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One of the most notorious properties in Los Angeles is back on the market after more than 50 years of sitting empty and derelict: a Spanish Revival mansion more commonly known as “the Los Feliz Murder House.”
On Dec. 6, 1959, the home’s cardiologist owner, Dr. Harold N. Perelson, murdered his wife with a hammer and then attempted to murder his teenage daughter and her two younger siblings before ultimately killing himself by taking a massive overdose of barbiturates.
In the decades that followed, signs posted outside 2475 Glendower Place have warned trespassers to keep away — but that has hardly deterred legions of crime aficionados who pilgrimage to the site in order to peek through its dusty windows at the untouched belongings still inside: a Christmas tree surrounded by wrapped gifts; SpaghettiOs cans; Life magazines. There are also reports of paranormal activity (alarms, mostly) and descriptions of foreboding energies hovering around the grounds.
Now that the house is available for purchase, thanks to a probate sale — asking price: $2.75 million — the curious can finally get a first glimpse inside. Curbed has a slideshow tour of the 1925-built residence, which has four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a third-floor ballroom and bar that’s very Overlook Hotel.
Reporter Jeff Maysh delved deeper into the subject of the house than anyone else. He published his findings in a popular investigative piece last year. The story has been optioned to be adapted into a horror movie.
The Hollywood Reporter recently spoke with Maysh about the Murder House.
Tell me about Harold Perelson and his family.
Harold’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Europe. Harold was extremely bright and graduated from medical school. He left New York for Southern California, eventually becoming a professor of cardiology at the USC School of Medicine. He married Lillian Silver, a daughter of Jewish immigrants as well, and they had three kids: Judye, Debbie and Joel. The family thought they’d found their dream home in Los Feliz and paid $60,000 for it.
But you discovered that Harold was embroiled in costly lawsuits.
My reporting took me to the courthouse in Los Angeles, where I was able to find the original criminal complaints and minutes from various lawsuits that the father was involved in. It looked to me that he had been ripped off in a business deal involving his invention, which was kind of a creepy syringe that he was hoping to make millions of dollars on. But evidently he lost rather a lot of money.
Then there was a car accident?
I found evidence of a suit in which the family were claiming damages for a car accident that took place in Los Angeles. On Nov. 3, 1957, Judye was driving her siblings in her father’s ’52 Oldsmobile. As she crossed the intersection of Vermont and Los Feliz boulevards, she collided with another car. Judye suffered hand and knee injuries, a concussion and “severe shock”; young Joel had a head injury and “severe shock to the nervous system”; Deborah’s cheek was sliced open. They successfully sued the other driver, but didn’t do very well out of it. They did get some damages, but not enough.
Other evidence pointed at the fact that this splendid house in Los Feliz was rather too much house for this doctor and his family, and perhaps he was struggling to make ends meet.
What did you learn about Harold and Lillian’s relationship?
All we know I got from the babysitter, a girl who lived across the street who is now a dentist in Beverly Hills. She described the doctor as being a mild-mannered man, and their relationship was very good. But she did hint that there was perhaps more to the relationship with her own mother and the doctor — that the doctor enjoyed her mother’s cooking. I hint at that in the story. This was the 1960s, and there was a lot more to society and those intricate domestic situations than we experience today.
Was it difficult for the babysitter to dredge up these memories?
It had been so long. We’re talking about 1959, and she’s told the story so many times. But it was harrowing. As a journalist, whenever you interview anyone about a violent crime, it’s difficult. To make it extra creepy, the drill was going in her office while we were talking.
Walk me through that terrible night. The doctor’s goal was to kill all of them?
It was a classic case of familicide. He wanted to kill the whole family, but he did spare the younger children.
So he went to his sleeping wife and killed her with ball-peen hammer blows to the back of the head. Then he went to elder daughter Judye, but she caught a glimpse of his arm coming down.
Yes, he didn’t get her quite right. It was a glancing blow, and she screamed the house out. The whole neighborhood heard. She was begging for her life.
What kind of injury did she incur?
Quite a serious head injury. She was said to be coming down the stairs covered in blood.
But she wasn’t brain-damaged.
No. She was fine, and she’s gone on to live a full life. I did find her, and she didn’t respond to any interview requests at all.
It sounds as though the botched attempt at killing Judye spared the lives of the younger two.
Possibly, yeah. Harold then turned his attention to killing himself, which he did using some pharmaceuticals that he had in the house. Being that he was a doctor, he knew what he was doing. He took Nembutal, otherwise known as “death in a bottle.” He took 30 other pills known to be codeine. That plus the Nembutal combined to kill him pretty quick.
So why did the house remain empty for 50 years? That is some prime real estate in the heart of Los Angeles.
That’s the big mystery. I kind of knew it would be put back on the market after the current owner’s death. But why it remained empty for so long is a mystery. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t have been sold or rented out. But the amount of paranormal activity reported in and around it has perhaps put off potential buyers.
What became of the house after the murder?
Immediately after the family left, it was sold in a probate auction to the Enriquez family, Emily and Julian, from Lincoln Heights. They didn’t do anything with it, and it passed on to their son, Rudy, and he didn’t move in or rent it out either. So it’s kind of been this eerie L.A. landmark that attracts various rubberneckers, who try to go peer through the windows.
Rudy, the son, died during the writing of my story. I tried to speak to him, and when I found his contact details, they said he literally just passed away. I believe that the home has been listed for sale because he didn’t have any heirs.
Is it hard to access?
It’s a long climb up a very tall staircase, and, of course, to go up there is illegal. It’s trespassing. There is a sign there that says “no trespassing” and a metal chain across the driveway. The neighbors don’t make it easy. They hate all the attention the house gets — the murder-mystery tour buses go up there. It’s a regular thing to have bloggers, web sleuths, as they call themselves, snoop around the area because this case has gathered so much attention on the Internet. There are groups of people that dedicate their time to try to get to the bottom of it, and they live online.
You mention in your story that one family may have occupied the home after the murder.
The main mystery of the house is that there is a Christmas scene from the 1960s in situ, and it hasn’t changed. The current belief among investigators is that the house was rented after the Perelsons, and [the renters] weren’t told about its history. Keep in mind, this is Internet myth only. It’s suggested that, on the anniversary of the killings in December, that family fled and did not even gather up their belongings, including the Christmas tree.
So they’re asking $2.75 million.
It’s a big place. Five bedrooms and a ballroom. It’s a huge place.
Will it sell?
I hope it does. I hope whoever buys it allows people in for a proper tour because there’s such fascination with this house. It has to be one of L.A.’s most fascinating properties. I hope whoever buys it doesn’t bulldoze it.
You mentioned paranormal activity. Like what?
The burglar alarm goes off at all times of day and night with no one on the property. Someone who’d entered the house was bitten by a brown recluse spider. Visitors describe a general sense of being followed, even after they left the house. Obviously it’s difficult to report on those things. I didn’t feel them.
What’s the status of the movie?
I’m being told by the producer that directors, talent and agencies are jumping on the Murder House project, thanks to the sale news. They have a screenwriter attached, Joshua Malkin. There was so much attention when this story came out. It went viral. All that attention really caught the movie industry’s attention because the best horror movies are based on true stories, and there are so few of them that are real. This is a real one, and it happened right here in town.
Jeff Maysh’s latest project, a Kindle Single called Handsome Devil, tells the unbelievable true story of “Count” Victor Lustig, America’s most notorious con man.
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