“THE TRAGEDY AND LINGERING GHOSTS OF THE DONNER PARTY” and More True Horrors! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: The tragic demise of the Donner Party has become infamous. But what led to the failed journey, and to the eventual cannibalism some of the party resorted to in order to survive? (The Tragic Story of the Donner Party) *** Mary Ann Cotton managed to poison three husbands to death, as well as killing eleven children, before she was finally caught. How did England’s first female serial killer get away with it for so long? (Mary Ann Cotton, England’s First Female Serial Killer) *** Reddit asked men and women who have served in the military to share the creepiest things that happened to them while on duty. After hearing some of the stories, you might think the word “creepy” wouldn’t be sufficient enough to describe them. (Creepy Things That Have Happened To Military Personnel) *** (Originally aired February 08, 2021)
SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…
“The Tragic Story of the Donner Party” from Legends of America: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/176gt0vu and Pam Jung from The Union: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/2vdwhguj
“Mary Ann Cotton, England’s First Female Serial Killer” from The Line Up: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/3caw9d79
“Creepy Things That Have Happened To Military Personnel” by Emily Madriga for Thought Catalog:https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/4a0dko75
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Welcome, Weirdos – (I’m Darren Marlar and) this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode…
Mary Ann Cotton managed to poison three husbands to death, as well as killing eleven children, before she was finally caught. How did England’s first female serial killer get away with it for so long? (Mary Ann Cotton, England’s First Female Serial Killer)
Reddit asked men and women who have served in the military to share the creepiest things that happened to them while on duty. After hearing some of the stories, you might think the word “creepy” wouldn’t be sufficient enough to describe them. (Creepy Things That Have Happened To Military Personnel)
The tragic demise of the Donner Party has become infamous. But what led to the failed journey, and to the eventual cannibalism some of the party resorted to in order to survive? (The Tragic Story of the Donner Party)
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STORY: THE TRAGIC STORY OF THE DONNER PARTY=====
The originator of this group was a man named James Frasier Reed, an Illinois businessman, eager to build a greater fortune in the rich land of California. Reed also hoped that his wife, Margaret, who suffered from terrible headaches, might improve in the coastal climate. Reed had recently read the book The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California, by Landsford W. Hastings, who advertised a new shortcut across the Great Basin. This new route enticed travelers by advertising that it would save the pioneers 350-400 miles on easy terrain. However, what was not known by Reed was that the Hastings Route had never been tested, written by Hastings who had visions of building an empire at Sutter’s Fort (now Sacramento.) It was this falsified information that would lead to the doom of the Donner Party.
Reed soon found others seeking adventure and fortune in the vast West, including the Donner family, Graves, Breens, Murphys, Eddys, McCutcheons, Kesebergs, and the Wolfingers, as well as seven teamsters and a number of bachelors. The initial group included 32 men, women and children.
With James and Margaret Reed were their four children, Virginia, Patty, James, and Thomas, as well as Margaret’s 70-year-old mother, Sarah Keyes, and two hired servants. Though Sarah Keyes was so sick with consumption that she could barely walk, she was unwilling to be separated from her only daughter. However, the successful Reed was determined his family would not suffer on the long journey as his wagon was an extravagant two-story affair with a built-in iron stove, spring-cushioned seats, and bunks for sleeping. Taking eight oxen to pull the luxurious wagon, Reed’s 12-year-old daughter Virginia dubbed it “The Pioneer Palace Car.”
In nine brand new wagons, the group estimated the trip would take four months to cross the plains, deserts, mountain ranges and rivers in their quest for California. Their first destination was Independence, Missouri, the main jumping-off point for the Oregon and California Trails.
Also in the group were the families of George and Jacob Donner. George Donner was a successful 62-year-old farmer who had migrated five times before settling in Springfield, Illinois along with his brother Jacob. Obviously adventurous, the brothers decided to make one last trip to California, which unfortunately would be their last.
With George were his third wife, Tamzene, their three children, Frances, Georgia, and Eliza, and George’s two daughters from a previous marriage, Elitha and Leanna. Jacob Donner, and his wife Elizabeth, brought their five children, George, Mary, Isaac, Samuel, and Lewis, as well as Mrs. Donner’s two children from a previous marriage, Solomon and William Hook.
Also along with them were two teamsters, Noah James and Samuel Shoemaker, as well as a friend named John Denton. At the bottom of Jacob Donner’s saddlebag was a copy of Lansford Hastings’s Emigrant’s Guide, with its tantalizing talk of a faster route to the garden of the earth.
Ironically, on the very day that the Illinois party headed west from Springfield, Lansford Hastings prepared to head east from California, to see what the shortcut he had written about was really like.
The wagon train reached Independence, Missouri about three weeks later, where they re-supplied. The next day, on May 12, 1846, they headed west again in the middle of a thunderstorm. A week later they joined a large wagon train captained by Colonel William H. Russell that was camped on Indian Creek about 100 miles west of Independence. Along the entire journey, others would join the group until its size numbered 87.
On May 25th the train was held for several days by high water at the Big Blue River near present-day Marysville, Kansas. It was here that the train would experience its first death when Sarah Keyes died and was buried next to the river. After building ferries to cross the water, the party was on their way again, following the Platte River for the next month.
Along the way, William Russell resigned as the captain of the wagon train and the position was assumed by a man named William M. Boggs. Encountering few problems along the trail, the pioneers reached Fort Laramie just one week behind schedule on June 27, 1846.
At Fort Laramie, James Reed ran into an old friend from Illinois by the name of James Clyman, who had just traveled the new route eastwardly with Lansford Hastings. Clyman advised Reed not to take the Hastings Route, stating that the road was barely passable on foot and would be impossible with wagons; also warning him of the great desert and the Sierra Nevadas. Though he strongly suggested that the party take the regular wagon trail rather than this new false route, Reed would later ignore his warning in an attempt to reach their destination more quickly.
Joined by other wagons in Fort Laramie, the pioneers were met by a man carrying a letter from Lansford W. Hastings at the Continental Divide on July 11th. The letter stated that Hastings would meet the emigrants at Fort Bridger and lead them on his cutoff, which passed south of the Great Salt Lake instead of detouring northwest via Fort Hall (present-day Pocatello, Idaho.)
The letter successfully allayed any fears that the party might have had regarding the Hastings cutoff. On July 19th the wagon train arrived at the Little Sandy River in present-day Wyoming, where the trail parted into two routes – the northerly known route and the untested Hastings Cutoff. Here, the train split, with the majority of the large caravan taking the safer route. The group preferring the Hastings route elected George Donner as their captain and soon began the southerly route, reaching Fort Bridger on July 28th. However, upon their arrival at Fort Bridger, of Lansford Hastings, there was no sign, only a note left with other emigrants resting at the fort. The note indicated that Hastings had left with another group and that later travelers should follow and catch up. Jim Bridger and his partner Louis Vasquez assured the Donner Party that the Hastings Cutoff was a good route. Satisfied, the emigrants rested for a few days at the fort, making repairs to their wagons and preparing for the rest of what they thought would be a seven-week journey.
On July 31st, the party left Fort Bridger, joined by the McCutchen family. The group now numbered 74 people in twenty wagons and for the first week made good progress at 10-12 miles per day.
On August 6, the party reached the Weber River after having passed through Echo Canyon. Here they came to a halt when they found a note from Hastings advising them not to follow him down Weber Canyon as it was virtually impassible, but rather to take another trail through the Salt Basin.
While the party camped near modern-day Henefer, Utah, James Reed, along with two other men forged ahead on horses to catch up with Hastings. Finding the party at the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, Hastings accompanied Reed partway back to point out the new route, which he said would take them about one week to travel. In the meantime, the Graves family caught up with the Donner Party, which now numbered 87 people in 23 wagons. Taking a vote among the party members, the group decided to try the new trail rather than backtracking to Fort Bridger.
On August 11th, the wagon train began the arduous journey through the Wasatch Mountains, clearing trees and other obstructions along the new path of their journey. In the beginning, the wagon train was lucky to make even two miles per day, taking them six days just to travel eight miles. Along the way, they discovered that some of their wagons would have to be abandoned and before long, morale began to sink and the pioneers began to adamantly blame Lansford Hastings. By the time they reached the shore, they also blamed James Reed.
On August 25th, the caravan lost another member, one Luke Halloran, who died of consumption, near present-day Grantsville, Utah. About this time, fear began to set in as provisions were running low and time was against them. In the twenty-one days since reaching the Weber River they had moved just 36 miles.
Five days later, on August 30th, the group began to cross the Great Salt Lake Desert, believing the trek would take only two days, according to Hastings. However, what they didn’t know was that the desert sand was moist and deep, where wagons quickly got bogged down, severely slowing their progress. On the third day in the desert, their water supply was nearly exhausted and some of Reed’s oxen ran away. When they finally reached the end of the grueling desert five days later on September 4th, the emigrants rested near the base of Pilot Peak for several days. On their eighty mile journey through the Salt Lake Desert, they had lost a total of thirty-two oxen; Reed was forced to abandon two of his wagons, and the Donners, as well as man named Louis Keseberg, lost one wagon each.
On the far side of the desert, an inventory of food was taken and found to be less than adequate for the 600-mile trek still ahead. Ominously, snow powdered the mountain peaks that very night. They reached the Humboldt River on September 26th.
Realizing that the difficult journey through the mountains and the desert had depleted their supplies, two of the young men traveling with the party, William McCutcheon and Charles Stanton, were sent ahead to Sutter’s Fort, California to bring back supplies.
From September 10th through the 25th, the party followed the trail into Nevada around the Ruby Mountains, finally reaching the Humboldt River on September 26th. It was here that the “new” trail met up with Hasting’s original path. Having traveled an extra 125 miles through strenuous mountain terrain and dry desert, the disillusioned party’s resentment of Hastings, and ultimately, Reed, was increased tremendously.
The Donner Party soon reached the junction with the California Trail, about seven miles west of present-day Elko, Nevada and spent the next two weeks traveling along the Humboldt River. As the disillusionment of the party increased, tempers began to flare in the group.
On October 5th at Iron Point, two wagons became entangled and John Snyder, a teamster of one of the wagons began to whip his oxen. Infuriated by the teamster’s treatment of the oxen, James Reed ordered the man to stop and when he wouldn’t, Reed grabbed his knife and stabbed the teamster in the stomach, killing him. The Donner Party wasted no time in administering their own justice. Though member, Lewis Keseberg, favored hanging for James Reed, the group, instead, voted to banish him. Leaving his family, Reed was last seen riding off to the west with a man named Walter Herron.
The Donner Party continued to travel along the Humboldt River with their remaining draft animals exhausted. To spare the animals, everyone who could, walked. Two days after the Snyder killing, on October 7th, Lewis Keseberg turned out a Belgian man named Hardcoop, who had been traveling with him. The old man, who could not keep up with the rest of the party with his severely swollen feet, began to knock on other wagon doors, but no one would let him in. He was last seen sitting under a large sagebrush, completely exhausted, unable to walk, worn out, and was left there to die.
The terrible ordeals of the caravan continued to mount when on October 12th, their oxen were attacked by Piute Indians, killing 21 one of them with poison-tipped arrows, further depleting their draft animals.
Continuing to encounter multiple obstacles, on October 16th, they reached the gateway to the Sierra Nevada on the Truckee River (present-day Reno) almost completely depleted of food supplies. Miraculously, just three days later on October 19th, one of the men the party had sent on to Fort Sutter — Charles Stanton, returned laden with seven mules loaded with beef and flour, two Indian guides, and news of a clear, but difficult path through the Sierra Nevada. Stanton’s partner, William McCutchen had fallen ill and remained at the fort. The caravan camped for five days 50 miles from the summit, resting their oxen for the final push. This decision to delay their departure was yet one more of many that would lead to their tragedy.
October 28th, an exhausted James Reed arrived at Sutter’s Fort, where he met William McCutchen, now recovered, and the two men began preparations to go back for their families.
In the meantime, while the wagon train continued to the base of the summit, George Donner’s wagon axle broke and he fell behind the rest of the party. Twenty-two people, consisting of the Donner family and their hired men, stayed behind while the wagon was repaired. Unfortunately, while cutting timber for a new axle, a chisel slipped and Donner cut his hand badly, causing the group to fall further behind.
As the rest of the party continued to what is now known as Donner’s Lake, snow began to fall. Stanton and the two Indians who were traveling ahead made it as far as the summit but could go no further. Hopeless, they retraced their steps where five feet of new snow had already fallen.
With the Sierra pass just 12 miles beyond, the wagon train, after attempting to make the pass through the heavy snow, finally retreated to the eastern end of the lake, where level ground and timber was abundant. At the lake stood one existing cabin and realizing they were stranded, the group built two more cabins, sheltering 59 people in hopes that the early snow would melt, allowing them to continue their travels.
The 22 people with the Donners were about six miles behind at Alder Creek. Hastily, as the snow continued, the party built three shelters from tents, quilts, buffalo robes. and brush to protect themselves from the harsh conditions.
At Donner Lake, two more attempts were made to get over the pass in twenty feet of snow, until they finally realized they were snowbound for the winter. More small cabins were constructed, many of which were shared by more than one family. The weather and their hopes were not to improve. Over the next four months, the remaining men, women, and children would huddle together in cabins, makeshift lean-tos, and tents.
Meanwhile, Reed and McCutchen had headed back up into the mountains attempting to rescue their stranded companions. Two days after they started out it began to rain. As the elevation increased, the rain turned to snow and twelve miles from the summit the pair could go no further. Caching their provisions in Bear Valley, they returned to Sutter’s fort hoping to recruit more men and supplies for the rescue. However, the Mexican War had drawn away the able-bodied men, forcing any further rescue attempts to wait. Not knowing how many cattle the emigrants had lost, the men believed the party would have enough meat to last them several months. On Thanksgiving, it began to snow again, and the pioneers at Donner Lake killed the last of their oxen for food on November 29th.
The very next day, five more feet of snow fell, and they knew that any plans for a departure were dashed. Many of their animals, including Sutter’s mules, had wandered off into the storms and their bodies were lost under the snow. A few days later their last few cattle were slaughtered for food and party began eating boiled hides, twigs, bones and bark. Some of the men tried to hunt with little success.
On December 15, Balis Williams died of malnutrition and the group realized that something had to be done before they all died. The next day five men, nine women, and one child departed on snowshoes for the summit, determined to travel the 100 miles to Sutter’s Fort. However, with only meager rations and already weak from hunger the group faced a challenging ordeal. On the sixth day, their food ran out and for the next three days, no one ate while they traveled through grueling high winds and freezing weather. One member of the party, Charles Stanton, snow-blind and exhausted was unable to keep up with the rest of the party and told them to go on. He never rejoined the group. A few days later, the party was caught in a blizzard and had great difficulty getting and keeping a fire lit. Antonio, Patrick Dolan, Franklin Graves, and Lemuel Murphy soon died and in desperation, the others resorted to cannibalism.
Living off the bodies of those that died along the path to Sutter’s Fort, the snowshoeing survivors were reduced to seven by the time they reached safety on the western side of the mountains on January 19, 1847. Only two of the ten men survived, including William Eddy and William Foster, but all five women lived through the journey. Of the eight dead, seven had been cannibalized. Immediately messages were dispatched to neighboring settlements as area residents rallied to save the rest of the Donner Party.
On February 5, the first relief party of seven men left Johnson’s ranch, and the second, headed by James Reed, left two days later. On February 19th, the first party reached the lake finding what appeared to be a deserted camp until the ghostly figure of a woman appeared. Twelve of the emigrants were dead and of the forty-eight remaining, many had gone crazy or were barely clinging to life. However, the nightmare was by no means over. Not everyone could be taken out at one time and since no pack animals could be brought in, few food supplies were brought in. The first relief party soon left with 23 refugees, but during the party’s travels back to Sutter’s Fort, two more children died. En route down the mountains, the first relief party met the second relief party coming the opposite way and the Reed family was reunited after five months.
On March 1st the second relief party finally arrived at the lake, finding grisly evidence of cannibalism. The next day, they arrived at Alder Creek to find that the Donners had also resorted to cannibalism. On March 3rd, Reed left the camp with 17 of the starving emigrants but just two days later they are caught in another blizzard. When it cleared, Isaac Donner had died and most of the refugees were too weak to travel. Reed and another rescuer, Hiram Miller, took three of the refugees with them hoping to find food they had stored on the way up. The rest of the pioneers stayed at what would become known as “Starved Camp.”
On March 12th the third relief led by William Eddy and William Foster reached Starved Camp where Mrs. Graves and her son Franklin had also died. The three bodies, including that of Isaac Donner, had been cannibalized. The next day, they arrived at the lake camp to find that both of their sons had died. On March 14th they arrived at the Alder Creek camp to find George Donner was dying from an infection in the hand that he had injured months before. His wife Tamzene, though in comparatively good health, refused to leave him; sending her three little girls on without her. The relief party soon departed with four more members of the party, leaving those who are too weak to travel. Two rescuers, Jean-Baptiste Trudeau and Nicholas Clark were left behind to care for the Donners, but soon abandon them to catch up with the relief party.
A fourth rescue party set out in late March but were soon stranded in a blinding snowstorm for several days. On April 17th, the relief party reached the camps to find only Louis Keseberg alive among the mutilated remains of his former companions. Keseberg was the last member of the Donner Party to arrive at Sutter’s Fort on April 29th. It took two months and four relief parties to rescue the entire surviving Donner Party.
In the Donner Party tragedy, two-thirds of the men in the party perished, while two-thirds of the women and children lived. Forty-one individuals died, and forty-six survived. In the end, five had died before reaching the mountains, thirty-five perished either at the mountain camps or trying to cross the mountains, and one died just after reaching the valley. Many of those who survived lost toes to frostbite.
The story of the Donner tragedy quickly spread across the country. Newspapers printed letters and diaries and accused the travelers of bad conduct, cannibalism, and even murder. The surviving members had differing viewpoints, biases and recollections so what actually happened was never extremely clear. Some blamed the power-hungry Lansford W. Hastings for the tragedy, while others blamed James Reed for not heeding Clyman’s warning about the deadly route.
After the publicity, emigration to California fell off sharply and Hastings’ cutoff was all but abandoned. Then, in January 1848, gold was discovered in at John Sutter’s Mill in Coloma and gold-hungry travelers began to rush out West once again. By late 1849 more than 100,000 people had come to California in search of gold near the streams and canyons where the Donner Party had suffered.
Donner Lake, named for the party, is today a popular mountain resort near Truckee, California and the Donner Camp has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
If you are fortunate you may be one of thousands of visitors who visit Donner Memorial State Park in Truckee to actually feel the presence of Tamsen Donner of the ill-fated Donner Party.
Or should we say “unfortunate.” The trials that she and the 87 men, women, and children of that expedition endured are ghastly and unimaginable.
“The traumatic suffering endured both by those who died and those who survived was so great,” says Barbara Smith, author of “Ghost Stories of California,” “that resonances from their experiences can still be felt in and around the area where the group wintered.”
Smith writes of one woman’s creepy experience in the spring of 1988. The woman, only identified as Elizabeth in order to preserve her privacy, started feeling sensations while driving toward Donner Summit-excited, as if she was going to be seeing dear friends whom she hadn’t seen in years. She was confused by this, as she was a practical sort, a history buff, and she didn’t have any friends she was meeting.
The closer she got to the Donner Memorial Park, the more intense the sensations got, including odors (what the campsite and the pioneers smelled like) and tears that sprang unbidden for their horrible plight.
Once at the park Elizabeth had overpowering feelings of being watched and not being alone, even though no one else was in the park at that time. But these feelings only occurred at the site where it was thought George Donner and his wife Tamsen had their tent 152 years earlier.
Could the presence Elizabeth felt be the ghost of this woman? By all accounts Mrs. Donner was an intelligent, resourceful person who first sent her children ahead to find their way to civilization, then left herself once her husband died-the last member of the Donner Party to leave the place? No one knows, but there have been others who have had odd experiences regarding this point and time in history.
A woman identified as “Joan Williams” was hypnotically regressed to a past life by paranormal researcher Dr. Michael Newton in the early 1990s, only to have Donner Party survivor Patty Reed come through. She said she was 8 years old, cold, and in the mountains.
Further she said she had been carried out of the camp by a Frenchman. When asked what was most responsible for the tragedy, her answer was Hastings. Newton discovered that the lady he regressed had no knowledge of the Donner Party in her waking state.
Patty Reed had died in 1923 at the ripe old age of 85. While not a ghostly presence in the normal sense of the word, the essence of her seemed to live on (reincarnation maybe?) in Joan Williams.
Then there’s the story of a skier who got seriously disoriented while skiing alone at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, close to where the Donner Party had their last camp. After a day of wandering about looking for help, he claims a woman skier appeared, led him to a camp of people, who asked him to do some work the next day for them, alone. When he went back to camp later that day, it wasn’t there.
There weren’t even any signs that it had ever been there. Everything and everybody had disappeared. Creepy, for sure, but at least not threatening.
When Weird Darkness returns… Reddit asked men and women who have served in the military to share the creepiest things that happened to them while on duty. After hearing some of the stories, you might think the word “creepy” wouldn’t be sufficient enough to describe them. (Creepy Things That Have Happened To Military Personnel)
STORY: CREEPY THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED TO MILITARY PERSONNEL=====
Serving in the military is probably scary enough, knowing that you are literally signing away your own life to defend the lives of others if needed. But the scares aren’t confined to the battlefield. Redditors who have had military experience were asked about the creepiest things they’ve seen while on duty. Here are some of the spookiest answers that were given.
“US Navy photographer here. In the deepest parts of the ocean, you will often steam past small boats that are empty or seemingly empty. Sometimes they look like they got loose and no one looked for them. Sometimes they looked disgusting like someone lived in them until they couldn’t. Sometimes it’s obvious someone is still in them but they haven’t moved for weeks…” — lightwolv
“As a Marine, I used to have the graveyard patrol shift at the Beirut Bombing Memorial. Part of the memorial is dedicated to a veteran’s cemetery. Oddly enough I never got freaked out being completely alone in a remote cemetery, in the middle of the night, surrounded by dense woods on all sides. It was actually kind of peaceful, to be honest. However, one night I was patrolling near the perimeter fence where some of the oldest headstones are, when I heard the sound of a woman humming. I followed the sound and noticed a light glowing through the vines and brush of a large tree. As I approached, I could literally feel my hair beginning to lift as if there was an electric current in the air. I pushed aside the brush and what I saw nearly took my breath away. It was an old, weathered headstone with a large cross etched into the marble. Only the cross was glowing a bright, vivid blue, like a neon bulb. The humming was also suddenly much louder and had a weird plurality to it, like it was coming from hundreds of voices at once. Needless to say, I freaked out. I screamed like a scared little girl and sprinted back to the parking lot. I radioed the guard who was supposed to relieve me and forced him to come early, then spent the rest of my shift in the cab of his truck. I don’t think he believed me, but he stayed in his truck and didn’t go out on patrol until the sun was fully up. A few days later, I worked up the nerve to return to the grave (during the day, of course). As I suspected, in the light of day it was a completely mundane headstone. There was no name, only the aforementioned cross. I ran my hands over the stone and checked to see if maybe there was some sort of hidden light source or solar panel, but no, it was just plain, solid, unremarkable stone. The humming was gone, too. I eventually returned to my normal shift, but never again experienced anything out of the ordinary. I never learned whose grave that was, either, but I find myself thinking about it from time to time. It certainly sounds absurd when I say it out loud, and I suppose it could have been a hallucination or a trick of my tired brain, but I don’t believe it was. I think it was real; a ghost or spirit of some sort, but I don’t think it was malevolent at all.” — Rainbow-Grimm
“We wrote it off as some of the instructors messing with us but while training at JWTC, there was a blood curdling scream in the middle of the night. Definitely sounded like a woman. The Lt in charge made us do a quick accountability check then he started radioing the training center to see what had happened. The instructors went out from their compound, did some checks but didn’t find anything. They said it’s not the first time they had units out there calling in to report the same thing.” — BossAVery
“I was on one rooftop on post with another marine and on the building next to mine was a dude smoking a cigarette. I looked to my partner to mention it but when we looked again he was gone. The roof access door for that building was very rusty and loud so there’s no way he snuck out in those few seconds it took to get my partners attention.” — Im-M-A-Reyes
“Not my story, so I’ll tell it as best I can: this happened during a rotation at the National Training Center sometime in 2015. A battle was occurring at night, a light appeared in the sky and for ten minutes or so there was silence. This may not seem too interesting until you look at the numbers and statistics, you’re looking at massive amounts of people and equipment during a rotation, constant radio chatter, vehicle noise, people talking, etc. and suddenly just nothing… then the light seemed to make a couple strange turns, one being around 90 degrees, and split and disappear.” — Blackjack357
“There were multiple instances of North Vietnamese soldiers just walking straight up to US forces in the middle of combat. They’d look at them and they wouldn’t even raise their weapon or unsling it. They would just start laughing at the US soldiers. Then the US guys would shoot them. I sure there’s a reasonable explanation of why this happened, but it’s pretty creepy that the enemy might just walk up to you and just start laughing in your face seemingly not caring whether you shoot them or not.” — evan466
“I was by myself in the Engine Room of a submarine on the midwatch, just a newly reported sailor trying to find equipment so I could display knowledge to one of the watchstanders. There are a number of bays in Engine Room Lower Level with narrow passages that pass through the center. I came down one of the ladders, and I swore I saw someone walk across the ship about fifteen feet in front of me. I could hear his footsteps as he walked around a corner and out of sight. Three problems: 1. He was wearing utilities, an older, light blue blouse and dark navy slacks. Nobody had utilities anymore. They had been phased out three years earlier. 2. There was only one other person awake in the Engine Room that late at night, and he was standing at the top of the ladder behind me, waiting for me to come back up with an answer to his question. 3. He wasn’t actually there. I wrote it off as sleep deprivation, but I’ll admit it shook me for a while. Fast forward to four months later, I had gone out to sea with another submarine of the same type. While I was there, I met a sailor who had previously served on my ship. After a few weeks of standing watch with him, he told me a story of a sailor who had committed suicide while on watch when he served on my ship almost a decade earlier. In Engine Room Lower Level. In his utilities. I wish I could have gotten a picture of the look on my face. I’m sure it was the definition of disbelief.” — icesir
“A friend of mine went to Afghanistan and got stationed in an area that was used as a base by the Soviets. He swears that sometimes when he was on sentry duty he could hear whispers that didn’t sound like English or the local languages. He’s convinced he heard Russian.” — TofuDeliveryBoy
“One time at an Air Force Base in the ROK we had a power outage at night, all of us walked out of our hangar doors to take a see what the problem may have been and we saw a very, very large triangular shape passing over our hangar. It was a clear moonless night previously and when we went outside to look around we noticed the starscape being covered then slowly uncovered. No sound associated with the event other than normal sounds of the location. I’ll never forget.” — SnoGoose
“This is my dad’s story. After he was done in Vietnam he soon stationed at an air force base in Greenland. They had bad blizzards often there and when they came through the base shut down and every section of the barracks would take role call. These blizzards are intense. There were cables running between all the buildings you attached to your person so if there was a sudden white out you didn’t get lost and die. They had people die literally 20 meters from shelter because they got lost in bad weather and froze. He said for about 5 months every time they locked down for weather they would hear horrendous screaming outside. Everyone was accounted for so they didn’t risk sending anyone out to investigate. They wrote it off as an animal. However, every time this was heard, the engine room would be wrecked. Tools everywhere, paperwork all over the floor, tables and tool boxes knocked over, even one time a several thousand pound jet engine had been lifted from it’s work bench crane thing and smashed almost 30 feet away. The hangars and engine room had cameras covering ever single possible entrance with spot lights that made them clear even in a white out. No animals, no people, no anything was ever seen entering or leaving those buildings. Then one day it just stopped. Edit- OK, since I have a lot of debate on what could have caused this I will clear some stuff up. This was not something they just shrugged at. It cost a lot of money and threw a wrench in at least one surveillance routine which caused a lot of brass from the DOD and the CIA to breath fire down the base commander’s neck. This facility, beyond military function, served as a base for a lot of civilian research as well. There was a full investigation using all manner of scientists, engineers, and specialists. They came up with no satisfactory explanation for what was happening. I do not believe in the paranormal nor did my father. This is the only spooky type story he has from 22 years in the service. No one knows what happened. It was very strange in ever way. Hundreds of people wrote reports and documented this, it wasnt just some grease monkeys scratching their heads and randomly guessing. That said, I spoke to my mom. She told me a couple things I missed. After one of these occasions the U2 in the shop had all it’s electronics turned on. Many of the systems in this plane were special built for this air frame and this particular crew’s mission. These systems were complex and archaic. Very few people knew how to operate this machinery and the only ones on base that could were two engineers and it’s crew. It wasn’t a simple matter of hitting power buttons and flipping switches from off to on. Another time three barrels of hydraulic fluid vanished and were never found. They doubted the screaming noise was wind because it came in short, irregular, bursts and winds never produced those sounds again. They theorized it was a polar bear but, if it was, it’s coincidental timing was extremely uncanny. Lastly control picked up a bunch of weird interference and anomalous readings that, again, had the uncanny timing of happening only when this was going on. They were never able to reproduce these errors in a controlled manner.” — creepyredditloaner
“Used to be F22 Avionics for the USAF (2A3x2) no shred, at an undisclosed base, a light appeared above the flightline moving in odd ways and hovering. We called it in to our #1 and he called other AMUs to ensure there were no sorties being flown that we didn’t know about. Shortly after F22s and 16s were scrambled and could not intercept the object. It disappeared into the night. We saw this go down from our flightline. Shortly after, we were informed that this never happened.” — phdaemon
“Navy. When I was in groton CT, for basic enlisted submarine school. I was roving the barracks at night. I had a UI(under instruction), so I was showing him the ropes. What to check and and how to check. It was mainly fire extinguishers and secured doors. Well on the second or third floor of the barracks there is a recreation room with a TV and chairs and a piano. Mind you everyone was asleep and it was 0200 in the morning. Well I decided to go and see if I remembered how to play the piano a little. We decided to continue to finish the patrol so we started walking down the hall when we heard a single piano note go off. We both heard it while I was in mid conversation so we kind of looked back, and than we both looked at each other to see if we both had heard the same noise. We shrugged it off as our imaginations running wild. But as soon as we got to the end of the hall and opened the door to the stairway a sharp key note was heard coming from down the hall in the direction of the room with the piano. We left the floor as soon as possible and later shared the story with some shipmates and they told us story’s of sailors that had died in the barracks.” — compaq2598
“Submariner here. There are few things as unnerving as wondering about the engine room from 2330-0530 alone on watch. When the boat is largely shutdown in port it becomes a very quiet place. The roving watches usually make it an hourly game to speed through their log rounds, especially in the lower levels. One particular in port period, the boat was moored in Pearl Harbor and a few people started complaining about a real uneasy feeling. I was on the mid-watch as the SEO on evening and a Senior Chief came back to do his required 0300 tour. We saw him walk past maneuvering on his way to shaft-alley. This particular Senior Chief was the crusty old salt type, and would usually spend a bit of time just sitting in the lower levels of the engine room alone and contemplate life, so we expected as much. What we didn’t expect was him to literally run into the maneuvering area a few minutes later. The man was pale faced, and breathing heavily. We sat up straight, our eyes as wide as his thinking we were about to have to announce and fight some ship casualty. He slumps into the EDO chair. A few tense, and silent, moments go by. We’re on pins and needles. He finally opens his mouth and tells us about the “f—ing ghost in shaft-alley.” Swears a sailor passes by him as he’s sitting on a trash can in shaft alley. His first response was to call out to the guy, see who it was. But then he realized this guy isn’t dressed right. He describes what this guy was wearing, the old WWII naval uniforms. So he quickly gets up to catch up to the guy, and he does. Catches up to him all the way aft. The guy turns towards the Senior Chief. Looks right at him. Then turns away and literally walks through ass end of the boat. It’s now that the Senior Chief decides it’s time to leave shaft-alley, and promptly does so. Swears up and down that he knows what he saw. I sure as hell wasn’t about to leave maneuvering that night to find out for myself.” — Driftwolf
“One of my drill sergeants actually has a creepy story from one of his Afghanistan deployments. He was infantry so being in the field and out of missions for multiple weeks wasn’t uncommon. One night while sleeping in a fighting position he dug, he felt something nibbling at his feet. He woke up and kicked it off and what he saw wasn’t any type of marsupial but a little humanoid figure he could only describe as looking just like Gollum. But being in the field with little sleep he chalked it up to just seeing things. A couple days later he and another guy and on watch and the other guy pointed out something and said “what the (heck) is that” and pointed at a stone wall in the distance. My drill sergeant looked through this binoculars and crawling across the top of this stone wall was the exact little humanoid creature he encountered a few nights before.” — dee_swoozie
“I worked in Arlington National Cemetery while I was in the army. The Tomb Guards always talked about seeing or just hearing soldiers marching some nights. We were cataloging graves one night when I thought I saw a soldier in my team up ahead, so I called him over. He answered from behind me. When I looked back, the other soldier was gone. I am a skeptic and I believe everything “paranormal” has a real world explanation, but I’m still trying to figure that one out.” — chrisberman410
“Saw a ghost and some creepy (stuff) happen when we were removing the old Fresnel lens from the Presque Isle Light in Michigan. Also, seen some weird creepy lights and St. Elmo’s fire near the old Waugoshance Light. Compasses and radios all quit, radar and GPS wouldn’t work either. The light near Sturgeon Bay is haunted as well, and we stayed at the light near Two Rivers, and the whole family saw the ghost. There are several lights in the Great Lakes that are open to Active, Reserve, and Retired military members as vacation rentals. We stayed at Rawley Point Lighthouse and the Sherwood Point Lighthouse. They have visitors logs that are like a diary, and multiple stories are in there about the hauntings, dating back to the 70s. I KNOW that Sherwood Point is haunted…..” — derpsalot1984
Coming up… Mary Ann Cotton managed to poison three husbands to death, as well as killing eleven children, before she was finally caught. How did England’s first female serial killer get away with it for so long? (Mary Ann Cotton, England’s First Female Serial Killer) That story when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: MARY ANN COTTON, ENGLAND’S FIRST FEMALE SERIAL KILLER=====
Mary Ann Cotton didn’t go easily. When the hangman opened the trap door beneath her feet, the fall was not enough to break her neck. The executioner had to push down on her shoulders to hasten her death.
Despite her rather gruesome death, there was little public sympathy for Mary Ann Cotton when she was hanged in 1873. She was executed for the murder of her stepson, but it is likely she killed at least 21 people, including 11 of her 13 children, three of her four husbands, and her mother. She is known as England’s first female serial killer.
Like many female killers going back to ancient times, her method was poison: arsenic. Arsenic was easy to obtain in the 19th century and even easier to administer in food. Victims are likely to experience vomiting and stomach pain along with other easily identifiable signs of the poisoning before their death. It’s still unclear just how Cotton managed to kill so many people over so many years before she was caught.
Working class women in the 1800s did not have easy lives, and Mary Ann’s was no exception. She had to go to work early, as a nurse and a dressmaker, after the death of her father in a mining accident.
In 1852, when she was 20 years old, she married her first husband, William Mowbray, a miner like her father. The couple left the area, moving to South West England. Although reports at her trial included four or five children born to the couple during this time dying young, there is only one birth recorded. Their daughter, Margaret Jane, was born in 1856 and died in 1860.
When Mary Ann and Mowbray moved back to North East England, they had two more daughters and two sons. Only one of them, Isabella, survived past the age of four. In 1865, Mowbray died, supposedly of an intestinal disorder. After his death, Mary Ann collected insurance for both his death and that of one of their sons, totaling £375s. This would have been the equivalent of about six months’ wages at the time.
Shortly after Mowbray’s death, Mary Ann married husband number two, George Ward. The pair were married in August 1865. After a long illness, Ward died just over a year later, in October 1866. He, too, showed signs of intestinal problems. Mary Ann collected an insurance payout for Ward as well.
Husband number three, James Robinson, was the only husband to survive his marriage to Mary Ann. She entered Robinson’s house as a housekeeper. When Robinson’s child died—of a gastric illness—he turned to his housekeeper for comfort. Mary Ann was soon pregnant, and they were married. It was at this time that Mary Ann’s mother also died. The official cause was hepatitis, but nine days after Mary Ann arrived to take care of her, she started developing stomach pains and died.
The sole remaining child from Mary Ann’s first marriage, Isabella, died only weeks later, along with two of Robinson’s children from his first marriage. All three developed intense stomach pains before their death. Isabella’s death left Mary Ann £5 of insurance money.
Soon, Mary Ann had given birth to two children with Robinson. The first, Margaret Isabella, died at only four months. The second, George, was born in 1869.
As the death toll grew around Mary Ann, Robinson became suspicious of his wife’s demand that he take out insurance on his life. He also discovered that she had run up debts with local merchants and stolen £50. He threw her out of the house. Luckily, their son George stayed with his father. Unlike most of his brothers and sisters, he survived.
Mary Ann’s sudden change in circumstances left her living on the streets. In spite of her history, she managed to find a fourth husband, Frederick Cotton. Frederick was the brother of Mary Ann’s friend Margaret Cotton. When Margaret died of mysterious stomach ailments, Mary Ann was there to console her brother. That led to Mary Ann’s fourth marriage, but Frederick soon followed his sister, dying of “gastric fever”—but not before Mary Ann was able to enact an insurance policy on his life. With no husband, Mary took a lover, who also died.
Mary Ann Cotton’s killing career lasted 20 years. So how did she finally get caught? It was the murder of Cotton’s son Charles Edward that was Mary Ann’s undoing. She had complained to friends that he was in the way and wondered how to be rid of him. Unable to commit the boy to a workhouse, she used her usual method to kill the boy. Mary Ann then, as usual, went to the insurance office to try to collect.
But by now people were suspicious. This death was investigated. Arsenic was found in Charles Edward’s system. Mary Ann was quickly sent to trial for the murders of her husbands and children and convicted. Only two of Mary Ann’s children had managed to survive: George, who stayed with James Robinson, and Margaret Edith, born while Mary Ann was in prison awaiting execution. As Mary Ann’s long murderous past was finally brought to light, she went to the gallows … and into history.
Thanks for listening (and be sure to stick around for the bloopers at the end)! If you like the show, please share it with someone you know who loves the paranormal or strange stories, true crime, monsters, or unsolved mysteries like you do! You can email me anytime with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find information on any of the sponsors you heard about during the show, find all of my social media, listen to audiobooks I’ve narrated, sign up for the email newsletter, find other podcasts that I host including “Church of the Undead”, visit the store for Weird Darkness merchandise, and more. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find the Hope in the Darkness page if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or dark thoughts. Also on the website, if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
All stories on Weird Darkness are purported to be true unless stated otherwise, and you can find links to the stories or the authors in the show notes.
“The Tragic Story of the Donner Party” from Legends of America and Pam Jung from The Union
“Mary Ann Cotton, England’s First Female Serial Killer” from The Line Up
“Creepy Things That Have Happened To Military Personnel” by Emily Madriga for Thought Catalog
WeirdDarkness® is a registered trademark. Copyright, Weird Darkness.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” — Matthew 7:7-8
And a final thought… “There’s a lot that is good in your life, don’t take it for granted. Don’t get so focused on the struggles that you miss the gift of today.”
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.