1946: Murder in Montara: Part I

Warning: If you don’t like gruesome murders, please don’t read this true story.

WW II was over, and it was the early summer of 1946, a time to feel happy to be alive.

John Kyne, well known oldtimer in Moss Beach and Montara, was walking in Wagner Canyon–named after the publisher who “founded Montara”– near the Coastside Nursery when he had one of those horrific life-changing encounters–the kind you wish you never had. He ran into a pretty young woman stumbling about in a daze. She was barefoot and could barely stand; she kept falling to her knees. It looked like she was wounded. Kyne heard her mumbling, calling out unfamiliar names, calling for Vorhas, Caroline and Barbara–but she was calling into the wind because there was nobody else there. At least no one else who was alive.

John Kyne walked in the direction the woman had come from and discovered the horror: two tiny children, two little girls, dead. Their fully clothed bodies lay nine feet apart with a layer of leaves covering them. Kyne shielded the injured woman from seeing them.

Apparently the dead girls’ mother, the woman had a deep skull fracture and it didn’t take much for Kyne to realize a terrible crime had been committed in his neighborhood, and he tried to make the woman comfortable while calling the local authorities. Meanwhile the pretty young lady, no more than 25 -years- old, fell into and out of conciousness. Kyne hoped medical help would arrive quickly.

Kyne’s son, Peter, was a famous novelist, whose subjects were lighthearted, and John couldn’t help but wonder what Peter would think of this real-life drama his father had been thrust into the middle of.

Half Moon Bay Constable Fred Simmons was one of the first to arrive and took the woman to the nearby Community Hospital. She had a deep five-inch gash in her skull, the weapon, some kind of blunt instrument.

Her condition was extremely serious, said Colonel Harold Roycroft, the medical superintendent at Community Hospital, giving her a 50-50 chance of survival. Interrogating her was discouraged but Chief Deputy Sheriff Walter H. Moore did get a few questions in before she lapsed into semi-consiciousness. Within hours he learned that her name was Lorraine Newton, that she was from Alameda, that she had been crawling around all night and that she remembered little other than driving to Rockaway Beach in Pacifica with her husband and two daughters.

Lorraine Newton had also mumbled about looking at the waves in the afternoon or was it in the evening. She was confused; she couldn’t remember. She didn’t know her little girls were dead and that horrible reality was going to be kept from her until she fully recovered.

Sheriff Moore wanted to know where the husband, Vorhas Newton, was, and detectives fanned out to find him. Was the husband the perpetrator of this vicious, senseless crime?

Despite the horrific circumstances, there was a light moment when Constable Simmons asked Sheriff Moore how his son, Gordon, was doing. Moore loved this question; he couldn’t believe his son, Gordon, born in Pescadero, (and the future founder of the high tech blockbuster Intel) was a genius, and he told everyone so, this time being no exception.

Meanwhile the two little dead girls were taken to the A.P. Dutra Chapel in Half Moon Bay. The autopsy performed there revealed that both children, seven- month- old Caroline and the almost two- year- old Barbara had died of skull fractures.

John Kyne may have had the missing link: He saw a car drive up the trail into Wagner canyon the day before and saw the same car speed down the road later. A man was driving and surely Kyne was able to describe the man as well as the make and model of the car, just what the police needed to track down the possible killer. And they were bearing down fast.

….to be continued

In the neighborhood, is there a collective heartbeat?

My neighbors, the couple who had lived in the house across the street for 16 years, put their home up for sale, sold it in about a week and a month later moved to Hawaii.

We knew each other well enough to cross the street (both ways) and have dinner and there was a party or two. On my walks I saw one of them every day.

When I learned they were moving, I felt funny….change was coming, and I felt unsettled,my heart beat a little faster, and I wondered “Is there a collective heartbeat on the block?”

All these years, all of us who live on this block in ten houses have had an understanding…we come and go predictably, there’s no unexpected noise, and well, what else is there? Ultimately, doesn’t this predictability turn into a kind of heartbeat, even a collective heartbeat?

And when someone moves, doesn’t that heartbeat change until the new coming and going is established?

Postal Order Model

The sign beside this lovely Coastsider reads: Postal Order, etc. She’s probably posing at the old Moss Beach post office. Although too dark, this image has always been a favorite of mine and so I am sharing it with you. 

Incident at Billy Grosskurth’s Hotel: Part III

On New Years Eve 1934 the superrich, eccentric George Whittell slipped into his chauffeur-driven automobile and began the bumpy ride from his Woodside estate, where at least one lion roamed about, and headed over a squiqqly road to the Coastside, to the Marine View Tavern in Moss Beach, and its host, Billy Grosskurth, the man with a showbiz past.

Since the end of prohibition business had grown quiet at both the Marine View and its neighbor, Franks, a llively roadhouse which had been built six years earlier. At the peak of prohibition, in the late 1920s, politicians and silent film stars wandered back and forth, between Billy’s hotel and the newer place next door.

The final minutes of 1934 were ticking away when George Whittell pulled up in front of Billy’s three-story hotel overlooking the Pacific. We can only imagine how shocked and stunned witnesses were when the elegantly dressed millionaire got out of the car with a lion cub on a leash–it was as though he were walking his pet dog.

I don’t know what brought George Whittell to Billy’s hotel. Maybe it was on a whim, to celebrate the closing of the old year in Moss Beach. What they talked about I haven’t a clue.

Charles P. Tammany, Whittell’s chauffeur, said that Billy invited Whittell and the adorable five month old pet lion into the hotel. Against the advise of Whittell, added the chauffeur, Billy began to play and tease the lion. The lion was so cuddly cute, but at that moment it wasn’t feeling playful–and started to maul poor Billy. Or so he said in the lawsuit that followed.

“It was a wild African lion of vicious and irascible nature,” testified Billy Grosskurth.

“It was a friendly gentle little lion kitten of kind and amiable temperament,” countered George Whittell.

For the terror and mauling he suffered, Billy sued the Woodside millionaire for $250,000. He added that Whittell was of a depraved and vicious character and delighted in the animal’s attack.

But Billy was no match for George. Whittell, playing a game he was long familiar with, responded that he was a Nevada resident which may have technically protected him from Californian litigation at the time– (remember, Whittell had built the spectacular Thunderbird Lodge at Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side, which I have visited, and can assure the reader of its uniqueness, in particular, the underground tunnel where Bill, the lion roamed freely, and where George, after a late night of drinking and gambling took his friends on a tour–).

A year later Billy Grosskurth’s lawsuit was dismissed.

As for the Marine View Tavern, the glory of what it had been during Prohibition continued to fade but Billy refused to sell the property. By the 1950s the building was decaying–and Billy became a familiar sight on the porch, playing solitaire and reminiscing about the past.

During the summer of 1958 there was a fire in Moss Beach and the Marine View Tavern hotel was torn down. The hotel had been Billy’s life and a year later he died at age 75.

Last look at the Marine View Tavern

Is This a Dangerous Place for A Bus Stop?

Is this a dangerous place for a bus stop?

The bus stops at Coronado and Plaza Alhambra in El Granada, across the street from the Wilkinson School and a couple of blocks from the El Granada school. There’s no crosswalk anywhere so if you cross the street when the big bus, with the right-of-way, is coming, headed for the bus stop, you’re in big trouble. You could run, but….

There’s another much safer bus stop a couple of blocks down the street.

Shouldn’t this bus stop be eliminated?

That’s the bus stop on the left.

The Singularity

The Singularity is one of those mind-boggling things. I understand it but I can’t explain it clearly. It’s like you’re standing at the Apple Store counter, the clerk just took your money for the most up-to-date, latest IPOD and the new, latest up-to-date IPOD appears right then at that very moment. It’s like change is….

Am I getting that right? Close?

There’s nothing but change. Change takes on a whole new meaning, there’s no time in beween change. My example was a technological one-but what if EVERYTHING is changing as it’s changing.

Whew! Please.

I can’t remember where I first read about “the singularity” but there is a new book out by Ray Kurzweil called “The Singularity is Near”. I believe Kurzweil invented a reading machine for the legally blind, it enlarges (really big) book and magazine and newspaper print. Pretty cool.

Not Mainstream Clothes

If you want to see how conventionally we Californians dress, and if you are looking for crazy wild creativity in clothes, check this book out, it’s a knockout, even if it’s mostly kids wearing them. So much fun to flip through the pages. Put some color, and maybe a pair of zonky socks in your life! You could always wear them around the house.

Skipper Kent, Channing Pollock & Moss Beach

I knew the great magician Channing Pollock and his beautiful, artistic wife, Corri, when the eccentric couple moved from Beverly Hills to Moss Beach in the 1970s. My ex, John, had done some custom wood work for the Pollocks (the rock and wood work done in their bathroom appeared in Sunset Magazine) and through that relationship, we all became friends, and were invited to the home often.

The Pollocks also owned acreage, a ranch at San Gregorio where they grew and sold earthworms. We visited and spent time there, too.

(After his wife passed, Channing moved away).

When I knew Channing he was silver-haired and someone I could only call “spiritual”. It wasn’t that unusual in the 1970s–unusual in rural Half Moon Bay, I’ll grant that, but Channing was, well he was very different from any type of person I had known up until then. Around him, it felt like being in the pressence of the royalty, actually being around both of them.

I was surprised to learn thatChanning was a world famous magician, well known for the seven-minute act he performed with white doves. Handsome as a god, beautifully attired in a tux and tails, a lovely assistant at his side, Channing never spoke a word. No other magician had broken ground in this direction before: the sophisticated magician, a headliner the world over.

When you think of typical magic tricks, and the people who perform them, friends and neighbors– you think hokey–there was nothing hokey about Channing Pollock’s act. Of course, today many try to imitate Channing and many beat a path to Moss Beach. Channing was generous with time and shared it with those who found him.

You’d never have guessed that this suave looking man, part of whose professional life was spent in Europe, was originally a shy kid from Sacramento.

He and Corri arrived in Moss Beach in the mid-1970s having purchased a one-of-a-kind home overlooking the Pacific in Moss Beach. It was a spectacularly located one-floor house, with three wings, and huge floor-to-ceiling glass walls that made me feel very close to the crashing waves, which we were.

No interior decorator touched the Pollock’s house–there was a large library with esoteric and spiritual books, a piano, and standing guard over the windows was a huge Quan Yin statute (goddess of mercy). In whole, there was an artisticc look to the entire house, very comfortable and inviting.

Photo: Looking out a window into the garden with a granite waterfall in progress

Next door to the Pollock’s stood a special retreat for Catholic priests and personnel.

One of the former owners of the Pollock house was Skipper Kent, who also was married to an artist, a painter. Skipper Kent was the original builder of the house the Pollocks moved in, and I guess Kent built it in the 1940s or 50s. Skipper Kent was especially proud of the rock work lining the long entryway. He said he had dragged granite boulders from the beach up to his house and these he used along the driveway. I can’t imagine how he moved those rocks.

Because I am curious and loved tracking things down I found Skipper Kent, not in Moss Beach, but in Hawaii on the Big Island where he had moved.

Me wandering somewhere on the Big Island

By now I knew that Skipper Kent had been a famous restaurateur in San Francisco, second in popularity to Trader Vic’s. John and I flew to Hawaii and spent a day or two on the Big Island. While there we contacted Skipper Kent who kindly invited us to his home–but I forgot to bring my camera! I do recall the long landscaped uphill driveway to the house, reminiscent, in a way, of Moss Beach. Other than the nearness of the living sea, there’s not much in common between Hawaii and Moss Beach.

I did get this little bit of memorabilia from Skipper Kent

Patricia Cornwell’s latest

To take a break from wars, hurricanes, and the generally scary environment we live in at the moment, I looked for escape via book entertainment and picked up Patricia Cornwell’s latest horror mystery. Reading violent crime novels kind of fits in with the times, you know what I mean?

I enjoyed her early work but recently her material has been so bad as to be unbelievable, at times so “pc”– and, frankly, poorly written for an author who sells that many books– that she turned me off.

But I got sucked in again and read about 79 pages of Predator before I closed the book forever, I thought. I love animals and I hate it when something vicious happens to them and that’s what was the tipping point for me…..

Then I had a change of heart. One of Cornwell’s regular characters, Marino, is missing and I do wonder what happened to him plus I am a bit intrigued by Hog, one of the creepy characters in the book. I’m give it another try–just for entertainment–I still think Patricia Cornwell has lost her way and wish she’d find the path back to the quality of her earlier books.