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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Photo Gallery: October Events

Check out photos of recent events in Monterey County below! Big thanks to Ace Hardware in Carmel for hosting us Arcadia authors, to Old Capitol Books for hosting a writing workshop for me and Dietrich, and for selling books at the Noir at the Bar a few night’s later. Thanks also to our Noir hosts, East Village Coffee Lounge!

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October events!

(Sept. 24, 2018) Look for some cool events this October on the Monterey Peninsula. Cool for writers and fans of the written, and spoken, word at least. And who isn’t a fan of that?

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October 21 – I’ll be joining a number of authors in Carmel on Sunday, October 21, from 1-3 p.m. for a book signing event featuring local authors and historians. More details to come, but it sounds like a great place to find some early Christmas presents for the bibliophiles in your family. I’ll be ready to sign my recent book Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History! The event will be held at Carmel Ace Hardware, located at 290 Crossroads Blvd, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA93923.

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October 23 – Want to learn more about the craft of writing fiction and nonfiction? Author Dietrich Kalteis and I will hold a workshop on that very subject Tuesday, October 23, at 6:30 p.m. at Old Capitol Books in downtown Monterey. We’ll discuss writing style, guidelines, and the research that goes into works of fiction and non-fiction. Old Capitol Books is located at 559 Tyler Street in downtown Monterey. Learn more here!

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October 26 – Noir at the Bar returns to the Central Coast this month! This year’s Noir will be held at the East Village Coffee Lounge, at 498 Washington Street in downtown Monterey, beginning at 7 p.m. Books will be available for purchase thanks to the awesome folks at Old Capitol Books. Donations will be accepted at the door, benefitting the Central Coast Writers group! It’s a sweet lineup of authors too: Terry Shames, Kris Calvin, Tom Pitts, Rob Pierce, Susan C Shea, Mark Coggins, Morgan Boyd, Dietrich Kalteis, and me! Get more details here!

Haunted Monterey County to be published in 2019

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!

Noir at the Bar – October 26th, 2018

N@B poster Nov 2018It’s going to get mysterious and maybe even a tad illegal down in Monterey on Friday, October 26, at the East Village Coffee Lounge. Look for trench coats, a suspicious marine layer rolling in like spilled pea soup, shady-looking folks in sunglasses, or just a gaggle of writerly types skipping along in the fog. When you see it, you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Noir at the Bar is back in town.

Thanks to crime fiction author Dietrich Kalteis, this year’s Noir is shaping up to be a killer one. He’s organized a sweet lineup for this year’s event, including authors Terry Shames, Kris Calvin, Tom Pitts, Rob Pierce, Susan C Shea, Mark Coggins, Morgan Boyd, Kalteis himself, and me! The lovely Natalia Molina will emcee the event!

Is it too cheesy to say it would be a crime to miss this night of literary mischief? God, that would be cheesy to say.

This year’s Noir will be held at the East Village Coffee Lounge, at 498 Washington Street in downtown Monterey, beginning at 7 p.m. Books will be available for purchase thanks to the awesome folks at Old Capitol Books. Donations will be accepted at the door, benefitting a local charity!