Tim DeZarn Discovered His K-11 Film Set at the Sybil Brand Institute Was Haunted, and Decided to Connect with His Deceased Son
Simone PazTim DeZarn
Filming was well under way when news of the ghost began to circulate. They were shooting the final scenes of the movie K-11, a prison thriller, at the abandoned Sybil Brand Institute women's correctional facility in City Terrace east of downtown.
One of the crew members, who declines to be named, was upstairs in the
solitary-confinement area fussing with the ventilation system. It was a
hot day, and the abundance of lights and wires was only making it
hotter. Talk about a creepy place. Pigeons had flown in through broken
windows, died of thirst and been eaten by rats. Their skeletons littered
the floors, heaped upon years of accumulated filth.
As he worked -- alone -- the crew member got the distinct and eerie impression that he was being watched.
despite the ambient heat, he felt a "cold sensation" crawling up his
leg. Fingertips ruffled his hair, gently, as a lover might. He ran.
Feeling sheepish, he forced himself to turn around. That's when he saw
her: a lady in white. Or, rather, a girl in a hospital gown. She was
thin, with pale skin, intense blue eyes and chopped-off black hair. Her
feet were bare. She stared at him for a minute, then walked away.
He told the on-premises sheriffs about the girl. "Oh, yeah, that's Sally," they said.
"What do you mean, 'Oh yeah that's Sally'?" asked the crew member. "What's that?"
sheriffs told him about a prison inmate whose parents were on their way
to visit. They were killed en route in a traffic accident on the 405
freeway. Distraught at learning of her parents' death, Sally hanged
herself in the shower.
Like a child's game of telephone, word of
Sally's latest manifestation spread. It got around to actor Tim DeZarn,
who was at the prison filming, too. In the movie, he plays one of the
guards. DeZarn decided he would see about the ghost. He would free
Sitting in his Culver City home a few weeks later,
wearing a frown and a shirt that says "I'm Bringing Grumpy Back," he
recalls the experience. Because he's the kind of guy who thinks better
when he draws, he reaches for a pencil and sketches the scene.
hallway goes around like this, and down here it's all dark," DeZarn
says. "And in here are all these cells" -- he sketches the cells -- "and
here it's dark, dark, dark and a little brighter at the end."
remembers that he sat at the top of the stairs near the entrance to eat
some peanuts. Courage gathered, he walked the hallway, opening each of
the cell doors. "OK," he called out into the darkness, "I'm coming in."
Silence. "You don't belong here anymore." More silence. "You're not part
of this world anymore. Your parents are probably somewhere out there
waiting for you." Silence, still.
He sighs now, rubs his hand
across his face. "I don't even know if I believe this shit." He fiddles
with the slip of paper. "I told Sally, 'One of the reasons I want you to
go is so you can find my son and tell him I need to see him.' "
teenage son, Travis, was killed four years ago in a car accident. It
was a foggy Saturday night, and the boy was driving along winding,
mountainous Palisades Drive coming home from visiting his girlfriend
when he was hit broadside by another vehicle. His car was ripped in
half. He died instantly.
No one thus far -- not the police, the
coroner or Travis' parents or friends -- can figure out what caused the
crash. Drugs and alcohol ruled out, DeZarn suspects his son might have
swerved to avoid hitting a deer. But the chaos of old skid marks at the
scene makes it impossible to tell. It is a notoriously dangerous spot.
because I'm so angry, that's why I haven't seen Travis yet," DeZarn
says. "But I just wanted to hear from my son and feel his presence."
does not consider the idea so far-fetched. He's had experience with
ghosts before. When he was 12 he saw one. It was his Uncle Howard.
DeZarn was out in the woods on his family's property when he saw a light
by the barn.
He pulls another scrap of paper now from the little
tray on the table. He sketches the barn. The woods. The darkness. The
light. Uncle Howard's ghost was the light. The specter spoke: "Timmy, I
need you to take care of your adoptive brother." Message conveyed, Uncle
"It was like someone closed their hand on
him," DeZarn recalls. He cups his hands together as if extinguishing a
flame. DeZarn was much nicer to his brother after that.
years he's had no extrasensory perceptions of his son. Not a single icy
tingle down the spine, or rattling doorknob or wisp of vapory mist. He
has, however, had dreams of Travis diving deep into the earth. These
dreams are always unsettling and sad. In DeZarn's darkest moments --
moments to which he can scarcely admit for fear of scaring his wife and
daughter -- he wants to die, too.
Instead, he runs. Up and up and
up stairs. Eighty-one flights total, one for each year of his and his
son's ages combined. DeZarn is 59. Travis was 18 when he died. This year
he'd have been 22.
DeZarn doesn't believe in an interventionist
God to whom you pray and "he does shit for you." But he believes in a
collective energy shared by everyone. Maybe Travis can't contact him
through the interference. Travis was his first thought, DeZarn admits,
when he heard of Sally's ghost. "Maybe she can help get a message to my
He flicks his pencil back and forth as he talks. "Even
though I've had these experiences," he says, "I'm a real doubting
Get the Arts Newsletter
Get the latest news and offers from the LA art scene sent directly to your email address. Exclusive events and art related sales you won't hear about anywhere else!