Growing up, Obsorne wanted nothing to do with grave hunting. Her mother, a voracious reader of celebrity biographies, who would take her, often reluctantly, to see where her favorite stars had lived and died.
“I was horrified that my mother wanted to do that and I crouched down [in the car] so that no one could see me and she kept going ‘c’mon this is fun!,’” she says.
Over the years, her grave hunting trips with her mother turned into some of her fondest memories. “I look forward to your visits,” Osborne’s mother would tell her. The phrase was so endearing that Osborne had it etched on her mother’s tombstone when she passed away in 2007. Her mother’s large collection of biographies and other celebrity memorabilia were donated, at her request, to the gallery in Michaels’ shop.
Though she’s quick to spot a closet grave hunter, Osborne kept her interest in cemeteries a secret for decades, a caution that is common among Death Hags, who fear the judgment that comes along with having a fascination with the underworld.
“I didn’t tell people that I went to cemeteries… I didn’t want people to think I was creepy or weird,” she says, adding that she once had a co-worker who would introduce her and then quickly mention she liked to hang out in cemeteries. “They couldn’t understand what you were doing and they would avoid you.”
Osborne has even found love in the Death Hag community
The pressure would seem to be less these days, given the mainstreaming of goth, vampire and other cultures in pop media, from Twilight to True Blood on down. So not only is Osborne out of the closet as a Death Hag, she has even found love in the community. Her boyfriend Mark Masek is the author of “Hollywood Remains to Be Seen,” a guidebook to 14 cemeteries in the L.A. area and the final burial locations of more than 300 celebrities.
Among the gems in Masek’s book: the tale of Marion Parker, the daughter of a prominent L.A banker who was kidnapped, murdered and gruesomely butchered by William Edward Hickman, a criminal who called himself “The Fox”, in 1927. Parker was returned to her father after a ransom was handed over—but it was too late. She—and brace yourself for these details, which are somewhat typical of Masek’s work—had been disemboweled and stuffed with rags—her eyelids sewn open to make it seem like she was still alive. The building where she was murdered was remodeled and turned into swanky rental apartments last year.
The story of flying trapeze artists Alfredo Codona and Lillian Leitzel, arguably the best in their trade at the start of the 20th century, is one of Masek’s best finds. He stumbled upon it thanks to an almost 20-foot high grave marker that commemorated their love affair at Inglewood Cemetery Park. “In Everlasting Memory of my Beloved,” reads the inscription, just below a broken trapeze ring.
With her husband away in Berlin, Leitzel fell 50 feet in the middle of an act while performing in Copenhagen. She survived the fall, and when Codona rushed to her from Germany she assured him she was fine, urging him to return to Berlin. But she took a turn for the worse and died a few days later. Devastated, Codona commissioned the marble statue from an Italian sculptor to be erected at her grave.
He remarried, began to drink heavily and sustained injuries that forced him from the ring into working at an auto garage in Long Beach. While finalizing the details of his divorce from his second wife, he shot her and then turned the gun on himself in the lawyer’s office. In his suicide note, he asked to be buried next to Leitzel.
‘Every cemetery is like a library,’ Masek says.
It’s a story Masek found, researched and archived on his site, cemeteryguide.com, along with other tales long forgotten and replaced over decades with the headline makers of today. Of course, though Leitzel’s death, at the height of their fame, was reported, Codona’s murder-suicide wasn’t. The world had moved on.
“Every cemetery is like a library,” Masek says, “and every person has a story. Some of them are interesting and well known, and some of them aren’t, but they’re all worthy of being remembered.”
Masek is one of the speakers at the dinner inside the Pasadena Mausoleum this weekend. Masek will share details of the Lamb Funeral Home scandal, where bodies were mutilated, butchered and sold instead of buried by a greedy Southern California mortician in the late 80s. The tale promises, say the event organizers, to be “insane, gross, disturbing and fascinating”.