Visitors to Old Town Temecula and Candlelight Tours love a good ghost story. So when fall chills the Southwest Riverside night air, visitors turn to Old Town Temecula with an eye for the macabre and mystery.
What was Temecula like in the Old West? And what secrets lie behind the original structures now elbowed up against high rise offices, restaurants and wineries on Old Town Front Street?
This weekend Temecula Museum guests had the rare opportunity to take the Haunted Temecula Tour, where visitors explored the truth of murders, mysteries and ghost stories from the 1800s to present day.
Dale Garcia, of the Temecula Museum and Old Town Temecula Tours answered questions and entertained the curious with local folklore and the darker side of Temecula history.
“This gives the public the opportunity to hear the traditions and superstitions of the 1800s, regarding death and dealing with death,” Garcia explained.
Of all the bloodshed that occurred at local sites, two remain fresh in Garcia’s mind — the double murder at the Ramona Inn in 1907 and a brutal slaying of the blacksmith’s wife in 1936.
On December 24, 1907, the Riverside Enterprise reported: “P.V. Swanguen, a constable at Temecula and Louie Escallier, a Frenchman, were shot and instantly killed last night at 8:45 o’clock at Temecula by Horace Magee.”
Magee was struck over the head by bystander John Jackson and died the following day.
And in the summer of 1936, blacksmith John D. McNeill — after asserting an “air-tight alibi” – was found guilty of brutally murdering his wife at their home on Pujol Street in Old Town Temecula.
Following clues worthy of a pulp-fiction novel, the family dog led detectives to the incriminating evidence—bloody clothing wrapped in paper and hidden under the chicken coop—that ultimately saw McNeill locked behind bars. His was one of the last death penalties by gallows in the state of California.
According to Garcia, everyone loves a good ghost story and he advises on his blog to never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
His view does not translate over to online ghost-hunters such as the Soul Seekers series, who recently visited the famed Wolf Store barn and bunkhouse in search of apparitions.
According to Garcia, the information the Soul Seekers provided on their YouTube videos was largely inaccurate.
“(Soul Seekers) did not have permission to enter the property, and trespassed illegally. The infraction has been brought to the attention of the Vail Ranch Restoration Association that managed the property.”
While visitors to Temecula continue to seek out specters, Garcia cautions them to come to the museum and explore the truth behind this region’s brutal history.
“Approximately 48 percent of people believe in ghosts. The realization that we don’t know everything there is to know and the history of Temecula is historically significant in its interesting and murderous past.”
For more information on more information on walking tours, visit: www.oldtowntemeculatours.com .
For more information on Historic Temecula, visit:
Vail Ranch Restoration Association (VaRRA): www.vailranch.org
Temecula Valley Historical Society: www.temeculahistoricalsociety.org
Temecula Valley Museum: www.temeculavalleymuseum.org
Ashley Ludwig is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.