Most interaction with people you see on a regular basis has more to do with where you work, live and play. If your kids are in sports, chances are you associate with parents with kids on the team. The same goes for those your kids go to school with or where you worship. But sometimes you meet someone with whom you share something different, but don’t find out about it until much later.
In the early 1980s my youngest brother had a classmate who vanished one day. Her name was Michelle Hoffman. You may recall the story about a missing family, the Salomons, from Northridge. They were a family of four: Michelle, her mother, brother and stepfather, and they went not heard from for days, prompting an investigation when the distressed grandmother called the authorities.
Their house was searched for clues and rumors abounded of what the detectives found. There were bloodstains in Michelle’s bedroom and hallway, signs of a struggle, all the usual stuff that makes up a crime scene. My mom and I talked about the case for years, and my mom, who had a sixth sense about things, often told me she dreamed about their bodies being in the desert in a culvert.
It gave me the willies, to say the very least, especially since some of the family’s belongings, a wallet, and papers had been found alongside the 14 freeway. My mom always had the overactive sixth sense. In fact, one day when I was going to the beach with my sister and our neighbor, packing up my Toyota Corolla, she suddenly came outside to the driveway and gave me the keys to the Buick station wagon and said, “Jen, take my car.” I obliged.
Later that day while leaving Zuma Beach, as I was exiting the parking lot, a gal decided to enter the lot via the exit. Yep, she hit us head on. Luckily she was driving slowly, and I was, too. And no one got hurt, thank goodness. When we returned home, my mom told me she had a premonition about us getting in an accident; hence, her meeting me in the driveway and giving me her keys to her car.
Michelle and her family lived off Tampa Avenue, near the Northridge mall. I used to drive by and try to get an idea of what happened that day. On the outside, the house looked like every other tract house built in the late 1960s. Wood-framed, brownish with an orange trim, standard slanted roof, and a nice front yard where the children could play. Ah, but not here, this was not the place little Johnny and Mary could play happily ever after. Not in this house, where something bad happened.
Why the drive-by, you might wonder. Morbid curiosity? No, for me it’s always about a sense of hope for moral justice. At the time of her disappearance, I was in college, making plans for my future. Michelle never had a chance to do that. The newspapers reported there had a been a business dispute between her stepfather and a man who was later acquitted.
But there’s more. Flash forward to the 1990s and I meet up with an older woman who lives in the neighborhood. We get to talking one day and she shares with me that she and her husband had a son who disappeared in 1982, the same time Michelle and her family went missing. She tells me the area of Vasquez Rocks has been searched for years for clues. In the back of my mind, I think of my mom’s earlier conversation saying she had dreamed about the desert area and culvert, but I say nothing, deeming it inappropriate. At the end of the conversation, I asked the woman if her son had ever been found. She said, “No.”
Over the years I would ask her if there was any update on her missing son and she would say, no. She once gave me her files on all the newspaper clippings, making me promise not to lose it. It contained a lifetime of her son’s memories sorted in date order….and then it just stops. There was a police report and statements from friends and family detailing the last time they had contact with him. The possible motive was something about a debt. As I recall it was for $30,000.
When I returned the file to her, I mentioned the Salomon family disappearance and connection to her son’s disappearance. I told her my brother had gone to school with their daughter, Michelle. As we continued talking, I said I saw in the police file that her son had left behind a young daughter.
As I heard her talk about her granddaughter, I learned she had grown up to be quite an incredible young lady. I realized the gift of her son leaving behind a child superseded the simplicity of being called a missing person, presumed dead. That the little life he left behind had infinitely more value than the greenbacks he purportedly may have owed.
And while talking to his mother, grandmother to the daughter he left behind, I couldn’t help but think of the parallel lives, that of her son and of Michelle Hoffman’s, who by all probability had suffered the same horrifying fates.
In October of this year, I was at Central Park, here in our beautiful SCV. The harvest moon was rising above a clear evening sky. The park was filled with soccer players, there was a cheer team practicing, and families sitting and enjoying watching their children play. I was there to watch the flag football games. When I was getting ready to leave, I was walking to my car and I saw a little rubber bracelet on the ground; you know, the ones that have something special to say. This one said, “The Spirit of Children” and it had the words Hope, Support, Love. I picked it up, put it on and I thought about what the bracelet said, words that can truly make a difference in the life of a child.
I was reminded of Michelle, I hoped her disappearance had not been for naught, that maybe in some ethereal way she had supported my friend’s granddaughter to become the grown-up person Michelle never got a chance to be, and that if all of us simply showed love to our fellow man, the world would be a better place.
As I drove down Bouquet Canyon, I looked up at the night sky and I saw a bright star. It seemed to be twinkling directly at me.
Jennifer Danny is a Santa Clarita resident.