Just when I was beginning to think Los Angeles was actually rather quaint and endearing, I went on a journey to La La Land’s dark side. The Dearly Departed Tours: Homicide True Crime Tour. I just may need to sleep with the lights on tonight!
I came down to be a tourist in L.A., visiting my friend and Patron, Sharon Yablon, and we booked a number of fun horror themed events while I was down in Southern California. Perhaps the most eye opening and frightening thing we did was go on a night time driving tour of Hollywood, revealing the underbelly of the area in The Dearly Departed Homicide True Crime Tour. On the tour, we learned of what I’m guessing to be more than twenty of the most grisly murders in and around Hollywood.
Scott Michaels, the tour director has built a name for himself as one of, if not THE biggest experts on the Manson Family murders, so much so that Quentin Tarantino consulted with him on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Michaels has established contact with several local law enforcement officials and coroners, getting him the inside scoop on these murders, and he has put in some serious legwork to reveal some of the most sensational elements of Hollywood true crime. Some of these you may be familiar with: The Onion Field Murders, The Hillside Strangler, The Dating Game Killer, The Wonderland Murders, and the Hollywood Ripper, to name just a few of the incidents described on the tour.
Scott took us to the scenes of the crimes in his comfortable tour bus, and like a by-the-campfire master ghost story narrator, he spun these true crime stories in dramatic detail. These stories weren’t just mere domestic shootings (as if those weren’t tragic enough). No, these were the freaky crimes that make your flesh crawl. Dismemberment. Necrophilia. Stabbings. Really nasty stuff. In short, the type of things that horror movies are made about. After the tour, it felt like every tenth block of Hollywood must be haunted by the victims of stalkers, mutilators, predators, arsonists, and serial killers lurking on every street corner. Maybe I should go back to Disneyland to get some of that L.A. Optimism back!
I was thoroughly impressed with how easily Scott could improvise in the tour, able to smoothly segue bits of conversation as triggers for more fantastic tales. We riffed for about ten minutes about the Heaven’s Gate Cult, and side-barred about the nocturnal habits of Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. And no Hollywood tour would be complete without at least a couple of set locations, and for the horror fans out there, you would appreciate that we got to see the set locations for Halloween which drew the surprised admiration from the whole tour group as we instantly realized what we were looking at.
Thematically it made sense to do the tour at night (also… less traffic) but it became occasionally difficult to locate exactly the location of the various crime scene, having to peer into the darkness for a third floor apartment can be tricky. Some of these killings were so gruesome, I’m stunned that the buildings are still left standing, as the mojo for these locations would be truly awful. I have had a wonderful time here in L.A., but a definite portion of me will be glad to be back in Portland, after getting the dirty down-low about the dismembered victims of Hollywood’s dark side.
I quizzed my tour group friends and acquaintances who were all Angelinos, to find out whether they knew about these stories. Most of them new bits and pieces of some of the more famed reports, but Dearly Departed really framed a new picture for them. And, there were several of these stories that were brand new to them, so it’s a testament to the amount of research that Dearly Departed puts into their tours. Afterwards, a number of us went to dinner, and we were all comparing notes about what we just experienced, and we all agreed that this was a tour worth taking.
Dearly Departed is coincidentally located near the famed Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Santa Monica Blvd, though we were told that the location will be changing soon. The Dearly Departed, not surprisingly gets some very strange visitors and they have decided that it might be best to relocate to a safer location. I would call them or refer to their website for future considerations. For horror fans in L.A., this is a history lesson writ in fear and blood, really fascinating stuff particularly for those with a curiosity about true crime.