The Casa Montgomery remains to be allegedly haunted. A once beautiful mansion built by the Uncle of Elizabeth Montgomery – actress to the popular 1960’s series “Bewitched”- Ironically went from a haven for the rich and famous, to a haven for the mentally insane. However the irony does not end there, as this bewitching manner later turned into a retreat for self proclaimed witches and new age Christian healers who claimed to cure cancer, alas these healing proclamations could not treat the former owner, who ironically was unable to heal himself of the deadly cancerous disease that he so adamantly claimed to cure.
To date the Casa de Montgomery is once again under a new transformation; one to restore its beautiful grounds and awaken its harmonious ambiance as it was originally intended for by T.S Montgomery, as a labor of love.
Tucked away in the Branciforte hills of Santa Cruz County, lies the all but forgotten about; Casa de Montgomery, also known as Sporup Sanitarium. Built in 1931, for his beloved wife, by San Jose philanthropist, T.S. Montgomery - Uncle of actress Elizabeth Montgomery, of the popular 1960’s television sitcom, Bewitched. The beautiful Spanish style mansion currently stands on 13 acres, alongside the beautiful flowing Branciforte creek. Adorn with, rhododendrons, azaleas, green ferns, water lilies, rock gardens and more. This amazing mansion was once the envy of all.
Sadly, a few short years after the grand mansion was built, Montgomery’s wife passed away; leaving the well off philanthropist alone and amongst too many fond memories for him to dwell within. As a result he chose to lease out the roomy mansion to an experienced health care provider out of Napa, Anita Sporup.
In 1941 the Sporup Sanitarium for the mentally ill was born. But it would only be a matter of days after its residents moved in - that the once glorified manner, recognized for its beauty and prestigious guests, would soon take on a dark, ugly façade –as two unusual deaths transpired weeks from one another. Leaving neighbors to surmise something wicked was going on at the newly acquired sanitarium for the mentally ill.
According to Ira Langlois and his wife Anita Sporup, Mrs. Elizabeth Barton a 59 year old patient, was completing her chores in the kitchen, when she apparently wandered out the back door to walk the garden, by the creek. A few hours passed and fearing she may have gotten lost, Ira went into the garden to locate her. He walked towards a small tool shed behind the premises, near the creek, where he discovered Mrs. Barton lying in a pool of blood. The woman apparently took a knife from the kitchen and slit both her wrists and her throat, the large butcher knife was found underneath her body. She was taken to the Santa Cruz hospital where she died as result of her injuries. The coroner ruled the death a suicide.
A few weeks later, 58 year old resident, Edith Diecken of Nebraska did not return to the Sanitarium, after taking a walk outside towards the garden by the creek. Ira Langlois, who accompanied by his wife Anita Sporup, discovered the elderly woman’s body submerged along the creek side, she had drowned. According to the coroner’s report he believed that she likely waded in the water and pulled the roots over her in an attempt to submerge herself. The odd death, was also ruled a suicide.
For years after, rumors would haunt the reputation of the facility. Many would talk claiming that the mentally challenged and senile were forced into slave labor, endured torture and strange experiments to aid the afflicted. Most of the clientele were predominately woman, some say it was because women were more passive and would submit more easily than a male patient. Despite the rumors, the facility would continue to remain in business for years to follow.
In 1957, Anita Sporup announced her retirement she would leave her facility in the charge of her son, Douglas Sporup, who was educated at Agnew St. Mental Hospital.
Although not a licensed psychiatrist, Doug Sporup received credentials to run the facility, and was well accustom to a mental hospital, as he himself proclaimed to “grow up in one” since his mother Anita, had worked many years in the Napa State facility.
Sporup would go on to not only assist the afflicted, but he would become a prominent local preacher in the Church of Science. Well known in the community and active as a Boy Scout facilitator, Douglas Sporup would open up his Sanitarium to new patients ; and introduce experimental treatment for emotionally disturbed children. Through the use of manual labor he provided an outlet for the disturbed children, although not everyone felt his methods were of an orthodox nature.
For those patients residing at the Sanitarium it was discovered Sporup had the patients rooms wired with speakers, along with a separate radio booth in the facility. Part of his treatment was to play bongo drum music in order to appease the residents. Sporup himself declared one of the patients was ripping the plaster off of the walls, however after the introduction of music, the patient seemed to become calm.
By the 1980’s for uncertain reasons the Sporup Sanitarium vacated the Branciforte location, and once again the empty villa became known as Casa de Montgomery. It eventually sold at an auction price of a beginning bid of $15,000. The new owner Arlen Haffner would soon change the Casa Montgomery to Happy Valley Villa. The large facility would soon become a home for single gentleman to reside at. However, it would soon become apparent that these were no gentleman. It became a retreat for former felons, drug addicts and pedophiles. Needless to say the bewitching effect of this former asylum, would soon become evident in even stranger ways.
By 1998 an even odder transformation become of the old asylum, as former Satanist and current new age Christian healer Eric Pryor proclaimed to heal those with cancer on the premises. The cult, who practiced in drinking mescaline
and other illegal narcotics, also believed there new age madness could heal the ill, both mentally and physically. Although the new age witch doctor had no proof of his ability to heal, anyone. Nor did he have any legitimate diagnosis of those who may have been ill, he however, maintained his supernatural abilities.
The owner of the once beautiful estate and former asylum, Arlen Haffner, was now referred to as “the Father” a self appointed man of the cloth and in 1999 he continued with his cult. Claiming he was cutting down some timber on his property when Haffner, envisioned the Virgin Mary who he claims came to him. Haffner, claimed she left a sign. A small piece of wood he had cut from the tree, which had the imprint of what appeared to be an angel. The angelic impression left the residents of the estate, convinced more than ever of the Father’s healing abilities; even a self proclaimed psychic had joined the residency claiming “it was her calling”. The healing table ironically located on the property near the creek, was the center piece of this strange cults ritualistic healings.
In 2012, author and founder of the Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters, Maryanne Porter, visited Arlen Haffner at the Casa de Montgomery estate.
“The interior of the mansion was filled with filth and debris in every corner. Live rabbits ran through the halls, feces everywhere. Haffner, appeared nervous at my presence, as I introduced myself – the thought of a “ghost hunter” seemed to weigh heavily on his mind. Regardless, he appeared to be a very fragile man; he admitted he had cancer, which made sense considering his appearance and pale skin. Once we spoke further he seemed to loosen up. “
“I met some of his tenants; some looked as if they had been up for days, while others were cheery and willing to talk. When I broached the question if the Casa Montgomery was haunted, they all said the same thing. “Yes.” The description was always the same, something weird is here. Something not normal, strange things happen.” Of course, it was hard to tell if these were just the words of kids that smoked one too many or individuals who actually experienced something. However, I too, felt an uncomfortable ambience surrounding the place, one that is different than most allegedly haunted places that I have encountered .”
“I wanted to wander further down the halls, to explore the additional 46 rooms adjoined to the mansion. I wanted to see the rooms where patients once stayed. But Harlan did not want me to wander further down the halls of the former asylum. In my head, I let my imagination run wild- and I could picture a junkie haven with young woman chained to the floor, in the rooms to follow. Going any further did not seem like a good idea, after all. “
Harlan was polite, it appeared he actually liked my company as we spoke further about many different things, including his life as a business owner in Carmel, he drove clients in his limo site seeing – we both thought it ironic that we each had an interest in tours. He showed off a ritualistic robe, that he proudly claimed was given to him by a prince – I finally broached the subject , if he would allow me to conduct a paranormal investigation at his mansion. – He seemed to really like the idea…and then suddenly he grew a startled look on his face and then stated, “My ex wife is buried in the back yard, better not!” – He then grew quiet awaiting for my response. To break the silence I sheepishly laughed and stated, “That’s okay we don’t mind.” , he seemed at ease. Although, I was not so sure if he was joking or not, “When I die, you can come back and ghost hunt. I won’t mind at all then.” He stated.
Arlen Haffner died December 2016. –