“BIZARRE HUMANOID CREATURES IN THE WILD” and More Strange True Tales! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: Stories of “feral men”–people who live wild in nature as any animal would do–have been a part of our myths and legends since the dawn of civilization. But they don’t live just in ancient lore… according to the reports, they are being seen even today, despite the modern and technological world surrounding them. (Wild Men In The Hills) *** Witchcraft, torture, and a man selling his soul to Satan. Not exactly the kind of events you typically expect before a wedding. (The Devil’s Agent) *** In 1974 the Smurl family began a 15-year period of terror by an unknown entity. (The Smurl Family Tormentors) *** Weirdo family member John Parish discovers something strange going on in his home’s wood shop. (Woodworking Ghost) *** One of the problems with cryptids such as Bigfoot or Sasquatch is that they leave very little evidence behind of their existence. Their cousin the Yowie leaves even less evidence behind – on the verge of none. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any evidence. (Tracks of the Kempsey Creature) *** Creativity is usually admired by those who experience it, reveling in the joy and artistry a creator puts into his work. But when a serial killer decides to get creative, the only one who feels joy is the killer himself. And thus was the case with H. H. Holmes. (America’s Most Creative Serial Killer) *** Did an American serial killer’s reign of terror reach England? One man believes so. In fact, he believes his great-great grandfather was the one and only Jack the Ripper. And that man was H. H. Holmes. (American Ripper)
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Man-like beasts appear in myths and legends of cultures around the globe. The best known ‘wild man’ phenomena of today is the Sasquatch or Big Foot of North America, but there are other legends such as the Yeti (Abominable Snowman), said to live in the wilds of the Himalayan mountains. There are many lesser known wild humanoid cryptids; the Orang Pendek, which is said to said to live in the remote forests on the island of Sumatra in western Indonesia, Almas in Mongolian folklore, the Bukit Timah Monkey Man, or the Yeh Ren Man-Monkey which is a legendary Chinese relative of Big Foot. The legend of Big Foot and other wild men seems like a modern concept. The controversial and hotly debated Patterson film reportedly shows footage of a live Big Foot taken in Orleans, California in the autumn of 1967. The widespread attention the film received brought the concept of Big Foot into the public domain and into modern popular culture with movies and TV shows such as Harry and the Hendersons inspired by the hairy humanoid caught on the tape. But these legends of wild men are not just a global phenomenon – they are an ancient one. Many of these myths have prevailed for hundreds of years, being passed on from generation to generation as people swear to have seen evidence of the humanoids themselves.
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.
If you’re new here, welcome to the podcast – and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss future episodes! If you’re already a Weirdo, please share the podcast with others – doing so helps make it possible for me to keep creating episodes as often as I do!
I’m taking a few days off for Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., but I just can’t leave you, my Weirdo family, without something to listen to in my absence. You may also have in-laws visiting that you are trying to avoid and you’ll need something to occupy your time while doing so. I’m here to rescue you!
Coming up in this episode…
Witchcraft, torture, and a man selling his soul to Satan. Not exactly the kind of events you typically expect before a wedding. (The Devil’s Agent)
In 1974 the Smurl family began a 15-year period of terror by an unknown entity. (The Smurl Family Tormentors)
Weirdo family member John Parish discovers something strange going on in his home’s wood shop. (Woodworking Ghost)
One of the problems with cryptids such as Bigfoot or Sasquatch is that they leave very little evidence behind of their existence. Their cousin the Yowie leaves even less evidence behind – on the verge of none. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any evidence. (Tracks of the Kempsey Creature)
Creativity is usually admired by those who experience it, reveling in the joy and artistry a creator puts into his work. But when a serial killer decides to get creative, the only one who feels joy is the killer himself. And thus was the case with H. H. Holmes. (America’s Most Creative Serial Killer)
Did an American serial killer’s reign of terror reach England? One man believes so. In fact, he believes his great-great grandfather was the one and only Jack the Ripper. And that man was H. H. Holmes. (American Ripper)
Stories of “wild men”–people who live ferally in nature as any wild animal would do–have been a part of our myths and legends since the dawn of civilization. But they don’t live just in ancient lore… according to the reports, they are being seen even today, despite the modern and technological world surrounding them. (Wild Men In The Hills)
While listening, be sure to check out the Weird Darkness website. At WeirdDarkness.com you can sign up for the newsletter to win monthly prizes, find paranormal and horror audiobooks I’ve narrated, watch old horror movies for free, plus you can visit the “Hope In The Darkness” page if you are struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: WILD MEN IN THE HILLS==========
Both Greek and Roman myths are filled with sexually voracious wild men. The satyr and faun are both wild men associated with fertility. Both the Greek god Pan and his Roman equivalent Faunus are depictions of the wild man figure and both are gods of nature and the wild – but also of fertility.
The Romans also described a Celtic figure called Dusios. They compared the pagan god to their god Faunus and the Greek god Pan but are careful to emphasize the savage nature of Dusios to differentiate between him and their own wild men. Dusios is not just a fertility god, he is described as impregnating both animals and women either by surprise or by force.
Historians believe these figures are all rooted in ancient legends from Neolithic cultures across modern day Europe and Russia. They point to the Slavic creature known as the Leshy which is described as a short humanoid forest guardian with a large bushy beard and a tail.
The Leshy is rumored to capture children and travelers if they do not respect his forest. Although some people have linked the Leshy and creatures like the satyr, the Leshy is not associated with fertility and is closer to our modern Big Foot legends than the Greco-Roman concepts of wild men.
There are many other examples of wild men in Eastern European and Russian mythologydating back many hundreds of years, and these range from benevolent figures who are protectors of the forests and mountains to sinister and demonic wild men who inflict harm on anyone who discovers them. The Ural region of Russia has a legend of the divnye lyudi who are beautiful wild people with the ability to tell the future, while the Kostroma Oblast region believe in the chort – a hideously grotesque looking wild man with a thin tail and cloven hooves who is inherently evil in nature and is considered to be a minion of Satan by Christians in the region (in folk tales, the chort often tries to trick people into selling their soul for trivial things.)
The legend of the wild man remained a part of European culture and sources from the 9th and 10th centuries. One Spanish source which describes the penance given for certain behaviors mentions the minor penalty faced by those who dressed up as wild men and took part in a dance which was a resurgence of earlier pagan practice. Around the same time, in the 9th century, Irish folklore describes how a pagan king is driven mad when he attacks a Catholic bishop, eventually transforming into a beast who roams the woods.
The Konungs Skuggsjá , an educational Norwegian text from the 13th century, describes a creature very similar to other descriptions of wild men. The text says the strange creature was like a human but with a great deal of coarse hair. It says the creature was captured in the woods in Ireland and that no one could tell if it understood human speech or not.
These accounts of wild men from the earlier medieval period are once again varied. There is the god-like wild man echoing Pan and Faunus, and the savage beast resembling a human like the Leshy. It is in this period that the earliest use of the wild man as a warning of the dangers of immorality survives, with the cautionary Irish tale warning that becoming a wild man is a fate anyone may suffer if they defy the church.
The wild man was now firmly rooted in folklore and the many roles he played were depicted in artwork throughout the later medieval period across Europe. The images all show a human with a thick pelt of hair and the figure appears in embroidery, carvings, paintings, statues, stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, and even on more obscure objects such as a bread mold.
Along with artwork, it is during the 14th century the term ‘ woodwose’ came into use as a way of describing a legendary wild man figure. The word is the origin of the modern surname ‘Woodhouse’, but its etymology is somewhat unclear – although ‘wood’ definitely refers to woods or forests, the suffix wose has several potential meanings. The two most likely translations of wose are ‘being’ and ‘forlorn or abandoned person’.
This medieval wild man was described in sources such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as a hairy beast like person, and the woodwose appears in artwork of the time as a bestial and vicious creature – though just like the Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh , this wild man can be tamed by the right person (usually a pure and virtuous young woman).
The medieval European concept of a wild man drew on earlier sources, including the Roman faun, but the woodwose was also based on accounts written by ancient historians who documented creatures which were believed to be wild men.
One such source for legends like the woodwose is the Greek explorer Hanno, who travelled to the western coast of Africa in the 5th century BC. Hanno described an island filled with hairy savages – predominantly female – known by the locals as gorilla (now known to be gorillas) and another source is the historian Pliny the Elder, who described another race of savage human-like creatures in India (now known to be gibbons).
The accounts of these creatures were passed down over time and contributed to myths and legends of wild men living free in the forests. It was not until 1902 that the mountain gorilla was finally confirmed to be real and not just a local legend with no basis in reality. For people in medieval Europe the descriptions of creatures like this, which had been exaggerated and passed on to people who had never seen them, must have been evidence that creatures like the woodwose really were roaming the forests, even if it was only in far off lands.
Rumored encounters with wild men have resulted in myths, legends, and artwork – and in one case, the founding of a town. According to local legend, the German town of Wildemann was founded by miners in 1592.
The miners claimed to have seen a gigantic wild man by the shore of the river Innerste. The wild man was swinging a fir tree as a club to defend his giant female companion from the strange men as they attempted to capture him and take him to show the local earl. They claim they were successful, but the wild man died on the journey to the earl.
When they returned to the spot, he had been, they found a rich deposit of ore and the town was founded and named in his honor. In a further tribute, the coat of arms for Wildemann bears the image of a wild man, which was also a symbol for miners in Renaissance Germany and appears on a number of other coats of arms.
We know today that the condition hypertrichosis is a condition causing excess hair growth over the entire face and body. During the heyday of the freakshow in the 19th and early 20th centuries a number of people with hypertrichosis made a living as performers, where they were described as wild men and were showcased as having both animal and human traits.
In 1537, Pedro Gonzales was born in Tenerife, Spain. As a Renaissance man with hypertrichosis, he became known as a wild man, or “man of the woods” and by the end of his life he had become quite famous. Gonzales became known as Petrus Gonsalvus and he was presented at just ten years of age as a gift to King Henry II of France.
Henry saw Pedro as a novelty and chose to educate him as a nobleman rather than treating him as an animal. He was taught a broad range of subjects including Latin and was better educated than some of the members of the aristocracy. While he lived at court in Paris for 40 years, he spent some time at the court of Margaret of Parma, who was regent of the Netherlands. It was here he met his wife, Lady Catherine.
Just like many other wild men before him, Gonzales was the inspiration for a new folk tale. His relationship with Lady Catherine is believed by many to be the inspiration for the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast . While Petrus was given special attention by King Henry and his wife, he was still considered a wild man by many of his contemporaries and they did not believe he was fully human.
But his story is just one of hundreds and the wild man is a concept which appears time after time throughout cultures worldwide. From the earliest surviving written legend, Epic of Gilgamesh , to theories about Big Foot and other wild men today, there is something about the figure of a being which is both human and animal which fascinates us.
The legends and folklore surrounding wild men has always been dichotomic. The wild man is representative of what humans would be without civilization. For some that is cautionary – without civilization the wild man is a dangerous savage who kidnaps children or attacks innocent people. For others, the wild man is a romantic concept.
In our known earliest contribution to literary fiction, The Epic of Gilgamesh, the eponymous hero is first confronted, and then befriended by the wild man Enkidu, who becomes his closest friend and ally.
Enkidu is a central figure in the epic, in which he is described as an uncivilized savage who was raised by animals and lived with herds and game in the wild. He is the embodiment of the natural world and is the opposite of the cultured and eloquent hero Gilgamesh.
Unlike many other wild men, in other legends, Enkidu is able to be tamed. He is taught the ways of the civilized world by a prostitute, Shamhat, after spending seven days enjoying her company which resulted in the animals rejecting him when they sensed her human scent on him.
He becomes a loyal companion to Gilgamesh and his tragic death deeply affects the cultured hero, inspiring him to seek out immortality so he does not suffer the same fate. The fact a wild man plays such an important role in a tale as ancient as the Epic of Gilgamesh shows how inspiring the idea has always been to us.
There has been a wealth of scholarly interpretation applied to the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, which in many ways is representative of humankind’s dualistic relationship between civilization and nature itself. We have risen above the chaotic and predatory ways of the animal kingdom (or so we think), but we never truly escape being animals ourselves, at least in some sense.
This is perhaps never more apparent than in instances where humans purportedly leave society in order to revert to a feral mode of existence, and hence the trope of the “wild man” in literature persists in order to remind us that we are but a few steps–or perhaps merely one unplanned stumble–from returning to the ways of our ancestors. The fact that some of us might choose to do it is at once fascinating to us, and equally unsettling.
I have the same fascination with stories of alleged “wild people” myself, and having grown up in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in Western North Carolina, it isn’t uncommon to occasionally hear stories about people living “off the grid” and subsisting naturally in remote parts of the American woodland.
One story along these (a particular favorite as far as alleged “feral human” reports go) was told by Jeff Holland, one of the authors of the book Weird Kentucky, who described a very unusual encounter he had near Cloudsplitter Rock, Kentucky, in 1990:
*****“The author encountered, face to face in the wilderness near Cloudsplitter Rock, an adult (thirties) caucasian male, walking in the woods naked but covered with mud, leaves, and vines, which were matted into his hair and beard as well, giving him an almost absurd “Swamp Thing” appearance. He walked with a hunched, apelike gait. He spotted me moments after I spotted him, and we stared at each other for what at the time felt like an eternity; finally he turned and fled. His eyes seemed to show some intelligence but he was still extremely animal-like and seemingly unable to speak. I made no effort to follow him. The similarities between this case and the one above are striking. I have collected similar stories from locals in Slade about old ‘Mountain Men’ and hippies who have lost their minds living deep in the mountains and revert to an animal-like state.”*****
It stands to reason that “naturists” or other outdoor enthusiasts might begin to take their wilderness experiences a bit too seriously, and that such a thing could explain an incident like the one Holland describes here. It’s an interesting story nonetheless, and it bears some similarity to similar reports of people who appear to have taken to living ferally in National Parks and other remote areas of wilderness.
Another story–albeit a tragic one–that has long held my attention in this regard has to do with the disappearance of Dennis Lloyd Martin, a young boy who vanished while camping with his family on Father’s Day weekend near the Cades Cove Wilderness in 1969. A tremendous search effort that attempted to locate the missing boy yielded no results, apart from some strange conjectures: in particular, there was testimony provided by a Mr. Harold Key of Knoxville, Tennessee, who along with his family claimed that they had seen an odd “rough looking” man who appeared to be carrying something over his shoulder approximately nine miles from where Dennis went missing, and on the same day of his disappearance.
Years later, Dwight McCarter recounted this episode in his book Lost! A Ranger’s Journal of Search and Rescue, which featured published diaries he kept while the search effort had been underway. He lamented the fact that there hadn’t been more interest shown in various aspects of the disappearance, and the “rough looking” man seen by the Key family near the Rowan’s Creek trailhead that day had been one of them. McCarter later told researcher David Paulides that he had known of “wild men” living in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park around that time, and by this he explicitly meant people living “off the grid,” noting that one a member of the Park Ranger staff had been attacked by one of these men the previous year.
In response to a video I posted online a number of years ago that recounted some aspects of the Martin disappearance, a man named Tony Stansell recently commented on the interpretation that people living ferally in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the time might have played a factor in Martin’s disappearance. “My family is from the Georgia/South Carolina side of the Appalachian mountains, Stansell said. “I have heard all of my life that there are wild people in the mountains.”
“There are people [whose] families have been there for centuries and they don’t want to be part of society. And they know the area very well. This is a culture that, particularly earlier in the 1900’s where moonshiners were everywhere, especially during prohibition. Those kinds of people have no regard for civilization and don’t like intruders,” Stansell wrote.
“There are also wild men who are criminals or escaped convicts that have lived in those woods for years and don’t want to be found. Some members of my family that have been in law enforcement have told tales about the ‘wild men’ that live there and the police know of them, but finding them is impossible.”
Of course, part of the reason that people who choose to live on the fringes of civilization are able to remain so well-hidden has to do with the fact that the areas where they reside (like the remote corners of the Appalachian Mountains) are indeed very isolated regions. Thick forest growth and inaccessibility due to topographical features are only part of what makes the Appalachian Mountains so daunting; add to this the potential for inclement climate (mostly during the winter months), and dangers presented by wildlife and other natural threats year-round.
“I don’t think people realize how isolated some of those areas are,” Stansell added. “And someone familiar with the area could get through the woods quickly and stealthy.” Stansell pointed out that in the case of Dennis Martin, the boy’s father jogged the Appalachian Trail looking for his son, while his father (Dennis’s grandfather) walked to a Ranger Station to get help, rounding out to a total of four hours.
“Anyone that may have gotten [Dennis] would have been deep in the woods by then. There are caves and pits. It’s very sad, but it is definitely a good warning not to get yourself into a situation where you could be helpless.
“For many people who grew up near Appalachia, in the foothills, you know better than to get too deep in the woods. It’s is a very different world out there. And I agree with the narrator here. No need to imagine goblins and ghouls, mankind is capable of doing far more sinister things.”
The unresolved status of stories like the Dennis Martin case–and the speculations that build around them–have helped help maintain their status as fodder for online curiosity seekers over the years. The first and most obvious problem with this is that with the passage of time and distance, many of us forget that these are heartbreaking “cold cases,” and that the lives of countless families have been greatly affected by such things.
Another that comes to mind, however, is that solution to such cases is often far simpler than most would expect. Retired Park Ranger Dwight McCarter (whom we referenced earlier) has shared his opinion over the years that Dennis probably became lost and/or disoriented, and could have died of hypothermia while attempting to seek shelter from a storm that moved into the area shortly after he vanished. Such a scenario would greatly reduce the mystery and intrigue surrounding the case… but if we’re being logical, it is also probably the most likely solution to the child’s disappearance.
There is also the chance–chance though it may be–that Martin might have been kidnapped. There is no direct evidence for this, but the anecdotal story of Harold Key’s observation of the “rough looking man” has caused McCarter, and many others over the years, to wonder.
Which, of course, brings us back to one of the most frightening prospects in our world today: that the real monsters can be seen on every city street, or near any park or playground. You could meet them walking along a river, or on a hiking trail in the world’s most remote corners… or they might live as close as the apartment right next door.
They are, in other words, the “monsters” that walk on two legs… and they are by far the most formidable and dangerous monsters that exist in our modern world.
Witchcraft, torture, and a man selling his soul to Satan. Not exactly the kind of events you typically expect before a wedding.
Later in this episode we’ll look at the man experts have proclaimed America’s most prolific serial killer.
But first – in 1974 the Smurl family began a 15-year period of terror by an unknown entity. That story is up next when Weird Darkness returns!
STORY: SMURL FAMILY==========
Beginning in 1974, the Smurl family went through one of the worst hauntings ever that lasted 15 years. For an intense two-year period, the family was subject to a series of physical assaults perpetrated, allegedly, by a mysterious demon and a horde of ghosts. The haunting affected everyone in the Smurl family — even the dog had a run in with one of the angry ghosts. Out of all the families that have claim to be haunted over the years, the Smurls claimed to deal with some of the most aggressive entities of the 20st century, these ghosts lasted for a great part of their lives.
The haunting became so bad that the Catholic Church got involved in an attempt to exorcise the demon. Even after the Smurls called in demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, they still weren’t able to rid themselves of the horrible creatures that seemed set on ripping their family apart, and they ultimately lived with remnants of the haunting for the next 15 years, even after the most vicious attacks seemed to simmer. In the 1990s, the Warrens’ experiences trying to rid the Smurls of their hauntings were turned into a made-for-TV movie called, appropriately, The Haunted.
The Smurl family haunting facts include everything from ghosts attacking children to the demonologists who tried to stop them. The question remains as to whether there truly were evil forces at work, and whether the demonologists held any sway over the atrocities the Smurls experienced.
In 1974, Jack and Janet Smurl moved out of their flood-damaged home and into a West Pittson, Pennsylvania duplex that’s been lovingly described by all sources as a “fixer-upper.” Jack, Janet and their kids lived on one side of the duplex while Jack’s parents, John and Mary, lived on the other. It didn’t take long for the haunting to start.
The first instances of their ghostly visitors were benign. A tool would go missing, a stain on the wall would seep through the paint, nothing too scary. But then kitchen appliances started to go up in flames even when they weren’t plugged in – and then there was the smell. The odor wafted through the house at random intervals and was absolutely stifling. During his investigation Ed Warren described the smell as something akin to “rotting flesh.”
Shortly after the haunting began, Mary suffered a heart attack and the family began to struggle to pay bills. It seemed that the haunting was taking a toll on more than the family’s living space.
One of the creepiest ways in which the haunting manifested was the sound of it: moans and blood-curdling screams ripped through the house at all hours of the day and night. Many of the chilling sounds reportedly took on the voices of the Smurl family, a particularly cruel way to haunt the family. It wasn’t just the Smurls who heard the ghostly sounds; allegedly their neighbors claimed to hear screams coming from inside the house when no one was home.
As the weeks went on the haunting increased from sounds to floating black creatures and shadow people. Self-taught, self-proclaimed demonologist Ed Warren later claimed that he saw “…a mucous-like, smoky-type substance” that began to whirl and materialize “on the mirror, spelling out filthy obscenities, telling me in no uncertain terms to get out of the house.”
The creature (or creatures) haunting the Smurl family were hell-bent on ripping the family apart. The worst indignity suffered by both Jack and Janet were separate sexual assaults that happened numerous times. First, Janet claimed she was woken up in the middle of the night by an unknown figure sexually assaulting her. Then Jack claimed that while he was watching a baseball game in the living room he was also assaulted in the same way by a succubus. He later claimed that while he attempted to say the rosary the creature dragged him around his room.
During the 15-year haunting no one in the Smurl family made it out of the haunting without being harmed. One of the daughters was sliced open by a flying wall fixture, and the family’s German Shepherd was thrown against the wall. Janet claims that she was grabbed by the creature before being hurled across her living room. On another occasion an invisible entity bit Jack in the face and threw another one of their daughters down a set of stairs.
A skeptic’s view of this situation says that all of these attacks are similar to those of domestic violence. It’s completely that the Smurls were in the middle of a turbulent marriage and that they covered their screaming matches and physical altercations with an interesting ghost story — but nothing like this has ever been verified.
As with all hauntings in the ’70s and ’80s, the Warrens — yes, they of the Amityville Horror — finally worked their way into the story. Supposedly, the Smurls were reluctant about calling the Warrens because they were worried about drawing unwanted attention on themselves. After the investigation, Warren said, “The Smurls are truly a family coming under a visual attack. The ghost, devil, demon – or whatever you call it – is in that home.”
Ed Warren claimed that on his very first night in the home he experienced a major cold spot and saw a shadow person. He explained: “I did not have to wait moments when the very thing I felt was a drop in temperature of at least 30-some degrees. Then, a dark mass formed about three feet in front of me.”
After the appearance of the shadow person Ed Warren claimed that that something in the home began throwing things around the house, including the mattress in the master bedroom.
Judging from the amount of stories that came out of the Smurl haunting it seems like there wasn’t a day that went by without something creepy happening. Janet Smurl claimed that while she was in the kitchen one evening the house grew cold and she felt a hideous presence. That’s when a black, human shaped form appeared in her kitchen. It had no face, but it was more tangible than a shadow. The shape passed through her wall and appeared to Mary on the other side of the duplex.
Whatever was haunting the Smurls, it absolutely hated religious iconography. One night the Warrens tried to draw out one of the entities with a group prayer they got more than they bargained. In the middle of th prayer something began screeching, “you filthy bastard, get out of this house!” Then the house started shaking and two female ghosts that looked to be from colonial America era slunk through the house.
This was the only time that the appearances of the colonial ghosts were recorded but it’s possible that one of these two was the succubus that had assaulted Jack while he watched a baseball game.
Try as they might, the Smurls couldn’t shake the ghosts that made their every waking moment total hell. Even though priests from the Scranton branch of the Roman Catholic Church blessed the home and formed multiple exorcisms on the house the family continued to experience pure terror. Despite priests saying that they saw “no harmful activity while on the property,” Janet claims that the demons were able to avoid their Catholic banishment by moving back and forth between the two sides of the duplex.
After 15 years of being harassed by invisible entities the Smurls finally moved to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. There are no reports as to whether or not they ever experienced another haunting.
After an in depth investigation of the Smurl home the Warrens were able to pin down exactly what was assaulting the family, more or less. Lorraine Warren, a clairvoyant, claimed that there were definitely four entities roaming the duplex. The first was an elderly woman who mostly kept to herself. There was also an older man who died in the home, which is oddly similar to the Enfield haunting – a case that the Warrens also investigated. Lorraine said that the violence that the family experienced came from the ghost of a young woman and a demon who was able to control the other entities.
Even though the Warrens claim that the Smurl family was haunted by a gang of ghosts lead by a demon, there’s another explanation for the nearly two decades of terror — a mass hallucination. Apparently in 1983, Jack Smurl went under the knife for complications stemming from a case of meningitis he’d had as a child. Smurl said that the doctors were trying to “remove water” from his brain. It’s possible that Jack had a brain tumor and that’s why he was experiencing such violent attacks, but the Warrens’ stories don’t really corroborate this.
Professor Paul Kurtz of State University of New York at Buffalo believes that the haunting started with Smurl’s brain impairment and that the rest of the family followed suit. It’s possible that the family fell under the delusion through which Jack Smurl was living, but that doesn’t explain why they would follow along with his bonkers behavior for more than a decade.
STORY: THE DEVIL’S AGENT==========
In 1589, King James VI of Scotland, later James I of England, was due to marry Princess Anne of Denmark. As the princess sailed to Scotland, fierce storms raged and forced her and her company to find shelter in Norway.
Although James and Anne were eventually wed, the tempest was blamed on malevolent witches, who were said to want to thwart their royal union. Thus, both in Denmark and Scotland, large scale inquisitions were instigated against suspected sorcerers for two years, with King James himself supervising some of the tortures and examinations that occurred. History would come to remember this inquisition as the North Berwick witch trials. They ran for two years and implicated over seventy people. Amongst those said to be witches, was Doctor John Fian.
Fian, who went by the alias Cunningham, was discovered with the aid of another, Gillis Duncan, who confessed to the authorities that he was a fellow practitioner.
At first Fian said nothing at all. The inquisitors then began the customary torture, starting with one of their milder punishments, which involved thrashing Fian’s head about with a rope around it. After that, he started to talk. Yet, he provided no coherent confession that satisfied his tormentors. Thus, a torture method known as the “boots”, which King James described as “the most severe and cruel paine in the world,” was employed.
Whilst there are many variants of the “boots” torture to have been used and recorded around the world, they all seem to agree on a singular principle: the inflicting of excruciating pain to the lower legs, either by crushing the bones therin or by searing the flesh off them with boiling water.
Still, Fian was resolute – he would not confess to witchcraft. This prompted a further examination of his body, where it was found that two pine needles had been placed under his tongue. Supposedly, this was a spell cast to prevent him from confessing under torture. With the needles removed, Fian confessed to everything.
He stated that his soul belonged to the devil, after having made a covenant with him long ago. It was by serving him that Fian had gained his powers of witchcraft. It was recorded that amongst his powers was the ability to bewitch a gentleman and send him into fits of lunacy.
One man, who supposedly suffered in this manner, was brought before the King’s presence on 24th December 1590. What the man allegedly did under Fian’s command is described in King James’ own book, Daemonologie.
*****“[…] suddenly he gave a great screech and fell into a madness, sometime bending himself, and sometime capring [gesticulating] so directly up, that his head did touch the ceiling of the Chamber, to the great admiration of his Majesty and others then present.”*****
When the man was finally worn out by his supposed bewitchment, it took an hour for him to come to his senses and be brought back before the King, only to admit to having no memory of the event.
Fian continued to tell other tales of his nefarious witchcraft, which were verified by witnesses in the court. Supposedly, Fian had attempted to enchant the girl with a spell of seduction. When the spell backfired, after being sabotaged by the girl’s mother (who was also a witch), Fian ended up seducing a cow instead. Records state that inhabitants of the town confessed to having seen this cow follow Fian wherever he wen
Eventually, Fian promised to recant his evil ways. He testified that the devil had come to visit him the night before with a white wand in his hand, trying to persuade him to keep his vow and serve him. Fian said that he castigated the arch-fiend, telling him, “I utterly forsake thee.”
The devil then supposedly broke the white wand and said, “That once ere thou die thou shall bee mine.”
Soon after this, Fian managed to steal the keys from his jailer and escape. His freedom did not last long, for the king’s men soon caught up with the supposed malefactor and detained him. John Fian then endured more horrendous tortures. This time, however, he confessed to nothing, even after his feet were completely pulverized.
*****“His nails vpon all his fingers were ruined and pulled off with an instrument called in Scottish a Turkas, which in England wee call a pair of pincers, and under every nayle there was thrust in two needels ouer euen up to the heads. At all which tormentes notwithstanding the Doctor neuer shronke anie whit, neither woulde he then confesse it the sooner for all the tortures inflicted vpon him. Then was hee with all conuenient speed, by commandement, conuaied againe to the torment of the bootes, wherein hee continued a long time, and did abide so many blowes in them, that his legges were crushte and beaten togeather as small as might bee, and the bones and flesh so brused, that the bloud and marrowe spouted forth in great abundance, whereby they were made unseruiceable for euer. And notwithstanding al these grieuous paines and cruell torments hee would not confesse aniething, so deepely had the deuill entered into his heart, that hee vtterly denied all that which he had before auouched, and woulde saie nothing.”*****
When the inquisition felt nothing else could be gained from their examination, Fian was put to death.
Later, King James would become more sceptical of the purported abilities of witchcraft. Speaking of witch trials in a letter to his son, Henry, James expressed that, whilst he believed some witches existed, many “miracles now-a-days prove but illusions, and ye may see by this how wary judges should be in trusting accusations”
When Weird Darkness returns…
Creativity is usually admired by those who experience it, reveling in the joy and artistry a creator puts into his work. But when a serial killer decides to get creative, the only one who feels joy is the killer himself. And thus was the case with H. H. Holmes.
STORY: AMERICA’S MOST CREATIVE SERIAL KILLER==========
In August 1886, Herman Webster Mudgett arrived in Chicago seeking his fortune. A handsome man with startling blue eyes, Mudgett had left his first wife, Clara Lovering, behind in New Hampshire, along with a string of other women with whom he had breached the promise of marriage. According to his own memoir, by the time Mudgett came to Chicago, he possessed the soul of a con artist, having already unsuccessfully attempted life insurance fraud.
Mudgett settled in the booming suburb of Englewood and found work as a doctor and pharmacist in a neighborhood drugstore. The proprietor was dying of cancer, and after the owner’s death, Mudgett insinuated himself into the widow’s graces, taking over the store and solidifying his identity as Dr. H. H. Holmes. The store-owner’s widow disappeared soon after.
Chicago was a chaotic city in the late 19th century, undergoing a transformation unlike any other major city at the time. Construction of the 1893 World’s Fair–celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the New World–was attracting builders, architects, designers, and tourists from across the country and even the world.
Holmes capitalized on this broader chaos by blending into the city and using the distracted focus of city officials (including the police) to help conceal his ruthless crimes.
Although married to Clara Lovering, Holmes met a woman named Myrta in Minneapolis, whom he coaxed into coming to Chicago. They soon married, with Holmes neglecting to tell her that he was already spoken for. Two weeks later, he filed for divorce from Clara. Then he proceeded to buy a house for Myrta about 25 miles away in Wilmette, close enough to visit–but far enough to commit his nefarious crimes without interruption.
Unlike many serial killers, Holmes seemed to strategize his eventual murder spree with pinpoint efficiency. He purchased a vacant lot across the street from his drugstore, where he envisioned building a grand hotel, complete with shops, restaurants, and apartments, along with a number of sinister features, such as secret chutes and passages; an airtight, walk-in furnace; and hidden chambers in the basement. Holmes hired an assistant named Benjamin Pitezel and started construction, financed largely through fraud and credit.
Due to the plenitude of desperate laborers, he hired contractors to work on the building and refused to pay them once they completed the work. Because of this high rate of turnover, no one knew the entirety of the building’s secrets. One macabre element of construction involved a large furnace in the basement, ostensibly to manufacture glass. It wasn’t until after Holmes’s crimes were revealed that the furnace-installer recognized that the kiln was perfect for a crematorium, seeing as it produced no odor.
When Jackson Park was chosen as the site of the fair, Holmes was set to become not only flush with cash, but also with a steady stream of young, female victims. His building–which came to be known as the “Murder Castle”–was mostly finished by May 1890. Using a series of aliases, Holmes bought furniture and fixtures on credit and never paid most of his creditors, confident he would avoid prosecution through his exemplary guile and charm.
Holmes’s plan was to lure as many unwitting victims as possible into the Murder Castle between 1890 and 1893. Then after the World’s Fair, he would burn the building to the ground to collect the insurance money and destroy whatever evidence remained. To help deflect any future suspicion, Holmes even went so far as to ingratiate himself with officers of the local police precinct.
One of the workers Holmes hired was Ned Conner, a pharmacist in Holmes’s drugstore. Holmes began paying attention to Ned’s wife Julia and sister Gertrude, and it wasn’t long until Holmes instigated an affair with Gertrude. But with no marriage in the picture and the affair eventually discovered, Gertrude fled back to Iowa in shame, fell ill, and died shortly thereafter. Holmes went on to use his good looks and sly charm to seduce Ned’s wife, Julia.
Around this time, Holmes actually sold Ned his pharmacy. Holmes was likely trying to avoid his debtors by making this sale. Creditors had begun to appear at the pharmacy demanding payment, and now that Ned was the pharmacy’s rightful owner, he inherited all of Holmes’s unpaid debts. With Julia and Holmes’s affair ongoing, her relationship with Ned had grown strained and tumultuous. Ned eventually abandoned Julia and his daughter Pearl to Holmes, moving out of town and filing for divorce as well.
With Ned out of the picture, Holmes grew less interested in Julia and began to turn his sexual attention elsewhere. Yet when Julia surprised him with an announcement that she was pregnant, Holmes actually agreed to marry her, but with one stipulation: that she allow him to perform an abortion.
On Christmas Eve, Holmes subdued Julia with chloroform under the guise of performing an abortion, and then he disposed of his newly betrothed. Holmes also murdered young Pearl. Neighbors asked pointed questions about Julia’s welfare, but Holmes put them at ease with assurances that she left suddenly, merely following her sister to Iowa. Vanishings in Chicago at the time were commonplace, and with an inept, corrupt police force, no one paid attention unless someone wealthy disappeared. Found bodies were often given to the medical college or the hospital for research and instruction, and skeletons were stripped and sold to doctors, museums, or private collectors.
Knowing this, Holmes paid a specialist to turn Julia’s cadaver into a cleansed (or articulated) skeleton and then sold the skeleton to Hahneman Medical College in Chicago. Demand for such bodies was high back then, and grave robbing was commonplace. So, as usual, no one asked where the body came from.
Around this same time, Holmes’s assistant Ben Pitezel visited Dwight, Illinois, seeking a cure for his alcoholism. There, he met young Emeline Cigrand and returned to Chicago with such an awestruck description of her that Holmes immediately sent her an invitation to come to Chicago to be his personal secretary. Beautiful 24-year-old Emeline came to Chicago and quickly found herself ensconced in Holmes’s web of seduction and deceit.
Holmes told Emeline that he had claims to an English lordship, and her infatuation with him led her to take him at his word. Even though he was already married, Holmes asked Emeline to marry him, and she accepted. However, Emeline soon grew suspicious of Holmes’s activities, and she promptly disappeared. Friends and family asked about her, but Holmes responded with a tale that she had married someone and departed. Suspicion simmered, but nothing was ever proven–and her body was never found.
A man named Charles Chappell was the articulator of Holmes’s misbegotten skeletons. Soon after Emeline disappeared, Holmes sent Chappell a female cadaver with the upper body nearly stripped of flesh. Years later, investigators discovered a woman’s shoeless footprint imprinted in the enameled door of Holmes’s large vault. They speculated that Holmes used acid to speed the departure of oxygen from the vault, acid which Emeline stepped in before placing her feet upon the door—possibly in an effort to kick it open.
But none of Holmes’s crimes had yet come to light. At the time, the horizon was rosy. His businesses were booming. His wife, Myrta, and daughter, Lucy, were just far enough away in Wilmette, and the World’s Fair, with its tourists ripe for the swindling, was on its way. All he needed now was a secretary. Fortune brought him Minnie Williams, who possessed talents for stenography and typewriting, as well as the perfect blend of need and weakness. Her guardian-uncle in Texas had bequeathed her a sizable estate (one-and-a-half to three million in adjusted dollars). Holmes met her in Boston some years before, and Minnie had fallen for him. He wooed her to Chicago on promises of European travel, an extravagant life, and children.
When Minnie arrived, Holmes wasted no time convincing her to transfer the deed to her Texas property to one of his aliases. He “married” Minnie quickly, although no official record of their union exists in Cook County, Illinois. Minnie’s sister Anna, however, was skeptical of Holmes, so Minnie invited her sister to Chicago to dispel her fears about her new brother-in-law.
Guests were flowing into Holmes’s World’s Fair Hotel, and the arrival of so many beautiful young female guests put Minnie into a jealous tailspin. Holmes rented a flat for her some distance from the hotel, so he could operate in peace. No one seemed to notice when guests began to disappear. A waitress, a stenographer, and a hotel guest all disappeared from Holmes’s hotel. Inside, the smells of various chemicals filled the air. Loved ones of the missing people asked questions, but Holmes’s answers were always extremely helpful and concerned.
To Holmes, people were objects to be acquired—he enjoyed the possession of his victims, the utter control. He gassed them in their rooms, or snuck in and subdued them with chloroform. He disposed of them via Chappell’s articulation skills, or in his basement furnace, or buried them in quicklime-filled pits.
In mid-June, Minnie’s sister Anna arrived for her visit. Anna was quickly entranced by Holmes and Chicago. The exotic grandeur of the World’s Fair left Anna dumbstruck with awe. Holmes gallantly invited her to stay for the summer, cementing Anna’s good opinion of her new brother-in-law.
Anna wrote excitedly to her aunt in Texas that Holmes was going to take the sisters on a world tour. Before departing, however, Holmes invited Anna on a tour of his hotel—alone.
During that special tour, Holmes murdered Anna in his gas-filled vault. To cover up her disappearance, he invited Minnie with him to the hotel to meet Anna and disposed of her there as well. He gave their clothes to Ben Pitezel’s wife, Carrie, and at least one of their remains was given to Charles Chappell for scientific disposal.
At this point, Holmes began to realize that his many debts and the questions of victims’ family members were growing too intense for him to remain in Chicago. He set fire to his hotel, as planned, but the damage was minimal. Holmes filed an insurance claim anyway, but investigators suspected him of arson. They required payment in person to the beneficiary, which happened to be one of Holmes’s many aliases, so he never collected the settlement.
Holmes’s creditors ambushed him with threats of legal action and jail. He fled the city for Texas, where he planned to stake his claim to Minnie’s land and further enrich himself. He left Chicago with his new fiancée, Georgiana Yoke, and his associate, Ben Pitezel. Before departing, however, he took out a life insurance policy on Pitezel.
In 1895, authorities compiled a list of the “missing” – hundreds of people who went to see the fair and were never heard from again. In June 1895, Detective Frank Geyer of the Philadelphia police force was assigned to find three of the missing children, the offspring of Pitezel. They had last been seen in the company of a suspect incarcerated in Moyamensing Prison, a man named Mudgett, who went by the alias H. H. Holmes.
An insurance company had engaged the Pinkerton Detective Agency to search for Holmes, suspecting him of swindling the company by faking the death of Pitezel. The Pinkertons caught up with him in Boston and had him arrested. He was then extradited to Philadelphia to await trial for insurance fraud. It soon became clear that Holmes did not fake Pitezel’s death at all, but rather killed him and made it look like an accident.
Detective Geyer began his investigation by interviewing Holmes in prison, who claimed the children were traveling in the care of one Minnie Williams, en route to where their father was “hiding.” From a collection of letters taken from Holmes after his arrest, Geyer pieced together what actually happened: Since Pitezel’s wife, Carrie, thought they really had faked her husband’s death, Holmes convinced her to let him take three of the Pitezel children to see their father in hiding. Instead, Holmes traveled with Alice, Nellie, and Howard Pitezel, enjoying his control over them. The girls wrote many letters to their mother, none of which Holmes actually posted.
Months later, Carrie was crushed by anxiety and grief over the fate of her children. Using the girls’ letters to help his detective work, Geyer retraced Holmes’s footsteps with the Pitezel children, starting in Cincinnati. From hotels to rental houses, city to city, Geyer doggedly traced the children’s path to Indianapolis. Here, young Howard became troublesome, and it was here that Holmes disposed of him. Throughout his search, Geyer maintained hope that he might find the children alive. He simply could not fathom how anyone would kill three helpless children; he believed evil had boundaries. From Indianapolis to Chicago to Detroit, Geyer followed leads.
In Detroit, he discovered that Holmes had brought Carrie and her remaining two children and kept them housed separately just a few blocks from each other. In addition, he had a separate hotel for himself and Georgiana Yoke. It was all a game for Holmes, and he reveled in the possession of his pawns. But here in Detroit, Alice wrote in her unsent letters, “Howard is not with us now.”
As Geyer peeled away the layers of Holmes’s crimes, he gained a feel for the man’s lies and behavior, even as he was stricken by the children’s tragic plight, who, homesick and forlorn, were writing letters to their mother without knowing she was only three blocks away.
By this time, Geyer’s search had made the papers, and he became somewhat of a folk hero and celebrity. Readers nationwide followed his search for the missing children, including Holmes. Geyer’s search led him to Toronto, where a tip had come in about a man matching Holmes’s description who had rented a house and once borrowed a shovel. With an associate detective, Geyer visited the address, borrowed the same shovel from the neighbor, and excavated the house’s cellar, where he found the bodies of Alice and Nellie Pitezel.
In Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison, knowing that he would soon stand trial, Holmes began writing his memoir: a florid, narcissistic amalgam of slim fact and often outright fabrication. It is unknown whether he was delusional or simply a pathological liar. He even wrote a letter to Carrie, telling her that her children were alive and well with Minnie Williams in London. When Holmes was confronted with the new development regarding the discovery of the Pitezel children, he maintained his innocence. Holmes plotted to have his memoir published to sway public opinion on his behalf.
Geyer, meanwhile, returned to Indianapolis to continue his search for Howard Pitezel. Chicago police, prompted by Geyer’s discovery of the missing girls, entered Holmes’s castle in search of evidence and quickly turned up a wealth of it. Bones, a bloodstained dissection table, surgical tools, quicklime and acid, charred women’s shoes and tattered clothing, human hair plugging a stovepipe, more and more human remains, and the walk-in vault with a woman’s footprint etched into the door. Their searches also uncovered the remains of a child. Geyer traveled to Chicago only to discover that it was the body of a little girl, thought to be Pearl Conner, a name that meant nothing to Geyer.
In all, Geyer and his associates investigated over 900 leads. Finally, on a last, desperate hunch, he stopped at a real estate office in Irvington, Illinois, on the chance that Holmes might have used it to rent a property. Lo and behold, he had. In the rental house, Holmes had installed a large wood stove. Inside the stove and flue, Geyer found human remains. Among other items, he also found Howard’s favorite toy, a tin man that his father had bought for his son at the Chicago World’s Fair.
With the discovery of the final missing Pitezel child, Frank Geyer became America’s Sherlock Holmes. On August 19, 1895, Holmes’s Murder Castle burnt to the ground. Police suspected arson; an attempt to cover up the building’s remaining secrets.
On September 12, 1895, Holmes was indicted in Philadelphia for the murder of Ben Pitezel. Indianapolis police indicted him for the murder of Howard Pitezel, and Toronto police for the murders of Nellie and Alice. Holmes’s memoir–wherein he maintained his innocence–hit newsstands shortly thereafter.
Chicago was humiliated in the national media: No one could understand how the police department could fail to notice Holmes’s tremendous number of crimes. One of the most difficult revelations was that the Chicago police chief, during his previous career as an attorney, had actually represented Holmes in several commercial lawsuits. The Chicago Times-Heraldsaid of Holmes: “He is a prodigy of wickedness, a human demon, a being so unthinkable that no novelist would dare to invent such a character. The story, too, tends to illustrate the end of a century.”
Holmes stood trial for Benjamin Pietzel’s death in late 1895. The Philadelphia district attorney called him “the most dangerous man in the world.” He was found guilty and sentenced to death. As he awaited execution, he confessed to 27 more murders, but his confession was a mixture of truth and lies. Some of the victims he named were still alive. His exact murder count will never be known, but some estimates range as high as 200.
Holmes was hanged in May 1896. In 2017, two of Holmes’s great-grandchildren successfully petitioned to have his remains exhumed, in order to finally put to rest a rumor that Holmes had somehow escaped the gallows and that someone else was buried in his place. Such was the power of Holmes’s mystique–many refused to believe that the infamous ‘White City Devil’ had actually paid for his treacherous crimes.
More than 100 later, Holmes is still the most prominent example of a evil doctor who gave himself license to kill . But there have been many more, including Michael Swango, who was arrested in 1997 for at least four murders. In Swango’s possession at the time: a notebook with quotes from books about killer doctors, including Dr. Henry Howard Holmes.
BREAK #1 (ODD DAYS)==========
Is it possible that H.H. Holmes, America’s most prolific serial killer, might also have traveled to England and become known as the infamous Jack the Ripper? We’ll explore, the possibility.
Plus – one of the problems with cryptids such as Bigfoot or Sasquatch is that they leave very little evidence behind of their existence. Their cousin the Yowie leaves even less evidence behind – on the verge of none. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any evidence.
These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns!
STORY: AMERICAN RIPPER==========
Is it possible that Jack the Ripper, the still unidentified serial killer who stalked the streets of London in the late 1800s, was the same man who is known for creating a “murder castle” in Chicago?
That man is the infamous H. H. Holmes, one of America’s earliest and most demented serial killers. Holmes was also the subject of the hugely popular 2003 book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. And Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese are the executive producers of the upcoming Hulu series based on the book.
H. H. Holmes’ murder castle included a drugstore on the first floor. A con man as well as a serial killer, he would trick people out of their money and property before taking their lives. Appearing as a normal building, the second floor was complete with disorienting connected rooms that were designed by Holmes to confuse his victims. Some rooms were made into gas chambers. To dispose of the bodies, there were actual chutes that dropped into the basement which was filled with acid vats and a crematorium.
Interest in Holmes was recently revived thanks to American Horror Story: Hotel. Evan Peters played James March, a character heavily inspired by Holmes.
The true identity of Jack the Ripper has long haunted true crime aficionados. The serial killer brutally slit the throats of and disemboweled at least five women in 1888 and may have gone on to kill more. Folklore surrounds the legend of Jack the Ripper, leaving nearly every true crime lover with a different idea about who, exactly, this elusive criminal could have been. In fact, there are now over one hundred researched theories, and a relative of Holmes is ready to add another.
This new documentary series, American Ripper, is showing in eight parts on the History Channel, the first of which aired on July 11th. The series takes a look at evidence uncovered by Holmes’ great great grandson, Jeff Mudgett, a retired lawyer. So far, the reviews are not great, pointing to the cliché, clunky feel of the show, as well as the conjecture that is presented as evidence. So far, it doesn’t seem like Mudgett should be as confident as he is with his hypothesis.
In a promo, Mudgett is seen saying, “I am a descendent of the devil. I have uncovered credible evidence which suggests that Holmes was Jack the Ripper.” This tone is carried through the episode, with Mudgett leaning hard on dramatic declarations.
The episode opens on a graveyard where Mudgett and his collaborator for the series, “former C.I.A. operative” Amaryllis Fox, are attempting to exhume the corpse of H. H. Holmes from its supposed resting place. There have long been rumors and questions surrounding whether or not Holmes was able to escape his own execution by bribes and a phony corpse.
Mudgett and his sister, Cynthia, appear to be proponents of this theory. Mudgett strongly believes that Holmes escaped his execution in Philadelphia and then fled to London where he continued to murder. According to Mudgett, Holmes traded places with another convict and was able to fool all those present for the highly documented public execution.
Packed with highly dramatic reenactments, American Ripper shows its hand early, relying on foreboding music to make the story more frightening. A deep voice narrates throughout, a mustachioed actor playing a smirking Holmes in reenactments.
We have yet to see any truly notable evidence that these two killers were the same man, but to be fair, only one of the eight segments has been shown.
Investigator Amaryllis Fox joins forces with Jeff Mudgett on the show to investigate the case by using criminal profiling techniques. She’s skeptical of his claims: “H. H. Holmes is so premeditated that he’s built a hotel for the purpose of killing his victims and disposing of their bodies. Jack the Ripper was looking for targets of opportunity and leaving their bodies for anybody to find. So that’s one glaring difference between them.”
These are big claims—sure to grab headlines and attention. This is a problem within the true crime and investigation genre, a tendency toward sensational conspiracy theories that end up hurting the investigation more than they help. Although the families of the victims of these killers are long deceased, there are many other examples of true crime media frenzies where that is not the case.
The genre of true crime is growing more and more popular in this time when we are all craving answers and clear examples of right and wrong in a world settling forever into the gray. It seems likely that we will see more wild connections and more TV shows, documentaries, and podcasts seeking the answers to old questions. For now, answers do not seem likely, but that won’t stop networks from finding ways to capitalize on the unknown.
STORY: TRACKS OF THE KEMPSEY CREATURE==========
In our 2007 book ‘The Yowie’, Tony Healy and I noted the distinct lack of physical evidence. Unlike its American counterpart, the Yowie appears to be incredibly light on its feet, with very few track reports. Tony and I often theorised why this might the case; perhaps the dryer climate, coarser soil or the smaller population available to find tracks. Of course, there was always the possibility that there never was an animal there to leave tracks in the first place.
In my four decades of research I’ve only seen what might have been yowie tracks on two occasions, both near the small town of Kempsey in northern NSW. The first – the subject of this post – was in January 1995 and the second, covered here, was in 2015. The 2015 case was probably human, while the 1995 report still puzzles me.
The location was a dirt road bordering the Ballengarra State Forest, approx. 11 km south-west of Kempsey, NSW. The date was Sunday, January 22, 1995. The Time: 5.30 pm (daylight saving). The two young witnesses were Romney, 11 years old and James, 10 (both surnames on file).
Both Romney and James had been playing with a neighbours son on her property. Around 5.30 they decided to walk the short distance back to Romney’s parents property (about 1-2km). The dirt track from the neighbours house runs up the side of a hill. After two property gates, the track joined a public dirt road that runs along the top of a ridge line. On one side of the road are a few scattered properties, and on the other steep, wooded gullies that fringe the Ballengarra State Forest. After the boys had passed through the last gate, they turned left and started walking downhill along the road towards the junction with Pipers Creek Rd.
About 100 metres from the neighbours property gate, the boys heard some noises; James thought it may have been sheep or goats and Romney felt it was a bird. Romney also said he heard two heavy footfalls at this point.
After the noises, both boys looked ahead, down the road and noticed a figure standing about 5-7 metres away, in amongst the fern and lantana bushes that fringe the embankment on the left-hand side of the road. The creature was slightly hunched over and facing away from the boys. As they watched, it straightened up, and began moving its head from side-to-side; Romney felt the creature was “sniffing”.
Their descriptions were as follows:
Romney: The creature was 8-9 ft tall and totally covered in dark brown or black hair. Its hair was several inches long, “wild and scraggly” looking. It was “way bigger” than an average person; it seemed to be “in between a human and a gorilla”, as it was “not quite the shape of a human and not quite the shape of a gorilla”. It was a “lot wider” than a human: it was “massive”. Neck of “average” length. No facial features were noted, nor arms or legs.
James: Dark, browny colour – dark. “Pretty high”. Long, wild hair all over it. Did not see arms or legs, just the “back of a big, hairy thing”. Resembled a “monkey or gorilla”.
After only a few seconds the boys turned around and began to walk – and then run – back to their neighbour’s property. Romney said he heard footsteps as they moved away from the animal. They both said they were very frightened. They told one of their older friends at the neighbours and later asked him to drive them home as they refused to walk back past the spot where the animal had stood.
The neighbours mother heard the story from the boys the next day and decided, at their insistence, to visit the spot. She was amazed to discover a series of long, broad tracks at the site. Although still skeptical, Irene later discussed the sighting with Dave Reneke of Kempsey, who (via Fortean colleague Bill Chalker) passed on the report to me.
I travelled to Kempsey on Saturday, 4 February 1995 and initially spoke with the neighbour’s mother. While skeptical, she had been impressed by the boys continued insistence that they had really seen the creature. She told me that the boys were still “spun-out” the next morning, and they wanted her to go up to the spot with her to look around.
We then both visited the site of the encounter where a number of broad, deep impressions were still visible on the overgrown track next to the dirt road. I took several photos, then we moved on to Romney’s property where I interviewed him at length about his sighting.
Romney’s story impressed me; he was an intelligent, articulate and apparently very level-headed 11 year old. His account of his experience was succinct and several efforts on my part to lead him into extra details proved fruitless. It is interesting to note that it was Romney’s account that made their neighbour feel that there may have been something to the boys claims – she felt that Romney just would not make up such a story.
Later that afternoon I again visited the site and took more photos and measurements as well as two casts of the clearer impressions. That evening I spoke to the other boy, James. James was not as articulate as Romney, but he confirmed all of the major details in Romney’s story. It was interesting to note that it seemed clear to me that James had not spoken much about his experience; his mother and father appeared quite surprised at the details that came out during our interview.
Although two weeks had elapsed since the sighting and the fact that there had been rain locally, I was able to locate 16 impressions around the site of the boy’s sighting and took two plaster casts. These imprints stretched from the top of the slope and continued in a definite trail along the track down to where the animal was seen standing. The impressions were roughly an oval shape, although with one end slightly wider than the other but no distinct toes.
The distance between prints varied from 50-100 cm. There were larger gaps between prints, however these may have due to the nature of the ground, as some areas would not have shown tracks.
The average length of the imprints was 30 cm long by 18 cm wide. Almost all of the prints were around 3-4 cm deep; by comparison, if I stood on my boot heel with my entire weight I made a 2 cm heel impression. The soil at the bottom of the prints was quite flat and hard-packed.
No arch or ball was visible, however one cast shows what could be the rounded ‘ball’ of a foot. It is interesting to note that, while the imprints did not immediately resemble human feet, both casts have the general shape-of a large foot.
Around 4 hours after I took the two casts, I left both prints with David Reneke as I went to interview James. Both of the plaster casts still had a substantial amount of soil attached to the plaster as I had only given them a partial clean. On my return, David told me that his dog (a poodle/maltese cross) had reacted in an unusual manner to the casts as they lay in the middle of their lounge room.
David and I decided to attempt to duplicate the animals reaction, but first we placed an large lump of wood in the middle of the room to see how the dog would normally react to the presence of something unusual. The animal seemed uninterested in the wood and happily ran all around the room.
The dog was then removed and one cast was placed in the room. The dog was again allowed in and its reaction was immediate – it stayed 1 -2 metres away and simply stared at the cast. It continued to stare for at least 1 -2 minutes; then it bared its teeth and commenced growling, then barking at the print. David, who was sitting on the opposite side of the cast, attempted to call the dog over to him but the animal refused to budge. The dog continued this behaviour for as long as the cast was in the room. David’s other dog showed no interest in the cast.
David told me he believed that the dog had always been particularly ‘sensitive’ to animal scents. He also indicated the dog had only acted this way once or twice before, always at items with definite animal origins.
A few days after my visit to the area I attempted to interest Port Macquarie National Parks & Wildlife staff in inspecting the tracks. I was unsuccesful, but was referred on to a Port Macquarie-based wildlife research consultant of 30 years experience.
This consultant visited the site on the weekend of 11/12 February with four others. He inspected the tracks, which were still clearly visible despite further heavy rain. He told me later that he was able to locate another 4 tracks further down the slope, yet a wider search revealed no additional impressions. He found no hair samples or indications that any large animal had made its way through the bush.
The consultant indicated that he believed that whatever had made the tracks had weighed around half a tonne. Each track was heavily compressed at each end, however there was a strip in the centre of each imprint where the soil was not heavily packed down. Strangely, he did not believe the tracks were related to what the two boys had seen.
So – 24 years later, do I believe a Yowie left those strange imprints? I remember being impressed by the boys stories, and something big, heavy and bipedal had certainly walked down that isolated bush trail. A few years ago I tracked down Romney and asked him again about his experience – he said he couldn’t even remember it! When it comes to the Yowie, what seems like solid evidence eventually just seems to slowly fade from view and disappear.
But I do still have those casts.
When Weird Darkness returns…
Weirdo family member John Parish discovers something strange going on in his home’s wood shop.
STORY: WOODWORKING GHOST==========
I am an avid woodworking kind of guy and had a really nice wood shop in my basement. Usually I would have all my wood products stacked in correct order so as to not have to look for a piece I was needing. One day I went down to the basement and saw some of my wood moved from their correct place. I put them back in place and started making a piece for either my wife or my daughter. When I had finished, some times I would leave scraps on the bench and clean them up later. After getting back home from either shopping with my wife or just out for some fun, I would go back down and begin working on the piece. I got down stairs and saw some of the scraps had been moved. Not thinking, I just placed them in the trash can and went about working.
When finished, I cleaned up the area so as to not have to worry about doing it when I had to start on another piece.
The next day I had gone down and saw some of the pieces I had placed in the trash were scattered on the work bench. I put the scraps back in the trash and emptied them outside in the dumpster. A few days later I started on a new project and again, I left some of the scraps on the bench. My wife had called out to me to go shopping with her. So I stopped what I was doing and went shopping.
We came back home, she put away the groceries and I went back down. I noticed some of the wood I was preparing to work with had been on the floor.
I know no one was home at the time so, before I did anything else, I took pictures of the mess. After, I cleaned up the wood and started back doing the project. Once it was finished I cleaned up the basement and put everything back where they were supposed to be. One night while sitting up in the living room, I heard a noise down in the basement. I went down and saw some of the wood was moved. I called out to my daughter to come and see. She went down with me and said, “What is wrong?” I said I had put all this wood back in place and now look at it. She thought I was kidding and laughed. I said, “I know I out it all back.” She suggested I place a recorder down in the basement and let it run all night.
So I got my recorder and set it on the work bench and let it run all night long. The next morning aftr I got up and had coffee, my daughter and I went back down and took the recorder back upstairs. We started playing the recording and after about 10 minutes, we heard wood hitting the floor. Some were being thrown against the wall and some where thrown on the floor. This went on for about 35 minutes and then stopped. After that my daughter told me something that was very interesting. She said, some times when she was downstairs changing her clothes, she heard a voice coming from the far side of the basement. She said it startled her and ran back up.
This house I know was haunted by several spirits, a little girl and 2 adult men. My daughter used to call her Neala and one of the men Dennis. The other she said was mischievous and would do things like hide things or just being a total turd. There were times he would go up the stairs to the bedrooms and just peek just above the landing at my daughter. After a while she got used to it and would tell him to go away and he would. These things which happened in the house is just a few of what went on and in time I will tell you some more.
Until then, thank you for listening.
SHOW CLOSE, CREDITS, A LITTLE LIGHT, AND A FINAL THOUGHT==========
Thanks for listening.
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Do you have a dark tale to tell of your own? Fact or fiction, click on “Tell Your Story” on the website and I might use it in a future episode.
All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise), and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“Wild Men In The Hills” by Sarah P. Young for Ancient Origins, and Micah Hanks for Mysterious Universe
“The Devil’s Agent” by Erik for The Paranormal Scholar
“The Smurl Family Tormentors” by Jacob Shelton for Ranker
“Woodworking Ghost” by Weirdo family member John Parish
“Tracks of the Kempsey Creature” by Paul Cropper for The Fortean
“America’s Most Creative Serial Killer” by John Freund for The Line Up
“American Ripper” by C.W.S. for The Line Up
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music.
WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2020.
If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you can find a link in the show notes.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4
And a final thought… “Sometimes the wrong choices bring us to the right places.” – Unknown
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.