Essays: Keddie – (My Keddie Mystery)

This last summer was something else. If it wasn’t the pandemic, the fires, the onslaught of disasters coming at us from all directions, it was Tucson’s dry, then wet, annual heat blast. My sister was turning 65, so she wanted to gather our rather small clan at a big house near Lake Tahoe. Sounds good I thought. I can get out of town.

Getting there was going to be fun. Once you get through the infinite horizon of desert between Tucson and San Bernardino, you can join Highway 395 going north through the wondrous east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I had a fairly new vehicle, a fairly new rescue dog, Abbey, and what I hoped would be more than a fairly new attitude. We camped, stayed in resorts, and blissfully worked our way up to that lake gem and gambling mecca. My visit with the family was magical, but that experience is a topic for another entry. 

I had decided before I left that I was not just going to turn around after the reunion but keep on going into the backroads of Northern California. I booked an AirBnB a little outside of Mt. Shasta to breathe the fresh air and take it all in, but before I left Tahoe, they canceled the reservation. Fire nearby and smoke were making my plans go up in smoke. Bummer. I hoped they’d get it under control quickly – the Paradise Fire a few years ago wiped out nearly a whole town. Scouring my atlas I saw Lassen National Park nearby and realized that I really hadn’t seen it before I left California over 50 years ago. The backroads would take me through Quincy, a small Gold Rush town near the Feather River drainage, a good spot to rest – I’d stayed there visiting relatives several years ago after I got married. Being near the 4th of July holiday, many spots were booked. I found a restored ‘50s motel near town and booked it.

Before I checked in I went a little further up the road to try to find a small settlement on the river called Twain where I’d tried to book a sweet-looking little cabin called the Bordello with antique cherrywood furnishings. I really wanted it but the owner was adamant: no dogs. Nonetheless, I wanted to see the place – even if I couldn’t stay there this time around. To get there you had to go past Quincy to a fork in the highway. Before I got there I passed a boarded up ‘50s-era woodsy gas station/market alongside the road. Little did I know that what caught my eye would turn out to be such a heady mindfuck as to still have my imagination spinning.

I die resort

When I travel I like to watch for old buildings and signs that are remnants of another era, overdone with kitsch too many times. Authentic ones are rare and so I hunt. I pulled over to check out the abandoned station. The building had an old style wooden sign above the roof where the gas pumps had been. It said, “KEDDIE RESORT.” As I walked around, the other side was starting to deteriorate. Portions of some letters had fallen onto the roof. To me it clearly read, “I DIE RESORT.”

Mind blown, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I grabbed my phone and started shooting. Laughing out loud, I got back in the car and drove back to Quincy.

The El Ranchito Motel is located on a strip of road a little east of ‘downtown.’ Built in the 40s and expanded, it still had some unique features like real wagon wheel windows. Yowza. I met the chatty owner, Tracy, when I checked in, so I peppered her with questions about history and such. Still reeling from that strange sign I asked, “Oh, and that old gas station up there—Keddie”…and before I could finish she blurted out, “Yeah, that’s the place where the famous murders happened.”

She proceeds to give me tidbits of the story she has told may times before. Back in 1981, three people were brutally murdered there. A young girl was kidnapped at the same time and they found her skeleton near the river years later. Four dead. Never found out who did it. It was a big deal—all over the news—even  a 20/20 or something on national TV. 

My mind is racing. “Did you notice that one side of the sign says, “I DIE RESORT?” And she says (really), “No, I haven’t.”

Armed with this new info, I spent the rest of the night going to YouTube and watching all I could on the Keddie murders – there’s a ton. Just part of what swirls around this sensational event is that some people even go looking for spirits at the old resort, even though the cabin is gone.

So now I think maybe just the serendipity of the letters falling might actually not be the true story. Maybe there is a trickster in the shadows who is messing with the locals? I love that sort of misbehaving—a little public theater as it were…monkey wrenching of the cultural kind.

In the meantime, I am still grappling with the idea that nature caused the new message to form. Tracy at the Ranchito was no help, could someone else know more? I left an email message at the local paper. Nothing. So I went to the Keddie website and saw an email for a monitor/host of some sort. I sent an inquiry. 

To my amazement, someone who sounded like a hipster responded. He said the Keddie thing was “sick.” Regarding the sign, he said he didn’t even know what I was talking about! ….Really? He asked for a pic. I sent one. After a time, he responded. “It’s a fake!” More BS! I told him it was real and asked whether he or someone else could go by and take a look. Then I got a message from him saying it was a typo—he thought it might be real. BUT he went on to say that he wouldn’t know who would do it. Then he said he didn’t think the “lame zombies” who are fascinated by this murder scene were capable of getting up on that roof without killing themselves. So it goes. The supernatural soup I have for the truth on this still simmers.

Soon after, the Dixie Fire erupted! Many of the backroad places I passed through earlier in the summer were gone, Greenville among them. Did the fire take the Keddie Resort? I looked. I appeared that it did. I was imagining the end the sign, but not of the mystery. I emailed my Keddie connection; “Is it gone? It looks like it.” It survived, he said. Went all around it. 

How is it that a stranger just passing through would see something the locals can’t?

So the questions live on. Who—if anyone—caused the sign to read “I die resort”? Or, as I believe, we should not rule out that just time wearing on it caused this amazing phenomenon. I prefer the latter.