Turnbull Canyon

Posted by in US Ghost Adventures
Turnbull Canyon - Photo


Turnbull Canyon is a haven of sycamores and beautiful landscapes — a quiet respite from the wild hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. The canyon is a four mile loop trail near Whittier, California and part of the Puente Hills Preserve. It’s in the northern section of the preserve and a creek runs right down the middle, giving water and life to the native grasses and sagebrush that dot the cliffs and hills.

One would assume that the canyon was a place for rejuvenation, but that couldn’t be more untrue. The canyon is home to more than just a handful of tragedies, ghostly residents, and legends.

If a visit to a haunted canyon sounds like a great time to you, perhaps an up-close and personal tour to some of California’s most haunted hotspots sounds better. Check out our tour locations page to find a ghost tour near you!

History of Turnbull Canyon

In the early Spanish Colonial period, several Tongva Native Americans were put to death at Turnbull Canyon for rebelling against the Franciscan and Spanish friars at the nearby Mission San Gabriel. Refusing to adopt the religious ways of settlers, the Native Americans had their lives brutally taken from them. As a result, the canyon was given the name ‘Hotuuknga,’ meaning the place of death and darkness.

Turnbull Canyon was named after the Scottish immigrant Robert Turnbull after he purchased the canyon from Quaker businessmen in the 1870s. He later sold the land back to the Quakers in the 1880s for a large profit, but Turnbull’s luck ran out when he was murdered in town shortly after. The Quakers decided to name the canyon after Robert in honor of his passing.

Oil drilling started to creep into the canyon in the late 1890s and in November of 1900, two oilmen were chased out of the canyon by a couple of unusually large cougars. Perhaps this was a foreshadowing of the events to come in the canyon’s future. Some believe it was Native spirits, protecting the canyon from the environmental impacts that oil drilling would have caused to the landscape’s flora and fauna.

Since that day, Turnbull Canyon has developed a truly strange set of stories, some of which are unproven, but some of which are terrifyingly true.

Spirits of the Canyon’s Native People

One of the most commonly reported phenomena that has come from the canyon is that of Native American spirits that haunt the land. In the mid-1840s, numerous conflicts erupted over the ownership of the land all throughout California — Turnbull Canyon included. California belonged to Mexico at that time, and the United States was attempting to annex it. In 1845, William Workman became captain of a group serving Governor Pio Pico in his fight against Governor Manuel Micheltorena in the battle of Cahuenga Pass during the Mexican-American War.

Following the battles, Pio Pico was appointed the governor of Alta, California and he awarded William Workman with 49,000 acres of land, which included Turnbull Canyon. Workman did not get along with the native Gabrielino people of the area. Even before Workman ‘claimed’ the land, Spanish conquistadors had terrorized the native people of the canyon as they tried to defend their women and children.

Given this history, it’s commonly believed that the spirits of the Gabrielino people haunt the canyon — willing and able to chase anyone out violently. The sound of screaming and the beat of war drums have also been reported.

Robert’s Story

Robert Turnbull arrived in California in 1873, where he lived until he was murdered in 1888. He was a shepherd who moved to California in an attempt to make a living selling real estate in the area. The first plot of land he purchased was located in LA near the Macy Street Bridge, now known as the Cesar Chavez Bridge.

It’s believed that not long after his arrival, Turnbull began to gather the reputation of the town drunk. People he did business with, his friends, and family stated that they had never encountered him completely sober. His drunkenness would later lead to his murder.

Around the time that Robert was buying up real estate in the area, the owners of the Temple-Workman Bank were poorly managing their business. In 1875, California’s economy was so bad that it was unable to meet the demands of the residents. The bank was closed in 1876, and plans to foreclose the property were set forth. William Workman ended up ending his own life a few days later.

Robert was later appointed to an advisory committee that was attempting to pay residents back for the money that was lost during the closing. Due to his connections, Robert was able to purchase lots of land for relatively cheap. He bought the canyon to raise his sheep for wool.

In 1885, two Quaker men, Aquila and Jonathan, were searching for land in California to start a new colony. They purchased the land around the canyon, but after seeing that the canyon had an active stream, they tried to purchase it from Robert — he refused. Two years went by, and finally in 1887, Robert accepted an offer from the men for $30,000.

In January of 1888, Robert spent his night like many others, drinking at the bar. On his way back home, in a drunken stupor he fell from his horse and was arrested. The next morning, he returned to his home bloody and beaten. He could not remember how he got into such a terrible state, but as a result of these unknown injuries, Turnbull suffered a brain aneurysm that the town coroner stated was because of a blow to the head. The injury caused Robert to fall from the Macy Bridge, and his body was recovered later in the L.A. River. It seems a cut and dry case, but the coroner stated that Robert had been murdered — it was no accident.

To this day, no one is sure what happened to Robert Turnbull. Was it just an accident? Or could someone have been responsible for his death?

Flight 416

On April 15th, 1952, the L.A. International Airport lost all contact with Louis Powell, the captain of Flight 416. The plane had been expected to land around 3:30 a.m. but it never made it to the final destination. Several calls had been made to Powell and the crew, but a response never came.

Around 10 a.m. that same morning, a rancher had been traveling around Whittier Heights when he saw plumes of smoke rising from the hills of Turnbull Canyon. He climbed to higher ground and noticed mangled metal and flames — and the remains of Flight 416.

The reason for the crash? Captain Powell decided to fly 10 feet below the suggested altitude. It was a foggy morning, and he was unable to see where he was flying. As Powell navigated the canyon practically blind, its wing scraped the side of the canyon and spun out. As authorities cleaned up after, they figured out there was twenty-nine people on board at the time of the accident. All of them died on impact.

People these days report seeing billows of smoke as well as the sound of bombs going off — could this be a residual haunting of the sounds that echoed through the hills the day of the crash?

The Legend of Hell’s Gates

Another darker legend exists in the canyon — Hell’s Gates. Stories of cult meetings, satanic worship, and skeletons of ‘unbaptized babies’ are reported but hold no weight in truth. There’s a dusty trail that leads to a barbed wire fence covered in ‘no trespassing’ signs, piquing the minds and curiosity of those visiting the canyon. Some believe that there lies an abandoned orphanage past the rusty fences, someday an old mental hospital — it’s unknown where this legend started or how much of it is true.

The True Horrors of the Canyon

One story-based, in fact, is that of Gloria Gaxiola. She was shot in the head by two of her trusted ‘friends’ on Turnbull Canyon Road before she was accidentally dragged for four miles to Hacienda Heights. Her body was found after, unknown to her killers, her foot was stuck on a seatbelt, and when the door was closed and the car drove away, she was dragged along with it.

Three suspects were named and arrested: Abraham Acuna, Mathew Garcia, and Victor Monge. Gloria had been friends with the three, and they were all convicted of first-degree murder.

Their reasoning? They were worried that Gloria was going to testify against them for a robbery they had committed and decided that killing her was the only way to prevent that from happening.

The following year in 2009, Christine Martinez was stabbed and slashed with needles and left to die in the area. In March of 2011, another woman was found in the canyon’s ravines. Parts of her body were missing. Her identity has yet to be uncovered.

In Conclusion

The dark energy of the canyon is palpable. Visitors who come from the views don’t stay long, and report the feeling of being chased out of the canyon or watched intently. Who are the spirts in the canyon? Could the victims of all of these tragedies be stuck here? Why is the canyon home to so many unfortunate circumstances? As we end this article with more questions than answers, perhaps you’ll just have to visit the canyon and find out for yourself.

For more about America’s haunted outdoors, check out our article about the Top 10 Most Terrifying Things Found in the Woods!

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