There’s no shortage of rumors about Turnbull Canyon, a hilly area sandwiched between the suburbs of Whittier and Hacienda Heights. Despite all the rumors, there’s little evidence to support them. The most prominent rumor are that the area is used for Satanic rituals (including human sacrifice) and KKK meetings.
There’s even one guy/girl out there who wrote a supposedly well-researched screed (without any citations!) on the history of the area dating back to before the arrival of the Spanish.
Turnbull Canyon was regarded as a sacred land by the natives. It was an area known as “Hutukngna”, a term that means the “night” or “the dark place,” “the place of the devil.” It was this area that was also used as the battlegrounds for many Native American wars.
The author of the “history” of Turnbull Canyon writes that once the Spaniards arrived, they slaughtered many of the indigenous people in the area. Later, large area of land in the San Gabriel Valley were disputed between John Rowland and William Workman. When Workman lost most of his land after the US-Mexico war he committed suicide.
In the twentieth century, the area was supposedly home to a cult that kidnapped and sacrificed the poor children of Depression-era residents. There was also an insane asylum in the area where patients were inhumanely treated. Finally, there was a plane crash in 1952 in Turnbull Canyon. All 29 people aboard the plane died.
There are tons of rumors about the area and they’ve been spread for many years. Some say Satanists hold rituals in the windy canyons. Others say the KKK holds meetings there. And still others warn that you should just stay away late at night.
Is any of this true?
Well, yes and no. It all depends on who you ask. Many say they’ve hiked and explored the canyon. They say they’ve found the old insane asylum and seen a body of a man hanging from the “hanging tree”. Others say they’ve never seen it. No one admits to seeing any sort of occult activity, but in a San Gabriel Valley Tribune article on the legend of Turnbull Canyon, a ranger admitted to finding a bowl with chicken bones. A member of a MySpace group dedicated to the area wrote out a rumor checklist.
Cult activity~ No signs of any sort of cult activity… but then again what sort of organized cult groub would leave behind tale tell evidence behind? Satanic graffitti does not count since mostly high school heavy metal kids leave that crap behind.
Most of what I found online about Turnbull Canyon were eye-witness accounts of someone who went up to the area in high school or lived nearby. I’m an academic-in-training, I need real proof.
I searched Lexis-Nexis and didn’t find much on Turnbull Canyon. I did find news about wildfires in the summer of 1989 which destroyed 13 homes valued at $300-$1 million. More recently, the badly decomposed body of Amber Lee Hill was found in January.
A search dog found her remains, which were wrapped in plastic, about noon on Wednesday under a bush in Turnbull Canyon, down an embankment near Colima Road between Mar Vista Street and Hacienda Boulevard. Her body was found in a section of the wildlife area that had not been searched previously, said Jason Zuhlke of the Whittier Police Department. (link)
A few weeks later a burned corpse was found after a weekend fire. The corpse was that of a man in his 20s to 30s. The body was so badly burned that firefighters initially identified it as a mannequin. The fire occurred on the side of Turnbull Canyon Road, south of Blue Sky Road in Hacienda Heights.
The most chilling event in the area was the October, 2002 murder of 17-year old Gloria Gaxiola.
Gloria Gaxiola was dragged by a car four miles through Hacienda Heights and dumped on a busy street where a passer-by later found her body…
At first, it appeared that Gaxiola was a hit-and-run victim. But the evidence proved otherwise. Officers followed a blood trail.
Detectives believe Gaxiola was killed on Turnbull Canyon Road and Skyline Drive then dragged to Hacienda Boulevard near Colima Road, where she was found facedown Oct. 12, 2002.
They declined to say whether she was already dead when the car started dragging her.
A driver saw a late model, silver four-door car with tinted windows dragging something on Hacienda Boulevard that morning. As he approached the car, the man realized it was a body.
“He honked at the car and said they were dragging someone,’ said sheriff’s Detective Toni Martinez.
A man was driving the silver car, which stopped.
The car’s passenger, a woman, got out, screamed and got back in the vehicle, Angelina Gaxiola said. The silver car then sped away. (link)
Unfortunately, Gloria’s murder remains unsolved. I still can’t get out of my head the memories from the morning when my sister and I came upon the coroners trucks on Hacienda Boulevard only to find out a few days later what happened there (I wrote about it at my blog).
According to another San Gabriel Valley Tribune article on the legend of Turnbull Canyon, Gaxiola’s murder is “characteristic of the types of violence in the canyon methodical brutality.”
“It used to be a good place to execute people, dump bodies off, and for stolen cars,” said Los Angeles County firefighter Forrest Philips, who has worked 13 years out of Station 91 on Turnbull Canyon Road.
Philips remembers two teenage gang members executing a rival gang member in the canyon about eight years ago.
Every few years, a person is killed or a body is dumped down Turnbull’s crinkled ravines.
Since 1995, four murders have taken place at, or have been connected to, Turnbull Canyon, according to statistics from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
In some cases, killers take the extra step of torturing their victims, as in the case of one man who gouged out the eyes of an other man before killing him (link).
Conclusion: really scary shit happens in Turnbull Canyon. Is it the work of Satanists? Maybe, but probably not. As for me, I’ll stick to taking Hacienda Blvd and Colima Road to get to Whittier from Hacienda Heights. It’s certainly better than the sharp turns of Turnbull Canyon Road.
Photo by Ark Spurting Blood