(Editor’s Note: I was working against the clock on this piece, well aware that the L.A. Times’s inestimable cityside reporter Bob Pool had worked up a long takeout, which was published as today’s Column One feature. Pool’s article had been held for weeks, the result of a painfully pinched newshole. I kept my fingers crossed, but these things happen. I do have some photos of the property, and a more contemplative angle.)
There are a lot of haunted houses in Los Angeles.
I don’t mean infested with ghosts and vampires. I mean an event has occurred on the premises so horrific that no one is ever comfortable living within its walls again.
L.A.’s two most famous haunted houses were the scenes of the Tate-La Bianca murders, committed 40 years ago this August. The house on Cielo Drive in Bel-Air where Sharon Tate and four others were slaughtered had tenants shuffle in and out for a quarter century after the carnage, with Trent Reznor among its last lessees. It was torn down in the mid-1990s and replaced with a 16,000-square-foot behemoth you can see from miles away. Even with the old house gone, it took more than a year to sell the property, as I recall the defunct New Times Los Angeles reporting. One would-be buyer from Saudi Arabia apparently backed out at the last minute, after being erroneously informed that hundreds of people had been killed there.
The Los Feliz home where Leno and Rosemary La Bianca were stabbed to death still stands, but it’s changed hands many times. It also sports a different address, to keep away the curious.
No such obstacles prevent looky-loos from visiting another haunted property that’s just a short drive from the former La Bianca residence. It’s nestled in a cul-de-sac on the 2400 block of Glendower Place.
The beige Spanish-style house was built in 1925 and is enormous – more than 5,000 square feet, according to public records. It commands a gorgeous view of the Hollywood flatlands, reachable only by several steep and staggered stairways. The only home in the neighborhood with a more imposing presence is the fabled Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Ennis House, which looms over the Glendower home’s surprisingly small backyard.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of a horrible murder-suicide that occurred there. According to the Los Angeles Times of Dec. 7, 1959, 50-year-old physician Harold N. Perelson killed his 42-year-old wife Lillian with a hammer while she slept. He also attacked his 18-year-old daughter. When his two younger children awoke to screaming, Perelson told them it was a nightmare, and that they should go back to sleep. They complied.
The older daughter fled to a neighbor’s house. That neighbor went to confront Perelson. By the time the police arrived, Perelson was dead himself, having ingested poison.
The Glendower property is the kind producers, mini-real estate moguls and neurosurgeons salivate over, even in the current down market. But it’s obvious by peering into the grime-caked windows of this manse that it’s been vacant for decades.
In a front room of the house, many plastic bowls sit on sheets of newspaper, which in turn covers either long-rotted carpet or wood. At first I thought they were for feeding pets, but then I realized the flat roof in that section of the house leaks like a sieve. A vintage radio sits on a shelf on the far wall behind the bowls. Most of the pieces of furniture visible in the rambling manse have long been covered with dusty sheets. Two yellow-vinyl wing chairs in the living room looked particularly garish, until I realized they were quite the style in the 1950s, which is probably the last time they were used. A back room is filled with old LPs, an ancient television, and a board game called “Table Tennis,” which looks nearly pristine, even though its graphics suggest it was produced eons ago.
There is a sadness in this unused home and its aging contents, particularly in light of the facts, of which there are few beyond the obvious. The L.A. Times of the 1950s was still a reactionary rag that had yet to practice serious journalism. Its first-day story of the tragedy ended on a singularly useless note: the names of the Los Angeles Police Department detectives who were first to arrive on the scene. It did mention that Harold Perelson had been experiencing some financial difficulties. Even in its current diminished state, the Times delved far deeper into the recent murder-suicide of the Lupoe family (and all the other murder suicides of recent years).
An unconfirmed rumor circulated in the years after the Glendower tragedy: Harold Perelson had been discreetly committed by his wife for depression, then reacted violently when he was released, certain the news of his hospitalization would wreck his Inglewood medical practice. This was an era when even medical professionals would deal with mental health issues through doses of Milltown and a staff upper lip, and wives were often discouraged — sometimes violently — from taking serious family matters into their own hands.
I tried to revisit the Perelson tragedy myself, locating what I believed to be Harold Perelson’s son Joel, who is living in New York (I couldn’t find the two other Perelson children). Joel was 13 when his parents died; he would be in his 60s now. It was a tough phone call to make. Not quite as tough as some of the obit calls I made as a cub reporter, but nor was it something I was itching to do.
After the line rang perhaps 10 times, I received one of those robotic answering machine messages: “Hello. No one is here to take your call. Please call again later.” I was then cut off. A second call I made the following day was met with the same result. It was exactly the kind of message you would expect to hear from a home where someone did not want to be disturbed by outsiders. Ever.
The only professional trace that remains of Joel’s father was an article he published in the Southern Medical Journal in August 1947. It was entitled: “Occipital Nerve Tenderness: A Sign of Headache.”