The Special Bus

‘Bus Passengers’ (partial) by Simpson Kalisher ca. 1962

Esotouric offers the connoisseur of crime a selection of tours round the infamous hot-spots of L.A’s darkest neighborhoods.

When it comes to sightseeing, I’ve always believed there’s no better way to do it than the old-fashioned bus tour. Dissed by hip travelers as bourgeois and déclassé (not to mention ecologically unsound), for many, bus trips have unhappy associations with loud Germans or frail grave-dodgers. To me, however, such trips make tourism bearable, especially if the vehicle is comfortable and air-conditioned, the stops are lazily paced, and the guide doesn’t take things all that seriously.

All these are true of the splendid outings offered by Esotouric. Established on the premise that not every visitor to Los Angeles wants a grand tour of movie studios and celebrity homes, Esotouric offers the connoisseur of crime a selection of tours round the infamous hot-spots of L.A’s darkest neighborhoods.

The concept was born from a blog launched by Esotouric’s co-founder Kim Cooper in 2005 called 1947project. This site featured an obscure (or occasionally celebrated) 1947 crime on the anniversary of the day it happened, then explored how the particular crime scene had changed over the following 60 years. According to Cooper, the blog quickly found readers, so she rented a bus to take some of them out for an afternoon's tour around various grim locations.

When the passengers wanted more, Kim and her husband Richard Schave decided to approach the notion of giving true crime bus tours more seriously. After exploring the possibilities and limitations for conveying information in a coach class bus, they launched Esotouric in Spring 2007, and developed a fascinating slate of tours.

Image from

There are trips devoted to the literary, architectural, musical and spiritual history of Los Angeles, but most of them are crime-themed, including “The Real Black Dahlia Tour”, “Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles”, “Hotel Horrors and Main Street Vice”, “Blood and Dumplings”, and “Pasadena Confidential”. Bypassing the usual destinations, these tours lead morbid voyeurs to places far from the beaten path, like the Lincoln Heights Jail, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Bukowski’s Postal Annex, murder houses, crime scenes, and other unsavory places.

“I am a complete and utter ghoul,” confesses Cooper, a quirkily stylish historian with a deep interest in the cultural and social life of the West. “Crime fascinates me because it provides an opportunity for otherwise ordinary, unrecorded lives to be suddenly captured in the bright glare of police investigation and journalism. Long before Esotouric or 1947project, I was studying the criminal histories of my favorite cities to provide a backdrop to more mainstream historic narratives, and cocktail conversation to horrify my equally twisted pals.”

As might be expected from the 1947project connection, most of Esotouric’s crime tours focus on the 1940s, which Cooper considers the pivotal era from which Los Angeles took its modern form. “The combination of urban sprawl, freeway development, the influx of wartime workers who decided to stay, aerospace development, traumatized veterans, unsupervised youths and independent females resulted in a city that was unrecognizable from the L.A. of 1939,” she explains, “but which contained nearly all the elements that would make up the contemporary city. Other towns have been most fascinating in different decades, but for me, L.A. in the 1940s is where it’s at.”

Especially adventurous are the bizarre snack stops on each tour. “Blood and Dumplings” includes a Chinese dumpling picnic in a garden of concrete sea monsters; “Visionary Hollywood” features homemade mint lemonade and cake at the site of the first UFO sighting in the Southland.

“The Real Black Dahlia Tour” originally featured a choice of gelato flavors dreamed up by Tai Kim, the avant-garde gelato master from Scoops in East Hollywood, but guests considered the crime-themed ices inappropriate. “We believed it was an honor for the victim, Beth Short, to have something delicious named after her,” Kim Cooper explained, regretfully. If only all memorials could be so tasteful.





'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.