Solving California’s Cold Cases, One at a Time

In this week's newsletter, we celebrate a crack in a cold case—and look to solve more mysteries. 

One portion of the Well of Scribes has been located and will soon be returned to the Los Angeles Central Library.
One portion of the Well of Scribes has been located and will soon be returned to the Los Angeles Central Library.

Guess what? We helped solve a mystery! 

Alta never set out to break cold cases, but recent events have us rethinking that plan. Let me catch you up to speed: when author Susan Orlean mentioned in The Library Book that a sculpture had gone missing from the Los Angeles Central Library, she piqued the interest of Alta managing editor Blaise Zerega, who then asked contributor Brandon R. Reynolds to dig a little deeper. The result: Reynolds’s Whatever Happened to the Well of the Scribes?, which appeared in Issue 8 of Alta. The article was spotted by an antiques dealer in Arizona—who was in possession of a portion of the missing sculpture. Cue local news cameras!

Like a modern-day Indiana Jones, Reynolds is now out to find the rest of the Well of the Scribes for the L.A. library. Have a lead? Email us at (For more, read how you can help.) 

Buoyed by this initial success, we’re asking your help to solve other West Coast mysteries, namely this trio of Alta cold cases:

Misled Zeppelin: In 1942, during the early months of World War II, a pair of navy pilots flew a blimp along the coast of San Francisco, searching for enemy submarines. A couple of hours after takeoff, the empty blimp crash-landed in nearby Daly City. Neither pilot was found on board—nor ever heard from again. Seventy-seven years later, the blimp’s control cabin resides in an aviation museum in Florida. Perhaps a clue remains inside this major piece of evidence.  

Like ‘a Falling Star’ from Outer Space: A Russian satellite landed in an Encino backyard or someone orchestrated a very believable hoax. Either way, the 1957 mystery of Sputnik is surrounded by an air of government secrecy that seems ripe for a whistle-blower with code-word clearance. 

Hollywood Mystery: The Beverly Hills Police Department thinks it knows who murdered movie publicist Ronni Chasen, but the theory is a pretty big stretch. Chasen was shot in her car at an intersection, allegedly by a man on a bicycle with nary a witness around. The suspect, Harold Martin Smith, later killed himself in front of the officers questioning him. One theory? Smith was a hired gun. If so, who hired him? 

As they say in my favorite televised drama of the 1990s, The X-Files, “the truth is out there.” Perhaps the quest to find it begins in the pages of Alta. For now, we’ll settle for locating the rest of the Well of the Scribes. It was once thought to be lost to the ages—until it popped up in an Arizona antiques shop.  

If you have any information about these cold cases—or other mysteries we should know about—email

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