Murder Mountain is a Netflix original series directed by Joshua Zeman; the series explores Humboldt County’s history and transition from violent outlaws to legal marijuana producers. Using the harrowing story of Garret Rodriguez as a frame for the violence and competition in the town of Alderpoint. The six-part Netflix series dives into the rich history of cannabis cultivation in northern alifornia. As well as the shocking amount of unsolved missing persons case that plague the area known now as ‘Murder Mountain’. For decades, these growers operated illegally under the cover of the thick redwood forest and the endless amount of rural terrain. It is these same circumstances that have made this county the ideal place to go missing.
The Redwood Curtain
In the early 1980’s a couple, James and Suzan Carson, were hired as trimmers for a local grower. They later used the area as the base for their devious acts, committing several murders. The missing persons rate began to climb even after they had been captured in 1983 . By 2018 it was reported that 717 people per 100,00 go missing in the county every year. In a nine month exploration of the region, documentary filmmaker Joshua Zeman and the crew from Lightbox production company examine the struggle locals face in transitioning from black to white market cannabis cultivation. They also go on to show that high missing persons rate isn’t always the outcome of something nefarious. Zeman told Rolling Stone “A lot of people go missing [in Humboldt], it’s a place where people love to go off the grid.”
The remoteness of Murder Mountain is what attracted the first wave of community members in the early 1970’s. Many of these people were Vietnam veterans who sought a place where they could isolate themselves. They began to cultivate cannabis as a form of medicine and it quickly became the staple of the local economy. As the war on drugs swung into full effect, “the emerald triangle” (Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties) had been turned into a war zone. Federal and state law enforcment used helicopters and armed police to destroy farms and put families in prison. Disrupting a once peacful communtiy.
The Wild West
The turmoil caused by law enforcment in the 80’s and 90’s is largely what fueled the outlaw mentality of Humboldt. Mixing this with a black market industry creates tension between law enforcment and the residents of Murder Mounatin. As a result, this tension is what makes it challenging for law enforcement to get to the bottom of cases. Like the murder of Garret Rodriguez. According to locals, the authorities will not pursue the killer even with enough information. While, the police say they are under staffed and need more concrete evidence befroe they can properly handle the case. Like most mysteries on the mountain, the truth is somewher in between both stories. Zeman believes that both local law enforcement and the “outlaws” feel like “cannon fodder in a larger political war”. Growers face a decision as state legislation changes force them to adapt.
White or Black?
The passage of California’s Prop 64 in 2016 forced many residents into this position. Certainly the idea of moving from a black-market to one with regulations seems like a no brainer. To those who have been growing on the mountain for generations it is a harder decsion than it seems. Taxes, permit fees, and consultants can add up to over hundreds of thousdands of dollars. Mom and pop growers on the mountain have banded together to create the True Humboldt Brand, in hopes of using their collective history to battle against the influx of corporations. Supported by over 200 farmers the brand is growing and a testament to the old way of thinking in Humboldt. It’s the positive developments like these that Zeman wishes he’d had more time to focus on in the series.
“The goal of the series is to show the harm done by cannabis prohibition and, unfortunately, the way to get people to notice is to focus on the negative aspects,” he says. “But once we shine the light and can disinfect the more negative parts, Humboldt County really will be an incredible tourist destination. It will be the Napa County of cannabis. Legal farmers are the ones who are making that happen. It takes incredible bravery to move into the white market after decades of being silent and in the shadows. But that’s what they’re doing.”