Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage: A True Story of Murder in San Diego’s Jazz Age by James Stewart


Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Reaching back in time to the roaring 20’s in southern California, author James Stewart’s debut work, Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage, offers a compelling view of the intricacies of an unsolved homicide, the murder of young and beautiful, interpretive dancer, Fritzie Mann.

Based on years of research, this true-crime narrative poses an adept tracing of the history of this once sensationalized murder mystery brought forth through a multi-faceted lens which explores not only the murder but journalistic behaviors, the investigative processes during that era, and a Hollywood sex scandal connection as well as exploring the culture of the time.

Piquing the curiosity from the outset, this work of true crime immediately draws the attention into the fascinating backstory of Fritzie who, for the most part, was a seemingly sensible but “modern” woman in her early twenties who worked to help with her sick sister’s medical bills by dancing. However, to her family, there was an air of mystery in her life when it came to her romantic associations, relationships or dating.

Fritzie’s tragic story starts with the initial discovery of her body with a severe bruise on her forehead on a nearly empty stretch of beach. Initially unidentified as a corpse, it was not until several clues leading to her identification, including a note on a card stating “I am Fritzie Mann” along with other identifying but not immediately associated belongings strewn around the beach, began to build up to her true identity especially once the connection was made that she was a well-known exotic dancer. Her death quickly became front page fodder and grew into one of the most sensationalized news stories at the time in Southern California.

Additionally, the ensuing investigation seemed to lead to a path of evidentiary twists and turns, as clues led to inconsistent theories about her death; Was she murdered? Did she commit suicide? or Did she drown? Moreover, she was discovered to be in “delicate condition” adding more confusion and scandal as to the real reason for her demise. Albeit, once it was discovered that she actually was murdered, Who did it? and Why? became the prevalent questions which then changed the tone of the investigation and introduced several interesting suspects including a Hollywood actor whom Fritzie’s mother insisted was the actual murderer. Moreover, what follows within the narrative is a well- organized, thoroughly detailed work which takes the readers through the intimate details of the life and death of Fritzie as well as bringing to the edifying forefront the culture and lifestyle at the time which did seem to embody a seamier side.

Overall, I enjoyed Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage. I found it to be a completely engrossing true crime read set in an era when life, love, womanhood and murder were perceived very differently from current modern life. I was captivated by the detailing of the police work, autopsy scenes, investigation methods, culture of the times, and insight into the secrets and scandals played out in the roaring 20’s Hollywood. I do highly recommend this book. It is well worth the read and I personally would love to see it made into a movie.