Turnbull Canyon Road, Whittier, CA

Status: Natural Wonder and Seemingly Catalyst and Conduit for Negative Energy


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History and Paranormal Activity

Turnbull Canyon is a 4-mile loop trail near Whittier in the Puente Hills Reserve.

It has become the subject of numerous Urban Legends related to burned insane asylums, a plane crash, ritual sacrifice and numerous murders to name a few. Many people consider it just another story to scare children with tales of the local haunted house; or, in this case, canyon. In many cases the legends can be dismissed easily – it is doubtful there is a doorway to Hell or that children were sacrificed here – but some of the legends are actually more in line with history.

Numerous people have met their tragic end in the canyon and one massive casualty event is nothing short of a recorded historical event.

Tragic events continue in this area up to today. A violent crime which resulted in one man’s death and a severe injury to a woman took place in May 2021.

Many believe the bloody history of the haunted canyon begins almost 200 years ago when European colonizers clashed with the native population. An entire tribe of Gabrielino Natives were not slaughtered in the canyon but some of the men of the tribe were shot by Spanish Conquistadors while trying to defend their women from rape. These men could certainly be the source of the stories of “angry spirits” chasing people out of the canyon – more specifically white males who could easily be seen as interlopers given the history.

Much of the lands now encompassing Southern California – including Turnbull Canyon – were forcibly taken from Mexico in the Mexican-American War. This time period may be this catalyst for the phantom sound of war drums reported in the canyon.

William Workman was awarded 49,000 acres of land – again, including the canyon – by the Governor of Alta California for his service during the war. Mr Workman, initially, had clashes with the Gabrielinos and his ghost has been sighted in the canyon. He committed suicide after his bank collapsed when the economy of California went belly up in the late 19th Century. However, there is no proof Workman was anywhere near or in the canyon when he killed himself.

The canyon was named after Robert Turnbull; a Scottish immigrant who was very rarely seen sober. Turnball took advantage of the crashed economy to buy the canyon at next to nothing. His plan was the cultivate sheep there and make his fortune from their wool. Two Quaker men soon tried to buy the canyon land as they owned the surrounding lands. Turnbull refused them repeatedly but finally gave in for the price $30,000. Shortly thereafter Turnbull fell off his horse – due to drunkenness – and spent the night in jail. The next morning, he returned home bruised and beaten but could not recall what had happened to him. The beating would lead to a brain aneurism which would lead to him falling off of a bridge to his death into what is now called the LA River. To end an increasingly convoluted story the 2 Quakers took pity on Turnbull and named the canyon after him – Turnbull’s death was ruled a homicide.

Fast forward to the mid-20th Century. Yes, I’m skipping entirely over the 1930s when an insane asylum is said to have built in the canyon which then burned down in the 1940s presumably with a high mortality rate. This story is probably a complete fabrication relegated to the annals of Urban Legends – this includes the story of a teen finding and frying himself to death with an electro-shock machine despite their being no power at the site.

I’m going straight to the early morning hours of April 18, 1952 when Flight 416 was inbound to Los Angeles International Airport. The last contact with the plane was made at 3:33 am and indicated it was over the city of La Habra on approach. Despite repeated attempts no further contact was made and the plane never landed.

Apparently, the Captain of the plane was flying 100 feet below the recommended flight level – probably due to the heavy fog in the area. One wing made contact with the canyon wall spinning it out of control and smashing into the ground. The plane exploded immediately instantly killing all 29 people on board.

The apparitions of the passengers and crew of Flight 416 have been seen in the canyon. They are commonly described as confused perhaps still looking for help after a crash that they are unaware took their lives. An overwhelming feeling of helpless and fear is felt by some at or near the crash site. On the annual anniversary of the crash the phantom sounds of the crash – which has been likened to hearing a bomb explode – are heard.

Between Skyline Drive and Descending Drive, a path is said to lead to the Gates of Hell – also rumored to lead to the gates of the aforementioned insane asylum ruins. The path is not paved with the skulls of unbaptised babies, filled with Satanic symbols nor covered with the blood of innocents as the legends would have you believe. Rather the path ends at a rusted gate with a No Trespassing and Beware of Dog signs.

Dense bushes mask anything behind the rusted chain holding the ramshackle gates shut. For the curious who have crossed they have found assorted garbage and other discarded items. There is a chimney-like structure that can be seen at a distance lending credence to the old asylum legends. I know its disappointing but no has ever found the Gates to Hell or if they have, they didn’t return to tell their tales.

Tragic events in the 21st Century have further led to the canyon’s haunted and evil reputation.

On October 12, 2002 the body of 17-year-old Gloria Gaxiola was found at a road intersection. She had been shot in the head and – apparently unknown to her killers – her foot had gotten caught in the seatbelt and she was dragged by the car.

For 5 years there was no arrests made until a witness came forth and identified her 3 killers who had been her friends. All 3 were sentenced to life in prison.

On August 4, 2009 Christine Martinez was stabbed and slashed with needles before being left to die in the canyon. This brave young lady survived and sought help. She able to identify her attackers and testified so they could all be incarcerated.

In March of 2011 the remains of a partially decomposed woman was found in the canyon. She has yet to be identified.

No proof – either historical or physical from explorers – can be found of any insane asylum anywhere in the vicinity of the canyon. The same goes for the stories of a cult that sacrificed children on inverted crosses in the 1930s or at any time. The Legend of the Hanging Tree also has no basis or foundation in truth that can be uncovered by serious researchers.  Of course, its no great reach to disregard the Gates to Hell as well.

Despite some Urban Legends being easily dismissed there are historical records of numerous tragic and terrible events happening the canyon. But; there will always be those who say terrible things have happened everywhere and Turnball Canyon is no different.

Other activity felt and witnessed in the canyon: apparitions including shadow people; feelings of not being alone; being watched; not being wanted, sadness, anger and pure malevolence; electrical disturbances; light anomalies; touches, pokes and pulls from unseen presences; unexplained mists; phantom sounds of laughter, screams, voices and many other unexplained noises.

The canyon has a history of Urban Legends but not all of stories are tales only told around the campfire. Even the ones that cannot verified cannot be proven completely untrue either. Is there an evil force at play in the canyon or just the echoes of a series of tragic events?