Sometimes with stories, you have to tell the past in order for the present to make sense. This is such a case. The date is January 1981. The Central Valley tule fog formed that evening casting an eerily quiet feeling over the valley.
A car with three people is driving down Peltier Road near Lodi, California. One of them is being strangled with a belt by the person sitting behind them. The person sitting in the back is Michael Morales. Morales was armed not only with a belt, but a claw hammer and a 7 inch kitchen knife. The driver, Ricky Ortega, is the jealous lover of the victim’s boyfriend and cousin to Morales. Ortega, in his rage and jealousy against the victim, asked his cousin Morales to get rid of the victim. Morales was eager to comply.
Morales thought of ways to kill the victim and practiced cinching a belt around a female roommate’s neck, waiting for Ortega to inform him when the hit would take place. The call finally came. Ortega called the victim for help and said he would pick them up later that evening. Once the victim was in the car, Morales was in the back seat armed with his weapons and ready. He was also stoned and agitated from finishing off some cheap liquor and smoking a cigarette laced with PCP.
Ortega drove the car down Peltier Road and when they were a few miles out of town, Morales suddenly wrapped the belt around the victim’s neck, cinching it tight. The victim fought back with such force, the belt broke. This only further agitated Morales, causing him to grab the claw hammer and began bashing the victim’s head. The victim pleaded with Ortega to help but he did nothing but drive. The victim attempted to fight off the attack as Morales instructed Ortega to keep driving while he continued to bash in the victim’s head. Morales bashed the victim’s head 23 times, crushing the base of her neck. The victim’s arms and hands were bloodied as she tried to defend herself.
Ortega pulled over at the intersection of Bender and Peltier Roads with an unconscious victim who was slumped against the passenger door.� Morales hopped out of the car and stated it would be a waste of a “good piece of ass”. He dragged the unconscious victim out of the car and instructed Ortega to drive away and come back in 15 minutes. Morales dragged the victim face down across the road into a vineyard. There, with the Valley tule fog obstructing view, Morales stripped the victim’s body except for the bra and sweater. He flipped the victim over, pushed the bra and sweater up to her neck and raped her in the cold, damp dirt. When Morales was finished raping the unconscious victim, he took the 7 inch kitchen knife and plunged it 4 times in the victim’s chest, killing her.
Now, fast forward to February 2006; Morales is sitting on San Quentin’s Death Row, scheduled to be executed Tuesday, February 21, 2006 at 12:01 am. Ortega was also caught and sentenced, but to LWOP – life without parole. The victim’s family has signed up to witness the execution, but the victim’s mother has changed her mind. Instead, she has written a poem.
Fast forward again to almost exactly 2 years later to February 16, 2008;� I’m on my way to my friend Shauna Kinchen’s house who is also a ghost hunter. We made plans to have dinner then head out to Peltier Road Bridge. I had been told that it is haunted. The story goes that two brothers long ago, lived across the street from one another. Their relationship soon soured turning into a legendary Hatfiled and McCoy feud. One of the brothers killed the other, and dragged his brother’s body to Peltier Road Bridge burying him. Soon, he too passed away and it is said that an apparition of an old man, carrying a shovel and a lantern is spotted alongside the bridge. I was intrigued; I wanted to find out as much information as I could on this bridge. Come to find out, my research resulted in the Morales story rather than the brother’s feud.
After dinner, Shauna and I head to Peltier Road off of Highway 99. It is almost 9:30 pm and quite dark. We are armed with flash lights, audio recorders, a digital camera and an IR video camera. We easily found the intersection of Bender and Peltier Roads and armed with the knowledge of Morales dragging the victim into a vineyard, we thought we could find the area the crime took place easily. How wrong we were. There are vineyards on all four corners. Some looked very, very old, other vineyards looked quiet new. We focused on the older looking ones staying in that area mostly, being as the crime took place 27 years ago.
As we conducted EVP work, we heard a coyote, which sparked more coyotes to cry out. It was eerie standing on the side of a road in the dark, hearing nothing but the cries of coyotes. The moon was almost full, so we didn’t need our flash lights to see. The light cast by the moon gave dimension to the trees off on the southwest corner of the intersection, as well as the old and new vineyards.
I took digital pictures and filmed with my Sony IR video camera. Toward the end of our investigation, I pulled out the poem the victim’s mother had written and read it out loud. Shauna then crumpled it up and threw it into the vineyard we felt the crime had taken place. Shauna told the victim that it was hers to do with how she saw fit. It was the least we could do after knowing how the victim lost her young life.
Both Shauna and I then turned on our flashlights and ended up disturbing a very agitated bird. We could hear it, but could not see it. We knew it was circling us due to the high pitched calls it was making as it was circling us. We decided to continue our investigation by heading to the bridge.
The bridge is about 500 yards from the Bender and Peltier Road intersection, but there wasn’t any place to park or for that matter, to walk. There are no sidewalks on the bridge, only a thin curb. We would have ended up getting hit since cars were traveling down Peltier Road at a very fast speed. Shauna and I would have ended up being ghosts ourselves! We both decided it wasn’t safe to investigate the bridge at that time. Like Jason Hawes of TAPS says “When in doubt, get the hell out,” which is exactly what we did.
Although we were disappointed we couldn’t investigate the bridge, we were excited about going over our audio and video to see if we had captured anything. Shauna reported back saying she didn’t capture any EVP’s (electronic voice phenomena). On one of the pictures I took of Shauna next to a tree we were drawn to, there is a red light going horizontally over her head. I watched the video and determined that it was the tail light of a car passing by. I did capture one EVP at the very beginning of our investigation. I had just finished mentioning to Shauna that it was eerily quiet when a whisper is heard. I can’t make it out, but it is there, as well as on the audio of the video recorder. Was it the victim? Was it Morales? I don’t know. It’s possible.
Back in 1981 when Morales killed his victim, I was just a mere teenager who listened to Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl, REO Speedwagon’s Keep on Loving You and watching Dallas on CBS. I was just starting my high school career and didn’t know anything about Morales, Ortega or their victim, despite the crime happening in my area. I now know the victim’s young life was halted unnecessarily and her family’s lives would be forever changed.
As I drive home after dropping Shauna off, I remind myself that life comes full circle. In order to understand the present, you must visit the past. I thank the Universe and Fates for what I experienced this evening and I eagerly wait for the next opportunity to investigate. Until then – Stay Scared. Debbie Talani, Paranormal Investigator.
Written by Debbie Talani, Copyright 2010