of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks…Anything can happen.”
Excerpt from “Red Wind” (1938) by Raymond Chandler
Most self-respecting Angelenos would rather take a bullet than board a bus to visit seedy neighborhoods in Southern California. That is, unless they’re on an Esotouric bus adventure. The company tours, which highlight true crime scenes, are as provocative as a vintage pair of peep-toe pumps.
Esotouric, which officially launched in May of 2007, is the brainchild of Kim Cooper and husband Richard Schave, both native Angelenos.
“What makes us (Esotouric) so unique is that nobody else gives bus tours, of literary Los Angeles, on an author-by-author basis,” said Schave, whose tours surprise even locals when they learn about the history of familiar locations they pass every day. They offer a tantalizing mixture of grit, romance… and gore.
“The Los Angeles Visitors Bureau wants you to play the record, ‘We love Los Angeles,’ because it’s ‘beautiful’ and ‘sweet,’” said Schave. “But our ‘Blood & Dumplings’ tour is all about the really crazy individuals who helped define this really poorly understood subculture of Los Angeles (San Gabriel Valley).”
Esotouric offers 20 unique tours of Los Angeles-area crime scene locations, architectural landmarks and cultural hot spots, mixing crime and rock and roll, with passionate, brainy and hilarious revelations. Some tours highlight uplifting themes like “The Haunts of a Dirty Old Man Tour,” which adds its own unique twist. It examines the life of Charles Bukowski and how he rose to a poet of international renown after 35 years of menial labor.
“The tour is really about the process of how you find that ‘voice’ within yourself that’s great,” said Schave, whose customers live and breathe Bukowski by visiting his former East Hollywood apartments, favorite cafeteria and even his most cherished haunt: the Pink Elephant Liquor store.
“The Real Black Dahlia Crime Bus Tour,” written collaboratively by Cooper and Schave, attracts those with interests beyond those near and dear to the heart of Bukowski — drinking and schtupping.
The unnerving saga takes place in 1947 Los Angeles, when an enigmatic black-haired girl named Elizabeth Short –a.k.a. “Black Dahlia” became the victim of the most notorious unsolved murder mystery in Hollywood history. The news of her bloodless, bisected body, which was discovered by a young mother and her daughter, ignited mass hysteria.
The bus tour intimately explores the last weeks of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short’s life and the events that led to her demise. Schave, who painstakingly created the tour over a six-month period, began his research by reading old newspapers and letters found in Short’s suitcase.
“The tour is not about ‘Who killed the Black Dahlia?’” said Schave, who was raised by screenwriters. “It’s about what it meant to be a woman in post-war Los Angeles, when the overcrowded city was filled with very disturbed young men suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
The most jarring trip stop on the tour is to the former dump site where Short’s body was found.
But it’s not just femme fatales sporting blood red fingernail polish who enjoy tooling around the dark side of Los Angeles in a plush 55-passenger bus. Guys also like to travel the “mean streets” of Los Angeles, especially when they’re celebrating a buddy’s last single day on earth. They gather, like “crooks on the lam” in a Raymond Chandler novel, to pay homage to the works of the famous crime writer and explore the pistol-whipped world of his fictionalized private dick, Philip Marlowe. Stag party participants particularly love the tour’s stop at King Edward’s Saloon, the last bar in Skid Row in LA.
“A bachelor party of 15 guys went on my ‘Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles Tour’ and then on to an early dinner,” said Schave, whose tours generally last four hours long and take place within an 8-mile radius.
Three months later the newlyweds returned to take the “Raymond Chandler’s Bay City Tour,” compliments of Esotouric.
If all the blood and gore tends to drum up your appetite, comfort food is just around the corner. Many Esotouric tours originate at “Philippe, The Original,” a historic restaurant known for its French Dip sandwiches.
“On ‘The Real Black Dahlia’ tour, we stop at and get ‘Black Dahlia’ and Nicotine flavored gelato from Scoops in East L.A.,” said Cooper, who occasionally snags a decadently delicious cake from a local bakery to delight her tour guests. “On the ‘Blood & Dumplings’ tour, we serve delicious Chinese dumplings in a garden of concrete sea monsters.”
Comic relief is another way Esotouric cuts tour tension like a knife.
“On the ‘Halloween Horror’ tour, and on some of the ‘Pasadena Confidential’ tours, we have a guest host, Crimebo the (creepy) Clown,” said Cooper.
The comedic clown drags in props and scripts, then eggs the audience to act out humorous short plays about selected crimes at the crime scene.
John Toomey, a city single and co-director of Friends Beyond Borders, found the “Halloween Horror” tour to be very thought provoking.
“It would be hard to top the story of Edward Hickman, a young man who murdered (12-year-old) Marion Parker in 1927 inside an apartment building that we visited,” said Toomey. “What I learned is that every seemingly innocuous neighborhood usually has many hidden tales of crime, intrigue and death that become apparent to those who dig deep enough.”
“A place where someone has died, particularly in a very dramatic or painful fashion, changes that place forever,” said co-founder and tour host Kim Cooper. “You can sense the presence of these lost souls in their city, standing in the quiet space.”
After a first-time Esotouric customer emerges from their journey into the heart of the city’s crime subculture, their natural impulse is to return to the scene of another tour crime. They consider it a “cultural crime” for anyone to visit Los Angeles and not treat themselves to an Esotouric tour.
Getting in touch
Esotouric offers 20 different tours of Los Angeles-area crime scene locations, architectural landmarks and cultural hot spots
Tours are offered most Saturdays at 12 p.m. and run for four hours
Tel. (323) 223-2767 for information and reservations