“THE AXEMAN OF NEW ORLEANS” and More True and Macabre Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: The axe murders of New Orleans took place over a hundred years ago, but “The Jazzman Story” remains one of the greatest mysteries and unsolved murder cases within the annals of American crime. (The Axeman’s Jazz) *** The investigation of an apparent suicide in 1953 led to an unbelievable theory… not only had the victim used LSD years earlier, but it was quite possible it was forced upon him by the Central Intelligence Agency. (The CIA and LSD) *** You don’t often hear of people being struck and killed by lightning – at least not nowadays. But pick up a paper from the early 1900s and you’d think people were doing it as a hobby. (Death By Electrical Storm) *** January 30th, 1835 was the date of the first attempt at assassinating a sitting U.S. President – Andrew Jackson. That fact itself doesn’t warrant placement in Weird Darkness, seeing as the attempt failed – but the story leading up to the attempt, and the attempt itself, certainly earn their place in this episode. (The President and the Madman) *** I’ll end the episode in the Chamber of Comments, but before that, my last story will the most disturbing one of the episode. Most ghosts are seemingly passive or even benevolent, appearing to scare people only by accident, never by intent. But then there are the stories of violent and angry ghosts – spirits that not only bring terror, but also bloodshed and even death by their own ghostly hands. We’ll look at some famous cases of violent hauntings throughout history. *** (Originally aired November 09, 2020)
SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…
BOOK: “A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments” by H.P. Albarelli, Jr.: https://amzn.to/35gj9Xa
VIDEO: Coventry Poltergeist opens door and moves chair: https://youtu.be/SF_Rf-Jttk4
“The Axeman’s Jazz” by Kieran W. for Mystery Confidential: https://tinyurl.com/yxqsylvd
“The CIA and LSD” by Phillip Messing for the New York Post: https://tinyurl.com/ycywx8bn
“Death By Electrical Storm” from Pennsylvania Oddities: https://tinyurl.com/y3ngsdbq
“The President And The Madman” by Dr. Romeo Vitelli for Providentia: https://tinyurl.com/yyuvu36j
“Vicious and Violent Hauntings” by Robert F. Mason for Ranker: https://tinyurl.com/y5t9srwm
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OTHER PODCASTS I HOST…
Paranormality Magazine: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/paranormalitymag
Micro Terrors: Scary Stories for Kids: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/microterrors
Retro Radio – Old Time Radio In The Dark: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/retroradio
Church of the Undead: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/churchoftheundead
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(Over time links seen above may become invalid, disappear, or have different content. I always make sure to give authors credit for the material I use whenever possible. If I somehow overlooked doing so for a story, or if a credit is incorrect, please let me know and I will rectify it in these show notes immediately. Some links included above may benefit me financially through qualifying purchases.)
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Welcome, Weirdos – (I’m Darren Marlar and) this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode…
The investigation of an apparent suicide in 1953 led to an unbelievable theory… not only had the victim used LSD years earlier, but it was quite possible it was forced upon him by the Central Intelligence Agency. (The CIA and LSD)
You don’t often hear of people being struck and killed by lightning – at least not nowadays. But pick up a paper from the early 1900s and you’d think people were doing it as a hobby. (Death By Electrical Storm)
January 30th, 1835 was the date of the first attempt at assassinating a sitting U.S. President – Andrew Jackson. That fact itself doesn’t warrant placement in Weird Darkness, seeing as the attempt failed – but the story leading up to the attempt, and the attempt itself, certainly earn their place in this episode. (The President and the Madman)
I’ll end the episode in the Chamber of Comments, but before that, my last story will the most disturbing one of the episode. Most ghosts are seemingly passive or even benevolent, appearing to scare people only by accident, never by intent. But then there are the stories of violent and angry ghosts – spirits that not only bring terror, but also bloodshed and even death by their own ghostly hands. We’ll look at some famous cases of violent hauntings throughout history.
But first… The axe murders of New Orleans took place over a hundred years ago, but “The Jazzman Story” remains one of the greatest mysteries and unsolved murder cases within the annals of American crime. We begin with that story. (The Axeman’s Jazz)
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, to visit sponsors you hear about during the show, sign up for my newsletter, enter contests, connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: THE AXEMAN’S JAZZ=====
They were a series of night slayings that were committed during a Post-War age of Jazz and new found optimism that were both dark and terrifying. It is a chilling story of terror during a seemingly golden time of boom where a New America had emerged but a night prowler was invading homes and creating night-time carnage and chaos.
The Axeman’s modern status is one of mythological urban legend and the rumors and theories behind this killer range from the interesting to the downright farfetched but terrifyingly the Axeman was real – very real.
There were four people brutally murdered and eight grievously injured by the Axeman. They were all New Orleans (and the neighboring Gretna) residents, predominantly Italian-Americans and they were attacked within their own bedrooms by a “panel burglar”. The weapon of choice usually belonged to the homeowner and the attacks took place inside the homes of the people where this creature struck. The attacks occurred from May 1918 until October 1919 and now more than 100 years later they remain unsolved. There were unfounded reports of attacks going back to 1911 however these have subsequently been questioned by researchers.
The letter sent by the “Axeman” claimed to spare anyone that was playing jazz – thus establishing the somewhat twisted and yet almost romantic motif that the Axeman was killing to promote his own love of jazz.
The city of New Orleans was in the grip of fear by 1918. The attacks were surprising and vicious. The first victim, an Italian-American called Joseph Maggio had his skull fractured and his throat cut with a razor while his wife Catherine choked on her own blood – this clearly demonstrated the police description of a “murderous degenerate who gloats over blood”. In the spirit of a later serial killer known as the Night Stalker and pre-dating the infamous Richard Ramirez’s trademark of breaking into houses in the middle of the night this was the original Night Stalker. The Axeman had many of the same traits of Ramirez. He was a home invader with a desperate hate for women and a need to punish those as they remained the most vulnerable a human being could possibly be – asleep. There is of course a strong possibility too that the attacks were a sexual compulsion.
Here are the contents of the letter sent by the axeman:
[“Hottest Hell, March 13, 1919
“Esteemed Mortal of New Orleans:
“They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.
“When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.
“If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don’t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.
“Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens (and the worst), for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.
“Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:
“I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it out on that specific Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.
“Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy. –The Axeman”]
And on the night of March 19th the Jazzman got his wish. The dancehalls were full and the majority of houses blared out jazz throughout the night and no murders occurred. However – it is impossible to distinguish if the letter from the Axeman was real or a hoax, in much the same way that we cannot identify the “From Hell” letters supposedly penned by Jack the Ripper. It is of course the most glamorized and famous aspect of the Axeman tale.
Strangely enough the unidentified Axeman was not even the first Axeman of New Orleans during that era. Clementine Barnabet was convicted in 1913 for a murder she carried out in 1911 whereby Clementine was a “voodoo murderess” with the same penchant for axe wielding as our Jazzman. The only difference is that she was awaiting execution at the time of the 1918 slayings. Claiming (allegedly) up to 35 victims she was described as “braining her victims with an axe”. Clementine is the stuff of an Anne Rice novel – true fantastical I cannot believe it is true New Orleans lore. To have this coincide with the Jazz loving Axeman is even more crazy and the overlap between the 1911 axe murder reporting and the 1918-1919 slayings could be explained by the presence of Bloody Clementine. In 1923 Clementine walked out of prison and was never seen again.
The first murder conclusively linked to the Axeman was on May 22nd 1918 where store owner Joseph Maggio and his wife Catherine were discovered lying in pool of blood within their bedchamber. Joseph’s brother who was also a next door neighbor discovered the bodies. The killer had entered the house by chiseling a lower wooden panel out of the backdoor. The axe was left in the bathroom of the horror house and the razor was found in the neighbor’s garden. There was no evidence of stealing and thus no link to burglary as a motive…
The only clue found at the scene was a cryptic message written in chalk on the pavement a short way away from the murder house. It read:
Mrs Maggio will sit up tonight just like Mrs Toney.
The police linked the message to Mrs Tony Schiambra who was killed some 6 years earlier by an axe man. Again; experts cast doubt on whether any attacks prior to 1918 were carried out by the same man however this could link to a copycat slaying. Unfairly but beginning a running theme throughout the case Joseph’s brother was considered an early suspect in the murder. Andrew Maggio was booked in for questioning but released when police failed to break down his statement.
A month later the Axeman struck again. On 27th June baker John Zanca went to make a delivery to grocery store owner Louis Besumer (another Italian-American). Zanca was aghast to discover the remains of Besumer and what appeared to be his wife covered in blood but somehow both were still alive. Besumer had been hacked at with an axe (the attacker had again entered through a panel via the backdoor) and attacked the seemingly ‘married couple’ while Louis Besumer and ‘wife’ Harriet lay sleeping. In a bizarre turn of events it emerged that Harriet was NOT Mrs Besumer but Louis Besumer’s mistress. Louis Besumer had been attacked with his own axe which again was found in the bathroom and there were no valuables taken. The police rounded up suspects including one of Louis Besumer’s employees but a lack of evidence produced no further charges. Harriet was to die two months later as a result of her injuries. Harriet’s final act before dying was to accuse Besumer of espionage and working on behalf of the Germans and pointed the finger at him for the attack. Louis Besumer (rather unfairly) was even put on trial for the attack but was acquitted.
The next victim was Mrs Schneider (a non-Italian victim). Schneider was pregnant at the time and was discovered by her husband with her scalp cut open and her teeth knocked out. She had managed to survive the attack and would later safely give birth to her daughter. The survival of some victims (despite horrific injuries) would indicate a frenzied nature of attack, rather than a methodical and pragmatic serial killer – the Axeman appeared to be attacking through methods of carnage and savagery. An FBI profiler would probably tell you that this indicates some form of rage and hatred towards women (or Italian-Americans). With Mrs Schneider’s attack the windows and doors showed no signs of forced entry and rather than an axe, a lamp was discovered near the scene and likely used in the attack. It kept in line with the victims being attacked by their own possessions.
The next target after Mrs Schneider was Joseph Romano. Romano was an elderly man who lived with his two nieces Pauline and Mary Bruno. The attack occurred on the 10th August 1918.
The sisters had found Joseph after he had been struck on the head and was discovered bleeding badly. They managed to get a peek of the Axeman and described him as dark-skinned, heavyset and wearing a dark suit with a slouched hat. The intruder had again used a chisel to the panels to force entry. Mr Romano died two days after the attack resulting from the injuries. The attack to Joseph Romano sent the whole of New Orleans into frenzy and police believed that they were looking for a real life Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Police detective John Dantonio believed that they were looking for a seemingly normal person in plain sight with a dark and devious double persona. It was now that the idea of a mass murderer was taking shape (serial killer was by then an unused term).
The next attack was particularly disturbing. The Cortimiglia family were attacked by the Axeman on the 10th March 1919. This time the attack occurred in the New Orleans suburb of Gretna. For unknown reasons it occurred seven months after the last attack and there is no explanation into the hiatus; however the M.O remained eerily similar. They were Italian Americans and grocers. The Axeman had entered the house by chiseling through the backdoor panel and attacked with the victim’s own axe. The Axeman had struck Charles Cortimiglia across the head causing a fracture and then turned his attention to his wife Rosie who was holding their two-year old infant Mary. Little Mary would die instantly with Charles and Rosie (despite their serious injuries) surviving the incident. It was fellow grocer Mr Iorlando Jordano that came to their aide when he heard the blood curdling screams and then alerted the authorities. Unfortunately for Mr Jordano he was then accused by Rosie Cortimiglia of the murders. Making an accusation, which Rosie later admitted was made out of spite and jealousy, saw Iorlando Jordano and his son Frank sentenced to life in prison and hanging respectively. Charles was allegedly so disgusted by his wife’s actions and the false accusation (which he told police were untrue at the time) that he reportedly divorced her. With Rosie later recanting her testimony the two men were then released and spared the multiple murder charges.
It was after the Cortimiglia attack that the infamous letter was sent to the Times-Picayune newspaper where the Axeman threatened an entire city and the city rather surreally threw a massive jazz party to keep him at bay.
The next attacks were questionable. The victims were Steve Boca and Sarah Laumann who both managed to survive. However the authenticity into these two incidents being the Axeman has always been questioned. The MO of attacking women matches Sarah Laumann and Laumann also suffered severe skull fractures and had her teeth knocked out in the attack however this time the perpetrator had entered through an open window and not the chiseling of the panels. Steve Boca’s attack was unusual in that there were no women present at the time of his attack and despite surviving he claimed to not remember anything from the attack. Many believe that these attacks were the work of a copycat as they either did not follow the same MO or unusually attacked a single man in his bedchambers.
The final slaying by the Axeman was on the 27th October 1919 against another Italian-American grocer called Mike Pepitone. Pepitone was awakened by a noise and was struck at his front door by an Axe wielding darkened figure. The figure then fled into the night unidentified by the Pepitone family. The blood from Pepitone’s wounds had sprayed onto a painting of the Virgin Mary. In this instance the nature of the attack and Pepitone catching them at the front door had fortunately spared both Pepitone’s wife and his six children.
And then after October 1919 the string of attacks just stopped…
Who was the Jazz-loving axeman?
The first theory points to the Italian-American mafia. Due to the attacks mainly being carried out on Italian-American grocers it has led some to believe that it was the “Black Hand” that was behind the axe attacks.
The Black Hand was an early form of the Mafia in America and could link the murder to hardworking Italian-American business owners to an extortion racket run in New Orleans. This links the attacks to an old-fashioned vendetta in order to settle old scores and repay any outstanding debts.
Joseph Mumfre is the only legitimate suspect linked to the real identity of the Axeman. Mumfre was connected to the New Orleans extortion racket and was later shot dead by Mike Pepitone’s widow in Los Angeles 1920. Further research has drawn a blank on this theory as there is no record of a “Mumfre” having been in California let alone dying in California during that time and there is no source of a Mrs. Pepitone being arrested for any crime which leads many to claim that the entire story is an urban legend. The story of Esther Pepitone avenging her husband’s murder against an Italian mobster sounds almost too good to be true.
And into the realm of fantasy theories with many believing that the Axe Murders were the work of Clementine Barnabet’s copycat killers or a ‘phantom’ that could appear in houses in the middle of the night and existed in a realm of fancy. Anne Rice inspired ghost of the night that was attacking those as they slept vulnerably. This of course is a perfect explanation to blend into the gothic history of New Orleans but it is of course an idea of pure imagination….
Coming up… The investigation of an apparent suicide in 1953 led to an unbelievable theory… could the CIA have been forcing people to take LSD?
Pick up a paper from the early 1900s and you’d think people were getting killed by lightning every other day.
The first attempt at assassinating a sitting U.S. President not only was a failure – but the story is a bit on the bizarre side as well. These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: THE CIA AND LSD=====
On Nov. 28, 1953, Frank Olson, a bland, seemingly innocuous 42-year-old government scientist, plunged to his death from room 1018A in New York’s Statler Hotel, landing on a Seventh Avenue sidewalk just opposite Penn Station.
Olson’s ignominious end was written off as an unremarkable suicide of a depressed government bureaucrat who came to New York City seeking psychiatric treatment, so it attracted scant attention at the time.
But 22 years later, the Rockefeller Commission report was released, detailing a litany of domestic abuses committed by the CIA. The ugly truth emerged: Olson’s death was the result of his having been surreptitiously dosed with LSD days earlier by his colleagues.
The shocking disclosure led to President Gerald Ford’s apology to Olson’s widow and his three children, who accepted a $750,000 civil payment for his wrongful death.
But the belated 1975 mea culpa failed to close a tawdry chapter of our nation’s past. Instead it generated more interest into a series of wildly implausible “mind control” experiments on an unsuspecting populace over three decades.
Much of this plot unfolded in New York, according to H.P. Albarelli Jr., author of “A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments” which I’ve linked to in the show notes.
“For me, in countless ways the Olson story is a New York City story,” said Albarelli, a former lawyer in the Carter White House, who has written extensively about biological warfare and intelligence matters. “The CIA itself was created and initially composed of wealthy men who came from Wall Street and New York City law firms.”
Olson was a research scientist assigned to the CIA’s Special Operations Division, at Ft. Detrick, Md., who was performing top secret research relating to LSD-25, a powerful new drug whose properties were barely understood. Could psychedelic drugs be used to get enemy combatants to lay down their arms, or work as a truth serum on reluctant prisoners?
Albarelli spent more than a decade sifting through more than 100,000 pages of government documents and his most startling chestnut might be his claim that the intelligence community conducted aerosol tests of LSD inside the New York City subway system.
“The experiment was pretty shocking — shocking that the CIA and the Army would release LSD like that, among innocent unwitting folks,” Albarelli told The Post.
A declassified FBI report from the Baltimore field office dated Aug. 25, 1950 provides some tantalizing support for the claim. “The BW [biological weapon] experiments to be conducted by representatives of the Department of the Army in the New York Subway System in September 1950, have been indefinitely postponed,” states the memo, a copy of which the author provided to The Post
An Olson colleague, Dr. Henry Eigelsbach, confirmed to Albarelli that the LSD subway test did, in fact, occur in November 1950, albeit on a smaller scale than first planned. Little, however, is known about the test — what line, how many people and what happened.
The purported experiment occurred nearly a year before a more infamous August 1951 incident in the small town of Pont St. Esprit, in the south of France, when the citizens were hit by a case of mass insanity.
Over a two-day period, some 250 residents sought hospital care after hallucinating for no apparent reason. Thirty-two patients were hauled off to mental asylums. Four died. Mercury poisoning or ergot, a fungus of rye bread, was cited as the culprit. But ergot is also one of the central ingredient of LSD. And curiously enough, Olson and his government pals were in France when the craziness erupted.
Albarelli also introduces us to George Hunter White — a ne’er-do-well agent for the Bureau of Narcotics, a forerunner to the current Drug Enforcement Administration, he was on “special contract” with the CIA.
It was White, Olson’s colleague Eigelsbach contends, who was behind the November 1950 New York City subway test — as well as a second test two years later, Albarelli claims.
“George White in 1952 did release a small amount of aerosol LSD in a subway car. He was pleased with the results as indicated in his diary, but his reports on the incident were destroyed by the CIA in 1973,” he says.
But with the CIA’s most important records on such matters destroyed or cloaked in national security claims, it remains difficult to prove whether these purported subway tests occurred.
Still, Albarelli’s portrait of White — a gruff, chain-smoking, gin-swilling reprobate with an occasional fondness for opium, hookers and Mafiosi drug-dealers — makes it apparent that if anyone could have tested LSD on an unsuspecting public, it would be him.
White had set up a CIA safe house at 81 Bedford Street, in Greenwich Village, comprised of two apartments conjoined with a hidden two-way mirror and doorway. Posing as a seaman or artist, he would regularly recruit strangers for social gatherings there, where they would be plied with psychedelic drugs, often without their knowledge. The aim was to see if White could successfully extract information from them and to assess those results, according to one CIA document.
In between home experimenting, White was well known as a carouser. The safe house was down the block from Chumley’s, a former speakeasy and now defunct bar, where White once took James Jesus Angleton, the former CIA head.
The good news for people of New York, was when they stumbled out of Chumley’s, it was a short walk home — and they didn’t need to ride the subway to get there.
STORY: DEATH BY ELECTRICAL STORM=====
Most of us don’t know anyone who has been personally struck by lightning, and that’s because people just don’t get struck much by lightning anymore. If you’re like me, however, and enjoy reading old newspapers, you’ve probably noticed that just a century ago, people seemed to be getting killed by lightning left and right.
There are probably several reasons for this; for starters, weather forecasting was a crude and primitive science in those days. There also weren’t as many tall structures a century ago as there are today, and the booming mining and timber industries left a whole lot of Pennsylvania out in the open, without many tall trees for lightning to strike. Or maybe people back then were just walking around with more metal objects strapped to them. Or maybe folks back then ate a diet that was very rich in iron. Who knows.
One particularly strange event took place in the summer of 1918 which shows just how dangerous thunderstorms could be back in the old days. On July 24, 1918, a severe storm rolled through the Coal Region, and by the end of the afternoon, four unfortunate children– all of them under the age of fifteen– had lost their lives after being struck by lightning.
Three girls from Ashland– Ruth Krum, Mary Young and Catherine Price– were swimming in the lake at Fountain Springs Country Club when the storm approached. Despite the rumblings of thunder and the flashes of lightning, they refused to leave the water. The girls were standing on the diving board, and just after Catherine dove into the water, a bolt of lightning made a direct hit on the diving board. Catherine was under water when the lightning struck, but the bolt had been so powerful that she was temporarily blinded and deafened. When she came to the surface, she was horrified to find that her friend, Mary, was floating in the lake in the vicinity of the beach, with her head under the water.
Catherine, still stunned by the bolt, fumbled and crawled along the shore until she reached the dam, and made a valiant effort to retrieve Mary’s body by dragging her out of the water by the hair. Frantically she attempted to revive her friend, but when she saw that it was a lost cause, she ran up the hill to the club house, where an ambulance was summoned from the Fountain Springs Hospital. Two doctors and a handful of assistants raced to the scene, but once they realized that Mary was beyond revival, they stripped off their clothes and jumped into the lake to search for Ruth Krum. She was eventually located in twelve feet of water. The bodies were then transported to the hospital.
At the hospital, an examination revealed that neither of the victims had water in their lungs, which meant they were dead before they fell from the diving board. Ruth’s hair had been singed, and Mary’s body bore a clearly visible imprint of Ruth’s hand on Mary’s chest.
Meanwhile, just a few miles away in Kulpmont, a mother was grieving the loss of two of her sons. Milla Klapps, along with her young boys Salvatore and Jerry, were out in the woods picking huckleberries with a friend, Michael Vinarchick, when the sky darkened. Mrs. Klapps, putting maternal instinct ahead of common sense, made the fatal mistake of finding shelter beneath a tree. Salvatore and Jerry were killed instantly by the lightning strike, while Mrs. Klapps and the Vinarchick boy were rendered unconscious. There were many other people out in the woods that day picking berries, and after witnessing the tragedy they raced to Scott Colliery and called for an ambulance, and all four victims were taken to Shamokin Hospital.
Moments later, Scott Colliery was also struck by lightning, but a quickly-organized bucket brigade managed to extinguish the fire before any damage could be done. Lightning also struck the Kulpmont homes of J. Gottchall and Frank Savitsky, causing a fire to break out. By the time the flames were extinguished the house was left without a roof, all the furniture ruined by the rain.
The powerful storm rained destruction upon the villages and mining patches across the Coal Region that fateful day. The storm was so powerful that it was even felt underground; in Excelsior, lightning struck the top of the Corbin Colliery, and the electricity traveled five hundred feet below the surface along a metal rail, stunning three miners, one of whom was initially reported as dead (though he later recovered).
In Shamokin, lightning struck the Reformed Church, causing slight damage, though hail caused significant damage to other homes and property in the city. In Elysburg, acres of crops were flattened by the hail, and several bridges and roads throughout the region were washed out by the rain.
STORY: THE PRESIDENT AND THE MADMAN=====
While every January 30 usually comes and goes without any fanfare, it actually marks an anniversary of sorts. It was on that day in 1835 that the first assassination attempt on a United States president occurred. Even that in itself may not have been all that noteworthy given later U.S. history but, well, listen to what happened…
The would-be assassin, Richard Lawrence was born in England in or around the year 1800 (the exact date is lost to history) and that his family emigrated to the United States when he was twelve years old. There is little other information concerning his early life in Virginia (not far from Washington, D.C.) aside from his being a completely unremarkable house painter who became increasingly unstable and unemployable as he grew older. While the prevailing opinion was that he was schizophrenic, later sources have suggested that his psychiatric problems may have been related to chemical exposure from the toxic paints that he had used as a painter.
In any event, what was not in dispute was that, by 1832, he had developed some extremely grandiose delusions and his behaviour became increasingly bizarre. Despite telling his family that he had decided to return to England, he soon claimed that he had been prevented from traveling abroad by the U.S. government and that the newspapers were carrying stories about him. He also insisted that the government owed him a large sum of money since he was really King Richard III of England. At some point, he began obsessing about then-President Andrew Jackson whom he believed was behind the conspiracy against him. Lawrence became convinced that President Jackson cheated him out of money in a conspiracy with steamship companies and had murdered his (Lawrence’s) father as well.
To avenge his father’s murder and to end the conspiracy against him, Lawrence decided to assassinate President Jackson since he felt Vice President Martin Van Buren would be more sympathetic to his cause. With that in mind, , purchased two pistols and began watching the President’s movements carefully. Witnesses would later report seeing Lawrence in his paint shop quietly laughing to himself as he made preparations for his assassination scheme.
He finally had his chance when President Jackson went to the U.S. Capitol to attend the funeral of a prominent Congressman on January 30, 1835. Choosing his spot carefully, Lawrence waited for the President to pass as he was emerging from the Capitol rotunda. Though he had originally planned to shoot the President before he entered the U.S. Capitol where the service was being held, he decided to wait for a better opportunity. Since there was little real security around the President (it was a much more innocent time), Lawrence had no problem approaching President Jackson . As the opportunity came, Lawrence drew his pistol and aimed at the President before firing at point-blank range. Except for the pistol jamming at that very moment.
President Jackson, an old military man who no doubt felt that his days of facing enemy fire were long behind him, was quick to react. He raised his cane but Lawrence drew his second pistol and fired. That gun misfired too. At this point, President Jackson managed to strike Lawrence several times with his cane and other funeral attenders (including then-Congressman Davy Crockett) wrestled Lawrence to the ground. By this point, Lawrence, who was still stunned by the President’s attack, likely hoped that the crowd would be rescuing him instead of his intended victim. He was promptly taken into custody and treated for his wounds.
Lawrence was examined by two prominent American physicians who later testified as to his mental state. The guns that he had used were later found to be in perfect working order. As it happened, the weather that day was especially damp and the guns Lawrence used were especially vulnerable to moisture. Naturally enough, there was rampant speculation that Lawrence had been part of a greater conspiracy organized by the President’s opponents but no evidence for this could be found. According to sources, President Jackson became somewhat paranoid in his belief that a conspiracy was at work but things settled down eventually.
The trial was almost a foregone conclusion and it only took the jury a few minutes to find Lawrence Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. He was hospitalized and eventually died in the Washington, D.C. Government Hospital for the Insane in 1861. It was this same hospital, later renamed St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, where John Hinckley Jr. was committed after his trial for the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.
Would U.S. history have been altered if Lawrence had succeeded? Probably. Was anything learned from the nearly successful attack? Not really. It took three successful assassinations before the U.S. Secret Service was charged with Presidential security. Richard Lawrence represents an early example of how easily a lone, mentally disturbed individual could commit violence against a prominent figure due to a personal grudge. It is a theme that would be revisited time and again.
When Weird Darkness returns… We’ll look at some of the most horrifying, terrifying, and even deadly hauntings in history – ghosts that might not just scare you to death, but actively murder you. The most violent hauntings in history are up next.
STORY: VICIOUS AND VIOLENT HAUNTINGS=====
Most ghosts are seemingly passive or even benevolent, appearing to scare people only by accident, never by intent. Ghosts that are violent (also known as poltergeists), however, are in a class by themselves. Stories suggest that some of these malevolent spirits have actually killed people. The most famous cases of violent hauntings have inspired multiple books and movie adaptations. We’re about to look at some of the most vicious “true” hauntings around the world and throughout history.
THE NAMELESS HORROR OF BERKELEY SQUARE: Most people think of hauntings as something ghosts do, but the entity haunting 50 Berkeley Square in London, England, has paranormal enthusiasts and experts a bit baffled. By all accounts, it seems to be something other-worldly, but precisely what is still up for debate.
The earliest verified account of the horror dates from the 1840s, when 20-year-old Sir Robert Warboys took a dare to spend the night in the supposedly haunted upstairs bedroom of a house surrounded by scary rumors for years. He went in with a gun and a candle, and a bell system for alerting the landlord, just in case. He never came out alive. Just an hour after he entered the bedroom, the landlord heard the bell ringing frantically, followed by a gunshot. When he got to Warboys’ room on the second floor, he found the young man dead, with a look of horror on his face and a bullet hole in the wall opposite the body. It seemed he had perished because of fright, but due to what, no one could ever figure out.
After a series of residents, many with stories of hauntings, the home was left to sit vacant. A second, better-documented incident occurred a few decades later in 1887. This time, two sailors – Edward Blunden and Robert Martin – found themselves without a place to stay on Christmas Eve and decided to crash in the empty house on Berkeley Street. Martin fell asleep but was awakened in the night by the sound of Blunden fighting something. Martin awoke to a scene that caused him to flee the building in terror: Blunden was being strangled by a brown, formless shape that had tendrils, one of which it was using to strangle Blunden. (These tentacle-like appendages have led some to suspect the entity is not a ghost, but a “semi-aquatic, predatory, cryptid phenomenon” that surfaces from the London sewer system.)
Martin ran from the house and returned with a police officer, only to find that Blunden had been thrown from the second story of the house and crushed on the street below. (In another version of the story, Blunden’s mangled body was found in the basement, at the foot of the stairs.)
The house is still there today, complete with an antiquarian bookshop on the first floor. By police order, no employee or customer of the store is allowed to explore the building’s upper floors, though they do report strange noises from that part of the house.
It’s probably for the best, since the creature – or whatever it is – that lives upstairs has reportedly claimed at least two lives so far.
THE ENFIELD POLTERGEIST: If you’ve seen The Conjuring 2, this story may sound familiar. Loosely based upon the Enfield haunting, the movie embellished some of the details for dramatic effect. Nonetheless, the Enfield haunting remains one of the most widely debated and, if true, most violent episodes of ghost activity in the 20th century.
The trouble started on the night of August 30, 1977, when two of the Hodgson children witnessed a wardrobe inexplicably sliding across the floor and loud banging noises. After alerting their mother, Peggy, she called the police. Once there the police reportedly witnessed a chair sliding across the room by itself. All were left to conclude that some invisible force was at work in the house.
Before long, the Hodgson family’s youngest daughter, Janet, became the focus of paranormal activity in the house. It seems she became possessed by the ghost of the house’s previous resident, Bill Wilkins, who died of a brain hemorrhage in the home before the Hodgsons moved in.
Janet was levitated by the alleged spirit, and she also spoke through her in a creepy male voice, sharing details of his passing. Objects flew through the air, family members and visitors were physically assaulted, and matches were spontaneously lit by the restless spirit.
Some people dismissed the case as an elaborate hoax, but several eyewitnesses came forward with stories to corroborate their claims. One of them was a policewoman who signed an affidavit attesting that she had seen a chair levitate and move on its own in the house.
The alarming activities eventually subsided. Family members said they continued to feel a presence, but active haunting stopped. A subsequent family to live in the house reported hearing voices and feeling a presence, but nothing as extreme as those reported by the Hodgson family. The public and countless experts continue to debate whether the haunting the Hodgson family reported was a hoax or real. The surviving Hodgson children continue to maintain that the events truly happened.
THE HAUNTING OF MARIA JOSE FERREIRA: Maria Jose Ferreira was just 11 years old when she became the target of a malicious poltergeist – and she did not survive the ordeal.
It happened in Jaboticabal, Brazil, in 1965. The angry spirit manifested stones and bricks out of nowhere and targeted little Maria with various physical assaults, including scratches, slaps, and bites, leaving her constantly battered and bruised. A visit by an exorcist did little to help; in fact, it seems to have provoked the spirit even further, to the point where it was setting Maria on fire in public places, in full view of many witnesses unconnected to the case.
A visit to a spirit medium revealed the source of the poltergeist’s animosity: Maria had apparently been a hurtful witch in a previous life and was now being tormented by the spirits of people her previous incarnation had sent to their deaths with black magic.
The medium beseeched the spirits to leave the innocent girl alone, but to no avail. Maria returned home and continued to be tormented until she took her own life with pesticides. After her passing, the manifestations stopped in the Ferreira home.
THE BELL WITCH: The legend of the Bell Witch has been described as America’s greatest ghost story, and some versions of the tale even involved a future US President. That last bit is likely an embellishment, but some claims about the story have been documented.
In the early 1800s, the Bell family settled in what would one day be Adams, TN, near the Red River. John Bell and his wife, Lucy, had three children: Elizabeth (Betsy) was born in 1806, Richard in 1811, and Joel in 1813.
Beginning in 1817, John and daughter Betsy became the targets of violent attacks by an invisible entity that eventually spoke to them. “Kate,” as the spirit came to be called, would slap, bite, scratch, and otherwise assault everyone in the family from time to time, but seemed to hold special animus towards Betsy and John.
Before long, the spirit’s manifestations became accompanied by curses, one of which supposedly slayed John Bell in 1820.
The Bell Witch legend was so famous in its own time that the family’s quest for help is said to have reached the ears of future US President Andrew Jackson, who came to visit the home with his men, armed with silver bullets to protect themselves. But like all others who tried to help the Bells, they were driven away by the vengeful spirit.
Eventually, “Kate” gave up her vendetta against the Bells and is said to have retreated to a cave on their old property,where hauntings and bizarre occurrences continue to be reported to this day.
ELISA LAM AND THE CECIL HOTEL: It’s one of the creepiest unsolved mysteries in Los Angeles history, but the death of Elisa Lam at the Cecil Hotel wasn’t the first time this building had been associated with strange passings. Indeed, the hotel has a long history of murder and the macabre, which is one reason it became the inspiration for American Horror Story: Hotel.
Elisa Lam’s case is exceedingly hair-raising, even to skeptics. Security camera footage shows she spent almost four minutes in an elevator, alternately talking to and trying to hide from someone who isn’t visible. All the while, the elevator doors don’t close, staying open much longer than they’re designed to. She then leaves the elevator, never to be seen alive again. She was reported missing, and eventually her body was discovered in the hotel’s rooftop water tanks after hotel residents complained about the water’s taste and color. There’s no plausible way Elisa could have gained easy access to the water tanks, and despite the fact that the coroner ruled her death an accident, it sparked numerous conspiracy theories, one of them being that she was either possessed by or trying to evade one of the spirits who haunts the Cecil.
Elisa’s passing is only the latest in a long series of strange deaths and macabre incidents at the Cecil. Almost from the beginning of the building’s history, it has attracted violence and tragedy.
In recent times, the Cecil Hotel was the home of two serial killers, Richard Ramirez (“The Night Stalker”), and later, his admirer and copycat, Jack Unterweger. It’s also said that the Cecil Hotel is the last place Elizabeth Short (“The Black Dahlia”) was seen alive.
THE SOUTH SHIELDS POLTERGEIST: The South Shields poltergeist is a recent case of spiritual harassment and assault where the entity seemed to have a fetish for toys. Specifically, the toys belonging to a 3-year-old boy, which the spirit used to terrorize the boy’s parents.
In December 2005, “Marc and Marianne,” a couple living with their young son Robert in South Shields, England, began to notice strange things happening in their house. Furniture moved by itself. Doors opened and closed of their own accord. Chairs would be found stacked in bizarre configurations.
Then, the entity reportedly became violent. One evening while Marianne and Marc were in bed together, Marianne got hit in the back of the head with one of her son’s toys. Marc was beside her, and it appeared as if no one else was in the room. The couple was then pummeled with toys being thrown at them seemingly out of nowhere. As they tried to shield themselves with their covers, they found themselves in a tug-of-war with an invisible entity that tried to steal their blanket. The encounter ended when Marc felt a searing pain on his back, and 13 red scratches appeared on his skin.
That’s when the poltergeist’s toy fetish fully manifested. It left a rocking horse hanging from a ceiling fan. Marc and Marianne found a stuffed rabbit sitting in a toy chair at the top of their stairs, with a box cutter in its lap. Malicious messages began to appear on their son’s doodle board and even their cell phones (always from untraceable sources), saying things like “go die” or “you’re dead.”
Sometimes, young Robert would go missing for long periods of time, only to be discovered hiding in strange parts of the house, like closets and cupboards.
Paranormal investigators were called in, who claimed to witness several incidents themselves, and even to have seen the entity manifest. They described it as a midnight black, three-dimensional silhouette that “radiated sheer evil.”
And then, as abruptly as it had begun, the haunting stopped. Though Marianne says she will never be the same and remains traumatized, reportedly no additional paranormal activity has occurred at their home.
THE BLACK MONK OF PONTEFRACT: Yorkshire, England, 1966: the Pritchard family wasn’t expecting trouble. And at first, the haunting seemed fairly innocuous: strange noises now and then, the occasional chair moved around, etc.
But sometime around August of that year, the entity at work in their home at 30 East Drive on the Chequerfields Estate decided to ramp up the horror.
Like many poltergeists, the thing focused a great deal of attention on children – in this case, the Pritchard’s daughter, Diane. She was thrown from her bed, and at one point dragged up the stairs by her neck, leaving welts and bruises in the form of a hand print.
The entity began to manifest itself visually, in the form of a dark-robed figure that hovered at the feet of family member’s beds.
And then, like many poltergeist cases before it, the haunting stopped abruptly, never to resume.
Years after the events, a paranormal investigator discovered the Pritchard’s house stood near the former grounds of a medieval rectory, and across the street from an old gallows where many people had been sent to their demise over the centuries.
Among those hanged there in the past was a Cluniac monk who’d been convicted of raping and murdering a young girl, not much older than Diane had been at the time of the haunting.
Based on this information, and the entity’s description, it was concluded that the haunting of the Pritchards was carried out by this monk’s angry ghost, who lost interest in Diane after she became too old for his sick desires. “The Black Monk” now had a moniker, and went down in the record books as one of Europe’s most violent hauntings.
THE GREAT AMHERST MYSTERY: The haunting of Esther Cox is one of the most famous haunting accounts in all of ghost lore. It centered around Cox and her home in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada, beginning in 1878. It seems to have been triggered by Esther experiencing a violent attack and near sexual assault by a male friend. The attack understandably left Cox in great emotional distress, and there may have been a connection between that and the events that followed.
There was knocking and banging throughout the night, and Esther’s body began to swell as she alternated between high fevers and periods of very low body temperature. Then objects in the house began to fly around.
The doctor who was called in to help Cox witnessed her bedclothes being moved, heard scratching noises from an undetermined source, and saw the words “Esther Cox, you are mine to kill” appear on the wall at the head of her bed.
Esther tried moving to other houses, but whatever hurtful entities haunted her followed along. Among their tactics were the setting of small fires, one of which burned down Cox’s host’s farmhouse and resulted in her serving jail time for arson.
It would have been easy to chalk this all up to mischief on her part; however, multiple credible witnesses saw several of the events happen while Esther was under close observation. Eventually, attempts to communicate with the spirit through seances and spirit rapping revealed that there were at least five different ghosts following Cox around for unknown reasons.
The phenomena calmed down after Esther’s jail sentence in 1879, and eventually ceased altogether. Esther Cox went on to marry twice and have sons from each marriage. Whatever plagued her seemed satisfied with the damage it had already done.
THE GHOSTS OF GREYFRIARS CEMETERY: Lord Advocate Sir George Mackenzie (known to his victims as “Bluidy Mackenzie”) was a vicious war criminal and torturer in the service of King Charles II. He imprisoned and tormented thousands of dissident Presbyterians in Scotland during the King’s attempts to unify the country under one state religion. He carried out his grisly work at Greyfriars Kirkyard, a small cemetery of the Greyfriars Kirk parish, owned by the Church of Scotland. Hundreds of his victims were buried there, and ironically, so was Mackenzie himself when he passed in 1691.
There he remained interred until the 20th century. However, one night in 1998, a homeless man seeking shelter disturbed Mackenzie’s mausoleum, and unleashed one of Great Britain’s most well-known poltergeists. The homeless man himself fell through a hole in the floor of Mackenzie’s tomb, into a forgotten chamber that housed the remains of plague victims. This sent him screaming into the night, never to be heard from again.
The next day, a woman looking through the iron gates of the cemetery was “blasted back off its steps by a cold force.” Shortly thereafter, another woman was found unconscious near the tomb, with bruising on her neck indicating someone or something had tried to strangle her.
Since then, there have been nearly 500 reports of ghostly attacks near Mackenzie’s tomb, including burns, scratches, unexplained bruises, broken fingers, punches, kicks, pulled hair, strange smells and sounds, and wall and floor knocks, many seen by multiple witnesses. Some people even claimed the ghost had followed them back home or to a hotel to continue its torments.
The only person who ever tried to exorcise the restless spirit(s) from the cemetery failed and was reportedly found dead a few days later.
To this day, the ghost, presumed to be that of Bluidy Mackenzie himself, reigns supreme in the area and shows no signs of leaving or refraining from hurting others.
THE COVENTRY DOG-KILLER: In 2001, a family in Coventry, England, uploaded a video that showed a closet door opening and a chair moving about the room with no (apparent) assistance from the living. The family’s mother, Linda Manning, claimed the ghost responsible had also killed the family’s dog by pushing it down the stairs.
Desperate for help, the Mannings called in famed medium Derek Acorah, who claimed the poltergeist was an angry spirit named Jim. After conducting a spiritual cleansing of the home, Acorah and the Mannings were happy to report that all poltergeist activity ceased. If you’d like to see the video of the closet door opening and the chair moving, I’ve linked to the video in the show notes. It appears by the number of likes and dislikes that most people (including myself) don’t buy for an instant that the video is legit. It’s amazing what you can do with fishing line, ain’t it?
Thanks for listening (and be sure to stick around for the bloopers at the end)! If you like the show, please share it with someone you know who loves the paranormal or strange stories, true crime, monsters, or unsolved mysteries like you do! You can email me anytime with your questions or comments at email@example.com. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find information on any of the sponsors you heard about during the show, find all of my social media, listen to audiobooks I’ve narrated, sign up for the email newsletter, find other podcasts that I host including “Church of the Undead”, visit the store for Weird Darkness merchandise, and more. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find the Hope in the Darkness page if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or dark thoughts. Also on the website, if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
All stories on Weird Darkness are purported to be true unless stated otherwise, and you can find links to the stories or the authors in the show notes.
“The Axeman’s Jazz” by Kieran W. for Mystery Confidential
“The CIA and LSD” by Phillip Messing for the New York Post
“Death By Electrical Storm” from Pennsylvania Oddities
“The President And The Madman” by Dr. Romeo Vitelli for Providentia
“Vicious and Violent Hauntings” by Robert F. Mason for Ranker
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Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “The LORD will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” — Psalm 121:7-8
And a final thought… “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.