The last Friday in April, the LAGP packed up our gear, jumped in the ghost mobile and headed out to La Cañada/Pasadena area to investigate the infamous Devil’s Gate Dam. Why I’m calling this location infamous is a bit of a history lesson, so read on.

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Devil's Gate Dam, built in 1920 to control flood waters in the Arroyo Seco.

Devil’s Gate is named for the appearance of a horned devil face in a narrow canyon of the Arroyo Seco, a natural riverbed flowing from the San Gabriel Mountains into the Los Angeles basin. Native Americans thought the area near Devil’s Gate to be haunted and they forbade their people from frequenting the spot. Centuries later, the Arroyo, a source of devastating floods to the growing downstream communities, was dammed just behind the devilish rock formation in 1920 and a recreation area created behind it.

The Devil and the Gate.

Enter Jack Parsons and stories of occult Rituals taking place in the Devil’s Gate area in the 1940s. Parsons, a brilliant Cal Tech rocket scientist, is commonly referred to as one of the founders of the Jet Propulsion Labs or JPL. He was very involved in a secret society, the Ordo Templi Orientis (it is still active in California), which followed teachings by the famed English occultist Aleister Crowley, called by some “the wickedest man alive.” Parsons and, later L. Ron Hubbard (yes, the founder of Scientology), were rumored to have been trying to create a “moonchild” — a sort of anti-Christ they believed would throw over modern society — through magical rituals specifically conducted in the area due to its mystical energy. Crowley supposedly called Devil’s Gate one of the seven portals to hell. Some occultists believe that the rituals actually did open a portal that allows negative energy and non-human entities to pass into this world. Kinda like a real-world hellmouth without Buffy.

Whether they succeeded in this moonchild endeavor is unlikely, but Parsons did succeed in having the JPL campus built very close by. The idea was that the mystical energy in the Devil’s Gate could only help these pioneering engineers’ rockets reach the heavens.

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The JPL campus was purposefully located near Devil's Gate.

The Devil’s Gate’s notoriety continued to build through the mid-twentieth century with the disappearance of at least four children in the area. In August 1956, 13-year old Donald Lee Baker and 11-year old Brenda Howell went missing while riding their bicycles in the recreation area behind the dam. They were last seen alive on a Sunday evening but never returned home. Hundreds of volunteers searched the foothills of the San Gabriels, while Navy divers checked the reservoir. All that was found were their bicycles and Brenda’s jacket.

Less than a year later in March 1957, 8-year old Tommy Bowman vanished while hiking with his family; he simply ran ahead, rounded a bend and disappeared. Again, search parties scoured the area, on foot and horseback as well as in helicopters. Three years later, 6-year old Bruce Kremen also vanished from the nearby YMCA camp. The boy was not feeling well and a camp counselor watched him walk back towards the camp, not more than 300 yards away. He never arrived.

Donald and Brenda’s disappearance was solved when serial killer Mack Ray Edwards confessed to abducting and murdering the children thirteen years earlier. A highway department worker who helped build Southern California’s freeways, he buried their bodies underneath the asphalt. Edwards was sentenced to death for the murder of six children and took his own life while in San Quintin prison. There has been some recent interest in linking Tommy’s disappearance to Edwards’ activities as well, but his and Bruce Kremen’s disappearances are still unsolved cold cases.

One other thing to note is that the Arroyo Seco passes past both Devil’s Gate and Pasadena’s Suicide Bridge. And just a mile or two to the east is the Cobb Estate with its own local legends of hauntings and occult rituals. Carol has coined a moniker for the three locations: the Arroyo Triangle. Tyler and I kinda like it. Now on to our investigation…

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Turns out the day we visited Devil’s Gate was Good Friday, although we didn’t realize it until after we had made plans. We decided to do a quick scout before dusk to plan the investigation.

While we were hiking towards the dam, we met a man out walking his dog who shared a personal experience with us. He said he often took a couple neighborhood kids on adventures in the area, and once they were hiking down the trail near the devil’s face and heard what sounded like faint song. They explored further and realized it was coming from the tunnel carved into the rock beside the devil. This tunnel is a flood control outlet and is normally locked off behind a chained gate. He said he’d always tell kids the gates were chained not to keep people out, but to keep something in. Now, we don’t know if he was pulling our legs, but he said that day they heard the singing they also saw way back in this tunnel two red eyes staring out. Then they all got the heck out of there! Due to the water level when we visited, we weren’t able to venture down this far.


After scouting the area, we returned a couple hours later after sunset to see if we could make contact with anything. Setting up on the dam itself, we found that there was a slight electrical current running through the walkway on the span’s south side. However it wasn’t enough to cause any interference with our instruments as long as we kept the KII and Mel away from the edge. Since Carol had done most of the research into the missing children, she reached out to them and tried to learn more about their disappearances. No responses on either meter or on the audio recorder. We weren’t really feeling anything out of the ordinary on the bridge either.

We next walked through the tunnel to the area above the actual Devil’s Gate. There was still quite a lot of traffic on the 210 freeway above the other side of the Arroyo and it was going to affect any audio recordings. Tyler wanted us to head down the trail into the arroyo and get as close to the Gate as possible in the dark. (There was water being released from the dam, and it is not safe to be directly in the path of the overflow channels — please heed this warning if you plan to visit the area yourself.)

Down near the devil’s face we settled in on the dirt trail. There was an animal making an odd tapping sound in a tree on the hillside above us, which only added to the spooky feeling of being so close to a possible portal to hell. Carol and I both tried to contact the spirit of Tommy Bowman — Carol had read that many people think he was buried in the deep mud that has collected behind the dam. We did have one weird thing happen when something like a rock hit the ground behind me (I jumped!) but we cannot be certain this was paranormal. Next, Tyler also thought he heard something moving on the trail leading away from us toward the Gate. The video:

In conclusion, the history behind Devil’s Gate dam may be more interesting than any present hauntings or paranormal activity. Maybe we were just having an off night (it was after all Good Friday) and should return later in the summer when the water in the arroyo has dried up so we can get right next to the devil’s face and that gate to hell. Or maybe that’s pushing our luck a bit much. What do you think? Anyone local ever had any experiences out there?

Sources:
Forgotten Newsmakers > Jack Parsons
Strange USA > Strange Disappearances at the Cursed Devil’s Gate Reservoir
Tommy Bowman Cold Case
Bruce Kreman Info

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25 Responses to “Devil’s Gate: A Portal to Hell?”

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  1. Glad you guys made it to the Dam for an investigation. Would love to go back and investigate with you if you return. Plese keep me posted. I’ve done oodles of research on the area. As you know, my next Kane Pryce novel–Devil’s Gate (Atria Books)–delves into many of the bizarre connections between the Devil’s Gate Dam, the Colorado Street Bridge, NASA JPL, and the area at the top of Altadena known as Gravity Hill. The book will be released on February 1, 2012. I think all your ghosthunting fans wil dig it. Keep up the great work, guys.

  2. I caught some pretty interesting EVP’s there contact me if you would like to hear them

  3. If you really want to get to the devils head, there is a tunnel thru the dam that leads right to it, and a big room in the middle, spooky. about halfway between the the spillway at the top and the lower gate and tunnel at the base of the dam. been there , done that, right thru the portal…..

  4. Hey guys. I was just there today during the day time to scout out the place before doing an investigation and I got scratches! Here is the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8yg2OLcf_E

  5. I used to live in the La Canada area and remember seeing flyers posted about that asked for information regarding the mysterious death of a teen-aged boy at Devil’s Gate Dam. You know the sort — a recent photograph of the victim and “Anyone with any information regarding the death of —– at Devil’s Gate Dam, please contact …”. I thought it was eerie at the time.

    Sadly, I can no longer remember the boy’s name but it would have been in the mid-90s. I imagine it might be something that could be researched in the archives of the local papers.

    Great website! Keep up the good work!

  6. It’s my experience that you typically want to return to a location several nights in a row. This gives the area to warm up to you, as it did for my co-host and I when we investigated Ghost Road in Perris California some years back. The first night was rather uneventful, but, as we continued to explore, and return, and delve deeper into the surrounding history of the area, the activity gradually increased, almost exponentially.

    There was a guy on Coast to Coast AM on the 10th that wrote a book about the area you investigated, I’ll see if I can find his name, maybe he would have more insight into the area for you guys?

    -Nova

  7. WHENN THEY WERE BUILDING THE FREEWAY THE BRIDGE COLLASPED AND MY FRIENDS AND I WENT TO TR TO HELP THE TRAPPED WORKERS…WE ALL ALMOST BOUGHT IT WHEN THE CABLE ON THE CRANE SNAPPED AND WHIPPED AROUND …I HAVE MANY STORIES ABOUT THE AREA …JPL,ALTADENA,AND THE WHOLE CANYON IP TO SWITZERS FALLS…..I AN WRITE MORE

  8. I lived on Mountain View right above the arroyo and JPL in the mid 1950′s and 60′s. My dad worked at JPL. I spent a lot of time on my bike and on foot in the Arroyo by myself and with friends exploring the area, I found arrowheads, frogs, interesting rocks, and incredible freedom. I just about died when I heard the man on coast to coast talking about the founder of JPL and Crowley, plus about the missing children. I remember the signs about the little boy Tommy missing soon after we moved there. It’s strange that my older sisters have no recollection. I think they thought I made it up. I would love to hear more about this from anyone who lived in the area also.

  9. the author your previous poster is speaking about is Nick Redfern. He speaks about Devil’s gate Dam in a book called “The worlds wierdest places”.

  10. Anna, the boy’s name was Sean Riney. He was a friend of mine. He was found in the park in 1993 or 1994. It was very sad and mysterious.

  11. Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have
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  12. I’ve been there its real.. something came out and gave my friends a seizure, all except for me! I was the with 8 people… Something talked to me!

  13. I lived in Fort Bragg at the time of Brenda Howells disappearing. She was a year older than me, and a friend of my neighbors. She had been next door about a week before going to L.A. I remember everyone talking about how she vanished.

  14. It must be one of the most creepiest sites in the Asia-Pacific region, along with another creepy site in Japan, also associated with suicide(or Hari-Kari in Japanese).
    I wonder if Suzi Quattro’s 1970′s rock song “Devil’s Gate Drive” have anything to do with this site?
    Great Photos!

  15. Just went here today to explore. I had absolutely no idea about the history, just thought it looked cool. Definitely had a little bit of a creepy vibe. No water anywhere, everything had been dried up, so we walked up to the gate next to the devils head. It was padlocked, but enough room to crawl under. When I talked with a normal voice, my echo came back from the tunnel extremely quick and loud, almost like someone was repeating me!

  16. I remember Sean Riney from lcjhs. What were the circumstances of his death?

  17. Went to Cobb Estate aka The Haunted Forest, caught some interesting photos but nothing as good as the EVP’s caught under Suicide Bridge. It’s on our YouTube channel.
    You guys should head under the bridge. We did both the same night. Got followed home too.

    Thanks for the cool footage
    Michelle MH
    Dark Slide ParaNormal 626

  18. Definitely felt some lower vibrations there. At night especially. I smoke weed everytime i go there and even when the rest of pasadena isnt cold i get a really cold feeling when i go there sometimes makes the hairs on my neck stand up gives me the chills. Ive gone all the way to the back of the tunnel in the day time found some saint candles there. Never knew it was actually haunted till today, crazy! Ive seen the same owl there multiple times dont know if that has anything to do with paranormal activity though. First time i saw it i was the only one who saw the owl. We went back with the same group and my friend kept saying he wanted to see the owl and trippy shit the owl appeared again. Then a third time the owl appeared in broad daylight to me and a couple friends, different group, which is weird because owls are nocturnal. Idk if that helps a bit.

  19. Great post.

    The Tommy Berman case, at least, has been solved. I blogged about it a few years ago because I had a chance to meet one of the people who was instrumental in solving it. Tommy’s disappearance was found to tie in with the serial killer. http://pasadenadailyphoto.blogspot.com/2008/11/weston-dewalt.html. Tommy disappeared about a mile north of the dam.

    I love the area, though, and I don’t find it at all sinister. I visit at least once a week and have done so for about 8 years. It’s beautiful open space right in the city. Great trails, horseback riding, kids’ day camp, mountain biking, etc. Not to mention coyotes, bobcats, hawks, snakes, you name it.

    The area is threatened now by the LA County Department of Public Works. They want to dig out the entire space north of the Dam and leave it bare. You can make a public comment if you like. You have until January 21st. Here’s some info: http://www.arroyoseco.org/savehahamongna/dgeirtoolkit.htm

  20. Interesting reports on the area, I recently just heard about it in this local paper I got telling me they’re going to destroy the Indian burial ground that’s located in Arroyo Seco. About a year ago I totalled my bike falling 130ft down a cliff in that area, not sure exactly where but the EMT’s said they rescued me by rope from there. I wish I knew more about the area and in that case, why I was there to begin with. I was going home leaving Old Town Pasadena, blacked out, and have distorted memories about the accident. But in my unconscious state I called the police so they can get my GPS location… it was really awkward and my only explantion was that it was supernatural that I had survived, and now finding out the locations urban mythlogy just cranks the wheels even faster…

  21. so today me and my friends walked to the end of the tunnel ans saw someone in a white dress at the end. but we kept walking, it was just a dead end but we think thats were the cult and stuff did what they did we left asap

  22. Honestly I think if you know what to do and how, you can have an experience anywhere. You don’t have to go to some special place where “an experience” has intruded abruptly upon other people who were basically doing next to nothing to invite it. There’s plenty of books out there to teach you the psycho-spiritual-tech behind proactively making things happen.

  23. Hi – I am a producer working on a show about American Legends and am looking for modern day stories of people’s experiences at Devil’s Gate Dam. Niko – your story is especially compelling. Anyone who has a story to share, please email me at devilsgatecasting@gmail.com.
    Thank you!

  24. I first went to this tunnel (all the way to the back) on March 21, 2014 and looked at all the weird graffiti. I then went today again, the date is March 26, 2014 and all the way on the very back wall there is a new graffiti tag which says, “There is a knock on the door”. The echo does make it sound so scary also because the response is immediate.

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