Real-Life Ghost Hunters: In the Footsteps of Legendary Los Angeles Murders

Locations in this article:  Los Angeles, CA New York City, NY San Diego, CA

Nighttime Los AngelesLos Angeles may be known for its movie stars and year-round sunshine, but there’s also a dark side to the city.

Over the past century, many headline-grabbing murders have taken place in the City of Angels.

From the mysterious death of the Black Dahlia, to the less-mysterious murder of Nicole Brown, Los Angeles is brewing with intriguing murder sites.

If you have a flair for the macabre, take a day trip around Los Angeles to see five murderous sites that will chill you to the bone, even in 70-degree weather.

Dec 17, 1927 – Marion Parker
Corner of 5th and South Manhattan, Los Angeles

Backtrack to December 15, 1927, when a ransom note returned home from school instead of 12-year-old Marion Parker. Abducted in plain sight of the school registrar, Marion left class with a man who claimed that her father had been in a car accident.

Her father, Perry Parker, a prominent banker, faced off with the kidnapper—a man who called himself “The Fox”—on December 17 at the corner of 5th and South Manhattan. Perry could see Marion sitting bundled up, eyes wide with fear, in the passenger seat of the kidnapper’s car.

downtown los angelesThe Fox took the money, made out in gold certificates as requested, and drove off, pushing Marion into the street. When her father found the little girl, not only was she dead, but The Fox had cut off her limbs and propped her up to give the appearance of life.

Eighty-some years later, this street corner looks like any other urban neighborhood in Los Angeles. Apartment complexes and Korean shops dot the surrounding area, and people carry out their daily tasks oblivious to the fact that a major kidnapping and murder case culminated on that corner.

But for those of us who know better, make this your first drive-by along the murderous trail, and pay tribute to the little girl who never got to come home.

January 15, 1947 – “The Black Dahlia,” aka Elizabeth Short
3800 block of South Norton Avenue between 39th Street and Coliseum

In 1947, the film industry flourished in Los Angeles. With 350 days of sunshine and movie star neighbors like Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, L.A. was where aspiring actors and actresses flocked, desperate for the world to know their names.

Los Altos Hotel & Apartments, spooky, but unrelatedNo one could have anticipated the publicity frenzy that overtook the city when someone discovered the dismembered body of a beautiful young woman in a vacant lot, a deathly “smile” sliced from ear-to-ear across her face.

The police later identified the victim as Elizabeth Short, a mysterious and attractive woman who had been trying to break into the film industry. When the media discovered the gruesome murder details juxtaposed with the photogenic shots of Short, they knew they had a national sensation on their hands.

After hundreds of hysterical articles, scores of interviews with Short’s “boyfriends,” an anonymous box sent to the police containing her personal documents, much speculation, and a star-studded blockbuster movie, the murder of the woman who would live on in infamy as the Black Dahlia remains unsolved 60 years later.

You can still drive down the block where the she once lay, dismembered and frozen in a sickly grin. After passing through the intersection of 5th and South Manhattan, drive a few more blocks to the neighborhood that sits on South Norton Avenue between 39th Street and Coliseum.

August 9, 1969 – Sharon Tate, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, and Steven Parent
10050 Cielo Drive, Benedict Canyon, Beverly Hills

Beverly Hills signPossibly the most gut-wrenching murders of the century occurred in a serene estate atop the cliffs of Beverly Hills. On the night of August 9, 1969, Charles Manson’s murderous “family” of followers tortured and brutally murdered an eight-months-pregnant Sharon Tate and her guests. Police found the victims in various locations around the estate, all shot to death and mutilated.

If you can stomach the drive, relive the cult’s legendary trip to the Tate residence on a nighttime venture up to the dark, winding neighborhood in Beverly Hills. New owners have since rebuilt the multimillion-dollar estate and readdressed the property as 10066 Cielo, but the aura of evil surrounding this home continues to frighten visitors.

Even the nighttime drive through Benedict Canyon can be intimidating. Equip yourself with your brights and a GPS system that will make the sparsely lit, twisting streets a tad less foreboding. And don’t let the address confuse you—the house lies on Bella road, though the address reads Cielo.

Just a few minutes outside the haunting residence will satisfy any morbid cravings for Halloween gruesomeness. If you’re a true Manson buff, consider adding a stop at the LaBianca Residence at 3311 Waverly in Los Feliz—the site of another gruesome Manson murder.

June 12, 1994 – Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman
875 South Bundy Drive, in Brentwood

OJ’s white broncoMore than a decade ago the country was gripped by the murder of Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman, then the subsequent arrest, trial, and acquittal of football star O.J. Simpson. The killer fatally stabbed the victims to death: Nicole’s throat was cut, and Goldman’s body was covered in “teaser” wounds that preceded the final deathly jab.

For a while, the premises of 875 Bundy (later changed to 879) became the most talked about location in America.

Nighttime visits to the eerie condominiums today will keep even the most courageous on their toes. After a frightening encounter with the front gate, turn west on the adjacent street, Dorothy, and make an immediate right into an alleyway, tracing Simpson’s steps to the back gate.

O.J. trial obsessees can relive another Simpson experience, by tracking the “low-speed” chase along the 405 freeway that led police to Simpson’s former Brentwood residence at 360 Rockingham.

May 4, 2001 – Bonny Lee Bakley
4349 Tujunga, Studio City

In May 2001, Bonny Lee Bakley was shot and killed outside of the now-infamous Vitello’s Italian Restaurant. Bonny Lee had dined with her husband, former TV star Robert Blake, at his favorite Italian restaurant and enjoyed the fusilli a la Robert Blake.

As the story goes, a few minutes after the couple left the restaurant, Blake left Bonny in the car and returned to the restaurant to retrieve his licensed gun, which he had left in the booth. When he returned to the car on the corner of Kraft and Woodbridge, Bonny had been shot; medical assistance could not revive her.

Bonny’s mysterious past, alleged stalkers, and multiple marriages complicated the prosecution of Robert Blake, whose three trials resulted in two hung juries, and finally an acquittal. The murder is still unsolved.

If you’re feeling sleuth-y enough, end your tour of L.A.’s murderous places with a meal at Vitello’s. Despite the murder site just a block away, Vitello’s boasts a tasty menu and a warm atmosphere filled with jazz tunes. Request the booth where Bonny and Robert shared their last meal together, and polish off some fish with three glasses of red wine, just as Bonny did before her fatal shooting. But as a precaution, try not to park on the corner of Kraft and Woodbridge, just in case.

One hundred years. Five murderous sites. One day to visit them all.

By Corinne Crockett for

Looking for more spooky stays? Don’t miss Haunted Hotels: Spooky Destinations All Year-Round as well as Peter’s Today show piece, Haunted Hotels: Spookiest Stays in America.

For more travel information on Los Angeles, check out our Off the Brochure Travel Guide to Los Angeles, California.

Nearby, San Diego has not just the haunted Hotel del Coronado, but a wealth of surprising spooky fun. Check it out in Off the Brochure Travel Guide: San Diego, California.

And if you’d like to add some fright to your next trip, check out Frightful Destinations for the Spooky-Starved Traveler.