Muddle Solved, Motive Finally Understood: Blackmail
Key To The Entire Affair: John Spreckels Owner of the Hotel del Coronado in 1892. The hotel's official book ends with the sentence: "Perhaps one day we will have a better understanding of Kate Morgan's lifeand her afterlife." This rather lightheartedly sums up the hotel's approach. They maintain a neutral position on the ghost, as I have done for the most part. Everyone loves a good chiller, and we are all glad to play that side of the house. The hotel's research on the crime side is impeccable. The true crime story is an entirely different matter, although one who believes in ghosts may infer that the putative ghost is the direct result of the 1892 crime. One can understand the Heritage Department's approach. They want to please and entertain all readers, while also presenting the known array of legitimate facts in the crime case. For the true crime story, they researched all the right sources around San Diego, including news archives, police files, and other documents of public record. The library at San Diego State University in particular has an outstanding collection on Hotel del Coronado history. In the final analysis, the official book Beautiful Stranger: the Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado is professionally written to present all the known facts, without drawing too many leading conclusions.
Two Main Quibbles. My two main quibbles about the official hotel book are that (a) they do not mention, or adequately explore, the fact that John Spreckels owned the hotel in 1892, and the striking implications of that; and (b) they adopt the facile assumption that the dead woman was Kate Morgan (one of the two names on the death certificate) without exploring the possibility of a coverup, or the fact the case for Kate Morgan is as circumstantial as any other name mentioned in connection with the Beautiful Stranger.
John Spreckels the Key, Blackmail the Motive. The hotel's official book ends on an inconclusive note. The motives of the Beautiful Stranger, like everything else about the story, remain a baffling mystery. The story comes across as a maze of often weird details, tantalizing clues, and baffling dead ends. The serious researcher, having digested the hotel's official book in its considerable detail, willl look beyond it to other sources of information. These include the records of the San Diego Historical Society and other reputable organizations. The striking fact that emerges that the owner of the Hotel del Coronado in 1892 was John Spreckels, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the United States at the time. His father, Claus Spreckels, was the Sugar Baron of Hawai'i and a personal friend of the last Hawai'ian King, David Kalakaua. A clear motive for the entire Lottie A. Bernard saga emerges, which is that there was a blackmail attempt going on against John Spreckels at a very critical and sensitive time, while he was at the White House with President Benjamin Harrison, negotiating desperately for the U.S. not to topple the Hawai'ian monarchy and annex this sovereign nation contrary to international law. As we begin to pick apart the maze of tangled details, the story no longer looks so utterly enigmatic.
Blackmail at the Worst Possible Moment. My premise is that Kate Morgan, who had been traveling all over the western United States, working as a domestic under a variety of false names (and therefore up to no good), found some reason to involve an innocent and unsuspecting John Spreckels in one of her schemes. She is thought to have worked in San Francisco and to be thoroughly familiar with the city, so the famous Spreckels family would be no strangers to her. Perhaps she even worked for their far-flung family empire as a domestic at some point (as I suggest in Lethal Journey). The false name Mrs. Lottie A. Bernard, used by Lizzie to sign in at the Hotel del Coronado, had to have some significance recognizable to Spreckels, his secretaries, and his other handlers. Perhaps it was a false name Kate used while working in one of the Spreckels family's various sumptuous houses. We know that Lizzie was pregnant by John Longfield. Spreckels was no angel, but he could not have been the man who ruined Lizzie. On the blackmail assumption, as my book Dead Move shows, a lot of the previously baffling mysteries suddenly become clear, like the request for an empty bottle and a spongeto mix medicine for a pessary, which Dr. Mertzmann called her 'terrible medicines' that made her ill and depressed, and were meant to induce a spontaneous miscarriage. But this blackmail attempt came at the worst possible moment.
The Hawai'ian Affair. Precisely as Kate Morgan was pulling off her ill-advised blackmail scheme, she could not have known that John Spreckels was in Washington, negotiating with a Democratic president and a Republican-dominated Congress over the future of the Honolulu government of Queen Liliuokalani. The Spreckelses were no angels, and neither were their commercial enemies, the Dole dynasty. Claus Spreckels, John's father, might be the Sugar Baron, but Sanford Dole was the Pineapple King. For two generations, Spreckels dominated Hawai'i, owning many sugar plantations, befriending the king, and almost hand-picking the members of the cabinet. King David, the 'Merrie Monarch', was not only a progressive, liberal soul, but he fought the right-wing religious zealots of the U.S. Missionary Party, and restored elements of Hawai'ian culture like luau and hula dancing, which were all anathema to the racist, obsessed Calvinists. Worst of all, since Hawai'ian property ownership was based on a system of royal chiefs dating to before the monarchy, individual Hawai'ians could not produce mortgage papers or property deeds in the Western manner. Less than two months after the blackmail episode at Spreckels' hotel, the queen was brutally overthrown by U.S. political, religious, and commercial interests opposed to Spreckels and the Monarch. Hawai'i's conquerors organized a fraudulent 'republic' with Sanford Dole as its first and only 'president,' who then requested the U.S. to seize the sovereign nation. By 1895, Hawai'i had been annexed as a territory. It would achieve statehood in 1959. In 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Congress would issue a bipartisan bill of apology to the Hawai'ian people for this heinous deed.
Aftermath for Spreckels. John Spreckels moved permanently to Coronado from San Francisco after the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Claus died at age 80, and second son Adolph Spreckels took over the considerable Spreckels empire. This included a new sugar production facility in Spreckels, California, based on sugar beets rather than cane sugar. In San Diego, John Spreckels continued to be the wealthiest and most influential man in the city's history. He owned everythingbanks, newspapers, all of Coronado including its famous hotel, much of downtown San Diego, the utilities, the water flume, the light rail system, and more. He certainly had an army of functionaries working for him. At a time when San Diego had only a rudimentary police force, and no detectives, Spreckels must have employed Pinkertons or other private security to shield him from blackmail attempts and other harm. Being of old money, the family would be quite used to such ways of protecting themselves.
Aftermath for Kate Morgan. I would suggest that Kate Morgan, for all her devious scheming, had no idea what she was walking into when she tried boldly to blackmail Spreckels. She and Longfield got away, but Lizzie paid the price and died on the back steps of the hotel, on the night of 28-29 November 1892, of a broken heart and a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. The Spreckels Machine (his lawyers, agents, and security) took control, organized a hasty inquest, issued some summary results, and fabricated a story that has endured for generations. The Lottie A. Bernard affair would have been scandalous and damaging to Spreckels during the Hawai'i negotiations. The Yellow Press would have made a field day of it. His interest was to shift interest (the dead woman's I.D.) from a pregnant, 'ruined' Lizzie Wyllie to Kate Morgan. To further diminish the players, they must have spread the rumors we still hear, that Tom was a gambler, a cardsharp, or worse, and that Kate was his assistant seducer and so forth. With her name in ruins, Kate, who had a history of traveling about under aliases, melted away into history under further unknown aliases. For all intents and purposes, she had died on the steps of the Hotel Del. That left only one stray endif the dead woman was Kate Morgan, then what happened to Lizzie Wyllie, whose sister and mother were beside themselves upon seeing the police sketch of the dead woman. The final stroke in this tale, no doubt orchestrated by Kate Morgan, was to use John Longfield to relay a message to the world. Longfield, a scoundrel, who was hiding in Cleveland from his wife, wrote her a letter saying that none of the 'rumors' were true. He said that Lizzie was alive and well in Toronto, of all places, across Lakes Erie and Ontario from Detroit, and that she never wanted to see her mother or sister again. If anything is a lie, that was utterly untrue and does not hold water, anymore than the rest of the traditional 'Kate Morgan' myths that now lie exposed for the nonsense and lies that they always were. Despite her 'downfall,' Lizzie and her mother Elizabeth and sister May loved each other very much. Only death prevented Lizzie from returning to the arms of her familyand the lies perpetuated by Kate Morgan and the Spreckels Machine.