Local history, local mysteries. Back stories, details and the truth about people and happenings in Oceanside and beyond
Author: K Hawthorne
I’ve been an Oceanside local since 1983 and Oceanside history is my favorite subject.
I know lots of interesting and sometimes useless information on people, places and things. My blog gives me the opportunity to share some of the back story on events, forgotten people, and sometimes a bit darker but interesting view of my hometown.
When I read on a particular person, subject or incident, I want all the details...so I endeavor to write that way. True stories have always intrigued me, they’re far more fascinating than fiction.
John Franklin and Henry B. Martin arrived in Oceanside around 1900 and opened Martin Brothers’ Meat Market on Second Street (Mission Avenue). They leased 1,700 acres on the Kelley ranch and raised cattle.
From 1900 to 1983 the Martin family operated a meat market in Oceanside, one of the oldest family operated businesses. The Martins were known for their fine meats but also for their work ethic and integrity. Many were staunch members of the First Baptist Church and active in civic affairs.
John F. Martin served several terms on the Oceanside city council and was appointed mayor in 1931. He also served on the Oceanside school board, was elected President of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce and was a charter member of the Oceanside Elks, Mason and Kiwanis Clubs.
Resident Helen Beegle Osuna remembered that “Frank Martin’s Meat Market was the only meat market in town. He also ran a meat wagon delivery, house to house in the San Luis Rey Valley once a week. His brother was driver and butcher of the one horse wagon.”
In 1903 J. F. Martin purchased property at the northwest corner of Tremont and Second Streets (now Mission Avenue), just east of the tiny, modest market he operated with his brother.
As Oceanside grew, so did a demand for larger store to accommodate a growing customer base. Construction of a new store building began in 1923. The headline in the Oceanside Blade newspaper for January 20, 1923 read: “J. F. Martin Prepares to Start Work of $17,000 Structure on 2nd Street.”
“Arrangements are being completed and it is expected that the contract will be let in a few days for a fine business block which J. F. Martin is planning to build on his property at the west corner of Second and Tremont streets on the site now occupied by Martin’s Market and the offices of the Pacific Telephone company.
“The building is to be a fireproof structure of reinforced concrete throughout. It will be 50 x 100 feet in dimensions and of one story with a basement 30 x 70 feet under the east portion of the building. There are to be two storerooms fronting on Second street and one of Tremont street. One of the former will be occupied by the Martin Market with new and attractively arranged equipment and it is expected that the room on Tremont street will be occupied by the other present tenants.
“There will be lavish use of plate glass on both fronts with recessed doors and other features to make the building an attractive and sightly addition to that section of town.
“It is hoped to begin work within two or three weeks. It is likely that because of the need to provide accommodations for present tenants the rear portion of the building will first be completed and this with the time required to remove the other buildings will make the period for completion at least six months.”
On December 23, 1923 the Oceanside Blade published an article featuring the new Martin’s Meat Market and storefront.
“The last word in modern equipment best describes the modern meat market now building by J.F. Martin, and located at Second and Tremont streets. This market will be one of the most up-to-date establishments of its kind in this section. It was established by Mr. Martin in 1900 and has been under his personal and successful management since that year. But since the early years in business and the present time, wonderful changes have taken place and a modern refrigerating plant now takes the place of the old-fashioned, unsanitary ice box of years gone by, the equipment providing every advantage for the proper care of meats and other products.
“In the old days meat was served to the patrons within a few hours after the animal was killed, but the present day plan is entirely different, the meat being first being allowed to thoroughly cool in the cold storage department, thus increasing its value as food.
“With nearly a quarter of a century in business in Oceanside, Mr. Martin naturally is greatly interested in everything helping to upbuild his town and community and when called upon he may be counted to do his part in all movements that spell progress.”
In 1952 the Martins built a new building at Ditmar and First Streets (now Seagaze) to house their meat shop. The building downtown then became the home of Harry Turk Men’s Clothing. At that time it appears that the building was “modernized” and additional store windows were added along Tremont Street.
In the early 1970’s a business named “Mr. D’s Service Center” occupied the building. In 1980 the building was renovated by developer A. Marco Turk, son of Harry Turk, and Carlsbad architect John Landry. American Travel Service occupied the building in the 1990s, and it has served as real estate sales offices. It is currently a retail and souvenir shop.
Oceanside Lodge No. 346, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, organized on July 20, 1888, making it one of the earliest organizations in the City. The City of Oceanside had just voted to incorporate one month earlier. Those first Lodge members met at the St. Cloud Hotel, located on North Cleveland Street, and included notable businessmen and early pioneers such as John Schuyler, William Goldbaum, Thomas Dodd, James Carter, Daniel Amick, Harrison Stroud and Joseph Nugent.
Shortly after the Lodge was formed, meetings were held in a two-story brick building on Third Street (now Pier View Way) owned by businessman John Schuyler. His storefront bore the Lodge emblem.
Several years later the Lodge moved into a building on the 100 block of North Tremont Street. Other organizations, including the Oceanside Woman’s Club and the Farm Bureau used the building for meetings, and on Sundays services were held by the Christian Science Church.
In August of 1922 the Odd Fellows announced plans to build a two-story building on a lot they had acquired in 1904, on the 500 block of Second Street (Mission Avenue). But needed funds had to be raised and construction was not underway until two years later when work began to remove an “old corrugated iron warehouse” on the property adjoining the Jones Hardware Store.
Charles G. Rieke, a local contractor, began construction of the new building in October of 1924. The Oceanside Blade described the work in progress:
The lower floor which is to be occupied by the city hall and library will be one large room 50×100 feet in dimensions. The stairway to the upper floor will be in the front at the west side with entrance through a door from the outside. Toilets for men and women will occupy the south and east corners. The front will be all glass with prism glass transoms. Another single door is located in the north corner while the main entrance will be through a large door just to the east of the center of the front. The floor will be cement.
Upstairs the lodge will have a completely appointed place. There will be a lodge room in the southeast corner 35×56 feet with a robing room and locker room 14×40 adjoining and opening into the lodge room and adjoining these two ante rooms to the north. The entrance hall will be on the west side with the stairway leading up from below and opening off the hall a ladies rest room. The banquet room, which is 22×30, will be located in front and the remainder of the space in the front is to be taken up by a club room 18×24, with folding doors which make it possible to use it as an addition to the banquet room. The kitchen 10×17 is located off the hall and opens into the banquet room. The cost of the building will be a little over $20,000.
The new I.O.O.F. building at 505 Second Street (now Mission Avenue) was a welcome addition to Oceanside’s modest downtown. It was dedicated in February 1925 and housed the City Hall and Library on the first floor.
In December of 1928 it was announced that the trustees of the I.O.O.F. Lodge had signed an 18 year lease with the J. C. Penney Company. The Oceanside store was one of 500 new stores the national chain opened that year. The Oceanside Blade reported that the store would “include a full line of ready-to-wear garments men’s women’s and children’s lines, footwear, haberdashery, millinery, lingerie, cosmetics, notions, with the newest style elements” adding that it “will be one of the most complete stocks ever shown in this city.”
J. C. Penney Store No. 1259 was opened in August of 1929. Forrest A. Jones was the first store manager. Harry Weinberg was the assistant manager and Ina Winters was hired as the cashier. Other early store managers included Graham Tyson, who took over January 1, 1931, and Joe Lavvorn who became store manager August 1, 1937. According to Lodge records, in 1945 the J. C. Penney Co. paid the I.O.O.F. lodge $200.00 a month in rent.
In 1950 Trustees of Oceanside Lodge No. 346, Independent Order of Odd Fellows granted the property to the Oceanside Odd Fellows Halls Association.
Having a national department store in Oceanside further elevated its business district and the J.C. Penney store remained at that location for four decades through the late 1960s. The lease expired on April 4, 1970 and the department store relocated to the shopping mall in Carlsbad.
Since 1970 the Oceanside Odd Fellows Halls Association has rented the first floor of the building to a variety of businesses. The upstairs, which has a separate entrance, continues its use as a lodge and meeting hall. It is believed to be the last remaining Odd Fellow Lodge in San Diego County.
Many longtime residents of Oceanside will fondly remember Huckabay’s Department Store at 501 Mission Avenue. This building, located on the southeast corner of Mission Avenue and Coast Highway, is 109 years old and was originally the J. E. Jones Hardware Store.
Joseph E. Jones was born in 1873, and came to California with his parents in 1888. They family settled in the San Luis Rey Valley where they lived on a ranch. Jones attended the Santa Barbara Business College and in 1893 became a clerk for the firm of Irwin & Co., dealers in dry-goods and general merchandise at Oceanside, located on Second Street (now Mission Avenue) and Freeman Street. Jones was industrious and worked “his way upward through diligent attention to every detail connected with the business.” After clerking for Isaac Irwin for several years, Jones purchased a portion of Irwin’s business, as it pertained to hardware and farm implements in 1906.
Jones acquired the vacant lot on the southeast corner of Second and Hill Streets (Mission and Coast Highway) in 1911 with plans to build a new home for his growing hardware business. Excavation began in 1912. This two-story structure included a basement and was a decidedly modern addition to downtown Oceanside.
The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported on June 7, 1913:
J. E. Jones this week began the transfer of his hardware business from his quarters on the north side of Second Street to his new building on the corner of Second and Hill. The final touches were put on the new building the first of the week and the last of the work marks the completion of one of the best if not the best business block in San Diego county outside the city of San Diego.
The building, 85 x 100 feet in size, is of reinforced concrete construction throughout, walls and floors being of this enduring material strengthened with steel ribs. There are two stories and a basement, the latter being the entire size of the building and prepared and fitted especially for its use in the display and storage of hardware and implements. The first floor is the main store and here the finish and fittings are the very finest and most substantial to be had, everything being arranged for the convenient transaction of business. There are three entrances to the store besides the main doorway on Second Street, two on Hill Street and one from the alley in the rear. Access to the basement is gained by stairs in the rear of the first floor and by a freight elevator which is operated from the sidewalk in front.
The second floor has been left partly unfinished and will be finished up later, either for offices or apartments, as necessity may demand. The windows are plate and prism glass, affording ample light to all portions of the building. Scores of electric lights make provision for the lighting at night, there being fifty tungsten lamps in the main store alone, so that when the building is lighted up it is the brightest spot in town with a metropolitan appearance that would do credit to a large city. A nobby gold sign, the letters fastened in relief on the front and sides of the building, puts the finishing touch to Oceanside’s finest business block.
In addition to his business interests, Jones was active in civic life, serving as a city trustee (councilmember), later as city treasurer, and served two terms as mayor. He was also president of the Oceanside Federal Savings and Loan Association. Joseph Eli Jones died at his home at 904 Second Street (Mission Avenue) in 1944.
In 1928 Henry A. and Tracy B. Howe occupied the building and operated Howe Hardware until they moved into a new location just up the street at 517 Second Street (Mission Avenue).
Ike Glasser purchased the building in 1934. Glasser was a native of Austria and came to the United States as an apprentice tailor. He and his wife Lena came to Oceanside in 1929 and operated a mercantile store in downtown Oceanside.
In 1939 Hiram and Walter Huckabay bought the building. Hiram Huckabay came to Oceanside from Colton in 1934 and previously operated the Ben Franklin Variety Store at 201 North Hill Street (aka Coast Highway). The Huckabay’s opened their department store, which was a popular retail store in downtown for many years.
The upstairs of the building served as offices and storage. In June of 1945 Ray Goodman leased the upstairs and opened a dance hall and snack bar called the Silver Slipper Ballroom. Entrance to the upper floor was made via an entrance on North Hill Street aka Coast Highway. Longtime resident and Oceanside native Ernie Carpenter remembered in an interview: “When I was in high school, they had a dance hall on the top. Saturday night dances for the kids, it was really great. Now that was in the ’40s; that was the Silver Slipper.” When renovation of this building took place in the late 1980’s, an upper floor window was discovered with the name of the ballroom painted on it.
In 1951 Huckabay hired Richardson Brothers, local contractors, to build an addition to the building at a cost of $25,000. It was likely at this time that the building was “modernized” to include a large metal awning that wrapped around the front of the building.
In 1954 the local newspaper Oceanside Blade Tribune, featured the Huckabay’s:
The growth of Huckabay’s, well-known Oceanside department store, leads back to a period of 55 years ago when H.C. Huckabay as a youth went into the general store business in Marmaduke, Arkansas. This line of business he followed for a good many years, first in the Oklahoma town and then for a period in Foraker, Oklahoma, and Claremore, Oklahoma.In 1928 Huckabay retired and moved with his family to Colton, California where inactivity soon began to pall on him and he operated a broom factory in that city, an unusual but successful enterprise which continued until 1934 when he bought the G.A. Wisdom business in Oceanside. This latter business was operated in a Ben Franklin variety store in the location where Gilbert’s 5 & 10 now operates.
In 1938 he purchased a half-interest in the variety store business which less than 12 months later gained its present identity when father and son purchased their present department store at Hill and Second street from Ike Glasser.During the period from 1948 to 1951 Huckabay’s business underwent a considerable expansion program which saw the remodeling of the store exterior and the construction of a new addition to the building which doubled its floor space and made it possible for much larger stocks of merchandise display.
With the advent of shopping malls and shopping centers in the 1960s, retailers in downtowns across the country were negatively impacted, and Oceanside was not immune. Many downtown retails shops vacated the business district and relocated to the newer shopping centers that afforded free and ample parking along with convenience.
The Huckabay family continued to operate their department store even as the business landscape of downtown Oceanside was changing. Although they retained ownership of the building, they sold the business in 1977 to Edward R. and Gabrielle Meyers. The Meyers operated the store under the name Huckabay’s and Bargain Circus until 1981 when they filed bankruptcy.
When Harley Hartman purchased the building in 1989, it had been vacant and left in a neglected state. Hartman renovated the building at a cost of $1.4 million dollars and opened Fullerton Mortgage and Escrow Co. Among the changes made were the removal of the wrap around awning and elimination of a portion of the stucco façade that had covered the second tier of windows. Hartman did extensive interior improvements including the restoration of the decorative tin ceiling that was original to the J. E. Jones Hardware store.
Now the building is vacant once again and is waiting for a new purpose and perhaps another renovation and restoration.
Many of our buildings in downtown Oceanside have an interesting history. While its façade has changed along with its use, here is a history of the building which is now home to Swami’s Café in Oceanside.
Before the present day building was constructed, the property was owned by local businessman Jesse Newton and occupied by the Squirrel Inn, a small roadside stand and café that served not only locals but the traveling public. From 1918 to 1923, the Squirrel Inn had various owners including Mary Ulrich, Nina Foss, and Jack Taylor. It operated 24 hours a day for the “patronage of the large amount of night traffic” that traveled through Oceanside via Hill Street which was part of the original Highway 101.
In 1923 the Squirrel Inn was moved to a location north on Hill Street (Coast Highway) to make way for the construction of a new service station. The corner was leased by the Shell Oil Company from Newton and a new service station was built on the location later that year.
Then in 1927 Jesse Newton sold the property to the Bank of Italy National Trust and Savings Association. The service station was removed and a new bank building added to Oceanside’s growing “business district.” The establishment of a major bank in downtown Oceanside was an important and significant development for the City. Oceanside’s commercial district served not only the general population but the smaller nearby towns including Carlsbad, Vista and Fallbrook.
The new building was designed by the architectural firm of Morgan, Walls, and Clements, a renowned firm established by Julia Morgan. Arthur Nelson and George Willett, of Nelson and Willett, were the local contractors who built the bank in 1928. A portion of the new bank building, built to serve as a storefront, was leased out to Charles A. Turner, a local realtor. In 1934 this storefront was leased to Clay Jolliff, a local jeweler.
The Bank of Italy was renamed Bank of America in 1930. During the Depression years, many banks closed and families lost their savings, but Bank of America managed to stay solvent.
After the establishment of the military base Camp Joseph H. Pendleton, the population of Oceanside nearly tripled in ten years. This growth brought the necessity of new schools, more housing and increased commercial development. In response, Bank of America wanted a larger and more modern building to serve its growing clientele. In 1950 they built a new bank building on the northeast corner of Second (now Mission Avenue) and Ditmar streets.
In September of 1950 the original building, which stood vacant, was sold to Isadore A. Teacher. Teacher was a native of Lithuania who came to Southern California in the 1920s. He owned a chain of jewelry stores and considerable property in San Diego County. Shortly after the bank building was purchased by Teacher, it was completely remodeled. The interior largely stripped and the outer façade modified and the exterior awning added. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that it was now “one of the most modern structures in Oceanside.”
The former bank building was then leased to Joseph B. Schwartz, a pharmacist who opened the Oceanside Pharmacy in December of 1950. John Graham operated the pharmacy’s lunch and soda counter. “Bushy” Graham would later own several popular drive-in restaurants, including the present day 101 Cafe. Roger’s Clothiers occupied the storefront in the north section of the building soon after.
Claude V. and Ouida “Ruth” Johnson acquired the property in 1964. Johnson had opened a sporting goods store at 210 North Hill Street (Coast Highway) and continued to lease the building to the Oceanside Pharmacy which remained in operation.
In the 1970s Dutch Jewelers occupied the smaller storefront, while A&W Root Beer occupied the former bank building. In 1979 the Johnson’s moved their sporting goods business into the building. Tragically Claude Johnson was murdered in his store on February 21, 1979, just one month after he moved into the building. His widow Ruth Johnson and son Greg continued to run the sporting goods store for over 20 years.
In 2014 the building was sold to restaurateurs Jaime and Rosa Osuna. A number of renovations were made, including exposing the interior brick and original roof truss and rafters. The building has been repurposed once again and is a popular downtown restaurant, Swami’s Café.
In late January of 1931, newspapers across the United States published stories with a similar rumor: That famed gangster Al “Scarface” Capone was bringing his mobsters to Southern California along with plans to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita. The Los Angeles Times reported that if taken over by Capone, the vast property could be “fortified into an estate defying entrance, with a boat landing where liquor could be landed at will, defying Federal forces.”
Al Capone both terrified and captivated the Nation with his crimes and exploits. Two years prior Capone’s men were responsible for the deadly St. Valentine’s Day Massacre which killed seven men. Although he was not at the scene of the murders, it was believed he ordered it. He was then given the status of “Public Enemy Number One.”
The little town of Oceanside had a population of just 3,500 people. Residents enjoyed a quiet relationship with the owners of the Rancho Santa Margarita. The cattle ranch employed a number of locals and area farmers leased land to grow crops, including lima beans, sugar beets and alfalfa. This would seemingly come to a halt should the Rancho be under the control of the most infamous gangster in America.
Los Angeles law enforcement revealed that among various gangsters in the Southland included Frankie Foster, Baldy Nevins, Louis Frank, Bill Bailey and a brother of Ralph Sheldon. The men were said to be “all known hoodlums from the ranks of the gangster army.”
Charles S. Hardy, the general manager of the Rancho bordering Oceanside to the north, refuted the claims that Capone was buying the vast property. The Oceanside Blade published his statement: “We have had no call from agents relative to the sale of the rancho for some time,” said Hardy, “I am positive that neither Capone nor any of his men nor anyone representing him has ever made any overtures to purchase the holdings. I doubt very much that any of the Chicago gangsters ever heard of the ranch, much less started an attempt to purchase it.”
The Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores once belonged to Pio Pico, last Governor of Alta California under Mexican rule. Pico sold his interest to his brother-in-law, John Forster. After Forster’s death in 1882, the property was sold to Comstock silver magnate James C. Flood, who hired cattle rancher Richard O’Neill as manager. Some years after the death of James Flood, Richard O’Neill was given half ownership of the land, 133,440 acres. O’Neill gave his interest in the Rancho to his son Jerome. When Jerome O’Neill died in 1926, the rancho was inherited by his descendants who later hired Hardy to help manage it.
While Hardy’s statement sought to dispel the rumor of Capone’s interest in the Rancho, law enforcement was in fact “on the trail of men described as gangsters” who were associated with a series of recent crimes in Southern California. The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported that the suspects were believed to be members of the Sheldon gang, a notorious bootlegging gang in Chicago affiliated with Al Capone.
Despite Hardy’s denials, The Los Angeles Times reported “Heads of a local real estate firm are said to have reported three men representing themselves as agents of Capone recently offered $200,000 for an option on the ranch, which has an 18-mile ocean frontage and attempted to rush the deal before authorities could prevent it.” In another article, it was said that the men had a certified check ready to remit as a down payment.
Law enforcement believed a smuggling ring was particularly interested in the historic rancho because of the extensive ocean frontage it provided. “Long miles of unguarded coast line and Southern California’s easy accessibility to the Mexican border” were attractive to the “racketeers” and had in fact been used by smugglers and bootleggers for many years.
With the onset of Prohibition, boats were often used to transport alcohol that was smuggled from Mexico. The open coastline north of Oceanside was a perfect place to land small boats, and bootleggers made extensive use of the lonely beaches in landing their cargoes. Oceanside Police and other law enforcement were kept busy chasing bootleggers and confiscating liquor.
While authorities downplayed the Capone story near Oceanside, Southern California residents may have been surprised to hear that police admitted that “75 percent of the Hollywood speakeasies [were] under the control of a Chicago gang.” Bootleggers were assigned territories and promised protection as long as they agreed to purchase liquor from the gang. This takeover was described as an “octopus” with strength and muscle to control the area. The Times also reported that an “influx of Chicago, Detroit, New York, St. Louis and Kansas City gangsters” were an indication that Southern California would soon be a “smugglers’ paradise.”
Whether or not Capone was in the State of California, just two months earlier, Capone was blamed for what was called the “grape juice war” with California grape growers. It was alleged that Capone warned Fruit Industries, Ltd. to stop selling and distributing juice concentrate in Chicago, which could later be turned into wine and therefore compete with Capone’s illegal liquor sales. The Sacramento Bee reported that Capone had threatened that if sales were attempted against his orders that someone was “going to be bumped off”.
In Washington D.C. an elected official seeking legislation against Capone commented, “When Al Capone can go from Chicago to California and threaten the life of a man who is selling grape juice, something must be done.” Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation monitored the “grape juice war” and is included in the FBI files on Al Capone.
Los Angeles newspaper reporters claimed that they went to a ranch outside Los Angeles to an undisclosed location to speak directly to a man who identified himself as Al Capone (who told them not to divulge the ranch’s location). During the interview Capone denied involvement in the grape juice wars and instead blamed it on the New York mob.
Where was this ranch where Capone was residing in 1930? It may have been in Lancaster, California. Just days after the news that Al Capone had made an offer on the Rancho Santa Margarita, newspapers reported that there was a mob hideout in Lancaster, about 75 miles north of Los Angeles where bombs and weapons had been found. (It was later rumored but never substantiated that Capone also had a house in Fontana.)
Oceanside residents were rightfully concerned. What would happen if Capone took control of the Santa Margarita? Would local farmers lose access to their crops? Would gangsters seek control over the tiny beach town? Would access via the state highway through the Rancho be hindered? It was a lonely stretch of road that was even lonelier at nightfall.
Fears of the Rancho being taken over by gangsters subsided in February, when Capone was found guilty in Federal Court on a contempt of court charge and was sentenced to a brief stint in the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois.
However, in June of 1931, Homer Croy, a writer from Hollywood, resurrected the story in an article that he wrote for Liberty Magazine. The two page article declared that Al Capone had in fact “acquired a domain in California about two thirds as large as the state of Rhode Island, 35 miles from end to end and with many miles of seacoast.” A photo of Capone, along with a map of the Rancho Santa Margarita, was included.
Croy wrote that Capone would be well suited to Rancho life and that “horseback riding will do him good, for Al is getting overweight” and added, “Don Alfonso Capone can live on his hacienda, sit in his patio, and smoke and talk to his friends to his heart’s content about real estate.”
The Oceanside Blade Tribune suggested that Croy’s piece was fiction and “some good publicity” as the map provided in the article showed the San Luis Rey Mission and Oceanside’s proximity to the famed rancho.
And while Homer Croy’s article was written either tongue in cheek or for pure sensationalism, it didn’t matter. Liberty magazine boasted a readership of over 2 million, and was sold from coast to coast. The story of Capone purchasing the historic ranch once again attracted national attention and was front page news.
Charles Hardy once again went on the defensive, vehemently denying that the Chicago crime czar had purchased the property.
Whether Al Capone really attempted to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita is unknown. But if so, Capone would never have a chance to pursue or close the deal. Just days after the Liberty Magazine story was published and circulated, Al Capone pled guilty to tax evasion and prohibition charges under the assumption he would serve a light sentence as before. But on October 17, 1931, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and he would eventually be sent to Alcatraz. It was the end of his life of crime but he would long reign as America’s most notorious criminal.
Oceanside residents breathed a collective sigh of relief and a sense of normalcy settled back in. Little would change until a decade later when the historic Rancho became the largest military base in the country, training Marines for World War II.
On a quiet summer night off a dirt road in northeast Oceanside, California laid the body of Marine Staff Sergeant Carlo G. Troiani. He had been shot twice, once in the back and once in the neck. As he lay dead or dying, tire marks on his lower legs suggest he had been run over by a vehicle.
Troiani, who served his country in Vietnam, was killed, not by a foreign enemy but by one he would have considered a brother, a fellow Marine. The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis or Semper Fi for short, Latin for “always faithful”. But unfaithfulness would result in Carlo Troiani’s death. His murder was orchestrated by his wife of five years.
On August 10, 1984, Laura Troiani had lured her husband to a remote area under the pretense of car trouble. When her husband dutifully came to her aid in the middle of the night, she waited for her plan to unfold. As Carlo pulled off North River Road to help his wife, Laura tapped her brake light. This was a prompt that signaled two Marines who were in hiding to step out and to ambush Carlo. One of the Marines, later identified as Mark J. Schulz, shot the defenseless man in the back.
After being shot Carlo cried out to his wife, “Laura, I’ve been hit!” Laura watched impassively from her car as the scene played out. There was no attempt to save her husband, no attempt to help or abort the mission. She watched the Marines grab Carlo as he instinctively tried to find cover and crawl under the vehicle. They pulled him by his legs and shot Carlo again, this time in the neck with the bullet exiting his face as he collapsed. Laura watched it all. Her husband, the father of her children, was dead.
Laura and the two Marines, Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz then drove to a 7-11 convenience store on Vandegrift Boulevard where three other Marines, Russell Sanders, Kevin Watkins and Jeffrey Mizner, were waiting with Laura’s two small children. This woman who had coldly masterminded the murder of her own husband and watched him die, had left her two young children, ages 5 and 2, in the care of two men who had helped plan the murder of their father. Two little ones any caring mother would have safely tucked in bed hours ago, were instead left with strangers at midnight standing in front of a convenience store. The children, too young to know what was happening, had no idea they would never see their daddy again.
After her murderous plot was accomplished Laura took her children to a friend’s house to spend the night — instead of taking them home where they belonged. It was just before 1 am in the morning. She told Annabelle Thompson that she was coming home from a Tupperware party and had a flat tire. This story is simply inconceivable — what was she doing at a Tupperware party in the middle of the night with her children? But lies came easy to Laura Troiani. It did not matter to her that the story made no sense. It only mattered to her that she was free to do as she pleased. By dropping her children off, she was free of her children, and free of Carlo forever.
Annabelle watched as Laura hopped on the back of a motorcycle driven by a “Marine-type.” They took the same dark and winding route on North River Road where the murder occurred. On the way to Vista they passed by the lifeless body of Carlo Troiani. Another route could have been taken but the two callously drove past the murder scene, perhaps satisfied with their deed.
After Laura returned to her apartment she picked up the phone and called police, feigning concern for her husband who she claimed did not come home as expected. She called police twice more. Then Laura called her husband’s friend Marty Gunter saying that she had a premonition that Carlo was in danger. She called him three additional times in less than an hour.
Meanwhile, the Oceanside Police Department had been alerted by a passerby who had discovered the body of Carlo Troiani. John Brohamer, Jr. was the first Oceanside Police Officer to arrive at the murder scene at 3 am. He found Carlo Troiani face down in the dirt in a pool of blood. The engine of his Ford Mustang was still running with the headlights on, piercing through the darkness. Detective Ed Jacobs was notified and upon arrival he initiated the criminal investigation.
Detective Jacobs said in an interview that it was a “good crime scene” because it was done in a remote area and had therefore been left in pristine condition. As they waited for the sun to rise, nothing had been disturbed. Shoe prints left in the dirt, along with tire tracks were noted. These matched Laura’s 1968 Ford Galaxy which was found by police. It had a flat tire after being hit but a bullet from the same gun that killed Carlo.
It did not take long for Laura to be visited by Detectives Jacobs and Bob George. They went to her Vista apartment at 8 am. When advised of Carlo’s death, Laura did not seem at all surprised, nor did she exhibit any grief or sadness. She was taken to the police station for questioning and she would never leave their custody.
After a lengthy interrogation and numerous false stories, Laura Troiani would eventually confess and name her co-conspirators.
The Detectives also conducted interviews of the neighbors in the apartment complex where the Troiani’s lived, who confirmed Laura’s plan was to have her husband killed. They reported to police that she had solicited a number of men in recent weeks to accomplish the deadly task and there were at least two failed prior attempts.
Oceanside Police Sergeant Ron Call drove to Camp Margarita aboard the military base. The Marines were put in formation, then identified one by one, and eventually taken into police custody.
Police apprehended and arrested five young Marines, all under the age of 21, with the murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani. They were with H&S Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Camp Pendleton: Russell E. Sanders, 20, Kevin W. Watkins, 18, Mark J. Schulz, 19, Jeffrey T. Mizner, 20, and Russell A. Harrison, 19.
These Marines called themselves “The Gremlins,” after the movie Gremlins, which had just been released that summer, two months before the murder, about creatures that “transform into small, destructive, evil monsters.”
Laura Ann Cox was born in Los Angeles, California in the summer of 1961. By all accounts hers was not a happy childhood. She was a neglected child, raised by a mother who was described as self-involved and slovenly, spending hours watching daytime television and reading romance novels rather than tending to her three children. Without the love and proper care of a mother, the children were left to themselves, and as result, were poorly dressed, disheveled and dirty. Due to a lack of proper personal hygiene, Laura and her siblings were seen as outcasts at both school and church.
The family moved to Washington State where Laura would grow up. Laura’s parents separated when she was seven years old and divorced about three years later. She remembered it as a turning point in her life. Just two years after the divorce, Laura’s mother Catherine remarried in 1973. The marriage offered little stability in Laura’s life. Her mother was inattentive and labeled as a hypochondriac, caring more for herself than her family.
If her mother was a poor example of a parental figure, Laura’s biological father was no better. Lawrence J. Cox was described as angry and had a drinking problem. He was sent to prison for attempted murder after he shot at a neighbor.
Laura had a brief relationship with an unnamed man and became pregnant at the age of 17. Apparently the biological father was quickly out of the picture and Laura found herself alone. She met and married Carlo Troiani who told her he was willing to raise her unborn baby as his own. In Carlo, Laura found the security she never had.
Carlo Grant Troiani was 15 years older than Laura, born in 1947 in Seattle, Washington. His marriage to Laura was his third, and he had two children, one from each of his previous marriages.
Carlo was in the Navy, serving in Viet Nam in the late 1960s. He was released from the Navy and joined the Marine Reserves and later enlisted in the Marine Corps. Carlo was a Marine Recruiter in Tacoma, Washington from 1976 to 1979. His supervisor recalled that he was one of the “proudest individual in the Marine Corps” he had ever met, he loved being a Marine and worked “aggressively” as a recruiter to meet his quota and prove his worth.
Carlo and Laura were married August 3, 1979 in Pierce, Washington. It was a Marine Corps “full dress” wedding with Marines in their dress blues. After the ceremony, Laura and Carlo walked underneath an arch of swords, where a group of six to eight Marines stand on either side to create an arch as if to “shelter the bride” as she and the groom walk out.
Laura gave birth to a son and shortly thereafter, Carlo Troiani was sent to Orange County, California as a Marine Corps Recruiter. In 1982 Laura gave birth to another child, a daughter. Eventually Carlo Troiani was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Assigned to H&S Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group (1st FSSG), he was a military police or “MP”. The couple got an apartment in Vista on Foothill Drive.
Infidelity and Murder Plots
Laura Troiani may have found security in her marriage to Carlo but she did not find happiness. She was continually unfaithful. It was even reported that she had slept with her husband’s best man (before or after) their wedding. Carlo knew of her infidelities and was angry. However, he sought to salvage his marriage and the two attended marriage counseling in the spring and summer of 1984.
James Bondell, family and marriage counselor, would later describe Laura Troiani as a manipulator and a “hard person” who “tormented” her husband. The Troiani’s attended 20 sessions from April through July, wherein Bondell also noted that “Laura Troiani teased her husband by withholding sex from him, was the dominant force in their relationship and was otherwise ‘ambivalent’ about marital problems the couple was experiencing.” He also noted that Laura complained that Carlo wanted her to “stay home and be with him.” This statement would suggest that Carlo was aware, at least to some extent, of Laura’s extracurricular activities.
Despite Carlo’s attempts to save his marriage, Laura’s presence at the sessions seems disingenuous at best. Carlo was sent to Korea and while gone, Laura threw a party over Memorial Day weekend. There she met Darryl Nelson and was intimate with him that very day. During the two month affair, she asked Nelson if he knew anyone that could “do a hit” on her husband. When he asked Laura about simply getting a divorce, she replied in the negative, complaining that she would then have to get a job and take care of her children, which was apparently out of the question.
Jessie Montgomery, a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps attended a party thrown by Laura and noticed that Laura Troiani and a man emerged from her bedroom. Montgomery was then informed that Laura only married Carlo for security and that “the marriage was one of convenience.” Troiani spoke to Montgomery about getting rid of Carlo and even stated that she knew someone who would “put a contract out on him.”
Over this same weekend Laura talked to Kevin Manwarren and Bill Fenley, unambiguously telling them she wanted her husband dead. Manwarren, who would later claim to be joking, offered to kill Carlo Troiani for $5,000, to which Laura quickly offered: “Well, I can take care of it out of the insurance proceeds.” (Carlo had two policies that totaled $95,000.) Laura then followed up their conversation with several phone calls to Manwarren, anxious to elaborate on a plan to have her husband killed. He demurred.
Annabelle Thompson recalled that Laura had also told her that she knew a person in Tustin, California who would “take care” of Carlo and that he was “worth more dead.”
It appears that many of the men Laura encountered thought that she was joking and did not take her seriously, but she continued searching and sleeping with potential would-be assassins. None seemed willing to commit murder for her.
In July of 1984 Kim Hartmann moved into the apartment complex in which the Troiani’s lived. The two women met and Laura wasted no time by complaining to Hartmann about Carlo and that she wanted him killed. Hartmann said Laura talked about it constantly. Laura also told Hartmann that Carlo, keenly aware of her unhappiness, offered Laura a divorce, a way out, and said that he would pay her rent and child support. But Laura would not be dissuaded. She wanted Carlo’s insurance money and for that he had to die.
On July 19th Hartmann went with Laura to an E-club (Enlisted club) on Camp Pendleton. There Laura met Jeffrey Mizner for the first time and was introduced to the other Marines who eventually would be the accomplices to Carlo’s murder, including the triggerman Mark Schulz. Hartmann would later testify that Laura kept bringing up the subject of having her husband killed, even though she had just met them. Laura was unapologetically, unabashedly, out to have Carlo murdered and she apparently did care about first impressions.
It is significant to point out that in conversations with Kim Hartmann, someone she felt close enough to tell about wanting her husband murdered, Laura Troiani did not allege or assert to her that she was being abused by Carlo. Hate and money were her given motives. In marriage counseling, even when she attended one-on-one sessions without Carlo, she never complained of abuse of any kind, only that Carlo had a “yelling problem.”
The Marines began to plot with Laura Troiani, as the ringleader, the killing of Carlo Troiani. Mark Schulz told other Marines in his company that he had been “hired to waste someone” and was recruiting anyone else that might be interested in helping with the deed, adding their cut would be $500 to $600. Schulz along with Russell Harrison, Jeff Mizner, and Russell Sanders began to solicit information on how to kill someone, which including poison, making a bomb and using a firearm.
For several days in a row, Laura would take her two children and drive 35 miles each way to the remote base camp to visit with the Marines at Camp Margarita so that they could discuss their “options.”
August 3, 1984 was the occasion of the Troiani’s fifth wedding anniversary. Carlo, oblivious to the fact that his bride was planning to have him killed, toasted his wife that evening.
The First Attempt
On the night of August 6, 1984, Laura and Kim Hartmann went to the E-Club at Camp Margarita aboard the military base. There Laura plotted with the Marines to kill Carlo (This group included Kevin Watkins). All of whom seemed eager to carry out the plot. Harrison and Schulz had weapons, a knife and a gun, which they put into Laura’s car. They then traveled to the Del Mar Club, located near the beach of Camp Pendleton. At the club the conversation of killing Carlo continued. This was no fantasy talk or mere joking. The group planned to carry out the plot that night. Harrison suggested that the Marines “jump” Carlo at his car, attack and kill him with a knife, rather than attract attention with a gunshot.
Laura and Kim Hartmann were dropped off at a market in order to call Carlo and tell him that Laura’s car had broken down. She told Carlo that she was stranded in Carlsbad with their children. But exactly where were the children on a Monday evening, if not with her or Carlo? Like her own mother, it seemed she had no instinctual love and care for her children.
Hartmann claims that she tried to keep Laura from going through with her plans, saying it wasn’t too late and that she could still call Carlo back to keep him from being murdered by the Marines who were lying in wait. Laura’s reply was, “Nope, I got to get it over with.”
The Marines then hid in an area near Carlo’s vehicle, waiting for him to come out of his apartment. However, because his car was nearly out of gas, Carlo had called his friend Corporal Marty Gunter, to come and take him to look for Laura. Ambushing Carlo alone was not feasible and the group was unable to fulfill their deadly plan.
Carlo and Marty diligently searched for Laura and the children for four hours, to no avail. (This was before the convenience of cell phones.) Unsuccessful in their search, Marty dropped Carlo back at his apartment building.
When Laura discovered the plan to kill her husband did not go through, she was furious. She told the Marines that she “couldn’t stand it” and that it had to be done that night. Russell Harrison volunteered to go up to the Troiani apartment and to slit Carlo’s throat. Laura gave him the key. However sinister and bloody this particular scenario would have been, it is believed it was abandoned altogether as the group was spotted, likely by an apartment resident.
The Second Attempt
While the group did not want to be seen that night by outsiders, it was an open secret that Laura and the Marines were seeking to murder Carlo as they spoke about it openly to several people. The following day, Jeffrey Mizner told Robert Guerrero, a fellow Marine, about his “girlfriend Laura”, and that she was trying to get someone to kill her husband. Mizner asked his roommate “how to blow up a car by running a wire from the sparkplug to the carburetor.”
Apparently, this was now the chosen method of murder. Russell Sanders shared a story with yet another Marine how they had “practiced” by attaching a wire to the sparkplug of Kevin Watkin’s motorcycle and hooked the other to a mouse to electrocute it. They watched it die.
Satisfied that a similar technique would also kill Carlo, his vehicle was rigged with the wire from the sparkplug placed into the gas tank of his truck. The attempt failed and did not detonate. In fact, Carlo found the device and removed it. Marines in his unit remembered him laughing about it, thinking it was a harmless prank by one of them.
Jeff Mizner then complained to Marine Joseph Hickman that the sparkplug scheme did not work. Mizner even said that he had lost sleep over the failure and the plan was now just to shoot Carlo Troiani.
With at least two thwarted murder attempts, on August 9, 1984, Laura Troiani would not be denied. Mark Schulz borrowed a .357 pistol from David Schenne on the pretense of doing some target practice. That same day Laura went to the local Kmart (at the time located next to the Oceanside Police Station) to purchase bullets for the weapon and the group laid out their final lethal plan.
That evening between 8 and 9 pm, Laura went to the apartment of Diane and Randy Gray with her two children. Soon after Mizner, Harrison, Sanders, Schulz and Watkins arrived. The group huddled together, whispering their plots and because the Gray’s were concerned about the secretive behavior, asked what was going on. Sanders replied, “Never mind, we don’t want you to get involved further.”
The group left the apartment with Jeffrey Mizner riding on the back of Watkins’ motorcycle and Laura, Schulz, Harrison and Sanders, along with Laura’s two children, drove away in her car. The group pulled up to a 7-11 on Vandegrift Boulevard (which leads to the rear gate of Camp Pendleton).
Sanders and Watkins called Carlo Troiani, presumably as “good Samaritans”, to tell him that his wife’s car was broken down and they directed Carlo to a remote location on North River Road.
Meanwhile, Carlo had called Stephanie Howard, a friend of Laura’s, to ask if she knew where Laura and the children were. He was genuinely concerned for his wife, while she was getting ready to have him killed.
Laura, along with Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz, drove to the location they had chosen for their ambush to wait for Carlo, a dirt turnoff on North River Road, three miles east of Vandegrift Boulevard.
A clerk back at the 7-11 reported seeing two small children with at least one Marine (Jeffrey Mizner) standing outside near the ice machine. They were there for 45 minutes. Waiting … in the middle of the night …. while Laura completed her plan to have her husband killed.
Laura Troiani would describe herself as helpless to stop the murder of her husband, an event she had longed for, recruited for, and set in motion. As he was shot by Mark Schulz with bullets purchased by Laura, Carlo’s last words were to her, a cry for help. But rather than help him, she left her husband for dead by the side of that dark road.
After the murder, the trio drove west on North River Road back to the 7-11. The clerk there reported seeing a vehicle drive up with a flat tire. One of the men came into the store to buy a can of tire inflator and once the tire was sufficiently inflated the group departed.
The murder of Carlo Troiani was the last case Detective Ed Jacobs worked on before he retired from the Oceanside Police Department. After investigating the murder scene, he and his partner Bob George went to the Troiani apartment to speak with Laura the morning that Carlo’s body was discovered.
Detective George went through Laura’s car which had been impounded. He found evidence that Laura had purchased bullets at Kmart and interviewed the clerk, who specifically remembered Laura because he had given her wad-cutter bullets, commonly used for target shooting, and she insisted on lead caliber bullets.
Laura Troiani was taken to the police station for “routine questioning.” During the interview Jacobs said that Laura remained calm and was not visibly upset when told about her husband’s murder.
One of the first stories Laura Troiani told investigators was that she and her two children were abducted by three men who forced her to call her husband to lure him out to North River Road. She said she was separated from her children, and after Carlo was murdered, was taken to be reunited with them and warned not to tell anyone or that she would be killed.
Detective Jacobs and George listened as Laura then changed her story and said that she was at Kmart when five men on two motorcycles abducted her. When detectives questioned the veracity of that story and asked how five men were on just two motorcycles, Laura simply said, “I don’t know.”
Yet another story that Laura offered was that she and the children were driving around all day after Carlo said he wanted a divorce. She ran out of gas and then discovered she had a flat tire. Two strangers on motorcycles came to her rescue, one drove her and children to the babysitter’s house (Anna Thompson), and then one took her to her Vista apartment. When asked by detectives if she was worried at all by these strangers giving her a ride in the middle of the night, Laura replied, “No”, because she was “a good judge of character.”
Laura’s next defense strategy was her unfaithfulness. “Why would I want to have my husband shot? Sure, we had marital problems. Sure, I was having affairs on the side,” Laura told investigators. “I was having a ball, being married and fooling around.”
Detective Jacobs said that Laura Troiani never mentioned any abuse by her husband in the lengthy interrogation that spanned over nearly 12 hours. She eventually confessed and gave up the names of the Marines, who were all stationed in the same unit.
During a phone call while Laura was being held in jail, she told Marty Gunter that her husband had “suffered not more than two to three minutes” the night he was murdered. She thought her comments would come across as reassuring and compassionate but only served to further expose her lack of remorse and coldness.
Meanwhile Laura’s co-conspirators were bragging about Carlo’s murder to their fellow Marines on base. After taken into custody at the Vista Detention Center, Mark Schulz told a fellow cellmate about the murder, including that Carlo Troiani had begged for his life before being fatally shot.
Three years after Carlo’s murder, the murder trial of Laura Troiani began in the San Diego Superior Court, North County, located in Vista. She was the first woman in San Diego County to face the death penalty in California in 25 years.
Laura not only succeeded in having her husband murdered, her attorneys now went about destroying his character. Her defense team would portray Carlo Troiani as controlling, angry, having a drinking problem and being physically abusive.
But before the defense had its turn, District Attorney Paul Pfingst would send a myriad of witnesses to the stand, including the Troiani’s marriage counselor, who would testify that it was Laura, not Carlo, who controlled the family. Far from being fearful of an abusive husband, it was Carlo who “was in fear of [Laura’s] moods.” The counselor added, that Carlo “walked on eggshells most of the time, not wanting to upset her [because] she would become very mean to him.” While Laura gave her affections away to numerous men, Carlo was ignored. “He had a wonderful day if he got a kiss or she put her arm around him,” the counselor testified.
When asked if Laura Troiani was a “fragile” woman desperate for her husband’s approval for her self-worth, the counselor replied, “No. She didn’t need it because she was pretty much in control of the relationship.”
Stephanie Howard, who knew Laura since 1981, testified that Carlo Troiani loved his wife and was trying to improve his marriage. She went on to testify that Laura had Carlo “wrapped around her little finger. She’d be a cold fish one minute, and then when she wanted something (from him), she’d warm up.”
Howard also told the jury that Laura openly admitted to her that she “had more than one boyfriend.” More damningly, Laura told her “she wanted to hire someone to kill” Carlo and that “she wanted to make sure he was not in her life again.” In response, Howard said she tried to talk Laura out of it and suggested a divorce, but Laura would hear none of it.
Leeca Smardon, manager of the Foothills apartment complex, testified that Laura expressed to her that was not happy about Carlo returning from Korea. She reported that Laura told her, “I wish he’d never come back. That would make me happier.” Smardon added, “When Carlo was home, I never heard any screaming, shouting or disputes from their apartment. When he went to Korea, there was a lot of traffic into the apartment, and it was mainly males.”
Kmart employee Richard Deem testified to the fact that it was Laura, accompanied by a male, who purchased the bullets that killed Carlo. He remembered the event because there was a “price mix-up” and particularly noted Laura’s demeanor that day. “She was forceful and rude.” He said, “I was behind the counter, and the male asked for ammo, I believe for a .38 special. I was uncertain about what they wanted because there are different types of ammo.” Laura told the young clerk, “I want 158 grain (the weight of the bullets).”
“She was very specific about it,” Deem testified. “She knew what she wanted. I felt it wasn’t good to make her wait. I thought she was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste time.” The bullets that Laura demanded were high-powered ammunition, rather than something typically used for target practice.
Despite the testimony of others to the contrary, Laura’s defense attorney, Geraldine Russell described her as an “impressionable, simple young girl who was used by others looking for thrills.” She contended Laura was being abused by Carlo and had no way of escape. The defense portrayed Carlo Troiani as an “overbearing and obnoxious husband who cowed his wife into submission.”
Catherine Lewtas, Laura’s mother, testified for the defense and stated that while she witnessed Carlo being verbally abusive to Laura, she did not witness any physical abuse.
But even when interrogated for hours by police, Laura did not claim Carlo abused her. Instead Laura said she was perfectly happy being married to Carlo, all the while being unfaithful to him. She gave several scenarios as to how she was a kidnapping victim, but none on how she was the victim of domestic abuse.
Sergeant Ron Call was the supervisor on the Troiani case and he said that at no time during questioning did Laura Troaini bring up spousal abuse. He also said that Laura was neither upset nor emotional over the death of her husband.
A psychiatrist hired by the defense said that Laura was not capable of being manipulative and that rather than being a neglectful mother, Laura was so depressed that she had “trouble getting up and getting dressed and caring for her children.” Another expert witness dismissed the idea that Laura was a so-called “black widow” and put all the blame on the men, arguing that “organized violence is virtually a male monopoly.”
Anna Thompson, Laura’s friend who often watched her children, testified that she witnessed Carlo kick Laura when she did not change one of the children’s diapers. But she also said she had seen Laura hit her husband, and said that Laura would refuse to cook or clean and gave Carlo the “silent treatment” when she didn’t get her way. “Laura had control,” Thompson insisted.
The prosecution called over 45 witnesses, most of whom testified that Laura Troiani did not want to be married and that she “openly plotted” in the “company of others” to have her husband killed.
While presenting their defense, and closing arguments, the defense team claimed that Carlo’s murder was not orchestrated by Laura, but the Marines themselves. Laura was depicted as abused, vulnerable and helpless and that Laura’s codefendants alone were responsible for killing Carlo Troiani.
One of the last things presented to the jury by the prosecutor was the recording made by the Oceanside Police Department. The jury listened intently to the recording, as Laura concocted story after story, variations of different scenarios. And then finally, after hours of interrogation, Laura told detectives that she had in fact plotted, planned and agreed to pay at least two of the Marines to kill Carlo. As the courtroom listened to the recording, Laura Troiani sat emotionless at her own word as she described the murder of her husband, “half crawling, half staggering” before he was shot a second time, in the back of the head.
On August 26, 1987 Laura Troiani was found guilty of first degree murder after the jury deliberated over a two day period. Her trial was one of the longest and most expensive court cases in San Diego County history. She would now face the death penalty.
At her sentencing hearing, Laura’s father testified on her behalf. Lawrence Cox said that Laura was raised in a filthy home by a neglectful mother who had “the mentality of a six year old.” In some respects he could have been describing Laura, who reflected many of the same character flaws, especially when it came to motherhood. Cox said that while he was in the military he always worried that his children were not getting fed or clothed properly and that his wife “couldn’t cope with responsibility.”
After he and his wife separated he helped to move them into a new apartment. He said he had to hose out the refrigerator that it stunk so bad. He added that the apartment was filled with both human and animal waste.
Others took the stand to testify to the fact that Laura’s childhood was horrible, as if that were the cause or justification for Carlo’s murder. Laura cried for herself as she listened to their testimony, but she did not shed tears for Carlo.
In the end Laura Troiani was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life without parole. She was sent to the California Institute for Women in Chino, California.
On December 17, 1987 Jeffrey Thomas Mizner pled guilty to first-degree murder. In doing so he avoided the possibility of a death sentence or life in prison without parole.
Twenty year old Jeffrey Mizner knew Laura Troiani just three weeks, and yet he was willing to plot to have her husband killed. Laura told him that Carlo was molesting their two children. There was never any evidence to suggest such a thing and likely Laura made the statement solely to gain sympathy and then outrage, hoping to garner Mizner’s support and cause him to act on her behalf. When asked why he or Laura did not simply report the alleged abuse to authorities, Mizner answered, “She wanted him dead, and we went with it.” Laura also told Jeffrey that her two children were not Carlo’s biologically. Was her second child a result of an affair, or was Laura lying? It is anyone’s guess because she did both prolifically.
Jeffrey Mizner would later tell the parole board in his case that he never slept with Laura Troiani, and that his sole motive in the killing of Carlo was to protect the children from his alleged abuse. Shortly before the murder, Mizner found out that Laura had turned her affections to Russell Harrison, and was sleeping with him instead.
Russell Sanders pled guilty to murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 25 years.
Russell Harrison pled guilty to first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 26 years.
Kevin Watkins, whose trial was moved to Ventura County, was acquitted.
Mark Schulz (sometimes spelled Schultz) was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
A Second Chance
In December of 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown commuted Laura Troiani’s life sentence, saying that she had been rehabilitated. While this commutation did not release her, it gave her the chance for parole.
During a hearing held on June 21, 2019, Laura was asked what exactly she did that landed her in prison. Her response: “Prior to the actual brutal murder of Carlo Troiani, my spouse, I had put into motion several incidences leading up to Carlo being murdered. I was the mastermind. I was the one who utilized by codefendants as a tool and a means to, um, to, um, to murder Carlo.”
While she was willing to admit to being the mastermind of her husband’s murder, Laura seemed to shirk responsibility as her hearing continued. When asked about details and organizing discussions of Carlo murder, she started to backtrack and minimize her role as “mastermind” saying, “I did not organize [them], sir. They were — they — we were at a club or in a parking lot and discussion would — would come about. We’d go from normal discussion and that — and that would come about. Did I bring that up? I did not always bring it up. No sir.”
When asked about purchasing bullets at Kmart, she referred to the shooting of Carlo as “target practice” saying, “Initially it was to — to use the bullets for target practice, but in essence it was to use Carlo as the target. In other words, to murder him.”
In describing the murder, she placed responsibility on the Marines rather than her role: “They, uh, form — a plan was formulated that we would — we ended up leaving the children and three of the codefendants down at a 7-11, the car — three of us went up on a deserted rural road where a phone call from below had been made letting Carlo know that I was in distress and that I would be found in this area.“
Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you drive up to that area?
Inmate Troiani: I did not drive. No sir. Nor did I drive leaving. I was not the one driving that night.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Did you go voluntarily?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you remain in the car?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: How long did you remain there until Carlo got there?
Inmate Troiani: I honestly don’t know how long it was while I sat in the —
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Can you give me an estimate?
Inmate Troiani: Um, no more than twenty minutes.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: What happened when Carlo got there?
Inmate Troiani: Carlo left his car running. He walked over to where I was sitting in the passenger’s side, tapped on the window, and asked me if I was okay and then the bullets started flying.
When asked what happened next, Laura describes the shooter as a stranger in hiding, rather than a person she planned the murder with and drove her to the scene: “I witnessed what looked like a very large man running out of a bush toward Carlo firing a gun. Carlo went down and within 20 seconds we were leaving the — you know, we were leaving where Carlo was.” (She couldn’t bring herself to say the crime or murder scene.)
Laura was asked if she did anything else to accomplish the murder and only stated, “I was physically there.”
The parole commissioner continued to press her: “Okay. How did you convince them? You said you hit upon their training, but usually they’re trained to kill other combatants. This is very different than what they’re trained for. How did you convince them to participate in a murder?”
Inmate Troiani: “I was seen as a damsel in distress,” Laura answered, “And I played upon — I played upon that.”
Presiding Commissioner Castro: That’s why you think they got involved?
Inmate Troiani: I’m not sure why they got involved. I only know that they did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Just helping you out?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: So what’s in it for them? Anything?
Inmate Troiani: I didn’t recall this at the time, but I know it happened that they had hopes of receiving insurance money?
Presiding Commissioner Castro: How would they know about insurance money?
Inmate Troiani: Being in the military, you automatically sign up for a policy.
When asked why the Marines would think they were entitled to Carlo’s life insurance proceeds, Laura denied she offered insurance proceeds, but only agreed to pay them when they asked, saying, “Because I was asked to give them some money from the insurance policy.“
Laura then went on to deflect responsibility of Carlo’s murder by saying that she was in a disassociated state.
The Mayo Clinic describe this disorder: Dissociative disorders are mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and cause problems with functioning in everyday life. Dissociative disorders usually develop as a reaction to trauma and help keep difficult memories at bay. Symptoms — ranging from amnesia to alternate identities — depend in part on the type of dissociative disorder you have. Times of stress can temporarily worsen symptoms, making them more obvious.
Inmate Troiani: I continue to remove myself by going into my head when the consequences were too great. I had distorted thinking and then there was the childhood abuse, which brought about the distorted thinking and the disassociation.
Presiding Commissioner Castro asked, “What do you mean by disassociation?
Inmate Troiani: I would go into my head and come up with a different fantasy type scenario.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: What was the role in your — in your crime specifically?
Inmate Troiani: In the crime itself?
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Yeah.
Inmate Troiani: While I was sitting there waiting in the car for Carlo, that’s exactly what I did. I put myself in a whole different scenario.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay, when you’re having the conversations, planning these different plans, were you in a disa — dissociative state at this point?
Inmate Troiani: At times, yes, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you called Carlo asking him to come help you, so that he would leave the apartment, when you made that call, where you in a disassociated state?
Inmate Troiani: No until after I made the phone call, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Report says that you gave keys to Mr. Harrison.
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir. I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Were you in a disassociated state when you gave him the keys?
Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: You made admissions to the police, correct?
Inmate Troiani: I do not recall exactly what I said because I said so many different stories.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: There were different versions and they said that you had made some admissions about being involved in the murder. Were you in a dissociative state when you talked to the police after the crime?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, I was.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re buying the bullets are you in a dissociative state?
Inmate Troiani: I was in denial.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re being driven up to the location where he was killed, were you in a disassociated state?
Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not thinking about what was going on. I was actually not thinking at all.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. So you said the abuse, domestic violence, hopelessness, disassociation, distorted thinking, your childhood trauma. Any other reason why you decided to kill Carlo?
Inmate Troiani: I wanted the abuse to stop.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. Was the insurance money part of your motivation?
Inmate Troiani: Initially, no.
When questioned by Deputy Commissioner Lam, he asked why she didn’t try to stop the Marines from murdering her husband.
Laura answered, “When Carlo tapped on the window, before I could have even said anything, the bullets began to fly. There was not any time to say anything, think or anything else. So had the opportunity been there, I would’ve said something.”
Of course, Laura had time to say something. On the way to Kmart she could have aborted the plan and not purchased the bullets used to kill Carlo. She was the only one old enough to purchase them. On the way to 7-11 to drop off her children, she could have turned around. While on the five minute drive to the scene of the ambush she could have called it off.
For the twenty minutes it took Carlo to arrive, she could have stopped it. Even if the two Marines who were with her were hell-bent on executing their plan, when they exited her vehicle, she could have driven away, leaving them there. Carlo, looking for Laura’s car, would have driven by instead of being ambushed.
Certainly, she might have even been able to warn Carlo before he opened his car door. Lastly, she could have called the police to report the murder of her husband, if in fact she was a pawn in a murder scheme.
But she did none of those things.
Incredulous to her answers, Deputy Commissioner Lam asked, “May I ask why your version of what happened to the clinician only two months ago was so vastly different from the version today?”
Laura answered, “At the time I spoke with the psychologist, I was still in denial. I was not seeing my — how my actions were the — what led — what was — what was feeding this. How — how I was the one who was the mastermind and I was unable to say that and acknowledge to myself. Therefore I wasn’t able to even speak about it at that time. Since then I have been looking within myself and in my denial management class I am able to see that I — I was in complete denial. I rationalized, I minimized and I blamed.“
Then, just moments later, Laura again denied any knowledge about the murder plot saying, “I may have been the one that initiated it. I do not recall.“
The panel was not swayed by her insincerity and empty words. After listening to Laura fail to take responsibility for her role in Carlo Troiani’s death, the Parole Board denied her release.
However, on July 10, 2020, the prison’s Administrative Review Board approved an advancement of Troiani’s next parole suitability hearing date (at her request). Rather than having to wait three years, her next hearing is scheduled for January 22, 2021.
While Laura sits in prison, Jeffrey Mizner was released in 2013 at the age of 50. Russell Sanders and Russell Harrison have presumably been released as well as there is no record of them in the California Department of Corrections. Mark Schulz, who shot Carlo Troiani, is currently serving life in a private prison in Arizona.
Some may question why Laura Troiani would serve life without parole when she did not even pull the trigger. But it should be remembered that while these Marines helped plan, plot and carry out the murder of Carlo Troiani, it was Laura Ann Troiani who went looking for an assassin. It was she who solicited a number of men to kill her husband even before she met Jeffrey Mizner and his friends.
It was Laura Troiani who brought up the killing of her husband to the group — they were not looking for someone to murder — it was Laura who was looking for a killer.
It was Laura Troiani who gave an apartment key to Russell Harrison so that he could enter the apartment with the intent to kill Carlo.
It was Laura Troiani who purchased the bullets used to kill her husband. She even demanded the type of bullets with which he would be killed.
It was Laura Troiani who tapped the brake lights when Carlo pulled up on the place of his execution. Tragically it was for Laura her husband called out to when he was shot.
It was Laura Troiani who pretended concern for her husband and called police but who could not conjure up grief or remorse when told he was dead.
Laura Troiani, who only cried for herself, now presents herself as an abused wife and has fully embraced that role. While there was no testimony or evidence presented to suggest that she was ever abused by Carlo Troiani, she has continued to assassinate his character even while he has been dead for over 35 years.
And just like the Marines who she was able to persuade and manipulate, she successfully convinced the Governor of California that she was “a damsel in distress” (her words) and to commute her life sentence, declaring her “rehabilitated.”
With the next hearing weeks away, will Laura Troiani finally take responsibility for Carlo’s death and convince the parole board she should be released? Or will she continue with the abuse allegations, as if to say Carlo deserved to be killed on that dark desolate road?
Has Laura Troiani been rehabilitated or has she successfully repackaged herself as the victim?
Laura Ann Troiani was denied parole on January 22, 2021, based on her lack of insight, minimization of her role in the crime, and denial of certain aspects of the crime. She will not be eligible for parole for another three years, although she may petition the parole board for advancement of hearing.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
The Oceanside Beach Community Center is showing its age. At 65 years old it has weathered the elements, including the relentless salt air. Once the center of activity ranging from sports, to Marine Corps Balls, and even its use as the City’s first “senior center,” the building may seem like a doomed dinosaur to many. Some may feel it has lost its purpose, but if the walls could talk the memories would resonate with history.
The land on which the Community Center now stands was once occupied by an electrical plant and salt water plunge, built in 1904, located just north of the Oceanside Pier. By the mid-1930s, the plant and plunge were removed and replaced by an “amusement zone” and concession booths. In 1942 the City of Oceanside leased the property to Harold Long, owner of the Oceanside Amusement Center. He set up a series of carnival rides including a large Ferris wheel for several summers. Long’s amusement center included concession stands, games of skill, and novelty items, such as Harold Davis’ “House of Relics”.
In 1946 a building was erected in the center of the “midway” of the amusement center to accommodate the game of Bridgo. Bridgo Parlors were popular during World War II, but the game was deemed to be a form of gambling and soon closed by the State of California.
The amusement center was removed by the early 1950s and the Oceanside City Council considered plans for a new Community Center to be built in its place. In 1955 the City Council requested bids for a community center, but the move was not without controversy as many viewed a public swimming pool as more important to the community. (Two community swimming pools, at Brooks and Marshall Streets, were built just a few years later.)
Architect George Lykos drew the plans for the building. Lykos had received a Bachelor’s of Architecture in 1935 and his Masters the following year from MIT. In 1942 he partnered with Sidney I. Goldhammer and established the firm Lykos & Goldhammer. Their office was located at the Sprekels building in downtown San Diego. Among his works are the County Law Library, the San Diego Courthouse, the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest, the Ocean Beach Pier, Ryan Aeronautics and Waggenheim Middle School in Mira Mesa. The building contract was awarded to the firm of A. E. Betraun Co. in Vista, the firm also responsible for building the Star Theater in 1956.
Groundbreaking ceremonies being held March 18, 1955. Construction began in April and it was hoped that the project would be completed as early as June of that year. However, there were delays caused by labor strikes and a shortage of materials.
The Oceanside Beach Community Center was formally dedicated in September of 1955 and built at a cost of $131,000. One of the first events to be held at the new Center was the Marine Corps Ball in November of that year.
Over the years the Community Center has been used for meetings, social events, including adult and teen dances, as well as an early senior center. The Center has also been used for sporting events, including volleyball, table tennis, and basketball. It became the location of an early senior center known as the “Golden Age Club” in 1958.
Entertainment, such as performances by the San Diego County Symphony Orchestra, took place at the new Center. Parks and Recreation Superintendent J. G. Renaud booked a variety of entertainment acts to perform at Oceanside’s new Community Center to the delight of residents.
In 1956 recording artist Ernie Freeman and his band performed at the Center. Freeman played on numerous early rock and R&B labels in the 1950s and played piano on the Platters’ hit “The Great Pretender”. He made the Top Ten of the R&B charts with the single “Jivin’ Around”.
Local Swing dancers were thrilled when jazz musician Earl Bostic also performed at the Beach Community Center. Bostic, considered a pioneer of the “post-war American rhythm and blues style”, had a number of hits such as “Flamingo”, “Temptation”, “Sleep” and many more. A tenor saxophonist, Bostic was known for his “characteristic growl” he made on the sax.
Joe Graydon, who had a televised variety show, first in Los Angeles and then San Diego, hosted a show at the new Community Center. Renaud’s first rate entertainment continued with a “Western Roundup” and country western acts such as Hank Penny, Sue Thompson and Eddie Miller. Les Brown and his orchestra, who had performed with Bob Hope during USO tours, also entertained at Oceanside. The Community Center also presented movies, such as 1959’s now classic “Surf Safari” by John Severson. Admission was $1.25 for adults and 50 cents for children.
In 1958 Boxing World Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson trained for a prize fight using the Oceanside Community Center and entertained spectators with several sparring rounds. He was accompanied by his legendary manager, Cus D’Amato.
One of the biggest acts in Country Music came to the Community Center in 1961. Legendary Johnny Cash, along with the Maddox Bros. and Rose, performed for fans who flocked to see the “Man in Black.”
As neighborhood and seniors centers were built throughout the community in various neighborhoods, the Beach Community Center began to see a decline in use. In the early 1980s the Oceanside beach area was deteriorating. The Oceanside Pier was severely damaged (before being rebuilt), and the area was rundown. The Community Center, too, was showing its age.
By 1985, plans were underway to rebuild the pier and redevelop the beach area. Along with a “facelift” the Community Center was enhanced by the addition of several large concrete and stone pillars. Sets of three pillars forming triangles were placed on the front entrance (east façade) and on the west façade along the Strand. The pillars were then topped with large wooden beams, creating a more modernized look. These pillars and beams have been removed in recent years, returning the Center’s original facade.
In 1992 Marine-life artist John Jennings began work on a 45 foot ocean mural on the north elevation of the community center. Jennings donated his time and materials, estimated at over $35,000 as a gift to Oceanside.
The Beach Community Center was renamed the Junior Seau Beach Community Center in 2012 in memory of the beloved Oceanside native who had a notable career in the National Football League, playing with the San Diego Chargers for thirteen seasons.
The building now sits silently on The Strand, awaiting its doors to be reopened and for renewed activity and sounds to reverberate through its rafters.
Oceanside’s oceanfront bandshell and beach stadium are unique to San Diego County. Throughout Southern California there are no other similar beachside facilities like it. The Junior Seau Pier Amphitheater provides a one-of-a-kind venue and it has become an integral part of the City’s recreational and cultural amenities.
Just over 100 years ago, plans for a “band stand” on the beach south of the pier were presented to the City Council. The band stand would “be covered over and a regulation shell formed at the back, ceiled with matched lumber so as to constitute a sounding board or a reflector as an aid when the stand is used for music or public speaking.” Local building contractor Frederick W. Rieke was awarded the contract to build a 24×26 structure in a “Mission style” with cupula and the structure was completed in the Summer of 1919.
After its completion, it quickly became the focal point for activity and was used for concerts and events. (The beach band stand would later became known and referred to as a bandshell, due to its shape.)
On July 4, 1927, Oceanside celebrated its 4th pier. The three day celebration brought thousands of people, triple that of the City’s population. Several improvements were added to enhance the area surrounding the pier: The Strand was paved from Wisconsin to Ninth Street (Neptune Way); a dancing pavilion placed under the pier approach and other amenities including a small cafe built just south of the pier.
To modernize the look of the bandshell, (which was just 8 years old) the cupula was removed. The June 16, 1927 Oceanside Blade newspaper reported: The remodeling of the band stand with the enlarging of the front platform and the cutting off of a portion of the high top to remove some of the Queen Anne effect and modernize it is being done this week.
The bandshell was resituated at an angle facing a northeast position. Rows of wooden benches were built to accommodate those attending beach concerts or other festivities held at the bandshell, just below the bluff at Pacific Street. While convenient and necessary, the benches were not enough to seat the hundreds of spectators events would attract and many were left to stand.
In 1936, as part of a Works Project Administration (WPA) project, the inadequate seating on the bluff was replaced a beach stadium. The Oceanside News newspaper reported: Preliminary work was started Monday on a new city project under WPA auspices, the stadium to be constructed on the face of the bank to the south of the pier and overlooking the broad recreation space and band shell. A crew of 14 men now is engaged in clearing off grass and other growth in readiness for construction of a rubble wall, the first stage of the cement stand. Fragments of old concrete will be used in this phase of the building. J.C. Rouse and C.O. Rowe are in charge of the new project, the former for the WPA and the latter for the city. Both officiated in similar capacities on the new water line and building works. The stadium will provide seating for around 800 persons and greatly improve the facilities and appearance of the section adjoining the pier. The government has allocated $5200 with which to pay the cost of labor and also as a share of the cost of the constructed materials.
In June of 1937 the Oceanside newspaper reported that the stadium seating would accommodate around 2,000 persons. However, the following day that San Diego Union estimated that nearly 3,000 persons jammed the stadium when it was formally dedicated as part of the Southern California Beauty Contest.
After nearly two decades of service, Oceanside’s first bandshell was dismantled in 1948 due to termite infestation. For two years a temporary stage was built to accommodate the annual Beach Opening and beauty contests.
While beauty contests were held at the bandshell in the 1920s, the Miss Southern California Beauty Contest officially began in 1931. It grew in popularity each year and drew thousands of people all over San Diego County and contestants from all of Southern California. Initially the female contestants were sponsored by local merchants. By the 1940s the contest became very popular with starlets looking to be discovered by movie studios.
In 1947 the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce announced that movie scouts from three major motion picture studios would be in the audience. “Girls parading across the flower decked ramp will be judged not only on their beauty, but for poise and personality, by the movie star makers. The girls selected as possible movie material will not necessarily be contest winners, and it is understood that the judges’ decisions will have no bearing on selections made for screen tests.”
According to Lil Jackson, who was a freelance writer for the local paper, this was actually a “planted” story. Her husband, Louis Jackson, was chairman of the Beauty Contest for the Chamber of Commerce and was having difficulty in getting “quality girls” to enter the contest and getting them sponsored by merchants. Lil came up with the idea to write the column indicating that Hollywood movie scouts would be at the event in the hopes to draw more girls and sponsors. One particular year the ploy worked even better than hoped. It just so happened that a movie starring John Wayne was being filmed at Camp Pendleton, “Sands of Iwo Jima”. Many of the cast were staying at the Carlsbad Hotel and agreed to be judges and made this competition one of Oceanside’s most successful and publicized beauty contests.
In 1956, a star was born – or at least made her debut on the Oceanside’s beach stage. Raquel Tejada was the second of three finalists of the famed beauty contest. She would go on to win the title of Miss Fairest of the Fair at the San Diego County Fair. Later she changed her name and became an actress and 1960s sex symbol Raquel Welch.
After two years without a proper event venue, in April of 1950 bids were opened for the construction of a new beach bandshell. City planners recommended that the bandshell be “relocated directly in front of the beach bleachers and adjoining the Strand.” Plans were drawn by prominent San Diego architect Sam W. Hamill, who also designed several Oceanside schools buildings. Original plans were to include “a Mission flavor, carried out by tile roof and stucco exterior.” However, the April bids were considered too high and Hamill was asked to revise his plans, eliminating the tile roofing.
The local newspaper described Hamill’s design: The shell is to be 58 feet wide and 19 feet deep on the outside, with the concrete stage extending an additional seven feet beyond the face of the overhead structure. There will be steps in front of the stage on both sides, leading up to the platform, and doors to both the back and wings of the stage. Dressing rooms for men and women, complete sanitary facilities, will be included in the backstage portion of the shell, facilitating theater productions, and provisions will be made for the possible installation of curtains along the front of the stage. Storage room backstage will accommodate stage furnishings, props and other equipment for various types of spectacles.
Richardson Brothers constructed the bandshell which was completed in June 1950 for the annual Oceanside Beach Celebration. Saunders Construction Company laid the large 14,000 square concrete slab to be used particularly for square dancing which was popular at the time. The concrete “mat” as it was referred to, was also used for roller skating, volley ball games and shuffleboard.
In 1953 the band shell and “bleachers” received renovations. The inside of the bandshell was painted a light blue, while the backs of the bleacher seats and fencing behind it, a light green. It was common to decorate the bandshell with gladiolas and palm fronds for beauty contests and beach opening celebrations.
In 1960 the Oceanside High School began having graduation ceremonies at the bandstand or beach amphitheater to accommodate families and guests. Although it can no longer adequately accommodate the number of graduates and their many guests, students have long insisted on holding their graduation ceremony at the bandshell because of the longstanding tradition.
During the Vietnam War the bandshell and stadium were used for demonstrations. Black Panther Angela Davis was a speaker at one such protest, drawing thousands.
In the 1980s concerts were revived and the bandshell hosted notable entertainers including jazz legend Lionel Hampton and Oceanside’s own Barbara Mandrell. To accommodate such events, risers and wooden platforms were used to hold or provide space for needed equipment such as lighting, speakers and cameras.
In 1991 the bandshell stage was temporarily enlarged to accommodate a military event: “Welcome Home the Troops” parade and celebration. Many servicemen and women were returning from the Middle East having been deployed for Operation Desert Storm. The Fieldstone Corporation along with Orco Block Company and U.S. Silica donated materials for the extension. The stage was extended 12 feet out and 70 feet across.
Oceanside’s iconic bandshell was featured in a movie “Bring It On” filmed in 2000 starring Kierstin Dunst and Gabrielle Union, and can also be spotted in episodes of the current television show “Animal Kingdom”.
On May 16, 2012, the Oceanside City Council voted to rename the Oceanside Pier Amphitheater, as well as the beach community center, in honor of Junior Seau. A native of Oceanside, Seau graduated from Oceanside High School and went on to play professional football in the NFL for the San Diego Chargers and was a beloved local citizen.
The Oceanside bandshell is an historic and cherished landmark, still in use for a variety of community events including cultural celebrations, religious services, outdoor movies and concerts.
I want to thank Michelle Foster for contacting me about Frankie. Her quest for information became mine and I am grateful for the personal stories and photos she shared to bring this story to life.
In a rather remote area of Oceanside, tucked away in the northwest section of the Eastside neighborhood, was a small house on a dead end dirt road near Lawrence Canyon.
The house was built in 1944 and owned by Anna Curran, who owned no less than sixteen lots throughout Eastside, several of which had small houses that she rented out. The rent she collected was likely her only source of income as her husband William Curran had been arrested for the murder of a Marine in downtown Oceanside that same year. After a lengthy trial, Curran was found guilty, but deemed insane and sent to an asylum to serve out his sentence.
Residents of Eastside were largely Mexican immigrants, many of whom were laborers who worked in the fields of the San Luis Rey Valley and the Rancho Santa Margarita (now Camp Pendleton). The neighborhood was segregated and separated in four ways: Geographically it was separated from “downtown Oceanside” by Lawrence Canyon; Children of immigrants were separated from other students and sent to the Americanization School on Division Street where they were immersed in English; The neighborhood had dirt streets while most of Oceanside enjoyed paved ones; Eastside had no sewer system.
Although some referred to Eastside as “Mexican Town”, more than a dozen African-American families settled in the neighborhood in the 1940s.
Frankie Elda Kidd occupied one of Anna Curran’s tiny rental homes, at 1420 Shoshone Street. Frankie’s birth name was Alta (perhaps a variation of Elda) and “Frankie” may have been a nickname that she acquired. She was born in 1920 in Imperial County, California and as best as can be determined, she was the daughter of John Zainina and Martha Bartley.
In 1930 Frankie and her family were living in Merced, California, where her father was working as a dairy farmer. By around 1935 she was living with extended family in San Bernardino, California, where she attended high school.
While attending San Bernardino High School, Frankie met James Scott, a handsome young man from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The two married in 1938 but the marriage was short lived as they were living separately just two years later. In 1940 Frankie was living with cousins and working as a housekeeper for a private home.
In about 1943 Frankie embarked on her second nuptials to Alfred Selester Kidd. It would be her second of six marriages. She was likely introduced to Alfred by her older brother Vernon, as the two men were rooming together while living in Oakland. Alfred Kidd, a native of Louisiana, was working at the Navy Yard at Mare Island.
Frankie arrived in Oceanside by 1945. Did Alfred Kidd accompany her? There is no record of him leaving the Oakland area. Perhaps this marriage was just as brief as the first. What brought Frankie to Oceanside is unknown, but perhaps she came because of job opportunities. Due to the establishment of Camp Joseph H. Pendleton shortly after World War II began, Oceanside was expanding at a rapid rate.
Because of the remote location of Frankie’s home on Shoshone Street, any traffic (pedestrian or otherwise) would have been largely limited to residents who lived on the dead end street. However, apparently Shoshone Street was getting a steady stream of traffic, so much so that area residents took notice and began to complain, which prompted an investigation by the Oceanside Police Department.
The Oceanside Blade Tribune newspaper reported that Frankie Kidd was arrested on February 4, 1945 for operating an “illegitimate business” along with another woman, Mildred Clark. Later this particular business was classified as a “disorderly house” which is a polite term for a brothel.
It seems that Frankie’s “visitors” were mostly servicemen, many of whom resided at Sterling Homes, federal housing built for the military just east of Holly Street. (Sterling Homes had paved streets, curbing and sewers for its occupants in contrast to the neighboring Eastside community.)
What brought Frankie to this profession is anyone’s guess, but despite her occupation she was remembered by local residents as being friendly, beautiful and “could hold her own against any situation that could come up.”
After her arrest, Frankie asked for a jury trial and the case was heard on March 7th. The jury of five women and three men listened to what must have been riveting testimony which lasted all the way up until 10 pm. (However, many of the witnesses were servicemen and reluctant to testify.) The jury deliberated for two hours and found Frankie Kidd guilty as charged. Judge Parsons fined her $300, with $100 suspended. But even a $200 fine was a hefty amount, equivalent to over $2500 today). She also received 150 days of probation. Initially appealing the case, Frankie paid the fine a few days later.
While Frankie continued to live on Shoshone Street, she was known to frequent a small establishment which was located just steps from the back of her home. It was called “the Hangout”. Situated at the back end of 1415 Laurel Street, was a small trailer that was frequented by many of the local residents and was a popular spot for military men. Charles C. Jones applied to the city for a permit to operate a café “specializing in barbecue and chicken sandwiches” but it was denied. Despite the city’s rejection, the Hangout operated without a permit and was a popular spot offering food, drink and dancing, with a little bit of gambling thrown in. Frankie was a regular and it was there she attracted her “customers.”
Although Frankie avoided any additional attention from law enforcement for several years, in 1949 she was arrested again — this time for a scuffle with another woman. On June 26th, Mary Morgan filed a complaint against Frankie for threatening her with a knife and a razor. Apparently Frankie had gotten too friendly with Mary’s husband George Morgan, and a heated argument ensued. After being taken into custody, Frankie requested a jury trial which was set for July, but on the day of trial, she pled guilty and was fined $100.
While the Hangout continued in popularity, as did Frankie, the raucous nature of this corner of Eastside changed when families began to populate the remote area of Laurel and Shoshone streets. Gilbert Woods purchased a lot just a few doors down from Frankie. In 1948 he had built a small home at 1430 Shoshone, where he and his wife raised their family. A cook in the Navy during WWII, his granddaughter Michelle remembers that he prepared and shared food with his neighbors, including Frankie, who was grateful for the kindness.
Another substantial change to the immediate area came when the Walker Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1949, one of the first Black Churches in Oceanside. The church was established at the behest of Johnny and Easter Foster, prior residents of Blythe, California. They wrote to the Church Bishop asking for an AME church to be established in Oceanside. Walker Chapel was built on the very lot that the Hangout was located, which remained standing and was still frequented by residents, even while parishioners attended services.
Rev. Jessie B. Browning was the first pastor of Walker Chapel AME. Shortly after her arrival to Oceanside the local newspaper announced the following: “Rev. Jessie Browning, a lady preacher of the colored Methodist church and her colored singers will appear at the Nazarene Church Sunday evening at 7:30, in the Woman’s Club house, corner of Tremont and Third streets.”
While the Eastside neighborhood was within city limits by 1887 and a residential neighborhood since about 1910, it took decades for the City to pave the streets and to add a sewer system, well after other residential sections had these same “amenities”. But even when a sewer project was approved in 1948, Shoshone Street and the 1400 block of Marquette Street were left out. Gilbert Woods worked for a needed sewer system for this “forgotten” area and he distributed a petition which was presented to the City Council, who initially rebuffed his efforts. Finally in September of 1954, Gilbert’s efforts were rewarded when the City Council finally approved plans for the Shoshone Street Sewer project.
In 1954 Edward Anderson purchased the home at 1420 Shoshone Street in which Frankie had lived for several years, and built an additional home on the lot, situated behind the original house. It is likely that Frankie resorted to living in the Hangout.
Construction began for a new elementary school on Laurel Street, just northeast of Walker Chapel, which opened for students in 1955. The area once known for a “disorderly and illegal business” was now gentrified. Eventually even the Hangout would be reformed, or shall we say “redeemed” altogether when the Walker Chapel AME church included the small building into its own when they enlarged their church years later.
The little house that Frankie once lived in at 1420 Shoshone Street was destroyed in a fire in 1982. The fire was so hot it reached upwards of 400 degrees and melted the Plexiglass face shields of the responding firefighters. Smoke inhalation took the life of an elderly blind woman, Mildred Taylor, who could not make her way out. Owners Ed and Margarethea Anderson, who lived next door said they had no insurance on the structure as it “was too old.”
Frankie Elda moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon by 1958. Her last known marriage was in 2000 to Eugene Witherspoon, whom she married in Reno, Nevada at the age of 80.
Frankie died June 17, 2002, but was not forgotten. Michelle Foster still remembers the stories her mother, Alberta Woods Foster, shared with her of Eastside, the Hangout, and Frankie. Perhaps Frankie walked in the path of sinners, but her neighbors, like the Good Samaritan, showed her grace and compassion.
Harold Davis joined the Oceanside Police Department in 1930. His law enforcement career spanned over two decades. Davis was acting Police Chief six times before retiring in 1955 as Captain.
Davis was a collector of all types of memorabilia. Some of his most important and valuable items were three scrapbooks that he compiled of photos and articles of incidents, accidents and arrests during his time with the Oceanside Police Department. He chronicled his career, as well as those of his fellow officers. The newspaper articles he clipped and pasted in his books ranged from petty theft to murder. The numerous photos Davis saved were mostly traffic accidents, but also included graphic crime scenes.
In one of the scrapbooks, Davis cut and pasted a mugshot of Billy Blake Johnson along with a newspaper article and a typewritten index card with some details about Johnson’s criminal exploits. Just who was Billy Blake Johnson and why did Captain Davis include him in his collection? I wanted to find out…
Billy Blake Johnson was born December 3, 1933 in Ladonia, Texas. He was the son of Emmett and Edna Jewel Johnson. Emmett and Edna divorced when Billy was a young boy. By 1940 his father remarried and the family moved to Kern County, California where Emmett worked as a truck driver.
Nothing further is known about Billy’s growing up years, but in 1951 he joined the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton. His military career would be short-lived. In January of 1952, PFC Billy Blake Johnson was being held in the Camp Pendleton Brig for robbery.
On January 18, 1952 Johnson was able to open his cell door with the aid of a screwdriver he had somehow acquired. He then overtook a guard along with his firearm. Now armed with a weapon Johnson commandeered a car belonging to Captain George Atkin and made his way off the military base, headed to Los Angeles.
An “All Points Bulletin” was released and eventually two LAPD officers, L. K. Waggoner and G. L. Ward spotted the stolen vehicle occupied by Johnson. The Los Angeles Mirror reported that when ordered out of the car Johnson came out shooting, and shouted “This is it!” Officers returned fire but Johnson was able to escape injury and he jumped several fences before he was eventually taken into custody.
After his capture in Los Angeles, Johnson was returned to the brig at Camp Pendleton. He was sentenced to five years for burglary and theft, among other charges. He sat in his cell for several months likely contemplating his next move, when on a Saturday in late June of 1952 he escaped once again.
This time he had an accomplice, Bobby G. Davis, who had enlisted in the Marine Corps a year prior. The two made their getaway at 3:30 am in a green 1952 Chevrolet convertible with Texas plates. It was reported that the two were “armed and known to be dangerous.” No details were given as to how they had managed to escape the military brig, but they were apprehended a week later in Ehrenberg, Arizona.
After yet a third escape, and subsequent capture, Billy Blake Johnson eventually served his time and was paroled. But his years in lock up did nothing to rehabilitate him.
In January 1962 Johnson went to a service station in Haltom City, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth. He bought $3.43 worth of gas and then pulled a gun on the attendant and said, “Act right or I’ll kill you.” Johnson then took $100 from the cash register and forced Hilleary Beck into the car with him. Beck tried to fight off Johnson in the vehicle but was further threatened with the firearm.
After driving about a mile, Johnson ordered Beck out of the car and into a ditch and told him to lie down. Johnson drove away while Beck went to call authorities.
Law enforcement spotted Johnson and pursued him, with both parties firing wildly. Police set up a barricade on Highway 377 and while Johnson approached Denton, Texas Patrolman A. C. Ballard “leveled down on it with a sawed-off shotgun and blew off one of its tires.”
The car went out of control, rolled over and landed upright in a ditch. Johnson somehow managed to escape serious injury and the scene, which resulted in a large manhunt. He was eventually captured on a ranch in Denton County, Texas. While in custody Billy told the arresting officers that he had “escaped three times from military prisons and had served time in four civilian prisons.”
He was treated at a hospital for minor injuries and taken to jail in Tarrant County. Johnson went to trial for his criminal escapades but was found to be insane by a jury. (There was no explanation provided as to their conclusion.)
Billy’s criminal career did not end there. In 1964 Johnson went to the Bonham, Texas jail for the sole purpose of breaking out inmate Walter Ray Crews. The federal parolee was armed with a gun and overtook a guard. He forced the jailer Ed Fulcher to release Crews and the two men fled.
The pair made their way some 35 miles southeast to Commerce, Texas where they stole a car. They then drove over 300 miles to Fort Polk, Louisiana. While stopped on the side of the road, a state trooper pulled over to check on the two. Johnson robbed the trooper, Jerry E. Raines, at gunpoint and handcuffed him to a tree with his own handcuffs. Crews and Johnson returned to their stolen car and sped off headed north. The trooper was able to free himself with a spare key and alerted authorities. The duo was caught by an armed roadblock near Leesville, Louisiana.
Johnson was sentenced fifteen years and sent to the notorious Angola Prison in Louisiana, sometimes referred to as the “Alcatraz of the South”. The prison is bordered on three sides by swamp land and the Mississippi River. Conditions were so harsh and inmates so violent that that it had the reputation as “the bloodiest prison in the South”.
However, even a formidable institution such as Angola could not contain Billy Blake Johnson.
On February 22, 1969, Johnson and two other inmates armed with knives and a pistol, overpowered guards in two separate dormitories. The guards were locked in a closet while the escapees cut the power of the main prison.
Kester Lee Hall, serving 189 years for murder, was captured just outside the prison. But Johnson, along with Philip Hudgins, had managed to avoid capture … but they did not make it far. Authorities closed in on the two fugitives who were found in the swamp that surrounded the prison.
Billy Blake Johnson, however, had made his last escape. Overtaken by the waters of the “backed up” Mississippi, Johnson could not battle his way through the swamp. Hudgins tried to assist him and even carried Johnson for several hundred yards until he realized Billy was no longer breathing. He propped up the body of his fellow inmate against a fence and waited while guards closed in. Exhausted, Hudgins surrendered to law enforcement. (Hudgins would be released from prison in 1981. In 1983 he took a butcher knife and slashed the throat of his wife and stabbed two others.)
Billy Blake Johnson was buried in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Ladonia, Texas. Although a cold, calculating and elusive criminal, his mother still loved him. His headstone was engraved with the simple epitaph “Son.”