YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Museum Too Weird, County Says : Hollywood: Coroner's officials want to seize its dried corpses, severed heads and other human remains. Owner says the exhibits are harmless.


Even in Hollywood, the Weird Museum may be a little too weird.

The voodoo masks are OK. So is the electronic gizmo with all the little knobs that Donald R. Blyth employed to measure the "psychic emanations" from his clients.

But the mummified corpses, the "23-pound tumor," the deformed fetuses in dirty glass jars--those are a bit much, the Los Angeles County coroner's office said Thursday.

Prepared to act under several provisions of the state Health and Safety Code, coroner's deputies say they are planning to descend on the grisly little museum and cart off all the "apparently human remains" found there.

Those include a desiccated corpse, topped by a greasy turban and propped vertically in a glass case, that the museum bills as the body of the bestial 15th-Century Romanian tyrant, Vlad the Impaler.

They also include another dried body--this one displayed horizontally in a plywood sarcophagus--that is said to be all that's left of a 3,600-year-old Egyptian who had been buried alive.

Not to mention three severed heads--all in poor repair--purportedly salvaged from the corpses of Hermander, a 17th-Century warlock burned at the stake in Salem; Henri Landru, a mass murderer guillotined in Paris in 1922, and an unnamed victim of the "Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run," who killed several people in Ohio during the Great Depression and was never apprehended.

The fetuses are on the coroner's list, too, as are the excised tumor and several cancerous human organs.

"Those all are things that do not seem to be suitable for the location," said Craig Harvey, the coroner's chief of operations.

The location is a room--10-by-24-feet and painted dull black--at the rear of a jumbled little shop on Cahuenga Boulevard between Hollywood and Sunset boulevards. The shop--called Panpipes--is a "metaphysical supply store" that caters to the pagan community, according to the owner, Sharon Viedma Aguilar, 53, who generally goes by her maiden name, Viedma.

"Pagans aren't connected with devil worship or satanism," Viedma said. "Paganism is an Earth religion, seeing all living things as sacred."

The store sells assorted herbs and oils, incense sticks, pagan literature, Ouija boards and candles molded into the shapes of cats, skulls, naked women and penises.

A cramped, screened-off area behind a bay window serves as the office of George Derby, a cordial 50-year-old who does Tarot card readings.

Derby said the macabre collection in the dusty back room originally was assembled by Blyth, a onetime carnival performer once billed by Robert (Believe It or Not) Ripley as the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

Blyth bought most of the specimens from other collectors who shared his fondness for the bizarre, the card reader said.

"He had a fascination with anything outlandish," Derby said.

Blyth's public performances--which eventually included a few appearances on local television--featured feats of strength, contortions, swallowing fire and walking barefoot on sword blades. He also was said to have been able to read books with his eyes heavily bandaged.

A highly educated man who worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District as a curator of laboratory supplies, Blyth ran--as a sideline--a museum and shop on Wilcox Avenue called the Ram Religious Center.

In 1984, the shop caught fire. Firemen saw Blyth's grim collection and notified the coroner's office.

"We took a look," Harvey said. "The people here felt that since Blyth was a Ph.D., and since it was a teaching center, Blyth could have his stuff back."

A year later, Blyth died, and ownership of the collection passed on to Viedma, one of his students.

Several weeks ago, there was a disturbance at Viedma's store. Police took one look at her museum in the back room and notified the coroner's office, which sent out an investigator.

Harvey said that with Blyth out of the picture, the collection can no longer be justified on educational grounds.

Last week, the coroner's office sent Viedma a letter stating that because health and safety codes mandate that human remains of all kinds--including fetuses--be disposed of properly, "we will remove any apparently human remains on Thursday, June 8."

Viedma got in touch with a lawyer, who got in touch with the coroner's office, which got in touch with the county counsel's office. On Thursday, the coroner's office decided to stall things for a few days, while the lawyers do their thing.

Viedma said she cannot see any harm in the display, which she closed to the public as soon as she got the coroner's letter.

"I can't understand why they're doing it," she said. "It doesn't make any sense to me."

Harvey said the lawyers may have to thrash the whole thing out before any final decisions are made.

"Who's to say what's weird anymore?" he said.

Los Angeles Times Articles