The True Horror of the “MURDER IN KLUXEN WOODS,” and a creepypasta, “FERTILIZER!” #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: I’ll share a disturbing creepypasta by Rehn Writer called “Fertilizer”. But first, I’ll share a chapter from the upcoming audiobook, “Suffer the Children: American Horrors, Homicides and Hauntings” by Troy Taylor. The chapter is entitled “1921: Murder at Kluxen’s Woods” – a murder that has yet to be officially solved, although many hundreds of people in the area feel they know exactly who got away with murder. A murder that resulted in a haunting.
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“Fertilizer” by RehnWriter: https://www.creepypasta.com/fertilizer/
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The sun had just dipped below the skyline in the town of Madison, New Jersey. Along Fairview Avenue, the street was already soaked in deep shadows by 5:30 in the evening. It was the woods that made the street so dark. The tall trees and the thick underbrush of what everyone called Kluxen’s Woods loomed over the roadway. It would have made the journey of the young girl who was walking next to them an eerie one if she had not made the same trip so many times before. Janette Lawrence, who lived with her parents at 142 Ridgedale Avenue, a house directly across the street from Kluxen’s Woods, was on her way home. She had been babysitting for a couple of hours at the home of the James A.G. Sandt family at 19 Fairview Avenue. It was a regular job for her and she adored four- year-old Madeline Sandt, with whom she’d spent many afternoons. Each day, Janette had walked along this same stretch of road, past this same patch of woods – but this day would be different. Janette, a seventh-grade student at the Green Avenue School, was a pretty girl, tall for the age of 11, with light-brown hair and a luminous smile. She was caring, smart, and very responsible, which was why she was so in demand by neighbor families to watch after their children when they were away. On this particular day – October 6, 1921 – she had just left the Sandt house and was on her way home. Mrs. Mary Friedlander, a neighbor, saw her waving goodbye to little Madeline at 5:35 p.m. Janette passed Mary’s house with a short wave and then continued on down the street. This was another ordinary occurrence. Janette was a friendly, polite girl and always had a smile for friends and neighbors. It was a chilly afternoon and Janette buttoned up her coat as she walked. She carried her school books with her. She had hurried to Mrs. Sandt’s house to watch Madeline after school and she had some homework that still needed to be finished. As she was walking, she heard the clear ring of a bicycle bell behind her. She looked back and saw her friend, Bertha Crane, riding in her direction. Bertha grinned as she got close and slowed down. “I’ve got something to tell you!” she called out to Janette. “Can you stop by?” “I can’t,” Janette replied, “I’ve got to hurry home.” “I’ll see you tomorrow at school then,” Bertha said and rode off in the direction of her house. Janette waved and continued walking. She was almost home – but she never got there. Bertha turned out to be the last person – except for her killer – to ever see Janette Lawrence alive.
…I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode of Weird Darkness…
I’ll share a disturbing creepypasta by Rehn Writer called “Fertilizer”.
But first, I’ll share a chapter from the upcoming audiobook, “Suffer the Children: American Horrors, Homicides and Hauntings” by Troy Taylor. The chapter is entitled “1921: Murder at Kluxen’s Woods” – a murder that has yet to be officially solved, although many hundreds of people in the area feel they know exactly who got away with murder. A murder that resulted in a haunting.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
MURDER AT KLUXEN’S WOODS
(continued from beginning of podcast)
Anyone who grew up in Northern New Jersey in the first half of the twentieth century was probably familiar with the Kluxen Winery. The winery, founded by a German immigrant named Francis Kluxen, began operations in 1865. It survived Prohibition by producing sacramental wines for Catholic and Episcopal churches across the country. But by the early 1970s, its glory days were over. When the winery at 28 Fairview Avenue in Madison was torn down to make way for new homes, the demolition became a major event in the area.
The winery had been standing for nearly a century. The large, vine-covered structure had been located near Francis Kluxen’s Fairview Avenue home. For many decades, there was a section of woods on the grounds of Kluxen’s estate that was bordered on the south by Fairview Avenue and on the west by Ridgedale Avenue. The locals called it “Kluxen’s Woods” and children from the neighborhood often played there, including his son, Francis, Jr., and his grandson, Francis III. When Kluxen died in May 1914, the area newspapers published long, glowing obituaries, praising his many civic and political contributions to the community. By that time, one of his two sons, Herman, was running the winery, and his other son, Francis, Jr., his wife, Kate, and his son, Francis III, were living in the house at 28 Fairview Avenue. They were the most influential family in the area.
The success of the winery had spread the Kluxen name throughout the United States, but it was Kluxen’s Woods – and not their fine wines – that made newspaper headlines in the fall of 1921. What happened in the woods remains one of the most chilling unsolved cases in the history of New Jersey murder.
It was on October 6, 1921, that Janette Lawrence vanished while walking home past Kluxen’s Woods. The last person to see her was her friend, Bertha Crane, but it’s possible that her mother heard the last sounds that Janette ever made. The young girl had been nearly home when Bertha left her and just moments later, Janette’s mother, Rosetta, reported later that she’d heard an unusual cry – a kind of “gurgle” – in the fading light of the day. She said that it sounded “like a child in convulsed laughter.” But was it the sound of Rosetta’s daughter, or her killer?
A few minutes later, Janette’s 15-year-old brother, Edson, came into the house and asked where his sister was. It was getting late and he offered to walk her home if she was still babysitting. Rosetta told him to go to the Sandts’ house and see if Janetta was still there. After Edson left, Rosetta became worried. It was unlike Janette to be so late getting home. After pacing the kitchen for a few minutes, she finally went out and stood on the sidewalk and called Janette’s name.
There was no reply. When Edson returned and told her that Janette had left for home nearly an hour before, panic set in and the search began in earnest. Neighbors joined in and the police were contacted. Madison Police Chief Fred R. Johnson, along with Lieutenant William J. Ryan, arrived around 7:00 p.m. By then, it was dark.
At 7:30, two teenaged neighbors of the Lawrences – Walter Schulz and Chauncey Griswold, both Boy Scouts with experience in the forest – found Janette’s lifeless body in Kluxen’s Woods. She was lying near the stump of a large tree. A number of trees had recently been cleared for a new street through the woods and the stump was along a rough trail that the contractors had cleared.
Janette was lying on blood-soaked grass. She had been stabbed 23 times. A large handkerchief was tied around her neck and her hands were tightly tied behind her back with cord. Her dress was gathered around her waist and her underclothes had been pulled down to her ankles. Some of the stab wounds had torn through her clothing, but others had not, suggesting that some of the stabbing followed – or accompanied – the rape. The deepest wound penetrated her stomach and perforated her kidney. She had also been knifed in the throat and, according to the Newark pathologist, her death had been caused by the severing of the blood vessels in her neck.
When word spread about the murder, the residents of Madison were outraged. This was an unspeakable crime against a young girl and could not be tolerated in the upscale, industrious community that the people believed their city was. The sordid rape and murder of Janette Lawrence shattered the illusion that Madison was safe from the kind of crime that occurred in places like New York City.
The police promised that the case would soon be solved. Janette’s killer, they said, would be brought to justice. But, as it turned out, that was a promise they were unable to keep.
On Friday, the day after the murder, Madison’s acting mayor Frank F. Gibney, and the borough council directed Police Chief Johnson to arrest 14-year- old Francis Kluxen III on suspicion of the murder of Janette Lawrence. Lieutenant Ryan made the arrest, escorting the boy to police headquarters. After four hours of questioning, he was taken to the county jail in Morristown.
There was no explanation for the arrest and no information released about what was said in the interrogation room. Chief Johnson wasn’t talking to reporters and neither was the mayor.
When Supreme Court Justice Charles W. Parker asked Mayor Gibney, “What facts have come into your possession creating evident proof where presumption of guilt warrants this boy being held?” the mayor seemed puzzled. “We have hardly had time to come to a conclusion,” he replied, and yet they had ordered the boy to be arrested. What was going on?
After questioning Chief Johnson and the Morris County Sheriff Ethelbert Byram, Judge Parker reached his own conclusion. “He seemed to have been arrested without the slightest justification,” he declared and added, as he granted bail, “The boy’s people are substantial citizens.”
From the start, investigators pursued what they regarded as the most significant clue – the cord that had been used to tie Janette’s hands behind her back was the kind used by greenhouses to bind roses for shipment. Since the turn of the century, Madison had been known as the “rose capital of America.” There were a number of greenhouses in the community that specialized in roses and shipped them throughout the country. Now detectives from Morris County and Newark began to question local greenhouse employees, including those at Barton’s Greenhouse on Fairview Avenue – near the scene of the crime – and at Ruzicka’s in Florham Park.
But there were also problems with the investigation from the beginning. No one from Madison had informed the Morris County prosecutor, John M. Mills, that Francis Kluxen was going to be arrested. After the borough council hastily demanded the arrest – with no evidence to support it – the prosecutor made his displeasure with the situation known. The resentment between officials in Morristown and Madison, caused by the council’s actions, affected the entire investigation that followed.
One result of this disagreement was a stubborn refusal by Mills to consider the idea that Francis could have been involved in the murder. He was fixated on finding a greenhouse employee who was near the scene of the crime – and he soon found one. Frank Jancarek was 29-years-old and the brother-in-law of Arthur Ruzicka, owner of the greenhouse in Florham Park. Frank had been working there for several years.
Frank had come to the attention of detectives from the Morris County prosecutor’s office – which highlights another problematic issue in that there were several different jurisdictions working the case, none of them cooperating with the others – because he had been near Kluxen’s Woods around the time that Janette was murdered. That was the sole reason that he fell under suspicion. His explanation for being there seemed peculiar, but harmless. He said that he had made an appointment to meet his brother, Jerry – who worked at the nearby Barton’s greenhouses — at 5:00 p.m. at the corner of Ridgedale and Fairview Avenues. They were getting together so that Frank could tell him that day’s score in the second game of the World Series between the New York Giants and New York Yankees.
On his trip to meet his brother, Frank brought with him a New York newspaper containing an account of the game, for which he’d had to wait at the United Cigar Store in Madison until 5:20 p.m. That was when the latest edition of the paper was delivered. Now running late, he hurried down Central Avenue and arrived at the corner at 5:30 p.m.
This was what put him at – or at least near – the scene of the murder. But it took a disgruntled, recently fired employee of Ruzicka’s to get Frank into real trouble. The former worker, Frank McGrory, was a mentally unstable ex-convict who claimed he met Jancarek on the night of the murder and that Jancarek had confessed to killing Janette. McGrory told this story to the police about three weeks after the murder. Frank admitted that he had seen McGrory that night but denied making any such confession.
When the Morris County investigators found a “dagger” – it was actually a letter opener – in the bedroom of Frank’s rooming house in Florham Park, he became the prime suspect. Later, two investigators from Newark found another knife, badly rusted, that McGrory claimed to have lent Frank on the morning of the murder and which he tossed off the Columbia Bridge that night.
Now, the prosecutor had two knives and a case built entirely on the testimony of an ex-convict with mental problems and a grudge against the family of the man he was accusing of murder.
What could go wrong? Meanwhile, the case against Francis Kluxen III had not gone away. Even though evidence against the 14-year-old boy was just as flimsy as that against Frank Jancarek, the Madison borough council and the local police were just as convinced that he was involved in the murder. He had been in trouble numerous times and while that in itself did not make him a killer, they felt that it did make him a plausible suspect.
The single-minded pursuit of separate suspects by the town and the county prevented any possible cooperation between the two authorities. Each was determined to make a case against their own suspect – and damn the consequences.
On October 25, Prosecutor John M. Mills ordered the arrest of Frank Jancarek. Despite the protests of the Madison borough council, the scant evidence against him was presented to a grand jury in Morristown, starting on November 3. Justice Charles W. Parker supported the authority of the prosecutor, advising the grand jury “that in a case of unlawful interference in the exercise of your functions, a prompt indictment of the offender or offenders would be full justified.” Judge Parker’s warning quieted the protests from the borough council for the time being.
All the members of the Madison borough council were summoned before the grand jury, as well as Janette’s neighbors, including Bertha Crane, the Friedlanders, and Mrs. Sandt, whose child she had often cared for in the afternoons. Some of the evidence presented seemed to implicate Francis Kluxen rather than Frank Jancarek, but Mills was not interested in seeking an indictment against the boy. His focus was on Frank, who allegedly had all but convicted himself of murder in the conversation with McGrory on the night of the murder – or so the ex-convict continued to claim. And the grand jury believed him. They indicted Frank Jancarek on November 29.
Frank’s trial was originally supposed to start on January 9, but a series of delays moved it to April 3. Andrew Van Blarcom, a well-known Newark attorney, was hired to represent him. He was assisted by Joshua R. Salmon, a former Morris County judge. Van Blarcom promised to not only prove that his client was innocent, he would also expose the identity of the true killer.
Although John Mills had planned to oversee the prosecution, he announced soon after Jancarek’s indictment that he would ask New Jersey Attorney General Thomas F. McCran to come to Morristown and present the state’s case. McCran agreed to do so. Soon after, the Madison borough council decided to hire its own attorney, Robert H. McCarter, a former state attorney general, to counter the criticism that was being leveled against the council by both Mills and McCran.
Much of that criticism had to do with a letter that Dr. G.A. Smith, superintendent of the New York State Hospital at Central Islip, Long Island, had sent to Madison’s Chief Johnson. Dr. Smith stated that a patient in his hospital, Reuben Weiss, had talked “in a raving manner about having murdered a young woman in Madison.” Chief Johnson had filed the letter away and had forgotten about it. It was common to get such “confessions” in murder cases, he said. He didn’t give this one any credence. It turned out that Johnson was right – Weiss knew nothing about the case other than what he’d read in the newspaper – but the fact that Johnson withheld the letter because he didn’t want to muddy the waters with another suspect drew the wrong kind of attention to the borough council’s investigation.
It was becoming obvious that, somewhere along the way, authorities on both sides lost sight of the fact that a young girl had been murdered. The investigation had been deteriorated into two feuding camps, each trying to convict an improbable suspect while Janette’s actual killer remained unpunished.
Newspaper reporters covering Jancarek’s case clearly believed that he was being railroaded. They also took a dim view of the upscale treatment that was being given to witness Frank McGrory, who they noted was “a star boarder at the country jail. The man is paid $1 a day for his meals. McGrory has developed into a ‘man about town’ at the county seat and is frequently seen at the moving pictures, wrestling matches, and other diversions.”
In contrast, Frank Jancarek, “does not have things so easy. He is spending time in a cell that is said to be ill-ventilated. The place is dirty. Rats run over his bed during the night; the food is poor; paper and trash are allowed to accumulate. The matter was taken up with Sheriff Byram, who said it was up to the keeper to see the man got the right treatment.”
Finally, six months after the murder – and more than four months after he was indicted – Frank’s trial got underway. A large crowd gathered at the courthouse at its start on April 3 and grew larger with each of the eight days that followed.
One of the most important early witnesses was H.G.A. Nilsson, who lived at 150 Ridgedale Avenue, a few houses away from the Lawrence family. He said that on the night of the murders, he had arrived in Madison at 5:15 p.m., having taken a trolley home from Chatham, where he worked. He had walked from the trolley stop on Central Avenue toward his home, reaching the Lawrence home at 142 Ridgedale at about 5:40 p.m. There he saw Mrs. Lawrence and Janette standing in the yard talking. Nilsson also claimed that he saw Frank Jancarek lurking nearby, trying to hide behind a bush.
He’d never seen Frank before, but he knew it was him because Sheriff Byram had sent him into a room where several men were lined up and asked him to pick out the one that he had seen on October 6. Before making his choice, Nilsson left the room and discussed the man’s appearance with the sheriff. When the defense attorney asked him why he did this, he replied. “I wanted to be sure.” When Nilsson went back into the room, he pointed out Frank Jancarek.
Van Blarcom was obviously uncomfortable with the way that the identification was made. He asked Nilsson, “Didn’t you pick out the man in your mind, and then change your mind after talking to the sheriff?”
“No, never,” Nilsson said. The issue is that Frank’s presence on Ridgedale Avenue that night was never in question. He admitted to being there, planning to meet his brother to deliver the news about the World Series game. But why was he hiding behind a bush? It’s unlikely that he was. Nilsson also claimed that he saw Janette talking to her mother in front of the Lawrence house – but Janette never made it home that night. Nilsson likely mixed at least two different nights together in his mind and then recalled them as happening the same evening.
Or he was lying, which is another very strong possibility. Whichever it was, no one called him on it and the testimony was allowed to stand.
On the sixth day of the trial, Frank Jancarek took the witness stand. He offered a chronology for himself – in great detail – about the day of the murder. Yes, he was near the Kluxen’s Woods around the presumed time of the murder, but he was never in the woods. Yes, he had seen Frank McGrory as he was walking home. He knew him from working at Ruzicka’s. According to Jancarek, he ran into him on South Orange Avenue. When McGrory told him that he’d had nothing to eat all day, Jancarek invited him to come home and have supper with him and his mother, which McGrory did. Afterwards, the two of them had walked toward the Columbia Bridge to see if work was being done on it. If it was, a construction job might be available for McGrory, who had recently been fired.
On the way back, they saw a car that had gone into a ditch. They helped the owner get it back on the road. Returning to the Jancarek house, McGrory retrieved a coat that he’d left there. Jancarek then accompanied McGrory to a nearby shed where the ex-convict had been sleeping. He left him at the shed and went home. Frank insisted that they’d had no discussion about any rape or murder.
When Weird Darkness returns, we’ll continue with the story of the Murder at Kluxen’s Woods.
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The prosecution then went after the small amount of physical evidence that had been recovered. The letter opener from Frank’s bedroom as turned over to Dr. Albert Edel, a chemist in Newark, to test for bloodstains. Edel was a German immigrant and graduate of the University of Berlin. He testified that he had performed such tests 12 times in the 22 years that he had been in the United States. He found no bloodstains on the blade, but when he pried off the handle, he found human bloodstains on the metal and wooden parts of the letter opener. But whose blood? There was no way to know. Those kinds of tests wouldn’t be available for many decades to come.
Dr. Edel was also given hair from both Janette and Frank Jancarek. Detectives also gave him the sweater that Janette had been wearing when she was killed. He found 12 hairs on it and one of them was not hers. He testified that the one hair “closely resembled” Jancarek’s in color and texture, but, of course, he could not say absolutely that it was his. In any event, Dr. Edel had thrown the hairs away. He did have a slide that illustrated his comparison, but the actual evidence, was gone.
When defense attorney Joshua Salmon later summarized the case, he was particularly brutal with Dr. Edel and his evidence. He urged the jury that they should disregard anything the German doctor had to say simply because he was German. The trial took place in 1922, just four years after the end of World War I, and it was considered “patriotic” at the time to ridicule anything – or anyone – who was German, since they had been America’s enemy such a short time before. In addition to casting suspicion on Francis Kluxen because his ancestors came from Germany, they also introduced theories and evidence that looked bad for Kluxen. When Van Blarcom was cross-examining Chief Johnson, he was asked about the footprint measurements that were taken at the scene of the crime. They were found all around the tree stump near where Janette’s body had been found and a trail led away from there to a water hydrant. Detectives surmised that the killer might have washed off blood from the murder there. Johnson had compared them with shoes taken from both prime suspects in the murder – and had found a match.
“Where did you get the shoes?” Van Blarcom asked, referring to the ones that matched the size of the tracks found in the woods.
“At the Kluxen house,” Johnson replied.
Later in the trial, Kate Kluxen was called to the stand by the prosecution, perhaps to bolster her son’s testimony, which had been mercilessly shredded by the defense. During his cross-examination, Van Blarcom noted that on the night of the murder, Mrs. Kluxen had placed her son’s trousers in a pail of water to soak. She said this was because his pants often got stained when he worked on the wine press.
“Did you ever find it necessary to put Francis’s trousers in to soak before?” Van Blarcom questioned her.
Mrs. Kluxen paused before she answered. “No, they were never before stained to the extent they were that night.”
A long line of defense witnesses testified as to the good character of Frank Jancarek. Even Sheriff Byram – a prosecution witness – acknowledged that Frank had good qualities. Awhile back, in a rape case in Somerville, Frank had assisted the police in their investigation of the crime and had testified for the state. He was a solid citizen, a hard-worker from a good family who owned a local business, and he’d never been in trouble with the law. He was, some surmised, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and fell under suspicion.
Frank McGrory – Jancarek’s chief accuser – was another story. While a few regarded the former inmate as rational and believable, a greater number described him as mentally unhinged. Witnesses described a lot of bizarre behavior – throwing chairs, offering apples to imaginary people, speaking to imaginary people in the greenhouse before he was fired, and even wailing “fits” that stretched out for minutes at a time. When questioned, McGrory denied that he had been promised a reward or a job for helping to convict Jancarek, although he admitted that he knew a reward had been offered.
It took the jury less than an hour to find Frank Jancarek not guilty of the murder of Janette Lawrence.
The newspapers widely reported the story – most reporters didn’t believe him guilty anyway – but asked the question that everyone wanted an answer for: If not Jancarek, then who killed Janette?
It was widely believed that Prosecutor Mills, aided by Attorney General McCran, had gone after the wrong man. Locals wanted the real killer brought to justice — Francis Kluxen III. And they didn’t want John Mills or Thomas McCran to be involved in the case.
Mills was happy to excuse himself from further participation but McCran, argued that he “was then, as I am now, in complete charge of the matter for the state.” This announcement came in response to a letter from Robert H. McCarter, the attorney for the Madison borough council, who called on McCran to recuse himself because of his zealous prosecution of Frank Jancarek. As McCarter noted, “necessarily deprives you of the influence you should have in laying any further evidence that may be presented before the grand jury.”
McCran wasn’t swayed by the valid argument against him and in May, appeared before a grand jury in Morristown to present evidence in the case. This move caught McCarter and the borough council by surprise. McCarter had not yet prepared a response to McCran’s last statement and yet the attorney general was trying for a new indictment. Several witnesses appeared before the grand jury, including Chief Johnson. As far as anyone knew, there was no remaining suspect in the murder except for Francis Kluxen.
On Friday, June 2, the teenager was indicted for murder and he was immediately taken back into custody. He was placed in the same cell that Frank Jancarek had occupied for five months. Kluxen’s attorney, Elmer King, moved to quash the indictment on the grounds that his client had been a witness at Jancarek’s trial, but Judge Charles Parker denied the motion. Francis entered a not guilty plea.
At this point, McCran decided that he didn’t want to act as prosecutor in the new trial, so Judge Parker picked J. Henry Harrison of Newark, a former Essex County prosecutor to conduct the state’s case.
The Madison borough council had gotten what it wanted – a trial with a new special prosecutor – but did any more evidence exist against Kluxen than there had been against Frank Jancarek? On the surface, the evidence looked just as weak and circumstantial. Kluxen was in the vicinity at the time of the murder and he owned a Boy Scout knife that could have been used as the murder weapon. He also had access to the same kind of cord that had been used to bind Janette, since the Kluxen Winery also used the same kind of cord that the local greenhouses did. So, what then was new in this case, other than the fact that Jancarek had a good reputation in the community while Francis was considered a troublemaker by those who knew him?
Rumors claimed that the evidence that Attorney General McCran had presented to the grand jury was much more detailed and persuasive than what Mills had presented against Jancarek the previous autumn. Many people in Madison believed Janette’s murder was just about to be solved.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t have been more wrong. Convicting Francis Kluxen III was not going to be easy. Legal maneuvering by Elmer King started before the trial date was even set. He convinced the justices on the New Jersey Surpreme Court that a change of venue was needed. An impartial jury could not be drawn from Morris County, he stated. Public opinion was so strong in the Madison area that his client would not be able to get a fair trial. For that reason, it was moved to Morristown and the jury would be selected from Essex County.
The trial began in July and King – just as Jancarek’s attorneys had done with Kluxen – tried hard to implicate Jancarek in Janette’s murder. Many of the same witnesses appeared, telling the same stories they had already told.
One major difference in this trial was that was no purported “confession.” Kluxen, now 15 and large for his age – six-feet, two inches tall and 170 pounds – denied that he had seen Janette on the day of the murder. On the morning of October 6, he told the jury that he had worked in the winery until 12:30 p.m. and had badly stained his trousers with grape juice. Ordinarily, he would have been in school that day, but he had recently been expelled from St. Vincent’s parochial school in Madison. The principal noted that his behavior was “abnormal” and his behavior was too troubling for the nuns to handle. During the previous summer, he had been sent home from Boy Scout summer camp for repeatedly breaking the rules. At the time of his trial, he was still waiting to be enrolled in a boarding school in Baltimore.
Kluxen testified that he knew Janette “only slightly,” having skated with her on a nearby pond during the winter, but he had never played with her. However, several people who knew both children disputed this claim. One of them, Mrs. Sadie Miller, a neighbor to both, recalled that she once heard Janette screaming, and going out of her home to see what was wrong, found Francis with one arm raised, apparently throwing something away. Janette complained to Sadie that the boy was always bothering her. She testified that Francis yelled at Sadie, “Damn you! I’ll get you yet!”
Joseph Luciano, another neighbor, reported that he had once seen Janette and Francis near a shed on Ridgedale Avenue. They were yelling at each other. When Luciano walked over to see what was going on, he heard Janette cry, “Let me go!” When he reached the scene, Kluxen quickly left.
Whatever the relationship had been between the two of them, the newspapers reported that Kluxen “accounted for nearly every minute of his time on the day of the murder. He explained that, in the afternoon, he had gone to the train station and back in his uncle’s truck, how he had gone for a ride in a pony cart with his cousins, and how he had walked in Kluxen Woods with 14-year-old Anna Nilsson, showing her where he had fired a .22-caliber bullet into a tree while trying to shoot a squirrel.
After Anna left, he went home, carrying two bottles of milk he had bought. When he got there, he discovered that his pet rabbit had escaped. He sent his dog, Brownie, in search of the rabbit, but Brownie, instead of chasing the rabbit, went off after a neighbor’s cat. Francis then had to chase the rabbit and the dog through the woods, which was how he accounted for his footprints being found at the tree stump and the fire hydrant. He claimed that, sweaty from the pursuit, he opened the water hydrant to get a drink of water and rinse his hands and face. Prosecutor Harrison pointed out that if Kluxen spent this much time walking and running around in the woods so close to the time of the murder, then he must have seen something. How could he have no idea about what had happened there? But the defendant insisted that he had seen nothing.
During his testimony, Francis did admit that he regularly carried a Boy Scout knife on his belt. He also agreed that his mother had placed his badly stained trousers in a bucket of water to soak. But he insisted they were stained with grape juice, not blood.
The most damaging testimony concerned two handkerchiefs that were found at the crime scene. One of them was wrapped around Janette’s neck. The other – bearing the initial “F” – was stuffed into the tam-o’-shanter (traditional, beret-like Scottish hat) that she’d been wearing. Both handkerchiefs had been mended in a similar manner.
More than a month after the murder, investigators removed five handkerchiefs from a cabinet in a hallway outside of Francis’s bedroom. These five handkerchiefs had all been mended in the same way as the ones from the crime scene. All seven were put into evidence and the prosecution called Mrs. Mary C. Brower, a teacher of sewing and dressmaking, to testify about the mending that had been done to them. Mrs. Bower testified that the mending was all the work of one person, using the same technique. In addition, they’d used the same thread in all seven, which was noteworthy because it was too coarse for the job.
This was damaging testimony but didn’t actually prove anything. It was circumstantial, just like the rest of the evidence against Kluxen. No one had seen the murder committed. No one could even say that he was nearby when Janette was killed. Francis Kluxen may have been disliked by neighbors, but did that make him a murderer?
The jury didn’t think so – or at least they didn’t think that anyone had proved it. They deliberated for three hours before returning with a the second not guilty verdict in the same murder case. Kluxen appeared calm when the verdict was read, although his parents had fidgeted nervously. They took their son home to the house on Fairview Avenue. The Kluxen name had been sullied but it was not damaged beyond repair.
Two acquittals in two different Janette Lawrence murder trials raised serious questions about the way the case had been investigated in the first place. The crime hardly seemed beyond solution – the Madison borough council thought the killer was easily identified – but the case had not been solved to the satisfaction of two trial juries.
And it would never be solved. Frank Jancarek left Madison soon after his trial. He moved to Johnson City, Tennessee, married a girl named Blen Duke Bryant, and had two sons and four daughters with her. He worked for many years at the Johnson City Foundry, attended the Methodist Church, and lived a quiet, peaceful life. He passed away in 1979.
Francis Kluxen III, however, made plenty of newspaper headlines in the 1920s and 1930s. His next appearance in the papers involved his bizarre adoption in Orphan’s Court. A wealthy and highly respected 48-year-old bachelor, Monell Sayre, who lived in a grand mansion in Convent, had taken a liking to the boy during his murder trial. Sayre found Francis to have “such winning and upright qualities” that he proposed taking him under his wing and making him his legal heir.
Yes, this is all as strange as it sounds. Sayre was an esteemed resident of the region. His ancestors had settled in Morris County in 1665 and Sayre himself had been born two centuries later in 1875. He graduated from Harvard in 1898 and taught history at Columbia University. He left Columbia to become a staff member of the Carnegie Foundation, specializing in pensions, and worked closely with Andrew Carnegie in several ventures. Sayre was a lifelong Episcopalian and held many high positions in the church, most notably as the founder and administrator of the Church Pension Fund for the national church organization. He was considered the father of the church pension system and helped establish the pension fund for the clergy of the Church of England, at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Sayre was also active in Democratic politics. He ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives from New Jersey in 1922, 1924, and 1932.
To put it simply, Monell Sayre was an imposing presence in New Jersey. His plan to adopt Francis and make him his “ward” might have seemed very odd to people, but no one was going to say much about it – publicly, at least. The whole thing was peculiar. Francis had just been acquitted of murder and his parents had stood solidly behind him throughout his entire ordeal. His mother had wept unrestrainedly when the verdict was announced. And yes, five months later, the respected and well-to-do parents were ready to turn their son over to a middle- aged bachelor who had become acquainted with the boy only because he was on trial for murder. The upside was that Francis would soon become the sole heir to an enormous fortune. Was this the reason his parents went along with this weird and rather unsettling scheme? Or had they finally had their fill of the trouble that Francis was repeatedly getting himself into?
More importantly, did they believe that their son had committed murder? Perhaps – and perhaps they believed that Sayre’s wealth would keep him from falling under suspicion the next time that a young girl was found dead in the woods.
In Orphan’s Court, Kluxen’s father testified that the expenses of the murder trial had drained his resources and made him amenable to the idea of the boy’s adoption by a man of wealth and position. His mother agreed but wanted to make it clear to the court that her son’s adopted name would be Francis Kluxen Sayre, a last vestige of the family from which he had sprung.
Whoever it was on the Madison borough council that was quick to suspect Francis of murder would likely have predicted that the relationship between the boy and Monell Sayre would be an uneasy one. They could have pointed to an incident in 1923 as proof of this. Just before Christmas, Sayre brought Francis, now 16, to a service at the Grace Episcopal Church in Madison. The rector, Reverend Victor W. Mori, along with most of the congregation – who believed the boy had not only gotten away with murder but was now living in a situation that was questionable at best – were outraged by the appearance of Sayre and his companion. He left the church and even moved out of the area to Princeton. This move indicated the seriousness of Sayre’s problem, for his family had been the leading citizens of Morris County for 250 years. But the locals were angry over the situation he had created in ways that he had not expected. Sayre’s life and career were permanently and adversely affected by his association with the boy whose “winning and upright qualities” had so impressed him during the trial.
Francis took advantage of the older man and disregarded any feelings that Sayre had for him. In 1926, he left Sayre’s house and a year or so later, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in Portland, Oregon. Although he rose to the rank of first lieutenant and reenlisted in 1931, he won no awards for distinguished service. On Christmas Day 1932, he attacked two men in San Diego with a meat cleaver during a robbery. Both men were badly hurt but survived. Francis was given a suspended sentenced and fined $50.
In June 1933, he shot and killed an African-American man named Joe Hollman in San Diego. According to the story Francis told the police, Hollman, who lived next door, had been drinking with him, another man, and a woman earlier in the evening. When Hollman became drunk and abusive, he was asked to leave. He did, but soon returned with a gun, which he pointed at Francis’s friend, Douglas Mathewson, and Mrs. Ruth Foster, who owned the boarding house where he lived. Francis, who was out of the room at the time, slipped upstairs, grabbed a shotgun, came back down, and shot Hollman dead. A coroner’s jury found that Francis had killed Hollman in self-defense.
In April 1934, he was arrested again in San Diego. He was accused of committing nine burglaries in the city and county. Also charged with him was Ruth Foster, the woman that he’d saved from Hollman the previous year. The two of them were living together in a “fashionable section of San Diego” at the time of their arrest. Police found dozens of rifles, shotguns, and pistols in the house, “plus a stock of ammunition and more than $1,000 in loot.”
This time, Francis’s rap sheet and the physical evidence caught up with him. He was convicted and sentenced to serve up to 14 years at San Quentin. During the trial, he married his accomplice, who only ended up with probation. Not surprisingly, the marriage didn’t work out and sometime later, he married again. When he died on April 15, 1971, his obituary noted that he was survived by his wife, Thelma, and his daughter, Evelyn.
Four decades before his death, Francis had become estranged from Monel Sayre. The reason for the split is unknown, but Francis did continue to use the surname “Sayre” for the rest of his life. It probably didn’t matter much to Monel Sayre, though. He died unexpectedly at the Lafayette Hotel in Washington, D.C. on June 15, 1936. Whatever became of his estate seems to be a mystery. It’s apparent from his lifestyle that Francis didn’t inherit the wealth that he likely expected when Sayre adopted him. I have been unable to discover what might have happened to all the money.
The Kluxen Winery, freed from its connection to the boy that everyone in town believed was a murderer, continued to prosper. It finally came to an end in 1973 and the buildings were torn down. There is nothing that remains of the winery today. Kluxen’s Woods have been replaced by homes and there are no reminders today of what occurred along these quiet streets.
But there are the stories.
After the crumbling ruins of the winery were torn down in the 1970s, houses were built on the land that it once occupied. The site where Janette was murdered – and her body was found – is now someone’s backyard. Rumors spread that the area was haunted. Were they merely stories created because of a murder that had occurred more than 50 years earlier? Believe it or not, that seems unlikely. One of the families that moved into a new home was from outside the area. They knew nothing of Janette’s murder and yet one of the children began reporting the ghost of a young girl who appeared in his room. She was thin, he said, and tall, with light brown hair – a description that certainly matches that of Janette Lawrence. But more common were the stories that have continued for years – that motorists were spotting Janette’s apparition on Fairfield or Ridgedale Avenues, walking down the street, trying to make her way home from her babysitting job, just as she did on that cool night in October in 1921. Of course, Janette never made it and, the stories say, neither does her ghost.
Some of those who have seen her say that she vanishes when the headlights of their car illuminate her figure. She is recognizable. They say she is thin, has brown hair, and is wearing an old-fashioned skirt, coat, and a hat that looks like a beret. It’s not the usual clothing that children in the neighborhood wear, which is usually what gets their attention. As the car approaches, she disappears.
Could this be the ghost of Janette Lawrence, still walking the streets of the place where she once lived and unable to rest after a murder that has never been solved? It just might be. But until the day when she decides to speak to those passing motorists who see the girl by the side of the road, we’ll never know for sure.
Up next, it’s the Creepypasta, “Fertilizer” by Rehn Writer, when Weird Darkness returns!
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Today’s bonus audio for patrons is: “FINDING FLORA”. August 3, 1975, started out typically for Flora and Robert Stevens. They both had their own to-do list for the day, which was typical for them. Flora had a doctor’s appointment that she booked the day before due to a cold. Her husband, Robert, had a long list of things that he had to do after dropping his wife off at the medical clinic. Robert dropped Flora off, expecting to pick her up in an hour. He had no idea when they left the house that he would be going home alone later.
Find a link to today’s bonus audio just for patrons in the show notes! Become a patron at WeirdDarkness.com.
********** The moment I had signed the sales contract for the old farmhouse I’d been happier than I was in years.
You see, in life, I did everything right. I headed the advice of my teachers and parents. After I’d finished school, I went on to university and got my degree in business. I graduated with honors and started working at a fancy company. After a decade and a half, I’d climbed high enough on the corporate ladder to be head of the sale department. It meant quite the salary, but also more responsibility and more hours on the job. During these years I moved into a newer, fancier place every couple of years, bought more luxuries, but spent less and less time home enjoying it all. With each passing year, I grew to hate my life a bit more. I hated my job, my apartment and even the overcrowded city I lived in. I was yearning for a break and for some quiet and solitude.
When my uncle Dennis died, I was surprised to be named the sole benefactor. Apparently, he had no other relatives but me. Selling most of his property I left me with a substantial sum. With the savings I already had, I decided it was time for a change. I had long dabbled with the idea of moving to a rural area. Growing my own vegetables, get a few chickens and live a self-sustaining lifestyle far away from the big city sounded nice.
It had always been something I was interested in, a sort of fantasy. Reality was different. There were always deadlines to make, projects to finish and contracts to discuss and sing. Time moved along, and year after year I did nothing. Now though, enough was enough. I didn’t want to end up like the people who’d finally made it to retirement only to realize that they were now too old and feeble to follow their dreams. When I quit my job, my boss was surprised and flabbergasted. Of course, I still had my termination period of four weeks, but most of that time was spent to make adjustments.**********
While my boss was busy finding a replacement for me, I started to look around for a promising property. After a week of searching, I found it. It was an old farmhouse with quite a few plots around. It was located in a small village near a mountainous area. Until two years ago it had been owned by a woman, but after she’d died her son had put it up for sale.
When I visited the place, I saw that it was old and not just a bit run down, but I was sure all this could be fixed.
My last day of work arrived quickly.
It was a few weeks later that I finally signed the sales contract and started to move what few belongings I wanted to keep to the old farmhouse. Once I’d put together some sort of temporary living quarters, I decided it was time to move in.
I tried my hands at remodeling the old house myself, but I was soon reminded that I never had any talent using my hands. In the end, I gave up in frustration and contracted a company for it.
It took another couple of weeks, but once they were done the place looked nice, cozy and modern.
After the repairs on the chicken crop were finished, I bought half a dozen chickens and a roaster.
Being woken up by him in the morning reminded me of those childhood days I spent at my grandparent’s farm. The nostalgia flooded over me in pleasant waves as I drank my morning coffee.
By now I decided it was time to visit what few neighbors I had. To the north of me, quite a bit away lived an older lady and next to her a middle-aged couple whose kids went to middle school. After my initial introductions, I didn’t have much to do with them.
To the south lived an older couple, the Richters. They lived in a huge old farmhouse. They used to be farmers themselves when they were younger but had since retired. They were nice and assured me they’d help me out if I ever had any problems.
After that, there was only one person left, the old man living to the farm east of me. It was an old farmer who I guessed was in his late fifties or early sixties. He owned the fields adjacent mine. Only a small dirt road divided our properties. I’d seen him from afar a few times, but whenever I’d greeted him, he’d ignore me. His face was hard as if carved from stone, his lips were always pressed together, and he had a perpetually angry expression.
The moment I walked over towards his farm, he tried his best to ignore me yet again. When he saw that I walked towards him, he turned to me. His face showed that he’d rather do anything else, but talk to me.
“Hello, I’m Daniel Langscheidt, I bought the-“
“Know damn well who you are. You’re the guy who bought Lisbeth’s old house and made it all fancy and what not.”
“Eh, yeah, nice to meet you.”
With that, I held out my hand for a greeting. He didn’t budge or even look at the hand I was awkwardly holding out in the empty air between us.
“Why’d you move here?”
“Oh, I was going to try my luck at farming. I always wanted to grow my own,” I broke up as the old man burst into laughter.
“You? Farming? Your hands are as soft as a girl’s! This land is tough! I tell you right away that you won’t grow a damned thing here. We don’t need to city folks like out here! Pah!”
With that, he spat on the ground in front of me and without another word made his way towards his shack.
For a while I stood there, looking after the old guy. I was nothing short of surprised and dumbfounded. Why’d he thrown so much hate at me? What the hell was his problem?
More than a bit mad I want back home. What had I done to get this type of reaction? In the end, I told myself that he was most likely a miserable old fool, who hated himself and people in general. Not my problem.
From that point onward I tried my best to get the farm going. My knowledge was limited though, minimal. The internet with its endless information is fantastic, but it was all second-hand knowledge. I soon realized that if I ever wanted to learn how to do anything, I’d to get my own hands dirty.
I started with the old ladies small garden and planted a variety of different vegetables. The month after that I got the old greenhouse running again.
I soon had to learn that real life was no Harvest Moon. Running a farm and growing vegetable was tough. Needless to say, things didn’t grow well at all.
It was at a later meeting with Hans Richter and his wife that I learned that the ground here wasn’t the best anymore. They didn’t know what it was, but almost everyone had trouble getting things to grow here. You’d need a lot of care and fertilizer if you wanted to succeed.
A decade ago a few small time farmers were still living here. As things got harder, most of them abandoned the trade. Some turned to raise livestock, others changed to different professions.
There was only one, single person whose fields were still flourishing, Old Werner’s.
It turned out that Old Werner was no other than my next door neighbor. When I told the Richters how my introduction with him went, they both started to laugh. Werner was a bitter old man. He didn’t like people and had lived alone most of his life. He was a very solitary man. When I asked if something happened to him, they both said no. It was just how he was. I’d be best for me to ignore him. That’s what everyone else did anyway.
As I’d said, I took things slow, worked the garden, studied different types of seeds, how to take care of crops and many other topics. It was early summer by then, so much too late to actually sow anything on the fields. So I let them lay fallow for the year.
As summer moved along though I was surprised to see how the old man’s fields were bursting with rip grain and vegetables. Sure, they told me the old man was doing alright, but what I saw was more than that. No, he seemed to be doing pretty damn well. I could barely get a couple of tomato plants to bear fruit in the greenhouse, yet he had fields of them!
Harvest came and went. I was frustrated at my own inability to grown anything but also impressed at how well he was doing. I didn’t like it one bit.
As summer turned to autumn, there was one thing I found a bit strange. I often caught the old guy driving out in the middle of the night and returning back home a few hours later.
I’d noticed it by accident when I was out one night. I’d decided to take a walk in the mild autumn air and to gaze at the stars. I was on my way to the local viewing platform when a car approached me from behind. Its headlights were off, and it sped past me, yet I was sure I’d seen old Werner.
I didn’t think anything of it, yet I wondered why he drove around without his headlights on. My first thought was that he forgot them or hell, he might just be an asshole who liked to scare people.
In time I learned that the old man was making these ominous trips frequently. Always in the middle of the night and still without his headlights on. There was no other explanation, he was trying not to get noticed.
Well, to be honest, it was none of my business, and I told myself to ignore him and his weird antics. Yet, I couldn’t help but find it unnerving. I started to wonder what reason he had for this strange nightly trips. I didn’t help that he kept it up all autumn and continued well into early winter. It was a sheer mystery to me.
Once the new year began and spring came around I started to do the same as all other farmers: I started working my fields. I got quite a few stares and scoffs from old Werner. Many snide remarks were directed at me, or I’d see him laugh his ass off when things didn’t work out for me. To tell you the truth, I tried my very best to stay above this petite behavior. Every once in a while though I couldn’t help but yell back something similar.
I’d had a few very long talks with Hans Richter, and he’d been paying me the occasional visit. He helped me to get things going, advised me on when to sew what, what fertilizer to use and so many other important things. I have no clue what I’d have done without him. He was a godsend.
Still, it didn’t matter all too much. Things just didn’t grow. Each day I walked the fields looking at rows upon rows of barren earth. Only here and there a few lonely plants were growing. Old Werner’s fields, on the other hand, were thriving, and of course, the old man wasn’t shy rubbing it in.
“You city folks just don’t have it in you, that’s what it is,” he’d shout over at me and start laughing.
At other times he was a condescending asshole, pitying me. “That’s as far as you’ll get. If I were you, I’d give up while I still could. No reason to keep trying.”
I hated that damned old man.
One day, after I’d watered the few lonely plants that were growing, he came over to pull another one of his nasty jokes.
“Shouldn’t water them too much, don’t want these few plants you accidentally got to grow to go to waste, do you?”
“How the hell do you do it?” I asked instead of reacting to his remark.
He just stared at me.
“How come your crops are growing so well when no one else can do it? And don’t give me this city folk bullshit, everyone else tells me they’ve got trouble as well.”
The old man’s face started to distort into a knowing grin, yet he said nothing.
At that moment I remembered how often I’d seen him walk the fields with these unnamed bags of fertilizer.
“Is it that fertilizer of yours?”
“Heh, not as dumb as you look,” he answered.
“So what sort of fertilizer is it? Do you make it yourself? What do you put into it?”
The old man burst out laughing.
“You think I’m going to tell you a damn thing about it? Oh, I don’t think so!” he said spitting on the ground. “This is my very own, special formula. You’ve no idea what I’m going through to make it, to perfect it! Before I’d tell anyone, especially you, I’d rather have the devil take me away!”
Without another word, he turned around and stormed back to his farm.
As the weeks went on, most of my fields should stay barren. The old man’s were covered in lush green like they’d been the year before. What the hell was in that fertilizer of his, I wondered.
It was sometime later when I visited the Richters that I saw the local newspaper on the kitchen table. I halfheartedly opened it, and an article caught my eye.
“Middle-aged woman still missing since last autumn.”
The article was about a woman, a mother of two, who’d gone missing on a hiking trip in the nearby area, last year. When I started reading, Susan, Hans’ wife came over.
“Such a sad story… I wonder why it keeps happening.”
“Hold on, what do you mean?”
“Oh, it’s those hiking paths near the mountains. Each year people vanish there. The authorities say its slippery slopes and people aren’t careful enough. Why they don’t close it off?!”
“It really is something,” her husband said,” they always warn hikers and climbers, but people won’t listen. A mother of two, what was she even thinking?”
I listened to them and learned that more than a dozen people had gone missing near the mountain range. Last year it hadn’t only been the woman, but an older man as well. They said it was almost inevitable that people went missing there. Of course, people talked to the local council, but they didn’t listen. The normal hiking paths and climbing locations were safe and secure, and there were enough warnings about straying from them.
As I listened to them, there was something in the back of my mind. Something I couldn’t quite grasp.
Only when I returned home and saw Old Werner, stalking around his fields, did I remember what it was. The woman had gone missing in autumn. Wasn’t that the time when he went on all those trips?
I realized what my brain was trying to put together. The more I thought about it, the more everything did fit together. He drove out in the middle of the night, headlights off, to an unknown location. And there was this special fertilizer of his.
For a moment I couldn’t help but imagine Old Werner out on the hiking paths at night searching for lonely wanderers to turn them into fertilizer.
What was I thinking? I almost burst out laughing at my own ridiculous idea. This was not a movie, this was real life!
Somehow though I couldn’t completely get rid of the idea. I don’t know why I did it, but I started to spy on the old man. It might have been my frustration. It might have been boredom. It might have been the resentment I felt towards him. I’ not sure.
It was not that I believed in my idea. It was way too far-fetched. I told myself that all I wanted was to figure out how he grew his crops and what sort of fertilizer he used. I knew I was only lying to myself though. Now, I thought there was more about this old fool, his strange behavior and that fertilizer of his.
The more I thought about it, the more I was able to convince myself.
Whenever I saw him out in the fields, applying his fertilizer, my thoughts went back to the same topic. I told myself to stop and leave it alone, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t long before my curiosity turned into an obsession and I started to take tabs on him. I took notes on how often he went out, when he got up in the morning, how long he stayed up in the evening and many other things. It wasn’t like I had much else to do anyway. Most of my fields resembled a barren wasteland anyways.
After a couple of weeks, I had his whole routine written down. I knew pretty much everything that went on at his farm.
So I was more than a bit surprised when I saw him drive out with his car in the middle of the night on Saturday. He hadn’t done that in the past five weeks. It was by sheer coincidence that I’d even noticed it. It was already early morning when he returned.
I saw him get out of his car, but instead of going back inside, he went to the back of the car and opened the trunk. I the dark of the night, hunched behind my window, I pressed my binoculars against my head so hard, it hurt. My whole body tensed up, and I didn’t dare move or breath. In horror, I watched how Old Werner dragged something out of the trunk. It was long, big, and covered in a thick blanket. I watched as he heaved it over his shoulder.
As he took a first step towards his hack, I saw something long and thin dangle from the pack.
Oh, Jesus Christ, I thought. Don’t tell me… Was that what I thought it was? Had I really seen it? No, I must be wrong. I was seeing things. Maybe I’d imagined it. But what I’d seen dangling… It couldn’t be. I thought back to the woman in the newspaper article. Was this another one? Another victim? Another ingredient for his fertilizer?
I had to go there and find out more. I should take a look at the shack. The moment I saw how Old Werner returned from his shack, all thoughts about going there left my mind.
It was dark, but in the moonlight, I could clearly see that his hands and lower arms were covered in something. I saw his dark, angry expression as he made his way back to his house. My whole body was filled with fear. For the first time in my entire life I was honestly and utterly terrified.
I couldn’t help the urge to hide as soon as he’d walked back to his house. I knew there was no reason for it. The old guy couldn’t possibly see me. I had the lights off, and I was way too far away from him to notice anything at the windows.
Once he’d vanished inside, I started to calm down, at least a bit. My mind was still a crazed whirlwind of contradicting ideas. One part of it said I was stupid and nothing was going on. The other part told me that Old Werner was a crazed serial killer. Even in bed I couldn’t calm down and took me a long time till I actually fell asleep.
When the rooster awoke me in the morning, I was thankful that the few hours of sleep I’d had were undisturbed and free from dreams about bloodied old men.
While I was drinking my morning coffee, I watched his house as I’d done every morning for the past weeks. As if nothing had happened last night, the old man went out to take care of his fields.
Had this guy really murdered someone last night and dragged the body into his shack? As I sat there, I was almost shaking with curiosity. I had to find out, I had to.
I knew that every week, on Sunday evening, he spent an hour or two at his shack. During that time he most likely mixed up his fertilizer. Once he was done, he went back to his house and most likely straight to bed. This might be the best chance to see what he’s up to in there.
The whole day I was antsy and couldn’t sit still. I made plans what I’d do, how I’d approach and how I’d find a bloodied body lying on the floor of the shack.
When the day finally turned to night, I turned off the lights in my house to give him the impression I went to bed early. He’d believe it, I was sure. Us city folks don’t work as hard as he did, was what he most likely thought in his arrogance. All the while I sat at my window watching him with my binoculars.
My cue was when the lights of the shack turned off, and the old man went back into his house.
I dressed in all but black, and after waiting for another half an hour, I made my way outside.
With low and quiet steps I made my way over to his place. For the first time, I wasn’t mad at how well his corn had grown. It allowed me to get near his house without having to hide much.
Once I was closer, I checked out his farm from between the corn. The lights were off. There were no sounds, and nothing was moving. It was clear that the old man must have gone to bed. To be on the save side, I still waited for another ten minutes.
When they’d passed, I rushed to his shack. My heart was beating heavily when I’d made it, and everything stayed quiet.
I wasn’t too surprised to find the door locked by a padlock. Even I knew that there was no way that I’d be able to open it. I hadn’t imagined that I’d be lucky enough to find the door unlocked anyways.
No, I went for the window of the shack that I was able to see from my house. I knew it would be locked too, but it was one of these old wooden windows. It consisted of two shutters and was only held shut by a metal bolt in the center. I might be able to pry it open wide enough to loosen the bolt and open it.
Up next, it’s the conclusion of the creepypasta story, “Fertilizer” by Rehn Writer.
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Being cooped up inside during the plague of 2020 can have you climbing up the walls – but don’t lose your sense of humor. In fact, I’m here to help make sure you don’t. Weird Darkness is an official sponsor for the Laugh or Die Comedy Fest – and it’s online! Two dozen hilarious comedy films you can watch whenever you want through the rest of the month – because the festival is online and YOU click the play button! You can pay to see each movie separately, which would cost you over $160… OR… you can take advantage of the fact that you are a Weirdo family member and get to see all of the films for just TEN BUCKS! We all need a few laughs, and this is a cheap way to do it! We’ve set up a special link on the Weird Darkness website for just my Weirdo family to use. Visit WeirdDarkness.com and click on “Laugh or Die” to gain entry! It will automatically take $155 off the price so you can get an all access pass for just ten bucks! I’ve already been sending you chills, now how about a few laughs! Again, click on “Laugh or Die” at WeirdDarkness.com to go immediately to the secret page that takes $155 off the film festival price, and you pay just ten bucks, an all-access pass good for the rest of the month!
I pried away the two shutters from one another until I could fit my finger in-between. At that point, I knew where the shutter was. I’d to be careful. If I broke the window, the old man would hear me without a doubt. After a nerve-wracking minute of toying around with a couple of tools, I finally loosened the bolt, and the window opened.
I scanned the window frame and the area below. Once I saw that there was nothing I could topple over, I climbed inside.
The shack was larger than I imagined. For now, all I saw were shelves filled with tools and various other things. Step by step I made my way through the place, scanning it. In the end, I took out a small flashlight I’d brought, to give things a closer look.
There was a sort of mixing station at the end of the shack. To be honest, it was nothing but an old workbench, but on it was an assortment of things. There were containers of various chemicals and fertilizers, a sack of bone meal and a few bags of his complete fertilizer mixture.
As I looked on, I noticed something next to the workbench. It was a sort of metal composter as well as a freezer united cramped into the corner next to it. The composter was quite modern. It was most likely one of those that helped to quickly compost organic material. I’d read about them.
My skin started to crawl as I stared at it. I took a deep breath, and after toying with it for a bit, I figured how to open it. The instant it opened I almost vomited. The smell alone was enough to make me retch.
When I looked inside, I saw bloody guts and a few pieces of half-rotten meat.
“Fucking hell,” I cursed and stumbled back in shock and disgust. I crashed straight into the assortment of containers on the workbench. A number of them clattered to the ground in an ear-shattering noise.
My eyes grew wide. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. You goddamn idiot, what the hell did you just do!? I turned off the flashlight and waited. Oh god please, I hoped. Please make him stay asleep.
I waited for almost half a minute, praying that Old Werner would stay asleep. My prayers weren’t answered. My heart almost stopped when I heard the front door of his house open.
“Goddammit, what’s going on out there? If it’s you damned kids again…”
He said nothing else. Oh shit, did he see the window? I tried to think, tried to remember if I’d closed it after me, but I couldn’t. For all I knew, the two window shutters might still be wide open.
“Is someone there?” I heard his voice. Then his footsteps came closer.
“I dare you, whoever the devil you are, show yourself!”
I didn’t move. I hoped against all certainty that he’d go back to his house, but only a moment later I heard him from the side of the shack.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
He must’ve seen the open window. I could already hear him rummage with the padlock!
Now or never I thought. There was no way I could explain this to him. I was back at the window, tried to get up, but before I could do any more than to put my foot on the window frame the door opened. In one swift motion, he hit the light switch and saw me standing there, dressed in all black, trying to flee the scene.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN MY SHACK!?”
Then the smell hit him and his anger turned to pure rage.
“YOU. YOU. YOU GODDAMN…” but in his rage he couldn’t even finish his sentence anymore. In his blind rage he picked the first tool he could, a rake, and came swinging after me. There was no way I’d make it out in time. I barely ducked away and fled to the back of the shack.
“No, don’t! I swear I saw nothing! I only,” but I didn’t get the chance to finish as I had to dodge another hit of the rake.
Finally, he saw the open composter and the disturbance on the workbench.
“You just had to know, did you? You couldn’t let it be. Do you have any idea what I went through to finish this? One decade, one whole decade… and now you’re trying to steal it?!”
What the hell? Had he just admitted to what I thought he had?”
“That’s it! You’re the last person to ever barge in here, I swear it!”
And with that, he threw the rack to the ground and came at me himself. He almost jumped me and only now did I realize that Old Werner might have been an old man, but damn was he strong. A life of farming had made his body stout and hardened his muscles. All I was able to do was to struggle against him and keep him from overpowering me. I clung to sheer desperation, as I was pushed back against the workbench.
His eyes were wide open, and a moment later he raised one of his hands and hit me square in the face, once, twice. When I stumbled, he closed his hands around my neck.
I couldn’t breathe. Only at this moment did I realize that he was really going to kill me. I was going to die. Stars appeared in front of my eyes, but there was nothing I could do. I twitched in his iron-hard grip, grasped blindly around for something, anything. My hands closed around something hard and cold. With all the power I could muster I swung it into the direction of Old Werner. There was a nasty sound, and the old man screamed up.
Only when I swung it a second time did I see what I was already holding. It was an old mallet. For a moment I saw the surprise in his eyes, and his grip loosened, only to close once more even harder. In his fury, he wasn’t just trying to strangle me anymore, no he was going to break my neck by sheer force. Again and again, I hit him with the mallet. After three more hits, his grip finally loosened and he slumped down and fell to the ground.
As I looked down at his head, I saw a nasty inward bump at the top where I’d hit him. What I was most surprised though was all the blood that still kept gushing forward.
Time stood still. As if in a trance I watched the blood flow from his unmoving body. It must have been only seconds before I realized what I’d done, but to me, it felt like an eternity.
The bloody mallet clattered to the floor, and I pushed old Werner’s body away from me.
I started shaking, almost screamed up. I’d killed him. I’d murdered someone.
I had done the right thing though, hadn’t I? He’d have killed me. He killed others! The guts, the meat, the freezer! There was no doubt! And I’d done it in self-defense!
When I opened the freezer, my world crumbled apart. What I found inside wasn’t a corpse. Neither was it body parts. It was a dead animal. In the freezer were the remains of a deer. Part of its lower half was missing, and his innards were carved out. The blood and the guts I’d seen!
What about the arm I’d seen last night though? It must have been… but then I saw the legs of the deer. What I’d seen had been a long, thin, body part. Only the dark of the night and my imagination had transferred it into the arm of a person.
Dear god, what had I done? Had this old guy really done nothing more than to create some sort of complicated organic fertilizer?
Right at this moment, my instincts activated and I turned to run. I’d already made it to the door of the shack when my mind started to work again. What the hell was I doing!?
Should I call the police? What would I tell them? That I broke into his place because I thought he was a serial killer? That he attacked me after that and I killed him in self-defense? Would they even believe me? In that outfit?
No, it was much more likely that they thought I’d broke into his shack, he found me stealing his stuff, and I killed him. Or hell, that I came in here and killed him. I’d made it no secret that I hated him.
Shit. Shit. Shit. What the fuck should I do?
First I turned off the light in the shack. Was there anyone nearby? There’d been so much noise! As I watched and listened, I remembered that no one else lived near enough to have heard anything. The only person who’d heard anything would’ve been no other than me.
I went back inside, closed the door of the shack and then the window. I checked the wood splintering on the window and tried my best to get rid of it and make it sound as natural as possible.
After that, I put everything back that the old guy had pushed off the shelves in his onslaught.
Finally, there was the old guy himself. Was he really dead? I awkwardly touched his neck to see if there was any pulse. Then I looked at his head again and wondered what the hell I was even doing.
For a while, I wondered what to do, but then I saw his huge fertilizer bags. Old Werner might have been strong, but he was still a scrawny old man. The irony was not missed on me when the old man’s body was almost a perfect fit for it.
I pushed the body bag to the front of the shack and then started to meticulously clean up the blood. First I wiped up the floor and the workbench. Then I checked every notch and cranny and used one of his many chemicals to get rid of any blood spatters. I checked the whole place multiple times over. I had to make sure there were no blood splatters left anywhere. Only then did I open the door again.
Once again I checked the area. Sure, it was dark and not even thirty meters to the cornfield. Yet, I knew if anyone should see me carrying a bag of fertilizer through his yard the night before he went missing… I couldn’t risk it.
When I was sure that I was completely alone, I sprint to the edge of the cornfield with the heavy bag over my shoulder. Once I’d made it, I stumbled forward for a few more meters, but luckily avoided to crash to the ground.
For a moment my head was spinning, and I almost passed out from the sheer exhaustion.
I rested the bag between the cornstalks and ran back to the shack. The whole place smelled of the chemicals I’d used. Once more I went through it, using water to clear away the residue of the chemicals.
I also closed off the composter and the freezing box. Before I did that though, I got part of the animal meat, cut it to pieces and ground it up with the mallet.
I added the ground up meat to the composter. I made sure to leave the bloodied and dirtied tool on the workbench. I had to make it look as if it was the last thing the old guy had done.
At this moment I noticed something else. A notebook was stashed away in a small shelve above the workbench. When I opened it, I found that it contained the old guy’s notes on how to create his special type of fertilizer. It was pages upon pages of ingredients with detailed instructions.
I skimmed one of the pages, and it specified how certain ingredients had to be gathered. On the next one, he clarified that deer meat was best during their mating season, in autumn or early winter.
That must’ve been the reason for his secret trips. He was getting deer meat for his fertilizer. All he’d been doing was trying to keep his formula a secret.
Once I was outside again, I closed the padlock, careful not to leave any fingerprints on it.
Carrying Old Werner’s body over to my house took quite a while. Every ten meters or so I had to take a break. Once I’d made it, I hid the body down in my basement.
After that I went back to the cornfield, to make sure there were no tracks or blood splatters anywhere.
It was an hour or so before dawn when I was finally done with everything. I was utterly exhausted and pretty much fell into my bed.
The next day was a blurry mess for me. I spent most of it in bed, curled up under my blanket. Murder is not something from which you move on with your life. You just can’t.
It was only in the evening that I remembered his little notebook. Reading through his notes was the only thing helped me to turn my thoughts away from what I’d done. It’s not an understatement that the topic of fertilizer saved my sanity that day.
I carefully went over every page. I knew damned well that I’d not be able to turn my harvest around. I might try my luck in the greenhouse though, and if that would be a success, I could prepare for next year.
During the next days, I procured quite a few things: a composter different fertilizers, chemicals, bone meal and a variety of other ingredients.
One thing I was missing though and that I wasn’t sure how to get was deer meat, but I knew I had a substitute for it in my basement. It was still quite fresh, and most importantly, I had to get rid of it.
It was a nasty piece of work as you can imagine. I almost vomited every couple of minutes. Due to the heat, Old Werner’s body had been rapidly decomposing. I almost vomited the moment I saw his bloated, squishy corpse.
Eventually, though I got used to it. I grew numb, or I was already. There is one thing though, I told myself over and over again. This was not a person. This was a hunk of meat, nothing more. Once I cut it up though, it became pieces. The blood, the flesh, the bones, it all became things. And that way it got easier. I didn’t mind anymore. Grinding Old Werner up had become nothing but work in the end. Gruesome work, sure, but still only work.
It took me the better part of two days, but after that, I’d ground up the old guy’s remains. Finally, I added them to the other ingredients in the composter.
It was about a week or so later that the police arrived at my doorstep. I’d never seen an officer like that. Old, tired, and most of all, utterly disinterested in what was going on. He asked me a few questions. The typical ‘when have you last seen him’ and other similar ones. I answered them truthfully, and the guy said he’d be back if he needed more information.
He checked the old guy’s property, the shack, the house. The only thing he noticed was that Old Werner must have gone out in the middle of the night.
It was clear that this officer didn’t give a shit. He didn’t care what happened here in this small village. He concluded that Old Werner must’ve walked off and vanished in the middle of the night. They put together a search party, but it was only a few people, and they never found out a thing. Old Werner became just another name added to the list.
After this, his house was put up for sale, but no one seemed to show any interest.
It’s now late in the year, and the fertilizer I’ve created has developed nicely.
Six weeks ago, I upgraded the greenhouse for winter farming. Since then things have grown well, really well. The tomatoes are big, ripe and almost bursting with flavor. The old man had indeed created a splendid recipe.
What’s more interesting though, is that I can’t help but notice how fast and strong the plants have grown. They look even healthier than Old Werner’s. It might be the unique conditions in the greenhouse. To be honest, though, it might be due to my own little addition to the fertilizer.
As I’m typing this out, I can’t help but laugh at the grim irony of the situation. The one way the old man was able to improve his fertilizer even further was by becoming part of it himself.
Up next, we’ll step into the Chamber of Comments!
* * * * * * * * * *
Our next Weirdo Watch Party is Saturday, April 25th at 7pm Central Time. These are really becoming popular and more and more Weirdos are joining in for the fun! This time, horror host The Bone Jangler will be presenting the horror flick “The Black Sleep” from 1956, starring Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Basil Rathbone, and John Carradine! Four of the biggest names in classic horror cinema all in one film! Join me Saturday, April 25th at EerieLateNight.com and we can all watch the movie together online, hang out with other Weirdo family members in the chat room as we make snarky and snide remarks about the movie, and at most Weirdo Watch Parties, the horror host of the evening usually jumps into the chatroom with us! The Weirdo Watch Party gets bigger every time we do it! It’s fun and at the same time it supports the undead creative horror hosts who still entertain us with old scary movies! So be sure to set a reminder on your phone, your smart home device, put it on your online calendar, whatever you have to do so you don’t miss it! Join me and the Weirdo family Saturday, April 25th at 7pm Central Time – that’s 8pm Eastern, 5pm Pacific, 6pm Mountain at EerieLateNight.com. That’s EerieLateNight.com. And if you’d like to see a trailer for the movie “The Black Sleep” I have it posted on the Weirdo Watch Party page at WeirdDarkness.com!
CHAMBER OF COMMENTS==========
If you made it this far, welcome to the Weirdo Family. If you like the podcast, please tell your friends/family about it however you can and get them to become Weirdos too! And I’d greatly appreciate you giving me a five-star review in the podcast app you listen from, that helps the podcast get noticed!
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Now… let’s step into the Chamber of Comments….
Here in the Chamber of Comments I answer your emails, comments, podcast reviews, tweets, letters I get in the mail, and more. You can find all of my contact information, postal address, and social media links on the CONTACT page at WeirdDarkness.com. While you’re there, join the Facebook Group, “Weird Darkness Weirdos” and hang out with me and the rest of our Weirdo family! Or drop me an email anytime at email@example.com.
(Email from Yoly Mattei in San Diego, CA): Hey Darren, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your podcasts. Even my 6 year old grandaughter Charli likes your voice. I often play your podcasts in my car thru YouTube and if she’s in the car with me, she says: “Gramma let me hear it”, lol!. I think she just loves your soothing voice. Anyway, greetings from our San Diego and keep up the good work! Sincerely, Yoly Mattei, San Diego, Ca
REPLY: That’s very sweet, Yoly – thank you. But you might want to start saving money as best you can, a six year old listening to some of the stories I tell might need therapy later in life!
(Email from Fearless 902): So I am the biggest fan of yer storys ever ….. You sent a shout out to everyone working in these hard times except … sir I am offened mechanics … who have to get in dirty ass cars with gloves masks and seat covers …. you want to see how aperson lives look at their car…. anyway enough with the rant … the praise …. I live with … becuse I refuse to suffer with ptsd…. but hearing your words on your depressition has helped me !!! I dont think people get it … we dont need to be better … Iam already a good person I just need to be healthier …. so better is not a tearm I like…..that is all I have to say about that keep up the amazing work sir !!!!!
REPLY: Okay, fearless… thanks to mechanics too! Ha ha! If I was to make a list of everybody who should get recognition during this crisis for continuing to work, this podcast would be non-stop dedications with no other content. Whomever you are – thank you for continuing to do what you do during this pandemic!
(Review from X-Table Lateral): “Love love love!!! The stories are interesting and thought provoking. Sometimes I cringe and sometimes it makes me laugh out loud. It’s like a buffet for the paranormal, legends, unexplained and unbelievable. Who knew we were such an interesting and entertaining race! But best of all I love the scriptures Mr Marlar gives at the end of each podcast. Highly recommended.” –X-table lateral
I’ll answer more of your emails, comments, and more next time! Again, you can find all of my social media and contact information on the CONTACT page at WeirdDarkness.com.
CREDITS AND FINAL THOUGHT==========
If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you can find it in this episode’s blog post at WeirdDarkness.com; just search for this episode’s title in the search bar, or click on the podcast page, find the blog post for this episode, then scroll to the bottom of the blog post to see the transcript.
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Do you have a dark tale to tell of your own? Fact or fiction, click on “Tell Your Story” at WeirdDarkness.com and I might use it in a future episode.
All stories in this episode are purported to be true and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes:
“Fertilizer” by RehnWriter: https://www.creepypasta.com/fertilizer/
“Murder at Kluxen’s Woods” is from the upcoming audiobook, “Suffer the Children: American Horrors, Homicides and Hauntings” by Troy Taylor https://amzn.to/2Gxg0X0
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music.
WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2020.
NOW THAT WE’RE COMING OUT OF THE DARK, I’LL LEAVE YOU WITH A LITTLE LIGHT: James 4:17 = Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
AND A FINAL THOUGHT: Sometimes a hug is worth more than a thousand words.
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.