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Devil’s Gate Dam & Reservoir

Devil's Gate on the Arroyo Seco, looking south, circa 1920. Note the namesake profile of the rock outcrop on the left.
Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection & USC Libraries.

Editor's Note: the Almanac includes the following as folklore - not history. Although some elements of the story may indeed be historical fact, we offer these stories as a part of the cultural fabric of Los Angeles County.


The Devil's Gate Reservoir, adjacent to Oak Grove Park Road on the Pasadena-La Cañada Flintridge city boundary, has long drawn the attention of paranormal enthusiasts. Besides alleged Native American legends of it being a gateway into the afterlife, it was once the site of occultic rituals during the 1940s and mysterious disappearances of children in the 1950s. It derived its name long ago from a rocky outcrop along the Arroyo Seco that resembled the profile of the head of a horned figure. The Devil’s Gate Dam was built there for flood-control in 1921.

During the late 1930s into the 1940s, Jack Parson, one of the principal co-founders of JPL and a pioneer rocket scientist, was also a passionate occultist and leader of the Thelema movement in Southern California. He conducted occultic rituals near Devil's Gate Dam to invoke Pan, doing so for the success of his rocket experiments at JPL and, later, to call for the incarnation of a goddess on earth to bring an end to Judeo-Christian civilization. He believed the area to have some sort of mystical significance. His rituals (some conducted with the future founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, who, incidentally seemed to have run off with both Parson's girlfriend and money), were believed by some to open a portal into hell.

Jack Parsons at JPL in Arroyo Seco. Cropped photo attributed by biographer John Carter to NASA/JPL in Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons, 1999, Feral House.

Between 1956 to 1960, four children in three incidents mysteriously disappeared around Devil’s Gate Reservoir. Later, in 1970, Mack Ray Edwards confessed to kidnapping and murdering two of the children (along with at least four other children elsewhere between 1953 and 1969). Edwards was caught in 1970 only after a botched attempt at kidnapping three girls in Sylmar. Although the bodies of three of his other victims were recovered, the bodies of the two children he confessed to have kidnapped at Devil’s Gate Reservoir were not. Edwards committed suicide in his cell at San Quentin while awaiting the death sentence. Some still believe that Edwards may have also been responsible for the disappearance of the other two children who disappeared around Devil’s Gate Reservoir.