Welcome to John T. Cullen's Coronado Mystery main website


Basics—What You Need To Know

John T. Cullen's two books about the ghost at the Hotel del Coronado, and the 1892 crime that created her legend. Now you can have both books in one titled Coronado Mystery Why is it Important? The tragedy of the Beautiful Stranger is a universal true story for all times and people, illustrating the decisions made by a young woman in distress and under prohibitive social pressures. It is a very human story. It is also a part of history, touching upon larger and larger themes including the Spreckels sugar-based fortune, U.S. territorial and overseas expansion, the Yellow Press, and the fall of the Hawai'ian Monarchy. For visitors to San Diego, as well as residents, it is one of the most remarkable tales in local history. Long mired in legend and muddled by confusion—almost certainly a coverup at the time—here is the first plausible and complete explanation of this touching enigma. The year 2012 marks the 120th anniversary of her mysterious activities and death at the Hotel del Coronado. There are two separate stories: a famous ghost, and a true crime. We all love a good ghost story, but that has no place in this research. This is a true crime investigation, without any supernatural or paranormal elements. My results are supported by true, well known history.

The Beautiful Stranger An exceptionally poised, well-dressed, and beautiful young woman appeared at the Hotel del Coronado on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1892. She registered as Mrs. Lottie A. Bernard, which turned out to be a false name. She appeared without a previous reservation, without luggage, and a woman traveling alone—all of which aroused extreme suspicion in Victorian society. After consulting with the manager, the clerk accepted her registration, and assigned her to then Room 302 (today 3327). Witnesses observed her odd behavior over the next five/six days. She grew increasingly ill, despondent, desperate—asking frequently, at the desk, if a (nonexistent) Dr. Anderson had yet arrived to help her. On the morning of 29 November, just five full days after signing in, she was found dead of a gunshot to the head, on the rear seaward steps of the hotel.

National Sensation. Within a day or two, this obscure event at a distant resort became a national sensation. This was the age of the Yellow Press, when large metropolitan dailies competed for the popular imagination. Fueled by the national telegraph system—the internet of its day—rumors and updates breathlessly reached all corners of the US within hours. The mystery deepened. First came a futile search for her husband, the elusive (and nonexistent) Mr. Bernard. Where was the equally elusive Dr. Anderson, her (nonexistent) brother, who was due to arrive at the hotel any hour? If all this was fiction, what was her real name? Who was she? Why was she at the Hotel del Coronado? Speculation deepened, as rumors surfaced of sexual liaisons and corruption with 'men in the highest places'.

Lasting Legend, Haunting Ghost. When the initial furor died down, she was buried in a pauper's grave in Mt. Hope Cemetery on Market Street, then outside San Diego city limits. A legend soon grew up that her ghost remained about the hotel, haunting her former room (today 3327). For generations, hotel owners preferred to suppress the story for fear of scaring guests. In 1987, local police briefly reopened the case, but closed it for lack of real new evidence. In 2001, hotel management took a proactive stance and published a definitive, true account (Beautiful Stranger: the Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado) that lays out all the many loose ends but draws no real conclusions. It is by far the best work available, and this author used it as the primary basis in drawing together all the puzzle pieces so they finally make sense in Dead Move: Kate Morgan and the Haunting Mystery of Coronado.