On November 18, 2003, Michael Jackson’s 3,000-acre primary residence, Neverland Ranch, was searched by 70 police officers from the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department after accusations that Jackson had molested some children (The People of the State of California v. Michael Joseph Jackson). Following this, Jackson abandoned his estate, saying it had been “violated," and three years later the property went into foreclosure.
While the Ranch floated in real estate limbo, a group of photographers snuck onto the grounds and explored the abandoned kingdom, returning several times between December 2007 and March 2008. I spoke to the photographers to see what they saw. (Because tresspassing is illegal and I was feeling nostalgic for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they will be referred to as Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello. A fourth member contributed photography and was not interviewed.)
VICE: What inspired you guys to explore Neverland Ranch?
Leonardo: It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. I was aware that the park had been abandoned for quite a while, and I knew that Jackson was in Dubai at the time and that he wasn’t able to pay his electric bills. So, my understanding was that it would be a short-lived opportunity. I usually drive along the 101 freeway, and I decided, I have a few extra hours, I’m just going to go check it out. It just so happened that the day I was out there, it was pretty windy. It was a good cover because there were guards on-site, and the wind sort of blocked out my noise. I was able to sneak in without being heard. I had no expectation to make it in, but I just wanted to see.
What was the weirdest shit you saw?
Leonardo: Raphael is laughing because everything we saw was pretty weird. To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of Michael Jackson, but I knew that he was an important American historical figure. At the time, most people probably didn’t realize that he was part of history, and I knew that there was the potential for everything that was associated with him to be quickly lost. Without our documentation, I think it would’ve been a huge loss. So, I thought it was important to do that as quickly as we could, before it was gone.
Raphael: Are we talking about going into his house? Is that part of the story?
Raphael: We haven’t really told anyone about it... OK, the strangest thing to me was the little boy in pajamas sitting on the moon logo, everywhere. Like, it amazes me how much it resembles the DreamWorks logo. That thing was painted on the ground, like, 60 feet wide. It was on the signs, on the bumper cars, it was on the coach station where they parked the coach, one on the ground.
Donatello: That’s his creepy logo, right?
Raphael: It’s got a little boy sitting on it in those footie pajama things. Isn’t the back open, or is that only on some of the paintings? [Laughs]
How did you guys get into his house?
Raphael: We probably don’t want to talk about the details about how we entered.
Was it difficult?
Leonardo: We didn’t have to break any laws, because it was open. It was all open. The house was open.
Raphael: One thing that really sticks out in my memory was drinking his grape soda from that walk-in kitchen storage area and then very carefully wiping the fingerprints off the bottle and hiding it in the bushes.
Wait, you drank his juice?
Raphael: I was thirsty and he had all of this grape soda, and I thought I’d just drink something from his house.
Was it actual grape soda?
Raphael: Yeah! It was actual grape soda. In the kitchen there was this “Children of the World” menu. Everything in there was geared toward children. I’m not sure he had any, but…
Raphael: That menu, on a permanently-printed chalkboard with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and macaroni and cheese, that sticks out in my mind. And the strange hodgepodge of shit that he had bought that didn’t have any relation to his house. His entire house was filled with these expensive looking, one-off, semi-artistic things.
Raphael: These weird mirrors on this four-foot by four-foot platform. And that would be next to some Roman statue-looking thing. Next to that would be an eight-foot-tall oil painting of Michael Jackson himself. There were all of these paintings inside the house.
Donatello: There’s one where he’s leading a procession of children.
Rest of the interview @ VICE