“THE REAL HORROR BEHIND PHANTOM OF THE OPERA” and More Terrifying True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: Weirdo family member, Katie Jo, tells us that as a child she saw something similar to glitter – but in a very supernatural form! (Sparkles) *** An old man opens up to something that happened to him over six decades ago that he has never told anyone before – something that he says ruined his life. (Something Happened 63 Years Ago) *** A woman in bed is startled awake in the middle of the night when she feels someone pull her arm out from under her head – but she’s the only one in her apartment. (Someone Or Something Moved My Hand) *** We’ll look at a brief history of the classic Lon Chaney film, “The Phantom of the Opera” – and how the film itself has a haunting attached to it! (The Real Horror Behind The Phantom Of The Opera) *** Mirrors, mirrors, mirrors everywhere. The more mirrors Lucida had the more she could admire herself. She even is said to have made a deal with the devil in order to maintain her youthful beauty. (The Creepy Story of Lucida Mansi) *** Village life in Lemont, Illinois was as peaceful as it could be, and the Willmans farm was one of the collection of typical sleepy homesteads in the region. Until the day the demon came. (The Demon of Lemont) *** Chillingly, statistics suggest that a child is more likely to be killed by a parent than by a stranger and in most cases, the killer takes his own life after the act. We’ll look into the disturbing psychology of family annihilators. (The Psychology of Familicide)
SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…
BOOK: “Ghosts – True Encounters With The World Beyond” by Hans Holzer: https://amzn.to/3qtM47H
“Something Happened 63 Years Ago” submitted anonymously to Thought Catalog: http://bit.ly/2DdEeDb
“The Phantom Of The Opera Is Here” by Troy Taylor: http://bit.ly/2KG71nJ
“Sparkles” by Weirdo family member, Katie Jo
“Someone Or Something Moved My Hand” by Mirandra for Your Ghost Stories: http://bit.ly/37muJPH
“The Creepy Story of Lucida Mansi” by Ellen Lloyd for Ancient Pages: http://bit.ly/2DgFrcK
“The Demon of Lemont” by Ursula Bielski for Chicago Hauntings: http://bit.ly/2rnR9zG
“The Psychology of Familicide” by Fiona Guy for Crime Traveller: http://bit.ly/2rmEOM2
“The List Family Massacre” from All That’s Interesting: http://bit.ly/34itO0I
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Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music Library. Background music provided by Alibi Music Library, EpidemicSound and/or StoryBlocks with paid license. Music from Shadows Symphony (https://tinyurl.com/yyrv987t), Midnight Syndicate (http://amzn.to/2BYCoXZ) Kevin MacLeod (https://tinyurl.com/y2v7fgbu), Tony Longworth (https://tinyurl.com/y2nhnbt7), and Nicolas Gasparini (https://tinyurl.com/lnqpfs8) is used with permission of the artists.
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OTHER PODCASTS I HOST…
Paranormality Magazine: (COMING SEPT. 30, 2023) 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
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(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.)
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“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46
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DISCLAIMER: Stories and content in Weird Darkness can be disturbing for some listeners and intended for mature audiences only. Parental discretion is strongly advised.
In 1971, John List lost his job at the bank at age 46. Subsequent jobs didn’t pan out. He couldn’t bear to tell his family about the loss of income. So he spent his days at the train station, reading the newspaper and secretly skimming money from his mother’s bank accounts to pay the mortgage. He refused to go on welfare, as it would entail excruciating embarrassment in the community and violate the principles of self-sufficiency that he learned at his father’s knee. It’s hard to believe the solution he arrived at would have been more acceptable to his father, but John List would later say it seemed to him the only option: the murder of his mother, wife, and children.
One day in late 1971, List shot and killed his wife, Helen; his 16-year-old daughter, Patricia; his 15-year-old son, John; his 13-year-old son, Frederick; and his mother, Alma, aged 85. They were shot methodically one by one. Helen was first. List saw the children off to school and then shot her in the kitchen as she sipped her customary morning coffee. Then, he went up to the third floor and murdered his mother in her bed. He killed Patricia when she returned home from school, then the youngest son, Frederick. He made himself a sandwich, closed out his bank accounts, and cheered for his only surviving son, John, at his high school soccer game. He gave him a ride home, then shot him in the chest. John List laid the bodies of his family members on top of sleeping bags in the ballroom, then composed a note to his pastor, who he felt would understand. He feared his family, confronted with a world full of evil and poverty, would turn from God; this was the only way to ensure their safe arrival in heaven. He was not, however, willing to suffer the earthly consequences of his actions. In an effort to baffle the police, he cleaned the crime scenes and used scissors to remove his image from every photo in the mansion.
He canceled all deliveries and contacted his children’s schools to let their teachers know the family would be on vacation for a few weeks. He turned on the lights and the radio, leaving religious hymns playing in the house’s empty rooms. He slept in the mansion where his family lay dead, then walked out the door the next morning — and wasn’t seen again for 18 years. A month passed before neighbors, curious about the constantly burning lights and empty windows, began to suspect something was wrong at the List mansion. When authorities entered the house on Dec. 7, 1971, they heard organ music piped through the intercom system. They also found the five-page note from John List explaining that the bloodied bodies on the ballroom floor were his family members, killed out of mercy. In his eyes, he had saved the souls of the people he loved.
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.
Coming up in this episode…
Mirrors, mirrors, mirrors everywhere. The more mirrors Lucida had the more she could admire herself. She even is said to have made a deal with the devil in order to maintain her youthful beauty. (The Creepy Story of Lucida Mansi)
The story of John List is, shockingly, not unique. Chillingly, statistics suggest that a child is more likely to be killed by a parent than by a stranger and in most cases, the killer takes his own life after the act. We’ll look into the disturbing psychology of family annihilators. (The Psychology of Familicide)
Village life in Lemont, Illinois was as peaceful as it could be, and the Willmans farm was one of the collection of typical sleepy homesteads in the region. Until the day the demon came. (The Demon of Lemont)
Weirdo family member, Katie Jo, tells us that as a child she saw something similar to glitter – but in a very supernatural form! (Sparkles)
An old man opens up to something that happened to him over six decades ago that he has never told anyone before – something that he says ruined his life. (Something Happened 63 Years Ago)
A woman in bed is startled awake in the middle of the night when she feels someone pull her arm out from under her head – but she’s the only one in her apartment. (Someone Or Something Moved My Hand)
But first… we’ll look at a brief history of the classic Lon Chaney film, “The Phantom of the Opera” – and how the film itself has a haunting attached to it! (The Real Horror Behind The Phantom Of The Opera)
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, my newsletter, 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 REAL HORROR BEHIND THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA=====
On September 6, 1925, the silent film classic THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA starring Lon Chaney had its premiere at the Astor Theater in New York. It was the first film adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel of the same name. Directed by Rupert Julian, it told the story of the deformed Phantom who haunts the Paris Opera House, causing murder and mayhem in an attempt to make the woman he “loves” a star. The film remains most famous for Chaney’s ghastly, self-devised make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film’s premiere. The story was remade several times, most notably as a stage musical turned film about a much more romantic Phantom than the monster that Chaney played.
The film came about almost by accident. In 1922, Carl Laemmle, the president of Universal Pictures, took a vacation to Paris. During the trip, he met author Gaston Leroux, who was working in the French film industry, and Leroux gave him a copy of his book. Laemmle read the book in one night and immediately bought the film rights as a vehicle for Lon Chaney. Production began in 1924, but did not go smoothly. Chaney and the rest of the cast had strained relations with director, Rupert Julian. A limited premiere was held in Los Angeles in January 1925, but due to poor reviews and audience reactions, its wide release was postponed. On advice from Chaney and others, Universal told Julian to re-shoot most of the picture and change the style, as it was feared that a Gothic melodrama would not recoup the film’s massive budget. Julian eventually walked out, and while he maintained credit for the film, the finished film was only partially his work.
Edward Sedgwick was then assigned by producer Carl Laemmle to re-shoot and redirect the bulk of the film. Raymond L. Schrock and original screenwriter Elliot Clawson wrote new scenes at the request of Sedgewick. The film was then changed into more of a romantic comedy with action elements than the dramatic thriller that was originally made. This version was previewed in San Francisco on April 26, 1925, and did not do well at all, with the audience booing it off of the screen.
The third and final version was the result of Maurice Pivar and Lois Weber, who edited the production down to nine reels. Most of the added Sedgwick material was deleted, though notably the ending, with the Phantom being hunted by a mob and then being thrown into the Seine River, remained. This version, containing material from both the original 1924 shooting and some from the Sedgwick reworking, was then set to be released. It debuted on September 6, 1925, at the Astor Theatre in New York City. The wide release did not take place until October 17, however. In time, it would come to be regarded as a horror classic and one of Chaney’s most iconic films.
After Chaney’s success with THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME in 1923, Chaney was given the freedom to create his own make-up as the Phantom. Chaney painted his eye sockets black, giving his face a skull-like impression. He also pulled the tip of his nose up and pinned it in place with wire, enlarged his nostrils with black paint, and put a set of jagged false teeth into his mouth to complete the ghastly deformed look of the Phantom. When audiences first saw his face onscreen, they were said to have screamed or fainted at the scene when Christine pulled the concealing mask away. Chaney’s appearance as the Phantom in the film has been the most accurate depiction of the title character, based on the description given in the novel, where Erik the Phantom is described as having a skull-like face with a few wisps of black hair on top of his head. As in the novel, Chaney’s Phantom has been deformed since birth, rather than having been disfigured by acid or fire, as in later adaptations of the story. Oddly, though, Chaney’s inspiration for the character’s face didn’t come from the book’s description – it came from articles and photographs of soldiers who were maimed in the fighting during World War I. Many of those men returned home, forced to wear concealing masks to hide their deformities.
And the story of the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA has a ghost story to go along with its silver screen chills.
Carl Laemmle commissioned the construction of a set of the Paris Opera House on the Universal Studios lot. Because it would have to support thousands of extras, the set became the first to be created with steel girders set in concrete. It survived at Studio 28 until 2014, still containing portions of the opera house set, and it was used for hundreds of movies and television shows.
Visitors to Stage 28, along with employees who worked there, long maintained that it was haunted. For years, a man in a black cape, who vanishing without warning was spotted by electricians, designers, carpenters, art directors, and security guards. Those who got more than just a quick glimpse of the man were convinced that it was Lon Chaney himself. Visitors to the soundstage, including those who knew nothing of its history, also reported the man in black. He was often spotted running along the catwalks overhead. Even security guards who have laughed off the idea of a resident ghost, admit to being “spooked” by lights that turn on and off by themselves and by doors that open and close on the empty stage at night.
If it was Chaney’s ghost, what became of him in 2014, when the soundstage was demolished? Did he move on to the other side, or does he still lurk on the Paris opera house set? Stage 28 was torn down, but the opera house set was preserved and was placed into storage until it could be given a new home. When it returns, will the ghost of Lon Chaney return with it?
Up next… Weirdo family member, Katie Jo, tells us that as a child she saw something similar to glitter – but in a very supernatural form!
An old man opens up to something that happened to him over six decades ago that he has never told anyone before – something that he says ruined his life.
A woman in bed is startled awake in the middle of the night when she feels someone pull her arm out from under her head – but she’s the only one in her apartment. These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.
I’m not a writer, and this will not be that long, but this is about something that used to happen to me quite often as a child. Like most kids I had the occasional nightmare. I would run to my parents room and they would allow me to sleep with them for the rest of the night. Some of my most vivid memories are from these nights. This happened between the ages of approximately 3 and 7. I would crawl into my parents bed and wait for the sparkles to appear. That was what I called them. They were all different colors and about the size of a large piece of glitter. They appeared to give off their own light. They would usually come from the corner of the room and toward me. They would move all over and there was hundreds of them. I loved them and called them my friends. I would try to touch them and they would swirl around my arms, but I could not feel anything. My parents could not see them and would be confused as to what I was doing. I bought a book from amazon some years back that I believe was called Children who See Sparkles…or something like that. There were some similar stories, however some people found them to be terrifying, and I found them to be something that brought me peace. I’m wondering if you have ever heard of this or have any idea of what it could have been. Our house was not old, bit there was a creek in back (Texas) where I found arrowheads and knew that many native Americans had once occupied that land. I don’t see them any more, but I do wish I did. I was hoping my son would, but he never has.
STORY: SOMEONE OR SOMETHING MOVED MY HAND=====
Someone or something moved my hand. I always look at the time when I’m awoken by sounds or dreams. This experience happened at 2:12am this morning, 4th September 2019. I was fast asleep and woke up when I felt my hand being flung off my pillow. It didn’t drop slowly, it was quick.
I usually sleep on my left side, with my right hand nestled under my left cheek, or vise versa, sleep on my right side with left hand nestled under my right cheek. My hand gives me a cushion sort of comfort.
At 2:12am my right hand which was under my left cheek was flung from its position and it dropped down by the left side of my bed. I know this must sound confusing. All I’m trying to say is, it couldn’t slip from that position, someone or something flung it from under my face.
When I woke up from this movement, I looked around and no one was there. (Naturally because I live on my own)
The strange thing was I felt a cool feeling in the room. All the windows were closed. I checked when I woke up. It’s spring here in Australia and it was 26′ degrees, according to the weather bureau today.
It happened really quickly but I remember it really well.
No one was in the house. I cautiously went to see if someone broke in. I took my phone in one hand and a pole that I use to stop the window sliding open in the other. Everything was as I left it. (All locked up)
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what happened. I’ve been trying to figure out if I had a dream or if it was real. It felt real, and I know my hand can’t just slip from under my face.
I have been having a lot of strange experiences since being in this unit. All my life I have had encounters with this or that and I just wish there was an explanation for these experiences.
I’m definitely getting stronger. I’m not as scared as I used to be. When I was young, I used to freeze to point that I really couldn’t move. Now I face the shadows and spirits and calmly tell them to leave.
I haven’t done Rookdygins cleansing in about 3/4 weeks or so. I got a bit lazy with it admittedly. I guess the first thing for me to do is keep going with the cleansing ritual every fortnight.
I also need to google what this means or what or who it is.
I’m not a good sleeper. I wake up a few times through the night. I don’t take sleeping tablets because I want to stay alert.
STORY: SOMETHING HAPPENED 63 YEARS AGO=====
It’s official: I’m an old man.
For the last couple years, I’ve comforted myself by saying I’m in my “early 70s,” but math is simple and unforgiving. Today is my 75th birthday, and God, the years do fly.
I’m not here for your well wishes; this is hardly a milestone I’m excited about. I’m glad to still be here, of course, but I find I have less and less to live for with every passing year. My bones ache, my kids live far away, and the other side of my bed has been empty for just over eight months now.
So spare me your “happy birthdays” and your congratulations, if you please. I’m here because I have a story for you, and it’s one I’ve never told before. I used to think I kept it inside because it was silly, or maybe because nobody would believe it. I’ve found, though, that the older you grow, the more exhausting it becomes to lie to yourself. If I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve never told anybody this story because it scares me, almost to death.
But death seems friendlier than it used to, so listen close.
The year was 1950; the setting a small town in Maine. I was a boy of nine, rather small for my age, with only one friend in the world to speak of—and his family, seemingly on a whim, decided to move 2,000 miles away. It was shaping up to be the worst summer of my life.
My pop wasn’t around and my mom was a chore-whore (boy, was I proud of myself when I came up with that one) so I wasn’t apt to hang around the house. With some hesitation, I decided the public library was the place to be that summer. The library’s collection of books, particularly children’s books, was meager to say the least. But within the walls of that miserly structure, I would find no undone chores, no nagging mother (God rest her soul), and perhaps most importantly, no other children with whom I would be expected to associate. I was the only kid with a low enough social status to spend his precious days of freedom sulking amid the bookshelves, and that was just fine with me.
The first half of my summer was even more dreadful than I had imagined it would be. I would sleep in until 10, do my chores, and then ride my bike to the library (and by bike, I mean rusty log of shit attached to a pair of wheels). Once there, I would split my time between unintentionally annoying the elderly patrons and deliberately doing so. One pleasant lady actually interrupted my incessant tongue-clicking to hiss a “shut the fuck up!” at me—the first time I ever heard a grownup use The F Word. Big fuckin’ deal, I know, but in those days it was unheard of.
The dreary days turned to woeful weeks. I had actually begun praying for school to start again — until I discovered the basement.
I could have sworn I’d roamed every inch of that library, but one day, in the far corner behind the foreign language collection I stumbled across a small wooden door I had never seen before. That was where it all began.
The door was windowless and made from oak that looked far older than the wall in which it rested. It had a knob of black metal that quite literally looked ancient—I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn it was crafted in the 17th century. Engraved on the knob was what appeared to be a single footprint. I had the sense that whatever lay beyond this door was forbidden to me, and therefore probably the most interesting thing I would encounter all summer. I quickly glanced around to make sure nobody was watching me, then turned the heavy knob, slipped behind the door, and shut it.
There was nothing; only darkness. I took a couple of steps and then stopped, unnerved by the totality of the shadow which surrounded me. I waved my hands in front of me in an attempt to find a wall or a shelf or anything to hold on to. What I actually found was far more subtle—a small string, dangling from above—but far more useful. I grabbed it firmly and pulled it down.
Back in the day, lots of lightbulbs were operated with strings, and this was one of them. My surroundings were instantly illuminated. I was standing on a small, dusty platform that looked as though it hadn’t seen life in quite some time. To my left was a crickety-ass spiral staircase, made of wood and appearing ready to collapse at any second. The bulb was the only source of light in the room, and it was feeble, so when I peered over the railing to see what lay below, the bottom of the staircase dissolved into the darkness.
I was beginning to feel scared. This place — wherever I was — seemed to have no business in a town library. It was as though I were in a completely different building. But no nine-year-old likes to let a mystery go unsolved. Looking back, I wish I could tell my prepubescent self to turn around, go back, do anything else besides descending that staircase. “You’ll be spared a lot of sleepless nights,” I’d say. But, of course, I didn’t know that then—and I may not have listened even if I had. So instead of turning back, I took a deep breath, gripped the railing, and glared resolutely forward as I began my descent.
The wood on the railing was dry and covered with splinters. I immediately let go, holding my hands out for balance as I carefully traversed the staircase. It was (or at least seemed) very long, and with only the dim glow from the string-bulb far above me, my heart pounded mercilessly in the darkness. Even kids can sense when something isn’t right.
By the time my feet reached the cement floor at the bottom, the light from the bulb above was very nearly a memory. But there was a new light source, and God, I’ll never forget it. Directly in front of me was a door, massive, and a deep shade of red. The light was coming from behind the door, and it shone out in thin lines from all four sides—a sinister, dimly glowing rectangle. For the second time, I took a deep breath and went through a door I shouldn’t have.
In contrast to the dank room I entered from, the room behind the door was blinding. When my eyes adjusted, what I saw nearly took my breath away.
It was a library. The most perfect library imaginable.
I gaped in wonder as I stepped, almost reverently, further into the room. It was beautiful. It was smaller than the library above, much smaller, but it seemed to be almost tailor-made for me. The shelves were packed with brightly colored titles, both armchairs in the middle of the room were exquisitely comfortable, and the smell—my God, the smell—was simply unbelievable. Sort of a mixture of citrus and pine. I simply can’t do it justice with words, so I’ll suffice it to say that I’ve never smelled anything better. Not in my 75 years.
What was this room? Why had I never heard of it before? Why was nobody else here? Those were the questions I should have been asking. But I was intoxicated. As I gazed around at all the books and basked in the smell of paradise, I could only form one thought: I will never be bored again.
In truth, boredom only hid from me for three years. It was on my 12th birthday, 63 years ago to this day, that everything changed.
Before that day, I visited my basement sanctuary as often as I could—usually several times a week. I never saw another soul down there, yet strangely remained free of suspicion. I never removed a book from that room, but instead would pick up a particular volume wherever I had stopped reading during my previous visit. I sat, always in the same deep purple armchair, and always leaving its twin barren and directly across from myself. That armchair was mine, the other was—well, I suppose I couldn’t have articulated it then much better than I can now. But it wasn’t mine, that’s for damn sure.
On my twelfth birthday, I arrived later than usual. My mom had invited a couple classmates and some cousins over to our house to celebrate, a gesture which I found more tedious than touching—really, I just wanted to spend my birthday sitting and reading and smelling paradise. Eventually, our guests went home, and I made it to the library about fifteen minutes before closing time. That didn’t matter; the workers never checked down there before they locked up. I was free to stay as late as I wished. This particular night, I was devouring the final chapters of an epic adventure; knights, swords, dragons, and the like. I didn’t smell it until I read the final words and closed the book.
The once exquisite aroma of that room had turned sour. I sat for a moment, unsettled. Objectively, I could recognize that the smell was actually the same as it had been before—that mixture of citrus and pine. I just perceived it differently, and I didn’t like it anymore. It was the nasal version of an optical illusion; you know, the one that looks like a young woman glancing backward, but all of a sudden you see that it’s really an old woman facing toward you? You can’t unsee that, and I couldn’t unsmell this. The spell was broken.
The odor also seemed, for the first time, to be coming from somewhere specific. With a fair amount of trepidation, I stalked around the room, sniffing the air like a crazed canine until I came to a shelf near the back. The shelf was perfectly normal, with the exception of one title—a large, leatherbound cover of solid faded maroon, with one striking black footprint at the top of the spine. This was the source of the smell. I opened the front cover, and saw one sentence scrawled neatly in blood-red ink atop the first page:
Rest your sorrows down, friend, and leave them where they lie.
I stared at this sentence, mesmerized, as I began to retreat to my chair. I turned a page. Blank. The smell became stronger. Another page, blank, and the smell grew stronger still. I stopped for a moment, suppressed a gag, and continued walking. Then, as I neared the armchairs, I turned one final page—and there, in the same sinister print, was the last thing I expected to see: my own name. I dropped the book. I began to sprint toward the door, but as I shifted my gaze forward, my heart leapt to my throat and I stopped in my tracks.
The empty chair wasn’t empty anymore.
An aged man in a suit sat before me, one leg crossed over the other, contemplating me with piercing gray eyes and a light smirk. This was all too much. I fell to my knees and expelled the contents of my stomach onto the carpet. I wiped my mouth, staring at my vomit, when I heard the man let out a chuckle.
I stared at him disbelievingly. “Who are you?” I asked, panic in my voice.
The man leapt to his feet, grabbed me gently by the shoulders, and helped me to my chair. He sat, once again, in his own. “I fear we got off to a bad start,” he said, glancing at the pile of sick on the carpet. “The smell . . . it does take some getting used to.”
“Who are you?” I repeated.
“Tonight, you will know hardship like you’ve never before known,” he said. “I come as a friend, offering you refuge from it, and from all other storms which lie ahead.”
I wanted nothing more than to leave at that moment, but I remained seated. I asked him what he was talking about.
“Your mother is dead, my boy. By her own hand, in her kitchen. The scene is gruesome, I must admit,” he said in sorrowful tones, but was there a playful glint in his eye? “Surely you wish to avoid this path. I can show you a safer one.”
My blood ran cold at the horrors this man spoke of, but I did not believe him. “What do you want with me?” I demanded, trying to sound braver than I felt. He laughed, an old, raspy yelp that seemed to shake him to his bones.
“Nothing but your friendship, dear boy,” he said. Then, sensing I found his answer inadequate, he expounded. “I want you to come on a journey with me. My work is noble and you will make a fine apprentice. And maybe, when I’m done”—he sighed tiredly, running his bony fingers through his thin white hair—“maybe then, my work can be yours.”
I stood up, shuffling toward the door but never breaking his gaze. “You’re crazy,” I told him. “My mom isn’t dead. She’s not.”
“See for yourself, if you must,” he said, gesturing toward the door. I threw him a contemptuous glare and bolted for the exit. As my hand closed around the knob, he said my name softly. In spite of myself, I turned around.
“Your road won’t be easy, friend. If it ever becomes too much for you, and I mean ever,” he said, pausing to sweep his hand over the room, “you know where to find me.”
I slammed the door behind me and took the decrepit stairs two at a time. I exited the library, clambered onto my bike, and high-tailed it home. The front door was wide open. I dismounted, leaving my bike in a heap on the ground, and approached the house cautiously. The old man was lying—he must have been. Still, tears began to sting my eyes. Heart pounding, I stepped inside and called for my mother. I heard no answer, so I turned into the kitchen.
To this day, I don’t know why she did it.
I’ve lived in that small town in Maine my entire life, although I’ve kept mostly clear of the public library. Once, in my late 20s, I summoned the courage to step inside. Life was good at that time, and my fear had begun to morph into idle curiosity. Where the door to my basement sanctuary once stood was only a blank wall. I asked the librarian what had become of that basement, though in my heart I knew the answer. There was no basement, she said. There had never been a basement. In fact, if she had her facts correctly, city zoning ordinances prohibited a basement in the area.
I’ve been haunted by that sickly-sweet smell, that poisonous blend of citrus and pine, ever since that long ago birthday. When I saw my mother in the kitchen that day, collapsed in a pool of her own blood, I smelled it. When a man claiming to be my father knocked on my college apartment door, begged me for money and beat me to within an inch of my life when I refused, I smelled it. When my wife miscarried our second child, I smelled it, and again when she miscarried our fourth. When our oldest son got behind the wheel of the family Buick completely shitfaced and got his girlfriend killed, I smelled it.
I began to smell it periodically as my wife became sick. She died late last year, and now, I’m alone for the first time in more than half a century. Now, I smell it every day, and it feels like an invitation.
A few months ago, I went back to the library and the small oak door with the ancient handle was there—right where it used to be. My evening walk has brought me past that library every day since, but I haven’t gone inside. Maybe tonight I will. I’m frightened to die, yes, but lately I’m even more frightened to keep living. The old man was right—my road hasn’t been easy, and I doubt it will get any easier.
Rest your sorrows down, friend, and leave them where they lie.
He promised relief. A refuge, he said. Was he right about that too? There’s only one way to find out. After all, I still know where to find him.
When Weird Darkness returns…
Mirrors, mirrors, mirrors everywhere. The more mirrors Lucida had the more she could admire herself. She even is said to have made a deal with the devil in order to maintain her youthful beauty.
But first… village life in Lemont, Illinois was as peaceful as it could be, and the Willmans farm was one of the collection of typical sleepy homesteads in the region. Until the day the demon came. That story is up next.
STORY: THE DEMON OF LEMONT=====
I think every paranormal investigator I know has the huge, black paperback compendium of Hans Holzer’s cases published some years back called Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond, a collection of literally scores of Holzer’s most fascinating and favorite cases over his distinguished and often disturbing career. I must admit that, while many of the cases were a little scary even for me, one of them was absolutely hair-raising.
The case he titled, “The Devil in Texas, ” and it was a very complex one, set in Tyler, Texas, concerning a wife and mother who suffered from mental illness and who, as a result, had been institutionalized. What happened was that a series of paranormal phenomena seemed to attack her family at home while she was in the hospital; it appeared to originate from her consciousness and even exhibit her personality and voice.
One of the phenomena involved the sudden apports of letters, notes and personal checks from out of thin air, addressed to her husband and son, a variety of them from dead neighbors or from people they did not know.
I found this phenomenon endlessly fascinating and deeply disturbing, and this case has always haunted me as I’ve continued on my own path as a researcher. So imagine how intrigued I was to discover a case involving a similar series of events which took place right outside of Chicago in the late 19th century . . . .
At the turn of the 19th century, the Willmans farm was one of many that sprawled in Lemont, Illinois, just south of Sag Bridge. Like other surrounding towns, the farming and quarrying town of Lemont had not seen much of any excitement since the time of the building of the Illinois & Michigan canal many years before. Village life was as peaceful as it could be, and the Willmans farm was one of the collection of typical sleepy homesteads in the region.
Until the day the demon came.
One evening, in the fall of 1901, while the Willmans family was at dinner—father, mother and four children between the ages of 12 and 16—a letter dropped out of the air near the ceiling and landed in the middle of the dining room table. The bewildered family looked at one another, then—after a few long moments– Mrs. Wellmans carefully picked up the letter and opened it. The letter was written in an archaic hand, as of a young child, with capital and lowercase letters mixed up and numerous spelling errors. The message, however, was clear: whoever or whatever had written the letter stated that the family had ten days to leave the house or some dreadful tragedy would befall them. Shocked and horrified, Willmans told his wife to burn the letter.
When the family did not vacate the farm, more letters appeared, taking on a tone of viciousness, and falling from the air at the feet of the horrified family members. There were numerous letters threatening to kidnap the younger children, and a distinctly vicious attack on one of the children, Anna, whose mother had died at the age of 35, who received a letter at her feet saying “You will live no longer than your mother. You don’t know what killed her, but I do!”
The letters increased as the days wore on, as the entity alternated between threatening the family and predicting visits from family and friends and other future events.
The family’s cows also became involved. When Mr. Willmans and his son were milking them one day, his son cried out, “Father! My cow is giving cheese instead of milk!” Sure enough, when Mr. Willmans looked into the pail, the milk had turned to cheese when it touched the pail. That same day, Willmans had seen a black cat wandering around the farm and shot at it to chase it off.
That night, the family received a letter stating, “Do you want to know why your cows have stopped giving milk? I did it! …. You thought you’d put a shot in me, didn’t you?”
Word got around that a black cat had been speaking to the family through mysterious letters, and talk of witchcraft and demons spread like wildfire through the village.
And the letters still came, written on every kind of paper the entity could find, and sometimes in ink, in pencil or even in the bluing Mrs. Wellmans used for the laundry. The family’s pen, which was kept in a cupboard with writing paper and pads, would disappear just before the family received a letter, and then be returned again to its rightful place, though the doors never opened.
The family’s dog seemed keenly aware of what was happening. When the dog was outside before a letter dropped he would begin to bark and howl and claw at the door of the house, desperate to get inside at something. When let in, however, he would run inside and stop dead in his tracks in front of some invisible presence, running back to the door and whining to get out.
The demon or whatever it was also played tricks on visitors, including a family member who came to visit one Sunday. He and the family sat in the parlor to talk. The visitor had hung up his coat and hat on the coat rack in a corner of the room. After their visit, he rose to leave and went to the coat rack, which had been in full view the entire time, to get his things. His hat was gone, and the front of his coat had been smeared with butter. The hat was found in the garden, tattered and filled with dirt and rotten apples. Mrs. Willmans opened the cupboard, which was also in full view of everyone, and took the lid off the butter crock. Inside she found an indentation of fingers as if someone had scooped out a handful of it.
When the family’s nerves were close to the breaking point, they turned to the Church.
Father Westarp was at the time the pastor of St. Alphonsus Church in Lemont, and the Willmans family begged him to come to the house to help them. Fr. Westarp had not been quick to believe what was happening to the family. He later told a reporter he was “extremely puzzled” by the goings-on at the Willmans’ farm, as they seemed to have no place in the progressive world of the turning 18th century:
In this age of the world it appears absurd to. talk of ghosts or evil spirits, and so I would have said before investigating what Is going on at the Wlllmans’ place. But what I have witnessed there with my own eyes and what has been told me by persons whom I know. to be absolutely reliable leaves me no option but to believe that an agency that Is not mortal Is responsible for them.
Father Westarp finally complied, obtaining permission from then Archbishop Feehan to perform an exorcism of the house. The arrived at the farm several days later, accompanied by another priest, Bibles and holy water in hand. Fr. Westarp “exorcised” the house, going from room to room giving a house blessing, with a different prayer for each room to rid whatever human or non-hhuman spirits might be there. When he finished, his colleague did the same.
After the exorcism, Fr. Westarp put a piece of paper and a pencil on the kitchen table and the two priests and family went outside for several minutes. This was in keeping with the Roman Catholic Rite of Exorcism which demands that, before departing, a demon must give its name and reason for infesting the human or humans it has troubled. When the family and priests re-entered the house again, the paper was blank, a sign that the demon—if that’s what it was—had no intention of leaving. Indeed, though the house was quiet for three days, the letters and torments began again, starting with a note that mocked the exorcism: “’How I did laugh at seeing you all on your knees and praying I’ : What do you think of such a letter? It must be a demon!”
Another letter repeated, almost word for word, the private conversation the priest and Mrs. Wellmans had had outside the house after his visit, laughing at the advice he had given her.
Fr. Westarp had instructed Mrs. Wellmans to remove all of the writing paper in the house, and she complied. But the entity was industrious. Soon after the exorcism, a letter fell out of the air written on a piece of Mrs. Wellmans’ hatbox. She burned a piece of blessed palm the pastor had given her, and blue the smoke into the inkwell, thinking this should take care of the nuisance. Indeed, the demon no longer used the ink, but resorted to the pencil.
As for the source of the manifestations, the consensus in the village was that it was obviously demonic. The black cat had spoken, and the entity had mocked the sacred Rite of Exorcism. Word got around that Fr. Westarp had a theory that the family had possession or knowledge of the Seventh Book of Moses, a book of necromantic knowledge believed to have once been part of the Scriptures, but the priest denied having made such a suggestion.
Some, of course, suggested that the children were responsible for the diabolical letters, but Fr. Westarp quickly dismissed this theory, based upon the foul language and outright blasphemy many of the letters had contained—and the fact that all members of the family and often visitors were present when many of the letters arrived.
Mrs. Wellmans wondered if, since the farm was supposed to be sold by the owners the next year, a potential buyer might be trying to spoil the value of the property. Still, she said, there was no way to explain just how the letters made their way into view from thin air, or how any of the other myriad phenomena had actually been created. Her only explanation was, “Witchcraft.”
Today, the story of the Demon of Lemont has been long forgotten by the history books of this sleepy town. Yet the legacy of its spirit certainly remains. This region can claim notoriety as one of the most haunted not only in the Chicago area but in the nation, from the ghosts of the DesPlaines River Valley and the old Sag Bridge hauntings to the ghosts of the Archer Avenue Triangle and Resurrection Mary herself. Let this eerie old tale, then, take its place among those that walk these hallowed roads.
STORY: THE CREEPY STORY OF LUCIDA MANSI=====
To say that Lucida Mansi was vain is an understatement. Lucida was obsessed with her beauty and she couldn’t stand the thought of getting old. To prevent the process of aging, she did something horrifying.
Unraveling the truth about Lucida Mansi (1606 -1649) is not easy because her story based on a mixture of historical facts and legends with a supernatural twist.
Lucida Mansi is today known as one of the most famous ghosts in Italy, but she was once a real historical person. Although, it’s uncertain where she originally came from and who her parents were, it is known that her life can be traced to province of Lucca, Italy.
She was a noble woman who at a very young age married Vincenzo Diversi. Unfortunately, her husband died just a couple years after the marriage, and she became a widow. To improve her personal situation, Lucida grabbed the opportunity to marry Gaspare di Nicolao Mansi, a much older and wealthy man.
The significant age difference between the couple and the fact that she was a real beauty became a popular gossip subject among the locals.
Rumors said that Lucida was so vain she ordered an entire room in their large villa to be decorated with mirrors. She wanted to admire her physical appearance as much as possible.
How and when Lucida passed away is uncertain, but it seems she died of the plague February 12, 1649 and was buried in the family grave in the chiesa dei Cappuccini a Lucca.
Legends tell that Lucida couldn’t handle the fact she was ageing. One day she woke up, looked in the mirror and to her horror she noticed a small wrinkle on her face. At the same moment, the Devil appeared in front of her. Knowing she was a perfect victim; the Devil gave her an irresistible offer.
He told Lucida she could remain a beautiful young woman for the next 30 years, but the Devil wanted her soul in exchange. Lucida was thrilled and gladly accepted the offer. After all, being beautiful was all she wanted.
As the legend goes, when 30 years passed, the Devil returned and demanded Lucida’s soul. The vain woman now finally realized what she had done and refused to give him her soul. Trying to escape, Lucida jumped into her a carriage and began racing around the walls of Lucca. It can be added that the history of the city of Lucca goes back far in time. The city was most likely built by the Etruscans before later becoming Roman colony in 180 B.C. The ancient walls around Lucca are still visible.
Unfortunately for Lucida, her attempt to escape the Devil ended badly. It was a rainy and stormy night. Frightened by the lightning, her horses leaped from the wall running straight into the lake. There was no escape. Lucida drowned.
It is said that Lucida’s beautiful face of Lucida can still be seen at the bottom of the lake and her ghost haunt the property of the Mansi family. Her ghostly screams can be heard when it’s full Moon.
Up next… Chillingly in the UK, statistics suggest that a child is more likely to be killed by a parent than by a stranger and in most cases, the killer takes his own life after the act. We’ll look into the disturbing psychology of family annihilators, when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF FAMILICIDE=====
Familicide is defined as one family member who murders other members of their family, commonly taking the lives of all. It is most often used to describe cases where a parent, usually the father, kills his wife and children and then himself. These cases are horrifying acts which can wipe out an entire family, leaving relatives, friends, and colleagues stunned and confused. Often no outward signs were visible to suggest anyone was in danger or that there was a risk of an individual taking such horrific actions. It is a crime that has invoked horror and fascination in equal measures. For those with an interest in why such horrific crimes take place and how an individual can murder their own family, such cases are explored in detail.
Familicide is commonly intertwined with the term ‘family annihilator’ stemming from the act itself, that of family annihilation. Most researchers agree that this act is a form of mass murder due to the multiple victims involved.
Chillingly, statistics suggest that a child is more likely to be killed by a parent than by a stranger and in most cases, the killer takes his own life after the act. There is no court case, no opportunity to find out why and whether or not this was planned murder or an act which was spontaneous due to thoughts at that very moment. Those left behind can only speculate on what may have caused someone they loved to kill their family, and most often, take the lives of innocent children.
Criminologists have been conducting increasing research into the phenomenon of familicide and in the process have produced many terms and definitions to describe such acts and distinguish them from each other. Familicide, the family annihilator, murder-suicides and family murders are all terms which have been used to describe cases where a family member has killed other family members.
The varied definitions of the term ‘familicide’ can make a comparison of studies and cases challenging. Familicide sits among a number of types of family murder, all the term ‘‘ which means ‘the act of killing‘ in Latin, often adding to the confusion over terminology.
A research study published in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice in 2013 by Elizabeth Yardley, David Wilson and Adam Lynes has been particularly influential in this field. They analyzed newspaper articles over three decades from 1980 to 2012 where cases of familicide were reported. They found a total of 71 cases where 59 of the perpetrators were male and over half were between the ages of 30-40 years old when they committed the crime.
Yardley, Wilson, and Lynes reported that 57% of cases they studied occurred inside the family home compared to 17% in an isolated country spot no doubt pre-selected by the offender. In 32% of cases, the method of killing was stabbing followed by 15% of cases involving carbon monoxide poisoning from a car exhaust. Most offenders were employed and aged between 30 and 39 years old at the time of the murders. In 68% of cases, the male annihilator committed suicide after the murders.
Professor David Wilson has stated that “family annihilators have received little attention as a separate category of killer” and they are “often treated like spree or serial murderers, a view which presupposes traits, such as the idea that the murderer ‘snaps’, or that after killing their partner or children the killer may force a standoff with the police“, which is not an entirely accurate representation of these killers.
In contrast to other groups, such as serial killers and mass murderers, these were found to be individuals with good backgrounds.
They were not known to the police or the criminal justice system; they often had good jobs, families, and friends around them. They can be very successful people in their lives and not the kind of person who it is perceived would kill anyone never mind their entire family.
As highlighted by Professor Jack Leven, Professor of Sociology and Criminology Emeritus at Northeastern University in Boston, the profile of a man who kills his family “is a middle-aged man, a good provider who would appear to neighbors to be a dedicated husband and a devoted father.”
Researchers also identified four common areas which may be the causes of such family murders; a breakdown in the family relationship and issues surrounding access to children, money worries and financial hardship, cultural honor killings and mental illness.
These findings echo the conclusions drawn from a 2009 study by Leveillee and colleagues who examined 16 cases of familicide in Quebec between 1986 and 2000. They found that social loss, economic reasons, mental illness, and intimate partner loss were the most common likely causes of murder-suicide within a family.
Two more recent literature reviews carried out into familicide also provide some key points when focusing on the profile of a family annihilator.
Psychologist Sharon Mailloux found offenders to be predominantly male and in a long term relationship with possessive tendencies over his family, in her literature review published in 2014 in the Journal of Family Violence. Employment issues, problems with substance misuse and a history of domestic violence also featured across the cases she studied. Divorce or separation was found to be a trigger point.
In 2017, Anna Liisa Aho, Anni Remahl and, Eija Paavilainen from Tampere University in Finland examined the background factors that may be involved in familicide in Western countries. They found familicide offenders were mostly highly educated men with psychological problems, depression, self-destructiveness and substance abuse issues. Past violent behavior and unsteady social relationships were also prevalent.
The case of Bruce Blackman, a 22-year-old man in British Columbia is a tragic example of how mental illness can be involved in cases of familicide. In the weeks leading up to the killings, his room-mate reportedly noticed strange behavior from Blackman where he claimed to be getting messages from the Bible and believed the world was going to end.
Blackman drove to his parents’ house on 18 January 1983. Once there he shot both his parents and his younger brother with a .22 caliber rifle. He called his elder sisters, who no longer lived in the family home, and fatally shot them and his brother-in-law when they arrived. Found walking near the crime scene he was arrested and charged with murder. Bruce Blackman was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a psychiatric unit for treatment. Released from the hospital in 1995, he now has a new identity, however, must forever live with the fact that he murdered his family in 1983.
Researchers have focused on any link between borderline personality disorder and familicide and while some evidence was found that could conclude a causal link, in such a rare crime it is difficult to draw any solid conclusions as to the role of such mental disorders within this crime.
John List was a father of three in 1971 in New Jersey who shot and killed his wife, all three children, and his mother before fleeing and building himself a new life. A 46-year-old accountant, John List struggled to maintain his employment and pay his mortgage and had been stealing money from his elderly mother.
Police officers discovered the bodies of his family inside the family home on 7 December 1971 along with a note he had written to his pastor, expressing his concern that there was ‘too much evil’ in the world and he had taken the lives of his family to ‘save their souls’.
With his car found at Kennedy International Airport, it soon became clear Mr. List had fled but despite extensive searches, he could not be found. In 1989 the TV program ‘America’s Most Wanted’ became involved in the case and presented a show featuring his story along with an image of how John List may have looked 18 years after he was last seen.
John List was arrested 10 ten days later after being recognized by a neighbor as a man who lived next door with his wife going by the name of Robert Clark.
Upon his arrest, he denied being John List until confronted with fingerprint matches. Convicted of murder, he was sentenced to five life sentences. In a television interview in 2002, John List claimed he did not take his own life as he wanted to be reunited with his family in heaven. He died in prison aged 82 in 2008.
ohn Hogan was a 32-year-old man from Bristol with a wife and two children. By all appearances, he was happy and successful in his professional and personal life. In August 2006 without any warning while on a family holiday in Crete, he threw his six-year-old son, Liam Hogan, off their fourth-floor apartment balcony, killing him instantly. He then jumped off the 50ft high balcony himself with his 2-year-old daughter Mia Logan in his arms. Both he and little Mia survived the fall with broken bones.
After the tragedy, it was revealed the couple were having marital troubles and had argued, signaling an end to the marriage, just before John Hogan took the actions he did. John Hogan was accused of murder and attempted murder and spent three years in psychiatric hospitals and Greek jails after pleading temporary insanity. He was a broken man in dealing with the actions he took on that day. In 2008 he was acquitted of his son’s murder in Greece and in 2009 he was released from psychiatric care to return to the UK.
While one man tries to come to terms with the fact he murdered his own son and tried to murder his daughter in the most horrific of ways, Natasha Visser, the children’s mother and her family have been left angered by a not guilty verdict and the decision to allow him to return to the UK as a free man with no convictions.
It is understood John Hogan entered in-patient psychiatric care upon his return and has agreed not to try and contact his daughter. The Crown Prosecution Service chose not to retry John Hogan for murder in the UK.
Mental health is often questioned in these cases with an assumption of a disordered mental state from the father who has made a decision to kill all members of his immediate family. In Leveillee’s 2009 study, they found that 68% of those who killed their family had a history of depressive symptoms and 38% showed borderline traits of a personality disorder.
Steven Sueppel was a 42-year-old former bank vice president on bail for embezzlement charges to the tune of $560,000 from his own bank in Iowa City, Iowa. Admitting the fraud and resigning from his position, he was distraught and devastated by the shame of his actions. In March 2009 he murdered his wife and four children before leaving numerous voicemails for family members and ex-colleagues, apologizing and expressing the shame he had brought upon his family was “too much to bear”.
He had beat his wife to death and led his children between the ages of 3 and 10 years old to the garage, where he tried unsuccessfully to kill them and himself with carbon monoxide poisoning. When that failed it is thought he beat the children to death in the same manner he had his wife. Steven Sueppel called emergency services and told them to go to his house, he then drove his car into a concrete pillar on the Interstate, killing himself when his van exploded into flames.
Familicide is a very difficult concept for any of us to get our head around. We have all faced problems and difficulties in our lives but very few of us resort to such drastic and terrifying actions. What makes one individual decide to murder their family before themselves is a question still being asked.
It cannot be ignored that in an estimated 95% of cases the perpetrator is male and the ‘head of the household’. This traditional idea of the man providing for and looking after his family may be one factor when he no longer feels he is meeting this role adequately, often if finances or employment breaks down.
Another key factor in these types of killings appears to be a rage from the male when he feels he has been wronged by his partner, whether this is due to the partnership breaking down, an affair in the marriage and/or difficulties surrounding access to the children. There can be a revenge aspect where he leaves the mother alive to suffer after he takes the lives of her children, however, this is by far not the main reason, as perceived by some, for this type of murder.
Research into family annihilators is still in its infancy. The rarity of cases coupled with most killers taking their own lives does not allow for research to take place into this phenomenon easily.
Professor Neil Websdale, a Professor at Northern Arizona University is one academic who has studied these crimes in his book “Familicidal Hearts: The Emotional Styles of 211 Killers”. For him, this idea of the male societal role and no longer meeting that role is a common trait among family annihilators. He follows the more traditional view of the reasons behind male father figures killing their families being rage, revenge, and altruism.
He has categorized such family killers into two groups; the “livid coercive” killer who is motivated by anger and rage. They show control issues and may have abusive tendencies achieving their self-worth by exerting authority within the home. Should this marriage begin to fail maybe because of such controlling issues and the wife and children try to leave, a lack of control and feelings of humiliation could prompt such acts of violence against his family
“civil reputable” killer, in contrast, is motivated by altruism where his identity is wrapped up in his family. Committing murder against all family members is, therefore, a way of saving them from the hardship and shame of financial troubles and bankruptcy and they will almost always commit suicide afterward.
If suicide after the act fails, in most cases which reach a court, the perpetrator will almost always plead some form of insanity as a defense, however not all believe this is an adequate explanation for such acts. As in all types of mass murder, there are different motivations and different methods of murder.
Up next… cases of familicide most often reported in the news and featured as case-studies when researching the phenomenon focus on adult offenders who kill their partner or ex-partner, their children and sometimes other family members. There are cases however of young familicide offenders, that is offenders who murder multiple members of their family when they are still only adolescents. We’ll look closer when Weird Darkness returns.
Cases of familicide most often reported in the news and featured as case-studies when researching the phenomenon focuses on adult offenders who kill their partner or ex-partner, their children and sometimes other family members. There are cases however of young familicide offenders, that is offenders who murder multiple members of their family when they are still only adolescents.
Adolescents who kill family members usually means teens who kill their parents, a phenomenon termed ‘parricide’. However, when multiple family victims are involved the definitions used for such cases become varied and unclear with familicide and parricide being used interchangeably across different studies. Despite this, the findings when a spotlight is placed on such adolescent offenders are interesting in light of what is known about the more familiar adult male familicide offender.
Published in the Journal of Family Violence in 2016, researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the FBI took a closer look at young familicide offenders between the ages of 14 and 21. They studied 16 cases where these adolescents and young adults killed or made a serious attempt to kill their families.
In keeping with research on adult offenders, they found 84% of offenders to be male. Interestingly they also found evidence of 50% of the offenders telling others beforehand that they wanted to kill their families. In most cases of adult male familicides, no prior warning is established and certainly no reporting to others of their desire or thoughts about killing their families. It was found that 75% of familicides carried out by young offenders were planned shooting attacks and spontaneous acts of violence with all victims being specifically targeted. 81% of these offenders confessed to the homicides when questioned.
disagreement and friction with parents seems to be the trigger in most cases of young familicide offenders and most offenders were not considered to be violent or aggressive towards others previous to the offense. Although it should be noted, some offenders had violent acts against individuals outside the family and some had shown which made their family fear for their safety. In some cases mental health was an issue with “psychotic and paranoid symptoms” being involved.
Jacques Marleau, Nathalie Auclair and Frederic from research institutes in Montreal, Canada reported in 2006 that youthful familicide offending is often planned and focused at killing multiple victims. These factors, they concluded should be considered as separate from traditional single-victim parricides.
The Canadian researchers examined a sample of youthful familicide cases which took place between 1984 and 2000 taken from the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit database. Cases were included in the study where the offender was under 21 years old, killed or attempted to kill all family members living in the family unit, involved at least 2 victims and attacks happened in one place over the course of one day. Of the 16 cases included, 75% saw all family members killed and 25% of the cases were attempted familicides where some or all victims survived. 75% of cases involved single offenders with remaining 25% being multiple offender cases including siblings acting together or one offender acting with the assistance of friends.
In total 19 offenders were examined. 40% had a history of aggressive behaviors towards their families and 47% of offenders had long-standing substance abuse problems. Only 2 offenders had history of mental illness.
Their findings did not support the notion that most familicides occur suddenly with no pre-meditation or planning. They found almost all young offenders in this study had expressed homicidal ideation in the past and had planned the murders. In most cases after the murders, they reported, these offenders displayed behaviors that were ‘overt in appearance of normality and remorse was rarely observed’.
In stark contrast to adult familicide offenders, in none of these young familicide cases did the offenders attempt suicide/commit suicide after the killings.
In a more recent study, Karlsson et al (2019) carried out a comprehensive literature review within the peer-reviewed research published on familicide. They examined 63 research papers covering 67 studies from 18 countries that were published between 1980 and 2017 including familicide cases where the offender killed their current or former partner and at least one child. In almost all cases the offender was male and in around 50% of the cases the offender committed suicide after the murders. Problems in mental health, relationships, and physical health were frequently noted across the cases studied.
In most cases studied, the offender lived in the same household with all of the victims and in agreement with previous studies, problems in the relationship, a break-up financial problems were prevalent within the families involved.
Within this literature review, two types of familicide emerged, most from the research of Wilson et al (1995) and Liem and Reichelmann (2014).
- Despondent Type – the despaired offender who kills as an extended suicide. This offender kills the family due to pseudo-altruistic reasons.
- Hostile Type – the jealous offender who is motivated to kill their family out jealousy and revenge with the primary victim being the spouse.
Both types it was concluded have a sense of ‘ownership’ over their family although they have different motives for the murders. The Despondent offender possibly believes the family will not cope without him if he just kills himself. The Hostile offender is motivated by jealousy and may believe he has the control and can make such a decision for the entire family.
Another interesting area of this literature review was a comparison against other types of family murder, specifically looking at familicides in comparison to uxoricides (the killing of one’s wife) and filicides (the killing of one’s child by parents).
It was found that the most common method of killing in familicides involved firearms, and these were used much more often than in the above two types of family murders. Liem and Koenraadt (2008) reported more familicide offenders had a personality disorder with narcissistic or dependent features compared to uxoricide offenders and they had less often previously committed a violent offense. History of mental health, substance abuse, and employment status remained the same across both uxoricide and familicide cases. Familicide offenders were found to generally be younger than uxoricide offenders, more likely to kill themselves after the act and more likely to be married to the adult victim.
Familicide offenders were generally found to be older than filicide offenders, more often male and higher educated however, again history of substance abuse, mental health problems, violent offending and relationship problems remained the same across the two types of murders (Liem and Koenraadt, 2008; Logan et al, 2013; Wilson et al 1995).
The motives behind familicide are more similar to the motives behind uxoricide i.e. narcissistic rage, jealousy, and fear of abandonment, compared to the motives of filicide. Furthermore, Wilson et al (1995) concluded that familicides actually have more in common with uxoricides as the children killed in familicides are not the primary victims (the spouse is, the same as in uxoricides).
As more research has been carried out into familicide, possible causes have been expanded with a view that not all cases fit into the revenge and altruism categories. In many cases, it appears the father feels he no longer wants to live or that he just cannot go on and decides to take his family with him. As described by Professor of Psychiatry Phillip Resnick at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, familicide is an act of ‘extended suicide’.
When Weird Darkness returns, we’ll conclude our look at familicide. Most people don’t know there are four types of family annihilators – and we’ll cover each one, up next.
In the influential Yardley, Wilson and Lynes research, they looked at cases over a span of 30 years and grouped their case studies into four categories looking at the motives behind the killings. Cases may not be straight-forward in terms of falling into one of these categories exclusively and as a result, it is common for male annihilators to fall into multiple categories, something which needs to be examined case by case.
These are individuals, usually fathers, who place blame on others for their actions. They often blame the mother of their children for being the cause of the family breakup or for preventing him from having access to his children. They see themselves as the provider of the family and if they are unable to meet that role they can enter dangerous territory.
Often they are looking to cause pain and suffering to their partner or ex-partner and can use their children to do this. Fathers who fall into this category can kill their children and leave the mother alive to ensure maximum pain and suffering. As they blame the mother, they can often make contact just before they commit the murders to tell her what they are about to do, knowing there is nothing she can do to prevent it.
The case of 33-year-old Gavin Hall who in November 2005 killed his 3-year-old daughter by drugging her with antidepressants and then smothering her with a chloroform-soaked rag, fits into this category. After unsuccessfully trying to take his own life he was put on trial where it was revealed he had just discovered his wife was having an affair. Chillingly after he killed his daughter he sent a text message to her mother, Joanne Hall with the words, “Now you have the rest of your life to deal with the consequences”.
53-year old Brian Philcox is another example of a self-righteous killer. In June 2008 in Cheshire, England, he picked up his children on Father’s day for a day out and after driving them to a secluded spot in Snowdonia, South Wales, he drugged them and pumped exhaust fumes into the car, killing 7-year-old Amy Philcox and 3-year-old Owen Philcox and himself.
With his anger firmly directed at his ex-wife, he had designed a bomb which he left at her house to detonate as she opened a note he had left her. The bomb failed to go off and his ex-wife was unharmed.
These are people who believe they have been let down by those around them, most often their partner and their children. They may believe they are not good enough or they not meeting his standards or beliefs. Some cases of honor killings can fall into this category where a father may be unhappy with his children’s choices and does not feel they are being true to their cultural and traditional religious customs.
The murder of 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed by her parents in 2003 in Warrington, Cheshire is one such example. A young girl struggling to find her identity living in Britain while maintaining her Pakistani cultural roots and heritage, her father disapproved of her behavior. After drugging her and flying her to Pakistan for an arranged marriage, Shafilea drank bleach to avoid the ceremony. After her return to the UK, she went missing until her body was found in marshland in Cumbria in 2004. In 2010 her older sister revealed the truth of what had happened to her sister.
She had been held down and suffocated by her father while her mother looked on. Both parents were convicted of murder and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison.
For these individuals their family are an extension of their economic success in life and should any part of that economic status break down, for example, a job loss or financial hardship, their family no longer serves this function. The case of Chris Foster in Shropshire in 2008 is a tragic and devastating example of this category of family annihilator.
A millionaire businessman, Chris Foster was married with a 15-year-old daughter. He murdered his wife and daughter before setting his farmhouse on fire. The ferocity of the fire was intense and when fire crews did make it to the house it took 12 crews and several days to contain the fire and ensure the area was safe. In what was originally thought to be a devastating house fire, it was soon revealed to be a much deeper horror.
Christopher Foster was in financial trouble and was on the verge of losing his home, a fact he had kept hidden from those around him. The bodies of Kirstie Foster and Jill Foster were found with gunshot wounds, confirming they had been killed before the fire was set.
Possibly the most chilling aspect of this case was the CCTV at the family’s home which captured Chris Foster walking through the grounds of his house with a .22 rifle, shooting the family’s horses and dogs and pouring 200 gallons of petrol around the outbuildings and through the house. Chris Foster’s body was found entwined with his wife’s. He had died of smoke inhalation suggesting he had finished his task and climbed into the bed next to his wife and waited to be consumed by the smoke of the fire.
These individuals often believe their family and especially their children are under some form of threat or they need protecting. It may be they fear social services may come and take the children away or circumstances involving the police or the legal system which they fear is a threat to their family. In these cases, they kill, in their minds, to protect the family from the outside threat.
Graham Anderson was 36-years-old and facing a custody hearing regarding his two sons, Jack aged 11 and Bryn aged 3 in Tidworth, Wiltshire in England. Shortly before the hearing, while the children were staying with their father for a visit, he smothered both after drugging them with sleeping pills. Graham Anderson then hung himself. While Mr. Anderson was known to have substance misuse issues there were no signs he was a risk to himself or the children and both families have been left shocked and devastated at his actions. During the inquest into the boys’ death, it was concluded they were killed unlawfully by their father and the impending custody hearing may have played a part in Graham Anderson’s actions.
These are categories that can overlap and are still being developed and refined for categorizing cases of familicide. Notably, these are different from other identified categories of killers (serial killers, spree killers, mass murderers), leaving familicide in a unique category of its own.
A difference between men and women who carry out this crime in terms of their motivations has also been noted. Leveillee et al (2007)found that men who kill their children are more likely to have done so as a form of revenge against their partner and the children’s mother.
It is more expected in society and within the criminal justice system for a male to commit violent crime than a female. Males have more of a perceived psychological profile more prone to aggression and violence than women and therefore when a female does commit a criminally violent act it is viewed as more shocking and more surprising. However, there have been cases of females who have committed very violent acts against her children.
The case of Stella Delores Almarez is one example. A 29-year-old married mother of four from Norfolk in Nebraska, she fatally shot and stabbed her four daughters aged 2 – 10 years old in June 1980. She then shot herself but survived. She made no attempt to harm her husband who was not present at the time of the killings. The couple were halfway through a divorce and news reports suggest she was concerned about raising her children by her herself.
Charged with murder she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. Such gender expectations have been around within criminology and crime theory for a long time with many of the theories developed being predominantly focused on male criminal behavior.
When a woman commits a violent crime, it is often assumed she is either evil or insane. In cases of female familicide, the motivations of women can be linked to mental illness, murdering their children out of a belief that they are saving them in some way.
This was an issue which presented itself in the Andrea Yate’s case, where due to severe postpartum depression Mrs. Yates drowned all five of her young children in the bathtub of their home believing she was saving them from the devil and from wrongdoings.
Confessing openly to the murders she was convicted of first-degree murder at her first trial, however, this was later changed to not guilty by reason of insanity in a second trial and she was committed to a psychiatric unit indefinitely where she still remains today.
Some clear agreed upon characteristics of familicide are that the crime is almost always carried out by a male offender, and most often with a firearm. The correlation between a final act of familicide and a history of domestic violence within the home and family is high with a study by Anna Campbell finding that intimate-partner violence had occurred in 70% of the 408 cases she had studied.
Such domestic violence is not always reported and therefore on police records. In many cases, it is reports from family and friends that reveal such prior violence within the home with up to 75% of cases having no police involvement, and therefore no arrest records, for such incidents. It is clear however that domestic violence within the home heightens the risk for familicide occurring in the future.
Further findings from Campbell include that unemployment was indeed a risk factor for familicide, but only when there was already a history of domestic violence within the home. Losing a job on its own was not deemed to be a factor which may lead to the murder of the entire family followed by the suicide of the offender. Equally access to a firearm also featured as a significant risk factor. With the majority of familicides being carried out using a gun, access is an important issue.
Within an abusive relationship, the time at which two partners separate has been identified as especially vulnerable in relation to familicide. It is at this point that a partner may realize they are losing their family and consider taking drastic action. Jealousy and revenge may also play a role.
The psychological profile of a family annihilator is a complex one and research is continuing to discover more information about the kinds of individuals and circumstances which can lead to such horrific and tragic actions. This is a profile which appears to be quite different from more familiar profiles of mass murderers, serial killers and, spree killers. There is an intimacy involved with the relationships between the perpetrator and the victims of this crime.
Warning signs, if any, are difficult to spot and the modern-day nature of families and individuals to keep their lives private and their troubles to themselves only adds to the shock factor when such an incident does take place. Unfortunately, this means this kind of crime and the death of entire families will continue to happen and it is a phenomenon which has proved difficult to predict and almost impossible to stop.
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 find the Hope in the Darkness page if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or dark thoughts. 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.
“Something Happened 63 Years Ago” submitted anonymously to Thought Catalog
“The Real Horror Behind The Phantom Of The Opera” by Troy Taylor
“Sparkles” by Weirdo family member, Katie Jo
“Someone Or Something Moved My Hand” by Mirandra for Your Ghost Stories
“The Creepy Story of Lucida Mansi” by Ellen Lloyd for Ancient Pages
“The Demon of Lemont” by Ursula Bielski for Chicago Hauntings
“The Psychology of Familicide” by Fiona Guy for Crime Traveller
“The List Family Massacre” from All That’s Interesting
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… “Be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” — 1 Samuel 12:24
And a final thought… You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.