“This is the Zodiac speaking”. With those words, written in a letter to The San Francisco Examiner, a killer was christened and a mystery born that continues to this day. The letter, received by the newspaper on August 4 1969, was claiming credit for 2 sets of recent murders in the Bay Area around San Fransisco. It was the second letter from someone claiming to be the killer, but this time he gave himself his soon to be legendary name — ‘The Zodiac’. More murders would follow, along with more letters to local newspapers and police. The Zodiac’s terrible crimes were being publicly played out in the nation’s newspapers, with each twist and turn holding the American public under a grim spell. And then he stopped. Less than a year after his first murder, the Zodiac killer simply stopped killing. But did the Zodiac killer actually ever exist?
The creature seemed to have some sort of anti-gravity device on its person, perhaps ensconced within the suit, as it levitated from the ship to land on the snowy ground, which oddly did not melt under its feet. After a few moments the being then reportedly began approaching the two lumberjacks, moving in graceful leaps that suggested its anti-gravity powers, as it was described as moving like someone walking on the moon, almost as if it were gracefully gliding along with each jump. Aliranta apparently stood his ground and the thing then allegedly turned around to head back to its ship, with the lumberjack deciding to give chase for some reason. When it reached the strange object it then purportedly began to levitate towards an opening, and Aliranta reached out to grab its leg. It is unclear what would have possessed him to try this, but he certainly regretted it, as the material of the thing’s suit was claimed to be incredibly, unbearably hot, searing the lumberjack’s hand and causing him to reel away in intense pain. The craft then ascended and disappeared into the night. The two witnesses would later claim that they had experienced disorientation and partial paralysis for an hour after the craft was gone, and the burns on Aliranta’s hand would apparently take months to heal.
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…
America… the home of baseball, apple pie, jazz, and… the birth of spiritualism. (Spiritualism)
From the spirits of famous female historical figures, to the girlish ghouls of urban legend, female ghosts are some of the scariest spirits out there. (Ghoulish Ghost Girls)
A hundred years ago, the Spanish Influenza epidemic ripped through the United States, with fatalities reaching as high as 1,000 per week. We’ll look at what happened. (The Epidemic That Brought America To Its Knees)
A young girl, dealing with the trauma of her parents getting a divorce, is traumatized even more when staying at a friend’s house that appears to be haunted. (A Haunted House, Sleep Paralysis, and Shadow People)
Joan Crawford’s daughter exposed her sadistic behavior – but how truthful were those accusations? (The Claims of Christina Crawford)
A man starts to dig a swimming pool in his backyard – and unearths numerous human corpses. The resulting story is so incredible that it inspired the film, “Grave Secrets”. The true story behind the “Black Hope Horror”. (Black Hope Horror)
Along with sightings of Bigfoot, aliens, and ghosts, there is a growing number of reports of entities which appear to be wearing futuristic armor, or high-tech suits. Could these be interdimensional beings? ET spacemen? Time-traveling soldiers? (Armored Phantoms)
But first… is it possible that the legendary serial killer the Zodiac was actually a hoax? We begin with that story. (Zodiac: The Phantom Killer)
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Less than a year after his first murder, the Zodiac killer simply stopped killing. The letters continued, filled with boasts and taunts, and other murders would occasionally be linked to the Zodiac but, officially at least, he seemed to have had his fill of killing.
At the time of the original police investigation, some detectives were skeptical the crimes were related, but mainly on account of the letters the general consensus was that a serial killer was at work around San Fransisco.
But despite the conviction they were after one man, the police departments of multiple jurisdictions were unable to develop a credible suspect. To date, the identity of the Zodiac killer remains a mystery, one that continues to provoke fierce speculation and debate in books, documentaries, and online forums.
A mind-boggling number of suspects have been suggested, and it has almost become a national pastime in America to claim the Zodiac was a deceased family member — fathers, brothers and uncles all suggested by relatives as the killer, often with accompanying books selling their theory.
Author Thomas Horan has built on the suspicions of some of the original investigators that the crimes were not connected to suggest the Zodiac killer never actually existed. If, as Horan surmises, the letters attributed to the killer were not genuine, then suddenly there is very little reason to believe the murders were even related.
Could the Zodiac killer himself, vividly conjured up in a series of letters to San Francisco Bay Area newspapers, really be an invention of an enterprising journalist keen to keep a sensational case on the front pages? Or the warped game of a hoaxer?
If so, the truth behind this most mysterious of unsolved crimes would be a mundane one. If properly examined, does the reality of Zodiac killer really dissolve into fiction? To find out, we must first summarize the purported facts of the case.
According to the official story, the Zodiac’s murders began in late 1968 with the Christmastime murders of teenagers Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday on December 20 at Lake Herman Road near Benicia, a small city in Solano county, California.
At approximately 11:00pm, an unknown assailant with a .22 semi-automatic pistol shot Faraday once in the head and Jensen 5 times in the back. Both died almost instantly and there were no signs of sexual molestation or robbery.
6 months later, at around midnight on July 4/5th 1969, a gunman shot 22 year old Darlene Ferrin and 19 year old Mike Mageau in a parking lot at Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo, 4 miles away from the Lake Herman Road attack.
Darlene Ferrin was shot 5 times and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Mageau survived, despite been shot 4 times in the face, neck and chest. Like the previous murders, there were no witnesses and no signs of robbery.
Around 40 minutes later, a man called the Vallejo police department to claim responsibility for the shooting, telling the police switchboard operator Nancy Slover than he shot the kids with a 9mm Luger. The caller also stated he killed “those kids last year”, a seeming reference to the Lake Herman Road murders.
On July 31st, someone claiming to be the killer sent 3 near-identical letters to the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and Vallejo Times declaring responsibility for both sets of murders.
Alongside the letters was a cryptogram, which when eventually broken revealed a rambling message that stated how its writer liked “KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN” and “TO KILL SOMETHING GIVES ME THE MOST THRILLING EXPERENCE”.
A similar letter by the same writer was received by the San Francisco Examiner on August 4th, that offered more details the writer claimed proved he was the killer. In this letter, the writer christens himself ‘The Zodiac’.
On September 27 1969, Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were tied up and stabbed multiple times by a man on the shore of Lake Berryessa near Napa, California. Shepard died 2 days later in hospital, but Hartnell survived and was able to give a description of his attacker.
According to Hartnell the man wore a strange costume — a black hood and bib, and claimed to be an escaped convict. Tieing the pair up, he stabbed them both repeatedly, then hiked a quarter of a mile to where the pair had parked their car and left a message on the door.
The message contained the dates of both this and the previous 2 attacks, and the murder weapon used in each. It was signed with the same circle-crosshair logo present on the letters. About 90 minutes later, someone phoned the Napa County Sherrif’s office to claim responsibility for the attack.
On October 11 1969, at around 10pm, cab driver Paul Stine was shot to death by his passenger in the Presidio Heights district of San Francisco. The killer took Stine’s wallet and keys, wiped down some of the blood from the cab, and fled as police arrived.
2 days later, a letter was received by the San Francisco Chronicle claiming responsibility for the murder. Alongside the letter, the writer included a piece of Paul Stine’s bloody shirt, offered as proof that he was really responsible.
Primarily because of the letters, police believed these 5 murders were committed by the man calling himself the Zodiac. But despite a massive investigation across multiple police departments the case was never solved and the identity of the killer remains unknown to this day.
Dozens, if not hundreds of different theories have been put forward over the years as to the identity of the Zodiac killer, but to date nobody has ever been able to put together a particularly convincing case against anyone that withstands close scrutiny.
Of all these theories, the one that has gained most traction amongst the public originates with Robert Graysmith, a true crime writer who worked as a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle during the Zodiac murders.
In Graysmith’s 1986 book ‘Zodiac’, and its sequel ‘Zodiac Unmasked’ the author singles out Arthur Leigh Allen as the Zodiac. Allen was a convicted child molester who was briefly considered a suspect in 1969, but dismissed by the police because they were unable to find any evidence linking him to the murders.
Despite Graysmith’s persistent accusations against Allen, repeatedly made in television interviews, he was almost certainly not the Zodiac. DNA tests on one of the letters did not match him, nor did a handprint found on another. Handwriting experts also could find no match between extensive examples of Allen’s handwriting and the Zodiac letters.
Since its publication, many experts on the case have thoroughly dismantled Graysmith’s book, exposing it as a mixture of myths, half-truths, and inventions concocted to present a non-existence case against an innocent man.
Despite the falsity of Robert Graysmith’s claims, it has not stopped them becoming the dominant modern narrative about the Zodiac case, used as the source for countless documentaries and other books. It was also the basis of a 2007 film about the case by director David Fincher.
With the failure of anyone to find any credible suspects in the case, could the theory that the Zodiac killer was some kind of hoax be right, and the murders attributed to him unrelated?
If not for the letters and phone calls attributed to the Zodiac killer, it is doubtful the 5 murders the killer claimed responsibility for would ever have been linked by the police.
Whilst the Lake Herman Road and Lake Berryessa attacks were committed against young couples, the Blue Rocks Springs victims were not a couple. Nor were they, as is often reported, in a ‘lovers lane’ area.
Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau were actually attacked in a busy parking lot close to a main road, with cars coming and going around them. This was a high-risk location for murder and a far cry from the remote beauty spots where the Zodiac made 2 of his purported attacks.
The third attack at Lake Berryessa is also quite different in style to the previous two sets of murders. Here, for the one and only time, the Zodiac wears a disguise — a black executioner’s hood with sunglasses over the eye-holes and a bib over his chest with the now familiar cross-circle symbol painted on it.
Whilst laying on the Zodiac imagery thick, he also spends a great deal of time talking with his victims, something he is not known to have done in any of the other murders. This is also the only known attack where he ties up his victims.
29-year-old Paul Stine was the Zodiac’s last victim, robbed and murdered whilst driving his cab in the middle of a San Fransico street, as bystanders looked on. This attack appears least like the others attributed to the Zodiac, and would have undoubtedly been dismissed as an all-to-common robbery gone wrong if not for the letter writer’s own claims to responsibility.
All of these seemingly disparate attacks used a different murder weapon. The first murders at Lake Herman Road were thought to have been committed with a .22 automatic pistol. The assailant of Paul Stine and at Blue Rock Springs used different 9mm semi-automatics, and the victims at Lake Berryessa were stabbed with a long knife.
There was no matching ballistics in any of the crimes attributed to the Zodiac, nor any other solid forensic evidence that linked them. Although fingerprints and palm-prints were lifted at several of the crimes scenes, none of them ever matched each other.
To all intents and purposes, these appeared to be unrelated murders. Could it be that the Zodiac was not a genuine murderer, but a warped hoaxer claiming credit for unrelated crimes? Or separate criminals adopting the Zodiac’s widely publicised persona as a kind of alibi?
Clearly, if you commit a crime then blame it on an uncaught high-profile serial killer, a serial killer that could not possibly be you, then you have created a cast iron alibi for the crime you did commit.
Although rarely mentioned in the numerous documentaries on the subject or Robert Graysmith’s books, there were strong alternative suspects in several of the individual crimes that were attributed to the Zodiac.
Solana Country Investigators at the time had good reason to believe the first attack at Lake Herman Road was drug related. 2 informants, in jail for a similar crime the year before, pointed to a drug-dealing associate of theirs named David Wally Ott as the shooter of Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday.
Police had some corroboration of this ID from another witness and a confirmed account of a confrontation between Faraday and another drug dealer in which Faraday had threatened to turn him into the police.
Such drug and gang related violence was all-to-common in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 60s — 10 people had been murdered in the previous year alone. If the Zodiac had not effectively ended the investigation by claiming credit for Jensen and Faraday’s deaths, other credible, albeit far less sensational suspects may well have been found.
There was also a plethora of possible alternative suspects in the Blue Rock Springs attack on Ferrin and Mageau, including a rogue cop, the same drug gangs that may have been involved in the Lake Herman Road murders and Darlene Ferrin’s ex-husband James Phillips Crabtree.
If the murder of Ferrin had never been linked to the Zodiac, Crabtree, as her estranged ex-husband, would have been a prime suspect. The pair’s relationship was acrimonious and violent and even after Ferrin’s tragic death Crabtree would continue to talk about her in the most bitter and degrading terms. He was also arrested shortly after her death in the possession of a handgun similar to the one used in the murder.
Despite the fact it would have been routine for Crabtree to have been considered a prime suspect, amazingly it wasn’t until months later that the police briefly looked into him in connection with Ferrin’s murder, such was the power that the idea of a ‘Zodiac killer’ had on the police investigation.
If Crabtree was Ferrin’s murderer, what about the letters? 2 factors tentatively suggest the possibility he may have written at least some of the earlier ones.
As a trained cryptographer, Crabtree had the credentials to have written the ciphers contained in the Zodiac’s first letters. He also uses the Zodiacs trademark circle-crosshairs symbol in a postcard he wrote to an occult bookshop in England sometime in 1969. It’s not clear whether this was posted before or after the symbol appears in the letters, but either way it’s striking.
Whilst there is little to suggest Crabtree was responsible for any of the other murders, could he have written the letters and added Jensen and Faraday as fictional Zodiac victims to act as a kind of alibi for himself in the murder or Darlene Ferrin?
It has long been speculated that the third attack at Lake Berryessa may have been a copycat, a twisted and disturbed person taking on the persona of the Zodiac as reported so vividly in the media during the previous weeks.
Whilst the killer at Lake Berryessa uses the Zodiac’s ‘logo’, and writes a Zodiac like a message on the car door, everything else about the attack only bears a superficial resemblance to the Zodiac’s previous alleged murders.
This is also the only attack the writer of the letters never mentions, somewhat odd considering his primary motive always appeared to be to take public credit for his work. The change of killing method also singles out Lake Berryessa as unusual.
Whilst by no means unprecedented for a serial killer to change murder technique, moving from shooting to stabbing is quite rare. Shooting is an impersonal and clinical method of killing, giving the gunman a degree of control and distance from his crime.
Stabbing, however, is up-close, messy and personal, the murderer gets his victims blood on his hands. The contrast between the two methods reveals a very different pathology in the killer and quite possibly a different killer altogether.
There are other problems in the Lake Berryessa attack. Although the Zodiac left a message on the car door of his victims, no trace of blood is present on the door, despite the fact he had conducted a frenzied knife attack, stabbing Hartnell and Shepard a total of 16 times, just moments before. How had the killer manages to so thoroughly clean his hands?
The handwriting on the car door also shows some distinct differences between the writing evident in the Zodiac letters, although these could be accounted for by the unusual angle he may have had to adopt to write on the door. Either way, it cannot reliably be tied to the ‘real’ Zodiac in either form or content with any certainty.
The last murder attributed to the Zodiac killer was cab driver Paul Stine. Like many of the previous attacks, this would no doubt have been treated by the police as a routine, entirely unrelated crime if it were not for the Zodiac’s claims of responsibility.
Stine had been shot and robbed of his wallet, reminiscent of a spate of other cab robberies that had plagued the area around that time. Eyewitnesses who saw the killer leave the cab described the assailant as a white man with a crew cut and glasses aged between 25–30.
This was one of only 2 descriptions we can reliably assume were of the killer. But the other, from surviving Zodiac victim Mike Mageau, describes a shooter who did not wear glasses and had short curly hair, not a crew cut.
Stine’s killer, whoever it was, certainly appeared to be someone other than the person who wrote the letters. In an anniversary special on the Zodiac killings published in 1991, the Napa times reported that a bloody fingerprint from the Stine cab did not match latent prints lifted off the letters.
Again, none of the forensic evidence gathered from the Stine murder scene, the prints or the ballistics, provided any link at all to any of the other crimes attributed to the Zodiac.
Only the claims of responsibility in a series of letters, sent to local newspapers by someone calling themselves the Zodiac, and a couple of phone calls to the police, provided any links between the crimes. But just how believable are these?
The first problem with the Zodiac letters starts right at the beginning, with the 2 murders at Lake Herman Road in late 1968. For a killer so keen to take credit for and boast about his actions, it takes him more than 6 months to make any mention of these murders.
His first brief reference is in a phone call made to the police shortly after the second attack on Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau, in which he states — “I want to report a murder. If you will go one mile east on Columbus Parkway you will find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a nine millimeter Luger. I also killed those kids last year. Goodbye”.
Whilst he offers nothing that can corroborate his claim to be responsible for the December murders, he does provide one checkable fact for the July 4 attack — that he used a 9mm Luger.
For anyone who had discussed the matter with detectives, overheard police transmissions or been around the murder scene, it was a reasonable assumption that Ferrin was killed with a Luger because of the bullets and shells found by police.
But subsequent analysis by ballistics experts found that the murder weapon was not a Luger, but a similar semi-automatic pistol that took the same ammunition — a Browning Hi-Power. On the night of the call, this fact was known only to the true killer, and the caller appeared unaware of it.
Clearly the phone call itself provided no compelling evidence that the caller was responsible for the December and July 4 murders, and actually tended to argue against the idea. “I want to report a murder. If you will go one mile east on Columbus Parkway you will find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a nine millimeter Luger. I also killed those kids last year. Goodbye”
In the first letter sent to Bay Area newspapers on July 31, the writer provides evidence that he says proves he was responsible for the Lake Herman Road and Darlene Ferrin murders. Vallejo Police Chief Jack Stiltz was, however, unconvinced
Talking to reporters, Stiltz said that the writer had demonstrated no knowledge that could not have been gleaned from the newspapers or by overhearing police chatter. Hoax letters, phone calls and even false confessions are a depressingly familiar prospect for any major police department caught in the middle of a high-profile case and Stiltz’ scepticism was warranted.
A few days later, the writer tries again. In his second letter, mailed to the Examiner, he tells a fanciful tale about taping a torch to his gun in the December murders, but offers no other details that might prove he was the real killer, such as what clothes his victims were wearing, something not reported in the newspapers.
He offers more information about the murder of Darlene Ferrin, claiming that he shot Mike Mageau in the knee and did not, as reported in the papers, leave the scene at high speed with tires squealing, instead leaving slowly so as not to draw attention to himself.
Both these ‘facts’ offered by the writer, now calling himself The Zodiac, appear to be wrong. Mike Mageau was not shot in the knee, and both he and other witnesses did describe the shooter as leaving the scene at high speed, with engines racing and tires squealing.
The writer of these first 2 letters do appear to be the same person, but nothing contained in them genuinely provided any unarguable evidence that he was the true perpetrator of the 2 attacks, or even anything that could not have been learnt from other sources.
The next canonical Zodiac attack came at Lake Berryessa in September. Curiously, the assailant there had become somewhat shy, not only hiding behind his bizarre ‘Zodiac’ disguise but failing to write any letters boasting about his actions.
He does, however, leave a message on the victims’ car door, consisting of the dates of the previous attacks and the latest one, signed with the Zodiac’s crosshair logo. Shortly later, someone phoned the Napa police claiming credit for the ‘double murder’, but offered no information only known to the killer.
Likewise, the car door message contains nothing about the previous attacks not already in the public domain, and only bears a superficial resemblance to the handwriting from the letters. Tellingly, the writer does not seem to know his own name ‘Zodiac’. This would be understandable if the writer was a hoaxer since that fact had not yet been publicly revealed by the police.
Everything about the Lake Berryessa murders suggests a copycat attack by someone other than the writer of the letters, and the car door message and phone call provide no evidence to suggest otherwise.
When the letter from the Zodiac appeared on October 13 claiming credit for the murder of cab driver Paul Stine, the police were surprised as they had believed the killing was simply a robbery-murder, just like the spate of similar crimes against cab drivers that had plagued the city all year.
The text of the Zodiac’s October 13 letter makes several dubious claims and contain no insights that would prove he was the true killer of Stine. San Francisco Police Inspector Martin Lee was unimpressed by the Zodiac’s latest correspondence.
“His boast of being in the area we were searching while we were searching it is a lie”, Lee said in a San Francisco Chronicle report on the case. The article further stated that detectives were well aware that many of the Zodiac’s previous claims were also lies.
This latest letter could easily be dismissed as another hoax if not for a piece of bloody cloth, seemingly ripped by the killer from Paul Stine’s shirt, sent alongside the letter to the Chronicle. Of all of the evidence offered by the writer of the letters, this was by far the most convincing.
Whilst the piece of shirt did nothing to prove the Zodiac was responsible for the earlier murders, it certainly seems compelling evidence he must have killed Stine. But could the writer have acquired the bloody shirt some other way?
The possibility that someone, a cop, a reporter or someone else with insider connections had somehow managed to obtain the shirt piece after the murder cannot be overlooked. It would not be the first time that police investigations had been breached like this.
The history of crime detection is replete with hoaxers and frauds that have managed to garner what looked like insider information ‘only the killer could have known’.
There are numerous examples of murder investigations been derailed by hoaxers who seem to have information that convinces the police they must be the real killer.
The granddaddy of all serial killer cases — Jack the Ripper, contains several parallels with the Zodiac case. Like the Zodiac, Jack gave himself his famous name in a taunting letter he wrote to the police. Several other letters were written by someone claiming to be Jack, a serial murderer of prostitutes in Whitechapel, London in 1888.
Some of these letters contain details that appeared to show the writer knew details of the crime scenes not generally known. Another was even accompanied, like the Stine shirt, by a piece of physical evidence — a human kidney said to have come from the Ripper’s 4th victim Catherine Eddowes.
Today, the majority of Ripper historians believe all of the letters attributed to ‘Jack the Ripper’ are hoaxes. Indeed whilst the murders were very real, the character of Jack the Ripper evoked in the letters was a fictional creation, probably dreamt up by journalist Thomas Bulling in order to keep the lurid case on the front pages.
It’s quite possible Bulling was able to insert authentic sounding facts into some of the letters by his associations with rogue police detectives, the incestuous two-way sharing of information between the press and the police as prevalent then as it is in today’s tabloid world.
Could the Zodiac letters be the creation of an enterprising 1960s equivalent of Thomas Bulling? Could the authentic details in the letters have been given to him by his contacts in the police department?
Other examples indicate insider contacts in the police are not necessary for a hoaxer to create a convincing facsimile of a real killer. In the late 1970s in Northern England, police were closing in on serial killer Peter Sutcliffe when a hoaxer managed to deflect the investigation down a cul-de-sac which probably cost at least 3 women their lives.
Dubbed ‘Wearside Jack’, John Samuel Humble sent letters and an audio tape to the Yorkshire Police that convinced them he had knowledge only the real killer could have known. Because of this, and Humble’s strong Wearside accent, the whole investigation was moved away from West Yorkshire, were Sutcliffe operated, to the North East of England.
In actual fact, Humble had no inside information, he just read the papers and paid attention. Because of the size and complexity of the inquiry, police had simply become unaware of what information had and had not become public. Humble was finally caught 24 years later and sentenced to 8 years for perverting the course of justice.
A contemporary serial killer case to the Zodiac is that of Albert de Salvo — the Boston Strangler. De Salvo confessed to all 13 murders attributed to the Strangler and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1967, just a year before the Zodiac murders began.
Despite the conviction, there is a growing belief amongst forensic investigators that De Salvo was innocent of at least some of the murders, and as a compulsive liar was able to insert convincing sounding, but erroneous information into his confessions to fool the police.
Crime author Casey Sherman believes some of the younger victims may have been unrelated murders disguised by the perpetrators to look like Strangler murders to provide them with an alibi, a suspicion echoed in the Zodiac case.
Despite the vast number of differing theories as to the identity of the Zodiac killer, most of them agree on one thing — that a single individual committed the murders, made the phone calls, and wrote the letters attributed to the Zodiac.
A certain baseline of generally uncontested assumptions exists that are accepted by most theorists and even the original investigators in the case. If they are true, then it makes the idea that the Zodiac killer was a hoax or never really existed hard to countenance.
Law enforcement at the time, and most theorists today, believe that the writer of the letters and the individual who wrote the message on the car door of the victims at Lake Berryessa were the same person, due to handwriting matches made by experts like Sherwood Morrill.
If the letter writer really was a hoaxer, rather than a murderer, then he would have had to have somehow stumbled upon the Lake Berryessa crime scene by chance in order to be present to write on the car door, which seems unlikely.
Furthermore, unless he had inside help from the police, the letter writer almost certainly murdered cab driver Paul Stine, because of the piece of Stine’s bloodied shirt he sent alongside his letter taking responsibility for the crime.
It seems likely then, that the letter writer calling himself the Zodiac, probably did murder Cecelia Shepard at Lake Berryessa and Paul Stine in San Fransisco. But did he commit the other Zodiac murders or just claim credit for them?
If the other canonical Zodiac murders were not the work of the same man, then we must posit multiple killers committing similar murders in a relative small area at the same time, which seems statistically improbable.
Although the killings do appear to show different methodologies, this is not as unusual as is often thought. In criminologist Robert D Keppel’s book about serial murderers — Signature Killer, he describes what he calls ‘m.o. purism’, a tendency amongst law enforcement to only link separate murders if the method used is exactly the same.
According to Keppler, serial killers do sometimes change their m.o. — modus operandi, as they strive to become more comfortable in the specific circumstances of each successive murder. But what doesn’t change, according to former FBI criminal profiler John Douglas, is the killers ‘signature’.
“We came to realize that while m.o. was important, in certain types of crimes it wasn’t nearly as important as what I call ‘signature’”, Douglas wrote. “The unique aspect that was critical not so much to accomplish the crime as to satisfy the perpetrator emotionally”.
For the Zodiac, the signature of his murders seemed to be the exerting of control and the demonstration of his superiority over the public and the police via his letters, a common thread that does seem to link the crimes, even where the methodologies are different.
It could also be argued that the different methods the Zodiac employed in his crimes were simply employed out of expediency. For example, his use of a disguise and knife at Lake Berryessa may be because he committed the attack in daylight and wished to avoid detection.
But whilst that attack and the Paul Stine murder appeared to be very different, both exhibited the same ‘signature’ use of messages and phone calls to the police that sought to assert the Zodiac’s control over the investigation.
This need for control culminated in the threat he made in his October 13 1969 letter to the Chronicle in which he said he would blow up a school bus and pick off the children as they fled. This essentially singled him out as a kind of terrorist, using his crimes and the letters to cause fear and anxiety amongst the populace.
The Zodiac murders have almost become a parlour game, a giant jigsaw puzzle with many of the pieces missing. Like many such cases where hard facts are few and far between, speculation and assumption have filled the gaps.
Often, like the half truths and gossip packaged as investigative journalism by Robert Graysmith, facts get substituted by fiction in the public’s mind.
But even though much of Graysmith’s mythology has been exposed as nonsense, many of his basic assumptions about the case are still widely accepted as correct by most theorists and investigators.
By challenging these most fundamental assumptions about the case, authors like Thomas Horan have created a credible argument that questions the very existence of the Zodiac killer.
When the speculation and myths are stripped away, what’s left does suggest the possibility that the famous Zodiac killer may be a phantom, a fictional bogeyman we choose to keep alive because sometimes our darkest fears make for a far better story than the mundane truth.
Up next… America: the home of baseball, apple pie, jazz, and… the birth of spiritualism.
Plus – from the spirits of famous female historical figures, to the girlish ghouls of urban legend, female ghosts are some of the scariest spirits out there. These stories when Weird Darkness returns!
STORY: SPIRITUALISM, AMERICAN HAUNTINGS=====
Spiritualism — like jazz — is an American original and a part of who we are as a community and as a culture. Without it, you would not be reading this post and have an interest in ghosts and the supernatural. It is literally the glue that holds us all together. But what was it, what was it like, and how does it linger as part of what we do today?
The basic tenet of Spiritualism was that the human personality survives death and lives on in another form. It was believed that the dead could — and regularly did — communicate with this world. The term “medium” is given to those who function as intermediaries between the living and the spirits of the dead during seances. During the heyday of Spiritualism – between the late 1840s and the 1920s – there were two types of mediums: “mental” and “physical.” Mental mediums used their minds and bodies as channels through which the dead could communicate. Physical mediums produced physical paranormal phenomena, such as loud raps, voices, moving objects, and even materialized spirit bodies. The source of such powers was thought to be the mediums themselves, who used their spirit energy, or the Victorian-era substance known as “ectoplasm,” to produce séance phenomena.
The practice of communicating with the spirit world using an intermediary is an ancient one. The priestess – or pythia, as she was known – who went into a trance to make prophecies at the Greek oracle of Delphi is an early example. The Old Testament account of the Witch of Endor tells the story of the raising of the spirit of Samuel to King Saul so that he can question him about the outcome of an approaching battle. But the heyday of mediumship coincided with the spread of Spiritualism in the United States during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Of the thousands practicing the art, or more often than not, the deception of mediumship, only a handful – like Daniel Dunglas Home and a few others – stand out as notable and unusual individuals.
Traditional seances were held in a darkened room and “sitters” were usual placed around a table, holding hands, and quite music would often be played. The music and dim lighting created conditions that were supposed to encourage the spirits to make contact, though skeptics argued that they also created an ideal opportunity for fraud. The medium would go into a trance and spirits would communicate through, while they also created a wide range of bizarre phenomena that was witnessed by observers. Such happenings included:
* TABLE RAPPING: Loud knocks on tables, or from elsewhere in the room, said to be from spirits trying to communicate. Often during seances, tables would often move, or tilt, despite being held down by the sitters.
* LEVITATION: Objects in the room, such as tables, chairs, and pianos, would lift from the floor and move around. In the case of Daniel Hume, the medium himself reportedly levitated, in well-lighted rooms and in front of dozens of reliable witnesses.
* COLD SPOTS: Cold breezes or notable drops in the temperature of the air were often reported.
* GHOSTLY MUSIC: Musical instruments were a standard part of seances – especially during demonstrations by the famous Davenport brothers – but not for the mediums or sitters to play. The spirits not only plucked the strings of guitars and violins and shook tambourines, they also reportedly made them fly about in the air.
* DISEMBODIED VOICES: Ghostly whispers were often reported, along with the clear voices of the dead, although most communications came through the medium.
* APPORTS: The sudden appearance of small, portable objects often occurred in the séance room. Such items, which came out of thin air, were usually flowers or coins, although occasionally personal items of the dead such as a ring or a handkerchief were recorded.
* ECTOPLASM: This term was coined by paranormal researcher Charles Richet to describe the mysterious, white-gray viscous substance that emanated apparently from the bodies of some physical mediums. Occasionally, the ectoplasm would form into the shape of human limbs or even into fully formed spirit entities that walked freely among the sitters. “Ectoplasm” remains one of the most controversial aspects from the heyday of the Spiritualist movement. If it was real, it was never collected for study, which causes great doubt among skeptics. Combined with the fact that so many mediums were caught faking the production of ectoplasm – using egg whites, cheesecloth, and animal fluids – that its reality has been called into serious question.
* PHYSICAL MANIFESTATIONS: The appearance of spirit forms – like the famous example of the ghost of Katie King, who was created by medium Florence Cook – was the pinnacle of feats for physical mediums. Very few of them, however, came through an investigation of their talents unscathed. Oddly, though, they were a few mediums that were linked to physical manifestations – like the Eddy brothers of Vermont – whose talents remain unexplained, even today.
In time, the exposure of many physical mediums, using magic tricks to produce their phenomena, caused mediumship to fall into disrepute. As the twentieth century progressed, physical mediumship became less practiced and the most of the spectacular psychic phenomena associated with people like Daniel Hume disappeared. That is not to say that there have not been flamboyant, not to mention controversial, modern figures claiming to be in contact with the dead. It’s just that the modern medium and the modern séance are rather less theatrical than during the golden age of Spiritualism.
STORY: GHOULISH GHOST GIRLS=====
Stories about female ghosts can be found across the globe, and many of these international tales of terror have chilling similarities. For instance, why do so many places have stories about women in white, or vanishing hitchhikers? These connections make us wonder what universal trauma or shared truth has made these stories take root in our collective consciousness. Regardless, we know one thing for sure: these female phantoms are capable of chilling us to the bone. Step aside, ghost bros: these lady wraiths are redefining the scare game.
The Vanishing Hitchhiker: Chances are you’ve heard this story before and perhaps thought of it uneasily while driving alone late at night. You may have even had an encounter with the vanishing hitchhiker herself. Although the story varies slightly based on the teller, it generally goes something like this: a man is driving alone late at night during a storm, when he sees a young, beautiful woman on the side of the road.
Concerned for her safety, he gives her a ride and might even offer her his jacket to keep her warm. He drives her to her home, but once they arrive, she disappears. Confused, he rings the doorbell, and is told by whoever answers that yes, a young girl lived there once—but she died years ago in a car accident, on a stormy night much like this one.
Kuchisake-Onna: The Kuchisake-onna, also known as the Slit-Mouthed Woman, is a Japanese ghost who terrorizes children. She is said to wear a face mask, which she removes when she approaches her victim, revealing a smile that has been grotesquely slit. She then asks the child, “Do you think I’m beautiful?” If they answer no, she kills them; if they answer yes, she gives them a mouth just like hers. The best answer to give the Slit-Mouthed woman, should you be unfortunate enough to cross her path? Just run for your life.
Anne Bolyn: The ghost of King Henry VIII’s second wife is said to haunt the Tower of London and surrounding buildings to this day. Given how grievously Anne was mistreated by her husband, it’s not surprising her spirit hasn’t been able to rest: the king divorced and beheaded Anne when she didn’t produce a male heir to the throne.
Henry’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, is also said to haunt the Hampton Court, where she was arrested before being beheaded.
They Crying Woman: In Latin American folklore, La Llorona (or crying woman) is a weeping entity often found in or around bodies of water. Legend says that she drowned her children to punish her husband for infidelity, and that she killed herself afterwards out of remorse. To this day, she is believed to walk waterways searching for her lost babies. Some variations of the tale believe La Llorona takes living children that she finds on her wanderings, while other iterations claim that those who hear her ghostly wails will soon die. There are some commonalities between the legend of La Llorona and female spirits from other cultures, like the banshees in Gaelic legend or the baby-gobbling demigoddess Lamia from Greek mythology.
The Ironed Lady: The famous Mexican ghost “La Planchada,” or The Ironed Lady, is the spirit of a nurse who many claim to have seen at hospitals across Mexico. There are many iterations of her origin story; some believe she was killed by a patient, and others say she killed herself after a romance with a doctor ended in tragedy. But La Planchada may not be a spirit to fear: According to legend, many of the patients that she visits find themselves mysteriously healed the next day.
The Bell Witch: The Bell Witch legend is based on ghostly goings-on that were experienced by the Bell family in their home in 1817. They believed the phenomena they experienced—flying furniture, mysterious noises, frightened animals—were caused by the ghost of a witch named Kate Batts. It was later revealed that Betsy, the Bells’ young daughter, caused much of the commotion. But the Bell Witch legend endures to this day and was even a key inspiration for the Blair Witch movie franchise.
The White Lady: The White Lady is an iconic female ghost who has been reported in stories across the globe. She is often described as wearing a white, blood-soaked dress and frequents rural areas where tragedy has occurred, doomed to wander forever in torment until she can receive some closure.
Bloody Mary: Who among us hasn’t tried or heard of someone trying to conjure Bloody Mary at a sleepover or during a spooky night at summer camp? The enduring legend of Bloody Mary has its roots in several different women: Queen Mary I; a rumored child killer; and a young girl believed to have died in a gruesome train accident. No matter who Bloody Mary is, the rules for summoning her are relatively consistent: Dim the lights, say her name three times while looking in a mirror, and then wait for the bloodletting to start.
Dolley Madison: We’re not talking tasty snack cakes here. First Lady Dolley Madison played an influential role in making the White House the social center of politics in early America. Legend has it that she continues to take her duties as First Lady seriously to this day—her ghosts reportedly frightened gardeners away when they were trying to make changes to a rose garden Dolley had planted.
Coming up… along with sightings of Bigfoot, aliens, and ghosts, there is a growing number of reports of entities which appear to be wearing futuristic armor, or high-tech suits. Could these be interdimensional beings? ET spacemen? Time-traveling soldiers? That story is up next on Weird Darkness.
STORY: ARMORED PHANTOMS=====
One type of entity long reported in the world of the unexplained is that of the prowling phantom, skulking about in the shadows to terrify, baffle, and even attack. There is one type of these shadowy individuals that warrants attention in that they seem to have been decked out in powered suits or armor of some type, very much like some sort of dark superhero. Here we look at various unidentified individuals or entities that have skirted about the periphery of our understanding while donning fantastical suits of unknown design and even more inscrutable purpose.
One very bizarre entity decked out in some sort of mysterious powered suit seems to have been obviously not human and quite literally out of this world, appearing in the country of Finland, at a place called Kinnula. The first sighting occurred on February 2 of 1971, when two local women named Sinikka Kuittinen and a Mrs. Manninen had a strange encounter with what seems to have been some sort of alien being. The two were allegedly driving along a remote road in a region near Kiiminki at around 8 PM when they saw a strange light pass over their vehicle, followed by the startling sight of a very bizarre creature that ran across the road in front of them. The entity was described as being around 3 feet in height and dressed in a thick greenish-brown suit with a helmet, and the witnesses explained that it moved in a series of nimble leaps and bounds that almost seemed to defy gravity.
An even more dramatic account would come just 3 days later, on February 5, 1971, and involved two lumberjacks named Petter Aliranta and Esko Juhani Sneck, who saw what seems to have been the very same entity. The lumberjacks reported that they had witnessed a UFO descend into the trees, upon which it landed in a small clearing and disgorged a diminutive humanoid entity less than 3 feet tall that was dressed in some sort of green one-piece suit with a faceplate reminiscent of something a deep sea diver would wear. The creature seemed to have some sort of anti-gravity device on its person, perhaps ensconced within the suit, as it levitated from the ship to land on the snowy ground, which oddly did not melt under its feet.
After a few moments the being then reportedly began approaching the two lumberjacks, moving in graceful leaps that suggested its anti-gravity powers, as it was described as moving like someone walking on the moon, almost as if it were gracefully gliding along with each jump. Aliranta apparently stood his ground and the thing then allegedly turned around to head back to its ship, with the lumberjack deciding to give chase for some reason.
When it reached the strange object it then purportedly began to levitate towards an opening, and Aliranta reached out to grab its leg. It is unclear what would have possessed him to try this, but he certainly regretted it, as the material of the thing’s suit was claimed to be incredibly, unbearably hot, searing the lumberjack’s hand and causing him to reel away in intense pain. The craft then ascended and disappeared into the night. The two witnesses would later claim that they had experienced disorientation and partial paralysis for an hour after the craft was gone, and the burns on Aliranta’s hand would apparently take months to heal.
While this may have been an alien or a tall tale, other such suited-up mystery phantoms are a bit harder to categorize. One of the strangest cases of a phantom in some sort of weird suit comes to us from the country of Czechoslovakia during the bloody fighting of World War II. The Nazis relentlessly and brutally moved in to occupy the country between the years of 1938 to 1945, and the oppressed and conquered Czechoslovakian people were forced into hard labor at oppressive factories producing tanks, guns, and artillery, in horrid conditions and routinely worked until they fell in exhaustion or death. All through this, the Czech people were subjected to numerous, countless cruelties, offenses, and human rights abuses, and the occupying Nazi forces in Czechoslovakia were quick to deal out death and suffering to those who would dare to oppose them, although there were scattered resistance groups that were largely ineffectual.
The worst atrocity carried out against the Czechs happened in the after math of the assassination of SS leader Heinrich Himmler’s deputy and Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, which resulted in swift and merciless reprisals. The villages of Lidice and Ležáky were razed to the ground, 1,300 were ruthlessly murdered and 10,000 arrested and sentenced to rot or be executed in concentration camps without trial. It was somewhere around this time, when the people of Czechoslovakia were lost in despair, without hope, and with their villages in ruins, that a curious, enigmatic stranger began to make his presence known.
There began to circulate rumors of a mysterious man dressed in some sort of black body armor and wearing a face mask that held within it glowing eyes. This shadowy figure was said to have all manner of strange powers, in particular the astounding ability to make superhuman leaps of extraordinary magnitude, with witnesses describing the way he could bound across rooftops, over speeding trains, high gates, and even buildings with ease. In at least one report the black-clad figure was said to be able to leap completely over the Vitava River at its widest point, during which he was said to fly effortlessly through the air “like a shuttlecock” and to unleash an ear shattering, unearthly whistling sound. This power to leap great distances with ease led the stranger being called Pérák, or literally “Springer” or “Spring Man,” with the name deriving from the Czech word péro, meaning “spring.”
Adding to this impressive leaping ability was Pérák’s alleged phenomenal speed, stamina and agility, all of which were said to make him impossible to follow or capture. His strength was said to be at superhuman levels, able to toss a full grown man aside easily or to punch through walls. At first, Pérák was seen by the populace as a menacing, almost demonic figure to be feared. Early versions of the story have the mysterious apparition scaring or chasing and terrorizing innocent people, and even killing or raping citizens, and people began to avoid going out at night or refusing to go to work night shifts at the weapons factories to the extent that it even had a negative impact on the Nazi arms production output.
However, this image as a sinister and diabolical boogieman quickly changed as time went on. Word began to spread that Pérák was starting to turn his attention to the ruthless German occupying forces, sabotaging their equipment and leaping from the shadows to slit their throats before bounding away. Although he seemed to mostly prefer stealth and moving in the shadows, there were reports of the phantom actively engaging German soldiers, throwing them about like ragdolls and stabbing at them with swords, clubs, or knives, as well as using some sort of ear-piercing sonic attack to stun enemies and make them reel in pain. It was rumored that during these violent encounters he seemed to be impervious to bullets when fired upon by the Nazis, with some accounts even describing German bullets ricocheting off of him to hit other soldiers, and he was always able to use his amazing jumping abilities to easily evade pursuit.
Pérák not only showed great athletic and combat prowess, but also showed great skill with explosives and pyrotechnics, being credited with blowing up German supply lines, vehicles, and even destroying a tank in Grébovka Park. In a few stories he was seen to use some sort of fireworks as a weapon, spewing flames from devices on his wrists at the enemy. He was also known to allegedly steal secret Nazi plans and documents, such as the plans to an unspecified German secret weapon from the ČKD factory in Vysočany. There were even those who went so far as to claim that it had in fact been Pérák who had assassinated Reinhard Heydrich. Throughout all of this one-man struggle against the juggernaut German war machine, Pérák was said to leave bold and taunting anti-Nazi graffiti on walls or gates in normally inaccessible places, further strengthening his legend.
This growing image of him as a sort of superhero for the Czech people led to Pérák evolving to be a potent symbol of resistance against the Nazi regime, a savior for the people, and the fantastical stories quickly fanned out across the countryside to embed themselves firmly within the collective consciousness of the oppressed populace. Pérák seemed to be everywhere. It got to the point where nearly every problem, mishap, accident, or death the Germans suffered was attributed to the Spring Man of Prague, and he was widely seen as a hero and a ray of hope piercing through the gloom and death of the Nazi occupation. The legend of Pérák steadily gained momentum until the end of the war, when he seemed to vanish as suddenly and mysteriously as he had appeared, leaving a powerful legend behind.
Theories have long swirled as to who or what Pérák was. One idea is that he was a disgruntled citizen, an American secret agent, or a British paratrooper who had taken matters into his own hands, and that his various abilities and agility could be explained by the vigilante being an acrobat or gymnast who had developed through ingenuity a variety of ingenious gadgetry to explain his amazing powers, such as real spring loaded boots, pyrotechnic weapons, stimulants to enhance physical prowess and strength, and some sort of bullet-proof body armor. It has even been suggested that the whistling or wailing sound often attributed to Pérák could have been from some sort of spring-loaded machinery or even a sonic weapon in itself embedded in his suit for the purpose of startling, frightening, stunning, or disorienting his enemies. These abilities could have subsequently been possibly exaggerated over consequent retellings as the tales took off in the peoples’ imagination. Other ideas are that this was an actual specter, ghost, demon, or even an alien. Then of course this may all just be an urban legend, a story created to give the people hope in the face of the Nazi scourge.
It is certainly worth mentioning the clear parallels between the stories of Pérák and yet another phantom in a suit, in the form of the notorious Spring-heeled Jack of the United Kingdom. Beginning in 1837, the industrial suburbs of London, Sheffield, and Liverpool, as well as the Midlands and even as far away as Scotland became the stomping grounds for a mysterious figure with the remarkable ability to make enormous leaps via springs attached to his feet, who persistently terrorized residents and was known to make his escape by swiftly bounding away.
This specter quickly became known as Spring-heeled Jack, and was depicted as having a frightening appearance, with metal claws attached to his hands and in some accounts glowing red eyes and the ability to shoot blue and white flames from his mouth. Spring-heeled Jack was far from a noble hero, and was mostly seen as a decidedly malevolent force which sowed mayhem and misery wherever he went, but it was a very widespread tale all the way up to the early 1900s and word of this scary entity spread throughout Europe, including the region of Bohemia.
Considering this, it seems plausible that considering the similarities in the apparent use of pyrotechnics, or jumping to attack or evade capture, the stories of Spring-heeled Jack may very well have influenced those of Pérák. After all, even Pérák started off as a menacing, demonic figure, and the striking similarities between the two are obvious. Whatever the case may be, both Pérák and Spring-heeled Jack remain compelling mysteries that have never been adequately solved.
In the years after World War II there were some strange encounters with what seems to have been a person or people in some sort of flying mechanized suit. In early 1948, a 61-year-old witness named Bernice Zaikowski claimed that she had been out in the yard of her home in Chehalis, Washington at around 3:00 PM when some neighborhood children began looking up at the sky and chattering away about a “flying man” up in the sky. It was at this point that Zaikowski allegedly heard an odd noise from above that sounded like “a sizzling and whizzing,” and when she looked up she could see something very odd indeed hovering up over a nearby barn around 20 feet in the air.
The witness insisted that what she saw looked like a man wearing a pair of long silver wings fastened to his shoulders with some sort of strap rig, and which he seemed to control with some sort of high-tech panel attached to his chest. The mysterious man with his bizarre flying suit apparently then performed some aerial acrobatics, ascended into the air, and flew off into the distance in an upright posture. At no point could the witness discern any obvious source of propulsion such as a jet pack or propeller, and the contraption the man wore seemed to be mostly silent except for that odd whizzing sound. The whole sight was seen by Zaikowski and several other witnesses, all of whom were dumfounded. Was this some sort of flying gadget crafted by a mad genius?
Later that same year, in April of 1948 the mysterious figure was purportedly seen again in the same general vicinity, and this time he was apparently with friends. The two witnesses, laundry workers Viola Johnson and James Pittman, claimed that they saw “three men in flying suits” making circles over the city at a height of around 250 feet. Johnson would say of the spectacle: ****They looked like three men in flying suits flying through the air. They wore dark drab flying suits and as far as I can judge – I’m not very good at judging distance – they were 250 feet high, circling the city. They were going at about the same speed as a freight train and had some kind of apparatus on their sides which looked like guns but I know it couldn’t have been guns. I couldn’t see any propellers or any motors tied on them but I could hear motors which sounded like airplane motors, only not so loud. When they first came into sight I thought they looked like gulls but as they got closed I could see plainly that they were men. I couldn’t make out their arms but I could see their feet dangling down and they kept moving their heads, like they were looking around. I couldn’t tell if they had goggles on but their heads look like they had helmets on. I couldn’t see their faces.****
The two witnesses’ story was somewhat corroborated when several local people later recalled hearing strange sounds in the sky at around the time of the sighting. Who were these flying men and where did they get those amazing suits? Were these some eccentric inventors who had come up with a new way of flight? If so, whatever happened to this incredible invention? Or was it something else, perhaps time travelers or visitors from another parallel dimension? Could it have all just been a hoax or tall tale? It’s hard to say.
Most recently, the Swiss town of Maules was haunted by some sort of humanoid phantom between the years of 2003 and 2013, which was said to stalk through the nearby woodlands. The enigmatic figure was typically described as being around 6 to 7 feet tall and dressed in some sort of boiler suit, as well as a gas mask that covered the entire head, a military style cape, and rugged military boots. Although quite frightening to those who encountered the inscrutable entity lumbering through the woods, there have been sightings that seem to suggest it is not malevolent but still unsettling nevertheless, as was the case of a local woman who saw the being wandering about while clutching a bunch of flowers. Another local named Marianne Descloux saw the phantom as well, and she would say of the sight: ***It was a rainy Sunday. He had a cap, a dark cloak and his gas mask. What could possibly be going through his head? I don’t know, but it was unforgettable – and unpleasant. I hope I don’t run into him again.****
The thing has come to be known as “Le Loyon,” as well as the “Ghost De Maules,” and things got even odder still when an amateur photographer claimed to have captured a photo of it. The photo would be published in the newspaper Le Matin, and although it has been widely criticized as being a hoax the photographer insists that it is all real. He would say of his encounter: ***I approached him up to a dozen meters away. He had a military cape, boots and an army gas mask – an antique type, I think. He measured more than 1.90m. He stared at me then turned his back on me and left in silence.***
Adding some more mystery and intrigue to this strange figure was the discovery of what appeared to be the suit, gas mask, and cloak laid out in the forest accompanied by a cryptic note which refers to “Le risque d’une chasse à la Bête,” or “The risk of a hunt for the Beast,” and allegedly includes the figure’s insistence that he is a “harmless being” and concern that Le Matin had made his existence known and forced him to abandon his plight, whatever that was. According to one article on the matter written in a bulletin in Sâles the letter seemed to be some sort of suicide note, and it says of the contents: ***The risk of a hunt for the Beast became too great…The note expressed Le Loyon’s concerns that the recent exposure would lead to further attention, which forced the person under the clothes to abandon the walks, which the letter referred to as ‘happiness therapy.’ Then, it snarks at the reader for not understanding the works of one Sacher-Masoch.***]
Whatever it all means, the mysterious intruder has not been seen since, leading one to wonder what it all means. Who was Le Loyon? Was this just some maniac running around in his weird getup or was this something more? What did that last note even mean, and was it even from the guy himself? As with many of the cases here it all remains unresolved. In the end, with all of these cases we are left to wonder who or what these phantom figures were, where they came from, what they wanted, and where they got their wonderful toys. Be it humans messing around with new tech, aliens, inter dimensional interlopers, or just plain hoaxes, these are decidedly unique accounts at the very least. Are they ghosts, demons, aliens, mad scientists, or what? Whatever they are, they can safely be said to inhabit their own corner of the world of the weird.
Up next… a hundred years ago, the Spanish Influenza epidemic ripped through the United States, with fatalities reaching as high as 1,000 per week. We’ll look at what happened.
And… a young girl, dealing with the trauma of her parents getting a divorce, is traumatized even more when staying at a friend’s house that appears to be haunted.
These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns…
STORY: THE EPIDEMIC THAT BROUGHT AMERICA TO ITS KNEES — 100 YEARS LATER=====
The Spanish Influenza epidemic followed World War I, which had been considered the “War to End All Wars” when America joined the fight in 1917. The first outbreak of what became known as the Spanish Flu occurred in Haskell County, Kansas, in January 1918, just nine months after the United States had declared war on Germany. It spread to other bases and then across the Atlantic to Europe with the American soldiers that entered the fight.
Although the first cases of the disease were discovered in the United States and the rest of Europe long before getting to Spain, the epidemic received its nickname of “Spanish Flu” because Spain, a neutral country in World War I, had no special wartime censorship for news about the disease and the accompanying death toll. Since it received reliable press coverage in Spain, people got the false impression that Spain was the most – if not the only – affected country. The illness killed thousands in Europe before returning home to America with the returning troops.
The second wave of the 1918 pandemic was much deadlier than the first. The first wave had resembled typical flu epidemics; those most at risk were the sick and elderly, while younger, healthier people recovered easily. But in August, when the second wave swept across the United States, the virus had mutated to a much deadlier form.
Thousands died. The new wave of the disease was spread by soldiers returning from Europe, and for Americans, the flu turned out to be more devastating than the war that accompanied it. By the fall of 1918, the Surgeon General of the Army reported that the disease had “exploded” in port cities where soldiers were entering the United States from overseas. In the early stages of the illness, the epidemic had been largely ignored by the public health departments and was regarded as merely a minor outbreak.
Late in the year, though, as port cities and naval bases began to report large numbers of illnesses and death, the public began to realize that something was very wrong. However, little was done to curb the spread of the virus. Doctors warned local health departments to quarantine the sick and to restrict attendance at large public gatherings. However, most towns, in the grip of patriotic fervor, resisted the advice and held rallies and parades for returning soldiers. In Philadelphia, a massive Liberty Loan parade was held in October, despite the pleas of some medical officials to cancel it. The city paid a horrible price for continuing with the event, as fatalities soon approached 1,000 per week.
In the days and weeks that followed, the disease began to spread to the interior parts of the country. The Navy carried the flu from coast to coast on their troop ships and the Army did the same via the railways. Soldiers packed into tight quarters on the trains guaranteed the rapid spread of respiratory illnesses, and when they arrived in the various stations, they passed the flu on to all who came into contact with them.
Large public gatherings in support of the war, such as parades, bond rallies and loan drives, brought masses of people together and they quickly spread the flu even further. The people simply did not appreciate the amount of danger they were in, and they ignored orders calling for the closure of schools, churches, theaters, and other public meeting places. Most cities refused to halt their public transportation services until hundreds of transit authority workers fell ill and forced them to do so. Soon, those who collected the dead and interred them found themselves overwhelmed in some cities. The accumulation of corpses then served to create secondary epidemics, making the larger cities the hardest hit by the flu.
As the death toll mounted around the country, the social fabric of many communities began to unravel. In San Francisco, schools were closed for six weeks; in Philadelphia, bodies were “stacked like cordwood” and went uncollected. The police were forced to remove bodies from homes and families had to dig graves for their loved ones, as gravediggers refused to work. Factories closed due to high absence rates.
The people’s indifference to the flu led directly to the rapid and deadly spread of the disease. Most considered the flu as merely a side note to the terrible war and, in those days, epidemics of one sort or another were a common part of life. Most people had already lived through an epidemic of some sort, although usually on a much smaller scale. Influenza moved quickly. It arrived in a town, flourished for a time and then left before most people had the opportunity to realize how great the danger was. Also, the flu did not always kill and when it did, it killed quickly, especially young adults. Normally the healthiest of age groups, individuals in their twenties, had the highest rate of mortality from the Spanish flu.
Nearly one-fourth of all Americans caught the flu between the fall of 1918 and the late winter of 1919. Even if sufficient numbers of doctors had been available, they could have done little to intercede. No flu vaccines existed at the time and caregivers could do little but encourage patients to drink plenty of fluids, hand out aspirin, and keep the dying comfortable. Emergency Red Cross hospitals were set up from coast to coast, but doctors and nurses were scarce, as the war effort had taken many of them into the military and to France. Despite frantic appeals, calls for more nurses went unanswered.
In many cases, entire families were incapacitated with illness, unaided by doctors and avoided by their neighbors, who refused to enter homes that had “Influenza” signs nailed to the front door. Some cities required people to wear surgical masks, which were actually ineffective to the microscopic virus. Because death rates were highest among people in their twenties, many of whom were parents, the flu produced thousands of young orphans around the country.
After Germany surrendered, President Wilson went to France as the head of the American delegation for the peace negotiations held at Versailles. In April 1919, the president contracted the flu, which came on very suddenly. He later recalled that night was “one of the worst through which I have ever passed.” Prior to getting sick, Wilson had resisted the Allied demands to punish Germany, but even before he was fully recovered, he changed his mind and went along with the Allied position, including the imposition of expensive financial reparations on Germany. It’s unknown just how much effect the flu had on Wilson’s reversal but some believe that it may have contributed to his debilitating stroke the following September, an event that clouded his judgment when the Senate considered the ratification of the Versailles Treaty.
The flu may, or may not, have had an effect on world politics but it’s certain that it had an impact on the social history of the United States, as well as the role of medical research in years to come. The epidemic was slowly brought under control and almost seemed to vanish as a few more months passed. By then, however, the damage was done. Millions were dead around the world, entire families were wiped out, towns had been laid waste and never recovered, and American history had been altered in a way that had never happened before.
And all because of the flu…
STORY: HAUNTED HOUSE, SLEEP PARALYSIS, SHADOW PEOPLE=====
My parents got a divorce when I was going into fourth grade so we (my mom and two sisters – I am a triplet) move into a different house and change schools.
In middle school I slept over a friends who said her house was haunted by two young kids and an older man (her family did research on the history of the house). I remember feeling very on edge when I was there. I thought it was just my mind overreacting. Ever since then, when I came back to my house I felt the same sense of being watched.
At first it was footsteps (I thought I was crazy). I saw a brush float in the air then drop in my bedroom, cup move on desk while I’m sitting there. There were certain things that didn’t scare me. Other times I would be overwhelmed with a sense of fear, I couldn’t breathe. It happened mostly in my bathroom but I could sense it randomly all over the house. I couldn’t talk to anyone about this because I wasn’t close with my family and everyone was going through a hard time.
I used to hear mumbled voices at night. I made myself think it was my sisters late at night being annoying talking to each other from their own room across the hall. It doesn’t even make sense as to why they would do that but I vividly remember a few nights where I would yell their names and tell them to be quiet.
About a year after we all moved out, beginning of high school, I told my mom and one of my sisters at dinner about my experiences and when I got to the part about hearing the voices, my sister said she heard it too and would yell at me and our other sister to be quiet. My mom said she remembers us yelling at each other to be quiet. My mom’s room was in the basement. Me and my sisters had our own rooms all upstairs on the same level, close to each other. I don’t understand how we never heard each other yell to be quiet.
My mom got cancer when I was in seventh grade. She is okay now – thank God. I was scared every night. I’ve heard three knocks on my bathroom door while I was showering and when I got out to see who was there I saw my family was all watching TV downstairs. I even came downstairs in a towel to ask who knocked.
When I lived in that house I grew a very, very, very intense fear of the noise the water the bathtub made when I turned it on. I can’t even describe it. It was like the noise was a trigger of the fear.
One of the scariest feelings I ever felt was when I was about to fall asleep one night and started to smell bonfire smoke. I looked outside but no fires. It was way too strong for it to come from outside anyways, especially with my windows being shut. The fear that came over my entire body while I was smelling it was awful. I hid under my covers, sweating, until I fell asleep.
One time I ran into the laundry room and my eyes were looking down, as I stepped into the room I saw shadowy feet about two feet in front of me and I looked up and saw a very tall shadowy figure (male) – I ran. No details on the figure. Just a shadow that wasn’t on the wall. I don’t even remember what I did after I saw that. My insomnia started back then and I am still very scared of the dark. I have an overwhelming fear of it and I am 19.
These are just the main events that stick out. I have had a few friends that had experiences in the old house.
Within the last month I started dating a guy who is the most amazing, spiritual, respectful person I have ever met. He knows I lived in a “haunted house” and that I don’t like talking about it because I still get scared thinking about it. He never has asked questions.
Two nights ago I came to his house to sleepover. I was already stressed out just from day to day life but I didn’t talk about how I felt. (I have struggled with depression and anxiety since my parents got a divorce). We fell asleep early, around 11 pm.
I had a dream that my family and friends were all staying at a beach house. In the dream I knew I wasn’t myself. It felt odd. I was just someone’s perspective going through a hallway and turned right into a bedroom and saw one of my sisters on her bed looking down at her phone. She didn’t look up – as if she didn’t know anyone was there. That was the end of the dream and I “wake up” in sleep paralysis. (I told this sister about all of this and she doesn’t think any of it is real.)
I know I am in sleep paralysis because I experienced it when I was 4 years old and later on in life realized what happened because I saw something online. I researched about it and heard of these shadow people that can manifest in sleep paralysis.
Anyways, I wake up in sleep paralysis but I am not in my boyfriend’s room. I am in the beach house bedroom where me and my boyfriend are sleeping. I can physically feel my leg still under his. I can’t move to see him though. My eyes are faced towards a lit up door and a shadow figure quickly comes in. At first it is the size of the door but as it comes into the corner of the room, it rises to the height of the ceiling.
At the same time it rises, I hear an intense loud white noise in my ear and a very high pitched ringing sound. The same time the shadow grew and the sound started, my eyesight also started glitching. It was as if a computer program was messing up and glitching out. But this was in my head. The noise was coming from in my head. In my ears. I shut my eyes and I know what is going on because I have read about it. I still am panicking and start trying to flail my body around to wake up my boyfriend and he will know I am having a nightmare.
As I think I am about to wake him up, I hear the sink running in the bathroom and I think to myself “He is in the bathroom! He is not going to be able to help me!” and as that thought ended I woke up from sleep paralysis next to my boyfriend asleep with my leg under his. I still heard a loud sound in my ear, as if I just sat next to a helicopter or something.
I woke him up because I was so scared. I told him I just had the worst sleep paralysis and right before I even told him what happened he said “What? I think I had sleep paralysis?” I asked what he meant but he quickly shrugged it off and said never mind.
About twenty minutes later I calm down a little bit and I realize I am naked. I woke up with my clothes off. Even my boyfriend said he remembers me having clothes on going to bed. I have woken up naked before when I know I had a clothes on when I fell asleep. I never thought anything of it until now. I am not sure what to think.
I was very shook up the rest of the day. I even screamed when a loud truck drove past my car. My boyfriend could see how much this hurt me and made an appointment for that day to go to a crystal healer.
On our way there he told me that last night at 4 am (two hours before I woke up with sleep paralysis) he woke up and noticed he peed his pants. He was embarrassed to tell me. I think he is scared. I can see in his eyes he sometimes believes me but he also doesn’t want to think it is real. I don’t know how much he believes me. This is hurting our relationship.
I told my mom and she knows I wouldn’t make this up. I feel a little better after meeting with the lady at the apothecary but I still am on edge.
I have seen two white orbs before so I know there is something always protecting me. One when I was 4 and another within the last six months.
When Weird Darkness returns… Joan Crawford’s daughter exposed her sadistic behavior – but how truthful were those accusations?
Plus… a man starts to dig a swimming pool in his backyard – and unearths numerous human corpses. The resulting story is so incredible that it inspired the film, “Grave Secrets”. The true story behind the “Black Hope Horror”. These stories are up next!
STORY: CHRISTINA CRAWFORD=====
Joan Crawford was one of the biggest American movie stars of all time, but her daughter Christina Crawford claimed that the glamorous facade hid a cruel and sadistic personality. Where does the truth lay?
Joan Crawford’s New York Times obituary stated that, “Miss Crawford was a quintessential superstar—an epitome of timeless glamour who personified for decades the dreams and disappointments of American women.”
Indeed, during her nearly five-decade career, Joan Crawford starred in some of the most widely-praised films of her time. She received an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1946 for her portrayal as a hardworking mother trying to provide for an ungrateful daughter in Mildred Pierce.
30 years later, Christina Crawford revealed how Joan’s life had imitated art in ways her legions of fans could never have envisioned.
Christina Crawford was the eldest of Joan’s adopted children. Unable to have any children of her own, the actress adopted Christina in 1939, followed by Christopher in 1943, and two twin daughters, Catherine and Cynthia, in 1947. Joan had attempted to adopt a child prior to Christina, but he was reclaimed by his birth mother.
Although five children saved from abandonment and brought in by one of the world’s biggest actresses may have seemed like a real-life fairytale, Christina Crawford claimed it was nothing less than a nightmare.
In Christina Crawford’s 1978 autobiography Mommie Dearest (which would later be turned into a film starring Faye Dunaway), Christina revealed that far from being a generous and caring maternal figure, Joan was an alcoholic who physically and emotionally abused her adopted children.
Christina described how she and Christopher bore the brunt of the abuse, with Christopher being strapped down into his bed with a harness each night so that he couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom.
In one chapter of the book (which would become the most famous scene in the movie), Christina recalled how Joan went into a blind rage after discovering a forbidden wire hanger in her daughter’s closet one night. The Oscar-winning actress “ripped the clothes off their hangers” and flung them all onto the floor before seizing Christina by the hair.
Christina Crawford recalled how “with one hand she pulled me by the hair and with the other she cuffed my ears until they rang” all the while screaming “no wire hangers!” before proceeding to destroy Christina’s part of the room and then ordering her to “clean up your mess.”
The autobiography became an immediate best-seller and “no more wire hangers” has since been a pop culture staple. For many people, Joan Crawford will forever be associated as a deranged mother instead of a sophisticated star.
The book and film became so popular that the stories of Joan Crawford’s cruelty were in some ways accepted as fact. But many of the people closest to her were quick to jump to her defense and upend the stories of Christina Crawford.
One of Joan Crawford’s staunchest defenders against the claims of Christian Crawford was actually her biggest rival: Bette Davis.
The famous rivalry was often capitalized on for classic movie roles, like What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?, which featured Crawford and Davis as bickering sisters. But even Davis, who “was not Miss Crawford’s biggest fan,” dismissed Christina Crawford’s expose.
She said that the book as “trash” and declared it was a “terrible, terrible thing” for Christina to have done to “someone who saved you from the orphanage, foster homes.”
Douglas Fairbank’s junior, Joan’s former husband and movie star in his own right, also wholeheartedly dismissed Christina’s accusations by stating that Joan beating her children “would not only have been out of character, but she only used covered padded hangers.”
It wasn’t only other Hollywood stars who came to Joan’s defense, but also her other children.
Catherine and Cynthia, Joan’s adopted twin daughters, were heartbroken about their adopted sister’s portrayal of their mother. Catherine stated that Christina “lived in her own reality” and that “Our Mommie was the best mother anyone ever had.”
Catherine remembers Joan as an affectionate and caring mother, who once rushed off a set in the middle of filming upon getting a call from Catherine’s school that she had broken her wrist on the playground. Joan drove her daughter to the doctor herself, still in her full movie makeup, a far cry from Dunaway’s portrayal of a violent and vain star.
Joan herself never read the biography of Christina Crawford as it was published after she died, although she knew Christina had been writing it. A year before her death in 1976, she rewrote her will to exclude both Christina and Christopher, “for reasons which are well known to them.”
STORY: BLACK HOPE HORROR=====
In 1982, Sam and Judith Haney were one of several couples who purchased homes in the Newport area of Houston, Texas. A year later, when Sam went about having a swimming pool dug in his back yard, an elderly man showed up at his door to report that he was about to dig up human remains. The reason he knew the remains were there was because he had buried them years before when the land was still a cemetery.
Proceeding to dig, it was not long before Sam came upon two bodies just where the old man said they were. There were two pine boxes, each with the indentation of a skeletal form. Sam immediately called the Sheriff and county coroner who conducted an official exhumation. Most of the bones had turned to powder, but twenty-five fragments were found, some so brittle that they disintegrated when touched. Two wedding rings were discovered on the frail fingers of the exposed skeleton.
The Haneys tried to determine the identity of the skeletons. They contacted long-time resident Jasper Norton, who told them that he had dug several graves in the area when he was a teenager. The Haney’s home and several other homes had been built on top of an African-American cemetery called “Black Hope”. The deceased were mainly former slaves. The last burial occurred at the cemetery in 1939. Construction crews destroyed all traces of it during the building of the sub-division. Local research revealed the remains were Betty and Charlie Thomas. They had been born into slavery and freed during the Civil War. They died during the 1930s.
Plagued by guilt for digging up their graves, the Haneys decided to re-bury the couple. Despite this, the dead would not rest. One night, Judith Haney discovered her clock glowing and sparking. When she checked, the clock was unplugged. On another night, Sam was working the night shift, so Judith was alone. After getting a shower, she heard her sliding door open and close. Then, she heard someone say “What are you doing?” She assumed it was Sam, but he was not there.
The next morning, she went to get her red shoes, but they were not in her closet. Sam helped her look throughout the house, but they could not find the shoes. Inexplicably, they turned up outside over Betty and Charlie’s grave. They later learned that the same day was Betty’s birthday. Sam believes that this was Charlie giving his wife a birthday present.
The Haneys were not the only ones that experienced supernatural phenomenon. A dozen of their neighbors also reported lights, televisions and water faucets turning on and off. Many heard unearthly sounds and saw supernatural apparitions. Ben and Jean Williams moved into the same neighborhood around the same time as the Haneys. Shortly after moving in, Jean noticed that her plants kept dying. reported that near their flowerbeds, sinkholes appeared in the unmistakable shape of a coffin. They would fill them in, only to have them reappear a few days later.
The Williams also noticed strange markings on a tree near the sinkholes. An arrow pointed towards the ground. Beneath it were two horizontal slash marks. A longtime resident told the couple that he had marked the tree. He said that he had made the markings because his two sisters were buried beneath it. The Williams felt guilty for practically desecrating their graves.
The Williams soon began experiencing supernatural phenomena. Random shadows slid along their walls accompanied by whispers and a putrid smell. Their granddaughter, Carli, who lived with them, reported that during the blazing heat of summer, she would encounter bone-chilling pockets of ice-cold air. “It would be very, very chilly and you’d have this feeling of foreboding, or just, you know, like something wasn’t right,” she said. “Anywhere in the house you’d have a feeling that you were not alone. Somebody was watching you. It terrified me to be in the house by myself.”
Carli recalled other strange incidents in the home: “The toilets used to flush on their own. As the water went down I could hear what was almost like conversations. You could hear people murmuring to themselves. It was a presence or spirit or something there. Something that wanted to be heard. Wanted me to know that it was there.” Jean recalled another incident when she and Carli were about to take a nap. They heard the sound of the back door opening and closing. They then heard the sounds of footsteps walking towards them. However, no one was there.
Jean added: “I absolutely believe that all of these things happened to us because we were on the graveyard, and that we were simply going to be tormented until we left there.” She wanted to leave, but Ben felt that they had to stay and fight it. He described encountering two ghostly figures in his home as he came home from the graveyard shift. They went straight into the den and headed down the hall towards the bedroom. He entered the bedroom and saw one of the figures standing above Jean. Fearing for her safety, he jumped onto the bed and the figure vanished.
However, the Williams’ problems were far from over. Within months, six of their close relatives were diagnosed with cancer; three of them died. They felt that the illnesses were caused by the spirits of the homes. Meanwhile, the Haneys decided to sue the developers for not disclosing that their home was built over a cemetery. A jury awarded them $142,400 for mental anguish. However, in a devastating reversal, the judge ruled that the developer was not responsible. The verdict was thrown out and the Haneys were ordered to pay $50,000 in court costs. They ended up having to file for bankruptcy.
The Williams followed with legal action, but the developers wanted proof that the cemetery had even existed. Jean started digging up her backyard for remains. However, she soon fell ill, so her daughter Tina volunteered to finish the job. After about a half hour, Tina began to feel dizzy. She laid down on the couch but continued to feel worse. Ben called 911 and Tina was rushed to the hospital. She had suffered a massive heart attack. Tragically, she would die two days later. She was only thirty-years-old. Jean believed her death was caused by supernatural forces.
The Williams ended up losing their entire investment and escaped to Montana, later moving back to another neighborhood in Texas. However, back in their old neighborhood, none of the current residents have reported any paranormal activity. No one has ever been able to explain what happened to the Williams or the Haneys.
Research shows that many of the bodies were buried by Jasper Norton. He told the Haneys that their home and a dozen others were built at Black Hope. The deceased were mainly former slaves with the last burial in 1939 and as many as sixty people were interred there in paupers’ graves.
This case inspired the book, “The Black Hope Horror” by Ben and Jean Williams, and the 1992 movie, Grave Secrets.
Thanks for listening. 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 all of my social media, listen to free audiobooks I’ve narrated, visit the store for Weird Darkness t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, phone cases, and more merchandise, sign up for monthly contests, find other podcasts that I host, and 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 in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise) and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“Zodiac: The Phantom Killer” posted at The Unredacted
“Spiritualism” and “The Epidemic That Brought America To Its Knees” by Troy Taylor for American Hauntings Ink
“Ghoulish Ghost Girls” by Carolyn Cox for The Line Up
“Haunted House, Sleep Paralysis, and Shadow People” by Rachel Grace, from YourGhostStories.com
“The Claims of Christina Crawford” by Gina Dimuro for All That’s Interesting
“Black Hope Horror” posted at Unsolved Mysteries Wiki
“Armored Phantoms” by Brent Swancer for Mysterious Universe
WeirdDarkness® – is a production and trademark of Marlar House Productions. Copyright, 2023.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “False weights and unequal measures – the Lord detests double standards of every kind.” — Proverbs 20:10
And a final thought… “I’ve never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.” – Daniel Boone
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.