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Blood & Dumplings: Esotouric Crime Bus Tour of San Gabriel and other points of interest
By Andrew Kvammen
 
"Alhambra has a lot of really good crime," Blood & Dumplings tour guide Richard Schave said. Now "good crime," if not an oxymoron, are, at the very least, two words that you don't hear together very often. But I was soon to discover that Alhambra does (or at least did) have a lot of "really good crime." Both from an observer's point of view in that these crimes occurred under intriguing circumstances and from a criminal's point of view in that many of the crimes went unsolved and were therefore successful or "good crimes."
 
Put on by Esotouric and billed as "1947 project Crime Bus," the tour claims to "explore the San Gabriel Valley's legacy of weird crimes, sea monsters and great eats" and it delivers on most of this and more! As a child of the '60s, I grew up listening to the Beatles and watching "The Avengers" on TV, so I'd always regarding mystery bus tours as a peculiarly British phenomenon. Of course I knew there were bus tours of the stars' homes (we even saw one star's home on this tour). And I was vaguely aware of other sightseeing tours, but this was my first crime bus tour. The notion seemed a bit morbid to me and I really didn't know what to expect.
 
A bus tour is a rather sedentary pastime. We spent approximately five hours sitting on a bus looking out the window and at the video screens on board, disembarking only twice. If you want something more active, Esotouric also conducts walking tours. This particular tour (Esotouric currently has about eight different tours) makes about two dozen stops, starting in Lincoln Heights and covering points in El Sereno, Alhambra, Temple City, Monterey Park, El Monte and Arcadia.
 
The first time we got off of the bus was at Turner and Stevens Mortuary in Alhambra, where one of the largest funerals of 1943 took place. Although it's called the 1947 crime bus, they cover events from 1907 through the early '70s-- a couple earlier; a couple later. I remember back in 1987 when Baby Jessica fell down a pipe in Midland, Texas and how the whole world watched and waited on the edge of their seats during the rescue effort. What I didn't know was that a similar media frenzy occurred here back in 1943.
 
Los Angeles' first television station, KTLA Channel 5, had only been broadcasting for a few months when four year old Kathy Fiscus fell into a open oil well. Channel 5 provided 24 hour coverage of the rescue effort which was picked up by news services world wide. Unfortunately, little Kathy died and there was an outpouring of sympathy and mourning from people all over L.A. and the country. As a result of this tragedy, the Fiscus Law was passed, requiring all open oil wells to be capped.
 
As I mentioned , there are video screens on the bus where they show crime scene photos, mug shots, newspaper clippings, artist renderings and private snapshots pertaining to the various stops. They also encourage you, the tourist, to participate by pointing out new locations or additional information on stories they already cover. We learned of one new murder site and a lot of good restaurants on our journey.
 
Do you know the difference between the American Nazi Party and its splinter group, the National Socialist Liberation Front? After this tour you will. Some other odd political touchstones are a Black Panther hideout in Lincoln Heights, an East L.A. tie-in to the JFK assassination and protests outside Union High School in El Monte where Richard Nixon was giving a speech. Did you know that "El Monte" translates to "the marsh"? Makes sense. It sits squarely in the bottom land between the Rio Hondo and the Rio San Gabriel.
 
Our second departure was for lunch. The ad said "great eats." To their credit, they did use the word eats and not food, dining or cuisine. We were served six or seven varieties of dumplings from 101 Noodle Express, a restaurant specializing in Northern Chinese cuisine. The dumplings were good - and I do like dumplings - but to me, great eats is a nice chateau brionde or beef bourgoineun. OK, I'm a snob. The stop was also the site of the sea monster connection, but I won't spoil the surprise by describing it. I will, however, talk about elephants in El Monte.
 
As I mentioned, El Monte was mostly marshland and because of this, it was better suited for growing walnut trees than citrus like most of the neighboring communities. Back in the 1920s, because of the cheap, soggy land and temperate climate, a number of circuses would winter in El Monte and make extra money in the off-season by hiring out their elephants to pull up the dead walnut trees. Hey, another fun non-crime trivia fact gleaned from this tour.
 
I've avoided talking about crime because I don't want to ruin the fun for people who are considering taking this bus ride and what this tour boils down to is five solid hours of infotainment and a meal for $55. Is it worth it? Yes... If the subject interests you. And the main attraction isn't the tragedy of little Kathy Fiscus or fringe political groups or even wild animals, though there's plenty of these included in the tour. The main attractions are eccentric personalities, bizarre crimes, police shoot outs and truly gruesome murders. All dealt with in an objective, light-hearted, humorous manner without any regard or respect for the victims, the perpetrators, law enforcement, attorneys or the press. It's fun.
 
But I can't close without tantalizing and tempting you with a small symbolic crime-bone. James Elroy, author of the novel, "The Black Dahlia," is one of the personalities explored on the tour. In 1947 there were not two, not three, but 11 murders of women whose naked, strangled bodies were found dumped in the San Gabriel Valley. Eleven similar murders in one year. 1947. As of today, 60 years late, all 11 of those murders remain unsolved!
 
Esotouric offers crime bus tours, as well as literary and historic adventures. Visit  www.1947project.com and
www.esotouric.com to learn more. While there, check out the 1947 project's new book club.

 

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