Many longtime residents of Oceanside will fondly remember Huckabay’s Department Store at 501 Mission Avenue. This building, located on the southeast corner of Mission Avenue and Coast Highway, is 109 years old and was originally the J. E. Jones Hardware Store.
Joseph E. Jones was born in 1873, and came to California with his parents in 1888. They family settled in the San Luis Rey Valley where they lived on a ranch. Jones attended the Santa Barbara Business College and in 1893 became a clerk for the firm of Irwin & Co., dealers in dry-goods and general merchandise at Oceanside, located on Second Street (now Mission Avenue) and Freeman Street. Jones was industrious and worked “his way upward through diligent attention to every detail connected with the business.” After clerking for Isaac Irwin for several years, Jones purchased a portion of Irwin’s business, as it pertained to hardware and farm implements in 1906.
Jones acquired the vacant lot on the southeast corner of Second and Hill Streets (Mission and Coast Highway) in 1911 with plans to build a new home for his growing hardware business. Excavation began in 1912. This two-story structure included a basement and was a decidedly modern addition to downtown Oceanside.
The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported on June 7, 1913:
J. E. Jones this week began the transfer of his hardware business from his quarters on the north side of Second Street to his new building on the corner of Second and Hill. The final touches were put on the new building the first of the week and the last of the work marks the completion of one of the best if not the best business block in San Diego county outside the city of San Diego.
The building, 85 x 100 feet in size, is of reinforced concrete construction throughout, walls and floors being of this enduring material strengthened with steel ribs. There are two stories and a basement, the latter being the entire size of the building and prepared and fitted especially for its use in the display and storage of hardware and implements. The first floor is the main store and here the finish and fittings are the very finest and most substantial to be had, everything being arranged for the convenient transaction of business. There are three entrances to the store besides the main doorway on Second Street, two on Hill Street and one from the alley in the rear. Access to the basement is gained by stairs in the rear of the first floor and by a freight elevator which is operated from the sidewalk in front.
The second floor has been left partly unfinished and will be finished up later, either for offices or apartments, as necessity may demand. The windows are plate and prism glass, affording ample light to all portions of the building. Scores of electric lights make provision for the lighting at night, there being fifty tungsten lamps in the main store alone, so that when the building is lighted up it is the brightest spot in town with a metropolitan appearance that would do credit to a large city. A nobby gold sign, the letters fastened in relief on the front and sides of the building, puts the finishing touch to Oceanside’s finest business block.
In addition to his business interests, Jones was active in civic life, serving as a city trustee (councilmember), later as city treasurer, and served two terms as mayor. He was also president of the Oceanside Federal Savings and Loan Association. Joseph Eli Jones died at his home at 904 Second Street (Mission Avenue) in 1944.
In 1928 Henry A. and Tracy B. Howe occupied the building and operated Howe Hardware until they moved into a new location just up the street at 517 Second Street (Mission Avenue).
Ike Glasser purchased the building in 1934. Glasser was a native of Austria and came to the United States as an apprentice tailor. He and his wife Lena came to Oceanside in 1929 and operated a mercantile store in downtown Oceanside.
In 1939 Hiram and Walter Huckabay bought the building. Hiram Huckabay came to Oceanside from Colton in 1934 and previously operated the Ben Franklin Variety Store at 201 North Hill Street (aka Coast Highway). The Huckabay’s opened their department store, which was a popular retail store in downtown for many years.
The upstairs of the building served as offices and storage. In June of 1945 Ray Goodman leased the upstairs and opened a dance hall and snack bar called the Silver Slipper Ballroom. Entrance to the upper floor was made via an entrance on North Hill Street aka Coast Highway. Longtime resident and Oceanside native Ernie Carpenter remembered in an interview: “When I was in high school, they had a dance hall on the top. Saturday night dances for the kids, it was really great. Now that was in the ’40s; that was the Silver Slipper.” When renovation of this building took place in the late 1980’s, an upper floor window was discovered with the name of the ballroom painted on it.
In 1951 Huckabay hired Richardson Brothers, local contractors, to build an addition to the building at a cost of $25,000. It was likely at this time that the building was “modernized” to include a large metal awning that wrapped around the front of the building.
In 1954 the local newspaper Oceanside Blade Tribune, featured the Huckabay’s:
The growth of Huckabay’s, well-known Oceanside department store, leads back to a period of 55 years ago when H.C. Huckabay as a youth went into the general store business in Marmaduke, Arkansas. This line of business he followed for a good many years, first in the Oklahoma town and then for a period in Foraker, Oklahoma, and Claremore, Oklahoma.In 1928 Huckabay retired and moved with his family to Colton, California where inactivity soon began to pall on him and he operated a broom factory in that city, an unusual but successful enterprise which continued until 1934 when he bought the G.A. Wisdom business in Oceanside. This latter business was operated in a Ben Franklin variety store in the location where Gilbert’s 5 & 10 now operates.
In 1938 he purchased a half-interest in the variety store business which less than 12 months later gained its present identity when father and son purchased their present department store at Hill and Second street from Ike Glasser.During the period from 1948 to 1951 Huckabay’s business underwent a considerable expansion program which saw the remodeling of the store exterior and the construction of a new addition to the building which doubled its floor space and made it possible for much larger stocks of merchandise display.
With the advent of shopping malls and shopping centers in the 1960s, retailers in downtowns across the country were negatively impacted, and Oceanside was not immune. Many downtown retails shops vacated the business district and relocated to the newer shopping centers that afforded free and ample parking along with convenience.
The Huckabay family continued to operate their department store even as the business landscape of downtown Oceanside was changing. Although they retained ownership of the building, they sold the business in 1977 to Edward R. and Gabrielle Meyers. The Meyers operated the store under the name Huckabay’s and Bargain Circus until 1981 when they filed bankruptcy.
When Harley Hartman purchased the building in 1989, it had been vacant and left in a neglected state. Hartman renovated the building at a cost of $1.4 million dollars and opened Fullerton Mortgage and Escrow Co. Among the changes made were the removal of the wrap around awning and elimination of a portion of the stucco façade that had covered the second tier of windows. Hartman did extensive interior improvements including the restoration of the decorative tin ceiling that was original to the J. E. Jones Hardware store.
Now the building is vacant once again and is waiting for a new purpose and perhaps another renovation and restoration.
Many of our buildings in downtown Oceanside have an interesting history. While its façade has changed along with its use, here is a history of the building which is now home to Swami’s Café in Oceanside.
Before the present day building was constructed, the property was owned by local businessman Jesse Newton and occupied by the Squirrel Inn, a small roadside stand and café that served not only locals but the traveling public. From 1918 to 1923, the Squirrel Inn had various owners including Mary Ulrich, Nina Foss, and Jack Taylor. It operated 24 hours a day for the “patronage of the large amount of night traffic” that traveled through Oceanside via Hill Street which was part of the original Highway 101.
In 1923 the Squirrel Inn was moved to a location north on Hill Street (Coast Highway) to make way for the construction of a new service station. The corner was leased by the Shell Oil Company from Newton and a new service station was built on the location later that year.
Then in 1927 Jesse Newton sold the property to the Bank of Italy National Trust and Savings Association. The service station was removed and a new bank building added to Oceanside’s growing “business district.” The establishment of a major bank in downtown Oceanside was an important and significant development for the City. Oceanside’s commercial district served not only the general population but the smaller nearby towns including Carlsbad, Vista and Fallbrook.
The new building was designed by the architectural firm of Morgan, Walls, and Clements, a renowned firm established by Julia Morgan. Arthur Nelson and George Willett, of Nelson and Willett, were the local contractors who built the bank in 1928. A portion of the new bank building, built to serve as a storefront, was leased out to Charles A. Turner, a local realtor. In 1934 this storefront was leased to Clay Jolliff, a local jeweler.
The Bank of Italy was renamed Bank of America in 1930. During the Depression years, many banks closed and families lost their savings, but Bank of America managed to stay solvent.
After the establishment of the military base Camp Joseph H. Pendleton, the population of Oceanside nearly tripled in ten years. This growth brought the necessity of new schools, more housing and increased commercial development. In response, Bank of America wanted a larger and more modern building to serve its growing clientele. In 1950 they built a new bank building on the northeast corner of Second (now Mission Avenue) and Ditmar streets.
In September of 1950 the original building, which stood vacant, was sold to Isadore A. Teacher. Teacher was a native of Lithuania who came to Southern California in the 1920s. He owned a chain of jewelry stores and considerable property in San Diego County. Shortly after the bank building was purchased by Teacher, it was completely remodeled. The interior largely stripped and the outer façade modified and the exterior awning added. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that it was now “one of the most modern structures in Oceanside.”
The former bank building was then leased to Joseph B. Schwartz, a pharmacist who opened the Oceanside Pharmacy in December of 1950. John Graham operated the pharmacy’s lunch and soda counter. “Bushy” Graham would later own several popular drive-in restaurants, including the present day 101 Cafe. Roger’s Clothiers occupied the storefront in the north section of the building soon after.
Claude V. and Ouida “Ruth” Johnson acquired the property in 1964. Johnson had opened a sporting goods store at 210 North Hill Street (Coast Highway) and continued to lease the building to the Oceanside Pharmacy which remained in operation.
In the 1970s Dutch Jewelers occupied the smaller storefront, while A&W Root Beer occupied the former bank building. In 1979 the Johnson’s moved their sporting goods business into the building. Tragically Claude Johnson was murdered in his store on February 21, 1979, just one month after he moved into the building. His widow Ruth Johnson and son Greg continued to run the sporting goods store for over 20 years.
In 2014 the building was sold to restaurateurs Jaime and Rosa Osuna. A number of renovations were made, including exposing the interior brick and original roof truss and rafters. The building has been repurposed once again and is a popular downtown restaurant, Swami’s Café.
In late January of 1931, newspapers across the United States published stories with a similar rumor: That famed gangster Al “Scarface” Capone was bringing his mobsters to Southern California along with plans to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita. The Los Angeles Times reported that if taken over by Capone, the vast property could be “fortified into an estate defying entrance, with a boat landing where liquor could be landed at will, defying Federal forces.”
Al Capone both terrified and captivated the Nation with his crimes and exploits. Two years prior Capone’s men were responsible for the deadly St. Valentine’s Day Massacre which killed seven men. Although he was not at the scene of the murders, it was believed he ordered it. He was then given the status of “Public Enemy Number One.”
The little town of Oceanside had a population of just 3,500 people. Residents enjoyed a quiet relationship with the owners of the Rancho Santa Margarita. The cattle ranch employed a number of locals and area farmers leased land to grow crops, including lima beans, sugar beets and alfalfa. This would seemingly come to a halt should the Rancho be under the control of the most infamous gangster in America.
Los Angeles law enforcement revealed that among various gangsters in the Southland included Frankie Foster, Baldy Nevins, Louis Frank, Bill Bailey and a brother of Ralph Sheldon. The men were said to be “all known hoodlums from the ranks of the gangster army.”
Charles S. Hardy, the general manager of the Rancho bordering Oceanside to the north, refuted the claims that Capone was buying the vast property. The Oceanside Blade published his statement: “We have had no call from agents relative to the sale of the rancho for some time,” said Hardy, “I am positive that neither Capone nor any of his men nor anyone representing him has ever made any overtures to purchase the holdings. I doubt very much that any of the Chicago gangsters ever heard of the ranch, much less started an attempt to purchase it.”
The Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores once belonged to Pio Pico, last Governor of Alta California under Mexican rule. Pico sold his interest to his brother-in-law, John Forster. After Forster’s death in 1882, the property was sold to Comstock silver magnate James C. Flood, who hired cattle rancher Richard O’Neill as manager. Some years after the death of James Flood, Richard O’Neill was given half ownership of the land, 133,440 acres. O’Neill gave his interest in the Rancho to his son Jerome. When Jerome O’Neill died in 1926, the rancho was inherited by his descendants who later hired Hardy to help manage it.
While Hardy’s statement sought to dispel the rumor of Capone’s interest in the Rancho, law enforcement was in fact “on the trail of men described as gangsters” who were associated with a series of recent crimes in Southern California. The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported that the suspects were believed to be members of the Sheldon gang, a notorious bootlegging gang in Chicago affiliated with Al Capone.
Despite Hardy’s denials, The Los Angeles Times reported “Heads of a local real estate firm are said to have reported three men representing themselves as agents of Capone recently offered $200,000 for an option on the ranch, which has an 18-mile ocean frontage and attempted to rush the deal before authorities could prevent it.” In another article, it was said that the men had a certified check ready to remit as a down payment.
Law enforcement believed a smuggling ring was particularly interested in the historic rancho because of the extensive ocean frontage it provided. “Long miles of unguarded coast line and Southern California’s easy accessibility to the Mexican border” were attractive to the “racketeers” and had in fact been used by smugglers and bootleggers for many years.
With the onset of Prohibition, boats were often used to transport alcohol that was smuggled from Mexico. The open coastline north of Oceanside was a perfect place to land small boats, and bootleggers made extensive use of the lonely beaches in landing their cargoes. Oceanside Police and other law enforcement were kept busy chasing bootleggers and confiscating liquor.
While authorities downplayed the Capone story near Oceanside, Southern California residents may have been surprised to hear that police admitted that “75 percent of the Hollywood speakeasies [were] under the control of a Chicago gang.” Bootleggers were assigned territories and promised protection as long as they agreed to purchase liquor from the gang. This takeover was described as an “octopus” with strength and muscle to control the area. The Times also reported that an “influx of Chicago, Detroit, New York, St. Louis and Kansas City gangsters” were an indication that Southern California would soon be a “smugglers’ paradise.”
Whether or not Capone was in the State of California, just two months earlier, Capone was blamed for what was called the “grape juice war” with California grape growers. It was alleged that Capone warned Fruit Industries, Ltd. to stop selling and distributing juice concentrate in Chicago, which could later be turned into wine and therefore compete with Capone’s illegal liquor sales. The Sacramento Bee reported that Capone had threatened that if sales were attempted against his orders that someone was “going to be bumped off”.
In Washington D.C. an elected official seeking legislation against Capone commented, “When Al Capone can go from Chicago to California and threaten the life of a man who is selling grape juice, something must be done.” Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation monitored the “grape juice war” and is included in the FBI files on Al Capone.
Los Angeles newspaper reporters claimed that they went to a ranch outside Los Angeles to an undisclosed location to speak directly to a man who identified himself as Al Capone (who told them not to divulge the ranch’s location). During the interview Capone denied involvement in the grape juice wars and instead blamed it on the New York mob.
Where was this ranch where Capone was residing in 1930? It may have been in Lancaster, California. Just days after the news that Al Capone had made an offer on the Rancho Santa Margarita, newspapers reported that there was a mob hideout in Lancaster, about 75 miles north of Los Angeles where bombs and weapons had been found. (It was later rumored but never substantiated that Capone also had a house in Fontana.)
Oceanside residents were rightfully concerned. What would happen if Capone took control of the Santa Margarita? Would local farmers lose access to their crops? Would gangsters seek control over the tiny beach town? Would access via the state highway through the Rancho be hindered? It was a lonely stretch of road that was even lonelier at nightfall.
Fears of the Rancho being taken over by gangsters subsided in February, when Capone was found guilty in Federal Court on a contempt of court charge and was sentenced to a brief stint in the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois.
However, in June of 1931, Homer Croy, a writer from Hollywood, resurrected the story in an article that he wrote for Liberty Magazine. The two page article declared that Al Capone had in fact “acquired a domain in California about two thirds as large as the state of Rhode Island, 35 miles from end to end and with many miles of seacoast.” A photo of Capone, along with a map of the Rancho Santa Margarita, was included.
Croy wrote that Capone would be well suited to Rancho life and that “horseback riding will do him good, for Al is getting overweight” and added, “Don Alfonso Capone can live on his hacienda, sit in his patio, and smoke and talk to his friends to his heart’s content about real estate.”
The Oceanside Blade Tribune suggested that Croy’s piece was fiction and “some good publicity” as the map provided in the article showed the San Luis Rey Mission and Oceanside’s proximity to the famed rancho.
And while Homer Croy’s article was written either tongue in cheek or for pure sensationalism, it didn’t matter. Liberty magazine boasted a readership of over 2 million, and was sold from coast to coast. The story of Capone purchasing the historic ranch once again attracted national attention and was front page news.
Charles Hardy once again went on the defensive, vehemently denying that the Chicago crime czar had purchased the property.
Whether Al Capone really attempted to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita is unknown. But if so, Capone would never have a chance to pursue or close the deal. Just days after the Liberty Magazine story was published and circulated, Al Capone pled guilty to tax evasion and prohibition charges under the assumption he would serve a light sentence as before. But on October 17, 1931, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and he would eventually be sent to Alcatraz. It was the end of his life of crime but he would long reign as America’s most notorious criminal.
Oceanside residents breathed a collective sigh of relief and a sense of normalcy settled back in. Little would change until a decade later when the historic Rancho became the largest military base in the country, training Marines for World War II.
On a quiet summer night off a dirt road in northeast Oceanside, California laid the body of Marine Staff Sergeant Carlo G. Troiani. He had been shot twice, once in the back and once in the neck. As he lay dead or dying, tire marks on his lower legs suggest he had been run over by a vehicle.
Troiani, who served his country in Vietnam, was killed, not by a foreign enemy but by one he would have considered a brother, a fellow Marine. The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis or Semper Fi for short, Latin for “always faithful”. But unfaithfulness would result in Carlo Troiani’s death. His murder was orchestrated by his wife of five years.
On August 10, 1984, Laura Troiani had lured her husband to a remote area under the pretense of car trouble. When her husband dutifully came to her aid in the middle of the night, she waited for her plan to unfold. As Carlo pulled off North River Road to help his wife, Laura tapped her brake light. This was a prompt that signaled two Marines who were in hiding to step out and to ambush Carlo. One of the Marines, later identified as Mark J. Schulz, shot the defenseless man in the back.
After being shot Carlo cried out to his wife, “Laura, I’ve been hit!” Laura watched impassively from her car as the scene played out. There was no attempt to save her husband, no attempt to help or abort the mission. She watched the Marines grab Carlo as he instinctively tried to find cover and crawl under the vehicle. They pulled him by his legs and shot Carlo again, this time in the neck with the bullet exiting his face as he collapsed. Laura watched it all. Her husband, the father of her children, was dead.
Laura and the two Marines, Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz then drove to a 7-11 convenience store on Vandegrift Boulevard where three other Marines, Russell Sanders, Kevin Watkins and Jeffrey Mizner, were waiting with Laura’s two small children. This woman who had coldly masterminded the murder of her own husband and watched him die, had left her two young children, ages 5 and 2, in the care of two men who had helped plan the murder of their father. Two little ones any caring mother would have safely tucked in bed hours ago, were instead left with strangers at midnight standing in front of a convenience store. The children, too young to know what was happening, had no idea they would never see their daddy again.
After her murderous plot was accomplished Laura took her children to a friend’s house to spend the night — instead of taking them home where they belonged. It was just before 1 am in the morning. She told Annabelle Thompson that she was coming home from a Tupperware party and had a flat tire. This story is simply inconceivable — what was she doing at a Tupperware party in the middle of the night with her children? But lies came easy to Laura Troiani. It did not matter to her that the story made no sense. It only mattered to her that she was free to do as she pleased. By dropping her children off, she was free of her children, and free of Carlo forever.
Annabelle watched as Laura hopped on the back of a motorcycle driven by a “Marine-type.” They took the same dark and winding route on North River Road where the murder occurred. On the way to Vista they passed by the lifeless body of Carlo Troiani. Another route could have been taken but the two callously drove past the murder scene, perhaps satisfied with their deed.
After Laura returned to her apartment she picked up the phone and called police, feigning concern for her husband who she claimed did not come home as expected. She called police twice more. Then Laura called her husband’s friend Marty Gunter saying that she had a premonition that Carlo was in danger. She called him three additional times in less than an hour.
Meanwhile, the Oceanside Police Department had been alerted by a passerby who had discovered the body of Carlo Troiani. John Brohamer, Jr. was the first Oceanside Police Officer to arrive at the murder scene at 3 am. He found Carlo Troiani face down in the dirt in a pool of blood. The engine of his Ford Mustang was still running with the headlights on, piercing through the darkness. Detective Ed Jacobs was notified and upon arrival he initiated the criminal investigation.
Detective Jacobs said in an interview that it was a “good crime scene” because it was done in a remote area and had therefore been left in pristine condition. As they waited for the sun to rise, nothing had been disturbed. Shoe prints left in the dirt, along with tire tracks were noted. These matched Laura’s 1968 Ford Galaxy which was found by police. It had a flat tire after being hit but a bullet from the same gun that killed Carlo.
It did not take long for Laura to be visited by Detectives Jacobs and Bob George. They went to her Vista apartment at 8 am. When advised of Carlo’s death, Laura did not seem at all surprised, nor did she exhibit any grief or sadness. She was taken to the police station for questioning and she would never leave their custody.
After a lengthy interrogation and numerous false stories, Laura Troiani would eventually confess and name her co-conspirators.
The Detectives also conducted interviews of the neighbors in the apartment complex where the Troiani’s lived, who confirmed Laura’s plan was to have her husband killed. They reported to police that she had solicited a number of men in recent weeks to accomplish the deadly task and there were at least two failed prior attempts.
Oceanside Police Sergeant Ron Call drove to Camp Margarita aboard the military base. The Marines were put in formation, then identified one by one, and eventually taken into police custody.
Police apprehended and arrested five young Marines, all under the age of 21, with the murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani. They were with H&S Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Camp Pendleton: Russell E. Sanders, 20, Kevin W. Watkins, 18, Mark J. Schulz, 19, Jeffrey T. Mizner, 20, and Russell A. Harrison, 19.
These Marines called themselves “The Gremlins,” after the movie Gremlins, which had just been released that summer, two months before the murder, about creatures that “transform into small, destructive, evil monsters.”
Laura Ann Cox was born in Los Angeles, California in the summer of 1961. By all accounts hers was not a happy childhood. She was a neglected child, raised by a mother who was described as self-involved and slovenly, spending hours watching daytime television and reading romance novels rather than tending to her three children. Without the love and proper care of a mother, the children were left to themselves, and as result, were poorly dressed, disheveled and dirty. Due to a lack of proper personal hygiene, Laura and her siblings were seen as outcasts at both school and church.
The family moved to Washington State where Laura would grow up. Laura’s parents separated when she was seven years old and divorced about three years later. She remembered it as a turning point in her life. Just two years after the divorce, Laura’s mother Catherine remarried in 1973. The marriage offered little stability in Laura’s life. Her mother was inattentive and labeled as a hypochondriac, caring more for herself than her family.
If her mother was a poor example of a parental figure, Laura’s biological father was no better. Lawrence J. Cox was described as angry and had a drinking problem. He was sent to prison for attempted murder after he shot at a neighbor.
Laura had a brief relationship with an unnamed man and became pregnant at the age of 17. Apparently the biological father was quickly out of the picture and Laura found herself alone. She met and married Carlo Troiani who told her he was willing to raise her unborn baby as his own. In Carlo, Laura found the security she never had.
Carlo Grant Troiani was 15 years older than Laura, born in 1947 in Seattle, Washington. His marriage to Laura was his third, and he had two children, one from each of his previous marriages.
Carlo was in the Navy, serving in Viet Nam in the late 1960s. He was released from the Navy and joined the Marine Reserves and later enlisted in the Marine Corps. Carlo was a Marine Recruiter in Tacoma, Washington from 1976 to 1979. His supervisor recalled that he was one of the “proudest individual in the Marine Corps” he had ever met, he loved being a Marine and worked “aggressively” as a recruiter to meet his quota and prove his worth.
Carlo and Laura were married August 3, 1979 in Pierce, Washington. It was a Marine Corps “full dress” wedding with Marines in their dress blues. After the ceremony, Laura and Carlo walked underneath an arch of swords, where a group of six to eight Marines stand on either side to create an arch as if to “shelter the bride” as she and the groom walk out.
Laura gave birth to a son and shortly thereafter, Carlo Troiani was sent to Orange County, California as a Marine Corps Recruiter. In 1982 Laura gave birth to another child, a daughter. Eventually Carlo Troiani was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Assigned to H&S Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group (1st FSSG), he was a military police or “MP”. The couple got an apartment in Vista on Foothill Drive.
Infidelity and Murder Plots
Laura Troiani may have found security in her marriage to Carlo but she did not find happiness. She was continually unfaithful. It was even reported that she had slept with her husband’s best man (before or after) their wedding. Carlo knew of her infidelities and was angry. However, he sought to salvage his marriage and the two attended marriage counseling in the spring and summer of 1984.
James Bondell, family and marriage counselor, would later describe Laura Troiani as a manipulator and a “hard person” who “tormented” her husband. The Troiani’s attended 20 sessions from April through July, wherein Bondell also noted that “Laura Troiani teased her husband by withholding sex from him, was the dominant force in their relationship and was otherwise ‘ambivalent’ about marital problems the couple was experiencing.” He also noted that Laura complained that Carlo wanted her to “stay home and be with him.” This statement would suggest that Carlo was aware, at least to some extent, of Laura’s extracurricular activities.
Despite Carlo’s attempts to save his marriage, Laura’s presence at the sessions seems disingenuous at best. Carlo was sent to Korea and while gone, Laura threw a party over Memorial Day weekend. There she met Darryl Nelson and was intimate with him that very day. During the two month affair, she asked Nelson if he knew anyone that could “do a hit” on her husband. When he asked Laura about simply getting a divorce, she replied in the negative, complaining that she would then have to get a job and take care of her children, which was apparently out of the question.
Jessie Montgomery, a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps attended a party thrown by Laura and noticed that Laura Troiani and a man emerged from her bedroom. Montgomery was then informed that Laura only married Carlo for security and that “the marriage was one of convenience.” Troiani spoke to Montgomery about getting rid of Carlo and even stated that she knew someone who would “put a contract out on him.”
Over this same weekend Laura talked to Kevin Manwarren and Bill Fenley, unambiguously telling them she wanted her husband dead. Manwarren, who would later claim to be joking, offered to kill Carlo Troiani for $5,000, to which Laura quickly offered: “Well, I can take care of it out of the insurance proceeds.” (Carlo had two policies that totaled $95,000.) Laura then followed up their conversation with several phone calls to Manwarren, anxious to elaborate on a plan to have her husband killed. He demurred.
Annabelle Thompson recalled that Laura had also told her that she knew a person in Tustin, California who would “take care” of Carlo and that he was “worth more dead.”
It appears that many of the men Laura encountered thought that she was joking and did not take her seriously, but she continued searching and sleeping with potential would-be assassins. None seemed willing to commit murder for her.
In July of 1984 Kim Hartmann moved into the apartment complex in which the Troiani’s lived. The two women met and Laura wasted no time by complaining to Hartmann about Carlo and that she wanted him killed. Hartmann said Laura talked about it constantly. Laura also told Hartmann that Carlo, keenly aware of her unhappiness, offered Laura a divorce, a way out, and said that he would pay her rent and child support. But Laura would not be dissuaded. She wanted Carlo’s insurance money and for that he had to die.
On July 19th Hartmann went with Laura to an E-club (Enlisted club) on Camp Pendleton. There Laura met Jeffrey Mizner for the first time and was introduced to the other Marines who eventually would be the accomplices to Carlo’s murder, including the triggerman Mark Schulz. Hartmann would later testify that Laura kept bringing up the subject of having her husband killed, even though she had just met them. Laura was unapologetically, unabashedly, out to have Carlo murdered and she apparently did care about first impressions.
It is significant to point out that in conversations with Kim Hartmann, someone she felt close enough to tell about wanting her husband murdered, Laura Troiani did not allege or assert to her that she was being abused by Carlo. Hate and money were her given motives. In marriage counseling, even when she attended one-on-one sessions without Carlo, she never complained of abuse of any kind, only that Carlo had a “yelling problem.”
The Marines began to plot with Laura Troiani, as the ringleader, the killing of Carlo Troiani. Mark Schulz told other Marines in his company that he had been “hired to waste someone” and was recruiting anyone else that might be interested in helping with the deed, adding their cut would be $500 to $600. Schulz along with Russell Harrison, Jeff Mizner, and Russell Sanders began to solicit information on how to kill someone, which including poison, making a bomb and using a firearm.
For several days in a row, Laura would take her two children and drive 35 miles each way to the remote base camp to visit with the Marines at Camp Margarita so that they could discuss their “options.”
August 3, 1984 was the occasion of the Troiani’s fifth wedding anniversary. Carlo, oblivious to the fact that his bride was planning to have him killed, toasted his wife that evening.
The First Attempt
On the night of August 6, 1984, Laura and Kim Hartmann went to the E-Club at Camp Margarita aboard the military base. There Laura plotted with the Marines to kill Carlo (This group included Kevin Watkins). All of whom seemed eager to carry out the plot. Harrison and Schulz had weapons, a knife and a gun, which they put into Laura’s car. They then traveled to the Del Mar Club, located near the beach of Camp Pendleton. At the club the conversation of killing Carlo continued. This was no fantasy talk or mere joking. The group planned to carry out the plot that night. Harrison suggested that the Marines “jump” Carlo at his car, attack and kill him with a knife, rather than attract attention with a gunshot.
Laura and Kim Hartmann were dropped off at a market in order to call Carlo and tell him that Laura’s car had broken down. She told Carlo that she was stranded in Carlsbad with their children. But exactly where were the children on a Monday evening, if not with her or Carlo? Like her own mother, it seemed she had no instinctual love and care for her children.
Hartmann claims that she tried to keep Laura from going through with her plans, saying it wasn’t too late and that she could still call Carlo back to keep him from being murdered by the Marines who were lying in wait. Laura’s reply was, “Nope, I got to get it over with.”
The Marines then hid in an area near Carlo’s vehicle, waiting for him to come out of his apartment. However, because his car was nearly out of gas, Carlo had called his friend Corporal Marty Gunter, to come and take him to look for Laura. Ambushing Carlo alone was not feasible and the group was unable to fulfill their deadly plan.
Carlo and Marty diligently searched for Laura and the children for four hours, to no avail. (This was before the convenience of cell phones.) Unsuccessful in their search, Marty dropped Carlo back at his apartment building.
When Laura discovered the plan to kill her husband did not go through, she was furious. She told the Marines that she “couldn’t stand it” and that it had to be done that night. Russell Harrison volunteered to go up to the Troiani apartment and to slit Carlo’s throat. Laura gave him the key. However sinister and bloody this particular scenario would have been, it is believed it was abandoned altogether as the group was spotted, likely by an apartment resident.
The Second Attempt
While the group did not want to be seen that night by outsiders, it was an open secret that Laura and the Marines were seeking to murder Carlo as they spoke about it openly to several people. The following day, Jeffrey Mizner told Robert Guerrero, a fellow Marine, about his “girlfriend Laura”, and that she was trying to get someone to kill her husband. Mizner asked his roommate “how to blow up a car by running a wire from the sparkplug to the carburetor.”
Apparently, this was now the chosen method of murder. Russell Sanders shared a story with yet another Marine how they had “practiced” by attaching a wire to the sparkplug of Kevin Watkin’s motorcycle and hooked the other to a mouse to electrocute it. They watched it die.
Satisfied that a similar technique would also kill Carlo, his vehicle was rigged with the wire from the sparkplug placed into the gas tank of his truck. The attempt failed and did not detonate. In fact, Carlo found the device and removed it. Marines in his unit remembered him laughing about it, thinking it was a harmless prank by one of them.
Jeff Mizner then complained to Marine Joseph Hickman that the sparkplug scheme did not work. Mizner even said that he had lost sleep over the failure and the plan was now just to shoot Carlo Troiani.
With at least two thwarted murder attempts, on August 9, 1984, Laura Troiani would not be denied. Mark Schulz borrowed a .357 pistol from David Schenne on the pretense of doing some target practice. That same day Laura went to the local Kmart (at the time located next to the Oceanside Police Station) to purchase bullets for the weapon and the group laid out their final lethal plan.
That evening between 8 and 9 pm, Laura went to the apartment of Diane and Randy Gray with her two children. Soon after Mizner, Harrison, Sanders, Schulz and Watkins arrived. The group huddled together, whispering their plots and because the Gray’s were concerned about the secretive behavior, asked what was going on. Sanders replied, “Never mind, we don’t want you to get involved further.”
The group left the apartment with Jeffrey Mizner riding on the back of Watkins’ motorcycle and Laura, Schulz, Harrison and Sanders, along with Laura’s two children, drove away in her car. The group pulled up to a 7-11 on Vandegrift Boulevard (which leads to the rear gate of Camp Pendleton).
Sanders and Watkins called Carlo Troiani, presumably as “good Samaritans”, to tell him that his wife’s car was broken down and they directed Carlo to a remote location on North River Road.
Meanwhile, Carlo had called Stephanie Howard, a friend of Laura’s, to ask if she knew where Laura and the children were. He was genuinely concerned for his wife, while she was getting ready to have him killed.
Laura, along with Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz, drove to the location they had chosen for their ambush to wait for Carlo, a dirt turnoff on North River Road, three miles east of Vandegrift Boulevard.
A clerk back at the 7-11 reported seeing two small children with at least one Marine (Jeffrey Mizner) standing outside near the ice machine. They were there for 45 minutes. Waiting … in the middle of the night …. while Laura completed her plan to have her husband killed.
Laura Troiani would describe herself as helpless to stop the murder of her husband, an event she had longed for, recruited for, and set in motion. As he was shot by Mark Schulz with bullets purchased by Laura, Carlo’s last words were to her, a cry for help. But rather than help him, she left her husband for dead by the side of that dark road.
After the murder, the trio drove west on North River Road back to the 7-11. The clerk there reported seeing a vehicle drive up with a flat tire. One of the men came into the store to buy a can of tire inflator and once the tire was sufficiently inflated the group departed.
The murder of Carlo Troiani was the last case Detective Ed Jacobs worked on before he retired from the Oceanside Police Department. After investigating the murder scene, he and his partner Bob George went to the Troiani apartment to speak with Laura the morning that Carlo’s body was discovered.
Detective George went through Laura’s car which had been impounded. He found evidence that Laura had purchased bullets at Kmart and interviewed the clerk, who specifically remembered Laura because he had given her wad-cutter bullets, commonly used for target shooting, and she insisted on lead caliber bullets.
Laura Troiani was taken to the police station for “routine questioning.” During the interview Jacobs said that Laura remained calm and was not visibly upset when told about her husband’s murder.
One of the first stories Laura Troiani told investigators was that she and her two children were abducted by three men who forced her to call her husband to lure him out to North River Road. She said she was separated from her children, and after Carlo was murdered, was taken to be reunited with them and warned not to tell anyone or that she would be killed.
Detective Jacobs and George listened as Laura then changed her story and said that she was at Kmart when five men on two motorcycles abducted her. When detectives questioned the veracity of that story and asked how five men were on just two motorcycles, Laura simply said, “I don’t know.”
Yet another story that Laura offered was that she and the children were driving around all day after Carlo said he wanted a divorce. She ran out of gas and then discovered she had a flat tire. Two strangers on motorcycles came to her rescue, one drove her and children to the babysitter’s house (Anna Thompson), and then one took her to her Vista apartment. When asked by detectives if she was worried at all by these strangers giving her a ride in the middle of the night, Laura replied, “No”, because she was “a good judge of character.”
Laura’s next defense strategy was her unfaithfulness. “Why would I want to have my husband shot? Sure, we had marital problems. Sure, I was having affairs on the side,” Laura told investigators. “I was having a ball, being married and fooling around.”
Detective Jacobs said that Laura Troiani never mentioned any abuse by her husband in the lengthy interrogation that spanned over nearly 12 hours. She eventually confessed and gave up the names of the Marines, who were all stationed in the same unit.
During a phone call while Laura was being held in jail, she told Marty Gunter that her husband had “suffered not more than two to three minutes” the night he was murdered. She thought her comments would come across as reassuring and compassionate but only served to further expose her lack of remorse and coldness.
Meanwhile Laura’s co-conspirators were bragging about Carlo’s murder to their fellow Marines on base. After taken into custody at the Vista Detention Center, Mark Schulz told a fellow cellmate about the murder, including that Carlo Troiani had begged for his life before being fatally shot.
Three years after Carlo’s murder, the murder trial of Laura Troiani began in the San Diego Superior Court, North County, located in Vista. She was the first woman in San Diego County to face the death penalty in California in 25 years.
Laura not only succeeded in having her husband murdered, her attorneys now went about destroying his character. Her defense team would portray Carlo Troiani as controlling, angry, having a drinking problem and being physically abusive.
But before the defense had its turn, District Attorney Paul Pfingst would send a myriad of witnesses to the stand, including the Troiani’s marriage counselor, who would testify that it was Laura, not Carlo, who controlled the family. Far from being fearful of an abusive husband, it was Carlo who “was in fear of [Laura’s] moods.” The counselor added, that Carlo “walked on eggshells most of the time, not wanting to upset her [because] she would become very mean to him.” While Laura gave her affections away to numerous men, Carlo was ignored. “He had a wonderful day if he got a kiss or she put her arm around him,” the counselor testified.
When asked if Laura Troiani was a “fragile” woman desperate for her husband’s approval for her self-worth, the counselor replied, “No. She didn’t need it because she was pretty much in control of the relationship.”
Stephanie Howard, who knew Laura since 1981, testified that Carlo Troiani loved his wife and was trying to improve his marriage. She went on to testify that Laura had Carlo “wrapped around her little finger. She’d be a cold fish one minute, and then when she wanted something (from him), she’d warm up.”
Howard also told the jury that Laura openly admitted to her that she “had more than one boyfriend.” More damningly, Laura told her “she wanted to hire someone to kill” Carlo and that “she wanted to make sure he was not in her life again.” In response, Howard said she tried to talk Laura out of it and suggested a divorce, but Laura would hear none of it.
Leeca Smardon, manager of the Foothills apartment complex, testified that Laura expressed to her that was not happy about Carlo returning from Korea. She reported that Laura told her, “I wish he’d never come back. That would make me happier.” Smardon added, “When Carlo was home, I never heard any screaming, shouting or disputes from their apartment. When he went to Korea, there was a lot of traffic into the apartment, and it was mainly males.”
Kmart employee Richard Deem testified to the fact that it was Laura, accompanied by a male, who purchased the bullets that killed Carlo. He remembered the event because there was a “price mix-up” and particularly noted Laura’s demeanor that day. “She was forceful and rude.” He said, “I was behind the counter, and the male asked for ammo, I believe for a .38 special. I was uncertain about what they wanted because there are different types of ammo.” Laura told the young clerk, “I want 158 grain (the weight of the bullets).”
“She was very specific about it,” Deem testified. “She knew what she wanted. I felt it wasn’t good to make her wait. I thought she was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste time.” The bullets that Laura demanded were high-powered ammunition, rather than something typically used for target practice.
Despite the testimony of others to the contrary, Laura’s defense attorney, Geraldine Russell described her as an “impressionable, simple young girl who was used by others looking for thrills.” She contended Laura was being abused by Carlo and had no way of escape. The defense portrayed Carlo Troiani as an “overbearing and obnoxious husband who cowed his wife into submission.”
Catherine Lewtas, Laura’s mother, testified for the defense and stated that while she witnessed Carlo being verbally abusive to Laura, she did not witness any physical abuse.
But even when interrogated for hours by police, Laura did not claim Carlo abused her. Instead Laura said she was perfectly happy being married to Carlo, all the while being unfaithful to him. She gave several scenarios as to how she was a kidnapping victim, but none on how she was the victim of domestic abuse.
Sergeant Ron Call was the supervisor on the Troiani case and he said that at no time during questioning did Laura Troaini bring up spousal abuse. He also said that Laura was neither upset nor emotional over the death of her husband.
A psychiatrist hired by the defense said that Laura was not capable of being manipulative and that rather than being a neglectful mother, Laura was so depressed that she had “trouble getting up and getting dressed and caring for her children.” Another expert witness dismissed the idea that Laura was a so-called “black widow” and put all the blame on the men, arguing that “organized violence is virtually a male monopoly.”
Anna Thompson, Laura’s friend who often watched her children, testified that she witnessed Carlo kick Laura when she did not change one of the children’s diapers. But she also said she had seen Laura hit her husband, and said that Laura would refuse to cook or clean and gave Carlo the “silent treatment” when she didn’t get her way. “Laura had control,” Thompson insisted.
The prosecution called over 45 witnesses, most of whom testified that Laura Troiani did not want to be married and that she “openly plotted” in the “company of others” to have her husband killed.
While presenting their defense, and closing arguments, the defense team claimed that Carlo’s murder was not orchestrated by Laura, but the Marines themselves. Laura was depicted as abused, vulnerable and helpless and that Laura’s codefendants alone were responsible for killing Carlo Troiani.
One of the last things presented to the jury by the prosecutor was the recording made by the Oceanside Police Department. The jury listened intently to the recording, as Laura concocted story after story, variations of different scenarios. And then finally, after hours of interrogation, Laura told detectives that she had in fact plotted, planned and agreed to pay at least two of the Marines to kill Carlo. As the courtroom listened to the recording, Laura Troiani sat emotionless at her own word as she described the murder of her husband, “half crawling, half staggering” before he was shot a second time, in the back of the head.
On August 26, 1987 Laura Troiani was found guilty of first degree murder after the jury deliberated over a two day period. Her trial was one of the longest and most expensive court cases in San Diego County history. She would now face the death penalty.
At her sentencing hearing, Laura’s father testified on her behalf. Lawrence Cox said that Laura was raised in a filthy home by a neglectful mother who had “the mentality of a six year old.” In some respects he could have been describing Laura, who reflected many of the same character flaws, especially when it came to motherhood. Cox said that while he was in the military he always worried that his children were not getting fed or clothed properly and that his wife “couldn’t cope with responsibility.”
After he and his wife separated he helped to move them into a new apartment. He said he had to hose out the refrigerator that it stunk so bad. He added that the apartment was filled with both human and animal waste.
Others took the stand to testify to the fact that Laura’s childhood was horrible, as if that were the cause or justification for Carlo’s murder. Laura cried for herself as she listened to their testimony, but she did not shed tears for Carlo.
In the end Laura Troiani was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life without parole. She was sent to the California Institute for Women in Chino, California.
On December 17, 1987 Jeffrey Thomas Mizner pled guilty to first-degree murder. In doing so he avoided the possibility of a death sentence or life in prison without parole.
Twenty year old Jeffrey Mizner knew Laura Troiani just three weeks, and yet he was willing to plot to have her husband killed. Laura told him that Carlo was molesting their two children. There was never any evidence to suggest such a thing and likely Laura made the statement solely to gain sympathy and then outrage, hoping to garner Mizner’s support and cause him to act on her behalf. When asked why he or Laura did not simply report the alleged abuse to authorities, Mizner answered, “She wanted him dead, and we went with it.” Laura also told Jeffrey that her two children were not Carlo’s biologically. Was her second child a result of an affair, or was Laura lying? It is anyone’s guess because she did both prolifically.
Jeffrey Mizner would later tell the parole board in his case that he never slept with Laura Troiani, and that his sole motive in the killing of Carlo was to protect the children from his alleged abuse. Shortly before the murder, Mizner found out that Laura had turned her affections to Russell Harrison, and was sleeping with him instead.
Russell Sanders pled guilty to murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 25 years.
Russell Harrison pled guilty to first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 26 years.
Kevin Watkins, whose trial was moved to Ventura County, was acquitted.
Mark Schulz (sometimes spelled Schultz) was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
A Second Chance
In December of 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown commuted Laura Troiani’s life sentence, saying that she had been rehabilitated. While this commutation did not release her, it gave her the chance for parole.
During a hearing held on June 21, 2019, Laura was asked what exactly she did that landed her in prison. Her response: “Prior to the actual brutal murder of Carlo Troiani, my spouse, I had put into motion several incidences leading up to Carlo being murdered. I was the mastermind. I was the one who utilized by codefendants as a tool and a means to, um, to, um, to murder Carlo.”
While she was willing to admit to being the mastermind of her husband’s murder, Laura seemed to shirk responsibility as her hearing continued. When asked about details and organizing discussions of Carlo murder, she started to backtrack and minimize her role as “mastermind” saying, “I did not organize [them], sir. They were — they — we were at a club or in a parking lot and discussion would — would come about. We’d go from normal discussion and that — and that would come about. Did I bring that up? I did not always bring it up. No sir.”
When asked about purchasing bullets at Kmart, she referred to the shooting of Carlo as “target practice” saying, “Initially it was to — to use the bullets for target practice, but in essence it was to use Carlo as the target. In other words, to murder him.”
In describing the murder, she placed responsibility on the Marines rather than her role: “They, uh, form — a plan was formulated that we would — we ended up leaving the children and three of the codefendants down at a 7-11, the car — three of us went up on a deserted rural road where a phone call from below had been made letting Carlo know that I was in distress and that I would be found in this area.“
Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you drive up to that area?
Inmate Troiani: I did not drive. No sir. Nor did I drive leaving. I was not the one driving that night.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Did you go voluntarily?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you remain in the car?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: How long did you remain there until Carlo got there?
Inmate Troiani: I honestly don’t know how long it was while I sat in the —
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Can you give me an estimate?
Inmate Troiani: Um, no more than twenty minutes.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: What happened when Carlo got there?
Inmate Troiani: Carlo left his car running. He walked over to where I was sitting in the passenger’s side, tapped on the window, and asked me if I was okay and then the bullets started flying.
When asked what happened next, Laura describes the shooter as a stranger in hiding, rather than a person she planned the murder with and drove her to the scene: “I witnessed what looked like a very large man running out of a bush toward Carlo firing a gun. Carlo went down and within 20 seconds we were leaving the — you know, we were leaving where Carlo was.” (She couldn’t bring herself to say the crime or murder scene.)
Laura was asked if she did anything else to accomplish the murder and only stated, “I was physically there.”
The parole commissioner continued to press her: “Okay. How did you convince them? You said you hit upon their training, but usually they’re trained to kill other combatants. This is very different than what they’re trained for. How did you convince them to participate in a murder?”
Inmate Troiani: “I was seen as a damsel in distress,” Laura answered, “And I played upon — I played upon that.”
Presiding Commissioner Castro: That’s why you think they got involved?
Inmate Troiani: I’m not sure why they got involved. I only know that they did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Just helping you out?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: So what’s in it for them? Anything?
Inmate Troiani: I didn’t recall this at the time, but I know it happened that they had hopes of receiving insurance money?
Presiding Commissioner Castro: How would they know about insurance money?
Inmate Troiani: Being in the military, you automatically sign up for a policy.
When asked why the Marines would think they were entitled to Carlo’s life insurance proceeds, Laura denied she offered insurance proceeds, but only agreed to pay them when they asked, saying, “Because I was asked to give them some money from the insurance policy.“
Laura then went on to deflect responsibility of Carlo’s murder by saying that she was in a disassociated state.
The Mayo Clinic describe this disorder: Dissociative disorders are mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and cause problems with functioning in everyday life. Dissociative disorders usually develop as a reaction to trauma and help keep difficult memories at bay. Symptoms — ranging from amnesia to alternate identities — depend in part on the type of dissociative disorder you have. Times of stress can temporarily worsen symptoms, making them more obvious.
Inmate Troiani: I continue to remove myself by going into my head when the consequences were too great. I had distorted thinking and then there was the childhood abuse, which brought about the distorted thinking and the disassociation.
Presiding Commissioner Castro asked, “What do you mean by disassociation?
Inmate Troiani: I would go into my head and come up with a different fantasy type scenario.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: What was the role in your — in your crime specifically?
Inmate Troiani: In the crime itself?
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Yeah.
Inmate Troiani: While I was sitting there waiting in the car for Carlo, that’s exactly what I did. I put myself in a whole different scenario.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay, when you’re having the conversations, planning these different plans, were you in a disa — dissociative state at this point?
Inmate Troiani: At times, yes, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you called Carlo asking him to come help you, so that he would leave the apartment, when you made that call, where you in a disassociated state?
Inmate Troiani: No until after I made the phone call, sir.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Report says that you gave keys to Mr. Harrison.
Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir. I did.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Were you in a disassociated state when you gave him the keys?
Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: You made admissions to the police, correct?
Inmate Troiani: I do not recall exactly what I said because I said so many different stories.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: There were different versions and they said that you had made some admissions about being involved in the murder. Were you in a dissociative state when you talked to the police after the crime?
Inmate Troiani: Yes, I was.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re buying the bullets are you in a dissociative state?
Inmate Troiani: I was in denial.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re being driven up to the location where he was killed, were you in a disassociated state?
Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not thinking about what was going on. I was actually not thinking at all.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. So you said the abuse, domestic violence, hopelessness, disassociation, distorted thinking, your childhood trauma. Any other reason why you decided to kill Carlo?
Inmate Troiani: I wanted the abuse to stop.
Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. Was the insurance money part of your motivation?
Inmate Troiani: Initially, no.
When questioned by Deputy Commissioner Lam, he asked why she didn’t try to stop the Marines from murdering her husband.
Laura answered, “When Carlo tapped on the window, before I could have even said anything, the bullets began to fly. There was not any time to say anything, think or anything else. So had the opportunity been there, I would’ve said something.”
Of course, Laura had time to say something. On the way to Kmart she could have aborted the plan and not purchased the bullets used to kill Carlo. She was the only one old enough to purchase them. On the way to 7-11 to drop off her children, she could have turned around. While on the five minute drive to the scene of the ambush she could have called it off.
For the twenty minutes it took Carlo to arrive, she could have stopped it. Even if the two Marines who were with her were hell-bent on executing their plan, when they exited her vehicle, she could have driven away, leaving them there. Carlo, looking for Laura’s car, would have driven by instead of being ambushed.
Certainly, she might have even been able to warn Carlo before he opened his car door. Lastly, she could have called the police to report the murder of her husband, if in fact she was a pawn in a murder scheme.
But she did none of those things.
Incredulous to her answers, Deputy Commissioner Lam asked, “May I ask why your version of what happened to the clinician only two months ago was so vastly different from the version today?”
Laura answered, “At the time I spoke with the psychologist, I was still in denial. I was not seeing my — how my actions were the — what led — what was — what was feeding this. How — how I was the one who was the mastermind and I was unable to say that and acknowledge to myself. Therefore I wasn’t able to even speak about it at that time. Since then I have been looking within myself and in my denial management class I am able to see that I — I was in complete denial. I rationalized, I minimized and I blamed.“
Then, just moments later, Laura again denied any knowledge about the murder plot saying, “I may have been the one that initiated it. I do not recall.“
The panel was not swayed by her insincerity and empty words. After listening to Laura fail to take responsibility for her role in Carlo Troiani’s death, the Parole Board denied her release.
However, on July 10, 2020, the prison’s Administrative Review Board approved an advancement of Troiani’s next parole suitability hearing date (at her request). Rather than having to wait three years, her next hearing is scheduled for January 22, 2021.
While Laura sits in prison, Jeffrey Mizner was released in 2013 at the age of 50. Russell Sanders and Russell Harrison have presumably been released as well as there is no record of them in the California Department of Corrections. Mark Schulz, who shot Carlo Troiani, is currently serving life in a private prison in Arizona.
Some may question why Laura Troiani would serve life without parole when she did not even pull the trigger. But it should be remembered that while these Marines helped plan, plot and carry out the murder of Carlo Troiani, it was Laura Ann Troiani who went looking for an assassin. It was she who solicited a number of men to kill her husband even before she met Jeffrey Mizner and his friends.
It was Laura Troiani who brought up the killing of her husband to the group — they were not looking for someone to murder — it was Laura who was looking for a killer.
It was Laura Troiani who gave an apartment key to Russell Harrison so that he could enter the apartment with the intent to kill Carlo.
It was Laura Troiani who purchased the bullets used to kill her husband. She even demanded the type of bullets with which he would be killed.
It was Laura Troiani who tapped the brake lights when Carlo pulled up on the place of his execution. Tragically it was for Laura her husband called out to when he was shot.
It was Laura Troiani who pretended concern for her husband and called police but who could not conjure up grief or remorse when told he was dead.
Laura Troiani, who only cried for herself, now presents herself as an abused wife and has fully embraced that role. While there was no testimony or evidence presented to suggest that she was ever abused by Carlo Troiani, she has continued to assassinate his character even while he has been dead for over 35 years.
And just like the Marines who she was able to persuade and manipulate, she successfully convinced the Governor of California that she was “a damsel in distress” (her words) and to commute her life sentence, declaring her “rehabilitated.”
With the next hearing weeks away, will Laura Troiani finally take responsibility for Carlo’s death and convince the parole board she should be released? Or will she continue with the abuse allegations, as if to say Carlo deserved to be killed on that dark desolate road?
Has Laura Troiani been rehabilitated or has she successfully repackaged herself as the victim?
Laura Ann Troiani was denied parole on January 22, 2021, based on her lack of insight, minimization of her role in the crime, and denial of certain aspects of the crime. She will not be eligible for parole for another three years, although she may petition the parole board for advancement of hearing.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
The Oceanside Beach Community Center is showing its age. At 65 years old it has weathered the elements, including the relentless salt air. Once the center of activity ranging from sports, to Marine Corps Balls, and even its use as the City’s first “senior center,” the building may seem like a doomed dinosaur to many. Some may feel it has lost its purpose, but if the walls could talk the memories would resonate with history.
The land on which the Community Center now stands was once occupied by an electrical plant and salt water plunge, built in 1904, located just north of the Oceanside Pier. By the mid-1930s, the plant and plunge were removed and replaced by an “amusement zone” and concession booths. In 1942 the City of Oceanside leased the property to Harold Long, owner of the Oceanside Amusement Center. He set up a series of carnival rides including a large Ferris wheel for several summers. Long’s amusement center included concession stands, games of skill, and novelty items, such as Harold Davis’ “House of Relics”.
In 1946 a building was erected in the center of the “midway” of the amusement center to accommodate the game of Bridgo. Bridgo Parlors were popular during World War II, but the game was deemed to be a form of gambling and soon closed by the State of California.
The amusement center was removed by the early 1950s and the Oceanside City Council considered plans for a new Community Center to be built in its place. In 1955 the City Council requested bids for a community center, but the move was not without controversy as many viewed a public swimming pool as more important to the community. (Two community swimming pools, at Brooks and Marshall Streets, were built just a few years later.)
Architect George Lykos drew the plans for the building. Lykos had received a Bachelor’s of Architecture in 1935 and his Masters the following year from MIT. In 1942 he partnered with Sidney I. Goldhammer and established the firm Lykos & Goldhammer. Their office was located at the Sprekels building in downtown San Diego. Among his works are the County Law Library, the San Diego Courthouse, the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest, the Ocean Beach Pier, Ryan Aeronautics and Waggenheim Middle School in Mira Mesa. The building contract was awarded to the firm of A. E. Betraun Co. in Vista, the firm also responsible for building the Star Theater in 1956.
Groundbreaking ceremonies being held March 18, 1955. Construction began in April and it was hoped that the project would be completed as early as June of that year. However, there were delays caused by labor strikes and a shortage of materials.
The Oceanside Beach Community Center was formally dedicated in September of 1955 and built at a cost of $131,000. One of the first events to be held at the new Center was the Marine Corps Ball in November of that year.
Over the years the Community Center has been used for meetings, social events, including adult and teen dances, as well as an early senior center. The Center has also been used for sporting events, including volleyball, table tennis, and basketball. It became the location of an early senior center known as the “Golden Age Club” in 1958.
Entertainment, such as performances by the San Diego County Symphony Orchestra, took place at the new Center. Parks and Recreation Superintendent J. G. Renaud booked a variety of entertainment acts to perform at Oceanside’s new Community Center to the delight of residents.
In 1956 recording artist Ernie Freeman and his band performed at the Center. Freeman played on numerous early rock and R&B labels in the 1950s and played piano on the Platters’ hit “The Great Pretender”. He made the Top Ten of the R&B charts with the single “Jivin’ Around”.
Local Swing dancers were thrilled when jazz musician Earl Bostic also performed at the Beach Community Center. Bostic, considered a pioneer of the “post-war American rhythm and blues style”, had a number of hits such as “Flamingo”, “Temptation”, “Sleep” and many more. A tenor saxophonist, Bostic was known for his “characteristic growl” he made on the sax.
Joe Graydon, who had a televised variety show, first in Los Angeles and then San Diego, hosted a show at the new Community Center. Renaud’s first rate entertainment continued with a “Western Roundup” and country western acts such as Hank Penny, Sue Thompson and Eddie Miller. Les Brown and his orchestra, who had performed with Bob Hope during USO tours, also entertained at Oceanside. The Community Center also presented movies, such as 1959’s now classic “Surf Safari” by John Severson. Admission was $1.25 for adults and 50 cents for children.
In 1958 Boxing World Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson trained for a prize fight using the Oceanside Community Center and entertained spectators with several sparring rounds. He was accompanied by his legendary manager, Cus D’Amato.
One of the biggest acts in Country Music came to the Community Center in 1961. Legendary Johnny Cash, along with the Maddox Bros. and Rose, performed for fans who flocked to see the “Man in Black.”
As neighborhood and seniors centers were built throughout the community in various neighborhoods, the Beach Community Center began to see a decline in use. In the early 1980s the Oceanside beach area was deteriorating. The Oceanside Pier was severely damaged (before being rebuilt), and the area was rundown. The Community Center, too, was showing its age.
By 1985, plans were underway to rebuild the pier and redevelop the beach area. Along with a “facelift” the Community Center was enhanced by the addition of several large concrete and stone pillars. Sets of three pillars forming triangles were placed on the front entrance (east façade) and on the west façade along the Strand. The pillars were then topped with large wooden beams, creating a more modernized look. These pillars and beams have been removed in recent years, returning the Center’s original facade.
In 1992 Marine-life artist John Jennings began work on a 45 foot ocean mural on the north elevation of the community center. Jennings donated his time and materials, estimated at over $35,000 as a gift to Oceanside.
The Beach Community Center was renamed the Junior Seau Beach Community Center in 2012 in memory of the beloved Oceanside native who had a notable career in the National Football League, playing with the San Diego Chargers for thirteen seasons.
The building now sits silently on The Strand, awaiting its doors to be reopened and for renewed activity and sounds to reverberate through its rafters.
I want to thank Michelle Foster for contacting me about Frankie. Her quest for information became mine and I am grateful for the personal stories and photos she shared to bring this story to life.
In a rather remote area of Oceanside, tucked away in the northwest section of the Eastside neighborhood, was a small house on a dead end dirt road near Lawrence Canyon.
The house was built in 1944 and owned by Anna Curran, who owned no less than sixteen lots throughout Eastside, several of which had small houses that she rented out. The rent she collected was likely her only source of income as her husband William Curran had been arrested for the murder of a Marine in downtown Oceanside that same year. After a lengthy trial, Curran was found guilty, but deemed insane and sent to an asylum to serve out his sentence.
Residents of Eastside were largely Mexican immigrants, many of whom were laborers who worked in the fields of the San Luis Rey Valley and the Rancho Santa Margarita (now Camp Pendleton). The neighborhood was segregated and separated in four ways: Geographically it was separated from “downtown Oceanside” by Lawrence Canyon; Children of immigrants were separated from other students and sent to the Americanization School on Division Street where they were immersed in English; The neighborhood had dirt streets while most of Oceanside enjoyed paved ones; Eastside had no sewer system.
Although some referred to Eastside as “Mexican Town”, more than a dozen African-American families settled in the neighborhood in the 1940s.
Frankie Elda Kidd occupied one of Anna Curran’s tiny rental homes, at 1420 Shoshone Street. Frankie’s birth name was Alta (perhaps a variation of Elda) and “Frankie” may have been a nickname that she acquired. She was born in 1920 in Imperial County, California and as best as can be determined, she was the daughter of John Zainina and Martha Bartley.
In 1930 Frankie and her family were living in Merced, California, where her father was working as a dairy farmer. By around 1935 she was living with extended family in San Bernardino, California, where she attended high school.
While attending San Bernardino High School, Frankie met James Scott, a handsome young man from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The two married in 1938 but the marriage was short lived as they were living separately just two years later. In 1940 Frankie was living with cousins and working as a housekeeper for a private home.
In about 1943 Frankie embarked on her second nuptials to Alfred Selester Kidd. It would be her second of six marriages. She was likely introduced to Alfred by her older brother Vernon, as the two men were rooming together while living in Oakland. Alfred Kidd, a native of Louisiana, was working at the Navy Yard at Mare Island.
Frankie arrived in Oceanside by 1945. Did Alfred Kidd accompany her? There is no record of him leaving the Oakland area. Perhaps this marriage was just as brief as the first. What brought Frankie to Oceanside is unknown, but perhaps she came because of job opportunities. Due to the establishment of Camp Joseph H. Pendleton shortly after World War II began, Oceanside was expanding at a rapid rate.
Because of the remote location of Frankie’s home on Shoshone Street, any traffic (pedestrian or otherwise) would have been largely limited to residents who lived on the dead end street. However, apparently Shoshone Street was getting a steady stream of traffic, so much so that area residents took notice and began to complain, which prompted an investigation by the Oceanside Police Department.
The Oceanside Blade Tribune newspaper reported that Frankie Kidd was arrested on February 4, 1945 for operating an “illegitimate business” along with another woman, Mildred Clark. Later this particular business was classified as a “disorderly house” which is a polite term for a brothel.
It seems that Frankie’s “visitors” were mostly servicemen, many of whom resided at Sterling Homes, federal housing built for the military just east of Holly Street. (Sterling Homes had paved streets, curbing and sewers for its occupants in contrast to the neighboring Eastside community.)
What brought Frankie to this profession is anyone’s guess, but despite her occupation she was remembered by local residents as being friendly, beautiful and “could hold her own against any situation that could come up.”
After her arrest, Frankie asked for a jury trial and the case was heard on March 7th. The jury of five women and three men listened to what must have been riveting testimony which lasted all the way up until 10 pm. (However, many of the witnesses were servicemen and reluctant to testify.) The jury deliberated for two hours and found Frankie Kidd guilty as charged. Judge Parsons fined her $300, with $100 suspended. But even a $200 fine was a hefty amount, equivalent to over $2500 today). She also received 150 days of probation. Initially appealing the case, Frankie paid the fine a few days later.
While Frankie continued to live on Shoshone Street, she was known to frequent a small establishment which was located just steps from the back of her home. It was called “the Hangout”. Situated at the back end of 1415 Laurel Street, was a small trailer that was frequented by many of the local residents and was a popular spot for military men. Charles C. Jones applied to the city for a permit to operate a café “specializing in barbecue and chicken sandwiches” but it was denied. Despite the city’s rejection, the Hangout operated without a permit and was a popular spot offering food, drink and dancing, with a little bit of gambling thrown in. Frankie was a regular and it was there she attracted her “customers.”
Although Frankie avoided any additional attention from law enforcement for several years, in 1949 she was arrested again — this time for a scuffle with another woman. On June 26th, Mary Morgan filed a complaint against Frankie for threatening her with a knife and a razor. Apparently Frankie had gotten too friendly with Mary’s husband George Morgan, and a heated argument ensued. After being taken into custody, Frankie requested a jury trial which was set for July, but on the day of trial, she pled guilty and was fined $100.
While the Hangout continued in popularity, as did Frankie, the raucous nature of this corner of Eastside changed when families began to populate the remote area of Laurel and Shoshone streets. Gilbert Woods purchased a lot just a few doors down from Frankie. In 1948 he had built a small home at 1430 Shoshone, where he and his wife raised their family. A cook in the Navy during WWII, his granddaughter Michelle remembers that he prepared and shared food with his neighbors, including Frankie, who was grateful for the kindness.
Another substantial change to the immediate area came when the Walker Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1949, one of the first Black Churches in Oceanside. The church was established at the behest of Johnny and Easter Foster, prior residents of Blythe, California. They wrote to the Church Bishop asking for an AME church to be established in Oceanside. Walker Chapel was built on the very lot that the Hangout was located, which remained standing and was still frequented by residents, even while parishioners attended services.
Rev. Jessie B. Browning was the first pastor of Walker Chapel AME. Shortly after her arrival to Oceanside the local newspaper announced the following: “Rev. Jessie Browning, a lady preacher of the colored Methodist church and her colored singers will appear at the Nazarene Church Sunday evening at 7:30, in the Woman’s Club house, corner of Tremont and Third streets.”
While the Eastside neighborhood was within city limits by 1887 and a residential neighborhood since about 1910, it took decades for the City to pave the streets and to add a sewer system, well after other residential sections had these same “amenities”. But even when a sewer project was approved in 1948, Shoshone Street and the 1400 block of Marquette Street were left out. Gilbert Woods worked for a needed sewer system for this “forgotten” area and he distributed a petition which was presented to the City Council, who initially rebuffed his efforts. Finally in September of 1954, Gilbert’s efforts were rewarded when the City Council finally approved plans for the Shoshone Street Sewer project.
In 1954 Edward Anderson purchased the home at 1420 Shoshone Street in which Frankie had lived for several years, and built an additional home on the lot, situated behind the original house. It is likely that Frankie resorted to living in the Hangout.
Construction began for a new elementary school on Laurel Street, just northeast of Walker Chapel, which opened for students in 1955. The area once known for a “disorderly and illegal business” was now gentrified. Eventually even the Hangout would be reformed, or shall we say “redeemed” altogether when the Walker Chapel AME church included the small building into its own when they enlarged their church years later.
The little house that Frankie once lived in at 1420 Shoshone Street was destroyed in a fire in 1982. The fire was so hot it reached upwards of 400 degrees and melted the Plexiglass face shields of the responding firefighters. Smoke inhalation took the life of an elderly blind woman, Mildred Taylor, who could not make her way out. Owners Ed and Margarethea Anderson, who lived next door said they had no insurance on the structure as it “was too old.”
Frankie Elda moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon by 1958. Her last known marriage was in 2000 to Eugene Witherspoon, whom she married in Reno, Nevada at the age of 80.
Frankie died June 17, 2002, but was not forgotten. Michelle Foster still remembers the stories her mother, Alberta Woods Foster, shared with her of Eastside, the Hangout, and Frankie. Perhaps Frankie walked in the path of sinners, but her neighbors, like the Good Samaritan, showed her grace and compassion.
Elgin “Lucky” Lackey saw the potential for an entertainment venue at the corner of Third and Pacific Streets (Third Street is now Pier View Way) and in June 1954 he opened what would be a popular spot for over two decades, Pier Golf. In addition to a nine-hole miniature golf course, it included “shooting games” and pinball machines. Pier Golf also featured a snack bar with an open air dining area. Lackey would later add an archery range and ever popular bumper cars.
Elgin Lackey was a native of Guthrie, Oklahoma. He made his way to California in the 1940s and eventually Oceanside. In 1943 he and Mary E. Penn purchased Wilday’s Candy Shop at 111 North Hill Street (Coast Highway). The following year, Lackey married his business partner Mary, affectionately called Penny, in Las Vegas.
“Lucky” as he was called and known to most everyone, also had a used car dealership and an insurance business before opening Pier Golf. He also developed a housing development “Lucky Lots” consisting of 19 lots off of California Street in South Oceanside, and Lucky Street is named after him.
Lackey’s amusement center was an overnight success. It had the largest collection of pinball machines in Oceanside. At the time, pinball machines were regulated and banned altogether in San Diego and in unincorporated areas such as Vista. In the early days the machines were seen as a form of gambling, and dispensed cash. (In Oceanside, when allowed, any cash prizes were to be given over the counter.)
In the mid 1950’s, the only allowable “inducement” was an extra play for high scores. A few venues gave the high-scoring player a chance to pull a “lucky number” and prizes could be won for certain numbers. One eatery in downtown Oceanside paid winners with cigarettes … “one or more packs, depending on the score”. This was considered “slightly illegal” and caused “some law enforcement officers to frown on pinballs in general.”
At five cents a game, pinball vendors could earn about “$15 to $50 a week for a ‘good’ machine in a favorable location”. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that the seventy pinball machines located throughout the City could gross over $100,000 a year.
Pier Golf became such a popular attraction that Heavyweight Champion Boxer Floyd Patterson was a regular there while he was training in Oceanside in 1958. He attended so often he became an expert at the miniature golf course. One night he and his friends went to play skee-ball and accumulated over 300 points, according to sport reporter Irv Grossman. Patterson and his group went on to entertain themselves with the “Midget Autos” and “Dodgems” for which they were warned to “avoid head-on collisions”. As the adult men played, kids gathered to watch and Patterson soon engaged them in conversation, handshakes and finished his evening by signing autographs.
As Lucky Lackey continued to add features to his venue, Pier Golf transitioned into Pacific Holidayland. Touted as the only “amusement park” between Balboa and San Diego, Lucky and his wife Penny (Mary) invested half a million dollars in 1963 to develop “a super family amusement center.” Along with a “badly needed face-lift” the venue expanded to include the entire city block from Pacific to Myers, Mission Avenue to Third streets. The local paper reported that, “Houses and lots were purchased; the structures moved to make way for new buildings. The first major step in the expansion program was a $150,000 building, on the southeast corner of the block to house an archery and rifle range, skee-ball, pool tables and Dodgem rides.” The second phase of the renovation and expansion project included a new ice cream parlor, with both indoor and outdoor seating, along with a soda fountain.
Certainly for over two decades Lucky Lackey’s Holidayland was the place to be. It was popular with kids and teenagers, Marines and families and is still etched into the memories of many Oceanside residents and visitors.
Lackey planned to continue his expansion of his entertainment venue along Pacific Street. But at the height of Pacific Holidayland’s immense success, Elgin Lackey died in February of 1966 in a hospital in Monrovia.
Mary Lackey continued ownership of Holidayland, which maintained its popularity. At its peak the center included 47 pinball machines, 4 pool tables, 3 air hockey tables, 18 skee-ball games, 2 shooting galleries, 5 kiddy rides, 2 automatic photo machines, 7 baseball throwing machines with cages and netting, a 13 car bumper car ride and the miniature golf course, among other features.
In 1972 Richard Ford of Chicago, came to Oceanside to ride a Ferris wheel at Pacific Holidayland (probably in an empty lot next to the park). He had held the record of 22 days on a Ferris wheel in San Francisco, but was afraid of losing it, so this next attempt was for 30 days. Ford was said to have an anonymous sponsor and was getting free meals during his stay in Oceanside. (It was noted that Ford only rode the Ferris wheel while the venue was open during regular operating hours.)
Pacific Holidayland offered a $50 in prize money to the person who guessed correctly how much weight Ford would lose while on his endeavor. He began on April 15, 1972 weighing 214 pounds and when he finished 30 days later he had lost 11 pounds. Ford’s feat made news across the country.
Despite the great publicity, Pacific Holidayland had seen better days. In 1976 the aging complex was owned by Charles and Sharon Moreland who were looking for a buyer to develop the property. The property went up for auction in 1979, the games and assets sold.
In July of 1983 Pacific Holidayland was torn down. All that was left was a vacant dirt lot and an empty spot in the hearts of children of all ages.
While Lucky Lackey’s Pacific Holidayland is gone, it lives on in the cherished memories of many.
This is the true story of Elsa and Edward, both of whom were given up for adoption as young children, both raised by physicians. They found each other in the midst of pain and loneliness, only to create more of the same. While the story is largely based in San Diego, their great granddaughter is a native of Oceanside. She has shared her tangled family tree with me in hopes of finding clarity and truth. Together we have searched for years to solve the mystery of individuals which may never be fully solved, and we are left with questions yet to be answered.
Elsa Lamon grew up knowing that she was unwanted; her mother had given her away as a small child. She was sent to be raised by an aunt who was distant and cold. She never felt wanted or truly loved. Years later when Elsa grew to adulthood, her search for love resulted in unhappy and painful marriages which seemed to only validate what her mother knew: that Elsa was unlovable.
Her life was a series of unfortunate scenarios complicated by family dynamics and secrecy. Born Helen Alice Cronk in Chicago, Illinois on September 14, 1903, she was the second child of Harry Sheldon Cronk and Ida May Young.
Harry Sheldon Cronk was a native of Canada born in 1861. He was previously married to Cecilia Monica Clark in 1889. They had one son, Harry Collins Cronk, born in 1891. Harry filed for divorce in 1892 and married his second wife, Ida Mae in 1893. Ida Mae bore a son in 1895, who was named Harold Cecil Cronk.
Elsa’s life abruptly changed after her father’s untimely death of meningitis in 1904, when she was just 15 months old. Ida Mae Cronk remarried in 1908 to William Ames and sent her daughter to Detroit, Michigan to live with her husband’s sister, Martha Imogene Cronk, and her husband Alois Thuner.
Her adoptive father, Alois Anthony Thuner, was a well-regarded physician in Detroit, Michigan. He and Imogene married in 1890. They had no children of their own and adopted Helen Alice and raised their niece as their very own daughter, giving her a new name of Elsa Helena.
In 1910 Imogene became pregnant and the family of three must have been excited about the prospect of a baby. Sadly, however, on February 24, 1911 Imogene gave birth to a stillborn daughter.
The Thuner’s provided Elsa with a comfortable lifestyle. They lived in spacious homes in well-to-do neighborhoods, including Detroit’s Boston-Edison neighborhood that was inhabited by the likes of Henry Ford and Sebastian Kresge.
Despite her affluent upbringing, Elsa must have wondered all those years: Why did her mother give her up? She grew up knowing she was adopted. She even knew who her mother was, but family stories suggest that she had little or no contact with her biological mother throughout the years.
Elsa’s mother Ida Mae remained in Chicago and remarried in 1908. And while Ida had given up her daughter, Ida Mae continued to raise a stepson, Harry Collins, and a biological son Harold Cecil. This must have had a lasting negative impact on Elsa, who knew her mother was alive and well, together with the knowledge her brothers were seemingly accepted and loved by her, while she was not. The sense of abandonment would reverberate throughout her life.
In 1920 Dr. Thuner retired from medicine and moved his wife and daughter Elsa to San Diego in the Point Loma neighborhood, in a beautiful home located on Goldsmith Street.
From Detroit to San Diego, Elsa’s life was interrupted, leaving childhood friends behind. However, it appears she transitioned successfully, graduating from San Diego High School in 1921, attending junior college, as well as joining a sorority and a rowing club. Her name was a familiar one in the society pages of the San Diego Union newspaper.
In spite of her early start as a cast off, in San Diego Elsa was part of the “it” crowd and accepted in society circles. She would even “marry well”, a man from one of the most prominent families in San Diego. Perhaps meeting at the rowing club where they were both members, Elsa became acquainted with Ira Collier.
Ira Clifton Collier was the son of David Charles Collier, an attorney, banker and real estate developer, as well as the president of the 1915 California Panama Exposition in San Diego.
If Elsa’s privileged life was filled with less than happy circumstances, Ira’s surpassed hers both in privilege and perhaps unhappiness.
In 1896 David Collier, Sr. married Ella May Copley, the sister of Ira Clifton Copley, who formed Copley Press and would later own the San Diego Union-Tribune. They had two sons, David and Ira, who were sent to the Harvard Military School in Los Angeles for their education.
David Collier, Sr. filed for divorce from his wife Ella May in 1914. This very acrimonious divorce was made public, featured in newspaper headlines throughout Southern California and personal details about their marriage and split were published for all to read.
Ella Collier claimed that her husband deserted her and their two sons for nearly a year and had refused financial support. David Collier charged his wife with mental cruelty and that she looked down at the Collier family in social standing, and that she alienated him from their oldest son David. Photos of their two sons were published in the newspaper and the divorce proceedings packed the courtrooms as bitter accusations were exchanged.
For several months the courtroom drama captivated San Diegans, after which Ella Collier was granted a divorce on November 13, 1915. After which, David Collier promptly remarried to Ruth E. Everson, on November 14, 1915.
If David Collier found happiness in his new marriage, it soon ended when his new wife died a year later in 1916. Collier remarried yet again to Clytie Lyon in 1919. But tragedy struck once more when his oldest son David Collier, Jr. died later that year of pneumonia at the age of 22.
Despite the loss of his older son, Collier never reconciled with his youngest son Ira, for whom he had fought for during court proceedings with his wife. Father and son remained estranged all the way up until the elder Collier’s death in 1934.
Ira’s mother, Ella Mae Copley Collier died in 1921, and he remained in San Diego living with his maternal aunt. However, the newspaper reported that Ira was going to Los Angeles to be trained by a vocal coach where he intended to pursue “a musical career.” His voice was described to be “a baritone tenor of unusual quality.”
In February of 1924 the San Diego Union posted an engagement announcement of Elsa Thuner and Ira Collier. Ira Collier would have been a most eligible bachelor, with handsome good looks and a notable family tree. The announcement stated that the two obtained a marriage license in Riverside County and that a June wedding was planned. However, a retraction was printed immediately.
Was there opposition to this union? If so, the couple had eloped and were actually married on February 9, 1924, days earlier, telling no one. The hasty denial of the engagement was not replaced by an official wedding announcement — which normally would have graced the society columns of the local papers.
Mr. and Mrs. Ira Collier soon moved into a home on Palomar Avenue in La Jolla with beautiful ocean views. Later they settled in a more modest home on 32nd Street, located east of Pershing Drive in San Diego. The couple moved nearly every year, it seems. In 1929 they were living on Olive Street in Coronado, a decidedly tonier locale.
Married five years, and perhaps celebrating their anniversary, Ira and Elsa sailed to Honolulu, Hawaii aboard the S. S. Calawii, a glamorous ship known for its celebrity passengers. The trip was an extensive one lasting from August to November.
After eight years of marriage, their union had produced no children. Whether this was by choice or because of infertility, one can only surmise. But something was taking a toll on the marriage and whether it was barrenness, boredom or something else altogether, the couple would soon separate.
In the summer of Ira Collier traveled to Reno, Nevada, notorious for its “quickie” divorces. “Divorces Ranches” popped up all over the Silver State to accommodate such legal proceedings. However, according to state law, a person must first establish just six weeks of residency before filing suit.
During his “residency” Ira found himself in a precarious situation when he and three other men visited the Heidleberg Inn, a nightclub situated five miles south of Reno. A confrontation ensued and shots were fired, at least one striking their auto. No other details came to light about the situation but the sheriff threatened to close the establishment.
On August 23, 1932 Ira fulfilled his residency requirement for divorce and filed suit to end the marriage which was summarily granted. However, Elsa hired an attorney in San Diego and challenged the divorce and sued for support and judgment was found in her favor.
Nonetheless she found herself in a familiar place: unwanted. Elsa would soon start a new chapter in her life with someone whom she had something in common: They were both given up by their mothers and coincidentally adopted by physicians. Little did she know that in her pursuit to be loved and wanted, his cruelty would overshadow the abandonment by her own mother.
Edward Bernard Lemen was born on November 13, 1907 in Denver, Colorado. His mother was an unwed teenager, the daughter of Theodore and Ella Lemen. Dorinda Lemen was born in 1892 (some records indicate 1891) and was the second of five children. Her father was a traveling minister, and it is because of this, his children were all born in different states.
In about 1902 the Lemen family resettled in Denver, Colorado where two of Theodore’s brothers, Lewis E. Lemen and Harrison A. Lemen, were established and practicing physicians.
Family stories suggest that Dorinda traveled with her father while he was sharing the gospel in the southern United States, particularly Atlanta, Georgia. During the trip Dorinda either engaged in under-aged sex, or perhaps was sexually assaulted, and became pregnant. After returning to Denver, at the age of 15, she gave birth to a male child.
Colorado recorded a very simple birth record devoid of any great detail. In the 1907 “Birth Book” the scant information provided is the date of birth of November 13, 1907, the child being a white male. The mother’s name is left blank (which is unusual) but the father’s name is listed as “D. Lemen”. The question of legitimate birth is answered by “yes.” (This was in fact not a legitimate birth, meaning the child was not born as a result of a marriage.)
The truth of the matter is there is no male person with the first initial of “D” in the Lemen household. It is most likely that Edward’s birth record was written in such a way to protect the young Dorinda (or her father’s reputation) and her first initial was placed under the “Father’s name”. Further, the home address listed on the birth record is 2830 W. 34th Street in Denver, Colorado — the home address of Rev. Theodore Lemen and his family in 1907.
In 1912 Dorinda Lemen married Warren F. Edwards, a traveling shoe salesman. They were married in Salt Lake City, Utah, which may be telling because Dorinda’s son was adopted soon after to a family living in Utah.
Warren and Dorinda Edwards were living in Denver in 1917, with Warren working for the Harsh & Edmonds Shoe Company based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the World War I registration card Warren signed on June 5, 1917, he states his sales route was from Denver to the Northwest. It also states that Warren Edwards was financially assisting his mother-in-law and Dorinda’s two youngest siblings, Sylvester and Elizabeth.
Just one month later, however, Dorinda Edwards would be involved in a scandalous affair. So sensational, the headline of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch read: “St. Louisan Caught in Wild Taxi Pursuit in Milwaukee.”
On July 15, 1917, Warren and Dorinda traveled to Milwaukee for business and were staying at the Gilpatrick Hotel. Apparently Warren Edwards had discovered Dorinda in the arms and bed of another man. A two mile chase through town ensued which resulted in Hamilton being arrested and subsequently sued by Edwards for $50,000 for “alienating his wife’s affection”.
Simultaneously, Warren filed for divorce from Dorinda. The divorce complaint stated that within a five day period Dorinda and Nightingale Hamilton had visited three separate hotels to carry on an illicit affair. According to Dorinda’s admission she met Hamilton just six months after her marriage, in 1913, while on another trip to Milwaukee with her husband. Warren Edwards was employed by Nightingale Hamilton, whose father owned the company.
The divorce proceedings revealed that on July 17, 1917 Warren, Dorinda and Nightingale had all gone to a “road house” and the following morning, at 6 am, Dorinda and Nightingale had slipped off together, and had taken a taxi to the Juneau Hotel, one mile away. Dorinda signed the hotel register as “H. H. Hartley from Des Moines, Iowa” and Nightingale as “Norman Colt”.
Dorinda was allowed to be questioned (or interrogated) by Warren’s divorce attorney W. B. Rubin. He asked Dorinda how long the couple remained in the hotel room and she replied “until one o’clock next day.”
Then Rubin pressed further: “You had intercourse with him that day?” To which Dorinda replied, “Yes.”
Rubin: How many times?
Dorinda: I don’t think that is necessary.
Rubin: Well it was more than once.
Rubin continued his humiliating interrogation of Dorinda about each sexual encounter with Hamilton, at two other hotels, the Wisconsin Hotel and the Plankington, where she registered as Mrs. J. H. Harvey of Red Wing, Minnesota. Hotel registers were subpoenaed and entered into evidence.
On January 24, 1918 Warren Edwards was granted his divorce from Dorinda, who returned to Denver to live with her mother. Both Warren Edwards and Nighintgale Hamilton died that later that year of pneumonia, likely after contracting the Spanish Flu.
Dorinda’s escapades aside, she presumably gave Edward up for adoption when he was about six years old. Edward was adopted by a well-known and respected doctor, John J. Steiner, and his wife Georgina (Blanchett) Steiner, of Richfield, Utah.
Edward would have developed an attachment to and held memories of his mother, along with his maternal grandparents and extended family for those first six years of his life. There is no known reason that he was given up for adoption (other than Dorinda wanted to be unencumbered in her marriage or affairs) but certainly this would have been a devastating event for Edward.
Dr. John Steiner and his wife Georgina had one biological son, Chauncey J. Steiner, born in 1896. The little boy died at the age of three. A little lamb graces the top of Chauncey’s headstone and below his name and date of birth and death is the tender inscription “We loved him.”
Thereafter the Steiners formally, and informally, adopted several children over the years. Edward was the only boy in this extended family, and it appears may have been only the second child of five to be formally adopted and although no such records have been found, Edward’s last name was legally changed to Steiner.
Richfield, Utah is and was largely populated by the members of the Mormon Faith. It became a regional center with the establishment of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1891. Perhaps, Edward Lemen and his mother traveled from Denver and met the Steiner family, but it is only a guess.
The Steiner’s adopted and foster children were educated in the Richfield school system but when Edward was twelve years old he was sent to Oregon to a Catholic boys’ school. According to a newspaper account in the Richfield Reaper, Edward came home rather unexpectedly, prompting an educator from the school to travel to Richfield, to return Edward back to school. This is the first indication that all was not well and perhaps the heartache of a young boy given up by his mother was now being realized in resentment and anger.
In August of 1921, Edward Steiner was sent to San Diego to the Raja Yoga Academy. He had yet turned 14 years old. Established by Katherine Tingley, this commune was located on Point Loma (now occupied by the Point Loma Nazarene University). There was a strict daily regimen for both children and adults. Accusations included that husbands and wives were separated and children from their parents, that speaking was forbidden and detractors were isolated.
In spite of the criticism, there were over 300 people living at “Lomaland” in the community in the early 1920s. Most residents were upper-middle-class and the Richfield newspaper stated that the schooling was just what young Edward needed as the school emphasized moral and spiritual development. Edward was at the academy for about two years. The Steiner family traveled to San Diego to visit him.
From Baptist birth to a Mormon community, to Catholic School and then a commune, Edward’s confusion or sense of self must have been shaken. Sent away to live with the Steiner’s, who in turn sent him out of state for a “proper” education, only served to further isolate him both physically and emotionally.
By the time Edward was a young adult his religious belief system was non-existent and his moral compass forever off kilter. What was truth? For Edward there must have been no real answer to that question and he would later begin to live his life with half-truths, lies and deception.
Georgina Steiner died on October 21, 1925. One month later, at 18 years of age, Edward Steiner was accompanied by his adoptive father to a U. S. Navy recruiting office in Los Angeles. His enlistment papers state that Edward was living in Los Angeles and working as a bank clerk. At that age it is not required to have a parent’s authorization or approval so it would seem that this decision was forced upon Edward. Just what had precipitated this action is unknown but Edward dutifully signed the paperwork and was sent to San Diego for training and then on to Mare Island.
It is worth noting that on the enlistment papers, Edward’s month and date of birth of November 13th are accurate, but for some unknown reason the birth year of 1904 was given instead of 1907.
Military training can be likened to religion or indoctrination, and it seems that Edward was a non-believer. His military record was less than honorable and in a few short years he would go “AWOL”. His military career aside, Edward would prove himself to be dishonorable in his personal life as well, manifested by infidelity and domestic violence.
Notations in his military record range from skipping out on small debts, to being absent from duty for several hours on different occasions. One particular document notes that he contracted syphilis in April of 1926 due to his “own misconduct”.
On July 8, 1926 year, Edward married his first wife, Rosalie Ferrant in Oakland, California. Little is known of this union or even if it was legally dissolved. However, the first glint of perhaps reinventing himself is revealed on the marriage application as Edward listed his birth date as November 14th rather than November 13th and his birthplace as Georgia instead of Colorado.
Eleven days after his marriage to Rosalie, John J. Steiner died. He was the only father Edward would ever know. In the lengthy will, Edward was included as one of the heirs of the Steiner estate and received $600 and some stock.
Within six months of his marriage and his father’s death, Edward would enter into two additional relationships with other women, and then abandon them and his very own offspring with a calculated coldness. Perhaps this was learned behavior.
The very year he had married Rosalie Ferrant, Edward was also courting Bethel Mulick. Bethel was a native of Nebraska who moved to San Francisco with her mother and sister before 1920.
Bethel followed Edward when he returned to San Diego when given orders by the Navy, and she got a job working at a hotel in downtown San Diego. Bethel and Edward very well may have been married at some point, although no record can be found. And if there was a marriage to Bethel, Edward was likely still married to his first wife Rosalie at the time.
On December 29, 1926 Edward Steiner went AWOL from the Navy. His military record notes he was “declared a stragler.” On January 8, 1927 he was declared a deserter. A notice of his desertion from the Navy was published in his hometown newspaper in Richfield, Utah, with a reward being offered for his whereabouts.
Edward not only deserted the Navy but also Bethel. She gave birth to Edward’s daughter, in August of 1927. The address of the birth father is listed as “unknown”. Bethel had given birth alone as Edward had simply abandoned her.
The birth certificate of that baby girl reveals her father’s new persona — On the official birth record of Duane Reeves Lamon, her father’s birth name is given as “Ben” Edward Lamon, shedding the legal name of Steiner, Lamon is a seemingly deliberate variation of his birth name of Lemen.
Further information on the birth certificate listed Edward’s occupation as a medical student in Stanford. No record has ever been uncovered to verify that Edward ever attended Stanford, although he was a pharmacist’s mate in the Navy. (Apparently, he had told Bethel that he was attending Stanford, something he would repeat to other women in his life….)
Bethel wrote heartbreaking letters to the Dept. of the Navy looking for the whereabouts of Edward, which were retained as part of his military record. Each time the Navy replied to her letters stating they did not know of Edward’s location. Bethel would continue the search for her husband for nearly three years.
Edward Lamon, in fact was in the arms and bed of another woman. While Bethel was 3 months pregnant with Edward’s child, on Valentine’s Day in 1927 he married a new “sweetheart” Sadie Ingle, in Los Angeles.
Sadie and Edward would be married long enough to have two daughters: Mildred and Melody born about 2 ½ years apart. And while he had left two women and a baby daughter behind, it seemed that Edward was somewhat domesticated for a time. Although he was still wanted by the Navy as a deserter, Edward moved his wife and two daughters back to San Diego, living in Coronado. It is worth noting that Edward, a supposed medical student, was working a blue collar job at the garage of the Hotel Del Coronado.
Although Edward had managed to stay married to Sadie for six years, all was not wedded bliss – Edward met a beautiful divorcee – Elsa Thuner Collier and the two embarked on what would be another tumultuous relationship.
Elsa and Edward began an adulterous affair as early as 1932, while Edward and Sadie were still married. In November of 1933 the couple were in Berwyn, Illinois where Elsa gave birth to their child, Barbara Jean La Mon.
Although the couple was not married the child is listed as “legitimate”. (On Barbara’s birth certificate Edward’s occupation is listed as a real estate and a bond salesman, a profession he purported to have been in for 6 years.)
Edward’s wife Sadie responded by filing for divorce in March of 1934. In her complaint she contends that Edward “would frequently remain away from his home nights without informing” her and that Edward would make “insulting remarks” about her relatives. While this sounds somewhat tame, Sadie went on to say that Edward became so angry on one occasion, he struck his mother-in-law and knocked her down.”
Edward never responded to Sadie’s divorce complaint. Instead he and Elsa married in September of 1934 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Meanwhile, Edward and Elsa’s union produced another child, Valna, born in 1935.
With one wife, three exes and five daughters, Edward’s life and temper continued to spiral out of control. Less than one month after Elsa had given birth to daughter Valna, Edward attacked and choked her. He later threatened to kill Elsa and the police were called.
After Edward’s arrest his true identity was revealed and the authorities promptly delivered him to Navy officials. The Navy, however, had no desire to prosecute Edward after an absence of 8 years and officially released him from duty.
Edward left California and for a time was back in Richfield, Utah perhaps seeking refuge or financial assistance from his adopted sister. A notation from his father’s estate indicate he received a $250.00 stipend on September 13, 1935.
Elsa began divorce proceedings in October of 1935 detailing the cruelty of her husband. Edward never responded to the legal proceedings and never returned to San Diego. He continued to leave a wake of broken hearts and lives wherever he went, and left Elsa like he had left Sadie — alone to raise two little girls who would never know their father.
Edward found refuge in San Francisco and reconciled with Bethel. Although she had remarried twice since they parted, Bethel apparently single again, accepted Edward back. Their reunion was short-lived when Edward left the longsuffering Bethel yet again. He moved to Stockton and took a job as a sales clerk.
On July 30, 1936 Edward Bernard Steiner Lamon ended his life by hanging himself in Room 459 at the Wolf Hotel in downtown Stockton, California. He left a note requesting that his brother-in-law Andrew Desimone be notified. Desimone was married to Bethel’s sister Bard, and was in the casino business at the famed Cal Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe. Desimone contacted Bethel about the suicide and Edward’s remains were released to her.
What led to Edward’s shocking decision to end his life? Was it a mounting debt of some kind? Was there a pending criminal action he wanted to avoid? Was it the terrible guilt of fathering and abandoning so many small children?
The Richfield, Utah newspaper reported that Edward Steiner had suddenly died, but skirted the issue of a suicide nor did it mention his other identity as Edward LaMon.
The Stockton newspaper reported that Edward left a wife and two daughters behind, but if this was referring to Bethel, they had just one known child together, Duane born in 1927, (Bethel had no other children).
Adding to the mystery, the names of the children the newspaper provided were Edna and Blanchette. (Blanchette was the maiden name of his adopted mother.) However, there are no known children by this name and one can only surmise as to the discrepancy. Was it simply an error by the reporter? Was there yet another woman who bore two additional daughters?
There was no mention of his former wives: Rosalie, Sadie and Elsa. No mention of daughters, Duane, Mildred, Melody, Barbara and Valna.
His death certificate revealed additional misinformation that Edward no doubt perpetuated over the years to other women, as he reinvented himself. Particularly, his mother’s name is listed as “Blanchette Sorie”, who was supposedly born in Paris, which is all fabrication.
The Coroner’s report stated that Edward was found hung in the shower by a belt. Curiously, he was dressed in riding togs.
His brief suicide note said, “Goodbye to all — one in particular.” “There is now one ‘lug” less in the world.”
Who was the “one in particular”? It was likely Bethel who had suffered longer with him than any other. Edward suffered, too, no doubt. His anguish had manifested into anger. His abandonment as a child changed his name and he tried to conform and then reinvent himself, but he could never find a way of escape or a way to redemption.
Edward’s five wives (were there more?) eventually all remarried.
Edward’s biological mother Dorinda relocated to California around 1937. Did she ever reach out to Edward at any time? If Edward had any contact with the Lemen family after he was adopted or as an adult, it is unknown. After her mother died in 1948, Dorinda Lemen Edwards eventually moved to Oakland, where her older brother Timothy Lemen resided. She died in 1972.
Edward’s five daughters, who never really knew or could remember their father, were left to wonder for the rest of their lives about him.
Barbara Jean Lamon revealed that her mother Elsa rarely, if ever, spoke about Edward…and his life and death were shrouded in mystery. She and Valna never knew their father had other wives and were astonished to find out they had three half-sisters, whom they never met.
After Edward’s death, Elsa and her daughters Barbara and Valna lived a very comfortable life with the Thuners. However, Elsa’s adopted father Alois died in 1937. Imogene and Elsa had a very strained relationship for years and without Alois alive, the tension grew. There was little joy or happiness in their upper-middle-class home.
It is worth noting that Elsa’s biological mother Ida Mae Ames had moved to Southern California by 1931. When Ida died in 1939, she was buried in Glen Abbey Memorial Park near San Diego. Elsa and her young daughters went to the graveside services but remained in the car and watched from afar. Elsa remained separated from her own mother even in death.
Imogene Thuner died in 1944. She left an inheritance to her two granddaughters, Barbara and Valna…not to her daughter Elsa. Their trust fund was over $90,000 in 1952, equivalent to nearly $900,000 today.
While Edward’s legal name was Steiner, his birth name was Lemen. The name of “Lamon” was Edward’s alias, a made up name used after he deserted the Navy. Ironically it was one that his offspring carried legally. Even his great granddaughter was given the middle name of “Lamon” in order to “carry on the memory of Edward”…only to find out later it was an invented name and not that of Edward’s at all.
The enigma surrounding Edward’s life, along with its truth and falsehoods is fading away … just as his life faded from the memories of his little daughters.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Deserted”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “Deserted”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
One quiet night in Oceanside, California a senseless murder was committed with no apparent motive or suspects. Days after the murder, someone claiming to be the killer called local police with an ominous threat that resulted in armed gunmen protecting city busses for several nights in anticipation of another death. But as shocking as it was, the incident slowly faded into obscurity and the murder went unsolved. The case was in fact forgotten about altogether until in 2017 I stumbled upon a newspaper article while doing research on an unrelated subject. As I continued research on the murder I collected dozens of newspaper articles and discovered that the case had never been solved. I then contacted the Oceanside Police Department who directed me to their Cold Case Detective.
The Murder of Ray Davis
On the evening of April 9, 1962, the Oceanside Police Department received an anonymous telephone call. The unidentified caller stated cryptically: “I am going to pull something here in Oceanside and you will never be able to figure it out.” The call was likely dismissed…until two nights later on April 11th, when a body was discovered and the caller contacted the police again.
Patrolman Terry Stephens discovered the lifeless body of Ray Davis in an alley in the upscale beachside neighborhood of St. Malo at 1:45 am. The night of the murder, Stephens had not yet turned 28 years old, but was already a seasoned police officer. Born in 1934 in Escondido Stephens was raised in Oceanside where he lived nearly all of his life. At the age of 21 he joined the Oceanside Police Department and served on the force for 31 years before he retired.
The victim, Ray Davis was just 29 years old, a native of Michigan. Ray was estranged from his wife Marion, whom he had married in 1953 in Owosso, Michigan. At the time of Ray’s murder she was living in Pomona with two children from a previous marriage.
Ray and his brother Jack had moved to Oceanside in January of 1962. Oceanside had a population of less than 25,000. Jack got a job working at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Ray as a cabdriver for the Checker Cab Company. The brothers were renting a house at 525 South Tremont Street.
Ray Davis was working an evening shift, his cab parked on Mission Avenue in downtown. At 11:10 pm he reported to his dispatcher Lowell Sikes that he was driving a fare to South Oceanside. He never returned or responded to subsequent radio calls.
Ray’s body had been dumped in the alley behind 1926 South Pacific Street, the home of Oceanside’s former Mayor Joe MacDonald. Across the street was the home of Oceanside’s current Mayor Erwin Sklar. This was not a neighborhood familiar with violent crime, let alone murder. (Note: Few people realize that St. Malo does not begin behind its iconic gated archway, but also includes the 1900 block of South Pacific Street.)
Davis had been shot once in the back, through the driver’s seat, and once in the back of the head. His assailant unceremoniously pulled him out of the cab and drove away. Robbery did not appear to be a motive as Davis had a modest amount of cash in both his wallet and shirt pocket.
The bloodied cab was discovered at 6:30 am, left in the alley of the 400 block of South Pacific Street with its meter showing a $2.20 fare. On scene Detective Don Brown found a third shot had been fired through the windshield of the taxi.
On the front seat of the abandoned cab was a paperback novel, “Dance With the Dead.” Written in 1960 by Richard S. Prather, it featured a private detective who solved crimes, all the while encountering scantily clad women…very campy stuff.
Davis was taken to the Seaside Mortuary at 802 South Pacific Street where an autopsy was performed by L. H. Fairchild of the San Diego County Coroner’s Office. Two .22 caliber bullets were removed and given to Oceanside Police Detective Floyd R. Flowers.
The following day, April 12th, both the Oceanside Blade Tribune and San Diego Union Tribune newspapers reported the murder along with the fact that police had no motive or suspect. The story of Ray’s murder was also published in several Southern California newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. In Ray’s home state of Michigan, at least three newspapers reported the murder of Ray Davis. No mention was made of the mysterious phone call of April 9 as the Oceanside Police Department had not released that information.
Funeral services for Ray Davis were held at the Oceanside Church of God on April 13th. He was buried in a plot located in the “Sunset Slope” at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Virginia Davis, his bereaved mother, flew from Michigan to Oceanside for the services.
On April 16th the Oceanside Police Department disclosed to the public that an unknown person had called them on April 9th with a veiled threat that they now linked to the murder of Ray Davis. The second phone call came with a frightening warning.
Police Chief William H. Wingard described the caller as a possible “deranged killer” and released the contents of the call: “Do you remember me calling you last week and telling you that I was going to pull a real baffling crime? I killed the cab driver and I am going to get me a bus driver next.”
Who, but the original caller, would have known about the initial message? Who would taunt the police in such a way?
This threat was not taken lightly, considering the unknown caller seemed to have made good on his last one. Chief Wingard stated: “We have no reason to disbelieve the calls.”
In response to the threat, the Oceanside Police Department took measures to protect all city busses and armed military police were put on each bus going aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The newspaper reported that Frank Lilly, Oceanside’s City Manager gave Oscar Hatle, Bus Superintendent “blanket authority to take whatever steps necessary.” The unusual aspects of the murder and the unprecedented response of armed guards were big news. The story was widely distributed by the Associated Press and United Press International.
Three days passed without incident. Guards were removed from the busses, but on so-called “lonely routes” the bus company assigned two drivers. Oscar Hatle commented: “The situation still exists. We are taking no unnecessary chances.”
The police had no motive and scant evidence. They were desperate to solve the murder. Several people were questioned and released. One reported suspect was a fellow cabdriver, Charles Schofield, but the accusation had no foundation.
On May of 1962 an arrest was made of four Marines for armed robbery, but neither their prints nor ballistics matched. Another armed robbery suspect was arrested in November but again, the fingerprints were not a match.
The murder was all but forgotten about except for the Davis family. Years passed, then decades. Ray’s brother Jack died in 1990. Ray’s mother died in 1995 and was buried at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Ray had no biological children. After the death of his brother and mother there was no one left to remember.
It may be pure conjecture, but it is still worth noting that seven years after Ray Davis’s murder, a killer known as the Zodiac would mimic the same deadly scenario. In 1969 he shot and killed a taxi driver in San Francisco, contacted police taking credit for it and then threatened to target a bus, in this instance one full of children.
The Zodiac killed his victims in a variety of ways and weapons, including a .22 caliber gun (as in the murder of Ray Davis). It is believed that the Zodiac may have been in the military. It is now surmised that one of his first victims may have been Cheri Jo Bates, who was murdered in Riverside, California in 1966. While there are several theories surrounding Zodiac, is it too far-fetched to believe that perhaps he started his killing spree in Oceanside?
Many serial killers are known to taunt or toy with police and certainly this was the case with Ray’s murderer. Serial killers taunt because they crave the attention, they want the notoriety and many times they are convinced of their own superiority over law enforcement.
Theories and conjecture aside, to this day the murder of Ray Davis remains unsolved. It is likely the killer is dead … even if he was just 25 years of age in 1962, he would be 83 years old in 2020. Many of the police officers and detectives who worked so diligently to try to solve the case and protect the residents of Oceanside have passed. However, Roy K. Smith, a retired police captain, remembers the case as he was working the morning watch the night of the murder.
Sylvia Guzman O’Brien, Cold Case Detective with the Oceanside Police Department has dug up and read over the case file. In December of 2019 she sent the latent fingerprint cards collected at the scene for entry into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). O’Brien stated that, “The crime lab will determine if the prints are of sufficient quality for entry in the database.” In addition, the casings that were located in the cab driven by Ray Davis will be sent to the crime lab for entry in the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS). As Detective O’Brien stated, “Now it is just a waiting game.”
There is no DNA evidence. Neither AFIS or IBIS were available to law enforcement in 1962 and even when these systems were put in place years ago, this case had long been forgotten. If there’s a possibility to match the prints to a person or link the ballistics to another crime, the results of these searches may be the very last chance to solve the murder of Ray Davis.
Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
The Bunker House located at 322 North Cleveland Street was first owned in 1886 by Theodore C. Bunker. This two-story building is one of the first brick buildings in Oceanside and one of three brick buildings built in the 1880’s which are still standing.
Bunker family arrived from Los Angeles and operated a store on the first floor and
a boarding house on the second. Bunker also owned a single-story wooden
structure next door, which served as a meat market. The Bunker House was used
as a meeting hall as well as for dances and church services.
Bunker’s death in 1892, Ysidora Bandini Couts, wife of Col. Cave J. Couts, held
the mortgage on the building and retained ownership. The local newspaper reported that Katherine
Mebach purchased the building in 1896.
Rieke bought the brick building in 1904. Rieke was a general contractor and
built many homes and buildings in Oceanside, including the house located on the
same block at 312 North Cleveland Street.
In 1923 the building was sold to by H. J. Crawford and it was subsequently deeded to two other members of his family: Thomas J. Crawford, and then to Samuel J. Crawford, a prominent attorney in Los Angeles who maintained ownership until 1945 when it was sold to George Edmond Haddox of Los Angeles.
Renamed the American Hotel in 1943, the building, which continued to serve as a boarding house, developed a rather “seedy reputation”. Longtime residents recalled as children they were forbidden to visit or linger near the building and its use by prostitutes rampantly rumored.
Those rumors were in fact true. Audrey Wetta, a 36 year old married woman from Louisiana, became the manager of the American Hotel in about 1945. She was arrested in December of 1946 for operating “a house of ill fame, and with prostitution.” During her trial Helen E. Shepherd was called to the stand and testified that she arrived in Oceanside in June of 1946 to visit her husband who was apparently stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. She returned to Oceanside “at the suggestion of Mrs. Wetta in December, where she entertained men for pay at the American Hotel, and part of the pay went to Mrs. Wetta.”
Adeline Vincenzo also testified, stating that she too worked at the hotel “entertaining men” until late December of 1946, when the Oceanside Police Department arrested Audrey Wetta.
Police Captain Harold Davis testified that they had been notified from the Marine MP station in regard to the activities at the hotel. Captain Guy Woodward then submitted reports to the court from the San Diego county health department, “which showed they had on file two reports of VD infection, alleged to have originated from the hotel.”
Audrey Wetta did not deny her role as a Madam or even as a prostitute herself. She testified that “she believed correctly managed ‘houses’ were a service to men, as she had noted when she was employed in a hospital that 84 percent of the girls men picked up for immoral purposes transmitted a social disease to the men, while only four percent of the cases came from girls who were recognized prostitutes.”
Wetta told Judge D. A. Parson, “the first time she allowed her hotel to be used for illegal purposes was when a young Marine returned from a year and a half overseas to find the girl to whom he was engaged was going to marry someone else. In remorse he approached Mrs. Wetta and she arranged for a young wife in the hotel, who was in need of $10, to ‘entertain’ the remorseful Marine.”
She went on to say that after military personnel at Camp Pendleton diminished, so did her income. Wetta was $20 short in her monthly rent, and had “decided to entertain two men at $15 each, $10 of which was to go to a marine bringing the men to her, in order to raise the $20.”
After hearing her testimony, Judge Parsons sentenced Audrey Wetta to a year in the county jail.
Owner George Edward Haddox sold the hotel one week later to Ralph and Ella Rogers who promptly renamed their establishment the Traveler’s Hotel (as listed in phone directories) or Hotel Travelers (painted on building).
Rogers opened Rogers Music Co., also known as Rogers Phonograph Service, on the lower level and maintained the boarding house on the second floor.
In 1959, Ella Rogers operated Gale’s Café near the Oceanside Pier at 300 1/2 North Strand, and in addition to his record store, Ralph Ross Rogers ran the Silver Dollar Tavern located at 312 Third Street (now Pier View Way). Rogers was described as “a goodhearted man who loved his parents dearly and was respected by many.”
to its reputation, in 1962, there was a very public arrest at the Traveler’s, which
made local papers and only solidified its reputation. A young woman from Ohio, who had recently arrived
in Oceanside, brought two 15 year old runaways from San Diego to the boarding
house to exploit for prostitution. The girls told Oceanside Police Detective Floyd
Flowers that they were to work in exchange for lodging, food and clothing.
Rogers died in 1973, as Ralph continued to operate his music business while living
in his building on Cleveland Street. On September 26, 1976 Ralph Rogers was
found murdered at the Traveler’s Hotel, stabbed multiple times and strangled.
month later an arrest was made. Joseph Shavon Whitaker, age 21, was arrested
for not only Rogers’ murder, but that of William O. Clark’s in a San Diego
hotel. Whitaker went to trial in 1977, was found guilty and sentenced to life
Rogers’ death the building was vacated and left to deteriorate. It seemed
destined for the wrecking ball until it was purchased by realtor Chris Parsons
in 1982. Parsons saw the potential in the weathered building and began its
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.