It’s not easy to dwell on Monterey California’s criminal underbelly when picturing the angelic shoreline found along the Central Coast, but even windswept beauty has its ugly side. As a reporter I learned this firsthand when I worked the crime beat in Sedona, Arizona.
Never trust the postcard.
Monterey has had its share of interesting crimes over the years, from cold cases to mysterious fires that have destroyed communities and lives. Below are five of the area’s most interesting crimes and criminals, culled from a variety of sources. Some glamorous, others terrifying, these Central Coast stories are the stuff of legend.
The outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez
Vasquez started his criminal career at the young age of 17 after fleeing the scene of a murder with his cousin, the outlaw Anastacio Garcia. Thus began a bloody, dangerous life of crime and womanizing, the latter of which became something of a trademark for the man and would ultimately lead to his downfall. He was hanged in 1875. His last breath consisted of a single word, “Pronto.”
While his deeds took him far and wide, Tiburcio would often stay in Monterey County. His family lived across the street from the Monterey County Jail in downtown Monterey. Tiburcio was quite familiar with both locations.
What happened in Massacre Cave? Newspaper accounts reported a number of skeletons found there near the long-lost town of Manchester, which suspiciously burned to the ground around 1900, leaving a few people missing in the process. Decades later, the skeletal discovery occurred, leaving many to speculate as to what exactly occurred during this gold-crazy era of Monterey County’s history. It should also be noted there are those who claim the area is not the site of a murder but a Native burial ground.
A determined crowd converged on the Monterey Jail in 1873 to settle things with alleged murderer, Matthew Tarpey, who had been jailed for shooting a woman in the back over a land squabble. Tarpey, a well-to-do member of a vigilante squad that operated in Santa Cruz and Monterey County, expected help to come for him. It didn’t. He was hung on a Monday evening after being forcibly removed from the jail by a lynch mob.
Arson was believed to be the cause of the Carmel Canning Company fire in 1967 that caused more than $250 million in damages to Cannery Row, which happened to be a tad seedier than the tourist mecca it is today. Despite being less than glamorous, more than 65 firefighters responded to the scene and quickly doused the Christmas Eve fire. Perhaps too quickly for the liking of whoever set the blaze.
The year 1977 wasn’t an ordinary one for residents of Seaside, California. While crime was more common there than it is today, the discovery of four female family members stabbed to death made for shocking, horrifying headlines. Grandmother Josephine Smith, her daughter Suzanne Harris, Suzanne’s daughter Rachel Harris, and Suzanne’s niece Renee Ferguson were each found murdered in their home. While a family relative was eventually captured, the murders had the small community on edge.
What happens to us when we die? That’s the big question. Some of us, many believe, might stick around after we die. Some of us might become the next generation of ghosts! When that happens, some of us will find a place to haunt, be it a favorite home, an old workplace, or possibly a cemetery.
Resting comfortably among the cypress, eucalyptus, Monterey oak, and pines trees of the California coast is the Monterey Peninsula. It’s changed little over the years but grown large in notoriety. The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is held here every year, car shows are a daily part of life in the summer months, and festivals bring both music and food. Sailing, kayaking, and exploring sea life are pastimes enjoyed by residents and tourists alike. The Central Coast has a long, sometimes sordid, history, but people love it. It’s been featured in a number of films and television shows, including Turner & Hooch, Basic Instinct, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Play Misty for Me, Big Little Lies, and more.
My newest book, Haunted Monterey County, will explore the many haunted locations found in this popular California community. Due in bookstores around Halloween 2019, this book will join a distinguished library of haunted, ghostly collections published by The History Press, a number of which I have enjoyed in the past. The nearest such book, Haunted Santa Cruz California, by Maryanne Porter, is a wonderfully spooky read! Their Haunted America series runs from the East Coast to the West!
In Monterey, I am hard at work on stories surrounding a number of haunted sites, including the Custom House near Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Tor House, Steinbeck’s home in Salinas, Los Coches Adobe, and many other locations said to be inhabited by the restless dead.
I plan to write updates as I progress, so be sure to check in on me from time to time!
The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History book, which Arcadia Publishing released earlier this year, got a nice write-up in Carmel Magazine. Thank you to writer Renee Brincks and photographer Kelli Uldall for making it so easy! You two rock!
Thanks to all the great authors who came out for last night’s event at The Press Club in Seaside, CA, and to everyone else who gave us their Friday night. From bodies in trunks to bodies full of junk, these folks make an impression and got the criminal minds flowing. Special thanks to Dietrick Kalteis for making it all happen! Old Capitol Books did a sweet job with the book sales, almost as busy as the bar…