Solvang, Part Three: Thor’s Curse

This is the final part of a three-part series about the town of Solvang, California, and Isla Vista, one of its neighboring towns. For the previous installation, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

Thor’s Curse

In the last installation, we were introduced to the small college town of Isla Vista, the site of four debauched murders of hitchhiking women by a necrophiliac named Thor Christiansen. Thor was a Danish immigrant from the neighboring town of Solvang.

Solvang is a tourist-trap town, built to resemble an authentic village from Denmark. Its name means “sunny field,” in Danish.

One of Thor’s victims was a young woman named Patricia Laney, who had volunteered with organizations in Isla Vista, that sought to protect women from violence. After her bloody death, she became a symbol for these organizations. But was this enough to protect women, or anybody else, from an untimely demise in Isla Vista?

No, sadly, it wasn’t. The violence committed by Thor seems to have cursed Isla Vista to more violence.

In 2001 the community made national news again, when a crazed motorist named David Attias, who was the son of television director Dan Attias, barreled down Sabado Tarde Street in Isla Vista at 65 miles per hour. He purposely mowed down a group of five pedestrians, killing four, including two women. A fifth victim was critically injured, and succumbed15 years later to health issues related to his injuries.

After David struck the pedestrians, he jumped out of his car and taunted a gathering crowd, proclaiming, “I am the Angel of Death!”

Like Thor Christiansen, Attias also plead not guilty by reason of insanity. But unlike Thor, he succeeded. Psychiatrists bought it, and he was sentenced to 60 years in the Patton State Hospital mental institution.

However, he was conditionally released in 2012, by a court order. So perhaps he’s no longer an angel of death. Who am I to judge? I’m no psychiatrist. But even if his 10 years in the bughouse rendered him safe to be on our streets, Thor’s curse was not scrubbed from the blood-stained avenues of Isla Vista. Because Attias’ vehicular homicides would not be the last tragic headline screaming from this community.

In 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger murdered six people in Isla Vista, and seriously injured 14 others. Like David Attias, he too was the son of a mogul in the entertainment industry—his father being the British filmmaker, Peter Rodger. What is it about the children of show business bigwigs? Are they inspired by the wild car chases and bloody murder scenes their parents conjure up for public consumption?

Elliot was autistic, and had been frequently bullied while growing up. He was enrolled at Santa Barbara City College, and shared an apartment with two other college student roommates. And he was jealous of his roommates, as well as most other men, because they were successful at attracting women, while he wasn’t.

On Friday, May 23, 2014, he lay in wait for his roommates, and stabbed them to death, one-by-one, as they separately entered their apartment. That same day a visitor showed up, and he was also stabbed to death. Then Elliot went out and got himself a cup of coffee, as if this excitement hadn’t been enough stimulation for him.

That evening, at 8:30 pm, he sat in his car in the parking lot of his apartment building, working away on his laptop computer. At 9:18 pm, he uploaded a misogynistic manifesto. In it he threatened to punish women for not being attracted to him. He claimed he was the “perfect guy,” and “supreme gentleman,” and complained that women threw themselves at “obnoxious men,” and that he didn’t see why they weren’t attracted to him, instead.

Then this incel drove to the Alpha Phi sorority house and knocked repeatedly on their door. No one would open it, so in frustration he shot three nearby women, killing two of them. Then he hopped back in his car and raced through the streets of Isla Vista.

He encountered a man at a delicatessen and ended him with seven bullets. This would be his final murder. But he continued his rampageous attack upon the streets of Isla Vista, aiming his car at pedestrians on Embarcadero del Norte, and striking and injuring one person. He fired his gun out the car window at two people, but missed them. Then he shot and wounded a couple entering a pizzeria, as well as a female on a bicycle.

Embarcadero del Norte street, in Isla Vista. Photo by Nandaro. CC BY-SA 3.0.

He raced ahead, patrolling for more victims, shooting at and missing one woman. Then a cop caught up with him. They exchanged fire and two bystanders were wounded in the blizzard of bullets.

But he managed to get away and resumed his drive-by rampage through the embattled streets of Isla Vista. On Sabado Tarde Street—the same street where David Attias committed his mayhem 13 years earlier—Elliot shot and wounded five people, and rammed two skateboarders and two cyclists with his car.

Charging up Sabado Tarde, he encountered three sheriff’s deputies. A gunfight ensued, and Elliot was struck in the hip. But that coffee he drank must have been heavily laced with caffeine, because he was able to speed away like a wild man. Turning down several streets, he took aim on a cyclist, and struck him. But then he crashed his car over a sidewalk.

Elliot Rodger’s driver’s license photo.

His vehicle now disabled, he couldn’t escape the pursuing deputies. So he took aim on one last victim. Himself. One bullet to his head finished the denouement of his life. At 9:35 pm, just 17 minutes after he had uploaded his misogynistic manifesto and initiated his street terror, Elliot Rodger slumped dead in his car. He was found beside three pistols, several knives, six empty ten-round magazines, and 548 rounds of unspent ammunition.

Once again, Isla Vista made national headlines, inspiring outcries against gun violence and violence directed at women. Politicians got involved, the NRA was blamed, and legislation was proposed. Four months later, California passed a red flag law, enabling judges to seize guns from people seen as a danger to themselves or to others.

Perhaps it’s a good law, or perhaps not. Red flag laws have their critics, and this law doesn’t address the fact that three of Elliot’s six murder victims were knifed to death, and that he injured many others with his car.

Isla Vista’s population is a mere 15,500. So it’s strange it would have so much high-profile violence in its past. And it all began with a young man from nearby Solvang, named Thor Christiansen. It’s as if Thor cursed the poor town with violence.

But as for Solvang, it has moved on from the dark shadow Thor cast upon this otherwise “sunny field.” Today its charming Danish architecture continues to be a huge tourist attraction, with the serial killer long forgotten.

On the other hand, Thor’s curse may still carry potency, so you might want to exercise special caution when visiting Solvang’s neighbor, Isla Vista. And if you decide to visit Solvang itself, and your car breaks down on the highway, be forewarned. You might want to think twice before hitchhiking into town.

Categories: History

23 replies »

  1. Despite my my mom living for years in San Luis Obspo, I’ve never been to Solvang. I mostly know Isla Vista for the paragliding from Sea Lookout Park. Pretty small, sleepy town for a crazed mass murderer.

    Short of living in a prison yard, I’m not sure what you can do about people like this. It seems like the news interview with the neighbor always goes something like, “He was just a quiet, nice guy.” I think Thor’s live-in girlfriend even said something like that. Regardless, acting like a threatening crazy in public won’t get you arrested in California… at least as long as your pants are half falling down.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Solvang is an interesting little town to visit for about an hour or two. But you’re better off visiting during a weekday, and avoiding the weekend crowds.

      Some are nice, quiet guys, and others are weird all the time. I think the BTK killer was not well-liked by those who knew him. And I think you’re right about acting crazy in public in California. You’re just one of the many, and will likely be ignored. So I don’t know how red flag laws could be much help.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Japan has been wrestling with this same issue. Despite the near zero gun ownership rate, the mass-murderers still seem to find a way… poison, knives, cars, fire. There’s a high-profile case going right now for a guy who killed 36 people in an arson attack. And the recent assassination of Prime Minister Abe was with a home-made gun. In the US, guns are more of a street-crime and suicide issue. And how do you get gangsters, criminals and the clinically depressed to give up their guns?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Humans can be very innovative when they’re determined to harm others. Perhaps more emphasis on mental health is the best answer. But I don’t know. Cultivating diplomacy skills, keeping one’s head on a swivel, and learning some self-defense techniques, might also be good answers.

          Liked by 2 people

        • I think the ones we saw were in the Santa Barbara area. They were taking off from a nearby hill and hovering over the freeway. Seemed like kind of a dangerous place to hover, but it was entertaining for passing motorists.

          Liked by 1 person

          • There’s a mountainside near here, where the paragliders will take off over toward the eastern valleys from about 8,000 ft elevation. Usually, they’ll glide down toward the east, cross over the freeway there, and land near Washoe Lake (4,000 ft ?). But on some days, they can rise up and go west, right over the summit of Slide Mountain, and land in some higher meadows to the west. I had, at one time, considered trying the sport. But there aren’t any local places where you can safely get through the steep part of the learning curve, and it’s a big investment. Fun to watch though.

            Liked by 2 people

  2. Sure glad that my blog can help balance out your stories! I knew I needed to post a sweet one lasf night.
    The sad thing is that your stories aren’t fiction! If so Betsy would have definitely taken care of these psycho men before they caused such terror. SAD!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great series, Tippy! I sincerely hope Thor’s curse has lifted from this Danish town. I’m not sure what to say about these murderous rampages. Other than that, mental illness seems to be a contributing factor, and if someone is driven to murder, anything can be used as a weapon! 😔

    Liked by 2 people

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