Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Asher Barn in Ashes; Blame Falls on Phantom of Vasquez Rocks.

Webmaster's note.

Never mind the whole "innocent until proven guilty" thing or the lack of any evidence. When the Asher family's barn went up in flames mysteriously one night in 1946, everybody just knew it had to be the work of Charles Costler, exacting his revenge after being fingered — also without evidence — as the Phantom of Vasquez Rocks.

Residents Uneasy Over Barn Burning Near Vasquez Rox

Click to enlarge.

An uneasy shiver went up the spines of residents of Agua Duke canyon and the Vasquez Rocks section Monday morning when it became known that a large barn on the Triple A Ranch, owned by Jefferson Asher of Los Angeles, had completely burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances Sunday night.

They recalled that the ex-foreman of this ranch was Charles Costler, who was discharged by Owner Asher after Costler had been arrested, charged with being the "phantom rifleman" who took pot shots at Government Trapper E.L. Pineau last fall.

Costler, they recalled, served a short jail sentence on a fraudulent check charge after his trial in Superior Court. After that he disappeared.

Investigator Charles Kelley, at Newhall Sheriff station, stated that there was absolutely no evidence to connect Costler with the fire, but that so far as he knew, the big ranch worker had never been picked up by Oregon authorities, who were supposed to have him on their wanted list.

No one has seen him around these parts since his preliminary hearing in the local Justice court.

Damage Substantial.

The damage caused by the fire could not be estimated Tuesday, but is believed to have run into three figures. The barn was a wooden structure, 20 by 75 feet. In one corner was a machine shop containing an old Fordson tractor and some tools. Adjoining this was a tack room, containing seven saddles and bridles, some of them silver mounted. Both structure and contents were a complete loss.

[Illegible] Traub, [] ranch foreman at the Triple A, told officers that the fire was discovered by Ernie Banks, who lives at the Smith store. Traveling along the road, Banks noticed smoke coming out of the machine shop at the northwest corner of the building. He gave the alarm, but by the time the county firemen could get on the scene the whole structure was a mass of flames.

Calls Fire Mysterious.

Traub stated that the only person in the barn Sunday was Alfred DePriest, ranch hand, who milked a cow in the southwest corner of the barn about 4:30 p.m. Sunday and noticed nothing wrong. Traub asserted that there was nothing in the machine shop room to start a fire, and that he knew of no reason why a fire should start there.

County firemen from Soledad division headquarters under Chief Pierre Daries spent Tuesday investigating the fire.

Residents of the area recalled that Government Trapper Pineau moved out of the canyon last year after Costler's case was tried in Superior Court. Pineau was the star witness against Costler and definitely identified him as the man who pointed a rifle at him and threatened his life, when the case was heard before Judge Miller. In Superior court, however, Pineau weakened on his identification, with the result that the judge branded the whole charge of assault with a deadly weapon as a Red Ryder scenario, and threw it out of court, holding Costler only on the fraudulent check rap.

Note: Red Ryder is a brand of air rifle, aka BB gun.


• Asher Family Photos


Posse Searches for Phantom Gunman 9/1945


Phantom of Vasquez Rocks Captured 10/1945


Asher Barn Burns, Phantom Blamed 4/1946


Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard, 1940s


Arizona Whirlwind 1944


Star Trek 1967


Asher House 1979


Story: Asher Ranch Life Revealed 3/9/2014


Photos: Jeff Asher Visit 3/9/2014

Jeff Asher Obituary 2019

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