‘Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage’: Author says new book untangles 1923 death with La Jolla ties
Addicted to unsolved mysteries and “old crime,” local author James Stewart believes he has solved one of San Diego’s own mysteries and has published his first book detailing the case, which has a connection to La Jolla.
The case is “not officially resolved,” Stewart said of the 1923 death of Fritzie Mann, a young performer whose body was found on Torrey Pines State Beach. But he said he knew “who, where, when, what and why.” The exact how is open to some interpretation.
Mann’s death was “probably the biggest story in San Diego history up to that point,” he said.
Stewart, a resident of Tierrasanta, explores the case in “Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage: A True Story of Murder in San Diego’s Jazz Age”, available Tuesday, October 5 at wbp.bz/blueseacottagea.
Mann, who was 20 at the time of his death, lived with his family on Spruce Street in San Diego. She left on a Sunday night to meet a man but declined to say who it was, Stewart said. She told her mom she was attending a house party in Del Mar.
The next day his body was found “in an odd posture” on the shore near the Los Penasquitos Lagoon, his belongings “strewn all over the place,” Stewart said. Authorities opened an investigation when suspects came to light, some with ties to the film industry. Mann is said to have had a secret husband and an acting contract in Hollywood.
With the story “[blowing] in the press, âthe search led detectives to La Jolla, where Mann is believed to have been. There, it appears she and a man checked in at Blue Sea Cottage using the aliases of a married couple. The director identified Mann’s body.
The Blue Sea Cottage was on Bonair Street just east of Windansea Beach, Stewart said. It was built around the same time as the Red Roost and Red Rest cottages in La Jolla, in the 1890s, but was demolished a few decades after the crime of 1923.
Police sounded La Jolla during the investigation, following rumors and “indications that the killer had gone south” from Del Mar.
This led to a suspect being tried twice, Stewart said. The suspect was eventually acquitted.
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Stewart wrote his book as narrative non-fiction, a genre actually based on “some of the techniques of fiction,” such as scenes with dialogue.
To ensure accuracy – Stewart said he doesn’t invent or embellish any detail or dialogue – he combed through a myriad of newspaper articles, trial transcripts, court documents and other documents.
Writing about a nearly century-old crime challenged Stewart, as narrative non-fiction often involves characterizations and dramatizations, and digging up details still left “big holes that you’re trying to fill.” .
Stewart found government and other documents he said provided “new evidence” unknown at the time that jurors never considered.
Stewart will not disclose any of his findings, but said the book “is a mystery after a mystery, from the first page to the last. You will have to read it and find out.
âMystery at the Blue Sea Cottage,â which took nine years to Stewart, began as a thesis project as he completed his Masters in Non-Fiction Narrative Writing at UC Riverside after retiring from the Marine.
âI’ve always wanted to be a writer,â he says. âI discovered very early on that this was what I was best at. “
Stewart said he has made sporadic attempts over the years, writing a few novels but not having published any of his work before.
He said he was drawn to narrative non-fiction because of the challenge of writing non-fiction like a novel: âReal life doesn’t cooperate with the imperatives of storytelling.
Stewart is currently in the early stages of research for his next book, on a 1923 “bizarre” crime in Oregon.
âIt’s my favorite time,â he says. ??