THE SANTA CRUZ GHOST DIRECTORY
If you wanted to find a story line for a sick and eerie cult movie script, the un-holy Holy City would definitely suffice. At first, it may seem like a harmless Christian town, but that’s what they wanted you to believe. Throughout my research, I noticed that it seems as though many oddly left out the dark and astonishing history of what really happened.
Deep within the Santa Cruz Mountains resided a cult know as The Perfect Christian Divine Way, which was founded and erected in 1918 by William E. Riker; a sick and twisted con-man, born in Oakdale, California in 1873. Known as Father Riker, he believed he was the “wisest man on earth.” Running for governor on several occasions, the white supremacist preached that California is a white man’s world, and he know how to create the “world’s perfect government.” The psychotic fraud also claimed to be a miracle healer, and promised his brain-washed disciples immortality and eternal peace.
Before erecting his town, “Professor” Riker performed palm readings and claimed to be a mind reader, as well as preached along the streets of San Francisco, CA. After the District Attorney filed bigamy charges against him, Riker quickly fled to Canada leaving his first two wives behind.
Father Riker welcomed people (mostly homeless) in complete desperation during the depression to come live in his holy city where they would abide by his rules, or there would be serious and sometimes fatal consequences. Anyone who cause problems or disagreed with the father would soon after mysteriously vanish; never to be seen or heard from again. It is said that unmarked graves of his victims still circle the land.
Men and women had separate sleeping quarters in cabins with bunks, and the children were no longer able to see their parents and were immediately placed in the keeping of “King Riker” whom despised children and neglected and abused them day and night. Any woman who spoke of their child would be severely punished … But we’ll get more into that later. - Let me first tell you more details about this completely twisted town.
By the early 1930’s the 140 acre town was filled with about 300 disciples and included a few restaurants, a general store, two gas stations, a post office, theater, dance hall, zoo, penny arcade, barbershop, observatory, radio station, print shop, cobbler shop, and a mineral water bottling plant. Strangely, there was never a church, and services were held in Father Riker’s home, where he preached about temperance, segregation of sexes and races, white supremacy, and celibacy. 50 peepshow booths shaped as miniature chapels strangely stood in-between several of the buildings. Just like any cult, no member was ever given a cent, and all their earnings went to Riker.
The father definitely didn’t practice what in preached on several topics, especially when it came to abstinence. Several rumors were said about Holy City as being a “love cult.” In order for any woman to join the cult, she had to sleep with Riker. Anytime he got the women pregnant, he told them that they must obtain abortions. To make it so much worse and absolutely horrific, each week the men could have their way with one woman (and we’re talking a lot of men). They continued to rotate the women week by week.
"Life under Riker was a living hell for the women," said a former female disciple.
Not only were the women treated like pieces of meat, children were severely abused. In 1922, it had been released to the public that Father Riker was charged for torturing children in Holy City. Not only were the child fed the same food as the hogs, they were badly beaten and stretched with ropes. “If the children don’t obey, choke them, choke them!!!”, the King would demand.
Several of the deaths (or homicides) that took place in the cult were obviously covered up as much as possible, though some deaths were uncovered.
In 1929, Riker was accused by his former secretary of killing a Los Angeles woman (whom was allegedly his secret former wife), as well as former cult member, Freda Schwartz.
All charges from both cases were dropped due to lack of evidence. Though, the cult was watched very closely by the FBI and police for years.
Beginning in the mid-1930s, Riker wrote a series of letters to Adolf Hitler. He viewed him as a like-minded soul, addressing him in fawning terms like “his excellency” and “his honor.”
“Your opportunity is now ripe,” Riker wrote in one letter “… and when it is done, you will prove yourself to be the greatest character that has ever lived since the time of Jesus Christ.”
Riker had no shame and even held KKK meetings within Holy City at times.
As much as Riker hated children, he did have one of his own with his second wife, Elizabeth Bessie Zetty in 1909. Though, not much was written about his son, they seemed to never be close, or even on the same page. So much so that his son, William "Francois Villon" Riker believed his father sent a group of disciples to assault and scare him into coming back to Holy City in 1947, after he had moved away several years prior.
His son's whereabouts have been unknown soon after the attack. Let's just hope Francois was able to escape his father's reign, and didn't become another one of his victims six feet under.
Nearing the end, Holy City had 70 men and only 4 women.
After Highway 17 was built in 1940, travelers rarely passed the un-holy city, and it was soon forgotten. The colony was shut down for good when Riker lost control of the property in 1959. For many years it stood intact as a creepy old ghost town- religious and racist signs and all. Most of Holy City burned down in the late 1950s; local newspapers called the fires "mysterious."
Today, only a few building remain. One being along the Old Santa Cruz Highway, as well as Father Riker's former home, and a decrypted garage and shed nearby.
In 1966, Riker converted to Catholicism, before passing away in 1969 at the age of 96, at the Saint Agnews Hospital in Santa Clara, California. He was buried in an unmarked grave next to his late wife, Lucille at Santa Cruz Memorial Cemetery.
It is claimed that no former Holy City residents are still with us today … living residents, anyways.
Old Santa Cruz Hwy
Santa Cruz Mountains
Santa Clara County, CA