Carole Lombard’s ghost

Crazy Town

I have learned the hard way to rely on primary sources. Taking for granted the accuracy of secondary sources or information that has passed hand to hand over the course of time leads to mistakes. If you have never noticed, humans like to take information and spin it for their own purposes.

I’m not breaking new ground when I report that, this week, we heard about the 18-month-old girl who was rescued from a riverbed in Utah when her mother’s vehicle went off the road at night and landed upside down under a bridge, blocked from view of the road above. The story made national news: infant rescued after being suspended upside down in her car seat for 14 hours, inches from icy rushing waters with mother dead in driver’s seat. It’s some story; this was a miracle rescue. The cops and paramedics who removed the girl from the vehicle and rushed her to the hospital are heroes.

Then the story takes a turn toward crazy town, as reported by the four cops who arrived on the scene after a fisherman spotted the vehicle. Those cops, all of them eyewitnesses who had not sought the limelight, none with a vested interest to write a book and cash in on the rescue, all of them professionals going about their job, stated right after the event that they heard a woman’s voice calling for help from inside the car. They said the voice was “there but not there.” It was audible enough that one of the cops reports that another answered by calling into the vehicle, “We’re trying. We’re trying our best to get in there.”

“I was thinkin’ I was hearing things,” said Spanish Fork (Utah) Officer Tyler Beddoes to ABC News, “and when I talked to the other officers, we all heard the same thing. You know, a voice saying, ‘Help us,’ ‘help me.’”

The four of them managed to push the vehicle onto its side (all were later treated for hypothermia) and then discovered that the woman who seemed to be calling for help had been deceased for many hours—but her daughter was alive.

I’ve experienced some strange things in my own life that I generally don’t like to talk about because straying away from the tangible can earn a historian the label of kook. There was one during the writing of Fireball–very strange indeed. But sometimes the facts themselves tell the story, like the time I was working on Errol Flynn Slept Here with Mike Mazzone and intended to do a “ha-ha” sidebar about Errol Flynn’s Mulholland Farm supposedly being haunted. I had experienced an odd moment at Mulholland Farm that I attributed to an overactive imagination. Then, in the course of interviewing people who had lived in or visited the home, more than two dozen from different generations, different walks of life, and vastly divergent spiritual/religious perspectives were willing to go on the record documenting eyewitness encounters with something in the house over a 27-year period. Suddenly, my overactive imagination wasn’t so overactive after all. In the end, the facetious sidebar became a serious chapter in the book.

You can tell me you know for sure that when we die, we will go to heaven or hell. You can tell me you know for sure that when we die, there’s nothing at all. But in truth, nobody knows, and we’ll all get to find out the same way. In the meantime, there are things out there that we, the living, can’t explain. It’s possible that the rushing water of that river sounded like a woman crying for help. Or the metal roof of the overturned vehicle scraping against rock and producing a sound similar to a woman’s voice. Or is it possible there was an additional hero in this rescue? The first responders were tremendous as can be seen in unedited video shot at the scene. Was the most heroic of all Lynn Jennifer Groesbeck, a 25-year-old woman who reached out past all hope, past her own lifespan, to save the life of her child in peril?