A polyamorous couple have revealed how they were forced to relocate to an alternative community where rapists and murderers go to escape the law in order to escape a jealous ex-boyfriend who tried to kill them.
Jesse and Peter, a married couple, settled camp in the unincorporated community known as Slab City, or The Slabs in California and met Ben Fogle for Channel 5’s Ben Fogle & The Lost City, which is set to air next week.
Since 1961, Slab City has been renounced by the government of California and has become a refuge for drifters, many struggling with addiction or hiding from the law over various crimes, dubbing itself ‘the last free place in America.’
Jesse and Peter came to the Slabs to escape an ex-boyfriend who tried to kill them in 2013. Once they arrived, they entered a throuple arrangement with Ryan, setting camp in what they called ‘Rabbit side.’
Their attacker ended up taking their own life, but the couple have decided to remain at Slab City, in spite of admitting they feel ‘terrified’ of some of the people who inhabit the lawless community.
While they refer to themselves as a community, not all the inhabitants of Slab City talk to each other, and neighbourly dispute can end up in arson, Ben discovered in the new show.
Married couple Jesse and Peter, left, who settled camp in the unincorporated Californian community known as Slab City, or The Slabs, talked to Ben Fogle for Channel 5’s exclusive Ben Fogle & The Lost City, which is set to air next week
During his visit, he met with Pirate Bob, right, a single dad who started the Pirate Camp of Slab City, a place where several people are hiding from the law, including from Child Protection Services (CPS)
The secretive people who live in Slab City have rejected modern society and set up and named ‘camps’ in the desert where they are free to be who they want to be and run their own justice system. Very few journalists have been able to take a filming crew there.
In the year before Ben visited, 17 people died in the community, several died from heatstroke, some from drug overdoses and one was murdered.
However, Peter, Jesse and Ryan are different from the other people living in the community.
Most people in Slab City have shunned modern society, which they called ‘Babylon.’
But Peter works at the nearest town supermarket to make money and Ryan, who met the couple in the Slabs, looks after their home, their plants and their animals.
The group told Ben that their bond is complex but that it can be summed up into a three-way relationship or throuple.
Since 1961, Slab City has been renounced by the government of California and has become a refuge for drifters, many struggling with addiction or hiding from the law over various crimes, dubbing itself ‘The last free place in America’
Jesse and Peter came to the Slabs to escape an ex-boyfriend who tried to kill them in 2013. Once they arrived, they entered a throuple arrangement with Ryan, setting camp in what they called ‘Rabbit side,’ pictured
‘Jesse and I got attacked in our apartment in 2013,’ Peter told documentary makers, ‘a friend of ours who just snapped one night.’
‘It was my ex-boyfriend, several months post break-up. And he wasn’t taking the break-up it well,’ Jesse added.
Pete revealed he was stabbed in the neck, while Jesse showed a scar, telling Ben she was stabbed in the chest.
What is Slab City?
Slab City, a former military base turned alternative community in Southern California, has served as a safe space to thousands of transients, squatters, migrants and retirees since the 1940s.
Just north of the US-Mexico border in Imperial County, the 640-acre public land attracts anywhere from 100 to more than 4,000 people, depending on the season.
The majority of residents, known as snowbirds, only come for the winter months before they head back up north where the weather is cooler the remainder of the year.
Slab City is a place on the fringe, both geographically and philosophically.
Of the hundred or so permanent residents, most have been forced to live there through poverty and survive on social security. There is no electricity or running water on the land.
From the outside, it appears to be nothing more than a rag tag collection of RVs, ramshackle buildings and scruffy tents.
But Slab City has developed into a complex community with cafes and restaurants, a nightclub, a library and even a golf course.
It takes its name from the giant concrete slabs it is built on that were all that was left of the World War II training camp where a group of servicemen decided to stay put after it was decommissioned at the end of the war.
‘It’s a miracle we survived,’ Peter said.
‘When it came to legal proceedings, they actually asked us “how long you want us to put him away for?” From our perspective, “he’s a felon now and his life is pretty much messed up and we have the freedom to go do whatever we want,” Peter said.
He was given two years behind bars, and the couple went about their lives normally.
However, when he was released, the man told mutual friends he wanted to find the couple and ‘finish the job’ – which caused them to drop out of society.
They erased their social media presence and went off grid, moving to Slab City.
‘This is literally the last free place. If you can’t make it anywhere else and there is nowhere for you to go, you come here,’ Jesse told Ben.
‘Originally, we spent several years under the radar. We cut off social media and went no contact, except for our family,’ Peter said.
When Ben asked the couple why they were taking the risk to reveal their identities by talking to him, they revealed the man who had tried to kill them took his own life a few years earlier.
‘A few years ago, a friend of ours contacted us who’d heard through the grapevine he committed suicide,’ Peter said.
‘It’s very strange to be relieved that someone has committed suicide,’ Jesse said.
But the couple explained they felt like ‘prisoners’ up until the moment they heard he was dead, because he had made threats to them in the past.
‘Especially when he first got out of prison, he had emailed us a couple times,’ Peter said.
‘He emailed me potential wedding venues for our upcoming wedding,’ Jesse revealed.
The couple said that ‘as subversive as this is’ they felt a lot of gratitude when they heard he had taken his own life, because they could be free of the hold he had on their life.
In spite of their attacker being dead, the couple decided to remain in Slab City with Ryan, where they have created a home for themselves.
Pirate Camp, pictured, is home to several people trying to escape the law. Other Slab City dwellers have been warned against murderers and ‘child and dog rapists’
Jesse, Ryan and Peter have created a oasis in the desert, pictured, but admitted they are terrified of other members in the community
But Jesse said she was still grasping with some of the unsettling characters who live in the community.
‘I am terrified, here. Absolutely terrified,’ she told Ben.
The couple added that they were warned about how dangerous the Slabs can be when they first arrived.
‘There was somebody who saw us initially and didn’t think we’d do very well here and they told us: “Hey you guys need to be careful out here because there are child rapist and dog rapists and murderers”,’ he told Ben.
‘They exist, they got to go somewhere, they’re not just going to evaporate into the earth. When they get kicked out of society, they come here,’ Jesse added.
‘As much as magical creativity there is in Slab city, that’s the true heart of Slab city, people who just can’t make it anywhere else’.
Ben also witnessed first hand some of the drug abuse going on in the community.
Dot, one of Slab City’s inhabitants, sells art and vintage clothes and has created a maze for tourists
Pirate Bob has been raising his son in the slabs and admitted the community has its own form of justice
He talked to Charlie, who owns the community’s bike shop, who talked candidly about his addiction.
‘I’m a drug addict. Struggled with it my whole life,’ he said, adding: ‘if you’ve never been through addiction, you don’t understand it.
‘Everybody can say “quit, quit, quit” it’s not that simple,’ he went on.
‘We don’t judge here. You can be whatever you want to be. If you want to be a drug addict, you can,’ he told Ben.
The presenter noted that life in Slab City is ‘raw’ and that addiction and mental health issue go ‘untreated, unsupported.
‘Theft is rife, people armed themselves to stay protected,’ he added.
Ben admitted he went out of his way to avoid some parts of the Slabs when he was filming the show.
‘I wouldn’t feel comfortable going near them and I’m a confident individual, I’ve seen most things,’ he said.
‘But I know there are very very dark places to avoid, it’s very, very obvious,’ he added.
During his visit he saw police presence, but said that the community doesn’t rely on law enforcement and instead has its own justice system.
Charlie, right, told Ben he is a drug addict and has been struggling with addiction his whole life. He shot his brother-in-law over an argument and was sent to prison for it
Ben observed a lot of the people in Slab City suffer from drug addiction or non-treated mental health issue
Peter Pasqualapua, another resident who enjoys dressing like as a circus ring leader, told Ben: ‘Everyone’s nice until their not in Slab City.
‘If I go act like an a******, the whole community might talk about it and say ‘you know, Pete, we got a problem’,’ he said.
He added that if someone from the community tells you you are being out of order, you better take their warning seriously because ‘the second warning might not be that friendly.
He added that some people have gone as far as burning each other’s homes over disputes.
Ben said he could feel there were ‘two faces to Slab City.
‘As soon as the sun goes down it becomes an edgier place,’ he said.
During his visit, he met with Pirate Bob, a single dad who started the Pirate Camp of Slab City, a place where several people are hiding from the law, including from Child Protection Services.
Bob told the presenter that while there are no written laws in Slab City, there is an order to things, often encourage by the people who have lived in the community the longest.
‘We had a few times where we had to lay down the law,’ he told Ben.
‘There was a girl there, she passed out and she had a guy fondle her while she was passed out.
‘Everybody got together, we went to the guy’s camp the next morning We all p***** on him. And to me, that kind of punishment fit the crime,’ he said.
He added that the man left Slab City after the incident and never came back.
Bob, whose son is now almost 18 but was partially raised in Slab City, said: ‘It’s hard for a single father to raise a child out there, especially when you’re as eccentric as I am, and here it’s the perfect place for it.
‘I’ve only had CPS come out here once,’ he added.
‘They’ve taken children quite a few times from here now my son is almost 18, I’m turning my house into a spot where people can come and have their children,’ he said.
‘I don’t want to see people’s children’s taken away from them
‘It’s not a lawless place here, they have their own laws and their own justice,’ Ben observed.
Slab City does not have running water, a rubbish collection plan or a sewer system, and its inhabitants have used abandoned cars and upcycled rubbish to create their camps and the few businesses you can find there.
A woman named Beryl started a coffee shop where the locals go have breakfast in the morning. Meanwhile, a man who shot his brother-in-law over an argument and went to jail for it opened a bike shop when he made it to the Slabs.
Builder Bill, the community’s oldest resident, has been living there for the past 23 years.
‘If you’re in the city, and your homeless, there isn’t any place where you can sleep without being accosted by the law,’ he told Ben.
‘When you say the last free place, we’re talking about ‘you can be here, without being persecuted or prosecuted for it’,’ he added.
‘Even the ones who deny have something about them that they can’t make it out there some of them were on drugs, alcohol, some of them are flat a** crazy. Others just aren’t good with dealing with the grind of making a living,’ he told Ben.
Ben also met a woman going by the name Dot, who revealed she left the rat race to open a fashion boutique and a maze for tourist.
‘She’s the perfect definition of some one who is completely normal and completely crazy at the same time,’ Ben said.
‘You can do anything you want to in Slab City and nobody cares,’ she told Ben.
‘The Slab is what you make it. If you want it to be nightmare, it is perfectly willing to give you a nightmare. If you want it to be your dream, it’ll do that one too,’ she said.
Ben Fogle & The Lost City airs on Thursday 21 April at 9pm.
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