From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Jeff Cooper)
Subject: Death at Disneyland!
Date: 22 Oct 1993 21:14:13 GMT
WAITING IN LINE TO DIE
- DEATH AT DISNEYLAND -
Disneyland has often been called "the happiest place on earth." Since its
opening in 1955, hundreds of millions of people from all walks of life have
flocked to this American Mecca and been swept up in the fantasy world
envisioned by Walt Disney. From the park entrance on "Main Street USA",
recreating turn of the century small town America at 5/8 scale, to the top of
the faux Matterhorn, complete with imitiation bobsled runs, Disneyland evokes
images and fantasies of life in happier, more pleasant, and more exciting
But, beneath this glittering facade lurks something malevolent, something
lethal. In the Magic Kingdom, life is not all pixie dust and happy, fairly
tale endings. Behind the mouse's perpetually forced grin, there is more than
a trace of the death head's grimace. For not all of the millions of "guests"
(never visitors, patrons or suckers) entering the park in search of fantasy
and pleasure survive to see the Electric Parade. They will leave the park in
body bags, struck down by fantasy "attractions" run amok.
Reactionary pundits and other defenders of the All-American Way of Life,
Orange County style, will immediately spring to the defense of the pride of
Anaheim with the old transporation argument. "Why, you're more likely to die
on the way to the park than inside." And right they are, _especially_ in the
case of Disneyland. History does not record the number of young
Disneyland-bound families wiped out in fiery holocausts on the Santa Ana
freeway. But other modes of transport do demonstrate the dangers. In 1968
alone, the Disneyland/LAX helicopter service suffered two of the worst
civilian chopper crashes in U.S. history. In May, a helicopter carrying 23
people lucky enough to leave the park alive disintegrated in mid-air and
crashed near Paramount. There were no survivors. Less than three months
later, a Disneyland-bound chopper crashed on a Compton playground, killing
all 21 would-be "guests" and crew on board. Even the stroll from the parking
lot to the park entrance is not without its risks. In 1987, after a Mormon
party at the park, a gang fight in one of the lots erupted in gunfire,
leaving one youth dead and a bystander injured.
But this is beside the point when it comes to discussing the hazards awaiting
the unwary inside Disneyland. You're just as likely to die en route to such
traditional mid-American amusements as tractor pulls or Bon Jovi concerts.
Once inside, you're safe. But, to place yourself at the mercy of Disneyland
is to risk mangling, mutilation, and even death.
>From 1955 through 1963, Disneyland's safety record was flawless. Not all of
their "guests" may have left happy, but they did leave alive. Tragically,
this perfect record ended in May of 1964, instituting the era of carnage that
continues even today.
The killer attraction: the Matterhorn. The event: a party for 10,000 Long
Beach Elks and their guests. Its tragic first victim: 15 year old Mark Maples
of Long Beach. The day had been difficult for Mark. Earlier, during an
otherwise sedate ride on the Skyway, he argued with a girl over going steady.
His friends had to restrain him from flinging himself to the ground 50 feet
below. But no one can stay depressed in Disneyland for very long. By 11:30
that evening, he was in better spirits, engaging in "horseplay" while waiting
in line for the Matterhorn with his friends.
Things went smoothly for the first third of the ride. Then, near the summit,
Mark felt a sudden, inexplicable need to stand up. It's not clear whether he
merely wanted to stretch his legs or was confusing the simulated bobsled ride
with such more traditional Angeleno sports as surfing or skiing. His friends
merely heard a thump, some noise, and Mark was gone; no screams or triumphant
shouts of "Kawabunga!" According to Disneyland officials, he was "catapulted
from the speeding car". He landed on the track a few feet down, with a skull
fracture and various internal injuries. He never regained consciousness, and
died four days later. The Matterhorn had claimed its first victim.
The Matterhorn earned its underground sobriquet of "widowmaker" in January,
1984. This time, its victim was no innocent, hi-jinking teenager, but a
respectable 48 year old matron. Dollie Young of Fremont had been enjoying an
impromptu Disneyland visit with old friends from Arizona. The survivors later
recalled that "It started out like one of those magical, happy days" so
frequently depicted in Disney promotional materials. And the day had gone
well, until they dared the deadly slopes of the Matterhorn.
Dollie was riding alone in the rear car of the sled, so no one saw quite what
happened. Disney workers swear they had buckled her in. However, two thirds
of the way down the slopes, her so called "safety" belt was definitely
unbuckled. She fell to the track, and, as she bounced along track while
struggling to regain her feet, a second speeding sled smashed into her. The
"bullet" sled dragged her for a car-length before stopping with her corpse
pinned beneath its wheels. She was pronounced dead at the scene from massive
head and chest injuries. The Matterhorn was closed for the rest of the day
due to "technical difficulties", and the bullet sled riders evacuated via a
hidden elevator. The nearby motorboat cruise and monorail ride were also shut
down, presumably to spare Fantasyland guests the sight of a real-life police
Equally hazardous to park visitors is the PeopleMover. Hurtling through the
sterile corporate future of Tomorrowland at a speed of two miles per hour, it
is plainly a menace to the life and limb of every guest. Less than two months
after its opening, it mutilated and killed its first victim. In August of
1967, Rick Yuma, a 15-year old boy from Hawthorne, innocently attempted to
change cars as the PeopleMover passed through a tunnel. Unfortunately, he
slipped and, as the papers reported, was "found wedged between two cars with
his head and the upper part of his body crushed". And "wedged" was the word
for it; Disney "Imagineers" negligently hadn't forseen this possibility and
made allowances for it in their design. Workers had to dismantle the train in
order to extricate the boy's mangled remains.
The PeopleMover killed a second time under even more tragic circumstances:
During a Grad Night party. On that sad June night in 1980, the park was
filled close to capacity with 18,000 young people celebrating their high
school graduation. The crowd included 260 graduates of San Diego High. Only
259 would survive to receive their diplomas. In the early morning hours,
their classmate Geraldo Gonzales attempted to change cars as the PeopleMover
tore throught the "Superspeed" tunnel. He stumbled and fell. As he lay
sprawled across the tracks, a second speeding PeopleMover train struck,
crushing him beneath its cruel hard rubber wheels and dragging him along the
tracks. He was pronounced dead at the scene from extensive internal injuries,
yet another young man cut down in the prime of life.
Rides aren't the only attractions at Disneyland; nor are they the only
killers. Consider Tom Sawyer Island. Located in the middle of the Rivers of
America and accessible solely by raft, this is the only attraction in the
park Walt designed personally. Although it and the surrounding river are as
fake and manmade as Sleeping Beauty's castle, it appears to be an innocent,
rustic oasis of nature in a sea of synthetic "imagineering", as well as an
inviting refuge from the omnipresent lines. Precisely for these reasons, it
beckons innocent park guests to their deaths, much like the Sirens of
The island's sinister spell claimed its first victim in June, 1973. Bodgen De
Laurot, an 18-year old Brooklyn man, and his younger brother, decided to
watch the nightly fireworks display from the island. Unfortunately, the rafts
to and from the island stop running at dusk. After the fireworks, the
brothers found themselves stranded a la "Swiss Family Robinson". But, rather
than building a tree house, they did what any true red-blooded American young
man would do - they swam for it. History does not record if the river was too
swift, the water too cold, or the distance too great. What is known is that
neither brother made it.
The younger boy was the lucky one - a boat ride operator hauled him from
those treacherous waters around 10 PM. Bodgen was nowhere to be found. A
search followed, possibly the biggest land, sea and air search in park
history. Frontierland and the Rivers of America were scoured by police,
firemen, and park employees using searchlights, helicopters and boats. Not
until dawn did they find Bodgen's drowned body among the rocks and rapids
near the lethal isle.
In June of 1983, the island lured a second young man to his death in yet
another grad night tragedy. That evening, Phil Straughan of Albuquerque had a
double cause for celebration: his graduation and his 18th birthday. In an
innocent display of youthful high spirits, he and a friend "borrowed" an
inflatable rubber maintenance boat for an impromptu nighttime cruise on the
river. Near the deadly island, they struck a rock. Phil was flung into the
river. As a football player, he had the strength to struggle valiantly. But
he was no match for the power of the Rivers of America as four feet of cold,
cruel water closed over his head. Rescuers recovered his drowned body an hour
later. In all apparent sincerity, a Disney spokesperson said, "It's a really,
really sad thing on what's supposed to be one of the happiest days of his
The entire park exerts a similar, irresistible lure. For 35 years, management
has hyped Disneyland as the American Mecca, making every American feel that
they _must_ make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives. The only catch
is that the park charges stiff admission price for entry onto these hallowed
grounds - over $25 as of late 1990. Not everyone can afford it. One can only
feel sympathy for these frustrated pilgrims, and understand their desperate
efforts to sneak in.
One of these poor souls never made it, and died trying. Guy Cleveland, a
19-year old Northridge man, undoubtedly driven to his fate by the
irresistible media hype, futilely attempted to enter the park along the
monorail track. With a monomaniacal intent usually confined to religious
fanatics, he climbed a 16-foot fence, disregarded the security guard's
shouted warnings, and evidently ignored the sound of the rapidly approaching
train. As he clambered along the canopy underneath the track, the train
struck. It dragged him 30 or 40 feet before it could stop. The newspapers
could only describe his body as "badly mangled".
Park guests aren't the only ones seduced to their deaths by the park's
attractions. Consider the late, lamented "America Sings". It was seemingly
designed strictly as a hazard to employees. Converted from the old General
Electric Carousel of Progress, it featured six theaters revolving around a
four part fixed stage of Disney audioanimatronic animal figures performing
well-loved American songs. Even before its official 1974 opening, there was
something sinister about this android musical spectacular. The tragedy to
come was foreshadowed at the press preview party, when one of the
attraction's designers fell into a pit and sustained slight injuries.
Disneyland ignored this omen, and opened "America Sings" to the public at the
end of June. This decision would cost them the life of an innocent young
hostess, the first Disneyland employee killed in the line of duty.
Deborah Stone had just graduated from nearby Santa Ana High. In many ways,
she epitomized the crisp, clean all-American image encouraged among park
employees. She edited her high school year book, belonged to the honor
society and capped her high school career by winning the principal's award
for "outstanding service to her school and community". Undoubtedly, she
breezed through her coursework at the Disneyland University.
Yes, she had nothing but a bright future full of promise to look forward to
on that tragic July night. There were no witnesses to her agonizing end, no
spectacular fall or dramatic search. Around 11 PM, fellow employees noticed
her missing from her post greeting guests. After a brief search, they found
her crushed remains. As the theaters rotated about the fixed inner stage, she
had been caught between a stationary wall and a moving wall. The attraction
smashed her like a steamroller running over one of Disney's beloved characters
in a hilarious act of animated mayhem. Except this was no cartoon, and there
would be no animated sleight of hand to "uncrush" her. America Sings was
closed for three days until a system of warning lights could be installed.
But for one young hostess, it was a little too late.
By far the grimmest and most widely-criticized event in Disneyland's
blood-spattered history was the park's first homicide in 1981. The victim was
Mel Yorba, an 18-year old Riverside man. On that fateful March night, he was
attending a private party at the park thrown by a local defense contractor,
accompanied by a friend and their dates. His family recalled that the young
people were simply out "to have a good time".
The "good time" ended around 10 PM that evening in the deadly confines of
Tomorrowland. Near the Skyway, James O'Driscoll, a 28-year old man from San
Diego, accused Yorba of touching his girlfriend. There was a scuffle; blows
were exchanged. O'Driscoll pulled a knife. Then, either O'Driscoll brutally
stabbed Yorba, or Yorba stumbled while lunging forward, impaling himself on
the blade. The jury believed the former. Eventually, this scuffle would cost
the killer 8 years to life for 2nd degree murder.
No one criticized Disneyland security's handing of the killing. With
efficiency rivalled only by certain Third-World dictatorships and some
(former) Eastern Bloc police states, they swung into action. O'Driscoll's
girlfriend was quickly apprehended as she tried to slip out of the park.
Divers found the alleged murder weapon, an 8 1/2 inch knife, in a Disneyland
waterway, variously reported as the Sleeping Beauty Castle moat or the
submarine lagoon. O'Driscoll only managed to evade the kingdom-wide manhunt
for little more than an hour before he was found hiding in the bushes in
Meanwhile, as Yorba lay bleeding to death on the grounds of Tomorrowland, the
Disneyland nurse made a fateful decision. Instead of calling the paramedics,
she elected to have him driven to the hospital in a park van. By the time the
van, lacking flashing emergency lights, made its leisurely way to the
hospital (which, unlike other nearby hospitals, did not have a trauma
center), Yorba was to all intents dead from a knife wound piercing his heart,
liver and diaphragm.
For once, Disneyland was roundly chastised in the media. Two Disneyland
workers claimed "the rule at the park is don't call the paramedics".
Presumably, flashing red lights and uniformed rescue personnel tearing up
Main Street would mar the park's atmosphere. Not that the emergency crews
wanted to disturb the guests; the Orange County Director of Emergency Medical
Services was quoted as saying he would not be "adverse" to dressing up
paramedics in mouse suits if necessary.
In wake of this criticism, Disneyland hired an ambulance and changed its
emergency procedures somewhat. Not that this helped at the trial. Contrary to
what their employees thought, the park produced a written policy in effect at
the time of the stabbing requiring that paramedics be called in
life-threatening situations. Nonetheless, the jury found Disney neglegent to
the tune of $600,000, making Yorba (or at least his family) one of the few of
the park's many victims to win compensation for their injuries.
Of course, these are just the fatal incidents. The offical pristine park
history also fails to mention other serious mishaps that fortunately (or
perhaps unfortunately) didn't end in death. There was the innocent 4-year old
boy who plunged 30 feet to the ground from the deadly People Mover and
fractured his skull. In 1983, a young man was thrown from the Space Mountain
rollercoaster and left as a paraplegic. And the blood continues to be spilt
to this day. Just last year, an 8-year old girl riding a Fantasyland tram was
hit and seriously injured by a stray bullet.
Yes, beneath the sunshine and smiles, and behind the fun and fantasy lurk
true danger and real death. Some members of the crowds queued up in the
hours-long lines aren't just media-tranquilized consumers patiently waiting
for a 90-second dose of ersatz, "safe" thrills. Rather, they are sheep being
led to the slaughter by a startling array of anthropomorphic rodents, pigs
and puppets playing the part of the Judas goat. Those treasured E-tickets are
but one-way passes to the morgue. As one victim's relative put it, "You don't
think of people dying Disneyland". But people do.
From "Murder Can Be Fun" Issue No.13 $1.25
Written & Published by John Marr, PO Box 640111, San Francisco, CA 94109