About the Beautiful Stranger Mystery
A True Crime of 1892, Now a Famous Ghost Legend
About (page 1 of 3): Mysterious Death of the Beautiful Stranger
Gaslamp 1892 Mystery: The Beautiful Stranger. A beautiful young woman, classy enough to be a national stage actress, checked into the brand-new Hotel del Coronado near San Diego in afternoon of Thanksgiving Day 1892. From the first, she attracted lots of attention from guests and staff alike. Five days later, after she visibly deteriorated, she was found dead of a gunshot to the head on the back steps of the hotel after a great Pacific Ocean storm at night. She was never (not really) identified (until the work of John T. Cullen) and the Hotel Del's official history from the Heritage Department refers to her safely as 'the Beautiful Stranger.'
National Scandal. While San Diego authorities began investigating, her body lay in state in the shop window of a mortuary on Fifth Avenue downtown (in the City of San Diego, across the Bay from Coronado Island). Thousands flocked to see the body. Meanwhile, a national scandal instantly arose on the Internet of its daythe telegraph, utilized for breathless and sensational reportage in the Yellow Press.
Fake News. She registered under the false name Lottie A. Bernard. When the body was found, cops soon learned there was neither a Lottie A. Bernard, nor a Mr. Bernard to notify. The first I.D. on the body was tentatively Lizzie Wyllie, a vanished Detroit shopgirl (which turns out to be the correct choice after all, according to San Diego author John T. Cullen). There is a lot of background detail to build the case, way too much for this website. The upshot (please read and enjoy the books) is that a too-hasty inquest determined she was really Kate Morgan, a grifter. As we'll see in the books, this was convenient for Pinkerton operatives to shield the hotel's billionaire owner from scandal. The dead woman was pregnant, which gives us a huge clue about the intended blackmail against John Spreckels. It was safer to cover the whole thing up by changing the I.D. to Kate Morgan (who was childless, and nowhere to be found). Note: the death certificate has two names on it (huh?), one being Lottie A. Bernard, the other being Kate Morgan, and both false according to the author.
Spice It Up, Baby. The Pinkertons planted a wild story so ludicrous that it seemed plausible, and has ever since been the unfortunately only known version. Until the advent of John T. Cullen's research results, it's been a muddled tangle of dead ends and false starts including a gambler on Transcontinental Railroad trains (Tom Morgan, Kate's husband, who in reality had never left Iowa); and a ghost who haunts her former room at the Hotel Del (today #3327). If there is a ghost, her name is Lizzie Wyllie, and her spirit cries for justice.
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