My O.C.: What Lies Beneath the Pond

True-crime theories come to life in Lake Forest.
Illustration by Rachel Idzerda

It has been five years since the city of Lake Forest renovated the former Village Pond to become the scenic Veterans Park, a popular site for walkers, picnickers, and wedding photo shoots.

Despite the extreme makeover, certain memories remain. Like the time my husband, Michael, sponsored a tree to be planted there to commemorate our wedding anniversary. (The tree’s no longer there, but our love remains.) Or our first inaugural walk around the park the day we’d moved into our new home that is a peekaboo view away.   

Then there was the time I heard they’d discovered a human skeleton at the bottom of the drained pond. Quite alarming considering the proximity to our humble abode, but, oh, those three little words: “I was right.”

I’m a bit of a murder mystery buff, you see. Not to boast, but I did correctly guess “who done it” at one of those murder mystery dinner shows, winning a “Super Sleuth” coffee mug and everything.

When I heard they were going to drain the pond as part of the renovation, my true crime-filled imagination kicked in. After all, the park’s grassy knolls were long known for some sketchy activity, especially at night. We’d often see police cruisers roll by, their spotlights aimed to pierce the inconvenient gloom. 

By day, the most common “crime” involved folks feeding the many ducks and geese inhabiting the place, some of which just said no to migration and stayed year-round—and who could blame our feathered friends? Free food, good weather, scenic view—it was a fish and waterfowl’s paradise. 

It was not, however, a walker’s paradise. We’d soon discovered the park’s picturesque scene was akin to a Monet. Sure, it looked great from a distance, but up close you saw that the fuzzy dots were actually an intricate mosaic of bird droppings: everything from dainty sparrow deposits to the splashier mallard designs. Impressionism at its best.

Over the years, the fowl contributions had made the pond a murky mess, hence the need for a new irrigation system as part of the renovation. In spring 2017, the arduous task of removing 1.5 million gallons of water began. Giant pumps were parked around the water’s edge, lapping up the liquid at a slow, teasing rate. A giant bathtub ring of sorts was revealed, then came the sloping dark gray sides, a few inches more each day.

“Just you wait,” I told Michael as we peered through the construction fence during one of our evening promenades. By then they’d sucked the pond nearly dry, leaving only a shallow pool of dark water rippling in the breeze. 

“They’re going to find something—or someone,” I said.

“Maybe they already did.”

“No way. We’d have heard something by now.”


Two days later, I heard something. My phone pinged with an incoming text from Michael, subject line: “You were right.” 

I quickly tapped on the attachment he’d sent. Something from the City of Lake Forest according to the familiar red banner and official seal. I scrolled down to read the rest, eyes widening with every telltale word:

“Construction halted at Village Pond Park when Environmental Technologies drained the water and discovered a skeleton at the bottom of the 8-foot water feature on Friday, August 25.” 

It went on to say that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department would hold a press conference later that day. There was even a picture of a city guy in a bright yellow vest trying to retrieve said skeleton lying half submerged in the sludge. The worker stood on the edge of a longneck crane (machine, not bird) and hovered over all that remained of some poor unfortunate soul.

In a fast five minutes I’d called all my friends, or at least those I’d regaled with my dire prediction. Many of their breathless questions matched my own: How long had it been there? Any weapons found? And one that made me pause: Did this mean a killer was on the loose? A murderer in our midst looking just like everyone else? 

Because it’s all fun and games when it’s just a ghoulish theory to banter around. But add in the harsh reality of human remains and suddenly it’s a Cause for Concern, and goodness knows that list was already too long in my head.

I fired up my computer and did a Google search for the news conference referenced in the report. But nothing came up. I tried a few more keywords: “Lake Forest” … “skeleton” … “Village Pond.” 

Still, nada. 

I pulled up the attachment again from Michael’s message, looking for when the promised news conference would begin. Except now that the report was on my monitor instead of my itty-bitty phone screen, I could see the font was a bit mismatched. 

I zoomed in and saw a couple of sentences were slightly larger than others. Come to think of it, that skeleton looked remarkably intact for being underwater for so long, its laid-back pose more day at the beach than dead in the water.

Oh. My. God.


I grabbed my phone and texted Michael, who was out running errands: “This isn’t for real, is it? Did you do this?”

Dancing dots … then: “Yeah, it was me. And Photoshop,” followed by a smiley face.

Just like that, the only dead man in this story was my husband.

I spent the next 15 embarrassed, red-faced minutes calling everyone back and confessing that I wasn’t such a super sleuth after all. 

When Michael eventually arrived home, I didn’t deign look at him but said only, “Let us never speak of this again.” 

Epilogue: The new Veterans Park officially opened more than a year after the initial demolition began. Thirty-
five species of waterfowl, including ducks and Canadian geese, were safely relocated to nearby sanctuaries; 4,000 fish—mostly largemouth bass, sunfish, and bluegill—were also given new aquatic homes.

And Michael and I are still married.

As for my crime scene prediction, the construction crews did end up finding some interesting things at the bottom of the pond: several cellphones, a couple of skateboards, a small statue of Buddha, and a wheelchair.

Wait—a wheelchair? What happened to its owner?

I have my theories.