By Claudine Burnett, contributing writer

Author Claudine Burnett and her “muses,” Amador and Esmay

Halloween is fast approaching, the time when the portal between the dead and the living is said to open. Living in Huntington Beach, I decided to investigate paranormal events close to home. I uncovered reports of mystery lights, ghostly hoofbeats, and spectral sightings on the Bolsa Chica mesa, a well-known Indian burial ground, the site of the Bolsa Chica Gun Club and the location of a World War II bunker and underground tunnels.

I wondered if the sightings on the mesa could be those of indigenous people and could they be true? The history of Native Americans at Bolsa Chica goes back 8,000 years. Little is known of the earliest inhabitants thought to be Hokan speaking and ancestors of the Chumash. In 1930 a rancher plowing his field discovered more than 100 skeletons in a space of 15 by 30 feet on the upper mesa. The remains revealed all were men, and the teeth indicated they were from individuals in their late teens to early forties. Interestingly, some of the skulls had higher foreheads than others. Mortars and pestles were also uncovered, one bowl weighed 40 pounds, and one pestle 9 pounds. Many obsidian arrowheads were found, ranging from 2 to 8 inches in length. The bodies seemed to have been laid out in graves, either many bodies in one large grave, or the bodies laid out close together. The fact that all were men led to the belief a battle had been fought and those killed were buried in the peaty soil where digging was easy. Another theory was that there may have been a marshy spring on the site, and the Native Americans disposed of their dead by depositing the bodies in the spring, or marsh. Was there a battle? The Native Americans of the region were not warlike. Could the Spanish or Russian otter fishermen have been responsible? We do know Russians killed many warriors and carried away their women.

An osprey takes flight from a branch of a dead tree at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach just after sunrise on Wednesday, October 14, 2020. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

The Bolsa Chica natives most likely had contact with the Native American inhabitants of Puvunga, a 2-mile square village bounded by present day Willow Street, Anaheim Road, Palos Verdes Street and Los Alamitos Boulevard in Long Beach. Not that far from Bolsa Chica, the two sites would have been easily accessible to each other by boat.

Puvunga was a holy site, revered as the place where the world began. The major god was Chungichnish who emerged full grown on what would became the great village of Puvunga. Native Americans, devoted to their belief in Chungichnish, made yearly pilgrimages to Puvunga (which can be translated as “The Gathering,” or “The Place of the Crowd.”), to honor Chungichnish, as well as the sacred spring where, they believed, life on earth first emerged.

I wrote about Native American hauntings at Puvunga in my book “Haunted Long Beach 2.” It seemed the natives were seen or heard most often when their burial grounds were disturbed, such when dirt from a nearby construction project at Cal State Long Beach was dumped onto a Native American burial site. Perhaps the same is true of Bolsa Chica’s native dead, concerned about oil company activities disturbing hunting grounds, houses being built on their sacred land, hikers trodding along through their village, and the opening of the new tidal passage in 2006.

Energy is what paranormal activity is all about. The First Law of Thermodynamics says that energy is neither created nor destroyed, just transformed. The new ocean opening may have generated intense energy brought on by change. Could the unexplained lights seen entering the passage be related to stirred up residual energy which reveal the past?

According to paranormal researchers, at times the actions and words stored in an area can be triggered and, like a video tape, replayed. It also seems that certain people have a “psychic gene.” They are able to tune into these different energy frequencies much easier than other people and tune them in like one does a radio or television station. Experts in paranormal activities believe that someone with this psychic bent, or even certain atmospheric conditions, can trigger paranormal phenomenon. Is this what is happening at Bolsa Chica?

Bolsa Chica was a favorite place for smugglers long before the days of Prohibition. The commodity wasn’t liquor but Chinese. Since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, all immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States was outlawed. Those that could prove they had been in the United States prior to the ban were allowed to stay. As a result, illicit traffickers were paid large sums of money by the relatives and friends of those seeking to join their countrymen in America. The normal procedure carried out by traffickers was to bring the Chinese as regular passengers to Mexico. From there they were smuggled into the United States in small boats which landed along the beach.

One boat owner was a grizzled Italian, the Long Beach Evening Tribune pointed out, who owned a weather-beaten boat frequently seen offshore near Bolsa Chica. In one instance the boat appeared to be caught in kelp beds, battered by the surf. When other fishermen went to offer help, the man refused, saying he would wait until the tide changed. However, the would-be rescuers did note something in the bottom of the boat covered with old sails, which the old man seemed protective of. The next day the boat was found ashore with no trace of the captain, but three Chinese were arrested as they made their way inland. They admitted they had been put ashore from a fishing boat near Huntington Beach. The captain was never found, and the boat salvaged.

Smuggling of Chinese and other immigrants continues. Could the mysterious lights be from boats belonging to the present OR the past?  Or could they be the etherical form of a murder victim searching for his heart?

In October 1929 duck hunters found the body an unidentified man in a secluded corner of a willow swamp in the Bolsa Chica area. It appeared his heart had been cut out before the rest of the body was blown up with explosives, At first police believed it was a ritual sacrifice by some weird religious cult., especially after an autopsy found the heart was missing. Medical experts believed the man had been murdered before dynamite was used to blow up the body, which accounted for flesh being found 15 feet high on the trunk of trees in the vicinity. It was one of the most baffling cases officers had faced in years.

In March 1930 police got a lead when they discovered Angelo Freni lying on the highway. Freni, it appeared, had miraculously dug himself out of an improvised grave near the Huntington Beach dump situated along Pacific Coast Highway. With a fractured skull, he was in too poor of a condition to be questioned. However, soon afterward two men, John Wallace (aka Chester M. Curry) and Harry Moran (aka Harry Morgan), were arrested in the oil fields after they hurled bloody clothing, a gun, jimmy and jack from their fleeing car. When questioned, they admitted Freni was part of their gang and when he had second thoughts about robbing a Costa Mesa bank, they were afraid he would squeal. At first they beat him, then decided to frighten him enough by burying him in a shallow grave. The two men told authorities they planned to dig him up, but their timing was off. They refused to admit the body found without a heart had been a member of their gang. Though they did admit that handling dynamite was tricky and perhaps the poor fellow, not knowing how to handle explosives properly, was blown away. Bloodhounds, dental descriptions, medical descriptions of spinal curvature, clothing marks all proved unsuccessful in identifying the victim. Could he still be roaming the wetlands looking for his heart?

The remnants of a sixty-two acre in July can still be seen at the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach, CA, on Wednesday, October 14, 2020. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

What of the bunkers and tunnels? Could they generate a residual haunting in which a location picks up and records intense energy?

The bunkers and re-enforced concrete tunnels built by the Army during World War II at Bolsa Chica certainly were constructed at a time of “intense” wartime energy. They provided ammunition storage and protected housing for the soldiers manning them. In 1961, a man exercising his dog near Bolsa Chica discovered a heavy metal door leading to the concrete tunnel system. It piqued the interest of the press. In September 1961, reporters from the Press-Telegram, bent on inspecting the underground rooms, were escorted off the mesa by an Orange County sheriff’s deputy summoned by gun club members. William Walkup, director of civil defense in Orange County, said his office knew about the tunnels, the entrances of which were partly visible from Pacific Coast Highway. Walkup, however, said he had been told the emplacements were “not available” and he did not want to discuss the matter any further. A request to tour the installation by Press-Telegram reporters was turned down. However, an Orange County official, who had viewed the complex earlier, estimated the largest of the two sections of rooms and connecting corridors could hold 15,000 persons.

Concrete with a high thermal mass is known to absorb energy, could residual energy from the military installations be a possibility in the paranormal sightings at Bolsa Chica?

What of the ghostly hoofbeats heard on the mesa? Though many a rider (and horse) enjoyed the wetland trails, and their delight of the site may echo through time, I uncovered another possibility.

In August 1905, K. Harishiba arrived at the gun club to begin his work shift. Dismounting from his horse, his foot caught in the stirrup. His horse shied and Harishiba was dragged several miles before the horse reached home and stopped. Harishiba was dead, his head was beaten to a pulp, the Los Angeles Herald reported, and the body badly bruised.

Everything Paranormal reports an apparition of a young boy dressed in white seen on the mesa. When spotted he will run around a corner and disappear. Who could he be? I decided to investigate.

American white pelicans make their way through the calm water at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach just after sunrise on Wednesday, October 14, 2020. The Bolsa Chica Land Trust received $135,000 to help restore two tern nesting islands in the reserve. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Suicides have been known to frequently stick around after death. However, I ruled out Arla Sels because of his age and the fact that his death occurred several miles away from Bolsa Chica. Sels was 25 when he committed suicide by firing a bullet into his head near the home of his 15-year-old Huntington Beach fiancee Bernice Fyock in November 1919. It appears Bernice realized she was too young to be engaged and returned the ring to Sels. Sels, who was the jealous sort, became furious when he heard a boyfriend of the girl had invited her to a school dance at Long Beach. Bernice declined the invitation because she knew Sels would be upset. On the evening of the dance, to prove her truthfulness, she invited Sels to her home. The two had a brief conversation which must have upset Sels because he then committed suicide a few steps from the Fyock’s 5th Street house. (You might be interested to know that Bernice did eventually marry, a 34-year-old divorced man, Raymond Le Moine in June 1927).

John Pike’s body was discovered near the Bolsa Chica Gun club in 1931, the area of the spectral sightings. However, at age 17 he is somewhat older than the description given by those who have seen the apparition. Pike had come to Huntington Beach to celebrate the Fourth of July with friends and drowned. The caretaker at the club found the Altadena youth five days after Pike’s disappearance.

Kamino Senzo fell off a wagon on the morning of Oct. 19, 1915, at the Bolsa Chica gun club. The wheels ran over his head which caused instant death. The location matches with the ghostly sighting, but again, the age of the individual does not. Senzo, employed at the club, was about 35.

Despite all these possibilities the most likely candidate is probably a young boy who lived at the Bolsa Chica Gun Club with his family. I can’t trace any young death to the club, but the good news is that some believe a ghost dressed in white is a pure soul said to have good energy. Why would he still be around? Perhaps he is upset that the Gun Club was razed without fanfare in September 1964.

Urban legends or truly haunted? Wander the wetlands and make your own decision. In any case, enjoy the wildlife and the history of this site that has fortunately been preserved.

Sources:

  • “500 attracted to old Indian burial ground.” Santa Ana Register, 29 December 1930.
  • “Army-built tunnels could shelter 15,000.” Press-Telegram, 7 September 1961.
  • Brooks, Dave. “Haunted Huntington.” Daily Pilot, 27 October 2005.
  • Everything Paranormal (10/9/2019) paranormaleverything.weebly.com/California.html
  • “Find body of drowned boy washed ashore.” Santa Ana Register, 9 July 1931.
  • “Find body of murdered man.” Santa Ana Daily Evening Register, 7 October 1929.
  • Gang may have operated locally. Long Beach crimes may be traced to mysterial burial bandits.” Press-Telegram, 27 March, 1930.
  • Keller, Don. “Razing of Bolsa Chica Gun Club portends big marina development.” Independent Press-Telegram, 20 September 1964.
  • “Life crushed out under a wagon wheel.” Santa Ana Register, 19 October 1915.
  • “Man believed victim of cult: heart and other internal organs removed by oil field slayers.” Press-Telegram, 10 October 1929.
  • “Man of 25 kills self near home of 15-year-old finance.” Los Angeles Herald, 7 November 1919.
  • “Rider thrown and dragged for miles to his death.” Los Angeles Herald, 22 August 1905.

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