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Strange Disappearances at the Cursed Devil’s Gate Reservoir

This dry, brush-filled flood channel in Pasadena is appropriately named. It’s the scene of some truly diabolical events.

The grim story begins on August 5, 1956, just a few miles east of Devil’s Gate. That day, Donald Lee Baker, a 13-year old Azusan, went for a bike ride with Brenda Howell, 11, from Fort Bragg, who was visiting relatives next door. They headed for the San Gabriel Reservoir that Sunday morning, and were last seen alive that evening.

When they failed to return on Sunday night, their frightened parents notified police, who called out an all-points search for the missing children. Azusa police, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies, and hundreds of volunteers combed the suburbs and foothills of the San Gabriel Valley, while Navy frogmen plumbed the 60-foot depths of the reservoir. The only traces of the children found were their bicycles, and Brenda’s jacket.

Donald and Brenda’s disappearance was unsolved until thirteen years later, when a man named Mack Ray Edwards confessed to kidnapping and killing the pair, along with three other children. Edwards, who had helped build Southern California’s freeways, had hidden his victims’ bodies by planting them in highway land that he would pave with asphalt the next day. Convicted and sentenced to death at his own request, Edwards cheated San Quentin’s “Green Room” by hanging himself in his cell in 1970.

But two other young victims are still unaccounted for today, having disappeared in this area under even stranger circumstances. On March 23, 1957, eight-year old Tommy Bowman was hiking on a trail above Devil’s Gate with his family, when he ran a few yards ahead of the others, rounded a corner…and disappeared.

When Tommy’s family searched the brush and repeatedly called his name to no avail, a 400-member search party was sent out, complete with helicopters, mounted patrols, bloodhounds, and professional wilderness trackers. After scouring the entire area for a week, hacking through chaparral and delving crevices and holes just off the trail, the search was called off. Rumors of kidnappers and child molesters were thoroughly investigated, and discounted. Tommy’s disappearance has never been explained or solved.

Yet another child followed Tommy into oblivion just three years later. Six-year old Bruce Kremen was on a hike with his YMCA group not far from where Tommy Bowman vanished, when he began to tire and fall behind the others. Thinking the boy was winded by the exercise and the high altitude, the group leader told Bruce to return to the camp––in plain sight just 300 yards away––and rest. The adult leader then watched Bruce walk the length of the wide, marked trail. When the boy was just yards away from camp, the man rejoined the other children.

But something got Bruce Kremen in those last few steps between the trailhead and the camp. He never made it back, and was never seen again.

Again, a massive search party tore the region apart. Again, there was no evidence of kidnapping or molestation. And again, the San Gabriels claimed a young victim, leaving no clues, no suspects, no remains––and no solution to the cases to this day.

The brutal murders of Donald Lee Baker and Brenda Howell, and the eerie disappearances of Tommy Bowman and Bruce Kremen, led some people to speculate that a curse or jinx hung over Devil’s Gate Reservoir. Much of this speculation centered on the activities of one John Whiteside (Jack) Parsons, co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and resident of nearby Pasadena.

Parsons, a brilliant, self-taught rocket scientist whom Werner von Braun called the true founder of the American space program, was also a first-rank occultist. A devotee of Aleister Crowley’s teachings, Parsons joined the infamous English occultist’s Ordo Templi Orientis society in 1941, quickly taking over the group’s Agape Lodge in Los Angeles. 

Parsons’ mansion on South Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena became the center of Southern California occult bohemia in the 1940s. Notorious for its semi-public “sex magick” ceremonies, chez Parsons was for awhile the home of ex-Navy officer and science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Parsons saw Hubbard, the future founder of Scientology, as a natural magician, and worked with him in a series of strange rituals designed to create a “moonchild”––a sort of anti-Messiah that would overthrow Judeo-Christian civilization, and lead Earth into a new Aeon.

The rituals, which took place in the Southern California outback in late 1946, were said to have opened a portal to another dimension that’s since been a point of entry for all sorts of strange entities. Some occult authors have hinted that the portal is in the Devil’s Gate region, and that the negative energies and beings that pass through it are responsible for the murders and disappearances. 

It’s as good an explanation as any other for these tragic, tantalizing events and enigmas.

Weird California


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