The Haunted House on Lombard Street That Left a Trail of Tragedy

The house at 1000 Lombard Street, June 2020. (Matty Messner)

Pat Montandon’s ordeal began at her own party. It was 1968 and the socialite had invited the glitterati of San Francisco to her home at 1000 Lombard Street. The theme was astrology; guests were paired up according to zodiac sign and offered psychic readings from a palmist, a crystal-ball gazer, an astrologer and a tarot reader. At the end of the night, buoyed by compliments from her guests, Montandon felt certain that the party had been a “brilliant success.” Two years later, she recognized it as the start of an unyielding nightmare.

Montandon, then 39, was a columnist for the Examiner, a popular host on the local TV station KGO and the author of a book inspired by her legendary soirée-throwing skills, How To Be A Party Girl. She was vivacious, beautiful and her life was positively enviable ... until all of a sudden, it wasn’t.

The night of the astrology party, the tarot reader flew into a rage after Montandon forgot to bring him a drink. In The Intruders, her incredible 1975 book about the events that followed, she wrote:

Quivering with rage, he directed a stream of abuse at me: He had never been treated so rudely, I was an insufferable, ungracious hostess, he was leaving, but not before he made certain I would never have any happy moments in that house again. He fixed me with a glare, his face puffed and distorted. ‘I lay a curse upon you and this house. I do not forget, and I do not forgive. Remember that!’

Within weeks, Montandon’s life was falling apart. At home, she was subjected to paranormal events so relentless, they quickly transformed her from a skeptic into a believer. She was plagued by locked doors and windows opening themselves, and freezing temperatures that persisted despite a thermostat turned up to 90 degrees. She was routinely awoken at two in the morning, and she heard strange footsteps and music—specifically a song called “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” on repeat.

Her home was broken into and ransacked. Her car was destroyed. When she tried to throw another party, a mysterious fire broke out. She was physically assaulted by a date who had to be forcibly removed from the house by police. She was threatened by her new neighbors, a gang of drug dealers. She was forced to give up her beloved Lhasa Apso who developed sores and became so fearful inside the house that he started pulling his own fur out. (The dog returned to full health as soon as he was re-homed.)

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While in the house, Montandon suffered bouts of dizziness, headaches and disorientation. One night, these symptoms became so severe, she almost overdosed on medication. Worst of all, within three years of the tarot reader’s curse, three of the women closest to her—all young and healthy, all of whom had resided in the house for short stints after the astrology party—were dead.

Two of them, Montandon’s cousin Carolyn and a young assistant named Vera Scott (both of whom had been terrified by the house while living there) committed suicide. The third woman, Montandon’s best friend and secretary Mary Lou Ward, died in the home under circumstances so mysterious, a cause of death has never been determined.

Here’s what happened. In May 1969, Montandon abandoned the house to live with her new husband, Alfred Wilsey, who moved the date of their wedding up in an effort to loose her from the building’s clutches even faster. Montandon was unable to get out of her lease, and the Lombard Street house sat empty for weeks until Ward asked if she might stay there—she was looking to give her own newlywed daughter and son-in-law some space to themselves in her home. Montandon agreed, but recalls saying: “You’re sure you’re not afraid? I wouldn’t go back on a bet.”

One week later, after flames were spotted by a neighbor, Ward was found face down on the bed in Montandon’s bedroom, severely burned. All of the windows and doors to the room were locked. At the inquest, it was determined that the 47-year-old had died before the fire started, but no one could figure out how or why.

Coroner Dr. Henry W. Turkel stated:

I should explain to you ... that we have examined Mary Louise Ward as carefully as we know how and at great length, and we cannot establish any reason for her death. We don’t know why she died.

George Lucas, an inspector from the SFFD who also worked on the case, was equally confounded about the fire’s origin, especially since it broke out after Ward died and she was home alone. He later wrote to Montandon:

I personally went back to that apartment on my own several times to try to solve the mystery there. In my 22 years as a member of the fire department, I have had lots of experiences of death by fire. There was something about this one that just wasn’t right.

Tortured by the fact that the investigation into Ward’s death created more questions than answers, Montandon went about doing her own detective work. Before her death, Ward had told Montandon she didn’t think the tarot reader’s curse was entirely to blame for the run of strange activity that followed. “I think it was already there,” she told Montandon. “Maybe his influence just called it out.”

Montandon’s investigation seemed to back up Ward’s theory. She discovered that former tenants of 1000 Lombard Street had uncommonly high rates of both divorce and alcoholism. One complained of developing a puzzling illness while living there that she never entirely got rid of, even years after leaving.

In addition, at least one woman had committed suicide in the house. Neighbors who knew the deceased later told Montandon that, before the former resident took her life, she listened to music at all hours of the day and night—specifically the song “Mockin’ Bird Hill.” Before her suicide, Montandon’s cousin Carolyn confessed she continued to hear the song even after she moved away from Lombard Street.

After Montandon’s ex-landlord sold the building in 1973, he told the writer: “That building surely was a voodoo for me. It had a hex on it. I had more trouble there than I’ve ever had in my life. It was hard to unload.” And in a later letter, he wrote, “I was glad when I finally sold it in 1973.” He got $150,000 for the property.

In 2019, 1000 Lombard Street sold for the first time since. And though initially listed for $7,850,000, it ended up selling for $5,100,000. Which, for a 12-room, 3-story home with breathtaking views of the Bay and a prime position at the bottom of the Lombard Street wiggle, seems fairly cheap by San Francisco standards. (There are currently 5-bedroom homes in the neighborhood on the market for more.)

Pat Montandon sent two psychics to investigate 1000 Lombard Street in 1973. They emerged with strange photographs that seemed to change over time, and an ominous analysis of the spiritual state of the home. Though efforts were made to shield Montandon from the things she had experienced there, the paranormal experts were unable to clear the house of the unusual activity that plagued it.

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One of the investigators, Frank R. Nocerino, wrote a summary for Montandon afterwards. “You are and will be protected from anything in the house by an exorcism that my group and I have done from a distance, and from symbols left behind in the house itself,” he told her. “I can only again suggest that you do not go there if at all possible. In particular, never go alone."