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.
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.
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.
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…
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?