Contextual Data: A couple of weeks prior, a friend and I were driving from her apartment to Hollywood, and on the way, she pointed out this one house that she and her friends refer to as the “murder house.” We laughed about it and I later asked her to tell me a bit more about the house. The following is an exact transcript of our conversation.
Informant: “Um… I dunno. We have a few stories about what happens north of 23rd Street, because people don’t really live up there. Um, and so we kind of started to create stories to make fun of stuff that happened while we were live there. Um, that’s bad [laughs]. It’s like my favorite place to live. But anyway, um. Okay, so the first thing that happened was, um, we started telling the story about the murder house. And… basically, one day, my friend who lives on 22nd Street was walking me back home to where I live off 23rd Street, and there’s this house and it’s kind of like a one story house and it’s green, and um… There’s always this guy that like hangs out outside the murder house [Laughs]. And he’s like really creepy and, um, he’ll like talk to you when you walk by and sometimes he like punches the air [Mimes punching the air] like…Nobody’s there, but, yeah. Anyway…Um and then one day we were walking back—she was walking me home and it was kind of late. It was probably like after midnight and we heard two men—I think they were…I don’t know, we heard arguing in the room. And all of a sudden we heard this like giant thud. And it sounded like someone—like, a body hitting the wall. And so, um, my friend, being the great friend that she was, was like, ‘Well, goodbye!’ And then she just, like, ran away, and so [Laughs]… And so I was left home to walk back to my house by myself. Um… And we’d heard like apparently—she, I mean she lived closer to the house than I did, but she’d like heard stuff going on there…for a while. And so as she was walking back she said that they were actually passing—she was passing by the door, and…There was the hard, like the solid door inside, and there was a screen door, and then the guy had the inside door open and he was standing behind the screen door and he was watching her as she walked all the back. And so I didn’t really, like—I didn’t really notice all of this, I just noticed her freaking out, and then she told me about it later…And she was basically—she was certain that someone had…died, which was kind of morbid. I don’t know, I didn’t here a lot of it. But then after that we kept—she would—kept referring to it as the murder house, and every time we would—she would walk over to my house, she would be like, I don’t really want to walk by the murder house. And then another girl who lives in my house had, I think, some other weird experiences, and so she started referring to it as the murder house as well. And now, basically, my entire house and that other house know that house as the…murder house.”
Me: “And so everybody in your house now knows that house as the murder house?”
Informant: “Yeah…And we kind of—It’s weird because the guy’s still around. And we actually don’t know what was, you know, actually what happened. Maybe, just kind of, in my friend’s paranoia she made up the whole thing, ‘cause I didn’t really hear…as much as she says that she did. And she seems to think it was more, like, definitive than it was. But she kind of coined the term and then it just kind of…stuck as a landmark of 23rd Street.”
Informant: “People kind of have been having weird experiences by the house, and my friend did, like on multiple occasions ‘cause she had to walk by that house all the time—it’s kind of far away from my house, but, um…So, other people kind of adopted the term, because they had experienced weird things too. And we don’t know, like—maybe the guy is, you know, maybe the guy is just kind of…I dunno, doing his thing, you know… I mean, I’m hoping—hopefully nothing terrible actually happened at all, but—but it was definitely kind of a weird, like, middle of the night experience. Um, and a lot of weird stuff has happened near that house. So… Yeah.”
Me: “Why do you think you guys have so much fun saying it? Or like sharing it—spreading it around?”
Informant: “I don’t know. Part of me sort of feels like it’s irresponsible because if we actually did think that someone had been murdered there then we should try and so something about it. And I don’t—I don’t anybody, like, fully believes that anything bad happened there, because otherwise, it would be really serious and we wouldn’t laugh about it. But I think that just because, um… You know, like, DPS doesn’t really patrol up there and while I—while I feel, like, really safe in the neighborhood, there is sometimes some kind of weird stuff that goes on, like, you know people get arrested. Like yesterday I was walking to the bus and on the corner of my street there were two guys in handcuffs, and it’s just kind of like, that’s just the way it is. And I don’t really feel, like, you know, unsafe about it—like just that kind of stuff happens. Um, and so…People, I don’t—I think that if we thought it were true, it’d be really serious, but it’s almost like a way for us to make fun of, like, the unpredictability of, like, the community. [Laughs.] I mean, like, you guys—you know what I mean by…I don’t know. Sort of like the random kind of weird stuff that happens up there, but we can kind of give a name to it, but calling this one house the murder house and kind of… I think by, like, giving stuff—I don’t know, sort of like… In some way it also makes the neighborhood feel like our home as well, because we sort of have started assigning names to certain things and certain places, like, you know, we know that Thursday nights, like the helicopter ratio is so much higher than it is normal nights [Laughs]. And we don’t really know why, but we’re all kind of used to it at that point. Um, and—I don’t know. I just feel like it’s sort of part of making that place your home—you start personalizing things…Yeah.”
– End Transcript –
My informant did a fairly thorough job of explaining the significance of this joke/urban legend. In part though, it does also seem to speak to the relationship between the USC students and the surrounding neighborhood. In particular, and as my friend hinted at, the fact that the university is located in South Central Los Angeles in an environment where the sound of police sirens is part of the norm. There is therefore an understandable interest and also a kind of a fascination that exists regarding crimes that take place in the area, which is partly why people spread these stories around and share these kinds of jokes. In some ways then, a joke like the “murder house” works to reinforce this perception of the place, while simultaneously acting as a way of “making this place your home,” as my informant discussed. Adding on to this, when people from outside the area come to visit her, she does share this little joke with them, as she points out the “landmarks” of her neighborhood.