1920s San Diego Murder Story Becomes First Book for Zachary High Grad | Zechariah

James Stewart, who graduated from Zachary High in 1975, published his first book.

“Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage, A True Story of Murder in San Diego’s Jazz Age,” was published on October 5 by Wild Blue Press. Stewart said it was the unsolved murder of a young dancer in 1923 in San Diego, Calif., And is available as an eBook and paperback through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. An audio book is in preparation.

Stewart’s mother, Elaine Stewart, and brother, Glenn Stewart, still live in Zachary, while her younger sister, Karen Dauenhauer, lives in Baton Rouge and her older sister, Toni Stewart, lives in Georgia. Younger brother Fred Stewart lives in North Carolina.

“Zachary was a lot smaller when I was growing up in the ’60s and early’ 70s, a very different place than it is today,” said Stewart. “It felt like a much more rural small town then; much of what was once woods and fields has been developed.

“When I come home now, I barely recognize the place. Back then, children were much freer to walk around on their own. an hour or two of reading and going through the batteries, and coming home with an armful of books. “

Stewart said: “Fifty or 55 years later, I still remember how I felt in the air-conditioned library in the middle of summer. Even more, I remember the smell of books. thought I would like to write books someday.

“One of my teachers had us write essays. She always gave me A’s and praised my writing. She sent me to the District Academic Gathering one year because she thought ‘they were going to ask us to write an article. It turned out they gave us a grammar test, which wasn’t my long suit at the time, so I didn’t won. I wish I could remember his name and the note but I can’t. His encouragement has a lot to do with my desire to write and believe that I could. “

After graduating from Zachary High School, Stewart graduated from LSU in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology.

“I always wanted to be a writer. But the first time I attended college, in the 1970s at Louisiana State University, I chose a “hands-on” specialization that would have opened the door for me to some jobs in my hometown, ”said Stewart. “I should have followed my instincts and taken a step towards my ultimate goal – to become a professional writer – majoring in English or journalism.

“I didn’t follow those instincts and instead joined the Navy after college. I had no intention of making the Navy my career, but things change and I spent the next 25 years traveling to Asia, Europe, the Middle East and beyond. I had a good career, eventually serving as the commanding officer of the amphibious ship USS Mount Vernon. “

He retired as captain.

“I have made sporadic attempts at writing over the years, but the work and lifestyle of the Navy is generally consuming, and I have been distracted by other interests, such as art. But writing remained my ultimate goal and I knew I would do it again.

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He said when he retired from the military he moved to San Diego with his family.

“I went back to school, and this time I did well, earning a degree in English from National University followed by an MA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Riverside. .

“The latter is a top-rated low-residency program where the majority of the work is done online, supplemented by intense 10-day residency periods twice a year.”

Stewart said he’s gearing up for a creative non-fiction runway and started researching a thesis topic. He had been reading detective novels since the 1970s, starting with “Helter Skelter”.

Over time he developed a penchant for narrative non-fiction in the tradition of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, particularly those on period crimes such as “The Devil in the White City”, d ‘Erik Larson, he said. “So I started looking for an older crime, preferably a crime near my home in San Diego because I knew the search requirements would be important. “

His research led him to an article by San Diego historian and author Rick Crawford titled “Death of the Dancer,” originally published in 2011 in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“It surprised me that no one wrote a book on the case. I began to read some of the hundreds of contemporary newspaper reviews. The more I read, the more fascinated I became, ”he said.

Stewart described the story: “In January 1923, the body of beautiful 20-year-old interpretive dancer Fritzie Mann was found, half-naked, on the beach at Torrey Pines under startling circumstances. Two good suspects surfaced on day one, a good-natured doctor and a playboy actor, both with fragile motives and alibis.

“The cops learned that on the night of his death, Fritzie and a man had checked in at a beach cabin in La Jolla under assumed names, prompting two big questions – who was the mysterious’ Mr. Johnston? and what happened that night at the Blue Sea Cottages? I became obsessed with learning the answers which turned out to be quite difficult.

“Aside from the mysterious murder with unusual characters, more drew me to history. For me, the jazz era is the most interesting period in US history, and not just because Mr. . Fitzgerald painted a frivolous world of jazz, speakeasies, flappers and bootleggers. It was also the era of yellow journalism, which touted and falsified news to sell newspapers; of a burgeoning but extremely Hollywood film industry. popular, shaken by a series of notorious scandals; and prohibition, vice and corruption, which seemed to hang over everything.

“It was also a time of great change after a horrific war and an influenza epidemic that had killed millions and disillusioned a generation. The new attitudes of younger people, and especially those of women, clashed with a Victorian moral code, triggering a culture war in the early 1920s with striking parallels to that a century later.

“Most fascinating to me, however, was Fritzie Mann, a talented young woman from an immigrant Jewish family who practiced exotic and now lost art, loved the wrong man and ran out of options. Her story needed to be told. I underestimated the challenge of filling in the gaps I found in the historical record and analyzing the facts of yellow fiction, but after nine years, “The Blue Sea Cottage, A True Jazz Age Murder Mystery” is the result. “

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