As a journalist, even a student journalist, you always dream of finding your gold mine. A story that leads you deeper and deeper into that bright maze until you’ve dried up its treasures. That is of course until you start digging with your own bare hands and instead of gold you find yourself clawing into a deep black abyss.
Funnily enough my story begins with a literal gold mine in Nevada County; the subject for my first major assessment at UC Berkeley, or so it was when I started it. Over the winter break I returned to my home town in Grass Valley, California, the kind of town you see in old Spielberg movies like ET. The assignment I had brought home with me gave me the opportunity to find my first major story as a student journalist and publish it in a medium of my choosing.
After much deliberation, and no small amount of procrastination, I decided to do a series of vlogs, which I’ve been uploading online, detailing the history of my local area in Nevada County. The county was founded during the early days of the California Gold Rush and was home to the most profitable mine in the entire gold rush; Empire Mine.
It sounds simple enough right? And it’s not exactly the gold mine I’ve always dreamed of, but I’m not writing this account to tell of an assignment detailing the history of Nevada County. Suffice to say over the course of a single afternoon the nature of said assignment changed completely.
While helping my parents sort through my late Grandpa’s possessions I found my gold mine, tucked away in Grandpa’s shed. I’m sure we can all relate to that one big cryptic caution our grandparents would stress upon us when we came to visit, “Don’t go under the house… Don’t touch Grandma’s Apple Pie until it’s cooled down… Don’t play by the bushes in the front lawn…”. For me I was told to stay away from Grandpa’s shed.
I used to believe it was because of sharp tools inside but what I found chained up in an old rusty cabinet suggested otherwise; a small metal box that’s contents were suspicious to say the least.
My grandfather was once a police detective in Boston. When he retired and moved to Nevada County he used to assist the local Police Department with a few tricky cases. After examining the contents of the box I found, I could only assume I’d discovered what was left of an unsolved case. The contents I found inside the box were as follows: the adoption record of a girl named Jesse Hill with no birth date or name. Asylum patient records for the same Jesse Hill, admitted for paranoid behaviour and hallucinations. Additionally, there was a key and key card bearing the logo of the asylum Jesse Hill was admitted to. My Grandpa also kept inside the box a spine chilling newspaper article from the 90s titled, MENTAL PATIENT THE VICTIM OF CULT MURDER detailing the suspicious death of Jesse Hill a few years after her admission to the Asylum.
The final contents of the box included a map of our local area with a few different locations circled on it. One of the locations however was not marked with a circle but a mysterious symbol, the same symbol that appears on the back of one of five photographs also found in the box. Accompanying said symbol was Grandpa’s name and address. In summary what I’d found was a box full of red flags, which I foolishly chose to ignore and follow the trail my Grandfather tried to hide away.
My first order of business was to enquire about any files related to the Jesse Hill case at the local courthouse. Unfortunately, anything relating to Jesse Hill and the symbol I’d discovered were still restricted to the public. So, my next course of action was to start following Grandpa’s map.
I had a vague familiarity with one of the marked areas, an old river bridge called Edward’s Crossing, so I started with that. Google maps told me it was restricted federal property – something about being a heritage site, so I opted to go at night and avoid any workers or officials that might be patrolling around. Not the first time I’d gone off-trail, but the circumstances around this particular trip made it all the more exciting. I enlisted a friend with a car, John, to help me make the half hour or so journey there.
It had been raining all week, and as we approached nearer the road become more hazardous. Branches and debris littered the ground, fog hung low and thick in the air, and the trees leaned over us like they were about to cave in. I had thought getting in would be the problem, but John seemed more concerned with getting out.
The road brought us down the mountainside towards the river, and as our decent continued the effects of the rain became even more visible. Torrents of floodwater poured down the slopes and the road became increasingly less visible. When we finally reached the river, I could see that it was almost double its usual height and speed, and its roar was deafening.
The bridge definitely matched the photograph from Grandpa’s box. Grandpa had circled an area around the far base of the bridge, so I headed in that direction with John reluctantly in tow. The storm clouds blotted out any light from the sky, and between the darkness and the disorienting noise of the river it was impossible to tell if anything was there. We had to get closer.
From the other side a few concrete steps led down to the underside of the bridge, where a small overhang over the river afforded us a closer view of the support struts of the crossing. It was clear that if there was anything there it would have been washed away after all these years.
I was determined to keep looking but after a few precarious slips John demanded we leave. He seemed really on edge, and from more than just the danger of where we were standing. He said he had a bad gut feeling about this whole thing. So, before too long we headed back up and left.
The next location I decided to investigate was the location marked with the symbol, which rather ironically was located near Empire Mine. My friend Paul and I explored the surrounding area until we stumbled upon concrete ruins that matched one of the photographs in Grandpa’s box. This time, I discovered more than just a site my grandfather had taken a picture of. The symbol that was marked on this location on the map was engraved in the concrete and below it a suspicious pile of rubble. I dug through the rubble and then through the soil and unearthed yet another metal box. Unlike the one from Grandpa’s shed however this one was locked – tight.
Try as I did to open the box I could not pry the lock without possibly damaging the contents inside. I’d seemingly met a dead end in my investigation. So, I decided to do something drastic. Paul and I returned to the courthouse and this time we snuck in unsupervised and managed to access the restricted files concerning Jesse Hill and the symbol that kept appearing. Somewhere like Berkeley we’d likely be caught for doing something so stupid… and arrested. Luckily in Nevada County however, such a task was less risky.
While we were in the dark file room searching through documents and files with the flashlight on my phone and the light from my camera, which Paul was using, we continued to expect someone to round the corner, call the police, and my assignment would end with direr consequences than a fail.
To both our surprise and relief however we managed to leave the courthouse with a handful of relevant case files. It didn’t hit me until I got home how illegal our little excursion was but upon viewing what I’d retrieved at the courthouse my break in and entry became a distant concern.
I learned that the mysterious symbol, on the map, on the back of the photo and engraved on the concrete ruins near Empire Mine, was involved in several unsolved cult murders in the United States. Both the symbol and the group that were using it seemed to have the cops at a loss.
Having made some headway, I decided it was time to visit the next location on Grandpa’s map, the asylum where Jesse Hill was admitted. The building had recently been turned into office space but renovations were still under way so with some luck I hoped to find some evidence left from Jesse’s time there.
Paul and I arrived at what was once the old asylum in the late afternoon. I had in my possession the key card and key my Grandpa had left in the box hidden in his shed. No staff seemed to be present in the recently renovated building but luckily the key card got us through the front door. We navigated our way to an elevator, which would take us down to an old wing of the asylum not yet renovated. Grandpa’s key accessed the floor where the old wing was.
The old elevator shook as it took us down, I would be lying if I said I didn’t begin to feel knots in the pit of my stomach, and then finally it came to a halt.
The doors opened and before us lied a black void. The flashlight on my phone illuminated the floor and ceiling in front of me but failed to fill the darkness stretching on beyond that. We split up momentarily, searching for anything relating to Jesse Hill. Given how sparse the space was and the few old cups and plates I came across I guessed we were in the mess hall. Suddenly I heard my name called in urgency through the dark.
I followed the faint light on the camera Paul was operating until I found him staring at an old piano. He said he heard the lid drop hard onto the keys. I dismissed it. We were after all in an old abandoned asylum, it was understandable he’d be jumping at shadows. We split up a second time and searched through old patient rooms until I heard the distressed call of Paul’s voice yet again. I wandered over. This time he was staring at one of the rooms in shock pointing a shaking finger towards it.
“There’s somebody in that room! Owen I’m telling you.” Paul spoke in shock.
I approached the room with caution, a small vacant space with nobody inside. At first I assumed he was just startled by another shadow in the dark but as I entered the room my blood went cold. I retrieved the camera from Paul for a better look and discovered that inscribed on the wall were words… numbers counting to thirteen… sentences I think: Hush – Hush – HUSH – He puts them to sleep – He watches me – He found me in the dark. Amidst all the writing covering the walls was the all too familiar symbol I first discovered in Grandpa’s box. “I think this was Jesse’s room.” I suggested to Paul.
Paul seemed too shocked to contribute. That was last night. Today I decided to review the footage. As I watched through Paul’s recording frame by frame I finally saw what he saw. A man standing in Jesse’s room one moment, the next he was gone. He must have slipped out when Paul panicked. There wasn’t enough light to make out any more than a vague silhouette but suddenly this story feels a lot more dangerous. As disturbed as I may be feeling I am determined to continue my story, I need to open the box we found near Empire Mine and visit the remaining locations marked on Grandpa’s map.
UPDATE 1 4:00pm WED
Thanks for the feedback. I’ve never been involved in anything quite like this before so I appreciate all the advice. Paul and I have talked about our next plan of attack… or I’ve talked about it and Paul has talked about dropping it. We both agree however that we need to open the box I found near Empire Mine, so tomorrow we’ll spend the day working on opening the lock. If anyone has any suggestions on how to open it without damaging what’s inside that’d be fantastic.
I’ll keep you guys updated.
UPDATE 2 3:40am THURS
I woke up about two hours ago to lights flickering over my window and the sound of someone, or maybe a few people walking around outside. I grabbed my camera and went to check it out. When I got to my backyard I saw a man silhouetted on the hill behind my house. It was too dark to see any details but I could see he was tall and his stance seemed threatening to me. Before I could call the police, he was gone. I don’t know what to make of this encounter but I’m officially frightened. I think the man from the asylum might have found where I live.
UPDATE 3 1:52pm THURS
Thanks for all the support guys. I just wanted to let everyone know that I am okay and safe. Last night has me pretty shaken up, and I am going to go to the police. Before I do though I’m going to get the box open and see what’s inside, and I still have one more location to visit on Grandpa’s map. After everything that’s happened I just need to see this through. Tomorrow I’ll make another post here letting you guys know what I find, then I’m turning everything over to the police. Stay tuned.
NoSleep link: https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/5y3ce3/some_murders_should_stay_unsolved/
Oen’s Vlog on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF-ppL6W6JmeMoCkNy5zwiA