Haunted Lives: True Ghost Stories DEEP DIVE Halloween Review
By Ezekiel McAdams
October 7 2022
This series is part of Creepy Gecko, a space during October specifically designed to embrace Halloween, supernatural, paranormal and spooky tales.
I don’t remember when I first discovered the series of three specials of Haunted Lives True Ghost Stories or Real Ghosts as it was retitled in the final special as well as in syndication or international markets.
I believe it was on one the FOX or UPN channels that we had in Canada. I remember watching the second instalment, alone in my parent’s room and then subsequently being so scared and visibly shook up that I slept with my Grandma that night.
I remember the following day at school, the ideas just rotating in my head like a rotisserie chicken on a spit. I was both fascinated with these stories and also chilled just thinking if that could happen to me?
I suddenly got anxious “what if, just thinking of the ghosts they would visit me” I pondered, just the thought shivered me to the bone.
Over the years, I never forgot the specials or the stories; it was the title that escaped me. So many paranormal series or special begin with “Haunted” or “Ghosts”.
It became a driving force when I wanted to recap and review this. Other then the blurbs in the newspapers at the time who usually came up with a pun or a joke at the special’s existence, there really wasn’t a lot of information available.
Haunted Lives aired on CBS May 15 1991 as part of a special. It was created by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo. Most known for a book series of sports trivia. The duo later wrote a series of ghost stories, Haunted Kids catered to children that were purported to be based on true events.
Tobe Hooper most notably known as the director of Poltergeist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre directed and helped with the special visual effects for the first special. The special was produced by Charles Adler and Ron Ziskin.
Leonard Nimoy goes uncredited as the narrator. His voice is earnest and feels reliable and comforting.
Ghosts R US
The first story written by Peter M. Lenkov (most known as creator of the revivals of Hawaii Five- O, MacGyver and Magnum P.I). begins with the Sunnyvale Toys R Us.
Reported psychic Sylvia Browne (Brown), recounts how the store had gone through six managers before calling her.
Nimoy retells the legend. It was spring of 1881, Northern California on the Murphy Ranch where the Sunnyvale toy store currently stood. Yonny Yonson is described as a barely literate, emotional disturbed farm hand that had unrequited feelings for Martin Murphy Jr’s daughter, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth (Shawn Kristy) rejects Yonny’s (John Hammil) advances and asks him to stay away despite his incessant pleading.
While continuously chopping wood in frustration, Yonny injures himself when the axe hits his leg. With no one around to help him, he succumbs to his fatal injury and dies.
1982, now Sunnyvale Toys R Us
Customers are complaining about the water faucets in the bathrooms turning on their own as well. The store manager (Eli Guralnick) brushes it off until she sees toys floating in the storeroom.
During a staff meeting, one employee jokes “Welcome to Ghosts R Us. May we haunt you?’” while the manager rebuffs her and tells everyone that until they can figure this out, “It’s business as usual”
It’s not clear if Shawn Kristy who is credited as Elizabeth Murphy was also playing dual roles as Margie, who made the snarky comment “Welcome to Ghosts R Us. May we haunt you?” Whether it was Kristy or an uncredited actor, she was the standout of the special, and did a lot with the sparse material she was given
Strange occurrences continue like the cash register overpricing items or toys being mysteriously stacked.
The same young employee and her co-worker Margie go to the school library and uncover that Elizabeth and her father; Martin Murphy owned a farm on the land where the store currently sits. Margie mentions the possible connection of Johnny/Yohnny Johnson as being the ghost.
Margie tells the manager that Sylvia Browne (Brown), a reported psychic might help. The manager begs them to contact Brown immediately as a Frisbee flies by and blood appears on the floor as a disembodied voice cries out for Elizabeth.
Browne (who plays herself in the reenactment) informs the staff, that the ghost may not know they're dead and suggest having a seance. During the seance Brown and the staff witness an apparition that Brown communicates with and whom she urges to go into the light
Sometime later, hoping the incident is resolved, the store manager is shocked to discover that during closing, a toy train moving on its own, with letters spelling out Elizabeth.
Behind the scenes of the haunting
In January 1991, the Haunted lives production crew talked with past and present employees of the Sunnyvale Toys R Us location recount their stories with the haunting.
Suzanna Heun recalled her name being called and her hair being moved. Lillian “Putt” O’Brien said that a teddy bear fell and formed an arch much to her amazement.
Store manager James Haynie mentioned hearing footstep upstairs while former manager Cheryl Royce said that while in the washroom stall, she heard the door open and the water in the bathroom sink turn on and then off with no one else in the room to her recollection.
What's the real story? Legend vs Research
The toy store was first built in 1970. It is unknown when the phenomena first began.
In 1979, employees Margie Honey and Regina Gibson went to the Sunnyvale library before Brown was contacted and found a cryptic note about “Murphy’s Ghost” that of course has conveniently vanished. The San Francisco Examiner wrote a piece on September 9 1979 by Antoinette May, that detailed the employees accounts as well as Sylvia Brown's involvement.
The reenactment was likely based on Margie and Regina’s account
This is when the now popular and renowned legend associated with the Sunnyvale emerged. there was no previous mention of a Yonny Yonson/Johnny Johnson before Brown's seance. As legends do variations grow over time, either the farm hand cut his leg with an axe or took his life in despair being rejected by his unrequited love, Elizabeth.
Additional reporting comes from a great piece by Katie Dowd in the SFGate. Dated April 21 2021, Dowd explains that no records exist of a Yonny Yonson or Johnny Johnson ever working on the Murphy Ranch.
Brown held another seance in 1982, this time filmed. It was featured on the 1980s series That's Incredible!.
What appears to be an apparition of a man, became a well known photo. Witness present claim no such person was there.
Another nail in the legend is that Elizabeth Yuba Murphy, married William Taaffee in 1864 and died 1875, six years before Yonny/Johnny's death.
Additional details from Dowd's piece in SFGate and FindAGrave.com
The Sunnyvale Toys R Us location was closed in 2010, and is now an Outdoors store, REI Co-op. There have no known reports of any activity.
The next segment is written by AL Katz and Gilbert Adler.
Another California haunt, the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego has been reported to be haunted since 1892. The rumoured suspect is Kate Morgan, an apparent suicide in the hotel.
Alan May (Alvin Silver), a respected criminal attorney, who had heard about the story on tv decided to investigate. May, a self described mystery buff felt he could crack the case.
The narration shifts from Nimoy to first person with Alan May describing the accounts.
In summer of 1989, May checked into the hotel and complained to the staff that he had gotten the wrong room. May was in 3502, but it had no window and the room he was searching for did originally have windows on old blueprints.
The front desk staff member found the room. It was 3312. He noted that with construction over the decades the room numbers had been changed. He was perplexed to see that the room was not currently in service,
May requested to be reassigned to that particular room. At first nothing unusual happened, he was surprised to find out the next day, that he apparently had checked out. He resolved the temporary nuisance and went on with his day.
Silver conveys May with a burning intensity, stubbornness and frustration grabbing your attention akin to a disruptive child.
Feeling that he was on to something, May decided to dig deeper into Kate Morgan’s history at the San Diego Historical Society.
He uncovered that she (Sarah Carson) had run a scam with her lover, Tom (Robert Jacobs) posing as brother and sister, the duo swindled men using Kate’s looks to distract them.
When Kate became pregnant, Tom abandoned her. Kate tracked down Tom after losing her baby but what ultimately led to her death is up for speculation.
While looking at the autopsy results, May realizes a discrepancy, the bullet Kate was killed with differed from the calibre of gun she had on her body.
Carson and Jacobs do a good job portraying Kate and Tom but don’t make much of an impression. Their scenes are shortened to a mere sentence or expression.
May suddenly was alarmed by a presence in the room, the spirit of Kate Morgan coming through the tv screen and transporting him into the past.
May believed Kate was trying to show him how she met her fate on her last night. It was Tom who killed Kate and then fired a second round into a potted plant, leaving her lifeless body to crumple on the staircase, believing others to think it was a suicide.
What's the real story? Legend vs Research
Kate Morgan's fate is a mystery that lingers. Her body remained unidentified for several weeks according to both the Los Angeles Herald and San Francisco Chronicle. Both published two days apart on Dec 9 and 11 1892.
The production interviewed May, who felt responsible for Kate and purchased her a headstone.
May's crusade brought him a lot of media attention including being featured in The Los Angeles Times on December 17 1989 and the Indiana Gazette on October 29 1990.
Through his dogged determination and research, May had uncovered that Kate had a long lost child that he was related to. May felt this was the reason he encountered Kate Morgan’s spirit. However there are no public records or news sources that can verify this fact.
May also wrote a book detailing his accounts. The Legend of Kate Morgan.
May later died in 1991.
The last segment was written by David Braff.
The Metz Elementary School in Austin, Texas stood for seventy five years until 1990, when it was set to be torn down, so the school could be rebuilt.
Joe Torres (Hector Elias), owner of Torres Trucking and Excavating had the contract. Joe’s two sons, Morris and Gabe and the rest of his crew start experiencing strange occurrences.
Elias plays frustration and disbelief well. The utter contempt he has had for his workers nonsense is palpable.
These occurrences include machinery issue, disembodied voices, spectral children and a ladder that was jumping around like a hot potato.
With the work constantly stopping, most of the crew are scared off and quit.
Joe’s troubles are then compounded when the press does a story on the haunting which begrudgingly makes him ask for help from a psychic, Elaine Ireland and a priest to do an exorcism.
The actor who plays Elaine Ireland appears to be uncredited. It is unknown if she is played by herself.
Joe’s problems seem to be behind him, until a worker begs him for time off.
Frustrated Joe demands he continue or be fired, the worker returns to work only to be fatally injured by a collapse in one of the walls of the structure.
Now torn down, all that remains of the Metz Elementary School is a field.
Joe brought over a tree for his daughter in law and was reportedly told that she heard the voices and laughter of children.
Behind the scenes of the haunting
The production crew interviews, Joe and his sons Gabriel and Morris. Joe hopes that with a new school destined to be built on the property that no more issues arise.
Psychic Elaine Ireland felt they were treading on sacred property.
What's the real story? Legend vs Research
The Torres Trucking and Excavation company had been in operation for twenty years when they got the contract to demolish the school.
In 1989, concerned parents launched an initiative to build a new school. The school built in 1916, now proved a safety hazard as arts of the structure had fallen in disrepair.
Elaine Shelly of the Austin American Statesman reported on September 19 1989.
Trouble immediately began concentrating on Joe Torres and his crew. Reported psychic Elaine Ireland of the Central Texas Parapsychology Association of the and lay evangelist Elias Simon of the Casa Guadalupe Catholic Centre were brought to perform an investigation. Julie Bronnin of the Austin American Statesman reported on the matter on September 27 1990.
A construction worker Otto Guiterrez Jr., 49, died on October 10 1990 when a section of a wall fell fatally injuring him. John Harris of the Austin American Statesman reported.
The Metz School was rebuilt and opened two years in August 1992. John Bryant of the Austin American Statesman reported.
In 2019, the school was finally closed. Claire McInerny reported on Austin's KUT Radio. Students plan to build a digital archive of the school's history.
There have been no known reports of any activity.
As of this article's publication,Torres Trucking and Excavating is still operating in Texas.
This is a fun spooky special especially for lovers of ghost stories and paranormal series.
The stories are interesting and engaging. I didn’t feel the first special as creepy as the second but could just be bias or personal preference as that was the first one I watched.
Hooper’s direction is acceptable, not cinematic but it doesn’t feel cheap.
The writing by Lenkov, Katz, Adler and Braff is engaging only hampered by the fact there’s not a lot of room for characterization in the three segments.
The music by Nicholas Pike is alluring, evoking a spooky feeling.
It would be nice for a remaster or making these specials available on digital download, dvd or blu ray or on a streaming service. In a time where content and library is king, this would be a perfect addition to any Halloween catalogue.
Haunted Lives: True Ghost Stories is from Four Point Entertainment. It is not known to be on dvd, blu ray, digital purchase, demand or streaming services currently
A young unamed employee (Eileen Jo Bowman) is hearing the name “Elizabeth” being whispered as she is alone in the storeroom.
Regarding the Sunnyvale Toys R Us haunting, the legend was originally known as “Murphy’s Ghost” due to Martin Murphy Jr’s family owning the surrounding land that the toy store once stood.
According to a article written by Phillip Smith in the Daily Palo Alto Times from August 14 1949, the house was constructed in pieces brought over from Boston by Martin Murphy Jr.
At the time of the article's publication, the ranch now known as Bay View Farm was still standing.
Sylvia Brown was brought in 1979 and conducted the first of many seances. Below is a picture of her and Margie Honey holding a possessed doll.
That night, May was awoken by eyes appearing on an unplugged tv set. Visibly frightened, he bolted out of his room trying to find witnesses that would corroborate his encounter.