It was Aug. 31, the day before my 50th birthday, in 2010 that a man's body was found in the trunk of his burning car in the underpass near where my chiropractor lives.
It was a year before police determined that on that day, Russell Rathert, celebrated his 50th birthday—and that the incident was not, in fact, a murder.
At least, that is what the officials determined. How can a body in the back of a burning car NOT be considered a homicide? Well, after fire officials passed the case over to LAPD homicide and then back to fire, and then back to homicide, they found that Rathert had been in rehab and went out on the night of his birthday with a lot of friends.
Something went wrong, Rathert overdosed, his friends shoved his body in the trunk and then set it on fire.
My chiropractor was awakened in the middle of the night and was amazed at the many dozens of police and fire officials combing the neighborhood and standing around a long time at the underpass where the car was on fire. He said, "I had just watched The Girl Who Played With Fire, so to come out of my house and see the car on fire scared the bejesus out of me."
It wasn't long after the incident that there were calls to police about a tall shadowy figure lurking where the pavement was scorched and where people often left flowers and candles.
As soon as someone approached the figure, it seemed to disappear. No one considered it serious.
That is, until the Paranormal EXP team came out to investigate. The award-winning local team of paranormal investigators (See how your friendly neighborhood paranormal investigators do it) spent the night to investigate the local legend of the Underpass Ghost at the Radford Street Bridge tunnel under the 101 Freeway.
The team investigated the history of the man who was found in the back of a burning car, and spent some hours out at the scene on the exact one-year anniversary of the date that he was found—and I was lucky enough to be with them.
Some unusual and creepy voices and words were caught on the EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) and other chilling moments were caught by their devices.
Click here for the full report.
Although his death remains a mystery, Rathert's case is officially closed.
The only personal details found about Rathert so far are what he appears to have written himself in a December 2008 post on the website Crossing the Digital Divide (CDD), a nonprofit aid group. Rathert hinted at having a troubled family background and his attempts to get clean to become a drug counselor for young people.
"My father was always in prison," Rathert wrote. "I started using drugs when I was 12 years old and ended up quitting school in the 7th grade so my education is pretty limited."
Rathert was enrolled in CDD's program, which provides patients in drug and alcohol treatment centers with computer training for better job prospects. He wrote that he wanted to become a drug counselor "so I can help them to turn their lives around while they are young so hopefully they don't have to go through some of the things that I have."
He also wrote that he had been in and out of prison for the past 25 years.
Rathert participated in CDD's classes while undergoing rehabilitation at Cri-Help. In the post, he thanked Cri-Help and CDD instructors "for giving me the skills to change my life because without them and the program of Narcotics Anonymous and the fellowship of other addicts I would either be back in prison or probably dead. So thank you CDD and Cri-Help for helping me and taking the time to help change peoples lives."
With drugs and alcohol being found in his system when he died, it appeared his struggles with narcotics continued after the post in 2008.
The Paranormal EXP team: Marcus Lindsey, Clare Benavides and Jason Gates met at the site at 10:30 p.m., the eve of the one-year anniversary of the car found under the bridge. My friend Ivy was with us as well as Jason’s girlfriend, Amanda Hills, who helped work some of the equipment and used a hand-held night vision video camera to collect possible visual evidence.
At first, Clare suggested that the investigation be scuttled. “We want to be sensitive to the family out there and don’t want to bring up any difficult memories or seem insensitive,” she said.
Jason found an online testimonial that Rathert wrote that detailed his drug addiction and his plan to clean up and help others. Written in 2008, it talked about his disabled mom, a son he hadn’t seen in 13 years, and his desire to get a college degree.
The first thing they did was walk around the area with their EMF (electromagnetic field) detectors. They showed readings of EMF spikes in certain areas, but I told them that I was pointed out a different area of where the car was burning. Then, I pulled out my computer which had photos from the LAPD that they just released that showed the scene, and sure enough, the spikes of activity on the meter was where the car was shown in the photos, and not where I thought the car was.
“We need to do a walk-through first to record what the equipment shows, and then we will know if there is any anomaly later,” Marcus said. “We need to establish a baseline.”
Marcus and Jason then tried to recreate the shadowy figure, by walking and then driving back and forth under the bridge. Sometimes the shadows could look seven to 10 feet tall, but the noisy overpass seemed like it would muffle any footsteps, and nothing that drove overhead sounded like a clomping of someone walking.
Every recording also was meticulously interrupted with “tagging” which explained certain things going on, such as “Jason walking” or “Clare talking” so that they don’t mistake it for anything paranormal when listening back over tapes.
Paranormal EXP is a hobby for this team. They haven’t taken any money, and they have day jobs. They primarily approach investigations as skeptics, but keep open minded.
“We would much rather come up with a logical, reasonable explanation first, rather than something paranormal,” explains Clare.
They recorded with a giant directional microphone, or “Bionic Ear,” and they had a stationary night vision video camera recording the entire time and pointing at the burned car location.
Just before midnight, we all stayed quiet for 10-minute stretches. We heard the cars and trucks rumble overhead, but nothing more.
Then, we went to the middle of the bridge, where we sat and took turns specifically calling out and talking to “Russell.” Jason started off, explaining how he empathized with the story he found online, and hoped to help find out what happened to him.
At one point, they set off a barrage of questions, and then listened afterward for anything on the tape. Nothing.
Then, Marcus pulled out a “spirit box” which is a roving AM radio monitor that doesn’t actually stop at any station, but keeps scanning. Supposedly, spirits can get messages across through a device like this a lot easier.
That device elicited a bunch of words: “Russell” was clear, as was “Dave” and disturbingly, my name “Mike” was fairly clear a few times. As I sat near the edge of the circle, I felt a cool breeze and watched the temperature gauge on the MEL-Meter that they had dipped quickly from 70 degrees to 63 in a matter of seconds, and at the same time the K-2 meter lit. Both devices were on the floor, not being held or touched by anyone.
Then, the most unusual thing happened. As we were listening back to a recording, a distinct smell of burning rubber hit us in just the little circle of six. It couldn’t have come from the freeway, we were too far in the middle under the bridge, and we would have smelled it in other areas. It was just in that particular small circle, and only for a few seconds, then gone. It was obviously not something anyone could record, or even prove, or post on the Internet like some of the EVP recordings that Paranormal EXP has on their website. But it did happen.
We went on for a few more hours. Odd sounds occurred, like tapping (“Was it a rat up there?” Marcus asked) Tiny pieces of rock rustling and falling at key times ("The bridge settling because of all the traffic above us," Jason suggested.) Nothing was conclusive, nothing would change the mind of a die-hard skeptic.
They were careful not to prompt each other when they heard something, to offer the power of suggestion, and they did the research meticulously. They were going to study the tapes and recordings, which could take days, and see if anything more came up.
It was a fascinating experience, not scary at all.
In fact, the scariest part of the whole thing was an email that I received an hour before going out there, from a possible rival paranormal investigation team, that wrote ominously, “I strongly warn you that I wouldn’t go out there with them.” The paranormal investigations world is competitive.
As far as the bridge, well, we didn’t solve anything in those wee hours of Wednesday morning as far as Russell Rathert and the burning body in the back of the car, but it was a fantastic experience.
Again, see their report and hear some of the EVP on their site: http://www.paranormalexp.com/83111-radford-underpass-investigation-in-studio-city/