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Abandoned Places True Crime Weird and Strange History

The Infamous Lincoln Heights Jail

The Infamous Lincoln Heights Jail

Al Capone. Zoot Suit Riots. Watts Riots. Bloody Christmas.

Nightmare On Elm Street. The Long Goodbye. Caged Heat. LA Confidential.

These make up only part of the story of of LA’s dark history…

The Lincoln Heights Jail operated from the 1930s to the 1960s before being decommissioned. Before its closing, the jail even housed Al Capone himself and became infamous for an incident later titled “Bloody Christmas”. The jail was then used for various things such as a popular filming site for big Hollywood movies and music videos, and even home to the Bilingual Foundation Of Arts. Despite plans to redevelop the imposing structure, Lincoln Heights Jail currently sits empty and abandoned.

The Lincoln Heights Jail, located near the Los Angeles River, was built in 1927 and cost a massive $5 million. It opened its doors in 1931 and was initially made up of 5-stories with space to house 625 prisoners. Things had changed rapidly by the early 1950s though, with the jail growing to hold 2800 prisoners. In 1951, the unwarranted and unprovoked beatings of seven prisoners. This is what became known as Bloody Christmas. It all started on Christmas Eve of 1951 when LAPD officers Julius Trojanowski and Nelson Brownson headed out to a call that had reported minors drinking. When they arrived, the so-called minors were seven adult men. Daniel Rodela, Elias Rodela, Jack Wilson, William Wilson, Raymond Marquez, Manuel Hernandez, and Eddie Nora. The men produced their identification documents showing their age but still, the officers said they had to leave. The men all refused. The officers then tried to forcefully remove them and a fight broke out. The one officer needed stitches and the other got a black eye. Seven hours later the men were arrested. 6 were taken to the jail. Daniel Rodela however, was horrifically beaten by multiple police officers. On Christmas morning, a rumor broke out between a large number of drinking officers at a Christmas party that Julius Trojanowski had lost an eye. The 6 prisoners were then taken from their jail cells and beaten for 95 minutes by approximately 50 officers. All of the men received severe injuries. A cover-up attempt followed and shockingly the results of the eventual trial were as follows: 8 officers were indicted and tried between July and November of 1952. Five were convicted, but only one of the men got a prison sentence of more than a year. 54 other officers were transferred and 39 were temporarily suspended without pay.

Al Capone was detained at Lincoln Heights Jail along with other notable individuals such as those arrested during the Zoot Suit Riots and the Watt Riots. Lincoln Heights Jail also had a high number of LGBTQ+ inmates. These inmates were all kept in a separate wing. The Los Angeles Police Department had a heavy crackdown on LGBTQ+ activity during the 50s and 60s. Undercover officers would go to bars and parks that were known hangouts for members of this community and then arrest anyone they suspected of soliciting non-heterosexual sex and prostitution.

The jail was officially decommissioned in 1965 after the LA City Council and LA County Board of Supervisors decided to rather consolidate inmates to nearby county jails as it would be more cost-effective. In 1979, Lincoln Heights Jail became the home of the Bilingual Foundation of Arts as well as a gym. This arrangement lasted until 2014, the operations were closed after asbestos and lead paint were discovered at the building. Mysteriously, before this happened the gym’s owner was found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft.

In 1994, a local boxing champion, Johnnie Flores, fell to his death in the elevator shaft after leaving the Los Angeles Youth Athletic Club. The community champion and amateur boxer was found at the bottom of the service elevator shaft just steps away from the boxing gym he founded and where he spent most of his days. This boxing gym made use of the former jail cells and holding tanks to provide athletic training for local youth.

The Lincoln Heights Jail has served as the backdrop to many of our favorite movies since its closure. These include The Nightmare of Elm Street, Caged Heat, The Long Goodbye, L.A. Confidential, and American History X and more.. It has also been used by musicians such as Lady Gaga and Blink-182 as the setting for their music videos.

Various film and TV crew members as well as building staff and visitors have reported experiencing unexplained or paranormal activity.

In 2016, there looked to be a new lease on life on the horizon for the Lincoln County Jail after the City of Los Angeles issued a Request for Interest to garner development ideas for the property. Permission was granted to Lincoln Property Company and Fifteen Group to redevelop the prison. The Lincoln Heights Jail was set to become Lincoln Heights Makers District. The space was going to have commercial and manufacturing spaces, recreational areas, an office space, live-work housing, and an amphitheater with green space. But, March 2020 saw things come to a halt after the site was put on hold due to environmental issues. There was hazardous material and trash that needed to be removed that apparently required more effort than initially expected.

As of 2022, the Lincoln Heights Jail is littered with graffiti and there seems to be no work being done on it. At the moment, it is off bounds for the public and is surrounded by a chain-link fence and protected by security guards. It is unclear what the future plans are for this historic building.

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Haunted Weird and Strange History

The Cursed Creole Gucci Yacht

The Cursed Creole Gucci Yacht

A haunted yacht sinks the Gucci dynasty.

If you’ve read the incredible book “The House of Gucci,” by  Sarah Gay Forden (yes, it’s the one that the 2021 movie starring Lady Gaga and Adam Driver was based on), you might recall the stunning, 200 foot wooden yacht that Mauritzio Gucci bought and remodeled at the height of his control over the Gucci Brand…this boat, called the creole, was notoriously cursed and with it, brought about death, destruction, and ghosts? Today, we’re talking about the creole, and it’s curse that spanned millionaires and generations. 

Built in 1927, its first owner was all american millionaire, yale alum, and industrialist Alexander Cochran. Christened the Vira, it was the largest wooden sailing yacht ever constructed. In the words of veteran photographer Gilles Martin-Raget, the boat was “outside all the norms of size, aesthetics and history”. And it would continue to be, without its maker at the hem. Why? Because with all its grandeur and glamour, Cochran  didn’t have time to enjoy the yacht- he died suddenly of cancer in 1929. 

His heirs sold the boat to a man named Maurice Pope, a British yachtsman who renamed his new purchase the Creole after a particularly delicious dessert invented by his personal chef. The ship’s name change was not a good move- if you’re familiar with ships or sailing culture (I’m not, and even I knew this was probably not kosher) sailors think that renaming ships is very very bad luck. The origins of this go back to Greek and Italian folklore, saying that When a boat is christened its name goes into the Ledger of the Deep, an old book of ships owned by Poseidon himself.  When a boat is renamed, Poseidon is insulted and yes, the ship’s owners pay dearly for their name swapping hubris. BUt nothing happens like that to the creole, the rest of the owners live peaceful and uneventful lives. JUST KIDDING, of course they don’t. 

In 1937 the creole was bought by financier Sir Connop Guthrie, who had just been made a baronet. Guthrie was a dedicated sailor who restored Creole’s rig and keel and raced her successfully until the Second World War, the British government requisitioned the Creole as a mine-hunting ship they named  the Magic Circle (yes, another name change. Yikes). In 1953, The boat was purchased by Greek billionaire and playboy Stavros Knee-arch-os. Restoring the war-torn Creole to its  pristine condition, Knee-arch-os made an addition- an upper deck cabin, as he refused to sleep below deck for fear of drowning.  

Knee-archos loved the creole, until two tragedies struck.In May 1970, the creole was docked on Knee-archo’s private island, Spetsopoula, in the Aegean. With Knee arch os was his wife, Eugenia Livanos and her sister, Christina.  What happened that night was disputed, but the official version is that Eugenia killed herself with an overdose of barbiturates. At a post mortem on the mainland, the pathologist reported severe bruising on Eugenia’s body and the  investigation began. Knee-arch-os was cleared but a witness says Eugenia had caught Knee-arch-os trying to force himself upon her sister, and a violent fight broke out.

Soon after, Knee Archos went on to marry Eugenia’s sister (yes the one who was there) Christina Livanos. In 1974, she ALSO overdosed and died. 

Heartbroken, Niarchos swore to never set foot on the Creole again, selling his once pride and joy to the  Danish navy in 1977. The Danes put the ship to use…it was repurposed in the late 70s as a floating rehab clinic. Not joking. 

Enter Maurizio Gucci who In 1982, buys the creole on a massive spending spree. His then wife, Patrizia Gucci used psychics and healers near constantly, and was immediately suspicious of the boat. She told her husband that there was a negative aura lingering around it,, which was not great news for Maurizio who set in motion a multi-million dollar restoration on the boat.

Not to stop the spending train, Mauritzio docked the Creole at Italy’s La Spezia shipyard, and had a psychic come exorcise any spiritual riffraff. Accompanied by Maurizio, Patritzia, and two crewmen, the psychic-named Frida- boarded the ship.

Sarah Gay Forden, sets the scene saying, At first, Frida walked about the ship in a trance. Finally, the five came to an open corridor. “Open the door, open the door,” she cried. As far as the ghost hunting party could see, there was no door, just a hallway. Then a dark look came across the face of one of the crewmen. Before Maurizio’s recent renovations, there HAD been a door right in that exact spot.

How did Frida know a door had been there? The psychic then strolled towards a nearby kitchen. She demanded to be left alone. This puzzled the group. Until one of the crewmen explained. This had been the kitchen where Eugenia’s body was found.

At this moment a gust of cold wind ran past them. Frida informed Maurizio, Patrizia and the crew the exorcism was complete. “It’s all over,” Frida said, “There are no more evil spirits on the Creole. Eugenia’s ghost promised me that from now on, she will protect the Creole and its crew.”

And then everything was fine. NO! Of course it wasnt! Maruzio Gucci was charged with tax fraud, money laundering and illegally acquired funds that were of course used to buy and refurbish the Creole. Maurizio was later acquitted but in massive debt. In 1993, Maurizio sold his share in Gucci, the last family member of the company his grandfather started back in 1921.  The buy out was a not so modest 170 million dollars, so Gucci kept the Creole and a couple years later, Maritzio gucci was killed mafia style by his vengeful ex wife Patrizia. 

Maurizio’s daughters Allegra and Alessandra inherited the Creole and maintain her to this day. The Gucci sisters say the Creole keeps their father’s memory alive, but a curse? No comment on that. 

 

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Weird and Strange History

The Tragic Tale of Sesame Street’s Northern Calloway

The Tragic Tale of Sesame Street’s Northern Calloway

Northern Calloway was an American actor and singer, best known for his role as David Robinson on Sesame Street from 1971 to 1989. The 50th anniversary of the show came around in 2019 but unfortunately some of the original stars didn’t live to see the day, Northern Calloway was one of them.

Northern James Calloway was born on September 10th, 1948, in New York. He graduated from New York City’s High School of Performing Art in 1966 and joined the Lincoln Center Repertory Company just 2 days later. Northern performed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Three Musketeers at the Stratford Festival in 1968. He also played the lead in the New Federal Theater production of The Louis Armstrong Story.

Northern started his Broadway career in that same year and featured in Tiger at the Gates in 1968 and The Me Nobody Knows in 1970. He didn’t give up his stage career when he landed his job on Sesame street and performed in six productions on Broadway from 1968 to 1980.

1971 was when Northern joined the Sesame Street cast. It was during the show’s 4th season and he came on as David Robinson, the boyfriend of the character Maria. Actor and fellow castmate Will Lee passed away in 1982 and after this, the series decided to make Northern’s character the new owner of what was Will’s character, Mr Hooper’s, store. Northern was one of very few human characters for 18 years. He appeared in 1268 episodes.

Northern Calloway was arrested on September 19th, 1980, in Nashville, Tenessee. He had been at Mary Stagaman’s home, the marketing director of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, after he performed there on the 13th of the same month. Something happened while he was there and Northern assaulted Mary with an iron and caused serious head and rib injuries to her. After this, he fled the scene and broke into two other homes, destroying some of their valuable property while he was at it.

Northern didn’t stop there, though. He proceeded to steal a first grader’s backpack, break a windshield with a rock, and steal a bag of herbicide from elderly Douglas Wright. He then spilled the herbicide on his body and began rolling on the ground and running around. Douglas tried to hold Northern at gunpoint and even fired a warning shot at him. He responded to this shot by diving to the ground and screaming that he had been shot, before jumping back up and washing his hands and face in Douglas’ bird bath. Northern then fled the scene. Witnesses at the time recall he was wearing nothing but a superman t-shirt.

Northern was arrested after being found hiding in a couple’s garage. He was screaming, “Help! I’m David from Sesame Street and they’re trying to kill me!” He was immediately taken to a mental hospital for an examination. This was all kept quiet from the public and Northern was allowed to continue appearing on Sesame Street while he received help.

Northern’s final years on Sesame Street were reportedly spotted with times of erratic behaviour and deteriorating health. He was said to have even bitten the music coordinator Danny Epstein during an on-set fight. Northern was also unable to participate in the filming of Follow That Bird since it took place in Canada and his criminal record meant he wasn’t allowed to enter the country. That is why he didn’t feature in the film.

By 1987, the executive producer, Dulcy Singer, had become concerned about the viability of Northern’s future with Sesame Street. This led to the show’s writers slowly ended David and Maria’s relationship in the storyline. In 1989, Northern Calloway was dismissed from Sesame Street after the biting incident. David was last seen on the 20th season finale that aired on May 12th, 1989. The 21st season started and David’s absence was explained away by saying that David had gone to live with his grandmother on a farm to look after her.

It wasn’t long after he was terminated from Sesame Street that Northern was placed into Stony Lodge Hospital, a mental institution, which was located in Westchester County, New York. He was being treated for bipolar disorder.

On January 9th, 1990, Northern and a staff member were involved in a serious altercation. He was transported to Phelps Memorial Hospital in North Tarrytown but there was nothing anyone could do. At the age of 41, Northern Calloway was pronounced dead. His cause of death was listed as exhaustive psychosis, which is now more commonly known as Excited Delirium Syndrome. It is described as a “controversial condition” that is mainly given to those who die while in restraints in custody. Northern was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery.

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Weird and Strange History

The Golden Suicides

The Golden Suicides

In 2007, the lives of two promising artists ended in tragedy. Their journey takes us from Los Angeles to New York by way of paranoia and conspiracy. This, is the story of The Golden Suicides. 

Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake met in 1994. They were both activists involved in the punk-rock scene in Washington hanging around bands. They both would move to New York a year later and run into one another yet again backstage at a concert. Duncan would go on to hire him as her illustrator and art director for her CD-ROM’s. Both each other’s artistic inspiration.

Duncan and Blake seemed like the perfect couple. Happily, together for over 12 years until their untimely end. Duncan was a very prominent actress, game designer of multiple award-winning CD-ROM’s such as Chop Suey and Zero Zero, film director and over all beautiful. Blake was a growing digital artist with his moving artworks very quickly gaining popularity. The pair, although seemingly talented artists, appeared to also become enthralled in rapid paranoia and a much wider story. The couple had been living together in New York since 1995 and moved to Los Angeles in 2002. Both riding a high of fame and talent, each gaining large scale deals in their careers at that time. Duncan also was struggling to get her script for Alice Underground made, between 2002 and 2004 which was only upsetting her more. In her attempts to find backing for her film Duncan openly would boast how she had acquired rock star Beck to act in the movie. She stated they had met repeatedly to discuss the movie and his involvement. Beck, however, emailed Vanity Fair to say that this was not true. He had read her script but never agreed to act. Duncan continued to say how close the couple was to Beck and his wife and sent photos showing the two couples hanging out together on Malibu beach. Beck’s wife was clearly pregnant in the images which dated the photos showing that they were no longer friends. Duncan was very frustrated and upset over this setback and would blame the Church of Scientology once again which would later make more sense when Beck publicly told The New York Times about his involvement with Scientology but stated that he had nothing but good things to say about them and would never have told Duncan and Blake that he wanted out of the church like they would claim.

Only a few years later in 2006, Blake had sent an email to a friend of his depicting how the couple had decided to move back to New York after having to leave their Venice bungalow upon receiving notice from their landlord that they were not allowed to stay. Blake went on to tell his friend that Duncan and himself had been harassed and “defamed by crazy Scientologists,” and threatened to the point of needing to leave. The Church of Scientology has since denied knowing the couple. Blake continued to appear paranoid towards the Bush administration who was in power at the time as well as calling out a few media companies for leaning towards Republican. It appears that one of their neighbors, also a couple would go on to state how Duncan continuously would show up at their apartment while Blake was away to harass, accuse the girlfriend of being a “cult whore” and even went on so far as to send letters to her filled with defamation and implications that the girlfriend was involved in Scientology. 

Duncans paranoia would only continue to increase. Feeling that she could trust no one and that men were following them and stalking their home in New York. Her accusations increasing and going so far as to say that one time while walking their dog a man had said, “Hey, what a sweet dog. It would be too bad if something happened to it.” She also said that they found a dead cat on their roof as if someone had put it there. Constant phone calls with no one on the other end of the line. She was terrified and Blake wanted to protect her. Friends said they had believed her since they had never seen her this way before. The paranoia was unlike her. Blake, however, would tell friends that it would die down and she would be fine. She unfortunately would not be. Duncans behavior would become erratic, ruining friendships and business opportunities for both herself and Blake. Duncan would go on to write a 27-page document to be used for a lawsuit against the Church of Scientology. She blamed famous actor, Tom Cruise, for ruining her film project deal with Paramount, Cruise denied this claim. She would call out people on her blog she launched in 2005 about conspiracies, Blakes ex-girlfriend, old friends and others. 

In early January of 2007, the couple would move into the St. Mark’s Church rectory in New York and almost immediately befriended Father Frank Morales. Morales was also quite interested in conspiracies. The apartment at the rectory was quite beautiful and said to be haunted by famous individuals such as Edgar Allen Poe and Harry Houdini. The couple had one issue though, finances. Morales felt that they belonged there and after they borrowed money for the deposit from family the place was theirs for $5000 a month. Blake had a very important art show coming up and need money so he would accept a consulting job at Rockstar Games, famous for creating Grand Theft Auto where he had worked 10 years prior. He did not want to go back but they needed money. 

They both were drinking more frequently, paranoia only continuing. Morales claimed that Duncan would reach out to him about what troubled her. She would often ask Morales to share his conspiracy theories when out with friends which in night club settings felt odd to him. Blake told Morales he had purchased a gun for protection as the couple’s worries grew and grew. A psychiatrist friend of Blake’s was concerned for him although interview footage of the couple with Blake talking about his art works showed them as happy and just as in love as they always had been. Duncan would organize a fundraiser for the church as they become frequent attendees to Sunday mass. They would, however, not make an appearance that night which Morales found odd. The night before Duncan’s death, the couple had met at a restaurant with film producer Cary Woods and George Pelecanos. They seemed interested in their ideas for a new movie called Nick’s Trip. Things seemed promising for the couple. The next day, July 10th, Blake had come home to go for lunch with Duncan like he normally did. No one knows where they went or what they talked about. Later that night, at around 7pm, Blake returned home from work. He invited Morales upstairs who he had met in the church’s garden. Morales said he would join them in a few minutes. 10 minutes later, the police arrived at the home. Morales rushed up the stairs to the apartment to find Blake hysterical, screaming “this can’t be happening”. Duncan had been found by her boyfriend dead in bed. Empty bottles of pills and a glass of champagne on the bedside table. Her face seemed frozen in a smile, one hand reaching up to her face. Morales would stay with Blake until the body had been removed and friends arrived to care for Blake. Her death was too hard to believe or understand for those that new her. Blake would continue for his upcoming art show and stated he would have it once he recovered which unfortunately, he never would. 

A week after Duncan’s suicide on July 17th, Blake had been meant to travel to Detroit with friends the next day. He went to work like normal, insisting to friends he felt ok. He never came home. He said he was going to visit a sound designer friend who lived in Brooklyn but also never showed up. It turns out that after leaving the Rockstar offices Blake had taken the train to Rockaway Beach, where his mother had been born. He stripped his clothes, left them on the beach and walked into the water. Around 8pm, a woman called 911 saying she thought she had seen a man matching Blakes description walk naked into the water and never come back. On the back of a business card left with his clothes it read, “I am going to join the lovely Theresa.” On July 22nd, fisherman would find his body washed up in New Jersey. 

 The couple’s tragic love story peaked major media attention in New York and even peaked interest in a film. At this time author of American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis, was hired to write the screenplay. Talks on twitter by Ellis implicated that Ryan Gosling may have been meant to play Jeremy Blake alongside Naomi Watts as Theresa Duncan. The directors would go on to say that they did not feel the pair were a good casting choice and since 2011 we have not heard more about this possible film.

 

Categories
Weird and Strange History

The Dark History of the Blackburn Cult

The Dark History of The Dark History of the Blackburn Cult

The Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven also known as the Great Eleven Club or later, the Blackburn Cult was, arguably, one of the strangest religious cults to have operated in Los Angeles.

The Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven, or The Great Eleven was founded in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Downtown Los Angeles by 41-year-old Matilda May Otis Blackburn and her 24-year-old daughter, Ruth Wieland Rizzio. The two were failed actors – their most notable credit was starring in and producing a film called A Nugget in the Rough in 1917, Portland, Oregon’s first feature film. They’d moved to Los Angeles a year later, but by 1922, Ruth was supporting them by working downtown as a “taxi dancer,” the early 20th century’s version of an erotic dancer, like a host who works in cars. That same year, May and Ruth had a revelation: the two publicly proclaimed that the angels Gabriel and Michael appeared to them and declared them to be the “two witnesses” described in the Book of Revelation 11:3.

“And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.”

The two women swore that the angels visited them, directing them to write a book of divine knowledge and revelation that, upon publication, would foretell apocalyptic events. This book was supposed to be titled “The Seventh Trumpet of Gabriel”but was later changed to “The Great Sixth Seal.” Along with sharing future prophecies, this game changing book would also reveal “lost measurements” that pinpointed hidden riches and oil deposits around the globe. May later described being willingly chained to her bed for several months in conceiving of the book.

So what does the Great Eleven even mean? According to a LA times article from 1925 called (“Angel Gabriel Girls Quizzed,” it’s…more complicated than what you might expect.

“They had been taken to a spot outside of Bakersfield, where just below the surface of the earth they were shown huge stores of golden nuggets and precious stones—which was to be theirs upon the presentation to the world of The Sixth Seal. The Royal Family of the Chosen Eleven was to consist of nine ‘queens’ and Ruth and May. For each queen a marble palace was to be erected on the Mount of Olives [which, only enough, is present day Barnsdall Park] in Hollywood, and was to be supplied with eleven ‘kings’ chosen by the Angel Gabriel. The queens and their respective entourages were to rule the world with the advent of eternal life.”

May and Ruth called themselves queens and high priestesses, and people believed them. Los Angeles locals paid to hear their answers, with a small membership fee they would help produce the book and have privileged information to success and future events, and of course, an affiliation with the divine Great Eleven. May and Ruth could do this because, simply, the women were really attractive, and charming. As mentioned, they worked in entertainment and got things done. They were especially good at getting money from potential suitors and having men do whatever they wanted.

A man named Sam Rizzio was one of those men, until he wasn’t. Sam had only known Ruth and her work a short time when he married her in May of 1924. He moved into the organizations headquarters with his wife, where Koreatown’s MaDang Mall is today. But after realizing how intense the cult of the great eleven really was, he begged ruth to leave with him. In a heated fight he supposedly hit her so hard that he drew blood, causing her followers to form a wall around their queen. After the fight, Sam abruptly disappeared. He was never seen again, and a note to Sam’s mother ominously said that he “ is now a high priest, invisible to less spiritual eyes.”

Sam’s younger brother Frank Rizzio was suspicious of the whole thing. He decided to do his own snooping, infiltrating the Great eleven by getting May to hire him as her chauffeur. After only a few days, Frank discovered his brother’s clothes and suitcase, and confronted May. She tersely responded that maybe it meant Sam would be coming back soon.

The Rizzios threatened to go to the police, but never did, perhaps because they were trying to escape their own criminal past. Sam Rizzio had already served nine months in juvenile hall for altering checks, and his father had been wanted for a triple homicide in Chicago. So the Rizzio family backed off and things quieted down. Ruth and May honed in on the book, which was mostly just religious ranting on paper.

The irony of Ruth and May basing their religion on producing this book is that they were both horrible writers. One of the few people who actually saw a draft of the The Sixth Seal called it “the most astounding, bewildering hodge-podge of biblical and mythological references,” which is probably why its release was constantly delayed, and then it just never happened.

While the prophesied Great Eleven book was continually getting underway, One original Great Eleven follower was Clifford Dabney, a goofy nephew of an oil magnate, who turned over $50,000 in cash and assets to May Blackburn (worth approximately $750,000 in 2019). In return, he was promised to be among the first to see the Blackburn’s book (with its “lost measurements”, for more profit, of course) ahead of publication. Dabney also donated 164 acres of land in the Santa Susana area of Simi Valley in Ventura County so May and Ruth could construct a commune to preach their truths and way of life.
May Blackburn also married one of her followers, a handsome, much younger, mustachioed man named Ward Sitton Blackburn. The new couple instructed May’s followers to build cabins on the Simi Valley property where they would take up residence, and chill until Christ returned.

It was called Harmony Hamlet by the press, and the first thing constructed on the property was a temple featuring an elaborate guided throne that was reserved for Christ. Cult members residing at the property were told to leave their cars in the woods and walk up to the area, work at a nearby tomato-packing house and turn all their pay over to may and ruth. In the evenings, robed members gathered for rituals in a natural amphitheater on the property and sacrificed mules and, according to some witnesses, danced naked. Whatever May and Ruth said went, no matter how insane.
During this time, it was alleged that one sick member of the Great Eleven was placed in a hot brick oven in order to get over a common sickness, and she died as a result. Four other cult members were also reported to have mysteriously disappeared, likely poisioned- including Sam Rizzio.

On New Year’s Day of 1925, 16-year-old cult member Willa Rhodes died from a severe infection as a result of a toothache. MAY assured her grieving parents, also in the Great Eleven, that the girl would be resurrected to life after 1,260 days had passed and the book was published. All they had to do was preserve her body for the event. SO, THEY DID. Willa’s body was immediately placed in a bathtub filled with ice, spices and salt. Fourteen months later, when the girl’s parents moved back to Los Angeles and into a home in Venice, they brought Willa’s preserved body with them and placed it in a mental coffin beneath the floor of their house. Next to her coffin was another coffin containing the sacrificed bodies of seven puppies, said to represent the seven tones of the angel Gabriel’s trumpet.

The rituals were amping up, and inexplicably, plans for a large refrigeration unit began on the commune. One year before her arrest, May traveled with nine followers to Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley to perform a ceremony. Although no details are known, it is believed that she equated the wells with “the bottomless pit” in the Book of Revelation, and police later investigated rumors that Sam Rizzio’s body was disposed of there, though nothing was found.

By 1929, Dabney and other Blackburn followers lost patience for the completion of Blackburn’s book and her promised apocalyptic events. They filed charges of fraud and theft against May and Ruth for as much as $200,000 (approximately $3 million today). As allegations also emerged of unreported deaths and disappearances, police expanded their interest, leading to the discovery of the mummified body of Willa Rhodes beneath her parent’s Venice home. It could not be determined that Willa had died from anything other than natural causes, but At the same time, Sam Rizzio’s disappearance- and others, could not be ignored.

Unfortunately, police were unable to uncover any viable evidence regarding the disappearances of the four missing cult members, including Sam Rizzio. Prosecutors also could not substantiate the allegations of a cult member’s death from being baked in an oven.

Nevertheless, in 1930, Ruth and May were charged with grand theft. The charges against Ruth were dropped, but May was sentenced to a minimum of eight years in 1930. She appealed, claiming that stories of Sam and Willa had been improperly admitted to frighten the jury, and had nothing to do with whether she’d committed theft. In 1931, a judge agreed with May and let her go. Remarkably, Ruth and May were never charged with any deaths or disappearances, and The Great Eleven continued to exist a bit, though the publicity and scandal eroded membership and credibility, as you might imagine. In 1936, May Blackburn actually did publish a book, called “The Origin of God.” Which was confusing and bad, riddled with weird religious imagery. It didn’t change the world or get anyone rich.

May Blackburn died in Los Angeles in 1951- I’m not sure about Ruth. To this day, you can check out the commune area in simi valley, though I don’t think you’ll find any jewels or gold.

Categories
True Crime Weird and Strange History

The Salomon Family Disappearance

The Salomon Family Disappearance

On October 13th, 1982, concerned neighbors went to the house of the Salomon family, a well liked, social family on their Northridge, CA street. Noticing that the Salomon’s pool had overflowed and it was spilling into their yards, she and a group of concerned friends found a locked door, cars in the driveway and the family’s cocker spaniel, Mishmish, hanging out in a soaking back yard. It was a puzzling scene. But this was only the start to a ten year nightmare, spanning Southern California to London, spawning three trials and countless legal hearings exposing family secrets and heartbreak. This is the the mysterious and unsolved disappearance of the Salomon family. 

Categories
True Crime Weird and Strange History

The Tetris Murders

The Tetris Murders

In the late 80’s and early 90’s the puzzle based video game Tetris took America, and eventually the rest of the world by storm. However, the history of one of Russias finest exports, has a very dark, complex, and deadly history.

This is the story of the co-founder of Tetris, Vladimir Pokhilko, and unfortunately this story ends in murder.In 1984 in Moscow, Russian scientist Alexey Pajitnov developed the first version of Tetris on an Electronika 60 terminal computer while working at the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Although Tetris had many versions, the Cold War born game found its way into the hearts of millions, as well as the Nintendo Game Boy, and made Tetris a household name. Tetris was released on June 14, 1989, and has sold more than 43 million copies worldwide.

Vladimir Pokhilko

Born in 1954, Vladimir Pokhilko was a Russian academic and entrepreneur. He worked as a clinical psychologist for many years using puzzles as psychological tests. This skill would prove quite useful when Pokhilko partnered with one of his close friends by the name of Alexey Pajitnov. Pajitnov demonstrated his invention to Pokhilko who would go on to convince Pajitnov that it would make an amazing video game. Tetris was based on an ancient Roman puzzle called Pentamino. Their final product would go on to become one of the greatest video games of all time, Tetris. Often referred to as co-creators and yet Pajitnov earned true fame and recognition as Tetris’ creator. Still living off its fame and wealth to this day while Pokhilko’s name quickly faded away. Even if you are to research the creators of Tetris on their own website you will not see Pokhilko credited.

Soviet authorities demanded that the pair sign over all rights to Tetris. After years of carefully searching for the right way to pitch their game to the right company they were able to broker a license agreement with Henk Rogers, whose Japan-based company Bullet Proof Software gained the rights to sell Tetris. In 1996, the Soviet restrictions expired and so full rights to Tetris moved to Pajitnov who had chosen to move to the United States five years before Pokhilko. The company that both Pokhilko and Pajitnov had made together, AnimaTek International Inc. would be led Pajitnov with Rogers as its chairman and largest stockholder. In 1996, when Soviet restrictions expired however, Rogers created a new company by the name of Tetris Co. Which bought the rights off Pajitnov for Tetris ultimately leaving Pokhilko completely uninvolved.

Through all the changing of rights, Pokhilko was left struggling with financial ruin. After moving with his wife Elena and 12-year-old son Peter to San Francisco to help run his software company AnimaTek he was slowly being pushed to the edge. A shortage of funds and the pressure to finance more “Hollywood” level computer effects led to a series of company problems. Polkhilko was left to watch as an outsider while Tetris rapidly grew in popularity and both Pojitnov and Rogers earned all the fame and wealth that came with it.

On September 24th, 1998, Pokhilko went on to murder his wife Elena, son Peter and then in the end himself. Within their family home in Palo Alto, Pokhilko bludgeoned his family with a hammer before then stabbing them each repeatedly with a hunting knife as they lay in bed sleeping. Once they were both dead, he stabbed himself once in the neck with the knife, ultimately ending his life as well. A close family friend later notified the police at 3:30pm the next day after failing to reach the family multiple times and arriving at home. Police found the bodies of Elena and Peter in their beds. No signs of a struggle possibly indicating that they were attacked while asleep. Pokhilko’s body was found in Peter’s room with the knife still in his hand. Along with a hammer later retrieved by police they also found a note. The note reads, “I’ve been eaten alive. Vladimir. Just remember that I am exist. The devil.” It is unclear if this note was intended as a suicide note from Pokhilko, or if it was written by someone else.

It is reported that the following Wednesday after the murders, large scale software company Squaresoft arrived at AnimaTek’s offices with an offer of $200,000 for the company’s services. This deal would have eased the company’s financial problems and possibly some of Pokhilko’s struggles. It is likely that due to Pokhilko’s actions his name has been steadily erased from most of the videogames industries’ history of any of his contributions. Pajitnov was able to regain the rights to Tetris and in turn earn his fair profits while Pokhilko was left to run a failing company alone. Without Pokhilko, it is likely that the world would not have ever seen Tetris, and without Tetris Nintendo’s Game Boy would not likely have been so successful.

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Weird and Strange History

The Original In-N-Out Replica in Baldwin Park: The First In-N-Out

The Original In-N-Out Replica in Baldwin Park: The First In-N-Out

There are 371 In-N-Out Burger locations in the United States as of December 2021. The state with the most number of In-N-Out Burger locations in the US is n California with 257 locations, which is 69% of all In-N-Out Burger locations in America.

However, it all started with one.

Harry and Esther Snyder open the first In-N-Out burger stand on October 22, 1948 in Baldwin Park, CA. It is California’s very first drive-thru restaurant.

The first In-N-Out was demolished to make way for what is now Interstate 10 and the San Bernardino Freeway.

A replica of the original In-N-Out was built in 2014 to preserve the history of this iconic landmark.

The Original In-N-Out Replica is located at 13766 Francisquito Ave, Baldwin Park, CA 91706.

It is open Thursday through Sunday, 11:00am – 2:00pm. If you stop by at any other time you’ll have to view it from behind a locked gate.

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Weird and Strange History

Tim Burton’s Lost Hansel and Gretel

Tim Burton’s Lost Hansel and Gretel

From Edward Scissorhands to Beetlejuice to the Nightmare Before Christmas, the dark and magical world Tim Burton creates is iconic. However, his version of the classic Brothers Grimm tale of Hansel and Gretel, and the unlikely pairing with the Disney Channel, wasn’t as well received as his future creations would be early in his career.

Burton worked as an animator and artist for Disney. One creation born from that pairing was a live action, short film, and essentially his version of Hansel and Gretel. The bizarre retelling of the fairytale would air only once on October 31st, 1983. At a cost of $116,000 on 16 millimeter film, Hansel and Gretel featured a cast of amateur Asian actors complete with special effects, stop motion and an avant-garde aesthetic.

According to Screen Rant “The short is quite faithful to the original Brothers Grimm tale, despite odd quirks like a kung fu battle between the title duo and the witch, who uses candy cane nunchucks. There’s also a character called Dan Dan the Gingerbread Man, who sings an odd cover version of Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and wants Hansel to eat him.”

The film was considered lost and some question if it actually ever existed Hansel and Gretel resurfaced at the museum of modern art as part of a Tim Burton exhibition from November 22nd, 2009 to April 26th, 2010, a 34 minute version of the film was uploaded to YouTube in 2014, although it’s speculated that a 45 minute version exists.

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Esoteric Abandoned Places Weird and Strange History

The Rise and Fall of the Futuro House

The Rise and Fall of the Futuro House

The three decades 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s were remarkable times in history when two nations, the United States and the Soviet Union, were having their race to space. While the world’s superpowers were pouring their resources into conquering the universe, designers on Earth were competing to create the most ultra-modern homes, using science fiction as their inspiration. When Neil Armstrong then stepped on the moon in 1969, the idea of a futuristic utopia did not seem far away.

In that era was created Futuro, a flying saucer-looking portable plastic house that looks it arrived from somewhere really far from space. Measuring 4 meters (13 feet) high and 8 meters (26 feet) in diameter, Futuro house has a variable amount of oval-shaped windows that look a lot like bug eyes. The entryway is a single pull-down door that opens with a key. The door descends and turns into stairs, like in an airplane.

Inside, the floor plan featured accommodations around a central space that looked very much like those in spaceships. The chairs could be kept upright during the day and put down at night for sleeping. In the center, there is often a fireplace, and depending on the model, there were also amenities like a kitchenette, toilet and dressing room. Still, a Futuro house was not really a place where you would necessarily live permanently. So what was this iconic piece of architecture’s original purpose?

Me at a Futuro House. Wallingboro, NJ.

It all started when a Finnish doctor Jaakko Hiidenkari asked 1965 his schoolmate Matti Suuronen to design a ski cabin that would be “quick to heat and easy to construct in rough terrain.” For his project, Matti chose fiberglass-reinforced polyester plastic as the main material as it was already familiar to him and had been used in Finland before for another structure of a similar shape. So that the cabin would be easy to transport, it was designed to consist of 16 elements that were bolted together to form the floor and the roof. On top of that, the house could be heated in only thirty minutes, from −29 to 16 °C (−20 to 60 °F.) It was a masterpiece, an avant-garde retreat. 

In addition to the original idea, Matti also had a vision his creation could be used for families as an affordable, durable and easy-to-clean plastic house they could move whenever they moved. He saw a different kind of future without homelessness.

Yet, despite widespread domestic and international interest, Futuro never lived up to its commercial expectations. After all, it was just too weird and expensive for mass markets, no matter the ongoing space age. However, the severity of the public hostility was a surprise. Some Futoro’s were vandalized, some even destroyed. The last nail in the coffin was the oil crisis of 1973 which tripled the price of plastics and made it much more challenging to manufacture and market Futuro.

In total, less than a hundred Futuro houses were ever made of which 64 have survived, five of them still being in Finland. The one located in Espoo is actually Futuro 001, the first Futuro ever manufactured after the prototype. There it stands, proudly reminding you of an optimistic vision of a future that never came to pass.

 

Sources

The Futuro House

Futuro no. 001 

Welcome to the Futuro house

What Exactly is Matti Suuronen’s Futuro House?

A Map of the Last Remaining Flying Saucer Homes

This flying saucer is one man’s vacation home

10 Out-of-This-World Facts About the Futuro House