5 Historic Monterey Crimes and Criminals

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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.


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Tiburcio Vasquez
  1. 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.

Learn more about him here.


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Manchester, a town that burned to the ground.
  1. Massacre Cave

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.

Read more here.


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  1. The lynching of Matt Tarpey

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.

Get the Tarpey story right here.


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The 1967 Cannery Row fire.
  1. The Cannery Row Fire of 1967

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.

See more here.


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One of the newspaper headlines from 1977.
  1. The grisly murders of four Seaside women

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.

Read about the case here.

 

 

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Top 5 Haunted Monterey County – Surprises

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Soledad’s haunted Los Coches Adobe in the rain.

There’s definitely a top five when it comes to the most haunted spots in Monterey County, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. Instead, I’m going to get a little personal. I’m going to delve into my thoughts on banging out my upcoming book, Haunted Monterey County (coming October 2019 from The History Press). A Top 5 Most Haunted Monterey County – Locations is coming, however, being that there are easily five that rise to the top – it’s just coming later.

Below are the top five things that surprised me while prepping for the book:

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    Did I pull off the authorly look at a rest stop? I damn well tried.

    Rest stops – If someone told me I’d be writing a book on ghosts and hauntings in the county, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I grew up hungry for Randall Reinstedt’s books. If someone told me that research would bring me to a rest stop outside of King City and that I would actually have fun going there, I would have spit out my coffee. Those who know me know I’m never without coffee. But as Han Solo once said, “All of it. It’s all true.” I did have a good time. It’s always fun to get out on a sunny Sunday for an adventure of the weird kind. You never know what can happen.

  2. The GooglesGoogle may not know I’m working on a book, but the Googles helped me locate many of the sites and forums where Central Coast-specific ghost stories are shared. This means, from now until the Googles is goggled (or the end of time), I will get alerts about ghosts. This isn’t a bad thing really, since I’ve already come across creepy stories I’ve never heard before – usually from places on the east coast. Why the hell is that? I still get alerts about Bakugan too, though it’s been years since my son wanted one.
  3. Excitement and some of the opposite – I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I’d get when news of this new addition to Monterey County’s ghost book collection broke, but the level of interest has given me a little bit of a pre-publishing high. Thank you to everyone who made that happen. There’s the opposite too, some who are less than thrilled to see another book on haunts summoned out of the Netherworld. I appreciate the curmudgeons! I am one. My hope is the book will appeal to them as well. There are stories in it that have appeared nowhere else. There’s history as well, plenty of it, which is why I enjoyed taking on this project. If the curmudgeons come away entertained, I’ll get even more high.
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    A glimpse of Paul’s work on my office laptop.

    Paul’s talent – Just doing the ghost book, and paying tribute to Mr. Reinstedt, was enough, but then the idea came along to get some art in it. There are photos, quite a few taken when I visited the haunted sites (like the rest stop), but having one of California’s top talents on board made it even cooler. Paul Van de Carr is an incredible artist as you’ll see in the pages of the book.

  5. The believers – I’m the first to admit I’ve never had a paranormal experience that I can recall. It’s not that I don’t believe, it’s just I don’t have the eyes for it. I can’t decorate my house in a fashionable way either. Don’t have the eyes for it. But there are plenty who do have the sight. They’ve seen a lot over the years too. While writing this book, I was (and still am) surprised at just how many people have stories, tales of that time they experienced something they just couldn’t explain. This book tells their stories, just as it tells history’s story.