History of the Beach Community Center

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The Oceanside Beach Community Center is showing its age. At 65 years old it has weathered the elements, including the relentless salt air. Once the center of activity ranging from sports, to Marine Corps Balls, and even its use as the City’s first “senior center,” the building may seem like a doomed dinosaur to many. Some may feel it has lost its purpose, but if the walls could talk the memories would resonate with history.

The land on which the Community Center now stands was once occupied by an electrical plant and salt water plunge, built in 1904, located just north of the Oceanside Pier. By the mid-1930s, the plant and plunge were removed and replaced by an “amusement zone” and concession booths. In 1942 the City of Oceanside leased the property to Harold Long, owner of the Oceanside Amusement Center. He set up a series of carnival rides including a large Ferris wheel for several summers. Long’s amusement center included concession stands, games of skill, and novelty items, such as Harold Davis’ “House of Relics”.

Oceanside Amusement Center circa 1947 (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

In 1946 a building was erected in the center of the “midway” of the amusement center to accommodate the game of Bridgo. Bridgo Parlors were popular during World War II, but the game was deemed to be a form of gambling and soon closed by the State of California.

The amusement center was removed by the early 1950s and the Oceanside City Council considered plans for a new Community Center to be built in its place.  In 1955 the City Council requested bids for a community center, but the move was not without controversy as many viewed a public swimming pool as more important to the community. (Two community swimming pools, at Brooks and Marshall Streets, were built just a few years later.)

North Strand before Community Center was built, circa 1953 (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

Architect George Lykos drew the plans for the building.  Lykos had received a Bachelor’s of Architecture in 1935 and his Masters the following year from MIT.  In 1942 he partnered with Sidney I. Goldhammer and established the firm Lykos & Goldhammer.  Their office was located at the Sprekels building in downtown San Diego.  Among his works are the County Law Library, the San Diego Courthouse, the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest, the Ocean Beach Pier, Ryan Aeronautics and Waggenheim Middle School in Mira Mesa. The building contract was awarded to the firm of A. E. Betraun Co. in Vista, the firm also responsible for building the Star Theater in 1956.

Groundbreaking ceremonies being held March 18, 1955. Construction began in April and it was hoped that the project would be completed as early as June of that year.  However, there were delays caused by labor strikes and a shortage of materials. 

(Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

The Oceanside Beach Community Center was formally dedicated in September of 1955 and built at a cost of $131,000.  One of the first events to be held at the new Center was the Marine Corps Ball in November of that year.

(Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

Over the years the Community Center has been used for meetings, social events, including adult and teen dances, as well as an early senior center.  The Center has also been used for sporting events, including volleyball, table tennis, and basketball.  It became the location of an early senior center known as the “Golden Age Club” in 1958.

Members of the Golden Age Club play shuffleboard (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

Entertainment, such as performances by the San Diego County Symphony Orchestra, took place at the new Center. Parks and Recreation Superintendent J. G. Renaud booked a variety of entertainment acts to perform at Oceanside’s new Community Center to the delight of residents.

 In 1956 recording artist Ernie Freeman and his band performed at the Center.  Freeman played on numerous early rock and R&B labels in the 1950s and played piano on the Platters’ hit “The Great Pretender”. He made the Top Ten of the R&B charts with the single “Jivin’ Around”. 

Local Swing dancers were thrilled when jazz musician Earl Bostic also performed at the Beach Community Center. Bostic, considered a pioneer of the “post-war American rhythm and blues style”, had a number of hits such as “Flamingo”, “Temptation”, “Sleep” and many more. A tenor saxophonist, Bostic was known for his “characteristic growl” he made on the sax.  

Earl Bostic was many of the entertainment acts who performed at the Beach Community Center.

Joe Graydon, who had a televised variety show, first in Los Angeles and then San Diego, hosted a show at the new Community Center. Renaud’s first rate entertainment continued with a “Western Roundup” and country western acts such as Hank Penny, Sue Thompson and Eddie Miller. Les Brown and his orchestra, who had performed with Bob Hope during USO tours, also entertained at Oceanside. The Community Center also presented movies, such as 1959’s now classic “Surf Safari” by John Severson. Admission was $1.25 for adults and 50 cents for children.  

In 1958 Boxing World Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson trained for a prize fight using the Oceanside Community Center and entertained spectators with several sparring rounds. He was accompanied by his legendary manager, Cus D’Amato.

Boxing Champ Floyd Patterson trained at the Community Center in 1958. (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

One of the biggest acts in Country Music came to the Community Center in 1961. Legendary Johnny Cash, along with the Maddox Bros. and Rose, performed for fans who flocked to see the “Man in Black.”

As neighborhood and seniors centers were built throughout the community in various neighborhoods, the Beach Community Center began to see a decline in use. In the early 1980s the Oceanside beach area was deteriorating. The Oceanside Pier was severely damaged (before being rebuilt), and the area was rundown. The Community Center, too, was showing its age.

The Beach Community Center in 1984 (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

By 1985, plans were underway to rebuild the pier and redevelop the beach area.  Along with a “facelift” the Community Center was enhanced by the addition of several large concrete and stone pillars. Sets of three pillars forming triangles were placed on the front entrance (east façade) and on the west façade along the Strand.  The pillars were then topped with large wooden beams, creating a more modernized look.  These pillars and beams have been removed in recent years, returning the Center’s original facade.

The addition of pillars and beams to the facade are depicted in this photo taken in 1985. (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

In 1992 Marine-life artist John Jennings began work on a 45 foot ocean mural on the north elevation of the community center. Jennings donated his time and materials, estimated at over $35,000 as a gift to Oceanside.

Mural on the north elevation of the building done by John Jennings. (Photo by John Daley, 2020)

The Beach Community Center was renamed the Junior Seau Beach Community Center in 2012 in memory of the beloved Oceanside native who had a notable career in the National Football League, playing with the San Diego Chargers for thirteen seasons. 

The building now sits silently on The Strand, awaiting its doors to be reopened and for renewed activity and sounds to reverberate through its rafters.

The Junior Seau Beach Community Center (photo by John Daley, 2020)

The House on Shoshone Street and the Story of Frankie Elda Kidd

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I want to thank Michelle Foster for contacting me about Frankie. Her quest for information became mine and I am grateful for the personal stories and photos she shared to bring this story to life.

In a rather remote area of Oceanside, tucked away in the northwest section of the Eastside neighborhood, was a small house on a dead end dirt road near Lawrence Canyon.

The house was built in 1944 and owned by Anna Curran, who owned no less than sixteen lots throughout Eastside, several of which had small houses that she rented out. The rent she collected was likely her only source of income as her husband William Curran had been arrested for the murder of a Marine in downtown Oceanside that same year. After a lengthy trial, Curran was found guilty, but deemed insane and sent to an asylum to serve out his sentence.

Residents of Eastside were largely Mexican immigrants, many of whom were laborers who worked in the fields of the San Luis Rey Valley and the Rancho Santa Margarita (now Camp Pendleton). The neighborhood was segregated and separated in four ways: Geographically it was separated from “downtown Oceanside” by Lawrence Canyon; Children of immigrants were separated from other students and sent to the Americanization School on Division Street where they were immersed in English; The neighborhood had dirt streets while most of Oceanside enjoyed paved ones; Eastside had no sewer system.

1946 aerial view of Shoshone Street

Although some referred to Eastside as “Mexican Town”, more than a dozen African-American families settled in the neighborhood in the 1940s.

Frankie Elda Kidd occupied one of Anna Curran’s tiny rental homes, at 1420 Shoshone Street. Frankie’s birth name was Alta (perhaps a variation of Elda) and “Frankie” may have been a nickname that she acquired. She was born in 1920 in Imperial County, California and as best as can be determined, she was the daughter of John Zainina and Martha Bartley.

In 1930 Frankie and her family were living in Merced, California, where her father was working as a dairy farmer. By around 1935 she was living with extended family in San Bernardino, California, where she attended high school.

While attending San Bernardino High School, Frankie met James Scott, a handsome young man from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The two married in 1938 but the marriage was short lived as they were living separately just two years later. In 1940 Frankie was living with cousins and working as a housekeeper for a private home.  

James Scott, Frankie Elda’s first husband

In about 1943 Frankie embarked on her second nuptials to Alfred Selester Kidd. It would be her second of six marriages. She was likely introduced to Alfred by her older brother Vernon, as the two men were rooming together while living in Oakland. Alfred Kidd, a native of Louisiana, was working at the Navy Yard at Mare Island.

Frankie arrived in Oceanside by 1945. Did Alfred Kidd accompany her? There is no record of him leaving the Oakland area. Perhaps this marriage was just as brief as the first. What brought Frankie to Oceanside is unknown, but perhaps she came because of job opportunities. Due to the establishment of Camp Joseph H. Pendleton shortly after World War II began, Oceanside was expanding at a rapid rate.

Because of the remote location of Frankie’s home on Shoshone Street, any traffic (pedestrian or otherwise) would have been largely limited to residents who lived on the dead end street. However, apparently Shoshone Street was getting a steady stream of traffic, so much so that area residents took notice and began to complain, which prompted an investigation by the Oceanside Police Department.

The Oceanside Blade Tribune newspaper reported that Frankie Kidd was arrested on February 4, 1945 for operating an “illegitimate business” along with another woman, Mildred Clark. Later this particular business was classified as a “disorderly house” which is a polite term for a brothel.

It seems that Frankie’s “visitors” were mostly servicemen, many of whom resided at Sterling Homes, federal housing built for the military just east of Holly Street. (Sterling Homes had paved streets, curbing and sewers for its occupants in contrast to the neighboring Eastside community.)

Sterling Housing just east of the Eastside Neighborhood

What brought Frankie to this profession is anyone’s guess, but despite her occupation she was remembered by local residents as being friendly, beautiful and “could hold her own against any situation that could come up.”

After her arrest, Frankie asked for a jury trial and the case was heard on March 7th. The jury of five women and three men listened to what must have been riveting testimony which lasted all the way up until 10 pm. (However, many of the witnesses were servicemen and reluctant to testify.) The jury deliberated for two hours and found Frankie Kidd guilty as charged. Judge Parsons fined her $300, with $100 suspended. But even a $200 fine was a hefty amount, equivalent to over $2500 today). She also received 150 days of probation. Initially appealing the case, Frankie paid the fine a few days later.

While Frankie continued to live on Shoshone Street, she was known to frequent a small establishment which was located just steps from the back of her home. It was called “the Hangout”.  Situated at the back end of 1415 Laurel Street, was a small trailer that was frequented by many of the local residents and was a popular spot for military men. Charles C. Jones applied to the city for a permit to operate a café “specializing in barbecue and chicken sandwiches” but it was denied. Despite the city’s rejection, the Hangout operated without a permit and was a popular spot offering food, drink and dancing, with a little bit of gambling thrown in. Frankie was a regular and it was there she attracted her “customers.”

Frankie Elda in later years at the Hangout (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

Although Frankie avoided any additional attention from law enforcement for several years, in 1949 she was arrested again — this time for a scuffle with another woman. On June 26th, Mary Morgan filed a complaint against Frankie for threatening her with a knife and a razor. Apparently Frankie had gotten too friendly with Mary’s husband George Morgan, and a heated argument ensued. After being taken into custody, Frankie requested a jury trial which was set for July, but on the day of trial, she pled guilty and was fined $100.

Mary Morgan playing cards at the Hangout (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

While the Hangout continued in popularity, as did Frankie, the raucous nature of this corner of Eastside changed when families began to populate the remote area of Laurel and Shoshone streets.  Gilbert Woods purchased a lot just a few doors down from Frankie. In 1948 he had built a small home at 1430 Shoshone, where he and his wife raised their family. A cook in the Navy during WWII, his granddaughter Michelle remembers that he prepared and shared food with his neighbors, including Frankie, who was grateful for the kindness.

Gilbert Woods holding son (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

Another substantial change to the immediate area came when the Walker Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1949, one of the first Black Churches in Oceanside. The church was established at the behest of Johnny and Easter Foster, prior residents of Blythe, California. They wrote to the Church Bishop asking for an AME church to be established in Oceanside. Walker Chapel was built on the very lot that the Hangout was located, which remained standing and was still frequented by residents, even while parishioners attended services.  

Original Church building of Walker Chapel AME in 1949 at 1415 Laurel Street. To the left is Easter Foster and the Rev. Jessie B. Browning; Far right Johnny Foster (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

Rev. Jessie B. Browning was the first pastor of Walker Chapel AME. Shortly after her arrival to Oceanside the local newspaper announced the following:  “Rev. Jessie Browning, a lady preacher of the colored Methodist church and her colored singers will appear at the Nazarene Church Sunday evening at 7:30, in the Woman’s Club house, corner of Tremont and Third streets.” 

While the Eastside neighborhood was within city limits by 1887 and a residential neighborhood since about 1910, it took decades for the City to pave the streets and to add a sewer system, well after other residential sections had these same “amenities”. But even when a sewer project was approved in 1948, Shoshone Street and the 1400 block of Marquette Street were left out. Gilbert Woods worked for a needed sewer system for this “forgotten” area and he distributed a petition which was presented to the City Council, who initially rebuffed his efforts. Finally in September of 1954, Gilbert’s efforts were rewarded when the City Council finally approved plans for the Shoshone Street Sewer project.

In 1954 Edward Anderson purchased the home at 1420 Shoshone Street in which Frankie had lived for several years, and built an additional home on the lot, situated behind the original house. It is likely that Frankie resorted to living in the Hangout.

Construction began for a new elementary school on Laurel Street, just northeast of Walker Chapel, which opened for students in 1955. The area once known for a “disorderly and illegal business” was now gentrified. Eventually even the Hangout would be reformed, or shall we say “redeemed” altogether when the Walker Chapel AME church included the small building into its own when they enlarged their church years later.

The little house that Frankie once lived in at 1420 Shoshone Street was destroyed in a fire in 1982. The fire was so hot it reached upwards of 400 degrees and melted the Plexiglass face shields of the responding firefighters. Smoke inhalation took the life of an elderly blind woman, Mildred Taylor, who could not make her way out. Owners Ed and Margarethea Anderson, who lived next door said they had no insurance on the structure as it “was too old.”

Edward Anderson and the Oceanside Fire Department at 1420 Shoshone Street.
The house where Frankie Elda once lived.

Frankie Elda moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon by 1958. Her last known marriage was in 2000 to Eugene Witherspoon, whom she married in Reno, Nevada at the age of 80.

Frankie died June 17, 2002, but was not forgotten. Michelle Foster still remembers the stories her mother, Alberta Woods Foster, shared with her of Eastside, the Hangout, and Frankie. Perhaps Frankie walked in the path of sinners, but her neighbors, like the Good Samaritan, showed her grace and compassion.

Pacific Holidayland

Elgin “Lucky” Lackey saw the potential for an entertainment venue at the corner of Third and Pacific Streets (Third Street is now Pier View Way) and in June 1954 he opened what would be a popular spot for over two decades, Pier Golf.  In addition to a nine-hole miniature golf course, it included “shooting games” and pinball machines. Pier Golf also featured a snack bar with an open air dining area. Lackey would later add an archery range and ever popular bumper cars. 

Elgin Lackey was a native of Guthrie, Oklahoma. He made his way to California in the 1940s and eventually Oceanside.  In 1943 he and Mary E. Penn purchased Wilday’s Candy Shop at 111 North Hill Street (Coast Highway). The following year, Lackey married his business partner Mary, affectionately called Penny, in Las Vegas.

“Lucky” as he was called and known to most everyone, also had a used car dealership and an insurance business before opening Pier Golf. He also developed a housing development “Lucky Lots” consisting of 19 lots off of California Street in South Oceanside, and Lucky Street is named after him.

Lackey’s amusement center was an overnight success. It had the largest collection of pinball machines in Oceanside. At the time, pinball machines were regulated and banned altogether in San Diego and in unincorporated areas such as Vista. In the early days the machines were seen as a form of gambling, and dispensed cash. (In Oceanside, when allowed, any cash prizes were to be given over the counter.)  

In the mid 1950’s, the only allowable “inducement” was an extra play for high scores. A few venues gave the high-scoring player a chance to pull a “lucky number” and prizes could be won for certain numbers. One eatery in downtown Oceanside paid winners with cigarettes … “one or more packs, depending on the score”. This was considered “slightly illegal” and caused “some law enforcement officers to frown on pinballs in general.”

At five cents a game, pinball vendors could earn about “$15 to $50 a week for a ‘good’ machine in a favorable location”. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that the seventy pinball machines located throughout the City could gross over $100,000 a year.

An aerial view of the pier amphitheater to the left and Pacific Holidayland to the right, circa 1960

Pier Golf became such a popular attraction that Heavyweight Champion Boxer Floyd Patterson was a regular there while he was training in Oceanside in 1958. He attended so often he became an expert at the miniature golf course. One night he and his friends went to play skee-ball and accumulated over 300 points, according to sport reporter Irv Grossman. Patterson and his group went on to entertain themselves with the “Midget Autos” and “Dodgems” for which they were warned to “avoid head-on collisions”. As the adult men played, kids gathered to watch and Patterson soon engaged them in conversation, handshakes and finished his evening by signing autographs.

As Lucky Lackey continued to add features to his venue, Pier Golf transitioned into Pacific Holidayland. Touted as the only “amusement park” between Balboa and San Diego, Lucky and his wife Penny (Mary) invested half a million dollars in 1963 to develop “a super family amusement center.” Along with a “badly needed face-lift” the venue expanded to include the entire city block from Pacific to Myers, Mission Avenue to Third streets. The local paper reported that, “Houses and lots were purchased; the structures moved to make way for new buildings. The first major step in the expansion program was a $150,000 building, on the southeast corner of the block to house an archery and rifle range, skee-ball, pool tables and Dodgem rides.” The second phase of the renovation and expansion project included a new ice cream parlor, with both indoor and outdoor seating, along with a soda fountain. 

Certainly for over two decades Lucky Lackey’s Holidayland was the place to be. It was popular with kids and teenagers, Marines and families and is still etched into the memories of many Oceanside residents and visitors.

Lackey planned to continue his expansion of his entertainment venue along Pacific Street. But at the height of Pacific Holidayland’s immense success, Elgin Lackey died in February of 1966 in a hospital in Monrovia.

Mary Lackey continued ownership of Holidayland, which maintained its popularity. At its peak the center included 47 pinball machines, 4 pool tables, 3 air hockey tables, 18 skee-ball games, 2 shooting galleries, 5 kiddy rides, 2 automatic photo machines, 7 baseball throwing machines with cages and netting, a 13 car bumper car ride and the miniature golf course, among other features.

Local Marines and kids watch as others play at Pacific Holidayland, 1973. Image by Michael Kelly

In 1972 Richard Ford of Chicago, came to Oceanside to ride a Ferris wheel at Pacific Holidayland (probably in an empty lot next to the park). He had held the record of 22 days on a Ferris wheel in San Francisco, but was afraid of losing it, so this next attempt was for 30 days.  Ford was said to have an anonymous sponsor and was getting free meals during his stay in Oceanside. (It was noted that Ford only rode the Ferris wheel while the venue was open during regular operating hours.)

Pacific Holidayland offered a $50 in prize money to the person who guessed correctly how much weight Ford would lose while on his endeavor. He began on April 15, 1972 weighing 214 pounds and when he finished 30 days later he had lost 11 pounds. Ford’s feat made news across the country.

Despite the great publicity, Pacific Holidayland had seen better days. In 1976 the aging complex was owned by Charles and Sharon Moreland who were looking for a buyer to develop the property.  The property went up for auction in 1979, the games and assets sold.

A boarded up “Fun Center” awaits its demise.

In July of 1983 Pacific Holidayland was torn down. All that was left was a vacant dirt lot and an empty spot in the hearts of children of all ages.

While Lucky Lackey’s Pacific Holidayland is gone, it lives on in the cherished memories of many.

Deserted

This is the true story of Elsa and Edward, both of whom were given up for adoption as young children, both raised by physicians. They found each other in the midst of pain and loneliness, only to create more of the same. While the story is largely based in San Diego, their great granddaughter is a native of Oceanside. She has shared her tangled family tree with me in hopes of finding clarity and truth. Together we have searched for years to solve the mystery of individuals which may never be fully solved, and we are left with questions yet to be answered.

Elsa

Elsa Lamon grew up knowing that she was unwanted; her mother had given her away as a small child. She was sent to be raised by an aunt who was distant and cold. She never felt wanted or truly loved. Years later when Elsa grew to adulthood, her search for love resulted in unhappy and painful marriages which seemed to only validate what her mother knew: that Elsa was unlovable.

Her life was a series of unfortunate scenarios complicated by family dynamics and secrecy.  Born Helen Alice Cronk in Chicago, Illinois on September 14, 1903, she was the second child of Harry Sheldon Cronk and Ida May Young.

Elsa’s original birth certificate as Helen Alice Cronk

Harry Sheldon Cronk was a native of Canada born in 1861. He was previously married to Cecilia Monica Clark in 1889. They had one son, Harry Collins Cronk, born in 1891. Harry filed for divorce in 1892 and married his second wife, Ida Mae in 1893. Ida Mae bore a son in 1895, who was named Harold Cecil Cronk.

Elsa’s life abruptly changed after her father’s untimely death of meningitis in 1904, when she was just 15 months old. Ida Mae Cronk remarried in 1908 to William Ames and sent her daughter to Detroit, Michigan to live with her husband’s sister, Martha Imogene Cronk, and her husband Alois Thuner.

Her adoptive father, Alois Anthony Thuner, was a well-regarded physician in Detroit, Michigan. He and Imogene married in 1890. They had no children of their own and adopted Helen Alice and raised their niece as their very own daughter, giving her a new name of Elsa Helena.

Dr. Alois Thuner, age 30 years old

In 1910 Imogene became pregnant and the family of three must have been excited about the prospect of a baby. Sadly, however, on February 24, 1911 Imogene gave birth to a stillborn daughter.

Imogene Cronk Thuner at age 18. Elsa’s adoptive mother

The Thuner’s provided Elsa with a comfortable lifestyle. They lived in spacious homes in well-to-do neighborhoods, including Detroit’s Boston-Edison neighborhood that was inhabited by the likes of Henry Ford and Sebastian Kresge.

Despite her affluent upbringing, Elsa must have wondered all those years: Why did her mother give her up?  She grew up knowing she was adopted. She even knew who her mother was, but family stories suggest that she had little or no contact with her biological mother throughout the years.

Elsa’s mother Ida Mae remained in Chicago and remarried in 1908. And while Ida had given up her daughter, Ida Mae continued to raise a stepson, Harry Collins, and a biological son Harold Cecil.  This must have had a lasting negative impact on Elsa, who knew her mother was alive and well, together with the knowledge her brothers were seemingly accepted and loved by her, while she was not. The sense of abandonment would reverberate throughout her life.

In 1920 Dr. Thuner retired from medicine and moved his wife and daughter Elsa to San Diego in the Point Loma neighborhood, in a beautiful home located on Goldsmith Street.

Thuner home on Goldsmith Drive

From Detroit to San Diego, Elsa’s life was interrupted, leaving childhood friends behind. However, it appears she transitioned successfully, graduating from San Diego High School in 1921, attending junior college, as well as joining a sorority and a rowing club.  Her name was a familiar one in the society pages of the San Diego Union newspaper.

Elsa Lamon at age 18

In spite of her early start as a cast off, in San Diego Elsa was part of the “it” crowd and accepted in society circles. She would even “marry well”, a man from one of the most prominent families in San Diego. Perhaps meeting at the rowing club where they were both members, Elsa became acquainted with Ira Collier. 

Ira

Ira Clifton Collier was the son of David Charles Collier, an attorney, banker and real estate developer, as well as the president of the 1915 California Panama Exposition in San Diego. 

If Elsa’s privileged life was filled with less than happy circumstances, Ira’s surpassed hers both in privilege and perhaps unhappiness.

In 1896 David Collier, Sr. married Ella May Copley, the sister of Ira Clifton Copley, who formed Copley Press and would later own the San Diego Union-Tribune. They had two sons, David and Ira, who were sent to the Harvard Military School in Los Angeles for their education.

David Collier, Sr. filed for divorce from his wife Ella May in 1914. This very acrimonious divorce was made public, featured in newspaper headlines throughout Southern California and personal details about their marriage and split were published for all to read. 

Ella Collier claimed that her husband deserted her and their two sons for nearly a year and had refused financial support.  David Collier charged his wife with mental cruelty and that she looked down at the Collier family in social standing, and that she alienated him from their oldest son David. Photos of their two sons were published in the newspaper and the divorce proceedings packed the courtrooms as bitter accusations were exchanged.  

For several months the courtroom drama captivated San Diegans, after which Ella Collier was granted a divorce on November 13, 1915. After which, David Collier promptly remarried to Ruth E. Everson, on November 14, 1915.

If David Collier found happiness in his new marriage, it soon ended when his new wife died a year later in 1916.  Collier remarried yet again to Clytie Lyon in 1919. But tragedy struck once more when his oldest son David Collier, Jr. died later that year of pneumonia at the age of 22.

Despite the loss of his older son, Collier never reconciled with his youngest son Ira, for whom he had fought for during court proceedings with his wife. Father and son remained estranged all the way up until the elder Collier’s death in 1934.

Ira’s mother, Ella Mae Copley Collier died in 1921, and he remained in San Diego living with his maternal aunt. However, the newspaper reported that Ira was going to Los Angeles to be trained by a vocal coach where he intended to pursue “a musical career.”  His voice was described to be “a baritone tenor of unusual quality.”

In February of 1924 the San Diego Union posted an engagement announcement of Elsa Thuner and Ira Collier. Ira Collier would have been a most eligible bachelor, with handsome good looks and a notable family tree. The announcement stated that the two obtained a marriage license in Riverside County and that a June wedding was planned. However, a retraction was printed immediately.

Was there opposition to this union? If so, the couple had eloped and were actually married on February 9, 1924, days earlier, telling no one.  The hasty denial of the engagement was not replaced by an official wedding announcement — which normally would have graced the society columns of the local papers.

Mr. and Mrs. Ira Collier soon moved into a home on Palomar Avenue in La Jolla with beautiful ocean views. Later they settled in a more modest home on 32nd Street, located east of Pershing Drive in San Diego. The couple moved nearly every year, it seems. In 1929 they were living on Olive Street in Coronado, a decidedly tonier locale.

Married five years, and perhaps celebrating their anniversary, Ira and Elsa sailed to Honolulu, Hawaii aboard the S. S. Calawii, a glamorous ship known for its celebrity passengers.  The trip was an extensive one lasting from August to November.

After eight years of marriage, their union had produced no children. Whether this was by choice or because of infertility, one can only surmise. But something was taking a toll on the marriage and whether it was barrenness, boredom or something else altogether, the couple would soon separate.

In the summer of Ira Collier traveled to Reno, Nevada, notorious for its “quickie” divorces.  “Divorces Ranches” popped up all over the Silver State to accommodate such legal proceedings.  However, according to state law, a person must first establish just six weeks of residency before filing suit.

During his “residency” Ira found himself in a precarious situation when he and three other men visited the Heidleberg Inn, a nightclub situated five miles south of Reno.  A confrontation ensued and shots were fired, at least one striking their auto.  No other details came to light about the situation but the sheriff threatened to close the establishment.

On August 23, 1932 Ira fulfilled his residency requirement for divorce and filed suit to end the marriage which was summarily granted.  However, Elsa hired an attorney in San Diego and challenged the divorce and sued for support and judgment was found in her favor.

Nonetheless she found herself in a familiar place: unwanted.  Elsa would soon start a new chapter in her life with someone whom she had something in common: They were both given up by their mothers and coincidentally adopted by physicians.  Little did she know that in her pursuit to be loved and wanted, his cruelty would overshadow the abandonment by her own mother. 

Edward

Edward Bernard Lemen was born on November 13, 1907 in Denver, Colorado. His mother was an unwed teenager, the daughter of Theodore and Ella Lemen. Dorinda Lemen was born in 1892 (some records indicate 1891) and was the second of five children. Her father was a traveling minister, and it is because of this, his children were all born in different states.

In about 1902 the Lemen family resettled in Denver, Colorado where two of Theodore’s brothers, Lewis E. Lemen and Harrison A. Lemen, were established and practicing physicians.

Family stories suggest that Dorinda traveled with her father while he was sharing the gospel in the southern United States, particularly Atlanta, Georgia. During the trip Dorinda either engaged in under-aged sex, or perhaps was sexually assaulted, and became pregnant. After returning to Denver, at the age of 15, she gave birth to a male child.

Colorado recorded a very simple birth record devoid of any great detail. In the 1907 “Birth Book” the scant information provided is the date of birth of November 13, 1907, the child being a white male. The mother’s name is left blank (which is unusual) but the father’s name is listed as “D. Lemen”. The question of legitimate birth is answered by “yes.” (This was in fact not a legitimate birth, meaning the child was not born as a result of a marriage.)

Edward Lemen’s birth record from Colorado State Archives

The truth of the matter is there is no male person with the first initial of “D” in the Lemen household. It is most likely that Edward’s birth record was written in such a way to protect the young Dorinda (or her father’s reputation) and her first initial was placed under the “Father’s name”. Further, the home address listed on the birth record is 2830 W. 34th Street in Denver, Colorado — the home address of Rev. Theodore Lemen and his family in 1907.

In 1912 Dorinda Lemen married Warren F. Edwards, a traveling shoe salesman. They were married in Salt Lake City, Utah, which may be telling because Dorinda’s son was adopted soon after to a family living in Utah.

Warren and Dorinda Edwards were living in Denver in 1917, with Warren working for the Harsh & Edmonds Shoe Company based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the World War I registration card Warren signed on June 5, 1917, he states his sales route was from Denver to the Northwest. It also states that Warren Edwards was financially assisting his mother-in-law and Dorinda’s two youngest siblings, Sylvester and Elizabeth.

Just one month later, however, Dorinda Edwards would be involved in a scandalous affair.  So sensational, the headline of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch read: “St. Louisan Caught in Wild Taxi Pursuit in Milwaukee.”

On July 15, 1917, Warren and Dorinda traveled to Milwaukee for business and were staying at the Gilpatrick Hotel.  Apparently Warren Edwards had discovered Dorinda in the arms and bed of another man. A two mile chase through town ensued which resulted in Hamilton being arrested and subsequently sued by Edwards for $50,000 for “alienating his wife’s affection”.

Simultaneously, Warren filed for divorce from Dorinda. The divorce complaint stated that within a five day period Dorinda and Nightingale Hamilton had visited three separate hotels to carry on an illicit affair. According to Dorinda’s admission she met Hamilton just six months after her marriage, in 1913, while on another trip to Milwaukee with her husband. Warren Edwards was employed by Nightingale Hamilton, whose father owned the company.

The divorce proceedings revealed that on July 17, 1917 Warren, Dorinda and Nightingale had all gone to a “road house” and the following morning, at 6 am, Dorinda and Nightingale had slipped off together, and had taken a taxi to the Juneau Hotel, one mile away. Dorinda signed the hotel register as “H. H. Hartley from Des Moines, Iowa” and Nightingale as “Norman Colt”.

Dorinda was allowed to be questioned (or interrogated) by Warren’s divorce attorney W. B. Rubin. He asked Dorinda how long the couple remained in the hotel room and she replied “until one o’clock next day.”

Then Rubin pressed further: “You had intercourse with him that day?” To which Dorinda replied, “Yes.”

Rubin: How many times?

Dorinda: I don’t think that is necessary.

Rubin: Well it was more than once.

Dorinda: No.

Rubin continued his humiliating interrogation of Dorinda about each sexual encounter with Hamilton, at two other hotels, the Wisconsin Hotel and the Plankington, where she registered as Mrs. J. H. Harvey of Red Wing, Minnesota. Hotel registers were subpoenaed and entered into evidence.

On January 24, 1918 Warren Edwards was granted his divorce from Dorinda, who returned to Denver to live with her mother. Both Warren Edwards and Nighintgale Hamilton died that later that year of pneumonia, likely after contracting the Spanish Flu.

Dorinda’s escapades aside, she presumably gave Edward up for adoption when he was about six years old. Edward was adopted by a well-known and respected doctor, John J. Steiner, and his wife Georgina (Blanchett) Steiner, of Richfield, Utah.

Edward would have developed an attachment to and held memories of his mother, along with his maternal grandparents and extended family for those first six years of his life. There is no known reason that he was given up for adoption (other than Dorinda wanted to be unencumbered in her marriage or affairs) but certainly this would have been a devastating event for Edward.

Dr. John Steiner and his wife Georgina had one biological son, Chauncey J. Steiner, born in 1896. The little boy died at the age of three. A little lamb graces the top of Chauncey’s headstone and below his name and date of birth and death is the tender inscription “We loved him.”

Thereafter the Steiners formally, and informally, adopted several children over the years. Edward was the only boy in this extended family, and it appears may have been only the second child of five to be formally adopted and although no such records have been found, Edward’s last name was legally changed to Steiner.

The Steiner family home in Richfield, Utah

Richfield, Utah is and was largely populated by the members of the Mormon Faith.  It became a regional center with the establishment of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1891.  Perhaps, Edward Lemen and his mother traveled from Denver and met the Steiner family, but it is only a guess.

The Steiner’s adopted and foster children were educated in the Richfield school system but when Edward was twelve years old he was sent to Oregon to a Catholic boys’ school. According to a newspaper account in the Richfield Reaper, Edward came home rather unexpectedly, prompting an educator from the school to travel to Richfield, to return Edward back to school. This is the first indication that all was not well and perhaps the heartache of a young boy given up by his mother was now being realized in resentment and anger.

In August of 1921, Edward Steiner was sent to San Diego to the Raja Yoga Academy. He had yet turned 14 years old. Established by Katherine Tingley, this commune was located on Point Loma (now occupied by the Point Loma Nazarene University). There was a strict daily regimen for both children and adults. Accusations included that husbands and wives were separated and children from their parents, that speaking was forbidden and detractors were isolated. 

Edward Steiner aka Edward Lamon as a student at Raja Yoga Academy in San Diego

In spite of the criticism, there were over 300 people living at “Lomaland” in the community in the early 1920s.  Most residents were upper-middle-class and the Richfield newspaper stated that the schooling was just what young Edward needed as the school emphasized moral and spiritual development. Edward was at the academy for about two years. The Steiner family traveled to San Diego to visit him.

From Baptist birth to a Mormon community, to Catholic School and then a commune, Edward’s confusion or sense of self must have been shaken. Sent away to live with the Steiner’s, who in turn sent him out of state for a “proper” education, only served to further isolate him both physically and emotionally.

By the time Edward was a young adult his religious belief system was non-existent and his moral compass forever off kilter.  What was truth? For Edward there must have been no real answer to that question and he would later begin to live his life with half-truths, lies and deception.

Georgina Steiner died on October 21, 1925. One month later, at 18 years of age, Edward Steiner was accompanied by his adoptive father to a U. S. Navy recruiting office in Los Angeles.  His enlistment papers state that Edward was living in Los Angeles and working as a bank clerk. At that age it is not required to have a parent’s authorization or approval so it would seem that this decision was forced upon Edward.  Just what had precipitated this action is unknown but Edward dutifully signed the paperwork and was sent to San Diego for training and then on to Mare Island.

It is worth noting that on the enlistment papers, Edward’s month and date of birth of November 13th are accurate, but for some unknown reason the birth year of 1904 was given instead of 1907.

Military training can be likened to religion or indoctrination, and it seems that Edward was a non-believer.  His military record was less than honorable and in a few short years he would go “AWOL”.  His military career aside, Edward would prove himself to be dishonorable in his personal life as well, manifested by infidelity and domestic violence.

Notations in his military record range from skipping out on small debts, to being absent from duty for several hours on different occasions. One particular document notes that he contracted syphilis in April of 1926 due to his “own misconduct”.

Desertion

On July 8, 1926 year, Edward married his first wife, Rosalie Ferrant in Oakland, California. Little is known of this union or even if it was legally dissolved. However, the first glint of perhaps reinventing himself is revealed on the marriage application as Edward listed his birth date as November 14th rather than November 13th and his birthplace as Georgia instead of Colorado.

Eleven days after his marriage to Rosalie, John J. Steiner died. He was the only father Edward would ever know. In the lengthy will, Edward was included as one of the heirs of the Steiner estate and received $600 and some stock.

Within six months of his marriage and his father’s death, Edward would enter into two additional relationships with other women, and then abandon them and his very own offspring with a calculated coldness. Perhaps this was learned behavior.

The very year he had married Rosalie Ferrant, Edward was also courting Bethel Mulick. Bethel was a native of Nebraska who moved to San Francisco with her mother and sister before 1920. 

Bethel and Bard Mulick as teenage girls.

Bethel followed Edward when he returned to San Diego when given orders by the Navy, and she got a job working at a hotel in downtown San Diego. Bethel and Edward very well may have been married at some point, although no record can be found. And if there was a marriage to Bethel, Edward was likely still married to his first wife Rosalie at the time.

On December 29, 1926 Edward Steiner went AWOL from the Navy. His military record notes he was “declared a stragler.” On January 8, 1927 he was declared a deserter. A notice of his desertion from the Navy was published in his hometown newspaper in Richfield, Utah, with a reward being offered for his whereabouts.

From the Garfield News, Feb. 11, 1927

Edward not only deserted the Navy but also Bethel. She gave birth to Edward’s daughter, in August of 1927. The address of the birth father is listed as “unknown”. Bethel had given birth alone as Edward had simply abandoned her.

The birth certificate of that baby girl reveals her father’s new persona — On the official birth record of Duane Reeves Lamon, her father’s birth name is given as “Ben” Edward Lamon, shedding the legal name of Steiner, Lamon is a seemingly deliberate variation of his birth name of Lemen.

Further information on the birth certificate listed Edward’s occupation as a medical student in Stanford. No record has ever been uncovered to verify that Edward ever attended Stanford, although he was a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy. (Apparently, he had told Bethel that he was attending Stanford, something he would repeat to other women in his life….)

Bethel wrote heartbreaking letters to the Dept. of the Navy looking for the whereabouts of Edward, which were retained as part of his military record. Each time the Navy replied to her letters stating they did not know of Edward’s location. Bethel would continue the search for her husband for nearly three years.

Edward Lamon, in fact was in the arms and bed of another woman. While Bethel was 3 months pregnant with Edward’s child, on Valentine’s Day in 1927 he married a new “sweetheart” Sadie Ingle, in Los Angeles.

Sadie and Edward would be married long enough to have two daughters: Mildred and Melody born about 2 ½ years apart. And while he had left two women and a baby daughter behind, it seemed that Edward was somewhat domesticated for a time. Although he was still wanted by the Navy as a deserter, Edward moved his wife and two daughters back to San Diego, living in Coronado. It is worth noting that Edward, a supposed medical student, was working a blue collar job at the garage of the Hotel Del Coronado.

Although Edward had managed to stay married to Sadie for six years, all was not wedded bliss – Edward met a beautiful divorcee – Elsa Thuner Collier and the two embarked on what would be another tumultuous relationship.

Elsa and Edward began an adulterous affair as early as 1932, while Edward and Sadie were still married. In November of 1933 the couple were in Berwyn, Illinois where Elsa gave birth to their child, Barbara Jean La Mon. 

Although the couple was not married the child is listed as “legitimate”.  (On Barbara’s birth certificate Edward’s occupation is listed as a real estate and a bond salesman, a profession he purported to have been in for 6 years.)

Edward’s wife Sadie responded by filing for divorce in March of 1934. In her complaint she contends that Edward “would frequently remain away from his home nights without informing” her and that Edward would make “insulting remarks” about her relatives. While this sounds somewhat tame, Sadie went on to say that Edward became so angry on one occasion, he struck his mother-in-law and knocked her down.”

Edward never responded to Sadie’s divorce complaint. Instead he and Elsa married in September of 1934 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile, Edward and Elsa’s union produced another child, Valna, born in 1935.

With one wife, three exes and five daughters, Edward’s life and temper continued to spiral out of control. Less than one month after Elsa had given birth to daughter Valna, Edward attacked and choked her.  He later threatened to kill Elsa and the police were called. 

After Edward’s arrest his true identity was revealed and the authorities promptly delivered him to Navy officials.  The Navy, however, had no desire to prosecute Edward after an absence of 8 years and officially released him from duty. 

Edward left California and for a time was back in Richfield, Utah perhaps seeking refuge or financial assistance from his adopted sister. A notation from his father’s estate indicate he received a $250.00 stipend on September 13, 1935.

Elsa began divorce proceedings in October of 1935 detailing the cruelty of her husband. Edward never responded to the legal proceedings and never returned to San Diego. He continued to leave a wake of broken hearts and lives wherever he went, and left Elsa like he had left Sadie — alone to raise two little girls who would never know their father.

Edward found refuge in San Francisco and reconciled with Bethel.  Although she had remarried twice since they parted, Bethel apparently single again, accepted Edward back. Their reunion was short-lived when Edward left the longsuffering Bethel yet again. He moved to Stockton and took a job as a sales clerk.

One Less

On July 30, 1936 Edward Bernard Steiner Lamon ended his life by hanging himself in Room 459 at the Wolf Hotel in downtown Stockton, California. He left a note requesting that his brother-in-law Andrew Desimone be notified. Desimone was married to Bethel’s sister Bard, and was in the casino business at the famed Cal Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe.  Desimone contacted Bethel about the suicide and Edward’s remains were released to her.

What led to Edward’s shocking decision to end his life? Was it a mounting debt of some kind? Was there a pending criminal action he wanted to avoid? Was it the terrible guilt of fathering and abandoning so many small children?

The Richfield, Utah newspaper reported that Edward Steiner had suddenly died, but skirted the issue of a suicide nor did it mention his other identity as Edward LaMon.

The Stockton newspaper reported that Edward left a wife and two daughters behind, but if this was referring to Bethel, they had just one known child together, Duane born in 1927, (Bethel had no other children).  

Adding to the mystery, the names of the children the newspaper provided were Edna and Blanchette. (Blanchette was the maiden name of his adopted mother.) However, there are no known children by this name and one can only surmise as to the discrepancy. Was it simply an error by the reporter? Was there yet another woman who bore two additional daughters?

There was no mention of his former wives: Rosalie, Sadie and Elsa. No mention of daughters, Duane, Mildred, Melody, Barbara and Valna.

His death certificate revealed additional misinformation that Edward no doubt perpetuated over the years to other women, as he reinvented himself. Particularly, his mother’s name is listed as “Blanchette Sorie”, who was supposedly born in Paris, which is all fabrication. 

The Coroner’s report stated that Edward was found hung in the shower by a belt. Curiously, he was dressed in riding togs.

His brief suicide note said, “Goodbye to all — one in particular.” “There is now one ‘lug” less in the world.”

Who was the “one in particular”? It was likely Bethel who had suffered longer with him than any other. Edward suffered, too, no doubt. His anguish had manifested into anger. His abandonment as a child changed his name and he tried to conform and then reinvent himself, but he could never find a way of escape or a way to redemption.

The Aftermath

Edward’s five wives (were there more?) eventually all remarried. 

Edward’s biological mother Dorinda relocated to California around 1937. Did she ever reach out to Edward at any time? If Edward had any contact with the Lemen family after he was adopted or as an adult, it is unknown. After her mother died in 1948, Dorinda Lemen Edwards eventually moved to Oakland, where her older brother Timothy Lemen resided. She died in 1972.

Edward’s five daughters, who never really knew or could remember their father, were left to wonder for the rest of their lives about him.

Barbara Jean Lamon revealed that her mother Elsa rarely, if ever, spoke about Edward…and his life and death were shrouded in mystery. She and Valna never knew their father had other wives and were astonished to find out they had three half-sisters, whom they never met.

After Edward’s death, Elsa and her daughters Barbara and Valna lived a very comfortable life with the Thuners. However, Elsa’s adopted father Alois died in 1937. Imogene and Elsa had a very strained relationship for years and without Alois alive, the tension grew. There was little joy or happiness in their upper-middle-class home.

Elsa walking with her daughters Valna and Barbara and Imogene Thuner in about 1939

It is worth noting that Elsa’s biological mother Ida Mae Ames had moved to Southern California by 1931. When Ida died in 1939, she was buried in Glen Abbey Memorial Park near San Diego. Elsa and her young daughters went to the graveside services but remained in the car and watched from afar. Elsa remained separated from her own mother even in death.

Imogene Thuner died in 1944. She left an inheritance to her two granddaughters, Barbara and Valna…not to her daughter Elsa. Their trust fund was over $90,000 in 1952, equivalent to nearly $900,000 today.

While Edward’s legal name was Steiner, his birth name was Lemen. The name of “Lamon” was Edward’s alias, a made up name used after he deserted the Navy. Ironically it was one that his offspring carried legally. Even his great granddaughter was given the middle name of “Lamon” in order to “carry on the memory of Edward”…only to find out later it was an invented name and not that of Edward’s at all.

The enigma surrounding Edward’s life, along with its truth and falsehoods is fading away … just as his life faded from the memories of his little daughters.

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

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 I stumbled upon a newspaper article while doing research on an unrelated subject. As I continued research on the murder I collected dozens of newspaper articles and discovered that the case had never been solved. I then contacted the Oceanside Police Department who directed me to their Cold Case Detective.

The Murder of Ray Davis

On the evening of April 9, 1962, the Oceanside Police Department received an anonymous telephone call. The unidentified caller stated cryptically: “I am going to pull something here in Oceanside and you will never be able to figure it out.” The call was likely dismissed…until two nights later on April 11th, when a body was discovered and the caller contacted the police again.

Patrolman Terry Stephens discovered the lifeless body of Ray Davis in an alley in the upscale beachside neighborhood of St. Malo at 1:45 am.  The night of the murder, Stephens had not yet turned 28 years old, but was already a seasoned police officer. Born in 1934 in Escondido Stephens was raised in Oceanside where he lived nearly all of his life. At the age of 21 he joined the Oceanside Police Department and served on the force for 31 years before he retired.

The victim, Ray Davis was just 29 years old, a native of Michigan. Ray was estranged from his wife Marion, whom he had married in 1953 in Owosso, Michigan.  At the time of Ray’s murder she was living in Pomona with two children from a previous marriage.

Ray and his brother Jack had moved to Oceanside in January of 1962. Oceanside had a population of less than 25,000. Jack got a job working at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Ray as a cabdriver for the Checker Cab Company. The brothers were renting a house at 525 South Tremont Street.

Ray Davis was working an evening shift, his cab parked on Mission Avenue in downtown. At 11:10 pm he reported to his dispatcher Lowell Sikes that he was driving a fare to South Oceanside. He never returned or responded to subsequent radio calls.

Ray’s body had been dumped in the alley behind 1926 South Pacific Street, the home of Oceanside’s former Mayor Joe MacDonald. Across the street was the home of Oceanside’s current Mayor Erwin Sklar. This was not a neighborhood familiar with violent crime, let alone murder. (Note: Few people realize that St. Malo does not begin behind its iconic gated archway, but also includes the 1900 block of South Pacific Street.)

Davis had been shot once in the back, through the driver’s seat, and once in the back of the head. His assailant unceremoniously pulled him out of the cab and drove away. Robbery did not appear to be a motive as Davis had a modest amount of cash in both his wallet and shirt pocket.

The bloodied cab was discovered at 6:30 am, left in the alley of the 400 block of South Pacific Street with its meter showing a $2.20 fare. On scene Detective Don Brown found a third shot had been fired through the windshield of the taxi.

On the front seat of the abandoned cab was a paperback novel, “Dance With the Dead.” Written in 1960 by Richard S. Prather, it featured a private detective who solved crimes, all the while encountering scantily clad women…very campy stuff.

Davis was taken to the Seaside Mortuary at 802 South Pacific Street where an autopsy was performed by L. H. Fairchild of the San Diego County Coroner’s Office. Two .22 caliber bullets were removed and given to Oceanside Police Detective Floyd R. Flowers.

The following day, April 12th, both the Oceanside Blade Tribune and San Diego Union Tribune newspapers reported the murder along with the fact that police had no motive or suspect. The story of Ray’s murder was also published in several Southern California newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. In Ray’s home state of Michigan, at least three newspapers reported the murder of Ray Davis. No mention was made of the mysterious phone call of April 9 as the Oceanside Police Department had not released that information.

Funeral services for Ray Davis were held at the Oceanside Church of God on April 13th. He was buried in a plot located in the “Sunset Slope” at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Virginia Davis, his bereaved mother, flew from Michigan to Oceanside for the services.

On April 16th the Oceanside Police Department disclosed to the public that an unknown person had called them on April 9th with a veiled threat that they now linked to the murder of Ray Davis. The second phone call came with a frightening warning.

Police Chief William H. Wingard described the caller as a possible “deranged killer” and released the contents of the call:  “Do you remember me calling you last week and telling you that I was going to pull a real baffling crime? I killed the cab driver and I am going to get me a bus driver next.”

Who, but the original caller, would have known about the initial message? Who would taunt the police in such a way?

This threat was not taken lightly, considering the unknown caller seemed to have made good on his last one. Chief Wingard stated: “We have no reason to disbelieve the calls.”

In response to the threat, the Oceanside Police Department took measures to protect all city busses and armed military police were put on each bus going aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The newspaper reported that Frank Lilly, Oceanside’s City Manager gave Oscar Hatle, Bus Superintendent “blanket authority to take whatever steps necessary.” The unusual aspects of the murder and the unprecedented response of armed guards were big news. The story was widely distributed by the Associated Press and United Press International.

Three days passed without incident. Guards were removed from the busses, but on so-called “lonely routes” the bus company assigned two drivers. Oscar Hatle commented: “The situation still exists. We are taking no unnecessary chances.”

The police had no motive and scant evidence. They were desperate to solve the murder. Several people were questioned and released. One reported suspect was a fellow cabdriver, Charles Schofield, but the accusation had no foundation.

On May of 1962 an arrest was made of four Marines for armed robbery, but neither their prints nor ballistics matched.  Another armed robbery suspect was arrested in November but again, the fingerprints were not a match.

The murder was all but forgotten about except for the Davis family. Years passed, then decades. Ray’s brother Jack died in 1990. Ray’s mother died in 1995 and was buried at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Ray had no biological children. After the death of his brother and mother there was no one left to remember.

It may be pure conjecture, but it is still worth noting that seven years after Ray Davis’s murder, a killer known as the Zodiac would mimic the same deadly scenario. In 1969 he shot and killed a taxi driver in San Francisco, contacted police taking credit for it and then threatened to target a bus, in this instance one full of children.

The Zodiac killed his victims in a variety of ways and weapons, including a .22 caliber gun (as in the murder of Ray Davis). It is believed that the Zodiac may have been in the military. It is now surmised that one of his first victims may have been Cheri Jo Bates, who was murdered in Riverside, California in 1966. While there are several theories surrounding Zodiac, is it too far-fetched to believe that perhaps he started his killing spree in Oceanside?

Many serial killers are known to taunt or toy with police and certainly this was the case with Ray’s murderer. Serial killers taunt because they crave the attention, they want the notoriety and many times they are convinced of their own superiority over law enforcement.

Theories and conjecture aside, to this day the murder of Ray Davis remains unsolved. It is likely the killer is dead … even if he was just 25 years of age in 1962, he would be 83 years old in 2020.  Many of the police officers and detectives who worked so diligently to try to solve the case and protect the residents of Oceanside have passed. However, Roy K. Smith, a retired police captain, remembers the case as he was working the morning watch the night of the murder.

Sylvia Guzman O’Brien, Cold Case Detective with the Oceanside Police Department has dug up and read over the case file. In December of 2019 she sent the latent fingerprint cards collected at the scene for entry into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). O’Brien stated that, “The crime lab will determine if the prints are of sufficient quality for entry in the database.”  In addition, the casings that were located in the cab driven by Ray Davis will be sent to the crime lab for entry in the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS). As Detective O’Brien stated, “Now it is just a waiting game.”

There is no DNA evidence. Neither AFIS or IBIS were available to law enforcement in 1962 and even when these systems were put in place years ago, this case had long been forgotten. If there’s a possibility to match the prints to a person or link the ballistics to another crime, the results of these searches may be the very last chance to solve the murder of Ray Davis.

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.

The Bunker House – A Building With a Past

The Bunker House located at 322 North Cleveland Street was first owned in 1886 by Theodore C. Bunker. This two-story building is one of the first brick buildings in Oceanside and one of three brick buildings built in the 1880’s which are still standing.

The Bunker family arrived from Los Angeles and operated a store on the first floor and a boarding house on the second. Bunker also owned a single-story wooden structure next door, which served as a meat market. The Bunker House was used as a meeting hall as well as for dances and church services. 

After Bunker’s death in 1892, Ysidora Bandini Couts, wife of Col. Cave J. Couts, held the mortgage on the building and retained ownership.  The local newspaper reported that Katherine Mebach purchased the building in 1896. 

Frederick Rieke bought the brick building in 1904. Rieke was a general contractor and built many homes and buildings in Oceanside, including the house located on the same block at 312 North Cleveland Street. 

In 1923 the building was sold to by H. J. Crawford and it was subsequently deeded to two other members of his family: Thomas J. Crawford, and then to Samuel J. Crawford, a prominent attorney in Los Angeles who maintained ownership until 1945 when it was sold to George Edmond Haddox of Los Angeles. 

Renamed the American Hotel in 1943, the building, which continued to serve as a boarding house, developed a rather “seedy reputation”. Longtime residents recalled as children they were forbidden to visit or linger near the building and its use by prostitutes rampantly rumored.

Those rumors were in fact true. Audrey Wetta, a 36 year old married woman from Louisiana, became the manager of the American Hotel in about 1945. She was arrested in December of 1946 for operating “a house of ill fame, and with prostitution.” During her trial Helen E. Shepherd was called to the stand and testified that she arrived in Oceanside in June of 1946 to visit her husband who was apparently stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. She returned to Oceanside “at the suggestion of Mrs. Wetta in December, where she entertained men for pay at the American Hotel, and part of the pay went to Mrs. Wetta.”

Adeline Vincenzo also testified, stating that she too worked at the hotel “entertaining men” until late December of 1946, when the Oceanside Police Department arrested Audrey Wetta.

Police Captain Harold Davis testified that they had been notified from the Marine MP station in regard to the activities at the hotel. Captain Guy Woodward then submitted reports to the court from the San Diego county health department, “which showed they had on file two reports of VD infection, alleged to have originated from the hotel.”

Harold Davis and Guy Woodward of the Oceanside Police Department (1940)

Audrey Wetta did not deny her role as a Madam or even as a prostitute herself. She testified that “she believed correctly managed ‘houses’ were a service to men, as she had noted when she was employed in a hospital that 84 percent of the girls men picked up for immoral purposes transmitted a social disease to the men, while only four percent of the cases came from girls who were recognized prostitutes.”

Wetta told Judge D. A. Parson, “the first time she allowed her hotel to be used for illegal purposes was when a young Marine returned from a year and a half overseas to find the girl to whom he was engaged was going to marry someone else. In remorse he approached Mrs. Wetta and she arranged for a young wife in the hotel, who was in need of $10, to ‘entertain’ the remorseful Marine.”

She went on to say that after military personnel at Camp Pendleton diminished, so did her income. Wetta was $20 short in her monthly rent, and had “decided to entertain two men at $15 each, $10 of which was to go to a marine bringing the men to her, in order to raise the $20.”

After hearing her testimony, Judge Parsons sentenced Audrey Wetta to a year in the county jail.

Owner George Edward Haddox sold the hotel one week later to Ralph and Ella Rogers who promptly renamed their establishment the Traveler’s Hotel (as listed in phone directories) or Hotel Travelers (painted on building).

Rogers opened Rogers Music Co., also known as Rogers Phonograph Service, on the lower level and maintained the boarding house on the second floor.

1968 Ad for Rogers’ Phonograph Service

In 1959, Ella Rogers operated Gale’s Café near the Oceanside Pier at 300 1/2 North Strand, and in addition to his record store, Ralph Ross Rogers ran the Silver Dollar Tavern located at 312 Third Street (now Pier View Way). Rogers was described as “a goodhearted man who loved his parents dearly and was respected by many.”

Ralph Ross Rogers courtesy Ruby Rogers McCormick

True to its reputation, in 1962, there was a very public arrest at the Traveler’s, which made local papers and only solidified its reputation.  A young woman from Ohio, who had recently arrived in Oceanside, brought two 15 year old runaways from San Diego to the boarding house to exploit for prostitution. The girls told Oceanside Police Detective Floyd Flowers that they were to work in exchange for lodging, food and clothing.

Ella Rogers died in 1973, as Ralph continued to operate his music business while living in his building on Cleveland Street. On September 26, 1976 Ralph Rogers was found murdered at the Traveler’s Hotel, stabbed multiple times and strangled.

One month later an arrest was made. Joseph Shavon Whitaker, age 21, was arrested for not only Rogers’ murder, but that of William O. Clark’s in a San Diego hotel. Whitaker went to trial in 1977, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

After Rogers’ death the building was vacated and left to deteriorate. It seemed destined for the wrecking ball until it was purchased by realtor Chris Parsons in 1982. Parsons saw the potential in the weathered building and began its restoration.

Ownership of the building changed hands again until about 2009 when it was purchased by the current owner, who has maintained this gem of a building. While its reputation has been tainted with scandal, the building itself is nearly unchanged from when the Bunkers owned it over 130 years and provides historic charm and character to Downtown Oceanside.

St. Malo, Oceanside’s Secret Hideaway for the Rich and Famous

Over several decades many residents and visitors alike have often wondered who lived beyond the gate at the end of Oceanside’s South Pacific Street. An impressive entrance allowed but a sneak peek into beautiful homes with unique architectural features.

Kenyon A. Keith, a wealthy resident of Pasadena, purchased 28 acres of oceanfront property in 1928. The following year he began developing a colony with custom built homes that were designed to resemble a French fishing village, St. Malo.  Residency was by invitation only and limited to family and hand selected friends. 

The St. Malo Subdivision begins at Eaton and South Pacific Streets. However, the St. Malo community, also extends on either side of the 2000 block of South Pacific Street. As homes were constructed, and continue to be built, they are kept to a strict standard of architectural style and materials, built and weathered to appear as if they have been there for decades.

The entry way or St. Malo Gate, was designed by architect William McCay. Keith wanted an imposing entrance to the St. Malo Beach community and built it to represent “a sense of place.”

St. Malo Gate at the end of South Pacific Street, circa 1930
Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

St. Malo homes weren’t just weekend hideaways for the wealthy, wanting to escape from the city, they often “summered” there. Owners brought a full staff, with maids and cooks as most homes were built with “servants’ quarters.”

Homes were fondly described by owners as “story book cottages” or “chalets.”  Nicknamed “Pasadena on the Rocks”, St. Malo offered a private beach, playground, 3 tennis courts, a volleyball court and a clubhouse cabana.  Activities included exclusive cocktail parties, barbeques and trips to the Delmar Races.  Close friends of the owners were allowed to rent or even borrow houses for social gatherings and vacations.

Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

Although Oceanside residents were not likely privy to the comings and goings of colonists, their activities were posted in the society pages of the Los Angeles Times that featured headlines such as:  “St. Malo is Favorite for Pasadena Folk”; “St. Malo Beckons Social Set”; “St. Malo Beach Hums with Activity.” The social columnists promoted the exclusivity of St. Malo, but provided the names of the socialites and families that were staying there, along with their activities and other gossip.  They boasted that St. Malo parties were better than any in Hollywood.

View of St. Malo, Jason Joy’s palatial residence far right
Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

While newspaper articles attributed the location of St. Malo as in or near Oceanside, some attempted to place the community nearer tonier locales such La Jolla or Delmar. However, in 1950 the City of Oceanside annexed the St. Malo subdivision, at the owners’ request, which at the time had grown to 24 homes.  

The heyday of St. Malo was from the 1930s and 1960s.  Owners included Desaix Myers, a mining engineer; Dr. John Dunlop, pioneer orthopedic surgeon; Karl G. Von Platen, lumber magnate; Attorney Steve Halsted; Lamar Trotti, writer and film producer; W. John Kenney, Asst. Secretary of Navy; Frank Butler, screenwriter; songwriter Nacio Herb Brown; Hugh Darling, mayor of Beverly Hills; painter Marge Wilman.  Another wealthy “colonist” was Alice Pillsbury Forsman, daughter of the co-founder of the Pillsbury Mills.  St. Malo was such a way of life for most, even when they passed away their obituaries mentioned their affection of their St. Malo home away from home.

Other notable residents were film director Jason S. Joy and author Ben Hecht.  Joy’s St. Malo home was referred to as “La Garde Joyeuse” and included an outdoor bowling alley and volleyball court.  Hecht, whose prolific works include “Scarface”, purchased his St. Malo home in 1950. While living in Oceanside, he wrote a children’s book about a cat who roamed the streets of Oceanside. He said in an interview that he often wrote from his den overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Cover of the children’s book Ben Hecht wrote about a cat that lived in Oceanside, 1947

Homes within the colony sold for $57,000 (and up) in the 1940s, however, ownership was contingent upon “membership” and the approval of Kenyon Keith.

Over the years visitors have included Harpo Marx and James Maytag, (Maytag appliances). The most famous and royal visitors were none other than England’s Prince Phillip and Princess Anne, who stayed at St. Malo while attending events during the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

No longer quite as exclusive, new families mingle with the more “established” residents. While St. Malo is no longer a secret, it still remains private and the homes behind the gated entrance and those who live there, still evoke a bit of mystery.