Here’s The Legend Of The Tujunga Phantom and how I scared the daylights out of a bunch of boy scouts. I first heard the legend 30 years ago and several times since then.
Over a hundred years ago, before the mountains around L.A. became the Angeles Nat’l Forest, anyone who wanted to live there could.
There is an area called Big Tujunga Canyon, very beautiful and rugged.
It was one of the hideouts of famed SoCal bandito Turbacio Vasquez.
And there was also a religious cult that lived there. They occupied a large meadow/flat area (now a campground) about 1/2 mile above the stream and built shacks (the foundations are still there).
No one seemed to know much about the cult. They were rarely seen. Every few weeks a pack mule train would show up in the foothills and a few people from the cult would buy supplies (paying with raw gold which they may have panned from the Tujunga River) and then head back up into the mountains.
A few hunters and miners who tried their luck there were chased away by the cult, which was led by a tall (some say 7’ tall) man with piercing eyes, booming low voice and a long white beard. Mostly people avoided them.
Round about 1900 the gov’t declared the entire area a National Forest. A few people had filed claims and were able to stay. The rest (including the cult)were told to leave.
Most of the people in the cult moved (some say to Hollywood, which at that time was just scrubland). But the cult leader (and a few followers) refused to leave. He claimed God had given him that land.
At first getting rid of him was not a priorority for officials, but after a few years the leader, now alone, started robbing cabins and hikers/campers.
A small group of Forest Rangers went up there to talk to the man, They couldn’t find him but they posted notices at the site where he lived. It was simple: leave voluntarily or be moved forcibly.
He didn’t go and the raids on people continued.
So finally a posse was formed. They weren’t going to kill or jail him or anything, they just wanted him to get the fuck out.
The cult leader had the advantage of knowing the area like the palm of his hand. The posse searched for days with no luck.
Finally they found him—well, sort of.
What they found was his decapitated body. His head was missing; it was never found. Some say he was killed by someone he stole from, others say the posse was pissed off at him for making them search for him for so long and killed him.
Anyway, the legend goes, to this day his headless body roams the canyon at night, searching for his head.
Me and my friends have been there many times, and seen—well, stuff. Like a shadowy figure. In fact, we renamed the camground Twilight Zone, even before we heard the legend. I won’t camp there at night.
Now, remember the L.A. riot about 12 years ago? Right after the riot, the City Of L.A. hired inner-city youths to work in the forest, mainly maintaining trails, to keep them out of trouble I guess.
They worked in that area for a few weeks, on The Fall Creek Trail which connects the camground to the nearest road miles away.
Several months later, I came across a hole dug into the hard ground in a bushy area on the edge of the campground, and scattered around that area were a lot of locked mail bags, cut open with a knife.
What I figured was that the people the city hired, or at least some of them, had robbed a mail truck during the riot and stashed the mail sacks up there, burying them, then went back awhile later to retrieve them.
The hole they dug was about the size of a grave—about 6’ x 3’ by 4’ deep.
Seeing the hole, and knowing boy scouts camp in the campground in the summer gave me and my camping buddies an idea.
So over our next few trips there we piled a bunch of rocks around the “grave”.
The next summer I’m camped down by the stream when about 20 boys scouts (ages about 14) and several troop leaders come hiking by, headed for the campground. While they were filling up their canteens at the stream, I tell the the Legend Of The Tujunga Phantom, except I added—
I told them that the cult leaders body had been buried up there (which might be true, I don’t know), and told them that the body kept getting out of the grave to search for it’s head.
They’re like “yeah sure, we’re not kids, we’re 14.”
“Hey” I said, “if you don’t believe me, I’ll show you the grave.”
So I walk up to the campground with them. I mention that the last time he got out when he was reburied rocks were piled on top of the grave so he couldn’t get out.
We get to the “grave” and see the rocks around the edges of the hole.
“Oh my God” I said “he got out.”
They started looking freaked out, and one of them said “Mister, are you a Christian?”
“Of course” I answered (I’m not).
“Well, do you swear to God that you’re telling the truth?”
Solemnly I said “I swear to God.”
Now, I had asked permission of the Troop leaders if it was ok to tell the scouts the legend and got their ok, back when I first met them.
The next day I go back up and the Troop leaders said “That must have been some ghost story you told them; they were up all night.”
The other one said “I got up to take a leak in the middle of the night and they screamed and started chucking rocks before they saw it was me.”
P.S. starting the next year, people I met camping up there told me the Legend, which included the part I made up.
The Boy Scouts I scared are now adults, prob, with kids of their own, and I hope they have continued the tradition.