Camarillo Mental Hospital aka UC Channel Islands…a Haunting Adventure by Jymie Darling
When I was a kid growing up in SoCal, my mom (also a SoCal kid) told me of stories from her childhood. She told me of this lady down the street from her Sylmar. She said that everyday, the woman would come out to the curb dressed in her best (this would have been the 1950’s) with her suitcase. My mom once asked her what she was waiting on and the woman replied that Elvis was going to come and pick her up. She would tell my mom of the wonderous life she was going to lead with Elvis.
One day, the husband came home and had a medical van with him. They picked her up off the curb and took her away while the kids waved goodbye to their mom. Mom said it was Camarillo State Mental Hospital. She went on to tell me that it was about 3 months later, there was a wake held at the house. She had died at the hospital, cremated and sent back to the family. I told my mom that was sad. My mom said…that is not the sad part.
She went on to tell me that Camarillo had a reputation that was rumors but true as far all were concerned. The rumors were the following:
No one checked out of the Mental Hospital alive and the hospital had rumored Nazi doctors there.
I said “frightening”. She looked at me with a concerned face and said…I never said that they had actually died when they said they died.
Later, I learned that Camarillo Mental Hospital was the inspiration for Hotel California by the Eagles…that the song was not all that off in truth and reality.
There was a part of the hospital for the rich and the famous…then there was the deadly part.
Flash forward about 30 years. I find myself with a group of some of the greatest people (Stephen Franco, Mary Flores, Rene Flores and others) about to investigate the grounds one night.
We enter the grounds and we somehow got split up into 2 groups. I think it was to cover specific areas before catching anyone’s attention. The hospital was gone but it was being converted into a university. Maybe a handful of students on the grounds and most the buildings were still being renovated.
The group I was with begin to walk down a main street of the campus. Buildings are around us. Street lamps on but not really all that bright. Wouldn’t you know my luck, up comes a security guard on a bike. I was not dressed to impress…black leather jacket on for warmth, thick bondage style pants and dr martens. He rides up to Mary and I and begins to talk to us.
Now part of our group is just slightly away and they are filming us on camera (VHS camera). Mary and I are trying to chit chat and be friendly. We kinda want to keep ourselves on the grounds.
We are shivering a bit and swatting mosquitos off ourselves from the swamp lake next door. Mary and I start to notice something odd about the guard. He does not seem to blink nor can you see his breath when he speaks. You can see ours. Mary and I kind of give each other a squint look but say nothing. I am not sure if she sees what I see or if I just am missing something as I keep looking away.
The guard asks us if we are into the new music out. Mary and I shug and say sure. I mean we are kind of alternative music listeners and I just cannot believe that the guard is into that. He brings up the newest release “Hotel California”. “You kids heard that yet?” We say…”Ummmm…yeah.”
He asks us what we are doing on the grounds. We say just some harmless ghost ‘hunting’ for lack of a better term. He looks at us concerned and says “Okay. Well, you kids stay out of the buildings. At night, the doors automatically lock and the windows are sealed shut. No electricity at night. No one will come until morning to open up.”
Mary and I look at the building next to us…doors are open. Lights are on. Windows are open. I look at my watch…it is midnight. We agree to not go in anywhere. Just stick to the courtyards and streets. He continues “And stay away from the back building near the basketball courts. That is where they keep the insanely violent and cannibals.” We know what area he is talking about. The building is empty except for storage stuff they have yet to move. “The basement is the most deadly. They broke out once and killed the guards one summer playing basketball.” Mary and I continue to swat the mosquitoes. Bastards. Mary asks the guard “Doesn’t the mosquitoes bother you?” He answers “They use to but not anymore.” I ask him “Aren’t you cold in shorts out here?” He answers “No. Why would I?”
Mary gives me a look and we say bye and he shakes our hands and then rides away. We continue on the investigation. Taking photos. Almost avoiding our concerns. We usually saved those questions for Denny’s afterwards over a grand slam.
We make it over to the cannibal area. The campus emergency alarms start going off for a moment. These are like tall boxes with flashing red lights and a very annoying buzzing siren. They do not go off for long. Mary and I are startled by the sounds of laughing children and the sound of running. Close. We see their shadows cast upon the wall down the street. Running towards us. Laughing. Playing. I look at Mary and say “there are kids here?” Mary said “No.” The shadows go to round the corner to come onto our street. And there is no one. Sounds go silent.
Suddenly there is banging on the pipes in the basement. Like insane banging for insane people. I look at Mary. That is the place where the cannibals were housed. We go to walk closer to get a better look with our cameras and flashlights. And BOOM…a cop car comes around the building, onto the grass and across the courtyard. Straight at us. Not sure they will stop. I yell “Hey…Stop the fucking car.”. A female cop slams on the breaks jumps out of the car with gun out. Shaken. Visibly shaken. I put my hands up and tell her it is only a camera in my hands. “I am a military veteran and please do not shoot me. It is only a camera.” She comes over and tells us to get out NOW. Mary and I tell her that it is okay, the security guard on the bike told us we could stay. She looked at us terrified and said “There is no security guards here and there are certainly none on bikes.”
We apologize for any law she thinks we might have broken but we have not broken any. Staying out of the buildings. Just walking on the grounds that are open to the public. She says to just leave for our own good.
Not wanting to get shot..we decide to find the rest of our group who were experiencing crazy episodes also and head out.
I have yet to go back there. I am not sure since the university opened fully that we can walk onto the grounds at night freely. But it would certainly be interesting to return!
Follow up research:
There was a summer when the violently insane broke free and killed some guards playing after work at the basketball court. One of the guards was the guard who spoke to us that night. It was in the 70’s.
The rumors had it that the poor would check in and suddenly die. All bodies were cremated and sent to any family they had. However, eyewitness accounts tell a different story. They were still alive. Held for experiments. Some gave birth in order to study the insane gene in the kids….the 50s were definitely a lovely time for mental health and it was not unheard of that Nazi doctors were smuggled into our mental hospitals at the time. Frightening thoughts.
so the next time you are at a haunted place and someone rides up and shakes your hand…you just might be shaking the hand of a dead man. I know I will always watch for the blinking of the eyes.
The 1948 movie, “The Snake Pit,” was filmed on the grounds of Camarillo, and due to its disturbingly realistic portrayal of what goes on in mental institutions, 26 states changed their mental health laws after the movie became popular – but the same horrifying treatments continued and INCREASED at Camarillo despite this.
By 1957, Camarillo was jammed with more than 7,000 patients, shock treatments were standard and lobotomies were also performed, as well as sterilizations. The 5X increase was often justified as reasoning to sterilize more patients in order to increase “eugenic efficiency. (Stern, “From Legislation to Lived Experience”, p. 104).
As if all of that wasn’t horrifying enough, during the 1950s and 1960s especially, the hospital was at the forefront of so-called treatments of schizophrenia* and patients were being used as “testing grounds” for unsavory drug and therapy “procedures”!