Full title: Mystery At The Blue Sea Cottage, a true story of murder in San Diego’s jazz age. This is the first book by U.S. Navy Veteran James A. Stewart.
On January 14, 1923, Frieda “Fritzie” Mann (May 26, 1902 – Jan 14, 1923) left her San Diego home to go to a party. A short time later, her remains were found on Torrey Pines Beach by a father and his child.
The author takes us through the case from the moment that Fritzie is getting dressed to go to a party and would meet up with a ‘man from L.A.’ Her mother tried to find out more information but Fritzie didn’t say much other than that the party would be in La Jolla, California.
The first of Fritzie’s two autopsies was performed by Dr. John Shea at a funeral home. He served as Coroner Schuyler Kelly’s autopsy surgeon.
A coroner is an elected official who is responsible for determining a person’s cause and manner of suspicious death. However, they need not have a medical degree. We have seen in various cases and book reviews here, how that can lead to it’s own problems. So too in this case.
The communication between coroner and undertaker was such that Fritzie’s body was almost drained of all her blood and was being prepared for embalming before Dr. Shea had set foot in the door.
Dr. Shea discovered that Fritzie was pregnant with a 4-4.5 month old baby boy. Fritzie had not had an abortion and none was attempted either. All bodily indications led to death by drowning.
How did Fritzie drown? Was she swimming and overtaken by the tide or was she held under? Where did she drown? In salt water or in a bath tub? This and more related to her death, her friends & family, the police investigation, and the man who stood trial twice for her death, you must read for yourself. Stewart does a terrific job describing the investigation and the trials.
In Chapter 50, James A. Stewart sums up what a modern day investigation of this case would be like. Unfortunately, he leaves out the biggest clue. If this had been a 2021 case, the fetus’ DNA would have told us who the father was as we do have men of interest. And that would have advanced and most likely, sealed the case.
As Fritzie had big plans, a dancing career, connections in the entertainment industry, a huge cast of characters are introduced in the book. They are all necessary however, as some were Hollywood connected and had their own issues, their stories distract from the main one, Fritzie. It would help the book if it had a listing of all characters indicating how they were related to Fritzie.
Also, issues that plagued Hollywood, the Jazz Age, San Diego, the above names cast, etc. are explained within the main text. Not only does it distract from Fritzie’s homicide but it also causes a disconnect. I think that all these issues would be better served when described briefly in the main story and then expanded upon in an appendix for further reading. That way, the reader’s attention would remain laser-sharp on Fritzie.
Stewart clearly indicates what the attitude was in 1923 towards dating, women, pregnancy, being an unwed mother, a gentlemen’s obligation to propose marriage, etc. And, he sums up Fritzie’s options available at that time. His take on women’s rights is clear. Make sure to read chapters 50 and 51 carefully. The end parts tie everything together.
The book is very well-written, it has a good pace, an extensive table of contents, and the chapters are all titled. There are nine pages with black-and-white photography. Sources and the bibliography are listed extensively on Stewart’s website. Highly recommended reading.
The author gave me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. My other book reviews are here.