Stop Five: Metrolink Commuter Train 111, September 12, 2008

The only time in my life that I can remember having a premonition was in the early afternoon on Friday, September 12, 2008. I had been in Burbank for an appointment, and was making my way across the San Fernando Valley on the 118 Freeway, heading to Ventura.  The feeling of dread came on slow as I drove along the freeway, it intensified, and moved to near panic as I passed the west end of the Valley. I couldn’t shake the feeling something was terribly wrong. I was sure of it. Couldn’t talk myself out of it. I was worried about my kids and my husband. I made the calmest phone calls I could muster. and said nothing about my fears. Everybody was fine. Once I hit Simi, the feeling finally eased up. I took a deep breath and drove on.

Later in the day I heard the news. The accident happened hours after I had passed the area. The premonition, or whatever it was, had been a helpless, terrible feeling I hope to never have again. 

On Friday, September 12, 2008 around 4:20PM, a Union Pacific freight train, pulling 17 cars, was headed eastbound toward Los Angeles. At the same time Metrolink Commuter Train 111, was headed westbound toward Moorpark. Consisting of a locomotive and three passenger cars, Metrolink 111, was carrying 222 people, nearly all of them commuters heading home from work. 111 and 222, wow! Strange numbers.

One more reason not to text and drive. The engineer of the Metrolink train, 46 year-old Robert M. Sanchez, left the Chatsworth station, and began texting a teenage train enthusiast nearby. Distracted, he missed the red warning signal, and neglected to remain on the double track so the Union Pacific Train could pass. Instead, he continued onto the single track toward the tunnel just around the corner, at Stoney Point.

Sanchez came around the bend at 4:23, to see the Union Pacific freight train emerge from the tunnel ahead. In the four seconds before impact, Sanchez never applied the brakes. In the passenger cars behind the locomotive, some saw the freight train as it rounded the bend near Stoney Point and knew there was no time to stop.

With an earsplitting impact, the engine of the freight train was imbedded into the front carriage of the Metrolink train. Both trains derailed. Neighbors, whose lovely, bucolic homes were lined along the south side of the track, heard the collision and the screams from the passengers on board. At the Chatsworth Hills Academy nearby, students, teachers, and parents were startled by a fireball and the ensuing carnage.

Metrolink 111 became one of the worst train crashes in Southern California history. Survivors had to be extricated from under dead bodies and pulled from the mangled wreckage. Passengers had been strewn all over the hill among a field of destruction. A photographer, perched on the rocks above the scene, recorded rescue helicopters dropping in and out of the disaster. He watched a bloodied man pop up from the bushes, and as the man started stumbling toward the trains, the police chased him, questioned him, and led him to the triage area.

The lead locomotive of the freight train was engulfed in flames, trapping the conductor and engineer. Firefighters found the pair, pounding on the thick glass windshield looking for an escape. Thankfully the firefighters were able to rescue them.

Robert Sanchez was killed in the crash. The remaining crew members of both trains survived. In the accident, 25 were killed and more than 135 people were injured. One of the passengers who was killed in 2008, had survived the 2005 Glendale Metrolink Train Crash, the second deadliest incident in Metrolink history.

Sometime before the accident, John Brody, a photographer, took a photo of Metrolink 111 rounding the bend at Stoney Point and superimposed it over the tracks, calling the picture “Ghost Train.” There was no way he could know what was to become of Metrolink 111. You can find the photo at

http://johnbrodyphotography.blogspot.com/2008/09/ghost-train-metrolink-commuter-train.html

We’ll finish this series with the story of Chuck Peck, a passenger in the first car of the Metrolink train. On the afternoon of the accident, his fiancé, Andrea Katz, was waiting for him at the station, and soon heard the news. Chuck’s family and friends anxiously awaited word of his fate, hoping and praying he’d be okay.

The first call from Chuck was to his son in Utah. There was no voice coming from his cell phone, just static, then silence. For hours there were multiple calls from Chuck to members of his family; his sons, brother, sister, and stepmother. They all sent words of love and encouragement to Chuck, only to hear static, then silence, in return.

At 9:08, 5 hours after the accident, Andrea began receiving calls from Chuck. She contacted the authorities and Chuck’s cell phone was traced to the first train, an area the rescue workers had already ‘cleared.’ Encouraged, they resumed the search.

The calls stopped at 3:28AM, 11 hours after the accident, just an hour before they found Chuck’s body.  His injuries indicated he died instantly, on impact.  His cell phone was never found.

Andrea and the rest of Chuck’s family believe the calls were from Chuck, a sign to let them know he loved them and that he was okay.

 Metrolink 111

Metrolink 111

Directions: If you are coming down the Santa Susanna Pass toward Topanga Canyon during the day, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the entrance to the train tunnel. And day or night, just before Topanga Canyon there is a small road on your right.  This road crosses the train tunnel and has a good turn out with a great view of the tracks. I don’t think this road is marked, but it’s labeled Old Susanna Pass Road on Google Maps. If you stay on it, you will loop back onto Topanga Canyon.

Otherwise:

Right on Topanga Canyon off of the Santa Susanna Pass.

Left on Chatsworth. Cross the railroad tracks (at this point there are two sets of tracks). Look to the north (to your left) and you will see the warning light (red or green) that Robert Sanchez missed.  You can pull over and stop there.

Left on Canoga. 

Left on Rinaldi. You can see the railroad tracks at the corner of Rinaldi and the entrance to the Chatsworth Hills Academy.  There is an area where you can park on Rinaldi and explore the tracks (be safe!) The curve of the tracks, where the accident happened, is just to the north.

 

Stop Four: Spahn Ranch The Manson Family 1969

A decade after The Fountain of the World was bombed, an infamous cult leader decided to set up shop at the Spahn Ranch, located along the east end of the Santa Susanna Pass, just a few miles from Box Canyon.

 Spahn Ranch

Spahn Ranch

George Spahn bought the movie ranch in 1948. The property, once owned by Western silent film star, William S. Hart, was the setting for many great films and TV shows; including the classic, “Duel in the Sun” and episodes of “Bonanza” and “The Lone Ranger.”

As the era of Westerns declined, the elderly, Spahn agreed to allow an unsavory element, in the name of Charles Manson, to move onto the ranch. Manson brought with him his “family”; a large group of young Hippie women and several men. The nearly blind Spahn and Manson made an agreement: Spahn would allow Manson and his “family” to stay in exchange for help on the property.

Charlie, deciding to take over operation of the ranch, assigned one of his ‘girls,’ Lynette Fromme (who later attempted to assassinate President Ford,) to take care of Spahn. Apparently she excelled in giving Spahn sexual favors to keep him happy. The old man called her “Squeaky” because of the sound she made when he ran his hand up her leg.

By 1968, Charlie, was an expert at pimping out his girls. The son of a prostitute, Manson had spent much of his 34 years behind bars. Cloaking his dastardly aspirations underneath the Hippie morals of the day--Peace and Love, he’d collected a group of rabid followers that he soon came to completely control.

One of Manson’s dreams was to become a rock star. An answer to his vision came in the form of a chance meeting in the Summer of 1968, when Dennis Wilson (of the Beach Boys fame) picked up two hitchhikers, who happened to be Charlie’s girls, Ella Jo Bailey and Patricia Krenwinkel. Through Wilson, Manson and his family found a connection to the Hollywood scene, partying with some of the elite in the entertainment industry. One promising contact was record producer Terry Melcher, actress Doris Day’s son. (I have a weird association here: a childhood friend--the maid of honor in my wedding--lived in one of Doris Day’s early San Fernando Valley homes.) Over time, Charlie’s Hollywood luster began to fade, and by the Summer of 1969 Charlie was beginning to plot revenge.

Manson, a bigot at heart, concocted his own skewed philosophy, extrapolated from the Beatles song, Helter Skelter; predicting his own version of the end times. The Civil Rights Movement that had erupted all over the United States convinced Charlie of its fast approach. According to his vision blacks were destined to take over the world, but they weren’t inherently smart enough to control things once they came into power. Charlie felt he was the only one with the brains to accomplish that. Eager for world domination, and with a tribe of disenchanted, dysfunctional, and drugged out kids under his spell, all Charlie needed was a plan to get the ball rolling.

The Summer of Slaughter

But before Charlie could bring his plan to fruition his attention was turned elsewhere. Gary Hinman, a devout Buddhist, who lived in Topanga Canyon, was a kind, generous man, who naively considered himself a friend of the Manson family. On July 25th, 1969, Charlie, hearing Gary had come into a $20,000 inheritance, decided to send some of the family to pay him a visit, including family member Bobby Beausoliel.  During three days of torture, Gary was encouraged to join the family and to turn over the money, along with two cars he owned.  When he continually refused, Charlie arrived and struck Gary in the head with a sword, slicing through his ear.  Finally, on July 27th Beausoliel stabbed Gary in the chest twice, killing him. Afterwards, Beausoliel wrote ‘Political Piggy” with Gary’s blood on the wall. Charlie hoped the authorities would think the murder had been committed by the Black Panthers, ushering in Manson’s predicted race war. 

There was no race war, but more murder was on the horizon, because Manson planned to amp up the ante with a bloody, gruesome massacre. 

Before midnight on Friday, August 8th, 1969, Charlie asked one of his men, Tex Watson, to take three of the girls, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian, to Terry Melcher’s house, on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon.

Five people were brutally murdered that night with a gun, multiple knives and hangings; six if you include Sharon’s unborn son. None of the victims were Melcher. He’d moved out of the house months before. 

As Manson predicted, the murders stunned the nation. He’d orchestrated the killing of a houseful of Hollywood elite: Steven Parent (a visitor of the property’s caretaker, discovered by the murders in the driveway); Jay Sebring (a famous Hollywood hairstylist); Abigail Folger (of Folger’s Coffee fame); Wojciech Frykowski (an actor and writer, and a good friend of Roman Polanski--the film director who was renting the property); and Sharon Tate (an emerging starlet, who was eight and a half months pregnant, and the wife of Roman Polanski); Roman Polanski was spared. He was filming in Europe when the murders were committed.

Earlier in the day, Sharon had declined a request from her sisters to spend the night (unknowingly saving both their lives.) The evening of the murders, Sharon, Jay, Abigail and Wojciech, went to El Coyote (a famous Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles) for dinner, returning to the house around 10:30. The authorities believe the Manson Family arrived about an hour later.

Before Tex Watson and the girls left they wrote “pig” with their victim’s blood on the front door. They returned to the ranch and reported to Charlie. Apparently he went to the Benedict Canyon residence to view the slaughter. Dissatisfied...or not, the next time Charlie decided to manage the action in person.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 10, 1969, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca returned from a trip to Lake Isabella, California, and arrived at their Los Feliz home on Waverly Drive. Leno settled with his newspaper in the living room, while Rosemary went to bed. Some time later, Leno was awoken at gunpoint by Charlie and Tex. Manson brought Rosemary into the living room, assuring the couple they wouldn’t be harmed, they were only being robbed.  After collecting all the cash in the house, Charlie left and sent Leslie Van Houten (a new murderous recruit) and Patricia Krenwrinkel inside, instructing them to follow Watson’s orders. The three unleashed a frenzy of carnage on the couple; stabbing Rosemary and Leno dozens of times. Afterwards, the trio carved the word “War” into Leno’s stomach, leaving the carving fork protruding there, along with a knife in his throat.  The girls left messages in Leno’s blood around the house: “Rise” and “Death to Pigs” were written on the living room walls; and “Healter Skelter” was smeared across the refrigerator door. (Apparently Patricia Krenwinkel didn’t know how to spell.)

After the murders, Watson, Van Houten and Krenwinkel stayed in the house. They showered, ate the LaBianca’s food, and played with the LaBiancia’s dogs, before hitchhiking back to the ranch.

A week later, on August 16, 1969 Spahn Ranch was raided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. They were looking for stolen cars and illegal guns. Due to a technicality with the warrant, nobody was arrested. The police had made no connection between the Manson Family and the murders. 

After the raid, Manson decided Shorty Shea, a stuntman who lived on the ranch, was a snitch. Charlie also didn’t like it that Shea was married to a black woman, who liked to bring her black friends around. Around ten o’clock on the evening of August 26th, 1969, Charlie, and some of the men in the family, lured Shea into his car and hit him with a wrench. They tortured him for hours, finally stabbing him to death, and burying his body on the ranch.

In November of 1969, the city was still buzzing with terror. But Susan Atkins was in jail on another charge. She was the one who broke the case open, bragging about the Tate/LaBianca murders to a fellow inmate. On January 25, 1971, after a bizarre trail, Manson and his co-defendants were convicted and sentenced to death. However, in 1972 California temporarily overturned the Death Penalty and the convictions were commuted to life imprisonment.

Spouting love and peace, the Manson Family spread murder and terror throughout Southern California. The summer of slaughter marked the decline of the Hippie Revolution.

Back in Box Canyon, near the Krishna Venta property, is a boulder with “Helter Skelter” vaguely sketched into the rock. It’s said to be visible from the road.

In the early 1970's a brush fire began in the Newhall area and burned all the way to the sea, destroying the Spahn ranch. Maybe its God’s way of “cleansing” the property?

Ghost sightings: The lack of ghost stories in Santa Susanna/Box Canyon makes me wonder if the people who live in the area don’t report sightings because they don’t want any more publicity. Or could it be the area is so tragic and creepy even ghosts avoid it? 

Whichever, one curious photographer exploring the grounds of the Spahn ranch heard the sound of footsteps following her as she explored a lonely, brushy path. Expecting to find somebody, she never discovered the source. 

At Cielo Drive, it is said the ghosts of Sharon Tate and the others brutally murdered that hot summer evening still roam grounds. After the murders people reported hearing moaning, footsteps, and a woman’s voice saying, “Take...intelligible.” The voice has been recorded and there have been different interpretations of the rest of the words. Some believe Sharon is begging for the killers to take the baby boy from her body, in the hope that his life would be saved.

Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame), eventually moved onto the property. I didn’t read any reports of him seeing ghosts, but he exploited the property until he had an encounter with Sharon Tate’s sister, acquired a conscience, and decided to move out. (Reznor still took the blood stained front door with him, and installed it in his New Orleans studio.) Keeping his creepy, Goth Rock Star persona, Reznor told people there was just too much history in the house for him to stay. (I actually love some of his music, but I wonder if the resident ghosts just might have been a bit frightened of him.)

The address has changed and the property was sold to Hollywood producer, David Oman. He razed the house and grounds, but the hauntings still exist. During construction of the new house, workmen noted phantom footsteps, and temperature changes in specific spots. One day a workman felt a cold blast of air coming from nowhere, and left the job for six weeks.

One guest to Oman’s new home reported a frightening incident one evening; she heard footsteps come into the bedroom and felt someone sit on the bed. No one was there. In his bedroom, Oman has also seen apparitions of Jay Sebring.

Directions:

(Leaving Box Canyon)

North on Box Canyon (towards the Santa Susanna Pass)

Right on Santa Susanna Pass

Address: 22422 Santa Susanna Pass Road, Canoga Park, California

      1200 Santa Susanna Pass Road, Canoga Park, California

      (Two addresses, same Location)

The ranch site looks like it has been divided.

For an overview, you can park in the lot at the Church on Rocky Peak if it's open. The ranch was located on the properties south and southwest below the parking lot.  

There’s a turn-out/driveway at 22422 Santa Susanna Pass Road. Don’t go onto the property. There are “No Trespassing” signs. Closer to Box Canyon, before you get to the 22422 address, there is a baseball diamond/park. This property looks like part of the original Spahn ranch as well. There are remnants of an old sign there, similar to railroad ties. Looking at old pictures that might have been the old entrance to the ranch. It’s flat enough and close to the road. There is a place to pull over there too.

Look for Part Five, our last stop, posting soon.

 

Stop Three: Krishna Venta and the Fountain of the World 1958

Francis Herman Pencovic, aka Krishna Venta, founded the WKFL (Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, and Love,) cult, settling approximately 60 adults and children in a wooded area of Box Canyon a few years before the Standard Airlines crash. Naming the site The Fountain of the World, Krishna Venta preached love, knowledge, and tolerance. Pencovic legally changed his name to Krishna Venta in 1951.

Krishna Venta once said, “I am Christ. I am the new Messiah,”  and claimed Adam (of Adam and Eve fame) came from the extinct planet Neophrates, having led a convoy of spaceships to earth (It makes me wonder if he believed Adam had landed at the Rocketdyne site nearby, with it’s well-known alien portal.)

Pictures of life among the cult, the WKFL bombing, and an extensive diary, recorded by Sister Helena (1948-1955) and Sister Neria (1956-1960), can be found at http:/stargatethetwins.com (Scroll down the page to Krishna Venta.)

Called by his disciples “Master” Krishna, Francis Pencovic controlled his followers lives, including arranging their marriages. He also confiscated his member’s assets (although many say his followers generally didn’t have much worth confiscating.)

At its best, the cult was helpful, battling brush fires alongside the firefighters who worked at the station across the street from the Fountain of the World compound. Venta and his followers were known to be friendly and open, sharing their meager resources with others. They regularly held small plays on the property, and welcomed visitors at all hours.

Disciples came and went. The work it took to keep the monastery’s members fed and the children educated was time consuming. Maintaining the buildings and grounds of the compound amounted to backbreaking work. Dedicated WKFL members toiled long hours, often late into the night.  

Small bands of members would travel to communities in the Southern California area, preaching Krishna Venta’s message and recruiting people in his attempt to collect the “144,000 Elect” (supposedly chosen people.)

“Master” Krishna spent much of his time traveling throughout the United States and did little of the work at the Box Canyon compound. When he was at the monastery, he spent hours relaying his message in long, drawn-out sermons; admonishing his followers on a regular basis.

Over time, two disgruntled members Elizabah (Peter Duma Kamenoff) and Jeroham (Ralph Muller) came to believe Krishna Venta had not only mishandled cult funds, but seduced their wives. They decided to test Krishna Venta’s claim of being immortal.

No one blinked when Kemanoff and Muller arrived at the Fountain of the World monastery in the dark, early hours of December 10, 1958. Strapping their bodies with 20 sticks of dynamite, they entered the main house and lit the fuse, essentially suicide bombing the Box Canyon compound; killing themselves, Krishna Venta, an infant and a child. Ten people in all. The blast also seriously burned two girls, 8 and 9, and a 59-year-old woman, Erma Winfrey. Venta was only identified by his dental plate.

The explosion was heard more than 20 miles away. It destroyed the headquarters of the monastery, blew the roof off of the adjoining children’s dormitory, and started a brushfire that exceeded 150 acres.

At the fire station across the street, the blast had blown the firehouse door off its hinges, delaying the firefighter’s ability to respond. Rescue finally arrived on the scene to find body parts scattered in the darkness, while children of the WKFL cult stood by in stunned silence.

After the bombing, some WKFL members stayed at the Fountain of the World site to carry on Krishna Venta’s work, while others, including Venta’s widow, Sister Ruth, settled at the WKFL compound in Homer, Alaska, where they believed their beloved leader would be resurrected.

 Fountain of the World Bombing

Fountain of the World Bombing

Interesting facts about Krishna Venta, aka Francis Herman Pencovic:

Pencovic was once a boilermaker in Berkeley, California. (Northern California is the home and stomping grounds of several notorious cult leaders.)

At one time Venta was jailed for issuing fictitious checks and prosecuted for violating the Mann Act (That’s taking a child/minor across state lines for immoral purposes.)

Pencovic liked to gamble, Las Vegas was one of his favorite towns.

Even though he was considered the “Master,” he claimed to have no income or assets, and was once involved in a Child Support lawsuit with his ex-wife.

Some said Krishna Venta had no navel (yeah, right.)

Krishna Venta is buried in an unmarked grave at Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood, California.

And there’s more. Brother Elizabah (one of the suicide bombers) was the husband of Sister Neria (one of the diarists.)

Box Canyon and the surrounding Santa Susanna Pass might be aptly named Cult Canyon, because the WKFL members who remained on the Box Canyon property after the 1958 suicide bombing fed and sheltered Charles Manson and his family in the late 1960‘s. Some say the nearby wreckage of the Standard Airlines flight was used as a hide-out by Manson Family members during raids on the Spahn Ranch in 1969.

Remember Fred Medina and Danny Townsend, the young men who murdered Dori Haines and Cheryl Monticello near Woolsey Canyon? Medina and Townsend were living on the Fountain of the World property when the murders were committed in 1972.

And a year later, in 1973, an Indian group, named The Red Wind Foundation, moved onto the Fountain of the World site. In October 1974, a neighbor was held captive in his home and beaten for several hours when members of the group attempted to rob him. A few days later, the body of a cab driver, George Aird, was found in a drain pipe on the property. Seven Red Wind Foundation members were arrested. The remaining Red Wind group terrorized the Box Canyon community for six months after the arrests, with death threats, shots fired at all hours, and the constant beating of drums.

One last WKFL cult connection: It’s population declined after the bombing, and was nonexistent by the mid-1970‘s. However, a few WKFL members moved on to another cult, The People’s Temple, led by Jim Jones.

On November 18, 1978, David (52) and Gladys (32) Smith, and their five children, Jeffrey, Karl, Kelin, Krista, Michael (ages 13 to 7) , along with another former WKFL member, Erma Winfrey (aged 79, who had been badly burned in the 1958 explosion) were among the 918 who died in The People’s Temple mass suicide/murder in Jonestown, Guyana, South America.

Krishna Venta, Kaysville, Utah, and Kay’s Cross:

There are rumors that Pencovic was born a Mormon.  Others say he passed through the Utah area in his travels. Either of these stories lend credence to an eerie incident coming out of Kaysville, Utah.

For years legends and ghost sightings have surrounded Kay’s Cross, a large stone monument, in Kaysville, Utah. The structure, standing roughly 20 feet high by 13 feet wide, was adorned with the letter K on both sides.  For years the origins of the cross have been debated. But serious researchers agree it appeared in the 1940’s. In 1992, Merlin Kingston told the Kaysville-Layton Historical Society that he and Francis Pencovic (Krishna Venta) had built the cross in 1946. This seems to be an accurate account of the cross’s origin, because Utah is largely populated by Mormons, and they don’t use crosses in their religious rites (it also might also explain the two ‘K’s.”- Krishna/Kingston?)

Those who live near Kay's Cross consider it haunted. Strange noises plague the hollow where the monument sits. A ghostly lady in a white dress is said to inhabit the area. During a full moon the cross gives off an eerie glow. Some say if you touch the stone it burns.  Other ghostlike figures, cloaked in black, reportedly haunt the site. Legend says to reach Kay's Cross, you are required to pass three of these spectral beings.

Occasionally history repeats itself in the strangest ways. On February 25, 1992, nearby residents heard a loud blast around 10PM. Kay's Cross had been packed with explosives and blown into several large chunks (Eerily similar to the Fountain of the World bombing.) Some believe the explosion wasn’t man made. Or could it be a disgruntled person, maybe someone connected with the Fountain of the World cult, who did the deed?  Evidence was collected and sent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. No one was ever charged with the crime. Thankfully, this time the casualty was only one unlucky pheasant, roosting in a tree nearby.

Directions:

(From Mesa Road)

Left on Box Canyon

Address: 585 Box Canyon Road, Canoga Park, California. 

There’s three mailboxes and a bus stop at the location. Turn into the bus stop pull out.  It’s a pretty, wooded area, and many of the buildings are still there.

Look for Part Four, our next stop, posting soon.

 

{ßoo...ooo} An October Ghost Tour Stop One of Five

I believe we all share a common, unwavering energy, and Time is a dimension that might not be as fixed as it seems. I’m not intelligent enough to adequately relay the science (I’ll leave that to Brian Greene and Albert Einstein), but I think that glitches in time might explain what we call paranormal experiences.

Always having had a minor fascination with creepy places, the paranormal, and the story surrounding murder, I’m occasionally compelled to investigate Southern California locations considered ‘haunted,’ especially at this time of year.

In honor of the traditionally spooky month of October, I've decided to share some of my favorites with you. Please be respectful of and remember the naive and innocent who suffered in the incidents mentioned in this five part series.

If you live in the Southern California area, you can use the information to create a ‘ghost tour’ of your own. Grab a sweater, a few friends, and don’t forget to pick up a snack at one of the many Starbucks nearby. You might decide to go all out and have a more substantial meal by visiting the Stonefire Grill {Yelp: Four stars} (9229 Winnetka Avenue, between Plummer and Nordhoff); or Los Toros Mexican Restaurant, {Yelp: Three and a half stars} (21743 Devonshire Street, between Topanga Canyon and Canoga.)

 

The Box Canyon/Susanna Pass area, between the San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley, California.

Call it a cluster of calamity...or a trifecta of oddity, tragedy and murder. So many strange and tragic things have happened here, the area seems cursed.

Stop One

Rocketdyne Testing Facility 

Our tour starts out innocently enough. Now owned by Boeing, this area was originally the home of the Rocketdyne Testing facility established in 1947, at the beginning of the Cold War. 

A good friend of mine has an old picture of the site at night. (I suspect Steven Spielberg was quite familiar with the area as well when he made the movie “Close Encounters.”) The landing pad scene at the end of the movie, where the humans get their first good look at a UFO and alien life, is a near replica of the facility.

Since the 1950’s the area has been a haven for UFO sightings. Some feel the location isn’t a testing facility at all, instead it’s just a cover; a rendezvous site for alien spacecraft visiting earth.

A manmade calamity occurred on July 13, 1969, when one of the Atomics International reactors, located on the Rocketdyne site, experienced a power surge and partial meltdown. Radioactive gas was surreptitiously released over the area during the next two weeks. Nobody living within the 60 mile danger zone was notified, and most living in the area still have never heard of the incident. Clean-up at the site is ongoing.

Here's one more reason not to hitchhike and do drugs. On Saturday, April 8, 1972, Dori Haines (15) and Cheryl Monticello (16) were hitchhiking on the corner of Topanga Canyon and Roscoe Boulevards, when a blue pick-up truck pulled into the Zody’s gas station. Three young men, Fred Medina (20), Danny Townsend (18) and Ed Vaughn (18) were in the vehicle, along with two girls Lisa Gleitsman (17) {Townsend’s girlfriend}, and Virginia Walton (15) {Medina’s girlfriend}. The group was headed to a beach north of Malibu after a night of partying at a ranch in the hills, near the Chatsworth Reservoir.

After picking Dori and Cheryl up, the group drove through Topanga Canyon to the beach. Somewhere along the way barbiturates “yellows” were passed around, and the party continued.  At the beach, the young men began pairing off with Dori and Cheryl, enraging their girlfriends.

Nevertheless, more barbiturates were consumed and eventually the group decided to return to the San Fernando Valley. The party ended up on Woolsey Canyon, known locally as “Rocketdyne Road.” They pulled off the pavement, and traveled a dirt road to a remote area near rocky outcroppings. Here, the men had sex with the highly intoxicated hitchhikers, further enraging Lisa. Ginny, obviously a sick, demented girl, decided to help the men and watch the scene unfold. Afterwards Lisa and Ginny attacked the highly stoned girls, hitting them with rocks.  Medina and Townsend, deciding Dori and Cheryl would report the rapes and attack, stabbed the pair, dozens of times, with their hunting knives.

Together, the group hid the bodies in the surrounding bush. Cheryl and Dori were discovered a few weeks later by three young men shooting cans nearby.

When he discovered the police wanted to talk to him, Vaughn contacted the station and spilled the story. Lisa and Ginny were given immunity and testified as well. Thankfully, Fred Medina and Danny Townsend were eventually convicted of the murders and sent to prison.

One evening in 1992 weird, unexplained lights were widely reported over the area.

A startling incident jostled the nation on the evening of Thursday, October 3, 1996, as a fireball trailed sparks through the heavens, causing reports of sightings all across Western America. Observers of the event said it was a huge green object, others said it was gold, and many reported it lit up the night sky as if it were day.

Finally, the fireball blazed across the skies of Southern California, reportedly landing somewhere in the mountains north of Tehachapi.

Scientists say the fireball was a meteor that burned through the atmosphere around 8pm, creating a glow over Texas and New Mexico. Bouncing back out of the atmosphere, the meteor orbited Earth for over an hour before coming in over the Pacific ocean near Point Conception. Passing over Bakersfield, the largest mass stopped glowing northeast of the mountains there, causing sonic booms heard throughout the area as it crashed into Earth.

One astronomer who saw the meteor called it “gorgeous” and described it as a greenish, white fireball, with bits of orange, lasting about 15 seconds before breaking into pieces.

UCLA offered $5000 for the first chunk of the meteor that was found weighing at least 4 pounds. Researching the event, I couldn’t determine if any pieces were ever recovered.

What's the Rocketdyne connection? One of the observers of the spectacular sight reported that the fireball slowed down over the Rocketdyne testing grounds, proving it was not a meteor, but an authentic UFO. (Crash landing maybe?)

During a cloudless sunset, on the evening of June 29, 2001, a young man was driving to work with his friend, around 8:30PM, when they saw a UFO hovering in the sky, about 2000 feet over the Santa Susanna Pass. The object, backlit by the dusky sunset, was described as a “dark, diamond-shaped silhouette, about the size of a mini-van.”  Appearing to be solid, the craft remained in a stationary position for about 5 minutes. Suddenly it began to move in a slightly vertical, bobbing motion. The movement was unnatural, as if the UFO was about to fall, but catching itself and regaining altitude. They watched the craft for around 15 minutes, approaching the area as they drove.

When the young men were about a mile away, they saw three helicopters circle the craft at a distance of a few hundred feet.  The helicopters (with their lights), appeared larger than the unlit object.  The young men lost sight of the craft behind some trees, and when their field of vision returned, they discovered the helicopters circling alone.  Finally, the helicopters left.

A couple of guys made a great video of three lights above the area, that was posted on March 14th and 16th, 2011. (You can find the video on a website called AboveTopSecret.com. Turn up the sound. The two guys are quite entertaining too. If you have trouble finding it, Google: {March 14 & 16, 2011 Ufo} and it will link to the site.)

I’m not surprised by either of these reports. My brother, who used to work at the Lockheed Skunk Works once said: “If I ever meet an ‘alien’, I suspect he’ll look remarkably like us, wearing a uniform with the American flag emblazoned over the pocket.”

Directions: According to Google Maps, the historic site is part of a larger testing ground now owned by Boeing. The exact location of the original Rocketdyne facility appears to be on Roca Road, near Skyline.

Follow Roscoe Boulevard, west, until you reach Valley Circle Boulevard,(near the Chatsworth Reservoir.)

Right on Valley Circle Boulevard.

Left on Woolsey Canyon until you reach the gates of the facility.

Driver’s note: You’ll find incredible views of the San Fernando Valley along the road leading up to the Rocketdyne site.  Woolsey Canyon goes back several miles, and there are many homes in the area, but there is a sign indicating it’s a private road.

The farthest you can go is to the gates. Turn around at the Boeing tower, and as you come back down there are several turn-off’s with wonderful views where you can tell the Rocketdyne story.

Do not attempt to pass the gates of the Boeing testing site or you’re bound to get into trouble. Be forewarned, I assume the area is being monitored. If you travel too far up the road the NSA may even tag you or your car.  So, if you’re paranoid about this kind of thing, I’d stay on the lower section of Woolsey Canyon.

Look for part two, our next stop, posting soon.