A little update before we jump in – I spent most of the last month exploring and filming at haunted sites from Northern through Southern California and will have a lot of fun updates moving forward about unique locations from LA to San Fran. It’s been almost two full years since doing any real traveling, so it was a blast to get back out there!
I’ve always got a number of books going on at once, depending on the mood and they’re just about always paranormal research-related. Here’s a quick look at what’s I’m reading and why. As for whether I recommend each book or not – they are all big YESES! I wouldn’t waste your time on mediocre books.
Recently Finished Physical Books:
“Hot Toddy” by Andy Edmonds (1989) – The death of Thelma Todd (an early sound-era comedy actress nicknamed “Hot Toddy”) has always been a mysterious and fascinating one to me. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to get behind the scenes access to the business building she used to run. This building was in danger of the wrecking ball not long ago, but fortunately was saved and put under the care of some contractors who really took pride in their work. The Pacific Coast Highway-based building now houses an ad agency and I am very curious if the new tenants will report any paranormal happenings now that they’ve settled in. Todd was not murdered here (official reports say she wasn’t murdered at all, but died accidentally), but the location has a history with some big personalities including Lucky Luciano, who was wanting to turn the upper floor into a casino. In time I hope to do a deep dive article and video on this location and topic.
“Noir Afloat: Tony Cornero and the Notorious Gambling Ships of Southern California” by Ernest Marquez (2011) – I have been fascinated by this story since back when I first learned about it while participating in jury duty back in 2015. The fact that there were once floating casinos operating off the coast of Santa Monica Pier, Long Beach, Santa Barbara and tons of other locations in So Cal is amazing as is the man behind the most famous of the ships, Tony Cornero. There will be a big, deep dive on “Tony the Hat,” his story in LA and Vegas as well as some updates and speculation on associated ocean archaeology. I was also hoping to learn about Cornerno’s earlier rumrunning days to see if he had any connection to speakeasies in Venice, including the Townhouse/Del Monte Speakeasy. Sadly, I didn’t find any of that specific info, but I did get tipped off to a prohibition bust in Culver City that I will dive into much more. I love the vast haunted history of Culver City and this could simply add a little more color to this already colorful city.
Recently Finished Audio Books:
“The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini” by Joe Posnanski (2019) – I think this is honestly my favorite book of the last couple years. I will hold my tongue for the most part right now as I’m in the process of lining up an interview with Joe (the author) for the Fantastic Story Society. I will say that this book is largely about celebrating the lore surrounding Houdini and then trying to dig through the legends to find long lost facts (isn’t that what most of us strive to do as paranormal researchers?). I’m very excited about this interview.
Update: We just locked Joe in for an interview! New episode coming out soon!
“The Unseen Hand: A New Exploration of Poltergeist Phenomena” by Jenny Ashford (2017) – This is one that’s so robust that I need to listen to it again, seated with a pen & paper (not while jogging or mowing the lawn) because there are so many amazing stories in this book that I really need to take a lot of notes. Jenny has written tons of books (actually, 13 lucky and dark books, while contributing stories to many others. Here’s her website), so I’m looking forward to diving into more of her library before reaching out to try to book her as a podcast guest.
“Trail of Terror: The Black Monk of Pontefract, Cripple Creek Jail, Firehouse Phantom, and Other True Hauntings” by Richard Estep (2018) – Like Ashford, Richard Estep has an incredible library of works under his belt (seriously? 30+ books? Wow! Here’s his site). Many of his books involve recounting paranormal investigations he’s lead. There’s an extra level of professionalism to how he conducts things as he’s also a paramedic, so he’s good at keeping a level head and directing his team in an organized manner. We’ve already had a good amount of back and forth when it comes to booking him as a guest on the Fantastic Story Society podcast as we’ll probably be our first legit ghost hunter guest. We also chatted a bit about the Cecil Hotel when he was writing his book “American Hotel Story: History, Hauntings, and Heartbreak in LA’s Infamous Hotel Cecil” (2021), but I haven’t read it yet to find out if he used anything from our discussions. Also, I have to give a shout out to the Sage ParaCon & its organizer, MJ Dickson for first introducing me to the work of Richard Estep. I’ve also got his book “The Great American Ghost Trip” on my to read list.
Turning the Black Sox White by Tim Hornbaker (2014) – Okay, this seems to not fit with the rest of the books on the list, however, Hornbaker does a great job taking long accepted ‘truths’ and digging to debunk and find the buried real reality of the Black Sox scandal of 1919. First off, it’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in baseball history. In the process though, I stumbled across a legit curse story that I had never heard before. Do note that this book really does NOT focus on this at all, but there’s something intriguing here, which will lead to a future post on this site. Any team with a long championship drought tends to have a curse associated with it. The Cubs (103 years) had the curse of the Billy Goat, the Red Sox (86 years) had the curse of the Bambino/Babe Ruth, but how could the White Sox (88 years) not have a curse associated with them? Well, it turns out there is a bit of a macabre curse placed on Charles Comiskey at one point and you wouldn’t believe how often a team trip resulted in freak accidents, train derailments and shootings. I will lay it all out once I get my thoughts organized. Also, if you’re a fan of baseball and ghost stories, you need to check out my interview with haunted baseball folklorists Dan Gordon & Mickey Bradley.
Book In Progress
Al Capone’s Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago during Prohibition by John J. Binder (2017) – This book is amazingly well researched! I’m always a fan of Mafia stories in general (you may remember my deep dive in to the “Irishman” movie a year ago), but specific to this one, I’m hoping to see if there’s any talk about the Touhy brother-owned Wonderbar in Madison, WI or the Mineola Hotel in Fox Lake, IL. These are each haunted locations I’m really interested in learning as much as possible about.
“The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery” by Bill James & Rachel McCarthy James (2017) – Bill James is best known as a statistician who changed baseball. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Moneyball,” this is the guy. Well, he’s taking his use of numerical analytics to see if he can link together a number of unsolved crimes in the early 1900s that may have been committed by the same person. This is a brand new theory and a fascinating read. The most famous case among the many is one you may well know – the Vallisca Axe murders in Iowa. The farmhouse where eight people were killed is something of a haunted tourist attraction at this point, having been featured in several paranormal shows. Once I get through this book (lots of notes to take), I’ll have an in-depth post including a map of locations to share. Getting Bill James as a podcast guest is on a wishlist, so we’ll see what happens (I can’t believe how successful we’ve been at getting our dream guests so far).
And then there’s this…
Dark History of Hollywood: A Century of Greed, Corruption and Scandal behind the Movies by Kieron Connolly (2014) – As a writer of LA’s haunted history, it’s my job to read everything I can get my hands on if even to get a tiny new fact that can help me tell the most compelling, factually accurate story. That said, I am going to really tear this book apart. This book will get its own review as it’s clearly written with an incredible amount of “Hollywood is bad” bias. Yes, this book is about Hollywood’s dark history, but there seems to be a tilt that this was a Satanically cursed land, which makes it difficult to take a lot of the book seriously. A more in-depth review will come, but feel free to steer clear of this one.