Halloween is months away, but Hollywood has been so consumed with vampires and ghosts lately that it seems a good case of the shivers is never out of season. With that in mind, here's a quick account of some of the supposedly haunted homes in the Hollywood Hills. By "Hollywood Hills," I refer to the Santa Monica Mountains and its foothills and canyons, that stretch from east of Hollywood to the Pacific Coast.
In 1928, Beverly Hills was a sleepy little village that was just beginning to get a reputation as a suburb for the wealthy. In the hills above the city oilman (and 1920s Teapot Dome federal oil lease scandal figure) E.L. Doheny built a palace on nearly 20 acres of land that today is part of Trousdale Estates. Doheny called his mansion Greystone, and it was like a mini version of Hearst's San Simeon, complete with a movie theater, bowling alley, stables and a tropical lake with a waterfall. Doheny gifted this castle to his son Ned, who moved in with his wife and four children. After living there just four months, Ned was shot to death by his male secretary, who then took his own life. Mystery still surrounds the specifics of the case.
For about ten years, from the mid-1950s until the city of Beverly Hills bought it in 1965, the estate sat empty, except for the occasional movie shoot. Kids in the neighborhood would break in and run amok inside the place. They knew it was once the scene of a murder, and that made the deserted mansion even spookier. Today Greystone is a city park and it's on the National Register of Historic Places. Guided tours are offered, and if you ask, the docent will tell you where the shootings took place. Check it out, if you dare.
Just down the hill from Greystone is the home where Eric and Lyle Menendez killed their parents, Kitty and Jose, on August 20, 1989. The house, in the 700 block of North Elm Drive, is a popular stop for tour buses. A year after the murders the property was put up for sale. One prominent realtor told us at the time that so-called "murder houses" are a tough sell. But every home has a buyer, and eventually the Menendez mansion -- and its haunted history -- found one too.
On the evening of August 9, 1969, actress Sharon Tate and four others were murdered in a rented home in Benedict Canyon by members of Charles Manson's "family." Years after the murders, the house, at the end of Cielo Drive, was rented by Trent Reznor of the group Nine Inch Nails. He's been quoted describing the home's bad vibes. Reznor was the last person to rent the place. It was demolished in 1994 and another house was built on the lot. There are a lot of "ghost stories" on the web about the Cielo Drive site. One thing that is true, however, comes from a friend of mine who lived nearby at the time of the murders. He told me that within days of the killings, homeowners began installing security systems. Nevertheless, he says that many of his neighbors still felt a lingering uneasiness, especially when they glanced up the street where the murders occurred.
Finally we come to our last allegedly haunted house. This one's in the 1500 block of Benedict Canyon Drive. In 1959 actor George Reeves -- TV's Superman -- reportedly shot himself to death. I say "reportedly" because over the years there have been numerous reports that his death was not a suicide, but a murder. In any event, the house has had a high rental turnover. Neighbors told one of our reporters that tenants have complained that the place is haunted. A Hollywood tale? Maybe.