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A Mysterious Box Full of Crazy Found on an Eccentric’s Private Island

There have always been and always will be those certain strange individuals who seem to inhabit a world all of their own. Such people populate the annals of history, and they often leave behind with their passing profound mysteries that serve to baffle and frustrate. One of these is certainly the time an eccentric rancher on his own private island left behind a metal box full of a mystery that has not ever been explained.

Our story here tales place out in the Pacific Ocean on a lonely speck of land called Santa Cruz Island, located off the southwestern coast of California, in the United States, and part of the northern group of the Channel Islands. Measuring 22 miles (35 km) long and 2 to 6 miles (3 to 10 km) wide, it is not only the largest Californian island, but it is also the largest privately owned island in the United States, presently jointly owned by the National Park Service and the nonprofit group called the Nature Conservancy. Although Santa Cruz Island is at present virtually uninhabited, back in the 1800s it was the site of a major sheep ranching operation run by the San Francisco businessman William Baron, who in 1869 sold the island and it would come into the possession of French immigrant Justinian Caire. The new owner then set up a self-sustaining sheep and cattle ranch, vineyard, and nut and fruit grove operation here, and Santa Cruz would bloom a successful livestock, winemaking and ranching industry, with nine ranches operating here at one point.

Santa Cruz Island

The island blossomed until legal woes forced it to be sold in 1937 to a Los Angeles oilman by the name of Edwin Stanton, who switched from sheep to beef production, introducing Hereford cattle to the island to launch his own successful venture. In its heyday his 55,000 acre ranch boasted 10,000 head of cattle and was a big part of the region’s booming beef industry. In 1957, Edwin’s son, Dr. Carey Q. Stanton, acquired the island and ranching operation. Before that time, he had been a practicing doctor internal medicine and pathology for years, having graduated from the prestigious Stanford School of Medicine in 1944. Although he was then located in New York and had a successful practice there, he dropped everything to make his way out to Santa Cruz Island to take over ranching operations there as head of the Santa Cruz Island Co. A prominent doctor and trustee of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and a member of the Santa Barbara Historical Society and the and Society of Architectural Historians, he was very well-respected, but it would turn out that he had quite a few eccentricities, and his stay on the island would bring with it a strange unsolved mystery.

While on the island, Stanton built small church and private cemetery for the ranch workers, and he also established the University of California Santa Cruz Island Reserve in the mid-1960s. At first he rarely allowed any outside visitors, and was known as sort of a recluse, never marrying and mostly keeping to himself out on his own private island that he practically had to himself, getting up to who knows what out there. Just about the only people who visited were the occasional scientists and students from the university who visited the reserve, and these visitors were usually a bit perplexed by Stanton’s quirky behavior. Every day dinner was served at 7:30 PM on the dot, and it was only ever the same five courses every week, with no variation at all. Every morning at 8:30 AM oatmeal cookies and coffee would be served to each guest without fail, and lights out was always at 9 PM. Guests were only allowed to go to specific areas of the ranch, with others mysteriously off-limits, and Stanton was always very secretive about the ranch operations and his private life. As weird as he was, there would be some oddities turned up after his death that made him even more eccentric.

A ranch on Santa Cruz Island

Stanton passed away at his home on the island on December 8, 1987 at the age of 64, leaving the island to the Nature Conservancy to be used as a private natural and historic preserve. A few years later, on April 27, 1990, an unusual discovery was made by the Deputy Agricultural Commissioner, who found an old, tarnished metal box stashed within a rusted out old shed on the ranch. Inside this box were found a collection of decomposed human remains and ashes, among them a snap-like clothing fastener that was manufactured during the 1940s, some false teeth of a type produced during the 50s, and a platinum ring with diamonds in it that dated to before World War II. Considering how macabre the discovery was, the Santa Barbara County Coroner was notified, and they came to the conclusion that the remains were from an elderly woman who probably had suffered arthritis and had likely died right after World War II. Other than that, not much could be discerned from the remains except that they had likely been sitting in that shed for some time. There is no way to know the cause of death or even the exact date of death, and it added another layer of mystery to Stanton.

The box and its mysterious bones leave a lot of questions. Who was this woman and what happened to her? What was her relation to Stanton? Did he perhaps have something to do with her death? Perhaps more mysteriously, why had he put the remains in a nondescript metal box within an old shed rather than have them buried at his private cemetery? No one knows, and it remains a curious historical oddity surrounding a very enigmatic man and his private island.