Darkness aside, if you had to pair a dish with Phil Spector's murder trial, what would it be?
Maybe a good English-style curry to commemorate one of his biggest masterpieces, The Beatles' Let It Be? Or perhaps a slice of greasy pepperoni pizza as you headbang to The Ramones' End of the Century?
Try Shandong-style pumpkin, shrimp, and pork dumplings eaten under the unforgiving 95-degree San Gabriel Valley sun while hearing an argument for why Spector may actually be innocent from one of his old colleagues.
This bizarre scenario has been brought to you by the brilliantly dark minds of Kim Cooper and Richard Schave, founders and hosts of the Los Angeles-based Esotouric bus tours. For the last decade, Schave and Cooper have been the city's alternative tour guides, the experts whom you seek if you wish to explore the city's dark, dark past as opposed to gawking at celebrity homes in Hollywood or taking photos on the Santa Monica Pier.
Their various tours explore sites where some of LA's most gruesome, tragic, and heinous crimes have been committed. They are self-professed masters of LA history and crime who regularly talk about both of these subjects on their podcast, You Can't Eat the Sunshine, as well as on their blog, the 1947 Project, which has documented the "offbeat criminal history of 1947 Los Angeles" since 2005_._
On a few of their tours, they employ the use of food to tell the stories that you will definitely not learn about in school or hear about in today's mainstream media. I have tagged along on one of their food-filled bus tours titled "Blood & Dumplings," a four-hour journey into some of the most calamitous crimes that LA's San Gabriel Valley has been unfortunate enough to harbor. About 40 other attendees have showed up to The Daily Dose Cafe in downtown LA's Arts District to meet, the majority of which are locals, natives, and a few recently relocated transplants.Although the San Gabriel Valley is synonymous with some of the best regional Chinese food that the US has to offer, it's also an extremely weird place in the scheme of LA County. It has a suburban, small-town feel, and is home to some of the most unusual crimes that have occurred in Southern California.
It is a tour that Esotouric only hosts twice a year due to the complicated effort of obtaining 180 dumplings from one of the San Gabriel Valley's best hole-in-the-wall dumpling spots, 101 Noodle Express. (Cooper tipped off Jonathan Gold to the spot after he got the recommendation from his Chinese physician. It's that good.)
This trip might or might not include a visit to the Chinese supermarket where the ex-cop "Man From Mars" bandit was shot in the head in the middle of his last heist.
For this tour, Joan Renner of Deranged LA Crimes has tagged along to lend her archival crime expertise and suspenseful storytelling. If you are a disturbed crime freak who binge-watches crime shows in your time off, you may have heard her masterful recounts in a half dozen or series on ID Discovery Channel. In addition, Skip Heller, a local musician who is a friend of Spector, has tagged along to give his testimony to the crowd seven years after the trial, since Spector's home in Alhambra is part of the tour's itinerary.
The tour starts in Alhambra at the old sight of F. E. Ormsby's Pyramid-Cube University of Solar & Personal Magnetism. According to Cooper, Ormsby was an astrologer and author of a monthly journal, People and Planets. He moved to Alhambra from Chicago to realize his dream of building a pyramid-shaped school for students of astrology in the 1930s. However, she says, the school proved to be a failure: "When no students enrolled in his school, one day, Ormsby went inside the pyramid and shot himself in the head. The pyramid was demolished afterward."
Nowadays, there's no sign of this tragedy—the lot is now a car dealership—but keeping these types of unique crime stories alive is exactly what Cooper and Schave are all about.
'All we're doing is just using exciting true crimes as a way of preserving LA history.'
Without giving too much away, another stop may or may not be the unsolved mystery site in Arcadia where acclaimed novelist James Ellroy's dead mother was found raped and murdered, or the epicenter of LA's neo-Nazi movement in El Monte in the early 70s, or a visit to the Chinese supermarket where the ex-cop "Man From Mars" bandit was shot in the head in the middle of his last heist, or a drive-by of the city where one of the country's most notorious feral child cases took place.
All you need to know is that the tour will culminate by tasting some of the best handmade dumplings you have ever had in your life, with fillings of lamb, pumpkin, and vegetables. And you will eat them picnic-style next to monster statues at a secret park overlooking the Angeles National Forest mountainscape.
"Our tours capture the LA story of assimilation and integration," says Schave during the tour. "And some of the ways that things can go horribly wrong in the process."
"All we're doing is just using exciting true crimes as a way of preserving LA history," says Cooper. "Both of us are third-generation Angelenos who are in love with our city. We want people to be the best Angeleno they could be, to; to love this city, and continue to carry LA's story forward."
To celebrate their ten year anniversary, Cooper and Schave are currently writing their first guidebook to LA. After reading it, you may never see your local supermarket quite the same way ever again.