The Forest for the Trees: Seeing the Criminal Shade of the Emerald Triangle
The formerly illegal cannabis industry brought in vagabonds and settled folks, alike, all in search of the fast cash (a lot of it) generated by the illegal cannabis trade.
If you have not yet watched the Netflix docuseries “Murder Mountain” you should immediately place it in your queue. This compelling docuseries follows the disappearance of 29-year-old, Garret Rodriguez, a San Diego kid who found his way to Humboldt County, specifically Alderpoint, California, seeking the green dream of the “budding” and booming California cannabis industry. Garret not only found the cannabis industry, he also found himself in criminal vigilantism thicker than the Humboldt County forests.
The Emerald Triangle, which consists of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties and supported by its three main cities Eureka, Arcata, and Ukiah, is the ultimate grow ground for this industry. Not because it has the best soil, climate, or infrastructure for the cultivation of marijuana, but because of sheer geography. This area sits on the north coast of California, cuddled on one side by the vast Pacific Ocean, and on the other by lush forest, providing a green curtain shielding the shenanigans beneath it. The landscape of this area allows for cannabis cultivators and businesses to go undetected. It also generates a breeding ground for greed and crime.
Cannabis cultivation started to bloom in the Emerald Triangle during the 1960s, also known as the Summer of Love in San Francisco. These live-off-the-land hippies fed and nourished their families with the actual fruits of their labor and often lived in communal settings. California’s passage of Proposition 215, legalizing medicinal cannabis flipped this community of love and “herbal” living on its head, giving rise to the Green Rush.
The Green Rush also bred outlaw behavior and vigilante justice. More missing persons reports are filed in Humboldt County than anywhere else in California. Missing persons fliers are the wallpaper of the county, which include pictures of young, hopeful, aspirational faces smiling back. The geography and the common unwillingness of residents to get involved with law enforcement makes these cases nearly impossible to solve. This is the tragic story portrayed in the six-part series.
We are introduced to Garret Rodriguez through his father, who endears us to Garret by talking about the father-son bonding he had with Garret while surfing and fishing in southern California. Rodriguez’s father reminisces about the small plot of land he purchased for his son, with the expectation that Garret would one day make money and build a house on the land. That day never came.
Exploitation is the common course for Humboldt newcomers, those without historical ties, and connections to the county. There is limited to no cellular service in the area, making it a challenge for families to stay in touch with loved ones who make it to the area. Calls come sporadically, and in the case of Garret Rodriguez, the calls to his father eventually stopped coming all together.
The Alderpoint area that Garret became entwined in was now a far cry from the communal and free-love hippie inhabited area it once was. The illegal operations, legalization of medical cannabis, and law enforcement regulations led to the underground criminal enterprises that Garret became caught up in, all easily shielded by the “redwood curtain” of Humboldt County.
Garret’s father stopped receiving the intermittent phone calls from his son about a year after Garret found himself in Humboldt County. In the spring of 2013, his father reported him as missing. The response Garret’s father received from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office was less than encouraging. The Sheriff’s Office responded to Garret’s father’s plight with comments that Garret must have been a drug dealer and a loser, and all that aside, there was no actual evidence that Garret had even arrived in Humboldt County.
The refusal and lackadaisical approach to Garret’s disappearance forced Garret’s father to contact a local private investigator to assist him with uncovering what happened to Garret. Investigator Chris Cook used her contacts in the community and connections to the county to obtain and verify information that places Garret in Humboldt County. For example, a white pickup truck was located in Alderpoint and remained registered in Garret’s name. Though, even with this lead, local law enforcement remained disinterested in pursuing an investigation.
The docuseries allowed local law enforcement, like former Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey and current Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal, to explain their indifference about the disappearance of Garret Rodriguez. However, their interviews blaming their conduct on the influx of murder cases do little to justify their failure to act.
In the absence of law enforcement to protect and serve, the vigilante justice by the citizens of Alderpoint rises to the surface. On Thanksgiving night in 2013, a few local men, well-known within the community, take it upon themselves to confront the man suspected to be involved in Garret’s disappearance. This group is now known as the Alderpoint 8. In their strong-armed confrontation, the locals confirm that the case of Garret Rodriguez is no longer a missing person’s case but is now a case of murder.