The creature fit the general description of “wild men” sighted around the country. The Titusville Morning Herald, November 10, 1870, reported one at Grayson, California (in Stanislaus County), that was “disproportionately broad and square at the shoulders…with dark brown and cinnamon-colored hair. The head was small…and appeared to be set upon the shoulders without a neck.” The author swears it wasn’t an orangutan or gorilla escaped from a zoo. The Pittsburgh Index of April 29, 1871: “He is preternaturally hirsute and ferocious, swift and strong” and ranges in height “from about four feet to ten.”
On October 24, 1873, the San Diego World announced a sighting in a ravine that leads from Peñasquitos down to Paguay (Poway). “A horrid creature about five feet high, covered from head to foot with matted hair. His head was large and round, with an enormous neck indicating a great muscular force.”
Not to be out-scooped, the next day the Union ran its own story about the “Wild Man of Paguay Gulch.” A search party captured the “beast,” which proved to be a local ranch hand dressed in a gorilla suit, “thrown into convulsions at the sight of the guns and revolvers.”
In June 1887, the body of a “harmless, inoffensive old man,” writes Jaspar, lay at the southern end of Deadman’s Hole. White-haired David Blair, who lived in Chihuahua Valley and “had no quarrel with anybody,” had a broken jaw and cheekbones and had two stablike wounds in his neck. Someone, or thing, had dragged him to this spot. In his pockets: a gold watch on a long gold chain and a large sum of money.
Oliver Ridley, a prospector, found two mules “practically dead from thirst” and Blair’s diary at a camp. When Ridley reported his discovery, a sheriff charged him with murder.
According to the coroner’s inquisition, Ridley was a “colored” man. Try as they might, the jury — one of whose members was “wild man” witness Turner Helm — couldn’t find enough evidence to convict Ridley.
Blair had wealthy friends in San Francisco. Several paid a detective to find the perpetrator — who had, rumors alleged, “supernatural power.” After weeks of investigating, writes Jaspar, the detective admitted defeat and “declared that he never had heard of so mysterious and unaccountable a murder.”
Luis Melinda, nicknamed “Chihuahua” for his place of origin, built the first adobe structure in the area that took his name: Chihuahua Valley. In late December 1887, he returned home from a trip and found it ransacked, his stepdaughter, Francisca Ranteria, missing. Her body was found at Deadman’s, 200 feet from where Blair’s lay six months earlier. She had two bullet holes in her back, “inflicted by person or persons unknown,” and died on either December 20 or 21.
About a week later, prospectors found a “harmless” young native woman named Belita at Deadman’s. She’d been choked to death, and the body, which had been dragged from someplace else, “had not been outraged.” There was no blood on the ground, and sheep “obliterated all evidence.”
James Jaspar edited the Julian Sentinel from 1887 to 1892. On April 1, 1888, the San Diego Union printed a story by Jaspar that promised to solve, once and for all, the murders at Deadman’s Hole.
Almost due west of Deadman’s lies a craggy canyon with walls so steep that sunlight rarely reaches its brush-tangled depths. “So uninviting are its hidden recesses that civilized man has probably never visited many portions of it,” writes Jaspar. He added that there was no game in the canyon, but that wasn’t why “the Indians always avoided it.” Poor goat-herders named it Cañon Oscuro: Dark Canyon.
Edward Dean and Charles Cox, hunters from Julian, decided to explore maybe the best hideout in the county. They waded up the canyon through waist- and head-high brush, dry twigs crackling with every step. They climbed over rocks and logs, careful that a rattlesnake wasn’t coiled in the darkness underneath. With each step, the half-lit canyon narrowed and grew even quieter.
A “slight rustle” startled them up ahead, then “a crashing sound, as of some heavy object moving through the brush.” For a better view, they scaled partway up a wall and saw “an immense unwieldy animal that from a rear view resembled a bear making rapid strides through a narrow defile.” At least six feet tall, it had long, dark brown hair and moved “uprightly like a man or monkey.” Although the legs were broad and the feet wide, “The arms and hands of the beast greatly resembled those of a human being. The body was large and round and entirely devoid of a tail.”
Cox raised his pistol and fired a warning shot in the air. The creature stopped and faced the hunters. “They saw before them a human countenance.” Then the animal “turned almost instantly, and resumed its flight up the canyon.”
As the hairy figure tried to scale a boulder, Cox fired his rifle. “With a cry like a human being, the beast instantly fell in a hideous heap.”
Dean and Cox approached warily. The creature lay on its side, a bullet in its breast. It “proved to be dead.”
The hunters examined the strange being. Though the skin of the face was dark and wrinkled, “The features were unmistakably Indian in character,” but the long teeth were “plainly those of a carnivorous animal.”
The head was man-sized, but “perhaps the most singular point,” the animal must have weighed at least 400 pounds, and the strange feet were at least 24 inches long, 8 wide, “and covered at the bottom with a hard substance like that of the foot of a dog.”
Above the boulder, Dean and Cox noticed an opening in the cliff under a large rock. They climbed up and found a cavelike “apartment,” ten feet deep and hand-carved out of the slope.
Cox lit a match. On one side: a bed made of leaves and weeds; on the other, beyond the half-eaten remains of a goat, a pile of bones and five human skulls. Dean and Cox lugged the body up to the shelter. They rode to San Diego, where they borrowed a wagon and vowed to return with their prize the next day.