Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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Mysterious Woman “Lost” In Pickens Canyon

I picked this up in old newspapers – a simple story of a woman lost in the mountains above CV. But the more I read, the odder it seemed.

In January 1948, Mr. and Mrs. William Reed of 5725 Canyonside Road, high up on Briggs Terrace, were hosting their niece, 30-year-old Alberta Royal McCreery, for the holidays. Alberta had come to L.A. from a small town in Illinois and was living in Hollywood working as a dress designer. The papers described her as diminutive and pretty, and she was said to be an “outdoorsy type.”

On Thursday, Jan. 8, the Reeds found a note from Alberta, stating simply that she “was going into the hills.” The Reeds were not concerned as she had hiked the area many times. But she didn’t return that night, so the next day the Reeds reported her missing at the Montrose Sheriff Station. Sheriff’s cars began their search. As Friday wore on with no trace of the woman, the mounted sheriff posse (precursor of the Montrose Search and Rescue) was called in. Sheriffs on horseback began to search the trails of the San Gabriels. As the weekend wore on, the search intensified and over 100 volunteers were combing the mountains. This was turning into a big deal.

The search was hitting the front pages of national newspapers. Terms like “hope fades” and “futile search” were peppering the news stories. Reports came in of buzzards circling the mountainside. The Major Disaster Unit at the sheriff station was mobilized, a Red Cross HQ was opened, and a bloodhound from Folsom Prison was brought in. A plane was chartered to search the mountains. The tiny Montrose Sheriff Station became a beehive of activity as 15 extra sheriffs crowded in to chase down leads. And the leads were coming in.

Sightings of her were reported everywhere. A cab driver reported that he picked up a young woman in La Crescenta on Thursday night and that she had him drive her around aimlessly all night, finally dropping her off in Long Beach. A man reported that he sat next to a troubled woman on a bus ride to Yuma who matched her description perfectly. Other details came from her family. She had been on an extreme juice fast for 10 days before her disappearance. She was extremely depressed because of a failed romance. By Monday the Reeds and the Sheriff were both saying they believed she was somewhere other than the mountains.

But on Tuesday morning a lone searcher started up the trail on the Ocean View side of Pickens immediately across the canyon from the Reeds’ home. He passed an abandoned cabin that had been searched several times already when he came on Alberta, sitting by the side of the trail, within sight of the Reed house. She seemed fine, fresh in fact, and told the man that she had no idea that everyone was looking for her. The two walked the quarter mile down into Pickens Canyon and up the other side to the Reed house where the media converged on Alberta.

She coyly posed for the newsmen’s cameras, smiling and confident, and surprisingly clean. She told reporters that she had decided to spend some time alone. Dressed in slacks, blouse and light jacket, she had grabbed a blanket and a couple of oranges and grapefruits, and had spent the five January nights alternately in the abandoned cabin across from the Reed home and further up the trail on the ground, wrapped in the blanket. She seemed surprised that she was considered missing, seeing as she had left the note. She claimed to have not seen any of the many search parties. One of her friends tried to shut down the news interviews to protect her privacy, but she shot back, “I’m a free soul – I talk to whom I please.” Alberta insisted she had been in the mountains the entire time.

I checked the papers for a follow up, but none appears. The story sounded strange, and I think there’s more to it, but we’ll just have to wonder.

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

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