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.esotouric.com to learn more. While there,
check out the 1947 project's new book club.