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Click for Coronado Mystery main pageMedia/Academics: 125th Anniversary of a San Diego History Event

Three Key Aspects in Context: Local, Global, and Victorian Fallen Angel

A True History That Can No Longer Be Forgotten, Ignored, or Covered Up. What really happened at the Hotel del Coronado in November 1892? I enjoy a chilling ghost tale, as we all do, but the true crime is just that—a real police mystery, a cold case whose hope for solution was hushed up by the Spreckels Machine over 120 years ago to protect him from scandal during his delicate Washington, D.C. negotiations over the fate of Hawai'i. Our background is solid, known history—time to set myths aside, and join the rich mainstream of history.

Separate but Conjoined Aspects: Local, Global, and Literary/Artistic. Just as a scholarly, reasoning investigator will separate the rational (true crime) from the supernatural (ghost story), so we can also view the historical crime saga its three relevant local, global, and literary/artistic aspects. With John Spreckels and the Beautiful Stranger (Lizzie Wyllie, not Kate Morgan) as pivotal figures, these aspects are inseparably entwined.

Local Aspect: True Crime, Covered Up in 1892, Cold Case. The local crime saga, one of San Diego's great stories, involves Kate Morgan's ill-timed and ill-fated blackmail plot against John Spreckels at the Hotel del Coronado in November 1892. The Beautiful Stranger's violent and mysterious death instantly became a national sensation in the Yellow Press, from coast to coast. The evidence is clear, hidden all along in plain sight: Spreckels' agents hushed up the affair to protect him from scandal at the critical point in his delicate negotiations with President Benjamin Harrison and Congress over the fate of Hawai'i. Read more about the saga's local aspect. Read more about the saga's local aspect.  TOP

Global Aspect: Part of U.S. and World History. As history shows, the doomed Hawai'ian monarchy fell on 20 January 1893, just a few weeks after the ill-fated Kate Morgan blackmail plot at the Hotel del Coronado. Spreckels was involved in a power struggle between two titanic U.S. corporate billionaire dynasties and their hangers-on. Claus Spreckels, his father, was the famed Sugar Baron who owned vast sugar plantations and heavily influenced his close friends King David Kalakaua and later Queen Liliukoalani. His rival was a cabal of U.S. planters, ultra-conservative missionaries, and political adventurers led by the Sanford Dole pineapple fortune. The stakes were sky-high, the world's most powerful fortunes were in play, and Kate Morgan's blackmail plot never had a chance against Spreckels' private army of Pinkerton-style security experts. Read more about the saga's global aspect.  TOP

Artistic/Literary Aspect: The Beautiful Stranger in Death as A Real-Life Victorian Fallen Angel. An unintended consequence of the local crime story was that a related, world-class drama played itself out in the distant backwater of San Diego. The deceased beauty lay in state at the mortuary like the dead princess in Maurice Ravel's magnificent pavane. Officials said she looked peaceful and fresh, as if she were asleep. Hordes of admirers, wearing their Sunday best, came every day to view this Victorian ideal come to life and then snatched from a cruel and undeserving world. For a few weeks, while police departments around the nation sought her true identity (which ended up lost in the Spreckels coverup), and while the Yellow Press had a field day with inuendos of her alleged risqu&#eacute; affairs with men in high places, the beautiful and tragic Lizzie Wyllie became a real-life incarnation of Thomas Hardy's Tess D'Urberville. She was the embodiment of that supreme Victorian idea, the Fallen Angel, a pure woman brought low through no fault of her own by a cruel world and its evil denizens. That, in itself, is a third and perhaps the greatest manifestation of our historic November-December 1892 saga. Read more about the saga's Victorian Fallen Angel aspect.  TOP

End of a 120-year Coverup: At Last, It All Makes Sense. San Diego has grown from a sleepy backwater into one of the largest and greatest cities in the United States. The power of John Spreckels was broken by time and progress. His reputation as a great San Diego-Coronado benefactor lives on. Spreckels, think of him what you will, was a powerful but real individual. He did not have anything directly to do with Lizzie's ruination or death. The key fact in my investigation, which swam in to the light of day, was that Spreckels owned the Hotel del Coronado during the Beautiful Stranger's brief, mysterious, and violent tenure. The rest, as the saying goes, is history—for us to grasp, to admire, to understand now that the fog of coverup is long gone.  TOP