California / News & Updates

Trona – Murder House?

By Cindy Nunn

Definition of urban legend

an often lurid story or anecdote that is based on hearsay and widely circulated as true

Trona is a small, dusty Mojave Desert town located in San Bernardino County, California, not too far from Death Valley. To say it has seen better days would be a major  understatement.  Driving through town you find it hard to believe that it still has a population of about 2000 people, most of whom are solid American working class just trying to hold on like the rest of us. These are the strong ones who refuse to give up and walk away.

You wander down street after street, seeing one abandoned house after another, with remnants of broken dreams and shattered lives littering the yards and inside the homes. But be careful of entering what appears to be empty, because unfortunately Trona also has a population of squatters… dangerous ex-cons recently released from prison, strung out junkies and dope dealers cooking up meth inside some of these abandoned spaces. It is not a place you want to wander alone, and you definitely do not want to be caught there when the sun goes down. It has been reported that even deputies with the Sheriff’s Department preferred spending extra time at the jail over living in a rent-free house in Trona.

Trona also had a brush with a famous person from history.  In 1910 Wyatt Earp made an appearance in the desert town, but not as a man of the law. This time Wyatt was arrested with a large party of other men who had one purpose in mind… claim jumping!

Trona has a way of making you feel sad and peaceful at the same time. There is a sense of quiet beauty in the desolation, hope among the ashes of what once was. For someone wanting to escape the insanity of big city life Trona would be perfect, if it weren’t for the criminal element lurking around, waiting for the honest people of Trona to make the 60 to 90 minute round trip drive to Ridgecrest for groceries (depending on weather conditions) so they can try to break in to their homes.

I’m sure it isn’t hard for anyone to believe that Trona also has its fair share of ghost stories, considering the haunting condition of the place. I’ve heard stories from a few former residents of the place who wanted to share, but the most compelling story for me involves the image above, of the rusty old gate and the abandoned house next door. I was drawn to this particular location. I don’t know why, but when we drove on past it I insisted that my husband turn around and park the car so we could explore it closer. This fit the location we were told about at The Joint in Randsburg. Had we found the house we were looking for?  I stood, just waiting, listening, feeling the air, when suddenly a wind kicked up out of nowhere, and the rusty old gate started swinging back and forth, the hinges creaking and groaning in protest at the sudden force putting it in motion. I walked around, touched walls, and sensed…something. As I walked back towards the gate, away from the quaint but eerie house, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle, as if unseen eyes were  warily watching me from the dark recess that used to hold a door. I had just been inside. The house was empty, at least of living, breathing human beings. No junkies, drug dealers or ex-cons. I didn’t turn around to go back inside. I was ready to leave.

After returning to Ridgecrest I mentioned it to my friend. She asked if I had photos. I told her I did. Then she asked.. “Was there an old gate with sheets of rusty metal?” I told her there was. She then said she didn’t need to see the photos, she knew this place. It was commonly known as the place where a terrible murder had happened many years ago. She wasn’t able to give me any further information. I did some research but nothing came up that seemed to match what I was looking for. Maybe it was just one of those local legends that adults made up to scare kids, or that kids made up to scare each other. In any case, another person who seemed familiar with this location based on local stories that are being passed down.

I decided to share my video of this house and the creaking gate to YouTube. Someone left a comment, the first comment. It made me go “Hmmmm…!” The poster stated… “this is where a man was beheaded in 1978. his ghost is seen around this area all the time. the gate opens and closes even when there is no wind around.” This fit with the story we were told in The Joint.

Just another Urban Legend? Maybe. Until recently I was unable to find anything to correspond to this tale. However, read my follow-up article about the possible genesis of this legend. You can read it HERE.

If anyone out there knows more to this story, please leave me a comment.

Sources:

Mainstream article from which I was able to validate information regarding crime, drugs and deputies refusing to live in Trona.

NOTE:  Recently I received a flood of rude, nasty and vulgarity filled complaints about this article by some people from the town of Trona. I did initially remove it after having a conversation with one woman who turned out to be friendly and full of common sense. After retracting the article and posting an apology I continued to receive vulgar, hate-filled and mentally unstable messages. So, I took another look at this article and honestly did not see how or why this fairly innocuous article ended up setting off so many people in such an over-the-top knee jerk reaction. I did make it clear more than once that the URBAN LEGEND of the murder had not been substantiated, which should have been easy to comprehend.

I was accused of being a liar, of having made all this up just for the fun of it, and apparently I am now going to be made the Wicked Witch of the West in a documentary about Trona, based on this article alone, although I find it hard to believe that any professional documentary film maker would do such a thing solely because I shared the story of an Urban Legend, along with information I posted that was originally written and published by a reporter from the Los Angeles Times newspaper in 2006, which included direct quotes from residents of the town.

I can assure all that this was not a story I made up out of thin air. I believe that the rest of my articles and research work show that this is not what I do.

Comments regarding druggies, the danger of going to Trona, and various other negative things, were told to me by numerous people with no connections to each other. However, before writing I did research their comments and found this previously posted syndicated news article by the Los Angeles Times / Chicago Times:  https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2006-10-29-0610290348-story.html

Some quotes from the article…

Fed up with the crime, congestion and cost of living in Southern California’s Orange County, Fred Hermon went looking for a place where he could be alone, a place so remote, so unappealing that few would ever want to live there. Hermon, 60, has already spent $2,600 on a chain-link fence and rarely leaves home for fear of being burglarized. On his first night in town someone swiped his $15 garden hose.

Over the years, Trona, once a thriving community of 6,000, has shriveled to just 1,800. Drug dealers looking for cheap housing have moved in. Parolees abound. Arsonists have torched dozens of vacant homes, leaving charred skeletons behind. Business owners, unable to make a profit, have simply locked up and walked away.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has offered deputies willing to work in Trona free housing and less jail duty. Most prefer jail.

The author of the above article was David Kelly, Tribune newspapers: Los Angeles Times, so maybe he should also be contacted as he was the original source.

I invite you to do a search for Trona on YouTube, where you will find others to attack who HAVE made videos that are actually insulting.

This book, titled Trona: Armpit of America, by Tobias Zielony, is particularly disturbing in the way it portrays not just adults in Trona, but teenagers… https://www.lensculture.com/books/11641-trona-armpit-of-america

Also check this out, by the above Tobias Zielony…. http://www.mottodistribution.com/site/?p=15829

For more “lovely” images of the people of Trona as captured and published by Tobias Zielony, just Google his name and click on the IMAGES tab. Its a real eye opener, folks. You want someone to attack, go after this guy.

Point in fact, many stories of hauntings are based on local lore and often little to nothing can be found to back up the tale. Yet they still remain local lore. Hence, my comment in the article that this had not yet been substantiated. I, like many others, have heard many similar tales from other towns and the people who live in those areas. Since this blog is about hauntings and gruesome tales this particular tale fit the theme. There was nothing mean intended. Simply sharing Urban Legend.

I do find that these comments publicly posted about Trona are far more negative and damaging, from this site: https://www.roadsnacks.net/worst-places-to-live-in-california/

I think your list is a bit flawed. Especially in the case of another hamlet called Trona: the village’s pH is so messed up that grass does not grow there. Outsiders eating from their Mom & Pop restaurants or drinking their water get sick from the ground toxicity. It bad enough that it was the inspiration for the movie Toxic Crusaders. That is because it is next to a salt crystal lake that is dredged for a chemical plant. It’s even more historically significant: Trona is the closest establishment to the Panamint Range where Charlie Manson lived.

Completely agree! A lot of these places look pretty nice and fancy compared to Trona, CA. I had to play them in football when I was in high school, and damn, that place is awful. I would rather be in jail for one year, than live in Trona, CA for two.

As others have commented, this list is very flawed if Trona isn’t on it, let alone at the top of the list. I suggest the writer, in the interest of balanced journalism, go there for just a day, rather than just looking at spreadsheets, and see if they don’t agree.

Yet another article about Trona, where the writer did some research and came up with the same information I did from the Los Angeles Times… https://rehabreviews.com/bad-decisions-sobriety-almost-moved-trona/

According to a 2006 article in The LA Times, the small rural town of Trona (population: 2000) is known for its seclusion and loneliness. (Isolation, as most people know, is the least healthy environment imaginable for a recovering alcoholic who has co-occurring disorders.)

The article mentioned that a lot of break-ins occurred in this quaint town. A naïve tenant who moved to Trona to escape LA was instantly robbed. Thieves stole his brand new $29 garden hose. And there was another tidbit of interesting information: the sheriffs in San Bernadino required deputies to work in Trona or at the local jail, and offered to provide them with free housing if they chose Trona. Most of them selected jail.

Most of the houses in my future neighborhood were deserted and charred. Some had smashed-in windows. I thought I saw a few skeletons staring at me from a window but I attributed it to the intense desert heat. Dominating the landscape was the Mosaic Company chemical plant, which spewed noxious white smoke into the air. There was a sulfur-like aroma.

Tenants emerged from their houses like extras from The Walking Dead. I waved at them with the graciousness of Eva Peron addressing her subjects. All I got were stares.

Jim, the landlord’s handyman who lived two blocks away, greeted us outside the house. I was surprised that he wasn’t carrying a chainsaw. All of us, including Zeus, went inside.

My Sprint phone had no service. Oh my God, what now? I needed the Internet for work, plus how could I call 911 if I had to? No one would know I was getting murdered except for the weird neighbors and then they would step over my lifeless body, shoot my dogs, steal my garden hoses and raid the house like those crazy Greeks did to the Widow in Zorba the Greek.

When I got home, the landlord sent me the lease along with a disclaimer stating that Trona had high levels of asbestos.

So, hopefully everyone can put things into perspective and stop the vicious attacks. Or, if you must attack someone, go after the Los Angeles Times writer who is the main source for the information you disagree with. I am sure that as reasonable adults we can all agree that maybe things got out of hand with the private message attacks.

What I can assure you of is this… my husband and I both loved visits to Trona. We had considered buying a house and moving there for the peacefulness offered by the desert. We didn’t do so because of employment opportunities and, to be honest, the scary comments made by others who do not live there.  I have the greatest respect for those who have continued to stay in Trona, which I know at times has probably not been the easiest of choices, but the facts and crime stats are are out there, just like for any other town in America. You are not unique in that respect.

I am offering you something that I wrote about Trona in a magazine that I published in 2016, which is markedly different from the Murder House story. I have uploaded it so that you can read it.

//view.joomag.com/kudos-the-great-outdoors/0324118001552882898?e=1&page=1&embedInfo=;

 

I think some apologies are in order for the abusive, unhinged and unwarranted attacks that were leveled at me, but I think that those who were quick to attack are not quite “man enough” to step up to the plate and apologize. I wasn’t raised in Trona, but I was raised in a place where parents did teach their children to be responsible and learn to apologize when they have wronged another. Oh, and next time, before you attack and call someone a liar, do YOUR research!

Trona: Solitary, Splendid Squalor

 

 

10 thoughts on “Trona – Murder House?

  1. Fred Hermon lived 2 doors down from me,and he did build that fence, but not to keep criminals out, but to keep his 28 cats corralled and protected from Coyotes.
    He also fed 100’s of pigeons a couple of times a day, the birds loved him, but shit on the rest of the neighbors.
    Fred was a long way from normal, wandered around the desert in an alcohol stupor.
    The epitome of an angry old recluse.
    He did have some money, and left it to the Senior Center and History House, which is admirable, but most didn’t take him seriously.
    The person who bought his home after his passing (who is one of the brothers he talked crap about) has removed his fence and other odd artifacts, and is now occupied by a younger couple who have way more Trona history by the 10th grade than Fred ever did.
    Also, there’s no more pigeons

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  2. I know from personal experience that Trona is a scary dump. I have relatives that lived there for awhile because they worked at the Soda ash plant. Meth is rampant there, people do squat in abandoned homes, even though the summer temps can get way over 100 degrees.
    I don’t know about a murder house, but I know that a young Trona female helped her boyfriend kill her brother out in the desert over the Inyo County line, so the case was prosecuted in Inyo County when they got caught. They beat the brother in the head with a rock, and tried (or did) decapitate him with a shovel. Late 80’s, early 90’s.
    Another Trona alumnus helped kidnap and murder some German tourists visiting Death Valley (mid-late 1980’s)
    This of course doesn’t make everybody out there bad, but if you pay attention, it is difficult to see the difference between new earthquake damage and plain old decay. Again a dump. There is a reason you can buy a house for 3200, you get what you pay for.
    As for the rabid Trona defenders, ya gotta be “special” to live out there, and they take out their angst (or whatever you want to call it) on other people who wouldn’t live there if it was the last place on earth to go.

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  3. We went through Trona to get to Death Valley seven years ago. Half the town was boarded up and it seems they had a fire bug or many homes went up in fire during the making of meth. We drove around to look at the decay and could not believe how many homes were burnt to the ground. Its seems every street we drove had 3 or more burned homes. I did not feel safe driving around during the afternoon and glad we did not go through at night. The Trona Pinnacles were cool but you had to drive miles down a dirt road so we admired them from a distance. That is the only nice thing I can say about the town. I enjoyed reading your article very much as I love ghost towns and ghost stories. Do you have anymore stories?

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  4. I’m not from Trona but have lived here for 12+ yrs. Some things are just outsiders listening to others. The town isn’t pretty by any means , burnt houses are the only way people could leave. Ins. helped get them out. No one cooks meth here the ones that do any drugs rarely bother anyone. The cops we get here are criminals sent here to do their time The real Sheriff retired a few years ago, criminal cops have been sent here for a long time. Its probably boring for them because really, there are no crimes to speak of for quite some time we have idiots just like any other town. I used to walk to the post office at 1 or 2 a.m. without fear or leave my door open at night it’s too hot to go out with all my dogs in the day so we lived at night the temp stays at 100 all night 125 in the day time. The open desert all around us is quite beautiful free to go anywhere I want to do my photography thousands of flowers as a matter of fact we have the smallest flowers in the world here. Some parolees are sent here none of the ones they let out for the virus have come here Yet. I just wanted to put my 2 cents in and clarify a few things. The sale of the Plant ruined this place There were 6,000 people here at one time since the earthquakes there is less than 1,000 but there’s no noisy freeway, no traffic, and we are pretty safe from the virus we don’t even get colds here. One more the Germans were on a tour bus headed to DV it disappeared they searched for says. Three years later a guy went over a small cliff when he reached the bottom there was a tour bus full of dead german tourists. I admit I hated this place still don’t love it but I have no way to move so I’m here shooting photos, rockhounding, going to one of the shooting ranges get in some target practice, and enjoying the quiet it also snows here. It’s different that’s for sure.

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    • Thank you for adding your experiences and thoughts, Lisa. I agree that as desolate as it is there is still a remarkable beauty. I personally love abandoned places and the desert. What some seem to forget is that every place has its legends and tales, generally based on some fact that has been lost over time. This does not detract from the good and decent things about a place. Trona and my home town of Simi Valley have something in common… we were both cursed by the presence of Charles Manson and his followers. But it does add color to a town’s history 🙂

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    • Sorry Lisa Crafton you are absolutely wrong. No one ever found a bus full of German tourists, nor did a bus disappear. Two men were tried and convicted for kidnapping and murdering a German family, sometime in the early 80’s, but maybe 70’s, before I lived here. One was from Beatty, and one was from Trona. A friend of mine worked in Independence at the time, and watched them go back and forth from the jail to the courthouse during the trial. So the crime must have been committed in Inyo County.Charlie Manson and his girls also graced our courthouse at one time. Not much happens around here, we don’t forget. I am sure Cindy Nunn could find the data on these crimes. One of Charlie’s girls was from Trona, and lived on there for years.

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