“MONSTERS AND THE MILITARY” and 4 More Dark, True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: Haunting the corridors of the Preston School of Industry are dark tales of mystery and murder. (Preston Castle: The Haunted Reform School) *** War brings out the worst in men – and sometimes it brings it out the monsters as well. (Monsters and the Military) *** A tall, thin, frightening stranger appears to a group of children who soon discover it’s best not to scream. (He Moves When We Scream) *** A boy is sent to stay with his aunt—and discovers that her house is haunted. It sounds like a page out of a cliché horror movie, but this time it’s real. (The View From The Other Side) *** William Wilson was such a lonely, boring man that when he was found dead the newspapers had to invent stories to make it more entertaining. (The Mysterious Murder of William Wilson)
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“He Moves When We Scream” was submitted to WeirdDarkness.com by Joe.
“Preston Castle: The Haunted Reform School” by Orrin Grey: https://tinyurl.com/rzmlrvs
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“The View From The Other Side” by John Hugh: https://tinyurl.com/rkyhl3l
“Monsters and the Military” by Brent Swancer: https://tinyurl.com/vyedmxt
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MONSTERS AND THE MILITARY
Throughout history the battlefields of our bloody wars have been saturated with all manner of tales of valor, bravery, cruelty, and tragedy. These are part of the fabric of war, an intrinsic property of it, and this tapestry of death infuses our history with its grim shadow. Often overshadowed by the atrocity and gloom of war there are often other bizarre stories scattered about and buried within this history, and war seems to bring about it stories of strange entities, creatures, and mysteries as well, with some of these things being just as sinister and scary as any enemy.
Here are some of the more frightening and violent encounters with cryptids and mysterious entities during wartime.
A particularly strange and rather violent early account comes from the Crimean War, which lasted from 1854 to 1856 and saw an alliance of forces from the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia battling the Russian Empire for religious control of the Holy Land in the Middle East. Amid all of the fierce fighting and death lies buried a very bizarre report of some sort of flying monster that defies easy classification. During a lull in fighting following a fierce 6-day battle, a band of Russian soldiers reportedly headed out over the nighttime battlefield in order to push past the corpses and buzzing flies to launch a surprise attack on their enemy, with whom they had arranged a tense 24-hour truce.
It was an underhanded tactic to say the least, but they wouldn’t get very far with their insidious plan. As they crept closer to the enemy camp, the men suddenly realized that in the air above them there soared an enormous flying, crow-like entity with the wings of a bat and which was described as not having any discernible head. The thing seemed to be circling ominously above them but the frightened men nevertheless warily continued on their mission. However, for some reason they had become disoriented and were actually headed back towards their camp, where they were mistaken for the enemy and gunned down by friendly fire, with only one of them living to tell the tale of what they had seen out there in the dark.
In later years the account has evolved and changed depending on the telling, with some reports claiming that the band of ambushers were not Russian at all, but rather Turkish troops, and that they had rushed from the darkness screaming and pursued by a horde of bizarre screeching bat-like creatures. One very interesting theory as to what was seen that night is that this was an early instance of a Mothman sighting, and that it was a harbinger of doom during this time of intense bloodshed. Whatever happened out there on that battlefield it remains an intriguing mystery among all of the tales of battle.
Moving on into later years we come to World War I, which produced a few very compelling accounts of mystery monsters. A very strange and very dramatic, almost cinematic sighting happened during the fighting on the seas during World War I, and occurred on July 30, 1915, when the German U-boat U-28 was patrolling somewhere in the North Atlantic and locked onto a British steamer called the Iberian. The steamer was relentlessly chased down and destroyed with torpedoes and shells, and it began to sink, the German sub circling it like a predator stalking its wounded prey. As they watched, the bow of the vessel tipped up and the once mighty British ship began its descent into the depths.
As it did, there was reportedly a huge underwater explosion aboard the doomed vessel, speculated to have been perhaps a damaged boiler. The massive detonation sent a shower of foamy water and debris into the air, as well as something altogether bizarre beyond reason. According to the U-28‘s captain, Freiherr George G von Forstner, he and seven other crew members, an anomalous creature the likes of which they had never seen was also ejected out of the water with pieces of ship and the spray of water, which was described as being somewhat similar to a crocodile in general body shape, with a long tapered head and measuring a whopping 65 feet (20 meters) in length. The creature apparently came back down to the water but was still alive, although obviously grievously wounded, purportedly thrashing about in the water and biting at wreckage for a time before sinking out of sight. In total, the creature was allegedly witnessed for around 15 seconds from a distance of around 500–300 ft (100-150 meters) in bright and clear daytime conditions.
Interestingly, Forstner would write of the bizarre encounter in both his log and in an official report on the matter. There has been speculation that it might have been a total fabrication, but this seems odd for a respected submarine captain to write such a fantastical delusion in a log right alongside serious war matters, as well as in a report to his superiors. It also could have been a mis-identification, but of what? Cryptozoologists have pointed to the fact that the creature described sounds very much like an enormous prehistoric marine reptile called a mosasaur. It will probably remain a mystery, as all of the witnesses are dead and the only records we have are the logbook and the official report. Whatever it was, the U-28 sighting is often considered to be one of the most reliable historical cryptozoological accounts out there.
Another very similar and even scarier encounter happened in later years near the end of World War I, again in the North Atlantic. On April 30th, 1918, the British vessel the Coreopsis was operating off the coast of Ireland when they came across the German U-boat UB-85 floundering in the water, which was approached without a fight. The frightened German crew seemed harried, and surrendered without a single bit of resistance, seemingly happy to have been found and eager to get off of their ship. The captain of UB-85, Gunter Krech, would under interrogation tell a rather frightening and unbelievable account. He explained that the previous night the submarine had surfaced in order to charge its batteries. It had been a calm and quiet night, but this would all change when a gigantic impact was reported as rocking the vessel from below. As the shaken crew gathered to peer into the dark waters, a strange beast then supposedly surfaced right next to the submarine, described as having a bony head and large teeth set within the comparatively small head.
Things had apparently gotten quite intense when the sea monster had then allegedly attacked the submarine, lurching up upon the starboard bow as it thrashed about and bit at the vessel. After a moment of stunned bewilderment, the men had begun to open fire on the creature, causing it to release the sub and slide back into the sea to disappear. In the aftermath of the startling encounter, it was found that UB-85 had sustained enough damage to prevent it from diving, making it a sitting duck for the enemy. The British calmly listened to this wild tale and then had the German submarine sunk, unfortunately along with any evidence at all that this had really happened. Additionally, official reports make no mention of the sea monster encounter, so there has been some skepticism as to whether this event really happened or not. Whether it did or not, it is certainly a rather exciting encounter.
One of the strangest encounters with a mystery monster in World War I allegedly happened on the battlefield of Mons, Belgium, in 1914, and was covered by author and researcher Theo Paijmans in an article called “The Hound of Mons”, in Fortean Times, December 2008. Soldiers seem to have had more than the tenacious enemy to contend with, and according to an account by a Canadian veteran of the battle named F.J. Newhouse, the whole terrifying incident began with a Capt. Yeskes and four men of the London Fusiliers braved the perils of no man’s land in order to carry out a patrol of the area and never returned. This was not strange in and of itself, as this was a bloody battle during World War I and to go missing was a common occurrence. Yet, when the bodies of the men were found several days later, it was discovered that something had ripped their throats out and left gaping teeth marks upon the corpses. One night a few days after this, it was reported that soldiers from both sides heard an ear piercing, monstrous howl emanating from the desolate darkness of no man’s land. The bloodcurdling shriek was allegedly so terrifying that some soldiers who had braved battle day after day cowered and considered retreating at once.
From this incident sprang numerous rumors of other soldiers being found dead and mauled as if by some very large, vicious beast, and that unearthly wail became a common sound echoing out across the area. The occasional anguished cries of terror from German soldiers across the battlefield seemed to indicate that they were suffering similar attacks. The unearthly nighttime roars also increased in frequency and it was around this time that some of the soldiers on sentry duty along the edges of no man’s land reported seeing an enormous, gray hound skulking about out in the shadows of the war torn chasm between the two enemies, often said to possess glowing eyes. For two years the mysterious hound supposedly prowled the bloody battlefield of Mons, gaining an ever growing list of victims and instilling horror in the troops. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared the hound was gone and the attacks ceased.
The story was widely circulated when Newhouse first came forward with it in 1919, and it would gain further elements of bizarreness when he speculated that the creature had been the result of a twisted experiment carried out by a German doctor named Gottlieb Hochmuller for the purpose of inserting the brain of a madman into a massive Siberian wolfhound to be used as a weapon of war. Newhouse would say of this in a 1919 article in the Oklahoman: “The death of Dr. Gottlieb Hochmuller in the recent Spartacan riots in Berlin has brought to light facts concerning the fiendish application of this German scientist’s skill that have astounded Europe. For the hound of Mons was not an accident, a phantom, or an hallucination–it was the deliberate result of one of the strangest and most repulsive scientific experiments the world has ever known.”
Accounts have variously claimed that the hound had been altered to be larger than before, that its capacity for hatred had been chemically enhanced, or that its hide had been made to be impervious to bullets. Newhouse claimed that papers had been found upon Dr. Hochmuller’s death that fully outlined the whole experiment as well as the doctor’s wishes to unleash the beast on allied troops, and fully proved that the experiments were real. It is not explained whether the doctor had anticipated the maniacal hound turning against its own side or why the walking weapon might have suddenly stopped its rampage.
So what was going on here? Was there really some surgically or even genetically enhanced hellhound stalking the no man’s land? Was it something more supernatural in nature? Was it pure fancy? If there is any grain of truth to it all, then it seems perhaps more likely that wild or feral dogs had perhaps been drawn to the war and had congregated there feed on the dead fallen in battle, upon which their gruesome activities would be spotted by frightened, battle weary soldiers and interpreted as supernatural hounds from hell. This theory would also account for the ghostly howling that was heard from the front lines. I do wonder if dogs would be willing to stick around through all of the riotous cacophony of gunfire blazing around them, but it does offer a rational explanation if indeed the events were even real. Whether this is a piece of war folklore and flight of fancy or has element of truth to it we will probably never know, and the “Hellhound of Mons” remains a mysterious tale buried in history.
Also from World War II is the account of an A.G. Starkey, who was stationed aboard a British vessel operating off the coast of Maldives. One evening as the vessel was moored, Starkley claimed that he had gone out on the deck and that as he looked out over the water he noticed a huge dark mass and shone his flashlight upon it, catching in its beam a truly monstrous squid, which was claimed to stretch from one end of the ship the other, for a total of 175 feet (53 meters), far larger than any known squid. He would say of the strange encounter: “As I gazed, fascinated, a circle of green light glowed in my area of illumination. This green unwinking orb, I suddenly realized, was an eye. The surface of the water undulated with some strange disturbance. Gradually, I realized that I was gazing almost point-blank at a huge squid.”
Since no other crew members saw the beast, it remains an enticing, yet unverified account of an epically gigantic squid along the lines of the Kraken of lore. The Japanese seem to have been plagued by sea monsters as well, as there is a report from one of their scout ships that seems to point to a ferocious attack by some underwater beast. Details of the case are scant, but one crewman described how a surge of water erupted near the vessel, after which the boat was jolted by something relentlessly ramming the hull.
Other crewmen arrived and saw what appeared to a large grey shape in the water at least 50 feet long, with a white underbelly, leathery skin, a prominent dorsal fin, and what was described as “the head of an alligator.” The creature would ram the vessel, circle back, then ram it again, sending its hull shuddering each time. It got to the point where the bone-jarring impacts caused the boat to list to starboard, upon which the shocked and panicked crew opened fire, finally sending whatever it was that had attacked them back into the depths from which it had come. There was allegedly so much damage to their ship that they were forced to abandon their mission and go back for repairs. Whatever it was we will probably never know.
The Japanese had some other very bizarre encounters during the war as well. During the heavy fighting that went on during bloody Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942 and 1943 on the Solomon Islands, Japanese troops began to come back from these mosquito infested jungle battlefields with strange stories of having come across giant, hairy hominids ranging from 10 to 15 feet in height, and covered in long, brown to reddish brown hair, with prominent brows, flat noses, and wide mouths, as well as immense arms with which they occasionally brandished crude weapons such as sticks and clubs.
It was reported that the giants were known to be quite aggressive and even attack on occasion. Several units described these terrifying beasts crashing through foliage to ravage, kill and maim squads of soldiers, or snapping apart trees and branches in threatening displays of raw power. Bullets were said to have little effect on them and soldiers would on many occasions be kept awake by inhuman wailing from the dark as the strange behemoths wandered the night crashing through brush and pushing over trees. Interestingly, the Solomon Islands have a long history of mysterious giants, and the local people are well aware of them, with a rich tradition of folklore on the creatures, as well as sightings and footprint evidence of giant hairy hominids on the islands that continue right up to the present day.
Finally, we come to the Vietnam War, where American GIs trudging through the murky jungles fighting a tough enemy in a faraway land began to bring back stories of encountering strange and seemingly hostile ape-like creatures out in the wilderness, which would come to be known as the Rock Apes. The most well known, in-depth published accounts of these enigmatic creatures come from a book by a veteran named Kregg P. J. Jorgenson, called Very Crazy G.I. – Strange but True Stories of the Vietnam War.
The account describes the ordeal of a 6-man unit from the 101st Airborne Division, who were taking a break after a relentless hike through unforgiving mountainous jungle terrain carrying heavy packs. Even as they rested they were attuned to the surrounding environment, very aware that the Viet Cong were everywhere and could strike at any moment. As the unit sat there resting, exhausted in their sweat soaked fatigues, some trees located around fifteen yards uphill then reportedly began shaking violently, and it was assumed that this was the enemy. The soldiers prepared their weapons and trained an eye on the suspicious, jostling trees. As they sat in wait, mosquitos buzzing around their heads and the creeping, sickening dread of the coming battle weighing heavily on their minds, it was then noticed that an oblong head with a face covered in reddish hair and possessing a huge mouth and dark, deep set eyes had emerged from the brush.
The startled soldiers then witnessed a strange creature step from the underbrush to reveal a 5-foot tall muscular frame enveloped in the same matted reddish hair, after which it stood there on two legs to seemingly carefully scrutinize the men. The soldiers then speculated that it must be a large orangutan, before one of them pointed out that orangutans were not native to Vietnam. As they argued over what it could be, the strange beast purportedly lost interest in them and quietly slinked back off into the jungle.
Although this is the most well known report, it is not by any means the only one, and some of them are quite violent in nature, painting a picture of decidedly ferocious and aggressive beasts. One such account given by a Michael Kelley, of D Co 1st/502d Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division describes not one Rock Ape, but hundreds of them. In the account, in 1969, 8 of the strange creatures came casually walking up a trail on a ridge of Nui Mo Tau and surprised a platoon that was in the middle of having lunch when they turned a ridge about 10 meters from where the men were situated. According to Kelley, the platoon at first immediately thought they were Viet Cong and “all hell broke loose.” The squad of men opened up with M-16s, M-79s, and grenade launchers, lighting up the forest in a vicious display of booming firepower and flying pieces of vegetation. Kelley himself was at the far end of a clearing, about 50 meters from where the barrage of continuous shooting had started, and he grabbed a weapon to run to join them along with the platoon Sgt., taking cover under a toppled tree.
For a few moments, Kelley and the platoon Sgt. stayed hidden as the cacophony of gunfire erupted everywhere. When they finally gave each other the nod to engage, they popped out from behind the tree, ready to see a sizable enemy force descending upon them judging by the nonstop barrage of relentless gunfire. What they saw instead was the platoon firing away at “ghostly images” that were swooshing through bushes and trees all around them. The mysterious intruders were described as being around 5 and a half feet tall, and all but one was light brown to reddish brown in color. The other was almost black and was a particularly aggressive large male, which reportedly madly rushed at men through the thick underbrush, snarling and with teeth bared.
Throughout the frightening encounter, the ape-like beasts reportedly made sounds that sounded exactly like dogs barking. Then, the creatures, whatever they were, abruptly melted away into the forest, disappearing as if they had never been there. When the surprised platoon regained their composure, they searched the bullet riddled, gun smoke permeated area and found no sign of any dead bodies of the animals, and oddly not even any fur or blood. Kelley would remark on the surreal scene: “This may sound very strange to you, but although I had no or little concern about killing the enemy, the killing of innocent animals turned my stomach and could enrage me if done without being a necessity. But I searched the site and but found not a drop of blood, which totally amazed me given the amount of firing that had gone on. I wonder to this day if the men were shooting just to scare the Rock Apes away or whether they were really just poor marksman! The men who’d suffered the surprise looked a bit worse for wear, and I’m sure a few had to wash their shorts out as a result of the unwelcome visit. It really scared the crap out of them, I kid you not!”
In 1968, members of Mike Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines operating on Hill 868, which was so known for Rock Ape sightings that it had earned the nickname “Monkey Mountain.” The unit apparently often came across plentiful physical evidence of the creatures there, such as droppings, tufts of hair, or footprints, as well as hearing their eerie barks and cries at night, and the Rock Apes even occasionally assaulted them with rocks lobbed from the jungle. The apes were described as “throwing like girls, but with velocity,” and men were reported as being often seriously injured by the hurled stone projectiles. In one account given by a veteran named Steve Canyon, a unit of Marines was out in the jungle of Hill 868 at night testing out a new muzzle flash and noise suppresser for their weapons.
As they were setting up, they suddenly noticed a Rock Ape glaring at them from the thick vegetation, reportedly completely unafraid. After a few moments of staring at the soldiers, the creature was said to then let out a sound like the bark of a dog. One of the men threw a rock at it to scare it away, and hit it dead on, after which the ape picked up a rock of its own and hurled it at them. It was then noticed that there were more of the Rock Apes gathering around in the jungle, around 20 of them, which all began screeching, howling, and throwing rocks at the frightened men in unison. Despite the threatening situation, the unit did not open fire, instead making a hasty retreat.
There was at one point even a body of one of the creatures found by a special forces team after performing a nighttime drop into enemy territory. The unit allegedly came across the body of a “decomposing bigfoot-like creature” that seemed to have been blown apart by a land mine. One of the members of the unit told his friend, a Steve Williams, about the tale, who would say of the gruesome discovery: “They could see into the body cavity…spine, lungs, and such. All was crawling with bugs. There was shorter hair on the huge head. The eyes sunk back an inch and a half from the brow line. It had long arms. Very large and long fingers. One hand was still wrapped around a branch. He (the original source of the tale) didn’t say what color it was, but did mention that it had a flat nose. If the creature had it’s legs, the estimated height was around 8 ft tall…there was no sign of the lower half of the body. They were able to see the teeth. All flat, well formed molars, except the canines, which were longer and pointed. Seemed adapted to living in the forest with long arms and fingers, or perhaps just builds night nests like gorillas sometimes do.”
What happened to this body? Who knows? There are numerous other accounts like this, many of them are quite harrowing, and these reports became so commonplace that there were several expeditions sent out to try and find evidence of the creatures, which managed to find occasional human-like tracks, some of which were made into plaster casts. Is there some sort of undiscovered hairy hominid lurking out in the jungles of Vietnam and did these creatures menace troops during the war? If so what are they? Or was this just the product of war-addled minds and perhaps the use of drugs such as LSD? It remains a mystery that we may never fully understand.
It certainly seems when looking at accounts like these that the chaos and terror of war can hide within it some lesser known, oft-forgotten aspects, and here we find reports that go beyond the known and point to creatures lurking in the fringes of battle that are every bit as frightening as the enemy. We will probably never be able to corroborate any of these wild stories, as they very often exist as simply basic accounts from soldiers who perhaps had more on their mind than unexplained mystery beasts at the time. However, while we may never know the answers to these tales and are doomed to merely speculate, these cases nevertheless illuminate other aspects and mysteries of war and another facet of its horrors, serving to stoke the imagination and expand upon the history we know or think we know.
THE VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE
Teaching drivers for a living can expose you to a lot of strange incidents. It can be terrifying to be propelled in front of other cars at junctions, but I’ve never been as terrified as I was when I spent a week living at my aunt’s house when I was a child. My aunt, bless her, lived in Middlesbrough and back in the 50’s I would be sent by my parents to stay with her. She was a lovely person—but there was definitely something wrong with her house. I never wanted to stay there but off my parents would send me, and I’d tough it out.
Now the bedroom I used to sleep in was at the back of the house. It was a box room more than anything. I remember as a child I would lie in bed in the middle of the night, perfectly still, and watch shadows moving around the room. Nothing too obvious but you’d see movement out of the corner of your eye. I also experienced the shape of a man standing in the doorway. I heard footsteps downstairs, I heard whispers. The whispers were rare but every now and again you could almost make our words. My aunt, however, seemed to live oblivious to all these strange goings on.
Now nothing ever happened to be physically. But as I grew up I started to learn more about my aunt. She was an ardent spiritualist. She would communicate with the dead in that little house in Middlesbrough. My mother told me years later that they thought it was harmless fun and didn’t really believe in it. They’d stayed in that house plenty of times and had never experienced anything strange. When I told my mother about the shadows, shapes and manifestation she didn’t believe me. “It’s all in the mind,” she said.
That said, I would advise anyone out there to be cautious. It may seem like a little bit of fun to use a board and try to communicate with spirits—but there are repercussions. I was a young boy and I could see the end result of my aunts dabbling. It wasn’t dangerous—but what if it had been? What if the spirits had been dangerous?
MURDER WILLIAM WILSON
Major William C. Wilson was a dealer in old manuscripts and proprietor of Wilson’s Circulating Library on Walnut Street in Philadelphia. He had fought in the Civil war with the 104th New York Infantry and received two field promotions for bravery, first to captain then to major. After the war, he settled in Philadelphia where he led a solitary and somewhat eccentric life. He had few acquaintances outside the Franklin Chess Club which he visited each evening between 7:00 and 10:00—the Philadelphia Inquirer would later call him “one of the most lonely characters in the city.”
Around 7:30, the night of August 16, 1897, Officer Smith of the Philadelphia Police found the back door of Wilson’s store open and suspected burglary. Investigating by candlelight, Smith found the store in disarray and saw a pool of blood on the floor with a trail of blood leading behind the counter. There he found Major Wilson’s body, with a towel around his neck and his face and head “beaten to a jelly” by a hammer which lay near the body.
Major Wilson had been robbed of his gold watch and chain and other pieces of jewelry; bloody fingermarks on the cash register indicated that after the murder the killer had opened the cash drawer. It appeared to be the work of a clumsy burglar driven to murder out of fear of detection. However, it also appeared to be the work of someone familiar with the store. The register was especially secure, requiring three movements to open the cash drawer; only someone who knew the register could open it. The chief clerk, William Roller, had seen Wilson securely close the drawer before he left the store. He also said the register contained only $2.51.
Everyone connected with the store was questioned and all had alibis. Roller told police that Wilson was not a man to make enemies and knew no one who bore him ill will. A former employee, Hiram Hazzard, had left a year earlier after a quarrel, but he had been in New York fishing the night of the murder.
With very little to go on, the police and press followed every possible lead. In the first two days, eleven suspects had been arrested and released. The Philadelphia Inquirer offered a $1,000 reward for information leading the to the arrest and conviction of the killer.
Without solid evidence, the newspapers tried to build sensational stories around every bit of information they had. One story speculated that Wilson’s eyes had been destroyed because the image of the killer may have been retained on the retina—a popular but spurious theory at the time. Major Wilson’s will was thought to contain a clue to the mystery; it did not. A woman in police custody claimed that she knew the name of the killer. The police did not release her name or his, but neither was charged with the murder. The night of the murder an excited man not wearing a hat or coat had entered the Bingham House Café saying he had been struck by a trolley car and his coat, vest and hat had been ruined. The Inquirer thought it “not altogether improbable” that he had discarded the clothes because they were saturated with Wilson’s blood.
A few days before the murder Wilson had sold some wooden boxes and when the buyer came to pick them up Major Wilson’s porter was upset over the extra work. The porter, Marion Stuyvesandt, a black man who was born and raised in Dutch Guiana, angrily said that he deserved higher wages than Wilson was paying him. Stuyvesant was investigated but he had an alibi for that night.
Major Wilson was known to be a morphine user. Perhaps he had known others who were slaves to the drug, and maybe he was supplying morphine to some poor wretch who could not buy it. Maddened for want of the drug the fiend had gone to the store and killed Wilson when he could satisfy his need. The druggist who filled Wilson’s prescription acknowledged that he was a heavy user but did not buy enough to furnish to someone else.
The strongest clues that the police had came from eye-witnesses who had seen strangers around the store that night. The janitoress of the Franklin Building, Mrs. Lavinia, had seen three men in the ally, all were 5 feet 7 inches tall, all were between 25 and 35 years old, all were black coats and soft hats, one was stout with a mustache the others clean shaven, one wore a watch chain. A telegraph operator named Arthur Henke was walking home from work when he saw two men inside Wilson’s store and heard a scuffle from inside, all he could add was that one was white, and one might have been mixed-race. The descriptions added little usable information.
With the investigation at a standstill and no new information coming from the police, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a fictional account of the murder. “Murder Most Foul,” by Philadelphia author and newsman Henry Starr Richardson, relates how the three suspects, who he names Redsy, Chokem and Jimmy, may have planned and executed the robbery and murder.
Finally, in an editorial on August 22, the Philadelphia Inquirer admitted that there was no hidden motive behind Major Wilson’s murder:
All attempts to make sensations of it have failed. There was nothing mysterious about the life of this man. There is no ‘woman in the case.’ His one vice was the use of morphine taken to ease pain. He was not killed by a morphine fiend driven to desperation by denial of the drug. Some person or persons entered the library, struck him down, robbed the place and fled. That is the whole story.
The district attorney’s office surrendered as well. On August 26, Assistant District Attorney Thomas A. Barlow, with implied criticism of the police, said they were no closer to solving the case then they were the evening of the murder. “I am sorry to say it,” said Barlow, “but I have no reason to believe that the fiend will ever be brought to justice.”
Coroner Ashbridge did not agree and following the inquest charged Marion Stuyvesandt with the murder. In spite of eye-witness testimony and the fact that Stuyvesandt had an alibi, Ashbridge claimed he had evidence he was not ready to reveal. Fingerprinting was not in common practice in 1897, but in what the Inquirer called the “Pudd’nhead Wilson feature” of the case Ashbridge had taken ink imprints of Stuyveandt’s fingers to match to the blood stains on the cash register. But when the grand jury convened no new evidence was presented and Stuyvesandt was released.
Marion Stuyvesandt had spent a month in jail and he came out angry. He was a featured speaker at the Ninth and Arch Museum where he told the story of his persecution. The following April he sued the city of Philadelphia for $50,000 in damages.
There was very little news on the Wilson murder until July 1898 when a career criminal named,Benjamin Lippy, better known as “Big Bill” Mason, was arrested in New York City. He was known to have been in Philadelphia in August 1897 and had confided to someone his intent to rob a wealthy Philadelphia miser. It was also said that at one time he was in possession of Major Wilson’s watch. Big Bill was brought to Philadelphia for questioning and the story caused several days of excitement but all the evidence against him was hearsay and he was never charged with the murder.
New theories of Major Wilson’s murderer would pop up from time to time, but in the end, Assistant D.A. Barlow was correct in his belief that the fiend would never be brought to justice.
I live in Ohio. Northeast Ohio to be more precise. In Northeast Ohio there is a small City named Newton Falls. This city is not much to speak about, save maybe it being the only place in the U.S. with all the same numbers in its zip code (44444). Nevertheless, Newton Falls is the setting of my story, and it holds some infamy in my mind. When I was between the ages of 6 and 9 my mom was friends with a woman who lived in Newton Falls (we’ll call her Tina). Her house was nice, and in a quiet, and somewhat secluded neighborhood. There were houses within 30 feet on one side of the house, while only one within 100 yards on the other side. Across the street we’re woods. How thick these woods really are, I do not know. The back yard was secluded from the parallel road behind it by a thick row of tall pines trees. I didn’t mind going to Tina’s house. She had 4 friendly dogs, a pool, video games, and a trampoline. My parents would often stay there until well after dark, talking and playing games with their friends. I hated when they did this. Something always seemed off to me once the sun went down on their house. I do know if it was the lack of street lights, as I grew up in a city nearby and darkness was never this dark where I lived. Or maybe it was some things I experienced over those few years. I remember the earliest years of their friendship, my parents would be there late, and would put me to bed in Tina’s bedroom. I was 6 so it wasn’t odd for them to want to stay their past 9pm, and normal for them to want me to get to sleep on my normal schedule. So into the room I would go. It was a nice bedroom, the bed was always made and clean, but the thing I hated the most were the dolls. Dozens of porcelain dolls lined up on the dresser at the foot of the bed, all facing me. I remember one in particular; a Red Skelton sad clown doll. The dolls never moved or did anything but sit there, but I hated it none the less.
Some time would go by before the first strange experience happened. I might have been 8 by this point. Tina had two daughters. They were teenagers, maybe only a few years apart in age. My brother was their age as well, and I wanted to hangout with them. What young boy doesn’t think teenagers are cool? One night my brother, myself, and these two girls sat out on the trampoline while all the adults sat inside talking. I could see them through the sliding glass door. One of the girls began a story about a serial killer that escaped the prison that her step dad worked at. His employment there lent credibility to her story in my mind. She said he got out, and made it as far as Newton Falls, before he was found and gunned down by police. I doubt any of her story was true, but at the time I was freaking out! This next part is what I still don’t understand. As she is telling the story, the figure of a man steps around the corner of their house. He wasn’t large, but he was tall. He had curly hair and thin limbs. The girls start screaming! My brother and I looked at either other, both a little freaked out at this point. While they screamed, this man walked closer and closer to us. His movements were like a chameleon; swaying forward and back, like he was mimicking a leaf or branch blowing in the wind. The girls stopped screaming, and his movement appeared to stop with them. They noticed this too, and yelled “He moves when we scream!” Which of course made them scream again. He continued his advance. Having truly only made it 4 feet into the back yard, and at this rate, we could have walked to get away from him. I had mounted some “courage” and yelled for him to go away.
Tina’s husband opened the sliding glass door to see why the girls were screaming. I kept my eye on this backyard intruder. As the sliding door opens, this man darts back in the direction he came from.
As we were getting into our car for the drive home I looked out across the street to the woods. There stood a man, who walked backwards into the trees before I could utter a word to my parents.
I never saw this man again. I’m still not sure if it was just a prank the older kids were playing on me, but it scared me no less.
That next month I awoke from a terrifying nightmare. In my dream I was at Tina’s house in Newton Falls. I was standing in the same spot where I had seen the man back into the woods the previous month. I look across the street, this time to see a flat, treeless field with dozens of tombstones dotting it’s landscape. In the dream I was led into the cemetery. I entered the gates and saw a statue at the center of the tombstones ladened meadow. You would know the image if you saw it. Michelangelo’s grand work
Pietà, finished in 1499. For those not familiar, this statue is of Mary, the mother of Jesus, holding the post crucifixion body of Christ across her lap, with his head drapped over her right arm. As I stepped closer and closer, against my urge to run away, Mary’s stone neck crackled and broke as she slowly lifted her head to glare at me. Her eyes were as gray as the stone she was made of, but I could see her looking through me. I awoke with a start! My heart was racing and my eyes darted around the room in terror. It was over, and I was safe in my bed. The strange thing about this dream was not just the connection to the house in Newton Falls. What worries me most about this dream now that I’m an adult is that when I was 8, I had no knowledge of Renaissance art. I didn’t even have knowledge of the word Renaissance. I only now know that the statue in that dream was this famous work from the 1400’s. I don’t know what to think about any of this. It’s been years since I’ve been to Newton Falls. I only pray they never put a cemetery in those woods.
It’s hard not to gasp the first time you see the Preston School of Industry. The massive red brick structure in Ione, California is also known as Preston Castle, and it’s easy to understand how it earned the nickname. Considered one of the most striking examples of Romanesque Revival architecture in the country, the Preston Castle looks like something straight out of a movie.
Yet haunting the darkened corridors of this crumbling structure are dark tales of mystery and murder.
Opened in 1894 as a reform school, the Preston School of Industry was initially home to seven wards—minors under the guardianship of the state of California—who were transferred there from San Quentin. Hundreds of troubled youths passed through its doors over the years, including a few who would become well known later in life. Among them: musician Merle Haggard, poet Neal Cassady, writer Edward Bunker, and Tony Cornero, a rumrunner during Prohibition who later built the Stardust Resort & Casino in Vegas.
The red-bricked building was vacated in 1960 after a new facility was constructed to house its inmates; the institution itself finally closed in 2011. Present-day visitors to Preston Castle often compare it to the haunted mansion featured in Stephen King’s TV miniseries, Rose Red. And while the house that appeared in the show was actually Thornewood Castle near Tacoma, Washington, the Preston School of Industry may have more in common with King’s spooky locale than an imposing brick façade.
It seems that Preston Castle has a history of paranormal phenomena being reported in and around its walls. In addition to the usual stories of strange noises, cold spots, and feelings of dread, the site is said to be home to the ghosts of several former wards, as well as a housekeeper, Anna Corbin, who was bludgeoned to death in the Castle in 1950.
Though there were a handful of unexplained deaths among the wards of the institution over the years—and there is said to be a lost cemetery on the grounds that contains the graves of 23 former inmates—it is the murder of Anna Corbin that represents the Castle’s most enduring mystery.
Accounts of the grisly crime vary, even among newspapers of the time, but most agree that Anna Corbin was found brutally beaten to death inside a locked room in the Castle. Some accounts say that she was found in the kitchen, while others claim she was killed in the “mattress room” or near the “disinfecting pool” in the basement, while still others maintain that she was found stuffed in a padlocked closet.
Though all 657 wards of the school at the time—along with the staff—were questioned in relation to the death, and there were three trials, no one was ever convicted. A 19-year-old ward named Eugene Monroe was considered by many to be the prime suspect. Though he confessed to the murder and rape of a pregnant woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma a year later and was sentenced to life in prison, he remained adamant in his denial that he had anything to do with the death of Anna Corbin. To this day, her murder remains unsolved.
Given its dark history, it’s no wonder the Preston Castle has been featured on a variety of paranormal television shows including Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters, The Othersiders, and My Ghost Story. On the Ghost Adventures episode, the show’s host Zak Bagans claimed to be partially possessed by a spirit, possibly the ghost of Anna Corbin.
Books have also been written about the history and hauntings of the abandoned reform school, including Behind the Walls by J’aime Rubio, a historical journalist who conducted an extensive investigation into the life and death of Anna Corbin.
Today, the Preston School of Industry is a California Historical Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The non-profit organization Preston Castle Foundation, maintains the building, opening the Castle to the public and hosting various events.
Dying to conduct your own investigation into Preston Castle’s haunted history? The Preston Castle Foundation offers paranormal nighttime tours throughout the year. In October, the Castle transforms into a haunted house Halloween attraction.