Biographies & Memoirs

The Chartreuse Garden: The Horrific Murders of Innocents that Compelled Me to Fight Social Injustice and Hate

By

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Synopsis

I struggled with a violent childhood of bullying and beatings, and later struggled with my sexuality into the early 20s. This true story is entwined with horrific events that concluded with the execution of a family that lived across the street from where I worked. It was a family that I was close to. Those murders, including the shooting of three young children, devastated me. This tragedy stays with me to this day. At an inflection point in my life, these murders became my motivation to work toward social justice.

In my late 20’s, I realized I was gay and embraced a wonderful yet secret life as a gay man, that is until I saw horrendous acts of violence against gay men. I wanted to help stop this violence. I realized I had to leave my comfortable closet to publicly stand up to defend these victims of hate crimes. When I stood up and spoke loudly and caught the attention of the new police chief with whom I quickly partnered to stop anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in Long Beach CA.

I appreciate Barack Obama’s recognition and support of my life-long, anti-violence work.

Chapter 1 City of Carson, California May 18, 1973, 4:08 a.m.


 “Unit 1-5-2, check out a disturbance at the 23000 block of Catskill Avenue. Complaint by an anonymous caller.”

“10-4. Dispatch, is it a 10-16?” Deputy Daniels asked.

“Unclear at this time if it’s a family dispute, 1-5-2.”

“10-4.”

“Unit 1-5-2, be advised, a second caller has reported possible shots fired on the west side of Scott Park.”

“10-4, is this at the same residence on Catskill?”

“Unclear.”

 “Roger that.”

  “Unit 1-5-2, and all other units in the vicinity of 23505 Catskill Avenue, please respond to a shots fired report at that location.”

“Unit 1-5-2, what’s your 10-20 and ETA?”

“Dispatch, 213th and Lynton, three minutes.” Deputy Daniels was not familiar with the Scott Park area; it was not his usual area of patrol.

“Dispatch, 1-5-2. I’ve arrived at Scott Park,” stated Deputy Daniels, “but I don’t see the address or any disturbance.” The entire area was void of streetlights, so it was difficult to make out details. 

“Unit 1-5-2, be careful. May be an active shooter situation. Wait for back up.” For police, this is an adrenaline moment. They don’t occur often. All these officers, the one at the scene and the ones rushing to get there, are all hyped up.

 “All units responding to 23505 Catskill Avenue, be advised, a relative of the household reported from another location. The husband there is considered violent. Be aware there may be young children in the house.”

“10-4, Dispatch. Unit 1-5-2 reporting. I now see several people in their front yards, pointing to … Hold on, Dispatch.” Deputy Daniels turned on his spotlight and directed it at the house in question. “Yes, pointing to 23505 Catskill.”

“10-4. Hold back. Sergeant Lopez is on his way to take command.”

“Dispatch, lights in the house are on, but I see no people or movement inside.”

“10-4.”

“Dispatch, what’s the ETA on the backup?”

“They should be there about now, 1-5-2. ETA on the ambulance is seven minutes.”

“10-4, Dispatch. Backup is here. Four units have arrived. I’ll confer with Sergeant Lopez. Roger and out.”

“10-4.”

The sergeant took command, instructing deputies to block the streets with their cars. Two deputies hurried around to the rear to secure the back door. Other units arrived and blocked both ends of the street. More residents emerged from their homes to watch the commotion in their public housing complex. “Everyone, go back into your homes and stay away from the windows,” the sergeant shouted to the gawkers.

He and four other deputies positioned themselves to each side of the front door, guns drawn. “L. A. County Sheriff! Show yourselves!” the sergeant yelled. “Surrender! Come out with your hands up!”

Still nothing. The sergeant sent Deputy Mills around the back to check it out. He returned promptly. “Sergeant, I could see a woman in a bedroom through the window, soaked in blood. I think she’s dead,” Deputy Mills said. “The other window had the curtains drawn.” 

Sergeant Lopez slowly reached up to turn the doorknob, but it was locked. “L. A. County Sheriff! Show yourselves!”

No answer.

The sergeant motioned for a deputy to kick in the door. Deputy Grays bashed it in with one hard kick. Two deputies entered, one went right, the other left. Seeing no immediate threat, they cleared the other rooms.

“All clear, Sergeant!”

They lowered their guns. Deputy Sanders, new on the force, stumbled from the back bedroom into the living room, dizzy, his face ash white.

“What is it, Sanders?” the sergeant asked.

“Sarge … back there … in the left bed …” Sanders’ body spasmed violently as he vomited. “Back there … Sarge …” He pointed to the back bedroom and vomited again.

The sergeant and other officers walked inside to find a little boy and two girls, each on a bed. All three had been shot in the head. The younger girl, maybe eight years old, clutched a doll. Blood splatter lay everywhere. On the floor, at the foot of the boy’s bed, was a man, mid-thirties, also shot in the head.

Another deputy escorted Sanders outside. He wept openly. “I can only think of my own daughters,” he said. His two girls were about the age of the victims. He needed to hug his kids. He felt so afraid for them, and yet so blessed that they were alive and safe in their own beds. Erasing the images from his mind of those bloody little girls and the boy would take a while. 

“Sarge, along with this male,” the deputy nodded to the adult male on the bedroom floor at their feet, “there’s an adult female in the other bedroom. All shot in the head.”

Sergeant Lopez winced sharply at hearing the grisly details.

“Probably a mom and dad and their three kids,” the deputy said.

Lopez sighed in despair.

“Looks like some gang members wanted to make a point by assassinating the entire family,” the deputy said.

“We don’t know that, Will.”     

“All these people shot execution-style? In the head? Probably a drug deal gone bad. What else could it be?”

“Let’s see what homicide comes up with.”


 

Chapter 2

Five Years Earlier

San Pedro, California

 

I lived with my parents, Vince and Beatrice, and two older brothers, Frank and Vince Jr., in San Pedro, a coastal community in Los Angeles. I grew up a loner, not by choice, but my mother kept me firmly pinned under her thumb. I was the “baby” of the family, plus her insecurity allowed her to trust no one . . . . 


About the author

Jack Castiglione worked on LGBT rights beginning in the mid-1970s. He worked to stop anti-gay violence, assisted people with AIDS, and engaged the Los Angeles Archbishop of the Catholic Church to change the Church’s negative view of LGBT Catholics and all members of the LGBT community in general. view profile

Published on September 16, 2020

90000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

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