Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Ghost of Tiburcio Vasquez

Tiburcio Vasquez who called himself “muy caballero,” or a gentleman, terrorized California as a prolific bandit in the mid-1800s. 

He managed to cultivate his image as a kind of Robin Hood, and he charmed his way out of jail on more than one occasion.* 

For twenty years he victimized the newly arrived Anglo citizens of California who had taken the land from Mexican ranchers when Mexico lost the Mexican-American War in 1847.

Vasquez, born in Monterey in 1835 was the great-grandson of one of the earliest settlers in California. His great-grandfather arrived in California as a young man in 1776 with the DeAnza expedition. 

Vasquez was educated and could read, write, and speak both Spanish and English. He was charming, was a skillful dancer, and he played the guitar. But at the age of seventeen, the course of his life took an unexpected turn.

In 1852 he attended a local fandango—a lively couples dance—with his older cousin Anastacio Garcia. A fight broke out and the local constable, William Hardmount, was killed. 

The two cousins, who were not directly involved, still fled the scene. Unfortunately, vigilantes the next day lynched a friend of Vasquez’s, Jose Higuera who did not escape. 

Vasquez hid in the hills with his cousin Anastacio—who was already a hardened outlaw—Tiburcio picked up his cousin's ways and joined his gang. This began his criminal career--he later led his own group. 

One of his many hideouts was in the Vasquez Rocks, named after him, just 40 miles north of Los Angeles.

He spent the next twenty years in and out of jail for rustling horses, burglaries, cattle thefts and highway robberies. He also became a ladies man, especially charming married women—this and three murders would ultimately lead to his downfall. 

He excused his crimes by stating that he was punishing the Anglos for their discrimination and unfair treatment. In the eyes of many Mexican-Americans of the time, he became a folk hero for his descent. 

But he sealed his fate in 1873 when he and his gang stole $200 in gold from Snyder’s Store in Tres Pinos—now Paicines—and killed three innocent bystanders.

This time his actions outraged the public and gained him national notoriety. While robbing Snyder’s Store, he shot and killed three men in a brutal fashion. 

One victim was a deaf man who had not obeyed Vasquez’s orders because he hadn’t heard them. Another was a Portuguese man who didn’t speak English. Therefore, he did not understand Vasquez’s commands. The third victim was a hotelkeeper, who stood behind a door in the next room. A random bullet Vasquez shot struck and killed him. 

To assist with his capture, Governor Newton Booth increased the bounty on Vasquez's head several times until it reached $15,000--an incredible sum for the time.

In the end, it was one of Vasquez’s own gang who helped with his capture. Tiburcio's group hid out for six months after the Tres Pinos robbery. During this time, one of his members, Abdon Leiva, turned himself in to the authorities. 

It turns out Vasquez had been sleeping with Leiva’s wife—so out of jealousy Leiva became a state witness, and for his cooperation and testimony, he received amnesty. 

Tiburcio Vasquez was captured nine months after the murders and was taken to Monterey jail where he still received the attention of adoring women. He was tried and convicted, and in March of 1875, he was hanged. 

Vasquez's ghost is seen at the Old Monterey jail where he was held while awaiting his trial. This sand-colored building made out of granite was built in the 1850s. No one ever escaped from this six-cell jail—it was in use for over 150 years. 

Today it is a museum. Several surprised visitors have encountered Tiburcio Vasquez’s spirit. He is seen strolling nonchalantly along the corridor, twirling a six-shooter in his hand. 

Witnesses have said he smiled at them and then politely demanded they give him their money and watch. Some said when they refused, he aimed his weapon at them and then evaporated into thin air. Others said when they attempted to give him their money, he just vanished.

Bessie Love
Another intriguing ghost story connected to Tiburcio Vasquez is not about his ghost but about two of his victims’ spirits. 

More than fifty years after Vasquez used the foothills around Los Angeles as a hideout a young actress in the early 1900s by the name of Bessie Love ** bought a bungalow in Laurel Canyon. 

In 1918 when she moved in, she was warned it was haunted. Not believing in ghosts, she did not heed this warning. But as it turned out, her bungalow sat on the very spot where Vasquez had shot and killed two fortune hunters. 

It was known that Tiburcio had stolen quite a bit of gold, so many men searched his hideout in the hills in hopes of finding this ill-gotten wealth. Unfortunately, two such men ran into Vasquez as they searched. Their ghosts are said to haunt this spot even today.

Bessie Love immediately noticed odd happenings in her new home. She heard a low moaning sound, and the doors opened and shut on their own. One electrical problem after another plagued her home. 

At first, she tried to ignore this activity, but then things became worse. She began hearing men’s voices when she was alone, and there was a pronounced cold spot in her living room. In the spring of 1923, a good friend of hers came to stay at her house.

The two made up the sofa for the friend to sleep on, but the first night her friend rushed into her bedroom screaming. She had awoken to the sounds of a man’s voice, and when she looked around, she spotted a ghost walking through one of the living room’s walls. 

She described how this ghost had paused, taken off what appeared to be a cowboy hat and then not noticing her--he walked passed the sofa and walked toward the kitchen. 

For the rest of the night, the two women were afraid to go back to sleep. It had been five years since Love had moved in, but this was the last straw for her, she packed her things and moved out.

In the following years, the bungalow remained unoccupied until a family bought the house intending to renovate the building, but they mysteriously moved out leaving the work they started unfinished. 

In the early 1990s, an electrician who worked at one of the film studios moved in. He and his roommate were perplexed when the bungalow’s front door, which had an old heavy-duty lock-- that both men had found very hard to close--started to close and lock by itself as they worked in the yard. 

The last time this door shut and locked, the deadbolt inside slid into place as well. 

The two men also felt a distinct cold spot in the living room, and several things happened with the electricity that even this electrician by trade could not figure out. They came to believe that the ghosts were letting them know they did not want anyone living in the house.

* Even though Vasquez stated he was like Robin Hood he never gave any of his stolen gold to the poor. One source I read, mentioned Vasquez was the inspiration for "Zorro."

* Bessie Love was a leading lady during the silent film era. She worked for D.W. Griffith and Thomas Ince. Her youth and good looks lit up the screen. She was able to transition from silent pictures into sound. Her singing and dancing came in handy. She performed in such musicals as 1929's The Broadway Melody which earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress.

1 comment:

Keith and Sandra said...

I would welcome the opportunity to investigate these locations someday. Could Tiburcio Vasquez possibly have been an influence for the creation of El Zorro?