= Lethal Journey =
1892 True Crime Noir Thriller & Famous Ghost Legend
1892 True Crime & Resulting Ghost Story. As a retired guy (except spending many hours a day hunched over my computer keyboard at home as writer, publisher, editor) I needed to get outside in beautiful, sunny San Diego. My wife persuaded me to take an offer through a friend to become a part-time shuttle driver at the magnificent Victorian-era Hotel del Coronado near San Diego. I took the job, and will forever be happy I did for about two years of sunshine, fresh air, interesting passengers, and good purpose for driving around our city, beaches, and tourist attractions.
The hotel urged us to learn as much as we could about San Diego and Hotel history to better be able to answer guests' questions. At least half the visitors we picked up at the airport asked about the 1892 true crime and famous ghost story. Who was the Beautiful Stranger, as the mysterious young beauty is remembered even now? Why did she check in under a false name, act increasingly odd, and die a violent sudden death a few days later?
I read the Hotel's own official Heritage Department nonfiction book (*Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost Of Kate Morgan And The Hotel Del Coronado*) and was hooked. I was far more intrigued by the true crime than about the ghost legend. I found the Hotel historian's research to be impeccable; the book is beautifully illustrated and breath-takingly designed; but the book does not follow all of its own clues to a rather strikingly plausible theory.
I spent many hours researching online, using my own literary and historical background, and came to a stunningly plausible and decisive theory: that the young woman was part of a blackmail plot gone horribly wrong, against the Hotel's then-sole owner, John Spreckels. He was one of the nation's wealthiest men, son of the so-called Sugar Baron Claus Spreckels, and up to his ears at the White House negotiating with Congress and President Ben Harrison (a family friend) in a futile attempt to save the Hawai'ian monarchy. The stakes were sky-high, which doomed poor Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Wyllie (not Kate Morgan as trumped-up legend has it, as set up by Spreckels' defenders). John Spreckels, a Victorian billionaire, could have been 'ruined' by the faintest breath of scandal, at a critical time. As the city's leading medical expert (who was only allowed a cursory exam, not an autopsy) was to declare: she was pregnant, she was taking 'terrible medicines to induce a miscarriage,' and she'd been in that situation once before.
Bottom Line: Picking carefully through the Hotel Del Coronado Heritage Department's own 2002 book, one is able to connect dots that the Hotel chose not to elucidate. My conclusions are based on history and fact, and stand out rather obviously once one digs deeper into what is known: in effect, 'hidden in plain sight' as in the best of mysteries, only this is a totally true story. For the novel, I did combine one or two major fantasy elements from the gripping popular legend for maximum thriller effect. To wit, Tom Morgan was not a gambler, never set foot in San Diego, did not murder his wife, did not kill card players on transcontinental trains, and in fact was abandoned by his sociopathic grifter wife Kate Morgan. The real tragic woman in this true story, the actual 'Beautiful Stranger,' was a dreamy young shopgirl from Detroit named Lizzied Wyllie. Lizzie in real life was 'ruined' by her shop foreman, a 'bounder and a cad' (and married man with several children) named John Longfield. Read the novel *Lethal Journey* and the nonfictional scholarly research in *Dead Move* for a rousing story that took place in 1892 at the U.S. National Landmark Hotel del Coronado near San Diego.
From The Book Blurb at Amazon (Print and Digital Editions):
John T. Cullen's novel Lethal Journey - Victorian gaslight (gaslamp era) noir - is closely based on the 1892 true crime at the Hotel Del Coronado near San Diego. This fast, atmospheric thriller combines the best elements of legend and true history. For granular detail, read the author’s painstaking, scholarly analysis in the nonfiction book Dead Move: Kate Morgan and the Haunting Mystery of Coronado. His careful analysis ties all loose ends together, in the first-ever plausible explanation of this San Diego legend. Cullen solves an old, brittle cold case, dispelling 1890s cover-up legends planted to protect John Spreckels - owner of the hotel, and one of the nation's wealthiest men in 1892.
The Beautiful Stranger - as the young mystery woman is officially remembered - was poised, striking, and doomed. She died violently and mysteriously at Spreckels' new Hotel del Coronado, a resort by the Pacific Ocean. The true crime mystery instantly became a national sensation, leading to a famous ghost who allegedly haunts the U.S. National Landmark hotel to this day. Cullen's three books are not based on ghosts or the supernatural - only true history, hidden in plain sight until now under a successful cover-up.
The Yellow Press fanned flames and rumors of her alleged dalliances with men in high places. She was part accomplice, part victim, in an ill-conceived blackmail attempt that went horribly wrong. The target was resort owner John Spreckels, a son of Sugar Baron Claus Spreckels of San Francisco.
Iowa grifter Kate Morgan tried to use the young woman's out-of-wedlock pregnancy as a threat on Spreckel's public image at a critical moment. Spreckels had nothing to do with the pregnancy. He was in the White House, desperately conferring with family friend President Benjamin Harrison to save the Hawai'ian monarchy and Spreckels sugar plantations in Hawai'i.
Under a false name (‘Lottie A. Bernard’), the Beautiful Stranger checked into the Hotel del Coronado on Thanksgiving Day 1892. She carried herself like a young stage star. Five days later, she lay dead on a stairwell from a gunshot to the head, a large revolver by her side.
Despite Spreckels' and Harrison’s efforts, the Hawai'ian monarchy was overthrown six weeks later (January 1893). The Spreckels dynasty lost their sugar plantations, but established a new sugar beet empire in the town of Spreckels, near Monterey, California. Poor Lizzie Wyllie, the dead beauty - swallowed up in falsehoods, forgotten - was thrown in an unmarked grave outside San Diego.
Lethal Journey (novel) dramatizes her true, tragic path. She was the victim of a repressive Victorian society,. Women were not allowed to vote, travel alone, or own property. She was young, pregnant, alone, and desperate. She broke the rules to survive, but fell into the clutches of an unscrupulous, lethally false friend (Kate Morgan) who also stole her lover. Lizzie ended up used, broken, and hopeless.
On a dark and stormy night (literally) in November 1892, she shot herself while weakened and depressed on drugs Kate gave her to induce a spectacular miscarriage in the lobby of Spreckels' hotel - unless the tycoon paid up. Lizzie, a beautiful young run-away shop girl from Detroit, had pretensions of becoming a great stage actress, but fell victim to her own frailties and cruel Victorian morays.
In death, she was embalmed, dolled up like a princess, and morbidly displayed in a store window for thousands to admire. She embodied of that morbid, powerful Victorian fantasy, the Fallen Angel. The Beautiful Stranger remains today an object lesson for women's rights, the tragic story of a naive soul. This is the stand-alone edition of Lethal Journey (thriller). Also available from Clocktower Books: the stand-alone edition of Dead Move (nonfiction; factual analysis).Or read *Coronado Mystery* - both books in one volume. All editions print or ebook, 125th Anniversary editions for 2017.