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Meeting the owners of the ‘haunted house’

Front view of the house. (Photo: Ngoc Lan/Nguoi-Viet)

Ngọc Lan & Đằng-Giao/Người Việt

Translation: Titi Mary Tran

Editor’s note: Nguoi Viet News reporters Ngoc Lan and Đằng Giao set out to answer the questions regarding the property, and the house, at the corner of Euclid Street and Hazard Avenue in Santa Ana, Calif. Is it really haunted? What are the creepy apparitions? This Halloween season, they tell their story over six days. Part 3.

SANTA ANA, Calif. – After his car was “hidden” in broad daylight on a July day, reporter Đằng Giao quietly prayed that the real estate agent he called about the “haunted house” at Euclid Street and Hazard Avenue in Little Saigon would not answer voicemails pertaining to his myriad questions about the house.

Since then, reporter/editor Ngoc Lan found the current address of Mrs. Julie Pung, who owned the house 30 years ago, and Ngoc said to Đằng: “Why don’t you try to find out where (her) house is, and if Ms. Julie is still there?”

Đằng could not say no, although he was hoping for “some obstacles to happen so that Ngoc would give up” on the haunted-house project.

Đằng found that Julie’s current home wasn’t far away in a gated community in Westminster, Calif.

At about noon on Monday, Aug. 13, while working on her daily assignments, Ngoc said to Đằng, “You know that place, right?”

The two headed toward Julie’s address. Once inside the gated community, Đằng pointed out from afar: “That’s the house.”

When they finally reached it, a woman stepped out.

Ngoc said: “Hello, Madam, does this house belong to Mrs. Julie Pung?”

The woman nodded her head.

“So you are Julie?”

One more nod.

Ms. Julie-Pung. (Photo: Ngoc Lan/Nguoi-Viet)

After listening to Ngoc’s introduction and the purpose of visiting her — to get more information about the “haunted” property she used to own — Julie, who was small, dressed in exercise clothes, wore her hair in a bun and appeared to be about 70 years old — spoke Vietnamese with an “accent” and said: “Oh, that’s very good!”

According to Julie, she and her husband, Dr. Pung Navann, bought the land at Euclid Street and Hazard Avenue in 1989 after the real estate agent said that “the land would change to a commercial zone and build into a business area.”

“We bought the house, but we did not live there because we kept waiting for the paperwork to change to a business zone, so we let it be empty for more than 10 years. Such a waste,” Julie said.

She verified that the land she bought had an old house on it.

“When we bought the old house, homeless people lived in there. I had to call people to get them out; so burdensome. I heard people say it’s haunted, but we didn’t care,” she said.

She added, “My husband also heard it was haunted, so he and his brothers went camping in there several days, but they didn’t see anything. Only the homeless. At first, we left our stuff in there, and they came in and used everything. They destroyed it, used the water, left the bathroom so dirty, and we had to call people to clean it. … They didn’t live there during the day — only at night. That’s why I leveled the house after a few years; only the land was left.”

Also, Julie said: “Some people recommended we build a ‘duplex’ and rent it out, but it’s such a headache, and we got discouraged because we only wanted to build it into a business area.”

So Julie sold the land a few years after her husband died in 1998.

An advertisement for Dr. Pung NaVann was run on a local paper in 1990. (Photo provided by Adieu Concorde)

According to the realtor’s file archives, that sale was to Access Vina Inc. in 2002 for $265,000.

“I know that land later (contained) two houses. The owner of the house in the back works for the city of Santa Ana. And the owner in front is a pharmacist; that’s what I heard,” Julie said.

Julie is Cambodian but was in France as a child and migrated to the United States in 1982.

“How do you speak Vietnamese so well?” the two reporters asked.

“The Vietnamese patients taught me. They are very good,” she said, smiling, and then added: “Perhaps it’s fate that I came here to visit my uncle today and meet you guys.”

Ngoc and Đằng said “oh” at the same time.

Julie said she hasn’t lived in the house inside the Westminster gated community for more than a decade. She lives with her daughter in Irvine, Calif. Only her uncle, who is 90, lives in the house. He is hearing impaired and speaks only Chinese and French.

Julie said she visits him occasionally.

Ngoc asked for more details about the doctor and if he died inside the “haunted house.”

“The doctor died due to exhaustion; he worked too much,” Julie said. “That time he went back and forth between Cambodia and the U.S., he wanted to open a school in Cambodia, in China, in America, he traveled constantly and couldn’t handle it, to the point of exhaustion and death. As a human being, don’t work too much to the point of exhaustion like that.”

After meeting Julie, Ngoc called a real estate friend to talk about meeting with Julie, and the friend said: “Let me try to find the current owner; I want to hear what they have to say.”

Ngoc said to herself: “If I don’t find that person, my report would not be finished.”

Early Wednesday morning, Aug. 15, while driving her family past the “haunted house,” Ngoc saw a man working in the front yard. He appeared to be Vietnamese and about 60.

Later, at about 3 p.m., Ngoc and Đằng went to visit the house’s current owner after getting his address from their real estate friend. The location: in Little Saigon, not far from the Asian Garden Mall.

At the location, the bell rang, the door opened, and a man who appeared to be in his 30s came out.

“Is this the house of Mr. Van Thai?” Đằng asked.

“That’s right,” the man said, nodding.

Ngoc then said the purpose of the visit was to ask Van about the haunted house. The man nodded again.

“So can we speak with Mr. Van Thai?”

“It’s me,” the man answered.

“I heard about the haunted house rumors,” he continued. “But I don’t believe it. And I have some extra money, so I bought it to rent out until the house appreciates, then I would sell.”

Van bought the house in 2016 for $645,000 and rented it out to a Vietnamese family.

“At first they said it was four to five people. But afterward, they pulled relatives in to live, so crowded, and they had big dogs. I didn’t like it. And they still owe me the rent and were late on the payment so I took back the house and listed it in April 2018,” Van said.

“So you never lived in that house?” Ngoc said.

“Yes, never,” Van answered. “But the people who lived in that house before stayed there for a long time. They sold the house and moved out because their child became a doctor and bought a house in Irvine; it’s big and beautiful, I’ve been there, so they sold this house to me.”

Van mentioned the previous owner, a woman named Nancy. Van wound up selling the house for $700,000 in July of this year August of this year.

The house was sold in early August, 2018 with $700000 while Redfin estimates its worth for $816,138. (Photo taken from Redfin website via computer screen)

Recalling the day Đằng went to the haunted house,’ on July 24, an elderly man from “the building across the street,” asked: “Do you want to buy this house?”

“Oh no, I just wanted to see it,” Đằng answered.

“Bless you for three generations,” the elderly man said. “Whoever lives in this house moves out within days. I live here and I know.”

Ngoc then asked Van: “From the day you bought the house (May 2016) until the day you sold it (August 2018), how many people have you rented it to?”

“Only one person, one family,” Van answered.

“So the elderly man from across the street was not accurate,” Ngoc told Đằng on their way out.

Leaving Van’s house, Ngoc said: “So fortunate! Let’s go find the owner who just bought the house.”

It’s an August afternoon, and it’s as hot as a pan on fire. It’s past 4 p.m., and the temperature is still in the 90s. While parking on North Hurley Street to walk to the house, Ngoc said: “You parked here the other day? A small street like this and you couldn’t find your car?”

“It’s a real skill!” Đằng said, grunting.

Stepping into the “haunted house” area means crossing another glamorous house.

“Hey, Ngọc, do you think the ghost is in this house instead?” Đằng asked. “This one and the haunted house are on the same piece of land that Ms. Julie sold previously.”

“Oh, maybe! Take a picture of the address to see who’s the owner,” Ngọc said. Then she suggested, “Let’s come here another afternoon and ask this owner about the haunted house.”

Both reporters headed back to the newsroom. Gone were Ngoc’s laughter and eagerness; they were replaced by her painful voice — “Such a headache!” — and Đằng’s worrisome face.

The afternoon sun was still bright and high, but it was strangely uncomfortable.

Next: Part 4

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