“MYSTERIOUS MISTS AND VANISHINGS”, “THE REAL MUMMY’S CURSE” and More True Horrors! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: (Dark Archives episode with stories from October 1-2, 2018) *** When driving towards the banks of the Chunky River in Mississippi, it’s best not to ignore the “Stuckey Bridge Closed” sign. In fact, you might want to avoid the bridge altogether if you are the least bit squeamish. (The Hanging Man at Stuckey’s Bridge) *** Feelings created by your living area. Can your home truly dictate the way you feel? (Feelings of Pain, Hatred and Anger Caused By My Apartment) *** In the early 1870s the counties of Labette and Montgomery in Kansas were experiencing an alarming number of missing persons. Could a local grocery owner and his family be to blame? (The Bloody Benders) *** The legend of Lavinia Fisher has been told and retold since her execution in Charleston, South Carolina in 1820 and with each telling it has grown more extravagant and further from the truth. (The Legend of Lavinia Fisher) *** Why are so many mysterious vanishings combined with some type of cloud, fog or mist? (Mysterious Mists And Strange Vanishings) *** Frank Lloyd Wright is regarded as one of the most brilliant minds in the history of American architecture. One of his creations was Taliesin, meant to be a hideaway for Wright and his mistress. But that beautiful home soon became a scene of utter horror – and it left behind a haunting. (Murder at Taliesin) *** A family buys a home to renovate and resell – but soon they come to realize why the previous owners might have been so eager to sell the house and get out. (The Shadow On My Sofa) *** A big smile is usually a joy-filled and even comforting sight – so why do so many terrifying encounters with evil include entities or villains with evil grins? (Smiling, Sinister and Supernatural) *** If you decide to visit the most haunted house in Philadelphia, whatever you do, avoid the “Death Chair.” (Baleroy Mansion) *** It’s October – so we’re bound to see numerous images of Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s monster… but no creepy month of Halloween would be complete without our TP-covered friend, “The Mummy” and, of course, the curse that goes with it. But in real life, did the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter in 1922 unleash a terrible curse? (The Mummy’s Curse)
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STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
(Note: Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“Smiling, Sinister and Supernatural” by Nick Redfern: https://tinyurl.com/s2lpr7x
“Baleroy Mansion” by Gary Sweeney: http://ow.ly/yb5N30m4CMj
“The Shadow On My Sofa” by Bramble Woods: https://tinyurl.com/qr49lmy
“Murder at Taliesin” by Troy Taylor: https://www.facebook.com/authortt/posts/1833623126734665?__tn__=K-R
“The Mummy’s Curse”: https://tinyurl.com/tm4xmmb
“The Hanging Man at Stuckey’s Bridge” by Jennifer Jacob: http://ow.ly/oYTk30m2RCG
“The Legend of Lavinia Fisher” by Robert Wilhelm: https://tinyurl.com/oxmjskn
“The Bloody Benders” by Robert Wilhelm: https://tinyurl.com/mx72xxd
“Feelings of Pain, Hatred and Anger Caused By My Apartment?”: https://tinyurl.com/rhcanqr
“Mysterious Mists and Strange Vanishings” by Brent Swancer: https://tinyurl.com/vmadbwn
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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
In 1923, three months after the breaking open of Tutankhamun’s tomb, had Lord Carnarvon been struck down by the pharaoh’s curse for daring to desecrate his burial crypt?
Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, thought so. Ironically for a man associated with the logical detective, Doyle was an ardent believer in the supernatural and declared that Carnarvon was struck dead for daring to disturb the young king.
The newspapers and the public, already in the grip of pharaoh fever, were hooked on the story. Over the coming years, they would link dozens of strange and early deaths amongst those associated with the tomb’s discovery to the curse.
Was this simply early tabloid sensationalism and wild imaginations or did a sinister curse doom those who dared enter the pharaoh’s last resting place?
Even before Carnarvon’s death, there was talk of impending doom.
The day Carter first discovered the entrance to the tomb, a cobra got into his house and killed his pet canary. Pharaohs were represented by the cobra, and Carter’s workers felt it an omen — do not enter.
Best-selling novelist Marie Corelli, quoting an ancient Arabic manuscript, told the press that — “the most dire punishment follows any rash intruder into a sealed tomb”.
Carter also received a rash of letters warning him not to proceed. The archeologist dismissed it all as nonsense, but when his benefactor Carnarvon died shortly later it sent the press into a frenzy.
It wasn’t entirely clear how he died, although the suggestion was that a mosquito bite had become infected when Carnarvon accidently nicked it whilst shaving. After a delirious fever, he succumbed on April 5th, 1923.
More details emerged that encouraged the speculation. The night of his death, there was a black-out in Cairo and reportedly Carnarovan’s dog back in England let out a howl and dropped dead.
The press around the world had become obsessed by the idea Carnarvon was killed by a pharaoh’s curse. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle publically endorsed the idea.
A Los Angeles Times leader wrote — “No matter how little superstitious a man may be, the act of breaking the rest so carefully guarded through the centuries must cause an emotion which time can never efface”.
More deaths were to follow. A few weeks after Carnarvon’s death, Carter gave wealthy financier George J Gould a private tour of he tomb. Soon after, Gould came down with a fever and died.
Other early tomb visitors died violent or strange deaths within the year. Prince Ali Kemal Fahmy Bey and South African millionaire Woolf Joel were both murdered and British MP Aubrey Herbert went blind and died of blood poisoning.
Hebert’s death was particularly tragic for the Carnarvon family as he was Lord Carnarvon’s half brother. He had reported on entering the burial chamber — “something dreadful is going to happen to our family”.
Perhaps the press were right? Within months, a disparate group of characters from around the world were all dead after visiting the tomb.
The following year, 1924, would only fuel the speculation. In January, Sir Archibald Douglas-Reid, who had x-rayed King Tutankhamun’s body, died from a mysterious illness.
H. E. Evelyn-White was next. The young British archeologist was one of the first to enter the tomb after Carter. After writing — “I have succumbed to a curse” in his own blood, he hung himself.
Sir Lee Stack, governor of Sudan, was also amongst the earliest visitors to the pharaoh’s tomb. Later that year he too met a violent end, shot dead on the streets of Cairo by an assassin.
The next year one of the most peculiar stories surrounding the curse hit the news-stands. Howard Carter had given his close friend, Sir Bruce Ingham, a paperweight made from a mummified hand wearing a scarab bracelet.
Inscribed upon the bracelet were the words — “cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence”. Soon after, Ingham’s house burnt down. When it was rebuilt, it flooded.
In 1926, George Benedite of the Louvre museum died shortly after visiting the tomb. Another Egyptologist, Aaron Ember, also died that year in a curious fire at his home.
After Howard Carter himself, the main archeologist to excavate Tutankhamun’s tomb was A. C. Mace. Mace spent years on the dig and co-authored the first book about discovery with Carter.
In 1928, after complaining of increasing weakness, he collapsed. He died shortly later, seemingly of arsenic poisoning, in the same hospital as Lord Carnarvon.
1929 saw two particularly strange deaths. As Howard Carter’s personal secretary, Richard Bethell was present at the opening of the burial chamber in 1923. He was found in November, smothered to death in his bed.
A few months later, Bethel’s father Baron Westbury jumped from his seventh floor flat in a delirium. The flat contained artifacts from the dig, obtained by his late son. Westbury’s suicide note read — “I really cannot stand any more horrors and hardly see what good I am going to do here, so I am making my exit”.
Finally in 1929, Lord Carnarvon’s other half brother died from ‘malarial pneumonia’.
Within 6 years of the discovery, Carnarvon, both his half brothers, Carter’s chief archeologist, his personal secretary and his father, the excavation’s radiologist and at least half a dozen other prominent individuals who visited the tomb were all dead.
Was it down to vivid imaginations and a lot of coincidences, or did this rash of deaths have a more sinister cause?
Perhaps we don’t need to suppose any supernatural source for the ‘curse’. Could there be a more scientific answer?
The ‘curse’ of Tutankhamun was still claiming victims 70 years on. But this time it pointed to a scientific solution to the mystery.
Sheryl Munsun died in 1995 of respiratory failure, a few weeks after visiting Tutankhamun’s tomb. Munson didn’t just visit the tomb, she touched the walls and run her fingers across the paint.
Back home, she fell ill. Her immune system, already weakened by a battle with cancer, had become overrun by spores or a toxic fungus — Aspergillus Niger.
Doctors were baffled. Could there be any connection to her recent trip to Egypt? The suspicion wasn’t entirely new.
After Carnarvon’s death, American politicians had ordered an immediate investigation into mummies to see if they posed the same medical threat apparent in the tomb.
Arthur Conan Doyle, when not proposing supernatural sources, suggested the curse may be down to the pharaohs deliberately booby trapping their tomb walls with poisons.
Howard Carter, unaware of any potential danger, first noted patches of fungus on walls of the burial chamber in 1923 and experts say such mould and fungus is not uncommon.
“When you think of Egyptian tombs, you have not only dead bodies but foodstuffs — meats, vegetables, and fruits”, said Jennifer Wegner, an Egyptologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia.
“It certainly may have attracted insects, molds, and bacteria. The raw material would have been there thousands of years ago”.
Other studies of ancient mummies have shown they too can carry mold and bacteria, two of which — Aspergillus Niger and Aspergillus Flavus, are potentially deadly.
These molds can cause allergic reactions ranging from congestion to bleeding in the lungs and are particularly harmful to people, like Carnarvon, with weakened immune systems.
French physician Dr. Caroline Stenger-Philippe, in her doctoral thesis for the Strasbourg School of Medicine in 1985, linked 6 of the Tutankhamun deaths to a severe allergic reaction to the mould.
Stenger-Philippe claimed the victims were stricken with allergic alveolitis, an inflammation of the tiny air chambers in the lungs, and died of pulmonary insufficiency.
Further dangers have been found inside sealed sarcophagi. Ammonia gas, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide have all been detected, which in strong enough concentrations can cause burning of the eyes and nose, pneumonia-like symptoms and even death.
Lord Carnarvon was already ill before the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, injured in a bad car crash the previous year. The next victim — George J Gould, was also already weakened by illness at the time
Did exposure to toxic mold hasten their deaths?
Perhaps a supernatural curse did exist of a fashion — in the minds of its victims. Often ascribed to the invention of journalists, the public imagination in the 1920s was very receptive to the idea of curses.
This was a far more credulous and superstitious time, and tales of horror and dark goings-on in foreign lands were immensely popular. Could it be some of those that died simply believed the curse to be real, and this hastened their deaths?
With the media hype so strong about the ‘curse of the pharaohs’, there is evidence at least some of the deaths were influenced by the belief they had succumbed to it
Evelyn-White’s grisly suicide is the most obvious candidate. A young archeologist who visited the tomb in 1923, he left a note, supposedly written in his own blood, complaining that he was cursed.
Although Evelyn-White had a troubled private life, could the fact he visited Tutankhamun’s burial chamber have made him believe his troubles were caused by the much-vaunted curse?
Another suicide ascribed by some to the curse was Baron Westbury, who jumped from a 7th-floor balcony to his death in 1930. His suicide note complained about ‘the horrors’.
Westbury’s son, Richard Bethel, was the second man to enter the burial chamber, after Carter himself. Just months earlier he had died in strange and violent circumstances.
Did Westbury believe he, too, was doomed and take matters into his own hands?
“Death Shall Come on Swift Wings To Him Who Disturbs the peace of the king”.
Rumours that Carter had found those words inscribed in the burial chamber were never substantiated, and Carter himself always denied it. However, ancient Egyptians did sometimes leave curses in their tombs.
The tomb of Khentika Ikhekhi contains an inscription — “As for all men who shall enter this my tomb… impure… there will be judgment… an end shall be made for him… I shall seize his neck like a bird… I shall cast the fear of myself into him.”
Another Old Kingdom curse reads “Cursed be those who disturb the rest of a Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease that no doctor can diagnose.”
Some mastaba walls in Giza and Saqqara were also inscribed with curses meant to scare off tomb robbers.
The modern idea of a mummy’s curse did not begin with the Carter dig. Egyptologist Dominic Montserrat traces the idea back to Victorian London and bizarre ‘strip-shows’ where real mummies were unbandaged live on stage.
This odd spectacle inspired Little Women writer Louisa May Alcott to write one of the first mummy’s curse stories, in her long forgotten 1869 book “Lost in a Pyramid, or The Mummy’s Curse”.
American Egyptologist Herbert E. Winlock was one of the most prominent skeptics over the mummy’s curse. If it existed, Winlock argued, it was not very effective.
He scrupulously collected newspapers stories of deaths attributed to the curse. By the 1930s, according to Winlock, the vast majority of those directly involved with the excavation were actually still alive.
Of the 26 who were present at the first discovery of the burial chamber, only 6 had died by 1934. Only 2 of the 22 present at the opening of the sarcophagus were dead 10 years later.
All 10 of those who were there when the mummy was unwrapped were also still alive. It seems the pharaohs were not that keen on striking down those who desecrated the grave after all.
The best example was Howard Carter himself. As the discoverer of the tomb, he should have been the main target for any curse. Yet he went on to live for another 15 years, until his death in 1937 of natural causes.
Lord Carnarvon himself may have been, somewhat inadvertently, responsible for the curse.
In January 1923, growing tired of the endless clamour of journalists for interviews and access, he decided to sell exclusive rights to cover the excavation to just one newspaper — the Times of London.
Rival newspapers were furious. This was the story of the decade and one newspaper had a monopoly on it. To compensate, journalists like Arthur Weigall of the Daily Mail, were forced to find different ways to cover Carter’s excavation.
Myths, ancient curses, and mysterious deaths sold newspapers and were a good way to feeds the public’s insatiable appetite for stories of Tutankhamun’s tomb without access to the site itself.
Thus were born ripe tales of the dead canary, the power cut in Cairo and suicide notes written in blood. Stories that continue to this day.
The following events took place when I was around 15 years old and lived at home with my parents and younger sister. We had moved into a new house that was only around 20 years old but still needed a fair bit of renovating. The house was situated on an acre and a half of land, with a creek running along the rear boundary. There was only one previous owner who had built the home with her late husband. Prior to that it was simply vacant bushland.
My parents had bought homes to renovate and flip, so to my sister and I this was just another adventure. I can’t tell you exactly when I first started to feel uneasy about the house, but I do know that there were many little events that I simply didn’t notice until I finally grouped them together. There are too many things to mention, but I will focus on a few that have particularly affected me.
We had settled in and were there for maybe a few months before I started experiencing whispers before I slept. It would always happen during that time when you are a few seconds from sleep, but the slightest noise can startle you. The voice would mimic either my sister or my mum in such a convincing way that I would always reply and not realise until afterwards that it was not them. It would only whisper my name – nothing more, nothing less. I would answer and wait for a reply, but nothing. My mum and sister were always sound asleep.
Soon after this, I started to experience Sleep Paralysis. I had never had this before and it absolutely terrified me. It felt like as soon as I would fall asleep, I would drift only partly back into the real world. My eyes would still be closed, but my brain more awake than ever. I will always remember the overwhelming feeling of someone in the room, made all the worse by me not being able to see what was happening. I couldn’t move, couldn’t scream for help and I would get this pressure on my chest that got so bad I would stop breathing. It was only then that I would wake up, gasping for air. Once awake, the room was exactly how it should be but the feeling of someone watching would always linger. Gradually over time, these experiences became more and more frequent, until I would dread falling asleep because I knew what was to come.
Perhaps the most startling incident happened to both my sister and me. I was asleep when she suddenly tapped me on the shoulder and woke me up. As soon as I opened my eyes and looked at her, I knew that something had happened. She was terrified. She told me that she had gone into the kitchen to get a glass of water and saw dad sitting on the sofa upright. She had called out to him, but he didn’t answer or even move. She began to feel uneasy and ran to get me.
I was not happy about going back into the kitchen, but a part of me thought that dad might have just been asleep. We slowly walked back into the kitchen and over towards the sofa. Don’t ask me why we didn’t just turn a light on, I know for a fact that I wasn’t thinking straight having just woken up to this. The moon was bright that night, so as we got closer I saw what I can only describe as a dark male shadow, siting perfectly upright with no distinguishable features.
I instantly knew that it wasn’t dad, but I called out anyway. We stood there watching for what felt like a lifetime when a sudden wave of emotion came over me. I felt like whatever was siting on that sofa was evil and in that split second its head began to turn. We ran for our lives back into my room, locked the door and turned every light on. We didn’t sleep at all that night.
We told our parents in the morning, still hoping that somehow it was just dad who assured us that he had not left his room all night.
To this day I still regret not turning the light on and knowing for sure what I was looking at, but at the same time I think that it is maybe for the best. My sleep paralysis and various other things continued in the home until we moved out 2 years later, but nothing like the shadow man on the sofa. Now I am 24 and have experienced sleep paralysis maybe 5 times since the day we left. Since leaving mum has also opened-up about her experiences in this house, none of which she wanted to tell us at the time for fear of scaring us even more. All I know is, I am glad to be out of that house.
SMILING SINISTER SUPERNATURAL
For decades, people have claimed disturbing encounters with supernatural humanoids that have one thing in common: their maniacal smiles. We’ll begin with the story of a man named Woodrow Derenberger, better known to his family and friends as “Woody.” Susan Sheppard, a writer on, and researcher of, the paranormal says: ” It was shortly after 6 p.m. in the evening, when Woody Derenberger was driving home from his job as a sewing machine salesman at J.C. Penny’s in Marietta, Ohio to his farmhouse in Mineral Wells, West Virginia. The ride home was overcast and dreary. It was misting a light rain.”
Susan continues: “As Derenberger came up on the Intersection of I-77 and Route 47, he thought that a tractor trailer truck was tailgating him without its lights on, which was unnerving, so he swerved to the side of the road and much to his surprise, the truck appeared to take flight and seemed to roll across his panel truck. To his astonishment, what Derenberger thought was a truck was a charcoal colored UFO without any lights on. It touched down and then hovered about 10 inches above the berm of the road. Much to Derenberger’s surprise a hatch opened and a man stepped out looking like ‘any ordinary man you would see on the street – there was nothing unusual about his appearance. Except the man was dressed in dark clothing and had a ‘beaming smile.’” There was, however, something not quite right about that smile.
The strange figure said that his/its name was Indrid Cold. Certainly, Cold is the definitive sinister, smiling thing. He was an enigmatic character who played a significant role in the Mothman wave that dominated Point Pleasant, West Virginia from 1966 to 1967. Cold’s crazed and eerie smile never left him, something which provoked fear among those who encountered him. He still surfaces to this day – much to the cost of those who cross his path. Indeed, in my new book, The Black Diary, Susan Sheppard talks about her very own encounters with what may well have been Cold, in the early 2000s.
The Hat Man is a Man in Black-type being that appears in shadowy form; not unlike the infamous Shadow People – to whom the Hat Man is almost certainly related. On many occasions, however, the Hat Man appears in regular, human form, wearing a black suit, and sometimes a long overcoat or a cloak – always black, too. Most noticeable about this creepy figure is, of course, his hat. Sometimes, it’s a fedora, other times it’s an old style top hat. Occasionally, it’s more like a cowboy hat. But, regardless of the kind of headgear, it’s always present and always black.
Many of the encounters occur while the victim is in a distinct altered state – that of sleeping. Angie had just such an encounter in Leominster, Massachusetts, on September 6, 1994, as she told me late on the evening of October 8, 2014. Her reason for contacting me was due to the fact that, quite out of the blue, she had suddenly begun to dream of the events of twenty years earlier – and dream of them almost every night for a couple of weeks. Angie was sleeping when the mysterious thing disturbed her sleep by manifesting in her bedroom and staring at her with a menacing smile on its pale, ghoulish face. For a few moments, Angie was unable to move. As she finally broke the spell of paralysis, however, the Hat Man was gone.
Jaye P. Paro was a woman who had a number of bizarre, UFO-themed encounters in May 1967, in upstate New York. At the time, she was a host on Babylon, New York’s WBAB station. On one particular day Jaye decided to take a walk. It was barely dawn, and the town in which she lived was still shrouded in shadows. As she walked passed a particularly dark alley, a Woman in Black loomed into view, as if from nowhere, or from some nightmarish realm.
Then, out of the blue, came a black Cadillac, the absolute calling card of the MIB and the WIB. It came to a screeching halt next to the two women, and out of one of the rear doors came an unsettling-looking character. It was a man dressed in a dark grey suit, with what was described as an “oriental” appearance, and who sported a disturbing smile. The driver seemed almost identical in appearance. The man with the fearsome smile shook Jaye’s hand and said, “I am Apol.” Jaye said that holding Apol’s hand was like holding the hand of a cold corpse.
Should you ever encounter one of these disturbing entities, it’s probably best to stay away from them – and as far away as possible. Their smiles are most definitely not of the inviting kind.
Baleroy Mansion has stood in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill section for over a century. The estate was built in 1911 by a carpenter who eventually murdered his wife in the main house—at least according to lore.
The apocryphal story set the tone for tales to come. In 1926, the mansion was purchased by the prominent Easby family, whose roots could be traced back to England’s Easby Abbey. The family also counted Civil War hero General George Meade among its notable members. When Meade’s great-grandson, George Meade Easby, took control of the 32-room mansion, he named it Baleroy after a chateau in the Loire Valley of France.
Over the years, the Easby family experienced strange happenings in the house—from hallucinations to unexplained deaths. Several housekeepers reportedly died on the premises. Encounters of ghosts were so rampant that Baleroy earned the title of “Most Haunted Home in America” and “the most haunted house in Philadelphia”.
Many visitors have observed an elderly woman with a cane, dressed in black and hovering in a corner on the second floor. The usual bangs and knocks are prevalent. Wall decorations have fallen inexplicably. One particular painting was flung 15 feet by an unseen force; the nail in the wall was still secure and the rear hanging wire unbroken. People have even claimed to see the ghost of Thomas Jefferson standing near a tall grandfather clock in the dining room.
But there is one room inside the mansion that stands apart—an 18th Century drawing room with a simple piece of furniture called the Death Chair.
The chair is a 200-year-old wing-back that was reportedly once owned by Napoleon. George Easby advised guests not to sit in the antique chair, and draped a silk rope over its arms as a method of dissuasion.
The reason? He and many others were convinced that sitting down spelled certain doom.
Though a reputed four deaths have been attributed to the chair, holdings in the Chestnut Hill Historical Society only corroborate three of them. According to Chestnuthill Patch, Easby told the authors of Haunted Houses U.S.A. that his housekeeper, his cousin, and a friend all died within weeks of sitting in the chair.
Easby blamed the chair’s malevolence on “Amanda,” a ghost he dubbed a “loose cannon.” She has ripped open doors only to slam them shut, and seems to possess powers of a wicked nature. Amanda has been seen, not as an apparition, but as a cold, ectoplasmic red mist hanging in the doorway from the Reception Room into the Blue Room. It is here where Amanda appears and entices people to sit in the chair.
Séances and visits from famous mediums have attempted to unlock the Baleroy mystery. One of them was Judith Richardson Haimes, who, upon crossing the threshold, remarked “My God, I can’t believe how many spirits are in this house!”
Interestingly, Easby came to respect the many ghosts in his home, and, on one occasion, voiced his wish for them to stay indefinitely. He believed one of the ghosts to be his own mother, Henrietta, whose guidance from the other side helped to steer him away from opportunists and bad business deals. Additionally, Easby claimed to have found papers from a great uncle stashed away in a cabinet, which ultimately led him to a sizable inheritance. He credited his mother’s ghost with that discovery, as well as the discovery of a pair of valuable candlesticks hidden in the attic rafters, which belonged to his mother.
Another ghost, he believed, was his brother Stevey who died at the age of 11, but was seen many times at the window. On one occasion, a laborer working outside glanced up and saw a “young kid with blond hair” staring down at him.
Easby passed away in 2005. For a short time, Baleroy Mansion offered tours, allowing visitors to admire the home’s antique treasures. But as the years passed, the antiques were removed and tours were discontinued. The Baleroy is now a private residence.
MURDER AT TALIESIN
Frank Lloyd Wright has long been regarded as one of the most brilliant minds in American architecture. He designed breathtaking home and buildings and created a unique legacy that continues today. One of his creations was Taliesin, a home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin, that was also meant to be a hideaway for Wright and his mistress. But on August 15, 1914, the beautiful home became a scene of horror when a grisly murder claimed the lives of Wright’s mistress, two of her children, and four others who worked at the estate.
It also, some say, created a haunting that endures to this day.
The story of Taliesin began when Wright met the woman who would become his mistress, Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney, the wife of one of his clients. Not long after being commissioned by businessman and Oak Park, Illinois, neighbor Edwin Cheney to design a house in 1903, Wright fell in love with Mrs. Cheney, even though he was married and had six children of his ow. The pair eventually ran off to Europe together. While the Cheneys divorced, Catherine Wright refused to release her husband.
Seeking a place where he and Martha could live out of the public eye, Wright built a residence and studio in Spring Green in 1911. Wright called the estate Taliesin, in honor of the Welsh bard, but the press dubbed it the “Love Cottage” Locals were not welcoming of their new neighbors. They were criticized by church ministers and even the superintendent of the community’s schools. When sharp tongues, disapproving looks and even threats failed to convince the couple to leave Spring Green, townspeople called on the sheriff to arrest Wright. The eccentric architect, however, cared little about standard conventions or what the outside world thought of his relationship – and there wasn’t anything that the sheriff could do about it.
On the afternoon of August 15, 1914, Wright was in Chicago working on the design of Midway Gardens. At lunchtime, Martha and two of her children, 8-year-old Martha and 12-year-old John, sat down to eat on the porch at Taliesin. Inside the main dining room, at the other end of a 25-foot-long passageway, Wright’s draftsmen and laborers also gathered around a table to be served lunch by Barbados native Julian Carlton, a handyman and servant who had spent the summer waiting tables and performing housework at Taliesin. Carlton’s wife, Gertrude, did most of the cooking.
As the workers were eating in the dining room, 19-year-old draftsman Herbert Fritz and his table mates noticed something unusual. “We heard a swish as though water was thrown through the screen door. Then we saw some fluid coming under the door. It looked like dishwater. It spread out all over the floor,” he recalled.
After serving soup to Martha and the children, Carlton instructed his wife to leave the house. He then returned to the porch wielding a hatchet and attacked Martha and the two children before dousing the floors with gasoline and setting the entire house ablaze.
The dining room where the workers were having lunch suddenly burst into flames. The door had been locked from the other side. With his clothes burning and hair on fire, Herbert Fritz jumped out the window next to where he was seated and rolled down the hillside to put out the flames. When he looked back, he saw Taliesin in flames and saw Carlton swinging a hatchet at his co-workers, who had managed to force open the dining room door and to escape through the window to the courtyard.
Although badly burned and wounded, both 35-year-old carpenter Billy Weston, and landscape gardener David Lindblom, managed to escape with Fritz. They hurried a half-mile to the nearest house with a phone to call for help. The people who rushed to the scene found the bodies of Martha, her two children, two workers, and a 13-year-old boy. David Lindblom later died from his burns.
Hours after the attack, Carlton was discovered barely conscious inside the basement furnace of the house, having swallowed muriatic acid. He never offered a reason for his attack and died from starvation seven weeks later. Gertrude Carlton said her husband had become increasingly paranoid in the weeks prior to the attack, even keeping a hatchet in a bag next to his bed. Rumors spread that Carlton had been harassed by some of the workers at Taliesin and there had been an argument a few days before the attack over the saddling of a horse. One of the surviving workers told the police that Martha had told the Carltons they were being let go. The killer’s wife confirmed they were due to take a train back to Chicago that night.
Through his grief, Wright set out to resurrect Taliesin, much of which had been destroyed by the fire. By the end of 1914, the residential wing of the estate was rebuilt, and by the end of the year, Wright had fallen in love with another woman, who had penned him a condolence letter. The two married in 1923—after Catherine finally agreed to a divorce—two years before Wright’s estate burned to the ground once again, this time from faulty wiring. Wright once again rebuilt Taliesin, which still stands today.
Memories of the tragedy are said to still linger today. In the wake of the attack, firefighters took the dying and badly burned victims to a cottage on the property called Tan-Y-Deri. It is in, and around, this cottage where Martha’s spirit has been reported over the years. She is usually dressed in a long, white gown and while she is a peaceful presence, she is obviously restless and lost. It is also said that doors and windows open and close by themselves within the cottage and lights sometimes turn on and off. Witnesses say that they often close the place for the night, only to return the following day to find everything wide open.
The events of the past have truly marked the house as a haunted place that will be forever linked to a tragedy of more than a century ago.
An intriguing detail of some mysterious vanishings is the presence of what is usually described as a mist, fog, smoke, or cloud, often strange in color or abnormally thick and opaque, often appearing out of seemingly nowhere. There have been several accounts of people over the years either entering mysterious clouds or even stranger still being enveloped by them, only to seemingly vanish into thin air, as if devoured by these nebulous vapors.
Some of the spookier and most baffling vanishings attributed to mysterious fogs or mists involve aircraft that seem to have just flown off the face of the earth. One of the more well-known of these occurred in 1914, when Chilean Second Lieutenant Alejandro Bello Silva disappeared under rather odd circumstances. On March 9, 1914, Silva embarked aboard his plane, a snazzy new Sánchez-Besa model biplane, on a flight that was to earn him his aviator certification. The challenging flight was to take him on a circuit over treacherous mountainous terrain from Lo Espejo aerodrome in central Chile, all the way to Culitrín, then to Cartagena, and then back to Lo Espejo for a total of 111 miles, which for the biplanes of the day was a fairly good distance, all of it over intimidating mountain passes and peaks.
Although the flight was considered to be quite challenging, Silva was widely-respected as a top student of Air Force flight school and a skilled pilot, and it was fully expected that he would be able to complete the course with ease. After experiencing some trouble with poor visibility and damaged landing gear, he confidently took off again on his mission, all while trailed by a plane carrying a companion and an instructor. Unfortunately, the instructor’s plane experienced a fuel shortage and was forced to return to base, but Silva continued on undeterred.
Witnesses would later claim that the pilot’s plane entered a thick cloud bank that had gathered quite suddenly, but rather than emerging from the other side as expected it just seemed to have vanished. Silva never did fly out of that cloud, and indeed neither he nor his plane have ever been seen again. The odd disappearance provoked a massive search for the missing pilot, but no trace of him or scrap of the plane was ever found, causing him to be pronounced lost and presumed dead. Despite numerous follow-up searches and investigations in the ensuing years, to this day Silva’s vanishing remains unexplained, and the case is so well known in Chile that there is even an expression there, “Más perdido que el Teniente Bello,” or “More lost than Lieutenant Bello,” when referring to someone having completely and hopelessly lost their way.
A similarly bizarre disappearance of a plane happened in 1952, during the Korean War. In March of that year, fighter pilot Commander John Baldwin was on patrol in the skies of Korea aboard an F-86 Sabre when he purportedly flew into a strange cloud formation and seemingly off the face of the earth. At no point was there ever any distress signal issued by Baldwin, nor was any sign of a crash ever found. Indeed, he was a seasoned pilot, had not been engaged in any sort of dogfight at the time, and had not met with enemy fire. Upon entering that cloud he had seemingly ceased to exist.
It is not clear what became of these pilots or their aircraft, but a perhaps sinister hint can be found in a rather harrowing and unexplained account from the Vietnam War. While flying aboard a C-130 cargo plane off the coast of South Vietnam, crewman Robert L. Pollock allegedly looked outside to see a “whirling grey cloudy mass” near the rear troop door, which seemed to be pulsating and growing in size. Pollock immediately attributed it to a fire or some other malfunction, but everything was in working order, and the whole time that strange cloud grew until it was almost filling the entire rear of the aircraft, still ominously swirling about in a clockwise motion.
The now rather unsettled Pollock called other crewmen and they too saw the amorphous mass of roiling smoke. Pollock claimed that he had tentatively put his hand within it and even stepped inside of the bizarre fog, and described it as being completely dark inside, yet not having any discernible odor or taste. Others who put their hands in noticed that their hands would completely vanish, such was the utter thickness of the mist. The unidentified cloud reportedly got alarmingly large, and the crew began to back away in terror, but then it suddenly began to recede until it was just a tiny swirling wisp, after which it disappeared, simply puttering out of existence. What was this mist and was it perhaps about to make this plane disappear as well? It is hard to say.
It is not only planes that have disappeared into unexplained mists, and indeed one of the weirdest mass vanishings ever involved such a phenomenon. The case in question goes back to the fighting of World War I, in particular the Gallipoli campaign, which took place on the Gallipoli Peninsula of the Ottoman Empire from 25 April 1915 and 9 January 1916. The objective of the campaign was for the Allied powers of Britain and France to launch an ultimately unsuccessful naval and amphibious assault against the Turks to secure the Dardanelles, which is a strait that connects the Mediterranean with the Black Sea and served as an essential sea route for their ally, Russia. At the time, the strait was controlled by Turkey, an ally of Germany’s. The eventual plan was to push through and forcefully claim the city of Constantinople (present day Istanbul), which was the Ottoman Empire’s capital, and expel the Turks from the war.
In the midst of the bloody campaign, there came the Sandringhams, a military unit that had been created in 1908 by King Edward VII, consisting of men that had been recruited from the staff of the royal Sandringham Estate. They would later be included with the 5th Territorial Battalion the Royal Norfolk Regiment, or “The Norfolks.” The regiment was rather unique in that it was one of the first examples in the British forces of what came to be referred to as “Pal’s Battalions,” which were military units made up of men who had all been recruited from the same civilian group, for instance the same town , company, or in this case royal estate. These were close-knit groups comprised of men who knew each other well, and in many cases had even grown up together.
In the case of the Sandringhams, they were about to go to war together. The Norfolk Regiment, made up of 250 men, 16 officers, and led by Sir Horace Proctor-Beauchamp, set out for the Gallipoli Peninsula from Liverpool on July 30, 1915 aboard the SS Aquitainia and arrived at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli on 10 August 1915 amidst heavy fighting. They did not have to wait long to see battle for themselves. On August 12, just two days after their arrival, the 5th Norfolks, as part of the 163rd Brigade, were ordered to launch an intense offensive against Turkish positions holding the Anafarta Plain in order to clear them out ahead of a planned Allied advance.
From the beginning the mission was faced with serious setbacks. The men were in poor physical condition due to the rigors of their arduous journey, the side effects of inoculations, a profound lack of sleep, and the harsh, brutally hot and arid climate of the area. Many of them were sick with dysentery, and general morale was low. In addition, the advance was to be carried out in broad daylight, with poor supplies, inadequate water, and with inaccurate maps, against seasoned Turkish fighters who knew the land well and were deeply dug in along ridges. Additionally, the objective of the mission was not made particularly clear, with some of the men thinking that they were to attack the village of Anafarta Saga rather than clear the way for the British assault.
It is perhaps no surprise that the attack turned into a massacre. The exhausted, thirsty, and sick men first made an error and turned the wrong way, separating them from the larger 163rd Brigade. Realizing their mistake, they nevertheless prepared to advance against Kavak Tepe ridge without support or reinforcements. When they did, they were immediately met with a rain of machine gun fire and picked off by numerous snipers entrenched in the ridge and sitting in trees. The Norfolk Regiment bravely pressed on into this maelstrom of blood and bullets, actually managing to push the enemy back towards a forest that was ablaze from artillery fire. Beauchamp and his men continued the charge into the burning forest, and that was the last anyone would ever see of them. The battalion would never emerge from the forest, none would come back to tell the tale, and by most accounts they had simply vanished from the face of the earth.
It was largely thought that the men had simply scattered and been killed in the heavy fighting out there in that blazing forest, but there was no strong evidence at the time to suggest this was the case. Nevertheless this was and still is the official conclusion. The case of the Vanishing Battalion remained pretty much closed until the 50th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in April 1965, when a New Zealand WWI veteran by the name of Frederick Reichardt, along with two of his compatriots, came forward with their own alleged first-hand account of what he saw on that fateful day. The story was recounted by Reichardt during a reunion of veterans and offered a bizarre, if controversial, twist on the tale of the famed missing battalion.
Reichardt went on record saying that they had been sappers with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and that they had been operating in an area near a Turkish position known as Hill 60, which was not far from where the lost Norfolk Regiment had been waging war. The sapper claimed they noticed between 6 and 8 odd, grayish brown, “loaf shaped” clouds hovering over the battlefield. The weird clouds were described as being completely still even in the face of high winds at the time. Beneath these clouds was reportedly another, even larger and denser looking cloud that was estimated as being around 800 feet in length and around 200 feet high. This massive cloud was allegedly hugging the ground over a dry creek bed when the Norfolk Regiment approached, and without hesitation they proceeded to march directly into it. When the regiment had disappeared into the cloud, Reichardt claimed that it had then slowly risen upwards to join the other strange clouds, apparently taking the soldiers with it, after which they all moved off to the north in unison before disappearing from view.
The bizarre story was first published in the September/October edition of the New Zealand UFO magazine Spaceview in 1965. The story would be somewhat corroborated when in 1966, another New Zealand veteran of the campaign, Gerald Wilde, told Spaceview magazine that although he had not seen the disappearance directly, he had heard many rumors among soldiers that the entire Norfolk Regiment had disappeared into a cloud that had been straddling the ground.
It was a rather bizarre story that flew in the face of the official conclusion of what had happened to the Vanished Battalion, but it was immediately jumped upon by UFO enthusiasts and became an almost legendary tale among missing persons cases, particularly those suggesting alien abduction. The story took on a life of its own, especially among alien abduction enthusiasts, and would be told again and again in various publications, each time gaining further details or having the details changed somehow. People just couldn’t seem to get enough of this sinister tale of cloud-shaped UFOs whisking away a whole regiment of men in the middle of a battlefield. The story gained such a following amongst the public that the British Ministry of Defence and the Imperial War Museum were constantly deluged with letters demanding the release of top secret files that outlined the mass alien abduction and had been covered up.
Things got weirder still when a secretive group of US scientists and officials referred to as MJ-12 released a report on the same incident in a paper titled 1st Annual Report, in 1998. The document is apparently an annex to another paper that describes the incident dating to 1952. The 1st Annual Report describes the incident thus: “On August 21 1915, members of the New Zealand Army Corps’ First Field Company signed sworn statements that they saw the One-Fourth Norfolk Regiment disappear in an unusually thick brown cloud which seemed to move and rose upward and vanished. There were no traces of the regiment nor their equipment. No explanation can be found in the historical records of the Imperial War Museum archives.”
Although this particular statement is thought to be a hoax, it adds an intriguing layer to the whole mystery. Another report that takes the story into a decidedly paranormal direction is a claim made in a 1967 book titled Flying Saucers Are Hostile, in which authors Brad Steiger and Joan Whritrenour claim that a further 22 more witnesses from the New Zealand military eventually came forward to corroborate Reinhardt’s story, and also they share what they refer to as part of the “official history” of the Gallipoli campaign. In the book the authors state that this “official history” describes how the Norfolks were ensconced within a strange, unseasonable fog which reflected sunlight in such a way as to produce a blinding glare in which artillery personnel had been unable to fire.
There have been many, many theories as to what happened to the now almost legendary Vanished Battalion, ranging from that they were gunned down and massacred by Turkish forces and their deaths covered up by the War Office, to that they were whisked away to another dimension or another world. The story has certainly been played up and exaggerated over the years, and fact can be difficult to distinguish from fiction, but the idea of a whole battalion of men disappearing into strange unexplained clouds is a powerful one that has remained pervasive in the field of the paranormal.
More recently and not nearly as well known is an eerie disappearance in the country of Japan. On November 19, 1963, a Tokyo bank manager, an employee, and a customer, were in the manager’s car on their way to play a game of golf. This is not so strange in and of itself, as golf games are common venues for business transactions in Japan. What is weird is what they would witness along the way. For much of the way a black car had been in front of them, and when they pulled up next to it they noticed that the front windows were tinted, and that in the rear there was an elderly man calmly reading a newspaper.
Although the car was somewhat odd to them, the witnesses did not think much of it until a white smoke or fog began to envelope it, seeming to come out of nowhere. The smoke was exceptionally thick, and soon had completely obscured the vehicle, although it did not spread to anywhere else. After a few moments the fog inexplicably dissipated, and when it did the black car was simply gone. The witnesses would later claim that the whole episode had lasted only a few seconds. What in the world is going on here?
An even more terrifying encounter allegedly occurred in April of 1992, and while it did not result in a vanishing it certainly seems like it was headed in that direction. On the evening of April 12, the anonymous witness was driving through the desolate desert wasteland of US 180 near Deming, New Mexico, at approximately 11:20 PM when he noticed a white light shining in the dark off to the left side of the road. Thinking this to be odd he continued on his way, only to suddenly notice that a grayish-white, luminous cloud of smoke had stretched across the road ahead almost like a wall.
The witness then drove right on into this eerie fog, and claimed to have driven through it for around an hour but soon found that it was so thick he could barely see the road right in front of his truck. It was all extremely odd considering that such dense fogs are exceedingly rare in such desert locales. Perplexed, the witness exited the vehicle to take a look around, but as he did he claims that he abruptly lost control of his limbs and sprawled to the ground, dizzy and numb and unable to move. As he lie there on the parched earth surrounded by this clinging vapor, two shadowy figures approached out of the murk to grab him by each arm and begin hauling him through the smoke towards a shiny metallic object situated nearby.
According to the witness, these beings brought him through a rectangular opening in the side of the craft and placed him in a chair-like device. It was now that he could see that the two figures were not human, but rather slender, bony entities around 5 feet in height, with oval faces and large black eyes. The chair was put into a reclining position and the witness claims that something was inserted into his nose, some type of tube or device, which caused a distinct buzzing and stinging sensation that caused him to shout out. The two beings were apparently startled, reportedly then throwing him back outside, after which he levitated to his vehicle and the thick fog melted away to leave him there shaking and sobbing in the desert night.
These cases surely cover a range of disparate disappearances and what I like to call “near-vanishings,” and perhaps there is no real connection to any of them other than the presence of strange clouds, fogs, smoke, and mist. Yet one wonders just what the significance of this detail is on the outcome of what happened to these people. Was it just coincidence, or did this fog have some dark meaning and effect? If so, then where did it come from and what does it mean? Is this aliens, an inter-dimensional phenomenon, or something altogether even stranger still? The answers remain unclear. No matter what has happened here, the one thing we can be sure of is that in most of these cases these people encountered clouds or mist and ceased to exist.
Today tourist pamphlets and web sites will earnestly tell you that Lavinia was America’s first female serial killer when, in fact, there is no hard evidence that she ever killed anyone. What we do know is that she was a violent and unrepentant outlaw; she earned her fame by being a tough woman with a bad attitude in a town known for its genteel southern belles.
The legend of Lavinia Fisher will vary from teller to teller but the gist of the story told for more than one hundred years goes something like this. John and Lavinia Fisher owned an inn, the Six Mile House, on a lonely road outside of Charleston, South Carolina. The building was well maintained and was a welcome sight to weary travelers, but it was rumored that sometimes guests checked in and did not check out. One night a fur trader named John Peoples stopped at the inn and was warmly greeted by the Fishers. The beautiful Lavinia Fisher was especially friendly. Peoples thought the Fishers were being a little too friendly and, suspicious of their intentions, he went to bed early.
People’s suspicions grew and he could not sleep. He decided not to lie in the bed but to sit in the corner facing the door so he could see if anyone came in to attack him. His suspicions were confirmed when a trapdoor sprung, dropping the bed into the cellar where John Fisher was waiting with an axe. Peoples escaped and hurried back to Charleston to tell the authorities. John and Lavinia were arrested and their property searched. The human remains were found, including many bodies in a lime pit in the cellar under the trap door. The Fishers were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang.
The unrepentant, Lavinia Fisher went to the gallows in 1820 wearing her wedding dress. John Fisher pinned all the blame on his wife, but he was hanged along with her. Lavinia’s ghost now haunts the Old Jail on Magazine Street in Charleston as well as the Unitarian Cemetary.
Lavinia Fisher was hanged in 1820 but the crime was highway robbery— a capital offense at the time—not murder. She was a member of a large gang of highwaymen who operated out of two houses in the Backcountry outside of Charleston, the Five Mile House and the Six Mile House. It is not clear whether or not the Six Mile House was a hotel, but it did serve as hideout for a number of outlaws.
Wagon trade in and out of Charleston was a profitable business and an important part of the city’s economy. In 1819 trade was disrupted by a gang of highwaymen stopping wagons on the road and stealing goods and money. Since the victims were unable to identify their assailants the authorities were powerless to act. A group of Charleston citizens decided to take matters into their own hands and if necessary invoke “Lynch Law.” According to the Charleston News and Courier:
“A gang of desperados have for some time past occupied certain houses in the vicinity of Ashley Ferry; practicing every deception upon the unwary and frequently committing robberies upon defenseless travelers. As they could not be identified, and thereby brought to punishment, it was determined, by a number of citizens, to break them up, and they accordingly proceeded, in a cavalcade, on Thursday afternoon, to the spot, having previously obtained permission of the owners of some small houses, to which these desperados resorted, to proceed against the premises in such manner as circumstances might require.”
The cavalcade proceeded first to the Five Mile House where they gave the occupants fifteen minutes to vacate the premises before they burned it to the ground. At the Six Mile House they evicted the occupants and left a man named Dave Ross behind to guard it. Believing their work was finished, the cavalcade returned to Charleston.
The next morning, two men from the outlaw gang broke into the house and assaulted Dave Ross, driving him outside where he was surrounded by a gang of nine or ten men and one woman, the beautiful Lavinia Fisher. Ross looked to Lavinia for help, but she choked him and shoved his head through a window. Two hours later, John Peoples was heading out of Charleston in his wagon and stopped near the Six Mile House to water his horse. He was accosted by the gang, including Lavinia Fisher. They stole about forty dollars from him.
Peoples returned to Charleston and this time he was able to tell the authorities the identities of his attackers. He did not know all of their names but he had… “just cause to believe that among them was William Hayward, John Fisher and his wife Lavinia Fisher, Joseph Roberts, and John Andrews.”
This, along with Dave Ross’s story, forced the authorities to act. Sheriff’s deputy Colonel Nathanial Green Cleary got a bench warrant from Judge Charles Jones Colcock and set out for Six Mile House. John and Lavinia Fisher, along with several members of the gang, gave up without a fight and were taken to jail in Charleston. Over the next several days many other gang members were arrested. John Peoples identified them as the group who robbed him. John and Lavinia Fisher were charged with highway robbery—a hanging offense at the time. While they were awaiting trial, a grave containing the remains of two human bodies, was found about 200 yards from Six Mile House. They were believed to be the bodies of a white man and a black woman, dead for at least two years. With so many people in and out of Six Mile House during that time, it was impossible to identify their killers and no one was ever charged with their murder. Only two bodies, no more, were found at Six Mile House.
The trial took place in May 1819. The Fishers pleaded not guilty to the charge of highway robber, but the jury thought otherwise. The verdict: guilty of highway robbery.
John and Lavinia planned to appeal their conviction to the Constitutional Court and while they awaited the hearing they were kept in the Charleston jail. Because they were a married couple, John and Lavinia were kept in the debtors’ quarters in the upper part of the jail rather than the heavily guarded lower floor. On September 13 they attempted to escape through a hole they made under the window of the cell. John went first down a rope made of blankets but it broke before he reached the ground. He could have escaped alone but chose to stay behind with Lavinia.
Their motion for a retrial was rejected by the Constitutional Court and the Fishers could do nothing now but wait for execution. The Reverend Richard Furman would visit them often to help them make peace with their maker. He appeared to make some headway with John, but Lavinia was more likely to curse than pray.
On February 4, 1820 they were taken to a gallows erected on Meeting Street just outside the city limits of Charleston. Each was wearing a loose-fitting white robe over their clothes, possibly the source of the “wedding dress” myth. It was a public execution and everyone, including the fine ladies of Charleston, came out to see Lavinia Fisher hang.
John mounted the gallows peacefully but Lavinia had to be physically dragged to the platform where she beseeched the crowd to help her. According to one historian: “She stamped in rage and swore with all the vehemence of her amazing vocabulary, calling down damnation on a governor who would let a woman swing. The crowd stood shocked into silence, while she cut short one curse with another and ended with a volley of shrieks.”
When Lavinia was quiet Reverend Furman read a letter from John Fisher in which he thanked the reverend for “explaining the mysteries of our Holy Religion.” John then told the crowd he was innocent and blamed Colonel Cleary for coaching the witness who accused him.
The legend of Lavinia Fisher had probably already started but her (true) last words to the crowd at her hanging guaranteed her immortality:
“If you have a message you want to send to hell, give it to me—I’ll carry it.”
The Fishers were burried in a potter’s field, not the Untiterian Cementery Lavinia supposedly haunts.
It is strange that Lavinia Fisher has a legend as a murderess, when, in fact, it is unlikely that she ever murdered anyone. It is possible that somewhere along the line the legend of Lavinia Fisher became confused with the true and well-documented crimes of the “Bloody” Bender Family, in Kansas, 1870s. So we will look at that case in a moment.
In the early 1870s the counties of Labette and Montgomery in Kansas were experiencing an alarming number of missing persons. The investigation passed several times through the cabin of the Benders, a family of German immigrants who ran a small grocery store and restaurant outside of Cherryvale, Kansas, but the Benders appeared completely innocent. When authorities found the cabin abandoned one day the picture changed. A closer look revealed nine murdered corpses, the handiwork of the Bloody Benders.
Around 1870 the Bender family built a small cabin outside of Cherryvale, Kansas, about fifty miles north of the Oklahoma border. William Bender and his wife (sometimes referred to as “Ma” Bender) were in their sixties; Thomas and Joanna—better known as Kate—were in their twenties. They were German immigrants; all spoke with accents and the elder Benders spoke little English. It is unclear exactly how these four were related. Most accounts say that Thomas and Kate were the son and daughter of William Bender and his wife, but Thomas was also known as John Gebhardt and is sometimes referred to as Kate’s husband. Other accounts say that none of them were actually named Bender and that only the mother and daughter were related. The men are described as “large, coarse appearing men.” The description of Kate ranges from “a large, masculine, red-faced woman” to “good looking, well formed, rather bold in appearance.” A number of sources agree that she had a ruddy complexion and she may have been a redhead.
The Bender’s kept a small grocery store in the front of the cabin, selling staples such as tobacco, crackers, sardines, candles, powder and shot. They also provided meals for travelers. Though they kept to themselves, the Benders attended church and town meetings and seemed to be an ordinary rural family. The only exception was Kate who professed to being clairvoyant, giving public lectures on spiritualism and advertising in local newspapers her ability to “heal disease, cure blindness, fits and deafness.”
In 1873, citizens of Labette County became concerned over the inordinate number missing persons in their community. Neighboring counties were experiencing losses as well. In March 1973, Dr. William York from Onion Creek, Montgomery County, came in search of a man named Loucher and his infant daughter, who had travelled in the region the previous winter and were never heard from again. Dr. York never made it home either
Dr. York was from a very prominent family and in April his brother, Col. A. M. York came to Labette County leading a party of fifty citizens of Montgomery County. They searched unsuccessfully for the missing doctor, stopping several times at the Benders’ cabin. On one occasion they asked Kate to use her clairvoyant powers to help with the search, but she had no information for them.
The next time someone stopped at the Bender’s cabin it appeared to be deserted. Their wagon was missing and a calf they were raising had died of neglect. The authorities in Cherryvale were notified and went back to check on the house. Everything seemed to be in order, nothing was missing but clothes and bedding. But a thorough search of the house began to reveal the Benders’ horrible secret. Near the table where guests were served was a trap door and the foul smelling hole beneath the door was clotted with blood.
The ground in an orchard near the house had been carefully plowed but one small section was noticeably indented. The ground was dug up revealing the decomposed body of Dr. York. His skull had been crushed and his throat had been cut. Before nightfall seven more bodies were extracted and another was found the next day. Most were badly decomposed but were identified by clothing and jewelry. They were:
• W. F. McCrotty of Cedarville.
• D. Brown of Cederville.
• Henry F. McKenzie of Hamilton County, Indiana.
• Mr. Loucher and his baby daughter from Independence.
• Two unidentified men.
• One child believed to be an eight year old girl.
Another body previously found in Drum Creek was also attributed to the Benders. All but the baby had fractured skulls and slit throats. It was believed that the baby was suffocated when buried alive with her father. The eight year old girl’s body had been badly mutilated.
The travelers were murdered for their money. The amounts stolen by the Benders ranged from 40 cents to $2600 along with horses and wagons.
From the condition of the bodies and the arrangement of the house, the authorities were able to surmise how the killings were done. The table where customers took their meals was in a small booth formed by cloth partitions on both sides. The partitions were close enough to the back of the chairs that, when sitting upright, the heads of the diners would indent the cloth. The male Benders would wait behind the cloth partitions and when the opportunity presented itself would smash their victims’ skulls with stone-breaker’s hammers. The bodies were thrown through the trapdoor—into what one book called the “slaughter-pen”— where the throats were cut to guarantee death. After dark the bodies were removed and buried in the orchard.
This speculation was verified to an extent by a Mr. Wetzell of Independence, Kansas who had read Kate’s advertisement and travelled to the Benders’ with his friend Mr. Gordan, seeking a cure for neuralgia. Kate examined Wetzel and expressed confidence in her ability to effect a permanent cure, but invited them to dine first. For some reason the two men rose from the table and decided to eat their dinners at the counter instead. This caused a change in Kate’s behavior; she became caustic and abusive toward them. They saw the two Bender men emerge from behind the partitions. Wetzell and Gordan became suspicious then and decided to leave—a decision that probably saved their lives.
When the news of the murders spread through Labette County, it whipped the citizens into a frenzy. They demanded vengeance and formed vigilance committees to hunt down the Benders. The vigilantes went first to the home of a man named Brockman, another German immigrant who had briefly been a partner of Mr. Bender’s. They put a rope around his neck and threatened to hang him if he would not confess. When Brockman swore he knew nothing they hanged him from a tree but when he was at the point of death they lowered him down and questioned him again. When he still had nothing to tell him they hung him again. This torture was repeated three times before the posse left him semi-conscious, lying on the ground.
The search for the Benders continued, but though the Governor of Kansas offered a $2000 reward for their capture, the Benders were never brought to justice. One investigation determined that they took a train from Thayer to Chanute where John and Kate got off and took the M. K. & T. train south to Red River in Indian Territory. Here they met up with the elder Benders and travelled through Texas and New Mexico.
Other residents of Labette County told a different story. While researching the Benders’ story for his 1910 book, Celebrated Criminal Cases of America , San Francisco Captain of Police, Thomas S. Duke, contacted police chiefs of Cherryvale and Independence, Kansas. This is how they responded:
June 14, 1910
Yours just received. It so happened that my father-in-law’s farm joins the Bender farm and he helped locate the bodies of the victims. I often tried to find out from him what became of the Benders, but he only gave me a knowing look and said he guessed they would not bother anyone else.
There was a vigilance committee organized to locate the Benders, and shortly afterward old man Bender’s wagon was found by the roadside riddled with bullets. You will have to guess the rest. I am respectfully yours,
J. N. Kramer
Chief of Police
June 14, 1910
In regard to the Bender family I will say that I have lived here forty years, and it is my opinion that they never got away.
A vigilance committee was formed and some of them are still here, but will not talk except to say that it would be useless to look for them, and they smile at the reports of some of the family having been located.
The family nearly got my father. He intended to stay there one night, but he became suspicious, and although they tried to coax him to stay he hitched up his team and left.
Regretting that I cannot give you more information, I am yours respectfully,
D.M. Van Cleve
Chief of Police
Several times suspected members of the Bender family were arrested in other parts of the country and brought back to Kansas to be tried. Most notably, in 1890 two women were arrested in Michigan and alleged to be Ma Bender and Kate. There attorney had affidavits proving they were Mrs. Almira Griffith and Mrs. Sarah E. Davis and were in Michigan between 1870 and 1874. After a habeas corpus hearing they were released from the Labette County jail.
The true fate of the Bender family remains a mystery.
After my divorce I moved into a small apartment while I tried to make sense of my life. During this time, I spent a lot of my spare time at home. While I never saw anything physical I found that the more time I spent at home—the worse I would feel. I would go through stages of anger, pain and hatred—intense hatred during my time at home in that apartment. I felt feelings there that I never felt when I was out of the house. It would creep over me from the moment I arrived home to the moment I couldn’t stand it anymore.
Now, at the time, I thought this was all part of the grieving process. But a few months after moving in I started talking to the lady who lived next door. She told me that few people had stayed in that apartment for long. When she had first moved in a married couple had lived there. They had gotten divorced two, or three months, after she moved in. They’d lived in the apartment for around a total of six months. After her a student moved in and was involved in a crime of passion—then I moved in.
Keeping all the previous occupants of that apartment in mind—I started to wonder if my intense anger and hatred was created by living in that place. I decided to move, moved and found that I didn’t have those feelings anymore.
If I was asked—I’d say that place was cursed. You may think differently.
On Saturday, October 13th, there is a raucous party on the banks of the Chunky River, yards from the infamous Stuckey’s Bridge in Mississippi.
Most of the party-goers keep together at a safe distance from the legendary bridge, but a few have separated from the crowd to attempt climbing it. The bridge-climbers say they’re not there for the party, “We’re on a ghost hunt.”
Stuckey’s Bridge is a 157-year–old structure that crosses the Chunky River in Savoy on the aptly named Stuckey’s Bridge Road. In the 20th century it replaced its long lost function of “bridge” with the new functions “party spot” and “legend manufacturer.” Having been built a decade prior to the Civil War, the bridge, which is made of wooden planks and rusty metal, was never meant for the use of cars. But many people drive across it anyway, oblivious to its loud creaks and moans, paying no mind to the distance between themselves and the water below.
There are many legends surrounding the bridge’s namesake, the most popular casting him as a Norman Bates style innkeeper/serial killer. But the most believable telling of the legend appears in L.N. Fairley and J.T. Dawson’s, Paths to the Past: An Overview History of Lauderdale County, which is published by, and can be found within, the Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History.
That version of the legend begins with the passage through Meridian of the infamous Dalton Gang. The gang is said to have left behind a member by the name of Stuckey. Stuckey, according to legend, “murdered and robbed countless victims in the southwestern corner of the county during the first half of the nineteenth century.” Stuckey allegedly slayed travelers and stole their money, throwing their bodies into the Chunky at the future site of the bridge.
After the bridge was erected in 1850, Stuckey was caught, tried, and hung from the railings of the bridge. Legend holds that Stuckey haunts the bridge to this day, bitter and menacing, angry at having been subjected to the same fate as his victims.
Today, the bridge is covered with the graffiti of years of visitors. Some of the jottings are lighthearted — “Stuckey for President!” says one; “Save the Bridge!” says another. But others are more in keeping with Stuckey’s murderous legacy — “DON’T TURN AROUND!!!!!!” is scratched in black marker along the railings, “Or You Will Die.”
Flippant bits of graffiti may appear alongside the more ominous at Stuckey’s Bridge, but the stories all remain on the sinister (if not always serious) side. “The ghost pulled me off the bridge,” one Clarkdale student claims, lifting his shirt to show the scars that he supposedly obtained in the encounter.
However, the ghost is more commonly reported to manifest itself in the form of visible apparitions or untraceable sounds. According to Roadsites.org’s Lost Highway, many claim to have seen the ghost in the form of an old man carrying a lantern along the banks of the Chunky or to have heard the conspicuous sound, with no apparent source, of a loud splash from beneath the bridge.
Rumor holds that the splashes are echoes of Stuckey’s body hitting the water after being cut from the noose, and that anyone looking in the right spot at the time of the splash will be able to see a glowing spot where his body met with the cold waters of the Chunky river.
Probably the most popular story about Stuckey’s ghost, however, is that on certain nights his corpse can be seen, still hanging from the bridge, and those who see it had better run.
Stuckey’s Bridge was posted to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Readers who would like to experience the legend for themselves can find it on Stuckey Bridge Road in Savoy, where it intersects with Meehan-Savoy Road. Just look for the sign that says “STUCKEY BRIDGE CLOSED” in big black letters. A word to the wise: Don’t drive over it.