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Werewolves are present in legends around the world. They were men with the ability (or compulsion) to turn into wolves, either through being bitten by a (were)wolf or through a satanic pact. The term “werewolf’ comes from the Old English werwulf, a compound noun of wer (‘man’) and wulf (‘wolf’), but the other term, lycanthropy, is much older. ‘Lycanthropy’ (Ancient Greek lykos (‘wolf’) and thropos (‘man’) is a reference to King Lycaon, the earliest recorded Western werewolf who, according to Ovid writing c.8AD, was transformed into a wolf by Zeus after the monarch failed to recognize and worship him. Werewolves have obvious symbolic overtones. Man and wolf have long been enemies, and culture has typically seen the two as opposites: the essentially good and rational man, and the inherently evil and irrational wolf. To call someone a wolf was rarely a compliment (warriors excepted): in Anglo-Saxon law, outlaws were known as wulfheafod (‘wolf head), a reference to an earlier custom of tying a wolf’s head around anyone whose life was forfeit. Beyond allegory, however, history also furnishes us with supposedly genuine tales of werewolves who were discovered, tried, and usually executed.
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
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Coming up in this episode…
Just the idea of going to prison is enough to scare people into living a squeaky-clean life, but if you’re one of the most dangerous prisoners known to exist, ordinary prison would look like a vacation as compared to life in the Florence ADX Supermax Prison. (Life In The Supermax)
What was supposed to be a two day trip turned into a maritime mystery when the ship, the MV Joyita was discovered floating with no crew on board. What happened? (The Mysterious Abandonment of the MV Joyita)
We’re all familiar with the concept of werewolves – they are all over pop culture, movies, television, comic books, novels, and every other medium you could possibly imagine. And while they are considered fictional, or at least in the realm of cryptids, that doesn’t mean there aren’t true stories of reported werewolves in history. (Real Historic Accounts of Werewolves)
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: REAL HISTORIC ACCOUNTS OF WEREWOLVES=====
It is a northern country; they have cold weather, they have cold hearts. Cold; tempest; wild beasts in the forest. It is a hard life. Their houses are built of logs, dark and smoky within. There will be a crude icon of the virgin behind a guttering candle, the leg of a pig hung up to cure, a string of drying mushrooms. A bed, a stool, a table. Harsh, brief, poor lives.To these upland woodsmen, the Devil is as reals as you or I. More so; they have not seen us nor even know that we exist, but the Devil they glimpse often in the graveyards, those bleak and touching townships of the dead where the graves are marked with portraits of the deceased in the naif style and there are no flowers to put in front of them, no flowers grow there, so they put out small votive offerings, little loaves, sometimes a cake that the bears come lumbering from the margins of the forests to snatch away. At midnight, especially on Walpurgisnacht, the Devil holds picnics in the graveyards and invites the witches; then they dig up fresh corpses, and eat them. Anyone will tell you that.Wreaths of garlic on the doors keep out the vampires. A blue-eyed child born feet first on the night of St. John’s Eve will have second sight. When they discover a witch – some old woman whose cheeses ripen when her neighbours’ do not, another old woman whose black cat, oh, sinister! follows her about all the time, they strip the crone, search for her marks, for the supernumerary nipple her familiar sucks. They soon find it. Then they stone her to death.
Winter and cold weather.
Go and visit grandmother, who has been sick. Take her the oatcakes I’ve baked for her on the hearthstone and a little pot of butter.
The good child does as her mother bids – five miles’ trudge through the forest; do not leave the path because of the bears, the wild boar, the starving wolves. Here, take your father’s hunting knife; you know how to use it.
The child had a scabbby coat of sheepskin to keep out the cold, she knew the forest too well to fear it but she must always be on her guard. When she heard that freezing howl of a wolf, she dropped her gifts, seized her knife, and turned on the beast.
It was a huge one, with red eyes and running, grizzled chops; any but a mountaineer’s child would have died of fright at the sight of it. It went for her throat, as wolves do, but she made a great swipe at it with her father’s knife and slashed off its right forepaw.
The wolf let out a gulp, almost a sob, when it saw what had happened to it; wolves are less brave than they seem. It went lolloping off disconsolately between the trees as well as it could on three legs, leaving a trail of blood behind it. The child wiped the blade of her knife clean on her apron, wrapped up the wolf’s paw in the cloth in which her mother had packed the oatcakes and went on towards her grandmother’s house. Soon it came on to snow so thickly that the path and any footsteps, track or spoor that might have been upon it were obscured.
She found her grandmother was so sick she had taken to her bed and fallen into a fretful sleep, moaning and shaking so that the child guessed she had a fever. She felt the forehead, it burned. She shook out the cloth from her basket, to use it to make the old woman a cold compress, and the wolf’s paw fell to the floor.
But it was no longer a wolf’s paw. It was a hand, chopped off at the wrist, a hand toughened with work and freckled with old age. There was a wedding ring on the third finger and a wart in the index finger. By the wart, she knew it for her grandmother’s hand.
She pulled back the sheet but the old woman woke up, at that, and began to struggle, squawking and shrieking like a thing possessed. But the child was strong, and armed with her father’s hunting knife; she managed to hold her grandmother down long enough to see the cause of her fever. There was a bloody stump where her right hand should have been, festering already.
The child crossed herself and cried out so loud the neighbours heard her and come rushing in. They know the wart on the hand at once for a witch’s nipple; they drove the old woman, in her shift as she was, out into the snow with sticks, beating her old carcass as far as the edge of the forest, and pelted her with stones until she fell dead.
Now the child lived in her grandmother’s house; she prospered.
– The Werewolf, a short fable by Angela Carter
This story was obviously a tale of fiction, and we find stories of people transforming into werewolves everywhere in folklore, fiction, and pop culture—but there have been real people in various parts of the world who went down in history as true, honest-to-goodness lycanthropes.
***The Gandillon Werewolves were a family who, in the late 16th century, were accused and executed for being werewolves. In 1598, a young girl and her brother were attacked by a wolf. Benoist Bidel, aged about 15, had climbed a tree to pluck some fruit and, whilst aloft, saw a wolf dart from some bushes and seize his sister. Leaping down to protect her, Benoist drew his knife. The wolf rushed at him and drove the knife into his neck with a savage blow of the paw. Fortunately, a crowd had heard the commotion, and chased the wolf away.
The girl died at the scene, and Benoist was taken back to his father’s cabin, where he died of his injuries a few days later. Before he died Benoist claimed that the wolf that attacked him had hands, like a man, covered with hair. The wolf had been maimed by the crowd, and so suspicion fell upon one Perrenette Gandillon, who exhibited a wound in precisely the same place as the wolf had been injured. Unfortunately for her, one of the crowd that injured the wolf was none other than Henri Boguet (1550-1619), a notoriously merciless witch hunter.
Boguet arranged a mob, and executed Perrenette shortly thereafter. However, as he later revealed in his Discours des Sorciers (1602), there were rumors that the whole family practiced black magic, and so Boguet had them all arrested. Perrenette’s daughter, Antoinette, swiftly confessed to witchcraft, but her brother, Pierre, and his son, George, were not so forthcoming. Placed under observation, Boguet recounts how he saw them walk around on all fours, barking, and howling, and covered in mysterious scratches. Boguet questioned them whilst they were behaving like this, and they confessed to witchcraft. The Perrenette family were burned at the stake.
Boguet boasted of having tried and executed 600 werewolves in his career (according to Voltaire), and his writings are full of lycanthropic examples. Another notable case was that of Claudia Gaillard, later dubbed ‘The Werewolf of Burgundy’. Claudia was walking through the woods with Jeanne Perrin, grumbling about receiving so few alms, when she darted into the bushes, and a wolf emerged. Jeanne dropped her alms, crossed herself, and fled the scene, later revealing that the wolf had toes like a human. When Claudia advised Jeanne that the wolf would not have harmed her, she was tried and executed.
***Thiess of Livonia was an octogenarian man put on trial for heresy in 1692, in Jurgensburg, Swedish Livonia (modern day Latvia). Thiess was originally presented to a court as a potential witness to a church robbery, but he shocked the judges by confessing to being a former werewolf who had retired from the activity 10 years previous to the date. His story is fascinating and unique, for not only is Thiess by far the oldest werewolf on our list, but he also unusually claimed to have been a benevolent werewolf who acted in the best interests of the Christian community.
Thiess explained that he had been turned into a werewolf when, many years before, he was a beggar, and a ‘rascal’ drank him a toast, conferring the power upon him. He could do the same for others by toasting them. He and the other Livonian werewolves underwent transformation on 3 nights a year. They would wander the local farms, killing farm animals and roasting them over an open fire, seasoned with salt. Fortified by the meal, they would next travel ‘across the sea’ to hell, where they would chase the devil and his witches and beat them with iron rods.
During their visit to hell, the werewolves would then take back all the grain and livestock stolen by the witches over the year. If they failed to do so, that year’s harvest would be poor. Werewolves, according to Thiess, were the servants of God, and had an important role to play in His plans for mankind. Unfortunately, Thiess also confessed that he practiced benevolent folk magic and didn’t attend church as he was too old to understand Lutheran doctrine. Not knowing what else to do with him, the judges had Thiess flogged and permanently banished for misleading Christians.
***The only actual record of the case of Peter Stubbe (also spelled Stumpp or Stumpf), a.k.a. “the Werewolf of Bedburg,” is a lurid pamphlet—supposedly a translation from some now-lost German original—that was circulated in London in 1590. According to the pamphlet (sicthroughout), Stubbe—who “from his youth was greatly inclined to euill”—made a deal with the devil, requesting specifically to “woork his mallice on men, Women, and children, in the shape of some beast, wherby he might liue without dread or danger of life, and vnknowen to be the executor of any bloody enterprise, which he meant to commit.” The devil gave him a belt, “which being put about him, he was straight transfourmed into the likenes of a gréedy deuouring Woolf… strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkeled like vnto brandes of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharpe and cruell teeth, A huge body, and mightye pawes: And no sooner should he put off the same girdle, but presently he should appéere in his former shape, according to the pro∣portion of a man, as if he had neuer beene changed.”
The pamphlet pegged Stubbe as a serial killer who murdered and sometimes ate his victims over a 25-year period. He was also accused of incest with his daughter as well as killing and eating his son. (Modern historians speculate that Stubbe was railroaded for political purposes, or to calm those who were terrified of the demons that were killing the townspeople.)
When he was captured, Stubbe told all about his deal with the devil and the magic belt that turned him into a wolf, confessing to murder, incest, and cannibalism. Stubbe’s execution on October 31, 1589 in Bedburg, Germany was an exceptionally gruesome process: He was first lashed to a wheel, where the flesh was torn from his body with red-hot pincers; next, his arms and legs were broken; then, his head was chopped off; finally, his body was burned. Stubbe’s girlfriend (a distant relative) and daughter, both accused of incest, were also tortured and then burned alive. After the executions, a wolf’s body was set up in public, its head replaced with Stubbe’s, as a warning to anyone else contemplating lycanthropy.
***Nobody knows how this got out of hand, but in Germany, 1640, the Town of Greifswald was overrun by a pack of werewolves. After many foolish attempts to battle the wolves with regular bullets, a group of students decided on a whim to melt down all the silver in the town and use it to create shinier bullets. Nobody else had a better idea, so they rolled with it, and apparently stumbled upon the (alleged) werewolves’ one weakness.
***Gilles Garnier, “The Hermit of Dole’, was convicted of lycanthropy and executed at Dole, Eastern France, in 1573. Our source for his life and crimes is another contemporary pamphlet, printed at Sens in 1574. Taking the form of a wolf, in 1572 Garnier first attacked a 10-year-old girl in a vineyard near Dole, and dragged her into the adjoining Bois de la Serre. There he stripped her naked and ate the flesh from her thighs and arms. He then removed some more of her flesh and carried it to his wife, Apolline, to eat at their shared hermitage.
Soon after, he attacked another young girl in more or less the same place. This time he killed her and wounded her in 5 places, but was chased off by three men before he could start his meal. A week later, he again attacked this time a boy in another vineyard, whom he partially consumed before tearing off a leg for later. His next crime proved his eventual undoing: having killed another young boy and dragged him to the woods, Garnier was surprised at his intended meal, and after retreating a distance resumed his human form, leading to his identification.
Disgusted by the remains of half-eaten children in the district, the Parliament of Franche-Comte issued a decree in 1573 which demanded that werewolves be hunted down by locals and brought to trial. However, it was not these huntsmen who caught Garnier but a group of workers who incidentally came across the hermit crouched over a dead child one night after returning from work. They initially thought the figure in the shadows was a werewolf, but as the light from their torches illuminated it, they identified Garnier. Acting quickly, the men caught Garnier and took him to the magistrates at Dole.
Garnier was, of course, tortured to extract a confession. He explained that he had spent much of his life as a hermit in the St Bonnot woods. He married in 1572, and fathered children, but struggled with the new task of feeding more than one mouth. Desperately foraging one night in the woods, a specter appeared to him and offered him an unguent that could turn him into a wolf, allowing him to hunt more effectively. He confessed to murdering 4 children, supported by the testimony of over 50 witnesses, and was burned alive at the stake.
***The Werewolves of Poligny were three men accused of lycanthropy in France in 1521. Someone was traveling through the area when they were attacked by a wolf. The traveler injured the wolf, then tracked it to Michel Verdun’s house, where Verdun was found dripping blood. He was arrested, and under torture not only confessed to being a werewolf, but implicated Pierre Bourgot and Philibert Montot. Bourgot in turn confessed, and told a tale of making a deal with three mysterious men dressed in black to protect his sheep. Bourgot said he only found out later that the deal entailed renouncing God and his baptism. He said in the years that followed, Michael Verdun gave him an ointment that turned him into a wolf, and together they killed at least two children. It’s not clear whether Philibert Montot ever confessed, but he was executed along with the other two accused werewolves.
***From tales of men who claimed to be able to turn into wolves, we come to what seems, with hindsight, to have been a real wolf. The Wolf of Ansbach operated in the area around the modern Bavarian city of the same name in 1685, before being executed in a manner befitting a convicted human criminal. Operating alone (which is very rare for a wolf), this lupine menace began by taking an unusual amount of the livestock being grazed in the countryside. Soon it began to turn its attention to those tending the animals, mostly women and children in Ansbach.
The number of peasants the wolf killed is unknown, but its depredations were such that, during a period when people lived cheek-by-jowl with wolves and occasionally lost their lives to the creatures, fear spread through the region. Just recently, the cruel and merciless Burgermeister (chief magistrate) of Ansbach had died, and his death was unlamented. It was soon rumored that the evil magistrate had returned from the grave as a werewolf, and was seeking revenge on those who cared so little for his death. Soon there was a concerted effort to slay the creature and banish the late, lycanthropic Burgermeister.
The great mob found the troublesome (were)wolf, and tirelessly pursued it with hounds across the country. Wolves have impressive stamina, but eventually, the Wolf of Ansbach needed a rest, and so it leaped down a nearby well. The dogs stood baying above the well, leading their masters to the trapped beast, which of course had no means of escaping. It was slain with a variety of weapons, including cudgels and pitchforks (every angry peasant mob needs the latter). Surprisingly, though, the wolf did not resume its human form upon being beaten, which ran contrary to accepted werewolf-lore, and remained lupine.
Either from embarrassment or unwavering faith in the true nature of the animal, the wolf was then treated as if it were human. Triumphantly parading the corpse through Ansbach, the mob first cut off the beast’s muzzle, and dressed it in human clothing. A wig was placed on its head, and a beard upon its chin, and so it came to resemble the deceased Burgermeister. Finally, the (fortunately dead) wolf was hung from a gibbet for all to see, a common practice for human criminals whose bodies served as a warning to would-be wrongdoers (or werewolves in this case).
***Vseslav was the ruler of Polotsk, a region that is now part of Belarus, from 1044 to 1101 CE. History records him as a strong leader and warrior, but he was also said to be a sorcerer. (In fact, in Russian literature, he’s called Vseslav the Sorcerer.) Soon after his death, he was referred to as a werewolf in folktales; this reputation was recorded in the Old Slavic poem “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign,” in which the prince was said to race from town to town as a wolf.
***Hans the Werewolf was active in Estonia until his execution in 1651. He has the unhappy distinction of being the youngest person executed for lycanthropy on this list, being only 18 at the time. Estonia and much of the Baltic were especially rich hunting grounds for witchfinders, as the peasantry were still practicing paganism (and associated folk-magic) into the Early Modern period, and thus often accused one another of casting spells. The God-fearing authorities interpreted such acts and accusations as Satanic witchcraft, and many were put to death. The peasantry also believed wholeheartedly in werewolves, to the detriment of many.
Brought before the judges, Hans made his confession without the need for torture. He admitted to having hunted as a werewolf for 2 years but had not taken on the form willingly. Instead, he claimed to have been bitten by a man wearing black garments, whom he later discovered to be a werewolf. The judges took the opportunity to ask so unusually pliable a werewolf for further detail about his condition. Hans explained that when in wolf-form he felt more like a wild beast than a man, and that he believed the transformation to be physical, not just spiritual.
Although there was no evidence of Hans committing any murders, he was still sentenced to death. The detail of the werewolf dressed in black that bit him was taken to be evidence of pact witchcraft – punishable by death – with the mysterious figure being Satan himself. At his trial, Hans showed the court a scar from what appeared to be canine jaws, which he said was given to him by the werewolf. With hindsight, it is easy to see a teenager confessing to anything in order to escape torture, and showing the physical scars from a normal dog bite as proof.
***In early spring 1603, the St. Severs district of Gascony, South-West France, was gripped by terror. Little girls and boys had disappeared without a trace from the fields and roads, and on one occasion a baby had been taken silently from its cradle whilst the mother was in another part of her small cottage. The local magistrate began an investigation, and several witnesses came forward. One, a 13-year-old girl, stated that she had been attacked by a savage wolf under a full moon, whilst another had been watching cattle when she was assailed by a gigantic wolf in broad daylight.
Shockingly, a 14-year-old boy, Jean Grenier, had been heard to boast that he was behind the attacks. Tending cattle one day with Jeanne Gaboriaut, his fellow servant, he told the 18-year-old that he would one day marry her. When she remarked how filthy he was, Grenier replied that this was because of the wolf-skin he wore to turn himself into a werewolf. He further elaborated that he was part of a pack of 9 werewolves that hunted 3 times a week in the area. He stated that his favorite prey was young children, owing to the tenderness of their flesh.
Terrified, Gaboriaut immediately informed the local magistrate, who arrested Grenier. The teenager made a full confession without the need for torture. He had run away from an abusive father, and was compelled to make a living by begging and cowherding. Another boy, Pierre de la Tilhaire, had taken him one night to meet ‘The Lord of the Forest’, who gave Grenier an icy kiss and a mark on his thigh. The Lord also gave the boy a wolfskin and unguent, which transformed him into a wolf, and cautioned him never to cut his left thumbnail, which now resembled a claw. His first murder was of a 3-year-old girl, named Guyonne, whom he ate whole. He confessed to various murders, and in each case was able to give exact details about the time and place at which the victim was taken. He also reported being chased away from a young boy by an elder brother, who came forward to corroborate Grenier’s statement. In spite of all this, the court showed clemency to Grenier on account of his age and poor education, and he was sent to stay with Franciscans at the friary of St Michael the Archangel, Bordeaux, in 1603.
In 1610, one Pierre de Lancre visited him, and later reported what he found. Grenier had fierce, sunken black eyes, long teeth that looked like fangs, and his hands were like talons, with long and crooked nails. He would often rush around on all fours, and seemed better able to move in this way than on two legs. He loved to hear talk of wolves, and the friars reported that in his early days at the friary he would only eat raw meat and offal. Grenier, clearly suffering from a psychological disorder or disease, died shortly afterward in 1611.
***Early Modern France is seemingly the spiritual home of lycanthropy, and the horrific tale of a tailor burnt at the stake in 1598 takes place there. His name is long-lost, but he is known as the Werewolf of Chalons or the Demon Tailor. Operating from the city of Chalons in the Champagne region, the surviving details of his crimes are truly staggering, and simultaneously break several cultural taboos. Unfortunately, the Parliament of Paris, which tried and convicted him, deemed the court transcripts so unpleasant that they were burned, and so we know of the case only through retellings.
By day, the werewolf ran a tailor’s shop on the outskirts of Chalons. In classic fairy-tale style, the tailor would often hear children playing outside his shop, and proceed to lure them inside with promises of treats or marvelous things. Once inside, the tailor would sexually abuse them, slit their throats, and cut the bodies up with the skill of a butcher. He stored them in the barrels in the shop’s cellar, which no one had reason to enter. In some versions of the story, the tailor would also commit necrophilia before butchering the children’s bodies for consumption.
His crimes did not stop there, for he also roamed the nearby forests, looking for lost travelers. In the forest, he turned himself into a wolf, stalking the unfortunate victims through the thick undergrowth and tearing their throats out. It seems that he would eat them in the forest, rather than risk being seen carrying them back to Chalons. His urban activities seem to have aroused suspicion, for eventually his cellar was searched, and the barrels were found to contain bleached bones and butchered human flesh. It is said that he burned to death blaspheming and unrepentant to his last breath.
We’ve been looking at a lot of true werewolf stories from the 1600s and earlier – but there are more modern stories of real lyncanthropes which we’ll look at when Weird Darkness returns!
***So far, we have been examining werewolf cases from the Early Modern period. However, werewolves have been (allegedly) active in more recent times. Manuel Blanco Romasanta (1809-63) is Spain’s first documented serial killer, known as the Werewolf of Allariz, who gave the defense of lycanthropy at his trial. He was originally named Manuela, for it was thought that he was a girl. As an adult, Romasanta worked as a tailor, and is said by some to have been less than 5 feet in height. He married, but his wife died in 1833, and Romasanta became a traveling salesman.
His work took him across Galicia and through Portugal, and often he would drum up trade by acting as a guide for travelers crossing the mountains. His first murder seems to have taken place in 1844 when he killed a constable attempting to collect a debt Romasanta owed to a supplier. He fled and was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. Romasanta obtained a false passport and lived in a small village in Galicia, where he worked as a cook and weaver, becoming very friendly with the women of the village, and was considered effeminate by local men.
Whilst living in the region, Romasanta continued to act as a guide for those wishing to cross the mountains, and it was at this time that his serial-killing (or lycanthropic) career began. He would kill women and children who hired him deep in the mountains, and forge letters from the victims to their families so that their deaths went unnoticed for as long as possible. Suspicions grew when he began selling the victims’ clothes and soap rumored to be made of human fat. Finally, the suspicions brought a formal allegation in 1852, and Romasanta was arrested in Nombela, Toledo.
At his trial, Romasanta admitted to 13 murders, but gave the defense of lycanthropy. He said that he first turned into a wolf after coming across a pair of the creatures in the mountains. Examined by doctors according to the principles of phrenology (the long-discredited identification of character traits through skull measurements), he was declared a liar. Romasanta was convicted of 9 murders, and sentenced to death, but died in prison, either shot by a guard or succumbing to cancer. It has been theorized that the famine in Galicia at the time rendered him insane through lack of nourishment.
***Another comparatively modern case, this one dates from 1849, and was discussed at length by the clergyman and antiquarian Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), best-remembered for writing the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers’. The incident took place in the hamlet of PoÅ‚omia, modern-day Poland, a settlement romantically surrounded by thick pine forests, where most of its inhabitants worked at the time of the story. The villagers in 1849 were extremely poor, but apparently generous, for a beggar made a living there outside the church for several years. Venerable, and with a long white beard, he could be sure of alms from PoÅ‚omia’s inhabitants.
The beggar, named Swiatek, was one day being fed by a family in one of the hovels. He seemed fond of a young girl, whom he ascertained was an orphan, and gave her a ring, instructing her to go to a pine in the churchyard and recite an incantation, after which she would find more jewels. She called her siblings to join her on the treasure hunt, but Swiatek told her she must go alone. He departed soon after from his meal, and the orphan girl was never seen again. Soon other children, playing amongst the pines, disappeared too.
The disappearances were blamed on wolves, and the villagers began to kill any they encountered. At the same time, the local innkeeper lost a couple of ducks, and immediately suspected the resident beggar of the theft, for Swiatek maintained a wife and children simply by mendicity. As the innkeeper approached Swiatek’s home, he could smell roasted meat, and his suspicions were confirmed. Entering the hovel, the innkeeper noticed Swiatek conceal something beneath his clothes, and immediately seized him around the throat. However, what fell from Swiatek’s clothes was not a duck, but the head of a 14-year-old girl.
When his home was searched, it was found to contain the skilfully-butchered remains of the girl: her organs had been removed and cleaned, a bowl of fresh blood was under the oven, and her limbs were roasting over a fire. Swiatek confessed to having killed and eaten 6 people, though the number was suspected to be far higher. His taste for human flesh came after a catastrophic fire killed several people at a tavern, and he had partaken of the roasted meat. The locals suspected him of lycanthropy, but Swiatek hung himself in prison before the charge could be brought.
***The latter part of the 1800s saw a mysterious tale of shapeshifting surface out of Germany – a country that has a long and checkered history of encounters with werewolves. It’s specifically to the year of 1879 and the town of Ludwigslust to which we have to turn our attentions; a town with origins that date back to 1724, when one Prince Ludwig – also known as Christian Ludwig II – had his workers construct a hunting lodge in the area. Such was the prince’s love of the area, he renamed it Ludwigslust. Today, the town is dominated by the huge Ludwigslust Palace. In 1879, however, the area was dominated by werewolves; a family of them.
Even more than a century after the prince’s passing in 1756, the area was still a favorite one for hunting wild animals. One particular creature that became almost legendary was a large, wild wolf that seemingly was completely unaffected by bullets. The brazen beast would even creep up on hunters and steal their bounty: their dinner, in other words. It’s no surprise that word soon got around that maybe the wolf was more than just a nimble animal that had been lucky enough to avoid getting shot. Some thought it was supernatural in nature. Others, in quiet tones, suggested Ludwigslust had its very own werewolf. They were right.
On one particular day, a cavalry man rode into town atop his horse, with the intention of meeting a man who history only records as Feeg. The military officer found Feeg’s isolated home quickly. But, he didn’t find Feeg. Instead, he was confronted by a terrified group of young children who were seemingly fleeing for their lives, amid hysterical cries for help. One of the group breathlessly told the soldier that none of the family were home – except, that is, for a young boy who, the man was told, had shapeshifted into a werewolf before their terrified eyes. Quite understandably, none of them wanted to hang around to be attacked by the child-beast.
With the petrified group standing on the fringes of the property, the man made his tentative, cautious way towards the house. As he got to the door, the boy loomed into view; although, by now, he had reverted back to his human form. The cavalry man ordered the child to tell him what diabolical activity was afoot in the Feeg house. He soon got an answer; a deeply sinister one.
The boy told the man that his old grandmother – who comes across like a wizened old witch in the story – possessed a magical strap that, when he wore it, would transform him into a wolf. Incredibly, when asked to prove his claims, the boy did exactly that. The man, however, was leaving nothing to chance. He told the boy not to tie the strap around him until he, the man, was safely in the loft and with the stepladder out of the hands of the child. Now safe from attack, the somewhat skeptical man essentially said, “Do your worst.” He did.
As he placed the belt around himself, an uncanny transformation occurred and the boy, in an astonishingly quick fashion, mutated into the form of a large, formidable wolf. The beast-boy raced out of the front-door, terrorizing the group of children who, by now, had tentatively got closer to the property, and to the point where they fled for their lives. The werewolf then raced back into the house, flung off the belt, and immediately transformed back into human form. Despite the boy’s savage state when in definitive werewolf mode, while in human form he was placid and even polite – even to the point of letting the cavalry officer examine the belt, which, to him, exhibited no abnormal traits at all.
The man soon made an exit and shared his strange story with a local forester, who near-immediately concluded the werewolf-boy and the elusive, bulletproof wolf that had plagued the landscape for so long were one and the very same. The hunter proved to be highly proactive: he secured a number of silver bullets, vowing to slay the beast, once and for all. As luck would have it, the monster soon put in a return appearance. At first, it was the same old story: regular bullets seemingly had no effect on the creature. Frustration abounded among the hunter’s friends. He, however, equipped with silver-bullets – the arch-foe of the werewolf – had far more luck, hitting the animal, in one of its hind legs. It fell to the ground, with a pained howl. It was, however, too powerful for the hunters and suddenly leapt up and bounded away and towards the town.
Due to its injury, the werewolf was unable to outrun the hunters, who carefully followed it. It soon became clear that the terrible thing was heading for the Feeg home. As it shot through the door, the group followed. They entered the house, slowly and carefully, but the wolf-thing was nowhere to be seen. At least, not right away. With no sign of the beast in the living room or kitchen, a search of the bedrooms was made. Pay dirt was soon hit. Lying in one of the beds was an old lady; none other than the creepy crone and grandmother to the young boy-monster. To the group’s horror, the witch did not appear entirely human: a large, powerful, hair-covered tail hung over the side of the bed. The aged hag, in her state of pain from the piercing bullet, had not fully shapeshifted back into her human form.
What became of the woman and her grandchild is unknown. What we do know, however, is that 19th century werewolf chronicler Karl Bartsch investigated the story deeply; a story that still circulates among the approximately 13,000 people who, today, call Ludwigslust their home.
***What we known about Jacques Roulet—who was known as “The Werewolf of Angers” or “The Werewolf of Caud” after two French towns—comes to us via an 1865 account by Sabine Baring-Gould. Jacques Roulet was convicted of lycanthropy in Angers, Western France, in 1598. One day, an archer of the Provost’s company and some peasants happened upon the nude and hideously mutilated body of a 15-year-old boy. The blood-soaked limbs were seen still to be palpitating, and so it was deduced that this was a fresh kill. As the men approached further, two wolves were startled and seen to bound away into nearby bushes. Since they were armed and numerous, the group decided to give chase through the thick undergrowth. Nevertheless, they were not prepared for what happened next.
A tall and gaunt figure of a man, with long, straggly hair and a great beard, half-dressed in torn rags, strode forth to meet them. His hands were bloody, and beneath his fingernails were lumps of human gore. So revolting a sight was the man that the group could scarcely muster the courage to seize and bind him, but they eventually succeeded in dragging him to the local town, where he was presented before the magistrate. It transpired that the man was Jacques Roulet, a vagabond who traveled begging from town to town with his brother, Jean, and cousin, Julien.
Jacques confessed to Martre Pierre Harrault, examining him, that he was devoted to the devil at a young age by his parents. They had given him a special unguent that allowed him to transform into a wolf with a prodigious appetite for human flesh. Of the incident recounted above, Jacques revealed that the two wolves seen feeding on the carcass were his relatives, Jean and Julien. He confessed to having killed and devoured children, in the company of his brother and cousin, across the areas in which he was accustomed to travel. He also confessed to attending witch’s sabbats.
Jacques gave precise dates and times for his crimes, which were found to tally exactly with records of missing children and those supposed to have been killed by actual wolves. Unsurprisingly, Jacques received the death penalty for werewolfism, cannibalism, and murder, though his accused parents were found to be of good character and released. However, this tale then took an unexpected turn: Jacques appealed against his conviction to the Parliament of Paris. Protesting that his confession had been given under duress, the Parliament decided that he was insane, and instead sentenced him to 2 years in a mental institution.
Perhaps Jacques was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and, doubtless, as in nigh-on, all werewolf and witchcraft cases were tortured to extract his confession. The inquisitors could simply refer to records of deaths in the area, and force him to admit to the crimes. It is noteworthy, though, that the Parliament decided that he was mad rather than blaming his confession on the terrible torture he suffered, which is typical of attitudes towards torture in 16th-century Europe. It has even been speculated that the mysterious unguent was a hallucinogen, leading to a series of wild delusions.
Coming up… it was supposed to be a two day trip, but it turned into a maritime mystery when the ship, the MV Joyita was discovered floating with no crew on board. What happened? We’ll look at the mystery of the MV Joyita up next on Weird Darkness.
STORY: THE MYSTERIOUS ABANDONMENT OF THE MV JOYITA=====
The discovery of abandoned ships can be found throughout history. And each is as intriguing and mysterious in their own right. Perhaps one of the most interesting and disturbing in equal measure is one that was discovered in the South Pacific in the mid-1950s, with no crew and no cargo. Despite an intensive and exhaustive search mission taking place within 24 hours of her expected arrival, no sign of the yacht or anyone on board was found. That is until the captain of another boat spotted the floating wreckage. Upon investigating the empty vessel, further strange discoveries were made. Just what did happen to the boat that resulted in it being partially submerged and floating aimlessly in the water? Where had all the crew and passengers gone? And, perhaps most bizarre, what had happened to the cargo? Why had no distress calls been received? And why were blood-stained bandages discovered on the crippled vessel? The many questions would simply pile up the more investigators examined and researched the bizarre event. Was this the work of pirates who had taken the cargo for themselves and murdered the crew and passengers? Or was the scenario one of a more paranormal or otherworldly affair? Just what happened to the crew and cargo of the MV Joyita?
The Joyita had already had two and a half decades of experience on the waves before the fateful incident of October 1955. She began life in 1931 in Los Angeles, built as a private yacht. It was originally made for the movie director, Roland West, who would name the vessel after his wife, Jewel Carmen as the translation of Joyita from Spanish to English is “little jewel”. However, as we shall see, the luxury yacht would have quite a life ahead of her.
At the time, she was one of the finest such yachts on the waters, able to carry cargo up to 70 tons. What’s more, specifically thick cedar oak was used to make the hull, which made it particularly sturdy.
It would appear that she spent most of the first years of her existence sailing between Los Angeles and Mexico. Following a change of ownership in the mid-1930s, she was used by the United States Navy in late-1941 in order to patrol the waters around Pearl Harbor. In fact, she was on active duty with the Navy at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack and would remain so right until the end of the conflict.
Incidentally, and something which would come up later in the yacht’s time on the water, she would run aground in 1943. The incident caused significant damage but due to the need for as many working boats as they could obtain repairs were carried out.
After the end of the Second World War, she was sold once more, and was used mainly as a cargo vessel. She would undergo significant upgrades, including the fitting of refrigerated cargo holds. By the mid-1950s, the Joyita was making regular journeys across the waters of the South Pacific.
It was a little after 5 am on the morning of 3rd October 1955 when the Joyita set off from Apia harbor in Samoa. It was destined for the Tokelau Islands, a journey that was expected to take no longer than two days. On board were 25 people, 16 crew, and a further nine passengers. There was also a significant amount of cargo, including medical supplies, various food, and 80 empty oil drums.
It is perhaps interesting to note at this stage that the journey was already delayed almost 24 hours due to a port engine clutch failure just prior to the original departure day at 12 noon the previous day. When the boat did finally leave port, it did so with only one engine.
By the time the Joyita was 24 hours overdue, a report was sent stating that she hadn’t arrived. Records were checked and there had been no distress signals received. For the next week, an intense search mission got underway. This mission lasted almost a week and included the assistance of the New Zealand Royal Air Force.
Despite the exhaustive searching no sign of the ship, the cargo, the crew, or even any wreckage was discovered. It appeared that the boat and all on board had simply vanished into thin air.
Then, just over a month later on 10th November, things changed.
The discovery of the crippled Joyita was made by the captain of a merchant vessel (the Tuvalu), Gerald Douglas. The yacht was over 600 miles from where she should have been and was partially submerged in the water, although still very much afloat.
There was, however, no sign of any of the crew or passengers. Perhaps even stranger, there was also no sign of any of the cargo. Given that we know the Joyita didn’t arrive at her destination, it is impossible that she had off-loaded her cargo on land and then embarked on the return journey. Aside from the fact that the 25 people on board would have surfaced, she was destined to return to Samoa with return cargo.
One thing of interest that was noted when investigators arrived at the floating wreckage was that the on-board radio was tuned to the international marine radiotelephone distress wave. Despite there being no distress signal received, it certainly appeared that the crew was at least attempting to signal to someone that all was not well.
As investigators continued to examine the scene, further intriguing details would come to light. For example, the clocks on board (which were electrical and ran from the boat’s power supply) had stopped at 10:25. When this was combined with the fact that the lights in the cabins were mostly left on, it was suggested that whatever did happen on board the Joyita occurred at night, while dark.
Perhaps one of the most alarming finds was the doctor’s bag (one of the passengers was a well-known doctor). Inside was a scalpel and several blood-stained bandages.
Other details continued to paint at least a partial picture of what likely happened.
Although the Joyita was afloat and not in danger of sinking there was still considerable damage to assess. For example, the superstructure had taken a considerable hit with several smashed windows and further damage to the flying bridge. There was also the discovery of a makeshift shelter made from materials from the wreckage.
In a further bizarre discovery, there were several mattresses that had been set up in the engine room, seemingly in an attempt to cover the equipment. It was also discovered that all three of the life rafts and the single dingy were missing. Had they been deployed with the crew and passengers on board? If so, where did they venture to? Did they arrive somewhere and simply go unreported? Such a scenario is perhaps unlikely. Or did they end their existence in a watery grave somewhere in the waters of the South Pacific?
Investigators also noticed that there was significant barnacle growth on the exposed side of the yacht. This was quite a way higher than the usual water line suggesting to them that the boat had been in such a position for a considerable amount of time, most likely since the second night of the journey when it was suspected that something had gone terribly wrong.
When it was discovered that there was still a considerable amount of fuel in the tanks of the Joyita. Investigators would deduce that there was likely a leak in the engine room (hence the mattresses placed there) and that this likely began at around 9 pm on the second night of the journey, around 90 minutes before the clocks stopped. When they began towing the yacht back to port, they discovered that the leak in the engine’s cooling system.
It was thought by investigators that the leak would have likely caught the crew by surprise. And furthermore, by the time they were aware of it, there would have been so much water in the affected room that it was likely impossible for them to pinpoint where the leak was actually coming from.
Upon arriving back at the port and launching a more extensive investigation, the entire episode took on even more intrigue. Not least as to why the crew and passengers had abandoned the vessel in the first place.
Although it was considerably damaged, the boat would have remained afloat most likely for some time. The upgrades of the refrigerated cargo hold featured significant cork lining around the hold. This, according to investigators, made the boat almost unsinkable. And while the passengers might not have been aware of such a fact, the crew almost certainly would have been, especially the captain.
Essentially, their best chance of survival was to remain in the boat until help arrived. That they didn’t perplexed and concerned investigators. Something else had to have taken place, they thought. As we shall see shortly, there is a small abundance of theories as to what this something might be.
Ultimately, the responsibility for the incident, at least according to the initial findings of the investigation, would be placed at the feet of Captain Thomas Miller. Not only did they point to the fact that the journey should not have gone ahead with only one engine, but several other acts of negligence were also noted, such as ill-equipped lifeboats and a radio that was faulty.
Incidentally, a fractured cooling pipe in the engine room was identified as the ultimate source of the leak which caused the flooding and partial submerging of the Joyita.
There are a plethora of theories as to what might have happened on that apparent fateful second night of the two-day journey. And while most of these theories are of the more “level-headed” variety, some are altogether more outrageous.
Were the crew and passengers the victim of a UFO incident or a mass alien abduction? Had the ship happened upon something similar to the Bermuda Triangle and then surfaced again six days later? How would that explain the missing passengers and cargo? Are they somewhere trapped in another dimension or realm of existence? Perhaps one day something might come to light that would endorse such a scenario more fully.
However, while these paranormal explanations are certainly not impossible, it would appear, in this instance, that the explanation is likely more grounded.
There were reports in several newspapers at the time that the Joyita and her crew were the victims of Japanese fishermen who were possibly operating illegally. Once they had been observed by those on the Joyita, they launched an attack and possibly murdered all those on board. Although there was no solid proof of this, one newspaper – the Fiji Times and Herald – would claim to have a solid source who had provided the information.
Another theory involving the Japanese was that of The Daily Telegraph newspaper. It would suggest that the crew and passengers – and the boat itself – had run into Japanese soldiers who still believed the Second World War was being fought. They would even suggest that those on board might still be alive and stored away in a “secret base” on one of the many small islands in the region.
Despite all of the theories, though, there was no evidence to seriously suggest that they were accurate. In retrospect, many point to a remaining prejudice against the Japanese from World War Two – particularly in America and the United Kingdom.
It wasn’t just the Japanese who find themselves at the center of suggestions as to what had happened to the unfortunate boat. Some researchers into the affair would point to the Cold War and suggest that the Soviet Union was to blame. They had, according to some theories, kidnapped the passengers and crew and placed them on a submarine.
There were also suggestions of pirates who might have simply happened upon the yacht by chance and mercilessly attacked it for its cargo and any riches they might find on the passengers. Of course, as the passengers and crew were never found, it is not known if they were relieved of their cash and jewelry before meeting their end.
There were also slightly less grim if concerning theories. One of which was that the whole affair was part of an insurance fraud. Proponents of such theories would suggest that Miller was in great financial debt and possibly looked to cash in for such a failed mission. It had, however, gone wrong and resulted in the disappearance of everyone involved.
However, upon further inspection, it would appear such suggestions were a little wide of the mark. Not least as Miller stood to make more money from the runs he had booked following the completion of the fateful mission. This was thought to be much more substantial than any insurance payout he might have hoped for.
Not that Miller was not an interesting character. We already know, for example, that he had set off on that last trip with a substandard vessel and against protocol. There was also the fact that Captain Miller, despite his apparent negligence over whether to sail or not, should have been very much aware of the fact that there was no need to abandon the vessel. This made investigators wonder whether Miller had become injured or had even died. If he was no longer on board when the discovery of the water coming on board, it was possible that the passengers and remaining crew might have panicked and abandoned the boat unnecessarily.
It is perhaps worth remembering at this stage the blood-stained bandages. Had these bandages been used to treat Miller. These notions were seemingly endorsed by a close friend of Millers, who would state that there was no way that he would have abandoned the vessel of his own free will. This leads us neatly on to another suggestion. That mutiny had occurred.
How well-liked by his crew Miller was or not is perhaps open to debate. There are, however, some suggestions that a mutiny of sorts had taken place at some point before, or after the discovery of the water entering the Joyita.
One researcher who has investigated the incident exhaustively is Robin Maugham who would write about the events in his book, The Joyita Mystery.
The thrust of Maugham’s theory is that upon discovering the boat was taking on water, the mattresses were brought to the engine room, if not in an attempt to stop the water entering to protect the electrical equipment.
However, it is precisely Miller’s intricate knowledge of the vessel’s ability that likely sparked the speculative mutiny. As he knew that the Joyita was essentially unsinkable and given that we know he was desperately reliant in the money he would earn from this and subsequent journeys, Miller likely ordered that they continue with the mission. Especially as it was theorized initially that the leak began while only around 50 miles from their destination.
This decision was likely met with disagreement from the crew, perhaps even resulting in a physical altercation. This might have been how Miller became injured – if indeed he did. As this was taking place, the vessel was beginning to slow, eventually leading to it being dead in the water. When the engine ceased it would have also caused all the electrics to fail. This, if we remember the stopped clock – happened at 10:25 pm.
It is perhaps worth our time imagining what it must have been like in this scenario. Floating on the water in the sudden darkness, in a confused and panicked state. It is perhaps understandable that those onboard took such drastic if ill-thought-out action.
Off the back of this potential scenario, a decision was made to abandon the vessel. However, if that was the case, where did they go? And where did they end up? Did their fragile escape boats succumb to the waves and sink?
And what happened to all the cargo? It is surely unlikely that it was taken with them. Perhaps it was simply dumped overboard to help the stricken yacht stay afloat. If that was the case, though, surely some trace of it would be found.
It was ultimately theorized that crew and passengers simply drifted and drifted, possibly to much stronger and deadlier waters. One theory was that they attempted to reach one of the nearby islands but were killed while doing do.
As perhaps likely as this scenario is, it still does not explain why no trace of at least one of the bodies or the escape boats was discovered.
It is perhaps worth mentioning apparent sightings of Captain Miller in Singapore and Honolulu in the years following the incident. However, there appears to be more no solid evidence that the mystery person was the missing captain.
We might be forgiven for believing that the Joyita was, in fact, cursed when we take into account the later years of its life.
The year following the incident in the summer of 1956, a resident from the Fiji Islands would purchase the vessel and begin to upgrade and make her seaworthy once more. However, the same would soon run into heavy legal disputes, mainly over the location of the vessel’s registry, which had been moved from the United States to Great Britain.
Things didn’t improve once the Joyita took to the waters once more. In January 1957, for example, with 13 passengers on board, she would run aground while in the Koro Sea. An extensive repair program got underway, and by the following year, she was again performing merchant missions between the islands of Fiji.
It appeared these missions were going well until November 1959 when she got into trouble near a reef and ran aground once more. In a stroke of luck, the high tide would dislodge the boat from the reef, but a short time later, she would begin to take water on board. In an even further twist, when the crew attempted to pump out the water from the vessel, it would come to light that they had been installed the wrong way round and so were essentially doing the opposite of what they should have been doing.
The crew would make it to the shore and would basically abandon the damaged boat on the Levuka Beach.
The previously mentioned Robin Maugham would purchase the vessel in the early 1960s as part of his research before selling it on several years later. Despite plans to turn it into a tourist stop-off where people could buy refreshments and visit a small museum, it remained abandoned.
Just what did happen that night in early October 1955? And what did happen to the 25 passengers and crew? Is the explanation simply down to a freak accident compounded by the negligence of Captain Miller? Was a speculative mutiny the result of this negligence?
If this was the case, why was not at least one of the passengers or crew found? Might it be that they and each of the escape vessels found their way to the bottom of the South Pacific? We might suspect that at least one piece of wreckage or one body would have been found.
It is these grey and speculative areas that keep the case officially open as to what might have taken place that evening.
Or might the explanation indeed be one that is line with the paranormal? Might all of those on board have witnessed something otherworldly that not only left them in awe and fright but took them from the boat altogether? It remains a possibility, but even the most open-minded person would have to admit it is a long shot.
Something most certainly happened that evening. And whatever it was, it resulted in the disappearance of 25 people. As well as the complete disappearance of the cargo on board at the time.
That all of those on board died, most likely within days if not hours of the incident, is surely without a doubt. Just what happened in those days or hours, though, will likely remain a mystery for the foreseeable future. And while we have a pretty good idea of the fascinating, if grim events that took place in the South Pacific that fateful night, the small slither if uncertainty keeps researchers intrigued with it.
When Weird Darkness returns, just the idea of going to prison is enough to scare people into living a squeaky-clean life, but if you’re one of the most dangerous prisoners known to exist, ordinary prison would look like a vacation as compared to life in the Florence ADX Supermax Prison. That story is up next.
STORY: LIFE IN THE SUPERMAX=====
When a criminal is deemed to be the “worst of the worst,” they’re sent to the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado, otherwise known as ADX. This high-security prison in the middle of nowhere is meant to keep hardened offenders as far away from the general population as possible. It’s unlikely anyone could escape, and for many of its residents, ADX will be the last place they ever see.
ADX has been operating since 1994 and it’s the only prison in America that offers no real means of rehabilitation. Most of the people who end up there have either committed enough terrible acts that the system doesn’t know what to do with them, or they’ve committed crimes against the American Government.
The institution has come under fire for its lack of medical facilities and treatment of its patients, and in the mid-2010s, after a significant amount of legal pressure, ADX reevaluated its practices. Still, the day-to-day life for an inmate at ADX isn’t a cakewalk, and most of them spend their time in solitary confinement.
A facility built to house the most dangerous people in America is not going to be a nice place. Regardless of the inmates’ offenses, they are still people, but the design of the facility works to remove all semblance of a normal life from those who are interred, and keep inmate movement as minimal as possible.
The parts of the building that the inmates can see are made of concrete and steel, and it’s been compared to Guantanamo Bay, a detention camp notorious for its poor treatment of inmates. Laura Rovner, a law professor who provides representation for ADX inmates told CNN, “For many people, being confined at ADX in what will amount to a life sentence there really is kind of a form of living death. It just takes everything away from you. Your existence is limited to the four walls of this small cell and frankly not much else.”
Solitary confinement units can be found in just about every correctional facility in the nation, from state units to supermax facilities. These areas are used to house inmates who represent a threat to the staff and others, or as a way to hold those who are apt to escape or cause problems within the institution.
ADX keeps all of its inmates in their own isolated space for 23 hours a day, allowing only one hour of time outside of their cell. The idea behind this holding technique is that those being confined in ADX would inevitably start trouble if they were allowed to mingle. Sometimes the one hour of free time is ended with little to no warning, meaning inmates are forced to stay in their cells for days at a time.
ADX is most famous for holding the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, as well as national offenders like Terry Nichols and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. It also houses former FBI agent Robert Hanssen and Michael Swango, a doctor who is accused of poisoning 60 of his patients.
The lesser-known inmates in ADX are there for a variety of offenses: Many attacked fellow inmates at their previous holding facilities or attempted to escape medium-security institutions. Former ADX inmate David Shelby was incarcerated in the supermax after sending threatening letters to President Bill Clinton in order to convince him to release Charles Manson.
Essentially, if the justice system doesn’t think they can reform an inmate, they’re sent to supermax.
Supermax facilities like ADX are designed to keep inmate movement to a minimum, and to allow guards to have as much control as possible. Cells are built with a single 4-inch-wide window that’s about 3 and a half feet off the ground. From an inmate’s vantage point, there’s nothing to see – not even the mountains surrounding the facility are visible.
Even when an inmate is out of their cell for an hour of free time, they’re not allowed in areas where anything natural is around. ADX warden Robert Hood explained to CNN, “The architecture of the building is the control. You’re designing it so the inmates can’t see the sky. Intentionally. You’re putting up wires so helicopters can’t land.”
There’s nothing cushy about any correctional facility, regardless of whether it’s a supermax or a county jail, but the cells at ADX are a different kind of uncomfortable. They’re only 7 feet by 12 feet and are made completely out of concrete. There’s nowhere anyone can relax or sit without feeling some sort of physical stress.
Former ADX inmate Travis Dusenbury explained, “My cell was all concrete. Every single thing, made out of concrete. The walls, floor, the desk, the sink, even the bed – a slab of concrete. Then you get a little fortified [recreation cage] that’s outside that you get to go walk around in for an hour a day.”
It may not seem like there could be anything worse than being in a personal cell at ADX, but within ADX, there is a more secure facility known as the H-Unit, or the Special Security Unit, where those who are marked by the Department of Justice are held. The Special Security Unit is where inmates like Ramzi Yousef (the man behind the 1993 World Trade Center attack), and September 11, 2001, attack participant Zacarias Moussaoui are currently held.
The H-Unit doesn’t just block these inmates off from the rest of the world – it blocks them off from everyone else at ADX. Warden Hood described the residents of the unit, saying, “They’ve been in jail. They’ve been in prison. They’ve [slain] staff. They’ve [slain] a visitor. They’ve earned, if you will, the right to go to Supermax.”
Inmates inside ADX may be in cells next to one another, but they’re not arranged in a way that makes conversation easy. In order to have anything that resembles a one-on-one chat, inmates have to be creative and use the very architecture of the building to their advantage.
Former ADX inmate Travis Dusenbury said that one way to communicate was to use a toilet paper roll as a combination bullhorn and ear horn that projects sound through the water pipes of the facility. In order to use this method, inmates have to make sure the water is cleared from the pipes and that they’re next to someone who’s comfortable chatting in such a way. It’s not a perfect means of communication, but it allows them more intimate contact. Dusenberry explained:
“You could take a whole toilet paper roll, put it over the drain in your sink or shower, and blow as hard as you could. That would blow the water down the pipes just far enough that the pipes were empty between you and your neighbor’s cell. Then you keep holding the toilet paper roll over the drain, you talk into it, and your neighbor can hear what you’re saying clearly. It depended on the cell you were in, if the pipes were lined up and all that, but you could usually contact your neighbor this way or even one more inmate down the line.”
There’s no real personal contact inside ADX aside from whatever communication with a guard an inmate might have. Inmates rarely see one another, and when they are out of their cells, they have to wear leg irons, handcuffs, and chains.
If inmates do happen to see one another while they’re getting in their one hour of recreation time, they can exchange a “finger handshake” through the fence that separates their recreation space. It’s not a lot of contact, but in ADX, it’s one of the few things that reminds inmates they aren’t alone.
While interred in a supermax like ADX, inmates have nothing but time and little to fill it with. They can get books from the library and spend the day reading, or they can do push-ups until they’re exhausted. There are writing supplies, but former detainee Dusenbury says that they’re not really applicable for long periods of use.
The pens used at ADX are not only expensive, but they’re floppy, short, and stubby in order to prevent possible harm. The amount of ‘give’ that the pens have renders them essentially useless.
Inmates at ADX have basic medical needs like everyone else, but according to a former detainee, it’s harder than it should be to get the proper medication. He said that not only were the guards skeptical of his issues with insomnia, but that they also tried to catch him sleeping at random intervals to prove he wasn’t suffering from the emotional and mental issues that were affecting him.
The former inmate told Vice that it took years for him to get approved for the medication he needed, and even then, he wasn’t given the correct kind. He said it’s not that the guards and doctors were being antagonistic, but that they just didn’t care if he got the help he needed. There was no way for his body and mind to adjust to his medication because it was often incorrect – anyone who’s suffering from a mental illness knows that this is the easiest way to make a condition worse than when it began.
The good news about ADX is that there’s a program that works to rehabilitate inmates in the supermax and get them into a standard maximum security facility before their release. Even though ADX houses national threat suspects, vicious slayers, and government spies, there are also detainees who are working toward returning to a normal life.
The step-down program takes at least a year to complete and it’s made up of three phases where a person is slowly worked back into the general population. During the step-down program, individuals aren’t just introduced to larger and larger groups -they’re actually given group and one-on-one therapy sessions that allow them to develop coping mechanisms for mixing with the general population. This is a hard program to complete, but because of it, prison attacks fell 17% from 2008 to 2015.
According to former detainees at ADX, if the guards find a reason to dislike an inmate, they make it their mission to challenge them. Inmate Jack Powers told The New York Times that an inmate on his cell block, Jose Vega, was a thorn in the side of the correction officers. He threw urine and feces while trying to disrupt the facility as much as possible. He was also mentally ill and believed that the guards were entering his cell at night to harm him.
Powers said that never happened, but they did bully him to an extreme degree. They dropped his food on the floor, they withheld his mail, and verbally attacked him. Powers said, “They started to break him. Almost like you see with pro wrestlers, like a tag-team-type thing, where one of them passes it off to the next and to the next and to the next.”
Vega took his own life on May 1, 2010. Vega’s family filed a lawsuit against ADX.
Because of ADX’s attitude toward mental health, it’s difficult to determine exactly how many of the inmates suffer from a form of mental illness. It’s clear that a large swathe of the population struggles in one way or another, and that being confined to a cell 23 hours a day only exacerbates any potential mental health challenges. Some inmates claim to hear voices, and some have attempted to take their own lives.
Former ADX warden Hood told CNN, “I do know that when you put a person in a box for 23 hours a day and you tell them that’s the rest of your life, that each person has their own coping skills… When you see a person disrobing, throwing feces at a staff member going by is that mental illness? Is that an issue where they’re self-destructing?”
In some cases, detainees will work out until they’re exhausted and unable to do anything but sleep. If an inmate is seen as being particularly unstable, it’s possible that they’ll end up fastened to a bed in a method called “four-pointing.” Dr. Craig Haney, a psychology professor who was a main researcher with the Stanford Prison Experiment, said inmates kept in such a solitary state fall into “a profound level of what might be called ‘ontological insecurity.’ They are not sure that they exist and, if they do, exactly who they are.”
ADX and its fellow supermax facilities have been placed under a microscope for their draconian treatment of inmates that affects their mental health. In 2009, the Colorado Department of Corrections was sued by capital punishment inmate Nathan Dunlap for not being allowed to exerciseor experience fresh air – two things that greatly effect a person’s mental state.
In 2011, with the help of the law firm Arnold & Porter and the DC Prisoner’s Project, ADX inmates filed suit against the institution for their treatment of persons with mental and physical health needs. The lawsuit claims that inmates are kept in conditions that make their suffering worse, and that many inmates suffering from mental and emotional issues are denied the medication they need. According to a former inmate, the staff psychiatrist told him he could not have his prescription for Seroquel (a medication that combats bipolar disorder) because they don’t give “feel-good” medication there.
The lawsuit encouraged ADX to hire additional psychologists and allow for some inmates to be moved to facilities with minimal security and a focus on mental health. Former warden Hood believes that the supermax facility will be closed within a decade.
Thanks for listening. If you like the show, please share it with someone you know who loves the paranormal or strange stories, true crime, monsters, or unsolved mysteries like you do! And please leave a rating and review of the show in the podcast app you listen from – doing so helps the show to get noticed! You can also email me anytime with your questions or comments through the website at WeirdDarkness.com. That’s also where you can find all of my social media, listen to free audiobooks, shop the Weird Darkness store, sign up for the newsletter to win monthly prizes, find my other podcast “Church of the Undead”, and more. Plus if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY – or call the DARKLINE toll free at 1-877-277-5944. That’s 1-877-277-5944.
All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise) and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“Real Historic Accounts of Werewolves” by Miss Celania for MentalFloss.com, Nick Redfern for Mysterious Universe, WolvesRox on Playbuzz.com, and Tim Flight for HistoricCollection.com
The short fable, “The Werewolf” was written by Angela Carter
“The Mysterious Abandonment of the MV Joyita” by Marcus Lowth for UFOInsight.com
“Life In The Supermax” by Jacob Shelton for Ranker.com’s Unspeakable Times
Again, you can find link to all of these stories in the show notes.
WeirdDarkness™ – is a production and trademark of Marlar House Productions. Copyright, Weird Darkness.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
And a final thought… “He who does not thank for little, will not thank for much.” —Estonian Proverb
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.