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The Strange Story of a Haunted Murder House

Some places seem to just gather about themselves the pain, anguish, and death of the past. It seems to be a common theme in haunted places, and the more imbued with negative energy a location is, the more likely it seems to be prowled by the paranormal. This can especially be seen in so-called “murder houses,” where some grim, insidious killing or massacre has been carried out, and one recent addition to the ranks of such places is one that lies in the state of California, and which has a terrible history of violence and all of the freaky paranormal stuff one would expect to go with that.

In 2001, the Bernal family moved into a pleasant little home in Canoga Park, California, thinking that it was more or less their dream home. At first things were great, but there would turn out to be something rather off about the place. It began with simply a strange, creeping sense of foreboding, and that of eyes watching when no one was there. Although this could have been written off as a trick of the imagination, the feeling of some dark presence was often almost unbearably stifling, and everyone in the household would profoundly feel it. Before long other strange things began happening, such as lights flicking on or off and moving objects, and the family’s daughter, Gaby Bernal, would later explain:

The house had a bad energy when we moved in. Weird things would happen. The garage door would open and close, I had like cold spots in my room. I didn’t really sleep at all. I felt like someone was watching me. Stuff like that makes it very real and scary and very unsettling.

Gaby would start talking with an imaginary friend she called “Joseph,” who she felt following her around and who she would talk to, which when coupled with all of the other strange things going on unsettled her parents. Gaby would claim that Joseph would sometimes move things or open and close the garage door, as well as turn lights on and off. It was all completely baffling for the family until the father, Guy Bernal learned from a neighbor that there was something in the home’s past that the realtors had failed to mention and which they had been unaware. It seems as if this house was the location of a rather violent and high-profile crime that would put a new spin on everything.

It would turn out that the house was where a prolific child actress by the name of Judith Eva Barsi had once lived in the 1980s. Barsi was in countless TV commercials and television shows, as well as appearing in Jaws: The Revenge, and lending her voice to the films The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven. Barsi was a popular pick for directors looking for actresses to play someone younger, as she was very short for her age and so was often cast in the roles of younger children. She was all over the place at the time, pulling in an estimated $100,000 a year. Yet while it all seemed that they were living the life, there were dark horizons ahead.

Eza’s father, Hungarian immigrant József Barsi, had a bit of a drinking problem. He would routinely get completely stupid drunk and fly into depressive rages in which he would threaten to kill himself, and also direct physical violence towards his family. He would make abusive threats such as that he was going to kill them all or burn down the house, and would continue his physical assaults. It all took a toll on little Eva, who was eventually taken to a child psychologist, where it was found that she was suffering extreme physical and emotional abuse, and the Child Protective Services stepped in, only to be turned away by the mother, who claimed that divorce proceedings were under way. On July 28, 1988, the bodies of József Barsi, his wife, Maria Virovacz, and Eva were found dead in their house in an apparent alcohol-fueled murder suicide, each of them shot once in the head. József had apparently killed them and then sat with their dead bodies for two days before attempting to burn them and the house down and kill himself.

Judith Eva Barsi

This was all certainly an eye-opening revelation for the Bernal’s, who had had no idea about any of this, and it seemed to explain a lot, such as the paranormal phenomena, and even Gaby’s shadowy invisible friend was called “Joseph,” which sounds an awful lot like “József,” even though she had not known about the tragedy at the time she was spending time with her imaginary friend. The idea then became that Eva and her father were still tied to this place, perhaps imprisoned and tethered there by the trauma and anger involved with the murders. It is unfortunate that the whole story would only really come to the attention of the public through the most vulgar of means; reality TV.

It seems that there is actually a reality show that focuses on renovating so-called “murder houses,” in order to liven them up, get rid of the bad energy, and straighten up their Feng Shui, one would presume. This show is called Murder House Flip, available on the streaming service Quibi, and yes, it is perhaps unfortunately a real thing. On the show, designers, paranormal experts and other pros will appraise a location that has a haunted, dark past and go about sprucing it up, and in this case the task fell to interior designers Joelle Uzyel and Mikel Welch. Over three entire episodes they went about repainting the hallways, installing recessed lighting, rearranging Gaby’s room, which was where the murders had actually taken place, and adding French doors that open to a renovated backyard, all of which ended up reportedly somewhat airing out the ominous energy that once lurked here. Gaby Bernal herself would say on the program after the make-over:

I felt bad energy here and now it feels like it’s dissipated. The negative energy that we felt in the house is gone already. No more sadness, no more crying. It is going to be one of the greatest things that has happened in my life.

Besides the mystery of why anyone would think that renovating haunted murder houses would make a good and tasteful TV show,  we are also left with the conundrum of what is really going on here. The Bernal family were experiencing this weirdness before they even knew of its troubled past, and have always insisted it was all true, no matter the sensationalism attached to it afterwards. What exactly was going on here? Did the dark history of this place manage to seep into its very being? Were there restless spirits tied to it in their anguish and pain? Or is it nothing more than an urban legend? Whatever the case may be, such places draw reports such as these to them, and in the end we can only wonder at what it all means.