San Diego in books – Andy Warhol editor notes PSA crash, builder of first jail was father of wine industry

Cara Knott

Cara Knott

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 1978 — Los Angeles — New York

The new Interview arrived from New York and Fran’s column was so boring I told Bob we should Fire her. So we had a fight. Then Wendy picked us up and she took us to Giorgio’s in Beverly Hills to sell some ads and Fred and Gale Hayman who own it were thrilled to see me. And now they’re selling mink V-neck sweaters and I said, “Oh, I’d love one” and he said, “I’ll sell it to you wholesale.” And then I realized I’d really stuck my foot in it and I said, “Oh no no no. I’ll just pick one up the next time I’m in town.”

Johnny Casablanca was checking into the hotel and a bunch of Rastafarians were out in front because Bob Marley was staying there (maid tips $30, concierge tips $20, bellboy tips $10, limo driver $10, Redcap tip $5, magazines for the plane $14.50).

The plane sat in the airport for five hours having its fuel system repaired. Meanwhile, the talk of the town was the air crash in San Diego that morning that killed 150 people.

Pat Hackett, editor The Andy Warhol Diaries 1989

AS I DROVE BACK to my parents’ home in the Mission Hills district of the city, a kind of low, flat mood stole over me. I had spent very little time in San Diego during the past ten years, and now that I was here for what might be an extended visit, nothing felt right.

The city had changed of course. Where there had once been a funky auto ferry from Coronado Island to the mainland, there was now a white soaring expanse of bridge. New, tall buildings

lined the downtown streets. And the town limits had spread, shopping centers and housing tracts obliterating what had once been wild canyons….

This part of the city was full of little finger canyons that stretched behind what looked like ordinary square lots. The canyons were overgrown with scrub oak, eucalyptus, and Torrey pine, and all kinds of animals, from chipmunks to coyotes, lived in them. For a time when I was small, we had had ducks in the yard, but one by one they fell prey to coyotes that would hop the fence at night. Finally one had even got our proud black cat, Gilroy, and after that my mother had said no more pets.

Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller Double 1984

DURING THEIR SHORT STAY in San Diego, the Haraszthys, father and son, seemed to have dominated the town. But they had also been in the center of a curious controversy. They were sharply upbraided in the local press for some peculiar machinations in connection with the building of the first jail in San Diego. Even for a frontier town, free gunplay in 1850-51 was phenomenal. With the large number of wild characters floating in and out on their way to the goldfields, a good jail was badly needed. Haraszthy bid for the job and was awarded the contract by the city council headed by his father even though his bid of $5000 was more than double the lowest bid. This raised quite a few eyebrows. Because good quality cement was hard to get, Haraszthy had to use huge cobblestones held together with a mortar of local origin. This was loosened by heavy rains, and when the first prisoner, a harmless drunk, was locked up and a public celebration with a parade and music was held, the prisoner crashed through the wall and calmly sauntered over to the nearest saloon to the immense amusement of the crowd. But Haraszthy not only weathered the storm, in the end he was awarded an additional $2000 to make the jail more secure.

He made his mark in the legislature as well. He successfully lobbied for the expansion of San Diego harbor and for a hospital to care for sick immigrants. He also fought off a determined attempt to create a telegraph monopoly in San Francisco. But his historic proposal to divide California into two states died in the senate.

Theodore Schoenman, editor The Father of California Wine 1979

I GOT MY FIRST GLIMPSE of San Diego at about three o’clock in the morning, right off the bus. I spent the whole night roaming the streets, and I couldn’t get over the quiet, coming from New York. The streets had a swabbed feel. The whole place just looked deserted to me, and it’s not an impression I ever really got over, that something was missing. San Diego’s always sort of struck me as the town out of a dull person’s imagination. I didn’t really feel much spirit there until I met Blue.

She was teaching one of the courses in the graduate art program at UCSD, a class in oil painting and color theory. I’d taken some courses at the League in New York, but I still wasn’t comfortable with color, and I was looking to Blue’s class to help me there.

I was anxious to try my hand at the landscape around San Diego. That whole Southern Californian palette sort of swept me off my feet, the clay and purple in the mountains and that cornflower blue — I spent most of my time out in the hills with a canteen and a sketch pad, when I wasn’t in class.

Brooks Hansen and Nick Davis Boone 1990

CHRISTMAS COMES GENTLY to San Diego, bringing with it balmy temperatures and mild breezes off the glittering Pacific.

It is a special time of serenity in a region where politeness is not an exception, where people don’t jaywalk, and where nobody dares be sedentary….

The call came into San Diego Police Department’s northeastern substation from a headquarters dispatcher shortly after seven o’clock Sunday morning, December 28 [1986].

A young woman said her sister was missing. She said her family had spent the entire night searching for the girl, and now they had found her car abandoned in a canyon beside Interstate 15….

[Acting Sergeant Bill] Maheu decided to drive back to Mercy Road from another direction, the next exit off 1-15, Poway Road. He swung his big Ford LTD Crown Victoria across the abandoned road and parked near the bike path that ran along one side. Maheu knew the terrain well. He lived across the hills in the suburb of Poway and often jogged across this same bridge and bike path. He got out of his car and walked north along the hilly bike path at this dead end of Mercy Road, intently scanning the horizon…. He stopped at the middle of the [old highway] bridge and peered down into the dry creek bed below. His heart started beating hard. It was the only sound he heard.

On a bed of rocks about sixty-five feet down, he saw the body of a young woman. He could see a great deal of blood even at that distance….

[Union reporter Jim] Okerblom stood on the Knotts’ front doorstep. The man who answered the door had … swollen eyes and … unshaven jowls and [Okerblom] knew he must be the father….

“She was the sweetest girl you ever saw….” Sam [Knott] began…. “And smart. She got A’s at San Diego State. She was going to be a teacher….

“She and my wife took a self-defense course together,” he explained, and related the lessons they had learned from their self-defense teacher, a former San Diego police sergeant named Sandy Strong….

The only way was to fight back, quickly, Strong had told them. Fighting back, Sam figured, must have been what [his daughter] Cara did. When someone threatens you, you should explode and run. Strong had told his pupils to make noise, scratch faces, reach for eyes. “Do not go gently …” seemed to be the motto….

It was the vulnerability-of-women angle that television channel 39, the local NBC affiliate, pursued that first weekday after Cara’s body was found….

Keeping the highways safe was the job of the California Highway Patrol and [reporter Rory] Devine called the CHP brass to put her in touch with someone she could interview on patrol….

Patrol supervisors picked one of their best spokesmen, Officer Craig Peyer. Peyer knew the Mercy Road area near Interstate 15 like the back of his hand because it was on his beat. The highway patrol always sent him to civic groups to lecture on highway safety….

Peyer believed in the highway patrol. Known as one of the most gung-ho cops in the barracks, he loved being tagged “hot pencil” by his colleagues. His nickname came from his zealousness.

He routinely wrote twice as many tickets as most CHP officers, sometimes up to three hundred citations a month. He demanded an orderly world out there on the highways. Headlight out of alignment, that’s a ticket. License plate light bulb out, that’s another ticket….

Monday afternoon, the day after the body was found, Officer Peyer and Devine, a young petite brunette, rode around in his CHP cruiser for two hours….

“Don’t get into anyone else’s car, because you’re at their mercy,” Peyer told the attentive reporter…. [“]People are safe with law enforcement officers,” the CHP officer assured Devine’s viewers….

Kathy Deir was driving home to San Diego along a deserted and undeveloped stretch of 1-15, when she noticed a police car following her. She tensed and automatically let up on the accelerator, but the cruiser stayed behind her little white Ford Escort for a couple of miles, and finally the cop flashed his red lights to pull her over. It was cold and dark, about eight o’clock on a Thursday night, two weeks before Christmas 1986. The officer got on his loudspeaker and ordered her to drive off the freeway down the next exit, Mercy Road….

The officer led her down the ramp to a place so eerily dark that she had trouble making anything out. When her eyes adjusted, she saw that there was virtually nothing to see — no lights, no houses, nothing but some construction-site leftovers and scattered sagebrush. The cop approached her and Kathy, a slender twenty-nine-year-old real estate professional, cautiously rolled down her window a little.

“What’s the problem, officer?”

“Your headlights are out of alignment.”…

“Can you step out, please?” he asked politely.

“I’ll show you how to fix the lights.”

She obeyed and walked around the front of the Escort as he opened the hood. “Where are you from?” he inquired, poking his head near the engine block.

“Tucson,” she replied.

“Yeah? I was stationed there, at Davis-Mothan Air Force Base.” They chatted about Arizona for a while….

The cop offered to show her where the old 395 highway passed. It was right near where they were. Kathy looked at him; he seemed like a nice enough guy. In some ways, he seemed like the policemen back home….

“Sure,” she said….

The cop drove her over to the bridge…. By now, she felt they were miles from the current I-15 freeway, and she could barely hear the hum of traffic behind…. [T]he area was so dark Kathy couldn’t even tell it was a bridge….

An hour and a half had slipped by. It was pushing ten o’clock. “I have to get going,” she told him. To her he seemed like he was in no hurry, but he drove Kathy back to her car. He hadn’t asked her, like he had the other blonde he pulled down to Mercy Road a while back, if she had called her boyfriend to let him know what time to expect her home….

The officer had said nothing out of line to her, not like he had to the girl he had pulled down there and remarked, as he wrote her a moving violation ticket, “You have beautiful eyes.” Or the woman he had discussed real estate with down there at the Mercy Road off ramp….

[T]wo weeks after Kathy got her fix-it ticket, Shelly Sacks was driving home south on 1-15 in her sporty red Honda CRX … when she heard a voice behind her boom from a loudspeaker. “Red Honda, pull over!” The command came so loudly and suddenly it gave her a jolt….

[T]he cop sauntered over, shining a big black flashlight in her face. He was smiling….

“You know your headlight has a crack in it. I think you should get out and take a look at it.”…

[S]he got out of her car as she was told and walked around to look at her headlights, not something she did often….

The cop started walking back to his cruiser and said pleasantly, “Why don’t you come back to my car while I write out the citation for you?…”

[S]he kept quiet and got inside the patrol car, beside the shotgun bolted to the floor near the passenger’s seat and all the radios squawking….

“What do you do for a living?” the cop asked. He then started taking down all her vital statistics, age, weight, address. She told him she was an announcer for an FM disco-funk music radio station, and they chatted about that for a while….

It occurred to her that nobody could see them parked under the freeway underpass.

“How was your Christmas?”

“Oh my Christmas was really bad. I broke up with my boyfriend,” she blurted out. Inside her head she was yelling at herself, Why are you telling him this? But she kept the conversation going. “So it was kind of lonely. It was a lonely Christmas,” she told him.

The officer smiled at her and said, “I find that hard to believe.”

She was silent, not knowing how to respond. She leaned over as casually as she could to check out his name tag and badge. Badge 8611, she saw. If this little episode got any more bizarre, she thought, she might want to write his name down on something, she wasn’t sure what….

The cop handed her a pink ticket and watched as she got into her Honda. In the darkness he could not see it, but as she put her hands on the steering wheel and drove off, Shelly was shaking….

Officer Peyer’s longest late-night meeting was with a perky blonde nurse named Cheryl Johnson…. On the witness stand, Johnson appeared shaken, even more than a year after the encounter with Peyer. She testified that Peyer had spent more than an hour and a half making small talk with her. She said he had even turned off his police radio, severing contact with the outside world, which had scared her.

Peyer had told her Mercy Road was not a safe place for a woman late at night, she testified. “He said, ‘Somebody could get raped or murdered down here, and nobody would ever know.’ I said, ‘At least I’m with you.’”…

Craig Peyer remains imprisoned in the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, where he started as a janitor and earned his way into a class on television repair. He is considered a model prisoner. His case is on appeal.

He will be eligible for parole in the year 2004.

Joe Cantlupe and Lisa Petrillo Badge of Betrayal: The Devastating True Story of a Rogue Cop Turned Murderer 1991

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