Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Who Was The Beautiful Stranger? Part 1

"In all the years that I have been investigating and writing about the past, no one story has perplexed me as much as this case.  At one point, I had truly believed that I may have found a key piece of evidence pointing to the true identity of the “Beautiful Stranger,” whose body was found on the north steps of the Hotel Del Coronado on November 29, 1892, but after further research, even that has proven to be an unfortunate dead end.

There have been several books written about the mysterious guest who died at this historic hotel, but with each book comes different theories, over-the-top speculations and story line plots that lead to nowhere.  I have to admit, even I got caught up in my own possible theory for a time period, truly believing that I had figured out at least one part of this ever eluding mystery.

The morning after a terrible storm that swept through San Diego and relentlessly engulfed the small island of Coronado, the body of a woman was discovered on the north steps of the Hotel Del Coronado near the beach.  It was approximately 7:30 a.m., on November 29th, 1892, when one of the hotel employees came upon the ghastly sight. David Cone discovered the corpse while trimming the electric lights.

 “It was lying on the steps, with its feet towards the ocean, head on the steps, almost on the top step. There was blood on the step. The clothes were all wet, and the body seemed to have been lying there quite awhile, to have been dead quite awhile…..There was also a large pistol lying at the right hand side of the body.” — statement of David Cone.

Mr. Cone stated that he saw blood on the steps and noticed rust on the pistol.  While going to fetch help, he ran into the gardener. Curious about the discovery, the gardener went back with the Cone to view the body, then they both separated, going different directions around the hotel in order to notify the hotel management of the discovery.

The gardener, F.W. Koeppen's sworn testimony stated the same information, that the woman's body was found "laying along the steps in a sitting position, and after being dead, dropped over on the stairway." He also stated that he "noticed the pistol lying on one side." 

After instructing the gardener to cover her body with tarpaulin so that other guests would not see her,  Mr. Gomer, the hotel clerk, called upon the Deputy Coroner and the undertakers at Johnson's & Company to further address the situation. 

When Deputy Coroner H.J. Stetson arrived, he immediately looked over the corpse. He ascertained that she had been dead for about six or seven hours given the condition of rigor mortis present. It was the coroner who removed the pistol from the ground and collected it as evidence for further inquiry. As the undertakers came and removed the woman's body from the hotel, they placed her in a receiving box to take back to San Diego at Johnson's & Company mortuary.

The Coroner then went to investigate in room 302, where she had been staying for the past several days. Upon entering her room, he realized that the bed had not been slept in.

"I found that valise, and on the table I found this envelope she had addressed... Denman Thompson, the Old Homestead. And "Frank" is written here four times, and "Lottie Anderson Bernard," and "Mrs. Lottie Bernard," "Lottie Anderson Bernard, Detroit," and then on this paper I found "I merely heard of that man, I do not know him." Here is an invitation — here is an invitation to the Hotel del Coronado, signed by Louise Leslie Carter and Lillian Russell." He went on to say, "She had a purse on her person, that contained $16.50, and there was a little ring in the purse, a plain ring, and the key to her valise.”

Among the other things mentioned were some handkerchiefs that were stitched with what appeared to read "Little Anderson,"** along with her night dress hanging in the closet and a hat on the mantle.

  **Small stitching of the name Lottie on a handkerchief
  could have easily looked like the work “Little.”

Items also found in her room included a bottle of brandy, a penknife, a bottle of camphor, some quinine pills and a wrapped up paper with the writings that said "If this doesn't relieve you, you better send for the doctor," which was signed Druggist.

The Coroner went on to add, “In the grate in the room it looked as though quite a package of papers had been burned, it was all in ashes, you might say. Whether she had made them for a fire or what they might have been you could not tell, but they had all been burned.”

According to statements from staff at the hotel, Lottie A. Bernard arrived in the afternoon at the Hotel Del Coronado on Thursday, November 24th, 1892. The clerk on duty at the time actually registered Lottie, writing her name into the register. She did not sign in herself. After being shown to her room, the woman told the bellboy, Harry West, that she had been ill. He claimed she stated that she suffered from neuralgia, that she was very sick and also mentioned that she was waiting for her brother to arrive.

The next day, Lottie came down to the front desk to inquire as to whether or not her brother, Dr. Anderson had arrived. She did this everyday while she stayed at the hotel. She also asked Mr. Gomer for advice on how to obtain her luggage from the train depot, intimating that her luggage had been left at the D Street Depot in National City, because her brother was the one who had the appropriate checks to have them released.

Lottie claimed that she had lost contact with her brother when he departed from her at the Orange station, going either to Los Angeles or to San Francisco and she did not know what to do.  She also divulged that her brother was a doctor, and that he was supposed to meet her there in San Diego.

According to reports, Friday the 25th seemed to come and go without much notation.  However, when Saturday came along, there was a lot more to recall about Lottie.  A gentleman named T.J. Fisher, who lived at the Hotel Del Coronado and worked in the hotel drug store, stated that he first met Lottie Bernard when she came down to the drug store on Saturday, requesting something to relieve her suffering. He referred her to Mr. Fosdick, who was the manager of the store, who then told her she should see a physician.

Perhaps this is where Lottie acquired the small folded paper that the coroner found in her room which more than likely contained some sort of medicinal remedy to relieve her pain.  It was more than likely given to her by Mr. Fosdick, or even perhaps Mr. Fisher without Mr. Fosdick's knowledge, and that could be why the paper found in her room read, "If this doesn't relieve you, you better send for the doctor,"  signed “Druggist.”  Later on, Lottie called for Harry West, the bellboy, to go down to the drug store and get her an empty pint bottle and a sponge.

One theory about why Lottie requested an empty bottle and sponge was for the purpose to induce an abortion with the addition of using quinine.  What is interesting to note though is the fact that quinine is an “ineffective abortifacient, even when taken in toxic doses.” -  US National Library of Medicine

Although you can die from overusing quinine, it  seems that the “abortion”  theory several other writers have tried to insinuate doesn’t quite hold up.  Could she have attempted to use it for an abortion, based on the belief it would work? Yes, but we have no proof that she was actually pregnant except for gossip in the newspapers. The more likely reason that Lottie had the pills could have been for the purpose of relieving her pain, since quinine’s medicinal properties are used for analgesic purposes.

As far as a pharmaceutical pessary, medical science shows that if used properly they can effectively deliver pharmaceutical substances easily as the body absorbs the medicine through the skin of the vagina or rectum. Perhaps she had used that method before as a treatment for pain relief.  She had told the housekeeper and the bell boy that she was ill, not only with neuralgia, but also stomach cancer. She explained that her case was so bad that the doctor's had lost all hope for her. Was she telling the truth? Unfortunately, we will never really know because there was no thorough autopsy done on her body, leaving too many uncertainties that can never be answered.

According to the coroner's inquest, Harry West stated that by early Monday, Lottie had called for him to run a bath for her and bring her a pitcher of ice water. She remained in the bath for one to two hours.  Around noon she rang him back explaining that while she was in the bathroom, leaning on the tub, she slipped into it and wet her hair. She asked him to help her dry her hair as she was so weak and couldn't do it herself. She also requested a whiskey cocktail. While downstairs, West spoke to the hotel clerk Gomer about her condition prompting Mr. Gomer to go up to Lottie’s room himself and insist that she see a doctor. When Gomer arrived and found her lying in bed in agony, he suggested calling a doctor to check on her but she was completely opposed to the idea.  

"It was a very gloomy, dreary sort of day, and she was on the east side of the house without any fire, and I suggested that she have a fire, and be made comfortable. She said no, she was very comfortable, as good as she could expect.  She further told me that the doctors had given her up, that she had cancer of the stomach, and that her case was hopeless, but she told us in such an off-hand way that it did not appear suspicious to me, and I endeavored to find out something about her identity.

In Gomer’s testimony during the inquest, he also admitted that while in Lottie’s room, he noticed letters on the table. “On the table in her room were some letters.  I could not find out the contents of them without picking them up, and of course that was out of order. The only thing I saw on the table were some envelopes, addressed to herself and finally, after I found she was so much opposed to having  a physician, I just put the question to her, if she had got her baggage over, and then I asked her if she was supplied with funds, and she said yes.“—A.S. Gomer

It was then that Gomer asked Lottie about contacting her brother to appropriate more funds for her stay at the hotel.  Lottie informed him to contact G.L. Allen in Hamburg, Iowa, by telegram to request funds. He claimed that he left her room at about half past twelve and sent the telegram around one o'clock in the afternoon on Monday, November 28, 1892. That was the last time he saw her alive.

What I found quite interesting was the fact that Lottie continued to inquire at the front desk regarding whether her brother, Mr. Anderson had arrived. She seemed desperate, and didn’t try to hide the fact that they had separated at the station in Orange.  Mr. Gomer stated, “That is the way her story begun, Orange, she said Orange; her brother was obliged to leave her, to remain there, or go to Frisco, she didn’t know which, and that she came on alone from Orange, and that her brother would be along that afternoon. This was the day after her arrival, and everyday she inquired if her brother had arrived. She claimed that her brother was Doctor Anderson, and that the initials were M.C., I’m not sure about that.”— A.S. Gomer "
--- from the book "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered" by J'aime Rubio (ISBN-13:  978-1523981175)

(Copyright - J'aime Rubio, www.jaimerubiowriter.com
published blog in 2013, published book in 2016)

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