Although Disneyland is supposed to be the most magical place on Earth, even the popular California theme park is not immune from crime.
The theme park website Inside The Magic recently unearthed the first murder that happened at Disneyland, and it’s a doozy. A teenage boy was stabbed to death after a fight in Tomorrowland, but Disneyland policy at the time did not allow police or ambulances inside the park, for fear that it would ruin the magic of the guests’ experience.
Disneyland’s First Homicide Resulted After A Fight In Tomorrowland
California’s Disneyland Park first opened its gates in 1955 and the first murder (that we know of) happened in the theme park in 1981. An article explains that teenager Mel Yorba was the first person to die at the theme park after he was involved in a physical fight in Tomorrowland. Yorba was accused of “pinching” the rear end of 28-year-old James O’Driscoll’s girlfriend.
The teenage Yorba and his group of friends were reportedly “heavily intoxicated while enjoying their Disneyland visit.” When Driscoll demanded an apology, Yorba reportedly punched him in the face. In the following altercation, Yorba was stabbed twice in the chest.
The article states, “James O’Driscoll decided it was best to vacate the premises but not before throwing the murder weapon into Sleeping Beauty Castle’s moat and discarding his blood-soaked shirt into the trashcan in the woman’s restroom.”
Disneyland Officials Asked Employed Nurse To Tend To Fatal Stab Wound
Instead of calling first responders from the City of Anaheim, Disneyland officials asked a nurse employed by the theme park to tend to his wound. The article states that “Disneyland policy at the time did not allow police into the park, as they might shatter the air of fantasy. Regular ambulances were also not allowed into the park for the same reason.”
To counteract this, police had to send an unmarked van to take Yorba to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead of his injuries. His family filed a $60 million dollar lawsuit against the park, although Disneyland denied that they held any liability. The lawsuit alleged that Disneyland failed to provide Yorba with adequate emergency medical treatment by refusing to call for paramedics.
A New York Times article at the time featured a quote from Jack Lindquist, who was then the senior vice president of Walt Disney Productions. “We’re not going to settle out of court,” he said at the time. “We’re going to take it as far as we can.”
Although Disney eventually settled the lawsuits, it took years of litigation before a settlement could be reached. According to a 1986 Los Angeles Times article, the settlement was shared by his mother, Ellen Reynolds, and his brother, Mark.
Although lawyers did not disclose the terms of the agreement, the article stated that “Lawyers for Disneyland had asked for a new trial after an Orange County jury on July 22 found the Anaheim park negligent in the medical treatment it provided Mel C. Yorba. Jurors fixed damages at $600,000.”