The Death Of Kate Morgan: Murder Or Suicide At The Hotel Del Coronado

200px-Kate_Morgan_sepiaPhotograph of Kate Morgan taken circa 1886

She was found dead on November 29, 1892, on the exterior staircase leading to the beach, of what was believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. This was five days after checking into the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado. A San Francisco lawyer, the late Alan May, speculated in the 1980s that her death involved foul play. Evidence for the alleged homicide was a passing statement (or misstatement), during the coroner’s inquest, that the bullet found in her head did not match that of her own gun. Nevertheless, whatever the merits of his book, he did revive interest in the subject by causing a stir with his murder theory. Officials who reviewed his speculations chose not to reopen the case.

There has never been any evidence that tied Kate Morgan to the death of “Lottie Bernard” at the Hotel del Coronado, although several authors have attempted to do so. Kate Morgan’s family or friends never came to identify the body, and the photo of Kate Morgan given by her employer did not look anything like the “Beautiful Stranger” that described the deceased. According to the Los Angeles Herald, dated December 9, 1892, it states that “cabinet size photograph of Mrs. Morgan, found among others, shows her to be a woman of about 28 years of age, black eyes, large ears, rather large open face and somewhat course features; her mouth is rather large and lips thick. The photograph contained no marks and had evidently been taken recently. The photograph does not denote the appearance of a woman accustomed to stopping at first-class hotels as a guest, or one who wears lace shawls; neither does it show her to be pretty, and the features certainly are not those of a highly educated woman.” Although the article was blatantly ignorant in its claim that one could tell the difference between and educated and uneducated woman, it does make a valid point on the difference in ones social status and appearance.

According to author and historian J’aime Rubio, the identity of the woman found dead on the steps of the Hotel del Coronado was none other than Charlotte “Lottie” Barnard of Detroit, Michigan. There is a Charlotte Barnard listed as living in Detroit in the 1890 & 1891 Census. Her address was at 351 High Street (West) and amazingly around the time of the death of the Beautiful Stranger, Charlotte Barnard disappears from any further listings in either the Census or the Detroit Directories. After extensive research of the Coroner’s Inquest report, documentation and archived newspapers, it seems that the Kate Morgan theory does not stand up when analyzed thoroughly. Rubio’s research claims that Kate Morgan may not have died, but disappeared to San Francisco and was later listed on the San Francisco Census in 1900.