History of the San Luis Rey Pioneer Cemetery

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A small cemetery sits on a knoll in the San Luis Rey Valley. From its vantage point it provides panoramic views and a direct view of the Mission San Luis Rey and grounds.   It may go largely unnoticed by busy commuters driving past it while traveling on State Route 76 or Mission Avenue. Some of the earliest pioneer residents of the San Luis Rey Valley and Oceanside are buried there.

Decades before Oceanside was established, a small township was settled near the historic Mission San Luis Rey. The San Luis Rey Township was a vital, busy place with a post office, hotel, general store, and a newspaper called the “San Luis Rey Star. The township was also a stopping place for most travelers going to and from San Diego and Los Angeles before the railroad was built in 1881.

Simon Goldbaum’s store in San Luis Rey Township

Many families from various parts of the country (and even from abroad) came to settle in the area; families that included the Goldbaums, Lanphers, Libbys, Bordens, Hubberts, and Freemans.  They raised cattle, sheep and engaged in farming.

At that time there was only one cemetery in the area, that belonging to the Mission San Luis Rey, but it was in ruins. At some point in the late 1860’s land was designated for a cemetery, just south of the Mission. The first known interment in this burial ground was that of one-year-old Catherine Foss, who died in 1869. A few years later David and Rebecca Foss would lost another child, a boy who lived just three days.

Residents gather around the creamery building located in the San Luis Rey Valley.

Perhaps because of this initial burial of baby Catherine, and the imminent need of a proper cemetery, Isaac Kolb donated the land in 1875 to “reserve for public burying ground or cemetery where the same is now used for that purpose”.  The following year the cemetery was deeded to the San Luis Rey School District “to hold in trust for a public burying ground”.

Marker of Catherine Foss, along with her brother, father and mother. This headstone originally had an ornamental top which was likely stolen.

Among the arrivals to the valley were Andrew Jackson Myers and his wife Sophia, who settled there around 1875. In 1881, Maggie Myers, their infant daughter died and was buried at the cemetery.

In 1883 Myers received a land grant that would become the new town of Oceanside and Myers has his place in local history as the founder. But in 1886, tragedy struck the family again when another child died, his namesake, Andrew Jackson Myers, Jr.

The mortality rate for children in 1870 and 1880 was over 316 per thousand births, meaning over a third of children did not make it to their fifth birthday. Years later the Myers would lose two more older children to sickness, who also were laid to rest in the cemetery known simply as San Luis Rey.   

When Sophia Myers died in 1906, she was buried near her children. A year later, in 1907, Andrew Jackson Myers, died and was buried there as well. However, only two markers remained, that of little Maggie and Andrew, Jr.

The list of those buried in the modest country graveyard continued to grow, but was not chronicled. Life without modern medical care and antibiotics was a difficult one and even the most common ailments could turn deadly.

Susan Elizabeth Latimer Libby died at the age of 32 in 1900. She was the wife of Charles S. Libby and the mother of four children.  The newspaper reported that “A few weeks before her death she contracted a cold which resulted in pneumonia and a sudden turn for the worse caused her death.”

Death often comes suddenly and unexpectedly in tragic ways. In 1891 Dave Kitching was killed at the age of 22 in a farm accident.  The Diamond newspaper reported that the details, “The hay press guillotine had crushed his leg three days previous, and the shock was more than his constitution could stand. The young man had developed into a most promising worker and citizen, although his pathway was not strewn with flowers by any means. A dependent mother and several disconsolate sisters have lost their mainstay and support; San Luis Rey is deprived of its most exemplary young man.  Words cannot express the sorrow and grief of the community.  The Diamond sheds tears with the mourners who are legion and stand askance at the sad havoc cruel death has wrought of a sudden like a flash of lightening from a clear sky.” The paper further noted that the “untimely death of Dave Kitching has cast a gloom over the whole community” and that Ida Rooker, his fiancée was “prostated with grief.”

Marker of David Kitching, photo taken in 1989

In 1898 Antonio Subish, a resident of Bonsall, accidentally shot and killed himself. It was reported that he had placed his gun, “a short-barreled breech loader, against a log and as he picked it up by the muzzle and drew it toward him the weapon was discharged, the load entering the unfortunate man’s right breast causing death almost instantly.” Subish was 47 years of age, leaving behind a wife and several children. He was buried in the San Luis Rey Cemetery. 

Henry Lusardi, Jr. was buried in the hilltop cemetery, carried by his classmates after drowning in 1930. Henry drowned after swimming in what was described as a deep pool three miles below Lake Hodges dam. His lifeless body was submerged more than 24 hours while his family and friends waited frantically for crews to locate him. The Oceanside Blade reported that “efforts of officers to raise the body had been futile because Lusardi had taken off all of his clothes before stepping into the water, and grappling hooks failed to attach.” Finally, Lt. A. H. Brown, equipped in a diving suit, descended into the water and brought up the lifeless body. Thirty-three years later, his father Henry Lusardi, Sr. would be buried near his son.

Lucia Nares, who died in 1932 and Ramona Heredia, who died in 1934, were both buried in the San Luis Rey Cemetery after bouts will illnesses. The two young girls were buried next to each other as the families were very close.

Alford (Alfred) A. Freeman, the patriarch of the Freeman family who came to San Luis Rey from Texas in 1870, was buried there with his wife Permelia. Their graves are marked by two unusual handmade markers, fashioned by their son Almarine. Members of the Freeman family were buried in the southwest corner of the cemetery. At one time a row of wooden crosses (now since removed or eroded by weather and time) signified the burials of several individuals. Others have more traditional headstones and in recent years concrete crosses have been erected.   

While no official list was kept, it seems that most families were given a specific row or area in the cemetery. Walking the cemetery, one can see a distinct row for the Lanpher, Woodruff, Libby, Hubbert, and other families like the Abilez (aka Avilez) were buried in groupings.

One notorious burial was that of John W.  Murray, who gunned down Oceanside’s Marshal Charles C. Wilson in July of 1889. Wilson was in the process of arresting John W. Murray for disturbing the peace.  Murray who, with another man by the name of Chavez, had consumed more than his share of alcohol at a nearby saloon, was still wanting “to paint the town” after the saloons closed.  Marshal Wilson instructed Murray and Chavez to go home and behave themselves, according to newspaper accounts, but this only incited Murray. Wilson managed to arrest Murray’s cohort Chavez, and in the process, without warning, Murray rode up to Wilson and shot him in cold blood.  J. Keno Wilson, a constable, watched in horror as his brother collapsed.  He then fired after Murray, hitting his horse, but Murray escaped in the night. Charles Wilson died in his brother’s arms as Oceanside’s Dr. Stroud was called, but it was too late. 

Murray fled to his uncle’s house, that of Benjamin F. Hubbert, a rancher in the San Luis Rey Valley. Unaware of the murder, Hubbert obliged his nephew breakfast and Murray went on his way. A reward for Murray “dead or alive” of $1300 was posted and he later surrendered to John Griffin, who with others, took him by wagon to the court in San Diego.

The twenty-three old Murray went to trial for murder and was found guilty. His conviction was appealed but his sentence of hanging upheld. Murray fell ill while awaiting both his appeal and pending death sentence and died sometime in 1892. He is buried at the cemetery along with his Uncle Ben Hubbert and other family members.

Murray’s headstone, photo taken in 1989

In 1947 Maria Susan Salgado died and was laid to rest in the cemetery. Her obituary stated that she was born on the Rancho Guajome and that “she could recount that her father worked in the San Luis Rey mission in the early days, and she could also recount many of the interesting early days of California, which was built around the old California ranchos.”

Marker of Maria Salgado, great granddaughter of Tomasa Huisch

Salgado was a direct descendant of Tomasa Huisch, a Native American woman born as early as 1796. Tomasa was the mother of Josephine Silvas, the grandmother of Gertrude Salgado and the great grandmother of Maria Salgado.

As one of four Luiseno Indian women who lived near the Mission San Luis Rey, Tomasa told visitors stories of how as children they helped to build the Mission. The Oceanside Blade featured three of the women in a story in 1895 and said of Tomasa, [She] “is known to be more than a hundred years old and is put by some above 130.  She claims that she packed “dobes” when the mission was built, and, as its construction was begun the first decade of the present century, there is little ground for doubting that she is, at least, in her second century teens.  She was the mother of a large progeny, some of whom lived to be very old, she surviving them all.

Photo of three of the Luiseno Women, Rosaria, Tomasa and Vaselia circa 1892

Tomasa Huisch died on June 8, 1899, and was buried on June 10th in the Mission San Luis Rey Cemetery, her burial recorded on page 9, paragraph 38 in the cemetery records. The Oceanside Blade reported her death: “Tomasa the ancient Indian woman, one of the landmarks of San Luis Rey died Thursday night.  She was said to be over one hundred years of age and as a little girl helped at the completion of the old Mission.” 

There are several other Native Americans buried at this historic cemetery including Nick L. Beyota, Andrea O’Campo and Lee Duro.

It is not known if an actual burial map or even a burial list of the cemetery ever existed, but it seems unlikely, and none has ever been found. The San Luis Rey School District, although the legal owners of the cemetery, seem to have kept no official record of any kind. The San Luis Rey Township and surrounding ranches formed a tight-knit community, and the valley residents knew where their loved ones were placed (with or without a permanent marker) rested and must have assumed that someone would always know and remember. They likely never planned for what lay in store for the cemetery in later years, which came to be called the San Luis Rey Pioneer Cemetery. 

View of the Mission San Luis Rey in about 1908. This rare image provides the only historic view of the Pioneer Cemetery.
Cropped view of previous image highlighting the cemetery. The two “white” headstones right of the center are that of Stephen Lanpher and the Foss family.

San Luis Rey School Trustee and valley resident Shirley Anson Woodruff was responsible for pointing out available burial sites to families looking to bury their dead. For years he was the cemetery’s only “caretaker” but apparently kept no record of burials or placements of graves. He filed the yearly tax exemptions for the cemetery with the county.

Shirley Anson Woodruff

Over the years attempts were made to document persons buried there and one list contained an estimated 84 burials. There were at least two partial lists done between 1960 and 1980, decades after most of the earliest burials. The persons collecting the information likely counted and chronicled existing headstones. A realistic number based on death certificates and obituaries place that number above 120. 

When the Oceanside school district took over the San Luis Rey School District, it unknowingly acquired the cemetery as its trustee. Shirley Woodruff continued to file the annual tax forms for the cemetery until his death in 1989.  He was buried in a plot reserved for him several decades ago, alongside family members.

As the population grew and construction increased in the valley, the San Luis Rey Cemetery seemed all but forgotten except for the descendants of those early citizens. By 1989 the entrance, which was originally located off the south side of Mission Avenue, was changed to Rancho Del Oro a newer road between Mission Avenue and the Expressway. The cemetery had long been enclosed by a simple barbed wire fence, which was replaced by a chain link one. Grass and vegetation grew around the cemetery making it nearly invisible. Vandals frequented the cemetery, leaving beer cans and litter strewn about. Weathered wooden crosses were taken out of the ground and tossed and headstones were pushed off their bases. By the late 1980s the cemetery was overgrown, grass was nearly waist high.

Volunteers at 1991 cleanup

The Oceanside Historical Society, which was organized in 1985, began researching and documenting the cemetery in 1989. In 1991 the Society formed a cleanup, calling on their members, descendants of the pioneers, and interested residents to help. A group of Marines from Camp Pendleton volunteered and after much effort many bags of trash were removed, including a mattress, along with an entire dumpster of brush and weeds. Several headstones which could be lifted by simple “manpower” were placed back on their bases.

Photo of Leovi Cerda’s original headstone. Photo was provided by Cerda family and taken in about 1968.

Shortly after, it was discovered that headstones had been stolen. The markers of Leovi Cerda, Benjamin Neff, as well a “double” headstone for William E. and Catherine Libby.  A handmade marker for Frank Meza was destroyed. In addition, an attempt had been made to dig into three gravesites but did not get far due to the fact that the ground is hard clay.  

Handmade marker of Frank Meza, who died in 1937. Photo taken in 1989 before it was destroyed by vandals.

Also stolen was one of the oldest and most unique headstones, that of Steven D. Lanpher, who died in 1891. His granddaughter Betty Lanpher Kopcso filed a police report in January of 1996 after she had visited the cemetery and discovered his headstone was no longer there.

Unusual “tree stump” headstone of S. D. Lanpher, photo taken in 1989 before it was stolen and damaged.

This unusual theft was reported in the newspaper and one month later the Oceanside Historical Society was contacted by the Oceanside Police Department on December 2, 1996 informing us that the headstone had been dropped off at their station. An unidentified woman in Fallbrook had read about the missing Lanpher headstone and realized that it was the very one she had sitting in her front yard. She had the heavy granite stone loaded into a van, drove to the Police Station and told an officer that she wanted to turn it in.  She did not want to give any details, only that she had purchased the headstone for $100.  It took five police officers to remove the 400-pound marker from her van and place the headstone into “evidence”.

The headstone was then returned to its rightful place and although somewhat damaged, stands once again at the grave site of Steven Lanpher. The other headstones still remain missing, prompting the family of Leovi Cerda who died in 1934, to replace her headstone with a similar one.

In 1997 the unsightly chain link fence was removed and replaced with a barbed wire fence supported by wooden posts, which was more in keeping with the cemetery’s authenticity. Rancher Dave Jones donated a strand of barbed wire that had been saved from the original fence.

Near southwest corner of the cemetery in 1989, chain link fence in view. These wooden crosses were removed by vandals.

With a grant from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, a sizeable donation from the Oceanside-Pacific Kiwanis Club, and generous donations from members and descendants, an archway and gate were erected providing a sense of dignity and history to the cemetery.

The Oceanside Historical Society placed a memorial headstone for both Sophia and Andrew Jackson Myers, founders of Oceanside, near where their two small children were buried, Maggie and Andrew, Jr.

On December 20, 2006 Oceanside Police Officer Daniel Bessant was killed while responding to a routine traffic stop. His family requested that a memorial marker be erected in his memory near the southeast corner of the cemetery so that his fellow officers would see it while driving on the 76 Expressway.  

Permission was given to erect this memoriam marker for fallen OPD officer Daniel Bessant

On April 27, 2013 a group of more than 100 people from the Carlsbad California Church Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ pf Latter Day Saints spent hours to clean headstones, trim, mow and upright fallen markers. The group also provided historical genealogies of many of the people buried there.

Volunteer cleaning headstone in 2013.

There are many who visit the cemetery and at times are alarmed at its appearance. In the summer there is little or no vegetation. During the rainy season the grass grows tall. It is important to note and remember that this cycle is the same as it has always been for over 150 years. It is not suitable to change this cemetery into a memorial park with a green lawn and landscaped shrubbery.

Looking northeast toward Ivey Ranch circa 1991

Currently the cemetery is being maintained by two dedicated volunteers who keep it mowed (after the rainy season), pick up trash and place flags on graves of veterans, most of which are from the Civil War and World War I.

In 2021 the Oceanside Unified School District transferred “ownership” to the Oceanside Historical Society as official trustees of the cemetery.

We encourage descendants and concerned citizens to donate to the Oceanside Society Historical, helping us maintain this precious historical cemetery and preserve the history of the people buried there.

Donate at https://oceansidehistoricalsociety.org/product/donations/

Killer Sally – A sneak peek at the true story

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

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

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

Ray and Sally McNeil (Netflix)

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

However, Sally’s testimony to the Parole Board in 2019 and 2020 refutes her own statements in the Netflix series. It offers a completely different version of events that led up to the shooting of her unarmed husband.

Ira Kelly (USMC, Ret.) Sally’s Staff Sgt. in 1986-87

Both Ray and Sally were in the Marine Corps stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. When Sally started bodybuilding she said her Staff Sergeant Ira Kelly, told her “You know, the bodybuilding contest isn’t just a bikini contest.” She ended up placing 4th in the Armed Forces Bodybuilding Championship in 1987.

Ray and Sally lived in a home on South Freeman Street, in Oceanside, California, after they were married. They would eventually move to an apartment at 1802 South Tremont Street in South Oceanside. The couple both belonged to Gold’s Gym, which was located on South Hill Street (Coast Highway) and both pursued bodybuilding. Sally also wrestled various “clients” across the country, many of which were filmed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operator: You shot your husband?

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

Operator: Who’s crying?

Sally: My daughter.

Operator: Okay, is he dead?

Sally: He’s shot.

Operator: Okay. What’s your name?

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

Operator: How old is he?

Sally: He might bеɑt me up!

Operator: Ma’am! I just got bеɑt up.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

INMATE MCNEIL: Yes, ma’am.

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

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

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

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

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

INMATE MCNEIL: Yes, ma’am.

PRESIDING COMMISSIONER THORNTON: Was that true?

INMATE MCNEIL: No.

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

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

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

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

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

INMATE MCNEIL: No, ma’am.

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

The History of the Green Machine in Oceanside

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

519 South Freeman Street in about 1991

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

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

Letter written by Kent Hudson in 1969 to Marine Blues

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

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

Kent Hudson at Vista High School in 1959

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The immediate goals of the Green Machine were as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            The potential for violence is high.

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

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

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

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

            The only loser will be the city of Oceanside.

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

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

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

            –  Former military officers who wouldn’t follow orders;

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

            –  A Communist teacher;

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Richardson, Teacher at Oceanside High School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Davis went on to set the following demands:

            – Immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all troops in Vietnam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayor Howard Richardson, left; John Steiger, right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jane Fonda at UCLA, Gary Leonard photographer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footage of 1970 protest from CBS 8 San Diego below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artwork in Oceanside High School Yearbook, 1970

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

519 South Freeman Street, 2020 Google view

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

Thomas Happel, Fugitive

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

Captain Harold B. Davis in 1955

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

Mugshot of Thomas Happel

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

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

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

Oceanside Motorcycle Officers Paul Ricotta and Hubert Russell

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

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

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

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

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

Mugshot, right profile, Thomas Happel

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

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

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

Unfaithful – The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Grant Troiani

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On a quiet summer night off a dirt road in northeast Oceanside, California laid the body of Marine Staff Sergeant Carlo G. Troiani. He had been shot twice, once in the back and once in the neck. As he lay dead or dying, tire marks on his lower legs suggest he had been run over by a vehicle.

Troiani, who served his country in Vietnam, was killed, not by a foreign enemy but by one he would have considered a brother, a fellow Marine. The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis or Semper Fi for short, Latin for “always faithful”. But unfaithfulness would result in Carlo Troiani’s death. His murder was orchestrated by his wife of five years.

On August 10, 1984, Laura Troiani had lured her husband to a remote area under the pretense of car trouble. When her husband dutifully came to her aid in the middle of the night, she waited for her plan to unfold. As Carlo pulled off North River Road to help his wife, Laura tapped her brake light. This was a prompt that signaled two Marines who were in hiding to step out and to ambush Carlo. One of the Marines, later identified as Mark J. Schulz, shot the defenseless man in the back.  

After being shot Carlo cried out to his wife, “Laura, I’ve been hit!” Laura watched impassively from her car as the scene played out. There was no attempt to save her husband, no attempt to help or abort the mission. She watched the Marines grab Carlo as he instinctively tried to find cover and crawl under the vehicle. They pulled him by his legs and shot Carlo again, this time in the neck with the bullet exiting his face as he collapsed. Laura watched it all. Her husband, the father of her children, was dead.

Turn off North River Road where Carlo Troiani was murdered

Laura and the two Marines, Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz then drove to a 7-11 convenience store on Vandegrift Boulevard where three other Marines, Russell Sanders, Kevin Watkins and Jeffrey Mizner, were waiting with Laura’s two small children. This woman who had coldly masterminded the murder of her own husband and watched him die, had left her two young children, ages 5 and 2, in the care of two men who had helped plan the murder of their father. Two little ones any caring mother would have safely tucked in bed hours ago, were instead left with strangers at midnight standing in front of a convenience store. The children, too young to know what was happening, had no idea they would never see their daddy again.

After her murderous plot was accomplished Laura took her children to a friend’s house to spend the night — instead of taking them home where they belonged. It was just before 1 am in the morning. She told Annabelle Thompson that she was coming home from a Tupperware party and had a flat tire. This story is simply inconceivable — what was she doing at a Tupperware party in the middle of the night with her children? But lies came easy to Laura Troiani. It did not matter to her that the story made no sense. It only mattered to her that she was free to do as she pleased. By dropping her children off, she was free of her children, and free of Carlo forever.

Annabelle watched as Laura hopped on the back of a motorcycle driven by a “Marine-type.” They took the same dark and winding route on North River Road where the murder occurred. On the way to Vista they passed by the lifeless body of Carlo Troiani. Another route could have been taken but the two callously drove past the murder scene, perhaps satisfied with their deed.

After Laura returned to her apartment she picked up the phone and called police, feigning concern for her husband who she claimed did not come home as expected. She called police twice more. Then Laura called her husband’s friend Marty Gunter saying that she had a premonition that Carlo was in danger. She called him three additional times in less than an hour.

Meanwhile, the Oceanside Police Department had been alerted by a passerby who had discovered the body of Carlo Troiani. John Brohamer, Jr. was the first Oceanside Police Officer to arrive at the murder scene at 3 am. He found Carlo Troiani face down in the dirt in a pool of blood. The engine of his Ford Mustang was still running with the headlights on, piercing through the darkness.  Detective Ed Jacobs was notified and upon arrival he initiated the criminal investigation.

Detective Jacobs said in an interview that it was a “good crime scene” because it was done in a remote area and had therefore been left in pristine condition. As they waited for the sun to rise, nothing had been disturbed. Shoe prints left in the dirt, along with tire tracks were noted. These matched Laura’s 1968 Ford Galaxy which was found by police. It had a flat tire after being hit but a bullet from the same gun that killed Carlo.

It did not take long for Laura to be visited by Detectives Jacobs and Bob George. They went to her Vista apartment at 8 am. When advised of Carlo’s death, Laura did not seem at all surprised, nor did she exhibit any grief or sadness. She was taken to the police station for questioning and she would never leave their custody.

After a lengthy interrogation and numerous false stories, Laura Troiani would eventually confess and name her co-conspirators.

The Detectives also conducted interviews of the neighbors in the apartment complex where the Troiani’s lived, who confirmed Laura’s plan was to have her husband killed. They reported to police that she had solicited a number of men in recent weeks to accomplish the deadly task and there were at least two failed prior attempts.

Oceanside Police Sergeant Ron Call drove to Camp Margarita aboard the military base. The Marines were put in formation, then identified one by one, and eventually taken into police custody.

Police apprehended and arrested five young Marines, all under the age of 21, with the murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani. They were with H&S Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Camp Pendleton:  Russell E. Sanders, 20, Kevin W. Watkins, 18, Mark J. Schulz, 19, Jeffrey T. Mizner, 20, and Russell A. Harrison, 19.

These Marines called themselves “The Gremlins,” after the movie Gremlins, which had just been released that summer, two months before the murder, about creatures that “transform into small, destructive, evil monsters.”

Laura

Laura Ann Cox was born in Los Angeles, California in the summer of 1961. By all accounts hers was not a happy childhood. She was a neglected child, raised by a mother who was described as self-involved and slovenly, spending hours watching daytime television and reading romance novels rather than tending to her three children. Without the love and proper care of a mother, the children were left to themselves, and as result, were poorly dressed, disheveled and dirty. Due to a lack of proper personal hygiene, Laura and her siblings were seen as outcasts at both school and church.

The family moved to Washington State where Laura would grow up. Laura’s parents separated when she was seven years old and divorced about three years later. She remembered it as a turning point in her life. Just two years after the divorce, Laura’s mother Catherine remarried in 1973. The marriage offered little stability in Laura’s life. Her mother was inattentive and labeled as a hypochondriac, caring more for herself than her family.

If her mother was a poor example of a parental figure, Laura’s biological father was no better. Lawrence J. Cox was described as angry and had a drinking problem. He was sent to prison for attempted murder after he shot at a neighbor.

Laura had a brief relationship with an unnamed man and became pregnant at the age of 17. Apparently the biological father was quickly out of the picture and Laura found herself alone. She met and married Carlo Troiani who told her he was willing to raise her unborn baby as his own. In Carlo, Laura found the security she never had.

Laura and Carlo Troiani with son Chris (photo courtesy of Chris Cox)

Carlo

Carlo Grant Troiani was 15 years older than Laura, born in 1947 in Seattle, Washington. His marriage to Laura was his third, and he had two children, one from each of his previous marriages.  

Carlo was in the Navy, serving in Viet Nam in the late 1960s. He was released from the Navy and joined the Marine Reserves and later enlisted in the Marine Corps. Carlo was a Marine Recruiter in Tacoma, Washington from 1976 to 1979. His supervisor recalled that he was one of the “proudest individual in the Marine Corps” he had ever met, he loved being a Marine and worked “aggressively” as a recruiter to meet his quota and prove his worth.

Only published photo of Carlo Troiani

Carlo and Laura were married August 3, 1979 in Pierce, Washington. It was a Marine Corps “full dress” wedding with Marines in their dress blues. After the ceremony, Laura and Carlo walked underneath an arch of swords, where a group of six to eight Marines stand on either side to create an arch as if to “shelter the bride” as she and the groom walk out.

Laura gave birth to a son and shortly thereafter, Carlo Troiani was sent to Orange County, California as a Marine Corps Recruiter. In 1982 Laura gave birth to another child, a daughter. Eventually Carlo Troiani was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Assigned to H&S Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group (1st FSSG), he was a military police or “MP”. The couple got an apartment in Vista on Foothill Drive.

Foothill Apartment Complex where the Troiani’s lived

Infidelity and Murder Plots

Laura Troiani may have found security in her marriage to Carlo but she did not find happiness. She was continually unfaithful. It was even reported that she had slept with her husband’s best man (before or after) their wedding. Carlo knew of her infidelities and was angry. However, he sought to salvage his marriage and the two attended marriage counseling in the spring and summer of 1984.

James Bondell, family and marriage counselor, would later describe Laura Troiani as a manipulator and a “hard person” who “tormented” her husband. The Troiani’s attended 20 sessions from April through July, wherein Bondell also noted that “Laura Troiani teased her husband by withholding sex from him, was the dominant force in their relationship and was otherwise ‘ambivalent’ about marital problems the couple was experiencing.” He also noted that Laura complained that Carlo wanted her to “stay home and be with him.” This statement would suggest that Carlo was aware, at least to some extent, of Laura’s extracurricular activities.

Despite Carlo’s attempts to save his marriage, Laura’s presence at the sessions seems disingenuous at best. Carlo was sent to Korea and while gone, Laura threw a party over Memorial Day weekend. There she met Darryl Nelson and was intimate with him that very day. During the two month affair, she asked Nelson if he knew anyone that could “do a hit” on her husband. When he asked Laura about simply getting a divorce, she replied in the negative, complaining that she would then have to get a job and take care of her children, which was apparently out of the question.

Jessie Montgomery, a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps attended a party thrown by Laura and noticed that Laura Troiani and a man emerged from her bedroom. Montgomery was then informed that Laura only married Carlo for security and that “the marriage was one of convenience.” Troiani spoke to Montgomery about getting rid of Carlo and even stated that she knew someone who would “put a contract out on him.”

Over this same weekend Laura talked to Kevin Manwarren and Bill Fenley, unambiguously telling them she wanted her husband dead. Manwarren, who would later claim to be joking, offered to kill Carlo Troiani for $5,000, to which Laura quickly offered: “Well, I can take care of it out of the insurance proceeds.” (Carlo had two policies that totaled $95,000.) Laura then followed up their conversation with several phone calls to Manwarren, anxious to elaborate on a plan to have her husband killed. He demurred.

Annabelle Thompson recalled that Laura had also told her that she knew a person in Tustin, California who would “take care” of Carlo and that he was “worth more dead.”

It appears that many of the men Laura encountered thought that she was joking and did not take her seriously, but she continued searching and sleeping with potential would-be assassins. None seemed willing to commit murder for her.

In July of 1984 Kim Hartmann moved into the apartment complex in which the Troiani’s lived. The two women met and Laura wasted no time by complaining to Hartmann about Carlo and that she wanted him killed. Hartmann said Laura talked about it constantly. Laura also told Hartmann that Carlo, keenly aware of her unhappiness, offered Laura a divorce, a way out, and said that he would pay her rent and child support. But Laura would not be dissuaded. She wanted Carlo’s insurance money and for that he had to die.

On July 19th Hartmann went with Laura to an E-club (Enlisted club) on Camp Pendleton. There Laura met Jeffrey Mizner for the first time and was introduced to the other Marines who eventually would be the accomplices to Carlo’s murder, including the triggerman Mark Schulz. Hartmann would later testify that Laura kept bringing up the subject of having her husband killed, even though she had just met them. Laura was unapologetically, unabashedly, out to have Carlo murdered and she apparently did care about first impressions.

It is significant to point out that in conversations with Kim Hartmann, someone she felt close enough to tell about wanting her husband murdered, Laura Troiani did not allege or assert to her that she was being abused by Carlo. Hate and money were her given motives. In marriage counseling, even when she attended one-on-one sessions without Carlo, she never complained of abuse of any kind, only that Carlo had a “yelling problem.”

Laura, was not one to be weighed down by marriage vows or motherhood. Her own son related his memories about their relationship: “I do remember a lot of her, actually, even at a young age. I remember she had Carlo crying one night in the bedroom.  I remember she would just take off with whoever the boyfriend was at the time.” When asked if he remembered any abuse between his mother and stepfather, Chris replied: “As far as the abuse, no, none, not that I can remember. Honestly, seemed like they were never together, very rarely.” He added, “The abuse was more about neglect, [leaving] a 5 year-old to fend for himself. She was at the clubs doing it up. In no way was she a mother.”

The Marines began to plot with Laura Troiani, as the ringleader, the killing of Carlo Troiani. Mark Schulz told other Marines in his company that he had been “hired to waste someone” and was recruiting anyone else that might be interested in helping with the deed, adding their cut would be $500 to $600. Schulz along with Russell Harrison, Jeff Mizner, and Russell Sanders began to solicit information on how to kill someone, which including poison, making a bomb and using a firearm.

For several days in a row, Laura would take her two children and drive 35 miles each way to the remote base camp to visit with the Marines at Camp Margarita so that they could discuss their “options.”

August 3, 1984 was the occasion of the Troiani’s fifth wedding anniversary. Carlo, oblivious to the fact that his bride was planning to have him killed, toasted his wife that evening.

The First Attempt

On the night of August 6, 1984, Laura and Kim Hartmann went to the E-Club at Camp Margarita aboard the military base. There Laura plotted with the Marines to kill Carlo (This group included Kevin Watkins). All of whom seemed eager to carry out the plot. Harrison and Schulz had weapons, a knife and a gun, which they put into Laura’s car. They then traveled to the Del Mar Club, located near the beach of Camp Pendleton. At the club the conversation of killing Carlo continued. This was no fantasy talk or mere joking. The group planned to carry out the plot that night. Harrison suggested that the Marines “jump” Carlo at his car, attack and kill him with a knife, rather than attract attention with a gunshot. 

Laura and Kim Hartmann were dropped off at a market in order to call Carlo and tell him that Laura’s car had broken down. She told Carlo that she was stranded in Carlsbad with their children. But exactly where were the children on a Monday evening, if not with her or Carlo? Like her own mother, it seemed she had no instinctual love and care for her children.

Hartmann claims that she tried to keep Laura from going through with her plans, saying it wasn’t too late and that she could still call Carlo back to keep him from being murdered by the Marines who were lying in wait.  Laura’s reply was, “Nope, I got to get it over with.”

The Marines then hid in an area near Carlo’s vehicle, waiting for him to come out of his apartment. However, because his car was nearly out of gas, Carlo had called his friend Corporal Marty Gunter, to come and take him to look for Laura. Ambushing Carlo alone was not feasible and the group was unable to fulfill their deadly plan.

Carlo and Marty diligently searched for Laura and the children for four hours, to no avail. (This was before the convenience of cell phones.) Unsuccessful in their search, Marty dropped Carlo back at his apartment building.

When Laura discovered the plan to kill her husband did not go through, she was furious.  She told the Marines that she “couldn’t stand it” and that it had to be done that night. Russell Harrison volunteered to go up to the Troiani apartment and to slit Carlo’s throat. Laura gave him the key. However sinister and bloody this particular scenario would have been, it is believed it was abandoned altogether as the group was spotted, likely by an apartment resident.

The Second Attempt

While the group did not want to be seen that night by outsiders, it was an open secret that Laura and the Marines were seeking to murder Carlo as they spoke about it openly to several people. The following day, Jeffrey Mizner told Robert Guerrero, a fellow Marine, about his “girlfriend Laura”, and that she was trying to get someone to kill her husband. Mizner asked his roommate “how to blow up a car by running a wire from the sparkplug to the carburetor.”

Apparently, this was now the chosen method of murder. Russell Sanders shared a story with yet another Marine how they had “practiced” by attaching a wire to the sparkplug of Kevin Watkin’s motorcycle and hooked the other to a mouse to electrocute it. They watched it die.

Satisfied that a similar technique would also kill Carlo, his vehicle was rigged with the wire from the sparkplug placed into the gas tank of his truck. The attempt failed and did not detonate. In fact, Carlo found the device and removed it. Marines in his unit remembered him laughing about it, thinking it was a harmless prank by one of them.

Jeff Mizner then complained to Marine Joseph Hickman that the sparkplug scheme did not work. Mizner even said that he had lost sleep over the failure and the plan was now just to shoot Carlo Troiani.

Mission Accomplished

With at least two thwarted murder attempts, on August 9, 1984, Laura Troiani would not be denied. Mark Schulz borrowed a .357 pistol from David Schenne on the pretense of doing some target practice. That same day Laura went to the local Kmart (at the time located next to the Oceanside Police Station) to purchase bullets for the weapon and the group laid out their final lethal plan.

That evening between 8 and 9 pm, Laura went to the apartment of Diane and Randy Gray with her two children. Soon after Mizner, Harrison, Sanders, Schulz and Watkins arrived. The group huddled together, whispering their plots and because the Gray’s were concerned about the secretive behavior, asked what was going on. Sanders replied, “Never mind, we don’t want you to get involved further.”

The group left the apartment with Jeffrey Mizner riding on the back of Watkins’ motorcycle and Laura, Schulz, Harrison and Sanders, along with Laura’s two children, drove away in her car. The group pulled up to a 7-11 on Vandegrift Boulevard (which leads to the rear gate of Camp Pendleton).

Sanders and Watkins called Carlo Troiani, presumably as “good Samaritans”, to tell him that his wife’s car was broken down and they directed Carlo to a remote location on North River Road.

Meanwhile, Carlo had called Stephanie Howard, a friend of Laura’s, to ask if she knew where Laura and the children were. He was genuinely concerned for his wife, while she was getting ready to have him killed.

Laura, along with Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz, drove to the location they had chosen for their ambush to wait for Carlo, a dirt turnoff on North River Road, three miles east of Vandegrift Boulevard.

A clerk back at the 7-11 reported seeing two small children with at least one Marine (Jeffrey Mizner) standing outside near the ice machine. They were there for 45 minutes. Waiting … in the middle of the night …. while Laura completed her plan to have her husband killed.

Laura Troiani would describe herself as helpless to stop the murder of her husband, an event she had longed for, recruited for, and set in motion. As he was shot by Mark Schulz with bullets purchased by Laura, Carlo’s last words were to her, a cry for help. But rather than help him, she left her husband for dead by the side of that dark road.

After the murder, the trio drove west on North River Road back to the 7-11. The clerk there reported seeing a vehicle drive up with a flat tire. One of the men came into the store to buy a can of tire inflator and once the tire was sufficiently inflated the group departed.

7-11 on Vandegrift Boulevard where Laura’s children waited while their father was being murdered.

The Arrest

The murder of Carlo Troiani was the last case Detective Ed Jacobs worked on before he retired from the Oceanside Police Department. After investigating the murder scene, he and his partner Bob George went to the Troiani apartment to speak with Laura the morning that Carlo’s body was discovered.

Detective George went through Laura’s car which had been impounded. He found evidence that Laura had purchased bullets at Kmart and interviewed the clerk, who specifically remembered Laura because he had given her wad-cutter bullets, commonly used for target shooting, and she insisted on lead caliber bullets.

Laura Troiani was taken to the police station for “routine questioning.” During the interview Jacobs said that Laura remained calm and was not visibly upset when told about her husband’s murder.

One of the first stories Laura Troiani told investigators was that she and her two children were abducted by three men who forced her to call her husband to lure him out to North River Road. She said she was separated from her children, and after Carlo was murdered, was taken to be reunited with them and warned not to tell anyone or that she would be killed.

Detective Jacobs and George listened as Laura then changed her story and said that she was at Kmart when five men on two motorcycles abducted her. When detectives questioned the veracity of that story and asked how five men were on just two motorcycles, Laura simply said, “I don’t know.”

Detective Ed Jacobs, Oceanside Police Department

Yet another story that Laura offered was that she and the children were driving around all day after Carlo said he wanted a divorce. She ran out of gas and then discovered she had a flat tire. Two strangers on motorcycles came to her rescue, one drove her and children to the babysitter’s house (Anna Thompson), and then one took her to her Vista apartment. When asked by detectives if she was worried at all by these strangers giving her a ride in the middle of the night, Laura replied, “No”, because she was “a good judge of character.”

Laura’s next defense strategy was her unfaithfulness. “Why would I want to have my husband shot? Sure, we had marital problems. Sure, I was having affairs on the side,” Laura told investigators. “I was having a ball, being married and fooling around.”  

Detective Jacobs said that Laura Troiani never mentioned any abuse by her husband in the lengthy interrogation that spanned over nearly 12 hours. She eventually confessed and gave up the names of the Marines, who were all stationed in the same unit.

During a phone call while Laura was being held in jail, she told Marty Gunter that her husband had “suffered not more than two to three minutes” the night he was murdered. She thought her comments would come across as reassuring and compassionate but only served to further expose her lack of remorse and coldness.

Meanwhile Laura’s co-conspirators were bragging about Carlo’s murder to their fellow Marines on base.  After taken into custody at the Vista Detention Center, Mark Schulz told a fellow cellmate about the murder, including that Carlo Troiani had begged for his life before being fatally shot.

The Trial

Three years after Carlo’s murder, the murder trial of Laura Troiani began in the San Diego Superior Court, North County, located in Vista. She was the first woman in San Diego County to face the death penalty in California in 25 years.

Laura Troiani at her trial
Bob Ivins San Diego UT photo

Laura not only succeeded in having her husband murdered, her attorneys now went about destroying his character. Her defense team would portray Carlo Troiani as controlling, angry, having a drinking problem and being physically abusive.

But before the defense had its turn, District Attorney Paul Pfingst would send a myriad of witnesses to the stand, including the Troiani’s marriage counselor, who would testify that it was Laura, not Carlo, who controlled the family. Far from being fearful of an abusive husband, it was Carlo who “was in fear of [Laura’s] moods.” The counselor added, that Carlo “walked on eggshells most of the time, not wanting to upset her [because] she would become very mean to him.” While Laura gave her affections away to numerous men, Carlo was ignored. “He had a wonderful day if he got a kiss or she put her arm around him,” the counselor testified.

When asked if Laura Troiani was a “fragile” woman desperate for her husband’s approval for her self-worth, the counselor replied, “No. She didn’t need it because she was pretty much in control of the relationship.”

Stephanie Howard, who knew Laura since 1981, testified that Carlo Troiani loved his wife and was trying to improve his marriage. She went on to testify that Laura had Carlo “wrapped around her little finger. She’d be a cold fish one minute, and then when she wanted something (from him), she’d warm up.”

Howard also told the jury that Laura openly admitted to her that she “had more than one boyfriend.” More damningly, Laura told her “she wanted to hire someone to kill” Carlo and that “she wanted to make sure he was not in her life again.” In response, Howard said she tried to talk Laura out of it and suggested a divorce, but Laura would hear none of it.

Leeca Smardon, manager of the Foothills apartment complex, testified that Laura expressed to her that was not happy about Carlo returning from Korea. She reported that Laura told her, “I wish he’d never come back. That would make me happier.”  Smardon added, “When Carlo was home, I never heard any screaming, shouting or disputes from their apartment. When he went to Korea, there was a lot of traffic into the apartment, and it was mainly males.”

Kmart employee Richard Deem testified to the fact that it was Laura, accompanied by a male, who purchased the bullets that killed Carlo. He remembered the event because there was a “price mix-up” and particularly noted Laura’s demeanor that day.  “She was forceful and rude.” He said, “I was behind the counter, and the male asked for ammo, I believe for a .38 special. I was uncertain about what they wanted because there are different types of ammo.” Laura told the young clerk, “I want 158 grain (the weight of the bullets).”

The Kmart store on Mission Avenue where Laura Troiani purchased ammunition to kill her husband was next to the Oceanside Police Department.

“She was very specific about it,” Deem testified. “She knew what she wanted. I felt it wasn’t good to make her wait. I thought she was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste time.” The bullets that Laura demanded were high-powered ammunition, rather than something typically used for target practice.

Despite the testimony of others to the contrary, Laura’s defense attorney, Geraldine Russell described her as an “impressionable, simple young girl who was used by others looking for thrills.” She contended Laura was being abused by Carlo and had no way of escape. The defense portrayed Carlo Troiani as an “over­bearing and obnoxious husband who cowed his wife into submission.”

Catherine Lewtas, Laura’s mother, testified for the defense and stated that while she witnessed Carlo being verbally abusive to Laura, she did not witness any physical abuse.

But even when interrogated for hours by police, Laura did not claim Carlo abused her. Instead Laura said she was perfectly happy being married to Carlo, all the while being unfaithful to him. She gave several scenarios as to how she was a kidnapping victim, but none on how she was the victim of domestic abuse. 

Sergeant Ron Call was the supervisor on the Troiani case and he said that at no time during questioning did Laura Troaini bring up spousal abuse. He also said that Laura was neither upset nor emotional over the death of her husband.

A psychiatrist hired by the defense said that Laura was not capable of being manipulative and that rather than being a neglectful mother, Laura was so depressed that she had “trouble getting up and getting dressed and caring for her children.” Another expert witness dismissed the idea that Laura was a so-called “black widow” and put all the blame on the men, arguing that “organized violence is virtually a male monopoly.”

Anna Thompson, Laura’s friend who often watched her children, testified that she witnessed Carlo kick Laura when she did not change one of the children’s diapers. But she also said she had seen Laura hit her husband, and said that Laura would refuse to cook or clean and gave Carlo the “silent treatment” when she didn’t get her way. “Laura had control,” Thompson insisted.

The prosecution called over 45 witnesses, most of whom testified that Laura Troiani did not want to be married and that she “openly plotted” in the “company of others” to have her husband killed.

While presenting their defense, and closing arguments, the defense team claimed that Carlo’s murder was not orchestrated by Laura, but the Marines themselves. Laura was depicted as abused, vulnerable and helpless and that Laura’s codefendants alone were responsible for killing Carlo Troiani.

One of the last things presented to the jury by the prosecutor was the recording made by the Oceanside Police Department. The jury listened intently to the recording, as Laura concocted story after story, variations of different scenarios. And then finally, after hours of interrogation, Laura told detectives that she had in fact plotted, planned and agreed to pay at least two of the Marines to kill Carlo. As the courtroom listened to the recording, Laura Troiani sat emotionless at her own word as she described the murder of her husband, “half crawling, half  staggering” before he was shot a second time, in the back of the head.  

On August 26, 1987 Laura Troiani was found guilty of first degree murder after the jury deliberated over a two day period. Her trial was one of the longest and most expensive court cases in San Diego County history. She would now face the death penalty.

At her sentencing hearing, Laura’s father testified on her behalf. Lawrence Cox said that Laura was raised in a filthy home by a neglectful mother who had “the mentality of a six year old.” In some respects he could have been describing Laura, who reflected many of the same character flaws, especially when it came to motherhood. Cox said that while he was in the military he always worried that his children were not getting fed or clothed properly and that his wife “couldn’t cope with responsibility.”

After he and his wife separated he helped to move them into a new apartment. He said he had to hose out the refrigerator that it stunk so bad. He added that the apartment was filled with both human and animal waste.

Others took the stand to testify to the fact that Laura’s childhood was horrible, as if that were the cause or justification for Carlo’s murder. Laura cried for herself as she listened to their testimony, but she did not shed tears for Carlo.

In the end Laura Troiani was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life without parole. She was sent to the California Institute for Women in Chino, California.

The Marines

On December 17, 1987 Jeffrey Thomas Mizner pled guilty to first-degree murder. In doing so he avoided the possibility of a death sentence or life in prison without parole.

Twenty year old Jeffrey Mizner knew Laura Troiani just three weeks, and yet he was willing to plot to have her husband killed. Laura told him that Carlo was molesting their two children. There was never any evidence to suggest such a thing and likely Laura made the statement solely to gain sympathy and then outrage, hoping to garner Mizner’s support and cause him to act on her behalf. When asked why he or Laura did not simply report the alleged abuse to authorities, Mizner answered, “She wanted him dead, and we went with it.” Laura also told Jeffrey that her two children were not Carlo’s biologically. Was her second child a result of an affair, or was Laura lying? It is anyone’s guess because she did both prolifically.

Jeffrey Mizner would later tell the parole board in his case that he never slept with Laura Troiani, and that his sole motive in the killing of Carlo was to protect the children from his alleged abuse. Shortly before the murder, Mizner found out that Laura had turned her affections to Russell Harrison, and was sleeping with him instead.

Russell Sanders pled guilty to murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 25 years.

Russell Harrison pled guilty to first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 26 years.

Kevin Watkins, whose trial was moved to Ventura County, was acquitted.

Mark Schulz (sometimes spelled Schultz) was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

A Second Chance

In December of 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown commuted Laura Troiani’s life sentence, saying that she had been rehabilitated. While this commutation did not release her, it gave her the chance for parole.

During a hearing held on June 21, 2019, Laura was asked what exactly she did that landed her in prison. Her response: “Prior to the actual brutal murder of Carlo Troiani, my spouse, I had put into motion several incidences leading up to Carlo being murdered. I was the mastermind. I was the one who utilized by codefendants as a tool and a means to, um, to, um, to murder Carlo.”

While she was willing to admit to being the mastermind of her husband’s murder, Laura seemed to shirk responsibility as her hearing continued. When asked about details and organizing discussions of Carlo murder, she started to backtrack and minimize her role as “mastermind” saying, “I did not organize [them], sir. They were — they — we were at a club or in a parking lot and discussion would — would come about. We’d go from normal discussion and that — and that would come about.  Did I bring that up? I did not always bring it up. No sir.”

When asked about purchasing bullets at Kmart, she referred to the shooting of Carlo as “target practice” saying, “Initially it was to — to use the bullets for target practice, but in essence it was to use Carlo as the target. In other words, to murder him.”

In describing the murder, she placed responsibility on the Marines rather than her role: “They, uh, form — a plan was formulated that we would — we ended up leaving the children and three of the codefendants down at a 7-11, the car — three of us went up on a deserted rural road where a phone call from below had been made letting Carlo know that I was in distress and that I would be found in this area.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you drive up to that area?

Inmate Troiani: I did not drive. No sir. Nor did I drive leaving. I was not the one driving that night.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Did you go voluntarily?

Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you remain in the car?

Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: How long did you remain there until Carlo got there?

Inmate Troiani: I honestly don’t know how long it was while I sat in the —

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Can you give me an estimate?

Inmate Troiani: Um, no more than twenty minutes.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: What happened when Carlo got there?

Inmate Troiani: Carlo left his car running. He walked over to where I was sitting in the passenger’s side, tapped on the window, and asked me if I was okay and then the bullets started flying.

When asked what happened next, Laura describes the shooter as a stranger in hiding, rather than a person she planned the murder with and drove her to the scene: “I witnessed what looked like a very large man running out of a bush toward Carlo firing a gun. Carlo went down and within 20 seconds we were leaving the — you know, we were leaving where Carlo was.” (She couldn’t bring herself to say the crime or murder scene.)

Laura was asked if she did anything else to accomplish the murder and only stated, “I was physically there.”

The parole commissioner continued to press her: “Okay. How did you convince them? You said you hit upon their training, but usually they’re trained to kill other combatants. This is very different than what they’re trained for. How did you convince them to participate in a murder?”

Inmate Troiani: “I was seen as a damsel in distress,” Laura answered, “And I played upon — I played upon that.”

Presiding Commissioner Castro: That’s why you think they got involved?

Inmate Troiani: I’m not sure why they got involved. I only know that they did.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Just helping you out?

Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: So what’s in it for them? Anything?

Inmate Troiani: I didn’t recall this at the time, but I know it happened that they had hopes of receiving insurance money?

Presiding Commissioner Castro: How would they know about insurance money?

Inmate Troiani: Being in the military, you automatically sign up for a policy.

When asked why the Marines would think they were entitled to Carlo’s life insurance proceeds, Laura denied she offered insurance proceeds, but only agreed to pay them when they asked, saying, “Because I was asked to give them some money from the insurance policy.

Laura then went on to deflect responsibility of Carlo’s murder by saying that she was in a disassociated state.  

The Mayo Clinic describe this disorder: Dissociative disorders are mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and cause problems with functioning in everyday life. Dissociative disorders usually develop as a reaction to trauma and help keep difficult memories at bay. Symptoms — ranging from amnesia to alternate identities — depend in part on the type of dissociative disorder you have. Times of stress can temporarily worsen symptoms, making them more obvious.

Inmate Troiani: I continue to remove myself by going into my head when the consequences were too great. I had distorted thinking and then there was the childhood abuse, which brought about the distorted thinking and the disassociation.

Presiding Commissioner Castro asked, “What do you mean by disassociation?

Inmate Troiani: I would go into my head and come up with a different fantasy type scenario.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: What was the role in your — in your crime specifically?

Inmate Troiani: In the crime itself?

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Yeah.

Inmate Troiani: While I was sitting there waiting in the car for Carlo, that’s exactly what I did. I put myself in a whole different scenario.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay, when you’re having the conversations, planning these different plans, were you in a disa — dissociative state at this point?

Inmate Troiani: At times, yes, sir.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you called Carlo asking him to come help you, so that he would leave the apartment, when you made that call, where you in a disassociated state?

Inmate Troiani: No until after I made the phone call, sir.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Report says that you gave keys to Mr. Harrison.

Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir. I did.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Were you in a disassociated state when you gave him the keys?

Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: You made admissions to the police, correct?

Inmate Troiani: I do not recall exactly what I said because I said so many different stories.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: There were different versions and they said that you had made some admissions about being involved in the murder. Were you in a dissociative state when you talked to the police after the crime?

Inmate Troiani: Yes, I was.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re buying the bullets are you in a dissociative state?

Inmate Troiani: I was in denial.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re being driven up to the location where he was killed, were you in a disassociated state?

Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not thinking about what was going on. I was actually not thinking at all.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. So you said the abuse, domestic violence, hopelessness, disassociation, distorted thinking, your childhood trauma. Any other reason why you decided to kill Carlo?

Inmate Troiani: I wanted the abuse to stop.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. Was the insurance money part of your motivation?

Inmate Troiani: Initially, no.

When questioned by Deputy Commissioner Lam, he asked why she didn’t try to stop the Marines from murdering her husband.

Laura answered, “When Carlo tapped on the window, before I could have even said anything, the bullets began to fly. There was not any time to say anything, think or anything else. So had the opportunity been there, I would’ve said something.”

Of course, Laura had time to say something. On the way to Kmart she could have aborted the plan and not purchased the bullets used to kill Carlo. She was the only one old enough to purchase them. On the way to 7-11 to drop off her children, she could have turned around. While on the five minute drive to the scene of the ambush she could have called it off.

For the twenty minutes it took Carlo to arrive, she could have stopped it. Even if the two Marines who were with her were hell-bent on executing their plan, when they exited her vehicle, she could have driven away, leaving them there. Carlo, looking for Laura’s car, would have driven by instead of being ambushed.

Certainly, she might have even been able to warn Carlo before he opened his car door. Lastly, she could have called the police to report the murder of her husband, if in fact she was a pawn in a murder scheme.  

But she did none of those things.

Incredulous to her answers, Deputy Commissioner Lam asked, “May I ask why your version of what happened to the clinician only two months ago was so vastly different from the version today?”

Laura answered, “At the time I spoke with the psychologist, I was still in denial. I was not seeing my — how my actions were the — what led — what was — what was feeding this. How — how I was the one who was the mastermind and I was unable to say that and acknowledge to myself. Therefore I wasn’t able to even speak about it at that time. Since then I have been looking within myself and in my denial management class I am able to see that I — I was in complete denial. I rationalized, I minimized and I blamed.

Then, just moments later, Laura again denied any knowledge about the murder plot saying, “I may have been the one that initiated it. I do not recall.

The panel was not swayed by her insincerity and empty words. After listening to Laura fail to take responsibility for her role in Carlo Troiani’s death, the Parole Board denied her release.

However, on July 10, 2020, the prison’s Administrative Review Board approved an advancement of Troiani’s next parole suitability hearing date (at her request). Rather than having to wait three years, her next hearing is scheduled for January 22, 2021.

Rehabilitated?

While Laura sits in prison, Jeffrey Mizner was released in 2013 at the age of 50. Russell Sanders and Russell Harrison have presumably been released as well as there is no record of them in the California Department of Corrections. Mark Schulz, who shot Carlo Troiani, is currently serving life in a private prison in Arizona.

Some may question why Laura Troiani would serve life without parole when she did not even pull the trigger. But it should be remembered that while these Marines helped plan, plot and carry out the murder of Carlo Troiani, it was Laura Ann Troiani who went looking for an assassin. It was she who solicited a number of men to kill her husband even before she met Jeffrey Mizner and his friends.  

It was Laura Troiani who brought up the killing of her husband to the group — they were not looking for someone to murder — it was Laura who was looking for a killer.

It was Laura Troiani who gave an apartment key to Russell Harrison so that he could enter the apartment with the intent to kill Carlo.

It was Laura Troiani who purchased the bullets used to kill her husband. She even demanded the type of bullets with which he would be killed.

It was Laura Troiani who tapped the brake lights when Carlo pulled up on the place of his execution. Tragically it was for Laura her husband called out to when he was shot.

It was Laura Troiani who pretended concern for her husband and called police but who could not conjure up grief or remorse when told he was dead.

Laura Troiani, who only cried for herself, now presents herself as an abused wife and has fully embraced that role. While there was no testimony or evidence presented to suggest that she was ever abused by Carlo Troiani, she has continued to assassinate his character even while he has been dead for over 35 years.

And just like the Marines who she was able to persuade and manipulate, she successfully convinced the Governor of California that she was “a damsel in distress” (her words) and to commute her life sentence, declaring her “rehabilitated.”

In January of 2021 Laura Troiani faced the parole board but she again skirted responsibility for Carlo’s murder and continued the alleged abuse stories by her husband, as if to say Carlo deserved to be killed on that dark desolate road.

The panel was not persuaded and manipulated, as were her co-conspirators. She was denied parole based on her lack of insight, minimization of her role in the crime, and denial of certain aspects of the crime. She will not be eligible for parole for another three years, although she may petition the parole board for advancement of hearing.

Will Laura Troiani ever accept responsibility for the brutal, cold and calculating murder of Carlo Troiani? Or will she continue to present herself as the victim?

The gravesite of Carlo G. Troiani, the true victim.

CBS8 San Diego News Update

Check out this CBS8 San Diego news story: https://www.cbs8.com/mobile/article/news/local/parole-denied-for-wife-of-us-marine-murdered-in-1984/509-29b3f906-7cf3-499d-a461-ac447b591cd8?fbclid=IwAR3nQBtCYU_49iV6Vf4xXo5HuyaQM8MpWLVNvZaE0gibLRd_0vOoC95GbEU

Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

On the Run – The Story of Billy Blake Johnson

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Harold Davis joined the Oceanside Police Department in 1930. His law enforcement career spanned over two decades. Davis was acting Police Chief six times before retiring in 1955 as Captain. 

Officer Harold Davis in 1937.

Davis was a collector of all types of memorabilia. Some of his most important and valuable items were three scrapbooks that he compiled of photos and articles of incidents, accidents and arrests during his time with the Oceanside Police Department. He chronicled his career, as well as those of his fellow officers. The newspaper articles he clipped and pasted in his books ranged from petty theft to murder. The numerous photos Davis saved were mostly traffic accidents, but also included graphic crime scenes.

In one of the scrapbooks, Davis cut and pasted a mugshot of Billy Blake Johnson along with a newspaper article and a typewritten index card with some details about Johnson’s criminal exploits. Just who was Billy Blake Johnson and why did Captain Davis include him in his collection? I wanted to find out…

Mugshot of Billy Blake Johnson, 1952

Billy Blake Johnson was born December 3, 1933 in Ladonia, Texas. He was the son of Emmett and Edna Jewel Johnson. Emmett and Edna divorced when Billy was a young boy. By 1940 his father remarried and the family moved to Kern County, California where Emmett worked as a truck driver.

Nothing further is known about Billy’s growing up years, but in 1951 he joined the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton. His military career would be short-lived. In January of 1952, PFC Billy Blake Johnson was being held in the Camp Pendleton Brig for robbery.

On January 18, 1952 Johnson was able to open his cell door with the aid of a screwdriver he had somehow acquired. He then overtook a guard along with his firearm. Now armed with a weapon Johnson commandeered a car belonging to Captain George Atkin and made his way off the military base, headed to Los Angeles.

An “All Points Bulletin” was released and eventually two LAPD officers, L. K. Waggoner and G. L. Ward spotted the stolen vehicle occupied by Johnson. The Los Angeles Mirror reported that when ordered out of the car Johnson came out shooting, and shouted “This is it!” Officers returned fire but Johnson was able to escape injury and he jumped several fences before he was eventually taken into custody.

After his capture in Los Angeles, Johnson was returned to the brig at Camp Pendleton. He was sentenced to five years for burglary and theft, among other charges. He sat in his cell for several months likely contemplating his next move, when on a Saturday in late June of 1952 he escaped once again.


Billy Blake Johnson in custody in 1952, University of Southern California Digital Library

This time he had an accomplice, Bobby G. Davis, who had enlisted in the Marine Corps a year prior. The two made their getaway at 3:30 am in a green 1952 Chevrolet convertible with Texas plates. It was reported that the two were “armed and known to be dangerous.” No details were given as to how they had managed to escape the military brig, but they were apprehended a week later in Ehrenberg, Arizona.

After yet a third escape, and subsequent capture, Billy Blake Johnson eventually served his time and was paroled. But his years in lock up did nothing to rehabilitate him.

In January 1962 Johnson went to a service station in Haltom City, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth. He bought $3.43 worth of gas and then pulled a gun on the attendant and said, “Act right or I’ll kill you.” Johnson then took $100 from the cash register and forced Hilleary Beck into the car with him. Beck tried to fight off Johnson in the vehicle but was further threatened with the firearm.

After driving about a mile, Johnson ordered Beck out of the car and into a ditch and told him to lie down. Johnson drove away while Beck went to call authorities.

Law enforcement spotted Johnson and pursued him, with both parties firing wildly. Police set up a barricade on Highway 377 and while Johnson approached Denton, Texas Patrolman A. C. Ballard “leveled down on it with a sawed-off shotgun and blew off one of its tires.”

The car went out of control, rolled over and landed upright in a ditch. Johnson somehow managed to escape serious injury and the scene, which resulted in a large manhunt. He was eventually captured on a ranch in Denton County, Texas. While in custody Billy told the arresting officers that he had “escaped three times from military prisons and had served time in four civilian prisons.”

He was treated at a hospital for minor injuries and taken to jail in Tarrant County. Johnson went to trial for his criminal escapades but was found to be insane by a jury. (There was no explanation provided as to their conclusion.)

Billy’s criminal career did not end there. In 1964 Johnson went to the Bonham, Texas jail for the sole purpose of breaking out inmate Walter Ray Crews. The federal parolee was armed with a gun and overtook a guard. He forced the jailer Ed Fulcher to release Crews and the two men fled.

The pair made their way some 35 miles southeast to Commerce, Texas where they stole a car. They then drove over 300 miles to Fort Polk, Louisiana. While stopped on the side of the road, a state trooper pulled over to check on the two. Johnson robbed the trooper, Jerry E. Raines, at gunpoint and handcuffed him to a tree with his own handcuffs. Crews and Johnson returned to their stolen car and sped off headed north. The trooper was able to free himself with a spare key and alerted authorities. The duo was caught by an armed roadblock near Leesville, Louisiana.

Johnson was sentenced fifteen years and sent to the notorious Angola Prison in Louisiana, sometimes referred to as the “Alcatraz of the South”. The prison is bordered on three sides by swamp land and the Mississippi River. Conditions were so harsh and inmates so violent that that it had the reputation as “the bloodiest prison in the South”.

However, even a formidable institution such as Angola could not contain Billy Blake Johnson.  

On February 22, 1969, Johnson and two other inmates armed with knives and a pistol, overpowered guards in two separate dormitories. The guards were locked in a closet while the escapees cut the power of the main prison.

Kester Lee Hall, serving 189 years for murder, was captured just outside the prison. But Johnson, along with Philip Hudgins, had managed to avoid capture … but they did not make it far. Authorities closed in on the two fugitives who were found in the swamp that surrounded the prison.

Swamp around Angola Prison. Photo by Giles Clarke

Billy Blake Johnson, however, had made his last escape. Overtaken by the waters of the “backed up” Mississippi, Johnson could not battle his way through the swamp. Hudgins tried to assist him and even carried Johnson for several hundred yards until he realized Billy was no longer breathing. He propped up the body of his fellow inmate against a fence and waited while guards closed in. Exhausted, Hudgins surrendered to law enforcement. (Hudgins would be released from prison in 1981. In 1983 he took a butcher knife and slashed the throat of his wife and stabbed two others.)

Billy Blake Johnson was buried in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Ladonia, Texas. Although a cold, calculating and elusive criminal, his mother still loved him. His headstone was engraved with the simple epitaph “Son.”

Headstone of Billy Blake Johnson. Photo by John Armstrong

60 Year Old Cold Case Remains Unsolved – The Murder of Ray Davis

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Shades of the Zodiac?

One quiet night in Oceanside, California a senseless murder was committed with no apparent motive or suspects. Days after the murder, someone claiming to be the killer called local police with an ominous threat that resulted in armed gunmen protecting city busses for several nights in anticipation of another death. But as shocking as it was, the incident slowly faded into obscurity and the murder went unsolved. The case was in fact forgotten about altogether until in 2017 when 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.

Police inspect the cab in which Ray Davis was murdered

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.

Headstone of Ray Davis in Eternal Hills Memorial Park, Oceanside, California

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.

Headstones of Ray and Jack Davis with their mother Virginia Davis at Eternal Hills Memorial Park

Work of the Zodiac?

It is only speculative, 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.

I first brought this case to the attention of Tom Heritage, a semi-retired law enforcement officer working part time in the Oceanside Police Department’s Cold Case files. Soon after his brief review of the file, Heritage permanently retired and moved out of the area. Detective Sylvia Guzman O’Brien then headed the department and she took a more thorough look into the unsolved murder.

In December of 2019 Detective O’Brien sent the latent fingerprint cards collected at the scene for entry into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). The Oceanside Police Department has kept silent about those results.

There may be DNA evidence. The murderer pulled Davis’ lifeless body out of the front seat of the cab by his belt loop but it is unknown if the evidence is sufficient to create a profile.

Detective O’Brien retired in 2021 and it is unclear if anyone is actively working this murder which is now 60 years old. The Oceanside Police Department solved a 27-year-old case in February of 2022, the stabbing death of Dolores Rabaya in 1994.

Regardless if there is a tie or link to the Zodiac killings, Ray Davis still deserves justice. Even if the killer has since died, perhaps this case could be solved through ancestral DNA forensics.

View local news reports on the links below:

https://www.10news.com/news/local-news/did-the-zodiac-kill-in-oceanside-police-re-test-evidence-in-cold-case

https://www.cbs8.com/article/news/crime/police-looking-into-claims-by-historian-that-zodiac-killer-may-be-responsible-for-1962-oceanside-murder/509-06453d97-3244-478f-9160-3cd499ce2ec0

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.