Friday, March 7, 2008

Frustration turns to success - and lessons relearned

I subscribe via email to the CASANDIE-L mailing list for San Diego County and occasionally respond to a post there when I can contribute my knowledge of county resources. Such was the case when Sue Richart posted "National City Homicide 1961" on 23 February. Her post read:

"Greetings San Diego Listers, From July 1959 to March 1962, my family lived in a duplex between Kimball Park and The Plaza Shopping Center in National City. For quite a while I've been thinking about the murder of a high school girl who lived in the other half of the duplex. I can see her face, but the fact that I can't remember her name bothers me. I was only six years old and clearly remember joining all of the kids in the neighborhood looking for her. Earlier in the day, she had left the house to walk over to the shopping center. They finally found her body two weeks later. This all took place during summer vacation and I believe it was in 1961. Would any of the listers have access to either the National City Star News or one of the San Diego papers for that time frame and be willing to look up some information about this? Appreciate any assistance."

I responded to her with advice about the National City library Local History Room and Sue contacted them but they responded saying they couldn't do the research, but offered to send her a list of professionals who might be willing to do it.

Sue emailed me privately and I agreed to go to the library and search the National City Star-News newspaper for the summer of 1961. Unfortunately, the Local History Room in the National City library is open from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday, so yesterday was the last chance for this week. It's a great local history room - the best in San Diego County, IMHO, with many artifacts, photographs, family papers, etc. available to observe and research, with many of them and the newspapers on microfilm, plus some decent card files for the newspapers and obituaries and their other holdings.

I got there at 2 p.m. and talked to Philip who was on the desk, and he showed me Sue's request and got the "summer of '61" (that was an excellent year for me - I graduated from high school that year and had a great summer tooling around the beaches with my buddy with a car) microfilm for the newspaper. Unfortunately, the card files have nothing about the 1960's, it turns out, so a "hand job" (cranking the microfilm) was in order.

I spent a frustrating hour reading June through October with absolutely no news about a missing or murdered girl - surely it was front page material in all of the area newspapers. Philip recommended going to the police station and asking there if they had lists of homicides that might be useful.

I gave up, and came home, but on the way home devised a strategy - I would ask Sue the address she lived at, find it in the City Directory, figure out the duplex address (drive by if I had to), determine the neighbor's surname, and search the San Diego Union newspaper index at the Chula Vista library. I emailed Sue with my negative and frustrating results and asked my questions about her parents names and the address.

When I was ready to stop for the day, after 11 hours of genealogy activities - see my Geneaholic post here for the rest of the day) - I Googled ["national city" disappeared girl 1961] and didn't see anything useful, but when I Googled ["national city" disappeared girl 1960] the 4th match was a summary from the San Diego Union-Tribune with a list of disappeared and murdered girls in the San Diego area. Mary Lou Olson was the girl's name! It was January 1960, not the summer of 1961.

I quickly pulled up Ancestry.com, input [name = "mary olson"] and [keyword = "national city"] into the Stories and Publications search box, and found a list of over 30 newspapers with matches. I checked the Oakland Tribune and Reno Gazette matches and found detailed articles about finding the body in Tijuana, downloaded and saved them, then I wrote an email to Sue and attached the newspaper page images. Isn't online genealogy research grand?

Now Sue wants me to find the Star-News articles about this, and I'll try to do that today at the CV library. One excellent benefit from doing this exercise was finding the special newspaper section celebrating the 50th anniversary of Chula Vista in the 1961 newspaper - hopefully the Chula Vista Historical Society can use this when the city celebrates its' 100th anniversary in 2011.

My lessons relearned?

* Don't rely on people's memory of events - broaden the search (I did this in my Google search when 1961 didn't work)

* Google first and often - it can save you hours of cranking microfilm and gas too.

* Ancestry.com has tremendous resources. I just wish that Ancestry (or other newspaper image web sites) had more Southern California newspapers online. San Diego is not covered at all - the 7th largest city in the USA.

Ancestry does have six community papers for Los Angeles with limited years. GenealogyBank has the LA Times in recent years, but I didn't see anything for LA in the 1960 time period. ProQuest lists the LA Times but doesn't give details of their years available. Some libraries have online access to the historical LA Times through a service like ProQuest. I haven't looked "everywhere" for this, of course!

This was fun! I just wish that I had learned my lessons before I was frustrated. But lessons relearned usually stick!

Did you notice my shameless Geneaholic blog flog above? Let's see if we have blogalanche there as a result of the link.

6 comments:

Laura said...

How Wonderful of you to do all that research for Sue - sounds really interesting to track down though. And I agree about Ancestry, it is terrific.

I'm just going to go read Geneaholic now!

Janice said...

Randy,

I enjoyed this article very much. Your persistence paid off. And I also noted your "other" blog which was news to me! I'll stop over there and visit ya!

Janice
Blog: Cow Hampshire

Judy said...

I lived in San Diego for 48 years. Grew up on Skyline Dr. I was about the same age when Mary Lou Olson disappeared and then was found in Tijuana (I believe) murdered. It was the first time I realized that it was a dangerous world. I have thought of her often and from time to time her name was mentioned in the SD Union regarding unsolved cases. ABout 10 years ago, the National City Police had her body disinterred (if that's the correct word) and said they thought they would have an arrest by the end of the week. I think they were looking for her DNA. I kept waiting for news and I never did see anything. I remember reading that both her parents were deceased by that time. I think the Union mentioned that she had a couple siblings. From the first time we got a computer and I discovered the internet, I have checked occasionally to see if there was any info on her. Each time I check there are more hits, but no new info. I called the National City Police Dept a month ago to see if they ever solved the case. A woman said she wouldn't be able to give me any information. I would think if they had solved it, she would have been able to tell me that. what a sad story, and have thought about her poor family and what they must have gone through. How do we breed people that are capable of such things?
The case made such an impression on me, I have never forgotten it.

Judy said...

I lived in San Diego for 48 years. Grew up on Skyline Dr. I was about the same age when Mary Lou Olson disappeared and then was found in Tijuana (I believe) murdered. It was the first time I realized that it was a dangerous world. I have thought of her often and from time to time her name was mentioned in the SD Union regarding unsolved cases. ABout 10 years ago, the National City Police had her body disinterred (if that's the correct word) and said they thought they would have an arrest by the end of the week. I think they were looking for her DNA. I kept waiting for news and I never did see anything. I remember reading that both her parents were deceased by that time. I think the Union mentioned that she had a couple siblings. From the first time we got a computer and I discovered the internet, I have checked occasionally to see if there was any info on her. Each time I check there are more hits, but no new info. I called the National City Police Dept a month ago to see if they ever solved the case. A woman said she wouldn't be able to give me any information. I would think if they had solved it, she would have been able to tell me that. what a sad story, and have thought about her poor family and what they must have gone through. How do we breed people that are capable of such things?
The case made such an impression on me, I have never for.

KOMBUCHABABY said...

I also grew up in San Diego. I was 7 years old when Mary Lou was murdered. I, too remember this as the first time I realized that the world was not a safe place. Not long after her murder an older boy chased me through a vacant lot and I was certain I was going to be killed... I truly do not understand how someone could actually murder a child. People with those urges should commit suicide.

Anonymous said...

I to grew up in San Diego and I was in the sixth grade when this terrible crime was committed. I also remember this being the first time i realized the world was not a safe place. I am now 65 and still recall the murder of Mary Lou Olsen and what an impact it had on my friends and I.