Just beyond the San Gabriel Valley lies the Angeles National Forest. A place of beauty and recreation for most Angelenos, the forest also holds its own dark secrets.
Eleven-year-old Brenda Howell, from North Carolina, was visiting her sister for the summer and had found a new friend in neighbor, thirteen-year-old Donald Baker. On August 5, 1956 the two children set off on their bikes to play in the forest before church services at 8:30 that morning. They were never seen again.
Despite the efforts of the Navy, the police department and hundreds of volunteers combing the area around the San Gabriel Reservoir below the Morris Dam, the only sign of them was Brenda’s bicycle and Donald’s jacket hidden in some brush. There was no sign of them until over two months later, in late October, when Donald’s bike appeared on the bike rack at Glendora Elementary School. One of the students admitted to finding it in the forest the day of the children’s disappearance.
They were not to be the last to vanish.
The following Spring of 1957, the Bowman family went for a hike along one of the trails near Devil’s Gate Reservoir. Eldon Bowman and his brother-in-law Gordon Wicks brought along their children, all five ranging in age from four to eight. The eldest, Tommy, ran a bit ahead at one point wanting to be the first to reach a clearing ahead. He rounded a corner, going out of the men’s eyesight. Moments later they too rounded the corner, but Tommy was not there. Not immediately concerned and assuming they would see Tommy in the clearing just ahead, the men collected all the children together and when Tommy was not among them the search began. It had only been a few minutes.
Within two hours, the area was swarming with law enforcement personnel who were rapidly joined by over four hundred volunteers. Helicopters were dispatched along with a mounted patrol and search and rescue canine unit. They searched for a week, to no avail.
Three years later, on the morning of July 13th, 1960, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Kremen dropped off their six-year-old son, Bruce at the Y.M.C.A summer camp. The group of children was escorted to the forest for a hike by the camp leader. While on the hike, the camp leader saw that Bruce began to fatigue early-on and kept trailing behind. Since they had not gone far and were still within sight of their camp, the leader instructed Bruce to return to camp and rest. They retraced their steps along the well-marked trail back to the camp and when they came within a few yard of it, Bruce was sent on ahead while the leader remained on the trail, watching until Bruce was almost there. The leader turned and went back up the trail to continue on with the other children.
If Bruce made it safely into the camp, no one will ever know. Once again, the forest was swarming with search parties looking for a missing child. Again, there were no clues and no remains. He has never been found.
In the years following, the area became known as The Forest Of Disappearing Children. If you take your little ones into the woods there, hold on to their hands tightly.
Photo courtesy of Gloomy Sunday Photography