Author Archives

Tippy Gnu

I chase unicorns, which are symbols for unique ideas and experiences, and sometimes I post about them. Heck, I'm retired, so what else is there to do? I also write books, which can be read or downloaded for free, on my blog site.

Solvang, Part Two: Hitchhiking Isla Vista

This is Part Two of a three-part series about the town of Solvang, California, and Isla Vista, one of its neighboring towns. For the next installation, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

Hitchhiking Isla Vista

Yesterday I introduced you to the town of Solvang, California, which was established by Danish immigrants. Today I’ll tell you about Solvang’s most famous citizen—a young stripling named Thor Nis Christiansen. And I’ll also introduce you to a neighboring town of Solvang, that Thor frequented—the community of Isla Vista.

Thor was born in Denmark in 1957, and immigrated to the United States when he was five years old. His family eventually ended up in Solvang, where his father, Nis, ran a restaurant.

He was a smart kid, and excelled in school. But in his junior year of high school, he lost interest in his studies, dropped out, and got a job as a gas station attendant. He also put on some weight, expanding up to 275 pounds.

Thor likely attended this elementary school in Solvang, before entering high school.

About 20 miles southwest of Solvang, along the Pacific Coast, ponders the college town of Isla Vista, California. Isla Vista is 11 miles west of the city of Santa Barbara, and most of the town’s 15,500 residents are students. Some attend the University of California at Santa Barbara, while others seek their higher education at Santa Barbara City College.

In the 1970s, Isla Vista had a deficient public transportation system, prompting some who did not own cars to resort to hitchhiking. And on November 20, 1976, 18-year-old Thor Christiansen was cruising the streets of Isla Vista, when he stopped to pick up a hitchhiker named Jacqueline Ann Rook.

Jacqueline was 21. She was thin, and had long, straight hair. Thor liked the way she looked, and soon after he picked her up, he shot her in the head with a .22 caliber pistol. He then drove her 15 miles west to Refugio Canyon, and dragged her body to a secluded spot. There, he disrobed her and had his way with her corpse.

A few weeks later, on December 6, 1976, 19-year-old Mary Ann Sarris was hitchhiking in Isla Vista. She too was thin, with long, lanky hair. And she wore similar clothing to Jacqueline’s. Thor picked her up, and a few minutes later blasted her in the head. Then he drove her 200 miles southeast to Los Alamos Canyon, near Los Angeles, where this sick necrophiliac stripped and raped her body.

These two murders seemed to satisfy Thor for awhile. But a few years later, on January 18, 1979, he craved another thrill. This time his victim was 21-year-old Patricia Marie Laney, and like his first two victims, she had a thin build, long, hanging hair, and similar-looking clothing. After putting a hole in her head, Thor drove her to Jacqueline’s resting place in Refugio Canyon, where her corpse was violated.

Three months later, in April 1979, 22-year-old Laura Sue Benjamin, with her thin build, long, straight hair, and familiar clothing, stuck her thumb out and attracted Thor, who happened to be driving by. After unloading a bullet into her head, he drove her body to Big Tujunga Dam, north of Los Angeles, and satisfied his perversions.

That same month, on April 18, 1979, Christiansen offered a ride to 24-year-old Lydia Preston. Within minutes, he pointed his .22 caliber pistol at her ear, and fired. But by some miracle, the bullet did not penetrate through her skull. She managed to jump out of his car and scramble to safety. She found her way to a hospital, where the bullet was removed. Against the longest of odds, Lydia survived.

This was a big break for the cops. The first body they’d found was that of Mary Ann Sarris, in May 1977, near L.A. It took nearly two years to find the next corpse, which was Patricia Marie Laney on January 19, 1979, the day after she’d been shot in the head. And then the next day, they found Christiansen’s first victim, Jacqueline Rook, in the same area as Patricia’s body.

By this time, they knew they had a serial killer on their hands. They dubbed the killings the “look-alike murders,” due to the similarities in body build, hair style and length, and clothing. They found Laura Sue Benjamin’s similar-looking body four months later, in May 1979, and added her to the tally of unsolved look-alike killings.

Detectives had interviewed over 115 persons over a two-year period, before Lydia Preston lived to tell her harrowing tale. But her tale gave them some invaluable clues, as they progressed with their investigation.

And then three months after she told her tale to the cops, their serial-murder case was blessed by yet another strange miracle. On July 11, 1979, Lydia spotted her would-be murderer in a bar in Hollywood. The odds of this happening were astronomical! She called the cops, and soon they were able to track Thor down and arrest him.

Thor’s mugshot.

He plead not guilty by reason of insanity. But psychiatrists didn’t buy it, so that plea didn’t work out for him. On April 16, 1980, he was found guilty of first-degree murder for the death of Laura Sue Benjamin. Then, on May 14, 1980, he gave up trying to convince the law that he was insane, and plead guilty to the remaining three counts of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

But on March 30, 1981, while Thor was walking in the exercise yard of Folsom State Prison, he was shivved in the chest and killed. He had served less than a year of his life sentence. Nobody snitched, and his killer was never identified.

Ironically, Thor’s third victim, Patricia Laney, had worked as a volunteer with organizations in Isla Vista, that advocated against violence to women. After her murder, she became a symbol for these groups. And since the 1970s, the community of Isla Vista has held an annual juggling festival in Patricia Laney’s memory. So in this way, you could say Thor inadvertently promoted women’s rights, by killing this woman.

But was it enough? Did the people of Isla Vista, and its anti-violence organizations succeed in their efforts to protect women? Or to protect anyone? We’ll find out in the next installation.

Solvang, Part One: Sunny Field

This is Part One of a three-part series about the town of Solvang, California, and Isla Vista, one of its neighboring towns. For the next installation, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

Sunny Field

The entrance to Hans Christian Andersen Park, in Solvang, California. Yesterday was Hans’ 218th birthday.

I think Danish people are great. That’s because one of my great grandmothers came from Denmark. As did the great grandparents of many other Americans, between 1850 and 1930. That’s when Denmark’s economy had gone to the dogs, prompting many great Danes to immigrate to our country, sniffing out better jobs and living conditions.

Upwards of 10% of the Danish population relocated to the U.S.A. over this period. These Danes liked to stick together, so they set up Danish colonies all over the Midwest, like Vikings conquering new territory. But in 1911 the Midwest-settlement mold was broken, when two Danes deigned to establish a colony in California. (See what I did there?)

They purchased 9,000 acres in the Santa Ynez valley of Santa Barbara County, for $360,000. The real estate belonged to an old Mexican land grant called Rancho San Carlos de Jonata. This rancho surrounded Mission Santa Inés, which had been established by Spanish friars in 1804.

Many Chumash Indians are buried at Mission Santa Inés.

The two colonists subdivided this land and proceeded to make their fortune, selling it to Danish immigrants. Soon, a town sprang up next to the old Spanish mission. The settlers named it “Solvang,” which in Danish means “sunny field.”

A sunny field at Solvang’s Hans Christian Andersen Park.

Sometime in the mid-1940s, the Danish denizens of Solvang got the idea to convert all their buildings (except the mission) to resemble Danish architecture. By this time there were many non-Danes also living in the town, but they went along with the idea. And their efforts were so successful, that the town came to resemble an authentic village transplanted from Denmark.

Bethania Lutheran Church was constructed in 1928, designed after a photograph of a Gothic-styled Danish church. This was the first building in Solvang to be based upon Danish architecture.

It caught the attention of the Saturday Evening Post, which featured this picturesque town in their magazine, in 1947. And before long, curious readers flocked to “Sunny Field” to see it for themselves. A tourism industry sprang up, which grew as great as the Danes and which continues to thrive. Today, Solvang receives about a million visitors per year, armed with cameras for photographing the unique architecture, as well as with credit cards for the numerous souvenir and pastry shops.

Denmark is as famous as Holland, for its windmills. This giant, Danish-style windmill towers as a landmark on Alisal Road, in downtown Solvang,

But despite all the visitors, the population of permanent residents has remained small. Today it’s about 6,000 souls. Strangely, only about 10% of these residents are of Danish ancestry, yet they all go along with the make-believe atmosphere of Scandinavia, putting on a show for the visitors and raking in the tourist dollars.

Solvang has many tourist-trap shopping magnets, such Frederik’s Court, on Alisal Road.

Solvang has often been dubbed “The Danish Capital of America,” and has been visited by Danish royalty a number of times. These have included Denmark’s Prince Frederik, Princess Ingrid, and Prince Henrik.

The Elverhoy Museum of History and Art features Danish/American culture. It was constructed in 1950, with fittings only, and no nails, to resemble an 18th century farmhouse in Jutland, Denmark. The name “Elverhoy,” means “Elves’ Hill,” after a famous Danish folk play.

Several semi-famous people have resided in Solvang, including Patricia Hitchcock, the only child of film director Alfred Hitchcock. Which brings to mind Solvang’s most newsworthy resident. He was a Dane named Thor Nis Christiansen. Thor did much to promote women’s rights in the nearby town of Isla Vista, though he wasn’t such a great Dane, and his promotional efforts were inadvertent.

I’ll tell you more about Thor in the next installation.

A clock in downtown Solvang. See ya next time!

An April Fools’ Game

It’s said that a fool and his money are soon parted. Well, this is April Fools’ Day, so how about if we play a game involving money? Don’t worry, if you’re wise you won’t lose anything.

In this game, I’ll assert four sets of two premises each, related to money. Then you’ll try to guess which premise in each set is true, and which is an April Fools’ joke. But be forewarned, there’s a joker in the deck—in some sets, both premises may be true, or both may be a joke.


If you get every set right, you’re a financial genius. If you guess three out of four correctly, you have sharp business acumen. If you only guess two correctly, you need financial help. Send me a thousand simoleans, and I’ll send you some financial advice. If you guess only one correctly, you’re a fool with your money. Please send it to me, today. If you guess none correctly, you probably have no money. So never mind.

Answers found at bottom of post.


1) Banks in California are no longer stockpiling vials of H20. This is due to a sudden surplus in this erstwhile rare element. Lately, H20 has seemingly appeared from nowhere, literally falling from the California sky. This has caused its price to crash on the commodities market, leading to several bank failures.

2) Many areas of California have truly been inundated with H20 this season. This includes Donner Pass, which has already received 714 inches of precipitation. Their full-season average is 360 inches, and their record is 812 inches (set in 1952).


1) The City of San Francisco, California has formed a reparations committee, tasked with exploring the payment of reparations to its black residents, for damage caused by slavery and systemic racism. After holding hearings, and listening to a long line of black San Franciscans expostulate wholeheartedly for reparations, the committee has made more than 100 recommendations. And the recommendations have received enthusiastic support from the city’s board of supervisors. These proposed reparations, for every eligible black adult, include: 1) A payment of $5 million, 2) the elimination of all personal debt, including credit card debt, 3) guaranteed annual incomes of at least $97,000 for 250 years, and 4) homes in San Francisco for just $1.00 per black family. It is estimated that such reparations will cost every non-black family in the city a mere $600,000.

2) Also present at the reparations committee hearings was a line of thousands of white San Franciscans, who expressed their unbridled eagerness to pay reparations to their fellow black citizens, to assuage guilt over slavery.


1) Recently, the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), located in Santa Clara, California, collapsed under the weight of foolish management decisions. 85% of the deposits in this bank were uninsured, and many of these uninsured deposits were owned by large tech companies. The federal government has decided to waive its $250,000 FDIC insurance limit, and is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to make every depositor whole. This will cost the average American taxpayer at least $1,200 each.

2) Silicon Valley Bank managers in California received bonuses of up to $140,000, just hours before it collapsed. Meanwhile, it’s United Kingdom division paid out over $18 million in bonuses, just days after it was rescued by HSBC bank.


1) The average American is 39-years old, and is in debt $96 thousand dollars. That’s $2,462 of debt for every year the average American has been in existence.

2) The universe is 13.8 billion years old, and the U.S. national debt is $31 trillion dollars. That’s $2,246 of debt for every year the universe has been in existence.


First Set: Premise #1 is an April Fools’ joke. But Premise #2 is true. While the precipitation amounts may seem implausible, the precipitation is in the form of snow.

Second Set: Premise #1 is true. Premise #2 is an April Fools’ joke.

Third Set: Premise #1 is an April Fools’ joke, because taxpayers will not be paying for the bailout of SVB bank. Rather, the cost will be passed down to every bank account holder in the USA, in the form of increased bank fees. Premise #2, concerning the bonuses, is true.

Fourth Set: Both premises are true. And I hope it helps to put the national debt into perspective, so that its astronomically large number becomes universally relatable to the average American.


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