Last month, we found out that the Los Feliz Murder Mansion in Los Angeles, the site of a half-century old murder-suicide, and one of America's greatest murder houses, is about to be sold and made into something horrible, like a home for a family or whatever. That's a shame, because the simple fact that a grisly crime happened there wasn't what made the LFMM so compelling, so much as the way the place sat unoccupied for decades, full of—rumor had it—the belongings of the very family whose patriarch had tragically snapped in 1959.
So when real estate agent Nancy Sandborn had the place cleared out earlier this year, she wasn't just clearing out junk—she was desecrating relics!
That is, if you're a romantic about it. The reality is that the family that owned the place throughout the second half of the 20th Century never lived there, but they used it to store clothes, appliances, furniture, and Christmas presents. It's entirely possible that none of the stuff that was in there taking up space was a bona fide artifact for any self-respecting murder museum. But if you were one of hundreds who showed up at night and looked through the window like Jem Finch trying to get a glimpse of Boo Radley, it was creepy as hell just the same.
In January, shortly after owner Rudy Enriquez died childless, leaving the house in probate, photographer Alexis Vaughn was lucky enough to take her camera inside. Her photos from that day are the last chance anyone will ever have to see the place when it still looked like the real-life horror movie set it truly was. We caught up with her to ask what the experience was like.
VICE: Hi Alexis! How'd you get inside the Los Feliz Murder Mansion?
Alexis Vaughn: I got access to tour the place, as a family friend is a relative of Rudy [Enriquez].
Can you recall any sensory details?
That musty smell that old homes have, made infinitesimally worse by the piles of slowly decaying papers, photos, boxes, books, and whatnot. Although it wasn't unbearable, it really makes you notice the sorry state of the place. It wasn't like grandma-house musty; there was this real sadness to the scent. Surprisingly, it was not as dusty as I thought it would be. Stuff that caught my eye was either items left behind by trespassers, like beer cans or other rubbish, or things that were so utterly 60s and 70s in style, like that pink scale in one of the bathrooms, bright-yellow chairs in the downstairs living room area, and things like that.
How did you feel exploring the place?
Our tour of the site was rather rushed, and I credit my sensory overload to lessened sensitivity. Things shifted a bit toward the end—I didn't feel quite right being in the basement-type area. There was something about that particular spot that felt dark and heavy. My poor mum came along and nearly had a panic attack at every turn [and] couldn't wait to leave. I found it hard thinking about the murder, not knowing which bedroom would have been considered the master.
Did it creep you out thinking about the murders while you were in there?
Once I got home [and] unloaded the videos and images, that is when I started noticing the details, imagining both the original family and the others after, and feeling those more morose emotions.
Your photos emphasize the beauty of the place. Was that on purpose?
I collect photographic books and articles on abandoned places. I have always appreciated those photographers who go the extra mile to make these places still look hauntingly beautiful, although the subject matter is dark and the glory of the estates or establishments long since diminished. I just wanted to give as much respect to the home, its residents and owners, and the history of it all, as I possibly could. As a photographer, I have the opportunity and obligation to create life and elicit emotion with each photo, regardless of the subject matter. It's not always easy, but it's always rewarding. I also not-so-secretly wish someone with time, love, and resources will pick up this home and restore it rather than demo it.
What was your reaction when you found out all this stuff got cleared out?
I remember clicking on a link [that said] "The first photos inside the Los Feliz Murder Mansion!" and [being] just utterly shocked. There were photos of places that I did not even recognize in the least without the flood of objects. It made me feel a twinge of sadness, like all of that history was just swept away. I would like to know where all the stuff went—if not in the trash.
See more of Alexis's photos on her blog.
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