Extra! Extra! The Warehouse – Marina Del Rey (story 1)

December 7, 2012

One of the most complicated stories I researched, but for several reasons it didn’t make the book. Nonetheless, it was interesting to unravel everything – and to know that the murder of Linda Miller is still officially unsolved….

Right by one of Marina Del Rey’s swanky yacht clubs, The Warehouse could be Robinson Crusoe’s dream desert island hangout. Original owner Burt Hixson had searched far and wide for that authentic beach side look, and when he opened the doors here in 1969, real wharf posts were holding up the roof.

Several abandoned shipyards in San Pedro had been the source for the old wine and whisky barrels, shipping crates, nautical rigging, fishing nets, carvings and weathered lumber, while the décor and furniture was made from Malaysian bamboo and Hawaiian cane. Keen cameraman Hixson took something unusual with him on his many trips around the world too, and the resulting photos of people in China, Hawaii and India browsing the Warehouse’s menu were hung on the walls.

Today the owner is Lee Spencer – who also owns the Smoke House in Burbank – and he told me about a murder that took place “right next door” to The Warehouse. Apparently, one night a cocktail waitress from the Hungry Tiger restaurant went home with one of the patrons, and when her body was found the next day “just three blocks away,” it was “quite a sensation at the time”.

Initial research failed to find any mention of the Hungry Tiger-related murder, but then I found a Los Angeles Times article from November 1978 about Gary Dean Smiddy. In October 1973 he had left a “Marina Del Rey restaurant” with 21 year old cocktail waitress Linda Caroline Miller, and was the last person to see her alive. Her strangled body was found in a storage room on a construction site the next day, and a few weeks later he was charged with first degree murder.

However, this 1978 article noted that the charges against him had been dismissed, and he had been awarded $250,000 for violation of his civil rights. The LAPD had allegedly failed to fully question other likely suspects at the time, and his lawyer had argued that Smiddy also had an alibi for Miller’s death. Moreover, the article then named the restaurant they had left together: The Parasol.

After more research – including examining a map and talking to Robert Rawitch, the reporter who wrote the article, and Colman Andrews, restaurant columnist for Gourmet magazine – I managed to confirm that back in 1973 the Hungry Tiger and The Parasol were both opposite The Warehouse on the other side of the bay.

It seemed that this was the “next door” story Lee Spencer was referring to, and Private Investigator Larry Larsen, who worked on a Channel 7 television program called “Who Killed Linda Caroline Miller?”confirmed the Smiddy connection in an email:

“The police were convinced they had the right man, so they did no further investigation that I know of.”

Larsen added that he had never heard of any hauntings around the crime scene, but since the murder is officially still unsolved, perhaps Miller’s ghost is still walking the sea front and hoping to find the man who killed her?