier at 300 1/2 North Strand, and in addition to his record store, Ralph Ross Rogers ran the Silver Dollar Tavern located at 312 Third Street (now Pier View Way).

True to its reputation, in 1962, there was a very public arrest at the Traveler’s, which made local papers and only solidified its reputation.  A young woman from Ohio, who had recently arrived in Oceanside, brought two 15 year old runaways from San Diego to the boarding house to exploit for prostitution. The girls told Oceanside Police Detective Floyd Flowers that they were to work in exchange for lodging, food and clothing.

Ella Rogers died in 1973, as Ralph continued to operate his music business while living in his building on Cleveland Street. On September 26, 1976 Ralph Rogers was found murdered at the Traveler’s Hotel, stabbed multiple times and strangled.

One month later an arrest was made. Joseph Shavon Whitaker, age 21, was arrested for not only Rogers’ murder, but that of William O. Clark’s in a San Diego hotel. Whitaker went to trial in 1977, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

After Rogers’ death the building was vacated and left to deteriorate. It seemed destined for the wrecking ball until it was purchased by realtor Chris Parsons in 1982. Parsons saw the potential in the weathered building and began its restoration.

Ownership of the building changed hands again until about 2009 when it was purchased by the current owner, who has maintained this gem of a building with great success. While its reputation has been tainted with scandal, the building itself is nearly unchanged from when the Bunkers owned it over 130 years and provides historic charm and character to Downtown Oceanside.

St. Malo, Oceanside’s Secret Hideaway for the Rich and Famous

Over several decades many residents and visitors alike have often wondered who lived beyond the gate at the end of Oceanside’s South Pacific Street. An impressive entrance allowed but a sneak peek into beautiful homes with unique architectural features.

Kenyon A. Keith, a wealthy resident of Pasadena, purchased 28 acres of oceanfront property in 1928. The following year he began developing a colony with custom built homes that were designed to resemble a French fishing village, St. Malo.  Residency was by invitation only and limited to family and hand selected friends. 

The St. Malo Subdivision begins at Eaton and South Pacific Streets. However, the St. Malo community, also extends on either side of the 2000 block of South Pacific Street. As homes were constructed, and continue to be built, they are kept to a strict standard of architectural style and materials, built and weathered to appear as if they have been there for decades.

The entry way or St. Malo Gate, was designed by architect William McCay. Keith wanted an imposing entrance to the St. Malo Beach community and built it to represent “a sense of place.”

St. Malo Gate at the end of South Pacific Street, circa 1930
Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

St. Malo homes weren’t just weekend hideaways for the wealthy, wanting to escape from the city, they often “summered” there. Owners brought a full staff, with maids and cooks as most homes were built with “servants’ quarters.”

Homes were fondly described by owners as “story book cottages” or “chalets.”  Nicknamed “Pasadena on the Rocks”, St. Malo offered a private beach, playground, 3 tennis courts, a volleyball court and a clubhouse cabana.  Activities included exclusive cocktail parties, barbeques and trips to the Delmar Races.  Close friends of the owners were allowed to rent or even borrow houses for social gatherings and vacations.

Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

Although Oceanside residents were not likely privy to the comings and goings of colonists, their activities were posted in the society pages of the Los Angeles Times that featured headlines such as:  “St. Malo is Favorite for Pasadena Folk”; “St. Malo Beckons Social Set”; “St. Malo Beach Hums with Activity.” The social columnists promoted the exclusivity of St. Malo, but provided the names of the socialites and families that were staying there, along with their activities and other gossip.  They boasted that St. Malo parties were better than any in Hollywood.

View of St. Malo, Jason Joy’s palatial residence far right
Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

While newspaper articles attributed the location of St. Malo as in or near Oceanside, some attempted to place the community nearer tonier locales such La Jolla or Delmar. However, in 1950 the City of Oceanside annexed the St. Malo subdivision, at the owners’ request, which at the time had grown to 24 homes.  

The heyday of St. Malo was from the 1930s and 1960s.  Owners included Desaix Myers, a mining engineer; Dr. John Dunlop, pioneer orthopedic surgeon; Karl G. Von Platen, lumber magnate; Attorney Steve Halsted; Lamar Trotti, writer and film producer; W. John Kenney, Asst. Secretary of Navy; Frank Butler, screenwriter; songwriter Nacio Herb Brown; Hugh Darling, mayor of Beverly Hills; painter Marge Wilman.  Another wealthy “colonist” was Alice Pillsbury Forsman, daughter of the co-founder of the Pillsbury Mills.  St. Malo was such a way of life for most, even when they passed away their obituaries mentioned their affection of their St. Malo home away from home.

Other notable residents were film director Jason S. Joy and author Ben Hecht.  Joy’s St. Malo home was referred to as “La Garde Joyeuse” and included an outdoor bowling alley and volleyball court.  Hecht, whose prolific works include “Scarface”, purchased his St. Malo home in 1950. While living in Oceanside, he wrote a children’s book about a cat who roamed the streets of Oceanside. He said in an interview that he often wrote from his den overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Cover of the children’s book Ben Hecht wrote about a cat that lived in Oceanside, 1947

Homes within the colony sold for $57,000 (and up) in the 1940s, however, ownership was contingent upon “membership” and the approval of Kenyon Keith.

Over the years visitors have included Harpo Marx and James Maytag, (Maytag appliances). The most famous and royal visitors were none other than England’s Prince Phillip and Princess Anne, who stayed at St. Malo while attending events during the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

No longer quite as exclusive, new families mingle with the more “established” residents. While St. Malo is no longer a secret, it still remains private and the homes behind the gated entrance and those who live there, still evoke a bit of mystery.

Death of a Cemetery

The True Story of the Buena Vista Cemetery in South Oceanside

On Saturday, January 24, 1970, workmen began the task of removing graves from the BuenaVista Cemetery in South Oceanside. It took six hours to locate and remove 17 remainsof the dead on the 2 acre site who had been buried there between 1888 and about1916. The unidentified remains were removed to El Camino Memorial Park inSorrento Valley.

            The cemetery had been neglected for several decades. It was privately owned, not associated with any church ororganization. Thus, there was no “perpetual care”. There was no official burial list or caretaker. Over the years, headstones had been likely stolen, woodencrosses removed, and memories faded as to who was buried there, and the cemetery became an overgrown field with a handful of toppled headstones.

            However, most of the people interred at Buena Vista Cemetery, had families that attended their funerals, mourned their passing, and placed markers on their final resting place, whether wooden or stone. They were just not nameless, unfortunate souls who died alone. The dead were laid to rest in a peaceful, picturesque cemetery, overlooking the Buena Vista Lagoon, which also provided expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. Lanes within the graveyard bore the names of trees and flowers: Fir, Oak,Yucca, Palm, Ivy, Lilac, Pansy, Rose and Violet. 

            The Buena Vista Cemetery was located in South Oceanside, a separate township of its own between Oceanside andCarlsbad. It was established by John Chauncey Hayes, who was also heavily intertwined with the establishment of the City of Oceanside. Hayes became the exclusive real estate agent for Andrew Jackson Myers, Oceanside’s founder, and he also served as Justice of the Peace and postmaster.

            Hayes began to develop his new township of South Oceanside which included a train depot, hotel and its own newspaper, The South Oceanside Diamond,of which Hayes was the editor.

            Hayes likely hired Edward Dexter, a local engineer, to lay out the cemetery for him, which contained 106 burial plots. The earliest map of the cemetery gives credit to Dexter and is dated February 1888. However the cemetery was not officially recorded until 1893.

            The cemetery was located along Wall Street , which is now called Vista Way. At the time Hayes established the cemetery, there was no other burial ground for area residents, including Carlsbad, Oceanside and even Vista. The closest cemetery would be that of the Mission SanLuis Rey, for Catholics; or a small public graveyard called the San Luis ReyCemetery (known now as the Pioneer Cemetery). Both of these burial grounds were at least four miles away from downtown Oceanside and were likely considered inconvenient for coastal residents.

            It did not take long for the new cemetery to be utilized. Sarah Perry was likely one of the first persons to be buried at Buena Vista. She died of dropsy of the heart, an old fashioned term for congestive heart failure, at the age of 50 on March 27, 1888.

            In June of that year, a Mr. P.Morton, a railroad laborer, died and was buried there. Ione Layne and her infant daughter Edith died tragically and were buried there in 1888 as well.

            George Bronson, who was buried elsewhere, and had died in 1885, was moved to Buena Vista Cemetery by his wife Mary in December of 1888. She had a monument maker from San Diego place a new headstone for her husband.

Headstone of George Bronson, moved from the Buena Vista Cemetery to the Oceanview Cemetery

            Charles C. Wilson was also buried at Buena Vista. He was the first Oceanside law officer to die in the line of dutyin 1889. Wilson was gunned down on the streets of Oceanside by John Murray, a nephew of San Luis Rey pioneer Benjamin F. Hubbert. The City of Oceanside, set to celebrate the 4th of July, instead gathered to mourn the loss of their marshal.

            Five children, all died in 1893 and were buried at the cemetery: Zoe Holman, her sibling, Johnnie Hunting, LoisHunting and Henry Irwin.

            Civil War veterans buried at SouthOceanside include Dr. Martin Weitzel and William A. Patterson.  Each year for several years, on DecorationDay, a parade of veterans would make their way from Oceanside to the BuenaVista Cemetery in South Oceanside to place wreaths on the graves of those who served in the Civil War. (Decoration Day was the predecessor to Memorial Day.)

            Between 1888 and 1900, at least 37person were buried at Buena Vista Cemetery, and it is believed that 47 (or more) people were buried at Buena Vista Cemetery, evidenced by death certificates,remaining headstones and published obituaries through 1916. Notable pioneers include John Henry Myers, the brother of Oceanside’s founder Andrew Jackson Myers, and members of the Weitzel, Frazee families.

            The last known burial was in 1916.  Meta Spaulding was just ten days old when she died on December 31, 1916. She had been adopted by the Warren Spaulding family, owners of a dairy in South Oceanside.  Irma SpauldingRatcliff said that she remembered walking to the cemetery as a little girl after the funeral for Meta’s burial.

            Burials were probably discontinued due to a new and much closer cemetery in Oceanside, the I.O.O.F. Cemetery (now knownas Oceanview Cemetery) that was established in 1894. 

            In 1929 Wall Street (aka Vista Way)was being widened, which necessitated the removal of several of the buried. It is unknown if there were any protests from family members but the cemetery by that time was considered “abandoned”. Eight remains of the dead were disinterred and removed to the I.O.O.F. Cemetery, (aka the Oceanview Cemetery) on Hill Street (Coast Highway). They included George Bronson (his second reburial), little Meta Spaulding, India D. Goetz, siblings Johnnie and Lois Hunting, FredT. Walker, and James McCrea. The Weitzel family moved the bodies of their lovedones, Laura and Dr. Martin Weitzel, to Mt. Hope Cemetery in San Diego. IdaSquires was moved to the San Marcos Cemetery.

            The Frazee family removed their family member, Don. Blair Frazee to the I.O.O.F Cemetery on Hill Street. The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported theunusual circumstances regarding his disinterment with the headline: Body ofEarly Pioneer in Perfect Condition. It went on to say: In a state of almost perfect preservation, apparently from some mineral component of the soil, the body of Don Frazee, early Oceanside pioneer, has been exhumed after having been interred over 30 years, the casket and the clothing showing almost no signs of decay and a flower held in the hand of the dead man even retaining much of its color. The body was taken from its originalresting place in the South Oceanside cemetery which is being abandoned in the course of street improvement work in the Tolle tract, on the east side of which the old cemetery was located, and was the first burial place after the settlement of Oceanside and Carlsbad.

            With 47 known burials, and eleven known removals in 1929, that would have left a total of 36 remaining at the Buena Vista Cemetery, an important number to consider.

            If the cemetery was abandoned by 1929, it is unknown how long Hayes owned the property. The land on which the cemetery was located was eventually sold to Carlsbad resident Harold Baumgartner. He sold the property in 1958/59 to an Oceanside school teacher, Beth Harris French, who acquired the Buena Vista Cemetery along with another portion of land to “preserve her view” of the lagoon from her home at 2020 Stewart Street.

            While French was left wondering who was responsible for the care of the cemetery, she attempted to find an organization to take over the care and upkeep. Perhaps once a year, an occasional youth group or Boy Scout troop would tend to the headstones, at which time totaled twenty. Despite her concern, French asked the city to rezone her property and then sold it to a developer, who then petitioned the City of Oceanside to rezone the property for commercial use.

A clean up of the cemetery in 1968 shows several of the headstones

            At the time James Swartz, of Encino, argued that the number of dead remaining in this abandoned cemetery was just nine. When asked by City officials what would happen if there were more than eleven remaining, Swartz said that if there were as many as forty or people buried there, he would abandon the project.  (There may have been as many as 36 aspreviously noted.)

            A few dozen local residents signed letters of protests, most of which were residents of South Oceanside and not related to the buried. Some attempt was made to find descendants of the dead but it appears none came forward.

            A lot of misinformation was floated around. Some people insisted that there just three people buried (despite over a dozen headstones); others suggested thatthe people buried all died in a plane crash (quite impossible as most people buried there died before the Wright Brothers historic flight in 1903).

            Ultimately the decision was made to allow development of the property and to disinter the bodies, the cost of which was borne by the developer.

            When excavation began, seventeen remains were discovered, not eleven as Swartzclaimed. It turns out that Swartz may have simply counted the existing headstones,and did not consider there were more people than markers. The remaining headstones did not make their way to El Camino Memorial Park with the disinterred remains.They had been moved and no longer coincided with the proper burial location.Instead the grave markers were used as fill and are ‘buried’ under the onrampto Highway 78, just east of the cemetery location. Perhaps one day they will bediscovered by a Caltrans crew who will have no idea as to their origin orrightful place.

            It is well within reason to assume that as many as 36 set of remains were still buried at the cemetery before the project began. If 17 sets of remains were removed at the developer’s cost, that may have left 19 behind (or more).

            Grading began on the property to ready it for development. Soon after which, several remains, unceremoniously left behind, were discovered. This was confirmed by two reputable people. One such account was from Manny Mancillas, who worked for North County Soils Testing Laboratory in Escondido in 1969. His company was hired by an oil company, as a service station was to be built on the eastern portion of the former burial site, and the western half a restaurant, The Hungry Hunter.

            Mancillas remembered that the gravestones had been gathered in a pile before they were used as fill on the I-5 offramp. He noted that some of headstones were “beautiful” and some were about four feet high.

            After a couple of days on the jobsite, the front loader hit remains of one or twocoffins. According to Mancillas, the City was called and an employee from theEngineering Department came out with a burlap bag and took the bones. The crew was told to continue their work. This “transaction” happened at least one other time, when an additional grave was discovered. And as digging continued, outlines of other coffins appeared.

            One particular coffin the crew uncovered had a lead glass top, revealing a body of a woman with red hair in almost perfect condition. Her coffin was found nearVista Way towards the entrance of the present day Hunter Restaurant. He said that she was dressed in attire from the late 1800’s; a black buttoned dresswith a high white collar. This mirrors the disinterment of Don Frazee in 1929, who was found “preserved.” 

            Work stopped after the discovery of the woman and the men were unnerved. The men were afraid she would be taken away in a burlap bag and not given a proper burial, so they made the decision to use the front loader to rebury her. Her discovery was kept secret and she was quietly buried down the slope of the lagoon. The construction crew felt that reinternment in the slope was a more decent and dignified burial for the “Lady in Black.”

Aerial of property containing restaurant and current bike shop

            Mancillas said that at least six bodies were found during the time he was on site. Bill Hitt, who worked for K L Redfern out of Orange County, did the excavating for the gas station and his memories mirror that of Mancillas, although Hitt felt more than six remains were found after the official removal; he remembered as many as 12.

            Depending upon which numbers are used, that would still leave either 7 or 13 possible remains left at the cemetery.

            While some might scoff at the idea that any other bodies or remains were left behind,consider this: In October of 1991, Texaco was on site of the former service station (now a bike shop) perhaps doing soils testing and they discovered anadditional five sets of remains. There was no way to identify them, and thecompany paid to have them removed to Eternal Hills Memorial Park in Oceanside.  

            Even with the removal of 5 additional remains in 1991, there are likely still remains at the site to this day, perhaps 2 or as many as 8.

            Thereare some who believe the Hunter Restaurant is now haunted. Whether you believe in spirits or not, it is still an unsettling situation.

            With the removal of Buena VistaCemetery, Oceanside lost a part of its history. When those early pioneer families laid their loved ones to rest they never could have imagined theywould suffer such indignities.

            In the 1990’s the Oceanside Historical Society placed a granite marker on the sidewalk on Vista Way in front of the Hunter Restaurant, listing the known persons that were buried there at the time. (The plaque does not include persons found with additional research in recent years). It stands as the only reminder of the Buena Vista Cemetery and the pioneers buried there.

By Reason of Insanity

“WAS HE INSANE, IS HE INSANE NOW?”  That was the actual headline of a print ad for Curran Real Estate in the 1920s. This unconventional advertisement was written by William Edward Curran, who went on to say: “I was called insane by some of the Oceanside mossbanks when I started to improve the James property. Take a look at it now. A few more green spots like this will make our city. Come one and all, it’s great to be crazy”. 

Years later his attorney would argue in court that Curran was indeed insane.

Curran’s advertisement as it appeared in the Oceanside Blade

William Edward Curran came to Oceanside from Ohio in 1919. A married man and father of two sons, he had a junk business. Soon afterwards he ventured into real estate, which by all appearances was a successful enterprise.

Born May 26, 1886, in Pocahontas, Virginia, Curran’s parents moved to Cleveland, Ohio by 1900. William E. Curran’s earliest occupation was that of a decorator or wall paper hanger. William Edward married Anna Hayer in Cleveland in 1911 and their sons Richard and Frank were both born in Ohio.

Shortly after the Curran family settled in Oceanside, William purchased three lots near the corner of Third and Myers Streets (Third is now Pier View Way). He later acquired a business located at the corner of Third and Pacific Street called the “Fox Den” which was a lucrative beach concession during the summer months because of its proximity to the Oceanside Pier.

Curran joined the local Chamber of Commerce but soon found himself at odds with one of the directors. In June of 1922 he wrote an editorial calling out Secretary Thomas Bakewell, saying “I think you are a joke” because Bakewell did not endorse Curran’s idea of promoting Oceanside as an area rich with oil deposits. He was later involved in a lawsuit regarding such claims.

Curran’s unorthodox ideas and self-promotion might have been successful in getting a dig in at his critics’ expense, it was apparent that his arrogance did not win him friends or supporters. In July of 1922 Curran unsuccessfully ran for city constable.

However eccentric Curran appeared to be, he soon proved to be volatile as well. In 1923 he was arrested and placed in jail after being charged with battery against Vere Scheunemann, a 16-year-old local boy. Curran was 37 years old at the time of the assault. He was a large man standing 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, and at one time was amateur boxer by the name of Red Kenney. Curran hired an attorney and was able to get out of jail on bail. His attorney petitioned the court to have the trial moved because Curran said that he couldn’t get a fair trial in Oceanside “owing to a prejudice in the community against him.” One month later Curran was arrested again for disturbing the peace. He again asked for a change of venue because of “prejudice against him.”

Another ad published by Curran in the Oceanside Blade

Despite his erratic and violent behavior, Curran ran for city council in 1924. Not surprisingly, he lost the election. He was a regular attendee at council meetings, at which he voiced his concerns over competition from other beach concessionaires. He was also a proponent of building a new pier made entirely of concrete. The city council balked at the suggestion because of the “prohibitive cost.”  The newspaper reported that W. E. Curran was undaunted and “advocated this type of construction regardless of the cost and addressed the board to that effect, but his suggestion met with no favor.”

Curran’s unstable behavior continued when in 1925 Curran found himself again in court as a defendant after he assaulted Frank Graff, in a dispute over a fish business near the pier.

Even though his reputation appeared to be ruined, Curran unapologetically ran again for city council in 1930 stating: “My platform is reduction of taxes and to halt further improvements for the present. I also am strongly in favor of home labor. Being a large property owner in Oceanside, and always a staunch booster for the welfare of the City, my interests are yours.”  He was not elected.

Nothing is known of the outcomes of Curran’s previous run-ins with the law or any particular consequence he faced except for being ostracized. However, one encounter with Curran years later would have a deadly outcome.

One summer evening in 1944, two Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton stopped or walked through Curran’s property at 107 Third Street (Pier View Way) where Curran was living in a two-story building, which served both as a storefront as well as his home.

The two men were on the way to view a side-show of sorts, where a two-headed cow was on display inside a tent, just east of Curran’s home and vacant lot. Curran spotted the Marines and believed that they were going to siphon his gasoline. Fuel was a hot commodity because gasoline and other items were rationed and in short supply during World War II.

Third Street at the corner of Myers. Note the tent which featured the two-headed cow the Marines were on their way to see. To the right, is an empty lot, and then Curran’s home and office.

According to Curran’s account, he ordered the men off of his property and they became combative. Curran then went inside his home to retrieve an unloaded gun and confronted the Marines again. Despite being armed with a gun, the Marines became more aggressive and came after him, according to Curran. He then ran back into the home, threw down the gun and grabbed “some object”.  That object was a “commando style” knife, with a brass knuckle handle which Curran took with him to challenge the men. He ran back to the Marines, “a scuffle ensued” and Corporal Erwin E. Koch was stabbed three times, including a fatal blow straight to the heart. Koch fell to the ground, bleeding profusely while his fellow Marine, Corporal August N. Heveker, tried to render aid.

Before police arrived, Curran hid the weapon in a pile of boxes and empty bottles behind his home. He later produced a small knife to the police but it was apparent that the deadly wound had been made by a much larger knife. The police on the scene included Police Chief William L. Coyle and Captain Harold B. Davis, who found the bloodied murder weapon after a 30 minute search, where Curran had stashed it.

Police Captain Harold B. Davis searched through this pile of junk and bottles to find the murder weapon

Koch died of his wounds and was taken to the Oceanside Mortuary at 602 South Hill Street (now Coast Highway). There the police discovered a letter Koch had written to his wife in Nebraska soaked in blood. Koch was just 29 years old, and in addition to his grieving wife, left behind two small children. Family back in his home town of Eustis, Nebraska were stunned and left to wonder of the circumstances that took the life of their beloved son, husband and brother. Erwin’s widow, Otalee Elizabeth, would later remarry.

William Curran was arrested by local police and questioned, when he then claimed that the Marines had followed him into his home, pushed him down and struck him in the head. He was taken down to San Diego for an inquest just days later at which Corporal August Heveker testified to the details leading up to the murder.

“We had been out on the Oceanside pier and had come up Third Street preparatory to entering a side show to see a two-headed cow. Wishing to urinate before entering the show, we went back along a building about 20 feet. As we did so, a man yelled to us from the rear doorway, ordering us off. We left the place where we were standing and went to the sidewalk toward the tent, going back again on the vacant lot just west of the tent, believing we were off this man’s property. The man came out again, this time with a gun in his hands. We started off again, and as we neared the sidewalk, I happened to look back and saw this man coming toward us with a shining instrument in his hand. I called for Koch to duck, and I ran forward to the walk. Koch was between the man and me, and did not have time to even turn around. As he fell, he yelled he had been stabbed.”

Heveker went on to testify that the two had never followed after Curran, entered his home or struck him. Police testified at the inquest saying that Curran had no marks or cuts on him, although he did hold his head as though he were injured. There was no evidence of a scuffle, as Curran had claimed, only a pool of blood on the vacant lot where Koch was attacked.

This crime scene photo indicates the location of the stabbing.

The jury at the inquest found Curran responsible for the death of Koch. The murder trial was held the following month in July and Curran testified in his own defense. Inexplicably, Curran left the stand, walked up to August Heveker and shouted: “That man lied about me. Anyone could look at his face and tell that he was lying. He pushed Koch towards me and incited him to attack me. He is responsible for Koch being stabbed. After I struck Koch, he took two steps away from me and sagged to his knees. After he fell, this man Heveker tried to drag his body off my property.”

Curran was found guilty of second-degree murder. Defense witnesses included Curran’s brothers Frank and Clarence, his wife Annie and his sister Mary. Oceanside’s Mayor Ted Holden, Curran’s attorney James B. Abbey, along with the County Psychiatrist, also testified that Curran was insane. The witnesses provided a number of incidents to prove up their allegations that the Curran was “mentally unbalanced.” The very next day the same jury that found him guilty of murder, determined that Curran was insane. The newspaper reported that Curran would be sent to a “state asylum for the criminally insane.”

Erwin Eugene Koch was laid to rest in the Eustis East Cemetery, in Eustis, Nebraska, a small town of 600, settled by German immigrants. A military headstone marks his grave. When Koch went in the Marine Corps during wartime, his family might have worried about the dangers that might befall him. He wasn’t killed in war by a foreign enemy, but by a fellow countryman.

It is unknown how long William Curran was actually confined and when or if he was deemed “sane”. But by the late 1950s, he was living quietly in a home on East Street in Oceanside with Anna, and he still owned the property where the murder occurred.  Curran’s son, Frank Earl Curran, was elected as Mayor of San Diego, serving from 1963 and 1971. William Edward Curran died on July 19, 1963. He was interred at Eternal Hills Memorial Park, in Oceanside, along with his wife who later died in 1989.