Movies Way Back When: Nighttime Robberies Mystery – Solved!

Minter and cat friend. (Photo-Play Journal, April 1917)

Here’s some more December happenings in the silent movie world of Santa Barbara in 1916.

“Capture of a night prowler in the grounds of the American Film Company’s studio was accomplished last week as the climax to a mystery . . . Thefts of a peculiar nature puzzled the amateur criminologists whose attention was attracted to the . . . goldfish pond in the center of the court within the studio grounds. Each morning, there would be one or two [fewer] goldfish than on the preceding day.

“The trap was simple in its operation. Lampblack [soot], unnoticeable in the dark, was sifted over the cement around the pond, and the studio sleuths hoped by that means to obtain a trace of the prowler. They were successful, but followed the footprints in shocked surprise. The trail led directly and significantly to the dressing room of Miss Mary Miles Minter . . . the tracks were those of a cat, and when the dressing room was searched, telltale signs of a feast of the stolen fish were found.”

– Santa Barbara Morning Press, December 24, 1916

Betsy’s books are available in local bookstores, and at (Shop local if you can.) Learn more at


Written by bjgreen

Betsy J. Green is a Santa Barbara historian and author. Her books are available in local bookstores, and at (Shop local if you can.) Learn more at

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