“THE HICKS ROAD HORROR” and More True Strange Stories! #WeirdDarkness
Check out the other podcasts I host at https://weirddarkness.com/links. PLEASE SHARE THIS EPISODE in your social media so others who loves strange and macabre stories can listen too!
Listen to ““THE HICKS ROAD HORROR” and More True Strange Stories! #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.
IN THIS EPISODE: If I say the words “headless horseman” it immediately brings up the image of a man on a black steed carrying a pumpkin instead of his head, chasing after Ichabod Crane. Washington Irving did a fantastic job of painting that picture for us. It’s too bad headless horsemen legends are just that… legends. Well, that is, until they are not. (The Headless Horseman of Neuces) *** In 1970, two teenage girls were murdered at Denver’s Lumber Baron Inn. Today their killer is still unknown — but some guests say the victims’ ghosts still roam the halls. (Murder at the London Baron Inn) *** A man is well-liked and respected in his community… but then he acquires a love for alcohol… his personality changes… his family disappears… and suddenly, his community see him for what he truly is – a Wendigo. (A Wendigo Named Swift Runner) *** Unexplained murder cases are, sadly, a reality. But in most cases you at least know who the victim is, or who the murderer is. In the case of “Princess Doe” however, there is no identity for the victim, the murderer, and there is no reason anyone has found for the brutal crime. (The Unexplained Princess Doe Case) *** With so many television shows, movies, documentaries, and genre artwork, you might think you know just about everything there is to know about the Wild West – but there are a few stories that are so strange, you might think they came right out of the mind of a fiction novelist. (The Wild Weird West) *** Situated alongside Almaden Quicksilver County Park, Hicks Road has become legendary in San Jose, California for all the wrong reasons. If you even mention it in driving directions, you’ll get a “No way, Jose!” response and a request for a different route. Hearing the stories about what makes Hicks Road so creepy might turn you as ghostly white as the supposedly Satan-worshipping albinos rumored to inhabit the area. It’s the legend of Hicks Road. (The Hicks Road Horror)
SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…
“The Hicks Road Horror” by Laura Allan for Ranker: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/yj89jwv6, and from BackpackerVerse:https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/2p98a5rx
“Murder at the London Baron Inn” by Austin Harvey for All That’s Interesting: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/yckk5t52
“A Wendigo Named Swift Runner” by Karen Doherty for Green Canticle: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/2p892ejx
BOOK: “The Manitous: The Spiritual World of the Ojibway” by Basil Johnston: https://amzn.to/3rKOjDW
“The Unexplained Princess Doe Case” by Marcus Lowth at UFO Insight: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/4bmxyd92
“The Wild Weird West” by Genevieve Carlton for Weird History: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/3d9sjaay
“The Headless Horseman of Neuces” from Texas Cryptid Hunter: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/25fxhzbx
Join the Weird Darkness Syndicate: https://weirddarkness.com//syndicate
Advertise in the Weird Darkness podcast or syndicated radio show: https://weirddarkness.com/advertise
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music Library. Background music provided by EpidemicSound with paid license.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
OTHER PODCASTS I HOST…
Paranormality Magazine: (COMING SOON!) https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/paranormalitymag
Micro Terrors: Scary Stories for Kids: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/microterrors
Retro Radio – Old Time Radio In The Dark: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/retroradio
Church of the Undead: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/churchoftheundead
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
(Over time links seen above may become invalid, disappear, or have different content. I always make sure to give authors credit for the material I use whenever possible. If I somehow overlooked doing so for a story, or if a credit is incorrect, please let me know and I will rectify it in these show notes immediately. Some links included above may benefit me financially through qualifying purchases.)
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
WeirdDarkness® is a registered trademark. Copyright ©2023, Weird Darkness.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
DISCLAIMER: Stories and content in Weird Darkness can be disturbing for some listeners and intended for mature audiences only. Parental discretion is strongly advised.
Dionne Warwick once asked if you (the listener to her song) knew the way to San Jose. The truth is, there are a number of roads that lead into and out of that particular area, but only one of them is likely to give you the kind of creeps that could send you packing for another area – say, Baltimore. Hicks Road runs through the county, dodging in and out of populated areas, and in some places cutting through vast swaths of nothing. On a moonlit night in one of the most barren stretches, this road is lonely, eerie in its silence as it gives up the day’s heat in a slow crawling invisible shimmer. And if you happen to be passing through, the best advice you can take is to just keep on going until you reach the relative safety of civilization. And maybe don’t look out your side windows; you might see something that would haunt your dreams for the rest of your life. Local scary legends refer to them as the Blood Albinos. Pale, ghostly beings who descend from the dark nothing upon unsuspecting travelers, shrieking wraiths with eyes of a red so dark that in the nighttime they could be nothing but black holes leading into an infinite universe of terror. Their wail is said to be bone-chilling, and so far there hasn’t been a witness who wasn’t driven away from this lonely section of road screaming himself or herself hoarse. Who are these foul creatures of the night, and why are they so hell-bent (pardon the expression) on chasing people away from this section of Hicks Road, as if it is their territory? Those who are close enough to see the Blood Albinos generally don’t take the time to investigate further, if rumors are to be believed. Some say this is just one of California’s famous urban legends. However, experts in the multifarious paranormal fields have taken a long, hard look at this phenomenon, and there are a more than a few theories floating around.
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – 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.
Coming up in this episode…
If I say the words “headless horseman” it immediately brings up the image of a man on a black steed carrying a pumpkin instead of his head, chasing after Ichabod Crane. Washington Irving did a fantastic job of painting that picture for us. It’s too bad headless horsemen legends are just that… legends. Well, that is, until they are not. (The Headless Horseman of Neuces)
In 1970, two teenage girls were murdered at Denver’s Lumber Baron Inn. Today their killer is still unknown — but some guests say the victims’ ghosts still roam the halls. (Murder at the London Baron Inn)
A man is well-liked and respected in his community… but then he acquires a love for alcohol… his personality changes… his family disappears… and suddenly, his community sees him for what he truly is – a Wendigo. (A Wendigo Named Swift Runner)
Unexplained murder cases are, sadly, a reality. But in most cases you at least know who the victim is, or who the murderer is. In the case of “Princess Doe” however, there is no identity for the victim, no identity for the murderer, and there is no reason anyone has found for the brutal crime. (The Unexplained Princess Doe Case)
With so many television shows, movies, documentaries, and genre artwork, you might think you know just about everything there is to know about the Wild West – but there are a few stories that are so strange, you might think they came right out of the mind of a fiction novelist. (The Wild Weird West)
Situated alongside Almaden Quicksilver County Park, Hicks Road has become legendary in San Jose, California for all the wrong reasons. If you even mention it in driving directions, you’ll get a “No way, Jose!” response and a request for a different route. Hearing the stories about what makes Hicks Road so creepy might turn you as ghostly white as the supposedly Satan-worshipping albinos rumored to inhabit the area. It’s the legend of Hicks Road. (The Hicks Road Horror)
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, my newsletter, to enter contests, to connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: THE HICKS ROAD HORROR=====
California has its fair share of myths and lore, and one of the most well-known San Jose urban legends involves stories of people being attacked on Hicks Road. In these Hicks Road horror stories, there is allegedly a colony of strange and vicious individuals who lurk in the darkness, going after anyone who tries to get too close. Rumors about the colony at Hicks Road have persisted for decades upon decades, but is there any validity to these stories?
When considering if there are any real facts about the “Hicks Road Albinism Colony,” it’s important to keep in mind that people with albinism aren’t somehow inherently evil. Even suggesting this is rather absurd and offensive. Rather, these tales speak of cannibalism and satanic cults, but these aren’t the traits of people with albinism by any means.
That said, this is a myth from San Jose that just won’t end. It helps that there are a ton of witnesses willing to speak about their experiences on Hicks Road, a place teens still dare to venture to in the middle of the night.
There are several theories about how this supposed vicious clan came to live near Hicks Road. The legend has been around since the ’70s, or possibly earlier, and has persisted well into the modern age. However, the urban legend’s origins are up for debate. One thing the stories all have in common, though, is that the people live as part of an organized colony.
One suggestion for where this rumored colony could have come from is that it’s related to a Swedish community based at the entrance of Uvas Canyon Park. This group of people don’t have albinism, but they can be very fair-skinned. Others say it began with the United Technologies Corporation located on nearby Metcalf Road. This is a scientific research facility where technology is tested. This is the sort of facility that would incite rumors of genetic mutations. Some say a religious community – cult-like and possibly satanic – called The Holy City in the nearby Santa Cruz mountains is where the rumors started.
“It’s quite likely,” says one psychic, “that these are echos of some former territorial band of people, who at one time lived in the region. Why they should present as albinos seems obvious to me – they’re not albinos, they’re ghosts, and people see them as ectoplasm.”
Other experts are not so sure. One, a Harvard graduate who is currently traveling the country researching a book on the paranormal, stated that he believed them to not only be albinos, but also that they are in fact real flesh-and-blood creatures.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all,” he says, “if these things exist in that area alone in the world, perhaps the last vestiges of some dying race of creatures from another world, or another dimension. Maybe they’re not even that dissimilar to us, except for their basic nature… Whatever they are, they’re pure, unadulterated evil.”
So he believes, and so most people who have actually come face-to-face with the shrieking albino creatures believe.
Whatever the origin, the legend has long been passed around in schoolyards and classrooms around the area.
Supposedly, the clan isn’t too friendly to outsiders.
Legend has it they will chase visitors out. In some accounts, they use cars and trucks to chase down vehicles and run people off the road. Other times, they will give chase on foot.
In one account, a visitor to Hicks Road recalls what happened when a friend came across a dead deer on the road: “Without warning, Dan’s car collided with something, a large dark figure is what blurred before Dan’s eyes as he slammed on the brakes. When the car came to a rest the headlights revealed a large buck sprawled across the street, clearly not moving. As all of the occupants of the car realized what had happened, another dark figure appeared from the roadside. Except this figure split into three separate entities. Moving quickly into the road, the headlights now showed 3 humans with pasty white skin and blood[-shot] eyes. Working with haste, the three [people with albinism] dragged the bloodied buck down the hillside and out of sight.”
It remains to be seen what might happen to a person if he or she doesn’t flee in terror at the sight and sound of these creatures. Then again, perhaps it’s already happened, and we just don’t know about it because that person was never found.
Although the creepy factor for this legend more has to do with strange, pale figures chasing people in the dark, another spooky aspect is that these mysterious people are apparently also quite aggressive. The stories say that those who have encountered the people with albinism have seen them sporting improvised weapons – even guns in some cases. There are no accounts of them actively taking a life, but they do seem to use these items to threaten people off of their turf.
In yet another personal account, one individual recalls an encounter with one such armed figure:
“We pulled off into the first turn off and the truck slammed on its breaks behind us, high beams still shining bright and the driver opened his door and exited carrying a large object which in our retellings of the story has been everything from a shotgun to a fishing pole. The screams from our vehicle could be heard from Quicksilver park to Old Almaden and we hit the gas and raced off of Hicks as quickly as possible.”
One version of the Hicks Road legend states the individuals afflicted with a genetic disorder but they are also linked to the devil. There are rumors that the colony on Hicks Road is part of a secluded cult that worships Satan. Their attacks on people at night may actually be how they gather human sacrifices, or possibly just how they keep people away from their evil practices.
The Satanic cult rumor goes one step further, claiming visitors to the road can call upon the cult for revenge on enemies. According to the tales, a bridge near Hicks Road has been cursed by the cult. Those who write a person’s name on the bridge will be granted the demise of that person. A difficult thing to prove, of course, but an even darker reason to trek down Hicks Road.
Possibly the most frightening aspect reported about this evasive colony is that they are supposed cannibals. Stories depict them carrying off deer, trying to bite into humans, and even going after family pets. In particular, one story claims a colony member carried off a poodle in the night. Bones of dogs have been found in the area, further fueling the rumor.
If the rumors that the colony has satanic ties is true, this may also account for their craving for flesh.
Adding to an already terrifying prospect, not only might any visitor to Hicks Road come upon the vicious mob, they are apt to hear them as well. As though glowing red eyes and weapons weren’t intimidating enough, the individuals on Hicks Road are known to scream out in terrifying, unearthly tones. The shrieking echoes in the darkness, resulting in those who claim to have heard, if not seen, the horde to run. The prospect of hearing screams in the area is enough to keep many from daring a visit.
Though, of course, the sounds could just be barn owls or coyotes, but who can say for sure?
A more supernatural theory suggests that the pale-looking individuals are not humans at all. Given their appearance and tales of their strange screaming and violence, some have suggested that they may not be of this earth. Instead, the terrifying attackers might be ghosts… as the psychic suggested earlier.
This legend has been so long ingrained in the culture of San Jose that it has even inspired several works of art. One man wrote a novel about the phenomena, and another group created a horror movie based on the colony. The film was a student film project that came out in 2009.
“The urban legend of Hicks Road has captured the minds and thoughts of many residents in San Jose, California. And especially the imagination of four college students that grew up hearing the story again and again. These four curiosity seekers attempt to find out what is really going on in the shadows of Hicks Road. But little do they know that what lies ahead will haunt and change them for the rest of their lives…”
Of course, as with any local legend, there are often real and rational reasons for the stories. For one, there is no record of a group of people with albinism living near San Jose. While such an organized group could theoretically do so to stay off the grid, there would likely be some official trace of them. One pronounced group of people in the San Jose area is the local homeless population.
The Jungle, one such community, was so big that it literally contained over three hundred people during its height. More of these encampments, in smaller sizes, dot the city and its surrounding areas, including the region and parks near Hicks Road. Such a population may currently live near the area of the supposed attacks or lived there at one time. Because there have been homeless encampments in the area for so many decades, this may be part of where the legend came from.
Although the stories mostly direct people to Hicks Road, there are stories of the possibly murderous colony all over the city of San Jose. They are said to frequent Quicksilver Park, especially as there are supposed mines nearby to hide in. Stories say that people live in these mines, people who may be the same colony from Hicks Road. An abandoned military post at the top of Mount Umunhum has only just opened to the public in recent years. Before it was open, people who ventured up there sometimes reported strange sightings of mysterious figures. Even in the nearby forests and parks that surround the city, the legends of the dastardly colony persist.
However, most people do agree that Hicks Road is where they reside most often, and that’s what draws many thrill-seekers out for late night rides.
Of course, the albino colony of Hicks Road is mere speculation and local lore. There are those who’d like to see the legend finally die out. There are two groups of people who are particularly upset with the continuation of this myth. The first is people with albinism… understandably. Albinism is obviously not a supernatural occurrence and is actually a genetic disorder linked to serious health problems. There is already a stigma surrounding those with albinism and this legend of evil, cannibalistic, satanic albinos only furthers to reinforce that stigma.
The other group of people bothered by the legend are those who live around Hicks Road. The stories have attracted daring teens out to the area at night to explore for decades. Sometimes, trespassers leave messes and even damage property. Many residents have put up signs to keep visitors out.
Up next… speaking of late-night spooks… headless horsemen legends are just that… legends. Unless, that is, you make your way to the Nueces River in South Texas. (The Headless Horseman of Neuces)
Plus… in 1970, two teenage girls were murdered at Denver’s Lumber Baron Inn. Today their killer is still unknown — but some guests say the victims’ ghosts still roam the halls. These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns! (Murder at the London Baron Inn)
STORY: THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN OF NEUCES=====
Human kind has always been a superstitious lot. Tales of ghosts, monsters, witches, and other “haints” are universal and cross all cultural divides and borders. Especially terrifying are tales where the alleged spectre in question met his/her end in the most gruesome of ways: decapitation. Tales of ghosts cursed to search for their missing heads on this earthly plane abound. One such example of this particular mythos is the tale behind the ghost lights of Bragg Road in East Texas. Some who believe in such things claim the lights are tied to a long dead conductor or railway worker who slipped under the train that used to run along the road and lost his head beneath the wheels of a tanker car or caboose. While all such stories are frightening, the terror seems to ratchet up a notch when the headless spirit is astride an equally ghostly horse. Images of Washington Irving’s Ichabod Crane fleeing for his life from the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow are those most commonly dredged up from the minds of most when the topic is broached. But it is all in good fun, such things are just campfire stories meant to thrill and delight the younger members of families. Headless riders are not real.
Except when they are.
In the mid 1800s, not long after the Mexican-American War wrapped up, settlers around the Nueces River in South Texas began to report sightings of a headless horseman roaming the countryside. Witnesses claimed the rider, dubbed “El Muerto,” carried his head (still wearing a sombrero) tied to the horn of his saddle. About his shoulders, the rider wore a brush-torn serape over a buckskin jacket. The legs of the apparition were covered by rawhide leggings of the kind worn by Mexican vaqueros. The horseman was always seen astride a black mustang stallion so wild it seemed to have erupted onto the Texas plains straight from the mouth of hell. The rider was seen both day and night and there seemed to be no pattern to when and where he might appear next. The only constant was that he always rode alone and brought a paralyzing terror to any unlucky enough to lay eyes upon him. The Indians of the region, who rarely agreed with the Anglo settlers on much of anything, concurred that the rider was real and endeavored to keep their distance from him. Tribes on the hunt for bison or wild horses would range hundreds of miles out of their way to avoid entering the territory of the headless spirit.
Mayne Reid, stationed at Fort Inge on the Leona River, wrote, “No one denied that that thing had been seen. The only question was how to account for a spectacle so peculiar as to give the lie to all known laws of creation.” Reid went on to list the many theories that had sprung up in an effort to explain the rider. An Indian dodge, a lay figure, a normal rider disguised with his head beneath a serape that shrouded his shoulders, and the possibility that the headless horseman was none other than Lucifer himself were the most common explanations bandied about by settlers and soldiers in the region. One theory not expounded upon by Reid was that the rider was the patron, or ghostly guard, of the lost mine of the long-abandoned Candelaria Mission on the Nueces River. The debate raged on but the mystery as to the rider’s identity remained.
Finally, a group of settlers – tired of being afraid – managed to ambush the headless horseman at a watering hole near the present day town of Alice. The rider seemed impervious to their firearms. One man in the posse said, “Our bullets passed through him as easily as through a paper target.” A change in tactics was in order and the settlers shifted their fire from the seemingly invulnerable rider to the black mustang. The horse, it seemed, did not share the rider’s ability to weather gunfire and was felled quickly. Upon inspection, the settlers found a desiccated human carcass – one riddled by bullet holes and arrows – lashed to the back of the mustang. The mystery was solved but it birthed another question: who was the headless rider?
It was learned some time later exactly how the headless horseman of the Nueces had come to be. The answer came from none other than legendary Texas Ranger Bigfoot Wallace himself. Years before, during the Texas Revolution, Texian militias laid siege to the city of San Antonio. On the night of December 4, 1835, a Mexican lieutenant named Vidal deserted, joined the Texians, and provided them with valuable intelligence that helped lead to the surrender of the city by General Cos (the Mexican military would later return and avenge their humiliation at the Battle of the Alamo). After the Texians won their independence from Mexico at the Battle of San Jacinto, Vidal took to stealing horses in order to make a living. He proved quite adept at this endeavor and became the head of several rings of horse thieves operating in South Texas. The Texians were slow to suspect Vidal – despite mounting evidence – due to his reputation as a Texas patriot. Vidal was able to further deflect suspicion by deftly planting evidence that suggested the Comanches – who often raided settlements and homesteads for horses – were the true culprits.
Despite his best efforts, a couple of ranchers named Flores and Taylor began to suspect Vidal of the thievery and struck out to follow the trail of the rustlers. While camping on the Frio River, Flores and Taylor met up with Bigfoot Wallace – not one to tolerate a horse thief – who decided to join the hunt. As they drew nearer to the stolen herd, the hunters came across cattle that had been shot with arrows. “Vidal’s trick to make greenhorns smell Indians,” Taylor wrote. The three men did not fall for the ruse and pressed on, finally catching up to Vidal and his men near the Leona, only twelve miles from Fort Inge. To make a long story a bit shorter, the three men sneaked into the rustler’s camp and made short work of Vidal and his men that very night.
The next morning, Wallace – always a bit on the eccentric side – made a fateful decision. He chose a black mustang stallion from the recovered horses, one that had been herd-broken but never saddled. Wallace roped the stallion, saddled him, and – after decapitating Vidal – lashed the horse thief’s body securely to the mustang. Wallace then laced Vidal’s head, sombrero and all, to the horn of the saddle. The three men then stepped back to admire their work. Before them, the lifeless and headless body of the king of South Texas horse thieves sat bolt upright on the back of a stallion so wild that Satan himself could not ride him. Bigfoot Wallace would declare years later that he had seen many pitching horses, but had never witnessed any other animal act like that black stallion with the dead horse thief on his back. After the mustang had pitched, bucked, snorted, squealed, pawed the air, and reared up and fallen over backwards, it seemed to accept its fate and fled into the Texas wilderness away from its tormentors and into legend.
It is often said that even the hardest to believe legends contain within them a grain of truth. Such is the case with the tale of the Headless Horseman of the Nueces. The witnesses were telling the truth; the rider was real. Perhaps it is a lesson we should recall when confronted with something that seems unbelievable today. Maybe we should pause before dismissing the outrageous claims of a witness who insists they saw a black panther, a wood ape, or some other creature that is not supposed to exist. Maybe we can treat those witnesses with respect and dignity and help them get to the bottom of what they saw.
Well, it’s just a thought.
STORY: MURDER AT THE LONDON BARON INN=====
Once, the Lumber Baron Inn was the home of its namesake — lumber baron John Mouat. A lavish mansion he constructed for his wife and their five children, the building was equal parts home and showcase of Mouat’s work.
But as often happens with old buildings, Mouat’s mansion eventually passed from the family’s ownership and exchanged hands several times before it became little more than a deteriorating tenement building. By the mid-20th century, it was a skeleton of its former self — the sort of place where low-stakes criminals, drug addicts, and teenage runaways congregated together. In short, it was a place where people went when they had nowhere else to go.
Unfortunately, these sorts of seedy locales often attract tragedy, and the Lumber Baron Inn was no exception. In 1970, a 17-year-old teenage runaway was raped and murdered in her room. When her 18-year-old friend walked in on the act, the man shot and killed her, too. The perpetrator of the Lumber Baron Inn murders was never identified.
The mansion eventually changed hands once more and underwent a complete restoration, but the tragedy of the Lumber Baron Inn murders still haunts it to this day — perhaps, in more ways than one.
In 1890, Scottish immigrant John Mouat built a home for his family in Denver, Colorado. Mouat had made a name for himself in the lumber industry and amassed a large fortune, eventually starting his own company, Mouat Lumber. According to the website Legends of America, the Mouat Lumber company constructed more than 200 buildings in Denver between 1889 and 1892, helping the town grow from a humble mining camp to the city it is today.
Mouat wanted his home, however, to be the “best.” It wasn’t just that it was a massive, 8,500 square foot mansion — each room featured a different type of wood, each fireplace was intricately carved, the dining room had carved rosettes representing the trees used to make the guest rooms, and the guest rooms themselves featured private baths and phones.
But the Mouat children grew up, moved out, and started families of their own. Mouat and his wife eventually moved out, too — he lived in California by 1906 — and the mansion transferred ownership.
Per the Fort Carson Mountaineer, the mansion changed hands several times over the decades, eventually being turned into a 23-unit tenement building. The building was run-down, a stark contrast to the lavish showcase it had been in the past.
Then, in 1970, tragedy scarred the Lumber Baron Inn.
In 1970, 16-year-old runaway Cara Lee Knoche was living in a rented room at the tenement building known today as the Lumber Baron Inn. Knoche had dropped out of school and run away from home, but on October 11, she seemingly had a change of heart.
She celebrated her 17th birthday at her parents’ house and made a bold announcement: In four days’ time, she would move out of her apartment and resume her high school education. She had already found a job, too.
Two days later, she was found dead inside her apartment.
That day, 18-year-old Marianne Weaver went to the Lumber Baron Inn to visit Knoche — and walked in at the worst possible moment. A man was in the apartment. He had already raped Knoche, and many reports claim that Weaver arrived in time to witness him murder her, too. Caught in, or just after, the act, the man shot and killed Weaver.
On October 13, 1970, Knoche’s body was found lying under the bed; she had been strangled to death. Weaver’s body was on the floor with a gunshot wound.
Over 50 years later, their murderer has not been found.
Within two decades, the city of Denver condemned the tenement building, as it had fallen into almost complete and total disrepair. It’s likely that would have been the end of the story, had it not been for Walter and Julie Keller, who purchased the building in 1991 and began the long process of restoring and remodeling the mansion, ultimately turning it into the Lumber Baron Inn.
Thankfully, no further tragedies have plagued the Lumber Baron Inn, and it now operates as a successful bed & breakfast — but given its history, many guests and paranormal researchers have come forth with claims that the Lumber Baron Inn may, in fact, be haunted.
With the Lumber Baron Inn fully restored and decorated with antique furniture — and the neighborhood showing signs of improving — the Kellers converted the mansion’s basement into a single, larger apartment and decided to move in themselves.
Their work went beyond the interior, as well. They replanted the gardens on the property around the building and added decor reflective of the 1890s Queen Anne style it originally flaunted.
Soon enough, Lumber Baron Inn and Gardens was open as a bed and breakfast, wedding venue, and events space.
But according to HauntedHouses.com, that’s not all the Lumber Baron Inn has to offer. It is allegedly considered to be the most haunted place in Denver, with reports of six spirits who continue to stalk its halls.
Naturally, two of the alleged ghosts that haunt the Lumber Baron Inn are the spirits of Cara Knoche and Marianne Weaver, who have reportedly been seen in the inn’s Valentine Room, on the stairs, and in the hallway near their room.
Guests have reported feeling cold spots and hearing strange noises from unknown sources. Walter Keller even reported similar experiences, saying that while working to renovate the inn, he felt his neck hairs stand on end after an unnaturally cold gust of wind blew by him.
Beyond the spirits of Knoche and Weaver, though, guests and paranormal investigators have reported seeing a female apparition sometimes dressed as a flapper, the spirit of a maid, a male spirit believed to be a member of the Mouat or Fowler family, and an older, authoritative male apparition who is often seen in common rooms smoking a pipe. Occasionally, the smell of tobacco lingers after he is gone.
Multiple paranormal investigation teams have also visited the Lumber Baron Inn, including the team from Spirit Paranormal and the cast of the TV show Ghost Detectives.
Between two separate investigations, one in 2011 and the other in 2012, Spirit Paranormal claimed to have captured the full name of the person who murdered Knoche and Weaver — though they haven’t released that name publicly.
“Another unbelievable night at the Lumber Baron Inn last night folks,” they wrote on Facebook in October 2012, according to HauntedHouses.com. “If I was not there to see this in person I would not have believed it. For the second straight year we received the same name of the killer from the unsolved 1970 double murder on the ITC (spirit box) device!”
It’s unlikely this alleged evidence would be admissible in a court of law, of course, but the numerous investigations at the Lumber Baron Inn do attest to the one confirmed horror that looms over the otherwise quaint bed and breakfast in Denver, Colorado: the unsolved murders of Cara Knoche and Marianne Weaver.
When Weird Darkness returns… unexplained murder cases are, sadly, a reality. But in most cases you at least know who the victim is, or who the murderer is. In the case of “Princess Doe” however, there is no identity for the victim, no identity for the murderer, and there is no reason anyone has found for the brutal crime. (The Unexplained Princess Doe Case)
But first… a man is well-liked and respected in his community… but then he acquires a love for alcohol… his personality changes… his family disappears… and suddenly, his community sees him for what he truly is – a Wendigo. That story is up next! (A Wendigo Named Swift Runner)
STORY: A WENDIGO NAMED SWIFT RUNNER=====
Swift Runner was a Cree hunter and trapper from the country north of Fort Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His Cree name was Ka-Ki-Si-Kutchin. He was a big man, tall and muscular. He traded with Hudson’s Bay Company and in 1875, served as a guide for the North West Mounted Police.
He was well-liked, until he developed a taste for whiskey. When he was drunk, Swift Runner became nasty and violent. The police sent Swift Runner back to his tribe, where he caused so much trouble that he was eventually turned out of his community. In the winter of 1878-79, Swift Runner took his family, including his wife, six children, mother-in-law, and brother, out into the wilderness to a hunting camp. Only Swift Runner returned in the spring. He said his wife had committed suicide and the others had died of starvation. Swift Runner appeared well fed and in good shape. His anxious in-laws asked the police to investigate. The police travelled with Swift Runner to his family’s camp in the wilderness north of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta.
Swift Runner brought a detachment of mounted police to the camp. He showed them the grave of his eldest son. The police opened the grave and found the bones undisturbed. There were human bones scattered around the encampment, some broken in half and hollowed out. That could only mean one thing – someone had snapped them open and sucked out the marrow. They found a pot full of human fat. Swift Runner identified one of the skulls as belonging to his wife. A small moccasin had been stuffed inside the skull of Swift Runner’s mother-in-law, a beading needle still sticking out of the unfinished work.
Without much prodding, Swift Runner revealed what happened to his family. At first, Swift Runner became haunted by dreams. A Wendigo spirit called on him to consume the people around him. The spirit crept through his mind, gradually taking control. Finally, he became a Wendigo. The Wendigo killed and ate Swift Runner’s wife, and eventually cooked and ate the rest of his family.
The police didn’t believe Swift Runner resorted to cannibalism out of hunger. Emergency food supplies were close by at a Hudson’s Bay post just 25 miles away. Swift Runner believed that he had become a Wendigo; the police thought he was a killer cannibal. He may have been suffering from Wendigo psychosis, a psychiatric disorder associated with the Algonquian-speaking peoples—Cree, Wabanaki, Anishinaabe in the northern boral forests along the U.S.-Canadian border. It manifests itself through compulsive attacks and a craving for human flesh.
On May 27, 1879, the Mounted Police arrested Swift Runner and hauled him and the remains of his victims back to Fort Saskatchewan. His trial began on August 8, 1879. Swift Runner was tried for murder and cannibalism by a jury that included three “English speaking Cree half-breeds,” four men “well up in the Cree language,” and a Cree man who translated the proceedings. Swift Runner sat calmly throughout the testimony of witnesses, who described the family being in perfect health when they headed out to the woods, then Swift Runner coming out of the forest alone. Swift Runner confessed to the killings and said he had seen spirits telling him to become a Wendigo. After returning to his camp from a moose hunt, all that he could hear were “young moose, nothing but moose.” Local gossip said Swift Runner had developed a taste for human flesh from years earlier when he was forced to eat the remains of a hunting partner to save his life. Other people believed he had been possessed by the Wendigo.
Swift Runner was sentenced to be hung at Fort Saskatchewan on December 20, 1879 at 7:30 am. He declined to speak to a priest before he was executed. “The white man has ruined me,” he said. “I don’t think their God would amount to much.” The morning was dark and bitterly cold when the police led the condemned man to the scaffold. It was discovered that the trap from the gallows had been burned as kindling, and the old pensioner that was hired as the hangman had forgotten to bring straps to bind the prisoner’s arms. As the sheriff and hangman rushed around to get the scaffold ready again, Swift Runner sat near one of the fires that had been lighted nearby, joking and talking, and snacking on pemmican. “I could kill myself with a tomahawk and save the hangman the trouble,” he joked. Two hours later, the gallows was ready. Swift Runner was given the opportunity to address the crowd that had come to watch him die. He openly acknowledged his guilt, thanked his jailers for their kindness and berated his executioners for making him wait in the frigid cold. Just before the trap door opened, Swift Runner said, “I am no longer a man.” The Daily Evening Mercury newspaper reported, “He died without a struggle. The body was cut down in an hour and buried in the snow outside the fort.”
Does the Wendigo exist or is it a myth? Is it an explanation for human behavior or part of the supernatural? A cultural warning about cannibalism or spiritual possession? Do they all blur together in the snowy mist we see just before a Wendigo appears?
The Wendigo (also known as Windigo and Weendigo) is part of the traditional beliefs of a number of Algonquin-speaking tribes in the northern United States and Canada, most notably the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), Saulteaux, Cree and Abenaki. Though descriptions can vary, common to all these tribes is the conception of the Wendigos as malevolent, cannibalistic, savage, supernatural beings (Manitous) of great spiritual and physical power. They were strongly associated with winter, snow, cold, famine and starvation. The lived in the forest, and stalked villages and camps, waiting for humans to venture alone into the woods. People who did so and never returned were said to have been taken by a Wendigo; eaten alive or turned into a Wendigo themselves.
Basil H. Johnson, a Canadian Anishinaabe author, teacher and linguist, described the Wendigo in his book, “The Manitous: The Spiritual World of the Ojibway” – which I’ve linked to in the show notes:
“The Weendigo was a giant manitou in the form of a man or woman, who towered five to eight times above the height of a tall man. The Weendigo was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tautly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash grey of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, the Weendigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody from its constant chewing with jagged teeth. Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Weendigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption. When the Weendigo set to attack a human being, a dark snow cloud would shroud its upper body from the waist up. The air would turn cold, so the trees crackled. Then a wind would rise, no more than a breath at first, but in moments whining and driving, transformed into a blizzard. Behind the odor and chill of death and the killing blizzard came the Weendigo. The Weendigo seized its victim and tore him or her from limb to limb with its hands and teeth, eating the flesh and bones and drinking the blood while its victim screamed and struggled. The pain of others meant nothing to the Weendigo; all that mattered was its survival. The Weendigo gorged itself and glutted its belly as if it would never eat again. But a remarkable thing always occurred. As the Weendigo ate, it grew, and as it grew so did its hunger, so that no matter how much it ate, its hunger always remained in proportion to its size. The Weendigo could never requite either its unnatural lust for human flesh or its unnatural appetite. It could never stop as animals do when bloated, unable to ingest another morsel, or sense as humans sense that enough is enough for the present. For the unfortunate Weendigo, the more it ate, the bigger it grew; and the bigger it grew, the more it wanted and needed.”
Wendigo sightings continue along our northern border with Canada. Walking alone in the woods in winter may not be a wise idea. Ancient gods and goddesses are rarely worshiped, but it doesn’t mean they have ceased to exist—we are just less aware of their supernatural presence. Some native people believe that the spirit and the ideas that the Wendigo embody live on in the modern world as executives in state run corporations, multinationals and conglomerates; people who have an insatiable appetite to devour natural resources, no matter what the consequence is to communities and human victims. Cree songwriter-singer Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song, “The Priests of the Golden Bull” asserts that “money junkies” of the world are wendigos. Greed, indifference, and ravenous consumption continue to kill a lot of people every year.
STORY: THE UNEXPLAINED PRINCESS DOE CASE=====
There are many unsolved murders throughout history. Even in the contemporary age with the abundance of technologies, techniques, and surveillance cameras all around, no less, some untoward deaths remain a mystery. However, the case of “Princess Doe” is an unsolved murder of an unknown victim, for unknown reasons. Discovered in the summer of 1982 the identity of the brutally murdered teenage female remains uncertain. Even today, despite continued investigations and appeals into her death, the identity of the young woman, or how she ended up in such dire circumstances is still an enigma.
As you might imagine, there have been plenty of theories put forward over the three and a half decades since the body of the young girl was discovered on the edge of a New Jersey cemetery. And, as we will examine, there is a good chance the perpetrator of this horrific killing is already behind bars. However, the lack of evidence means the case will likely remain unsolved for the foreseeable future, possibly forever.
George Kise would make his way to work at the Ceder Ridge Cemetery in Blairstown, New Jersey as normal on the morning of 15th July 1982. However, shortly after arriving and going about his duties, his morning was about to become anything but normal. Towards the back of the cemetery, over a ridge that leads towards a shallow stretch of water, was the body of a young girl. At least he thought it was a girl. The face was so badly beaten it was literally no longer there. In its place was just a pulp of mashed flesh and crumbled fragmented bone.
When local police arrived at the scene, they would discover the body of the young girl, wrapped in a short-sleeved red shirt around the torso and a “peasant-style skirt” lying over the top of her legs, laying on her back. Her underwear was missing, although there was no absolute evidence of sexual assault. Given the unknown amount of time the body might have laid there, however, this could not be ruled out entirely. Her body could have been there for several days. It could, though, have been there several weeks.
Further examinations would reveal the estimated age of the young girl to be somewhere between 14 to 18 years of age. No drugs and only extremely faint traces of alcohol were discovered in her body, although like the examinations for signs of sexual assault, the unknown time of death meant this too wasn’t entirely conclusive.
In her hair was a tangled gold necklace with a cross on it, likely a result of the obvious fight she put up against her attacker from the defensive injuries to her hands and arms. Even the eye color of “Princess Doe” remains unknown due to her extensive injuries.
The cause of death was almost certainly the repeated and intense beating with an unknown blunt instrument to the head. The result of which had literally pulverized the young girl’s face. One of the investigators on the case, Eric Kranz, would state to the media, “She was erased. Her assailant erased her. There was nothing left of her. Whoever did this did it with a vengeance”.
However, working out who her assailant was would be no easy task. Not least because the identity of the victim or the wider circumstances surrounding her death were a complete mystery. Her fingerprints and dental records would bring no matches.
They were able to determine she had never given birth, nor was she pregnant at the time of her death. She appeared to be a normal, healthy teenage girl. Just how she ended up in this most desperate and ultimately fatal situation was as mysterious as her identity. There were several theories and claims as to who she may have been, however.
Initially, perhaps in desperation to solve the case, a missing teenager from the other side of the country in San Jose, California, Diane Genice Dye, was linked with the Princess Doe case. The aforementioned Kranz was an almost lone voice against several New Jersey investigators who were “certain” Diane Dye was Princess Doe. Incidentally, the Dye family always maintained their daughter was not the Princess Doe girl in New Jersey. They were also extremely (and rightly) critical of the New Jersey Police Department’s handling of the case. Both the Dyes and Kranz would receive vindication in 2003 and DNA from Dye’s mother eliminated her from the case for good.
Five years before the official ruling out of Diane Dye as Princess Doe, in 1998, the wife of Arthur Kinlaw, a “career criminal” who ran prostitution rings among a wide range of crimes stretching back most of his adult life was arrested for welfare fraud in California. Whether she was simply saving her own skin or had a sudden rush of honesty, Donna Kinlaw would claim her husband had murdered several women, including some of the prostitutes who had worked for him over the years.
According to Donna, Arthur murdered “Linda”, a prostitute working for him, sometime in 1984 by beating her to death with a baseball bat. He then dumped her body in the East River. Another of his apparent victims was an unnamed woman who rented a property from Arthur. She was a particularly large woman, so large in fact she was classed as obese and required crutches to walk. Arthur murdered her while she stood in the backyard before pouring cement over her body and making a “patio area”. Interestingly, bodies matching these murders would surface upon investigation. Furthermore, he would eventually receive prison sentences for them. Donna meanwhile would receive a lesser sentence for her indirect involvement after the fact.
All of these were obviously of interest to the police. However, it was a victim that Donna couldn’t name that was most intriguing to them. In the summer of 1982 in the Long Island area, Arthur had taken in a new girl and put her to work. She was around 18-years-old and he would ultimately beat her to death in a cemetery in New Jersey. Might this unfortunate victim of the apparently extremely violent Arthur Kinlaw prove to be the elusive Princess Doe?
Although the exact reasons as to why he chose to murder her in July 1982 remain a mystery themselves, Arthur, according to Donna, would mercilessly beat the teenager to death. If we accept Donna’s version of events, he most likely used the same baseball bat he would use to murder “Linda” with two years later.
However, despite Donna’s information, and Arthur’s largely nonchalant non-denying attitude, there was no evidence to conclusively prove they were telling the truth about the Princess Doe girl. And even if there were, it still didn’t shine any light on who the tragic young woman once was. Where she came from, and who, if anyone, might be wondering, even today, where their daughter, sister, or friend might be.
Incidentally, neither of the Kinlaws have ever changed their claims. Neither, though, have ever faced charges for the death of the mystery teenage girl discovered in the New Jersey cemetery. In fact, nobody, as we shall see, would ever face charges regarding the unnerving and bone-chilling death of Princess Doe. Many suspects were profiled, some even interviewed, but no official arrests were ever made in what is perhaps one of the strangest murders of the latter half of twentieth-century American history.
As technology improved, though, the case was continually revisited. And further details have come to light. For his part, Kranz, who has worked on the case since day one stated recently, “There hasn’t been a day – not a day – that has gone by where I don’t work on this case”. Whether his persistence will ever pay off, for him and the identity behind Princess Doe remains to be seen.
Following extensive samples of the remains of her clothing and one of her teeth in 2012, several interesting details would emerge. For example, it would appear she was most likely born in the United States, possibly from the west near Arizona. She had at some stage in her short life spent a prolonged time of around a year in the Midwest or northeast part of America. And had spent most of her life in and around the Long Island area.
These details would appear in newspapers across the country. Including reconstructed pictures of the girl’s clothing and how she would have appeared on the day of her death. One witness, a woman known as “Latimer” on the east coast, who was in the New Jersey area at the time of Princess Doe’s death would contact investigators. She claimed to have most definitely seen the young girl two days before her discovery, on the 13th July 1982.
She would claim she and her young daughter were at the shopping center opposite the cemetery where the body came to light. Despite the three decades that had passed, she distinctly remembered the girl after seeing the clothing reconstruction. She would recall to the media that her daughter would state the peacock on the bottom of the skirt the victim donned was an eagle. She would even contemplate asking the girl where she got the skirt from. However, then something else would capture her attention and she thought nothing else of it. Until seeing the newspaper pictures.
Investigators of the case would even have Latimer undergo hypnotic regression in the hope of unlocking memories she had simply forgotten. However, despite genuine attempts to do so, she knew no more than what she had already offered.
There are literally hundreds of possible “matches” on the data-board maintained on the official Princess Doe website. Identifying an absolute positive match will likely prove to be impossible. The identity of Princess Doe is perhaps to remain a mystery for eternity. In that respect, in a strange, ironic, and most definitely sad type of way, she will live on for eternity. Forever depicted how she might have been, perhaps a little different in each person’s mind.
The story of Princess Doe is tragic, of that there is no doubt. It is also a reminder of how precarious, not only our existence is, but even the memory of it. Not to mention the reasons why someone would cut short a life so brutally and needlessly.
There is a general theory that the young girl was possibly a “runaway”. Who perhaps, after making her way east, had turned to prostitution for the obvious tragic reasons. A decision that ultimately led her down the path to the person who would murder her.
Or, while perhaps less likely but certainly not impossible, she was the victim of a kidnapping. Possibly of a “professional nature” when she was young and put into one of the many alleged “prostitution rings”. Perhaps she escaped from this potential environment only for her captors to find and then murder her. Maybe her escape led her to prostitution on the streets of the Long Island area. And ultimately the same sickening scenario highlighted in the first example.
While we must remember the victims of such cases are all too real, so are the crimes themselves. For this reason alone, we should always continue looking at such cases lest something previously missed suddenly shines through.
Up next on Weird Darkness… with so many television shows, movies, documentaries, and genre artwork, you might think you know just about everything there is to know about the Wild West – but there are a few stories that are so strange, you might think they came right out of the mind of a fiction novelist. (The Wild Weird West)
STORY: THE WILD WEIRD WEST=====
An outlaw who escaped the gallows by visiting the outhouse? It might sound like a tall tale, but this and other weird Wild West stories are true. Western movies get certain things wrong about the Old West, and make some funny Wild West crimes sound like Hollywood inventions. But Wild Bill Hickok really did shoot a man for insulting his nose. Why was Jesse James called Dingus? How did Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley become friends? These odd Wild West facts make the West seem even wilder… or at least weirder.
Before he became leader of the Apache, Geronimo didn’t know how to use a rifle. So instead he used a daring method to go after his armed enemies. Mexican soldiers had massacred Geronimo’s wife and children, so he vowed revenge on the soldiers. One night, Geronimo heard the mountain spirits tell him, “You will never die in battle, nor… by gun. I will guide your arrows.” Later, in a fight against Mexican soldiers, Geronimo refused to rain arrows down on the armed soldiers from a safe distance. Instead, he rushed the enemies, running in a zigzag pattern so they couldn’t fire at him. When he got close enough, Geronimo went after the soldiers with a knife, took their rifles, and ran back to his fellow Apache. The pattern repeated so many times that Mexican soldiers started yelling “Geronimo!” when the Apache charged at them. I still have no idea though why skydivers would yell the name when jumping out of planes.
Even in the Wild West, there were celebrities… and celebrity autographs. Chief Sitting Bull was the leader of the Lakota who helped defeat Gen. George Custer at Little Bighorn. But even Sitting Bull was impressed with Annie Oakley’s shooting. In 1884, Sitting Bull watched Oakley perform in Minnesota. After seeing the show, the chief sent $65 to Oakley’s hotel room, hoping for a signed photograph of the sharpshooter. But Oakley rejected the offer. Instead, she asked Sitting Bull to meet with her. Oakley later recalled, “The old man was so pleased with me, he insisted upon adopting me, and I was then and there christened ‘Watanya Cicilla,’ or ‘Little Sure Shot.’” Later, Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley got to know each other better as part of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show. “He is a dear, faithful, old friend, and I’ve great respect and affection for him,” Oakley wrote. They say you never want to meet your heroes – but it appears in this case Sitting Bull became the best of friends with one of his.
“What’s your poison?” Ever wondered where that phrase came from when being asked what you want to drink? Cowboys, prospectors, and miners weren’t too picky about their alcoholic beverages. At one saloon in the Sierra Nevada, they sold “Tarantula Juice,” which contained strychnine. And strychnine wasn’t the only harmful ingredient in the drink. Tarantula Juice also contained wood grain alcohol distilled from turpentine. What happened to men who ordered Tarantula Juice? The strychnine gave them a burst of energy, similar to the body’s response to methamphetamine. But as drinkers processed the concoction, their skin would begin to crawl as though tarantulas were running up and down their arms. That sensation was often followed by muscle spasms and lockjaw. Why anyone would order it a second time is the truly weird fact in this one.
Smallpox was a serious disease in the Old West. But one Wild West legend survived smallpox and used her immunity to the disease to care for others. As a child, Calamity Jane came down with smallpox and barely survived. Years later, an outbreak struck Deadwood. Although she had no training as a nurse, Calamity Jane took care of eight sick miners. An eyewitness even declared Jane was “a perfect angel sent from heaven when any of the boys was sick.” And Deadwood wasn’t the best place to catch smallpox. Sick people were quarantined in tents without access to running water. Instead of abandoning the sick though, Calamity Jane treated them with herbs and Epsom salt. She even pulled a gun to make sure the men had groceries and water. Five of Jane’s eight patients survived, and the town’s doctors declared that without Calamity Jane’s nursing, all eight men would have perished… which would’ve been a calamity. Okay, I added that last part myself.
Nowadays it’s somewhat of a joke that people watch NASCAR races just for the wrecks – but the concept isn’t new. Crashing stuff has always been fun to watch. In the 1890s, William Crush had an idea (yes – Crush was his real name). He worked for a railroad and wanted to entertain people by driving two locomotives into each other. In the pop-up town of “Crush,” Texas, on September 15, 1896, his plan became a reality when 40,000 spectators flooded the area, temporarily making it the state’s second-biggest city. The Galveston Daily News reported, “Men, women and children, lawyers, doctors, merchants, farmers, artisans, clerks, representing every class and every grade of society, were scattered around over the hillsides, or clustered around the lunch stands, discussing with eager anticipation the exciting event that they had come so far to see.” The trains started just after 5 pm. The conductors started both trains before leaping to safety. The engines rushed toward each other, traveling at 50 mph. And then they slammed into each other. “A… sound of timbers rent and torn, and then a shower of splinters,” reported one witness. “There was just a swift instant of silence, and then, as if controlled by a single impulse, both boilers exploded simultaneously and the air was filled with flying missiles of iron and steel varying in size from a postage stamp to half a driving wheel, falling indiscriminately on the just and unjust, the rich and the poor, the great and the small.” Two people perished and many other spectators were hurt as detritus flew from the collision. A photographer who snapped pictures even lost an eye. As for the event’s organizer, the railroad company fired him. But as publicity poured in from the event, which made headlines around the world, the company rehired him. I guess you could say he crushed it!
Buffalo Bill Cody made the Wild West into a show. And in 1887, Buffalo Bill took the Wild West on tour, traveling all the way to London to perform at Queen Victoria’s jubilee. He brought along more than 200 people plus “180 horses, 18 buffalo, 10 elk, five Texas steers, four donkeys, and two deer.” (And a partridge in a pear tree, I assume.) Once in Great Britain, the show nearly caused a diplomatic incident when Annie Oakley reached out to shake hands with the Prince of Wales. But the future King Edward VII was so charmed by the show that he encouraged Queen Victoria to come in person to see it. Crowds of 30,000 came to the performances, eager to see the Wild West up close. Buffalo Bill Cody was a forward-thinking showman. When asked whether he supported voting rights for women, Cody said, “Set that down in great big black type that Buffalo Bill favors woman suffrage,” adding, “These fellows who prate about the women taking their places make me laugh… If a woman can do the same work that a man can do and do it just as well, she should have the same pay.” Then again, if you have Annie Oakley working for you – that’s probably the healthy opinion to have anyway, whether you believe it or not!
Billy the Kid was wanted in 1881 for shooting a sheriff in Nebraska and another man in a New Mexico saloon. Running from a $500 bounty on his head, Billy was eventually trapped and put on trial. The trial didn’t go Billy’s way. The judge found Billy guilty, saying the outlaw would “hang until he was dead, dead, dead.” Billy responded, “You can go to hell, hell, hell.” His date with the gallows set, Billy the Kid pulled off a daring escape. On April 28, 1881, he asked the deputy guarding his jail cell to take him to the outhouse. Once free from the cell, the outlaw pulled off his handcuffs, took the deputy’s firearm, and did away with the deputy. Knowing the sheriff would be after him, Billy hid on the roof of the courthouse. When the sheriff ran up, Billy yelled, “Look up, old boy, and see what you get.” Then he fired on the sheriff. His escape nearly complete, Billy the Kid took a horse and hit the road. Hmm… I wonder if that’s where the term, “I gotta see a man about a horse” came from?
In 1855, the US Army decided to import camels to Texas. The wide-open spaces of the West were well-suited for camels, so the government bought 75 camels from the Middle East. The camels worked at Camp Verde, where they made supply runs to San Antonio. But a few years later, the Civil War disrupted the camels’ service when a government official decided to auction off the animals. The new owner sent some camels to Nevada and California. Other camels were simply set free. At first, camel sightings were rare. But in the 1880s, Arizona Territory faced a terrible menace known as the Red Ghost. The Red Ghost trampled one woman. Another story claimed the monster ate a grizzly bear. When miners spotted the Red Ghost and fired at it, a human skull fell from the creature’s back. After years of terrorizing Arizona, the Red Ghost was finally taken out. The menace was actually a feral camel. Camel sightings in the West continued into the 20th century.
Sticks and stones may break your bones – but Wild Bill Hickok will kill you. The legend of Wild Bill Hickok started in 1861. That year, Hickok worked for the Pony Express in Nebraska. During a confrontation with a customer, Hickok fired at the man. It was the famous lawman’s first slaying. What drove Hickok? The customer called Hickok “Duck Bill,” a taunt about Hickok’s pointy nose. The shooting claimed the lives of three men and put Hickok on trial. But the court acquitted Hickok, who went on to fight another day. According to other stories about the Old West legend, Hickok wrestled a bear and fired at the center of the letter “O” on a poster from 50 yards away six times in a row. With a reputation like that, few men wanted to get into a confrontation with Wild Bill Hickok.
Speaking of calling people names… everyone feared Jesse James, the man who raided trains, stagecoaches, and banks. According to a popular song, James was “bold and bad and brave.” But James had an unusual nickname: Dingus. The nickname came from the outlaw’s teenage years. In June 1864, James swiped a saddle from a farmer who fired at him. Later that same month, as he was still recovering, Jesse accidentally blew off his own finger while cleaning a revolver. “O, ding it! Ding it! How it hurts!” James hollered. His family gave Jesse the nickname “Dingus” in response. A terrible nickname – but hey, what are you going to do, it’s family.
Seth Bullock and Al Swearengen weren’t just enemies on the HBO show “Deadwood”. They were both real people in the gold mining town. Seth Bullock lived in Canada, Michigan, and Montana before moving to Deadwood. The former lawman set up a hardware store in the boomtown, welcoming new customers with an auction on chamber pots. For two decades, Bullock tried to maintain order in the city. Al Swearengen was also a real person – and a twin. Swearengen moved to Deadwood in 1876 to set up a “dance hall” called the Gem Variety Theater. Spectators piled into the saloon to watch fights. The Gem brought in as much as $10,000 a night – a fortune in the late 19th century. But did the real Bullock and Swearengen clash? In reality, the two divided the town down Main Street. People on Swearengen’s side, known as the “Badlands,” left the rest of the town alone. And for your information, despite his name, Swearengen didn’t swear nearly as much as HBO’s “Deadwood” would have you believe… because nobody swears that much except for Hollywood writers.
Dr. Michaela Quinn (a.k.a. “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”) might be fictional, but women doctors cared for patients across the Western frontier. With doctors in high demand, women were able to break into the competitive medical field in the Old West. Bethenia Owens-Adair, for example, attended medical school in Michigan in the 1870s before moving to Oregon, where she hiked overgrown trails and waded through floods to reach patients. Mary Purvine also moved West to work as a doctor. After growing up in New England, where a woman doctor cared for her mother’s broken arm, Purvine enrolled in medical school at Willamette University. When she braved a snowstorm and a flooded river to deliver a baby, the parents named the child after Purvine. The baby “was cross-eyed and had a mean disposition,” Purvine recalled, “and she wasn’t paid for until after I was married, when we had installments consisting of a bushel of tomatoes weekly. No wonder I don’t care for sliced tomatoes.”
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! You can email me anytime with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find all of my social media, listen to free audiobooks I’ve narrated, visit the store for Weird Darkness t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, phone cases, and more merchandise, sign up for monthly contests, find other podcasts that I host like “Retro Radio – Old Time Radio in the Dark”, “Micro Terrors; Scary Stories for Kids”, “The Church of the Undead”, and more. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find the Hope in the Darkness page if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or dark thoughts. Also on the website, if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
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.
“The Hicks Road Horror” by Laura Allan for Ranker; and from BackpackerVerse
“Murder at the London Baron Inn” by Austin Harvey for All That’s Interesting
“A Wendigo Named Swift Runner” by Karen Doherty for Green Canticle
“The Unexplained Princess Doe Case” by Marcus Lowth at UFO Insight
“The Wild Weird West” by Genevieve Carlton for Weird History
“The Headless Horseman of Neuces” from Texas Cryptid Hunter
WeirdDarkness® – is a registered trademark. Copyright, Weird Darkness.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… (1 John 4:1) “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
And a final thought… “Thank God for your life tonight. For your health, your family, or your home. Many people don’t have these things.” (Author unknown)
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.