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IN THIS EPISODE: (Dark Archive episode with stories from August 28-29, 2018) *** Once you learn his name, he preys on you. What is the reality behind the Bye Bye Man? Is the movie last year really a true story, or is it only loosely based on real events? Or is it entirely fiction despite being promoted as a true story? (The Truth Behind The Bye Bye Man) *** Recently released Pentagon papers indicate that in 2004, an unknown, 45-foot long object played cat and mouse with the U.S. Navy off the coast of California. And did so for several days. But can we believe the Pentagon papers are the real deal? (UFO’s Stalk Navy Ships) *** The Denver Airport; it has been plagued by incredibly strange theories since it opened. (The Denver Airport Conspiracy) *** For some it can be fun staying with grandma. For others it can be a terrifying experience. (Strange Incidents at Grandma’s House) *** In Japan there are reports of a sinister spirit – one that is eternally hungry… and to satisfy its hunger, it makes you ravenous with insatiable hunger as well.(Hungry Ghosts of Japan) *** Even seasoned police officers working on a military base can have the wits frightened out of them when they come across the paranormal. (Night School) *** Having a fine pedigree means nothing if you murder someone in cold blood – just ask the 7th Earl of Lucan, if you can find him. (Lord Lucan: Wanted For Murder) *** One of our Weirdo family members shares what he once saw in a cemetery in South Africa. (British Solider In The Mist) *** On July 8, 1878, one of the strangest murder plots in Pennsylvania history began with the purchase of four insurance policies – and ended with a lingering spirit that still haunts a local churchyard to this day. (The Blue-Eyed Six Murder) *** She was a housewife, who turned killer – then vanished without a trace. Now, over 40 years later, Sharon Kinne’s whereabouts remain unknown. (Sharon Kinne: The Murdering Housewife) *** Leo Frank was imprisoned and lynched for the murder of Mary Phagan – but was he truly guilty of the crime? (The Lynching of Leo Frank)
STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
(Note: Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“The Denver Airport Conspiracy” by Orrin Grey: http://bit.ly/2YHVRol
“British Soldier In The Myst” by Ken Fyfe, submitted directly to WeirdDarkness.com
“Those Glaring Red Eyes” by SB: http://bit.ly/2E8wkvd
“UFOs Stalk Navy Ships” by Paul Seaburn: http://bit.ly/2RScZWW
“The Truth Behind The Bye Bye Man” by Benjamin Radford: http://bit.ly/2PhacFl
“Night School”: http://bit.ly/34gcNUa
“Lord Lucan: Wanted For Murder”: http://bit.ly/2PffmBx
“Hungry Ghosts of Japan” by Brent Swancer: http://bit.ly/38vsDgY
“Strange Incidents at Grandma’s House” by Toni Dorland: http://bit.ly/2LPcUzI
“The Lynching of Leo Frank”: http://bit.ly/2YGvHCs
“Sharon Kinne: The Murdering Housewife” by Jessica Ferri: http://bit.ly/35huVyn
“The Blue-Eyed Six Murder” by Troy Taylor: http://bit.ly/2LOktGR
Background music provided by EpidemicSound and AudioBlocks with paid license. Music by Shadows Symphony (http://bit.ly/2W6N1xJ), Midnight Syndicate (http://amzn.to/2BYCoXZ), and Nicolas Gasparini/Myuu (http://bit.ly/2LykK0g) is also often used with permission from the artists.
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“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46 *** How to escape eternal darkness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IYmodFKDaM
BYE BYE MAN
The film’s plot, as provided by the film company reads as such: “When three college students move into an old house off campus, they unwittingly unleash a supernatural entity known as The Bye Bye Man, who comes to prey upon them once they discover his name. The friends must try to save each other, all the while keeping The Bye Bye Man’s existence a secret to save others from the same deadly fate.”
That most films claiming to be “based on a true story” are heavily—or perhaps entirely—fictionalized is hardly news to skeptics, and even the average moviegoer likely harbors some doubts. From a folkloric perspective there are many red flags that the story of The Bye Bye Man (as Schneck described in his book—he didn’t write the screenplay) is fiction.
There are several meta-layers to The Bye Bye Man’s story: It began as a story pieced together by three real people (Eli, John, and Katharine) around 1990 when they experimented with a Ouija board. They came to believe that several spirits were talking to them, and one told the trio a story about something called The Bye Bye Man. The legend, as told by an entity they called The Spirit of the Board, described an albino child in an orphanage in Algiers, Louisiana, in the 1920s. Shunned by others and mentally disturbed, he stabbed a nurse with scissors as a teenager, escaped the home, and began riding the railways on a serial killing spree. He would cut up his victims and use pieces of them to create a companion he named Gloomslinger, which somehow came to life and helped him find victims. At some point The Bye Bye Man became psychic, and was drawn to his next victim when they thought about him or said his name (this theme would appear on the book cover and in the film as the catchphrase “Don’t think it. Don’t say it”).
After the Ouija sessions ended, the three had a handful of strange experiences and dreams they couldn’t explain, but little more came of it for many years as all went on with their lives. One of them, Eli, had a tradition of telling this spooky story on Halloween nights, and it eventually came to the attention of Schneck, who’d authored several books and articles on strange-but-true stories.
To be clear about the provenance: The Bye Bye Man film is adapted from a chapter in a book by Schneck, which is in turn based on a story told to him (as true) by three people who claim they had conversations with a spirit entity through a Ouija board in 1990, who told them the story of an evil spirit named The Bye Bye Man. It’s a legend within a (supposedly true) a story within another story and adapted into another story. And “that story has been the most popular thing I’ve written,” Schneck said in an interview. When asked what he thought about the truth behind the story, he said “Well, it’s a story… I don’t think it’s very likely, because there’s just no real reason to… There was no reason for thinking that the story, as told, was true.” The primary source, Eli, “is the first to admit that when he tells the story on Halloween, he embellishes it. He tries to make it a better story; he will exaggerate things—he’s a storyteller, and he’s the first to admit it.”
Though over a decade had passed and no records were kept of what was said at the Ouija séances, Schneck interviewed the principals and did his best to see if there was any truth to this bizarre, ghost-dictated tale. He researched two unequivocal parts of the story that seemed to hold out some promise of being verified: whether there had ever had been an orphanage in Algiers, Louisiana, and whether there had been any unsolved murders (whose signature would be missing body parts) that could be attributed to The Bye Bye Man. The answer to both of those questions was no.
Schneck writes, “Without an orphanage or evidence of murders, the story appears to be an invention. But who invented it and why?” The answer is that The Bye Bye Man story emerged in the same way all stories do: through individual and collective imagination. Fiction writers draw from a wide variety of sources, including life experiences, memories, stories, movies, impressions, dreams, sounds, and everything else that influences consciousness and makes up a life. While some influences are known and obvious, many are unconscious and remain a mystery even to the writer. It’s not uncommon for an artist, writer, or musician to speak of feeling like a vessel or medium for ideas, of telling a story whose precise inspirations are unknown. It’s not magical or mystical (at least not in the paranormal sense) but instead the essence of human creativity.
Asking where The Bye Bye Man came from is like asking a fiction author where she gets her ideas: Anywhere and everywhere in her life experience—and “in her life experience” is important because people write about what they know, what they’re personally and culturally steeped in. I’m not likely to think, dream, or fantasize about golf, for example, because I know virtually nothing about the sport and have no interest in it. It’s the same reason that a seventeenth-century French peasant would not imagine a story (or write a song) about playing video games: they’re not part of his worldview or experience.
The story of The Bye Bye Man was created by three people, all of whom believe in the power of the Ouija board to convey supernatural information. Here is how Schneck describes two of the three in his book: “Eli and John both enjoy horror as entertainment, but their interest goes beyond movies, novels, and role-playing games. Both are writers, and Eli is especially prolific, producing books, stories, and plays with macabre themes. He has a degree in folklore, is well read on the subject of serial murder, took part in the Goth sub-culture, which is fascinated by death, and spent many years involved in parapsychology…. He has spent long hours in graveyards, haunted houses, and Satanic churches [and] worked with psychics, Wiccans, and sorcerers… John studies philosophy, mysticism, and the works of Joseph Campbell. He has a special interest in…the how and why of what makes things frightening, and a history of paranormal experiences” (p. 152–153). The third in the group, Katharine, is described by Schneck as easily excitable, suggestible, and subject to panic attacks.
One could hardly pick three personalities more suited to creating a fictional, scary, folklore-derived character such as The Bye Bye Man. As several film reviewers have commented, The Bye Bye Man plot seems culled from many elements of other horror films, urban legends, and scary stories—exactly the material these three were familiar with.
For the trio who originally created the character and many audiences, the idea of The Bye Bye Man may seem plausible. Just as many people genuinely believe that hypnosis can help retrieve—rather than create—repressed memories or past lives, many also believe in the ability of Ouija boards to communicate with the dead or occult powers.
The original Bye Bye Man story Eli and others reported is only one of many supposedly dictated by unseen spirits through Oujia boards; perhaps the most famous was through a woman named Pearl Curran, who claimed to be in contact with a dead woman named Patience Worth (the claim was later debunked, though it seems likely that Curran genuinely believed she’d been in contact with the dead). Ouija boards convey unconscious information from their participants in a process known as the ideomotor effect. Of course the participants do not recognize that they are the source of the information instead of some external intelligence—that is precisely why Ouija boards are considered mysterious and occult.
Indeed, Schneck acknowledges that “sitters talked about the messages they were getting, speculated freely, and may have engaged in a ‘process of joint imaginative creation’ that was expressed through the Ouija board” (p. 162). Absent any evidence that the story is true, the simplest explanation is almost certainly the correct one: The three unwittingly made up The Bye Bye Man story, told it to Schneck a decade later as true (to the best of their knowledge, while acknowledging exaggerations and embellishments), and Schneck then wrote a chapter about it (in a book whose subtitle includes “Strange-but-True Stories”) that was later adapted into a film.
To Schneck, whether The Bye Bye Man really existed is less interesting than where the idea came from. “It’s like we’re watching an urban legend being born. That’s why I was expecting it to become like what Slender Man became, because it felt that way…. What I find so fascinating is that this is like getting to the core of where stories come from, it’s like seeing a story being born,” Schneck said. “To watch folklore being made right in front of you is just a fascinating thing.”
It is indeed rare to be able to pinpoint the precise origins of a given piece of folklore or urban legend. It’s only happened a few times in the past few decades: I did it in my investigation into the vampire beast el chupacabra, tracing its origin to a Puerto Rican eyewitness who’d seen a 1995 horror/science-fiction film (see my book Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore), and—in a closer parallel with The Bye Bye Man—folklorists know exactly where, why, and how Slender Man was created. For more information on Slender Man’s origins, see the folklore journal Contemporary Legend (Series 3, Volume 5, 2015), published by the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research.
The Bye Bye Man is “based on a true story” insofar as it’s true that the story was made up—not that some malevolent urban legend figure is out there killing people who think about him or say his name. Though the story is, as Schneck admits, almost certainly not true, it remains an interesting case study in psychology and folklore.
Whether Schneck himself believes in the validity of Ouija boards, dreams, or The Bye Bye Man, he is folklore and media savvy enough to see the topic’s potential. “This is not really my story,” Schneck says. “I never claimed that it is. It’s really Eli’s story and he was generous enough to share it. It started with these three people; Eli has always been telling it to his friends, so it’s been told to a few hundred people. I got ahold of it, and a few thousand people then heard about it on the radio and in my book. And now it’s going to be a movie. Millions of people are going to hear about it…. This could literally become a part of our culture.”
Schneck has helped introduce a Slender Man–like entity into popular culture, but whether it will ultimately be incorporated into organic, genuine belief (as Slendy has) or dismissed as a commercialized derivative of a spooky urban legend figure remains to be seen.
GLARING RED EYES
I am hoping that there are other people who may have experienced the same thing. It involves my brother and this account is pieced together after became involved, and after discussing it with other people who remember it, mainly family members. I have not sugar-coated it or added anything, this is exactly as we remember it.
I grew up in a former coal mining town in the north of England. To give a little more background, this town is located between the cities of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and Durham. This area has had its share of UFO activity. This story goes back to when I was 9-years-old, back in 1997. At that time, I used to help my mother babysit my newborn cousin who lived in the same street. On this particular occasion, a Saturday night, my brother had decided to come too. He was 8-years-old at the time.
It was a normal evening, nothing out of the ordinary. My mother put the baby to bed around 8 PM and we started watching a movie. My father called to tell me that my mother had forgotten something in the house and asked me to go to pick it up. I left and then decided to stay with my father for an hour before going back. Then, the phone rang. I answered it as I was closest and it was my mother who was concerned about my brother who was freaking out.
I passed the phone to my dad and he said we would come get him. As we arrived, we found my brother on the couch, all white and crying with fear. My dad asked him what had happened, but he could only speak gibberish. However, he was able to say “I never want to stay in this house again. I want to go home”. My brother and I shared a room, and I still remember him crying all night. Needless to say, it was a sleepless night for the whole family. My brother never talked about what happened and true to his word, he never slept at my aunt’s house again.
Several years later, when my brother was about 16, he decided to open up about what had happened that night. We were alone in the house while my parents were on holiday. I asked him, just as I remember it, and he paused the computer game he was playing, stared at the pause screen and said:
“Mom sent me to check on our cousin (the baby), so I went upstairs. I didn’t turn the light on as the living room light was enough and I went into the baby’s room. Everything seemed normal at first. Then, I felt it. A strange presence, as if something was behind me. It wasn’t a feeling that something was there, but rather, an unknown certainty. A heavy breathing sound started and at first I thought it was the baby snoring, but it was too heavy; sort of like Darth Vader but more aggressive. I turned to the door slowly and saw a figure. It was dark but I could tell that its skin was green on its right side. What scared me most were its glaring red eyes that just stared at me. I hid behind the door thinking that I was going to die. It just stood there, staring at me through the crack in the door, its head turning to keep track of me with its red eyes. Those red eyes just staring at me. It seemed to stay there for about 20 minutes and I didn’t move as I thought it would hurt me. Then, it just disappeared. I think it may have opened the window and jumped out. I only realized it had gone when the heavy breathing stopped and the feeling of terror disappeared.”
Although my brother had claimed it felt like the incident lasted 20 minutes, he had literally been gone for one or two minutes.
I have to admit, his story was unsettling and I imagine that people would think its all made up. It’s quite a lot for a 9-year-old to remember. But he claims as he got older, he was able to describe it better, as this night has always been on his mind. My aunt was never told this story, but one day I asked her if she had ever seen or heard anything strange in her house, to which she replied, “Once when your brother was a toddler, he fell down the stairs. When we asked him if he was OK, he replied that the man with the red eyes had done it”. Although he was very young, he remembers it clearly to this day. He recalls looking back up the stairs, to see a figure standing there, just staring at him with those glowing red eyes. So, it seems it wasn’t the first time he had encountered this being.
My brother also claims to have had dreams about this ever since the babysitting incident occurred. One dream in particular was that he was playing with our Labrador in my mother’s home office in the evening. Then, out of the corner of his eye he noticed a figure walk past the door in the dark. The dog went crazy, snarling and barking; with all of his hairs standing on end, like a dog does it when it tries to make itself look bigger when under threat. But looking out into the darkness to see what the dog was barking at, there they were. Those staring red eyes.
For years, we have tried to make sense of it, doing a lot of internet research, writing on forums and so on, but have never came to any conclusions to what it was. I understand it is a lot to read, but maybe someone, after all these years, can shed some light on the whole thing.
The 1970s had the Pentagon Papers – the documents released in 1971 by Daniel Ellsberg which detailed how President Johnson’s administration “systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress” about the Vietnam War, secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos, raids on North Vietnam and more. It looks like the 2010s are becoming the era of the Pentagon Tapes – the videos released detailing U.S. military encounters with UFOs and a secretive Defense Department program that investigated the sightings. The Pentagon Tapes are not as controversial as the Pentagon Papers … yet. However, if new reports keeping being released or leaked and they start to sound more and more like an extraterrestrial coverup, they could be bigger than the Pentagon itself.
The latest 13-page document was obtained by George Knapp, the award-winning investigative reporter at KLAS-TV in Las Vegas and a frequent host on Coast to Coast AM. The announcement by KLAS doesn’t reveal how it obtained the information but it has been working with former Senator Harry Reid who has said many times that there is considerable information available about military UFO encounters. That includes those seen in 2004 by crew members on the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Princeton and a number of F-18 pilots who provided the video feeds and shocking commentary.
“Over a two-week period in late 2004, an unknown, 45-foot long Tic Tac shaped object played cat and mouse with the U.S. Navy off the coast of California.”
Knapp reports on lasvegasnow.com that this was not a single UFO incident but a series of encounters lasting two weeks. The report refers to them as Anomalous Aerial Vehicles (AAV) but social media today calls them the Tic Tac UFOs because of their white elongated oval shape.
“Among the key findings in the report — the AAV is not something that belongs to the U.S. or any other nation. It was so advanced, it rendered U.S. capabilities ineffective. It showed velocities far greater than anything known to exist, and it could turn itself invisible, both to radar and the human eye. Essentially, it was undetectable, and unchallenged.”
According to Knapp, claims like that in the report are corroborated by seven F-18 pilots and by radar operators on the ships, who saw the AAV descend from 60,000 feet down to 50 feet in seconds, remain stationary, accelerate to high speeds and make impossible turns – at least for known aircraft.
“At no time did they consider the AAV a threat to the battle group. Finally, they had never seen anything like this before and never again.”
No harm, no foul. No further investigation occurred at the time, although there is apparently another secret report from five years later that Knapp believes will never be released.
Why not? This one was. Well, kind of. Take a good look at it.
“The analysis report is not dated and has no logo, but four separate people who are familiar with its contents confirmed to the I-Team it is the real deal and was written as part of a Pentagon program.”
Are these Pentagon Papers or is this a Pentagon caper? As is so often the case, these UFO reports contain fuzzy photos, fuzzy documents and fuzzy sources. What’s clear is that many people like George Knapp, Harry Reid, Tom DeLonge and others believe the unfuzzy photos, documents and sources exist and they plan to keep on looking.
Strange things would happen at my grandma’s house. She would often accuse us of playing tricks on her. Small items would go missing, the TV would change channel, there would sometimes be the smell of smoke in the house. In fact, this one incident took place that I still remember. We were in our bedroom waiting for dinner when all of a sudden Grandma came upstairs, came into our room and accused us of burning something in the house. We tried to tell her that we hadn’t burned anything—but she wouldn’t listen. She said that there was the smell of burning downstairs. We went downstairs and couldn’t smell anything. Even Grandma had to admit that she couldn’t smell anything either. From time, to time, she would complain about the smell—and we smelled it too. It was a pungent smell.
Other things would happen. For example, phone calls would end without warning. One minute we would be on the phone to daddy—and the next we would be disconnected. We would see shadows move, things would disappear. I always felt like I had someone watching me wherever I went in that house.
When Grandma finally passed in 1971 the house was sold. Part of me would love to go back and revisit it. I often wonder if it was haunted, or whether our Grandmother caused problems with her negativity. I’ve read that a negative attitude can make strange things happen.
LORD LUCAN: WANTED FOR MURDER
On the evening of November 7, 1974, Richard Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, snuck into the London house occupied by his estranged wife Veronica Duncan and their children. His intent was clearly to murder Veronica. Bingham felt he had good reason to murder his wife. Due to his enormous gambling debts, Veronica had thrown him out of their house the previous year. He wanted custody of their three children, and he was sure his wife would fight him as he attempted to get them.
Crouching in the dark, he saw what he believed to be Veronica come down the staircase and walk towards the darkened kitchen. He quickly took the metal pipe he had brought with him and bashed her repeatedly on the back of the head, killing her almost instantly. Richard Bigham probably believed he had successfully accomplished what he had set out to do.
But he had made a mistake. It wasn’t his wife he’d killed, it was the nanny of his children – Sandra Rivett.
After he saw Sandra Rivett dead at his feet, Richard Bingham panicked. Not only had he killed the wrong woman, but he soon heard his intended victim coming down the stairs. Hiding once again, he attacked his wife with the same lead pipe and bashed her about the head, although he stopped before actually killing her. Bizarrely, he then apologized for his behavior and showed his wife the dead body of the nanny.
Veronica Duncan quickly left the house and ran down to a local pub and, bleeding from the head, asked for someone to call the police.
When the police arrived, Richard Bingham was gone. The body of Sandra Rivett was found in the kitchen in a large sack, as if he was going to try to take the body out of the house to dispose of it, but had stopped and fled the house instead.
Later that night he called his mother and gave a false version of what had happened. He stated that he had been outside the house, peeping through the windows, when he saw a strange man attack the nanny and then attack his wife. He used the key he still had for the house and burst in, scaring the stranger into running out the back of the house and climbing over a wall and making an escape.
When the police subsequently heard this story from his mother, they knew it was a fabrication. Lady Lucan had told them exactly who had attacked her.
Lord Lucan fled London but left a clear trail of where he went next. He drove in a friend’s car down south to the home of some wealthy friends. Lord Lucan told them the same story he had told his mother and implored them to help him. He made several phone calls to acquaintances, repeating the false story, and wrote a letter to his brother-in-law.
Then he left his friends’ house and vanished forever.
The car was found several days later, with no sign of Lord Lucan but with the bloody lead pipe in the car.
The police believed Richard Bingham might have fled to France, but they were never able to trace him beyond where he had abandoned the car.
Over time, stories of Lord Lucan’s whereabouts have been reported, but all of the suspected men turned out to be someone else. Bingham has supposedly been spotted in New Zealand, India, and Africa. The African connection may have possible merit: his three young children once traveled to that continent for unknown reasons.
Should Richard Bingham be found, he would still be required to stand trial for a murder he committed forty years ago.
The police are still searching.
There are numerous forms of ghosts in the world, and these can take a vast variety of forms. There are the wandering wraiths, the poltergeists, the revenants, shadows, ghouls, and specters, all subject to the cultural influences thrust upon them. In Japan there is one very curious and unique form of spirit, and that is of the eternally hungry, ravenous ghosts.
One of the more well known of the hungry ghosts of Japan are what are known as the Hidarugami, which roughly translates to “Hungry God.” These are said to be the souls of those who have fallen due to starvation while wandering the remote mountain trails of Japan, dying alone and without any sort of grave or marker for where they fell. Also alternatively called the Hidarutami, the Darashi, and the Daru, depending on the region, in this unfortunate state of affairs these specters are said to have been cursed to seek out others with whom to share their agony and strife in their eternal hunger.
There have long been tales of travelers navigating remote, lonely mountain paths who have found themselves suddenly and overwhelmingly overcome with an insatiable hunger the likes of which they have never experienced. The sensation is reportedly absolutely overwhelming, with the traveler completely incapacitated by an intense hunger they cannot understand. This is often accompanied by an inexplicable fatigue and numbness of the limbs, causing the victim to collapse upon the ground without really comprehending what is going on. If not stopped, these episodes will supposedly almost certainly lead to death or insanity.
It is said that this is a form of demonic possession being carried out by the restless starving spirits, and that if nothing is done will lead to sure death, after which the victim is doomed to join the roving pack of fellow hungry Hidarugami spirits. According to lore, it is possible to avoid this ominous fate if one is to happen to have handy even a small morsel of food, even a grain of rice, which will purportedly quickly dispel the overwhelming supernatural hunger if one can manage to produce it quickly enough before they are incapacitated. Indeed, this is the very reason why hikers traditionally carry a bit of food at all times in such areas, no matter how short the hike is planned to be. Some traditions, such as those of Shiga prefecture, paint the Hidarugami as more zombie-like in nature, rising up to maim and rip apart anyone who stands too near in order to satisfy their insatiable hunger. Keep those rice balls handy, then.
While this may all seem like mere spooky folklore, there are actually numerous tales of people who have actually confronted these starving spirits. One of the most well-known is that of a man named Senkichi, who was one day found collapsed and exhausted along a secluded mountain trail in 1736. When he was brought to a village and nursed back to health, he related to the villagers a harrowing tale of being mercilessly set upon by the hungry wraiths. In another story from the same era a traveler by the name of Mizuki Shigeru found himself under attack by the nasty specters, which he only managed to just barely escape by grasping at a few grains of rice scattered upon the ground as the evil spirits descended upon him.
Such accounts made warnings of the Hidarugami spirits common in travel guides and maps, which strongly suggested bringing at least a rice ball in the event of a spiritual attack by the ravenous specters. Across rural Japan there have been many legends attributed to these hungry spirits. In Wakayama prefecture there is supposedly a pit deep in the earth near Mt. Okumotori and Mt. Shokumotori, from which the Hidarugami spew forth. Many areas of Japan also offer shrines along mountain paths at which one can pray to keep the spirits at bay. It is widely thought that these stories are merely the personification of the famine and hunger that long plagued rural Japan. Yet the tales persist in isolated areas of the country. Luckily, the Hidarugumi is considered a relatively weak spirit, and can be banished by simply eating something or performing a ceremony to ward off the muenbotoke, or “unworshipped dead.”
Related to the Higdarugami are the tales of what are known as the vampiric Gaki, also known as the Preta, or the hungry ghosts. Originating from Chinese and Tibetan mythology, these are tormented spirits that are condemned to eternally wander the hellish realm of Gakidō, where suffering in the form of unquenchable thirst and insatiable hunger reign supreme. The Gaki are most often described as looking vaguely humanoid, but with freakishly distended stomachs, oversized heads, and vestigial, seemingly useless mouths, the better to deny them the sustenance they desperately seek.
The Gaki are said to be beset with whatever hunger they held when they died, which can run a wide range. The lowest form of Gaki will restlessly seek out the most gruesome of food items, including feces, vomit, corpses, and so on, and many will desperately lick at the smallest drop of blood, but their hunger is never really sated in the slightest. They are considered to be inhabiting a realm just above Hell, called Jigoku in Japanese. When they do find what they are looking for it is said that their meal or drink will instantaneously erupt into fire to leave them in torment, and they are only able to partake of that which has been blessed and consecrated in a special Buddhist ceremony. In many areas there are yearly ceremonies that lay out rice and water to appease the spirits during a ceremony known as Segaki.
Again, there are many reports of encountering these vile spirits, and they are mostly considered to be a type of mischievous poltergeist. There have been priests who have been overwhelmed with the intense suffering and hunger of these entities, but they are luckily easily warded off with certain charms and ceremonies. Interestingly, their name has come to be a colloquial term for misbehaving children, in the form of the colloquial word gaki, which in this case denotes children who suck one’s energy and never seem to be satisfied with what they are offered, sort of like a “brat” in English. These wraiths are known to follow people around and slowly suckle off of their energy, and there is not much to do but call a priest.
There are surely many who would write these off as mere folklore and tall tales. It seems firmly entrenched in the legends of Japan and purely a fictional construct. Yet such entities see various parallels in other cultures as well, and the reports have continued to come in sporadically. Are these stories just the workings of folklore and myth, or is there anything to it all? Whatever one may think, Japan’s hungry ghosts continue to allegedly prowl the landscape, seemingly beyond our attempts to understand them.
I used to spend my Christmas holidays with my family on my Uncle’s ex-wife’s farm in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. Many years ago, this area was the location of many skirmishes between the Xhosa people who were moving south after being displaced by the Zulus, and the British who were deployed to the area to defend colonial settlers. There was more than one battle on the farm, where there is an old graveyard with only a few remaining grave markers of unknown British soldiers. Each simple cast iron cross is engraved only with the words, Here lies the body of a Brave British Solder’
The farm is situated at the mouth of the Kariga River next to the sea and was an ideallic place for young children to swim, play on the beach and in the numerous rock pools.
However, when the wind blew in from the south, it pushed in the cold off shore water which reacted with the warm sea breezes and formed a thick swirling mist.
A day could turn from warm and sunny to cold and windy in a matter of minutes. When the wind settled, the mist would deaden all sound and limit vision to less then a few yards. This is when, sometimes, a British solder in a uniform from the late 18 hundreds would be seen walking through the mist.
I only experienced him once, but I clearly saw him visible from the knees upward, walking through a field in the middle of the day. He didn’t seem to be walking purposely, but rather wandering, with his hands behind his back, as someone would do on a daily stroll. You could see his moustache, wire framed spectacles and neatly brylcreamed hair. Although confronting, I didn’t feel that he was any threat at all.
I like to think that he, although still around many decades after his death, is at peace here.
I used to work as a policeman on a military base. I loved working the night shift, but weird things sometimes happened.
One night, I was on patrol with my partner when we went to an elementary school to investigate a triggered alarm. We looked around, but everything was in order, so we left and continued on with our patrol. About 15-20 minutes later, the alarm at the school went off again. We went back to check and saw an open maintenance door leading to the boiler. There was nothing there, so we closed the door and blocked it.
Twenty minutes later, the alarm went off again. We returned to the school, but there was no one there. Half an hour later, the alarm rang out again. We went back and once again found nothing. This went on until three in the morning when we finally had to call the custodian of the building for help. We searched every corner of the school until we eventually found an open maintenance door. It led to a tiny room, about the size of a closet, and the light was on inside.
We walked into the room and saw one small, watery, child-size footprint. There were no tracks leading in or out, and as my partner and I searched the room, the door slammed closed.
We were terrified, of course, and ran out of the room and down the hall. We searched the perimeter, but found nothing. To this day, my partner still refuses to enter that school.
Back in 2014, I was driving through Denver on my way from Kansas City to Portland for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. I was passing through the outskirts of the city at night, and construction caused me to veer from my planned route, taking me past the enormous Denver International Airport (DIA). There, looming out of the darkness, I saw the famous “Blue Mustang” sculpture–known as “Blucifer” to locals–rearing up some 32 feet into the air, its red eyes glowing balefully down on passing cars.
Seeing that there in the dark, it’s easy to imagine why the Denver Airport is home to some of the wildest conspiracy theories you’ll ever find, and why those rumors continue to persist some 20 years after the airport’s completion.
When the airport opened in February of 1995–16 months behind schedule and nearly $2 billion over budget–it was already plagued by rumors and speculation. These are just a few of the strange stories that continue to haunt the largest airport in the country.
The Denver International Airport ultimately cost $4.8 billion. That’s a lot of money, and not everyone is entirely sure just where all that money went. Some believe that the reason the airport went so far over budget, not to mention the reason why it’s so dang big–fully twice the size of Manhattan Island–is because it actually hides secret structures underneath it. Depending on whom you ask, these shelters might be the secret headquarters of the Illuminati or an underground bunker designed to shelter world leaders in the event of nuclear war. That many see a swastika when viewing an aerial photo of the airport and its runways only adds fuel to this claim.
Some conspiracy theorists tie these secret underground chambers to the earliest era of the airport’s construction, or to Denver’s expensive and notorious automated baggage-handling system, which never worked properly and was abandoned in 2005, though supposedly never removed from the premises.
The connection to the Illuminati and other secret societies doesn’t stop with the supposed secret bunkers. At a dedication ceremony on March 19, 1994, a time capsule was placed beneath the airport for the “people of Colorado in 2094.” Above the time capsule is a capstone which bears, among other things, the Square and Compass symbol of the Freemasons, along with the name of a mysterious group called the New World Airport Commission.
Of course, conspiracists are quick to point out that no such group appears to exist. According to airport officials, no group by that name exists now, but one did back in 1994, formed specifically for the purposes of commemorating the opening of the new airport. Those two words “New World” right next to each other, however, suggest more sinister ideas to conspiracy theorists, some of whom believe in a “New World Order” that is attempting to build a shadowy globalist government or already has.
The Denver International Airport is home to more than its fair share of controversial artwork. Gargoyles perched on suitcases loom over the baggage claim, words and symbols that have been identified as everything from Masonic to Satanic to Templar in origin dot the terminals, and then there’s that big blue horse I mentioned earlier, but perhaps none has riled conspiracy theorists as much as a pair of murals painted by local artist Leo Tanguma. Entitled “In Peace and Harmony with Nature” and “Children of the World Dream of Peace”, these striking murals contain a number of unsettling visuals, including an image of a Nazi-style soldier in a gas mask swinging a saber at huddled children and a child’s letter from Auschwitz.
When asked about the murals, the official responses echo the artist’s statements which accompany them, claiming that the murals express “the artist’s desire to abolish violence in society” and live in peace with nature. But conspiracy theorists see much darker subject matter in the paintings, including genocide, apocalyptic imagery, and the coming of that aforementioned New World Order.
Remember that big, demonic-looking horse I mentioned before? Well, not only is it plenty creepy-looking on its own, but it also has its very own dark tale. Commissioned back in 1993, artist Luis Jiménez was still working on it in 2006, when the sculpture’s head fell on him, severing an artery in his leg and ultimately killing him.
The sculpture was later finished by his family and associates and put on display near the entrance of the airport, but the idea that it was “cursed” has hung over it ever since, not helped along by its infernal appearance. There are also those who say that, when the end times come, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will mount “Blucifer” there and ride him to the end of the world.
Like any big, busy airport, the Denver International Airport has been home to its share of accidents and incidents over the years. Besides the ill-fated baggage handling system, in February of 2007, 14 aircraft at the airport suffered similar windshield failures within a period of a little over three hours. Other times a Boeing 777 caught fire while refueling, another plane veered off the runway, and others were evacuated.
Are these signs that the airport is cursed, or simply the usual problems that you run into with any big airport? As with many of the strange and usual claims about the Denver International Airport, it’s in the (glowing red) eyes of the beholder.
The murder of young Mary Phagan, and the subsequent arrest, conviction and lynching of Leo Frank would prove so controversial and divisive that it would prompt the formation of two organisations that could hardly be greater polar opposites – the second chapter of the KKK and the Jewish anti-defamation league.
Leo Frank’s high-profile murder trial became a media circus and created deep and long-standing religious and ethnic fractures in Atlanta. For many in the Jewish community, the subsequent guilty verdict was seen as symbolic of the depth of anti-Semitism in the United States, on a par with the infamous Dreyfus affair in France.
Prominent Jewish organisations, businessmen and media tycoons rallied behind Frank’s innocence and campaigned to overturn the guilty verdict. Numerous stories appeared in the press which sided with Frank and tried to cast the spotlight of blame on alternative, black, suspects.
Much of the press coverage both against and in favour of Frank was shockingly racist by today’s standards, but par for the course for the American South in 1913. In a society built around discrimination, the sad murder of Mary Phagan thus became polarised between two camps of differing but equally extreme prejudices.
For those advocating Frank’s innocence, he was the victim of the anti-Semitism endemic in American society; in its police and judiciary. For this camp, the true culprit was obviously the violent black man, unable to control his urge to ravage an innocent white girl.
Those who believed Frank had murdered Mary painted his supporters as part of an insidious Jewish conspiracy to help one of their own escape justice, tapping into the wider and more sinister beliefs of the time that a Jewish cabal of industrialists and bankers was taking over America.
In this feverish atmosphere, stirred relentlessly by the tabloid press, the facts of the case got lost amongst much myth and fantasy, suborned and perjured testimony and outright lies.
To try and understand the truth in this murky case, we must go back to one Saturday afternoon in 1913, when a young factory worker went to collect her wages and was never see alive again.
In early 20th century America, before child labour laws had made it illegal, it was common for girls like 13-year-old Mary Phagan to take manual work in factories. Before the safety net of social security, families like the Phagans often depended on their children working for their very survival.
Mary had worked at Atlanta’s National Pencil Company factory since she was just 12-years old. Renowned in the neighbourhood for her cheerful demeanour, she was a notably pretty and popular girl who the previous Christmas had played Sleeping Beauty in the local church play.
On the afternoon of Saturday, April 26th, Mary dropped into her workplace to pick up her meagre wages for the week, hoping to then attend that day’s Confederate Memorial Day parade in the town centre. She would never make it to the parade, or ever be seen alive again.
The factory’s manager was Leo Frank, a 29-year-old graduate of Cornell university whose wealthy uncle owned shares in the factory’s parent company. At about noon Mary made her way to his office to collect her money, an encounter Frank recalled later when interviewed by the police. He would be the last person to admit to seeing the teenager alive.
Sometime in the early hours of the next morning, the factory’s night-watchman Newt Lee made a horrific discovery. In the basement of the building he found the battered and bloodied body of a young girl, so covered in dirt it was impossible to determine whether she was black or white.
It was young Mary Phagan, beaten, raped and strangled with a cord cut deep into her neck. Despite his terror that he may be blamed, as a black man, for the murder, Lee immediately fetched the local police. Lee’s worry was well founded. He was arrested and charged with the crime by police, the next day a white mob gathering outside of the station with the intent of lynching him.
Whilst extra-judicial lynching had declined since its heyday in the 1890s, it was still a fairly common practice in 1913, especially against black men. Even the suspicion that Lee was involved in the rape and murder of a young white girl could have had fatal consequences for him.
Luckily, Newt Lee was saved from the mob and later cleared of any involvement. Police set about interviewing current and former workers at the factory to try and find the real culprit. Several men known to have been seen with Phagan in the past, such as a recently dismissed factory clerk John Gantt, were arrested but eventually cleared.
On Monday 1st of May detectives called around at the house of factory superintendent Leo Frank. Although not detained at this time, the officers were extremely suspicious of Frank. From the tentative timeline they had assembled of Mary Phagan’s day, Frank was the last person to admit to having seen her alive.
The detectives were particularly struck by Frank’s extremely nervous and agitated manner whilst talking to them. Was this strange reaction from Frank evidence of guilt or simply the reaction of a man with a noted nervous disposition not used to talking to policemen?
By now, the mood in Atlanta was one of hysteria. Thousands of people had visited the funeral home to view the dead girl’s body. Demands that the murderer be found were coming from as high up as the governor and state legislature. The Atlanta Constitution newspaper even announced a then massive $1000 reward for the capture of the killer on its front page.
A coroners jury, accompanied by several Atlanta policeman, had re-examined the factory crime scene and found blond hairs and blood in the metal room near to Frank’s office. Another young factory girl also testified that she had come to collect her wage shortly after Mary but Frank was not in his office. On the basis of this evidence, and his nervy demeanour, Frank was arrested on suspicion of the murder.
Another man, the factory’s black janitor Jim Conley, was also arrested after witnesses saw him washing red stains out of a shirt in a faucet behind the factory. Whilst Conley gave numerous contradictory statements about the murder, he would later be used as the chief witness against Leo Frank at the trial.
The police now had several suspects and a lots of evidence. By far the most perplexing and confusing of this was two notes that were found near Mary’s body. Ostensibly written by Mary herself, the bizarre, broken English made them virtually incomprehensible.
The first note read “he said he wood love me land down play like the night witch did it but that long tall black negro did boy his slef.” The other said, “mam that negro hire down here did this i went to make water and he push me down that hole a long tall negro black that hoo it wase long sleam tall negro i write while play with me.”
One thing was clear, Mary Phagan had not written these notes herself. The basement her body was found in was pitch black. It was impossible in the circumstances for a dying girl to have written the messages, and that meant only one thing. The notes had been written by her killer.
As the police developed more evidence, Leo Frank became their prime suspect. Conley was now saying that Frank had killed Phagan and he had helped him dispose of the body. Both the coroners jury and the grand jury unanimously voted to indict Frank for the murder.
The trial began on July 28th 1913, with state attorney Hugh Dorsey leading the prosecution. Dorsey attempted to portray the defendant as a sexual predator and pervert, producing a succession of young women from the pencil factory to testify that Frank had made improper advances on them.
Dorsey’s ace card was Jim Conley. By now the janitors many different stories had become one damning account of how Leo Frank had murdered Mary Phagan after she rejected his sexual propositions and then ordered Conley to help him dump the body in the factory basement. The two notes, Conley told the court, were written by him but dictated by Frank.
Conley proved to be an unimpeachable witness for the prosecution, withstanding hours of defence cross-examination with a cool assuredness. Some observers felt Conley’s testimony had been heavily rehearsed, almost as if he was reading from a script, but it was enough to convince the jury and Frank was unanimously convicted. On October 10th, judge Leonard S. Roan sentenced Leo Frank to hang.
Crowds of Atlantans who had been gathering outside of the courtroom over the last five weeks cheered the verdict. The sensational and salacious coverage of the trial in the newspapers had stoked up strong feelings against Frank in the city. As a Yankee jew, Atlantans were already predisposed against him and general resentment was also growing against wealthy industrialists and factory owners who were believed to be exploiting child labor to run their businesses.
The rest of America was more divided by the verdict. Whilst widely celebrated in the South, Frank’s conviction was questioned in the North. Led by the New York Times, editorials appeared decrying the trial as a farce and an example of the anti-Semitism of the South. Some even suggested that Georgia was not fit for self-government.
This narrative took hold, and a campaign group of Jewish civic and business groups set out to overturn the conviction, raising $250,000 to help prove Frank’s innocence. Private detectives were sent into Atlanta to review the case and numerous appeals were lodged with both the Georgian and the US Supreme Courts.
In Atlanta, Frank was still widely reviled as a child murderer and rapist, and the high-profile campaign to free him created a great deal of resentment in the area. Tom Watson, editor of the Jeffersonian tabloid newspaper, retaliated with accusations of a Northern conspiracy, headed by rich Jewish industrialists and press barons using their power to help a child murderer escape justice.
Watson’s coverage flirted with ugly anti-Semitic stereotypes, but proved to be extremely popular in Georgia and served to stoke up the feeling against Frank and the Jewish community in Atlanta. It was even cited as one of the inspirations for the reformation of the KKK in the area.
Unfortunately, this increasingly hysterical mood was about to spill out from the newspapers and onto the streets in shocking fashion.
After all of his appeals failed, Leo Frank’s supporters turned to state Governor John Slaton. Slaton had personally reviewed the case and come to the conclusion Frank was innocent. In the face of fierce opposition, Slatton made the fateful decision to commute Leo Frank’s deaths sentence to life imprisonment.
The men that came for Leo Frank as he sat on his bunk at Milledgeville prison were remarkably solemn and organised for a mob. On the night of August 16, 1915, two dozen prominent Atlantan citizens, calling themselves the Knights of Mary Phagan, made the decision to use their Southern prerogative and dispense what they saw as the rightful verdict of the court themselves.
Armed with guns they raided the jail and drove Frank 150 miles to the site of an oak grove in Mary’s hometown of Marietta, where they lynched him from a tree. The last act of the mob, none of whom were ever charged with any crime, was to return Frank’s wedding ring to his wife in accordance with his last words.
The Leo Frank case had brought out the worst in everyone. Both Frank’s supporters and opponents plumbed the depths in order to make their case and the wildly irresponsible newspaper coverage, with rival titles trying to one-up each other with ever more sensational stories, only served to further enrage the mood.
In recent years, there has been a growing feeling that Frank’s case was a miscarriage of justice that spawned a shameful public murder. Whether prejudice played a part in his conviction is debatable, Frank was found unanimously guilty by three separate juries, some of whom were Jewish.
However, some of the evidence that they used to declare Frank’s guilt looks decidedly suspect. The crucial role of the janitor Jim Conley has come under particular scrutiny – the bloody shirt, his lies to the police, his admission that he wrote the so-called murder notes, and his rehearsed testimony at the trial make Conley stand out as the likely real murderer for many advocates of Frank’s innocence
The unsettling case of Leo Frank had largely been forgotten by the 1982, an unedifying episode that was best left to fade away into obscurity. That was until Alonzo Mann came forward with a bombshell – as the pencil factory’s office boy in 1913, he had seen Jim Conley moving Mary Phagan’s corpse by himself.
If true, it shredded a key part of the prosecution’s evidence all those years ago. Did the testimony settle this most divisive of cases? Was Leo Frank innocent all along?
As he approached the end of his life, 83-year-old Alonzo Mann decided to unburden himself of a dark secret that had haunted him for nearly 70 years. As Leo Frank’s 14-year-old office boy in 1913, Mann had actually witnessed a co-worker trying to dispose of the body of Mary Phagan.
Mann, who testified in the original trial that he left the pencil factory at 11:30am that day and did not witness anything, was now saying he returned at about 12:05 and saw the buildings janitor Jim Conley carrying the limp body of Mary Phagan, about to throw her down the coal scuttle next to the elevator.
According to Mann’s 1982 testimony, Conley threatened to kill the boy if he told anyone what he had seen. Terrified, Mann ran home and told his parents what had happened. Keen not to get involved in something so horrific, Mann says his parents ordered him to say nothing of what he had seen to the police.
Some critics have questioned Alonzo Mann’s latter day statements. Is it really credible that a white family in 1913 Atlanta would be reluctant to implicate a black man in the murder of a young white girl? It’s a sound criticism, but if we take Mann’s about turn at face value it is clearly exculpatory for Leo Frank.
The story the prosecution told at the trial was that Conley was an accomplice after the fact, helping Frank dispose of the body in the factory’s basement. Alonzo Mann says he saw Conley with Phagan’s body on his own, without Frank.
Mann’s 1982 story isn’t the only reason to suspect Conley may have committed the murder himself. Conley was originally arrested because the pencil factory’s day-watchman had seen him washing red stains out of a shirt, but it was his ever changing stories that convinced the police he had some involvement in the crime.
Conley told them he could not write, so could not be responsible for the two murder notes found near Phagan’s body. Conley was quickly caught out when investigators found from co-workers that Conley could indeed write and had lied to the police.
Under extensive interrogation from detectives, the janitor then gave at least four different versions of how Frank had coerced or bribed him into helping dispose of Phagan’s body and write the notes to implicate night-watchmen Newt Lee.
Whilst detectives seemed keen to believe this final version of Conley’s story, it looks pretty implausible with any historical detachment. Frank was an intelligent, college educated man; a white factory owner in the racist south of 1913, would he really have hatched such a bizarre plot with a black employee, and dictated the barely literate notes found with Phagan’s body?
The possibility that Conley had simply invented his story to try and deflect the blame from himself seems more believable than what he told the court during the trial. It reads like the invention of an uneducated man who had not really thought through what he was doing.
But stuck with this story, prosecutors did their best to burnish it. Conley was subjected to weeks of rehearsal, what prosecutor Hugh Dorsey called ‘midnight seances’. Together with police detectives, Dorsey and his team spent hours coaching Conley, smoothing out his story to be as convincing as possible.
Conley was guided in the best way to engage jurors, to maintain eye-contact and remain composed. Conley’s lawyer, William Smith, took on the role of Leo Frank’s attorney, and role-played the fiercest possible cross-examination they could imagine Conley enduring, ensuring he had suitable rebuttals for anything he may be challenged on
It worked. With Leo Frank’s lawyer’s unable to deconstruct Conley’s seemingly improbable account on the stand, his testimony did much to convict Frank in the eyes of the jury.
With the context of Alonzo Mann’s 1982 admission, the idea that Conley actually committed the murder on his own, and wrote the notes to blame it on a fellow black man, looks a distinct possibility.
The references to a ‘night witch’ and ‘negro’ were widely believed to be an attempt to implicate the factory’s night-watchmen Newt Lee for the crime. Lee was initially held by police after he discovered Mary’s body but was later released and not thought to have been involved.
These so-called murder notes are the most bizarre aspect of the crime, and the mentality of their writer hard to fathom. They were certainly written by Jim Conley, investgators matched both the handwriting and the grammatical style to the janitor, rather than Leo Frank.
But if Leo Frank had dictated them to Conley as he claimed, its hard to understand what an intelligent, sophisticated man like Frank hoped the strange notes would achieve.
Both of the short messages, written in almost impenetrably broken English, are drafted to make them appear they were penned by Mary Phagan herself. It’s extremely difficult to believe a man like Frank would ever believe anybody would buy such a ludicrous notion.
Phagan’s body was found in a pitch black basement, making it impossible for her to have written them. From Frank’s encounters with Mary at the factory, he would also have known she was bright and articulate, hardly someone who would write such semi-literate gibberish.
A further problem with Conley’s scenario regarding the notes is he testified at the trial that Frank had ordered him to burn Phagan’s body in the furnace to completely remove any trace of her from the factory. Conley claims he got drunk and never carried out this part of the plan, but if this was Frank’s intention then why would he need to dictate the notes at all?
At the trial, Mary Phagan’s murder was portrayed as sexually motivated. Leo Frank, the jury was told, was a pervert and deviant with a history of sexually harassing young female employees and even boys.
The prosecution found a local landlady who said Frank had attempted to rent a room for himself and a young girl on the day of the murder. Thus, a persuasive picture was painted of a man who had murdered Phagan after he attempted to initiate a sexual liaison with her and she refused his advances.
This scenario is undermined by the meagre $1.20 wages Phagan had collected from the factory that day. When police found the girls body, the money was missing. The man who had robbed her of her life and dignity had also stolen her wages.
The motive for Leo Frank to steal Phagan’s money is non-existent. $1.20 would have been a pittance for the well-paid factory boss from a wealthy family. And since Frank was accused of a sexual attack, the money was not an issue anyway.
Unlike Frank, Conley did have a motive for robbing Phagan and admitted such at the trial. Conley was a drunkard and a serial debtor and even conceded under cross-examination at the trial that he would often flee his creditors by escaping from the same basement Phagan’s body was found.
Had Conley, already drunk by noon when Phagan came to collect her money, tried to rob the girl? Perhaps young Mary, fiesty and strong-willed, had put up a fight and Conley had killed her in the ensuing struggle.
Whatever the specifics, this scenario seems more credible than Leo Frank stealing such a small sum from the girl himself. A further possibility is that Frank and Conley removed the money as part of their supposed attempt to frame Newt Lee, but this is dependent on how credible you regard Conley’s story about the notes.
Jim Conley’s testimony did more than anything to seal Leo Frank’s fate. Yet one strange and unpleasant admission from Frank’s supposed accomplice, largely overlooked at the time, appears to seriously contradict a key aspect of his story.
Conley’s startling claim was that he was in the habit of defecating in the elevator shaft, and did so earlier on the morning of Saturday the 26th, before the murder. When police first investigated the crime scene, they found the undisturbed human excrement exactly as Conley described.
The problem for the prosecution’s case was that when detectives later operated the elevator, they discovered that it’s crude mechanism crushed the excrement when it stopped at the basement. But Conley had told the trial that he and Frank had used this elevator to carry Phagan’s corpse to the basement, something that could not have occurred without also crushing the feces.
The defence did not pursue this angle at the trial, perhaps because of its distasteful nature. It did, however, become a large part of subsequent attempts to posthumously clear Frank’s name. Indeed, for some innocence advocates, the fecal matter in the elevator shaft is symbolic of the entire case against Leo Frank.
In the aftermath of the murder, numerous witnesses testified that Leo Frank was behaving in an odd manner, unusually edgy and nervous to the extent that he was unable to perform simple tasks like unlocking a door or operating the factory time clock.
The first witness to report Frank’s strange demeanor was the night-watchman Newt Lee. Frank called Lee to the factory at around 4pm on Saturday afternoon, after the police believe Mary was killed but before the discovery of the body. This was unusually early according to Lee’s normal routine.
Lee noted that Frank appeared on edge at this meeting. Apologizing for calling in him early, Frank told Lee that he could come back in two hours. On his return at around 6pm, Frank appeared even more nervous and agitated.
The factory boss attempted to punch a slip in the time-clock but struggled with the action that Lee had seen him perform normally on several occasions previously – “It took him twice as long this time than it did the other times I saw him fix it. He fumbled putting it in while I held the lever for him”, Lee told the trial.
An ex-employee, John Milton Gantt, visited the factory at about the same time to retrieve a pair of shoes he had left there. Gantt also noticed how jumpy and nervous Frank appeared. Was Lee’s odd demeanour because he had murdered Mary Phagan earlier that afternoon?
Newt Lee also recalled how Frank had phoned him later that night whilst he was carrying out his duties as a night-watchman, but before he had found the body of Mary Phagan. This was the first time Frank had ever called him like this and appeared unusual to Lee. Was Leo Frank checking to see if the body had been discovered?
After the police first contacted Leo Frank early on the morning following the murder, several officers were suspicious of just how nervous Frank appeared. Upon calling at Leo’s home at around 7:00am, both Detectives Black and Rogers were taken aback by Frank’s evident distress.
Black told the trial – “Frank’s voice was hoarse and trembling and nervous and excited. He looked to me like he was pale. He seemed nervous in handling his collar; he could not get his tie tied, and talked very rapid in asking what had happened.”
The officers informed Frank that Mary Phagan had been murdered in the car as they escorted him to the factory. Once there, he was shaking so badly that he had trouble unlocking doors and operating the elevator.
Frank himself would later argue at the trial that he had a naturally nervous demeanour and his behaviour was not unusual considering the circumstances. Clearly this argument can be used both ways – if Frank was the murderer than his edgy behaviour is understandable, but also equally so if he was innocent and worried that the police may wrongly suspect him.
Detectives, however, had more cause to be suspicious. Not just because of Frank’s manner but his statements. On the Sunday after the murder Frank told the police that he had no idea who Mary Phagan was, an obvious lie that can only be read as a dishonest attempt by Frank to distance himself from the crime.
Phagan had worked at her current job in the factory for over a year and Frank would have encountered her on hundreds of occasions. Police found over fifty pay slips signed by Leo Frank in which he’d written Phagan’s name. He also admitted he spoke to the girl at noon on the day of her murder.
Most remarkably, Frank would even try to implicate John Gantt, a former factory employee, by telling police that Gantt had been intimate with Mary in the past, signalling him out as a key suspect. Since Frank claimed not to know who Phagan was, its hard to understand how he could have known this.
Police later interviewed numerous witnesses who told them they had seen Leo Frank talking to Mary on several occasions, further betraying his lie. What some of these witnesses told detective would become a key plank of the case against him at the trial.
An alarming number of witnesses would claim that Leo Frank had a penchant for harassing young women in his employ. Some advocates of Frank’s innocence have argued that this testimony was largely tittle-tattle, suborned or exaggerated statements designed to portray Frank as a pervert capable of murdering a teenage girl who spurned his advances.
However, the sheer number of people willing to say damaging things about the factory boss seems hard to countenance in the circumstances. Much has been made by Frank supporters that anti-Semitism was the reason the town turned on him, but this argument looks somewhat overstated.
In 1913 Atalanta, as with the rest of the South, Jews were a relatively well integrated and accepted part of the community. Essentially regarded as part of the white population, anti-Semitism was rare and many Jews felt the favourable atmosphere in the South made it a refuge from the discrimination they often suffered in other parts of the country.
Blacks, on the other hand, were treated as third class citizens. Stripped of many civic and legal rights, segregated, vilified and often subject to brutal violence and oppression. Most of the thousands of lynchings that occurred in this period were of black men, often killed if there was even a suspicion that they had attempted to engage in relations with white women.
In this context, it does not seem very likely that so many white Atlantans would be willing to commit perjury to see a fellow white man go to the gallows instead of any of the several black suspects that were also arrested by police.
The defense did not even attempt to cross-examine any of the teenage girls that testified at the trial that Leo Frank’s had made improper advances to them. 14-year-old Nellie Pettis recounted how Frank had propositioned her for sex. 16-year-old Nellie Wood would tell the court how Frank has pushed himself against her and touched her breast. Twenty girls in all gave similar testimony about Frank’s impropriety.
Several male employees also described how they had witnessed Frank rubbing himself against young female workers. Whilst not proof of guilt of the murder itself, it’s not hard to see how a conservative jury of the time would be predisposed against Frank in light of such testimony.
There have been competing claims that various witnessed were got at, either bribed or coerced into false testimony by both the defense and prosecution teams. With allegations flying both ways, it’s hard to know what to make of the testimony of people like Nina Formby, a rooming house owner who told the trial that Frank had telephoned her premises on the day of the murder to procure a room for himself and a young girl. Did Frank hope this girl would be Mary Phagan?
Formby would eventually recant her testimony, claiming she had made it up. However, some sources suggest Formby’s boarding house was actually a child brothel, so the recantation may have been an attempt to protect her reputation. It’s not an entirely outlandish allegation, the rooming house was in Atlanta’s red-light district and child brothels were sadly a common feature in many Southern towns at the time.
Some of Frank’s claims about his whereabouts around the time of the murder look suspect. He would tell police that he was in his office solidly from noon that day till at least 12:35. During this time, around 12:05, he says he handed over the $1.20 to Mary Phagan and saw her leave his office and talk to a girl outside.
Much of this statement did not check out when investigators attempted to corroborate it. 14-year-old Monteen Stover says she went up to Frank’s office at around 12:10 that afternoon and neither Frank or Phagan were there. Stover says she did not see or talk to Phagan at all that day and the girl Frank says he saw talking to Phagan was never found despite an extensive search.
When confronted with this evidence, Frank changed his story. Now he conceded he may have “unconsciously” left his office between 12:05-12:10 to visit the metal room across the hallway from his office. This admission looked bad for Frank, as investigators had found blond hair twisted around a lathe handle in the room and blood splatter on the floor, leading them to believe this was where Phagan had actually been killed.
The metal room also housed the knurling department, where Mary Phagan worked fitting the metal bands around the rubbers on the end of the pencils. This led prosecutors to speculate that Frank had used some pretense to lure Phagan to the room in order to make a sexual advance on her.
Some forty men, across three separate juries, voted unanimously against Leo Frank back in 1915. All of his appeals were rejected. At the summation of the prosecution case, lawyer Hugh Dorsey gave a stirring pro-Jewish speech and rubbished accusations that anti-Semitism had played any part in his case at all.
Dorsey had a reputation as a moderate liberal and was not prone to demagoguery. Noted historian Albert Lindemann has written extensively on Jewish history and anti-Semitism and believes the jury convicted based on the quality of Dorsey’s arguments.
“The case that Dorsey built against Frank was not based in any overt way upon anti-Semitism. Five Jews sat on the grand jury that indicted Frank. It seems safe to conclude that they were persuaded by the concrete evidence that Dorsey presented, not by his pandering to anti-Jewish feeling…”, Lindemann wrote.
The case itself probably was decided by evidence, however flawed, rather than prejudice, but the poisonous war of words that surrounded the trial and its aftermath, culminating in the infamous events at the oak grove in Marietta, created a lasting legacy of resentment and paranoia which soured relations with the Jewish community in Atlanta for decades.
With overstated claims from Leo Frank’s supporters and ugly anti-semitic slurs from his detractors, neither side comes out of this tragic affair well.
As for what really happened that Saturday afternoon in 1913, only two men know for sure. They are Leo Frank and Jim Conley. Credible cases can be made for both men’s guilt, whereas equally viable arguments exist for their innocence.
Frank was eventually pardoned in 1986 by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles, who did not exonerate Frank but acknowledged their failure to protect him from his lynching.
That brutal event ended any chance that Frank would ever get justice on Earth, but The Ballad of Mary Phagan, a then popular folk song inspired by the case, supposed that Frank’s ultimate judgement may be faced somewhere else.
“Have a notion in my head, When Frank he comes to die, Stand examination In a court-house in the sky.”
On the evening of March 19, 1960, police were summoned to a ranch-style home in Independence, Missouri, 10 miles due east of Kansas City. There, a young housewife claimed she heard a gun go off in the bedroom where her husband James Kinne had been sleeping. Upon entering, she said, she found her young daughter Danna holding a .22 caliber pistol, and her husband shot in the back of the head. The victim was loaded into an ambulance; by the time he arrived at the hospital, Sharon Kinne’s husband was dead.
After an investigation in which the toddler proved she could indeed pull a trigger on a .22 caliber pistol, the police declared James Kinne’s death an accident. Kinne was free to go—but she would soon be under suspicion again.
In April of that year, using money from her husband’s insurance policy, Kinne purchased a Ford Thunderbird from a car salesman named Walter Jones. The two hit it off and soon began an affair. Their relationship was troubled from the start—Jones was married at the time to a woman named Patricia. In May, Kinne requested Jones join her on a trip; Jones declined. Upon her return at the end of May, Kinne informed Jones she was pregnant with his child. She expected he would leave his wife. Instead, Jones broke off their relationship.
Not long after that, Patricia, Walter Jones’s wife, went missing.
After filing a missing persons report, Jones spoke with Patricia’s friends in hopes of uncovering clues as to the whereabouts of his wife. One group who carpooled to work with Patricia had an intriguing story to tell. They informed him that Patricia had received a mysterious phone call on the day of her disappearance; the caller was female and wished to speak with her after work. Patricia agreed to the meeting, asking her carpool driver to drop her off at a meetup spot in Independence. They confirmed that a woman was waiting for Patricia.
Jones confronted Kinne; she admitted she had indeed met with Patricia that day and told her about the affair. Afterward, Kinne claimed, she dropped her off near the Jones household. Jones, dubious, demanded Kinne come clean. Kinne stuck with her story, claiming innocence. She even enlisted an old high school lover named John Boldizs to help search for Patricia.
Sure enough, the pair quickly discovered Patricia Jones’s body, riddled with bullets, in a remote area outside of town.
Police questioned Kinne, John Boldizs, and Jones, and subsequently arrested Kinne for the murder of Patricia Jones. What’s more, they announced that Kinne would also be tried for the murder of her husband, James Kinne. But Sharon Kinne was pregnant, and the trials would have to wait until after she delivered her baby.
Kinne was tried separately for each murder. The trial for the murder of Patricia Jones began in June 1961. The media soon arrived to cover the sensational case. In the end, citing a lack of concrete evidence, the jury found Kinne not guilty of Jones’s murder. One juror even asked for Kinne’s autograph after the verdict was read, a moment captured by photographers.
The trial for James Kinne’s murder, however, proved far more complicated. The first trial in January 1962 ended in a conviction, yet the verdict of life behind bars was overturned due to procedural irregularities. A second trial ended abruptly in a mistrial, while a third trial in July 1964 ended in a hung jury, allowing Kinne out on bond.
Before her fourth trial could begin in October 1964, Kinne skipped town and headed to Mexico with a boyfriend named Francis Puglise. She claimed they intended to get married there. But Kinne just couldn’t resist another violent episode. After meeting an American tourist, Francisco Parades Ordoñez, in a bar, Kinne went back to his hotel room. She claimed he tried to rape her, and she shot him, killing him and wounding a hotel employee who entered the room after he heard gunshots. A return on ballistics revealed that the gun that killed Ordoñez was the same gun that had killed Patricia Jones.
Mexican police didn’t believe Kinne’s protestations about attempted rape, and tried her for homicide. In October 1965, she was convicted and received a 10-year prison sentence. A subsequent appeal and judicial review had an adverse effect on Kinne’s case, extending her sentence to 13 years, claiming the first had been too lenient. Kinne spent the next four years in a Mexican prison, earning the nickname “La Pistolera”, the gunfighter.
Then, on December 7, 1969, Sharon Kinne didn’t show up for the daily roll call in prison. By the next morning, it was obvious she had escaped. Some believe she bribed the guards and made her escape during a convenient blackout the night before. Others believe her boyfriend aided in her escape. One lurid theory claims that the family of her last victim busted her out of jail for the pleasure of killing her themselves.
The FBI, working in tandem with Mexican authorities, entertained a brief search for Kinne, claiming that it was unlikely she would return to the United States and had instead probably made her way into Guatemala. Kinne’s warrant for the murder of her husband James, issued in 1964, is still active to this day, making it the longest outstanding arrest warrant in the Kansas City area and one of the longest outstanding felony warrants in United States history.
Sharon Kinne’s good looks and sensational story made her a larger-than-life figure in the press at the time. Now that over 40 years have passed with Kinne on the lam, it’s obvious that she is no common criminal. La Pistolera is likely still out there, somewhere.
THE BLUE-EYED SIX MURDER
On July 8, 1878, one of the strangest murder plots in Pennsylvania history began with the purchase of four insurance policies in Lebanon County. It would become a plan that took months to carry out the perpetrators believed it was foolproof. Four men bought life insurance policies on a man named Joseph Raber, an old recluse who lived in a shack in the Blue Mountains. The elderly man was in poor health and they were sure he would soon die, bringing an end to their financial problems. But when they decided that Raber had lived too long, they took matters into their own hands by bringing two others into the plan. Unfortunately, far too many people knew of the plot and soon, all six were arrested for murder. The trial gained national attention, perhaps for the similarities between the six conspirators – all were illiterate, all were living in poverty, and all six had blue eyes.
In time, the sinister plot would create legends and inspire crime writers, but it also had one unintended effect – it created a lingering spirit that still haunts a local churchyard to this day!
The life insurance policies on Joseph Raber should have earned the policy-owner’s a large payday for 1878. They totaled more than $8,000 and insured the life of a man who his killers believed should have been dead already. Raber was an impoverished old man who lived in an old charcoal burner’s shack in the mountains. He was too ill to work and depended on the charity of others to survive. Officially, “charity” was just what his four neighbors — Israel Brandt, George Zechmanm Josiah Hummel, and Henry Wise — were offering him. The type of insurance they bought was called assessment insurance, also known as “graveyard insurance.” It was primarily sold to guarantee that the insured would have enough money to be buried when he died with a little extra for his survivors. The concept of assessment insurance was simple; the insured paid a premium to join a pool then when any of the members died, the rest in the pool were assessed a certain amount that was then given to the beneficiaries.
But Raber was relatively healthy and showed no signs that he would be dying anytime soon. The constant assessments required to stay in the pools quickly became a financial hardship for his insurers. They realized that they could not afford to let Joseph Raber live any longer. Just a few months after the paperwork was signed, the four conspirators hired two assassins to killed Joseph Raber. Israel Brandt approached his neighbor, Charles Drew, and offered him $300 to kill the old man and promised he would get the same amount from the other conspirators after the job was done. Drews, in turn, sought help from Frank Stichler, a local thief – the final blue-eyed man.
Around dusk on Saturday, December 7, 1878, Drews went into the tavern that was located at Israel Brandt’s hotel and told people there that Joseph Raber was dead. That afternoon, he and Stichler had paid a call on Raber and offered him some tobacco if he would accompany them to Kreiser’s Store. Raber agreed to go with them. The trip to the store had required crossing Indiantown Creek on a crude bridge made of two twelve inch planks. Drews said Raber had a dizzy spell part way across, fell into the water, and drowned. The following day a coroner’s jury examined the body and declared the death accidental.
But no one was fooled for long.
Too many people in Lebanon County knew about the plot and word eventually reached the insurance company that had provided the policies. They pressed the local police for answers. They soon had a witness to what had occurred on the crude bridge – a man named Joseph Peters had witnessed Stilcher showing Raber into the water and then holding him under until he drowned. Soon, all six men had been arrested.
Newspapers in America and overseas followed the case. It was the first time in the history of English and American law that six men would be tried together for murder. Reporters from distant cities came to the Lebanon County Courthouse to witness the proceedings. One of them observed that all of the defendants had piercing blue eyes; from then on, referred to them as “The Blue Eyed Six.” The unusual nature of the crime and the striking nickname given to the killers inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, “The Red-Headed League.”
After five hours of deliberations by the jury, all six were found guilty of the murder in April 1879, though one of the conspirators, George Zechman, was later granted a second trial and acquitted due to lack of direct evidence against him. The remaining five were sentenced to death by hanging.
A number of legends appeared in the wake of the Blue Eyed Six case – some more based on facts than others. One tale claimed that the killers were all buried next to Joseph Raber in a local cemetery, while others claimed the men were actually hanged from a tree in the cemetery. In truth, Raber was buried there, but his killers were all hanged at the county prison and buried in various graveyards in the region.
In time, the legends that surround the burial site of Joseph Raber have been the most enduring. He was buried at Moonshine Cemetery, which is on land that was donated by Henry Moonshine, a local man who offered the land in memory of his son, who died at the age of 14. The cemetery is adjacent to the United Zion Church, which started out as a log cabin. It burned in the 1960s and was replaced by the white building that exists today. It is a quiet, peaceful place. There is nothing strange or eerie about it – at least during the daytime. After dark, visitors tell a different story.
They believe that the spirit of the murdered Joseph Raber still walks the grounds of the place where he was buried.
Mysterious lights have been seen in the cemetery – some say there are six blue lights that are seen, which are the ghosts of the Blue Eyed Six, paying penance for their crimes – but most claim to have seen the ghost of Raber himself, wandering through the cemetery. They believe that, even after all this time, the murdered man cannot rest in peace.