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Reviewed by Pennell Paugh

May 28, 2022 (San Diego) – Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage: A True Story of Murder in San Diego’s Jazz Age by James Stewart is a wonderful book for history buffs. The author investigates a real case during the 1920s. A jazz dancer’s body turns up on a San Diego beach.

Twenty-year-old Fritzie Mann was four months pregnant. Did she commit suicide, accidentally drown, or was she murdered?

“Torrey Pines Beach, though a popular bathing spot, was deserted at 12:30 p.m. on a Monday in January. The onshore breeze was strangely calm, the silence broken only by the light rush of the breakers and periodic seagull squawks. Near the bottom of the embankment, Chase walked past a dark-brown beaded dress lying alongside a mound of pebbles and weeds. The dress lay flat and stretched out on a line toward the body, as though someone had dropped it and dragged it across the dry sand. As he neared the figure, he realized that it wasn’t a boy, but a young woman wearing only a pink silk teddy and garters, dark-brown silk stockings, and matching satin pumps.”

The victim’s death may have been connected to a person or persons in Hollywood. As a result, press coverage of the death became national, but the coverage was more colorful than accurate.

Stewart conducts meticulous historical research to produce this story. He covers it from every angle. By showing us details, we understand how each stage of the investigation, court hearings and findings affected the final outcome in court. In the process, he paints a vivid picture of the times and way of life.

For example, the coroner, lacking a place to examine bodies, used two local funeral parlors. As a result, Ms. Mann’s body accidentally had been drained of all blood by the time the coroner arrived. This made the determination of the time and cause of death less certain.

A half-century before the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion, a woman’s reputation would be tainted forever if she had a baby out of wedlock. There were letters in which Fritzie pressured a doctor she had been dating to marry her. He countered by suggesting she get an abortion. The surgery was highly risky back then, because it was against the law. The law criminalized anyone involved in helping a pregnant woman to abort.

If the man did not do the gentlemanly act of asking for her hand in marriage, murder or suicide were two tragic outcomes. Given that Roe vs. Wade may soon be overturned by the Supreme Court, Stewart’s story gives us stark warnings from history.

Lacking the sophisticated forensic tools available today, police depended on unreliable and often contradictory eye-witness statements. Police corruption being pervasive, a detective on the case made false statements that were recorded during the two court hearings. Additionally, evidentiary materials disappeared that had been in police custody.

Ninety years after the fact, Stewart entertains likely scenarios to determine if the dancer had been murdered and if so, who the murderer might have been. After final court rulings. Stewart follows up on the story’s main players to see how their lives turned out.

Stewart demonstrates mastery of journalistic reporting. He does an admirable job of capturing the historical backdrop and opens our eyes to conditions that led to the woman’s death, her botched autopsy, the following murder investigation and two trials. The details he brings forth help the reader to determine how and why events occurred as they did. 

The author, who lives in San Diego, is a member of the San Diego Writers and Editors Guild (SDWEG). You can learn more about him at


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