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.

 

 

From a Big Sur writing retreat part II

Seaside-2sunshine and gulls

It’s skies are crawling with gulls. They sit on every streetlight – along Fremont and up the city’s spine, Broadway (now also called Obama Way). For Seaside, tucked nicely between Fort Ord and Monterey, it’s a fitting new name.

I kissed a girl for the first time at Martin Luther King Middle School, saw my first dead body, and played with my babysitter’s perky boobs under Seaside’s watchful gaze. Wallets were stretched thin in that community when I was a kid. For many families, that’s still the case. The city is infected with gentrification, but it’s growth is slow, which is good for the families struggling for enough food to make lunches and dinners each week. Forget about lunch.

The odors of Vietnamese food spreads to the corner of Fremont and Obama Way. The sugary smells of donuts from Red’s has the next few blocks covered. And the sun shines over Seaside more than it does over any other city in the Monterey Peninsula.

I’d like to think there’s a reason for that.

From a Big Sur writing retreat part I

He-Man and other childhood milestones

I remember a lot of things, but not the sound of her voice. I remember when she took me to K-Mart and bought me a He-Man figure the weekend they came out. I can still feel his plastic muscles in my hands. I remember when she told me the truth about Santa Claus, but not what it felt like to hug her. Her laughter, her many moods; they fade. But I can remember the book of the month sci-fi hardbacks that arrived like clockwork, the army of cats we owned over the years, and the unforgettable smells they both made.

The rentals I recall, not how long we lived in each one, but I can pinpoint each one on a map. I remember the sex talk and how nervous it made her – only I can’t remember why she felt inclined to give the talk when it was too late. Did she know?

I remember the last time she used the belt on my back, that being Irish gave her a fiery temper, but not how I felt inside when she smiled and said she was proud of me. It could be I shut it all down, threw it in a dungeon somewhere dark, and then destroyed the map that would lead me back to that place. There has to be a reason why I cannot remember parts of it, only I don’t know what it is. I never thought to ask myself about it. At least not until now. Now I seriously have to know.

Seaside welcomes Natalia Molina (for her birthday)

SeaHorse-1 (2)I am Seaside, California
I’ve not always been the safest place
But you see my glowing potential
My sidewalks are seeped in the souls of the world
More than any other Peninsula city, I truly welcome all
And your soul makes me so much closer to perfection
Energy blows in the clouds that spin in from the bay
A sun belt spills warmth across Broadway and over Fremont
Just like your exuberance, your smile, your vision
I am reborn in the sun and the brightness you emit
Seaside is home to jejunity, young families, young ideas
May they prosper here
As you will blossom 
It’s you, a grateful resident, that tip the scales toward success
It’s you who bring Seaside eternal spring