A Ghost Story

I’d like to take a break from my stories (true and untrue) and share a ghost story from my friend Rick Turton.  I met Rick online a few years ago when he joined a FB writing group I admin. I was impressed immediately by his sense of humor. He is also the father of my daughter’s fourth grade teacher Nate (one of the best teachers in the world.) Rick is also the author of the moving poem The Eagle Cried.

Thank you Rick for allowing me to share this one too.

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VM_ reaching out

 

A Real Ghost Story from Rick Turton

Like most stories, the beginning is not really the beginning. MY story’s beginning started in 1958 when we first moved into this enormous house. My family moved to the small ocean front town of Manhattan Beach, CA in 1953 from Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley, where my parents grew up.

The house itself was pretty spectacular; a white “Colonial” with three stories, five bedrooms, five bathrooms, three fireplaces and a built-in BBQ in the Game Room downstairs. Also in the Game Room was a full wet bar, an ancient upright piano and eventually a pool table. Surrounded by decks, verandas and patios; eucalyptus, beech and cypress trees abounded. She was the “Grand Dame” of Manhattan Beach, allegedly being the second permanent structure built in the city. The house itself was built out of the rubble of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake and originally had 10 acres of land surrounding it, including horse stables at the bottom of the hill. History says at one point there were 1 million bricks on the property!

My Mom fancied herself an interior decorator of sorts and to her credit did wondrous things to the inside of the house. Painting like a mad-woman day and night; my Dad would come home from work and grab a sandwich in one hand and a paint roller in the other to help out! But, growing up, there was always one bedroom in the house that seemed cold to me. The room was on the south-east upstairs corner of the house and always had plenty of light and sunshine, but…it always felt cold. My mom had decorated it in bright yellows and whites with starkly contrasting black accents, a very happy looking room…but it always felt cold.

As I was growing up, I occasionally heard my Mom & Dad talking of The Book that was written using the house as the setting. Because there were “graphic” details, I was not allowed to read The Book. (Remember, this was in the late 50’s and early 60’s.) There was even a movie made about The Book, starring Robert Wagner and Elizabeth Taylor!

Life was good in Manhattan Beach in the 60’s; people were laid-back, relaxed, and friendly. I enjoyed my schooling (as much as any kid could enjoy school!) I grew up there, had great parties through Jr. High School and high school, played a little basketball and then on to college. After college, Uncle Sam requested my presence for a little soirée he was hosting in Southeast Asia. I came home from the War, got married and we even had our wedding reception in the living room of the house.
After a tour in Germany and my eventual discharge from the Army, my Bride and I came back to live in the beach area. It was during this time that my parents decided to take a trip to Europe for several weeks and they asked us if we’d like to house sit for them. Of course, we jumped at the chance!

While we were staying there, I remembered The Book. I looked all through the library shelves and finally found the hiding spot. I pulled it out and sat down to read it. It was a fascinating “coming of age” book about life in Manhattan Beach in the early 30’s. The main character was a young man named Josh who had no real male figure in his life. His mother was a fading Hollywood star who had an alcohol problem and provided no real guidance. One of her (many) boyfriends, Ben, came into young Josh’s life and they connected. He became the “Big-Brother” figure in his life and they became fast friends. The Book itself eventually deals with the tragedy of Ben’s suicide.

I read The Book with great interest because I had grown up in the location and could see the scenes as they unfolded. The author took “literary license” in a couple of areas; the stair banister going to the game room had a wrought iron railing rather than a wooden one with a newel post at the bottom of the stairs for one (this plays an important part in The Book later on).

The life and times of Manhattan Beach in the 20’s and 30’s piqued my interest and the subject of The Book only fueled the flames of curiosity. I decided to do a little amateur detective work and find out more info for myself. This led me to the Public Library in Carson, CA because at that time, remember, Al Gore had yet to invent the Internet and there was no GOOGLE! The library had all of the newspapers in the area on microfiche and you could look up any past history in the actual pages of the newspapers on the microreader.

My research lasted a couple of days and I was actually able to locate the stories in the Daily Breeze, the local newspaper for the beach area. The first article dealt with a male who died of a gunshot wound. It appeared on the front page, below the fold on a Friday and had sketchy details at best, just the What, When, and Where. It mentioned that the Manhattan Beach Chief of Police and two of his officers (both rookies, on their first case) were called out to the grounds surrounding the house to investigate a dead body discovered by “someone”. That was pretty much it for the first article. The second article was buried in the back pages of the Monday edition. All it said that the police were still investigating the event but, at this point, they were still not ruling out “foul play”, however they had identified the body as that of Reid Richard Russell, a twenty-three year old used car salesman who had resided in the neighboring town of El Segundo. The third and final article appeared several days after that and stated that the police had ruled the death a “suicide by gunshot to the head.”

The body was found lying in a hammock suspended between two red eucalyptus trees and was holding a .32 caliber pistol in his right hand. It was discovered by a 12-year old boy who lived on the premises with his mother, actress, Lila Lee. As far as the police were concerned, that was it, end of story. I could find no more articles in the archives of the library.

But that only made me more curious. My parents knew a lot of people in Manhattan Beach, and among them was the current Chief of Police. He was one of the two rookies who were assigned to the case. I unashamedly dropped my parents’ name to get to the Chief on the phone. I explained who I was and what I was doing. When I asked him about the case, he suddenly got very agitated and defensive, “Well…all those records are upstairs in a box and they haven’t been looked at in years…besides that case is closed, we ruled it a suicide! I’m sorry, I can’t help you!” Then he suddenly remembered an appointment he had conveniently forgotten and hung up in my ear.
Wow, talk about getting blown off!

Now I really need to delve further into this! From my notes, I looked up the name of the other officer involved in the case and set out to track him down. As it turned out, he has just retired from the California Highway Patrol. Several phone calls later I was able to speak directly to him. I again explained who I was and what I was doing and, after assuring him that I was NOT a reporter in any way, he was very happy to take my call. We had a great conversation! He recalled vividly the case because it was his very first one. He always felt that it really didn’t turn out the way it should have. If it was in fact murder, it would have been the very first murder in Manhattan Beach. Since Manhattan Beach was a tourist destination town at that time and relied heavily on tourist dollars, the effect would have been devastating and crippled the economy. The first curiosity was that there was no suicide note found. The second oddity (and perhaps most damning argument) was the pistol was a .32 automatic and no shell casing was ever found at the scene. He was very candid with me and felt that not finding a suicide note and ESPECIALLY not finding a shell casing had always bothered him. He said that in his mind, this was a murder; but since there were mammoth political pressures to call this a suicide, and he was ‘just a rookie, after all’, that’s what it became, a suicide. By calling this a suicide, the town’s economy would remain unharmed.

As the week rolled along, I had a conversation with my friend, Dan. Dan was very into Hollywood. When I mentioned that there a movie actress involved, he suggested that we call the William Morris Agency, the huge talent agency in Hollywood. Perhaps they would have some information on Lila Lee. We agreed that Dan should do most of the talking (because he’d know the questions to ask and that’s one thing he does real well, talk!) and that I’d listen in on the upstairs extension. (Remember, this is in the early 70’s and phones were still hard-wired to the wall!) After getting through the main switchboard operator the phone conversation went something like this:

Wm Morris: Good morning, William Morris Agency, how can I help you?
Dan: Good morning, I’m trying to do a little research in an actress from the 20’s and 30’s named Lila Lee. Did your agency represent her? (Keep in mind this is all the information Dan has provided)
WM: One moment, let me look her up for you…
WM: I’m sorry; our records indicate that she was not represented by our agency. (Pause) But…you did say Lila Lee, right?
Dan: That’s right, why do you ask?
WM: Are you calling from a big, white house? In Manhattan?
Dan: (Warily) Yes, how did you know?
WM: Well…I probably shouldn’t say anything, but last week, my OUIJA group talked to her. She died in a car crash, in front of a restaurant called “The White House”, in Manhattan, NY.

By this time, things had transcended rapidly into the bizarre. Both of us were so blown away by her announcement we could think of nothing else to ask her. We thanked her and quickly hung up. I came downstairs and we just sat there, looking at each other, not sure what to make of anything that just happened! “Well…”, he said, “Umm…THAT was weird!” I quickly agreed and we both just kinda’ chuckled a little; you know? That uneasy laugh you have like when you’ve just ‘seen a ghost’? That, whistling in the graveyard kind of stuff! After that, there didn’t seem much more to say so we filed it away in our minds under “Just Weird”.

Later, that same week, I was sharing with my wife some of what I had learned. Then I remembered that we had a OUIJA board around somewhere. I finally found it in the front closet that doubled as game storage. We turned out the lights, lit several candles and, armed with a couple of glasses of wine, sat down to play on the OUIJA board. We sat in front of each other, knees touching (my favorite part!) with the board between us on our laps. We asked the board several trivial questions and got favorable responses. About that time, two of my wife’s friends drove up and we invited them in. I explained to them about my quest to find the mystery of the house and a little of what I’d learned, including the phone conversation with the William Morris Agency. We all laughed about that and went back to the living room. We offered wine to our friends sat down. Our friends spied the OUIJA board and we returned to using it. We asked several questions with our fingers poised lightly on the pointer. The pointer slowly moved towards the answers, and the answers were correct each time. Now, there are those who would scoff and say it was the person’s own sub-conscious mind actually making the pointer move. With that in mind, we asked our friends to sit down and I would tell them the questions to ask.

The questions I was instructing our friends to ask were very minuscule details of the current research I’d just completed. These were questions that I had not discussed, even with my wife and we hadn’t seen our friends until that evening! And the board kept providing the RIGHT answers! EVERY. SINGLE. TIME! Now, I will admit, we were getting caught up in the moment, but I asked our friends to ask the board, “Was it a suicide?” The pointer slowly circled and slid off the board, indicating an unwillingness to answer. “Was it a murder?”, and again, the pointer circled, then slid off the board. “Was it a crime of passion?” The pointer started towards the corner where the “Yes” was located, but then purposely slid off the board. Then it dawned on me that we had no idea to whom we were speaking. Since our OUIJA friend from the William Morris Agency and sent us down this path, I asked them to ask if we were speaking to Lila Lee. The pointer slowly but emphatically slid to “No”. Then I had them ask, “Who are we speaking to?” The pointer slid to R…R…R! Reid Richard Russell. The twenty three year old victim! Again, we asked if it was suicide and yet again, the pointer slid off the board. We then asked if it was murder and as before, the pointer slid off the board.

Now, as I was standing there, watching in amazement as the board was sharing its information, I felt a hand on my right shoulder, an icy cold hand resting lightly but decisively on my shoulder. I turned and, of course, no one was there. I startled and they asked what was wrong? I said that I’d tell them in a minute! But first, the OUIJA board goes away, the candles are blown out and ALL the lights in the house are turned on! After that was done and only after that, did I tell them about the hand.
There were just way too many coincidences to be ignored…

Reid Richard Russell

Richard Russell Turton

Used Car Salesman

Destined to spend the better part of my adult life in automotive parts sales on used cars

His middle name My first name

His last name My middle name

That REALLY cold bedroom in the corner of the house, I mentioned earlier? Further research unearthed that room was Reid Richard Russell’s bedroom…

I have no idea about how you feel about the “Other Side”, but me, I knocked on that door and it opened! That cold, cold hand was inviting me in…

I have not touched another OUIJA board since that night, and if anyone else brought one into the room, I would leave…

I ain’t gonna knock on THAT door again!

Authors Note:
• The Book? “There Must Be A Pony” by James Kirkwood Jr. He later co-wrote “A Chorus Line” and several other books, including “P.S. Your Cat is Dead”. He won a Tony and Pulitzer Prize for his works.
• The works of James Kirkwood Jr. have been associated with at least one other coincidental death in the acting industry:
o Sal Mineo – Stabbed to death in West Hollywood while acting in the play, “P.S. Your Cat is Dead”
• Several years later, I discovered that Lila Lee died in 1973, of a stroke in Saranac Lake, New York. (But what a door THAT opened!)

Richard Turton
August 26, 2014

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