This old house

Ax murderers, Charles Manson and ghost dogs—is this historic Midtown mansion the scariest, creepiest haunted house in Sacramento?

The mansion on H and 22 streets is considered one of the most mysterious and perhaps most haunted houses in Sacramento.

The mansion on H and 22 streets is considered one of the most mysterious and perhaps most haunted houses in Sacramento.

photo by Salvador Ochoa

A stone lion’s head hovers over a wide entryway, solemnly watching passersby, some of whom, catching sight of the house just beyond, slow their pace to examine the gothiclike structure that’s sat unoccupied for more than 20 years.

But drooping palm trees and an iron gate edge the perimeter, keeping the curious away as it guards one of the largest, oldest mansions in the historic Boulevard Park neighborhood.

Located on the corner of H and 22nd streets, it’s considered one of the most mysterious and perhaps the most haunted house in Sacramento. Indeed, this mansion conveys a spooky sense of intrigue thanks, at least in part, to its yawning emptiness. The home, now owned by a Northern California-based family trust, was built shortly after the turn of the century, and in the years since it has inspired countless stories—some grislier than others. Most have one thing in common: They are, at least according to the house’s current deed holder, decidedly untrue.

“I’ve heard [Charles] Manson had racks in the basement,” says owner Pete Amoruso. “I know [there are stories] on the Web [about] ghost hunters and a ghost dog in the window … [but] the simple fact is that it’s a family home. It’s loved.”

American horror story

These days, it’s but a ghost of its former self, but the looming mansion’s story is kept alive through urban legend, spooky rumors and even a few historical facts. In Midtown, it’s known by several names: the Amoruso House, the Aden C. Hart House and, most commonly, the Martinez House. With plenty of aliases, it’s wrapped in enough mystery to attract paranormal investigators, neighbors and the occasional TV news team.

And for good reason: Paranormal investigator Paul Dale Roberts believes the Martinez House is, without a doubt, haunted.

“There’s definitely a mystery,” says Roberts on a recent morning over coffee at a cafe just a block away from the historic mansion he last visited more than five years ago.

Roberts says he’s experienced its spine-chilling history firsthand.

“[The owner] claims it’s not haunted, but I went there with a team, and we did an investigation on the outside perimeters, and we did get some EVPs—electronic voice phenomena,” says Roberts, who’s logged more than 700 paranormal investigations.

“I got EVPs of a man that says, ‘Oh, yes, we are here.’”

The voice, Roberts says, is definitely clear—and it’s not the only sign of a past life that he and his team have discovered. Other eerie finds are evident in photographs taken of the home’s front exterior.

“We’ve taken pictures [capturing] huge, white orbs flying out the windows,” Roberts says. “We have a picture with a dog’s face and a man’s face in the window. For [the owner] to just say this house is not haunted, it’s like he’s trying to keep people away from there, and for what purpose? [It’s] a mystery.”

Rumors and myths spread quickly, of course—especially those carried on a whiff of fear-provoked curiosity. One story begins with the Martinez family—a husband, wife and two children—who happily occupied the house, at least for a while.

As the tale goes, the family had only lived there a few months when Mr. Martinez went crazy—Jack Nicholson-muttering-“Heeere’s Johnny!”-in-The Shining crazy.

Paranormal investigator Paul Dale Roberts is convinced that Pete Amoruso’s Midtown house is haunted.

photo by Salvador Ochoa

Like Nicholson’s character, legend has it that Martinez hacked his family to pieces—a cold-blooded murder—and then buried them in the basement. Or, wait, maybe it was in the backyard, Dorothea Puente-style?

Whatever the details, the story is just that, a story. In reality, no Martinez family ever lived there. Only two families have ever occupied the mansion, in fact, and any mysteries hidden within its 4,000-square-foot-plus layout are easily revealed through a little historical research.

Ghost busting and other neighborhood disturbances

According to current owner Pete Amoruso, the house was originally built in 1907, constructed for Aden C. Hart, a doctor and founder of Sutter Hospital. Amoruso’s father, Peter Sr., purchased the home from the Harts in the mid-1940s, and the family has owned the property since.

In 1972, an electrical fire that started in the garage lit up the back end of the place, and although the home didn’t suffer serious damage, the incident left the residence empty until the ’90s when Amoruso returned.

Eventually, the family left once more, leaving the mansion furnished but unoccupied (by humans at least). In the years since, the house has become a prime medium for neighborhood myth.

Boulevard Park resident Leo Pauly, who lives across the street from the Martinez House, says he’s heard myriad tales.

“Kids [who] have grown up around here say it’s supposed to be the haunted house,” Pauly says.

And while he’s not sure he believes any of them, Pauly says he would like the house to get the attention it deserves.

“I wish somebody would restore it and make it lovely,” he says.

The property, in fact, rich in history, is listed as one of Boulevard Park’s most essential neighborhood structures, according to Jon Marshack, a historical-preservation enforcer for the Midtown district.

Marshack, too, is concerned with the house’s current condition and hopes to see its classic Colonial Revival and Craftsman-like qualities refurbished.

“It needs a lot of work at this point. Both inside and out, [the house] hasn’t been maintained,” Marshack says. “It needs to be sold to somebody who can restore it. [That’s what] you’re supposed to do with historic property, not let it be demolished by neglect.”

But Amoruso, who divides his time between Amador County and Sacramento, just shrugs off the concern and critiques.

Sure, the house could use a little care, but it’s still in relatively good condition, he insists.

What’s seen as neglect from the outside, he adds, is as far from the truth as the Martinez-family folklore.

“I lived there throughout my whole life. It’s not abandoned. It is loved and it is cared for,” he says. “It’s just not a fully restored historic home. From the outside, it looks very big and opposing, but on the inside, it’s a big, beautiful home.”

Furthermore, he adds, when it comes to murders, ghosts and other bits of lore, these are all mere tales fit to share at slumber parties or best told around campfires.

“Get a life,” he says with a laugh. “It’s not haunted.”