5 Historic Monterey Crimes and Criminals

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It’s not easy to dwell on Monterey California’s criminal underbelly when picturing the angelic shoreline found along the Central Coast, but even windswept beauty has its ugly side. As a reporter I learned this firsthand when I worked the crime beat in Sedona, Arizona.

Never trust the postcard.

Monterey has had its share of interesting crimes over the years, from cold cases to mysterious fires that have destroyed communities and lives. Below are five of the area’s most interesting crimes and criminals, culled from a variety of sources. Some glamorous, others terrifying, these Central Coast stories are the stuff of legend.


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Tiburcio Vasquez
  1. The outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez

Vasquez started his criminal career at the young age of 17 after fleeing the scene of a murder with his cousin, the outlaw Anastacio Garcia. Thus began a bloody, dangerous life of crime and womanizing, the latter of which became something of a trademark for the man and would ultimately lead to his downfall. He was hanged in 1875. His last breath consisted of a single word, “Pronto.”

While his deeds took him far and wide, Tiburcio would often stay in Monterey County. His family lived across the street from the Monterey County Jail in downtown Monterey. Tiburcio was quite familiar with both locations.

Learn more about him here.


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Manchester, a town that burned to the ground.
  1. Massacre Cave

What happened in Massacre Cave? Newspaper accounts reported a number of skeletons found there near the long-lost town of Manchester, which suspiciously burned to the ground around 1900, leaving a few people missing in the process. Decades later, the skeletal discovery occurred, leaving many to speculate as to what exactly occurred during this gold-crazy era of Monterey County’s history. It should also be noted there are those who claim the area is not the site of a murder but a Native burial ground.

Read more here.


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  1. The lynching of Matt Tarpey

A determined crowd converged on the Monterey Jail in 1873 to settle things with alleged murderer, Matthew Tarpey, who had been jailed for shooting a woman in the back over a land squabble. Tarpey, a well-to-do member of a vigilante squad that operated in Santa Cruz and Monterey County, expected help to come for him. It didn’t. He was hung on a Monday evening after being forcibly removed from the jail by a lynch mob.

Get the Tarpey story right here.


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The 1967 Cannery Row fire.
  1. The Cannery Row Fire of 1967

Arson was believed to be the cause of the Carmel Canning Company fire in 1967 that caused more than $250 million in damages to Cannery Row, which happened to be a tad seedier than the tourist mecca it is today. Despite being less than glamorous, more than 65 firefighters responded to the scene and quickly doused the Christmas Eve fire. Perhaps too quickly for the liking of whoever set the blaze.

See more here.


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One of the newspaper headlines from 1977.
  1. The grisly murders of four Seaside women

The year 1977 wasn’t an ordinary one for residents of Seaside, California. While crime was more common there than it is today, the discovery of four female family members stabbed to death made for shocking, horrifying headlines. Grandmother Josephine Smith, her daughter Suzanne Harris, Suzanne’s daughter Rachel Harris, and Suzanne’s niece Renee Ferguson were each found murdered in their home. While a family relative was eventually captured, the murders had the small community on edge.

Read about the case here.

 

 

The Media, that blobby entity for good

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It’s super easy to blame the media for not covering the news we want. Whether or not it’s true, we blame them because they’re an easy target – a blobby, nebulous entity with an ulterior motive. And even though we live on a planet where everyone videos everything, where everyone wants to be an influencer, and everyone under 50 wants to enjoy viral Brad Pitt-level success, there remains a need for journalism.

  • Why didn’t the media cover Puerto Rico better?
  • Why isn’t the media coming down harder on Trump after that crazy speech?
  • The media won’t cover female presidential candidates?
  • Why isn’t the media right where I want them to be right when I expect it?

Is it possible those who ask aren’t watching or reading enough news? Are they asking “Where’s the media coverage of (this story) or (that story)?” on social media because they only get their news from social media? Does it need to be written that news on social media is cherry-picked and not all-inclusive of the journalistic engine at large?

Does it need to be written that news agencies follow trends like the rest of us, reporting on news that affects our daily lives, and even news we’ve told them we want to read? The Kardashians are famous because we’ve made them famous.

Listen, the media are people who report the news. Their role is not to editorialize your interests. They try, but they often fail. And it’s not their job. A reporter reports.

Imagine if no one offered news anymore and your only source of information came from social media. How much of it would you believe? Forget a socialist society, forget living under a dictatorship, we’d all be a labor class ruled by a few rich people who consider us no better than bugs. We’d be uninformed, uneducated, and have no voice.

That’s what the news is, a voice for the voiceless. It strives to create an informed populace. On it’s best day, it’s there to tell you why things happened the way they happened. On its worst day, it grovels to those who want to kill the messenger, then bitch when there’s no mail.

When complaining of media neglect, or a lack of reporting on something you find important, check yourself first by following simple rules of conduct.

  • Were these news agencies absent from this story because they’re understaffed? These days many are
  • Check online to verify your claim of news-neglect. There are probably stories
  • Question the source. Where did you get the information you’re sharing?
  • Lastly, question the motivation. Is there a reason this wasn’t covered in a satisfactory way? Remember the 2016 election; if you found it on social media and you can’t tell it’s from a reliable news agency, it’s click bait

If there’s one thing to take away from this rant it’s this; your blobby entities need support. We have to fight the trick. The real blobby, nebulous entity is the group trying to convince the public not to believe what they read and to even hate those who strive to give you a voice.

Down with those A-holes.

October events!

(Sept. 24, 2018) Look for some cool events this October on the Monterey Peninsula. Cool for writers and fans of the written, and spoken, word at least. And who isn’t a fan of that?

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October 21 – I’ll be joining a number of authors in Carmel on Sunday, October 21, from 1-3 p.m. for a book signing event featuring local authors and historians. More details to come, but it sounds like a great place to find some early Christmas presents for the bibliophiles in your family. I’ll be ready to sign my recent book Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History! The event will be held at Carmel Ace Hardware, located at 290 Crossroads Blvd, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA93923.

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October 23 – Want to learn more about the craft of writing fiction and nonfiction? Author Dietrich Kalteis and I will hold a workshop on that very subject Tuesday, October 23, at 6:30 p.m. at Old Capitol Books in downtown Monterey. We’ll discuss writing style, guidelines, and the research that goes into works of fiction and non-fiction. Old Capitol Books is located at 559 Tyler Street in downtown Monterey. Learn more here!

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October 26 – Noir at the Bar returns to the Central Coast this month! This year’s Noir will be held at the East Village Coffee Lounge, at 498 Washington Street in downtown Monterey, beginning at 7 p.m. Books will be available for purchase thanks to the awesome folks at Old Capitol Books. Donations will be accepted at the door, benefitting the Central Coast Writers group! It’s a sweet lineup of authors too: Terry Shames, Kris Calvin, Tom Pitts, Rob Pierce, Susan C Shea, Mark Coggins, Morgan Boyd, Dietrich Kalteis, and me! Get more details here!

It may be dirty, but the free press is our best defense

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Journalism is meant, on its best day, to provide checks and balances for those in power. Those who make decisions that ripple through our jobs, our welfare, and our checkbooks have to be held accountable for their decisions. If it weren’t for watchdogs, Americans would drown under the rule of those who care little for anything and anyone beyond their own interests. We would be manipulated, lied to, and used as cogs in a machine –necessary but ultimately forgettable. In a free society, the news is intended to provide all Americans with the information needed to make an intellectual decision. It’s not intended to convince you how to think on a particular subject, or even on a particular candidate, but it will furnish the tools we need to make a smart decision on the matter.

It’s not always perfect and it can be downright dirty. Ratings factor into the equation, as they do for most print and television offerings. Advertisers factor into the equation as well; news outlets are businesses at the end of the day. They have to make money to survive, but their mission has never been more clear. You’re simply not going to get all the facts, all the angles, nor the whole truth from those elected to positions of power. There are people in this country afraid of an informed population. Some news may sensationalize, some may muddy the line between editorializing and journalism, but more than anywhere else, the news media is there to inform. Their job is to ferret out the mischief and replace the tall tales with a sobering dose of reality.

This may seem like pie in the sky idealism, but as a former journalist, I know there is truth in reporting. Our reporters, covering beats from crime to education, are American citizens like the rest of us. They go home to families and watch football on the weekends. They vote, pay taxes, buy groceries, and carry degrees that instilled in them a belief that journalists should be a voice for the voiceless. Without journalists, the voiceless would be all but dead.

Recent attacks on the media are terrifying in that they are seeking to suppress the search for truth by lobbing derogatory labels like hand grenades, including the effort to label journalists as the “enemy of the people,” which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Journalists ARE the people. Their job is to present the facts, while ours is to understand and use it however we see fit.

I stand with the Boston Globe as they, and more than one hundred other newspapers across the country, defend their voices from those who seek to silence them. On August 16th, these news organizations will publish editorials warning of the dangers of anti-press rhetoric. And don’t be fooled, the press is under attack, and an America without them would indeed be a country on fire.

Read more on the Boston Globe’s effort here.

 

 

A Steampunk Pardon

The carriage moved quickly through the cobbled streets, but slowed to a creaking crawl when it entered Phoenix. Bridges swooped over the apex of the double-decker carriage once in the city limits, coming close to breaking the stove top pipe belching steam at its highest point. Those crossing the bridge when the large vehicle passed below recounted the story later that night over a shot of absinthe. Mothers clutched their children and rushed to flee, dropping their parasols and groceries, laborers gripped the copper railing, waiting to topple over. But the carriage trundled along without causing harm. Standing in a cloud of steam, those bridge -goers raised their fists and shouted their anger, but to no avail. They could see no one in the large vessel’s stained-glass windows.

Had it been in the sea, the carriage would have been more at home. It carried the appearance of a Man O War, but without sails of any kind, only large wooden wheels and paneled walls reinforced with iron rigging. Those who witnessed the vessel from the cramped, hot street level saw a name burned proudly on the stern, STEAM SHIP ONE. It made its way down the winding, cobbled interstate to the center of the city, where the forefathers erected a large copper phoenix, metal feathers and head pointed toward the heavens, as a reminder that it is possible to rise from ashes and be stronger for it. Every day at noon, the phoenix spouted a geyser of flame straight up. Some days, however, the smog of industry made even the flames of the giant statue hard to see. Today was one of those days. Within moments, Steam Ship One vanished into the brown haze.

For those who saw it approach, the meaning was clear. The President had finally arrived to pardon their sheriff. The nation’s first mechanical leader, run by well-oiled gears and golden pistons, had been elected due to his inability to act in the political theater. The sheriff supported him, which meant protection from his enemies. There were those who said it would never happen, that the heat of Phoenix would melt his clockwork brain, but others knew better. The mechanical man could take the heat. He boasted of it often enough.

The pardon, hammered onto a tin sheet and branded with the presidential seal, meant their jailed lawman would be back on the street, free to unleash his reign of single-handed terror on the mute second class. They were the ones who stoked the fires, suffered the pits, cobbled the interstate, but never spoke. They were the ones who never crossed the bridges over the interstate, but they built it.

COMING IN 2018: The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History

Imagine the world before the Internet, before modern medicine and modern science as we know it today; pre-cars, pre-phones, pre-fast food, and you’ve got the world that saw one of the first natural history museums on the California coast. The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History has been a part of the Monterey Peninsula since 1883, nearly as long as Monterey County has been in existence.

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An old postcard depicting the Museum of old. My desk is on the second-floor window corner facing the camera, with a view of the bay!

I’ve been lucky enough to work for the Museum since 2014 and am happy to announce I’ll be depicting the history of this amazing place through writing and more than 150 historic photographs. In the short period of time I’ve been here, as the awesome story of this place soaked in, I’ve realized just how lucky I am to be a part of this local institution. History has always been a thing with me, no matter if it’s the history of 1940s and 1980s pulp novels or the history of Tusayan and Williams, Arizona. I daydream about what it would be like to live and thrive in an era where things moved a little slower, but were harder at the same time – for nearly everyone. I can’t think of any writer/bibliophile who hasn’t dreamed about living in a small cabin near a stream or rocky shoreline.

History is a learning curve without a shelf life. It’s a way for us to see what’s happened, good and bad, and carry it with us as we move forward. At the museum, history is preserved with just such a mission in mind. Taxidermy, geology, plants, Native peoples; they’re all there.

“The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History”, will be published in 2018 by Arcadia Publishing in their Images of America series. It’s an exciting project, which I expect to have completed by October, and I’m very thankful to be the one who gets to write it. From the first Museum building to the arrival of Sandy the Whale, this book is long overdue.