Gin and Toxic: an essay on the 1982 Black Canyon Massacre

gin andIf you are ever in Arizona and find yourself on the Interstate-17, pay attention when traveling through a town called Black Canyon City. With a population just over 2,000, and nothing to recommend it to highway travelers but a small gas station, most people will blow right by this little community without a second glance. But if you slow down and look to the West of the highway, you may see a dilapidated, crumbling building with the simple words “DOG (C)RACK” written on the side in faded, orange lettering.

You have found the Black Canyon City Dog Track, the site of one of the worst massacres in Arizona history. The property has remained derelict and neglected since the 80’s, slowly rotting away on the hilltop where it was once a thriving den of debauchery.

If you were to exit the highway and park on the corner of Maggie Mine Rd and Coldwater Canyon you could walk to the abandoned building and explore the stale, decaying ruins of a once popular greyhound track.

If you approach the side of the building with the fading orange letters you will see a silver gate standing open. If you venture through you will come to an unlocked door into the building. If, by chance, you are on the north side of the building, you will instead find a smaller doorway, this one with the door torn off the hinges. Graffiti to the left of this door reads “Why didn’t you kill yourself today?”

If you then venture inside, you will find yourself in a cavernous, crumbling lobby. You will find a booth for reservations, a wall of betting windows and even a bar. Beyond that, you can explore the kennels, the private offices of the management, and even the overgrown dog track below.

Of course, one of the first things you’ll see are the grandstands; rows and rows of red and yellow plastic seats, many of them still attached, while others have been torn up and thrown in an unceremonious pile nearby. This part of the building has an unsettling feeling as thousands of seats, all eerily expectant, face an empty field of weeds and a small mountain range beyond through large, broken panoramic windows. A large, metal sign hanging above tells you that the red seats cost 50 cents while the yellow seats cost 75.

If you continue to wander, you will find more graffiti such as “Who watches the Watchmen?” and “His name was Robert Paulsen”. You will no doubt finish your tour feeling unsettled and ill, and with good reason.

The story of this dog track is mysterious and difficult to find, having been all but erased from history. After doing over a years worth of research, I believe I have learned enough to warrant writing this article.

Our story begins with a citrus farmer named David K. Funk. In 1942, tired of his Phoenix farm, Funk opened a successful race track in Tijuana called “Caliente Race Track”, which was the first combination horse/dog track in North America.

It was enormously successful and with his new found wealth, Funk moved his wife and four young children – Albert, Charlotte, Richard and David Jr. – back to Arizona and opened several more thriving greyhound tracks.

The Funk children grew and while Albert and David Jr. followed in the family business, Charlotte and Richard showed little interest and went off on their own paths. Charlotte married a young entrepreneur named Monte Kobey and Richard became a university professor.

David Jr. and Albert moved around the country opening tracks in Florida, Oregon and Colorado. David Sr., impressed by his son’s excellent work ethic, named David Jr Vice President of the Arizona race tracks, of which there were five.

David Jr., an aggressive but inexperienced businessman, decided in 1965 to open a new greyhound track in central Arizona. He choose a sleepy, rural town called Black Canyon City, less than an hour north of Phoenix.

When his father wouldn’t approve the funds to build this track, David Jr. found funding through a Delaware company called Western Racing Inc., a well known mob-run enterprise on the east coast.

With their help, Black Canyon City Dog Track was opened in 1967, much to the chagrin of the locals, a devoutly religious group, who were horrified to find their pious town host to such a sinful sport.

David Jr. brought his sister and her husband to live in Black Canyon City and oversee the track’s management. Charlotte’s husband Monte was interested in greyhound racing and so Charlotte found herself once again enslaved to the family business. She noted in her diary that year how much she hated dog racing and how much she resented her family for forcing this life on her.

The track was an enormous success despite local protests and harassment by the town’s small police force. Gamblers from Phoenix would drive up on the weekends to get out of the heat and spend time drinking and betting at the greyhound track.

In 1973 David Jr left Arizona to open a new property in Las Vegas, leaving Monte and Charlotte behind to run the Black Canyon track. Charlotte strongly objected to being “abandoned in the middle of nowhere” but Monte was excited about the chance to run the business alone.

David Jr. didn’t return to Black Canyon City until early in 1982, when Charlotte called him to complain about the increased tensions between locals and track management. In the years he had been gone, the protests had turned to vandalism, death threats and finally violence after a flaming bag weighted with a brick was thrown through his pregnant sister’s window.

Monte and Charlotte argued to shut the track down, citing violence and poor profit margins. David Jr. would not agree to it. He was by this time deeply in debt to Western Racing and they were no longer asking nicely for their money. The threats had grown so violent that David Jr. showed up in Arizona with his humerus broken in three places.

When her brother refused to release the Kobey’s from their obligations, Charlotte begged David Jr. permission to leave, telling him about a local man who was harassing her named Brad Davidson. She said she didn’t know him and had no idea why, but that he followed her when she was alone and came to the track everyday to try and speak with her. He was an alcoholic and a gambler, she said. In April, a man accosted David Jr. in the street claiming to be Brad Davidson, and pleaded with him for help, claiming he was the real father of Charlotte’s baby.

In May of 1982, Monte and David Jr. got into a violent fist fight in the management offices when the latter went through the track’s accounting. David Jr. accused Monte of running the track into the ground due to gross financial mismanagement. David Jr. was so angry that he told Monte about his conversation with Brad Davidson. Monte broke the cast off his brother-in-law’s arm.

David Jr. was taken to the hospital to have his arm reset but the local ER staff refused to help him because he was the man who had “brought the very devil himself” to their town. Police were called and they escorted David Jr. off hospital property, roughing him up a bit. They told him that crime in their community had gone up ten fold since he had “invited all the sinners” down upon them.

The following month, David Jr. received another convincing threat from Western Racing to ruin him and decided on one last ditch effort to revive the track. Attendance had dwindled to almost nothing due to patrons being harassed and assaulted by locals as they came and left the dog track.

David Jr. bought adspace in Phoenix and Tucson and advertised the “comeback of the century” for the failing business. On July 10th of that year, all patrons of the track would not only receive $10 in betting credit but also drink for free between 11am and 1pm. Much to Charlotte and Monte’s disappointment, the response was overwhelming.

When the day arrived, David Jr. and Monte had to open the track early. Though the races weren’t scheduled to begin until 10am, hundreds of people showed up at the track just after 8 in the morning. Phoenix locals had organized their own buses to transport them in mass.

At 9am Monte and the general manager shared an opening-day drink down on the track, which David Jr. declined.

The morning of July 10th, 1982 was a scorcher and the decision to allow people to drink for free quickly became an expensive one. Monte opened the bar early, at 10am and by 10:30 the line for the bar wrapped twice around the lobby.

David Jr., Charlotte and another barman opened two more makeshift bars – one next to the outside grandstands and one on the other side of the lobby – to deal with the demand.

Every seat in the inside grandstand was taken and people fought for the outside seats as well. Around 150 people stood mingling around the lobby, watching the races from above and sticking close to the bar. They won money, they lost it, they laughed and cried and drank. By noon, the party was in full swing and everyone was in a boisterous and rollicking good mood.

The first sign something was wrong was around 11:45am when the lines for the bathrooms grew as long as the lines for the bar.

At around 12:20pm people in the lobby started to get sick. Only a handful at first. but within an hour people were vomiting where they stood – this quickly spread to the grandstands.

The general manager of the track, who was stuck behind the reservations desk, informed concerned patrons that it was simply a bad batch of liquor and that it would pass. When several people in the lobby began to seizure, David Jr. closed the betting counter to stop people from asking for their money back.

By 1:30pm, the first person was dead.

He was followed in quick succession by others – death spread like wildfire. Some were found to have dropped dead in the bathrooms, others simply never raised themselves out of their seats and died where they sat and yet others keeled over in the lobby, screaming in pain.

Local emergency services, who had finally been called after the first death, were slow to respond and by 4:30pm 618 people were dead and a thousand more were hospitalized. Tents were set up in the dirt parking lot and medical staff were called in from every town within a 200 mile radius. Of those that were hospitalized, another 381 people died just outside the dog track. The 999 deaths were ruled as poisonings.

David Jr., Charlotte and Monte all survived.

David Jr., the first to cast an accusation, wrote a letter to his father the following day which included a timeline of events on the day of the murders and a paragraph detailing why he couldn’t help but be suspicious of his sister. Charlotte had appeared unfazed as so many people died violent deaths next to her bar, and had also gone to considerable lengths to ensure that the man called Brad Davidson was served several free drinks.

Charlotte, in turn, openly accused her husband of the murders, after every bottle of liquor in the building tested positive for Arsenic. She stated that on that day she had twice raised a glass of bourbon to her lips, only to have Monte slap it away. Peculiar, she mused, that he had suddenly become so concerned for her pregnancy when he never had before. Monte disagreed that this ever occurred.

David Jr., a seasoned drinker, was also suspected of the murders due to his refusal of an opening day drink with his manager, a tradition that David Jr. had always taken part in. In fact, no one had ever seen David Jr. turn down a drink in his life.

Monte, for his part, quietly accused Western Racing Inc., as he had started to receive threats from the east coast company the week before.

David Sr. wrote in correspondence to a business partner later that year that he believed the towns religious zealots had organized the poisonings since they were the only ones to gain from it.

The governor of Arizona at the time ordered a hasty investigation and a purging of all mentions of the tragedy from the local media, thereby ensuring it wouldn’t get picked up nationally.

Most of the families of the victims (those gamblers who even had families) were purportedly bought off and the FBI closed the investigation on July 16th. The governor was in the throes of his own scandal at the time (accusations of handing out Indian casino licenses in return for campaign donations) and didn’t want more bad press for his state.

In the end, no charges were filed. The track was closed that day and abandoned until the mid-80’s when Albert Funk tried to revive the property as a swap meet venue. He abandoned this venture two years later after it failed to draw vendors.

David Jr. and his brother-in-law Monte gave up race tracks and opened a successful string of portrait studios throughout the southwest. David Jr died in 2005 and Monte in 2007. Charlotte and Richard are the only Funk children still alive today. No one has ever admitted to the murders.

Perhaps one of the more confusing aspects of this case is the fact that Black Canyon City’s well water was also found to be contaminated with high levels of arsenic in 1985. Today, residents of the town and local businesses are served by a private water company due to the toxicity of their ground water.

Sadly, the culprit in this case may never be known due both to the local authorities refusal to investigate the massacre and the federal government’s disinterest in it. And even if someone did decide to reopen the 30 year old cold case, most of the evidence has probably decayed and been destroyed by time.

Of course, as you know, Black Canyon City Dog Track still stands today and you can even visit the bar where almost 1,000 people met their deaths. If you do decide to visit, take your time walking the grounds. You may even stumble on betting tickets with the date “July 10th, 1982” printed on them, as I did the last time I was there.

Even the bar still stands, though it is hidden beneath a pile of detritus. If you do manage to dig it out you may even find an unopened bottle of gin. But I won’t tell you not to drink it. I’ve always found 999 to be an unsatisfactory number.

View from the road

View from the Road

gate

Gate

reservations

Reservations

who watches the watchmen

Graffiti 1

view of the track

View of the Track

racetrack 2

Racetrack 2

racetrack 1

Racetrack 1

his name was robert paulsen

Graffiti 2

kennels

The Dog Kennels

loading area

Loading Area

behind the car

The Bar

no admittance

No Admittance

offices

Offices

outdoor grandstands

Outside Grandstands

grandstand

Grandstands

first floor lobby

First Floor Lobby

betting counter

Betting Windows

bathrooms

Bathrooms

why didnt you kill yourself today

Why Didn’t you Kill yourself Today?

46 thoughts on “Gin and Toxic: an essay on the 1982 Black Canyon Massacre

      • Isn’t it funny how worked up people get about stories and like can’t seperate fact from fiction? I mean, as a writer, it’s great that the writing you created infects people so much, they believe it’s real.
        As a writer myself ( hopefully published soon) they always say write what you know. That doesn’t mean you can’t write about things you don’t know. In Stephan King’s : On writing, explains that it is much easier to write from memory, than to describe something you made up. In my opinion, I believe the reason for that is because if your describe a place or something that is based on a real thing, makes it easier to visualize. Where as the author’s made up description is only visible to the author. So interest may lost not being able to relate to the story. To be a good writer, you got to pull people into your stories and that is most effective when you can describe things with a lot of detail. I believe you pull that off so well. Arizona to you, is what Maine is to Stephen King.
        Sorry for the rant, writers you know…

        On a side note, great job on Haunting of Hill House, great writing. Are you going to help on next season. If there is one? Are they still planning on doing a ‘Turning’ aka ‘Turning the screw’ or a prequel about the house/land origin story? I’m sure you can’t give details, go ahead and email me if you need to tell someone, maybe it’s hard to keep secrets and your dying to tell someone. I am a master secret keeper, lol, j/k.
        Anyway love your work, inspires me to take my little book of story ideas, and start writing them out. Thanks for reading. 😏

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      • Yes! I did write on season 2 and it’s currently in post. Do you know where all this website traffic on this story is coming from? Seems like someone posted it on facebook.

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      • I was just there on 4/30/2020, it had all been torn down a couple years go so the only thing that remains is the concrete slab. I met a guy that was there and he said he has lived in Black canyon city for decades and that the story is true. All those people did die although the “how” is still uncertain.

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      • Yeah it’s all fiction. I have the whole final season of black canyon greyhound park in a large binder that I was lucky enough to get. It just was a regular final night of racing as racing was mainly at Apache junction and Phoenix

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    • Yes I am a true native and NEVER heard that story..what I did hear about was the dozens or hundreds of racing dogs that were killed there not people!

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    • Same issue. Ive lived in BCC on and off since. 1977. I knew Dorothy Funk..Jack. Sipes, John Whitson etc..my dad caretook quail run ranch for a while and I learned to drive there at the dog track..and Ive never heard about any of this so……

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  1. This story is complete bullshit. No one died. It closed because Maricopa county legalized dog racing again. The building was raized in 2019.

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  2. Riiiiight.. so in 1982, just 4 years after Jonestown when 918 people where poisoned to death across the other side of the globe in a country no one heard of and that made massive headlines world wide, a similar poisoning massacre but with even more deaths occurs right here in Arizona, but no one hears of it because the governor of Arizona suspended the 1st amendment… like just somehow…. , something Presidents can’t even do in war time and thus local news did not pick it up and of course, national news will only pick up news items if they see it on local news first…. the story of the century for anyone in AZ… the biggest news in the state since…. ever?

    riiiiiiiiiiight……

    Ok advice how to craft this shaggy dog story a little better and a little harder to disprove or rather easier to believe: Limit the overreaching scale of the death toll to.. I don’t know, just a family of 5… make it so there are no actual bodies but just a disappearance with a flimsy story by the number one suspect that they just moved away but with too many dangling indicators that it seems unlikely. It worked for Carole Baskin! Add rumor that the bodies are hidden at the old track or bones found in dog poop or something..

    999? c’mon!

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    • I think you’ve missed the point here. I don’t think the author wrote this with the intent of trying to make people believe it. And rather than offer her advice, you should credit her for writing a fictional story with such depth and skill that it is actually believable for a short time. This is entertainment at its very best and its truly a lost art form. Forget what you think you know about the thought process this author was subscribing to and just enjoy the story.

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    • Karen, Sry, CAROL, ty for making me laugh, you spent so much of your life you’ll never get back trying to prove a work of fiction written by an author of fiction on a website devoted to fiction, was…. fiction. And tried to make the author sound like the stupid one. Irony is fabulous.

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  3. It’s fiction. The OP is an author of horror fiction and even says it’s fiction. The entire site is full of fictional stories. Not sure why so many of the commenters here expect it to be true.

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  4. Maybe the reason people think it’s real are the picrures? I’m assuming you used those for inspiration. That, and all the carefully crafted detail your stories contain makes even cynical old bastards like myself start to wonder if parts are true…lol, but as long as the damn stickman stories aren’t real, I’m happy. How you made stickmen terrifying is beyond me.
    That said, I note that a lot of the comments saying “this can’t be real!” Are more recent, and given how far-fetched the conspiracy theories currently floating around are, well…if people are convinced by those, why wouldn’t they be convinced by something much, MUCH more plausible?
    Also, gotta say, I am a fan of your fiction. Been reading it for years, and I keep coming back to re-read over and over, and hoping for a new work or two (honestly no pressure though, I know that’s rude as hell). Lol, to bring up an old term: long time lurker, first time poster. Don’t really know why I never posted before, it’s just this time I guess I was annoyed that people were acting like, “How dare you write FICTION on your own fiction site!” And annoyance is apparently a good motivator for me…anyway, just want to say thank you for your art, I really enjoy it.

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  5. That was great. We used to drive past there from Prescott to Phoenix during that time and there’s just enough real to make it all seem real.
    I remember a couple whackadoodle churches making the news back in the 80s. One in Black Canyon bullwhipped a girl for wearing blue jeans to school. Another in Cleator all dressed in black, carried guns and talked about the end of days.

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    • Also there’s a restaurant in Black Canyon or possibly New River that claims to be the birthplace of Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup, so that’s…something.

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  6. I lived in black canyon for 3 years of my life and i always wondered what that building was. Also this story is written so well I thought that it was real.

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  7. Oh man! What an awesome job, CK-Dub! I LOVE that this story is a total figment of the imagination. I bet you absolutely dig reading all the screw job replies that tell us that they “remember how that day”s events changed the small town forever” or they “totally remember the chaos as I administered life saving CPR”. You must laugh your ass off.
    You’d probably like to know how I came to your website. I bartend at a nationally popular Italian restaurant chain in the Arrowhead area Peoria who’s name loosely translates to “Joe’s Basement, Hole”. A table of mine was finishing up and their answer to my asking of they would like to see a dessert menu, they said no thanks because they were heading up to Black Canyon to enjoy, what they say, some place there that sells the best pies known to mankind and go check out the spot of an unsolved crime where 999 people were mysteriously massacred. They were serious. Hook. Line. Sinker. GREAT job CK-Dub!! Mahalo!

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  8. Wow….I was checking in on abandoned spots I’ve photographed…Jack Ass Acres in New River and then the subject of your story. I’ve visited it twice, spoke with people visiting the BCC site for the same photographic purpose….but with no mention of any horrific “history” … Regardless, you had me believing the story…until the concrete “how come I hadn’t heard this before” caught up with my imagination. Good job!! (The link features some of my photos) https://flic.kr/s/aHsjED6N6d

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  9. As a 20 year resident of a sleepy little town ( ie Black Canyon City) the story is well written but clearly a bunch of crap. The people around here that don’t wear masks or get vaccinated for covid might believe this story. I had a good chuckle at the local er and city police, since we have neither, unless you count the substation for county sheriffs as city police . As an aside the building was torn down after it caught on fire. Rumors of a truck stop, or it being rebuilt are about as true as this story .

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  10. My wife and I just bought a house on the mountain just a few hundred yards from where the dog (c)rack used to sit. We’ve driven past it dozens of times and I’ve even flown my drone over the site. In preparation of an off-road ride in our side by side, I was looking at google earth and checking out off-road forums do decide where we should go. A google search of “black canyon city to Mayer off-road” somehow presented me with what for the next several hours stole my imagination, my preception of reality, and every ounce of my attention. I even went so far as to forward the story to our good friends in Phoenix who closed on the house 2 doors down (and closer to the massacre site) from us. Followed by another forward to a long time bcc resident who’s advice was partially instrumental in our decision to buy here. That text read “were you aware of this little tidbit of history when you encouraged me to buy a half million dollar house just a 1/4 mile away from this place?” Having been after 10 I didn’t exeoect an answer from her so I carried on with my night. My wife watched video after video of folks narrating a tour of the place a few years ago before they knocked it down in 2018. One YouTube producer mentioned in his narration that he wasn’t sure why the place closed down but that he figured it had something to do with the cruelty that often plagued the k9 athletes that made the dog betting world go round. As I’m watching, my wife and I both say “well let’s tell him why in the comments!” Almost in unison. Several “abandon places” videos later it was time for bed. As I lay there my mind would not let go of this story. I played it out in my head and just couldn’t believe I had never heard this story. Did the locals just have an unwritten gag order? In the weeks preceding our move here I had filled my brain with every bit of history I could absorb with an infinite number of google searches. From the oldest house, to how the original hwy was created, to the most famous person that ever lived here. And any number of useless chunks of trivia my brain would store away for future use. It’s kinda my thing to over educate myself on any topic that intrigues me. My kids love (hate) it when I drive past a place and start spewing facts about it’s history. Places that aren’t important to most. They often think I’m just making stuff up as I go until I cite a website or resource and prove it. When it gets this far, I think I’ve finally peaked their interest as I watch their eyes scan the text presented to them via their handheld digital encyclopedia I’ve directed them to. And then I hear some combination of words that amount to “why do you even know this? Who cares?” As their teenager eyes roll deep into the back of their nearly empty skulls. I consider myself very educated and there’s honestly not a lot that I can say I don’t know at least a little bit about. Having been the teenager that “didn’t apply himself “ that almost didn’t make it through every grade because I wasn’t “challenged” according to pretty much every teacher, and having been a very misguided kid in a lot of ways, I’ve been through it all and done it all and having raised 3 very different teenage daughters, as well as having managed 360 telecom field tech employees for several years my bullshit detector is calibrated and on point. So when my aforementioned friend responded at midnight with “that’s not real” I decided to investigate a little more. After a few searches of the names of the members of the funk family and discovering they were real and indeed in the dog racing biz, I was about to debunk her local lie and call her out when I stumbled across the suggested search “was the black canyon city massacre real”. And then I found this website. Now I feel dumb and I have to tell my fiends in the morning that it’s just a story that some brilliant writer came up with…. Or do I? Muahahahahahha.

    You’ve earned a new fan. Kudos for this brilliantly penned tale. I look forward to reading the rest. And by this time tomorrow, I’ll probably know them all along with whatever factual items you spun them from. And my kids will be way impressed. Or not……

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  11. Very nicely done! So cool to hear a combo fact/fiction story about a town I’ve driven past (and stopped to eat at the pie place, you know the one, that place is divine) hundreds of times. I learned some history and even though I knew it was extremely unlikely that the actual poisonings occurred, it was so well written and so imbued with facts that I HAD to look it up just to be certain 😆

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