“MURDER MANSION OF LOS ANGELES” and 5 More True, Disturbing Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: A fifteen year old Wisconsin girl disappeared on April 3rd 1996 – and to this day it’s a mystery where she is or what has become of her. (Where Is Sara Bushland?) *** Many neighborhoods have at least one creepy house that has inspired ghost stories. That house in Los Feliz, California, located at 2475 Glendower Place, was dubbed the “Murder Mansion” – with good reason. (Murder Mansion of Los Angeles) *** What would you do if you were doing some construction in your home or business, and found a hidden bottle full of fish hooks, human teeth, shards of glass and an unidentified liquid? (The Witch Bottle In The Pub) *** A recent survey shows that 40 percent of Americans believe that a place can be haunted. Are you one of them? If so, you’re in good company here with the rest of the Weirdo Family. Glen Wershing is a believer as well – and has come to that conclusion through personal experience when moving into his new home. (A New Jersey Haunting) *** We look at some of the secret séance rituals of America’s largest Spiritualist community in New York. (Secret Seance Rituals) *** After he murdered a 15-year-old girl in 1935, the killer, Jefferson Walters, disappeared into thin air. (What Happened to Jefferson Walters?)
LINKS MENTIONED IN THE EPISODE…
“Los Feliz Murder Mansion” photos: https://tinyurl.com/uahvw42
“Los Feliz Murder Mansion” realtor listing: https://tinyurl.com/v67uq9h
BOOK: “Weird U.S.”: https://amzn.to/3bHKL8h
BOOK: “Seance” by Shannon Taggert: https://amzn.to/3dIMsny
“The Weekend Murder Spree of Ronald G. Simmons” episode: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/5866
“Delphine LaLaurie: Monster of Royal Street” episode: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/5921
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STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
(Note: Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“What Happened to Jefferson Walters” from Pennsylvania Oddities: https://tinyurl.com/w5x8obe
“Murder Mansion of Los Angeles” from Strange Remains: https://tinyurl.com/tek3vxt
“Where Is Sara Bushland?” by Redditor NukaColaDrinkerPro: https://tinyurl.com/tw535mu
“The Witch Bottle In The Pub” by Jason Daley for Smithsonian Magazine: https://tinyurl.com/szevvlf
“A New Jersey Haunting” from The Washington Times: https://tinyurl.com/tulc7wr
“Secret Seance Rituals” by Eric Spitznagel for The New York Post: https://tinyurl.com/y2uqkwx7
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WHAT HAPPENED TO JEFFERSON WALTERS?
After Jefferson Walters callously murdered 15-year-old Anna Zinn in southern Fayette County in 1935, the killer disappeared into thin air. More than eighty-five years have elapsed since the murder, and yet, in spite of a massive search effort in several states, Jefferson Walters has never been found.
On a cold Thursday night in February of 1935, Alfred Thorpe– a 34-year-old married father of two– was out on a date with a schoolgirl half his age. Anna Zinn, a pretty blonde from a large family who lived in the rural farming community of Bowood, had a fondness for older men; for months she had been flirting with another married man– 45-year-old Jefferson Walters, who had been showering the teenager with gifts and attention. But, ultimately, she preferred the company of Thorpe, and on this crisp winter evening she and Alfred had just returned from a dance in New Geneva. They had parked in the woods, about 150 yards from the Zinn farm, to engage in some heavy petting.
Shortly before midnight, the couple’s amorous embraces were interrupted by the beam of a flashlight, advancing in the direction of the 1927 Chevrolet coupe. A moment later, a man in blue overalls and a denim coat said, sarcastically, “This is a nice time for you to be out, Anna.”
It was Jefferson Walters. Anna told him that it was none of his business. Before anything else could be said, Walters pointed a gun at the teenager and fired point blank into her chest. The bullet, taking an upward course, lodged in her brain. A second shot was fired into her head, directly behind the ear.
“Do you want some of it, too?” said the killer to Thorpe, who jumped from the car and ran down the road. Thorpe didn’t stop running until he reached the home of Ralph Dils at Twin Oaks, a half mile away, where he found a telephone and called the police. Thorpe was taken into custody as a material witness by the district attorney, who gave him permission to attend Anna’s funeral.
On Sunday, Feb. 10, three days after the murder, Anna was laid to rest at Cedar Grove Cemetery in New Geneva. Her funeral filled Old Frame Presbyterian Church to capacity, while 250 more stood outside in the cold weather. Asa Walters, brother of the killer, attended the service, which was conducted by Rev. Smith. Asa said that he hadn’t seen or spoken to his brother since the shooting.
“For a man to do what Jeff did there would have to be something wrong with him,” he told reporters after the service. Also among the mourners were twelve pupils from the Sunday School where Anna taught, which was held in the same building where she attended grade school. The young children sobbed pitifully as Rev. Smith opened the casket to reveal her bullet-riddled corpse.
On the day of Anna’s funeral, county and state officials organized a posse of more than a hundred men to scour Nicholson Township with a fine-toothed comb in a concerted effort to catch Jefferson Walters, dead or alive. “We want Jeff Walters,” said County Detective Jack Hann, responding to the theory that he might have trekked into the wilderness to take his own life. “If he’s dead, we want his body.”
The manhunt was no easy task; there were numerous abandoned mines in that part of Fayette County, capable of keeping a person alive even during sub-zero temperatures. When mining experts told authorities that, with an adequate supply of food and water, a man could survive for months down in the mines, police promptly stationed guards at the entrances of abandoned local mines as a precaution.
District Attorney Wade K. Newell believed that Walters had planned the murder in advance. It was learned that, four days before the murder, Walters had purchased a side of beef from Nick Honsaker. Police searched Walter’s home and failed to find the meat, indicating that he may have been purchasing provisions for a hideout.
“I was always afraid there’d be trouble between that fellow and my girl, and for that reason I watched them pretty close,” said Anna’s father. “But I guess I didn’t watch them close enough. I just didn’t realize just how far they had got.” With fourteen children to look after, Mr. Zinn and his wife Catherine could be forgiven for this oversight. Thomas Zinn, known to friends simply as ‘Birchie’, had ten children with his first wife, Mary Frances Campbell. After Mary’s death, he wed Catherine Minerd, who bore him four more children.
Catherine told police that, on the night of the murder, she had heard two shots coming from the direction of the bridge on the main road west of the Zinn’s driveway. While this corroborates Thorpe’s story, there were other clues which certainly raised a few questions at the time.
For instance, police found bloodstains up the Zinn’s lane for a distance of fifty feet, which they believe had dripped from Thorpe’s clothing as he ran. Yet, if Thorpe ran from his car to the Zinn driveway and then on to Twin Oaks, this would have required him to cross paths with the man who was shooting at him. And if Thorpe ran in the direction of the Zinn house, why didn’t he seek shelter there? And if he knew Anna was dead, why didn’t he inform her family?
According to the police report, Anna was shot in the chest as well as behind her right ear, and her body was found with the head under the steering wheel, her bloody right hand clutching the emergency brake. She would’ve died right on her lover’s lap, which suggests the blood on the driveway most certainly came from Thorpe. It is likely that Thorpe realized the Zinns didn’t own a telephone, and so he kept on running.
Police were able to determine the slugs had been fired from a German-made Luger automatic pistol, which seemed to make it and open-and-shut case, since Walters was a WW1 veteran and had obtained a similar weapon as a war souvenir. It was suggested that Walters’ gun must’ve jammed, or else he probably would’ve taken a shot at Thorpe.
As for Anna’s two suitors, both men were married but separated from their wives. Walters’ wife had left him on their wedding night, while Thorpe had been living alone in the neighborhood for two years with his two children. According to Mr. Zinn, Walter first became interested in Anna when she was 12 years old. “He seemed to be sorry because she’d lost her mother and he would bring her candy and other gifts,” he said. Around that time, Walters began taking Anna to town to cash the family’s government assistance checks– a routine that continued up until the month of her death. “They haven’t been on speaking terms for the past week because Thorpe started to take her to town for relief checks on account of Walters’ machine breaking down,” said Mr. Zinn.
While it seems unbelievable that no one, neither Mr. Zinn nor the police, were bothered by the fact that men old enough to be her father had been trying to court Anna since she was 12, it is also strange to see the difference in how newspapers portrayed the slain girl. For instance, the Uniontown newspapers (closest to Bowood), depicted Anna Zinn as an innocent, virtuous Sunday School teacher and Alfred Thorpe as a kindly country squire who had graciously offered to drive Anna and her two friends to a school dance. A few papers outside of Fayette County, on the other hand, were quick to point out that Thorpe and Walters had been romantically involved with Anna for years, and portrayed the girl not as a simple country maiden, but a blonde-haired home-wrecking vixen. While several newspapers declared Anna to be 16 years of age at the time of her death, historical records prove otherwise; she was born on November 13, 1919. This means that she was only three months past her 15th birthday.
Thorpe, whose age is listed as anywhere between 19 and 26 in newspaper articles of the slaying, was also painted in a flattering light that he probably didn’t deserve. He often bragged about being descended from William Hewey, a pioneer settler to the region. If historical records are accurate, this means Thorpe was born in Springhill Township in 1901, which would have made him either 33 or 34 (not 19 or 26) at the time he was dating Anna Zinn, who, again, had celebrated her 15th birthday just three months earlier. In the first photo of Thorpe (which ran in most papers), he is depicted as a dapper, young man seemingly not much older than the girl he “escorted” to the school dance. In the second picture of Thorpe (taken at least a year before his wife divorced him), he was, in actuality, much older than the hometown papers claimed. Apparently this was intentional on the part of Uniontown newspaper editors who, presumably, wanted to protect the Thorpe family reputation. In articles published in hometown papers, Thorpe has been described as one of the area’s “most respected citizens” and a “pillar of the community” who went to great lengths to look after the community’s poorest families. Jefferson Walters, on the other hand, is invariably described as a “brutish backwoodsman”.
Research also indicates that Thorpe and Walters weren’t the only older men “dating” Anna. Police reports show that a diamond engagement ring was found on her finger at the crime scene, and authorities found letters showing the ring had been given to her six months earlier by Rudy Haver, a soldier who was stationed in the Philippines at the time of her death. Haver had written a letter to Anna weeks before her death declaring that they would be married the next time he got a furlough.
In spite of multiple posses and large cash rewards offered by county commissioners, nobody could find a trace of Jefferson Walters. The district attorney even released Alfred Thorpe from jail to serve as live bait, believing that Thorpe’s release would lure Walters out of hiding to seek revenge.
In July, a break in the case came when a berry picker reported seeing a man, armed with a shotgun, entering the vast subterranean labyrinth known as Delaney’s Cave (now known as Lauren Caverns). A posse headed by County Detective Hann raced to the spot but found no trace of Walters. Although the cave has been explored since the 18th century, it is said to be so vast that, even today, parts of it have never been fully explored.
As the search dragged on into summer and frustrations mounted, one woman was inspired to take matters into her own hands by running for Fayette County sheriff.
“I know every rock and crevice in the district. Elect me and I’ll get the slayer of Anna Zinn, dead or alive!”
This was the promise of Winifred R. Harshman, a 40-year-old housewife who was so enraged by the brutal crime that she campaigned to become the first female sheriff in county history. Harshman didn’t know Anna or her suitors, but when she read about the murder she believed that she had to do her part. She even admitted that she didn’t think she could win the election, but she reasoned that if she threw her hat in the ring it might light a fire under the incumbent sheriff’s behind. And Winifred R. Harshman was a woman not to be trifled with; in 1933, while she and her husband were driving to Uniontown, an assailant attacked her husband. Winifred whipped a revolver from out of her waistband and dropped the attacker with a single shot. Out of the 13 Democrat candidates looking to unseat the Republican sheriff, Harshman finished next-to-last in the 1935 primary election with just 295 votes.
Sightings of Jefferson Walters were reported all over the country, but all of them turned out to be cases of mistaken identity. However, there were a few incidences which may or may not have cleared up the mystery once and for all. In July of 1936 a body was found floating in Lake Lynn, just across the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border. Although West Virginia State Police identified the body as that of a missing WPA worker named Roman Secura, one Pennsylvania state trooper insisted that it was the body of Anna Zinn’s killer. Trooper Ray Walsh said that Van Lowe and Orris Wilson, both of whom lived in Fayette County, had viewed the body in the lake and said that it was Walters.
Unfortunately, before Walsh could arrive at the scene, the body was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave at the county poorhouse near Morgantown.
In February of 1938, almost three years to the day of the murder, a trapper named Lloyd Watson found a skeleton on the banks of a river not far from the home of Ed Thorpe, father of Anna Zinn’s lover. The skeleton was clad in blue overalls and a denim shirt– the same outfit Walters had worn the night he killed the teenage girl. Wlliam Holt, an Ohiopyle storekeeper, stated, “Alfred was up here just a few days after the killing and it looks as if Jeff came up here to finish the job. Thorpe was only man could’ve convicted Walters of the murder.”
There was just one thing wrong with Holt’s claim– Thorpe couldn’t have gone to Ohiopyle a few days after the murder because he wasn’t released from jail until March. But Holt, at least, was convinced it was Walters.
“Maybe Walters slipped and fell in the river on his way up,” Holt theorized. Considering that Walters was a skilled backwoodsman and army veteran, it seems unlikely that he would’ve suffered such a mishap. “Or maybe someone saw him first,” added Holt, suggesting that Thorpe may have killed Jefferson Walters. The bones, which were discovered where Sugar Run empties into the river, were gathered up and taken to Burhans funeral home in Dunbar. Fayette County Coroner S.A. Baltz and Detective John Wall went to Dunbar to see if they could make a positive identification, but determined the bones were not those of Jefferson Walters.
Although Anna’s killer was never brought to justice, interest in the case continued for decades in Fayette County. As recently as 1960 law enforcement continued to pursue leads. Every time a decomposed body or rotting skeleton was uncovered in the wilderness of western Pennsylvania by a hunter or woodsman, residents of Nichols Township waited with bated breath to see if the remains matched Walters’ description. They never did.
Perhaps the bones of Jefferson Walters are still waiting to be found in an abandoned mineshaft or in a hidden passageway of Laurel Caverns, our state’s longest cave. Or maybe they are buried in West Virginia, where the body found in Lake Lynn was hastily buried in a pauper’s grave in 1936. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s a possibility that Alfred Thorpe– the only one who knew for certain what happened that fateful night– killed Jefferson before Jefferson got around to killing him.
MURDER MANSION OF LOS ANGELES
Many neighborhoods have at least one creepy house that has inspired ghost stories. That house in Los Feliz, located at 2475 Glendower Place, was the “Murder Mansion.” It received the ominous moniker because it was the scene of a horrific murder-suicide in December of 1959. Although the mansion was sold a year after those horrific events, the estate remained vacant and slowly deteriorated on the inside and outside.
For a long time the “Murder Mansion” was a dark tourist attraction. Trespassers constantly trekked up to the derelict estate to peer into the windows to catch a glimpse of the dust covered furniture, peeling paint, and maybe a ghost. In an article for LA Weekly, Brian Clune described some of the paranormal activity ghost hunters claimed to have witnessed at the “Murder Mansion”:
“The [ghost] hunters have reported hearing the sound of a woman calling out “No!” in a terrified voice, followed by her frantic screaming and then silence. This silence is then shortly followed by the low moan of a male, who sounds as if he is in distress; this moaning goes on for a short while until all is again silent… The [ghost] hunters tell of seeing the face of a woman staring at them through one of the upstairs windows; she will gaze at them for a few minutes and then simply vanish from sight. Many have photographed this apparition, but when they got home and downloaded the photos onto their computers or got their film developed, she was not in any of the frames…”
It’s possible all of those inexplicable experiences may have been imagined, inspired by property’s rundown appearance and the terrible crimes that took place there.
The Spanish-revival residence is located on a hillside in Los Feliz, a posh neighborhood in Los Angeles. It was built by Harry S. Schumacher in 1925 and designed by architect Harry E. Weiner. The three-story home had four master bedrooms, three bedrooms, a library, a ballroom with a bar, a three-car garage, terraced lawns, and manicured gardens. After Schumacher died in 1932, the property switched hands a few times until the Perelson family moved in sometime in the 1950’s.
Dr. Harold Perelson purchased the 5000-square-foot house as a home for him, his wife Lillian, and their three children (Judye, Joel, and Debbie). Dr. Perelson was a prominent heart surgeon affiliated with a clinic in Inglewood, a professor of cardiology at the USC School of Medicine, and authored a number of authoritative research articles in medical journals. By 1959, fifty-year-old Harold Perelson was a successful heart surgeon who had a beautiful family with no outward signs of conflict.
When the lights were extinguished in the Perelson home on December 6, 1959, darkness descended on the family in more ways than one.
Early the next morning around 5am, 18-year-old Judye woke up to a throbbing headache. Her head was bleeding and she saw her father standing over her with a ball-peen hammer in his hand.
Judye screamed and fought Harold off with all of her strength. When she finally broke free, the wounded teenager staggered downstairs and out of the house to a neighbor’s home.
The two youngest children, 13-year-old Joel (sometimes referred to as Joseph) and 11-year-old Debbie, woke up when Debbie screamed. When Harold saw that his youngest children were awake, he told them to, “Go back to bed. This is a nightmare.” Fortunately, Debbie and Joel did not listen and ran out of the house unharmed.
Judye stumbled next door to the home of Marshall Ross, who called the police. Although she survived the attack, she was sent to the hospital by ambulance and treated for skull fractures.
According to a 1959 article in the Los Angeles Times, neighbor Marshall Ross entered the Perelson home before police arrived. Ross said that Harold was agitated but still alive when he saw him, so he told Harold to go lie down. He reportedly listened and disappeared into one of the bedrooms.
When police got to the scene and searched the mansion, they found the body of 42-year-old Lillian Perelson in her blood-soaked bed. Harold had bludgeoned his wife to death while she slept with a hammer.
Detectives found Harold’s corpse on one of the beds (some articles say he was found in his bedroom, and others say that it belonged to his daughter). Although some newspaper accounts said Dr. Perelson killed himself by swallowing acid, Brian Clune notes that the coroner determined he overdosed on barbiturates.
Next to his corpse was a ball-peen hammer, empty pill bottles, and a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The book was opened to the following passage, which hinted at some of the stresses and instability that plagued the Perelson family.
“Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within the forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.”
The hidden strain was corroborated by “certain papers” that alleged financial difficulties were the source of the tension.
One of those documents was a letter Judye wrote to her aunt in which she wrote, “on the merry-go-round again. Same problems, same worries, only tenfold. My parents, so to speak, are in a bind financially.”
After Harold’s rampage, the Perelson children went to go live with out-of-state relatives. The mansion, Christmas presents and all, was shuttered like a creepy time capsule.
The property was sold in a probate action a year later to Emily and Julian Enriquez, but the couple never moved in. Instead, they used the expansive estate as a glorified storage facility, periodically dropping off their stuff over the decades. The Enriquezes also never moved any of the Perelson furnishings out. They supposedly even kept the Perelson’s Christmas tree and unopened presents. The property became a twisted time capsule that attracted urban legends and lookie-loos.
When Emily Enriquez passed in 1994, her son, Rudy, inherited the home. Like his parents, he never moved in and did not maintain the mansion. In 2009, he told the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t know that I want to live there or even stay there.”
For more than fifty years the Enriquez family allowed the “Murder Mansion” to decay, rarely even making repairs. The lawn turned brown, weeds swallowed the terraced gardens, the driveway asphalt remained cracked, and broken windows were not fixed. Neighbors eventually took it upon themselves to help maintain the ramshackle house, going so far as to paint the street-level garage and clean the front yard. The city eventually intervened, requiring Rudy to make repairs on the rundown property.
When Rudy Enriquez was asked about alleged supernatural occurrences, he responded that he never witnessed anything otherworldly.
Rudy Enriquez died in 2015 and the home was sold in a probate sale a year later. Attorney Lisa Bloom and her husband purchased the home for $2.289 million and started to renovate the property. But the mansion is up for sale again for $3.5 million. From the property’s listing at Realtor.com, “ This very special opportunity awaits the right buyer with a vision for real value by doing a remodel or ground up development. Property will not qualify for financing. Property interior has been taken down to the studs.”
Back in 2016, photographer Alexis Vaughn got the opportunity to explore the “Murder Mansion” before it was renovated. You can see her adventure in this series of photos on her blog. She notes that when she toured the property there was no sign of the infamous tree or presents.
UPDATE: According to Realtor.com, the house has dropped in price again – now at $2.5-million for the asking price. I’ll link to the realtor listing in the show notes as well.
WHERE IS SARA BUSHLAND:
Sara Bushland was a 15 year old girl who mysteriously vanished from her own driveway in the small town of Spooner, Wisconsin, on April 3, 1996. To preface this case, Sara’s parents were divorced and she lived with her father in Colorado up until she moved to Spooner in December of 1994 to live with her mother, stepfather, and two stepbrothers. As a teenager, Sara had apparently made friends with a group of individuals who were quite older than her (most of them were in their late teens to early twenties) and she eventually began dating a boyfriend who was 21 years old at the time that she disappeared. In the months leading up to her disappearance, Sara used a personal diary to vent her private frustrations and feelings like most teenagers do, and a lot of these frustrations came from a growing tension between Sara and her parents (again, very common in adolescence). Sara’s stepfather, Jim, had apparently found her diary and was very angry with some of the things she had written. Because of this, Sara’s parents grounded her for weeks and would not allow her to see her friends or leave their home except to go to school. Some conflicting information between sources also suggest that along with being grounded, Sara’s parents also told her that she was not allowed to continue seeing her boyfriend until she turned 16 later that year. Sara’s grounding punishment came to an end shortly before she disappeared, and on April 3, 1996, she attended school as usual and was excited to finally be free to attend an after school event with her friends later that night. That morning, Sara’s stepbrother drove her to a friend’s house so that the two girls could walk to school together since they had plans together that evening as well. Sara’s parents were going to be out of town that night as well; her mother Marie was attending a funeral in Chippewa Falls and was staying overnight at family member’s house, while Jim and his close friend from Canada were visiting a mutual friend in Stillwater, Minnesota. In the afternoon of April 3rd, Sara’s boyfriend picked her up during her lunch period and they left her school’s campus. Upon dropping Sara back off at school when lunch was over, Sara’s friends noticed that her demeanor had completely changed and that she had completely changed all of her plans for the night (despite seeming very excited in the morning about hanging out with her friends and attending the school event together). Apparently, Sara no longer wanted to attend the school event that night and didn’t want to go home with her friend after school as planned. Instead, Sara seemed very panicked, and insisted that she needed to find a ride home as soon as possible. Sara had supposedly continued writing in her diary after being grounded and said that she was worried about her stepfather finding the diary and reading her most recent entries, therefore ending up grounded again. Sara ended up calling multiple people trying to find a ride home early from school, and when she couldn’t seem to find one, she decided she would have to take the school bus home. As she was getting off of the school bus around 4 pm that day, several children on the bus confirmed that they saw a dark colored pickup truck pull into Sara’s driveway, and that she seemed to approach the truck and talk to the unidentified driver who she seemed to know. One of the witnesses claimed that they actually saw Sara getting into the truck as the bus was driving away. The truck backed out of Sara’s driveway and started off in the direction of the nearby town of Trego. That was the last time that anyone saw Sara Bushland.
Later that day, one of Sara’s stepbrothers called Marie and Jim, worried because Sara hadn’t come home. Marie left Chippewa Falls and made it back to Spooner that night so that she could go out and look for Sara, along with one of Sara’s friends. They visited Sara’s boyfriend, who claimed that he hadn’t seen or spoken to Sara since lunchtime that day. Marie made several phone calls that night, visited most of Sara’s friends, and even drove to Trego to look for her daughter. Unfortunately, no one had seen or talked to Sara since she got off of the bus that afternoon. Jim also didn’t come home that night; he returned the next afternoon on April 4th as he had planned. Immediately after Jim returned home, he and Marie went to the police to file a missing persons report for Sara. Sara’s case was immediately dismissed as a “runaway,” and it would be THREE full YEARS before police would acknowledge Sara as an endangered missing person and began searching in 1999. Jim and Marie Lambert’s property was the subject of 4 massive searches throughout the years, beginning in 1999. These searches focused mainly on a trash dump site on the property as well as the house itself and surrounding buildings. The police never publicly released the reasons behind why they immediately zoned in on searching the family’s property. Authorities have also remained tight lipped to this day about any suspicions or leads they might have, about why they keep revisiting the family’s property. Danelle mentions in her video that the police have also ( allegedly ) not accounted for the times and whereabouts of one of Sara’s stepbrothers that afternoon, though not much information can be found regarding this. It is also suggested that the police may not believe that Sara even got into the pickup truck and/or did not leave the property at all that day, due to cadaver dogs reacting to several areas around the property during a search in May 2013.
There’s also a lot of speculation that a young woman named Crystal Soulier may possibly be connected to Sara’s disappearance, though the evidence for this is sparse. Crystal Soulier was 18 when she disappeared from Cable, Wisconsin in October of 1996. Five months later, her body was found in Rock County, Wisconsin, but the remains were not identified as Crystal’s until 2002. Crystal’s murder remains unsolved to this day.
Lots of people initially drew connections to Crystal Soulier and Sara Bushland because they looked very similar in that they were both blonde young women within the same age group. Crystal and Sara actually knew each other and they also had at least 19 mutual friends, all of them young men in their twenties. Both Crystal and Sara also attended different parties held by these groups of young men, although Sara’s school friends were allegedly unaware of these connections. None of these men have been named as suspects in Sara’s disappearance or in Crystal’s unsolved murder.
THE WITCH BOTTLE IN THE PUB
Contractors demolishing the chimney of a former inn and pub in Watford, England, recently chanced upon a creepy surprise: namely, a bottle full of fish hooks, human teeth, shards of glass and an unidentified liquid. As BBC News reports, the 19th-century vessel is likely a witch bottle, or talisman intentionally placed in a building to ward off witchcraft.
The newly discovered bottle is one of more than 100 recovered from old buildings, churchyards and riverbanks across Great Britain to date. Most specimens trace their origins to the 1600s, when continental Europe was in the grips of a major witch panic. Common contents found in witch bottles include pins, nails, thorns, urine, fingernail clippings and hair.
According to BBC News, the Watford property—now a private residence but formerly known as the Star and Garter inn—is best known as the birthplace of Angeline Tubbs, a woman later nicknamed the Witch of Saratoga. Born in 1761, Tubbs emigrated to the United States during her teenage years. She settled down in Saratoga Springs, New York, and made a living telling fortunes.
The type of torpedo-shaped glass bottle found in Watford was first manufactured during the 1830s, meaning the find is probably not directly connected with Tubbs. Still, the witch bottle’s presence does suggest the building’s residents practiced anti-witchcraft traditions much longer than most.
“It’s certainly later than most witch bottles, so sadly not contemporary with Angeline Tubbs,” Ceri Houlbrook, a historian and folklorist tells BBC News, “but still a fascinating find.”
The home’s current owner does not plan on displaying the bottle. Instead, the anonymous individual says they “will probably hide it away again for someone to find in another 100 years or so.”
So, how exactly did witch bottles work? Per JSTOR Daily’s Allison C. Meier, practitioners filled the vessels with an assortment of items, but most commonly urine and bent pins. The urine was believed to lure witches traveling through a supernatural “otherworld” into the bottle, where they would then be trapped on the pins’ sharp points. Would-be witchcraft victims often embedded the protective bottles under hearths or near chimneys; as anthropologist Christopher C. Fennell explained in a 2000 study, people at the time thought witches “gained access to homes through deviant paths such as the chimney stack.”
Witch bottles are more than just curiosities. Researchers at the Museum of London Archaeology (including Houlbrook) are currently working on a three-year project, “Witch Bottles Concealed and Revealed,” dedicated to analyzing examples held in public and private collections. The team’s goal is to learn more about the tradition’s origins, as well as its relationship with beliefs regarding magic and early modern medicine.
Interestingly enough, Geoff Manaugh reports for the New Yorker, the project has led MOLA’s ceramics specialist, Nigel Jeffries, to suspect that witch bottles were primarily created for medical purposes. As Jeffries tells Manaugh, the vessels may have been thought to act as “curatives that could bring a home’s residents longevity and health.”
The Salem Witch Trials are the most famous example of witchcraft hysteria in the U.S., but the scare also took root in many other places—including the Hudson Valley, where contractors and archaeologists have found witch bottles, eerie symbols and other forms of magical protection dating as far back as the 1600s.
By the time Angeline Tubbs arrived in the U.S., witches were treated as creepy curiosities rather than criminals. According to a Saratogian article by Wilton Town historian Jeannie Woutersz, Tubbs traveled to New York with a British officer during the Revolutionary War but was left behind following the conflict’s end. Eventually, she moved to a hut on a nearby mountain range, where she made a living begging and telling fortunes. Perhaps she was a woman who just preferred isolation—or maybe witch bottles kept her from ever moving into town.
A NEW JERSEY HAUNTING
Glenn Wershing says he believed his house in New Jersey was haunted the moment he moved in with his wife and three children in 1961.
“On the third floor, we would hear footsteps going from the back of the house to the front of the house, then a big thump,” Mr. Wershing explains. “I think I must have run upstairs a hundred times with a flashlight to see who or what was there, but I never found anything.”
Mr. Wershing, 76, and his wife, Jackie Wershing, 71, live in the Thomas P. Hunt house, a three-story farmhouse built in 1835 that runs along Bear Creek, which adjoins the property.
The couple has noted numerous incidents that suggest the lingering presence of a ghost or some unearthly being. One Christmas, for example, Mrs. Wershing took a photo of her three children around the living-room Christmas tree. When the photo was developed, it appeared that the dismal figures of three other children — in shadowy form — were present, as well.
The couple is among the 40 percent of Americans who believe that a place can be haunted. According to a Gallup poll in 2001, this percentage is up from about 29 percent 10 years earlier.
“You never know when these weird things will start happening, but the change in seasons is usually a good indication” Mrs. Wershing said. “It was bitter cold one night, and I awoke at about five in the morning. There, standing in front of Glenn’s dresser was a lady with extremely long hair, wearing a nightgown of some sort. I just barely opened my eyelids, straining to try and see a face, but absolutely nothing was reflected in our bedroom mirror.”
Mr. Wershing suggests that the people who lived in the house prior to them just weren’t ready to go yet: “It wasn’t like there was a murder here or anything like that. Years ago, it was commonplace for people to die in their homes. I’ve said I don’t believe in ghosts, but something is happening in this house.”
The Wershing household is one of dozens of eerie phenomena compiled in “Weird U.S.: Your Travel Guide to America’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.” The new book collects tales of the unexplained from across the country — including such Washington-area legends as the Goatman and “Crybaby Bridge.”
Joe Nickell, investigative columnist for the Skeptical Inquirer, says this belief in the paranormal taps into the hopes and fears of the American people.
“Psychic power lets us look into the future, aliens and UFOs reassure us that we are not alone in this universe, and ghosts give us the message that there’s something to look forward to after death,” Mr. Nickell said. “There’s no objective or scientific evidence for ghosts. I’ve come to believe that it’s not the places that are haunted. It’s the minds of the people.”
Haunted sites like the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon, Va., however, continue to attract ghost-believing visitors each year, asking about the haunted history of the Inn, and the supposed ghost of a young nurse named Beth who haunts the Inn’s premises. Pete Sheffey, a bellman at the inn, claims to have seen a lot of strange things throughout his 40 years of employment there.
“Our guests sometimes hear the sound of violins coming from the upper floors, but there is no one playing,” said Mr. Sheffey, 63. “This is the ghost of Beth, who lived here during the Civil War, when the inn was a hospital. Last week, one guest saw [Beth’s] feet moving down the hall … then, they just vanished right in front of her. Some guests don’t believe in the ghost stuff when they arrive, but by the time they leave, they do.”
D.C. resident Steve Cupo, 50, said he had his own personal encounter with a ghost sighting. Mr. Cupo was a lead actor in “Give My Regards to Broadway” at the Circuit 21 Dinner Theatre in Rock Island, Ill., in 1981 when he saw the ghost of a deceased janitor sitting in the balcony.
“It was during rehearsal, and I had just run up to a very high platform on the stage,” Mr. Cupo said. “We had to stop the performance for some reason, and as I was glancing around the auditorium, I saw a strange Portuguese man in overalls sitting in the balcony. I looked away for a minute, but as soon as I looked back, he was gone. One week later, people were talking about this ghost of a Portuguese janitor, who accidentally killed himself in the theatre in 1922, and now he haunts the place.”
“Weird U.S.” also highlights stories of “bizarre beasts,” including the infamous Goatman of Prince George’s County.
The Goatman is described as a half-man, half-goat creature, whom local lore blames for attacking cars left near the road and throwing dogs off Interstate 495 overpasses near secluded areas.
Since the late 1950s, the Goatman has left his mark on the front page of two issues of the Prince George’s County News. The Nov. 10, 1971, edition carried a front-page banner declaring “Residents Fear Goatman Lives: Dog Found Decapitated in Old Bowie” with a photo of the remains of the mutilated pet. The canine victim’s owners reportedly had heard strange noises and saw an “animal-like creature” moving in the dark right before the dog disappeared.
According to some area residents, the Goatman lives near a notorious Prince George’s County site, Crybaby Bridge in Upper Marlboro.
At Crybaby Bridge, passing motorists say they have heard either the shrill cry of an infant ghost — local legend says it’s the spirit of a baby who was thrown over the bridge by her ashamed, murderous mother — or the Goatman, stealthily awaiting his next victim.
Mark Moran, co-author of “Weird U.S.,” said he and co-author Mark Sceurman took about a year to travel nationwide to investigate and research these, and many other, haunted places nationwide, many of which were “tips” from readers. After they published “Weird NJ” — a compilation of spooky tales from New Jersey — in 2003, the authors began receiving letters from across the country, telling them strange tales from their home states.
“What we do is listen to what people tell us is weird about their own hometown,” Mr. Moran said. “I don’t know if these stories are fact or fiction, but what I do believe is that the people who tell us their story truly believe it.”
SECRET SEANCE RITUALS
Shannon Taggart was never a big believer in ghosts. But that changed in 2001, during one of her first visits to Lily Dale — a hamlet in southwestern New York state that’s home to the world’s largest spiritualist community.
The Brooklyn photojournalist was taken by surprise while watching a private reading with Gretchen Clark, a fifth-generation medium.
“All of a sudden, she started laughing at nothing,” Taggart tells The Post. “Apparently the spirit of her brother was in the room and told her a joke.”
“I told him not to interrupt me while I’m working,” Clark explained to her client and then turned to an empty spot and yelled, “Chapman, we’ve talked about this!”
She composed herself and returned to the reading and then just as quickly turned back to Taggart.
“Margaret’s here,” Clark announced.
“Margaret? I don’t know any Margaret,” Taggart insisted.
Clark closed her eyes and listened. “She says ‘Texas.’ What does ‘Texas’ mean?”
Taggart instantly knew. “My great aunt Margaret lived in Texas and she’d died a few months earlier,” Taggart says. “I’d totally forgotten. My whole body just tensed up. It was truly spooky.”
That encounter was just the beginning of a spiritual awakening for Taggart, who would spend the next 18 years documenting mediums in New York as well as Essex, England, and Antequera, Spain. More than 150 of her photographs, many never before seen, are published in her new book “Séance” (Fulgur Press).
Taggart didn’t set out to prove or disprove spiritualism. Rather, she says, she was driven by “a sinking feeling that these mediums knew something about life that I didn’t.”
When she first traveled to Lily Dale, it was out of curiosity.
Years earlier, her cousin had learned from a medium that their grandfather hadn’t died from heart disease — as Taggart had always believed — but by asphyxiation. She laughed off the story, until her parents confirmed it.
“Someone at the hospital put food into his mouth and left him alone,” her father had said, “and he choked.”
This story stayed with Taggart over the years, and she became consumed with “how a total stranger could have known the details of this tragedy.”
In 2001, at age 26, she decided to visit Lily Dale despite knowing nothing about the place except that it was a short drive from Buffalo, where she grew up, and the medium who revealed her grandfather’s secret had lived there.
The town was founded as a gated spiritualist summer retreat in 1879, and not much has changed since then. With a population of some 275 residents — many of whom are practicing mediums — it looks like a town frozen in the mid-19th century. Narrow roads are lined with old-fashioned houses, many adorned with signs announcing “the medium is in.” A rickety wooden auditorium in the center of town is typically “papered with flyers advertising trumpet séances, past-life regressions, astral-travel workshops, spoon-bending classes and circles to develop mediumship,” Taggart writes.
She arrived with no plan and was initially too nervous to do anything but drive around.
But Taggart eventually wrote a letter to Lily Dale Assembly’s board of directors asking permission to take photos during what she first thought would be “one summer making a photo essay about this quirky little town.”
“I would just wander around and literally knock on people’s doors and say, ‘Would you talk to me? Would you teach me about spiritualism?’?” she recalled. “And they very graciously did.”
What she learned from them wasn’t necessarily how to communicate with ghosts. It was a peek into a shadowy subculture that “was once a seminal force in Western culture,” Taggart writes. “A legacy that was absent from every textbook I had ever studied, including my histories of photography.”
Spiritualism — a belief system based not just on the existence of spirits, but the idea that they want to stay in contact with the living — was once part of the mainstream. It was embraced by public figures like psychoanalyst Carl Jung, evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, poet William Butler Yeats and even Abraham Lincoln. But today, it’s almost entirely hidden.
“It flourishes in fiction and entertainment but is marginalized by academia and the media,” Taggart writes. The contemporary Western worldview is that spiritualism is the stuff of fiction. But after what Taggart witnessed, and photographed, she wasn’t so sure.
As her exploration took her overseas, she learned that not all mediums started out wanting to be mediums.
Reverend Jane from Erie, Pa., found the calling at age 6, when “she saw a spirit standing inside her grandmother’s closet,” Taggart writes, and discovered she could make supermarket cans fly across shelves and candles do somersaults in the air.
Others came to it after being triggered by the grief of losing a loved one.
British medium Simone Key, a lifelong atheist, was drawn to spiritualism after her mother passed and she began getting messages, on her long-broken word processor, that read: “We must communicate.”
Annette Rodgers of Essex, England, felt the calling after her 16-year-old daughter, Lauren, died from a heroin overdose. Two years later, still deep in depression, Rodgers attended a spiritualist church “on a whim and immediately felt ‘Yes, this is what I need,’?” she told Taggart.
She now runs a spiritualist center in Spain and says her dead daughter visits regularly.
“I once saw Lauren turn Annette’s iPhone around on a table,” a fellow medium recounted to Taggart. “Her connection to her mother is that strong.”
But mediumship isn’t limited to communication with dead loved ones. Sometimes things get awkward.
Lily Dale medium Betty Schultz recalled a reading she had with a Catholic priest who was a regular client. “The spirits showed Betty a baby who had died and told her the priest was its father,” Taggart writes. Betty silently insisted to the spirits that there was no way she’d be sharing this information.
Without explaining why, she sent him to another medium — who later scolded Schultz: “Why didn’t you give that man the message from his baby?”
Taggart developed close friendships with some of her photo subjects, like Lauren Thibodeau, a longtime Lily Dale resident who found her way to spiritualism without any warning. She explained how she first went into a trance on New Year’s Eve 1989 in front of her husband and his friend, the best man from their wedding, “who never came to their home again,” writes Taggart.
Thibodeau shared one of the biggest headaches of spiritualism: uninvited famous people. Most mediums want nothing to do with celebrity ghosts — there’s no faster way to drive away an on-the-fence skeptic than “I have a message from Albert Einstein” — but Thibodeau says it’s sometimes unavoidable.
She remembers a session in which Elvis Presley’s ghost showed up unannounced.
“No!” Thibodeau shouted at the ghost. “I’m not doing this, get out of here!”
When the spirit refused to leave, Thibodeau apologized to her clients. “I’m sorry, I have Elvis here and I don’t know why,” she said. She then learned that the mother of the woman she was doing a reading for had been a housekeeper at Graceland.
For Thibodeau, it was a lesson in not being too quick to cast judgment. “Now, any time a spirit comes, regardless of who they are, I’ll give a message,” she told Taggart. “I don’t shoo them away. We communicate with dead people, and a dead celebrity is still dead.”
Even after almost two decades following mediums, Taggart isn’t sure she’d call herself a believer just yet. “I no longer subscribe to the popular belief that spiritualists are charlatans just trying to make money off of people,” Taggart says. “For the most part, I found them to be very sincere.”
But as for whether she believes in ghosts and life after death, the now 44-year-old is still on the fence. The closest she comes to sounding like a convert is when discussing an unsettling experience from 2013. It happened while she was visiting Sylvia and Chris Howarth, a married medium couple in England.
The morning after watching Sylvia do a séance in the dark — something the experienced spiritualist rarely did because “sometimes the phenomena continued into the next day” — Taggart was making tea in their kitchen and reached to open a cupboard.
“The ceramic knob exploded in my hands,” Taggart remembers. “Half of it shot into the air and crashed to the floor. The other half became razor-sharp and cut into my hand, and it started gushing blood.” Chris ran into the room, reached for the broken knob, and soon he was bleeding too.
“Just telling that story again, it gives me chills,” Taggart says.
So was it a paranormal encounter? She isn’t sure.
“All I know is, I still have a scar because of what happened that day,” she says. “And I still think about it all the time. So who knows?”