In Halloween 2013, documentary filmmaker and HGTV editor Stacy Astenius heard a story that she deemed too ludicrous to be true. Unbeknownst to her, that story would lay the foundation for what would be her seven-year project: The Loz Feliz Murder Mansion podcast.
"'You can look through the windows of this mansion in the Hollywood Hills and you'll see furniture and a Christmas tree from the 1950s, when a murder-suicide happened. The family just picked up and left, and you can see this crime scene through the window,'" Astenius remembers her friends teasing.
A few days later, Astenius and her best friend, not fully buying the tall tale, hopped in a car and drove to the Hollywood Hills. They saw 1950s furniture and Christmas wrapping paper in an abandoned house, and thought, What? How could this be real?
Astenius, along with director of photography Chloe Weaver Bennett and producer/researcher Wes Nease, spent the next seven years investigating every loose end of the infamous Spanish Revival manse. The trio dug through L.A.'s Hall of Records, interviewed former homeowners, untangled tall tales from the locals who told them, and chatted with murder mansion fangirls like Vanderpump Rules star Stassi Schroeder.
Originally slated to debut as a documentary, the seven-part audio series tells the story of the infamous piece of real estate that was, in fact, abandoned for 56 years after a doctor murdered his wife and attacked his daughter before committing suicide.
"The goal was to make a documentary, since that's the background that Chloe — my best friend and cinematographer — and I have," Astenius tells UncoverLA. "But as I began editing the documentary together, it became clear that so many parts of the story and the way my own life was personally affected by this project, couldn't be translated properly in a visual medium."
At Bennett's suggestion, Astenius says she decided "to pivot to a podcast instead, that way I could narrate the tale, and not have my hands tied to the more strict [visual] constraints of the documentary style, and that has been the best decision we made in this whole process."
More urban legend than "scary crime scene," even journalists have gotten facts wrong about the Loz Feliz murder mansion, says Astenius. "It took someone like me going down and actually looking at court records and probate documents and talking to previous owners to really uncover the truth about this famous house."
The house also boasts some intriguing Old Hollywood history (which you'll hear about in the pod). Among other things that have happened at the property: "Believe it or not, other people have died there," Astenius says.
Covering everything from the urban legend to families who used to live there to never-before-seen court documents, episodes one through six are between 30 and 40 minutes, and the final episode is an hour and 15 minutes long.
After her seven-year research period, it took Astenius — a new mom — another 10 months to complete the podcast.
"Once the baby was down, after I'd worked a whole day, I would be typing my 250-page script, basically writing the book on the Los Feliz murder mansion," she says. "I would only do that a couple hours a night — definitely the working mom life, where you have to 'squeeze it in.' I would record the podcast in my closet so that there was good production audio."
"Then I'd do all the editing at night, when my baby was asleep. Being a working mom has changed the way I've worked on this, but I'm very proud of what I've accomplished because of that," she says through a smile.
Having spent more than a decade as a TV editor working for an interiors-focused network, it's all too obvious that Astenius has taken the lessons from her career and applied them to her passion.
"In this profession, you have to have a thick skin. You're constantly critiqued. You put together an episode the way you think the executives want it, and then they'll give you 15 pages of notes," Astenius told UncoverLA over video chat.
In her earlier days, she used to take the feedback personally — recalling that sometimes she'd even be brought to tears by notes. "Now, I just have more confidence and I know that it's subjective. I wish I knew that then."
These days, she's taking herself less seriously but still producing content that will resonate with people. By Astenius' account, "millions of people want to know about this house," and she's giving us all the answers.
A self-described practical and logical person, Astenius likes a solved mystery.
"I like it to be all wrapped up, nice and neat," she says. And after seven years of investigating the house, Astenius solved the mystery and can confirm one thing: "The truth is stranger than fiction."