“THE HAUNTINGS OF EASTERN STATE MENTAL ASYLUM” and More True Tales – PLUS BLOOPERS!! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: Eastern State hospital was originally known as the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds, built in 1773. It was America’s first mental asylum – and the horrors in the minds of its patients couldn’t compare to the horrors of the asylum itself. (The Hauntings of Eastern State Mental Asylum) *** Weirdo family member Krysta Lee shares a personal encounter with a spirit in her bathroom. (Cool Hand On My Shoulder) *** Belief in witches, hexes, and powerful spirits was prevalent in the 19th century, and into the 20th century. In fact, in rural areas of Pennsylvania, it might still be practiced today. So it’s the perfect setting for a murder involving curses, and a local witch. (The Witch of Ringtown) *** Parking tickets, floppy disks and escaped victims – these helped catch a handful of serial murderers who would likely have never been caught otherwise. (When Killers Capture Themselves) *** It’s been called a freak of nature, as weird as it is beautiful. Seen here are terrifying flying entities, giant skeletons, and even the legendary Bigfoot. We’ll look at the mysterious, strange, and dangerous Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. (Bigfoot, Giant Skeletons, and Okefenokee Swamp) *** (Originally aired July 14, 2020)
SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…
“The Hauntings of Eastern State Mental Asylum” by Inigo Gonzalez for Ranker: https://tinyurl.com/y7n4tnk6
“Cool Hand On My Shoulder” by Weirdo family member Krysta Lee
“The Witch of Ringtown” from Strange Company: https://tinyurl.com/y9a6n4q2
“When Killers Capture Themselves” by Abbey White for The Line Up: https://tinyurl.com/ybpl4cfo
“Bigfoot, Giant Skeletons, and the Okefenokee Swamp” by Ellen Lloyd for Ancient Pages: https://tinyurl.com/y8emzv4f
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On October 12, 1773, the first insane asylum in the United States opened its doors. Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, the “Publick Hospital”, by its own admission, was established “for the support and maintenance of Ideots, Lunaticks, and Other Persons of Unsound Minds” who threatened society. Realistically, there was little support for these unfortunates. Before the establishment of the hospital, insane individuals were actually judged by a jury, not a doctor, and classified as a criminal, a lunatic, or an idiot. They were regarded as collateral damage in the quest for colonial normalcy. Almost two and a half centuries later, their anguish can still be felt in the walls of the–later named–Eastern State Hospital.
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – (I’m Darren Marlar and) this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode…
Weirdo family member Krysta Lee shares a personal encounter with a spirit in her bathroom. (Cool Hand On My Shoulder)
Belief in witches, hexes, and powerful spirits was prevalent in the 19th century, and into the 20th century. In fact, in rural areas of Pennsylvania, it might still be practiced today. So it’s the perfect setting for a murder involving curses, and a local witch. (The Witch of Ringtown)
Parking tickets, floppy disks and escaped victims – these helped catch a handful of serial murderers who would likely have never been caught otherwise. (When Killers Capture Themselves)
It’s been called a freak of nature, as weird as it is beautiful. Seen here are terrifying flying entities, giant skeletons, and even the legendary Bigfoot. We’ll look at the mysterious, strange, and dangerous Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. (Bigfoot, Giant Skeletons, and Okefenokee Swamp)
Eastern State hospital was originally known as the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds, built in 1773. It was America’s first mental asylum – and the horrors in the minds of its patients couldn’t compare to the horrors of the asylum itself. (The Hauntings of Eastern State Mental Asylum)
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 HAUNTINGS OF EASTERN STATE MENTAL ASYLUM=====
Abandoned asylums, haunted hospitals, and ghost-infested sanatoriums are some of the spookiest places to get your urban-exploring fix. A plethora of haunted places are open for visitation all over the world, including the very first “insane asylum” in the United States – Eastern State Hospital, located in Williamsburg, VA.
First built in 1773, the hospital was originally known as the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds. It only featured 24 rooms total, many of which remained unfilled for a number of years. The facility also suffered numerous fires and was even occupied for a time during the Civil War.
Unfortunately, as is the case with many centuries-old institutions, this hospital wasn’t entirely concerned with healing its patients; instead, it focused on keeping them jailed and sequestering them from “normal” members of society. The history of Eastern State Hospital – while conducive to spooky tales and ghost stories – is also a blot on the nation’s record of mental health treatment, rife with human rights violations and tragic testimonials of mistreatment.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hospital was created not necessarily to help the unstable, but rather to protect everyone else from those whom doctors considered “mentally deranged.” During the 18th and 19th centuries, sanity was determined through legal trials rather than professional medical observation.
In the mid-1700s, Francis Fauquier, the governor of Virginia, proposed a hospital meant to house “a poor, unhappy set of People who are deprived of their senses and wander about the Country, terrifying the Rest of their Fellow Creatures.”
In 1773 – the same year as the Boston Tea Party – the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds first opened its doors, admitting America’s first mental patient. The hospital was hardly comparable to the clinical centers of today and was more akin to a prison. The facility contained 24 cells, each with barred windows and reinforced doors. Inside these cells were straw-filled mattresses, chamber pots, and iron shackles attached to the walls.
Among the many morbid devices on display at the museum which now stands in the hospital’s former facility, none are quite as gruesome as the tranquilizer chair. Dr. Benjamin Rush – who incorrectly believed mental imbalances were caused by brain inflammation – created the chair under the notion that fear was the best means to induce sanity. According to Rush, “Terror acts powerfully upon the body, through the medium of the mind, and should be employed in the cure of madness.”
Rush designed the chair to not only restrain the patient but to deprive them of sight and slow the blood flow to their brains. A bucket was also placed beneath the seat – subjects were injected with laxatives, believed to release any bodily impurities.
Hospital patients were forced to wear straight jackets, remain chained and confined in solitude, and even lay in coffin-like Utica cribs stacked on top of one another.
In 1799, two dungeon-like cells were constructed beneath the first floor of the hospital for those prone to “raving phrenzy.”
Prevailing 18th-century beliefs claimed that mental instability was a chosen state – restraints, electric shocks, or bleedings were perceived cures for unsound minds. Not only were straight jackets and manacles employed to keep patients in order, but iron chains attached near their bedsides were frequently used, as well.
Substances were also administered to evacuate patients’ digestive tracts, and devices such as lancers and scarificators were used to bleed out “harmful fluids.” Patients were plunged into ice-cold water in an attempt to jar them from their mental states.
Many medical professionals believed fear was the key element in these cures, leading inhumane doctors to torment their own patients for decades.
When the institution was first built, its grounds featured a large yard where patients could enjoy the sun and fresh air, but this yard was torn down shortly after for the staff’s convenience. Not until 1790 were two new yards made, one on each side of the hospital. These new, significantly smaller areas featured enormous fences that were 10 feet high and 80 feet long.
No furniture or other such perceived luxuries were provided for the patients – restriction was still the primary method of care. These outdoor areas were dubbed the “mad yards” and are heavily reminiscent of modern-day prison yards.
The hospital frequently used unmarked graves to dispose of patients when they passed, a common practice among many hospitals at the time. The Eastern State Hospital does, however, maintain a reminder of the patients and their struggles. Four granite slabs have patients’ names etched into them, while a fifth simply holds a memorial reading: “We erect this monument in memory of those persons whom we have known, loved and served through the years. While living they knew the suffering of inner pain, confusion and despair. Now they are at peace in the hands of God where no torment will ever touch them again.”
The hospital’s conditions and treatments were undoubtedly atrocious, but they were not always so. In 1841, Dr. John Minson Galt was elected superintendent, and he believed in far more humane treatments. Over the course of 21 years, Galt took steps to reduce the appalling treatments employed by the hospital and replace them with a method he called “Moral Management” therapy.
This method was very successful, so much so that restraints were barely used, and the patients were much happier and granted much more freedom. They were even able to visit the nearby town on field trips and outings. His methods were unpopular with the hospital’s directors, however, and they fought him at every turn.
In 1862, the Civil War swept through Williamsburg, and Union soldiers took control of the hospital. With Galt unable to help any of his patients, he fell into a deep depression and eventually took his own life. Some claim his ghost still walks the halls of the reconstructed hospital, seeking out the patients formerly under his care.
In the institution’s early days, a patient escaped the hospital and fled to the nearby palace of Virginia’s governor. He apparently intended to slay the governor in the palace’s hedge maze but was foiled before he could carry out the deed. Those who visit the palace grounds claim the patient still roams in search of targets.
In 2003, a group of students from the College of William & Mary fulfilled an infamous school tradition when they climbed over the palace wall and ventured into the hedge maze. Inside, the group witnessed a pair of ghostly white feet that crept closer when illuminated with their flashlight beam. The students soon fled in terror.
The hospital’s first fire occurred in 1876 and wiped out the chapel, kitchen, and storage areas, among other rooms. In 1885, two patients may have perished in the hospital’s largest fire – tragically, the closest volunteer fire department at the time was 50 miles away, so there was nothing to do but watch the building crumble. By the time the fire was extinguished, it had taken down five more buildings.
The last fire occurred in 1902 and wiped out a single building that was originally erected in 1844. All of the buildings were eventually replaced, although with much more space between them, likely to prevent future fires from spreading.
When the hospital first opened in 1773, it was called the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds. In the 1840s, under the guidance of Dr. Galt, it was renamed the “Eastern Lunatic Asylum.” Although a significant portion of the grounds burned in 1885, they were soon rebuilt and continued to operate for several more decades. Following this reconstruction, the facility was given its current title, the Eastern State Hospital – not to be confused with the dozen other hospitals of the same name across the US.
In the 1930s, the hospital moved to a new location, though the original buildings were preserved for historical reasons. The old grounds were reopened as a museum featuring numerous exhibits of the hospital’s old devices and treatments. Even the cells were recreated in the most minute detail.
Up next… Weirdo family member Krysta Lee shares a personal encounter with a spirit in her bathroom.
And we’ll look at how five different serial killers were finally caught – through unexpected means. These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: COOL HAND ON MY SHOULDER=====
I was in my freshman year of high school when I had my first official encounter with a ghost. My dad called me into the kitchen to talk to me, and when he was done he flipped a spoonful of whip cream in my face. He had been using the cream for a pie and thought it would be funny to throw some at one of us kids. I went to the bathroom to clean up. I was bent over the sink when I felt a cool hand on my shoulder. Thinking it was my mom, I glanced in the mirror only to see the face of my recently decreased great grandmother. She smiled at me and said “I love you, baby girl” than she vanished. I have always believed in the supernatural and paranormal but this visit helped to confirm their existence for me.
STORY: WHEN KILLERS CAPTURE THEMSELVES=====
Serial killers often pride themselves on being untouchable. That confidence can sometimes help them charm their way into their victims’ lives or allow them to lead double lives—tricking their families into believing they are someone else. But it also leads to their downfall. Here are five stories of serial killers who, along with a little luck, were the cause of their capture.
Jeffrey Dahmer, known as the “Milwaukee Cannibal”, got away with molesting, murdering, dismembering and eating 17 victims between 1978 and 1991. By 1988, he had already spent 10 months in jail for fondling a 13-year-old boy and then offering him $50 to pose for pictures in the nude. He was let out early and put on probation, but his case worker never made the required stops by his apartment.
At one point during his 13 year murder spree, Dahmer was also approached by police over a young Asian teen who was found on a curb, naked and bloody. Dahmer told the police that the boy was his partner, and so three officers, who were eventually investigated, turned their heads and declined to investigate further, leading to the young boy’s death. All of that makes how Dahmer got caught so darkly ironic.
When Dahmer was arrested, it was thanks to someone he had caught. Dahmer drugged and attempted to murder 32-year-old Tracy Edwards in July of 1991. Edwards got out, and after running away was found by two officers in Dahmer’s neighborhood, almost completely naked with a pair of handcuffs dangling from one of his wrists. When officers questioned him, Edwards told them that a “freak” had drugged and handcuffed him. The police brought Edwards back to Dahmer’s apartment to investigate.
Upon their arrival, Dahmer offered police the keys to the handcuffs. When Edwards told them that Dahmer attempted to use a knife on him in his bedroom, an officer entered the room to corroborate his account. There, he found photographs of the bodies Dahmer had dismembered. Dahmer was arrested by the police, and further searching of his apartment revealed body parts, skulls, and jars of dismembered genitalia stored in the fridge, freezer, a filing cabinet, and a kettle.
A parking ticket helped put the Son of Sam behind bars. This infamous killer was arrested in Manhattan right before he planned to “go down in a blaze of glory.” Known for shooting 14 people, six of whom were killed, in New York City between 1976 and 1977, David Berkowitz was a member of the U.S. Army who served in South Korea as an excellent marksman. After returning to his hometown in 1974 following his service term, he took a position as a U.S. postal worker before turning his combat skills into a method of terror. After attacking and murdering his victims, he would leave a note near the crime scene taunting authorities. Ironically, it would be a different kind of “crime scene note” that took down the man who called himself the “Son of Sam.”
The first step towards arresting Berkowitz was a result of him regularly harassing his neighbors. Several of the other residents in his Yonkers apartment building claimed that they were left anonymous, sometimes antagonistic notes. One reported that their dog had been shot with the same gun used by the “Son of Sam” while another alleged a fire was started near his apartment. This put the police on to Berkowitz’s behavior and kept him under their watchful eye. What ultimately nailed the “Son of Sam” though was a tip from a 49-year-old woman who had a brief, but unnerving encounter with Berkowitz right before he murdered two people. While walking her dog at 2:30 a.m., Cacilia Davis passed a man who looked her right in the face but held his right arm down stiffly. Minutes later she heard shots and a car horn. She also happened to see an officer ticketing a cream-colored van a block from the site of Berkowitz’s latest (and final) murder.
After Davis came forward with her details, Police checked their tickets for that night and were able to find a citation for Berkowitz’s car—which he used for getaways from each murder, but didn’t bother to change his plates for. The authorities caught Berkowitz leaving his apartment. As they caught up to him, Berkowitz turned to an inspector and said, “I guess this is the end of the trail.”
Ted Bundy, known for raping and murdering 36 women in three states, was captured twice while driving. The first instance was for a traffic violation, in which he took a Utah Highway Patrol officer on a chase after he was caught driving his Volkswagen in a West Valley neighborhood without his headlights on. As Officer Bob Hayward questioned Bundy, he noticed weird things: the man was wearing all black, a collection of gas receipts, a missing passenger seat, and a pair of shiny shoes that escaped kidnapping victim, Carol DaRonch, had reported were worn by her captor. When the officer asked Bundy where he had been, the killer told him at a local drive-in watching Towering Inferno. Unfortunately for Bundy, Hayward knew that was a lie—he had been at the drive-in all night.
Hayward called for backup, and he and two other officers searched the car, uncovering a collection of obscure items like rope, handcuffs, pantyhose and a crowbar before bringing him in. Booked for avoiding arrest, Bundy was identified in a line-up by DaRonch, arrested for her kidnapping and sentenced to 15 years of jail time. Hayward had also reached out to out of state police departments, aware of their own missing teen cases. Two years into his sentence, Bundy was linked to the murder of a Colorado woman. After requesting to act as his own representation, he escaped from a prison’s library window while preparing for his case. He was captured eight days later, but would escape again through a hole he dug in the ceiling of his cell. Due to the reduced staff during holiday time, correctional officers didn’t notice he was gone for well over 12 hours, letting him get a significant lead.
With the help of his eventual wife, Carole Ann Boone, Bundy was able to travel to Florida, where he attacked the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University, killing two college women and beating two others. Days later he would kidnap and murder a 12-year-old Florida girl in a stolen FSU van, and only four days later after that, stole a VW bug. Fearing that authorities were closing in, Bundy traveled all the way to the Alabama state line before getting pulled over for driving a stolen vehicle. That would be the end of Bundy’s run. He was arrested, charged, and sentenced to death for the murders of the FSU students.
Then there’s the case of Dennis Rader – and he can blame poor file security for his eventual takedown. After years of going uncaught following the murder of 10 Kansas locals, including four out of five members of the Otero family, the Kansas serial killer whose modus operandi was “Bind, Torture, Kill” entered into a game of cat and mouse with authorities. After seemingly killing his last victim in 1991, the murderer fell off the radar until 2004, when an article in the Wichita Eagle suggested that the infamous killer may either be dead or in prison. That spurred Dennis Rader, the BTK killer, to send a letter to the newspaper claiming he was responsible for a 1986 unsolved murder. Over the next 12 months, he would send more letters and puzzles to local media outlets.
In 2005, Rader took the first step to sealing his demise. As he had for the past year, Rader sent a local Wichita TV station a message in the form of a package, placed in the back of a truck. An employee found it and ended up tossing it, but after no response, Rader reached out to the station to see if they had gotten it. The station notified the police, who searched the area and found the cereal box Rader left filled with documents, many of which revealed planned murders. There was also a piece of paper addressed directly to authorities: “Can I communicate with Floppy and not be traced to a computer?” Rader asked. If the police were “honest,” they should tell him through a classified ad in the paper. So that’s exactly what authorities, less than honestly, did.
Two weeks later, a local Kansas broadcast station was sent a package containing a floppy disk. When they opened it, in merely included the message: “this is a test.” After checking the “properties” section of the file, authorities discovered that the last person to save the file was a man named Dennis. They also uncovered that it had been used at the Christ Lutheran Church and the Park City library. Despite the effort Rader took to delete identifying information from the disc, his choice to use a library printer (his own was broken) did him in. The police googled the name and locations attached to the file, used DNA evidence from the Otero crime scene and one of Rader’s relatives, and finally pinned Rader for some of the most infamous murders in America.
And sometimes, serial killers are caught because they break their own rules. Like the “Son of Sam,” Israel Keyes was a former soldier raised in a Mormon family who reveled in his fascination and obsession with serial murder. With an extensive knowledge of his predecessors, Keyes aimed to be unique and uncatchable but eventually fell victim to what he thought separated him from the rest—a lack of control.
Identified as a serial killer, rapist, arsonist, burglar and bank robber, Keyes had a girlfriend and daughter, despite having spent more than a decade raping, robbing and killing victims around the country. Three deaths were tied directly to him, but anywhere between 8 and 12 are alleged. Keyes success was due in part to his extensive planning—which includes burying “murder kits” (weapons, cash, and tools to clean up crime scenes)—and an unwritten rule based on his research and knowledge of other captured serial killers. “ … He would travel outside and go to great lengths to distance himself from any of his victims,” Anchorage homicide Det. Monique Doll told ABC News.
That was primarily derived from his obsession with “not being like the other” serial killers. “He had researched and read other serial killers,” Doll told ABC. “He knew a lot about Ted Bundy. He was very careful to say that he had not patterned himself after any other serial killers, that his ideas were his own.” That necessity for distinction and control (all signatures of serial killers) got the best of him during his last murder, which was only supposed to be a robbery. With plans to take the register at the coffee shop, Keyes confessed that he thought about not killing his victim, a young, female employee working alone if she didn’t have a car. But upon seeing his victim, he was overcome, wrestling her to his vehicle before raping and strangling her there. It broke both parts of his proximity rule as he murdered in his car and his hometown. He then did something even more sloppy: He used his victim’s credit card at several ATMs in another state to take out money, allowing police to track him down.
When Weird Darkness returns… belief in witches, hexes, and powerful spirits was prevalent in the 19th century, and into the 20th century. In fact, in rural areas of Pennsylvania, it might still be practiced today. So it’s the perfect setting for a murder involving curses, and a local witch.
STORY: THE WITCH OF RINGTOWN=====
Anyone who believes that we live in an age dominated by science and skepticism needs to study the history of Pennsylvania. In the rural areas of the state, a belief in witches, hexes, powerful spirits and the like was common until well into the 20th century–for all I know, it still quietly exists today. Remote farm communities saw superstition and folklore not as quaint relics of a medieval past, but as all-too real presences in their lives. Sometimes, these beliefs took the benign forms of good-luck charms, folk medicine, and positive spirituality. At other times, however, believers found themselves haunted by sincerely-held fears of curses and ghostly persecutions.
On occasion, these fears led these tormented souls to defend themselves through acts of violence, even murder. Probably the most famous example is the case of Nelson Rehmeyer. In 1928, a Central Pennsylvania “witch” named Nellie Noll convinced a young man named John Blymire that Rehmeyer had put a curse on him. Blymire and two friends, John Curry and Wilbert Hess, broke into Rehmeyer’s home in order to steal a “spell book” they believed he owned. They were unable to find this book, but when Rehmeyer accosted them, the trio gruesomely killed him, in the hope of lifting this curse. The three youths were eventually convicted of the murder. One of the many oddities of the case is that the killers had never before committed any criminal offense, and after their release from prison went on to lead thoroughly normal, law-abiding lives.
Although the following “hex murder” is now largely forgotten, it was very similar to the Rehmeyer case, and, in some respects, even more bizarre.
Our story opens in 1934, in the Pennsylvania farming village of Ringtown. Life there had only a speaking acquaintance with the 20th century. Scarcely any residents had electricity or modern plumbing, and telephones were nonexistent. Among its residents was a sixty-three year old widow named Susannah “Susan” Mummey. She lived in a primitive farmhouse in the hills just outside of town with her adopted daughter Tovillia.
Back in 1910, Susan had had a premonition. A vision or dream told her that if on July 5 of that year, her husband Henry went to his job at a local powder mill, he would die. Although she begged him to stay home on that day, he laughingly dismissed her fears and went to work as usual.
You guessed it. On that very day, Henry was killed when a workplace accident caused a violent explosion.
The tragic event earned Susan Mummey not sympathy, but fear. The deadly accuracy of her premonition caused her neighbors to think of her as a witch–and, considering what had happened to Henry, possibly a dangerous one. From that time on, Ringtown regarded her with a mixture of awe and deep suspicion.
On the evening of March 17, Susan and Tovillia were living with a boarder named Jacob Rice. Rice was staying there because he had a serious foot injury that Mummey was doctoring. (Like many so-called witches, Mummey had some proficiency in the healing arts.)
Before going to bed, Mummey went to change Rice’s bandage. As she bent over his foot, the cottage seemed to suddenly explode. The inhabitants heard a frightening roar, and the living room window shattered. The wind coming through the broken glass extinguished their lamps, leaving the stunned trio in darkness. They heard a second blast, which they now recognized as the sound of a gun. Someone out in that black night was trying to kill them.
They crouched on the floor, terrified by the thought of what might happen next. But there was only silence. After a few minutes had passed, Rice finally worked up the nerve to sit up. He could see nothing, and all he heard was the sound of Tovillia whimpering in fear. He called out Susan’s name, but got no response. He managed to light a lamp, which illuminated Mrs. Mummey’s motionless body on the floor. He saw at once that she was dead.
The two shaken survivors sat huddled together in the darkness, waiting for the morning light to come. At dawn, Rice set out to find help. Tovillia was too hysterical to make the effort. Despite his injured foot, Rice managed to limp to the home of their nearest neighbor, which was over a mile away. This neighbor drove him into town so they could summon police.
Investigators found that Mummey had been shot once through the chest. In one of the walls they found embedded a hand-made bullet, of the sort that was common in the area.
Although the victim had led a quiet, reclusive life, it soon emerged that there was no shortage of people who might have wished her dead. Mummey was a quarrelsome sort who had feuded with most of her neighbors–something that only exacerbated her sinister occult reputation. She was believed to have turned an “evil eye” on one of her enemies, and “hexed” several others. A great sigh of relief went out over Ringwood when it was learned she was dead. In short, the police were confronted with a plethora of possible suspects.
Soon, however, their focus was centered on one man. Three days after the murder, some local boys told the detective in charge of the case that on the night Mummey was shot, they had seen a car parked on the road leading to the victim’s home. No one was in the car, but they immediately recognized it as belonging to a 23-year-old named Albert Shinsky.
Shinsky was a polite, well-behaved, good-natured young man with an exemplary reputation. Everyone who knew him liked him. His family was equally well-respected in the community, and he was fortunate enough to be engaged to Selina Bernstel, a pretty, charming girl who adored him. It would be hard to think of anyone less likely to assassinate a defenseless old woman.
Shinsky’s life was happy and uneventful until he reached the age of 17. Then, he gradually changed. The once-energetic boy became increasingly lethargic. He lost the energy to work, or do much of anything else. He became thin and haggard-looking. The young man became a shell of his former self, and no one could explain why. Unable to hold down any job requiring physical or mental exertion, Shinsky earned a meager living as a taxi driver for the local mine workers.
When questioned by the police, Shinsky acknowledged being near the Mummey house at the time of the murder. When asked why he was there, he calmly gave a startling reply: “I went out there to kill Mrs. Mummey.”
Things only got weirder from there. Without the slightest hesitation, Shinsky treated the detectives to the strangest motive for murder any of them had ever heard. The young man explained that when he was seventeen, he had been working for a farmer who had gotten into a long, extremely bitter fight with Mrs. Mummey over property boundaries between their respective lands. One day, as Shinsky was walking through the disputed land, he saw Mrs. Mummey standing a short distance away, staring at him. Under her hostile gaze, the youth broke out in a cold sweat. He felt like there were hands gripping his throat.
From that day on, he said, he felt a constant “physical and mental torment” that sapped him of all his strength. Susan Mummey had put a hex on him.
Shinsky emotionally described how he constantly felt invisible hands on his shoulders. Pins were stuck into him. A black cat would come down from the sky and attack him while he slept. He tried going to doctors and priests, but they were of no help. What could they or anyone else do against the power of the Devil? In desperation, he consulted some local witch doctors, who gave him various amulets and spells, but they provided only temporary relief. The cat always came back.
Finally, a “spirit” came to him, explaining that the only way he could be free of the hex was if he killed Susan Mummey. So, on the night of March 17, he borrowed a shotgun, loaded it with a “magic bullet” guaranteed to kill witches, and made his way to the Mummey farm.
Shinsky did not enjoy committing murder, but, he cheerfully explained, it worked! Since Mummey’s death, he was “a re-born man.” He had no regrets whatsoever for what he had done. Indeed, he radiated a joy and relief that these hardened investigators found uniquely disturbing.
Selina Bernstel confirmed much of Shinsky’s story. She had no doubt that he had been “bewitched.,” saying, “My cousin used to be visited by the ghost of an old woman who cast a spell over her.” Her affection for him had a strongly maternal quality. Selina both loved and pitied this haunted young man who would tell her that she “was the only friend he had.” She described him as a “little puppy dog” and a “lost soul.” The hex, she quietly told the police, had begun to affect her, as well. She would periodically wake up in the morning to see a vision of Shinsky standing at the foot of her bed, his face grimacing in pain. Every time this happened, she’d find out that he had been visited by the evil cat or the spirit-figure of Susan Mummey herself, “leering and leering at him.” Selina said that Shinsky had repeatedly begged Mummey to lift the hex from him, but she refused. Selina often asked Shinsky to marry her, but he refused, saying “the witch wouldn’t let him.”
Although Selina had not known he had committed murder, she admitted that she “knew something had happened, because Albert seemed different and more (upbeat)… he acted as if something had been taken off of him.” She was too happy with his transformation to ask any questions.
After his arrest, Shinsky became something of a local hero. Other men went to the police alleging that Susan Mummey had cast spells on them, as well–hexes that were only broken with her death. Townsfolk raised a defense fund for him. The murderer himself remained happy and unconcerned. Even the thought of facing the electric chair didn’t faze him. “I don’t care,” he said. “I’m at peace.” Selina expressed her willingness to marry him while he still sat in his prison cell, but Shinsky refused any thought of such a dismal wedding. He told reporters he expected to be released soon, after which he looked forward to “marrying my girl.”
The court hardly knew what to make of this young man. The story he told was deeply, utterly crazy, but aside from that, Shinsky appeared calm and rational. He indignantly rejected any suggestion of an insanity defense.
Psychiatrists who interviewed him thought otherwise. They came up with a diagnosis of Dementia Praecox, manifesting itself as paranoid delusions, and recommended that he be sent to Fairview State Hospital for the criminally insane. The judge in the case agreed.
Unfortunately for Shinsky, Fairview could give witches and demon cats a run for their money. It had an evil reputation, that, sadly, was entirely justified. It was an unsupervised hellhole where even basic medical care was virtually nonexistent. Guards and staff routinely abused the patients, sometimes to the point of killing them. There were sinister rumors of secret graveyards around the building. It was not a hospital, but an unregulated dumping ground, and would remain so until well into the 1970s. If you were not insane when you entered Fairview, odds were good that you soon would be.
Shinsky disappeared into this living nightmare, never, it seemed, to be heard from again. The world forgot about him until 1968, when a lawyer named William J. Krencewicz learned of the case, which inspired him to lead an effort to have Shinsky reexamined by psychiatrists. Shinsky himself was eager to have his case reopened, even if it meant standing trial for the murder if he was judged to be sane. “I was a stupid, foolish, superstitious young man when I did [the murder], but I do think I’ve been punished enough.”
The issue of what to do with Shinsky dragged through the courts until January 1976, when a judge ruled that he was competent to stand trial. However, the authorities apparently agreed that Shinsky was indeed “punished enough,” as I could not find any record that this trial ever took place. Shinsky may well have been released without ever being tried for a murder no one doubted he committed. He went back to Ringtown, where he lived quietly until his death in 1983.
When Weird Darkness returns… it’s called a freak of nature, as weird as it is beautiful. Seen here are terrifying flying entities, giant skeletons, and even the legendary Bigfoot. We’ll look at the mysterious, strange, and dangerous Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia.
STORY: BIGFOOT, GIANT SKELETONS, AND OKEFENOKEE SWAMP=====
Often called a freak of nature, Okefenokee is as strange as beautiful. Many years ago, one scientist interested in Okefenokee said there is nothing else like it in the world, and that’s a correct assumption because it’s a unique place.
The Okefenokee Swamp covers nearly 700 square miles, almost all of which is in Georgia, and this wonderland is a significant part of North America’s heritage. A visit to Okefenokee Swamp gives the impression you made a journey back in time to those days when dinosaurs ruled the world.
If you decide to visit the Okefenokee Swamp, be careful because dangerous animals are lurking behind the bushes. You can encounter poisonous snakes and alligators. The Okefenokee Swamp is also home to magnificent and rare bird species, as well as several unique species of carnivorous plants.
Admirers of nature will find Okefenokee Swamp a great place to visit, but this place is also interesting to those who are fascinated with ancient history, myths, legends, and unexplained phenomena. Seminole Indians knew this place long before white men “rediscovered” it.
The Okefenokee Swamp is a land of rich folklore, medicinal plants, magic and, some strange events. Many Native American legends tell Okefenokee was once inhabited by different mysterious beings we cannot identify. Who were the flying creatures Indians feared so much?
Someone once wrote: “The warlike Indians of the Crees and Seminoles have a religious veneration for this immense place; they say it is inhabited by aerial beings. They have a number of legends connected with its history; that the centre is composed of high land, on which are erected their wigwams: many after that they have seen those aerial beings on the confines of their enchanted habitations. Not even one of their warriors would venture among the gloom of its shade, after sun-set, for the best American scalp.”
When early geographers explored the place, they described the Okefenokee Swamp as a terrifying bog. Explorers reported hearing spooky noises and wondered what dangerous creatures could be hiding in the marsh. Later, they realized the sounds were caused by dead trees scraping against each other when the wind blew.
Not everything that happens in the vicinity of the Okefenokee Swamp can be explained by modern science. People have witnessed puzzling unidentified lights that cannot be tracked to any known object, craft, or place. Native Americans tell the Okefenokee Swamp was and still is home to an immortal race. In ancient times, the Spaniard and Indians encountered these mysterious beings in battles, but they could never defeat the immortals.
In North American folklore, Bigfoot is described as a hairy, upright-walking, ape-like creature that dwells in the wilderness. According to Milledgeville, Georgia, newspaper, in 1829, two men and a young boy decided to visit the Okefenokee Swamp because they had heard legends about a race of giants who lived in the swamp. They journeyed into the deep interior of the swamp where they discovered giant tracks. Later, when they returned home, they told locals what they had found – and a group of hunters went to the place to investigate. There they encountered a giant beast that decapitated five of the hunters. After a hard struggle, it was killed by the surviving men of the hunting expedition.
Another intriguing story emerged in more recent years.
“Jim Miles, in his book Weird Georgia, reports that, in 1969, Tom Chesser told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday Magazine that in the 1920s he unearthed thirteen skeletons for a university professor who had hired him to excavate the mounds.”
“According to Chesser, “some of the skeletons were crossed… one on top of the other. Some were face- down. All of them were perfect when they were first discovered. Teeth even still had some glaze on them, but when air struck, it crumbled them. They were giants. Those jawbones would go over my whole face.”
Many captivating and unexplained modern sightings of elusive creatures and puzzling lights are still reported. These stories are of course fascinating, but without proper investigations, it’s difficult to determine why people had strange encounters and sightings while visiting Okefenokee Swamp. It’s fair to say that the Okefenokee Swamp remains until this day shrouded in a veil of mystery, charm, and fear.
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 Hauntings of Eastern State Mental Asylum” by Inigo Gonzalez for Ranker
“Cool Hand On My Shoulder” by Weirdo family member Krysta Lee
“The Witch of Ringtown” from Strange Company
“When Killers Capture Themselves” by Abbey White for The Line Up
“Bigfoot, Giant Skeletons, and Okefenokee Swamp” by Ellen Lloyd for Ancient Pages
WeirdDarkness® is a registered trademark. Copyright, Weird Darkness.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great…” – Luke 6:25a
And a final thought… “God doesn’t give you the people you want, he gives you the people you need.” – Unknown
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.