Killer Sally – A sneak peek at the true story

The story of Sally McNeil and the murder of her husband Ray McNeil (sometimes spelled McNeill) has generated a lot of buzz. “Killer Sally” was in the top 10 of Netflix shows, both globally and in the US.

While watching and then re-watching the three part series, something didn’t sit well with me. There’s always more to the story and I always want to know more.

I want to share a different perspective about the murder of Ray. I plan to write a lengthier and more detailed rebuttal to Sally’s claims, but in the meantime this is meant as a prelude to a more comprehensive story to come.

Ray and Sally McNeil (Netflix)

Sally repeatedly claimed in the series that her body building husband was an abuser and that she was a battered wife – and was left with no choice but to shoot her husband in self defense.

However, Sally’s testimony to the Parole Board in 2020 refutes her own statements in the Netflix series. It offers a completely different version of events that led up to the shooting of her unarmed husband.

Ray and Sally McNeil lived in Oceanside, California for 8 years, the last few of them at 1802 South Tremont Street in South Oceanside. The couple both belonged to Gold’s Gym, which was located on South Hill Street (Coast Highway) and both were bodybuilders. Sally also wrestled various “clients” across the country, many of which were filmed.

1802 South Tremont Street, Oceanside, California. Google view 2009

Sally presented herself as an abused and battered wife. And I believe she was. But Sally also abused and battered. The list of violence perpetrated by Sally includes:

  • Hitting her first husband, John Anthony Lowden, in the head with a lead pipe, requiring 8 stitches.
  • Assaulting numerous officers in two different police departments.
  • The assault of two teenage female babysitters and two unrelated adults.
  • Dropping weights on Ray’s car, while he was in it.
  • Arrested for willful cruelty to a child in 1990.

Despite her history of violence, she has garnered the sympathy of many and headlines echo Sally’s claims of self defense. The Guardian is one example with a headline that reads: “This is still happening today: the story of an abused wife accused of murder.” The byline opens by saying “A sensitive new docuseries considers the case of Sally McNeil, a woman who killed her violent husband in self-defense.”

In the Netflix series Sally recounts the terrifying moments leading up to the shooting of Ray while her two children were home.

Ray Fitzgerald McNeill, Dunn High School, Dunn, North Carolina, 1983

“First, he hit me. ‘Cause I told him, I said, “Well, you look like sh–.” “You’re not gonna place at all.” “You’re not striated in the contest.”

“So then he hit me. And then he started choking me. I got scared, and I thought, “He’s gonna kill me, and I’m not gonna make it through this night.” I scrambled away. I ran to the bedroom and retrieved the weapon. I grabbed two, um… two rоսnds, and, um, walked out to the living room, and loaded the weapon as I was walking out to the living room. I didn’t know what he was capable of doing. He had five different steroids in him. He was superhuman. He was super strong and he was super fast in a small apartment.

“So I tell him to get out, and he says, “No,” so I shot him.. He’s on the ground, so I go out and I grab the blanket, and I came in and brought it and covered him, to prevent shock.”

Sally called 911 and said: “I just shot my husband because he just bеɑt me up.” She would repeat this at least two more times to the operator.

Operator: You shot your husband?

Sally: Yes. I’m at 1802 South Tremont Street.

Operator: Who’s crying?

Sally: My daughter.

Operator: Okay, is he dead?

Sally: He’s shot.

Operator: Okay. What’s your name?

Sally: My name is Sally McNeil. Don’t touch the door, Shantina!

Operator: How old is he?

Sally: He might bеɑt me up!

Operator: Ma’am! I just got bеɑt up.

Sally’s daughter describes how she heard her mother choking before Ray was shot. Sally told police the scratches on her neck were from Ray choking her.

But at her parole hearing she revealed the real origin of those marks:


PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: I was looking back over my notes and I wanted to ask you, this is kind of jumping back a bit, but back at the life crime, you did have some marks on your neck? And I wanted to ask you where those marks came from? Did you hear my question?

INMATE MCNEIL: No. Ma’am. Can you repeat it.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: At the time of the life crime the record it’s showed something about you having marks on your neck. So, where did those marks come from?

INMATE MCNEIL: I was wrestling the day before. I had a client and it probably came from there. There were scratches on the back of my neck too. They noticed them, I let them believe what they wanted to believe.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: So, you said the marks were on your neck from wrestling the day before?

INMATE MCNEIL: Yes, ma’am.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: And you said you let them believe what they want to believe. Who is them? And they?

INMATE MCNEIL: The police noticed, they noted that I had marks on my neck.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: Okay. Did you say anything to the police about where you got those marks?

INMATE MCNEIL: I said he was choking me and that’s probably how it happened. And I probably scratched myself when I tried to stop him from choking me. That’s what I told them.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: So, you told the police, the victim was choking you and that you had scratched your neck?

INMATE MCNEIL: Yes, ma’am.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: Was that true?

INMATE MCNEIL: No.

In another portion of the hearing Sally McNeil concedes that she shot her husband in anger, not self defense.

INMATE MCNEIL: I admit what the DA said, I don’t have any arguments with him. I accept responsibility.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: Today, do you say that the victim abused you at all?

INMATE MCNEIL: No. The victim did not — the victim did not abuse me that day.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: And was there any element of self-defense that day?

INMATE MCNEIL: No, ma’am.

This testimony to the Parole Board belies the story Sally now tells on the popular Netflix series. There’s more to share, more to reveal; the truth, not just sensationalized storytelling. Stay tuned.

The History of the Green Machine in Oceanside

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A small cottage home near downtown Oceanside was once the headquarters of an influential protest movement during the Vietnam War. Celebrities such as Jane Fonda and Elliott Gould made appearances at the house to encourage and show support to protest organizers and their followers.

519 South Freeman Street in about 1991

In June of 1969 an underground organization known as the “Green Machine” affiliated with the Movement for a Democratic Military (MDM) met in a small home near Vista, and encouraged planned demonstrations at both the Camp Pendleton military base and in the City of Oceanside.  

The meetings were modest in size, attracting between 30 and 75 persons. The Oceanside Blade Tribune newspaper identified the local movement as an anti-war organization similar to other “coffee house groups across the nation” operating “under the guise of providing entertainment for servicemen while spreading an anti-war and anti-military message.”

Letter written by Kent Hudson in 1969 to Marine Blues

The group was headed by Kent Hudson and Pat Sumi, attracting a following of both military and civilians, mainly students.

Kent Leroy Hudson was born in 1944 in Riverside County, California. As a youth he attended Vista High School, graduating in 1962. Hudson was also a Stanford graduate and a Navy Reservist. In 1965, Hudson spoke at the Vista-San Marcos Democratic Club about his experiences in Louisiana and voter registration of Blacks that summer. 

Kent Hudson at Vista High School in 1959

In July 1968, Hudson had joined what the San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune called a “16-person troupe” who had organized small campaigns to encourage protests of the draft and oppression. The newspaper described the group as “bone-tired” and that their two-week campaign had exhausted their funds with no great result.

Hudson would find the following he was seeking one year later when he relocated his efforts to the Vista and Oceanside area in San Diego County. He first applied for a permit to operate a coffee house in Oceanside but was met with resistance from the city council. The group settled on a small house at 2133 North Santa Fe Avenue and converted the garage into a meeting space.

Oceanside Police Sergeant John Key described the location: “The house in Vista was surrounded by slit trenches that had been dug all the way around the house. There had been concertina wire strung on barricades that could have been pulled across the access to the house. It was, for all intents and purposes, fortified.”

Sumi and Hudson held modest gatherings, looking for support. Folksinger Barbara Dane offered it in the way of a performance and held a concert at the Armed Services Center in Oceanside.

USO building, Southeast corner of Third (Pier View Way) and Tremont Streets.

Volunteer workers and staff at the center were “surprised” by the performance as they expected folk, not protests songs. It was reported that the largely military audience joined Dane in singing anti-war songs and shouting “Join the ASU”, short for the American Servicemen’s Union. Hudson himself reported that one person in the crowd stood up and shouted, “Shoot the Lifers!”

After her performance, group members held a party at the house in Vista and a movement was born. Meetings were announced through “handbills” which were passed out to Marines by Green Machine supporters on Camp Pendleton. Then members picked up the Marines, and others interested in the meetings, on Saturday nights at various pickup points.

The Oceanside Blade Tribune described a typical meeting: “There the audience gets a soft-sell anti-war take from Pat Sumi, an accomplished speaker.  They are also served free coffee and beans, and often treated to folk-singing of anti-war and anti-military songs. Recent meetings have featured a Black Panther leader from San Francisco, and nationally known folk singer Phil Ochs, an avowed pacifist. The meeting featuring the Black Panther leader included “liberation” films and speeches threatening black insurrection.”

In perhaps to alienate white readers from the group, the newspaper described the attendees as predominantly Black: “Approximately two-thirds of the audience of about 65 was black, most were Marines, but there were also two black students from Oceanside attending.”     

A list of “demands” was published and distributed by the group, which read in part:

  1. We demand the right to collective bargaining
  2. Extend all human and constitutional rights to military men and women
  3. Stop all military censorship and intimidations
  4. Abolish all mental and physical cruelty in military brigs
  5. We demand the abolition of present court-martial and nonjudicial punishment systems
  6. We demand wages equal to the minimum federal wage
  7. We demand the abolition of the class structure of the military
  8. End all racism, everywhere
  9. Free all political prisoners
  10. Stop all glorification of war now prevalent in all branches of the military
  11. Abolish the draft and all involuntary enlistment
  12. Pull out of Vietnam now

The immediate goals of the Green Machine were as follows:

  1. Disturbances involving police were to be escalated by the military personnel
  2. Military personnel were to wear black armbands while on liberty in civilian clothes
  3. To have mass meetings in the Oceanside beach area on December 15, 1969
  4. To have another mass meeting at Buddy Todd Park on March 15, 1970
  5. To start a newspaper called the Attitude Check
  6. Marines were to create problems aboard the base at Camp Pendleton

While similar groups were organizing all over the country, the Green Machine’s presence was an uneasy and unfamiliar one for Oceanside. For over two decades the city had embraced the military and their families since the base was established in 1942 during World War II. The population included many former military personnel who chose to make their home in Oceanside after their stint (long or short) in the Marines or Navy. Many residents and business owners were in angst over the anti-war messages the group espoused, because even if they themselves were not in favor of the war, they wanted to support the military.   

It was clear that Hudson just wasn’t against the war, but against the Marine Corps as a military institution when he wrote the following statements:

No clear-thinking man joins the Marine Corps, there are to (sic) many better alternatives.”

I have yet to meet the marine who joined to serve his country. He certainly exists, but in a tiny majority.”

The Force Reconnaissance trainees I have met are mostly acid heads.

The Green Machine sponsored a bus trip to Los Angeles where members could meet with Black Panthers, and the group continued on to San Francisco to participate in a march. The trip was paid for by Green Machine “allies.”

The MDM held its first rally in Buddy Todd Park in September of 1969, where it first attracted the attention of local officials and police, and the FBI was kept advised of its activities. They began publishing an underground newspaper called “Attitude Check” which was offered to Marines in downtown Oceanside.

Theresa Cerda, a local resident recalled in a 1999 interview that she got involved in the group after attending a “love-in” in Cardiff. Kent Hudson spoke and asked if anyone was interested in “organizing the G.I.’s to resist the war” to meet with him afterwards.

A 17-year-old high school student at that time, Cerda explained that the movement was funded by “rich lawyers” who “were willing to fund us to be their mouthpiece, but they backed us with money and legal.  They were more the fundraiser people, the glamour, the upper echelon, we were the grunts, and we went out and did all the work.”

Hudson and group members would take vans from their house in Vista and travel to downtown Oceanside and walk the streets passing out leaflets. Teresa remembered that they were met with both resistance and acceptance. “On Hill Street [or] Coast Highway — that was very scary because we had a mix of people.  I remember several times when some of the Marines would get really upset and take stacks of stuff away from me and burn them. There were times when other Marines would gather around me and protect me and say, ‘this is freedom of speech and I want to hear what she has to say’.  It was usually the Black Marines, the African American Marines that would protect me.  And then soon, it started snowballing and then after that we had a good mix.”

Organizers planned a beach rally in Oceanside in November of 1969, an event that set many in Oceanside on edge. City officials attempted to block the organized march, appeals were filed, and protestors vowed to march with or without a permit. The Oceanside Blade Tribune urged residents to remain calm with an editorial entitled “Keep Cool Sunday”.

            “The courts will decide today whether Sunday’s march and rally in Oceanside will be held with or without the sanction of a parade permit from Oceanside. The constitutional questions of right of free speech and assembly are the heart of the issue – and whether the city’s decision is a political one as charged or merely enforcement of city ordinances.

            But the court decision is really secondary to the march for it will happen regardless of the court’s ruling.

            March organizers have stated they plan to walk through the city on the sidewalks – rather than parade through the streets – to fulfill the march plans.

            Organizers say it is too late to call off the march, and it is too late.  Leaflets have been distributed to colleges in Southern California advertising the demonstration.

            The spectre of violence, and that possibility is high in the minds of law enforcement officials charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order Sunday, is a main overriding factor.

            There are rumors of marines from Camp Pendleton staging a counterdemonstration to protest the anti-war and anti-military philosophies of the marchers.

            There is also going to be a relatively large contingent of Black Panthers in the march and recent events involving the organization would indicate no love lost on their part for law officials.

            Angela Davis, the communist college professor, is also scheduled to speak and the massive patriotism of the area may likely be sharply prodded by what she may say in her speech.

            The potential for violence is high.

            But if everyone – marchers, the speakers, the marines, the spectators, and those pro and con – will just cool it Sunday, everything will go off without a hitch.

            Although there are always troublemakers in marches of this nature, the main body of the marchers are quit determined to keep things peaceful.

            March leaders have informed The Blade-Tribune they intend to do all in their power to keep the peace and are bringing 200 monitors in to patrol the march.

            There will be little sense in letting passions and tempers, however justified by philosophy and belief, flare into violence.

            The only loser will be the city of Oceanside.

            The march will only be a memory after Sunday, and it would be much better as a peaceful memory.”

The day of the march the Blade-Tribune minimized and mocked the organizers and persons expected to speak.

            “There is a beautiful lineup of characters for the day:

            –  Former military officers who wouldn’t follow orders;

            –  Black Panthers who have preached hate and violence in this country since their organization was founded;

            –  A Communist teacher;

            –  Leftwing “peace-at-any-price” speakers;

            –  Unhappy military types who can’t take discipline and order;

            –  A full parade of fuzzy-thinking, fuzzy-looking creeps.

            There is nothing good; you can say about this march, unless you espouse the thinking of those who support it.

            So stay home today. There are very few area residents who will be supporting this march.  Don’t be counted among them. Don’t help the Communist cause.”

In contrast the conservative stance the local newspaper took, John Richardson, a nephew of Oceanside Mayor Howard T. Richardson, was an avid supporter of the march and saw “the protest movement in this country as a means of solving problems.”  An Oceanside High School math teacher, he encouraged his students to take part or at least an interest in the MDM’s message.

John Richardson, Teacher at Oceanside High School

The Blade Tribune reported a list Richardson’s views and remarks:  “He views the reaction of Oceanside Police and town officials to both [the] march and the Green Machine as “in conflict with the Bill of Rights.”

“I get just as upset when I read of the reaction of most people to the Green Machine as I did when I heard President Agnew’s attack on the press,” said Richardson. “My own personal opinion is that there are many needs in this country which are just beginning to surface.”

The article continued saying “Richardson explained the presence of Black Panthers at Green Machine meetings by saying black servicemen aboard Camp Pendleton had “expressed a desire to find out what the Panthers is all about.” Richardson, who has attended “five or six” meetings of the Green Machine said however he had never been present at a meeting of that group when a Black Panther spoke. Yet, he criticized an eye-witness account of a Green Machine meeting at which Panthers did speak, published in the Blade Tribune.

“He explained that he had been at other meetings where the Panthers spoke and said he felt in sympathy with the reporter who attended the Green Machine meeting only because he knew it “must have been the first time he had heard the Panthers speak.”

“It can be scary,” said Richardson, “especially the first time someone is exposed to it. After that however you realize that they are speaking from their hearts and from the heart of the black ghetto,” said Richardson. “Their language is the language of the ghetto, and the ghetto is not a happy place.”

“We need change, and we need it fast,” he said. “This need for change…for good change in the American political systems is why I support the movement in general and why I support the Green Machine in Oceanside. The movement is where the demand for change if being generated.  Fear of the movement and fear of change is the situation Oceanside is confronted with.” He cited Oceanside’s “over-reaction” to the Green Machine as a case in point.

Illustration of law enforcement by Frank Zincavage, Oceanside High School Yearbook, 1970

The Movement for a Democratic Military, along with Rev. William R. Coates of La Jolla, coordinated the planned march and rally which was sponsored by the Citizens Mobilization Committee (CMC), which secured a court order for the march permit when the city council refused to grant it.

The march began at Recreation Park, just east of Brooks Streets and made its way west to downtown. It was reported that 250 active-duty servicemen participated and that they represented “almost 40 per cent of ‘snuffies’ in the Southland who sympathize with the MDM.” Snuffies were Privates or low-ranking military members.

The vast majority of the marchers came from outside of Oceanside from other organizations and included the Peace Action Council of Los Angeles, the Socialist Workers Party of Los Angeles, the SDS of Los Angeles and San Diego, the Black Panther Party of Los Angeles and were joined by the Young Socialist Alliance, Student Mobilization Committee, the Clergy and Laymen Concerned and Medical Committee for Human Rights.

The Oceanside Blade Tribune described the scene: “Marchers carrying hundreds of signs, most calling for an end to the war in Vietnam.  Many of the signs also urged support for various anti-war and anti-military groups.  Most of the marchers were young, in their teens and twenties, but several middle-aged persons and a few elderly persons marched. The vast majority of the marchers wore hippie or mod clothes, but some of the marchers were dressed in business suits and fashionable clothing.

“Hippies” by Frank Zincavage, Oceanside High School Yearbook, 1970

“Marchers chanted, “One, two, three, four, we won’t fight your fascist war,” and “Peace, Now!” and “Two, four, six, eight, let’s destroy this fascist state,” and “Power to the People.”

“A march cheerleader atop a bus leading the parade kept up a continual banter of slogans, many in support of the Black Panthers. There were few Black Panthers present, despite a scheduled mass turnout.

“There were very few spectators along the mile-long march route until it reached the downtown business area.  Most of the spectators were obviously against the march, but a few joined the march as it progressed downtown.

“A crowd of about 200 spectators, mostly Camp Pendleton marines, was gathered along Hill Street between Mission and Third Street.  Some of the spectators jeered and booed the marchers.

“Just before the march reached the Beach Stadium, a brief scuffle broke out when an angry marine attempted to charge a marcher who was carrying a Viet Cong flag. His companions and police subdued him.”

A vehicle parked along the demonstration route greeted marchers with the slogan, “Better Dead Than Red” painted on its side.  As the march continued on Hill Street to Third Street (Coast Highway to Pier View Way) a vocal gathering at the USO challenged the anti-war group with their own signs and slogans.

Counter-protestors “The American Machine” as opposed to the Green Machine, 1969, San Diego History Center photo

The march culminated at Oceanside’s beach amphitheater where the keynote speaker was Angela Davis. The local newspaper described her as tall and lanky and added she “could have passed for a high fashion model.”

It had been reported that an “armed pro-war marine” was “perched somewhere in the crowd with a rifle, ready to gun down Angela Davis, the Marxist UCLA assistant philosophy professor.” A request was made for members of the MDM to form a “human cordon” around Davis. The Blade Tribune reported that “at first, only black marines showed up but several white marines showed up when a call was issued, ‘Let’s see some whites up here too.’”

A group of 10 to 12 men accompanied Angela Davis and her sister Fanta to the stage at the Oceanside bandshell. It was noted that while surrounded by her protectors, Davis was “barely visible” while she spoke.

She began her speech by calling “Richard M. Nixon, our non-president, a hypocrite who is a killer, a pig and a murderer.” She called for an end to “genocide” and other “imperialist action” against the Vietnamese people and the black community, specifically the Black Panthers.”

Crowds filled the Oceanside Beach Stadium, 1969, San Diego History Center

“There are people who will be shocked about My Lai but they will do nothing more than sit back and say how outrageous it is. They don’t realize that My Lai is no exception.  It is the essence of U.S. government policy in Vietnam, just like the Chicago and Los Angeles raids are the essence of policy toward the Black Panther Party.

“The Green Beret is trained to murder Vietnamese.  In Los Angeles, the police pigs have a special squad rained to murder Panthers – SWATS, the Special Weapons and Tactical Squad who came to present the warrants to our 11 black sisters and brothers in the Panther office.

“Why are the Black Panthers the target of attack? J. Edgar Hoover said it is because the Panthers pose the greatest threat to national security.

“And we pose the greatest threat to the Nixons, the Reagans, the Yortys, the Kennedys, the defense industry, the ruling class of this country … because they have shown the masses that it is necessary for all oppressed people to unite.”

Davis went on to set the following demands:

            – Immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all troops in Vietnam.

            – Victory for the National Liberation Front, political speakers for the North Vietnamese.

            – Recognition of the South Vietnam Provisional Revolutionary Government, set up for the Paris peace talks, as being the true representatives of the people.

            – That the occupying force be withdrawn from the Black Community.

            – That all political prisoners, including Panthers Bobby Seale, Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, be freed.

            – That the liberation movement be victorious for the oppressed peoples.

Davis was followed by Susan Schnall, a former Navy nurse who was court-martialed for participating in anti-war rallies. Other speakers were Captain Howards Levy, United States Army (Retired) and Don Duncan, an ex-Green Beret.

The protestors and demonstrators were observed by approximately 190 law enforcement officers, representing every agency in San Diego County. No arrests were made although there were skirmishes between Marines and demonstrators and varying factions amongst the gathered groups. Law enforcement “covered every intersection” and “monitored the parade route.”

After the speeches were over, demonstrators and spectators began leaving the beach stadium, but a group of angry Marines remained behind police lines. They eventually “dashed through the stadium and into the streets behind the dispersing demonstrators.”

The Marines, a group estimated at 75 “charged into the main body of demonstrators on Third Street (Pier View Way) near the Santa Fe Railroad tracks” and nearly two dozen people openly fought in the street. Marine PFC Merl Windsor, 18 years of age, suffered a laceration after he was struck in the head by a rock thrown by demonstrators.  

Law enforcement separated the two groups which ran east toward Hill Street (Coast Highway) and stood on opposite corners. The Marines waved a large American flag, and “cheered their side of the issue” while the demonstrators hurled “an occasional taunt and threat.” There was no other violence reported.

To restore order, police dispersed the crowds and drew a “line of demarcation down the middle of Third Street, and attempted to keep traffic flowing on Hill Street. By 6:30 p.m. the situation was termed “secure” and by 7 p.m. downtown Oceanside was nearly deserted.

“It’s a tough job when you must provide protection for both sides the peace-marchers and the counter-demonstrators,” Police Chief Ward Ratcliff told the Oceanside Blade Tribune. He added that the rumor of an attempt to assassinate Angela Davis was unsubstantiated. Ratcliff noted that none of the “estimated 3,500 to 4,000 demonstrators were left stranded in town” and that he was “thankful for the community support the police department received.”     

“There were times when they [police officers] were challenged and they remained calm.  We could have very easily had a serious situation,” Ratcliff said.

Mayor Richardson said the march “Looked like an open sewer running through the streets.”

Mayor Howard Richardson, left; John Steiger, right.

A few months later, in March of 1970, the Movement for a Democratic Military opened a coffee house in the Eastside neighborhood of Oceanside at 418 San Diego Street. It was reported that Black residents clashed with members of the MDM and that one evening shots were fired but no one was injured.

Just days after the Eastside location was established, and perhaps because of the unexpected confrontations, it was announced that the “Green Machine,” would be headquartered at a small house at 519 South Freeman Street.

Purchased for $19,000, the two-bedroom house was obtained via a “double closing” which is the simultaneous purchase and sale involving three parties: the seller, a middleman and a final buyer. This double closing was likely done in order the conceal the identity of the purchaser(s).

The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that the “purchase was handled by Strout Realty, who were unaware of the actual buyers of the house. A complicated chain of trustees and secondary brokers which winds back to a Beverly Hills-based broker and a Palo Alto resident purchased the house, telling agents of Strout Realty that the property would be used as ‘rental income.’ [The] actual owner of the house apparently is Paul Robert Moore, of Palo Alto, who purchased the house through the Lawrence Moore trust funds.”

After the house was purchased on South Freeman Street, Cerda recalled meeting celebrities like actress and activist Jane Fonda, her sister Lynn Redgrave, along with actors Donald Southland and Elliott Gould, who provided financial support to the movement. Katherine Cleaver, attorney, Black Panther activist and wife of Eldridge Cleaver provided political clout and legal support. While visiting the MDM headquarters celebrities and those with political status would build up the morale of members by visiting and eating “beans from a pot” with them.

A flyer was distributed that read: “The Green Machine Project and Movement for a Democratic Military invites you to an Open House and MDM Meeting.” It went on to say that “We are going to have political speakers Robert Bryan and others from the Southern California Black Panther Party, and special guest, Miss Jane Fonda.”

A leaflet was distributed in the downtown neighborhood which stated in part: “The Green Machine Project and Movement for a Democratic Military have moved into a staff house and meeting place at 519 S. Freeman. You have probably heard or read a great deal about us in the past few months, much of it negative. We would like to have a chance to counter many of the distortions and outright lies by opening our doors to you. We would be pleased if all our new neighbors would stop by and chat with us to find out what we are really all about. Our doors are usually open from noon until late in the evening every day except Monday.”

On Sunday March 22, Jane Fonda arrived at the small house on Freeman Street, accompanied by three members of the Black Panther Party. She met with approximately 30 guests at the MDM headquarters, stayed about two hours and then departed.

Jane Fonda at UCLA, Gary Leonard photographer

While the invitation passed around seemed welcoming, the house itself was fortified and its occupants armed. Sandbags had been stacked to create a barricade on the interior of the home. Gun ports made of bricks were spaced between the walls of sandbags. The attic contained a bell and a “light warning system.”  

Six weeks later, on April 28th, the house and its occupants were fired upon by an unknown gunman in a car. Eleven rounds were fired, one striking and wounding Pvt. Jesse Woodward, Jr., of Support Company, H&S Battalion, Camp Pendleton. Woodward was struck in the shoulder and taken to the Naval Hospital aboard Camp Pendleton. Identified as a “deserter from the Marine Corps” Woodward, age 19, had been absent without leave for over 4 weeks, a base spokesman said.

The Oceanside Police Department were called and dispatched to the residence at 11:55 p.m. Upon their arrival they found “about a dozen rounds of ammunition, probably .45 caliber, had been fired into the front of the house.” Police confiscated eight to nine rifles and shotguns in the possession of the MDM group.

An unidentified woman at the house was shaken, “We’ve known something like [this] might happen for a long time and our first reaction was to hit the floor.” She pointed to a large cut on her knee saying, “this came from crawling through the glass.”

Thomas Hurwitz, one of the organizers of the MDM claimed that the group was unaware that Woodward was a deserter and responded to the shooting advocating for peace: “We are urging those who attend to adopt a non-violent attitude. We don’t scare easy. We are angered and feel it was a political action.  This was meant to scare marines but all it will do is make them realize we are fighting for them. It didn’t scare them … people in the military are used to being shot at, but it did make them angry.” Hurwitz, who devoted several years to anti-war protests and activism would go on to be a notable documentary cinematographer, with two Emmy Awards and a host of other awards and accolades.

The Oceanside Blade Tribune condemned the shooting in an editorial that ran May 3, 1970, entitled “Dangerous Move.” 

The Movement for a Democratic military and its predecessor, the Green Machine, have raised a lot of hackles in the North County area since they were formed last year.

“The philosophy espoused by these anti-military, anti-war groups is a direct contradiction to the general philosophy of the average resident of North County. It is understandable that feelings are so firmly polarized about these two philosophies.

“Much of the North County is retired military men who believed in the Armed Services so strongly they made it their lives’ career. The small but determined group of people who compose the MDM and Green Machine have made themselves strongly felt in the area, while accomplishing little. Most people in the Tri-City area look upon the two groups as little more than troublemakers, and the two groups have done little to prove otherwise.

“The Blade-Tribune, which first brought the machinations of these groups to the public eye, questions the motivations and honesty of the MDM and Green Machine. They have publicly admitted that their intent is to tear down the military, the backbone of the nation’s defense. They hedge when asked where their funding comes from, and just who supports the non-working crew. They have done little but cause trouble in the community, from polarizing the dissident blacks at Camp Pendleton to attracting every unhappy “marine” who bit off more than he could chew when he enlisted. They stir up trouble, under the guise of “liberating the enlisted man.” They deserve all the public dislike and distrust they have generated.

“But no matter how vociferous the disagreement, the differences should never have come to the shooting which occurred on Tuesday night. That act is far more damaging to the situation in the north County than weeks of weak, ill-attended and poorly supported demonstrations by the MDM.

“The residents of this area should be relieved that no one died in that shooting of the MDM headquarters.  The 25 or so persons in the home at the time miraculously escaped the 11 shots fired. Had one of those persons been killed, it would have polarized the forces supporting the MDM, given the group a martyr, and likely prompted an influx of national leftwing radicals into the area.

“The North County can live with the MDM, despite how strongly most of the area’s residents oppose the group’s philosophies. But it cannot live with what will result from any more of the idiocy which prompted the gang-style shooting attack on the MDM staff house on Tuesday.

“The Blade-Tribune recommends those who disagree with the MDM make their protests in the form of staunch patriotism, not in midnight sneak attacks.”

On April 30, 1970, just two days after the shooting, the MDM organized a demonstration at Santa Fe Park in Vista. Several people were arrested for “disturbing the peace, parading without a permit and unlawful assembly.” Pleading not guilty were Michael Anthony Lawrence, 25, disturbing the peace and unlawful assembly; Thomas Dudley Horowitz (sic), 23, disturbing the peace and parading without a permit; Pvt. Maurice Carl Durham, 20, disturbing the peace; LCpl. William Curtis Chatman III, 21, violating the parade ordinance; James Nelson Snyder, 22, disturbing the peace; and Teresa Cerda, 18, disturbing the peace and parading without a permit.

Just weeks later city leaders and downtown business owners would brace themselves for another “anti-war march and rally” expected to draw a crowd of 20,000. The city again denied a parade permit which the MDM appealed. U. S. District Court Judge Howard B. Turrentine temporarily upheld the city’s denial but set a hearing on the matter. Leaders of the protest said they would go forward with their planned demonstrations with or without a permit.

Governor Ronald Reagan’s office issued a statement saying that that “the governor will keep a close watch on the situation in Oceanside, since receiving a telegram Thursday from U. S. Senator Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) in which the senator declared the demonstration ‘Poses a serious threat of possible violence.’” Adding that “If mutual aid is requested, we are ready to supply whatever assistance is needed.”

Law enforcement both city and county met to assess the pending protest. It was reported that the National Guard would “be on an alert, if the situation should get out of control.”

Mayor Howard Richardson stated that, “Oceanside has no intention of providing demonstrators with reasons for violence.  We shall do all within our power to assure the demonstration remains peaceful.”

An unidentified spokesperson for the MDM told the local newspaper that demonstrators would gather at the municipal parking lot at Third (Pier View Way) and Cleveland at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and that protestors would “march south to Tyson; west on Tyson to Pacific Street; South on Pacific to Wisconsin; West on Wisconsin to the Strand and north to the beach stadium.”

Tom Hurwitz stated that he was working with Oceanside police in an effort to keep the demonstration peaceful and added “we will have several hundred monitors to assist the police in controlling the march as it moves from the assembly area to the beach.”

Marchers at the intersection of Mission and Hill Street (Coast Highway) in 1970

On May 16, 1970 an organized march and protest was held but numbers were much lower than the 20,000 persons predicted. A reported 700 law enforcement officers and 200 monitors provided by the MDM watched as a crowd of 4,000 to 5,000 gathered on the streets of downtown Oceanside.

Kent Hudson declared the march a “tremendous success” and praised both the monitors and police for their handling of the situation. The march began with shouts of “Stop the War” and “Peace Now” as well as anti-Nixon, anti-war chants.

It was reported that some of the demonstrators lashed out at the military guards present, shouting obscenities, but the newspaper reported that they were, for the most part, “drowned out by anti-war chatter and hand-clapping by the protesters.”

Footage of 1970 protest from CBS 8 San Diego below:

As the march continued towards the beach, a Santa Fe freight train came into town, blocking the protesters from continuing on their route. After a disruption of ten minutes, the engineer was instructed to proceed south to San Diego without picking up his intended freight. Protesters then made their way south on Pacific Street to Wisconsin where they walked the Strand to the Beach Stadium.

March interrupted by Freight Train in downtown Oceanside, San Diego History Center photo

Tom Hayden, a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, who would later marry Jane Fonda, was the main speaker. There were a few clashes from counter protestors throughout a series of speeches but each were broken up by police.

It was noted that at the end of Hayden’s speech, several demonstrators raced from the stadium into Pacific Street when a small group of counter-demonstrators led by youths for American Freedom burned a Viet Cong flag” and that “during a brief melee between the counter demonstrators and MDM members, one protester was knocked to the ground.”

The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that near the end of the event “all servicemen were asked to stand and show their Military identification cards. Of those who rose to comply at least one burned his card, waving it in the air. Then he swallowed the ashes.”

The newspaper concluded its report that “Many of those present at the demonstration reeked of marijuana.  Others were stone-faced apparently bored by the whole affair or under the influence of drugs. But, the demonstration was peaceful. There were no injuries and no arrests.”

 The following day an editorial ran in the conservative leaning Oceanside Blade Tribune entitled “We Wonder.”

The Blade-Tribune wonders what makes a person like most of the 5,000 or so who marched in the anti-war march in Oceanside Saturday.

We wonder how far the rights of this small-minority of rabble-rousers extend.

We wonder where are the rights of the people who make this country work, who pay the bills, and protect the nation.

We wonder why there are so many leftwingers, communist sympathizers and communists involved in the “peace” movement.

We wonder where the money comes from to support these people who don’t work, but work at undermining our nation.

We wonder why these people are allowed to flaunt the law, marching without parade permits.

We wonder why we, the taxpayers, must foot the bill for their parades.  If they want to march, let them pay the bills.

We wonder why the Movement for a Democratic Military, our local radical group, and sponsor of the Saturday “anti-war” march, is so closely allied with the Black Panthers.

We wonder why so many of our teachers, who are shaping the minds of our children, are actively involved in supporting this movement.

We wonder why our school boards, boards of trustees, and other educational panels, haven’t got the guts to kick campus radicals off campus.

We wonder when the courts are going to get tough and stop bending over backwards to please these idiots.

We wonder if the news media as a whole isn’t encouraging these groups by poking television cameras and microphones and news cameras into their faces every time three of them get together and hold up a sign.

Finally, we wonder when it became unpopular to be a good American, to operate a profitable business, to serve the country, protect the nation.

We don’t think it is unpopular to do these things, but there are too many young radicals undermining this nation by degrading these principals.

Good Americans can only wonder what makes a protestor.  We’re getting a pretty good idea.

Artwork in Oceanside High School Yearbook, 1970

In the summer of 1970, cracks in the unity of the various groups began to show. In July of 1970 Pat Sumi left for North Korea with a group which included exiled Black Panther Leader Eldridge Cleaver. A spokesperson for the MDM said that Sumi’s trip was “financed by several liberal groups located in Southern California.” The group were guests of the Committee for Reunification of Korea.

Just one year later, in 1971, Pat Sumi did an interview and was asked about the Movement for a Democratic Military and if it still existed. She gave a rather defeated reply: “Well, MDM still exists in the minds of people—but that’s not an organization, we discovered. We discovered what the Black Panthers have since discovered—that mass sympathy does not at all mean mass organization. Mass sympathy does not give you the power to change anything. We didn’t understand what an organization was.”

She then offered a different perspective about the group’s efforts and its impact saying, “We really messed up some G.I.’s. A lot of them went to jail. Some had to go AWOL. A few went to Canada. We had no way really to organize power to protect G.I.’s when they were arrested or harassed.”

Of the shooting of the MDM headquarters at 519 South Freeman Street she said: “Finally, the thing that really broke us was in April of 1970, last year. Someone fired 12 rounds into the MDM house and nearly killed a G.I. That was when we discovered we had no organizational way to respond. That was it. That was the crisis. That was when the pigs decided to confront us. That was when we discovered we had no real power.

“After that, it was downhill for the organization. I didn’t understand all this. Last summer, I was running around in Asia telling everyone about MDM when, in fact, it was really falling to pieces. I came home and there was no MDM left.”

In 1972 Oceanside Police Chief Ward Ratcliff, along with Police Sergeant John Key, attended a hearing for the “Investigation of Attempts to Subvert the United States Armed Services” held by the Committee of Internal Security, House of Representatives.

At the hearing the two were called to testify about their knowledge of the Movement for a Democratic Military and its activities in and around Oceanside, along with its principals and the celebrities that supported their cause. By that time the MDM aka the Green Machine, was no longer in Oceanside. Key testified that problems amongst the group surfaced in June of 1970. The Black Unity Party, established by Black Marines, eventually split from the MDM.

In her 1971 Pat Sumi discussed the difficulties amongst the various groups and reflected upon the outcome of the group’s seemingly failed mission:

“I discovered that in relating to international revolutionary movements, you have to represent something. For most of us, except for the Panthers—and even now for the Panthers, it is a question of who do they really represent—you shouldn’t get a bunch of individuals to go. It’s not useful. I suppose what it did do was to heighten my consciousness of the real critical need in the American movement for a party; some kind of guiding force that can take leadership in struggle.

“We don’t have it yet. Everyone is floundering around, trying to find direction on their own. I suspect this period of pre-party struggle will last a great deal longer; in fact, too long. I think we’re going to find that we’ll have to have a party, because a whole lot of us are going to wind up in jail. There’s a good possibility in the next two, three, four years that there’s going to be a massive repression. I don’t think it’ll kill a whole lot of us—but it will put a whole lot of us away.

“People are going to understand what we understood when the pigs decide to confront us, that if you don’t have the organizational power to meet that crisis, then comes the question—’Can you make it, can you make an organization? Will you have that power?'”

In July of 1971 the Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that the “Last Combat Marines” were returning from Vietnam. Members of Support Company, 7th Communications Battalion and Forces Logistics Command aboard the USS St. Louis would arrive Monday, July 19th at Pier “E” at the Long Beach Naval Station. U.S. Military involvement in the Vietnam War continued until 1973.

519 South Freeman Street, 2020 Google view

Today the little house on South Freeman Street still stands. Its cottage-like architecture belies its role as headquarters of a war protest movement, which for a brief time was the gathering place for young activists, counter-culture revolutionaries and celebrity sympathizers.

The History of the George P. McKay Building

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George Parker McKay, a native of Oakland, California, and born in 1860, came to Oceanside in 1892 with his wife Mary Catherine. She was born in Germany, and was the daughter of Bernard Mebach, another early pioneer of Oceanside. The McKay, Mebach and Pieper families of Oceanside were intertwined in marriage and their German heritage kept them a tight-knit family.

In 1893 the George and Mary McKay opened a store on the corner of Cleveland and Second Street (Mission Avenue) which they operated for nearly 15 years. Along with selling a variety of goods and sporting equipment, they offered cigars, tobacco and ice cream.

Mary and George McKay (center) stand at their original store located on the northeast corner of
Cleveland and Second Streets (Mission Avenue) in 1904

George was an avid hunter and sportsman and was appointed “Official Weigher for the Southern California Rod and Reel Club.”

George P. McKay, third from left, with others in a local shooting competition.

Active in the community, George McKay was a charter member of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce which formed in 1896. Both he and his wife helped to promote and raise funds for Oceanside’s second pier. Mary McKay sold tickets to charity events at the Oceanside Opera House, the proceeds of which were donated to the pier fund.

The couple purchased a lot on the northeast corner of Cleveland and Third Streets (renamed Pier View Way) in 1907. Frederick W. Rieke, a local contractor, was hired to begin construction of a two-story new building.

The September 7, 1907  OCEANSIDE BLADE reported: The foundation was laid this week for a store building which is to be built for Geo. P. McKay, on his property on the corner of Third and Cleveland streets.  The building will be of two stories with a frontage of 60 feet on Third and 34 on Cleveland.  The lower floor will consist of a large storeroom and a smaller room for a soda and ice cream parlor.  Above will be living apartments comprising four rooms and a bath.  The building will be a combination of frame and brick of solid construction and with an attractive front.  F. W. Rieke has the contract for the construction.

The George P. McKay building, opened in 1908, northeast corner of Cleveland and Third Streets (Pier View Way)

The following year George and Catherine McKay moved into their new building which they occupied for the next eleven years. They sold everything from firearms to cameras, candies, phonographs, dry goods and souvenirs. George P. McKay was also a photographer and took several images of Oceanside and the San Luis Rey Valley which were published as popular postcards.

Interior of the McKay Store, George and Mary to the right.

In 1919, the McKays sold their building and its stock to Grove S. and Catherine DeLine of Los Angeles.  The couple planned to vacation in the mountains “for the benefit of Mrs. McKay’s health” but she died just a few months later and was buried at the Mission San Luis Rey cemetery. George McKay died in 1937 and was buried in Oceanview Cemetery and his gravemarker denotes that he was a “Native Son of the Golden West.”

The McKay building was renamed DeLine’s Variety Store which sold household items including dishes, stationery, notions and small appliances and a portion of the building rented out as a shoe repair.

Ad for Deline’s Variety Store in 1923, Oceanside Blade

In 1925 Thomas M. Johnson of Pasadena purchased the Deline’s business, stock and fixtures and entered into “a long lease on the building.” Johnson announced that he would specialize in “fishing tackle, sporting goods and stationery lines.”

Grove DeLine and his family returned to Los Angeles in 1928 and sold the building in to Ernest J. Van Vleet. Van Vleet (sometimes misspelled as Van Fleet) had settled in Fresno, California where he made a living as a farmer. He and his wife Ione had four children.

The Van Vleet family moved to Oceanside and for a brief time lived on the second floor. While the VanVleet’s maintained ownership of the building, they rented it out and in 1932 and the building became the new location for the Oceanside Radio Service. In the mid 1930’s the building occupied a restaurant and later a dress shop.

Madame Marie, a fortune teller, rented a room or suite in the building and did readings every day, advertising in the local paper that she answered “all questions.” 

The building was used as a café in the 1930s.

In 1945 the Van Vleet’s transferred title to their daughter Georgia B. Recek. Recek maintained ownership of the building for five decades. Georgia was a member of the First Christian Church of Oceanside and lived on Mission Avenue. She was known for her generosity and opened her home to several people over the 35 years she lived in Oceanside.

By 1948 the building was occupied by City Cleaners, a dry-cleaning business, operated by Alonzo Adams. This long-running business continued through the 1980s. But by then the beauty and of George McKay’s building had long faded and along with many buildings in downtown Oceanside had become an eyesore.

The McKay building in about 1991.

However, the McKay building was purchased by a new owner and in 1994 underwent a renovation and restoration. For about a year it was occupied by the Waterman Surf Art Gallery co-owned by Tom Glenn and Marcie Hintz.

In about 1999 the building was used as a beauty shop called “Talk of the Town” which leased the building in the early 2000’s.

Pier View Coffee in 2019

For the past several years it has been a favorite spot for coffee lovers known as Pier View Coffee. The George P. McKay building has weathered a lot of change over its 114+ year history. Its in the heart of downtown Oceanside, surround by both old and new architecture, and has kept its historic look and feel.

The Story of the North Oceanside School, 1951-1968

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For many years Oceanside’s early school system was a modest one, serving a population of just 3,500. In a ten year period the population increased by just 30 percent to 4,600 in 1940. But with the establishment of a large military training base to the north in 1942, Oceanside would face a population explosion that would take years to catch up in order to provide adequate housing and services.

With an estimated 5,000 civilians arriving to construct barracks, a hospital, and training facilities, and soon after 20,000 Marines to train at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside was inundated with people looking for housing. While most military personnel were being trained for war and being shipped off, many still came with their families. Oceanside was not prepared to meet such a large influx of people and with such an expansive military base to develop even after World War II, the population growth did not level off, but continued to increase.

In 1940 there was just over 600 students enrolled in Oceanside elementary schools, that number nearly doubled by 1946 and classrooms were bursting at the seams. By 1952, in six years time, the enrollment had grown nearly 200 percent with 3,602 students. The average annual increase was about 238 children per year.

Sterling Homes opened in 1945 on Mission Avenue, east of Archer Street.

Federal housing units, which opened in 1945 within city limits known as Sterling Homes, provided 668 housing units to military families. Schools classes had double sessions to accommodate children. That year the school district entered into an agreement to use buildings on Mission Avenue east of present day Canyon Drive, from a wartime Guayule project. For several years, this makeshift school known as Mission Road School was utilized for children living in Sterling Homes and the Eastside neighborhood.

A new school in South Oceanside and one on South Ditmar Street were built but more were needed. The district did not have the financial means to acquire land, hire architects and contracts for building.

In June of 1949 the school district received tentative approval of $253,614 for a building program, which was just a fraction of its $800,000 request to the State.

Portion of 1956 map, showing location of North Oceanside School off of North Ditmar Street.

That September planned construction of a new North Oceanside elementary school was announced. Land was located in the Clements Addition of Oceanside, at the 900 block of North Ditmar Street. The new school would have a kindergarten and six rooms and would serve the downtown population north of Mission Avenue, families living in North Oceanside Terrace, and the Homojo housing project near Camp Pendleton’s main gate. 

By January of 1950 the plans for the North Oceanside School were in the state architect’s office for approval. The City council closed parts of 9th street, 10th street, Ditmar and alleys “in order to make the site of the future North Oceanside School into one contiguous property.”

Kindergarten class at North Oceanside school, June 1951

Grading and construction took a little under a year and in March of 1951 an open house was held at the new school. Described as “airy” and the “best in modern schoolhouse planning” the North Oceanside School featured “large window areas and a rambling design”  which took “fullest advantage of California’s sunny climate and give the students a feeling of going to school outdoors rather than in the confines of a classroom.”

This aerial in 1965 captures just a glimpse of North Oceanside School in upper left hand corner.

“This new building in some ways is the finest of the group [of new schools],” Superintendent Stewart White stated in a letter to parents. One “innovation” was the classroom seating, “by grouping around tables rather than lining up in the traditional straight rows.”  

Even though the school year was nearly over, the need for additional classroom space was immediate. Students attending the overcrowded South Oceanside and Ditmar schools were sent to the North Oceanside School.

Delia Ernest, Principal of North Oceanside School from 1951 to 1957.

The principal of Oceanside’s newest school was Delia E. Ernst. Teachers were:  Mrs. Gladys Schrock, kindergarten; Miss Ernst, first grade; Mrs. Gladys Edwards, second grade; Mrs. Nancy McGlynn, third grade; Miss Catherine Cloyd, fourth grade; Mrs. Frances Houts, fifth grade, and Mrs. Irene Hill, sixth grade.

North Oceanside School’s 1st grade class in 1964

Just one month later the newly opened school was at capacity. Additional classrooms were to be added but funding was again the issue.

Due to the fact that so many of the students were from military families, the school district qualified for federal aid. In 1953 the then Oceanside-Libby School District received a whopping “7 percent of all federal funds allocated within the United States for school construction.’’

North Oceanside Kindergarten Classroom in 1959

By 1954 the North Oceanside School was so full that 6th graders were sent to the old Horne Street School near the high school. In June the district received funds needed to add another kindergarten, four classrooms and a multipurpose room to North Oceanside.

Expansion begun in September 1954 with the addition of four classrooms, one kindergarten room and a multipurpose room, which allowed for cafeteria service and “extra activities, indoor ‘rainy day’ playroom, assemblies and community functions after school hours.”

After completion, the North Oceanside School had a total of 10 classrooms and two kindergartens, which was reported to be “the maximum teaching space allowed for the 4.41 acre site.” Superintendent Ben F. Fugate said the expansion provided a capacity “of around 400 students, although the facilities could handle 450 if the need were urgent.”

That school year the district announced the school zones and bus schedules. The boundaries of each were listed as follows in the Oceanside Blade Tribune: 

  • South Oceanside School area includes all children south of the lagoon and of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Escondido Spur of the railroad (same as last fall).
  • All children living north of Second street; west of the freeway and south of the San Luis Rey River will attend North Oceanside School, except those in the new housing areas named above.
  • Mission Elementary School area will include all children living east of the freeway; north of the AT&SF Escondido Spur, and south of the San Luis Rey River.
  • Attending Horne Street School will be all children living south of Second Street; north of Elm, Washington and Minnesota (east of Grant Street) and west of the freeway.
  • Ditmar children will be all those living north of the lagoon and the AT&SF Escondido Spur; south of Elm, Washington and Minnesota (east of Grant Street) and west of the freeway.
  • The new Jefferson Junior High area will include all seventh and eighth graders of the district. Jefferson Junior High School is located at the corner of Acacia and Poplar Streets north of Mission Elementary School.
  • Children living in the Oceanside portion of Camp Joseph H. Pendleton should enroll at the Horne Street School, except seventh and eighth graders who will go to Jefferson Junior High.

In less than four years three additional schools had been built, but three older ones had been deemed unfit and were abandoned as instructional sites. Funds and resources were continually stretched to the limit and the Superintendent shared that “throughout the construction program the school district has been living on a hand-to-mouth, day-to-day basis” in order to serve the student population.  Rising enrollment resulted in the need for one new school each year. “We continue to hope for a leveling off in our rate of growth” the superintendent declared “but so far it hasn’t come.”

North Oceanside School Kindergarten Classroom 2, in 1963

Despite its additional classroom space, in 1955 the North Oceanside School had to send 38 6th graders to the Ditmar School. In addition, North Oceanside had 94 kindergartners divided between just two rooms; three 1st grade classes of 27 students; three 2nd grade classes of 30 students; and two 3rd grades with 36 students. One 4th grade class had 38 students and a 4th/5th combination of 36; lastly, the 5th grade class had a total of 38 students.  

In 1957 Joseph M. Trotter, Jr. was named the new principal for North Oceanside School, replacing Delia (Ernst) Larson. Trotter was a graduate of Oceanside-Carlsbad High School, studied at UCLA and San Diego State College, and had been a teacher in the Horne Street School.  

Aerial view of the North Oceanside School in 1962

School capacity was somewhat stabilizing with the continued building of new schools including what was then called the Laurel Street School, a new Mission Elementary and the North Terrace School. Homojo housing, which contained nearly 300 units near the Main Gate and relied heavily on the North Oceanside School, was removed altogether.

North Oceanside 3rd Grade class in 1966

But the school’s days were numbered. In 1965 it was announced that the property upon which the North Oceanside stood would soon be part of a “main interchange” connecting the I-5 with Hill Street (Coast Highway). The school district mourned the loss of the needed classrooms but remained hopeful that they could use the school through June of 1968.

From the Oceanside Blade Tribune in 1965

In 1966 a bleak outlook on the school was published, in contrast to just 15 years prior when the school was lauded. Larry Layton, North Oceanside’s last school principal, described his students as often neglected and that “they come to us with scratches” which was the startling headline in the Oceanside Blade Tribune.

The school of 422 students was a diverse one. “We have every color and race under the sun at our school and it is our source of strength, as well as a good lesson in democracy,” Layton said. But the turnover rate was unprecedented. “In one year there were only two of the original 33 left at the end of the semester in one class,” he remarked.

North Oceanside School, 5th Grade in 1967

Layton went on to list the challenges facing the students: “Eighty of the fathers of our children are in Vietnam. Four fathers have been killed. Many of the children come from broken homes. For one out of every four students at North Oceanside there is no father in the house. They come to us with scratches you can’t even see and we put bandages on them.”

1969 aerial shows beginning of demolition of the school buildings

By 1968 the North Oceanside School was vacated and the following year the original building was removed. Freeway construction crews used a portion of the school that remained as offices.

In 1971 the State Division of Highways put the former school site up for auction. The minimum opening bid was $40,000 for the 41,818 square foot parcel. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that “the surplus land and several buildings are all that remain of the old school site after redesign and construction of the interchange at Hill Street and Interstate Five.”

Aerial photos reveal what was left of the school was gone by the mid 1970s.

The North Oceanside School was in use for just seventeen years, compared to several schools in the district which have been in use for 5 to 7 decades. With such a short lifespan, it is no wonder some are unaware of its existence but for those who attended North Oceanside, it is an indelible part of their childhood memories.

History of the First South Oceanside School

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South Oceanside is a popular neighborhood referred by locals as “South O”, but more than just a neighborhood, it was once a township, separate from Oceanside. Annexed by the City of Oceanside in 1890, the boundaries are near Morse Street to the north and to the lagoon to the south, and goes as far east as Hunsaker Street. In 1949 two of the original street names were changed: Osuna to Nevada, and Estudillo to Clementine. Vista Way was originally named Wall Street which was changed in 1927.

Map of South Oceanside, 1887

In the 1880’s the unincorporated area was largely owned by John Chauncey Hayes. Born in Los Angeles in 1852, Hayes was the son of Benjamin R. Hayes, an attorney and noted California historian. J. Chauncey Hayes graduated from Santa Clara College, then studied law with his father, and was admitted to the bar in 1877.  He settled in the San Luis Rey Valley and served as justice of the peace.  

John Chauncey Hayes

In 1887 Hayes established South Oceanside which at one time had its own bank, depot, school, cemetery, and several buildings made of bricks at a brickyard near Kelly and Ditmar Streets. He also published his own newspaper, the South Oceanside Diamond.

Hayes petitioned the County Board of Supervisors in 1888 to form the South Oceanside School District, which was granted. The following year the district voted and approved a new $3,000 school building.

The South Oceanside School House, 1889

In August of 1889 the contract to build the school house was given to W. E. Damron to build a two story brick building at a cost of $1,600. The wood work and painting was given to R. C. Mills for $1,070. The South Oceanside Diamond reported that the work had already begun and that work would be completed in sixty day. The school was located on Block 41 near the southeast corner of Whaley and Ditmar Streets.

A census taken in 1891 reported that 43 children were living in the South Oceanside School District which would have included a portion of Carlsbad. One of the earliest teachers was a Mrs. Roberts, who resided in Los Angeles but would come down for the school year. Students were taught up to the 8th grade and then went on to high school in Oceanside.

T. V. Dodd, an educator at South Oceanside

Thomas V.  Dodd, also taught at South Oceanside in the 1890s. He was a superintendent of schools in Madison, Indiana for many years. After coming to Oceanside he taught at several schools in San Diego County and later taught science at the Oceanside high school.

Lillie V. Deering was then hired to teach at the South Oceanside School. But the school was open and closed during the school year at various times, likely due to lack of attendance. South Oceanside was not heavily populated and it is likely that families sent their children to the Oceanside grammar school on Horne Street. In September of 1900 it was announced that the school would close for a few months, with no explanation.

In 1901 Mrs. Clewett was announced as the new teacher, but was replaced by Miss Alice Martin two months later. In 1902 the Ocanside Blade reported the school had a “daily attendance of 18.” In 1904 the school reported 14 students.

Isabel S. Kennedy of Del Mar was hired as teacher of the school in 1906. At the time there were just 9 pupils. The following year Mary E. Clark was employed as teacher of the South Oceanside School.

In 1909 Joseph George Martin of Fallbrook was hired to teach at South Oceanside. A native of Ireland, Martin came to San Diego County in 1877 and had taught for nearly 30 years in and around Fallbrook. In June of that year one student, Nora Marron, graduated from the Eighth grade. The Blade reported that “Prof. Martin, who has had charge of the South Oceanside School, is a faithful and experienced teacher and the pupils do good work under his guidance.”

Martin continued to teach another four years at South Oceanside. In 1913 three students graduated from 8th grade: McKinley Hayes, May A. Birchley and Emma Billick.

However, the following school year the school was “suspended”. It seems there were just a handful of students and many area residents thought students should attend larger schools in Oceanside or Carlsbad. It is unknown if school resumed that year but it was opened again in 1914 with Josefa Elena Jascen as teacher. In February of 1915 the school was closed for one month due to a lack of funds.

Jascen retuned the following school year and the local paper reported “a good attendance” of pupils which included Teresa and Cecilia Marron, Victoria Murrietta, Margarita, Harvey and Herminia Jascen, Morea Foster, Edgar and Irma Spaulding, Thomas Warson, Barbara Libby, Clifford Cole and Madalera Foussat.

The South Oceanside School after it had been dismantled and rebuilt in 1916. Windows and appear to be the same as original schoolhouse. Students pose with teachers, one of whom is Josefa Elena Jacsen.

Irma Spaulding attended the school between 1915 and 1920. Her family moved to South Oceanside in 1912 and operated a dairy farm. Irma’s father, Warren E. Spaulding, along with Earl Frazee, were Trustees of the school at the time.

In 1916 the school needed repairs, and a tax was approved in which to raise $249 for repairs. By August of that year it was reported by the Oceanside Register that “the work of improvements on the South Oceanside school building has been completed and school will be opened by Miss Josephine Jascen in a few days.”

Irma Spaulding said in an interview decades later that her father had dismantled the second story of the school. So it was likely then the school went from a large two story building to a smaller single story one.

Students pose on steps of the South Oceanside School, circa 1919

The school was probably permanently closed by 1924 and what remained of the school building was either sold and moved, or dismantled altogether. 

Today the only South Oceanside School anyone remembers is the one located at Horne and Cassidy Streets. Construction began in 1947 and it opened the following year, initially only offering classes for kindergarten through the 3rd grade.

The corner lot where the original school sat at Ditmar and Whaley Streets remained vacant for years until 1949, when the South Oceanside Community Methodist Church began construction for their new church building. As work commenced the brick foundation for this historic school was discovered.                                                                               

Death of a Starlet – The Rise and Fall of Dariel Jean Johnson

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In 1942 a 14-year-old girl made national entertainment news when she was discovered by actress Judy Garland during a performance at the Wilshire Ebell Club in Los Angeles.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Dariel Jean was performing in a production called “Cavalcade of Youth” when she caught the eye of Garland, who urged studio executives to sign her. In 8th grade, attending Bret Harte Junior High School in Los Angeles, Dariel’s seven year contract was approved on her 14th birthday by Judge Emmet H. Wilson.

From the Los Angeles Times Wed., November 11,1942

Dariel Jean Johnson was born November 10, 1928 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was the youngest child of Lee and Mabel Johnson. Lee Johnson worked as an accountant and by the late 1930s moved his family to Los Angeles.

Vivian Blaine’s column “Star Dust” noted Dariel Jean Johnson in newspapers around the country. February 19, 1943

She was signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, earning $75 a week, and it was reported that she was taking acting and ballet lessons to prepare for “important roles in forth coming pictures.” The “discovery” of Dariel Jean was featured in newspapers across the country in Virginia Vale’s column “Star Dust” regaling her contract with MGM.  Then in December of that year it was reported that she would appear in “Girl Crazy” staring Garland and Mickey Rooney. However, she did not appear in the film, or at least is not credited with any role.

Dariel Jean, age 16, poses while performing “Fellow on a Furlough”, 1944. Universal Pictures

In 1944 Dariel Jean did perform in “Fellow on a Furlough” directed by Vernon Keays and produced by Will Cowan of Universal Pictures. The musical short featured Bob Chester and His Orchestra and starred Hal Derwin and Rose Anne Stevens; other performers included the Les Paul Trio and the Nillson Sisters. It was released on March 1st in theaters and included as a bonus reel along with feature films.

Movie ad, with bonus feature, “Fellow on a Furlough”

It is unknown if Dariel was included in any other studio productions but she did attend a “legislative attaches’ dinner” in Sacramento in 1945 along with other performers including Vivian Blaine, Dorothy Lamour and Leo Carillo. The group of fourteen actors, singers and dancers then entertained patients in several hospitals, including military hospitals in the San Francisco area.

Nothing else is known of her contract with studios MGM or Universal, but it is likely they did not resign her. At the age of 18, with her short career as a starlet seemingly behind her, Dariel Jean married Alvin Thomas Budd on September 23, 1947. Budd was a California native, born in 1925, a veteran of World War II, and employed with the telephone company. One year after they were married Dariel gave birth to a baby girl.  

In 1950 the family of three had settled down to a domesticated life in Orange County and although Hollywood was less than 60 miles away, they were worlds apart.  On the surface, all must have seemed well for Dariel Jean, who had lived a semi-charmed life, transitioning from a brief time in the limelight into the routine of family life. But there was something amiss; something troubling.

Dariel Jean Budd with daughter. This photo may have been taken on the back lot of one of the movie studios.
USC DIGITAL LIBRARY, LOS ANGELES EXAMINER NEGATIVES COLLECTION, 1950-1961

Alvin Budd left for a job in Hawaii as a radio operator, but Dariel and her young daughter stayed behind, living in Newport Beach with a roommate identified only as Mrs. Robert Shand. Mother and child were to eventually meet Alvin in Hawaii, but on Monday, August 13, 1951 Dariel Jean  drove south on Highway 101 through the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and pulled off near Aliso Canyon, on a beach area five miles north of Oceanside. She was presumably there to meet a “friend.”

Whether she met that friend or not is unknown, but on August 16, 1951 a group of Camp Pendleton Marines would discover a grisly scene. Dariel Jean’s life had come to a sudden end.

The Oceanside Blade Tribune published the tragic story on August 17, 1951 with the headline “Discover Body Young Lady Aliso Canyon” with the sad details that Marines on maneuvers had “discovered the body of a 23-year-old woman in a car parked in Aliso Canyon, seven miles north of Oceanside on the Camp Pendleton reservation.  The woman identified as Dariel Jean Budd, of Newport Beach, had apparently been dead for several days. She was found slumped across the front seat of the car, a .32 caliber pistol clutched in her right hand. Upon examination it was found that a bullet had entered the right side of her head just above the ear and emerged a little higher above the left ear, lodging in the car top. The slug will be extracted from the automobile for examination. The young woman was clad in slacks and a blouse. She gripped the steering wheel of the car with her left hand.”

The FBI was called to investigate, likely because the death occurred on federal property. Investigators found the car doors locked and made entry by forcing a window open. An automatic pistol of “foreign make” was found lying on the seat. A small wicker purse was on the floor containing a makeup kit, along with a green wallet which revealed an identification card from the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, and a driver’s license, identifying the lifeless body as Dariel Jean Budd. Authorities contacted her husband Alvin Budd, who made arrangements to quickly return to California.

The body of his wife was taken to Davis Mortuary in Oceanside and an autopsy performed. San Diego County Coroner A. E. Gallagher said “evidence indicated a suicide.” He reported that “the barrel of the gun had been placed close against the right side of the head, as there were powder burns at the entrance of the bullet wound.” He added there were “no other marks on or about the body to indicate that there had been any violence in connection with the death.”

Despite the finding of suicide, her roommate was interviewed and said that Dariel Jean did not know how to load or fire a gun and that she had planned to leave on August 30th to join her husband in Hawaii. One additional detail she provided was that Dariel had left Monday afternoon to meet a Camp Pendleton Marine by the name of Ernie. The two had met at a dance just four days prior on August 10th, but Mrs. Shand described the relationship as “casual.”

What led Dariel Jean to end her life? Was it an overwhelming disappointment of a failed movie contract? Did an unhappy marriage lead to a brief affair?  From whom and when did she acquire a gun?

As Dariel Jean viewed the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing on the shoreline from her car window, was she waiting for a friend or a lover? It is unknown if investigators tried to determine the identity of Ernie. Did Dariel Jean ever meet up with him that day? If he existed, he never stepped forward.

In the scrapbooks of Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department was a torn photograph of Dariel Jean. In the photo she is gripping the steering wheel with her left hand and a gun is resting in the crook of her right hand. It seems an odd position of each. But with the coroner’s ruling as suicide, the death of Dariel Jean no longer warranted further investigation.

Photo from the Captain Harold Davis Collection. Note Dariel’s hand gripping the steering wheel.

It was a sad ending for a young woman who appeared to have fame and stardom within reach, but it had slipped through her fingers. She was discovered by one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Garland herself would die a lonely death years later despite the fame she had gained. She is quoted as saying, “If I am a legend, then why am I so lonely?”

Dariel Jean died alone in her car, either by her own hand or that of someone else. It wasn’t the “Hollywood ending” anyone expected.

End of an Era – The Flying Bridge (and Coffee Dan’s)

The Flying Bridge Restaurant at 1105 North Coast Highway (North Hill Street) is no more. Its unique “coffee shop architecture” and Googie stylings weren’t enough to save it from demolition. The prime location of the restaurant, providing panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and San Luis Rey River, will be redeveloped. It will not be the first time.  

The Real Auto Camp at 1103 North Hill Street (Coast Highway) in the 1920s.

Before the Flying Bridge Restaurant (and Coffee Dan’s) was built, the expansive property was the site of an early auto camp owned by Frank and Anne Martin. The Martin Auto Camp was in an ideal location as it was the first travelers would encounter as they drove into the Oceanside city limits along the original Highway 101.

The auto camp was later sold to Tony Janek and Julia Ravast in 1924, who renamed it the Real Auto Camp. Sam Stock purchased the site in 1927 and continued ownership through 1944.

The original Bridge Motel owned by Frank and Dorothy Satten

Dorothy and Frank Satten subsequently purchased the property and in 1951, they built eight new room units along with an administration center and opened the Bridge Motel.  Although the property was jointly owned, Dorothy Satten is credited with the development and success of the motel, which continued to expand. A 1954 ad described the 18-unit motel as “one of the finest in the west” and offered wall to wall carpets, Beauty Rest mattresses, tubs and showers and “free” television.

By 1963 the motel had increased to 30 units and was renamed the Bridge Motor Inn of San Luis Rey with a large marquis sign erected at the motel site.

The addition coincided with the building of a new 8,500 square foot restaurant building that housed two separate restaurants: Coffee Dan’s was a casual diner operated by Joseph Bulasky, president of Coffee Dan’s, Inc. of Beverly Hills; the Flying Bridge Room was a formal dining eatery which jutted out over the San Luis Rey River and provided a view of the newly built harbor. 

The Flying Bridge Restaurant under construction

In lieu of a traditional groundbreaking ceremony, a unique “space breaking” event via helicopter was used to cut the ceremonial ribbon marking the restaurant’s opening. A wire connected to the building from the hovering aircraft was then cut by a pair of shears.

1962 ceremony for new restaurant

The local newspaper reported that “a marine décor is used in both dining places” and the Flying Bridge Room “has its walls decorated with wood carvings from old ships.”  The motel-restaurant complex was considered “the town showplace, frequented by movie stars” and even California governor, Ronald Reagan.

View of Coffee Dan’s

Although other Coffee Dan’s in Southern California were designed with a Polynesian theme, the subject resource which housed both Coffee Dan’s and the Flying Bridge, was designed to mimic a ship. This ship theme was the overall design element inside and out. Even the name of the restaurant “Flying Bridge” is a nautical term for the open area of a ship which provides unobstructed views.

The restaurant was designed by Tom Hayward, an architect of note. The zigzag wall and saw tooth roofline on the east facing façade were distinctive features in other similar coffee shops in the Los Angeles area and could also be attributed as “Googie.” Googie architecture can be recognized by several design elements, which include cantilevered roofs, sharp angular or eccentric shapes that are built to resemble a specific object like a space rocket, and in this building’s case, a ship. 

1963 ad for Coffee Dan’s depicting restaurant building

The Flying Bridge Restaurant was a trendy local spot for years. The banquet room hosted events for a variety of businesses and organizations. By the 1980s it was a popular spot for singles clubs.

The Bridge Motor Inn of San Luis Rey marquee and a view of the restaurant building in 1979.

In 1999 Jack McCabe gave the aging restaurant a $200,000 “facelift” reopening the coffee shop which had been temporarily closed and revamping the restaurant’s interior. For a brief time, it was even renamed McCabe’s Bridge Restaurant.

1999 ad McCabe’s “Bridge Restaurant

By 2001 the restaurant had changed hands to Patti and Dan Cannon and Jan and Ron DesRosier. The owners implemented “fundraising meals” which featured all-you-can-eat spaghetti and/or pizza for $8.50 to help non-profits and others with fundraisers. It was so successful the owners of the Flying Bridge were nominated and won KGTV Channel 10’s award for “Leaders of San Diego.”

In 2008 the restaurant closed, awaiting a new hotel development of the property which at the time seemed imminent. For the last fourteen years the restaurant at its prominent position near the north end of Oceanside was left to decay. Vandalized and boarded up the end was near, but it’s still a bit of shock to see a pile of rubble where once stood the Flying Bridge.

History of the “Top Gun” House

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Oceanside has several notable landmarks including the Pier and the historic Mission San Luis Rey.  However, one of the most notable and beloved landmarks is what we know as the “Top Gun” House. It has been newly restored, in all its Victorian-detailed glory, nestled within a new oceanfront resort on North Pacific Street.  

Sarah and Henry Graves pose in front of their newly built cottage in 1888. Note the train depot to the left and the small house located behind the property to the right. (photo courtesy Save Our Heritage Organization)

To tell the story of the “Top Gun” house, we need to go back to the earliest days of Oceanside. Andrew Jackson Myers, a rancher in the San Luis Rey Valley, noted that a railroad line had just been completed Los Angeles to San Diego (by way of Riverside) along the Pacific coastline. Myers then applied for and received a land grant of 160 acres in 1883. The trains would travel directly over Myers’ new land grant making his property very valuable. 

That year, a town was surveyed, laid out and streets were named. Myers began advertising his new town in newspapers all over Southern California. This new town of Oceanside was touted as a new “resort city” and excursion trains brought prospective land buyers from the inland valleys.

The train stopped at a simple wooden platform to unload passengers. There wasn’t much to see in those very early years, but one of the first commercial blocks contained the Hayes Land Office, the Louis Billiard Hall and Mayroffer’s Saloon.

One of the earliest photos of Oceanside. Louis Billiard Hall and Hayes Land Office at Cleveland and Second Streets (present day Mission Avenue) circa 1885/86.

Visitors wishing to wade in the Pacific Oceanside could use the bathhouse built by Andrew Jackson Myers, just below the bluff on the beach (located where the current Beach Community Center now stands) which afforded beach goers the opportunity to change into their bathing attire.     

Andrew Jackson Myers’ bathhouse located on the beach north of the present day pier, 1880s

Described as a “seaside resort” in brochures and pamphlets, interest in the new town was great. With a name like “Oceanside” there was truth in advertising.  In August of 1886 the San Diego Union published a story about our development, “The location is a most desirable one, combining a magnificent beach, high and level ground for a town site, magnificent climate and charming scenery.

The trains came from Los Angeles to Oceanside via Colton and passengers came to Oceanside as early as 1883 and 1884 to inspect the burgeoning town and invest in ocean and beach front real estate. Many residents of Riverside, Redlands and San Bernardino purchased property in Oceanside and built vacation homes here. 

View of Oceanside, looking east. Circa 1889

In 1886 Dr. Henry Graves of Riverside came to Oceanside and while here bought a portion of a lot on North Pacific Street for just $1.00.  The following year Graves purchased two more lots, one of which was on the northwest corner of Pacific and First Streets (now Seagaze Drive). Lot 7 on Block 16 was purchased for $1050.00 and would be the site of new summer home for himself and his wife Sarah.

Henry Graves was born in Coshocton, Ohio on February 10, 1827. He attended medical school in Iowa, and later moved to Middleport, Illinois where he opened a practice in 1857. By 1860 Henry had married his wife Sarah, who was born in 1833, and was also a native of Ohio. The two were living in Hiawatha, Kansas and lived in house on Kickapoo Street. In 1868, Sarah Graves gave birth to a son, Henry E. Graves.

Graves was Post Surgeon at the Whetsone Indian Agency in 1871 as well as the Spotted Tail Agency in Sheridan County, Nebraska in 1871. The latter agency was the first to be constructed within the Great Sioux Reservation established by a treaty in 1868 and was named for Brule Sioux Chief Spotted Tail.

Returning to Hiawatha, Graves was appointed postmaster in1875 and operated a drugstore. In 1879 Henry Graves was elected to the city council there and was appointed chairman of the Republicans of Brown County committee. In 1883, Henry and Sarah Graves left Hiawatha, Kansas, and moved to Riverside, California where they purchased a ranch on Brockton Avenue. He continued his medical practice there but also engaged in citrus farming.

The Graves house was built in 1888. From the South Oceanside Diamond, November 2, 1888

Dr. Graves undoubtedly read of Oceanside in the local papers where the excursion trips were posted and after making a trip of his own, was sold on the newly established town. Several months after purchasing his oceanfront lot atop Pacific Street, Graves had a home built. The South Oceanside Diamond reported on November 2, 1888:  “Dr. Grave’s house, under the skillful management of Ed. Durgan is nearing completion.” (Note: It has been erroneously reported for a number of years that the house was built in 1887.)

The ornate Victorian cottage was built as a vacation home, Dr. and Mrs. Graves would “summer” in Oceanside and return to Riverside.  The local paper described it is “their annual vacation by the seaside.” The couple continued to visit Oceanside each year. In 1904 they had an extended stay as the Oceanside Blade reported on May 21, 1904: “Dr. and Mrs. Henry Graves [are] down from Riverside and will remain in their cottage by the seaside until October.”

The Graves’ cottage in about 1892

The Graves sold their Oceanside home in March of 1905 for $1800, to Charles H. and Lillian Burlock. Dr. Henry Graves died on October 20, 1905, in Riverside at the age of 78.

Charles Burlock was appointed deputy constable in 1897 by Benjamin Franklin Hubbert. Burlock married Lilian Wilcox in 1899 and moved to San Diego where he was the manager of the San Diego Gold Mining and Milling Company.  The Burlocks sold the house to J. F. Anderson, and it was then transferred to Southwestern Realty in 1910. But even as late as 1914, locals continued to refer to the house at the “Graves’ cottage” because of its longtime association with Dr. and Mrs. Graves.

In 1921 the home was purchased by F. C. Janssen who was active in Oceanside real estate. The cottage was sold in 1926 to B. C. and Margaret Beers, the former being the President of the First National Bank of Oceanside and the developer of the Plumosa Heights subdivision on Alberta, Leonard and West Streets.

The Graves house with enclosed side porch. Circa 1940s.

The cottage was sold again to Edward and Edith Deggendorf in 1928, who promptly sold it to Angeline G. Morgan who also purchased a house and lot behind the Graves house on Lot 6. Born Angeline Elizabeth Gregory in 1889, she was a native of Topeka Kansas. She moved to San Bernardino, California in about 1904 with her parents Merritt and Ruth Gregory. In 1917 Angelina was married to Alfred Powell Morgan of New York City, but the marriage was short-lived, although the union produced a son, William Merritt.

Angeline Morgan enlarged the former Graves cottage in 1929. She rented out the house until 1936 when she came to live there herself for a period of about five or six years until returning to San Bernardino to be nearer to her son. She relocated again by 1950 and her son, William M. Morgan, rented the house to the rear (112 First Street) for he and his family.

The house located at 112 First Street (Seagaze Drive) was enlarged by Angeline Morgan. She used it as a rental for years. It was used for many of the Oceanside scenes in the “Top Gun” movie. Photo taken in 1992.

By 1966 Morgan had moved to Encinitas and the cottage was purchased by the owner of the beach amusement park, Pacific Holidayland. That year, Oceanside’s only oceanfront hotel, the Colonial Inn, was torn down. It had been built as the El San Luis Rey in 1904. Plans were to build a new resort hotel which never came to fruition. For six decades Oceanside went without a resort property, although in 2007 the Wyndham (which is a timeshare) and in 2013 the Springhill Marriot were built. What is a resort city without a resort hotel?

The Graves house reverted again to a rental property and over the years became dilapidated. Lynn and William Rego of West Covina, however, saw a diamond in the rough, and purchased the house in December of 1975 for $75,000. Much like Dr. and Mrs. Graves, they spent their summers in Oceanside looking over the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and renting it out the remainder of the year.

Top Gun house, 1992

For over 90 years the house had been painted in dark hues, which is discernible even when viewing the house in black and white photos. Years ago, the original brown color was revealed in paint scrapings.  It was the Regos who painted the house its signature blue color that most remember. Little did they know that Hollywood would notice their little blue Victorian cottage by the sea.

Actress Kelly McGills far left, with Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott during filming of Top Gun June 27, 1985.

In 1985 the Regos were contacted by Paramount Pictures looking for a beach cottage for a film location. Paramount rented the house (including the property at 112 First Street) in June for two weeks. The crew prepped the perimeter of the property by removing parking and street signs and covering the curbs with sand.  The movie being filmed was “Top Gun”, which became a blockbuster upon its release in 1986.

A candid scene with Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise, June 27, 1985 while filming at the Top Gun House

The movie made Tom Cruise a household name and the iconic scene of Maverick riding his motorcycle on palm-lined Pacific Street in Oceanside is every local’s favorite. Certainly, for Oceansiders some of the most memorable scenes of the movie “Top Gun” were filmed at the Victorian cottage, which was the featured as the home of Cruise’s love interest, flight instructor Charlie, played by Kelly McGillis.

The house at 112 First Street (Seagaze Drive) behind the Top Gun house being prepped for filming, June 1985.

Thereafter, it would forever be Oceanside’s “Top Gun” house. Fans of the movie from all over the world flocked to have their photo taken in front of the iconic house and stand on the porch.

In 1992 the Graves house was included in a Cultural Resource Survey prepared by S. Kathleen Flanigan along with Susan and Richard Carrico. This survey is an extensive list of homes and buildings eligible for historic register.  It was noted that the house at 102 North Pacific Street was “one of the few 1880s beach cottages remaining in near-pristine condition.”

Tom Cruise poses on motorcycle with member of the film crew, June 27, 1985

In 2001 the City of Oceanside acquired the Graves house through eminent domain to control future development of the oceanfront block in hopes of securing a resort project. Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) recognized the significance of the Graves house in 2001 and included it on their Most Endangered List of Historic Resources, saying: “This sweet Victorian era seaside cottage was built for Doctor Graves from Riverside. It is the oldest and last best beachfront cottage in Oceanside. Featured in the movie Top Gun, it has consequently been known as the Top Gun Cottage. The site is threatened by the huge hotel development proposed by Manchester Resort Hotels and the City of Oceanside. The cottage is on a corner of the property and could easily be integrated into the development and used as an adjunct facility to the hotel. Right now, it appears it will be moved off site, out of context, with its use yet to be determined.”

Top Gun House side view. Note addition to the house made by Angeline Morgan years ago. Photo taken 1998

The Manchester project, a twelve-story, 475 room hotel failed, leaving Oceanside without its desired resort hotel overlooking the Oceanside Pier. However, two blocks fronting Pacific Street were cleared in anticipation of a new hotel project. Block 16 on which the Top Gun house was located, had four other historic homes. The house known as the Pishon house, located on the southwest corner of Mission and Pacific Streets was moved to a location on Maxson Street. Three other historic houses were demolished, including the house behind the Graves house, at 112 First Street (now Seagaze) which was used in the “Top Gun” movie.

Original fireplace and mantel in the Graves’ cottage

By 2010 the “Top Gun” house was the only structure remaining on the block and seemed to be in the “Danger Zone.” With the house vacant, members of the Oceanside Historical Society kept an eye on it for several years, reporting break-ins and other issues. Twice the organization helped to hoist the sagging porches, had it painted and erected a large sign to inform passersby about the historical significance of the house and to assure those concerned that the house would be restored. In 2009 a fence was put up around the property, which was necessary to protect the house from further intentional damage.

John Daley, left, works to help level side porch of the house in December 2013.

In 2018 S. D. Malkin Properties, Inc. announced two new resort projects by developer Jeremy Cohen. Many wondered what would become of the “Top Gun” house. With the support and influence of Save Our Heritage Organization and the Oceanside Historical Society, the Graves house aka “Top Gun” house would be restored by S. D. Malkin and used as the “centerpiece of Oceanside’s much anticipated new oceanfront resort.”

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new hotels were held in February of 2019. The cottage was relocated one block away for structural restoration. Curious residents peeked through fencing to view its progress.

Top Gun House under reconstruction, April 2020

Afterward much of the work had been completed, it was moved one block north of its original location in front of the beautiful new Mission Pacific Hotel. The cottage is still situated on North Pacific Street, facing the ocean, which was important in preserving its historical integrity and setting. There was still work to be down to the cottage at its new location, but brief glimpses made way to a “full reveal” as it reemerged to its adoring fans. Architectural Digest reported: “Among the projects were restoring the wood cladding and front windows, dismantling the original chimney, and rebuilding it with the same historic bricks, and bringing back gingerbread details. Both porches had also been damaged and were restored.” Beautifully painted the cottage has been reborn and to borrow from the movie’s famous love song, it’s sure to take your “breath away.”

The beautifully restored Victorian Cottage known as the Top Gun house in 2022. (photo by Visit Oceanside)

The beloved “Top Gun” House celebrated its much-anticipated grand opening on May 20, 2022, as the home of the High-Pie Shop, which is filled with memorabilia from the hit movie. Just days later was the release of the long-awaited sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” starring Tom Cruise. To the delight of movie fans, a replica motorcycle like the one Maverick rode on his iconic scene in Oceanside, was placed in front of the house Lines now form around the house to view the interior and purchase a pie. People pose on the front porch for selfies and group shots and pretend to be Maverick on his bike.

With two new beautiful hotels, Oceanside has regained or fulfilled its resort status, envisioned so many years ago by our founder Andrew Jackson Myers. The careful restoration of the historic Graves House, aka the “Top Gun” house is a crowning jewel on the oceanfront.  It is sure to hold a place in the hearts of locals as well as movie fans for many years to come.

The Curious Life and Tall Tales of John Murile Caves

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Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department was a collector of many things, including three large scrapbooks in which he placed various photos of crime and accident scenes, along with a variety of newspaper articles dating from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department

One scrapbook contained a human-interest story of John M. Caves, a retired sea captain who was hospitalized in the Oceanside Community Hospital. This was not Caves’ first visit to Oceanside, and it wouldn’t be his last. Curious, about Mr. Caves and his peculiar claims, I did a bit of research and uncovered two different hoaxes perpetuated by Caves for over four decades. In between he would murder a traveling companion and serve time in prison.

John Murile Caves was born January 4, 1882, in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, a small borough of less than 2,000 person in Allegheny County. He was the second of four children born to Samuel T. and Martha Caves, who lived in a rather stately home at 713 Pennsylvania Street in the town of Oakmont. His siblings were Samuel Meredith, Henry Adams and Mary Caves. Their father Samuel Caves worked as a blacksmith with Verona Tool Works.

713 Pennsylvania Avenue, Oakmont, Pennsylvania, the home of Samuel and Martha Caves

At the age of 18 John Murile Caves was still living with his parents but held no occupation, nor was he attending school, in an era where this would have been atypical. His brothers, one older and one younger were both employed at Verona Tool Works with their father.

In 1907, at the age of 25, John was arrested along with two other men for breaking into a train car. In the newspaper account, John Caves was described as a “cripple who walked with a crutch” and “peddled shoestrings.” This may have been the first of John Caves’ personas as he was not at all crippled, at least not permanently. T. B. Shaffer, the railroad detective, reported that Caves’ two companions seemed distraught about their arrest, but in contrast John Caves was “cheerful” about the encounter. Regardless of his hapless attitude, the arrest landed Caves in jail, awaiting trial for several months after which he was found not guilty and released.

Walking Career Begins

John Caves would begin an “illustrious walking career” two years later in 1909. No official record was found of the starting point or date but in September 7, 1909, the Quincy Journal announced that Caves had arrived in Macomb, Illinois.

Going by the moniker of “Happy Jack” the Journal reported that Caves had started his walk on April 6th of that year, starting from Boston. He claimed he ran away from home at the age of 9 and (incredulously) had already completed two walking trips across the continent. Now he was determined to travel around the world against a wager of $2,000 from “Bryan’s Commoner and Munsey’s Magazine”, which purportedly provided the route that he should travel.

According to Caves, he was not to ask for a cent from anyone along the way but could accept gifts. Apparently and supposedly people were very generous as he claimed to have eaten no less than three meals a day and stayed at the finest of hotels while on his journey.

Caves further claimed he had a year in which to complete his trip across the United States, but four years to travel the world. Caves announced his intention to make his way to Lincoln, Nebraska and from there to San Francisco where he would eat a Christmas Dinner. The article ended that “Happy Jack” was 28 years old and walked at an “easy gait of 5 miles an hour.”

On September 21, 1909, Caves had walked to, or at least arrived in, Burlington, Iowa by way of Fort Madison. The Burlington Hawk Eye reported that Caves had now walked 10,090 miles and that he was on his way to Des Moines to Omaha, then to San Francisco “by Christmas.” From there Caves said he would get “free passage to Japan and Australia, from Australia to London and from there home again.” Caves next stopping place on his route would be Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, the newspaper informed readers.

For the next several years John Caves would convince or at least amuse folks with variations of this tale, and it would be perpetuated from town to town, newspaper to newspaper. But the good residents of Ottumwa, Iowa saw through the tall tales and when Caves stopped through their town they were not taken in by his charm or his story. The Burlington Evening Gazette in Burlington, Iowa (where he been just days before) disclosed: “Happy Jack, the big bum alleged globetrotter, who is trying to fool the people throughout the country, was arrested for drunkenness in Ottumwa.”

The Ottumwa Courtier shared this news in September of 1909: “John M. Caves, who claims to be a globetrotter, has clasped to his belt of claims another item. Yesterday he proceeded to tank up as much of the brew down his throat, but before he covered as much distance in this direction as he claims he has covered over the country, he fell into the hands of Office L. Lightner. ‘Happy Jack’ was jugged, and in police court he acknowledged he was drunk. Judge Morrissey gave him three days to repent.”

From the Burlington Evening Gazette, September 27, 1909

After this encounter and 3-day jail stay, on September 27th Caves had reached Albia, Iowa, stating, “I’m still going. Roads are good. I’m making 50 miles a day. I will be out of the state, Saturday, October 2.”

Oh, but “Happy Jack” was still in the state of Iowa on October 5th where he was giving a lecture of his travels in Glenwood at the Opera House.

Did Caves ever make it to Omaha or San Francisco? It is hard to say. Perhaps he was detoured.

In Trouble

Eight years later John Caves was in the news again when in August of 1917, he was arrested for assaulting a railroad conductor with a knife while working as a restaurant cook. He pled guilty and was put on parole. 

WWI registration card with John Murile Caves. Note date of birth

In September of 1918 Caves was working as a “blacksmith helper” at Verona Tool Works where his father was employed in Oakmont, Pennsylvania (his hometown), according to his World War I registration card. He seemed to have settled down for a very brief time, but he would soon be on the move again for another walking trip “around the world.”

But before that Caves found himself again in trouble with authorities when on May 22, 1921, he was arrested in Bellwood, Pennsylvania. After an altercation with members of a train crew, he was ejected and in retaliation threw a rock that subsequently hit the brakeman. Caves spent over two weeks in jail until his day in court. The Altoona Mirror reported: “Happy Jack Caves, an individual of tall stature who assured the court that he was ‘a sailor from the high seas’ who had come to this section of the country to visit some friend and became intoxicated, pled guilty to through a stone through a passenger car window near Bellwood.”

Bellwood Train Station, Bellwood Pennsylvania where Caves was arrested

It is worth noting that Caves would again claim to be a sailor decades later. However, before that reinvention, he began another worldwide trek.

A Trip “Around the World” Begins

On April 1, 1919, (notably April Fool’s Day), Caves purportedly began a journey from Boston that would take him to every continent in the world, and every state in the U.S. Supposedly a total of 16 men began this trek, that would take them 99,986 miles in a period of three years. The winner of this race of sorts would allegedly win $30,000, which is equivalent to $500,000 today. The contest was supposedly sponsored by Johns Hopkins University and was the starting point.

Nothing was found about this race or contest until June 25, 1921 (two years later from its supposed start date) when the Times Herald in Olean, New York ran a story with the headline: “Happy Jack Is Ahead On His Hike Schedule.” The story stated that he had arrived in Olean, New York at 5:35 am from Eldred, Pennsylvania (a distance of about 13 miles). At that time Caves had claimed to have visited 42 of the then 48 states and that he 28 days ahead of schedule. He was due to return to Boston April 1, 1922.

The following details were included in the Times Herald article, and it is worth noting that similar details, which varied from time to time, would run in more than 50 articles from just as many newspapers around the eastern part of the country:

  • In every state and county which he enters he has to go to the capital and county seat. When he returns to Boston, he must have a dollar for every county seat and $5 for every capital.”
  • Additionally, he was to receive a signature from every town or city official that he passed through and dutifully mail these signatures to the “committee in charge.”
  • He was not allowed to “ask for rides or money” but he was allowed to accept “gifts of money.” The prohibition of rides included a reward of $500 to anyone who witnessed him riding rather than walking.

Happy Jack Caves walked an amazing 40 miles a day, at least according to the Herald piece, and at the time the article was written, he simply carried a knapsack weighing 65 pounds.

On July 12, 1921 the Hudson Columbia Republican newspaper reported that “Happy Jack” arrived in Hudson, New York from Albany. He had purportedly completed 70,182 miles, 23,000 of which were on foot. Caves claimed to have 20,804 miles to complete before April 1, 1922. From Hudson he was on his way to New York City, to Fall River, Massachusetts, then back to New York to Niagara Falls and then on to Canada and Montreal.   Countries claimed already visited were: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Greece, France, Russian, England, Germany, Australia, Japan, China, as well as “every country in South and Central America.”

Caves arrived in Uniontown, Pennsylvania on August 15th. The newspaper there reported that Caves was walking to settle a $30,000 wager between the Boston Pedestrian Club and the Pedestrian Club of John Hopkins University. He was on his way to Greensburg next, but the newspaper also added the unbelievable detail that Caves had “circumnavigated a wheelbarrow around the globe during the years 1893-97.” (He would have been 11 years old based on Caves’ ACTUAL age.)

On October 7, 1921 Caves passed through Massillon, Ohio “enroute to New England and Canada.”  The stories kept coming as Caves went from town to town. The journey expanded, he turned his 65 pound knapsack and instead began pushing a wheelbarrow and the wager or bet became prize money instead, which grew. Caves followed no particular route but seemingly meandered back and forth, retracing his steps while approaching “the last leg,” while the finish line seemed elusive.

On or about November 2, 1921 Caves arrived in Bucyrus, Ohio and then made his way to Marion, Ohio, where he stayed at the Royal Hotel on Main Street. In just five months his story had changed significantly. According to the Marion Star, Caves had traveled 91,000 miles, visiting every country in the world, but had eight of the U.S. states left to visit (not six) but he was now 38 days ahead of schedule. During this tremendous journey Caves claimed to have worn out 90 pairs of shoes covering 43,000 miles on foot. At this point, the traveler was accepting gifts as the article stated he “‘passed the hat” while giving lectures on his adventures.  

The following day the Richwood Gazette in Richwood, Ohio informed its readers that Caves arrived in town. This time Caves was to walk 99,986 miles and had 5,000 to go but was still a full 38 days ahead of schedule. The Gazette reported that Caves could ask for nothing except water and the use of a telephone.

Caves made it to Newport, Kentucky (population 316) the following day – traveling over 140 miles to do so. Even at 40 miles a day it would take him over three days nearly a week to travel that distance, so it is safe to say that he hitched a ride or hopped a train. At Newport Caves claimed to have 2500 miles to go, adding that the money he collected from county seats and state capitols was sent directly to the “Pedestrian Club of Boston” who co-sponsored the trek with Johns Hopkins Hospital.

It was more likely that he simply pocketed any money he received from gullible officials who believed his elaborate stories.

Later that month Caves made his way 400 miles south to Huntsville, Alabama. He claimed to have been 38 days ahead of schedule of his deadline of April 1, 1922. In Huntsville Caves claimed that he was native of Norway and this “fact” would often be included in many subsequent stories.

Caves trip from Richwood, Ohio to Huntsville, Alabama, a distance of 493 miles

There was no telling how much farther south he traveled and then supposedly headed north towards the finish line. Little is known of Caves and his travels until June of 1922, well after the supposed deadline.

The Wheelbarrow

The Baltimore Sun announced the arrival of “Happy Jack Caves” on June 26, 1922 with the headline “World Pedestrian Here.” Caves was on the “last lap of his journey” and now it seems he had four months (rather than three) to complete his trek. More new details were that he now pushed a wheelbarrow containing a tent and cooking utensils and a Great Dane dog was his companion.

Now he added a detail to his ever evolving story that 17 other contestants had begun with him, but they had all dropped out. In addition, out of the 99,986 miles required he had just 700 to go, although it was reported he had visited every “state in the Union” and in “every foreign country.” But if Caves was now in Baltimore, Maryland, the finish line (Boston) was just 400 miles away.

Three weeks later, on July 11, 1922 Caves was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania a mere 80 mile trip, but it seems Caves was no longer keeping his 40 mile a day pace. The Evening News of that city reported that he had “traversed every country, continent, ocean and sea, and river in the world” along with just 45 states (versus all 48). Although these details varied, Caves still had no less than 700 miles to go, despite the fact that he had traveled 80 since his last encounter.

Rather than traveling northeast to Boston to the “finish line”, Caves instead went west to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a distance of 24 miles, arriving July 24th. He then continued on a southwesterly direction to Shippensburg, (population 4300) a distance of just 20 miles, arriving July 26th.

From Baltimore, Maryland to Indiana Pennsylvania in June/July 1922

A representative of the town’s newspaper interviewed “Happy Jack” who now claimed to have been born in 1861, coming to America in 1881 from Norway. Still on his “last stretch” but traveling in the opposite direction, Caves added to his tall tale saying that he had been in 4 wars. His story evolved again saying he had visited “all the principle countries” — Europe, Asia and Africa and had been to 47 states. To keep track from his last count of 45, what two states did he visit in two weeks as he had only been in Pennsylvania during that time frame?

If that wasn’t enough, Caves’ wheelbarrow was said to have weighed 165 pounds and he claimed to have worn out 5 wheels, 12 axles and exactly 284 bearings, along with 46 pairs of shoes. The article went on to say that Caves expected to arrive in Boston by August 18 or 20 (even though he wasn’t headed that way) and that he was going to beat the world record by 8 months. It concluded by saying that Caves was on his way next to Hagerstown.

It was noted by one newspaper that Caves offered proof of his travels by newspaper clippings that he collected about himself. It was also pointed out that while his wheelbarrow was plastered with photos, clippings and postcards of places he claimed to have visited, none of them were outside of the United States.

On August 30, 1922, Caves meandered his way northwest (away from Boston) to Saltsburg, to Blairsville and then traveled east to Indiana, Pennsylvania. The local newspaper there said that Caves eight months away now (probably because he wasn’t going in the right direction)! It went on to say that he was a happy looking man and that at age 61 (he was really 40) “looks good for at least that many more.” After his stay Caves was on his way to Punxsutawney.

Several months seem to pass without a “Happy Jack” sighting until December 9, 1922 when Caves traveled to Snow Hill, Maryland. This 300 mile route traveling southeast was nowhere nearer Boston and he most certainly did not complete his journey by August. Nonetheless the paper dutifully reported that Caves was on his “last leg” of his journey. Notably, Caves talents and skills expounded as now he spoke 17 languages, all of which he was “more proficient in than English.”

But Caves could top even that, by saying that in 1888 he had pushed a “hogshead” (a 63-gallon barrel) from Boston to San Francisco. By completing this fete he won $16,000. If that claim wasn’t wild enough, he added that next he had SKIPPED across the entire continent and out of 24 contestants he was the only one to finish and was awarded $12,000. (Caves also claimed to have roller skated from coast to coast.)

Did anyone question these claims? The newspapers seemed very happy to take him at his word or at least print them.

Finally, it seemed that Caves’ journey was over when the Boston Globe announced on December 19, 1922, that John Muriel Caves had finished his endurance walk around the globe after reaching Wilmington, Delaware. (Eight months later than one of his supposed deadlines).

The Journey Continues

But “Happy Jack” was not finished. It seems he started over OR more likely just kept his ruse going, traveling to towns he had not yet visited with the same story. No doubt this was a continuation of the “original contest” or journey, but no one seemed to know or realize.

On January 9, 1923 he arrived in Reading, Pennsylvania. Caves was on his “last lap” of a “hike” around the world. They happily put him up at the local YMCA, noting that Caves had “obtained the seal and signature of every burgess, mayor and county clerk, or prothonotary of every borough, city or county through which he passed.”

Martha Meredith Caves, John’s mother, died on June 14, 1923 at her home in Oakmont, Pennsylvania at the age of 71. It is possible that John was there for her funeral, but he did not stay long. Just about two weeks later he arrived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on June 27, 1923.

His arrival was regaled with a large photo in the newspaper with the headline that read: “Pedestrian Here is Near End of Journey Around the World.” Some of the “facts” remained the same: 1. The race started April 1, 1919; 2. Seventeen contestants began the race but only he continued; 3. Caves had to obtain signatures from every clerk, mayor (or king). Compared to his “previous race”, he had now worn out 47 pairs of shoes, 7 wheels, 28 axles and 284 ball bearings.

“Happy Jack” John Caves with his wheelbarrow, July, 1923 (Library of Congress)

On July 5th the Chronicle Newspaper of Shippensburg, PA noted that Caves had passed through Lancaster and noted that he had traveled through Shippensburg a year prior. They did not question why he was back in the area, seemingly traveling in circles.

In May of 1924 the Edwardsville Journal, Edwardsville, Illinois announced that Caves was nearing the end of his “long walk.” He had until September 29 to arrive in Chicago, but since he was well ahead of time, he was “not rushing.” It was revealed he had been in a St. Louis Hospital for two weeks and that his dog had to be kenneled for sore feet. Caves had now worn out 52 pairs of shoes and 28 axles on his wheelbarrow. This time the newer added detail was that out of 17 contestants, Caves was the only one left, but the others had simply not quit, as previously reported, Caves now said that 5 died while walking and 2 were killed in accidents.

Happy Jack made his way to Columbus, Indiana on January 8, 1925. Embellishments of his travels continued, including that he was given 39 dogs by the Boston Kennel Club over the course of his trip as traveling companions. He spoke all of 21 languages and was an interpreter during wartime. It was also noted that he had worn out 83 pair of specially made boots, 9 wheels and 286 ball bearings. Caves purportedly was on his way to Indianapolis to obtain the signature of the governor and that after doing so his list of signatures would be complete. He then had until January 25th to reach Boston to finish. But he never made it to Boston because he was still on his “last lap” when he reached Greenfield, Indiana on January 27th.

Close up view of “Happy Jack’s” wheelbarrow with photos and names of states he allegedly visited.

He then made his way to Dayton, Ohio and from there to Marion, Ohio on February 25, 1925. The local paper noted that Caves was on his “return trip” and that he had passed through 3 1/2 years earlier. No one seemed to notice that he was meandering from town to town.

Caves visited Crestline, Ohio one month later on March 21st. The newspaper shared that Caves had just ten days to complete his walk and claim a $10,000 prize (considerably less than $30,000 to $50,000 claimed a few years ago).  It was astutely noted that he would have to travel 100 miles a day to make that happen. Days later Caves “was found ill” and brought to the Monnette hospital to recover from an undisclosed malady.

Route from Seymour Indiana to Bucyrus, Ohio in 1925

On November 3, 1925 Caves was hospitalized again, for gall stones. He was still on the “last leg” of his journey, of course. This time it was disclosed he would receive $26,000. The following month he was in Kingsport, Tennessee. In April of 1926 Caves arrived in Wythville, Virginia where he declared he had just 930 miles to go.

Then finally, on April 22, 1926 it was announced that he had arrived at the Potomac Park Tourist Camp in Washington, D.C., which apparently was the new finish line or the completion of his 99,986 “required” mileage. The accomplishment took 8 years, 3 months, 21 days and 5 hours, according to Caves, but if he started April 1, 1919, it really took 7 years and just 21 days. (But who’s counting?) Caves claimed he continued without “a day’s interruption” which wasn’t true because of recorded hospitalizations.

Caves gave his usual statistics to the newspaper: he had worn through 90 shoes, 30 wheelbarrows, 28 axels and 30 dogs, which had all died according to Cave. He also kept track of his lectures which totaled 321.

Caves revealed that he was on his way next to Annapolis, and then headed north to meet up with his wife and 5 children! At least once he claimed he had 4 children and years later he would repeat a story that his one and only wife had died from scarlet fever while traveling around the Horn.

Whiskey and Bay Rum

Despite the completion of his required 99,986 miles, John Caves continued to travel and on May 27, 1927 he was in Plymouth, North Carolina where he was scheduled for a lecture at Darden’s Christian Church to talk about his travels. The lecture was well attended but it came to abrupt halt when church leaders determined Caves was under the influence of whiskey.

On January 15, 1928 Caves was a patient in the Allegheny Hospital after a “general breakdown” although doctors could not decide the cause of his illness. He had visited his sister who was a nurse at Pittsburg Tuberculosis Hospital and had fallen while on the road near the town of Creighton. Curiously, it was revealed that Caves had been unable to talk or hear for a period of two years and communicated by writing with paper and pencil. This, of course, was untrue because of his willingness and ability to give lectures from town to town.

The Pittsburg Press, who announced Caves’ hospitalization, also reported that “during his long walk, the best time Caves made was 8 miles an hour” and that he once walked 71.5 miles in 21 hours.

In early March of 1929 his travels came to another halt in Akron, Ohio after he was “picked up” by police after drinking too much Bay Rum, which was used as cologne and aftershave lotion. The newspaper reported that the 50-year-old (closer to his actual age than most reports) had been wandering for 10 years. Caves told authorities he was the only one left in the race and he had to do now was to walk to Boston. “No more bay rum for me,” as he allegedly continued on to the fictional finish line.

Caves drank Bay Rum intended to be used as an after shave

However, later that year, Caves was found by police in Lancaster, Pennsylvania after drinking nearly a half bottle of Bay Rum (which was 58% grain alcohol). Caves claimed that he was cold and in an effort to warm up he drank the highly toxic alcohol mixture that was used as astringent.

It seems as Caves continued drinking, the public began to question some of his claims. The Intelligencer Journal printed Caves’ claim that he had traveled 99,000 miles in 12 years (with a starting year of 1917 rather than 1919) and figured that Happy Jack would have to average 22 miles a day, each and every day including “Sundays and holidays.”

Lancaster police noted that Happy Jack was neither happy nor congenial and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

But things would get worse for “Happy Jack” when on February 20, 1930 the Morning Post of Camden, New Jersey revealed that Caves was penniless, his dog was dead and his wheelbarrow wrecked. The newspaper cited that Caves had started his “endurance trip” 11 years ago and noted that he passed through Camden in 1926, obtaining the signatures of the County Clerk. But now he hobbled into the police station on crutches, looking for food and a place to sleep.

Caves claimed to have been struck by an automobile at Kennett Square, PA a month earlier, suffering a broken ankle. As a result of the accident he was hospitalized nearly three weeks at the Chester Hospital. The hospital gave Caves enough money to reach Philadelphia and from there he had made his way to Camden. He was sent to the Salvation Army barracks but instead went to the police department located next door because the former institute was “too crowded.” Caves informed the newspaper that he had completed 99,286 miles (still 700 shy, even years later, of the required 99,986).

Murder in Macungie

Six weeks later “Happy Jack Caves” was arrested and charged with murder on March 30, 1930. The Berwick Enterprise of Berwick, Pennsylvania said that it was the same Caves “who gained fame” by pushing a wheelbarrow “from New York to Los Angeles.” Caves was arrested for the stabbing death of John Barrett during an argument at a “hobo camp” near Swabia Creek on the outskirts of Macungie, a small town near Allentown. He confessed to the stabbing but claimed self-defense.

A subsequent newspaper reported that Caves was “well known in police circles” because of his frequent arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct. No longer referred to as an adventurer, he was now simply a “wanderer,” an “itinerant” or even a “hobo,” and his walking expedition called a “stunt”.

Published accounts detailed that Caves stabbed Barrett after a dispute over milk and the killing was witnessed by four young boys. He was placed in the Lehigh County jail awaiting trial. Despite previous newspaper accounts that he was 62 years old, the jail records list his correct age at 48.

The Lehigh County Jail where Caves awaited trial.

During his trial in June of 1930, Caves testified in his own defense including the fact that he was a “consort of wayfarers and hoboes” with colorful nicknames such as “Baltimore Whitie”, “Old Man Morrissey” and “Barrett the Barber”, whom he killed.

Barrett was given his nickname because he carried a razor around his neck. He was portrayed by others as ferocious and vicious.

Caves voice was described as thin and high pitched as he recounted how the two men had met in “The Jungles”, an Allentown hobo camp. Caves would beg for food for Barrett and himself, since he was a more sympathetic figure on crutches. After an argument over milk in the coffee, apparently Barrett was too liberal with the pour, Caves said Barrett struck him with a pocketknife and he in turn simply grabbed a butcher knife in self defense. The knife hit Barrett in the heart, killing him instantly.

The prosecution called four young boys to contradict Caves’ version of what happened. John Ritter, 12, Edwin Bortz, 13, Harold Rhoads, 10 and Donald Rhoads, 12 spent the entire afternoon with the two men and each testified that Caves “quarreled and grumbled” throughout the day about various things, including about a piece of liver.

The boys also testified that Caves had begged for and acquired turnips, potatoes, onions, and coffee. The two men, and apparently the boys as well, stole two kettles, two knives and “a big piece of suet” (animal fat). Caves had managed to collect $2.85 after panhandling which he used to buy bread, cigarettes and four containers of “canned heat” (Sterno). Perhaps the intention was to warm a meal with the aforementioned ingredients, Caves instead made an alcoholic mixture to drink with the liquid contents after squeezing it through a handkerchief and diluting it with water. This was not an uncommon practice during Prohibition, particularly in hobo camps.

Caves drank “canned heat” after filtering it and diluting it with water.

While at their encampment, Barrett complained that Caves put too much water in the coffee and Caves in turn complained that Barrett put in too much milk. Angry, Caves lunged at Barrett with his crutches, hitting him in the mouth and cutting his lip. The incident resulted in the soup that would be the group’s meal being spilled.

Caves reportedly said to Barrett, “Are you sorry for what you did?” to which his companion replied, “Do you want some more?”  Caves then responded angrily, “I’ll give you some more!” and suddenly drew a knife, stabbing Barrett.

Afterwards, Caves placed a pocketknife in the hands of the lifeless Barrett and went through his pockets. He found two coins but said in disgust, “Two lousy cents” and then kicked Barrett’s dead body. As he walked or hobbled away, Caves said to the boys, “This is the second time he tried to kill himself.”  To which Donald Rhoads replied, “You killed him, you skunk!”

John M. Caves was found guilty of 2nd degree murder after the jury deliberated over 29 hours. The only relative that showed support by attending the trial was his sister Mary Caves, who took the verdict much harder than her brother. It was revealed that he showed no sign of emotion except what was termed “a sigh of relief.”

Eastern State Penitentiary (from easternstate.org)

Caves was sentenced 6 to 12 years and sent to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Noted for its innovative wagon wheel design, the imposing prison once housed notorious gangster Al Capone. Caves was given the prisoner number of C-6262.

Records provided by Eastern State Penitentiary and the Pennsylvania State Archives indicate that Caves’ stay there was not without problems. He was sent to solitary confinement more than once for fighting.

The prison was visited by Dr. Doncaster G. Humm of Los Angeles, who specialized in “industrial psychology”, visited and interviewed several prisoners, including Caves, to “secure material for research.” He would later publish his findings and identified seven different temperaments defined as “normal, hysteroid, manic, depressive, autistic, paranoid and epileptoid.” Humm was of the opinion that “the marriage of those with a poor hereditary background should be discouraged. Sterilization and marriage education were suggested as eugenic ideals.”

Doncaster George Humm, Bucknell University, 1909

Records show that on June 5, 1934 Caves was transferred to Graterford Prison, a newer facility, but he was returned on January 3, 1935. Nine days later he was transferred to the Lehigh County Jail, then released on parole June 26, 1936. In December 16, 1936 he was once again returned to Eastern State Penitentiary for violation of parole.

Cave was released again on parole on June 16, 1937, perhaps because his father died, but the Pittsburgh Press reported in October that Caves had nowhere to go and asked to go back to prison. He was returned on November 7th.

John M. Caves’ World War II Registration Card

By 1940 Caves was paroled again, because in April of 1942 Caves filled out a World War II registration card (for men born on or after April 28, 1877 or before February 16, 1897). At that time he listed his address as 428 Fourth Street in his hometown of Oakmont, Pennsylvania.  He was officially discharged from the penal system on January 3, 1943, which was nearly 12 years from his sentencing.

A New Life – A New Story

One year after his official release, John Murile Caves began a tour of the country with a new life story of adventure which again brought him notoriety and attention — that of an elderly seafaring captain. 

On April 10, 1944, the Cumberland News of Cumberland, Maryland said that the “80-year-old former merchant marine captain, John M. Caves, Baltimore, was taken to Memorial hospital at 7:15 pm yesterday by Officer John G. Powers after being stricken with a heart attack near Central Y.M.C.A.  His condition was reported to be fair.”

Seven months later Cave had made his way to the west coast to Southern California. In January 1945, he reportedly collapsed in Descanso, about 40 miles east of San Diego. He was picked up by the Highway Patrol and brought to San Diego and was described as “penniless and ill.” However, Caves’ story was filled with heroic yet fantastical details, saying that he was a merchant marine for 65 years, “shipping supplies in five major wars, six historical rebellions, captaining the lead ship in the first convoy to Guadalcanal, and losing his own ship January 16, 1942, off the coast of Newfoundland.”

He told Patrolman George Dowdy that he was hitch-hiking home to Philadelphia so that he could get medical attention and “get back into service again.” The San Diego Union promulgated this “fantastic story” but didn’t seem to question any detail. Caves, who claimed again to be from Norway, said that at age 10 he was a mess boy “on an old Norwegian sailing vessel” and that he had traveled no less than 208 trips around Cape Horn. When asked about a wife, he said he married a daughter of another sea captain many years ago, but she had died of scarlet fever while rounding the Horn. 

Additionally, Caves claimed to have continued his career “through World War II and until, he left a ship at Richmond, California in December 14, 1943, his career was halted by a hit-and-run auto driver.”

He gave his date of birth as January 4, 1861 (21 years earlier than his actual birth year) and his birthplace as Upland, Norway. The newspaper article concluded with a story that Caves was the captain of the Jenny P. Higy (or Hickey in other accounts), which sunk off the coast of Newfoundland in 1942, “carrying 250 Polish refugees and a crew of 85.” All lives were saved but Caves lost his life savings. (Editor’s Note: No record could be found a ship by this name being sunk or a similar event.)

Rather than head to Philadelphia as planned, one month later “Captain” Caves was in Shreveport, Louisiana waiting for transportation to his “hometown” of Baltimore. It was a very familiar story published in the Shreveport Journal in February 1945, but with the added embellishment that he was the captain of the Paul Revere which brought needed supplies to Marines in Guadalcanal. His ship was torpedoed three times during 1941 and 1942. Caves shared the same story of losing a wife to scarlet fever.

The following month Caves arrived by train in Indianapolis, Indiana sickly and penniless. His age was given as 84 when he was really 63, but he happily told his yarns of his “long and colorful maritime career.”  He was, he said, headed to Baltimore.

However, three months later he was in Ogden, Utah. Seemingly in much better health he was entertaining folks with his stories at a local canteen. The Ogden Standard-Examiner reported on June 23, 1945 that Caves was the “oldest seafaring maritime captain still on active duty” who had “a store of sea tales as long as his years of service.” These talks, of course, included the sinking of the Jenny P. Hickey, and leading a convoy to Guadalcanal. Caves however, was not trying to get back home (to either his hometown in Philadelphia or Baltimore) but “to pick up another ship and another cargo of supplies to carry somewhere across the sea.”

Across the country and back in 1945

The following month, in July, Caves had not traveled east but west, and was in Tulare, California where he had collapsed from another heart attack. Information was provided that he was a retired sea captain but still “in service of the government at Port Hueneme.” His age was listed as 70 years old, which was a bit closer to his actual.

Just as when he claimed to have walked around the world, his only evidence of his seafaring career was saved newspaper clippings about himself from various towns he had visited.

In August of 1946, Caves was in a Bethsaida hospital in Maryland, after suffering yet another heart attack. Caves said he was “visiting” in Baltimore, but on his way to San Diego when he stricken.

One month later John M. Caves was in an Albuquerque jail for being in “a dazed condition.” It was assumed he was drunk (and likely he was) but because he claimed he was 87 years old, the police had pity on him and took him to the hospital. However, it was his second visit to the same hospital in as many days and the hospital said they could not handle him, so he was taken to the county jail. When taken to jail he “relapsed into a coma” and could not speak “from the effects of a medicine found in his possession.”

The police found previously published newspaper articles that Caves had collected about himself, one published out of Kansas stating that he was born in Superland, Norway and was a sea captain for 32 years. It seems while in Chapman, Kansas he stayed at a hospital there and officials discovered several receipts or bills for various hospitals around the country. Caves was crisscrossing the country, having “heart attacks”, telling his stories, collecting newspaper articles about himself, along with the bills, and going on to the next town.

He reportedly made his way to Newark, New Jersey in January of 1947 only to travel back west to California.

Oceanside, California

In February of 1947 he was found “writhing in pain” on a sidewalk in downtown Oceanside. It seems he had suffered another heart attack, but Captain Harold Davis took him to the local hospital where he made a quick recovery after taking “a heart pill.” Caves said he was on his way to Corona by bus but didn’t have any money. Davis bought the stranger some food, who claimed now to be 87 years old, listened to his stories of the sea and purchased him a bus ticket so he could go on to his next destination.

Months later, in October, Caves was in Redding, California where he suffered another one of his trademark heart attacks.  However, the next month while in Sacramento it was determined he was “just drunk” and not ill and was booked in the county jail.  In 1948 he was in El Paso, Texas where he was hospitalized for, (you guessed it) a heart attack. 

John Muriel Caves with his nurse at Oceanside in 1951

In March of 1951 John Caves was back in Oceanside, California. The Oceanside-Blade Tribune reported the following:

Police were called the other night to a modest room in a local hotel—an elderly man, a heart attack, not much if any money—and thereby hangs a tale. It’s a tale of the sea, of iron men and wooden ships, dating back to the middle of the last century. As it turns out, the tale has been told before, and Capt. Harold Davis of the local police department, along with a few other people, are wondering about it.”

Well, at least there was some skepticism but that didn’t keep the paper from sharing his stories, including how he was born in an igloo in Norway!

The account continued:  “Further checking by Capt. Davis showed that the man suffered heart attacks in this city in January [1947], and again in April, and there is evidence to show that his heart has put him in hospitals in other communities in California and Arizona at least. These circumstances, plus the fact that hospital nurses and Capt. Davis don’t think the man looks as old as the 92 years he claims to be, make observers somewhat doubtful. After all, a policeman of 20 years becomes so accustomed to hearing stories that he is inclined to believe nothing which can’t be documented. Still, it is a good story and the grizzled old gentleman tells is simply and well. He can’t prove it with papers, except for news clippings he has collected from other interviews, but on the other hand, his listeners can’t disprove it either. As far as we know, it may just be the best yarn since Edgar Allen Poe’s fabulous trans Atlantic balloon race.”

The Oceanside Blade Tribune then printed Caves’ “biography”, which was slightly similar in detail to other previous versions, but included mostly a new and different story of his early sea-faring career:

Capt. John Murile Caves, a Norseman, was born in 1859 in the Land of the Midnight Sun in an igloo. One of several children, he went to sea as a cabin boy when he was 10 years old, aboard a barkentine bound for San Francisco, around Cape Horn. From there the ship loaded with wheat and barley bound for England, and then back to Norway.

Later he shipped again aboard a three-masted, full-rigged ship to Boston with a load of matches. When they docked, he tried to run away, but was caught and taken back aboard ship.

Young Caves made a number of voyages, spending 11 years on Norwegian ships. On one cruise in 1881 his ship had docked in Baltimore, and was ready to set sail for San Francisco, when Caves met a man who agreed to help him get off the ship just before it sailed. He put his bags and seat chest in the forecastle, and that night a small boat came alongside and took Caves ashore.

He lay low for three months, living in the attic of a large hotel outside Baltimore, and then went to the US commissioner to get his first papers. He became naturalized in 1886, went to sea again aboard a ship to San Francisco, and on that particular trip the vessel sprang a leak out on the Atlantic. The crew had to pump her by hand all the way around Cape Horn to Frisco to keep her afloat, Caves recalls.

After that trip Caves decided to become a steward, but one trip and went back to being an able-bodied seaman. He said the crews, who were often shanghaied in those days, complained too much about the food.

By hard work and the good fortune of having captains over him who could teach him, Caves eventually worked his way up. On Caves’ second cruise the captain of the ship had his family aboard, including, two daughters who were school teachers and who helped young Caves with his education.

In 1890 he joined the US navy to increase his seafaring knowledge, signing on for four years, but stayed in for 10 and took part in the Spanish-American war. When he was discharged at Norfolk, he took the examination and received his captain’s license.

All told, Capt. Caves has been in five wars, serving in the merchant marine in all but the Spanish-American. The others are the Boxer war, the Boer war and World Wars 1 and 11. In the last one, in 1943, he says his ship was bombed on a return trip from the Marshall Islands. For 32 years he sailed the seven seas as ship’s captain.

Since the war his health has not been good, and when he was taken ill here Tuesday night he had come from a US merchant marine hospital in Fort Stanton, N.M. He was en route to Santa Ana, where a government pension check awaits him, and then he planned to go to Port Chicago to see a nephew who is about to ship out on his first deep-sea voyage as ship’s captain.

The article ended with this curious and telling notation: “Thursday afternoon, disappointed because the newspaper story had not appeared yet, Capt. Caves boarded a bus to Santa Ana.”

Just days later Caves was back in Oceanside. The Blade-Tribune said he had been in the hospital at Santa Ana for a heart attack. This return visit to Oceanside was not quite as welcoming as he landed in jail for vagrancy charges after panhandling.

After leaving Oceanside Caves traveled to Modesto three weeks later, had his requisite heart trouble but was jailed for vagrancy.

Two years later, in March of 1953, he stopped in Tucson, Arizona but was arrested for being drunk in public. Three weeks later Caves was in a Las Cruces, New Mexico hospital.

In June of 1953, Caves was on his fourth visit to Oceanside. This time he was given a Greyhound Bus Ticket by the “Oceanside Community Chest”, a local charity, for a one way trip to Los Angeles. The voucher was signed by Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department.

Conclusion

From 1956 to 1957 Caves traveled back and forth to Baltimore only to come back to San Diego, then on to Denver, Kansas City, Missouri, to Indianapolis, Indiana to Claymont, Pennsylvania and then to New York.

His brother Samuel Meredith Caves died in May of 1956. His sister Mary Caves, who faithfully attended his murder trial in support of her brother, died November 28, 1956 at the age of 77. On January 2, 1958 his last surviving sibling, Henry Adams Caves, died of a self-inflicted gunshot.

One of the last mentions of John Murile Caves was found on May 15, 1958 in the Evening Sun, Baltimore, Maryland. Isaac Berman, a real estate agent had been receiving bills from hospital and ambulance services all over the west coast addressed to “Capt. John M. Caves. Berman was quoted as saying, “Who is this man and why did he give my address?”

The Evening Sun announced that Caves was receiving welfare and had given the 228 South Broadway address as his home, and supplied it to the police as well.

Caves had been in the Maryland hospital in 1956, claiming to be 99 years old. He told the staff he came from New Mexico with money given to him by a minister. His next trip, he said, was to Washington, D. C. to see about his military pension. This was a story repeated in many of the articles, but he never received a pension because of the fact that he was never in the military or merchant marines.

He stayed for a full two weeks at the Maryland hospital and then just walked out one day. Although Caves claimed chest pains, the hospital had found nothing wrong with him, noting he ate “like a horse.” His two week stay in Room 528 was $400 which like dozens others went unpaid. Other bills were left unpaid as well. Exasperated Berman said, “I guess I’ll be sending mail back to the Post Office for him as long as I live.”

It seems that soon after this unwanted publicity, Caves was sent to stay at Delaware State Hospital Cemetery in New Castle. Many of the patients there were diagnosed with mental illness and a variety of disorders.

Delaware State Hospital aka Farnsworth

John Murile Caves died January 23, 1961, at the age of 79. He was buried in the Delaware State Hospital Cemetery and was given just a number to mark his burial spot.

The cube marking the gravesite of John Murile Caves (from findagrave.com)

According to Cris Barrish of WHYY, the cemetery “has 776 such cubes that are arranged in concentric circles in what’s now known as the Spiral Cemetery. A small and weathered stone angel with her hands clasped in prayer serves as a lone sentinel over the lost souls. Patients without families who would or could afford to bury them were instead laid to rest on site.”

View of square markers in the Delaware State Hospital cemetery (Cris Barrish, WHYY)

With all the attention and publicity he had received for four decades, his nameless resting place belies the colorful, if not fabricated, and sometimes troubled life of an infamous wanderer.

Thomas Happel, Fugitive

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Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department kept several scrapbooks in which he placed newspaper clippings, letters, and photographs, some of which were graphic in nature. Throughout these books, he wrote personal notes and memories about a particular crime or accident, or about a fellow officer he enjoyed working with in his long career.

Captain Harold B. Davis in 1955

Included in the many pages of one scrapbook were two mugshots of a Thomas Happel, along with two newspaper articles from the local newspaper. In his photos, Happel does not appear to be a hardened criminal, but he may just be one of the few, if not only person, to successfully escape from the Oceanside jail.

Mugshot of Thomas Happel

On September 25, 1951, Motorcycle Officer Hubert C. Russell spotted what he thought was a suspicious vehicle at a local service station. He noted a small corner window of the car was broken, and then noticed two teenage girls seated inside the vehicle while a young man talked outside with an attendant. A closer inspection of the car revealed keys that were broken off in the door locks and as the officer peered inside, “a jumble of blankets, clothing and other items.

With the likelihood of the car being stolen, Russell made contact with the driver, Thomas Happel, and instructed him to follow him to the police station. Happel seemingly complied and drove dutifully the few blocks to the Oceanside Police Department, then located at 305 North Nevada Street.

After pulling into the parking lot, Officer Russell waited for Happel to park, but instead Happel put his car into drive and sped away. Happel traveled north on Freeman Street with Russell in pursuit, joined by fellow Officer Paul Ricotta. As he attempted to make a left turn at Eighth Street (now Neptune) and make his way to Highway 101, Happel ran off the road and hit a house. Unhurt all three occupants of the car emerged and fled on foot. An unidentified Marine witnessed the trio running, followed by two uniformed officers, and took action, heading off Happel and bringing him down “with a flying tackle.”

Oceanside Motorcycle Officers Paul Ricotta and Hubert Russell

After taking Happel into custody, Oceanside Police discovered that Thomas Happel was an 18-year-old Air Force private who had gone “AWOL” from Lowery Fareli Field in Denver, Colorado. Walking away from his duty station, he stole a 1950 Ford and drove to his home state of Maryland, some nearly 1700 miles away. In Brooklyn, Maryland Happel picked up the two girls, ages 15 and 16, and obtained Maryland license plates for the stolen car, using a “phony registration slip.” Then the trio drove headed west, driving across the country while Happel cashed or wrote bad checks to pay for gas and food. Just before coming to California, Happel stole two wheels and tires in Arizona. 

The girls were never publicly identified because of their age, and were taken to the Anthony House in San Diego and then returned to their parents in Maryland.

Happel was booked and placed into a cell in the Oceanside jail, which was located on the second floor of the police station. That same night Happel escaped from his cell by breaking a bar off the grating of a roof ventilator and squeezing through a narrow opening. The Oceanside Blade Tribune described the scene: “The opening he made at one end of the grating was about seven inches wide and 10 inches long. Happel is about 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 130 pounds. The bar which he broke was not one of the original ones in the grating but had been welded on the cross-pieces after a similar escape attempt was once made through the opening.”

The account went on to say that “Happel must have had help from other prisoners in the cell block in order to get up to the ceiling and work the bar loose. When he had the piece of steel free, he used it to force the next bar over enough to get through.”

With Happel’s escape his list of charges continued to grow and the F.B.I. were now involved.  On the run, Happel stole another car, a Cadillac, which he abandoned in Fontana, California. He apparently stole yet a third vehicle and made his way east.

Mugshot, right profile, Thomas Happel

Three weeks later the Oceanside Police Department received word that Happel had been apprehended by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and was in custody in Oklahoma City. The fugitive was caught after a traffic accident at Woodward, Oklahoma and apparently tired of running, admitted his identity to law enforcement.

It was reported that Happel would be made to return to Oceanside to face charges, including felony escape, but it seems he managed to “escape” extradition and perhaps served his time elsewhere. Thomas Happel, it appears, gave up his brief stint as an outlaw and went on to live a presumably quiet life in south Florida.

The scrapbooks of Harold Davis hold many more stories waiting to be told…