I was already aware that sunny Southern California had a dark side when I moved here, given that the Manson family was on trial at the time. Soon thereafter, I got my first personal look at how dark things could get when I went into Schwab’s Pharmacy at Sunset and Doheny to find out that a young pharmacist I knew had been murdered over the weekend by a guy he picked up in a bar.
Several more jolts were coming, like discovering that my new landlord, a hypnotist who had appeared in clubs on the Strip, had taught Charles Manson how to hypnotize vulnerable people into joining his “family.” I avoided him whenever possible and slipped the rent check under his door.
In the late seventies, my boss went back to his WeHo apartment to find it wrapped in police tape. He found out later that his pretty young former neighbor had become the latest victim of the Hillside Stranglers.
My creepiest personal encounter (so far, anyway) was hearing that a former coworker had married the Night Stalker in prison. This sweet, quiet, seemingly normal young woman had been the editor of Tiger Beat but never took advantage of her many opportunities to date the cute guys written about in the magazine. She kept her virginity for her future husband, but since her Mr. Right was not allowed conjugal visits and died on Death Row, she presumably still has it.
While my life in this area has been pretty happy, not everyone has been as fortunate. We constantly hear stories of celebrities whose lives have gone horribly wrong but few can match the sheer horror of fifties glamour girl Barbara Payton.
Payton was one of many fresh-faced beauties from the heartland who came to Tinsel Town looking for success and for a while, things went smoothly for the budding actress as she landed parts in major motion pictures like “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” opposite James Cagney but alas, fame would be fleeting.
Payton quickly developed a taste for the wild life, developing a fondness for drink, drugs and men. Many men. This was the strait-laced fifties and Payton’s escapades were featured regularly in the gossip columns. When her fiance, the respected actor Franchot Tone, caught Payton with B-movie hunk Tom Neal in the West Hollywood apartment for which he was paying, a fistfight ensued that landed the distinquished star in the hospital. This should have been Payton’s wake-up call, but as Paramount executive A.C.Lyles put it, “Barbara never had an itch she didn’t scratch.”
Her career skidded downhill even faster than it had ascended and the next decade found her turning tricks for $5 at various run-down motels and drinking at the Coach and Horses bar on Sunset at Stanley. Payton was forgotten except for the occasional tawdry cover line in Confidential magazine or an arrest for soliciting.
She finally made the news again on a freezing cold morning in February 1967, when she was found passed out beside the dumpster behind the Thrifty drugstore at Sunset and Fairfax. Payton was taken to a hospital where she was diagnosed with liver failure. A few months later the 39-year-old died at the home of her parents in San Diego. Some of today’s hard-living celebs should see the chaotic life of Payton as a cautionary tale, and if a ghost restlessly wanders Sunset Blvd. in WeHo, it’s probably Barbara.
I saved the worst for last because it’s so unbelievably horrifying that I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen the evidence on the nightly news. Back in the early nineties, an older lady lived alone in a home located on the curve of Crescent Heights Blvd. where motorists can turn right onto Santa Monica. Her name was Carol Fuller and she led a rather reclusive existence, estranged from her family and rarely interacting with her neighbors.
In February of 1995, her postal carrier noticed the mail and newspapers piled up on her doorstep and called for a welfare check. The sheriffs who entered the Spanish-style bungalow found the interior looking quite normal until they went into the bedroom. There they found a chest of drawers barricaded against the closet door. When the officers pushed it out of the way and opened the door, what was inside shocked them to the core.
Inside the tiny closet, they found the dead, emaciated body of Fuller, who had apparently starved to death inside. Bloody streaks on the inside of the closet door attested to how the unfortunate woman had fought to claw her way out but no one heard her cries or came to her rescue. I remember being horrified seeing the door on the evening news and knowing it happened within walking distance of where I lived. I had driven past her home every day going to work and had no inkling of the horror happening within.
This remains an unsolved case but detectives had a theory. Fuller’s car was found in an impound lot on Skid Row where it had been towed in December, leading them to think a denizen of that neighborhood had forced his way into Fuller’s home, locked her in the closet, shoved the chest in front of the door and stolen her car. The story faded from the news as no potential suspect was found.
It’s easy to see why no one really wanted to live in this house, which is now a luxury jewelry store. I’m surprised that this story hasn’t inspired an episode in one of those horror compilations but maybe the ending is just too scary even for the movies.