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Tue, 26 Oct 2021 09:00
The fighting grows fierce between Inyo County and Los Angeles. But when LA's aqueduct is taken hostage, William Mulholland makes a fateful decision that threatens a disaster.
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To listen to American scandal one week early and add free, join Wondry Plus in the Wondri app. Download the Wondri app in your Apple or Google Play mobile app store today. It's May 21st, 1924. A pale moon hangs low in a remote stretch of California desert in Inno County. The morning dawn is still hours away, but Wilford Waterson is wide awake. He stepped out of his car, stealing himself against the cold night air. And then he begins making his way toward a large concrete aqueduct. Waterson and his brother Mark own the largest bank in the Owens River Valley. For years, he and the other residents of Inno County have tried to stop the city of Los Angeles from stealing their water and sending it 200 miles south. But all their efforts have failed. And within Inno County now struggling for survival, Wondryson and a team of men have decided to take action. It's time to sabotage the Los Angeles aqueduct. Wondryson makes his way to a serpent of concrete and steel, slithering across the desert 12 feet wide. Nearby, a team of men unload pickup trucks parked just below the aqueduct. Their ranchers and farmers, and normally they work with shovels and livestock. But tonight the men are unloading hundreds of pounds of dynamite. The men finish laying the dynamite and step back. The charges are set. Now it's time to connect the detonator. Wondryson looks over at John Murphy, a young man who served as a munitions expert in the army during the Great War. It's his job to set up the detonation device. John, you're almost ready? Almost. What's the holdup? You have to light the fuse and get out of here. Well, Wilford, that's the problem. Wondryson steps towards Murphy. What are you talking about? Well, what I'm talking about is what happens after we set this off. How do I know you're not going to sell me out? John, what are you talking about? I'm the only one here who actually knows how to detonate these charges. That's why you're so important. I'm important now. But tomorrow morning, every cop in the state is going to be trying to figure out who did this. And I'm going to be an easy mark. What's to keep you from turning me in? After tonight, nobody's going to need a guy who knows explosives. I don't own a bank. I don't know any politicians. I'm a perfect scapegoat. John, I'm the one who bought that stack of dynamite. I stored it in my warehouse. If anything, I've got the most to lose. Wondryson looks around at the circle of men. Now look, everyone, this doesn't work if somebody squeals. If we all can't keep our mouths shut, we're going to end up in prison for a long, long time. All of us. There's a murmur from the men in Wondryson clicks on a flashlight. He aims at the dynamite. Don't forget what this is all about. We're showing Los Angeles that they can't just steal our water. We're not going to let our farms dry up and blow away. So let's agree. We keep quiet and we finish what we started. Murphy swallows hard. And after several agonizing moments, he makes his way down to the aqueduct. Neils begins attaching the lead line to the detonator. And he races back to Wondersen's side. All right. You and I, John, we're in this together. Now, let's see those charts blow. Murphy crins. Then he takes a breath and pushes down on the detonator. The explosion rips a massive hole in the side of the aqueduct. All at once, water gushes out onto the cracked earth. Men cheer and triumph, but there's no time to waste in celebration. Wondersen orders them back to their vehicles and away from the scene of the crime. As Wondersen hops into his own car, he takes one last look into the darkness, where in New York County water is rushing out onto the parched desert floor. Wondersen didn't want it to come to this, but the people of Inno County were left with no choice. 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We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together, and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. From Wondry, I'm Lindsey Graham, and this is American Scan. In the early 1900s, William Mulhollum completed building one of the largest projects in the history of civil engineering. The 200-mile long aqueduct diverted water from the Owens River in rural Inyo County and brought it all the way down south to Los Angeles. For the city, the project was a miracle. For years, Los Angeles had been plagued with drought, and with the population booming, LA had been on the verge of running out of water. The aqueduct helped divert a catastrophic crisis. Yet it also enraged the ranchers and farmers who depended on the Owens River. Los Angeles' endless thirst threatened their way of life. So one group of residents took up arms. They were determined to stop this theft and restore their community's lifeblood, but they soon would find themselves on a collision course, not just with the city of Los Angeles, but with William Mulhollum himself. This is Episode 3, The Showdown. It's mid-morning on May 22nd, 1924. A black town car crawls through a rutted dirt road in Inyo County. It comes to a stop near a site that's been roped off. William Mulhollum, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Water Department, cranes his head out the car window. Painful as it might be, he wants to get a good look at the damage. Early yesterday morning, an explosion blew open the Los Angeles aqueduct. The gaping hole was nearly 50 feet wide. Now there's water pouring from the rupture and fragments of steel lie strewn across the ground. Long trail of mud flows downhill. Mulhollum climbs out of the car filled with a pure, almost blinding rage. This aqueduct was his creation. He designed it and supervised its entire construction. And now someone committed an act of violence against it. It feels deeply personal. Mulhollum already has a guess about the culprits. There are probably locals from Inyo County, aggrieved farmers trying to strike a blow against the city of Los Angeles. Mulhollum's fists clench as he surveys the damage. It's not that he's blind to their pain. He's always been aware that the aqueduct could hurt the people of Inyo County, locals and towns like Bishop. They were losing their water. And Fred Eaton and the city of Los Angeles had pulled the roofs to acquire this invaluable resource. But an act of terrorism is no way to negotiate, so Mulhollum is going to find out exactly who did this and make them pay. Often the distance Mulhollum sees someone picking through the wreckage. Edward Leahy is Los Angeles's envoy to Inyo County. Most of the time Leahy lives up here in the desert. But while he's something of a local, Leahy's allegiance is to Los Angeles, his employer. And when he nears Mulhollum, he explains that he has a few leads. He's been comparing notes with the local sheriff, and they found tire tracks leading away from the site. There were probably dozens of cars, and maybe up to 40 men. Two brothers from Bishop, Wilford and Mark Watterson spoke with police and admitted to owning the dynamite that was used in the attack. But they claimed the dynamite had been stolen from one of their warehouses during a break-in. Mulhollum grits his teeth, mulling this over. The story doesn't make sense. Stolen dynamite? Why would a pair of bankers own dynamite in the first place? Why would anyone think to rob their warehouse looking for explosives? Mulhollum shakes his head and tells Leahy that the brothers are probably behind this. So from here they need to round up everyone in the Owens River Valley and interrogate each person until the truth comes out. Leahy takes off his glasses and wipes away the desert dust as he tells Mulhollum that that's a tall order. There are 4,000 people living in Inyo County. Plus the communities up here are all tight knit. No one's going to talk. Mulhollum doesn't care. This was a malicious act. It can only be met with overwhelming force. So he tells Leahy that armed guards should be sent to patrol the aqueduct line, all 200 miles of it. Leahy is alarmed by the proposal, asking if that's actually a good idea. The Mulhollum brushes aside the concerns, saying that if these terrorists can use bombs, then the city can use guns. A threat of violence is the only thing these people will understand. Leahy looks shocked, and Mulhollum knows he sounds extreme. But right now he doesn't care. He needs to protect the aqueduct, even if it means turning this whole valley into a police state. Six months later, Mark Watterson scrambles up a dirt slope in Lone Pine, California. Dust rises from his boots as he struggles to keep a grip on his rifle. It his eyes remain fixed on a single target, the guard house at the top of the Los Angeles aqueduct. Watterson scrambles up the hill, making his way up to the Alabama Gate spillway. This is near the beginning of the aqueduct's pipes, and it's not far from where his brother first set off the dynamite that started this conflict. It was an entirely successful attack, but since then the city has repaired the damage, so now it's time to strike again. Watterson looks over his shoulder as he climbs the hill. Behind him are dozens of locals from Inyo County, armed with pistols, rifles, shotguns. A moment later the group reaches the front of the spillway gate house, a guard turns and spots Watterson and his men. Hey, stop. What are you doing here? Who are you? You're not supposed to be up here. And yet, here we are. No, no, no. You all get out of here. Get out now. Sir, I'm going to be nice because it's my nature. My name's Watterson, and these here are my friends. We are all locals, just like I know you are, and we don't mean you any harm. Look, Watterson, if you don't mean any harm, why do you all are? Well sir, we're armed because that gives us strength. But look, we don't want to hurt you. We don't want to hurt anyone. So please, get the other guards and just take a walk. We're taking over the tower. Guard pauses. You're what? Why? Sir, we're going to do what's right. It's time to cut off Los Angeles's water supply and keep it in Inyo County. So if you don't mind, please, go on. Gather up the other guards, hand over your weapons, and just take a stroll. The guards and the tower look terrifying. They're far outnumbered by Watterson and his men. So they hand over their rifles and quickly make their way out of the tower. Watterson gives the departing guard to polite nod and then turns to his men. All right, now Percy, get the word. See that control in the gatehouse, turn it. It'll flush the aqueduct and send out all the water. One of Watterson's men turns a series of wheels and knobs and the aqueduct's machinery begins to roar. Suddenly Watterson can feel it. A huge volume of water, shifting, changing direction. Then it comes roaring out of the drainage pipe and spilling onto the valley floor, gallons and gallons of water, exiting the aqueduct and soaking the dry desert earth. Watterson wipes sweat from his face. That was just the first step. Now it's his job to occupy this site for as long as possible. And from this spillway, they can completely cut off the flow of water and stop Los Angeles from taking away the Owens River. Still Watterson knows holding their position is going to be hard. They only have 50 or so armed men. And his fears grow even greater when someone calls out. There's a line of cars approaching, at least 20 vehicles and more keep emerging from around the curve. Watterson grabs his rifle and lifts the scope to his eye. He shouts out to the other men that they need to grab their guns and form a line. The police have already arrived. But as Watterson squins through his rifle scope, suddenly he breaks into a wide smile. He calls out again to his men to hold their fire. Those aren't police. They're locals from Bishop. It's a caravan of their allies, at least 30 cars deep. They're all snaking their way up to the spillway. Watterson lets his own rifle drop to his side. In a feeling of relief washes over him, Inyo County has joined the fight. It's time for the occupation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct to begin. It's November 17th, 1924, an hour 36 of the occupation at the Alabama Gate spillway. Inside a Model T-4 Edward Lehi sits fretting and staring out the window. Near the horizon, at the starting point of the aqueduct, there are hundreds of men, women and children. They seem to have formed some kind of encampment. There are tents and food and barbecue grills. It looks like a state fair with a glaring exception. The Owens River water is still gushing out of the aqueduct and flooding the desert ground. Lehi grips the steering wheel as he stares out at this makeshift village. He'd rather do anything other than step into this fray. But he's the official envoy from Los Angeles to Inyo County. It's his job to negotiate an end to this occupation. Lehi climbs out of the car and walks slowly through the crowd. He's lived in the Owens River Valley for years and he recognizes more than a few faces. But as he walks past them, he can feel their eyes burning holes in his back. Today it's clear they think he's playing for the wrong team. It hurts to be seen as a villain. But Lehi reminds himself that this occupation is illegal. It's damaging the city of Los Angeles, his employer, and home to countless innocent residents. So despite his sympathies for the people of Inyo County, he's going to have to shut down this occupation. Lehi reaches the bottom of the gate house stairs where he meets Mark Warnerson, one of the leaders of the occupation. For a banker, Warnerson does a pretty good job of looking mean. His face is streaked with dirt and sweat and he holds a rife-let aside. But Lehi isn't really afraid. He knows these people don't intend violence. So with a firm voice, he tells Warnerson that everyone here should surrender immediately. It's for their own good. But Warnerson simply laughs. He tells Lehi they're a long way from surrender. Lehi expected pushback. So he reminds Warnerson that this is a hostage situation. Los Angeles is powerful and desperate for its water. This city will end this eventually. It's only a question of whether it will be peaceful or violent. Warnerson looks out at the throng to people at the bottom of the hill. Shaking his head, he says the city would never take aim at a crowd of civilians. Lehi's posturing won't work. They're not leaving. They won't allow Los Angeles to take their water, at least until William Molle Holland and the city settle up. Lehi can't believe this brazen act of ransom. It tells Warnerson that this isn't a business deal. The people here have attacked city property. There will be no settlement. Warnerson tells Lehi that he's wrong. As they speak, his brother Wilford is down in Los Angeles meeting with a team of city bankers. He's negotiating a payout in exchange for the end of this occupation. If that deal is successful, then and only then will the people of Inyo County leave the aqueduct alone. Lehi's taken a back. He's heard nothing of these negotiations. If the city really is entertaining their demands, then Lehi doesn't have a leg to stand on. So figuring it might be a bluff, Lehi keeps trying. He offers one last argument. Millions of gallons of water are being drained onto the desert floor. It's a pointless waste. Warnerson and his men should at least close the drainage pipe until an agreement can be reached. But Warnerson shakes his head again with a smirk on his face. He says, no, Los Angeles isn't getting another drop of water, not until the people of Inyo County are compensated for their loss. Looking around at all the angry locals, Lehi realizes that this parlay is over. There's no convincing these people. So he turns and walks back through the crowd. But as he approaches his car, he hears something and stops. The sound of a woman singing. Another voice joins in and then another until it's a full chorus of voices, swelling in the hot afternoon air. Lehi can't help but admire the show's solidarity. The people of Inyo County have been wrong. They have every right to stand up for their own dignity. But Lehi also knows that for all the singing, dancing, and barbecues, this demonstration won't bring peace to the valley. He's not sure exactly what you will take to end this stand on. The longer it goes on, the more likely there will be blood. Hello, I'm Florence Given, the best-selling author of the book Women Don't Are You Pretty and Girlcrush, and this is my podcast, exactly. Join me as I connect with fascinating guests from authors, cultural commentators, doctors, thought leaders to psychologists, celebrities, and comedians. But guess what? We're back to do it all again in season two with the likes of the holistic psychologist, Victoria Skohn and Iona David to name a few. Season two of exactly podcast out now wherever you get your podcasts. It's November 21st, 1924 in Los Angeles. Wilfred Watterson enters a plain brick building in downtown. It's full of men in suits, city types, here to do business. Watterson takes off his hat and begins walking through a busy corridor. He's not a city type himself. Watterson is the owner of the Inyo County Bank, about 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles. But he is here to do business. In just a few minutes, Watterson is going to sit down with a group of bankers who represent the city of Los Angeles. Watterson is planning to make the case that Inyo County deserves retribution in cash that Los Angeles is going to pay. He won't settle for anything less than $8 million. His demand for money isn't anything new. For years, Watterson has been making the case for reparations. Its payback after Los Angeles took control of the Owens River and diverted the water south to the city. But today, Watterson feels emboldened. Just this morning, the standoff at the aqueduct entered its fifth day. The people of Inyo County have cut off the water supply and they're not backing down. So Watterson has come to negotiate from a place of strength. Watterson strides down to carpeted hallway and enters a boardroom. He finds five men, all in suits, already seated around the table. Their expression is strained. Watterson takes a seat. He begins the conversation by reminding the city bankers that four years, LA has taken water from the Owens River Valley. The theft has cost Inyo County its agricultural industry. Tourism has plummeted. Life up north has been devastated and so it's only fair that the city compensates the people of Inyo County. A thin-lipped man shakes his head. John Graves is the spokesman for the bankers and he tells Watterson that the city has already paid. Los Angeles legally purchased all the land holdings back in 1905, giving the city access to the river. Watterson of course was prepared for this line of reasoning. It's the city's default position. So he reminds Graves that the land was bought under false pretenses. And that hasn't gone without notice. Newspapers across the country are writing stories about this deception perpetrated by Los Angeles. It's becoming a national embarrassment for the city. But if Graves has taken a back by this reminder, he doesn't show it. Keeping a stone face, he tells Watterson that appearances don't matter. Newspapers and juicy stories aren't the law. LA legally purchased the land. And now Watterson's people are illegally holding Los Angeles property hostage. The occupation will only end badly. Watterson smiles as the banker finishes his vague threat. Now it's time to play heartball. He tells the bankers that the standoff will end no question about it. But it will only end with a payment of $8 million. It's the cost if the city wants an end to the occupation and all the bad press around it. Watterson tells Graves that this is a final offer. If they can leave the room today with a deal, then the occupation will be called off. It's a win for everyone. And it's an offer with a relatively low price tag. Graves looks at the other bankers in the room and asks Watterson if they could have a moment. They need to talk. Watterson steps out of the boardroom. Once outside in the building's hallway, he paces bid anxiously. He is negotiating from a place of strength, but what he can't tell these bankers is that his own bank is suffering. He's given too many generous loans to Inyo County farmers and the defaults have started to add up. The region's economy is tanking. If the people in the north don't get an infusion of cash, there could be an economic collapse, one that destroys Watterson's bank. A few minutes later, the door opens and Watterson is invited back. But before he can take a seat, the spokesman announces that they've decided to accept Watterson's demand. They'll pay $8 million, but it's going to take some time. That kind of money doesn't just fall out of the sky. In exchange, Graves says Watterson has to leave the room to send a telegram immediately. It's time to call off the occupation. Watterson narrows his eyes and suspicion. He wonders whether this offer is sincere or whether it's just another ruse from the leaders in Los Angeles. But at this point, there's not much else Watterson can demand, so he thrusts out his hand and shakes on it. A few minutes later, Watterson steps out into the busy streets of downtown Los Angeles, feeling elated. This deal won't pay for the loss of the river. The damages will last for generations, but with $8 million, the people of Inyo County will get some measure of justice after so many years of being wronged. Two years later, William Mulholland steps into a meeting in his office in downtown Los Angeles. Sitting at the table is city attorney William Matthews. Matthews helped with the paperwork when the construction began on the aqueduct, and he's been loyal to Mulholland. But today, Mulholland is going to see just how far this loyalty really goes. Being a seat, Mulholland begins explaining why he called the meeting. The Los Angeles aqueduct is still under siege. The ranchers and farmers of Inyo County haven't let up. Mulholland explains that just last night, there was an explosion that tore a hole in the aqueduct 150 feet wide. A month before that, another blast went off at a siphon. And before that, dynamite charges destroyed 450 feet of the aqueduct near Big Pine Creek. Outless dollars and millions of gallons of water have been wasted. It's time for the city of Los Angeles to put an end to this madness. Matthews, the city attorney, has worked with Mulholland for a long time, and he chooses his next words carefully. He reminds Mulholland that these attacks aren't without cause. Los Angeles promised to pay Inyo County $8 million for the loss of their river, but the city never followed through. Mulholland frowns. He knows it's true, and some days he wishes they had given the water since their big payout. Maybe that would have stopped all these attacks. But the truth is, the city never intended to make good on that deal. It was a bluff, only to buy more time. Mulholland tells the city attorney that it's true, the city did reneg on its promise, but the people in Inyo County are acting like terrorists. It would set a terrible precedent if the city met their demands. And while those residents may be angry, the bombings have to stop. Mulholland turns and looks out the window at the bustling city streets. He tells Matthews that he took a decisive step. That morning, he dispatched city detectives on a northbound train, sending them up to the area where the aqueduct begins. They're armed with rifles and machine guns. And while their mere presence could deter any future attacks, his men need to be able to take action. Mulholland turns from the window and says he needs a favor. He wants the attorney to authorize a shoot to kill order along the aqueduct. If the detectives see anything illegal, any signs of people trying to sabotage the water supply, they need the legal authority to start shooting. It's the only way they can prevent more of these attacks. The city attorney is stunned. Finally, he tells Mulholland that this is a ridiculous request. They can't allow law enforcement to conduct executions. But Mulholland says it's simply the lesser of two evils. If Los Angeles loses its water, the city will erupt in chaos. People will die, many more than if they just take care of a few lawless criminals out in the desert. Matthew shoots up from his chair, saying that the plan is crazy. This isn't how law works. You can't make murder legal, even if it's politically expedient. The city attorney heads for the door. But for Mulholland, this discussion isn't over. He tells Matthews to stop. Mulholland reminds Matthews that even though he's a long time employee of Los Angeles, he might have forgotten the ways of city politics. Who's up? Who's down? And how you hold onto a job in the city? Stepping closer to Matthews, Mulholland reminds the attorney that he's the head of the water department. In a city where water is everything. He has a lot of friends on the city council. So if Matthews enjoys his job, he might want to reconsider his opinion. Matthew silently fumes at the threat. But finally he nods. He says he'll see what he can do. He just hopes that this fight will end sometime soon, and before anyone contests a shoot to kill order. Once Matthews has walked away, Mulholland returns to the window, looking out at downtown. Of course, this fight will end. The city just needs to start defending itself. But Mulholland didn't tell Matthews about his other plan, the ace of his sleeve. He's been secretly auditing the records of the watersons, the brothers who owned the bank up in Bishop. And Mulholland might have found something that's stronger than firepower. It's August 4, 1927 in Bishop California, two months later. It's 5 o'clock at the Inno County Bank, and Wilford Waterson shuts his ledger book. It's time to head home and grab some dinner. But suddenly there's a commotion in the lobby. Someone shouting, Warnerson stands and sees that it's his brother, Mark. Wilford leaps out of his chair and comes bounding into the lobby. But what he sees is stunning and leaves him standing frozen in place. Warnerson's brother, Mark, is backed up against a teller's window. In front of him, or a half dozen Inno County deputies, their guns raised. Wilford, you too. Put your hands up. Sheriff, what is all this about? Put your hands up. Both of you. Warnerson does as he's told. The sheriff approaches with a sympathetic look on his face. Now, I'm sorry, Wilford. You know I gotta do my job. I'm here to arrest you. Arrest me. What for? You and Mark are being charged by the county for embezzlement. Fraud and theft. Fraud? The sheriff steps towards Warnerson. His eyes lowered. Yeah, Fraud. His will for it. Just turn around so my boys can get cuffs on you. Now hold on. Everyone hold on. We've done nothing wrong here. This is, it must be some kind of misunderstanding. I don't like it any more than you do, but the district attorney has evidence. Sounds like a lot of it. Please turn around. But we haven't done anything illegal. Sure. Barrow some money from the banks account, but there's nothing wrong with that. I don't know anything about it, Wilford. But they got to your books. The embezzlement charges alone for over a million dollars. In this moment, Warnerson realizes what's happened. This is Mulholland, wasn't it? Oh, I can smell him all over this. Wilford, please. Just come quietly. It'll be better. Warnerson stares at the sheriff, Crestfallen. There's no talking his way out of this one. So he holds out his wrists and allows the deputies to place him in handcuffs. When they lead him and his brother Mark outside, where newspaper photographers are waiting to snap a picture. As he approaches the deputies' cars, Warnerson keeps his head up high. All he ever did was try to help the people of Inyo County. He extended credit to poor farmers. He funded new hotels and restaurants. And for all that work, now he's being led away from his own bank like a criminal. As the photographers continue to take pictures, Warnerson keeps his back straight. His head held high. He knows that the Owens River Valley will support him. No matter what happens, there's no way they'll let William Mulholland have the last laugh. It's March, 1928, in a canyon north of Los Angeles. William Mulholland walks beside a massive reservoir. His latest effort to provide long-term water storage along the path of the aqueduct. Mulholland gazes out at the slate-gray water, reflecting the heavy rain-field skies above. There's nothing more satisfying than seeing one of his completed projects up close. Though there is some competition, Mulholland is still joist that the Warnerson brothers are headed to prison. The two bankers were arrested on a series of criminal charges after Mulholland helped perform a secret audit of their finances. He expected some financial inconsistencies, but what he found was a mess. From there, it was just a matter of submitting the report to the Inyo County DA. And those arrests seemed to have achieved Mulholland's larger plan. Ever since the Warnerson's were apprehended, everything has gone quiet. There's been no more explosions at the aqueduct, no more problems at all. Mulholland's only issues now are routine, like the one that brought him here today. He needs to inspect a few spots where water is leaking out of the dam. You'll have to choose whether these small holes need to be plugged up. Mulholland approaches the wall of the dam and pokes his finger into an area where water is leaking out. When he removes it, his finger is clean, and that's good news. If the water were muddy, it could indicate that the inside structure of the retaining wall was coming apart. Mulholland turns to a young man who works as the dam keeper, and he announces his findings. There are no problems with the St. Francis Dam. The dam keeper is still structurally sound. But the dam keeper asks Mulholland to look at something else. Farther away, near the edge of the hillside, there's another leak, but one that's running brown. Mulholland glances up the slope. He notices that the wind is coming across the dam, and powerful gusts. And that explains it, the muddy leak must be dirt blown down off the hillside, not a problem with the construction itself. Once the two walk back to the parking lot, Mulholland assures the dam keeper that there's nothing to worry about. It's good to raise issues when they appear though, and Mulholland promises that the water department will continue to monitor the situation. The young man nods and takes off in the other direction. As Mulholland climbs into his town car, he feels a wave of relief. The sabbathoures from Inyo County are gone. There's no more dynamite, no water, and brothers. The aqueduct is complete, and the city of Los Angeles has all the water it needs. Mulholland gazes out at this desert canyon, and his newest project. He's now 72 years old. He's worked long and hard to get here. But finally, after so many years, Mulholland can feel at ease, knowing that his legacy is secure. It's the afternoon of March 13, 1928 in Southern California. William Mulholland makes his way along a dusty path, heading toward a green emergency tent. Nearby there's a swarm of police and rescue crews. They're splattered with mud, barking orders at each other. Everyone is moving frantically, wide-eyed, with a look of shock and terror. But Mulholland barely registers any of the madness. He's in a deep haze as he surveys the wreckage from the St. Francis Dam. Just 24 hours ago, he inspected this dam. Everything seemed fine. But just around midnight last night, the dam's retaining wall gave way and came crashing down. 12 billion gallons of water plunged through the canyon, a tidal wave that ripped up houses in farmland and reached all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Mulholland stumbles along the lip of the canyon, staring at the devastation below. The dam keeper he spoke to yesterday, his dead, and so are most of the workers. He's heard several hundred bodies have been found in the valley. Mulholland has spent this whole morning trying to pinpoint the cause of the disaster. He's certain that when crews finish digging through the rubble, they'll find evidence of dynamite. It was probably a case of sabotage, perpetrated by the blood-thirsty terrorists from Inyo County. It's the only explanation that makes sense. Mulholland is hoping that Harvey Van Norman, his deputy, who's been scouring the empty riverbed for clues, might have a definitive answer. Soon Mulholland reaches his tent and pushes open the flaps. And inside, Van Norman is waiting. Mulholland asks the question he's been wondering all morning. Has Van Norman uncovered a detonator or some other sign of explosives? Van Norman looks at Mulholland, his face sweaty and pale. He says the news isn't good. They have scoured the entire area and have found no evidence of dynamite. Mulholland nods. The investigation though is just getting started. It could take some time to sift through all the rubble, but Van Norman shakes his head, his eyes downcast. He tells Mulholland that this was not an explosion. To destroy the dam someone would have needed a powerful blast. Something that large would have left obvious evidence behind. They would have found something by now. This doesn't appear to be a deliberate act. It takes a few seconds, but then the horrifying implication sets in. The people of Inyo County aren't the ones to blame. Mulholland is Mulholland, the engineer of the project, the man who designed the dam. The realization hits Mulholland with a stunning force. Because of his mistakes, this dam lies in ruin. Hundreds of lives were lost in a moment of sheer terror. It's a catastrophe beyond reckoning. And as the visionary who brought water to Los Angeles, the responsibility lies squarely with William Mulholland. Mulholland sinks to the floor, his face hot and his throat burning. Before he can stop himself, a painful tear comes trickling out of the corner of his eye. Six years later, William Mulholland takes off his hat and steps inside a small one-story house in Los Angeles. He moves slowly now, using a cane as he makes his way across the wooden floor. Mulholland steps into a living room and finds his old boss, Fred Eaton, lying in bed. It's been years since Mulholland last spoke with Eaton in person. They've mainly communicated through telegraphs and intermediaries. But Mulholland got word that Eaton didn't have long to live, so he decided to pay a visit. He only hoped that by this point in their lives, they could put their old disagreements behind them. In the living room, Mulholland gazes at Eaton, a shell of his former self. He was once so vibrant, but now he's a brittle old man tucked under some bed sheets. Oh, hello, Bill. Fred, looking damn good. Damn good, I say. Ah, that's very funny, Bill. You've always had a sense of humor. Except you know I look just as bad as you. Man who's outlived his usefulness. Doesn't have a friend in the world. Ah, if it sounds like you've heard the news. I may be laid up here in bed, but I still have ears on the ground. I heard they force you to resign from the water department. That must feel horrible. The death count too. 4.50. Yes. 4.50. Bill, I'm looking at you and I can see all the pain. It's all over your face. You don't look like you've been sleeping. And you don't look like the self-assured man I used to know. Well, it lives with me, Fred. All those people die. I don't know what to do with it. You end up asking yourself, Hall. All kinds of questions. What could I have done differently? You could have started by not building that damn. You didn't give me much of a choice though, did you? If you hadn't been so strong-headed about selling your ranch, I would have had a place to store that water. I wouldn't have had to build that damn in the first place. I was angry about that for a very long time. I've made all kinds of enemies in my life. Back in Bishop, they spit on me, pulled rifles on me, threatened to hang me, and you were okay with that. Well eventually. Bill, people- people don't hate very long. They move on to other things. There's always something else to hate. Well, it doesn't matter what other people think. I can't move on. I don't think I'll be able to forgive myself. Somehow that damn of mine broke. Bill, listen, you didn't build St. Francis with your own hands. It wasn't your fault. Maybe. Maybe not. Eat and props himself up and bed and smiles. Well, let's change the subject then. How about we talk about the other big news? Long-bowling. That damn property. You know, I lost it when I went through my divorce and now it's what. The city's gonna build a reservoir at my old ranch, so it looks like you're gonna get what you always wanted. That water storage. It was so important to you. Yes, yeah, Fred. Water's important. But you taught me that. And now even more than ever. There's over a million people in Los Angeles. Oh, you've always loved your numbers, don't you? But I've always admired that. Yeah, well, I guess I was the one who was good with numbers and diagrams. But you were the one who had the big ideas. If it weren't for you, this city might not even be here. Oh, shortwood. Now, if we hadn't solved the water shortage, someone else would have. There's always a guy with a big idea. Ideas are cheap. Eaton coughs and then settles his head back on the pillow. His eyelids begin to flutter. While Holland glances up at a framed photo on the wall, he sees himself standing with Eaton and the engineer JB Lippincott. Her deep in conversation framed against the Owens River Valley. That day was ages ago. While Holland starts to speak again, but he can't find the words, he owes so much to Fred Eaton. His career, his life. Even before the aqueduct, it was Fred Eaton who gave him the chance back when they were just two young men digging in the dirt. While Holland watches as Eaton's eyes close, his head rolling back into a deep sleep. After a moment, while Holland puts his hat back on and makes his way to the front door. He steps outside, back into the blinding sunshine, back into the city that he and Fred Eaton helped build. Today Los Angeles is a far different city from the one William, Moe Holland, made into his home. By 2021, the city's population had ballooned to nearly 4 million people. Los Angeles County now has some 10 million residents, making it the most populated county in the United States. But while the dusty streets have all been paved over, and the horse drawn buggies are long since gone, one feature of the city has not changed. Water is still scarce, and the city's millions of residents still depend on the Owens River. But with the west heating up, Los Angeles may once again find itself in a crisis. The water in California and in the Colorado River, which supplies water throughout the west, is drying up. In the past, engineers like Fred Eaton and William, Moe Holland were able to divert rivers, change the face of the landscape and bring drinking water to thirsty cities. But that's only possible if there's water there in the first place. From Wondery, this is Episode 3 of LA Steals Its Water from American Scandal. In the next episode, I speak with David Owen, the author of Where the Water Goes, Life and Death along the Colorado River. We'll discuss the growing crisis of water scarcity in the American West, and we'll explore how cities like Las Vegas are charging the course for the future. If you like our show, please give us a five star rating and leave a review, and be sure to tell your friends. I also have two other podcasts you might like, American History Tellers and Business Movers. Follow on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, or wherever you're listening right now. Or you can listen to new episodes early and add free by subscribing to Wondery Plus in Apple Podcasts or in the Wondery app. You'll also find some links and offers from our sponsors in the episode notes. Supporting them helps us keep offering our shows for free. Another way you can support this show is by filling out a small survey at Wondery.com slash survey to tell us what topics we might come next. You can also find us and me on Twitter. Follow me at Lindsay A. Graham, Lindsay with an A, Middle and Initially, and thank you. If you'd like to learn more about water issues in early Los Angeles, we recommend the book William Mulholland and The Rise of Los Angeles by Katherine Mulholland. A quick note about our reenactments. In most cases, we can't know exactly what was said, but all our dramatizations are based on historical research. American scandal is hosted, edited, and executed produced by me Lindsay Graham for Airship. Audio editing by Molly Bach, Sound Design by Derek Barons, Music by Lindsay Graham. This episode is written by George Ducker, edited by Christina Malsberg. Our senior producer is a gay-driven. Our staff and staff are Jenn's, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and her non-lopes for Wondery.