This is a podcast transcript, originally published as part of the Crimes & Witch-Demeanors Podcast.
INTRO: Hello and welcome to Crimes and Witch-Demeanors; I’m your host, Joshua Spellman. On today’s episode we’re finally hopping over to the West Coast on our ghoulish tour of the United States and stopping at the Hotel Del Coronado in sunny San Diego, California.
Today’s story is bonkers. When I began investigating it, it seemed fairly straightforward and I thought this was going to be an easy episode…but I was incredibly wrong. While 98% of the articles and websites about this case make it seem like a simple open and shut cold case, after digging deeper I discovered it was anything but. And once again, the hotel website was not the most reliable source for this story.
But before we begin I just have some quick housekeeping. In order to make the podcast more accessible I am posting transcripts of every episode on the official website. You can find the link to the website and the transcript for this episode in the show notes, or you can simply view the blog at crimesandwitchdemeanors.com
Now I do have to go back and finish transcribing a few episodes…I don’t think you realize how much writing I do for these. This episode alone is about 5,000 words…or 10 pages single spaced. It might as well be a legal brief…which…let’s me transition into my next topic before we get started. God, I’m smooth as heck.
Did you know there was an intellectual property case in 1917 between Mark Twain’s family and an author who published a book claiming that is was written by Twain beyond the grave using a Ouija board? What in the actual hell? Trial by Ordeal is a paranormal podcast that covers legal precedents and cases that were informed by the paranormal or strange events. I love my podcast because it blends archival science with the paranormal in what I like to think is a fresh take but if my take is fresh I don’t even know how to describe this. It’s great. I liked it and I figured you all would as well. But I’ll let you be the judge (ahaz. But the host Sarah Arena is lovely and I wanted to shout her out because I figured if you liked my podcast you’d like hers. Us witches gotta stick together!
Okay. Housekeeping is finished…and speaking of housekeeping oh my god my segways are on fricken point…let’s hop over to the Hotel Del Coronado and delve into the mystery of the Beautiful stranger…
It was Thanksgiving Day – November 24th, 1892 when a true Victorian mystery began to unfurl. It was on this day that Lottie A. Bernard was born a fully mature and elegant woman and who would die only five short days later.
“I understand” a young woman with short dark hair said, exasperated “but my brother has my baggage tickets…we…we were separated on the train. If you could please hand over my trunks to me, it would be greatly appreciated.”
“Sorry ma’am. Without them tickets I can’t give you your luggage”
“But I cannot be without them! They hold all of belongings. I don’t know when I’ll be able to find my brother again. So if you could please turn them over…”
“Railway policy, I’m afraid, ma’am,” the ticket man said, a little more sternly “it’s out of my control. Nothing to be done about it.” he said with finality, turning to head back into his booth.
“Fine.” the woman breathed, exhaling her frustration like the hiss of a train “but I will be back! And you’ll hear about this!”
The main nodded to her expressionless, urging her to keep on moving.
Aggravated, the woman, with nothing but her handbag, made her way into the city of San Diego. First, she made a stop at the Hotel Brewster to ask if her brother and his wife had arrived. The hotel clerk informed her that no such persons were staying at the hotel, nor did they have reservations.
Not finding her brother at the Brewster, the woman made her way to the ferry, and then from there, once landing on Coronado island, she took the little red trolley 1.3 miles to her final destination: the Hotel Del Coronado. Or, as it was affectionately known to locals…the Del.
It was mid-afternoon as she approached the Del. It’s massive white façade was blinding, even as the sun sat low in the sky. The Del was the largest resort hotel in the world and it’s architectural style was distinct. Constructed entirely of wood painted white, with a red roofing – it was flanked by two wide and sprawling tower-like annexes, with a more rectangular midsection that was dotted with Victorian spires of its own jutting out here and there.
The woman made her way up the front steps but did not approach the main doors, instead she made her way to a separate entrance off to the side that read “Unaccompanied Ladies” on the lintel.
Making her way into the hotel, those inside where aghast. A woman? Travelling unaccompanied? In the Victorian era? How very dare she.
The woman made her way up to the small desk, reserved for ladies like herself…those that dare travel without the company of a gentleman or older woman. “I’d like to book a room, please”
The clerk looked her up and down. She was dressed at the height of fashion: wearing a large black hat and a solid gold ring with four pearls and a blue stone set in the center. Possibly a sapphire. The clerk could see that the woman was attractive, with her pale skin, high cheekbones, and short dark hair. Even the two small moles on her left cheek somehow seemed elegant.
“Are you traveling alone, miss?” the clerk replied.
“No, no…” the woman started “I…am waiting for my brother he’s to join me soon.”
“Alright, miss. And…” he now noticed she was carrying nothing but her handbag and found it quite peculiar “…do you have any luggage?”
A look of frustration flashed across the young woman’s face. “Yes. My brother will be bringing it. You see, we were separated in Orange but we’re meeting here, you see, and he has my luggage”
“That is perfectly alright miss” the clerk said, “And the name for the room?”
The woman hesitated for a moment. “Uhh…Lottie. Yes, Miss Lottie A. Bernard”
“Thank you Miss Bernard, and where are you from?”
“I’m sorry, it’s Mrs.”
“My apologies. Where are you from, Mrs. Bernard?”
And it was at this moment that Lottie A. Bernard was born, springing to life like the goddess Athena from Zeus’s forehead: fully grown and mature. But unlike the goddess Athena, Lottie was not immortal.
“Here we are Mrs. Bernard” said a young bellboy by the name of Harry West, “Room 302. I know it’s a source of frustration for you but I for one am glad you didn’t have any luggage! It saves me from hauling your trunks up three flights of stairs!”
Lottie laughed, “Oh, don’t you worry my brother, Dr. Anderson will bring them when he arrives.”
“Yes, of course” Harry said, nodding. Not looking forward to his arrival.
“I do hope he comes soon. I am ill you see.” Lottie replied somberly.
She looked in good health to Harry. “Oh I am very sorry”
“Yes, yes, I have neuralgia and a stomach cancer. My brother is arriving with my medicine and to treat me.”
“Well, in that case, I do hope he comes soon” Harry replied, now feeling remorseful about not wanting him to bring her bags. “Well, Happy Thanksgiving, ma’am. Enjoy your night.”
“You too, Harry” Lottie said, handing him a small tip.
Lottie slept soundly that night, and stayed on the hotel grounds the following day. She spent it mostly in her room, but she spoke to quite a few guests and hotel employees: most often telling of her frustration about the baggage fiasco at the San Diego train station and how she wished her brother would come soon. She inquired multiple times at the front desk if they had heard word from him.
On the morning of her third day Lottie slowly made her way down to the hotel drug store. She appeared to be in considerable pain, for which she requested medicine.
“Miss, you should really see a doctor” the chemist told her with concern.
“I am already seeing a doctor. My brother, Dr, Anderson, is a physician. He should be here any day now” Lottie responded before leaving. However, she came back to the store later that afternoon where she made an odd purchase consisting of an empty pint bottle and a sponge.
On the fourth day of her stay Lottie did not leave her room, save to inquire at the front desk about her brother who had still not arrived.
Dawn broke on the fifth and final day. Lottie awoke and requested that Harry, the bellboy, bring her up a glass of wine from the bar. For the pain, she said. Shortly thereafter, she called for Harry again to bring her a whiskey cocktail. Alcohol seemed to be Lottie’s medication of choice since her brother was nowhere to be found.
Once Harry brought her whiskey, she requested that she draw a bath for her. She hoped the hot water would help soothe her stomach pain. Down the hall, Harry drew Lottie a bath (as on-suites were not customary at this time – even in such a fine hotel) and brought her a bucket of ice at her request.
“Thank you, Harry” Lottie mumbled weakly as she made her way from the room to the bath holding on the wall for support, “I should be finished in an hour or two”
An hour passed; and then two. BZZT, BZZT “Yes…yes…please…could you send Harry up to my room at the earliest, thank you, thank you” Lottie said over the phone.
Harry was sent up to the room and he was shocked to find Lottie soaking wet and groaning in pain. Lottie explained that she had fallen in the tub because she was so weak and had gotten her hair wet. She went on to mention that she feared her wet hair would worsen her condition and so asked Harry to dry her hair for her.
It wasn’t a service the hotel provided but because of her insistence, Harry obliged. Lottie seemed to drift in and out of sleep throughout the process and would intermittently whimper in pain. Harry was uncomfortable but he was paid handsomely for his extra services: Lottie tipped him a dollar. Now, a dollar doesn’t seem like much, but in 1892 it was worth a full day’s wages.
After leaving Lottie’s room, Harry told his supervisor Gomer of his concerns…who had some concerns of his own…namely Lottie’s tab that she had been running up. Lottie was paying for her room daily, but her expense tab (which would customarily be paid at the end of a guest’s stay) was starting to rack up. Because of his concern for her health—mainly her financial health—Gomer decided to visit Lottie in her room.
Gomer found her just as Harry had described: sick in bed and writhing in pain.
“Hello ma’am, I came to check on you, Harry told me you weren’t feeling so well and maybe you should call a doctor” Gomer looked at the fireplace, which was unused, “you really should light a fire, miss. There’s a rather frightening storm coming tonight.”
“No need for a fire” Lottie said, “and I’m so near death now, all the doctors have given up on me and my condition. Calling another wouldn’t be of used to me…”
“I’m sorry ma’am. Then there is the issue of your tab…” Gomer said awkwardly
“Telegraph Mr. G. L. Allen in Hamburg, Iowa” Lottie said, “he’ll cover any additional expenses”
Lottie did decide to light a fire, though not as Gomer had recommended. She rang Harry once more and requested matches. Harry offered to bring a box from the store but Lottie insisted she only needed a few. Reluctantly, Harry gave Lottie the couple of matches in his pocket.
Lottie took them from his hand and lit one. She tossed it into the fireplace on top of what appeared to be a stack of papers or letters, burning them to cinders.
That afternoon, slowly, still in pain, Lottie made her way down to the pharmacy once more. During her conversation with a real estate agent, T.J. Fisher, she expressed that she had to head across the Bay and into San Diego. Naturally, Fisher advised her not to, not only because of her frail condition, but because the approaching storm could spell trouble for her journey. Disregarding this, Lottie went on to say that she had to go and identify her items at the train station because of her lost baggage tickets and promptly left.
Lottie began her journey to San Diego around 4 or 5 o’clock, first riding the trolley (where she required the conductor’s assistance to board because of her weakened state) and then afterward, she took the ferry across the bay to San Diego. Lottie first made her way into a store called Ship Chandlery and asked the clerk if he sold revolver cartridges. He did not. But he told Lottie where she could purchase some: from Chick’s Gun Shop down the road.
Lottie followed the clerk’s advice and told the owner of the gun shop that she wished to purchase a revolver and cartridges as a Christmas present for her friend. The owner of the shop sold her what she requested and even demonstrated the proper use of her new firearm. With her new purchase in hand, Lottie made her way back to the Del.
After placing her newfound weapon safely in her room, Lottie made her way down to the hotel veranda. There she stood overlooking the ocean, watching the black storm clouds rolling on the horizon, approaching faster and faster bringing with them a sense of foreboding. Electric anticipation crackled in the air. The winds which grew ever stronger, carried the soft scent of Jasmine on its wings but it was tinged by something else…beneath the heady floral notes the unmistakable stench of death and tragedy loomed. From inside the hotel, Harry watched Lottie on the portico, not knowing that this would be the last time he would see her alive.
Breaking from her reverie, Lottie approached the front desk where Gomer was enraptured in work. Gomer had spent all evening fulfilling requests from guests to switch their rooms from the seaward side of the hotel to the landward side to buffer themselves from the storm.
“Has there been word from Dr. Anderson?” Lottie inquired.
“No. No word from your brother…same as always”
“I see…well, thank you…” Lottie said “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” Gomer said sharply, annoyed not only by the fact that she had interrupted his work, but also because she still an astronomical tab to pay and he had not heard word from her brother nor the mysterious G.L. Allen he telegrammed earlier that day.
That night the storm lashed against the Hotel del Coronado, slamming it with torrents of rain. Lightning shot through the sky in spidery veins and the thunder roared like a circus lion. By dawn, however, the beast had been tamed. The sun broke through the clouds to filter through the morning mist, it’s beams falling gently on the body of Lottie A. Bernard.
An electrician found her sprawled on the veranda steps leading down to the beach. A revolver in her hand, evidently the cause of her present condition. The coroner claimed her death a suicide without examining the body—if he had he would have noticed the bullet did not come from her gun. A circus of an investigation followed, riddled with more twist and turns than a corkscrew.
And that is how Lottie A. Bernard lived and died in just five short days. The body went on to be identified, misidentified, and identified again…but her true identity is still a source of conflict and mystery well over a century later. Was she a runaway? A con-woman? An assassin? Depending on who you ask, she was either one of these things or all of them.
Regardless of who she was in life, her restless spirit still haunts the Hotel del Coronado.
And that is the story of the beautiful stranger. I wrote the narration based off of historical accounts including witness testimony from transcripts of the coroner’s inquest and news article. In fact, her physical description in the beginning? I just reworded the description the police gave of her body that was published in the Los Angeles Herald. We have a lot…I mean a lot…to unravel before we can even start to talk about the haunting because this case is just next level confusing.
In typical Victorian fashion the press coverage and the investigation into her death is insane. So who was Lottie A. Bernard? It depends who you ask, but I’m going to tell you what the historic record states first before getting into warring theories by some overzealous authors.
Initially, investigators had no reason to believe she was anyone but Lottie A. Bernard. In fact, $25.00 was wired from G.L. Allen after her death to cover her bill. However, it soon became apparent that Lottie A. Bernard was nothing but a clever façade.
Deputy Coroner Stetson did not hesitate to rule the death a suicide. As mentioned earlier he did not perform an autopsy: the wound to her right temple was enough to convince him. However, it was later discovered the bullet that caused the wound did not match the caliber of the pistol Lottie purchased. Perhaps Lottie bought the gun to protect herself from someone.
When the police searched room 302 they found quinine pills, handkerchiefs embroidered with the name ‘Lottie’ or perhaps ‘Louisa’ Anderson, and a pile of burnt letters. The items that remained intact had strange scrawls on them. One simply read “Lottie A. Bernard”, another “I don’t know any such man” and even an invitation to the Del signed by actresses Louise Leslie Carter and Lillian Russell.
The police sent another telegraph to Mr. Allen in Iowa but did not receive a response. In the meantime they found a Lottie A. Bernard from Detroit…but she was alive and well. Now it was clear that Lottie was nothing but an alias.
The police published the aforementioned sketch in the paper, which you can see on the podcast Instagram. A Mrs. Wyllie from Detroit came forward after seeing the rendering and reading the description and said the corpse in question was her daughter, Lizzie Wyllie. Lizzie had eloped from Detroit with a married man a few weeks prior. The description matched her to a T—even right down to the two moles on her left cheek– mystery solved…right?
Well…almost. There was one issue: Lizzie Wyllie had pierced ears. The cadaver did not. Nor did it show any signs that it ever had. Mrs. Wyllie telegraphed her niece in Pasadena to go and identify the body—but there is no record that she ever did.
Now, after the body was identified, Mr. Allen from Iowa responded to the police’s telegraph. He explained that he knew Anderson Bernard, though he never met his wife, he sent the $25 as an act of charity.
A few days later Mrs. Wyllie received a letter from her daughter. She was alive and well in Toronto. With the body now once again unidentified, it was embalmed and placed on display in the window of the undertaker, hoping a passerby might recognize her. Every day Victorian women came to gawk but no one could identify her.
In Los Angeles, a maid by the name of Katie Logan had been missing since November 23rd. She had told her boss, Mr. Grant that she needed to sign some documents in San Diego and that she would return before Thanksgiving. Katie showed no signs of illness the day she left…and Mr. Grant claims she also didn’t take any luggage with her. She left with only her satchel.
She left a trunk behind in the Grant estate in Los Angeles which was then opened. Their contents revealed that yet again the woman was not Katie Logan, but instead Kate Morgan. Inside was a lock of hair, old photographs, a tin with the name “Louise Anderson” on it, and a marriage certificate of a Kate Farmer to Thomas E. Morgan. They were both from Hamburg Iowa.
Kate had been married to Thomas but she left him for his stepbrother…G.L. Allen. Kate and Allen’s relationship was fraught with its own dramas: Allen being a gambler and Kate a con-woman. Their most common trick was to have Kate flirt with wealthy men on trains. When the gentleman wanted to…take it to the next level…so to speak…Kate would say she would love to…if they could beat her brother in a game of cards. The two would then play a rigged game to swindle the lustful gentlemen of their cash.
Allegedly Kate and Allen had gotten in an argument on a train leaving from Orange that led to Kate leaving Allen and taking up a position at the Grant home. The ‘brother’ that Lottie was constantly asking for may have been Allen, but we cannot be certain. Her stomach pains were likely due to the fact she was pregnant and not cancer.
The coroner called JW Chandler, Kate’s grandfather asking what they should do with the body. He simple sent the money required and said “Bury her and send me the statement”. No one ever came to identify her as Kate Morgan.
It was noted by one newspaper that the photographs of Kate Morgan from the trunk did not resemble the victim in the slightest. And where would a maid get such elegant clothes? Kate Logan dressed plainly. She was a maid. Why were the handkerchiefs in the hotel room embroidered with the name Louisa? What happened to the three trunks at the San Diego station? They disappeared before they could be opened.
Most articles, blogs, and even the hotel’s website do not mention these inconsistencies. They say that the woman was without a doubt Kate Morgan. I think the main source of confusion is the trunks. Most articles seem to indicate the trunk that was opened was from the San Diego train station. It wasn’t. It was at the Grant home in Los Angeles. The “evidence” from the trunk didn’t have anything to do with the dead woman. The photographs inside were said not even to resemble her. No of her family, nor the Grants went to identify her body.
I read a book “Dead Move” by John T. Cullen. He tries to weave an intricate story that it was indeed Lizzie Wyllie who died and she was part of a large conspiracy involving Kate Morgan, the owner of the hotel Coronado, and James Dole…the founder of the Dole Food Company…and a plot to…overthrow the kingdom of Hawaii…or…something?
I honestly couldn’t finish the book. He seemed so desperate to sell this theory. At times it even seemed strangely aggressive…and…after coming across his blog page…I’m less inclined to finish his book.
He goes on a diatribe about some other author rambling two paragraphs and it honestly reads like Donald Trump trying to discredit his naysayers. He even contradicts himself, here is a sampling:
The Wikipedia entry for ‘Kate Morgan’ has been doctored by a person with a skewed agenda, so that I caution against trusting it. This individual, who pops up at every public forum where I attempt to discuss my results, is a smooth-talking purveyor of fractoids (details, either false or half true) taken out of context for the purpose of swiftboating a targeted researcher and his published results. His motivations are as hazy as his grasp on reality. It’s simply in the nature of a story like this to attract the occasional crank, who can be as fanatical as religious zealots in the pursuit of their delusions, and therefore capable of Macchiavellian [sic] means in the service of their ends. A reasonable person will ask: “What on earth is the point? It’s just a ghost story, after all, or a true crime story that most people barely know or care about?” In a disturbed mind, an entirely different scale of values may be at play. Hello, little colored pills and capsules, where are you when such persons need you?
He misspelled Machiavellian, by the way.. He even goes on to attack other authors saying:
As with the spurious Alan May book of 1987—which has planted so much misinformation in all sorts of rambling, un-fact-checked websites and ghost books—it is best to take most ‘sources’ under careful advisement. My own book rests on its own merits, and requires no defense from cranks. I am prepared to defend my thesis at the level of a doctoral monograph, so well-defined are my stated methods.
So…here’s my take on that: if your book could stand on its own merits…then let it. He said himself that a reasonable person would ask “What on earth is the point?” and that “In a disturbed mind, an entirely different scale of values may be at play” and I’m just leaving it there. Because he scares me. But if you’re interested in the nitty gritty details, give his book a shot. It’s very detailed, for sure, even if there is a lot of conjecture.
However, I do agree with one thing: the beautiful stranger was not Kate Morgan. I don’t know who she is, and we may never. My fan theory is that she was Sadie McMullen since the description is close and she was said to have ran off to California…but she wasn’t released until 1893. So, there goes that. Hopefully one day the mystery will be solved…and Mr. Cullen will never listen to this.…the Menger Hotel found my podcast episode on them and I truly regret calling them an upscale Holiday Inn…although people who have stayed there told me that I wasn’t wrong in saying so.
So all that aside I hope you stuck around long enough to hear a little bit about the Beautiful Stranger’s ghost. My favourite factoid is that the streetlamp above where her body was found never stays lit for long. The light almost immediately burns out and electricians can never give a reason as to why. I like this because an electrician found her body and I feel it goes full circle.
Of course the room is also haunted, and to be honest, it’s pretty par for the course as far as paranormal activity goes. Guests claim that she loves to mess with the electricity: making the television and alarm clock radio to turn on by themselves. The curtains in the room often move on their own accord despite the windows being closed and there being no draft and extremely cold breezes can also be felt in the middle of summer with no known source. Maids say that objects in that room, including the doors, move by themselves.
Many presidents have stayed at the Del. On one such occasion, when H.W. Bush was staying there one of his secret service men had room 3312 and he was scared out of his mind. He ran down the front desk and begged for his room to be changed. Whatever happened, it was enough to scare a highly trained agent half to death.
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode! Please, don’t forget to subscribe wherever you like to listen…and if you listen on Spotify: if you hit the “Get notified of new episodes” switch you’ll get a push notification whenever a new episode drops!
Next week we’ll be talking about all the wonderful winter and Yule witches. Until then, stay warm, stay curious, and most importantly…stay spooky. God, I need a better sign off. Bye.
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