• October 5, 2003

The Body-Sized Hole

Why is there a huge hole underneath our house?

Restoration Diary,


Not a photo of the actual hole underneath our house, but this is the way it appears in my imagination.

Our home inspection turned up many things, none of them good, but the strangest discovery was, to quote my husband, “a body-sized hole” in the crawl space underneath the house. I never actually saw the hole but made my husband describe it to me several times in detail. The hole was as wide as a man’s shoulders and at least 6 feet deep. How did David know it was that deep? Because the building inspector crawled over to the hole and poked a long stick into it. They didn’t discover a body, just some discarded rubble.

All old houses hold their mysteries but a body-sized hole wasn’t exactly one we wanted to know more about. Lying in bed that night, David and I speculated why anyone would dig a big hole underneath their house? Being a secret fan of true-crime murder novels (a guilty pleasure) and Court TV’s Forensic Files (a morbid fascination), all kinds of wild thoughts sprang to mind. The home’s present owner, Mr. Jolly, said he inherited the house from his grandmother and his uncle. Did we really know what happened to them? Plus, who has the last name of Jolly anyway? Maybe it was an alias or an attempt to hide a darker side? What if there were bodies buried under the house?


In the light of day, rationalism took over and we pushed those thoughts aside. We requested that Mr. Jolly have the hole filled and forgot all about it during the hectic time surrounding the move into our first home. Going back through the paperwork we recieved from the title company a contract to lease subsurface oil and gas caught my eye.

On February 1, 1957, John V. E. Santo and Antonia N. Santo entered into an agreement for the duration of 10 years with Union Oil Company of California “for the purpose of prospecting, exploring, mining, drilling and operating the land leased for oil, gas and other hydrocarbon substances” lying below a depth of 500 feet. The Santo’s would collect a royalty share of 1/6th of whatever was found. Although we don’t know for certain, we speculate that the body-sized hole was where they drilled for oil. For those of you who are wondering if it would be noisy or troublesome to have a search for oil going on underneath your dining room, the Santos owned the house but they didn’t live here. Their residence was in Pico, CA. This is probably around the time the upkeep on our house started to decline.

The house changed hands again and on April 20, 1964, Mr. Jolly’s grandmother, Winona M. Jolly, entered into the same contract with Union Oil Company of California for the duration of 10 years.

I don’t know if any oil or gas was discovered during those 17 years? Judging from the condition of our house, there didn’t seem to be a lot of money available to make necessary home repairs. I don’t think anyone struck it rich!

Comments { 2 }
  1. Karen Jolley

    I have been enjoying backtracking through your journal this evening.

    Mr. Jolly would be a very, very distant cousin of mine, no doubt. There are about 100,000 Jolleys (with the ‘e’) in the United States, and the name ‘Jolly’ is indeed more common than my maiden name.

    It’s my understanding that oil and mineral rights rarely come along with the property in Los Angeles County. It is presumed that anyone fishing for oil and gas deposits under a home will be doing it by drilling at an angle.


  2. T vaughn

    I owned an old home. When I got under the house I found and open hole lined with brick under the kitchen. It actually had the bones of a dog that had apparently fallen in and couldn’t get out. I was told old houses captured water under them from downspouts so it could be used. Cistern? I’m not sure that’s spelled correctly. Anyway, I filled it up as quick as I could so a kid wouldn’t get in there. Terrible thought!



If you would like to select an image to appear next to your comment, go to Gravatar.