Oceanside’s Pier is iconic, a favorite landmark and one of its most photographed and visited features. Untold thousands enjoy Oceanside’s pier every year. Fishermen, tourists and locals stroll along the wooden planking and gaze into the ocean, just as Oceanside’s early citizens did over 130 years ago. Oceanside’s pier is a tradition, one that despite relentless waves, high tides, low funds managed to survive.
Remnants of our first pier are now buried. An occasional storm or low tide uncovers the rows of the old, weathered pilings (or what’s left of them). In fact, they just made an appearance in 2020. Few people know they are there or realize their significance.
The first pier, called a wharf, was located at the end of what is now called Wisconsin Street, first named Couts Street (after Cave J. Couts, Jr., surveyor of the original townsite).
Talk of a wharf began in 1887 when soundings were made. This was no “pleasure pier” for sightseers but intended to be a shipping port with a price tag of $30,000. The National City Record reported that the wharf would be 1,596 feet long, 50 feet wide and would accommodate “vessels drawing 25 feet of water.” If that wasn’t impressive enough, it went on to say that the wharf would be connected to the railroad! A color lithograph done in 1887 depicts the railroad spur leading to the pier “with a turn-around track for cars” and a large ship docked at the wharf.
On March 9th the South Oceanside Diamond reported: “Our citizens are determined to have a wharf. The plans have been drawn, money subscribed and it ought to be completed by July 4th.”
A year later, plans were drawn up for a more modest structure, without the railroad spur. The San Diego Union published the following: “A contract has been closed by the Oceanside Wharf Company, of Oceanside, for the building of a pier wharf at that place. It will be 1505 feet in length, will command a depth of 31 feet and the piles will be covered with parafine paint and felt, and will be braced by iron sway bracing. The estimated cost of the structure is $35,000, and it is contracted to be completed in four months.”
Everyone was overly optimistic but the first piling wasn’t even driven into the sand until May 12, 1888. The new date for completion was extended to September.
Oceanside was a boomtown then – real estate speculators came in and bought large lots with the hope of becoming rich. Men with big ideas and great plans for the city poured in. Some left as quickly as they came, while many stayed and made decisions and impressions that are with us today.
One of these men, Col. Daniel H. Horne, Oceanside’s first president of the Board of Trustees, along with banker Charles Morrill, proposed enterprising, if rather lofty ideas. They made rousing speeches of the future of Oceanside. They talked of the train, a Flume Company and the building of a wharf. Real estate agent J. Chauncey Hayes advertised one would be “wearing diamonds” if they invested in the local real estate. Men like Hayes, Horne and Morrill supported the wharf and even backed it financially. Supporters of the wharf claimed that Oceanside would rival San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco with the help of a wharf. Citizens rallied, eager to help. They pledged labor and money for the wharf project that would bring them wealth and prosperity.
The wharf fund was raised by subscription. $28,000 was pledged by Oceanside residents and businessmen. The amounts ranged from $10 to $5,000. One year later, however, less than half of these pledges were paid and citizens were urged to “step up” and pay their subscriptions.
The lumber for the wharf came by railroad but also by boat. It was floated to the shore and guided by skiffs. But it was not without trouble. On June 29, 1888 the South Oceanside Diamond reported: “The sea has been unusually high the past week and the Starbuck has been unable to land any lumber. On Wednesday the water ran so high that not even a boat could cross the breakers, and the Starbuck’s crew stayed beyond them. Bob Simpson, the champion swimmer, carried a message to the boat through the surging sea.”
Delivering the lumber was a slow process. Two weeks later the Starbuck was still delivering wharf materials through the surf “slowly but surely”. By June 20, 1888 work finally began but a new completion date of December 1st was announced.
The building contract was given to the Great American Bridge Company of San Francisco and its superintendent was J.P. Sheldon. By August 3rd the wharf was out 500 feet and fishing from it became the favorite pastime for residents.
The Diamond reported that another ship, the Olive S. Southard, had “unloaded 15,000 feet of lumber and 258 piles, which completes the amount of lumber required for the wharf.” Soon the wharf was stretching out at 1,000 feet.
Surely shipping vessels would be docking soon, people thought. With a wharf the costs of goods such as badly needed lumber would be reduced. Oceanside would become an important shipping port between Los Angeles and San Diego. Fifteen trains a day pulled into our train depot – count would soon begin of the steamers arriving at the wharf.
By the end of August the wharf was out 1,340 feet. However, the wharf company ran out of “silver-coppered nails” and work was been suspended for 60 days. In October the wharf sat unfinished, out of nails and out of money. The South Oceanside Diamond printed the following poem:
The Wail of the Wharf
Alone I am left, half clad in the cold; My long feeble legs are bare to the wave.
The reason is, I suppose, no shares have been sold. And slowly I’ll find me a watery grave.
I haven’t the piles, as some people think, nor is it the climate that’s breaking me up;
My lungs are first rate but the needful chink those doubting shareholders will not put up
Another setback occurred in December of 1888 when a storm swept pilings and planks from the Oceanside pier and lumber was washed down to Carlsbad. Few people know that Carlsbad also had the makings of a small wharf, but the storm did greater damage to the Carlsbad wharf and it was completely destroyed. Unsympathetic, Oceanside citizens went to the beach and gathered the lumber from the Carlsbad wharf and used it for firewood!
Still determined, despite damage to its own wharf, Oceanside rallied and residents pledged 260 days of labor and donated a modest amount of money to finish the project. W. D. Frazee offered to begin work on the wharf each morning with much needed prayer.
The completion deadline came and went. Wharf lumber was being used as a boardwalk to the South Pacific Hotel from the train tracks rather than for decking. “When will the wharf be completed?” was a question echoed in the columns of the newspaper and on the streets of Oceanside.
The February 1, 1889 edition of the South Oceanside Diamond ran a sketch of the wharf as it would appear by the new deadline: September, 1890! But bit by bit, the wharf was being whittled away by heavy seas. The portion remaining intact was said to “answer one purpose admirably–that of a barnacle roost.”
Optimism, although dim, remained. In April of 1889 the wharf was scheduled for repairs and was going to be braced and the talk of steamers began once again. In August Oceanside asked its citizens to raise an additional $4,000 and promised the wharf would be completed within 40 days when work commenced.
Records are missing and it is unclear as to if Oceanside’s wharf was ever completed but winter storms had reduced the wharf to 940 feet. On December 30, 1890 the final blow was dealt when the furious storms finished what was left and swept away all but 300 feet of the wharf. Newspapers from Los Angeles to San Diego reported its demise.
Oceanside’s first pier was gone but the dream was not forgotten. The wharf had become a fixture for the tiny town. If shipping vessels couldn’t dock, the wharf served another purpose, a fishing and pleasure pier.
Talk began immediately of building an iron wharf. It would take four years, but eventually Oceanside’ second pier was built at the end of Third Street (Pier View Way) in 1894.
Over the years we have had six piers, with our present pier being dedicated in September, 1987. We are proud of our beautiful pier. We are equally proud of the citizens who have persevered and have dared to dream. Oceanside has always loved its pier and it would not be the same without it.
The next time you walk the Strand, stand at the end of Wisconsin Street and look. During a low tide you might just catch a glimpse of those pilings. The pilings are placed 29 feet apart, (which would have provided a rather narrow decking) and a row of center pilings helped to brace it. Ten pilings were visible on June 7, 2012 at a minus 1.2 tide. They appeared again a year or so later. On June 25, 2020, the low tide exposed the pilings again.
Those worn down nubs of wood are all that is left of Oceanside’s first pier, but they represent the ambition and undying vision of Oceanside.
Elgin “Lucky” Lackey saw the potential for an entertainment venue at the corner of Third and Pacific Streets (Third Street is now Pier View Way) and in June 1954 he opened what would be a popular spot for over two decades, Pier Golf. In addition to a nine-hole miniature golf course, it included “shooting games” and pinball machines. Pier Golf also featured a snack bar with an open air dining area. Lackey would later add an archery range and ever popular bumper cars.
Elgin Lackey was a native of Guthrie, Oklahoma. He made his way to California in the 1940s and eventually Oceanside. In 1943 he and Mary E. Penn purchased Wilday’s Candy Shop at 111 North Hill Street (Coast Highway). The following year, Lackey married his business partner Mary, affectionately called Penny, in Las Vegas.
“Lucky” as he was called and known to most everyone, also had a used car dealership and an insurance business before opening Pier Golf. He also developed a housing development “Lucky Lots” consisting of 19 lots off of California Street in South Oceanside, and Lucky Street is named after him.
Lackey’s amusement center was an overnight success. It had the largest collection of pinball machines in Oceanside. At the time, pinball machines were regulated and banned altogether in San Diego and in unincorporated areas such as Vista. In the early days the machines were seen as a form of gambling, and dispensed cash. (In Oceanside, when allowed, any cash prizes were to be given over the counter.)
In the mid 1950’s, the only allowable “inducement” was an extra play for high scores. A few venues gave the high-scoring player a chance to pull a “lucky number” and prizes could be won for certain numbers. One eatery in downtown Oceanside paid winners with cigarettes … “one or more packs, depending on the score”. This was considered “slightly illegal” and caused “some law enforcement officers to frown on pinballs in general.”
At five cents a game, pinball vendors could earn about “$15 to $50 a week for a ‘good’ machine in a favorable location”. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that the seventy pinball machines located throughout the City could gross over $100,000 a year.
Pier Golf became such a popular attraction that Heavyweight Champion Boxer Floyd Patterson was a regular there while he was training in Oceanside in 1958. He attended so often he became an expert at the miniature golf course. One night he and his friends went to play skee-ball and accumulated over 300 points, according to sport reporter Irv Grossman. Patterson and his group went on to entertain themselves with the “Midget Autos” and “Dodgems” for which they were warned to “avoid head-on collisions”. As the adult men played, kids gathered to watch and Patterson soon engaged them in conversation, handshakes and finished his evening by signing autographs.
As Lucky Lackey continued to add features to his venue, Pier Golf transitioned into Pacific Holidayland. Touted as the only “amusement park” between Balboa and San Diego, Lucky and his wife Penny (Mary) invested half a million dollars in 1963 to develop “a super family amusement center.” Along with a “badly needed face-lift” the venue expanded to include the entire city block from Pacific to Myers, Mission Avenue to Third streets. The local paper reported that, “Houses and lots were purchased; the structures moved to make way for new buildings. The first major step in the expansion program was a $150,000 building, on the southeast corner of the block to house an archery and rifle range, skee-ball, pool tables and Dodgem rides.” The second phase of the renovation and expansion project included a new ice cream parlor, with both indoor and outdoor seating, along with a soda fountain.
Certainly for over two decades Lucky Lackey’s Holidayland was the place to be. It was popular with kids and teenagers, Marines and families and is still etched into the memories of many Oceanside residents and visitors.
Lackey planned to continue his expansion of his entertainment venue along Pacific Street. But at the height of Pacific Holidayland’s immense success, Elgin Lackey died in February of 1966 in a hospital in Monrovia.
Mary Lackey continued ownership of Holidayland, which maintained its popularity. At its peak the center included 47 pinball machines, 4 pool tables, 3 air hockey tables, 18 skee-ball games, 2 shooting galleries, 5 kiddy rides, 2 automatic photo machines, 7 baseball throwing machines with cages and netting, a 13 car bumper car ride and the miniature golf course, among other features.
In 1972 Richard Ford of Chicago, came to Oceanside to ride a Ferris wheel at Pacific Holidayland (probably in an empty lot next to the park). He had held the record of 22 days on a Ferris wheel in San Francisco, but was afraid of losing it, so this next attempt was for 30 days. Ford was said to have an anonymous sponsor and was getting free meals during his stay in Oceanside. (It was noted that Ford only rode the Ferris wheel while the venue was open during regular operating hours.)
Pacific Holidayland offered a $50 in prize money to the person who guessed correctly how much weight Ford would lose while on his endeavor. He began on April 15, 1972 weighing 214 pounds and when he finished 30 days later he had lost 11 pounds. Ford’s feat made news across the country.
Despite the great publicity, Pacific Holidayland had seen better days. In 1976 the aging complex was owned by Charles and Sharon Moreland who were looking for a buyer to develop the property. The property went up for auction in 1979, the games and assets sold.
In July of 1983 Pacific Holidayland was torn down. All that was left was a vacant dirt lot and an empty spot in the hearts of children of all ages.
While Lucky Lackey’s Pacific Holidayland is gone, it lives on in the cherished memories of many.
On a quiet morning on an isolated beach, a double homicide was committed north of Oceanside that shook all of Southern California. On September 10, 1895, the bodies of Harriet Stiles and John D. Borden were discovered by Harriet’s husband, Leroy Stiles. They had both been shot twice, and each in the face. There appeared to be no motive and the two were unarmed and defenseless.
Leroy and Harriet Stiles had been camping on the coast near the mussel beds north of Las Flores. They were accompanied by Harriet’s 86 year-old father, John B. Borden, who came to visit his daughter from Michigan and was looking forward to “an outing on the beach.” The Stiles were residents of Fallbrook, and had visited the spot before to escape the inland heat, enjoy the cool ocean breeze and do some fishing.
The trio set up camp in a tent on the remote beach and had the area all to themselves to enjoy. Las Flores was about two miles south of their spot; the small town of Oceanside was another 7 to 8 miles further. They likely saw no one else except an occasional train.
On the morning of the murders, Leroy and John walked from camp about a mile north to a spot at which to fish, while Harriet stayed behind. Leroy spotted two men in the distance walking south along the railroad track. Perhaps something about the men caused him to be uneasy. Their presence prompted Stiles to instruct his father-in-law to walk back to the tent to inform Harriet that two men may be approaching their campsite. Leroy would later tell law enforcement he simply did not want Harriet to be alarmed by the two male passersby.
John Borden walked back to the camp while Leroy proceeded to fish. Leroy likely assumed that his father-in-law, at age 86, was too tired to make the trek back and that he decided to stay with Harriet.
At about 10:30 am Leroy Stiles returned to his camp. Upon entering the tent he came upon a horrific site. His wife had been shot dead, as well as his father-in-law, the tent floor covered in blood. Stiles swung into action and immediately set for Oceanside on a horse and wagon to notify authorities. On the way south Stiles was stopped by a man he described as a “half-breed” who asked him for a ride. Stiles, who was unarmed, refused the request and afterwards said he believed the man was one of the two individuals he spotted walking towards his camp that morning and believe the man intended to kill him. He would later describe the man as a “negro of rather light complexion, good size and dressed in blue clothes or overalls.”
Stiles met a rancher on the way to Oceanside, who in turn went to reach law enforcement. Returning to camp alone, Stiles waited with the dead bodies of his family members. He later broke down in tears, overcome with emotion, when he told the first arriving lawmen that he and his wife were married forty years.
The early newspaper accounts of the murders said that Harriet had been sexually assaulted and that there were three deceased, not two. (Harriet in fact had not been raped. Her clothes were not disheveled or removed and her glasses were still on her face.) Nothing of value was missing from the camp, except a package of Durham tobacco, described by Stiles as “half full, the sack being the smallest size, just two ounces.”
One initial theory is that the two were murdered by Isidor Renterias, a known outlaw who had served jail time for horse stealing and murder. On September 6th, just a few days before the murder of Stiles and Borden, Renterias had shot and killed Ramon Araiza in San Luis Rey. Renterias operated a restaurant near the Mission San Luis Rey, wherein he had his wife by the hair and was beating her. Ramon Araiza’s wife was the daughter of the woman being beaten and Araiza came to her defense. Renterias then focused his rage on Araiza, picked up a rifle and shot him dead. He then fled while a posse led by Constable Ben Hubbert, who was still trying to track him down when the double murdered occurred on September 10th. (Renterias would later die in a shootout but not until he shot and killed a deputy by the name of Juan Castro.)
Deputy Sheriff Fred Jennings and a posse, traveled to the Stiles/Borden murder scene to hold an inquest. Railroad section men in the area were questioned and they informed law enforcement on the morning of the murders that two men had approached them. They shared breakfast with the strangers and talked to them at length. They provided a description of the two men, one was “a man six feet high, dark complexion, possibly “mulatto” and the other was “a smaller man, light hair and had a small hand valise.” The witnesses also noted that the pair had separated at some point as the smaller man went in a different direction.
Based on witness descriptions the “smaller man”, who would later be identified as Jay Allison Garges, was arrested at Fallbrook. He told deputies that he and the other suspect, Joseph J. Ebanks, were traveling together but had parted ways at the train trestle. Garges said that about two hours later he encountered Ebanks again, who had a new male traveling companion, a German immigrant. They two talked about “meeting so unexpectedly” once more and Garges noted that Ebanks was in possession of tobacco that he had not had earlier. It was in a small, two-ounce Durham tobacco sack, which was the very thing that had been reported by Leroy Stiles as missing from the tent. Garges noted that Ebanks no longer had a sack that he had carried with him for the length of their trip which began near El Toro.
While the unidentified German departed, Ebanks and Garges trekked south towards Oceanside, and eventually parted at the Fallbrook Junction. Garges made his way to Fallbrook where he was eventually apprehended. He was charged with complicity in the murder, and was held at Oceanside until taken to San Diego. Garges, a traveling “watch tinker” would later be eliminated as a suspect and became a witness for the prosecution.
Joseph Ebanks was born in England in about 1865. His father was from the West Indies and his mother a white woman. Ebanks arrived in New York’s Ellis Island from Liverpool, England on May 15, 1893 traveling on the Aurania, a British ocean liner. He gave differing accounts as to his arrival in California.
Ebanks was caught on September 14th by Deputy Sheriff Ward. Ebanks had traveled to San Luis Rey, then on to Vista. The following day he continued southward and spent a night in Mission Valley before hitching a ride on a wagon leaving for Rancho Bernardo. After he arrived near Poway, he left the main road and traveled through thick brush and steep terrain in an apparent effort to elude authorities. Ward eventually tracked him to a cabin where he was arrested and taken to jail in San Diego. One of the first questions Ebanks asked was for something to eat. It was reported he was cheerful and talkative.
When questioned, much of his story corroborated that of his traveling companion; that the two parted ways at the trestle where they had stopped to get water to drink out of some barrels. Garges walked south along the railroad and Ebanks walked along a wagon road. He admitted that he was the one who had tried to flag down Leroy Stiles for a ride, but that Stiles passed him “at a rapid gait.” He continued walking and met up with the German man and the two eventually met up again with Garges.
Ebanks said he had no firearm with which to shoot anyone and declared his innocence in the matter. He said he spotted a woman near a camp who appeared to be swimming, and he want to take a swim in the ocean as well, but had determined the bluff too steep to negotiate and decided against it.
Upon his arrest, one newspaper made an overtly racially prejudiced statement: “[Ebanks’] appearance is against him, as he is a West Indian Negro, with heavy cheekbones, thick lips, small, shrewd eye and a generally sensual face. He speaks with a queer half-French and half-Negro accent, and uses nautical terms in his speech.”
The hunt began for Ebanks’ sack, in which it was believed a firearm was kept. It was eventually brought to light that Ebanks had stolen two guns in Fullerton. One was a white handled Colt 45, along with a belt loaded with ammunition. Several railroad men, including Arthur Steele, section foreman, testified they saw Ebanks carrying a sack, when they saw him and Garges the morning of the murders.
The pistol was found in a canyon near the Stiles campsite and delivered to Constable Ben Hubbert of San Luis Rey. It was wrapped in a shirt with the marking of R.F.G, who was the rightful owner of the two firearms allegedly stolen by Ebanks. Four empty shell cartridges were also found. Even more damning, when Ebanks was captured he was wearing another shirt with the same initials. One additional piece of evidence in the sack was a “ladies’ journal” which had been given to Ebanks by a woman at ranch house he had visited in Orange County.
The murder trial began on January 4, 1896 in San Diego. Newspapers from San Diego, to San Francisco, Sacramento and Reno published daily or weekly coverage. The trial lasted more than 20 days, at a cost of $2,000, which far exceeded the cost of other similar court cases. During the trial Ebanks was described as being impassive but at times “happy and indifferent.”
There was a lot of interest in the trial and Ebanks in particular. The San Diego Bee reported: “There was a larger attendance of spectators yesterday than on any preceding day of the trial of Ebanks, the West Indian mulatto who is on trial before Judge Pierce and a jury for the murder of Mrs. Stiles and her father, John D. Borden. There has been a perceptible increase each day in the number of women in attendance on the trial, and yesterday most of the chairs inside the railing except those used by the jury and counsel, were occupied by women young and old, who evidently enjoyed the testimony.”
R. F. Gibson of Fullerton testified that the white-handled revolver that Ebanks used in the murder was stolen from his room, along with another gun. Both were found in the sack several witnesses had described Ebanks as carrying. Gibson also testified that the shirts, one of which Ebanks was wearing at the time of his arrest, belonged to him and were marked with the letters “R F. G.”
Simon Goldbaum of San Luis Rey testified that Ebanks came to his store on the afternoon of September 10th, the day of the murders and bought lunch. Goldbaum asked the tall stranger if he had beard of the murders at the mussel beds. According to Goldbaum, Ebanks looked down “at the mention of the crime”. Then, inexplicably “looked up and laughed, and replied that he had not heard of the murders.”
William McCrea, testified that he was baling hay at Vista the day of the murders, and that Ebanks came “to his camp between 11 and 12 o’clock at night and asked for work.” He stayed the night with the crew, but left in the morning “without any breakfast in the direction of Escondido.”
Garges, who had no longer been considered a suspect, was detained in San Diego as a witness until late February of 1896. During that time his satchel which contained his watch tools was also taken into evidence. (He was detained 143 days after which he filed a claim against the county for $214.50 at the rate of $1.50 a day. The county instead agreed to pay him just $114.15.)
Garges testified as they were walking south they saw two men fishing in the surf a few hundred feet from the railroad. About a mile farther down they spotted a woman near a tent on the beach. They continued walking about one-fifth of a mile, and came to a trestle where they sat down to rest. Garges said he was anxious to “hurry along”, and left Ebanks sitting on the bridge.
With Garges out of sight, Ebanks want back along the track to a bridge spanning a canyon which opened out on the beach near the tent, and made his way with some difficulty down into the canyon and to the tent. The prosecutor believed that Ebanks’ intention was to assault Harriet Stiles, but her father had returned to the camp by that time. The San Diego Bee reported: “It will never be known just what transpired, for Ebanks in his numerous confessions of the crime never told the story twice the same way. But he could have been at the tent but a moment when he shot Mr. Borden, who fell dead. Ebanks claimed that he was at first inclined to flee without [killing] Mrs. Stiles, but decided that he must take her life if he would himself escape.”
The prosecution had the last word and despite the testimony of 53 witnesses and damning evidence he instead focused the jury on Ebanks looks:
“It has been said that he could have had no motive for killing that poor woman who was alone and defenseless in the little tent—no motive for taking her life as she stood with hands upheld to her God, her last words tremulous in supplication and with a realization that a fiend incarnate stood ready and determined to send into her sick brain the leaden messengers that would sever the tie which bound her to this life. No motive for this hellish deed! Can you not read the motive on his face? Look in his treacherous eyes and on his brow, which bears the curse of his maker as plainly as it was ever born by Cain!”
After the trial concluded, and the jury began its deliberation, The San Diego Union wrote this openly racist account: “While the jury was out deciding his fate, the happy-go-lucky mulatto, who is more animal than man, whiled away the time by playing cards with a Mexican and negro in the jail rooms. When the jury came in and Ebanks was taken before them to hear the verdict of murder in the first degree, he took his seat and twirled his thumbs while everyone in the room fixed their gaze upon him.”
The jury deliberated just three hours. Leroy Stiles, who had sat through the daily testimony, waited in the courtroom into the evening to hear the verdict. Ebanks was found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death. An immediate appeal was filed.
While awaiting appeal Ebanks actually confessed to the murder of Harriet Stiles and her father. He stated he wanted to clear his conscious and remove any doubt of his guilt. Ebanks’ confession in various versions was published in newspapers across the country from Nebraska to New Jersey.
Ebanks said while walking along the railroad track with Garges, they spotted the tent on the beach. Earlier he had found an orange, ate it and became sick. He went to the tent without Garges to see if he could “get some medicine.” He encountered Mr. Borden and his daughter Harriett and said, “I’m sick; give me something. I feel as if I was dying.”
Ebanks said Mr. Borden noticed that the muzzle of a revolver was showing out of the flour sack he was carrying. Borden walked toward the back of the cot and said he would get something “to relieve” him.
“I do not know that I said anything to the man at all, but it was only just my opinion that the man was then looking for something possibly to shoot me with. He walked away toward the cot and I did not know what he was doing behind the cot. I sat then in the chair and fired at him and I shot the old gentleman. I did not know at that time where I had hit him, but he fell. Then the old lady sung out to me, “My God, he had no gun.” I sat there and I looked at him and I looked at her and I begged her to hitch a team and go away and let me get away. I was sorry for what I had done.
“The woman said to me — I do not just remember the first words that were spoken — but anyway, I said to her, says I, ‘Now I am awful sorry for what I have done, and his own foolishness caused it’; now, says I, ‘what is I going to do about it to get rid of this? The only way out now for me’ — says I — ‘I know your life is sweet and mine is sweet and we all thinks that your life is sweeter to you than mine is to me. I suppose you think so, and says I, ‘I think about the same, I suppose, but the only way out of this for me is to kill you along with him, and for me to make my escape.’
“And I said to the woman, ‘I suppose I ain’t got much time to think this matter over. The best thing for you to do is get to praying for yourself; I may possibly have to shoot you.’
“The woman knelt down by the cot and she stayed there and I dropped tears over that woman; but I thought the only refuge for myself was to shoot that woman. After the woman raised from her knees and turned around, she looked at me and she did not say anything. I held the gun laying across my lap and I shot her; where, I do not know, up until today. She kind of fell back on the cot against something, but I saw she was just in misery. The wound did not kill her–it did not look like it to me–and I shot the woman the second time.
“With that I walked over to the cot where this man was laying to see and to be certain that there was no weapon there that he was looking for to injure me. After examining behind the cot and around the cot and seeing that there was no weapon there, before God I felt worse.
“I walked back to the door and I tried that gun three times in succession to my own breast, but she refused to go. I then turned around, and the old gentleman had some movement in some part of his body, or made me think that he suffered, and I tried it the fourth time on him and she went off, and I think that was the shot that was through his body.”
After his confession he stated his desire to see his family who were living in the West Indies. He then asked that his appeal to be withdrawn and that he was ready to “die any time.”
Notwithstanding his lengthy and detailed confession, Ebanks’ defense team filed three additional appeals, each of which was denied.
His appeals exhausted Ebanks was sentenced once again to die and to be delivered to San Quentin for hanging. Before he was transported from San Diego, it was reported that Ebanks, who had converted to Christianity while in custody, “delivered a sermon to the other prisoners confined in the county jail, and sang and prayed with them. He admonished the men to reform when they were released and lead an upright life. He later made a request for a minister in order that he might be baptized. He was taken north on the Santa Rosa last night by Deputy Sheriff F. M. Jennings and T. H. Scoby.”
On May 27, 1898 Joseph Japhet Ebanks was led from his cell to the gallows. The evening before, he had written a statement declaring his innocence, having retracted his detailed confession in which he had given Mrs. Stiles but a minute to pray for her soul. Yet he resigned himself to die “a brave man”. Ebanks was described as calm when he was readied for execution at 10:30 am. He offered no comment of any kind before he was hanged. The trap floor dropped, the force breaking his neck. Ebanks was pronounced dead 10 minutes later although the newspaper described his death as “instantaneous”. His body was buried in the prison cemetery. Ebanks was one of nine state prisoners executed in California that year.
After the murder of his wife, Leroy R. Stiles went to live with his married daughter in Long Beach. He died in 1913 at the age of 83. He was buried in the same cemetery in Fallbrook with his beloved wife Harriet and her father John. As is sadly the case today, there was more attention placed on the salacious murders than paid to the victims themselves. Little detail was provided about the lives of Harriet Stiles and John Borden but they were truly innocent victims enjoying an idyllic day on a quiet beach when their lives were abruptly and brutally taken.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Defenseless”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “Defenseless”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
This is the true story of Elsa and Edward, both of whom were given up for adoption as young children, both raised by physicians. They found each other in the midst of pain and loneliness, only to create more of the same. While the story is largely based in San Diego, their great granddaughter is a native of Oceanside. She has shared her tangled family tree with me in hopes of finding clarity and truth. Together we have searched for years to solve the mystery of individuals which may never be fully solved, and we are left with questions yet to be answered.
Elsa Lamon grew up knowing that she was unwanted; her mother had given her away as a small child. She was sent to be raised by an aunt who was distant and cold. She never felt wanted or truly loved. Years later when Elsa grew to adulthood, her search for love resulted in unhappy and painful marriages which seemed to only validate what her mother knew: that Elsa was unlovable.
Her life was a series of unfortunate scenarios complicated by family dynamics and secrecy. Born Helen Alice Cronk in Chicago, Illinois on September 14, 1903, she was the second child of Harry Sheldon Cronk and Ida May Young.
Harry Sheldon Cronk was a native of Canada born in 1861. He was previously married to Cecilia Monica Clark in 1889. They had one son, Harry Collins Cronk, born in 1891. Harry filed for divorce in 1892 and married his second wife, Ida Mae in 1893. Ida Mae bore a son in 1895, who was named Harold Cecil Cronk.
Elsa’s life abruptly changed after her father’s untimely death of meningitis in 1904, when she was just 15 months old. Ida Mae Cronk remarried in 1908 to William Ames and sent her daughter to Detroit, Michigan to live with her husband’s sister, Martha Imogene Cronk, and her husband Alois Thuner.
Her adoptive father, Alois Anthony Thuner, was a well-regarded physician in Detroit, Michigan. He and Imogene married in 1890. They had no children of their own and adopted Helen Alice and raised their niece as their very own daughter, giving her a new name of Elsa Helena.
In 1910 Imogene became pregnant and the family of three must have been excited about the prospect of a baby. Sadly, however, on February 24, 1911 Imogene gave birth to a stillborn daughter.
The Thuner’s provided Elsa with a comfortable lifestyle. They lived in spacious homes in well-to-do neighborhoods, including Detroit’s Boston-Edison neighborhood that was inhabited by the likes of Henry Ford and Sebastian Kresge.
Despite her affluent upbringing, Elsa must have wondered all those years: Why did her mother give her up? She grew up knowing she was adopted. She even knew who her mother was, but family stories suggest that she had little or no contact with her biological mother throughout the years.
Elsa’s mother Ida Mae remained in Chicago and remarried in 1908. And while Ida had given up her daughter, Ida Mae continued to raise a stepson, Harry Collins, and a biological son Harold Cecil. This must have had a lasting negative impact on Elsa, who knew her mother was alive and well, together with the knowledge her brothers were seemingly accepted and loved by her, while she was not. The sense of abandonment would reverberate throughout her life.
In 1920 Dr. Thuner retired from medicine and moved his wife and daughter Elsa to San Diego in the Point Loma neighborhood, in a beautiful home located on Goldsmith Street.
From Detroit to San Diego, Elsa’s life was interrupted, leaving childhood friends behind. However, it appears she transitioned successfully, graduating from San Diego High School in 1921, attending junior college, as well as joining a sorority and a rowing club. Her name was a familiar one in the society pages of the San Diego Union newspaper.
In spite of her early start as a cast off, in San Diego Elsa was part of the “it” crowd and accepted in society circles. She would even “marry well”, a man from one of the most prominent families in San Diego. Perhaps meeting at the rowing club where they were both members, Elsa became acquainted with Ira Collier.
Ira Clifton Collier was the son of David Charles Collier, an attorney, banker and real estate developer, as well as the president of the 1915 California Panama Exposition in San Diego.
If Elsa’s privileged life was filled with less than happy circumstances, Ira’s surpassed hers both in privilege and perhaps unhappiness.
In 1896 David Collier, Sr. married Ella May Copley, the sister of Ira Clifton Copley, who formed Copley Press and would later own the San Diego Union-Tribune. They had two sons, David and Ira, who were sent to the Harvard Military School in Los Angeles for their education.
David Collier, Sr. filed for divorce from his wife Ella May in 1914. This very acrimonious divorce was made public, featured in newspaper headlines throughout Southern California and personal details about their marriage and split were published for all to read.
Ella Collier claimed that her husband deserted her and their two sons for nearly a year and had refused financial support. David Collier charged his wife with mental cruelty and that she looked down at the Collier family in social standing, and that she alienated him from their oldest son David. Photos of their two sons were published in the newspaper and the divorce proceedings packed the courtrooms as bitter accusations were exchanged.
For several months the courtroom drama captivated San Diegans, after which Ella Collier was granted a divorce on November 13, 1915. After which, David Collier promptly remarried to Ruth E. Everson, on November 14, 1915.
If David Collier found happiness in his new marriage, it soon ended when his new wife died a year later in 1916. Collier remarried yet again to Clytie Lyon in 1919. But tragedy struck once more when his oldest son David Collier, Jr. died later that year of pneumonia at the age of 22.
Despite the loss of his older son, Collier never reconciled with his youngest son Ira, for whom he had fought for during court proceedings with his wife. Father and son remained estranged all the way up until the elder Collier’s death in 1934.
Ira’s mother, Ella Mae Copley Collier died in 1921, and he remained in San Diego living with his maternal aunt. However, the newspaper reported that Ira was going to Los Angeles to be trained by a vocal coach where he intended to pursue “a musical career.” His voice was described to be “a baritone tenor of unusual quality.”
In February of 1924 the San Diego Union posted an engagement announcement of Elsa Thuner and Ira Collier. Ira Collier would have been a most eligible bachelor, with handsome good looks and a notable family tree. The announcement stated that the two obtained a marriage license in Riverside County and that a June wedding was planned. However, a retraction was printed immediately.
Was there opposition to this union? If so, the couple had eloped and were actually married on February 9, 1924, days earlier, telling no one. The hasty denial of the engagement was not replaced by an official wedding announcement — which normally would have graced the society columns of the local papers.
Mr. and Mrs. Ira Collier soon moved into a home on Palomar Avenue in La Jolla with beautiful ocean views. Later they settled in a more modest home on 32nd Street, located east of Pershing Drive in San Diego. The couple moved nearly every year, it seems. In 1929 they were living on Olive Street in Coronado, a decidedly tonier locale.
Married five years, and perhaps celebrating their anniversary, Ira and Elsa sailed to Honolulu, Hawaii aboard the S. S. Calawii, a glamorous ship known for its celebrity passengers. The trip was an extensive one lasting from August to November.
After eight years of marriage, their union had produced no children. Whether this was by choice or because of infertility, one can only surmise. But something was taking a toll on the marriage and whether it was barrenness, boredom or something else altogether, the couple would soon separate.
In the summer of Ira Collier traveled to Reno, Nevada, notorious for its “quickie” divorces. “Divorces Ranches” popped up all over the Silver State to accommodate such legal proceedings. However, according to state law, a person must first establish just six weeks of residency before filing suit.
During his “residency” Ira found himself in a precarious situation when he and three other men visited the Heidleberg Inn, a nightclub situated five miles south of Reno. A confrontation ensued and shots were fired, at least one striking their auto. No other details came to light about the situation but the sheriff threatened to close the establishment.
On August 23, 1932 Ira fulfilled his residency requirement for divorce and filed suit to end the marriage which was summarily granted. However, Elsa hired an attorney in San Diego and challenged the divorce and sued for support and judgment was found in her favor.
Nonetheless she found herself in a familiar place: unwanted. Elsa would soon start a new chapter in her life with someone whom she had something in common: They were both given up by their mothers and coincidentally adopted by physicians. Little did she know that in her pursuit to be loved and wanted, his cruelty would overshadow the abandonment by her own mother.
Edward Bernard Lemen was born on November 13, 1907 in Denver, Colorado. His mother was an unwed teenager, the daughter of Theodore and Ella Lemen. Dorinda Lemen was born in 1892 (some records indicate 1891) and was the second of five children. Her father was a traveling minister, and it is because of this, his children were all born in different states.
In about 1902 the Lemen family resettled in Denver, Colorado where two of Theodore’s brothers, Lewis E. Lemen and Harrison A. Lemen, were established and practicing physicians.
Family stories suggest that Dorinda traveled with her father while he was sharing the gospel in the southern United States, particularly Atlanta, Georgia. During the trip Dorinda either engaged in under-aged sex, or perhaps was sexually assaulted, and became pregnant. After returning to Denver, at the age of 15, she gave birth to a male child.
Colorado recorded a very simple birth record devoid of any great detail. In the 1907 “Birth Book” the scant information provided is the date of birth of November 13, 1907, the child being a white male. The mother’s name is left blank (which is unusual) but the father’s name is listed as “D. Lemen”. The question of legitimate birth is answered by “yes.” (This was in fact not a legitimate birth, meaning the child was not born as a result of a marriage.)
The truth of the matter is there is no male person with the first initial of “D” in the Lemen household. It is most likely that Edward’s birth record was written in such a way to protect the young Dorinda (or her father’s reputation) and her first initial was placed under the “Father’s name”. Further, the home address listed on the birth record is 2830 W. 34th Street in Denver, Colorado — the home address of Rev. Theodore Lemen and his family in 1907.
In 1912 Dorinda Lemen married Warren F. Edwards, a traveling shoe salesman. They were married in Salt Lake City, Utah, which may be telling because Dorinda’s son was adopted soon after to a family living in Utah.
Warren and Dorinda Edwards were living in Denver in 1917, with Warren working for the Harsh & Edmonds Shoe Company based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the World War I registration card Warren signed on June 5, 1917, he states his sales route was from Denver to the Northwest. It also states that Warren Edwards was financially assisting his mother-in-law and Dorinda’s two youngest siblings, Sylvester and Elizabeth.
Just one month later, however, Dorinda Edwards would be involved in a scandalous affair. So sensational, the headline of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch read: “St. Louisan Caught in Wild Taxi Pursuit in Milwaukee.”
On July 15, 1917, Warren and Dorinda traveled to Milwaukee for business and were staying at the Gilpatrick Hotel. Apparently Warren Edwards had discovered Dorinda in the arms and bed of another man. A two mile chase through town ensued which resulted in Hamilton being arrested and subsequently sued by Edwards for $50,000 for “alienating his wife’s affection”.
Simultaneously, Warren filed for divorce from Dorinda. The divorce complaint stated that within a five day period Dorinda and Nightingale Hamilton had visited three separate hotels to carry on an illicit affair. According to Dorinda’s admission she met Hamilton just six months after her marriage, in 1913, while on another trip to Milwaukee with her husband. Warren Edwards was employed by Nightingale Hamilton, whose father owned the company.
The divorce proceedings revealed that on July 17, 1917 Warren, Dorinda and Nightingale had all gone to a “road house” and the following morning, at 6 am, Dorinda and Nightingale had slipped off together, and had taken a taxi to the Juneau Hotel, one mile away. Dorinda signed the hotel register as “H. H. Hartley from Des Moines, Iowa” and Nightingale as “Norman Colt”.
Dorinda was allowed to be questioned (or interrogated) by Warren’s divorce attorney W. B. Rubin. He asked Dorinda how long the couple remained in the hotel room and she replied “until one o’clock next day.”
Then Rubin pressed further: “You had intercourse with him that day?” To which Dorinda replied, “Yes.”
Rubin: How many times?
Dorinda: I don’t think that is necessary.
Rubin: Well it was more than once.
Rubin continued his humiliating interrogation of Dorinda about each sexual encounter with Hamilton, at two other hotels, the Wisconsin Hotel and the Plankington, where she registered as Mrs. J. H. Harvey of Red Wing, Minnesota. Hotel registers were subpoenaed and entered into evidence.
On January 24, 1918 Warren Edwards was granted his divorce from Dorinda, who returned to Denver to live with her mother. Both Warren Edwards and Nighintgale Hamilton died that later that year of pneumonia, likely after contracting the Spanish Flu.
Dorinda’s escapades aside, she presumably gave Edward up for adoption when he was about six years old. Edward was adopted by a well-known and respected doctor, John J. Steiner, and his wife Georgina (Blanchett) Steiner, of Richfield, Utah.
Edward would have developed an attachment to and held memories of his mother, along with his maternal grandparents and extended family for those first six years of his life. There is no known reason that he was given up for adoption (other than Dorinda wanted to be unencumbered in her marriage or affairs) but certainly this would have been a devastating event for Edward.
Dr. John Steiner and his wife Georgina had one biological son, Chauncey J. Steiner, born in 1896. The little boy died at the age of three. A little lamb graces the top of Chauncey’s headstone and below his name and date of birth and death is the tender inscription “We loved him.”
Thereafter the Steiners formally, and informally, adopted several children over the years. Edward was the only boy in this extended family, and it appears may have been only the second child of five to be formally adopted and although no such records have been found, Edward’s last name was legally changed to Steiner.
Richfield, Utah is and was largely populated by the members of the Mormon Faith. It became a regional center with the establishment of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1891. Perhaps, Edward Lemen and his mother traveled from Denver and met the Steiner family, but it is only a guess.
The Steiner’s adopted and foster children were educated in the Richfield school system but when Edward was twelve years old he was sent to Oregon to a Catholic boys’ school. According to a newspaper account in the Richfield Reaper, Edward came home rather unexpectedly, prompting an educator from the school to travel to Richfield, to return Edward back to school. This is the first indication that all was not well and perhaps the heartache of a young boy given up by his mother was now being realized in resentment and anger.
In August of 1921, Edward Steiner was sent to San Diego to the Raja Yoga Academy. He had yet turned 14 years old. Established by Katherine Tingley, this commune was located on Point Loma (now occupied by the Point Loma Nazarene University). There was a strict daily regimen for both children and adults. Accusations included that husbands and wives were separated and children from their parents, that speaking was forbidden and detractors were isolated.
In spite of the criticism, there were over 300 people living at “Lomaland” in the community in the early 1920s. Most residents were upper-middle-class and the Richfield newspaper stated that the schooling was just what young Edward needed as the school emphasized moral and spiritual development. Edward was at the academy for about two years. The Steiner family traveled to San Diego to visit him.
From Baptist birth to a Mormon community, to Catholic School and then a commune, Edward’s confusion or sense of self must have been shaken. Sent away to live with the Steiner’s, who in turn sent him out of state for a “proper” education, only served to further isolate him both physically and emotionally.
By the time Edward was a young adult his religious belief system was non-existent and his moral compass forever off kilter. What was truth? For Edward there must have been no real answer to that question and he would later begin to live his life with half-truths, lies and deception.
Georgina Steiner died on October 21, 1925. One month later, at 18 years of age, Edward Steiner was accompanied by his adoptive father to a U. S. Navy recruiting office in Los Angeles. His enlistment papers state that Edward was living in Los Angeles and working as a bank clerk. At that age it is not required to have a parent’s authorization or approval so it would seem that this decision was forced upon Edward. Just what had precipitated this action is unknown but Edward dutifully signed the paperwork and was sent to San Diego for training and then on to Mare Island.
It is worth noting that on the enlistment papers, Edward’s month and date of birth of November 13th are accurate, but for some unknown reason the birth year of 1904 was given instead of 1907.
Military training can be likened to religion or indoctrination, and it seems that Edward was a non-believer. His military record was less than honorable and in a few short years he would go “AWOL”. His military career aside, Edward would prove himself to be dishonorable in his personal life as well, manifested by infidelity and domestic violence.
Notations in his military record range from skipping out on small debts, to being absent from duty for several hours on different occasions. One particular document notes that he contracted syphilis in April of 1926 due to his “own misconduct”.
On July 8, 1926 year, Edward married his first wife, Rosalie Ferrant in Oakland, California. Little is known of this union or even if it was legally dissolved. However, the first glint of perhaps reinventing himself is revealed on the marriage application as Edward listed his birth date as November 14th rather than November 13th and his birthplace as Georgia instead of Colorado.
Eleven days after his marriage to Rosalie, John J. Steiner died. He was the only father Edward would ever know. In the lengthy will, Edward was included as one of the heirs of the Steiner estate and received $600 and some stock.
Within six months of his marriage and his father’s death, Edward would enter into two additional relationships with other women, and then abandon them and his very own offspring with a calculated coldness. Perhaps this was learned behavior.
The very year he had married Rosalie Ferrant, Edward was also courting Bethel Mulick. Bethel was a native of Nebraska who moved to San Francisco with her mother and sister before 1920.
Bethel followed Edward when he returned to San Diego when given orders by the Navy, and she got a job working at a hotel in downtown San Diego. Bethel and Edward very well may have been married at some point, although no record can be found. And if there was a marriage to Bethel, Edward was likely still married to his first wife Rosalie at the time.
On December 29, 1926 Edward Steiner went AWOL from the Navy. His military record notes he was “declared a stragler.” On January 8, 1927 he was declared a deserter. A notice of his desertion from the Navy was published in his hometown newspaper in Richfield, Utah, with a reward being offered for his whereabouts.
Edward not only deserted the Navy but also Bethel. She gave birth to Edward’s daughter, in August of 1927. The address of the birth father is listed as “unknown”. Bethel had given birth alone as Edward had simply abandoned her.
The birth certificate of that baby girl reveals her father’s new persona — On the official birth record of Duane Reeves Lamon, her father’s birth name is given as “Ben” Edward Lamon, shedding the legal name of Steiner, Lamon is a seemingly deliberate variation of his birth name of Lemen.
Further information on the birth certificate listed Edward’s occupation as a medical student in Stanford. No record has ever been uncovered to verify that Edward ever attended Stanford, although he was a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy. (Apparently, he had told Bethel that he was attending Stanford, something he would repeat to other women in his life….)
Bethel wrote heartbreaking letters to the Dept. of the Navy looking for the whereabouts of Edward, which were retained as part of his military record. Each time the Navy replied to her letters stating they did not know of Edward’s location. Bethel would continue the search for her husband for nearly three years.
Edward Lamon, in fact was in the arms and bed of another woman. While Bethel was 3 months pregnant with Edward’s child, on Valentine’s Day in 1927 he married a new “sweetheart” Sadie Ingle, in Los Angeles.
Sadie and Edward would be married long enough to have two daughters: Mildred and Melody born about 2 ½ years apart. And while he had left two women and a baby daughter behind, it seemed that Edward was somewhat domesticated for a time. Although he was still wanted by the Navy as a deserter, Edward moved his wife and two daughters back to San Diego, living in Coronado. It is worth noting that Edward, a supposed medical student, was working a blue collar job at the garage of the Hotel Del Coronado.
Although Edward had managed to stay married to Sadie for six years, all was not wedded bliss – Edward met a beautiful divorcee – Elsa Thuner Collier and the two embarked on what would be another tumultuous relationship.
Elsa and Edward began an adulterous affair as early as 1932, while Edward and Sadie were still married. In November of 1933 the couple were in Berwyn, Illinois where Elsa gave birth to their child, Barbara Jean La Mon.
Although the couple was not married the child is listed as “legitimate”. (On Barbara’s birth certificate Edward’s occupation is listed as a real estate and a bond salesman, a profession he purported to have been in for 6 years.)
Edward’s wife Sadie responded by filing for divorce in March of 1934. In her complaint she contends that Edward “would frequently remain away from his home nights without informing” her and that Edward would make “insulting remarks” about her relatives. While this sounds somewhat tame, Sadie went on to say that Edward became so angry on one occasion, he struck his mother-in-law and knocked her down.”
Edward never responded to Sadie’s divorce complaint. Instead he and Elsa married in September of 1934 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile, Edward and Elsa’s union produced another child, Valna, born in 1935.
With one wife, three exes and five daughters, Edward’s life and temper continued to spiral out of control. Less than one month after Elsa had given birth to daughter Valna, Edward attacked and choked her. He later threatened to kill Elsa and the police were called.
After Edward’s arrest his true identity was revealed and the authorities promptly delivered him to Navy officials. The Navy, however, had no desire to prosecute Edward after an absence of 8 years and officially released him from duty.
Edward left California and for a time was back in Richfield, Utah perhaps seeking refuge or financial assistance from his adopted sister. A notation from his father’s estate indicate he received a $250.00 stipend on September 13, 1935.
Elsa began divorce proceedings in October of 1935 detailing the cruelty of her husband. Edward never responded to the legal proceedings and never returned to San Diego. He continued to leave a wake of broken hearts and lives wherever he went, and left Elsa like he had left Sadie — alone to raise two little girls who would never know their father.
Edward found refuge in San Francisco and reconciled with Bethel. Although she had remarried twice since they parted, Bethel apparently single again, accepted Edward back. Their reunion was short-lived when Edward left the longsuffering Bethel yet again. He moved to Stockton and took a job as a sales clerk.
On July 30, 1936 Edward Bernard Steiner Lamon ended his life by hanging himself in Room 459 at the Wolf Hotel in downtown Stockton, California. He left a note requesting that his brother-in-law Andrew Desimone be notified. Desimone was married to Bethel’s sister Bard, and was in the casino business at the famed Cal Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe. Desimone contacted Bethel about the suicide and Edward’s remains were released to her.
What led to Edward’s shocking decision to end his life? Was it a mounting debt of some kind? Was there a pending criminal action he wanted to avoid? Was it the terrible guilt of fathering and abandoning so many small children?
The Richfield, Utah newspaper reported that Edward Steiner had suddenly died, but skirted the issue of a suicide nor did it mention his other identity as Edward LaMon.
The Stockton newspaper reported that Edward left a wife and two daughters behind, but if this was referring to Bethel, they had just one known child together, Duane born in 1927, (Bethel had no other children).
Adding to the mystery, the names of the children the newspaper provided were Edna and Blanchette. (Blanchette was the maiden name of his adopted mother.) However, there are no known children by this name and one can only surmise as to the discrepancy. Was it simply an error by the reporter? Was there yet another woman who bore two additional daughters?
There was no mention of his former wives: Rosalie, Sadie and Elsa. No mention of daughters, Duane, Mildred, Melody, Barbara and Valna.
His death certificate revealed additional misinformation that Edward no doubt perpetuated over the years to other women, as he reinvented himself. Particularly, his mother’s name is listed as “Blanchette Sorie”, who was supposedly born in Paris, which is all fabrication.
The Coroner’s report stated that Edward was found hung in the shower by a belt. Curiously, he was dressed in riding togs.
His brief suicide note said, “Goodbye to all — one in particular.” “There is now one ‘lug” less in the world.”
Who was the “one in particular”? It was likely Bethel who had suffered longer with him than any other. Edward suffered, too, no doubt. His anguish had manifested into anger. His abandonment as a child changed his name and he tried to conform and then reinvent himself, but he could never find a way of escape or a way to redemption.
Edward’s five wives (were there more?) eventually all remarried.
Edward’s biological mother Dorinda relocated to California around 1937. Did she ever reach out to Edward at any time? If Edward had any contact with the Lemen family after he was adopted or as an adult, it is unknown. After her mother died in 1948, Dorinda Lemen Edwards eventually moved to Oakland, where her older brother Timothy Lemen resided. She died in 1972.
Edward’s five daughters, who never really knew or could remember their father, were left to wonder for the rest of their lives about him.
Barbara Jean Lamon revealed that her mother Elsa rarely, if ever, spoke about Edward…and his life and death were shrouded in mystery. She and Valna never knew their father had other wives and were astonished to find out they had three half-sisters, whom they never met.
After Edward’s death, Elsa and her daughters Barbara and Valna lived a very comfortable life with the Thuners. However, Elsa’s adopted father Alois died in 1937. Imogene and Elsa had a very strained relationship for years and without Alois alive, the tension grew. There was little joy or happiness in their upper-middle-class home.
It is worth noting that Elsa’s biological mother Ida Mae Ames had moved to Southern California by 1931. When Ida died in 1939, she was buried in Glen Abbey Memorial Park near San Diego. Elsa and her young daughters went to the graveside services but remained in the car and watched from afar. Elsa remained separated from her own mother even in death.
Imogene Thuner died in 1944. She left an inheritance to her two granddaughters, Barbara and Valna…not to her daughter Elsa. Their trust fund was over $90,000 in 1952, equivalent to nearly $900,000 today.
While Edward’s legal name was Steiner, his birth name was Lemen. The name of “Lamon” was Edward’s alias, a made up name used after he deserted the Navy. Ironically it was one that his offspring carried legally. Even his great granddaughter was given the middle name of “Lamon” in order to “carry on the memory of Edward”…only to find out later it was an invented name and not that of Edward’s at all.
The enigma surrounding Edward’s life, along with its truth and falsehoods is fading away … just as his life faded from the memories of his little daughters.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Deserted”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “Deserted”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
One quiet night in Oceanside, California a senseless murder was committed with no apparent motive or suspects. Days after the murder, someone claiming to be the killer called local police with an ominous threat that resulted in armed gunmen protecting city busses for several nights in anticipation of another death. But as shocking as it was, the incident slowly faded into obscurity and the murder went unsolved. The case was in fact forgotten about altogether until in 2017 I stumbled upon a newspaper article while doing research on an unrelated subject. As I continued research on the murder I collected dozens of newspaper articles and discovered that the case had never been solved. I then contacted the Oceanside Police Department who directed me to their Cold Case Detective.
The Murder of Ray Davis
On the evening of April 9, 1962, the Oceanside Police Department received an anonymous telephone call. The unidentified caller stated cryptically: “I am going to pull something here in Oceanside and you will never be able to figure it out.” The call was likely dismissed…until two nights later on April 11th, when a body was discovered and the caller contacted the police again.
Patrolman Terry Stephens discovered the lifeless body of Ray Davis in an alley in the upscale beachside neighborhood of St. Malo at 1:45 am. The night of the murder, Stephens had not yet turned 28 years old, but was already a seasoned police officer. Born in 1934 in Escondido Stephens was raised in Oceanside where he lived nearly all of his life. At the age of 21 he joined the Oceanside Police Department and served on the force for 31 years before he retired.
The victim, Ray Davis was just 29 years old, a native of Michigan. Ray was estranged from his wife Marion, whom he had married in 1953 in Owosso, Michigan. At the time of Ray’s murder she was living in Pomona with two children from a previous marriage.
Ray and his brother Jack had moved to Oceanside in January of 1962. Oceanside had a population of less than 25,000. Jack got a job working at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Ray as a cabdriver for the Checker Cab Company. The brothers were renting a house at 525 South Tremont Street.
Ray Davis was working an evening shift, his cab parked on Mission Avenue in downtown. At 11:10 pm he reported to his dispatcher Lowell Sikes that he was driving a fare to South Oceanside. He never returned or responded to subsequent radio calls.
Ray’s body had been dumped in the alley behind 1926 South Pacific Street, the home of Oceanside’s former Mayor Joe MacDonald. Across the street was the home of Oceanside’s current Mayor Erwin Sklar. This was not a neighborhood familiar with violent crime, let alone murder. (Note: Few people realize that St. Malo does not begin behind its iconic gated archway, but also includes the 1900 block of South Pacific Street.)
Davis had been shot once in the back, through the driver’s seat, and once in the back of the head. His assailant unceremoniously pulled him out of the cab and drove away. Robbery did not appear to be a motive as Davis had a modest amount of cash in both his wallet and shirt pocket.
The bloodied cab was discovered at 6:30 am, left in the alley of the 400 block of South Pacific Street with its meter showing a $2.20 fare. On scene Detective Don Brown found a third shot had been fired through the windshield of the taxi.
On the front seat of the abandoned cab was a paperback novel, “Dance With the Dead.” Written in 1960 by Richard S. Prather, it featured a private detective who solved crimes, all the while encountering scantily clad women…very campy stuff.
Davis was taken to the Seaside Mortuary at 802 South Pacific Street where an autopsy was performed by L. H. Fairchild of the San Diego County Coroner’s Office. Two .22 caliber bullets were removed and given to Oceanside Police Detective Floyd R. Flowers.
The following day, April 12th, both the Oceanside Blade Tribune and San Diego Union Tribune newspapers reported the murder along with the fact that police had no motive or suspect. The story of Ray’s murder was also published in several Southern California newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. In Ray’s home state of Michigan, at least three newspapers reported the murder of Ray Davis. No mention was made of the mysterious phone call of April 9 as the Oceanside Police Department had not released that information.
Funeral services for Ray Davis were held at the Oceanside Church of God on April 13th. He was buried in a plot located in the “Sunset Slope” at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Virginia Davis, his bereaved mother, flew from Michigan to Oceanside for the services.
On April 16th the Oceanside Police Department disclosed to the public that an unknown person had called them on April 9th with a veiled threat that they now linked to the murder of Ray Davis. The second phone call came with a frightening warning.
Police Chief William H. Wingard described the caller as a possible “deranged killer” and released the contents of the call: “Do you remember me calling you last week and telling you that I was going to pull a real baffling crime? I killed the cab driver and I am going to get me a bus driver next.”
Who, but the original caller, would have known about the initial message? Who would taunt the police in such a way?
This threat was not taken lightly, considering the unknown caller seemed to have made good on his last one. Chief Wingard stated: “We have no reason to disbelieve the calls.”
In response to the threat, the Oceanside Police Department took measures to protect all city busses and armed military police were put on each bus going aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The newspaper reported that Frank Lilly, Oceanside’s City Manager gave Oscar Hatle, Bus Superintendent “blanket authority to take whatever steps necessary.” The unusual aspects of the murder and the unprecedented response of armed guards were big news. The story was widely distributed by the Associated Press and United Press International.
Three days passed without incident. Guards were removed from the busses, but on so-called “lonely routes” the bus company assigned two drivers. Oscar Hatle commented: “The situation still exists. We are taking no unnecessary chances.”
The police had no motive and scant evidence. They were desperate to solve the murder. Several people were questioned and released. One reported suspect was a fellow cabdriver, Charles Schofield, but the accusation had no foundation.
On May of 1962 an arrest was made of four Marines for armed robbery, but neither their prints nor ballistics matched. Another armed robbery suspect was arrested in November but again, the fingerprints were not a match.
The murder was all but forgotten about except for the Davis family. Years passed, then decades. Ray’s brother Jack died in 1990. Ray’s mother died in 1995 and was buried at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Ray had no biological children. After the death of his brother and mother there was no one left to remember.
It may be pure conjecture, but it is still worth noting that seven years after Ray Davis’s murder, a killer known as the Zodiac would mimic the same deadly scenario. In 1969 he shot and killed a taxi driver in San Francisco, contacted police taking credit for it and then threatened to target a bus, in this instance one full of children.
The Zodiac killed his victims in a variety of ways and weapons, including a .22 caliber gun (as in the murder of Ray Davis). It is believed that the Zodiac may have been in the military. It is now surmised that one of his first victims may have been Cheri Jo Bates, who was murdered in Riverside, California in 1966. While there are several theories surrounding Zodiac, is it too far-fetched to believe that perhaps he started his killing spree in Oceanside?
Many serial killers are known to taunt or toy with police and certainly this was the case with Ray’s murderer. Serial killers taunt because they crave the attention, they want the notoriety and many times they are convinced of their own superiority over law enforcement.
Theories and conjecture aside, to this day the murder of Ray Davis remains unsolved. It is likely the killer is dead … even if he was just 25 years of age in 1962, he would be 83 years old in 2020. Many of the police officers and detectives who worked so diligently to try to solve the case and protect the residents of Oceanside have passed. However, Roy K. Smith, a retired police captain, remembers the case as he was working the morning watch the night of the murder.
Sylvia Guzman O’Brien, Cold Case Detective with the Oceanside Police Department has dug up and read over the case file. In December of 2019 she sent the latent fingerprint cards collected at the scene for entry into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). O’Brien stated that, “The crime lab will determine if the prints are of sufficient quality for entry in the database.” In addition, the casings that were located in the cab driven by Ray Davis will be sent to the crime lab for entry in the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS). As Detective O’Brien stated, “Now it is just a waiting game.”
There is no DNA evidence. Neither AFIS or IBIS were available to law enforcement in 1962 and even when these systems were put in place years ago, this case had long been forgotten. If there’s a possibility to match the prints to a person or link the ballistics to another crime, the results of these searches may be the very last chance to solve the murder of Ray Davis.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Walk the neighborhoods of Oceanside and you will find the sidewalks marked with the curious name “O.U. Miracle”. Many downtown sidewalks and curbs are engraved with this interesting name and many people may wonder what, if any meaning it holds, or who is this Miracle.
Orville Ullman Miracle’s parents were creative in thinking up their son’s name. Their beloved son’s initials lovingly proclaimed his birth to the world … and I can’t help but think Mrs. Miracle must have held her precious baby and whispered in his ear, “Oh You Miracle!” Little did they know but that this name would be used as a marketing tool second to none.
Born in 1871 in Neenah, Winnebago County, Wisconsin to James and Mary Miracle, Orville began a career in the cement business in about 1901. He later established the Miracle Pressed Stone Company, manufacturing and selling “Miracle Concrete Blocks” across the upper Midwest.
However, it was his cement business that brought him the most success. He traveled from Iowa to South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and even Montana, pouring cement for roads, sidewalks and curbing for cities and townships.
Miracle’s association with Oceanside began in 1927 when he was the low bidder on the contracts to improve streets throughout downtown and the ocean front. He laid miles of concrete sidewalks throughout Oceanside that have long outlasted other cement walks poured decades after.
In 1938 South Oceanside became the home of “Miracle Village”. Miracle purchased nearly all of the Tolle Tract in South Oceanside, along with other lots which included either side of Vista Way from Hill Street to east of Moreno Street. He advertised his “Oh You Miracle Tract” around the southland and began building single family homes and selling them from his office at 1932 South Hill Street. The San Diego Union reported that Miracle sold lots “cafeteria style” – prices were placed on the lots, no middlemen, and buyers simply picked out their lot and brought the price tag to his office to complete the purchase.
Miracle built a house at 2022 South Freeman Street where he and his wife Grace made their home. Growing up, Robert Morton, lived next door to Mr. and Mrs. Miracle. He shared with me that Miracle built the home for his mother Charlotte Morton and it was the last empty lot on the block at the time. Other neighbors included Dr. and Mrs. George Totlon, Bob and Johnson, Rudy and Jane Sonneman, and Harold and Alma Davis.
O. U. Miracle’s unusual name brought attention from many columnists across the country, including “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in 1934. In fact, O. U. Miracle appeared in a feature or advertisement in newspapers in nearly every state of the US between 1901 and 1949. His name was so familiar that a letter from South Africa simply addressed to “O.U. Miracle, USA” was delivered to him.
Described as an “ardent civic worker”, Miracle was also politically involved in the City and community affairs. He was involved in the Elks and Rotary clubs as well as the South Oceanside Improvement Club. O.U. died October 9, 1949 at the Oceanside Hospital at the age of 78. Up until his death he remained interested in the development of Oceanside.
Next time you walk through downtown, pause at each “little Miracle” you pass. It is a unique reminder of an Oceanside entrepreneur who left his mark on Oceanside in a very permanent way.
The Bunker House located at 322 North Cleveland Street was first owned in 1886 by Theodore C. Bunker. This two-story building is one of the first brick buildings in Oceanside and one of three brick buildings built in the 1880’s which are still standing.
Bunker family arrived from Los Angeles and operated a store on the first floor and
a boarding house on the second. Bunker also owned a single-story wooden
structure next door, which served as a meat market. The Bunker House was used
as a meeting hall as well as for dances and church services.
Bunker’s death in 1892, Ysidora Bandini Couts, wife of Col. Cave J. Couts, held
the mortgage on the building and retained ownership. The local newspaper reported that Katherine
Mebach purchased the building in 1896.
Rieke bought the brick building in 1904. Rieke was a general contractor and
built many homes and buildings in Oceanside, including the house located on the
same block at 312 North Cleveland Street.
In 1923 the building was sold to by H. J. Crawford and it was subsequently deeded to two other members of his family: Thomas J. Crawford, and then to Samuel J. Crawford, a prominent attorney in Los Angeles who maintained ownership until 1945 when it was sold to George Edmond Haddox of Los Angeles.
Renamed the American Hotel in 1943, the building, which continued to serve as a boarding house, developed a rather “seedy reputation”. Longtime residents recalled as children they were forbidden to visit or linger near the building and its use by prostitutes rampantly rumored.
Those rumors were in fact true. Audrey Wetta, a 36 year old married woman from Louisiana, became the manager of the American Hotel in about 1945. She was arrested in December of 1946 for operating “a house of ill fame, and with prostitution.” During her trial Helen E. Shepherd was called to the stand and testified that she arrived in Oceanside in June of 1946 to visit her husband who was apparently stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. She returned to Oceanside “at the suggestion of Mrs. Wetta in December, where she entertained men for pay at the American Hotel, and part of the pay went to Mrs. Wetta.”
Adeline Vincenzo also testified, stating that she too worked at the hotel “entertaining men” until late December of 1946, when the Oceanside Police Department arrested Audrey Wetta.
Police Captain Harold Davis testified that they had been notified from the Marine MP station in regard to the activities at the hotel. Captain Guy Woodward then submitted reports to the court from the San Diego county health department, “which showed they had on file two reports of VD infection, alleged to have originated from the hotel.”
Audrey Wetta did not deny her role as a Madam or even as a prostitute herself. She testified that “she believed correctly managed ‘houses’ were a service to men, as she had noted when she was employed in a hospital that 84 percent of the girls men picked up for immoral purposes transmitted a social disease to the men, while only four percent of the cases came from girls who were recognized prostitutes.”
Wetta told Judge D. A. Parson, “the first time she allowed her hotel to be used for illegal purposes was when a young Marine returned from a year and a half overseas to find the girl to whom he was engaged was going to marry someone else. In remorse he approached Mrs. Wetta and she arranged for a young wife in the hotel, who was in need of $10, to ‘entertain’ the remorseful Marine.”
She went on to say that after military personnel at Camp Pendleton diminished, so did her income. Wetta was $20 short in her monthly rent, and had “decided to entertain two men at $15 each, $10 of which was to go to a marine bringing the men to her, in order to raise the $20.”
After hearing her testimony, Judge Parsons sentenced Audrey Wetta to a year in the county jail.
Owner George Edward Haddox sold the hotel one week later to Ralph and Ella Rogers who promptly renamed their establishment the Traveler’s Hotel (as listed in phone directories) or Hotel Travelers (painted on building).
Rogers opened Rogers Music Co., also known as Rogers Phonograph Service, on the lower level and maintained the boarding house on the second floor.
In 1959, Ella Rogers operated Gale’s Café near the Oceanside Pier at 300 1/2 North Strand, and in addition to his record store, Ralph Ross Rogers ran the Silver Dollar Tavern located at 312 Third Street (now Pier View Way). Rogers was described as “a goodhearted man who loved his parents dearly and was respected by many.”
to its reputation, in 1962, there was a very public arrest at the Traveler’s, which
made local papers and only solidified its reputation. A young woman from Ohio, who had recently arrived
in Oceanside, brought two 15 year old runaways from San Diego to the boarding
house to exploit for prostitution. The girls told Oceanside Police Detective Floyd
Flowers that they were to work in exchange for lodging, food and clothing.
Rogers died in 1973, as Ralph continued to operate his music business while living
in his building on Cleveland Street. On September 26, 1976 Ralph Rogers was
found murdered at the Traveler’s Hotel, stabbed multiple times and strangled.
month later an arrest was made. Joseph Shavon Whitaker, age 21, was arrested
for not only Rogers’ murder, but that of William O. Clark’s in a San Diego
hotel. Whitaker went to trial in 1977, was found guilty and sentenced to life
Rogers’ death the building was vacated and left to deteriorate. It seemed
destined for the wrecking ball until it was purchased by realtor Chris Parsons
in 1982. Parsons saw the potential in the weathered building and began its
While its reputation has been tainted with scandal, the building itself is nearly unchanged from when the Bunkers owned it over 130 years and provides historic charm and character to Downtown Oceanside.
Over several decades many residents and visitors alike have often wondered who lived beyond the gate at the end of Oceanside’s South Pacific Street. An impressive entrance allowed but a sneak peek into beautiful homes with unique architectural features.
Kenyon A. Keith, a wealthy resident of Pasadena, purchased 28 acres of oceanfront property in 1928. The following year he began developing a colony with custom built homes that were designed to resemble a French fishing village, St. Malo. Residency was by invitation only and limited to family and hand selected friends.
The St. Malo Subdivision begins at Eaton and South Pacific Streets. However, the St. Malo community, also extends on either side of the 2000 block of South Pacific Street. As homes were constructed, and continue to be built, they are kept to a strict standard of architectural style and materials, built and weathered to appear as if they have been there for decades.
The entry way or St. Malo Gate, was designed by architect William McCay. Keith wanted an imposing entrance to the St. Malo Beach community and built it to represent “a sense of place.”
Malo homes weren’t just weekend hideaways for the wealthy, wanting to escape
from the city, they often “summered” there. Owners brought a full staff, with
maids and cooks as most homes were built with “servants’ quarters.”
were fondly described by owners as “story book cottages” or “chalets.” Nicknamed “Pasadena on the Rocks”, St. Malo
offered a private beach, playground, 3 tennis courts, a volleyball court and a
clubhouse cabana. Activities included
exclusive cocktail parties, barbeques and trips to the Delmar Races. Close friends of the owners were allowed to
rent or even borrow houses for social gatherings and vacations.
Oceanside residents were not likely privy to the comings and goings of
colonists, their activities were posted in the society pages of the Los Angeles
Times that featured headlines such as:
“St. Malo is Favorite for Pasadena Folk”; “St. Malo Beckons Social Set”;
“St. Malo Beach Hums with Activity.” The social columnists promoted the
exclusivity of St. Malo, but provided the names of the socialites and families
that were staying there, along with their activities and other gossip. They boasted that St. Malo parties were
better than any in Hollywood.
newspaper articles attributed the location of St. Malo as in or near Oceanside,
some attempted to place the community nearer tonier locales such La Jolla or
Delmar. However, in 1950 the City of Oceanside annexed the St. Malo
subdivision, at the owners’ request, which at the time had grown to 24
heyday of St. Malo was from the 1930s and 1960s. Owners included Desaix Myers, a mining
engineer; Dr. John Dunlop, pioneer orthopedic surgeon; Karl G. Von Platen,
lumber magnate; Attorney Steve Halsted; Lamar Trotti, writer and film producer;
W. John Kenney, Asst. Secretary of Navy; Frank Butler, screenwriter; songwriter
Nacio Herb Brown; Hugh Darling, mayor of Beverly Hills; painter Marge
Wilman. Another wealthy “colonist” was
Alice Pillsbury Forsman, daughter of the co-founder of the Pillsbury
Mills. St. Malo was such a way of life
for most, even when they passed away their obituaries mentioned their affection
of their St. Malo home away from home.
notable residents were film director Jason S. Joy and author Ben Hecht. Joy’s St. Malo home was referred to as
“La Garde Joyeuse” and included an outdoor bowling alley and
volleyball court. Hecht, whose prolific
works include “Scarface”, purchased his St. Malo home in 1950. While living in
Oceanside, he wrote a children’s book about a cat who roamed the streets of
Oceanside. He said in an interview that he often wrote from his den overlooking
the Pacific Ocean.
within the colony sold for $57,000 (and up) in the 1940s, however, ownership
was contingent upon “membership” and the approval of Kenyon Keith.
Over the years visitors have included Harpo Marx and James Maytag, (Maytag appliances). The most famous and royal visitors were none other than England’s Prince Phillip and Princess Anne, who stayed at St. Malo while attending events during the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.
No longer quite as exclusive, new families mingle with the more “established” residents. While St. Malo is no longer a secret, it still remains private and the homes behind the gated entrance and those who live there, still evoke a bit of mystery.
The True Story of the Buena Vista Cemetery in South Oceanside
Editor’s Note (October 1, 2020): Since I last wrote and posted this story in June of 2019, I have found three additional people who were buried in the Buena Vista Cemetery. While going through various newspapers, I discovered that brothers Percy and Albert Laughlin, died in 1888 and 1895, respectively. Their obituaries published in Kansas newspapers indicate they were buried at South Oceanside. In addition, the Escondido newspaper reported that John Goss died in 1908 and was buried at Buena Vista Cemetery (and even at that time reported that sorry state of the cemetery…just 20 years after it was established). I have included these three persons to the burial count, which sadly adds to the number of remains likely still buried at this site.
History of the Buena Vista Cemetery
On Saturday, January 24, 1970, workmen began the task of removing graves from the Buena Vista Cemetery in South Oceanside. It took six hours to locate and remove 17 remains of the dead on the 2 acre site who had been buried there between 1888 and about 1916. The unidentified remains were removed to El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley.
The cemetery had been neglected for several decades. It was privately owned, not associated with any church or organization. Thus, there was no “perpetual care”. There was no official burial list or caretaker. Over the years, headstones had been likely stolen, wooden crosses removed, and memories faded as to who was buried there, and the cemetery became an overgrown field with a handful of toppled headstones.
Despite the neglect, most of the people interred at Buena Vista Cemetery, had families that attended their funerals, mourned their passing, and placed markers on their final resting place, whether wooden or stone. They were just not nameless, unfortunate souls who died alone. The dead were laid to rest in a peaceful, picturesque cemetery, overlooking the Buena Vista Lagoon, which also provided expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. Lanes within the graveyard bore the names of trees and flowers: Fir, Oak,Yucca, Palm, Ivy, Lilac, Pansy, Rose and Violet.
The Buena Vista Cemetery was located in South Oceanside, a separate township of its own between Oceanside and Carlsbad. It was established by John Chauncey Hayes, who was also heavily intertwined with the establishment of the City of Oceanside. Hayes became the exclusive real estate agent for Andrew Jackson Myers, Oceanside’s founder, and he also served as Justice of the Peace and postmaster.
Hayes began to develop his new township of South Oceanside which included a train depot, hotel and its own newspaper, The South Oceanside Diamond, of which Hayes was the editor.
Hayes hired Edward Dexter, a local engineer, to lay out the cemetery for him, which contained 106 burial plots. The earliest map of the cemetery gives credit to Dexter and is dated February 1888. However the cemetery was not officially recorded until 1893.
The cemetery was located along Wall Street, which is now called Vista Way. At the time Hayes established the cemetery, there was no other burial ground for area residents, including Carlsbad, Oceanside and even Vista. The closest cemetery would be that of the Mission San Luis Rey, for Catholics; or a small public graveyard called the San Luis Rey Cemetery (known now as the Pioneer Cemetery). Both of these burial grounds were at least four miles away from downtown Oceanside and were likely considered inconvenient for coastal residents.
It did not take long for the new cemetery to be utilized. Sarah Perry was likely one of the first persons to be buried at Buena Vista. She died of dropsy of the heart, an old fashioned term for congestive heart failure, at the age of 50 on March 27, 1888.
In June of that year, a Mr. P. Morton, a railroad laborer, died and was buried there. Ione Layne and her infant daughter Edith died tragically and were buried there in 1888 as well.
George Bronson, who was buried elsewhere, and had died in 1885, was moved to Buena Vista Cemetery by his wife Mary in December of 1888. She had a monument maker from San Diego place a new headstone for her husband.
Charles C. Wilson was also buried at Buena Vista. He was the first Oceanside law officer to die in the line of duty in 1889. Wilson was gunned down on the streets of Oceanside by John Murray, a nephew of San Luis Rey pioneer Benjamin F. Hubbert. The City of Oceanside, set to celebrate the 4th of July, instead gathered to mourn the loss of their marshal.
Five children, all died in 1893 and were buried at the cemetery: Zoe Holman, her sibling, Johnnie Hunting, Lois Hunting and Henry Irwin.
Between 1888 and 1900, at least 37 persons were buried at Buena Vista Cemetery, and it is believed that 50 (or more) people were buried at there, evidenced by death certificates, remaining headstones and published obituaries through 1916. Notable pioneers include John Henry Myers, the brother of Oceanside’s founder Andrew Jackson Myers, and members of the Weitzel, Frazee families.
The last known burial was in 1916. Meta Spaulding was just ten days old when she died on December 31, 1916. She had been adopted by the Warren Spaulding family, owners of a dairy in South Oceanside. Irma Spaulding Ratcliff said that she remembered walking to the cemetery as a little girl after the funeral for Meta’s burial.
Burials were probably discontinued due to a new and much closer cemetery in Oceanside, the I.O.O.F. Cemetery (now known as Oceanview Cemetery) that was established in 1894.
In 1929 Wall Street (aka Vista Way)was being widened, which necessitated the removal of several of the buried. It is unknown if there were any protests from family members but the cemetery by that time was considered “abandoned”. Eight remains of the dead were disinterred and removed to the I.O.O.F. Cemetery, (aka the Oceanview Cemetery) on Hill Street (Coast Highway). They included George Bronson (his second reburial), little Meta Spaulding, India D. Goetz, siblings Johnnie and Lois Hunting, Fred T. Walker, and James McCrea. The Weitzel family moved the bodies of their loved ones, Laura and Dr. Martin Weitzel, to Mt. Hope Cemetery in San Diego. Ida Squires was moved to the San Marcos Cemetery.
The Frazee family removed their family member, Don. Blair Frazee to the I.O.O.F Cemetery on Hill Street. The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported the unusual circumstances regarding his disinterment with the headline: Body of Early Pioneer in Perfect Condition. It went on to say: In a state of almost perfect preservation, apparently from some mineral component of the soil, the body of Don Frazee, early Oceanside pioneer, has been exhumed after having been interred over 30 years, the casket and the clothing showing almost no signs of decay and a flower held in the hand of the dead man even retaining much of its color. The body was taken from its original resting place in the South Oceanside cemetery which is being abandoned in the course of street improvement work in the Tolle tract, on the east side of which the old cemetery was located, and was the first burial place after the settlement of Oceanside and Carlsbad.
With 50 known burials, and eleven known removals in 1929, that would have left a total of 39 remaining at the Buena Vista Cemetery, an important number to consider.
If the cemetery was abandoned by 1929, it is unknown how long Hayes owned the property. The land on which the cemetery was located was eventually sold to Carlsbad resident Harold Baumgartner. He sold the property in 1958/59 to an Oceanside school teacher, Beth Harris French, who acquired the Buena Vista Cemetery along with another portion of land to “preserve her view” of the lagoon from her home at 2020 Stewart Street.
While French was left wondering who was responsible for the care of the cemetery, she attempted to find an organization to take over the care and upkeep. Perhaps once a year, an occasional youth group or Boy Scout troop would tend to the headstones, at which time totaled twenty. Despite her concern, French asked the city to rezone her property and then sold it to a developer, who then petitioned the City of Oceanside to rezone the property for commercial use.
At the time James Swartz, of Encino, argued that the number of dead remaining in this abandoned cemetery was just nine. When asked by City officials what would happen if there were more than eleven remaining, Swartz said that if there were as many as forty or people buried there, he would abandon the project. (There may have been as many as 39 remaining burials as previously noted.)
A few dozen local residents signed letters of protests, most of which were residents of South Oceanside and not related to the buried. Some attempt was made to find descendants of the dead but it appears none came forward.
A lot of misinformation was floated around. Some people insisted that there just three people buried (despite over a dozen headstones); others suggested that the people buried all died in a plane crash (quite impossible as most people buried there died before the Wright Brothers historic flight in 1903).
Ultimately the decision was made to allow development of the property and to disinter the bodies, the cost of which was borne by the developer.
When excavation began, seventeen remains were discovered, not eleven as Swartz claimed. It turns out that Swartz may have simply counted the existing headstones, and did not consider there were more people than markers. The remaining headstones did not make their way to El Camino Memorial Park with the disinterred remains.They had been moved and no longer coincided with the proper burial location. Instead the grave markers were used as fill and are ‘buried’ under the on ramp to Highway 78, just east of the cemetery location. Perhaps one day they will be discovered by a Caltrans crew who will have no idea as to their origin or rightful place.
It is well within reason to assume that as many as 39 set of remains were still buried at the cemetery before the project began. If 17 sets of remains were removed at the developer’s cost, that may have left 22 behind (or more).
Grading began on the property to ready it for development. Soon after which, several remains, unceremoniously left behind, were discovered. This was confirmed by two reputable people. One such account was from Manny Mancillas, who worked for North County Soils Testing Laboratory in Escondido in 1969. His company was hired by an oil company, as a service station was to be built on the eastern portion of the former burial site, and the western half a restaurant, The Hungry Hunter.
Mancillas remembered that the gravestones had been gathered in a pile before they were used as fill on the I-5 offramp. He noted that some of headstones were “beautiful” and some were about four feet high.
After a couple of days on the job site, the front loader hit remains of one or two coffins. According to Mancillas, the City was called and an employee from the Engineering Department came out with a burlap bag and took the bones. The crew was told to continue their work. This “transaction” happened at least one other time, when an additional grave was discovered. And as digging continued, outlines of other coffins appeared.
One particular coffin the crew uncovered had a lead glass top, revealing a body of a woman with red hair in almost perfect condition. Her coffin was found near Vista Way towards the entrance of the present day Hunter Restaurant. He said that she was dressed in attire from the late 1800’s; a black buttoned dress with a high white collar. This mirrors the disinterment of Don Frazee in 1929, who was found “preserved.”
Work stopped after the discovery of the woman and the men were unnerved. The men were afraid she would be taken away in a burlap bag and not given a proper burial, so they made the decision to use the front loader to rebury her. Her discovery was kept secret and she was quietly buried down the slope of the lagoon. The construction crew felt that re-interment in the slope was a more decent and dignified burial for the “Lady in Black.”
Mancillas said that at least six bodies were found during the time he was on site. Bill Hitt, who worked for K L Redfern out of Orange County, did the excavating for the gas station and his memories are similar to that of Mancillas, although Hitt felt more than six remains were found after the official removal; he remembered as many as 12.
Depending upon which numbers are used, that would still leave either 10 or 16 possible remains left at the cemetery.
While some might scoff at the idea that any other bodies or remains were left behind,consider this: In October of 1991, Texaco was on site of the former service station (now a bike shop) perhaps doing soils testing and they discovered an additional five sets of remains. There was no way to identify them, and the company paid to have them removed to Eternal Hills Memorial Park in Oceanside.
Even with the removal of 5 additional remains in 1991, there are likely still remains at the site to this day, perhaps 5 or as many as 11.
There are some who believe the Hunter Restaurant is now haunted. Whether you believe in spirits or not, it is still an unsettling situation.
With the removal of Buena Vista Cemetery, Oceanside lost a part of its history. When those early pioneer families laid their loved ones to rest they never could have imagined they would suffer such indignities.
In the 1990’s the Oceanside Historical Society placed a granite marker on the sidewalk on Vista Way in front of the Hunter Restaurant, listing the known persons that were buried there at the time. (The plaque does not include persons found with additional research in recent years). It stands as the only reminder of the Buena Vista Cemetery and the pioneers buried there.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Death of a Cemetery”, 2019. 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 “Death of a Cemetery”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.