Local history, local mysteries. Back stories, details and the truth about people and happenings in Oceanside and beyond
Author: K Hawthorne
I’ve been an Oceanside local since 1983 and Oceanside history is my favorite subject.
I know lots of interesting and sometimes useless information on people, places and things. My blog gives me the opportunity to share some of the back story on events, forgotten people, and sometimes a bit darker but interesting view of my hometown.
When I read on a particular person, subject or incident, I want all the details...so I endeavor to write that way. True stories have always intrigued me, they’re far more fascinating than fiction.
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.
Oceanside’s oceanfront bandshell and beach stadium are unique to San Diego County. Throughout Southern California there are no other similar beachside facilities like it. The Junior Seau Pier Amphitheater provides a one-of-a-kind venue and it has become an integral part of the City’s recreational and cultural amenities.
Just over 100 years ago, plans for a “band stand” on the beach south of the pier were presented to the City Council. The band stand would “be covered over and a regulation shell formed at the back, ceiled with matched lumber so as to constitute a sounding board or a reflector as an aid when the stand is used for music or public speaking.” Local building contractor Frederick W. Rieke was awarded the contract to build a 24×26 structure in a “Mission style” with cupula and the structure was completed in the Summer of 1919.
After its completion, it quickly became the focal point for activity and was used for concerts and events. (The beach band stand would later became known and referred to as a bandshell, due to its shape.)
On July 4, 1927, Oceanside celebrated its 4th pier. The three day celebration brought thousands of people, triple that of the City’s population. Several improvements were added to enhance the area surrounding the pier: The Strand was paved from Wisconsin to Ninth Street (Neptune Way); a dancing pavilion placed under the pier approach and other amenities including a small cafe built just south of the pier.
To modernize the look of the bandshell, (which was just 8 years old) the cupula was removed. The June 16, 1927 Oceanside Blade newspaper reported: The remodeling of the band stand with the enlarging of the front platform and the cutting off of a portion of the high top to remove some of the Queen Anne effect and modernize it is being done this week.
The bandshell was resituated at an angle facing a northeast position. Rows of wooden benches were built to accommodate those attending beach concerts or other festivities held at the bandshell, just below the bluff at Pacific Street. While convenient and necessary, the benches were not enough to seat the hundreds of spectators events would attract and many were left to stand.
In 1936, as part of a Works Project Administration (WPA) project, the inadequate seating on the bluff was replaced a beach stadium. The Oceanside News newspaper reported: Preliminary work was started Monday on a new city project under WPA auspices, the stadium to be constructed on the face of the bank to the south of the pier and overlooking the broad recreation space and band shell. A crew of 14 men now is engaged in clearing off grass and other growth in readiness for construction of a rubble wall, the first stage of the cement stand. Fragments of old concrete will be used in this phase of the building. J.C. Rouse and C.O. Rowe are in charge of the new project, the former for the WPA and the latter for the city. Both officiated in similar capacities on the new water line and building works. The stadium will provide seating for around 800 persons and greatly improve the facilities and appearance of the section adjoining the pier. The government has allocated $5200 with which to pay the cost of labor and also as a share of the cost of the constructed materials.
In June of 1937 the Oceanside newspaper reported that the stadium seating would accommodate around 2,000 persons. However, the following day that San Diego Union estimated that nearly 3,000 persons jammed the stadium when it was formally dedicated as part of the Southern California Beauty Contest.
After nearly two decades of service, Oceanside’s first bandshell was dismantled in 1948 due to termite infestation. For two years a temporary stage was built to accommodate the annual Beach Opening and beauty contests.
While beauty contests were held at the bandshell in the 1920s, the Miss Southern California Beauty Contest officially began in 1931. It grew in popularity each year and drew thousands of people all over San Diego County and contestants from all of Southern California. Initially the female contestants were sponsored by local merchants. By the 1940s the contest became very popular with starlets looking to be discovered by movie studios.
In 1947 the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce announced that movie scouts from three major motion picture studios would be in the audience. “Girls parading across the flower decked ramp will be judged not only on their beauty, but for poise and personality, by the movie star makers. The girls selected as possible movie material will not necessarily be contest winners, and it is understood that the judges’ decisions will have no bearing on selections made for screen tests.”
According to Lil Jackson, who was a freelance writer for the local paper, this was actually a “planted” story. Her husband, Louis Jackson, was chairman of the Beauty Contest for the Chamber of Commerce and was having difficulty in getting “quality girls” to enter the contest and getting them sponsored by merchants. Lil came up with the idea to write the column indicating that Hollywood movie scouts would be at the event in the hopes to draw more girls and sponsors. One particular year the ploy worked even better than hoped. It just so happened that a movie starring John Wayne was being filmed at Camp Pendleton, “Sands of Iwo Jima”. Many of the cast were staying at the Carlsbad Hotel and agreed to be judges and made this competition one of Oceanside’s most successful and publicized beauty contests.
In 1956, a star was born – or at least made her debut on the Oceanside’s beach stage. Raquel Tejada was the second of three finalists of the famed beauty contest. She would go on to win the title of Miss Fairest of the Fair at the San Diego County Fair. Later she changed her name and became an actress and 1960s sex symbol Raquel Welch.
After two years without a proper event venue, in April of 1950 bids were opened for the construction of a new beach bandshell. City planners recommended that the bandshell be “relocated directly in front of the beach bleachers and adjoining the Strand.” Plans were drawn by prominent San Diego architect Sam W. Hamill, who also designed several Oceanside schools buildings. Original plans were to include “a Mission flavor, carried out by tile roof and stucco exterior.” However, the April bids were considered too high and Hamill was asked to revise his plans, eliminating the tile roofing.
The local newspaper described Hamill’s design: The shell is to be 58 feet wide and 19 feet deep on the outside, with the concrete stage extending an additional seven feet beyond the face of the overhead structure. There will be steps in front of the stage on both sides, leading up to the platform, and doors to both the back and wings of the stage. Dressing rooms for men and women, complete sanitary facilities, will be included in the backstage portion of the shell, facilitating theater productions, and provisions will be made for the possible installation of curtains along the front of the stage. Storage room backstage will accommodate stage furnishings, props and other equipment for various types of spectacles.
Richardson Brothers constructed the bandshell which was completed in June 1950 for the annual Oceanside Beach Celebration. Saunders Construction Company laid the large 14,000 square concrete slab to be used particularly for square dancing which was popular at the time. The concrete “mat” as it was referred to, was also used for roller skating, volley ball games and shuffleboard.
In 1953 the band shell and “bleachers” received renovations. The inside of the bandshell was painted a light blue, while the backs of the bleacher seats and fencing behind it, a light green. It was common to decorate the bandshell with gladiolas and palm fronds for beauty contests and beach opening celebrations.
In 1960 the Oceanside High School began having graduation ceremonies at the bandstand or beach amphitheater to accommodate families and guests. Although it can no longer adequately accommodate the number of graduates and their many guests, students have long insisted on holding their graduation ceremony at the bandshell because of the longstanding tradition.
During the Vietnam War the bandshell and stadium were used for demonstrations. Black Panther Angela Davis was a speaker at one such protest, drawing thousands.
In the 1980s concerts were revived and the bandshell hosted notable entertainers including jazz legend Lionel Hampton and Oceanside’s own Barbara Mandrell. To accommodate such events, risers and wooden platforms were used to hold or provide space for needed equipment such as lighting, speakers and cameras.
In 1991 the bandshell stage was temporarily enlarged to accommodate a military event: “Welcome Home the Troops” parade and celebration. Many servicemen and women were returning from the Middle East having been deployed for Operation Desert Storm. The Fieldstone Corporation along with Orco Block Company and U.S. Silica donated materials for the extension. The stage was extended 12 feet out and 70 feet across.
Oceanside’s iconic bandshell was featured in a movie “Bring It On” filmed in 2000 starring Kierstin Dunst and Gabrielle Union, and can also be spotted in episodes of the current television show “Animal Kingdom”.
On May 16, 2012, the Oceanside City Council voted to rename the Oceanside Pier Amphitheater, as well as the beach community center, in honor of Junior Seau. A native of Oceanside, Seau graduated from Oceanside High School and went on to play professional football in the NFL for the San Diego Chargers and was a beloved local citizen.
The Oceanside bandshell is an historic and cherished landmark, still in use for a variety of community events including cultural celebrations, religious services, outdoor movies and concerts.
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 in 2000 to Eugene Witherspoon, whom she married in Reno, Nevada at the age of 80.
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.”
Oceanside’s Pier is iconic, a favorite landmark and one of its most photographed and visited features. Untold thousands enjoy Oceanside’s pier every year. Fishermen, tourists and locals stroll along the wooden planking and gaze into the ocean, just as Oceanside’s early citizens did over 130 years ago. Oceanside’s pier is a tradition, one that despite relentless waves, high tides, low funds managed to survive.
Remnants of our first pier are now buried. An occasional storm or low tide uncovers the rows of the old, weathered pilings (or what’s left of them). In fact, they just made an appearance in 2020. Few people know they are there or realize their significance.
The first pier, called a wharf, was located at the end of what is now called Wisconsin Street, first named Couts Street (after Cave J. Couts, Jr., surveyor of the original townsite).
Talk of a wharf began in 1887 when soundings were made. This was no “pleasure pier” for sightseers but intended to be a shipping port with a price tag of $30,000. The National City Record reported that the wharf would be 1,596 feet long, 50 feet wide and would accommodate “vessels drawing 25 feet of water.” If that wasn’t impressive enough, it went on to say that the wharf would be connected to the railroad! A color lithograph done in 1887 depicts the railroad spur leading to the pier “with a turn-around track for cars” and a large ship docked at the wharf.
On March 9th the South Oceanside Diamond reported: “Our citizens are determined to have a wharf. The plans have been drawn, money subscribed and it ought to be completed by July 4th.”
A year later, plans were drawn up for a more modest structure, without the railroad spur. The San Diego Union published the following: “A contract has been closed by the Oceanside Wharf Company, of Oceanside, for the building of a pier wharf at that place. It will be 1505 feet in length, will command a depth of 31 feet and the piles will be covered with parafine paint and felt, and will be braced by iron sway bracing. The estimated cost of the structure is $35,000, and it is contracted to be completed in four months.”
Everyone was overly optimistic but the first piling wasn’t even driven into the sand until May 12, 1888. The new date for completion was extended to September.
Oceanside was a boomtown then – real estate speculators came in and bought large lots with the hope of becoming rich. Men with big ideas and great plans for the city poured in. Some left as quickly as they came, while many stayed and made decisions and impressions that are with us today.
One of these men, Col. Daniel H. Horne, Oceanside’s first president of the Board of Trustees, along with banker Charles Morrill, proposed enterprising, if rather lofty ideas. They made rousing speeches of the future of Oceanside. They talked of the train, a Flume Company and the building of a wharf. Real estate agent J. Chauncey Hayes advertised one would be “wearing diamonds” if they invested in the local real estate. Men like Hayes, Horne and Morrill supported the wharf and even backed it financially. Supporters of the wharf claimed that Oceanside would rival San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco with the help of a wharf. Citizens rallied, eager to help. They pledged labor and money for the wharf project that would bring them wealth and prosperity.
The wharf fund was raised by subscription. $28,000 was pledged by Oceanside residents and businessmen. The amounts ranged from $10 to $5,000. One year later, however, less than half of these pledges were paid and citizens were urged to “step up” and pay their subscriptions.
The lumber for the wharf came by railroad but also by boat. It was floated to the shore and guided by skiffs. But it was not without trouble. On June 29, 1888 the South Oceanside Diamond reported: “The sea has been unusually high the past week and the Starbuck has been unable to land any lumber. On Wednesday the water ran so high that not even a boat could cross the breakers, and the Starbuck’s crew stayed beyond them. Bob Simpson, the champion swimmer, carried a message to the boat through the surging sea.”
Delivering the lumber was a slow process. Two weeks later the Starbuck was still delivering wharf materials through the surf “slowly but surely”. By June 20, 1888 work finally began but a new completion date of December 1st was announced.
The building contract was given to the Great American Bridge Company of San Francisco and its superintendent was J.P. Sheldon. By August 3rd the wharf was out 500 feet and fishing from it became the favorite pastime for residents.
The Diamond reported that another ship, the Olive S. Southard, had “unloaded 15,000 feet of lumber and 258 piles, which completes the amount of lumber required for the wharf.” Soon the wharf was stretching out at 1,000 feet.
Surely shipping vessels would be docking soon, people thought. With a wharf the costs of goods such as badly needed lumber would be reduced. Oceanside would become an important shipping port between Los Angeles and San Diego. Fifteen trains a day pulled into our train depot – count would soon begin of the steamers arriving at the wharf.
By the end of August the wharf was out 1,340 feet. However, the wharf company ran out of “silver-coppered nails” and work was been suspended for 60 days. In October the wharf sat unfinished, out of nails and out of money. The South Oceanside Diamond printed the following poem:
The Wail of the Wharf
Alone I am left, half clad in the cold; My long feeble legs are bare to the wave.
The reason is, I suppose, no shares have been sold. And slowly I’ll find me a watery grave.
I haven’t the piles, as some people think, nor is it the climate that’s breaking me up;
My lungs are first rate but the needful chink those doubting shareholders will not put up
Another setback occurred in December of 1888 when a storm swept pilings and planks from the Oceanside pier and lumber was washed down to Carlsbad. Few people know that Carlsbad also had the makings of a small wharf, but the storm did greater damage to the Carlsbad wharf and it was completely destroyed. Unsympathetic, Oceanside citizens went to the beach and gathered the lumber from the Carlsbad wharf and used it for firewood!
Still determined, despite damage to its own wharf, Oceanside rallied and residents pledged 260 days of labor and donated a modest amount of money to finish the project. W. D. Frazee offered to begin work on the wharf each morning with much needed prayer.
The completion deadline came and went. Wharf lumber was being used as a boardwalk to the South Pacific Hotel from the train tracks rather than for decking. “When will the wharf be completed?” was a question echoed in the columns of the newspaper and on the streets of Oceanside.
The February 1, 1889 edition of the South Oceanside Diamond ran a sketch of the wharf as it would appear by the new deadline: September, 1890! But bit by bit, the wharf was being whittled away by heavy seas. The portion remaining intact was said to “answer one purpose admirably–that of a barnacle roost.”
Optimism, although dim, remained. In April of 1889 the wharf was scheduled for repairs and was going to be braced and the talk of steamers began once again. In August Oceanside asked its citizens to raise an additional $4,000 and promised the wharf would be completed within 40 days when work commenced.
Records are missing and it is unclear as to if Oceanside’s wharf was ever completed but winter storms had reduced the wharf to 940 feet. On December 30, 1890 the final blow was dealt when the furious storms finished what was left and swept away all but 300 feet of the wharf. Newspapers from Los Angeles to San Diego reported its demise.
Oceanside’s first pier was gone but the dream was not forgotten. The wharf had become a fixture for the tiny town. If shipping vessels couldn’t dock, the wharf served another purpose, a fishing and pleasure pier.
Talk began immediately of building an iron wharf. It would take four years, but eventually Oceanside’ second pier was built at the end of Third Street (Pier View Way) in 1894.
Over the years we have had six piers, with our present pier being dedicated in September, 1987. We are proud of our beautiful pier. We are equally proud of the citizens who have persevered and have dared to dream. Oceanside has always loved its pier and it would not be the same without it.
The next time you walk the Strand, stand at the end of Wisconsin Street and look. During a low tide you might just catch a glimpse of those pilings. The pilings are placed 29 feet apart, (which would have provided a rather narrow decking) and a row of center pilings helped to brace it. Ten pilings were visible on June 7, 2012 at a minus 1.2 tide. They appeared again a year or so later. On June 25, 2020, the low tide exposed the pilings again.
Those worn down nubs of wood are all that is left of Oceanside’s first pier, but they represent the ambition and undying vision of Oceanside.
Elgin “Lucky” Lackey saw the potential for an entertainment venue at the corner of Third and Pacific Streets (Third Street is now Pier View Way) and in June 1954 he opened what would be a popular spot for over two decades, Pier Golf. In addition to a nine-hole miniature golf course, it included “shooting games” and pinball machines. Pier Golf also featured a snack bar with an open air dining area. Lackey would later add an archery range and ever popular bumper cars.
Elgin Lackey was a native of Guthrie, Oklahoma. He made his way to California in the 1940s and eventually Oceanside. In 1943 he and Mary E. Penn purchased Wilday’s Candy Shop at 111 North Hill Street (Coast Highway). The following year, Lackey married his business partner Mary, affectionately called Penny, in Las Vegas.
“Lucky” as he was called and known to most everyone, also had a used car dealership and an insurance business before opening Pier Golf. He also developed a housing development “Lucky Lots” consisting of 19 lots off of California Street in South Oceanside, and Lucky Street is named after him.
Lackey’s amusement center was an overnight success. It had the largest collection of pinball machines in Oceanside. At the time, pinball machines were regulated and banned altogether in San Diego and in unincorporated areas such as Vista. In the early days the machines were seen as a form of gambling, and dispensed cash. (In Oceanside, when allowed, any cash prizes were to be given over the counter.)
In the mid 1950’s, the only allowable “inducement” was an extra play for high scores. A few venues gave the high-scoring player a chance to pull a “lucky number” and prizes could be won for certain numbers. One eatery in downtown Oceanside paid winners with cigarettes … “one or more packs, depending on the score”. This was considered “slightly illegal” and caused “some law enforcement officers to frown on pinballs in general.”
At five cents a game, pinball vendors could earn about “$15 to $50 a week for a ‘good’ machine in a favorable location”. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that the seventy pinball machines located throughout the City could gross over $100,000 a year.
Pier Golf became such a popular attraction that Heavyweight Champion Boxer Floyd Patterson was a regular there while he was training in Oceanside in 1958. He attended so often he became an expert at the miniature golf course. One night he and his friends went to play skee-ball and accumulated over 300 points, according to sport reporter Irv Grossman. Patterson and his group went on to entertain themselves with the “Midget Autos” and “Dodgems” for which they were warned to “avoid head-on collisions”. As the adult men played, kids gathered to watch and Patterson soon engaged them in conversation, handshakes and finished his evening by signing autographs.
As Lucky Lackey continued to add features to his venue, Pier Golf transitioned into Pacific Holidayland. Touted as the only “amusement park” between Balboa and San Diego, Lucky and his wife Penny (Mary) invested half a million dollars in 1963 to develop “a super family amusement center.” Along with a “badly needed face-lift” the venue expanded to include the entire city block from Pacific to Myers, Mission Avenue to Third streets. The local paper reported that, “Houses and lots were purchased; the structures moved to make way for new buildings. The first major step in the expansion program was a $150,000 building, on the southeast corner of the block to house an archery and rifle range, skee-ball, pool tables and Dodgem rides.” The second phase of the renovation and expansion project included a new ice cream parlor, with both indoor and outdoor seating, along with a soda fountain.
Certainly for over two decades Lucky Lackey’s Holidayland was the place to be. It was popular with kids and teenagers, Marines and families and is still etched into the memories of many Oceanside residents and visitors.
Lackey planned to continue his expansion of his entertainment venue along Pacific Street. But at the height of Pacific Holidayland’s immense success, Elgin Lackey died in February of 1966 in a hospital in Monrovia.
Mary Lackey continued ownership of Holidayland, which maintained its popularity. At its peak the center included 47 pinball machines, 4 pool tables, 3 air hockey tables, 18 skee-ball games, 2 shooting galleries, 5 kiddy rides, 2 automatic photo machines, 7 baseball throwing machines with cages and netting, a 13 car bumper car ride and the miniature golf course, among other features.
In 1972 Richard Ford of Chicago, came to Oceanside to ride a Ferris wheel at Pacific Holidayland (probably in an empty lot next to the park). He had held the record of 22 days on a Ferris wheel in San Francisco, but was afraid of losing it, so this next attempt was for 30 days. Ford was said to have an anonymous sponsor and was getting free meals during his stay in Oceanside. (It was noted that Ford only rode the Ferris wheel while the venue was open during regular operating hours.)
Pacific Holidayland offered a $50 in prize money to the person who guessed correctly how much weight Ford would lose while on his endeavor. He began on April 15, 1972 weighing 214 pounds and when he finished 30 days later he had lost 11 pounds. Ford’s feat made news across the country.
Despite the great publicity, Pacific Holidayland had seen better days. In 1976 the aging complex was owned by Charles and Sharon Moreland who were looking for a buyer to develop the property. The property went up for auction in 1979, the games and assets sold.
In July of 1983 Pacific Holidayland was torn down. All that was left was a vacant dirt lot and an empty spot in the hearts of children of all ages.
While Lucky Lackey’s Pacific Holidayland is gone, it lives on in the cherished memories of many.
On a quiet morning on an isolated beach, a double homicide was committed north of Oceanside that shook all of Southern California. On September 10, 1895, the bodies of Harriet Stiles and John D. Borden were discovered by Harriet’s husband, Leroy Stiles. They had both been shot twice, and each in the face. There appeared to be no motive and the two were unarmed and defenseless.
Leroy and Harriet Stiles had been camping on the coast near the mussel beds north of Las Flores. They were accompanied by Harriet’s 86 year-old father, John B. Borden, who came to visit his daughter from Michigan and was looking forward to “an outing on the beach.” The Stiles were residents of Fallbrook, and had visited the spot before to escape the inland heat, enjoy the cool ocean breeze and do some fishing.
The trio set up camp in a tent on the remote beach and had the area all to themselves to enjoy. Las Flores was about two miles south of their spot; the small town of Oceanside was another 7 to 8 miles further. They likely saw no one else except an occasional train.
On the morning of the murders, Leroy and John walked from camp about a mile north to a spot at which to fish, while Harriet stayed behind. Leroy spotted two men in the distance walking south along the railroad track. Perhaps something about the men caused him to be uneasy. Their presence prompted Stiles to instruct his father-in-law to walk back to the tent to inform Harriet that two men may be approaching their campsite. Leroy would later tell law enforcement he simply did not want Harriet to be alarmed by the two male passersby.
John Borden walked back to the camp while Leroy proceeded to fish. Leroy likely assumed that his father-in-law, at age 86, was too tired to make the trek back and that he decided to stay with Harriet.
At about 10:30 am Leroy Stiles returned to his camp. Upon entering the tent he came upon a horrific site. His wife had been shot dead, as well as his father-in-law, the tent floor covered in blood. Stiles swung into action and immediately set for Oceanside on a horse and wagon to notify authorities. On the way south Stiles was stopped by a man he described as a “half-breed” who asked him for a ride. Stiles, who was unarmed, refused the request and afterwards said he believed the man was one of the two individuals he spotted walking towards his camp that morning and believe the man intended to kill him. He would later describe the man as a “negro of rather light complexion, good size and dressed in blue clothes or overalls.”
Stiles met a rancher on the way to Oceanside, who in turn went to reach law enforcement. Returning to camp alone, Stiles waited with the dead bodies of his family members. He later broke down in tears, overcome with emotion, when he told the first arriving lawmen that he and his wife were married forty years.
The early newspaper accounts of the murders said that Harriet had been sexually assaulted and that there were three deceased, not two. (Harriet in fact had not been raped. Her clothes were not disheveled or removed and her glasses were still on her face.) Nothing of value was missing from the camp, except a package of Durham tobacco, described by Stiles as “half full, the sack being the smallest size, just two ounces.”
One initial theory is that the two were murdered by Isidor Renterias, a known outlaw who had served jail time for horse stealing and murder. On September 6th, just a few days before the murder of Stiles and Borden, Renterias had shot and killed Ramon Araiza in San Luis Rey. Renterias operated a restaurant near the Mission San Luis Rey, wherein he had his wife by the hair and was beating her. Ramon Araiza’s wife was the daughter of the woman being beaten and Araiza came to her defense. Renterias then focused his rage on Araiza, picked up a rifle and shot him dead. He then fled while a posse led by Constable Ben Hubbert, who was still trying to track him down when the double murdered occurred on September 10th. (Renterias would later die in a shootout but not until he shot and killed a deputy by the name of Juan Castro.)
Deputy Sheriff Fred Jennings and a posse, traveled to the Stiles/Borden murder scene to hold an inquest. Railroad section men in the area were questioned and they informed law enforcement on the morning of the murders that two men had approached them. They shared breakfast with the strangers and talked to them at length. They provided a description of the two men, one was “a man six feet high, dark complexion, possibly “mulatto” and the other was “a smaller man, light hair and had a small hand valise.” The witnesses also noted that the pair had separated at some point as the smaller man went in a different direction.
Based on witness descriptions the “smaller man”, who would later be identified as Jay Allison Garges, was arrested at Fallbrook. He told deputies that he and the other suspect, Joseph J. Ebanks, were traveling together but had parted ways at the train trestle. Garges said that about two hours later he encountered Ebanks again, who had a new male traveling companion, a German immigrant. They two talked about “meeting so unexpectedly” once more and Garges noted that Ebanks was in possession of tobacco that he had not had earlier. It was in a small, two-ounce Durham tobacco sack, which was the very thing that had been reported by Leroy Stiles as missing from the tent. Garges noted that Ebanks no longer had a sack that he had carried with him for the length of their trip which began near El Toro.
While the unidentified German departed, Ebanks and Garges trekked south towards Oceanside, and eventually parted at the Fallbrook Junction. Garges made his way to Fallbrook where he was eventually apprehended. He was charged with complicity in the murder, and was held at Oceanside until taken to San Diego. Garges, a traveling “watch tinker” would later be eliminated as a suspect and became a witness for the prosecution.
Joseph Ebanks was born in England in about 1865. His father was from the West Indies and his mother a white woman. Ebanks arrived in New York’s Ellis Island from Liverpool, England on May 15, 1893 traveling on the Aurania, a British ocean liner. He gave differing accounts as to his arrival in California.
Ebanks was caught on September 14th by Deputy Sheriff Ward. Ebanks had traveled to San Luis Rey, then on to Vista. The following day he continued southward and spent a night in Mission Valley before hitching a ride on a wagon leaving for Rancho Bernardo. After he arrived near Poway, he left the main road and traveled through thick brush and steep terrain in an apparent effort to elude authorities. Ward eventually tracked him to a cabin where he was arrested and taken to jail in San Diego. One of the first questions Ebanks asked was for something to eat. It was reported he was cheerful and talkative.
When questioned, much of his story corroborated that of his traveling companion; that the two parted ways at the trestle where they had stopped to get water to drink out of some barrels. Garges walked south along the railroad and Ebanks walked along a wagon road. He admitted that he was the one who had tried to flag down Leroy Stiles for a ride, but that Stiles passed him “at a rapid gait.” He continued walking and met up with the German man and the two eventually met up again with Garges.
Ebanks said he had no firearm with which to shoot anyone and declared his innocence in the matter. He said he spotted a woman near a camp who appeared to be swimming, and he want to take a swim in the ocean as well, but had determined the bluff too steep to negotiate and decided against it.
Upon his arrest, one newspaper made an overtly racially prejudiced statement: “[Ebanks’] appearance is against him, as he is a West Indian Negro, with heavy cheekbones, thick lips, small, shrewd eye and a generally sensual face. He speaks with a queer half-French and half-Negro accent, and uses nautical terms in his speech.”
The hunt began for Ebanks’ sack, in which it was believed a firearm was kept. It was eventually brought to light that Ebanks had stolen two guns in Fullerton. One was a white handled Colt 45, along with a belt loaded with ammunition. Several railroad men, including Arthur Steele, section foreman, testified they saw Ebanks carrying a sack, when they saw him and Garges the morning of the murders.
The pistol was found in a canyon near the Stiles campsite and delivered to Constable Ben Hubbert of San Luis Rey. It was wrapped in a shirt with the marking of R.F.G, who was the rightful owner of the two firearms allegedly stolen by Ebanks. Four empty shell cartridges were also found. Even more damning, when Ebanks was captured he was wearing another shirt with the same initials. One additional piece of evidence in the sack was a “ladies’ journal” which had been given to Ebanks by a woman at ranch house he had visited in Orange County.
The murder trial began on January 4, 1896 in San Diego. Newspapers from San Diego, to San Francisco, Sacramento and Reno published daily or weekly coverage. The trial lasted more than 20 days, at a cost of $2,000, which far exceeded the cost of other similar court cases. During the trial Ebanks was described as being impassive but at times “happy and indifferent.”
There was a lot of interest in the trial and Ebanks in particular. The San Diego Bee reported: “There was a larger attendance of spectators yesterday than on any preceding day of the trial of Ebanks, the West Indian mulatto who is on trial before Judge Pierce and a jury for the murder of Mrs. Stiles and her father, John D. Borden. There has been a perceptible increase each day in the number of women in attendance on the trial, and yesterday most of the chairs inside the railing except those used by the jury and counsel, were occupied by women young and old, who evidently enjoyed the testimony.”
R. F. Gibson of Fullerton testified that the white-handled revolver that Ebanks used in the murder was stolen from his room, along with another gun. Both were found in the sack several witnesses had described Ebanks as carrying. Gibson also testified that the shirts, one of which Ebanks was wearing at the time of his arrest, belonged to him and were marked with the letters “R F. G.”
Simon Goldbaum of San Luis Rey testified that Ebanks came to his store on the afternoon of September 10th, the day of the murders and bought lunch. Goldbaum asked the tall stranger if he had beard of the murders at the mussel beds. According to Goldbaum, Ebanks looked down “at the mention of the crime”. Then, inexplicably “looked up and laughed, and replied that he had not heard of the murders.”
William McCrea, testified that he was baling hay at Vista the day of the murders, and that Ebanks came “to his camp between 11 and 12 o’clock at night and asked for work.” He stayed the night with the crew, but left in the morning “without any breakfast in the direction of Escondido.”
Garges, who had no longer been considered a suspect, was detained in San Diego as a witness until late February of 1896. During that time his satchel which contained his watch tools was also taken into evidence. (He was detained 143 days after which he filed a claim against the county for $214.50 at the rate of $1.50 a day. The county instead agreed to pay him just $114.15.)
Garges testified as they were walking south they saw two men fishing in the surf a few hundred feet from the railroad. About a mile farther down they spotted a woman near a tent on the beach. They continued walking about one-fifth of a mile, and came to a trestle where they sat down to rest. Garges said he was anxious to “hurry along”, and left Ebanks sitting on the bridge.
With Garges out of sight, Ebanks want back along the track to a bridge spanning a canyon which opened out on the beach near the tent, and made his way with some difficulty down into the canyon and to the tent. The prosecutor believed that Ebanks’ intention was to assault Harriet Stiles, but her father had returned to the camp by that time. The San Diego Bee reported: “It will never be known just what transpired, for Ebanks in his numerous confessions of the crime never told the story twice the same way. But he could have been at the tent but a moment when he shot Mr. Borden, who fell dead. Ebanks claimed that he was at first inclined to flee without [killing] Mrs. Stiles, but decided that he must take her life if he would himself escape.”
The prosecution had the last word and despite the testimony of 53 witnesses and damning evidence he instead focused the jury on Ebanks looks:
“It has been said that he could have had no motive for killing that poor woman who was alone and defenseless in the little tent—no motive for taking her life as she stood with hands upheld to her God, her last words tremulous in supplication and with a realization that a fiend incarnate stood ready and determined to send into her sick brain the leaden messengers that would sever the tie which bound her to this life. No motive for this hellish deed! Can you not read the motive on his face? Look in his treacherous eyes and on his brow, which bears the curse of his maker as plainly as it was ever born by Cain!”
After the trial concluded, and the jury began its deliberation, The San Diego Union wrote this openly racist account: “While the jury was out deciding his fate, the happy-go-lucky mulatto, who is more animal than man, whiled away the time by playing cards with a Mexican and negro in the jail rooms. When the jury came in and Ebanks was taken before them to hear the verdict of murder in the first degree, he took his seat and twirled his thumbs while everyone in the room fixed their gaze upon him.”
The jury deliberated just three hours. Leroy Stiles, who had sat through the daily testimony, waited in the courtroom into the evening to hear the verdict. Ebanks was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death. An immediate appeal was filed.
While awaiting appeal Ebanks actually confessed to the murder of Harriet Stiles and her father. He stated he wanted to clear his conscious and remove any doubt of his guilt. Ebanks’ confession in various versions was published in newspapers across the country from Nebraska to New Jersey.
Ebanks said while walking along the railroad track with Garges, they spotted the tent on the beach. Earlier he had found an orange, ate it and became sick. He went to the tent without Garges to see if he could “get some medicine.” He encountered Mr. Borden and his daughter Harriett and said, “I’m sick; give me something. I feel as if I was dying.”
Ebanks said Mr. Borden noticed that the muzzle of a revolver was showing out of the flour sack he was carrying. Borden walked toward the back of the cot and said he would get something “to relieve” him.
“I do not know that I said anything to the man at all, but it was only just my opinion that the man was then looking for something possibly to shoot me with. He walked away toward the cot and I did not know what he was doing behind the cot. I sat then in the chair and fired at him and I shot the old gentleman. I did not know at that time where I had hit him, but he fell. Then the old lady sung out to me, “My God, he had no gun.” I sat there and I looked at him and I looked at her and I begged her to hitch a team and go away and let me get away. I was sorry for what I had done.
“The woman said to me — I do not just remember the first words that were spoken — but anyway, I said to her, says I, ‘Now I am awful sorry for what I have done, and his own foolishness caused it’; now, says I, ‘what is I going to do about it to get rid of this? The only way out now for me’ — says I — ‘I know your life is sweet and mine is sweet and we all thinks that your life is sweeter to you than mine is to me. I suppose you think so, and says I, ‘I think about the same, I suppose, but the only way out of this for me is to kill you along with him, and for me to make my escape.’
“And I said to the woman, ‘I suppose I ain’t got much time to think this matter over. The best thing for you to do is get to praying for yourself; I may possibly have to shoot you.’
“The woman knelt down by the cot and she stayed there and I dropped tears over that woman; but I thought the only refuge for myself was to shoot that woman. After the woman raised from her knees and turned around, she looked at me and she did not say anything. I held the gun laying across my lap and I shot her; where, I do not know, up until today. She kind of fell back on the cot against something, but I saw she was just in misery. The wound did not kill her–it did not look like it to me–and I shot the woman the second time.
“With that I walked over to the cot where this man was laying to see and to be certain that there was no weapon there that he was looking for to injure me. After examining behind the cot and around the cot and seeing that there was no weapon there, before God I felt worse.
“I walked back to the door and I tried that gun three times in succession to my own breast, but she refused to go. I then turned around, and the old gentleman had some movement in some part of his body, or made me think that he suffered, and I tried it the fourth time on him and she went off, and I think that was the shot that was through his body.”
After his confession he stated his desire to see his family who were living in the West Indies. He then asked that his appeal to be withdrawn and that he was ready to “die any time.”
Notwithstanding his lengthy and detailed confession, Ebanks’ defense team filed three additional appeals, each of which was denied.
His appeals exhausted Ebanks was sentenced once again to die and to be delivered to San Quentin for hanging. Before he was transported from San Diego, it was reported that Ebanks, who had converted to Christianity while in custody, “delivered a sermon to the other prisoners confined in the county jail, and sang and prayed with them. He admonished the men to reform when they were released and lead an upright life. He later made a request for a minister in order that he might be baptized. He was taken north on the Santa Rosa last night by Deputy Sheriff F. M. Jennings and T. H. Scoby.”
On May 27, 1898 Joseph Japhet Ebanks was led from his cell to the gallows. The evening before, he had written a statement declaring his innocence, having retracted his detailed confession in which he had given Mrs. Stiles but a minute to pray for her soul. Yet he resigned himself to die “a brave man”. Ebanks was described as calm when he was readied for execution at 10:30 am. He offered no comment of any kind before he was hanged. The trap floor dropped, the force breaking his neck. Ebanks was pronounced dead 10 minutes later although the newspaper described his death as “instantaneous”. His body was buried in the prison cemetery. Ebanks was one of nine state prisoners executed in California that year.
After the murder of his wife, Leroy R. Stiles went to live with his married daughter in Long Beach. He died in 1913 at the age of 83. He was buried in the same cemetery in Fallbrook with his beloved wife Harriet and her father John. As is sadly the case today, there was more attention placed on the salacious murders than paid to the victims themselves. Little detail was provided about the lives of Harriet Stiles and John Borden but they were truly innocent victims enjoying an idyllic day on a quiet beach when their lives were abruptly and brutally taken.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Defenseless”, 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 “Defenseless”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
This is the true story of Elsa and Edward, both of whom were given up for adoption as young children, both raised by physicians. They found each other in the midst of pain and loneliness, only to create more of the same. While the story is largely based in San Diego, their great granddaughter is a native of Oceanside. She has shared her tangled family tree with me in hopes of finding clarity and truth. Together we have searched for years to solve the mystery of individuals which may never be fully solved, and we are left with questions yet to be answered.
Elsa Lamon grew up knowing that she was unwanted; her mother had given her away as a small child. She was sent to be raised by an aunt who was distant and cold. She never felt wanted or truly loved. Years later when Elsa grew to adulthood, her search for love resulted in unhappy and painful marriages which seemed to only validate what her mother knew: that Elsa was unlovable.
Her life was a series of unfortunate scenarios complicated by family dynamics and secrecy. Born Helen Alice Cronk in Chicago, Illinois on September 14, 1903, she was the second child of Harry Sheldon Cronk and Ida May Young.
Harry Sheldon Cronk was a native of Canada born in 1861. He was previously married to Cecilia Monica Clark in 1889. They had one son, Harry Collins Cronk, born in 1891. Harry filed for divorce in 1892 and married his second wife, Ida Mae in 1893. Ida Mae bore a son in 1895, who was named Harold Cecil Cronk.
Elsa’s life abruptly changed after her father’s untimely death of meningitis in 1904, when she was just 15 months old. Ida Mae Cronk remarried in 1908 to William Ames and sent her daughter to Detroit, Michigan to live with her husband’s sister, Martha Imogene Cronk, and her husband Alois Thuner.
Her adoptive father, Alois Anthony Thuner, was a well-regarded physician in Detroit, Michigan. He and Imogene married in 1890. They had no children of their own and adopted Helen Alice and raised their niece as their very own daughter, giving her a new name of Elsa Helena.
In 1910 Imogene became pregnant and the family of three must have been excited about the prospect of a baby. Sadly, however, on February 24, 1911 Imogene gave birth to a stillborn daughter.
The Thuner’s provided Elsa with a comfortable lifestyle. They lived in spacious homes in well-to-do neighborhoods, including Detroit’s Boston-Edison neighborhood that was inhabited by the likes of Henry Ford and Sebastian Kresge.
Despite her affluent upbringing, Elsa must have wondered all those years: Why did her mother give her up? She grew up knowing she was adopted. She even knew who her mother was, but family stories suggest that she had little or no contact with her biological mother throughout the years.
Elsa’s mother Ida Mae remained in Chicago and remarried in 1908. And while Ida had given up her daughter, Ida Mae continued to raise a stepson, Harry Collins, and a biological son Harold Cecil. This must have had a lasting negative impact on Elsa, who knew her mother was alive and well, together with the knowledge her brothers were seemingly accepted and loved by her, while she was not. The sense of abandonment would reverberate throughout her life.
In 1920 Dr. Thuner retired from medicine and moved his wife and daughter Elsa to San Diego in the Point Loma neighborhood, in a beautiful home located on Goldsmith Street.
From Detroit to San Diego, Elsa’s life was interrupted, leaving childhood friends behind. However, it appears she transitioned successfully, graduating from San Diego High School in 1921, attending junior college, as well as joining a sorority and a rowing club. Her name was a familiar one in the society pages of the San Diego Union newspaper.
In spite of her early start as a cast off, in San Diego Elsa was part of the “it” crowd and accepted in society circles. She would even “marry well”, a man from one of the most prominent families in San Diego. Perhaps meeting at the rowing club where they were both members, Elsa became acquainted with Ira Collier.
Ira Clifton Collier was the son of David Charles Collier, an attorney, banker and real estate developer, as well as the president of the 1915 California Panama Exposition in San Diego.
If Elsa’s privileged life was filled with less than happy circumstances, Ira’s surpassed hers both in privilege and perhaps unhappiness.
In 1896 David Collier, Sr. married Ella May Copley, the sister of Ira Clifton Copley, who formed Copley Press and would later own the San Diego Union-Tribune. They had two sons, David and Ira, who were sent to the Harvard Military School in Los Angeles for their education.
David Collier, Sr. filed for divorce from his wife Ella May in 1914. This very acrimonious divorce was made public, featured in newspaper headlines throughout Southern California and personal details about their marriage and split were published for all to read.
Ella Collier claimed that her husband deserted her and their two sons for nearly a year and had refused financial support. David Collier charged his wife with mental cruelty and that she looked down at the Collier family in social standing, and that she alienated him from their oldest son David. Photos of their two sons were published in the newspaper and the divorce proceedings packed the courtrooms as bitter accusations were exchanged.
For several months the courtroom drama captivated San Diegans, after which Ella Collier was granted a divorce on November 13, 1915. After which, David Collier promptly remarried to Ruth E. Everson, on November 14, 1915.
If David Collier found happiness in his new marriage, it soon ended when his new wife died a year later in 1916. Collier remarried yet again to Clytie Lyon in 1919. But tragedy struck once more when his oldest son David Collier, Jr. died later that year of pneumonia at the age of 22.
Despite the loss of his older son, Collier never reconciled with his youngest son Ira, for whom he had fought for during court proceedings with his wife. Father and son remained estranged all the way up until the elder Collier’s death in 1934.
Ira’s mother, Ella Mae Copley Collier died in 1921, and he remained in San Diego living with his maternal aunt. However, the newspaper reported that Ira was going to Los Angeles to be trained by a vocal coach where he intended to pursue “a musical career.” His voice was described to be “a baritone tenor of unusual quality.”
In February of 1924 the San Diego Union posted an engagement announcement of Elsa Thuner and Ira Collier. Ira Collier would have been a most eligible bachelor, with handsome good looks and a notable family tree. The announcement stated that the two obtained a marriage license in Riverside County and that a June wedding was planned. However, a retraction was printed immediately.
Was there opposition to this union? If so, the couple had eloped and were actually married on February 9, 1924, days earlier, telling no one. The hasty denial of the engagement was not replaced by an official wedding announcement — which normally would have graced the society columns of the local papers.
Mr. and Mrs. Ira Collier soon moved into a home on Palomar Avenue in La Jolla with beautiful ocean views. Later they settled in a more modest home on 32nd Street, located east of Pershing Drive in San Diego. The couple moved nearly every year, it seems. In 1929 they were living on Olive Street in Coronado, a decidedly tonier locale.
Married five years, and perhaps celebrating their anniversary, Ira and Elsa sailed to Honolulu, Hawaii aboard the S. S. Calawii, a glamorous ship known for its celebrity passengers. The trip was an extensive one lasting from August to November.
After eight years of marriage, their union had produced no children. Whether this was by choice or because of infertility, one can only surmise. But something was taking a toll on the marriage and whether it was barrenness, boredom or something else altogether, the couple would soon separate.
In the summer of Ira Collier traveled to Reno, Nevada, notorious for its “quickie” divorces. “Divorces Ranches” popped up all over the Silver State to accommodate such legal proceedings. However, according to state law, a person must first establish just six weeks of residency before filing suit.
During his “residency” Ira found himself in a precarious situation when he and three other men visited the Heidleberg Inn, a nightclub situated five miles south of Reno. A confrontation ensued and shots were fired, at least one striking their auto. No other details came to light about the situation but the sheriff threatened to close the establishment.
On August 23, 1932 Ira fulfilled his residency requirement for divorce and filed suit to end the marriage which was summarily granted. However, Elsa hired an attorney in San Diego and challenged the divorce and sued for support and judgment was found in her favor.
Nonetheless she found herself in a familiar place: unwanted. Elsa would soon start a new chapter in her life with someone whom she had something in common: They were both given up by their mothers and coincidentally adopted by physicians. Little did she know that in her pursuit to be loved and wanted, his cruelty would overshadow the abandonment by her own mother.
Edward Bernard Lemen was born on November 13, 1907 in Denver, Colorado. His mother was an unwed teenager, the daughter of Theodore and Ella Lemen. Dorinda Lemen was born in 1892 (some records indicate 1891) and was the second of five children. Her father was a traveling minister, and it is because of this, his children were all born in different states.
In about 1902 the Lemen family resettled in Denver, Colorado where two of Theodore’s brothers, Lewis E. Lemen and Harrison A. Lemen, were established and practicing physicians.
Family stories suggest that Dorinda traveled with her father while he was sharing the gospel in the southern United States, particularly Atlanta, Georgia. During the trip Dorinda either engaged in under-aged sex, or perhaps was sexually assaulted, and became pregnant. After returning to Denver, at the age of 15, she gave birth to a male child.
Colorado recorded a very simple birth record devoid of any great detail. In the 1907 “Birth Book” the scant information provided is the date of birth of November 13, 1907, the child being a white male. The mother’s name is left blank (which is unusual) but the father’s name is listed as “D. Lemen”. The question of legitimate birth is answered by “yes.” (This was in fact not a legitimate birth, meaning the child was not born as a result of a marriage.)
The truth of the matter is there is no male person with the first initial of “D” in the Lemen household. It is most likely that Edward’s birth record was written in such a way to protect the young Dorinda (or her father’s reputation) and her first initial was placed under the “Father’s name”. Further, the home address listed on the birth record is 2830 W. 34th Street in Denver, Colorado — the home address of Rev. Theodore Lemen and his family in 1907.
In 1912 Dorinda Lemen married Warren F. Edwards, a traveling shoe salesman. They were married in Salt Lake City, Utah, which may be telling because Dorinda’s son was adopted soon after to a family living in Utah.
Warren and Dorinda Edwards were living in Denver in 1917, with Warren working for the Harsh & Edmonds Shoe Company based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the World War I registration card Warren signed on June 5, 1917, he states his sales route was from Denver to the Northwest. It also states that Warren Edwards was financially assisting his mother-in-law and Dorinda’s two youngest siblings, Sylvester and Elizabeth.
Just one month later, however, Dorinda Edwards would be involved in a scandalous affair. So sensational, the headline of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch read: “St. Louisan Caught in Wild Taxi Pursuit in Milwaukee.”
On July 15, 1917, Warren and Dorinda traveled to Milwaukee for business and were staying at the Gilpatrick Hotel. Apparently Warren Edwards had discovered Dorinda in the arms and bed of another man. A two mile chase through town ensued which resulted in Hamilton being arrested and subsequently sued by Edwards for $50,000 for “alienating his wife’s affection”.
Simultaneously, Warren filed for divorce from Dorinda. The divorce complaint stated that within a five day period Dorinda and Nightingale Hamilton had visited three separate hotels to carry on an illicit affair. According to Dorinda’s admission she met Hamilton just six months after her marriage, in 1913, while on another trip to Milwaukee with her husband. Warren Edwards was employed by Nightingale Hamilton, whose father owned the company.
The divorce proceedings revealed that on July 17, 1917 Warren, Dorinda and Nightingale had all gone to a “road house” and the following morning, at 6 am, Dorinda and Nightingale had slipped off together, and had taken a taxi to the Juneau Hotel, one mile away. Dorinda signed the hotel register as “H. H. Hartley from Des Moines, Iowa” and Nightingale as “Norman Colt”.
Dorinda was allowed to be questioned (or interrogated) by Warren’s divorce attorney W. B. Rubin. He asked Dorinda how long the couple remained in the hotel room and she replied “until one o’clock next day.”
Then Rubin pressed further: “You had intercourse with him that day?” To which Dorinda replied, “Yes.”
Rubin: How many times?
Dorinda: I don’t think that is necessary.
Rubin: Well it was more than once.
Rubin continued his humiliating interrogation of Dorinda about each sexual encounter with Hamilton, at two other hotels, the Wisconsin Hotel and the Plankington, where she registered as Mrs. J. H. Harvey of Red Wing, Minnesota. Hotel registers were subpoenaed and entered into evidence.
On January 24, 1918 Warren Edwards was granted his divorce from Dorinda, who returned to Denver to live with her mother. Both Warren Edwards and Nighintgale Hamilton died that later that year of pneumonia, likely after contracting the Spanish Flu.
Dorinda’s escapades aside, she presumably gave Edward up for adoption when he was about six years old. Edward was adopted by a well-known and respected doctor, John J. Steiner, and his wife Georgina (Blanchett) Steiner, of Richfield, Utah.
Edward would have developed an attachment to and held memories of his mother, along with his maternal grandparents and extended family for those first six years of his life. There is no known reason that he was given up for adoption (other than Dorinda wanted to be unencumbered in her marriage or affairs) but certainly this would have been a devastating event for Edward.
Dr. John Steiner and his wife Georgina had one biological son, Chauncey J. Steiner, born in 1896. The little boy died at the age of three. A little lamb graces the top of Chauncey’s headstone and below his name and date of birth and death is the tender inscription “We loved him.”
Thereafter the Steiners formally, and informally, adopted several children over the years. Edward was the only boy in this extended family, and it appears may have been only the second child of five to be formally adopted and although no such records have been found, Edward’s last name was legally changed to Steiner.
Richfield, Utah is and was largely populated by the members of the Mormon Faith. It became a regional center with the establishment of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1891. Perhaps, Edward Lemen and his mother traveled from Denver and met the Steiner family, but it is only a guess.
The Steiner’s adopted and foster children were educated in the Richfield school system but when Edward was twelve years old he was sent to Oregon to a Catholic boys’ school. According to a newspaper account in the Richfield Reaper, Edward came home rather unexpectedly, prompting an educator from the school to travel to Richfield, to return Edward back to school. This is the first indication that all was not well and perhaps the heartache of a young boy given up by his mother was now being realized in resentment and anger.
In August of 1921, Edward Steiner was sent to San Diego to the Raja Yoga Academy. He had yet turned 14 years old. Established by Katherine Tingley, this commune was located on Point Loma (now occupied by the Point Loma Nazarene University). There was a strict daily regimen for both children and adults. Accusations included that husbands and wives were separated and children from their parents, that speaking was forbidden and detractors were isolated.
In spite of the criticism, there were over 300 people living at “Lomaland” in the community in the early 1920s. Most residents were upper-middle-class and the Richfield newspaper stated that the schooling was just what young Edward needed as the school emphasized moral and spiritual development. Edward was at the academy for about two years. The Steiner family traveled to San Diego to visit him.
From Baptist birth to a Mormon community, to Catholic School and then a commune, Edward’s confusion or sense of self must have been shaken. Sent away to live with the Steiner’s, who in turn sent him out of state for a “proper” education, only served to further isolate him both physically and emotionally.
By the time Edward was a young adult his religious belief system was non-existent and his moral compass forever off kilter. What was truth? For Edward there must have been no real answer to that question and he would later begin to live his life with half-truths, lies and deception.
Georgina Steiner died on October 21, 1925. One month later, at 18 years of age, Edward Steiner was accompanied by his adoptive father to a U. S. Navy recruiting office in Los Angeles. His enlistment papers state that Edward was living in Los Angeles and working as a bank clerk. At that age it is not required to have a parent’s authorization or approval so it would seem that this decision was forced upon Edward. Just what had precipitated this action is unknown but Edward dutifully signed the paperwork and was sent to San Diego for training and then on to Mare Island.
It is worth noting that on the enlistment papers, Edward’s month and date of birth of November 13th are accurate, but for some unknown reason the birth year of 1904 was given instead of 1907.
Military training can be likened to religion or indoctrination, and it seems that Edward was a non-believer. His military record was less than honorable and in a few short years he would go “AWOL”. His military career aside, Edward would prove himself to be dishonorable in his personal life as well, manifested by infidelity and domestic violence.
Notations in his military record range from skipping out on small debts, to being absent from duty for several hours on different occasions. One particular document notes that he contracted syphilis in April of 1926 due to his “own misconduct”.
On July 8, 1926 year, Edward married his first wife, Rosalie Ferrant in Oakland, California. Little is known of this union or even if it was legally dissolved. However, the first glint of perhaps reinventing himself is revealed on the marriage application as Edward listed his birth date as November 14th rather than November 13th and his birthplace as Georgia instead of Colorado.
Eleven days after his marriage to Rosalie, John J. Steiner died. He was the only father Edward would ever know. In the lengthy will, Edward was included as one of the heirs of the Steiner estate and received $600 and some stock.
Within six months of his marriage and his father’s death, Edward would enter into two additional relationships with other women, and then abandon them and his very own offspring with a calculated coldness. Perhaps this was learned behavior.
The very year he had married Rosalie Ferrant, Edward was also courting Bethel Mulick. Bethel was a native of Nebraska who moved to San Francisco with her mother and sister before 1920.
Bethel followed Edward when he returned to San Diego when given orders by the Navy, and she got a job working at a hotel in downtown San Diego. Bethel and Edward very well may have been married at some point, although no record can be found. And if there was a marriage to Bethel, Edward was likely still married to his first wife Rosalie at the time.
On December 29, 1926 Edward Steiner went AWOL from the Navy. His military record notes he was “declared a stragler.” On January 8, 1927 he was declared a deserter. A notice of his desertion from the Navy was published in his hometown newspaper in Richfield, Utah, with a reward being offered for his whereabouts.
Edward not only deserted the Navy but also Bethel. She gave birth to Edward’s daughter, in August of 1927. The address of the birth father is listed as “unknown”. Bethel had given birth alone as Edward had simply abandoned her.
The birth certificate of that baby girl reveals her father’s new persona — On the official birth record of Duane Reeves Lamon, her father’s birth name is given as “Ben” Edward Lamon, shedding the legal name of Steiner, Lamon is a seemingly deliberate variation of his birth name of Lemen.
Further information on the birth certificate listed Edward’s occupation as a medical student in Stanford. No record has ever been uncovered to verify that Edward ever attended Stanford, although he was a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy. (Apparently, he had told Bethel that he was attending Stanford, something he would repeat to other women in his life….)
Bethel wrote heartbreaking letters to the Dept. of the Navy looking for the whereabouts of Edward, which were retained as part of his military record. Each time the Navy replied to her letters stating they did not know of Edward’s location. Bethel would continue the search for her husband for nearly three years.
Edward Lamon, in fact was in the arms and bed of another woman. While Bethel was 3 months pregnant with Edward’s child, on Valentine’s Day in 1927 he married a new “sweetheart” Sadie Ingle, in Los Angeles.
Sadie and Edward would be married long enough to have two daughters: Mildred and Melody born about 2 ½ years apart. And while he had left two women and a baby daughter behind, it seemed that Edward was somewhat domesticated for a time. Although he was still wanted by the Navy as a deserter, Edward moved his wife and two daughters back to San Diego, living in Coronado. It is worth noting that Edward, a supposed medical student, was working a blue collar job at the garage of the Hotel Del Coronado.
Although Edward had managed to stay married to Sadie for six years, all was not wedded bliss – Edward met a beautiful divorcee – Elsa Thuner Collier and the two embarked on what would be another tumultuous relationship.
Elsa and Edward began an adulterous affair as early as 1932, while Edward and Sadie were still married. In November of 1933 the couple were in Berwyn, Illinois where Elsa gave birth to their child, Barbara Jean La Mon.
Although the couple was not married the child is listed as “legitimate”. (On Barbara’s birth certificate Edward’s occupation is listed as a real estate and a bond salesman, a profession he purported to have been in for 6 years.)
Edward’s wife Sadie responded by filing for divorce in March of 1934. In her complaint she contends that Edward “would frequently remain away from his home nights without informing” her and that Edward would make “insulting remarks” about her relatives. While this sounds somewhat tame, Sadie went on to say that Edward became so angry on one occasion, he struck his mother-in-law and knocked her down.”
Edward never responded to Sadie’s divorce complaint. Instead he and Elsa married in September of 1934 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile, Edward and Elsa’s union produced another child, Valna, born in 1935.
With one wife, three exes and five daughters, Edward’s life and temper continued to spiral out of control. Less than one month after Elsa had given birth to daughter Valna, Edward attacked and choked her. He later threatened to kill Elsa and the police were called.
After Edward’s arrest his true identity was revealed and the authorities promptly delivered him to Navy officials. The Navy, however, had no desire to prosecute Edward after an absence of 8 years and officially released him from duty.
Edward left California and for a time was back in Richfield, Utah perhaps seeking refuge or financial assistance from his adopted sister. A notation from his father’s estate indicate he received a $250.00 stipend on September 13, 1935.
Elsa began divorce proceedings in October of 1935 detailing the cruelty of her husband. Edward never responded to the legal proceedings and never returned to San Diego. He continued to leave a wake of broken hearts and lives wherever he went, and left Elsa like he had left Sadie — alone to raise two little girls who would never know their father.
Edward found refuge in San Francisco and reconciled with Bethel. Although she had remarried twice since they parted, Bethel apparently single again, accepted Edward back. Their reunion was short-lived when Edward left the longsuffering Bethel yet again. He moved to Stockton and took a job as a sales clerk.
On July 30, 1936 Edward Bernard Steiner Lamon ended his life by hanging himself in Room 459 at the Wolf Hotel in downtown Stockton, California. He left a note requesting that his brother-in-law Andrew Desimone be notified. Desimone was married to Bethel’s sister Bard, and was in the casino business at the famed Cal Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe. Desimone contacted Bethel about the suicide and Edward’s remains were released to her.
What led to Edward’s shocking decision to end his life? Was it a mounting debt of some kind? Was there a pending criminal action he wanted to avoid? Was it the terrible guilt of fathering and abandoning so many small children?
The Richfield, Utah newspaper reported that Edward Steiner had suddenly died, but skirted the issue of a suicide nor did it mention his other identity as Edward LaMon.
The Stockton newspaper reported that Edward left a wife and two daughters behind, but if this was referring to Bethel, they had just one known child together, Duane born in 1927, (Bethel had no other children).
Adding to the mystery, the names of the children the newspaper provided were Edna and Blanchette. (Blanchette was the maiden name of his adopted mother.) However, there are no known children by this name and one can only surmise as to the discrepancy. Was it simply an error by the reporter? Was there yet another woman who bore two additional daughters?
There was no mention of his former wives: Rosalie, Sadie and Elsa. No mention of daughters, Duane, Mildred, Melody, Barbara and Valna.
His death certificate revealed additional misinformation that Edward no doubt perpetuated over the years to other women, as he reinvented himself. Particularly, his mother’s name is listed as “Blanchette Sorie”, who was supposedly born in Paris, which is all fabrication.
The Coroner’s report stated that Edward was found hung in the shower by a belt. Curiously, he was dressed in riding togs.
His brief suicide note said, “Goodbye to all — one in particular.” “There is now one ‘lug” less in the world.”
Who was the “one in particular”? It was likely Bethel who had suffered longer with him than any other. Edward suffered, too, no doubt. His anguish had manifested into anger. His abandonment as a child changed his name and he tried to conform and then reinvent himself, but he could never find a way of escape or a way to redemption.
Edward’s five wives (were there more?) eventually all remarried.
Edward’s biological mother Dorinda relocated to California around 1937. Did she ever reach out to Edward at any time? If Edward had any contact with the Lemen family after he was adopted or as an adult, it is unknown. After her mother died in 1948, Dorinda Lemen Edwards eventually moved to Oakland, where her older brother Timothy Lemen resided. She died in 1972.
Edward’s five daughters, who never really knew or could remember their father, were left to wonder for the rest of their lives about him.
Barbara Jean Lamon revealed that her mother Elsa rarely, if ever, spoke about Edward…and his life and death were shrouded in mystery. She and Valna never knew their father had other wives and were astonished to find out they had three half-sisters, whom they never met.
After Edward’s death, Elsa and her daughters Barbara and Valna lived a very comfortable life with the Thuners. However, Elsa’s adopted father Alois died in 1937. Imogene and Elsa had a very strained relationship for years and without Alois alive, the tension grew. There was little joy or happiness in their upper-middle-class home.
It is worth noting that Elsa’s biological mother Ida Mae Ames had moved to Southern California by 1931. When Ida died in 1939, she was buried in Glen Abbey Memorial Park near San Diego. Elsa and her young daughters went to the graveside services but remained in the car and watched from afar. Elsa remained separated from her own mother even in death.
Imogene Thuner died in 1944. She left an inheritance to her two granddaughters, Barbara and Valna…not to her daughter Elsa. Their trust fund was over $90,000 in 1952, equivalent to nearly $900,000 today.
While Edward’s legal name was Steiner, his birth name was Lemen. The name of “Lamon” was Edward’s alias, a made up name used after he deserted the Navy. Ironically it was one that his offspring carried legally. Even his great granddaughter was given the middle name of “Lamon” in order to “carry on the memory of Edward”…only to find out later it was an invented name and not that of Edward’s at all.
The enigma surrounding Edward’s life, along with its truth and falsehoods is fading away … just as his life faded from the memories of his little daughters.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Deserted”, 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 “Deserted”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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.
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.