Those looking for all things spooky during the Halloween 2019 season need look no further than the pages of Haunted Monterey County. Local NPR public radio 90.3 KAZU featured the book on Halloween day.
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.
My 101-word short story, The Sticky Drunk, was a runner up in the Monterey Weekly’srecent short fiction contest. And they used a sentence from another entry in another section, which I found pretty cool. Read all the stories here!
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!
There are plenty of paths to success when on deadline. Some prefer to wait until the last minute, as pressure makes them produce. Others prefer the slow boil, working at a snail’s pace until it all comes to a head, but only one of these techniques helps when it comes to historical non-fiction, particularly the sort that require finding a lot of photographs and documents from a certain era. If you have to work with others, particularly organizations, start early. You never know what will happen, photos can be misplaced, just plain gone, and the documents you thought would help may prove lifeless.
With my Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History book, forthcoming from Arcadia Publishing, I lit a fire under my chair the week I got back the contract. As the Museum book marks my third Images of America challenge, I thought I would share five tips to making the process an easy one.
1. Be confident you can get the materials and photographs you need before submitting a proposal. This way you’ll go into the work without a forehead vein popping out. Keep a bibliography document open at all times so you can add your sources without a drop of stress sweat. 2. Start writing. Write early and write more than you need. I tap out a longer chapter first, then take a weed whacker to it. Stray bits of information can always be saved for the photo captions, where I believe the meat of the research resides. Copy and paste those bits to a separate document for later use. I create individual documents first, then marry them to a master doc at the end. 3. Pay attention to the important deadlines. With Images of America, there are usually a few of them. Try to get there early. You’ll feel good about yourself. 4. Spend the clock talking to the people who know a great deal about the subject. Buy them dinner if they seem up for it, or just smile warmly, but make sure they’re included. This way they’ll remember you over the coming months when they unearth something that would be cool in the book. Answer their emails, send them emails, just talk to them. 5. Be a photo wizard. You don’t need a wand, just a lot of pics. Gather more than you need, maybe a hundred more, or maybe just bunches more. It gives you a chance to weed out the so-so pics for the strong ones. In the newspaper business, editors prefer faces to be as big as a quarter, or failing that a dime, but any historic photograph that gets your heart hammering is a good photograph.