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Thriller Villa

How the highest rated attraction in Las Vegas became invitation only, at one of the most fabled mansions in the world.

By Jonathan WarrenPublished 8 months ago Updated 8 months ago 9 min read

The Arrival

In the dead of a winter night in late 2006, not far from downtown Las Vegas, a shining black Cadillac Escalade pulled off a major boulevard onto a darkened side street, heading with purpose down the lane. Two hefty body guards in the front seats eyed the terrain, as the vehicle sped past custom homes on ample lots, toward a large private compound. In back, three sleepy children and their father, a man of vast wealth.

Reports in the national media told the public the man was extremely dangerous. This had forced him into hiding, abroad and on the east coast, for over two years. Daily life meant back entrances always, through trash-strewn alleyways, kitchens and hidden industrial access doors, avoiding an odd mix of threats, sycophants and paparazzi, his life besieged by attackers and opportunists. In his world, few people of any other description existed, and most of those were in that car with him.

His control over a vast global empire, still bringing in millions yearly from all around the world, was hanging by a thread. Hiding out for the past few years had meant no bank accounts in his name, despite the two suitcases full of cash, and another filled with priceless artifacts, in the back of the vehicle. He had no attorney retained, no managers he could trust, no family he could subject to the dangers of his operations. His tremendous wealth had been firewalled away from his control, in part by his own doing, leaving him unable to maintain his lifestyle, or just about any lifestyle. He had stayed low profile too long, ghosted the world too well, and knew he had to retake physical ground to regain control. It was time to make a stand.

The 48-year old passenger assured his three young children all would be good at the home on which he had managed to pay rent months in advance. He comforted them verbally, as he lovingly embraced them, painting a picture of stability at last. There would be no more running. They would all stay together. They would be comfortable. He made sure his eye contact in the mirror with his driver reiterated his earlier assurance to his guards that they would soon receive the back pay they had not seen for months.

Once parked inside the closed compound gate, the guards exited the vehicle, and scanned the perimeter, before picking up the two older children, 8 and 9 years old, to carry them inside. The body language of the two sentinels would have told any observer that they would lay down their lives for those kids. They rushed the father, holding his youngest, 5, into the house ahead of them, being careful to make sure no one could see in the gate, or catch a glimpse of their employer.

On a summer day, five months earlier, a gas company truck had parked across the street from that same compound. In the driver's seat, Ted sat in his utility uniform, baffled.

Tasked with inspecting homes that used exorbitant amounts of natural gas, he double checked the address on the gas company's order. The property records showed it had been built in the late 1990's, by an eccentric millionaire who used a loophole to avoid filing plans. He had no floorplan of the place. The resident was a renter, and had been unreachable by phone. Ted could see little of the massive compound, tucked off a back street in the medical district, just west of downtown Las Vegas. It's iron gates were covered with green mesh, of the type often used to block wind on fenced tennis courts at the park. Apparently, here it was to obscure the view from the street. There was what looked like a bell tower, which was part of a hacienda-style home, but with sections seeming to be three stories, and no defined main entrance. There were cameras everywhere. Ted decided to approach the gate.

The private compound that would become known as Thriller Villa

Before he could ring the bell, an intimidating voice called out from behind the fence, "What can I do for you?"

Ted explained he was with the gas company, with a mandate to inspect the property due to extraordinary natural gas usage. The voice instructed him to wait, then told him he would have to come back. Ted replied that he could do that, but gas service would be discontinued in the meantime. After a few minutes, the guard opened the gate and had him come on to the property, then closed the gate behind him. The tall man held up his index finger to command Ted to wait, while pressing his other index finger against the microphone in his ear. A second guard approached. Ted attempted to introduce himself, but this guard, like the first, declined the pleasantries, and stayed six feet distant, always to his flank.

Ted had a chance to look them over while they appeared to await radio contact. Both men were heavily "tacked out," wearing camouflage, body armor and lots of firepower. They were physically intimidating and spoke less than necessary. They motioned him to a massive set of doors which seemed offset from the main house, Ted had thought this might be a garage. But then the guards opened a smaller door, inset at a corner of the giant doors, and he found himself in an unenclosed foyer, which opened to a large courtyard. The door closed behind him. Now he was completely out of sight of the street. Again the index finger. With every move, Ted was led by the first guard, flanked by the second, both keeping their distance and keeping their eyes on him at all times. Ted waited, wondering what he had gotten himself into. Trying to make conversation with the security went nowhere.

Then a small hallway led to a glass door, which had paper taped to the other side, obscuring any view in the next room. index finger. Another room. papered glass door. Wait. Next room. Another papered glass door. Index finger. Next room. Ted wondered if he would be able to find his way out if he needed to make a break for it. Then another glass door.

He entered a room with a ceiling three stories high. It had arches everywhere, and a second story interior balcony, but no apparent way to get there. It was absolutely filled with art, sculpture, rarefied erns. There was marble, ivory, jade, paintings, furnishings, and the glint of gold throughout. Nothing was on exhibit, none of it was being enjoyed, it was a stash. Piled in as best it could fit, stacked, stuffed, crammed. Millions of dollars worth of treasure. King Midas's mine, Ali Baba's cave. Ted tried not to stare or look surprised.

He was ushered out through yet another obscured glass door, into a hallway, around a few corners, another room with a ceiling two stories up. This one full of large, tropical macaws, the birds from south America. Then another door, down a staircase, an entire world underground, dozens of people working at tables with machinery powered by wiring coming from light fixtures in the ceiling above. They looked like they were making t-shirts, or rather like they wanted Ted to think they were making t-shirts. There were probably between 20 and 30 tables. Everyone seemed to have been informed Ted was coming, and they were all dutifully working on apparel. Sort of. Ted did his level best to hide his skepticism, telling himself to stay calm, to bide enough time to get back to the front door. He tried to act natural as his mind raced with contingency plans of escape.

Ted was terrified.

An inspector like Ted sees all manner of illegal activity in private homes. He was well versed on how to spot dangerous endeavors, and how people tried to cover them up. Everything in Ted told him this was an illegal drug operation, that he was in danger, and needed to get out now. He indicated to his guide that he had what he needed, and did what he could to act as if he had been fooled into thinking that the gas usage was just from so many people being on property. He was unceremoniously escorted back to where the front gate slammed at his back, and the veteran utility inspector tried his best not to look like he ran across the street to his car.

Before he was a block away, Ted was on the phone with his regular contact in law enforcement. He reported his suspicions, describing the whole scene. He told them he was certain it was a drug operation.

Police in tactical gear skulked into the neighborhood, establishing a perimeter, blocks out. Aerial surveillance flew into place over the mansion. Explosive ordnance detail was called into action. The press was put on alert. The officers began to move in.

Moments later Ted's law enforcement contact rang his mobile. "Did you get in there?" Ted asked. "No, Ted. Michael Jackson lives there." The cop scoffed at what he seemed to think was a false alarm, sounded by a novice.

Dumbfounded, Ted could never reconcile in his mind what he saw in the underground that day, with his impression of the famous resident of the place. Years of experience told him he was not mistaken in his discerning bad actors hiding illicit operations in the underground of that mansion. But why would a star worth hundreds of millions of dollars have such a comparably rinky-dink illegal operation? It did not make sense. But it was over. He did what he was supposed to, and felt a bit humiliated by it. Ted let it go.

The property would indeed become known to house a higher profile Michael Jackson in the coming months. Before his untimely death while rehearsing for his upcoming tour in 2009, he would begin to gather control of his estate, including the secret assemblage of an art and artifact collections insured for $600 million, stashed in the secret underground of Thriller Villa.

Ted had no way of knowing that he, the police, Michael Jackson, and the owner of the property would, to this day, be in the dark. Caught up in the Machiavellian games of a clown posse of wannabe-managers surrounding the King of Pop in Las Vegas in 2006, everyone got played. Here's how.

Michael Jackson's bodyguards Bill and Javon tell the story of moving to Thriller Villa:

Now, get the unpublished account:

  • Who the suspicious people were, at the property before Michael took possession of it, or even arrived in town;
  • Who the fierce guards surrounding the property were, even months before Michael arrived;
  • Why Jackson was without even a bank account when he arrived to the property;
  • The secret feature of the property made Jackson decide on this particular mansion;
  • The history of the home - who built it, the unusual circumstances, and why;
  • What the home looked like inside when Jackson lived there;
  • Who is the old friend of Michael Jackson's whose estate runs the property today?
  • Why so many entertainers take private tours of the property or film there.

Give me all the info, free.

celebritieshistorypop culturetravel

About the Creator

Jonathan Warren

Honorary Consul of Monaco, Chairman of the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts, 50 years in Vegas, Citizen of the world.

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