John Wilkes Booth And The Doll That Nearly Saved Lincoln’s Life





The grave of Frances Annie Wright. And “Annie,” her doll, as she appears today.

When Booth assassinated Lincoln at Ford’s Theater on Good Friday in 1865, it overshadowed everything else about Booth’s life that had existed prior. All the little stories about him faded away. Annie Wright’s was one of them. It took place on a hotel stairs, in Washington D.C., just eight hours before Booth would fire the shot that would kill America’s 16th President. Annie (born Frances Annie Wright on October 28, 1849 in Boston) was 15 years old at the time of the assassination. Her father, J. B. Wright, was the current stage manager of Ford’s Theater. Annie knew John Wilkes Booth. Not well. But she knew him. The Wrights, in fact, had known Booth for a number of years. The family was much closer, however, to his older brother, Edwin Booth, who lived in Boston. 

J. B. Wright would stage manage Ford’s Holliday Street Theater (Baltimore) from 1858 to 1862, and his latest one (Washington, DC) from August of 1863 to April 14, 1865.

Tragic deaths had all but wiped out the majority of J. B. Wright’s original family, beginning in 1848. Diseases like croup, scarlet fever and tuberculosis claimed the lives of all three of his sons (the oldest being just 6 years old). Then his beloved wife, Elizabeth, followed in 1857, succumbing to tuberculous at the age of 35. J .B. wed stage actress Ann F. Cushing in 1858. Not long after, J. B. was offered a chance to manage John T. Ford’s Holliday Street Theater in Baltimore, and took it. He relocated his recent bride and two daughters, Alice and Annie, to Maryland. Five years went by. Then, in April of 1862, the youngest daughter, Alice, contracted scarlet fever. She soon passed away at the age of 9. 

Annie’s stepmother, and father. Both witnessed the assassination.

Annie took her sister’s passing especially hard. With the previous deaths of their three brothers, and then birth mother, the two sisters had come to rely on each other. Now Annie was all alone, finding solace only in the company of “Annie,” her doll. The Wrights relocated to Washington, D.C. in August of 1863, so J. B. could assume management of John T. Ford’s latest offering, “Ford’s New Theater.” During their Washington stay, the Wrights made Herndon House their home. It was a small 4-story hotel and boardinghouse, situated one block to the rear of the theater. It was around early April (1865) when the Wrights began noticing their friend John Wilkes Booth inside Herndon House. Although Booth was officially staying at the National Hotel, he would periodically show up inside Herndon House, to visit a “friend” he had, who was staying on the third floor (reportedly Booth had helped check him in). On his way up the stairs, Booth would often encounter J. B.’s daughter Annie, with her doll, sitting quietly on the steps. It was a nuisance to step around her, but because he liked children, and was friends with her father, he let it pass. The “friend” that Booth had been visiting on the third floor turned out to be Lewis Powell, one of his recruited accomplices in his plot to kidnap Lincoln and turn him over to the Confederacy. But on April 9th the Civil War ended, with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee. The former kidnap plot turned to murder on April 14th, after Booth learned of Lincoln’s plan to attend a play that evening at Ford’s Theater.

Booth and Powell.

Booth paid his final visit to Herndon House on April 14th,  immediately after reserving his “getaway horse” for the evening at a nearby livery stable, to inform Powell of the change in plans. Annie and her doll were seated as usual on the hotel steps leading to Powell’s floor. When Booth departed Powell’s third floor room, he hurried down the stairs, nearly tripping over Annie’s doll as he descended. Had he actually fallen and injured himself, then the assassination may never have taken place.

Herndon House in 1867 (upper left), as the new “St. Cloud Hotel” in 1869 (upper right), and after a fifth floor was added in 1876 (lower left). Torn down in April 1890.

The prospect of this enraged Booth, causing him to momentarily lose his normally cool temper. He scolded Annie, snatching up her doll and threatening to “smash it into a thousand pieces,” before tossing it back to her and rushing on. Booth would never again return to Herndon House, as he had ordered Powell to check out immediately. Powell apparently did as instructed, for around mid-late afternoon (according to Martha Murray, wife of the building’s manager, Patrick Murray), Powell came downstairs before the scheduled supper time, and announced his immediate departure.  

The Wrights would leave Washington after the assassination forced closure of Ford’s Theater permanently. Because both, J. B. and his wife, witnessed the assassination, their Washington departure was delayed until they could be questioned. After that, the family returned home to Boston. Booth’s brother, Edwin Booth, would remain close friends with the Wright family.  

Edwin Booth (1866). And newspaper reports of the 1893 collapse at Ford’s Theater.

Edwin died in New York City on June 7, 1893 (just two months before J. B. Wright would pass away in Boston). Strangely, at exactly 9:30 a.m., on June 9th, at the same exact time Edwin’s casket was being carried from the church where funeral services had just been held, tragedy revisited Ford’s Theater once again, when a 40-foot section on the front of the building suddenly gave way at the third floor level, killing 22 government workers, and injuring more than 68. The talk around town was that it was the result of a lingering “Booth curse” on the building. Others, however, dismissed the collapse as being nothing more than a very tragic (albeit timely) coincidence.

Frances Annie Wright passed away on July 17, 1931, in Boston. But her doll, “Annie,” remains yet–an only, but silent witness, to a minor incident on a hotel stairs…one hundred and fifty-seven years ago.

Dark Crack in the Wall

Wilder Co.’s “Mitche Manitou Talking Board”

I had never heard of the Wilder Manufacturing Company. Or their rather odd “Mitche Manitou Talking Board” (i.e. Ouija) that was produced in the early 1920s. Known primarily as one of the earliest makers of paper kites, Wilder’s talking board was specifically unique. Its planchette was shaped like a human hand with a pointing finger (“The Mystic Hand”). Finding a “Mitche Manitou” board today is something of a miracle–or an “unlucky omen,” however one chooses to look at it. The boards were said to have been named after a malevolent Native-American spirit. Two days after New Years (2016), I and a friend visited Union, Missouri, to search for the haunted “Union Screaming House.” We looked for it, but couldn’t seem to locate it. We were just about to leave, when I suddenly took note of a young man nearby, taking down Christmas lights on a nearby business. “Pull over,” I told my friend. “I want to ask this guy if he knows where the house is?” As luck would have it, he did.


“The Screaming House” in Union (2016).

Pointing across the street to a small white house on the corner, he answered “That’s it there.” He also warned me about “getting too close,” saying how negativity can sometimes “latch onto you if you’re not careful.” The property had once extended to include the neighboring grounds of an early HUD-type housing community, dubbed the  “Poor Farm.” Inquiring further, the young man began telling me how older residents at the farm would sometimes “disappear,” whenever bed space in the state-funded facility was unavailable. To keep the flow of government money coming in, the more expendable residents were quietly escorted into the adjacent woods, to be systematically murdered and disposed of (so the legend goes). “Be careful there too,” he said. “That place is haunted as well.” Undeterred, my friend and I visited the former “Poor Farm” grounds after the “Screaming House.” We left Union later than expected. On the way back home we spied a small antique shop and decided to stop. Inside I saw an old Ouija board for sale. It was the rare and much sought after “Mitche Manitou Talking Board.” Buried beneath a stack of old books, it was covered in a thick coating of dust, like it had been sitting there undisturbed for years.


The woods behind the “Poor Farm.”

The asking price was overly cheap, as if its owner was “eager to get rid of it.” Placing it back where I found it, I decided to let it be. After all, I knew I would never use it. Two days later though, I received some extra money and decided to return to the antique shop on my own, hoping the board might still be sitting there. And it was. I was astonished to learn that the sale price included the board’s ultra-rare original planchette as well, “The Mystic Hand.” Elated by my acquisition, I headed home. On the way I began to feel ill and a bit dizzy. Thinking I hadn’t eaten, I pulled over and grabbed myself a quick bite to eat before continuing on. I eventually ended up transporting the board to the storage facility where I keep the majority of my late family’s personal heirlooms. Before taking it inside, I decided to snap a few selfie shots with the board in the parking lot. None of them were coming out though. I double-checked my night mode settings on the camera and kept trying. Despite the fact that I was using a Nikon D5000, all the images were obscured by what looked like “electrical current” interference? Giving up, I put my camera away and took the board inside, placing it atop a plastic barrel in my unit. The barrel was just forward from the unit’s rear concrete wall. I would not return to the unit for several days.


First night camera troubles (top). The storage unit wall crack (bottom).

By the time I did return, it had rained quite heavily. As I opened the unit door and peered in, I suddenly noticed a puddle of water on the floor. The unit was leaking! I then noticed a long crack, running down the length of the rear concrete wall, from ceiling to floor. Wiping up the water, I informed storage management. They told me that things would have to “dry out” before they could fix the leak. I left frustrated, not to return for several more days. When I did, the crack was worse. It had widened halfway down the wall, near where the plastic barrel was sitting (with the “Mitche Manitou”). There was also a shiny glycerin-like reddish goo seeping from inside the deeper part of the crack. Not wanting the board to get damaged from the obvious uptick in humidity, I went to move it. It was then I realized that “The Mystic Hand” finger was angled in an almost perfect line towards the wall–as if it were “pointing at it.” Did the crack in the wall have something to do with the board? If so, then the most obvious solution was to try and bestow a basic token blessing on the board–just in case there happened to be any “unfriendly forces” inhabiting it. I didn’t know (of course) what good this might do, but I was willing to give it a try.


Catholic relics arrive from New Mexico (left). And preparing the board for a simple–but adequate, “prayer of protection”(right).

There was an older gentleman in California I knew. His father had once lived in a small Mexican-American town, just outside Las Cruces, New Mexico. A Roman Catholic church in the town had caught fire and burned in the 1930s. For having helped repair the damage, the priest gave the man’s father a few of the church’s old relics. One of these was an altar-used crucifix, which dated back to the late 1800s. It was this item that I ended up using for “the cleansing.” I then mumbled a few simplistic protection prayers over the board, hoping for the best. I can’t say whether my efforts were rewarded or not? After all, it was probably just coincidence that everything happened the way it did? But then again, one can never be too careful. I haven’t had any further problems. The wall stopped leaking and the red goo dried up. As for the Ouija board, I decided to get rid of it. For my better good.


Hannah and Riley’s Lincoln Theater Ghost Adventure


Princess Aurora from 2014’s Maleficent–and Aurora (the doll) formerly owned by Hannah’s late grandmother at the time of Hannah’s ghostly Lincoln encounter. The doll bears a passing resemblance to the real Hannah.

Do ghosts still stalk Belleville’s historic Lincoln Theater in Belleville, Illinois? Two young girls are convinced they do. One has never talked about it, and the other–only in passing. Some of the Lincoln’s ghosts are fairly well-known, such as the prankster poltergeist in the projection booth, the lady spirit of the balcony and the child specter on the stairs. All together there are said to be seven ghosts that call the theater home. But could there be others? Ghosts that are perhaps just visiting? One such story came to me through a friend about a year ago. Be it conjured solely from the depths of a young girl’s fanciful mind, I cannot truly say. It was said to have taken place in the early days of June, in 2014. Disney’s Maleficent–a supernatural fairy tale about Sleeping Beauty opened. It was playing in the Lincoln’s lower main auditorium. Crowds were flocking to see it. The outside temperature in town was a baking 90-degrees. Enter 12-year-old Hannah Hayward. No stranger to haunted locales, young Hannah had visited many spook-beleaguered places. From the haunted grounds of a local abandoned rock quarry, to the cursed remains of an old military outpost, Hannah had seen many things in her day. But never a real live ghost. But that was about to change.


A younger Hannah — exploring the foreboding woods near Valmeyer’s haunted rock quarry.

From her exploratory wanderings inside the former French citadel of Fort De Chartres, to the ancient Native-American burial ground of Cahokia Mounds, ghostly places had never deterred her. So the stage was set, as Hannah and her friend Riley Wakefield piled into the family van, along with Hannah’s parents to see Maleficent  on its debut weekend. When the story was first told to me I didn’t put much stock in it. But as the days and weeks wore on, I began thinking about it more and more. Ghostly encounters inside the theater, after all, were not that unusual–just seldom. “Hannah and Riley saw a ghost,” said Hannah’s father. His account of that day was still as clear and vivid as ever, remembering back to one week earlier. After driving across town to the theater and purchasing the four tickets, he and his wife selected seating near the middle section of the theater auditorium. The two girls, however, had their own plans. They decided to sit in the more secluded section of the theater, to the far right side–a location normally shunned by most patrons because of the screen’s sharply-tilted viewing angle.


The side rear exit steps where the ghost couple were said to have been seen seated.

Hannah and Riley’s seats were near the building’s rear exit door (which leads out to the theater’s back parking lot). A short flight of steps leads up to the door. Once the house lights have dimmed, the steps become bathed in an eerie red glow–which emanates from an emergency exit sign above the door. “The film had already begun. “We were about a third or so into the film,” the father said. “All of a sudden there was a commotion. My wife and I looked over and saw Hannah and Riley — racing towards us. They were out of breath and hysterical. Hannah claimed they had just seen a ghost!” Too frightened to return to their seats, the two girls huddled with the adults for the remainder of the performance.

Mansion House Hotel (top), the Lincoln’s haunted predecessor. And the Lincoln (as it appears today).

After leaving the theater the topic of conversation turned to food and where to eat—and the ghost business faded away. But it was far from forgotten. If asked or prodded about it, Hannah would respond by simply getting up and leaving the room. Riley never spoke of the matter. To this day her version of events still remains unknown. After overhearing her father and I randomly discussing the Lincoln one day, Hannah finally decided to speak up–spouting out “I’m not ever going back there! That place is haunted!” She said she had seen not one ghost—but two: a young couple…a boy and a girl. They were seated about midway up on the exit steps, not far from where Hannah and Riley were sitting. At first, Hannah failed to notice them. Once she had, the obvious question came to mind…“Where did they come from?”

Riley (left) and Hannah.

The ghost couple appeared to be watching the film as well — unaware that Hannah was watching them. The boy was seated behind the girl (on the uppermost step) with the girl seated one step down, in front of him. His arms were wrapped around her, with the pair illuminated eerily in the shadowy red glow beneath the theater’s dimly lighted EXIT sign. Returning her attention to the screen, Hannah couldn’t help herself…and looked back. Both the boy and the girl had suddenly vanished…in the blink of Hannah’s eye! There had been no sound of departure from the two, no visual indication of movement. It was as if the they had never even been there at all. But Hannah knew they had. Understandably, much time would pass before Hannah or Riley would ever think about returning to the Lincoln Theater. Until they do, the unresolved mystery of whatever happened there that day will have to remain just that…a mystery.

Sylvia Likens; Ghost of Indianapolis, 50th Anniversary Strange

To Note: The following is an addendum to a previous introductory post I penned earlier this year. While I did not intend to do a “follow-up” posting on Sylvia, this past weekend marked the official 50th anniversary date since her tragic passing (October 26, 1965). Given the somewhat unusual nature of circumstances that took me back there, I felt it pertinent to share them.


Me with Dianna Likens, Sylvia’s older sister (and Dianna during the 1966 trial). Sylvia with her mother in 1965. And me with Santa (also 1965).

Was it supernatural beckoning or a religious spiritual calling? No one seemed to have any definitive answer for me. A few who had made the pilgrimage, having (like myself) never known Sylvia Likens personally, differed in their opinions as to what had actually drawn them to be there. Some came from as far away as Tennessee, others much further. I drove from St. Louis. I made my first “Sylvia” sojourn in early February, lured in part by a string of bizarre circumstances that seemed almost too unusual to be believed. [see original post here]

The weather back in February was cold and frigid then, with residue of snow and ice still covering the ground in Indiana. My decision to return to Indiana for the anniversary evolved slowly. I kept reminding myself that the trip would be too costly, and therefore impossible. And besides, I had already been there. Though I had pretty much decided not to, I was still thinking about going when myself and a fellow co-worker happened to witness a shooting-star streak from out of the heavens one morning just before sunrise. It lit up the entire night sky around it. Not surprisingly, I happened to have Sylvia in my thoughts at the time.


The nearing full moon of Sylvia’s anniversary weekend–as seen in the St. Louis skies. And the eerily synonymous Moon card.

“What do you think it means?” I asked. “It means the life of that star has now come to an end,” my co-worker friend answered back, facetiously. Then, only one day before Sylvia’s anniversary weekend was to begin, I was messing around with a pack of Ludy Lescot fortune-telling cards. Happenstance had ironically placed them in my possession recently. Skeptical, I decided to try them out. After shuffling the deck quite thoroughly, I selected five random cards. The first four seemed to make no sense at all. The fifth one, however, depicted a young horseman, implying that I could be “going on a trip” soon. Later that evening, I decided to repeat the previous, and pull five new cards. Astonishingly, the first four cards were the exact same ones that I had selected earlier that morning–and in the same identical sequence! The fifth card was a different one–yet more prophetic than ever! It was THE MOON card. The scene on the card shows a young girl in shadows, translucent and ghost-like, beneath a developing moon. The description for this particular card (in accordance with the manual that accompanies the deck) reads as follows: “Never stop believing in ghosts. Under the light of the moon, give them a face and let them go. Only in this way will they let go of you.” Glancing out the window, I suddenly realized that this was the weekend of October’s full moon. Was the spectral girl on the card suppose to represent Sylvia Likens? I didn’t know.


Richard Hobbs’ grave, covered over in an eerie translucent white haze right after I “re-exposed” it for view in order to take the photo. Rain began pouring down almost immediately, as if in response to my “punishable infraction.”

It did, however, give me the final boost I needed to get up and go. So early the next morning I headed back–to Indiana. The memorial event wasn’t scheduled until Sunday. In the meantime, I had all of Saturday to take pictures and visit locations in Indianapolis. Twenty minutes down the road from where the murder happened was the cemetery which housed the cremated remains of one of the main villains, Richard Hobbs. He had played a pivotal part in Sylvia’s prolonged torture. Weirdly, following her death, many of those involved (either directly or indirectly) began meeting untimely fates. Hobbs was the third to die. Fifteen at the time of the murder, he died at age of 21, in 1972. Hobbs’ mother was the first to die, only two weeks after Sylvia. The second to die had been the first-born child of Coy Hubbard–Hubbard having been one of Sylvia’s most brutal and vicious tormentors.


Grave of 5-month-old Coy Hubbard Jr., murderer Coy Hubbard’s first-born.

Unrepentant to the end, Coy Hubbard died at age 56 in 2007. But it was Richard Hobbs’ death that seemed most curious…he died only hours before what would have been Sylvia’s latest birthday. Locating Hobbs’ marker in the cemetery became a major challenge. As I continued my search, I noticed the clouds above me beginning to grow darker and darker. I checked and re-checked records in the main office. They kept assuring me that he was “out there.” Then success, I found it. The tiny bronze marker had been buried under years of old grass which had layered over it. As I pulled away the dead grass and washed the encrusted mud from the marker’s face, Hobbs’ name once again was now visible to all. But was I making a mistake in exposing it? I managed to snap off a couple of quick photos before the sky opened up on me, drenching me with “Heaven’s tears.” Looking back at the photos later, I found something odd–there was what looked to be a “white haze” hovering over the cluster of grave markers, with Hobbs’ being the only one in good focus. I crossed my fingers, hoping I had not “angered the spirit of Sylvia Likens” by visiting him.


The vacant lot (top) where Sylvia’s murder house once stood. And the murder house itself, in 1965 (bottom).

I would travel two times throughout the darkness of night in order to take anniversary photographs of the former murder scene (the house itself was torn down in 2009). Already in an advanced state of decay at the time of Sylvia’s death, the two-story residence eventually became an all-out neighborhood eyesore. Some in the area believed they had even seen Sylvia’s ghost on occasion–peering out from the upper-floor bedroom where she had died. None of the beneficial purposes envisioned for future utilization of the building, however, were ever realized–giving rise to the belief that the property was now simply cursed. A murder-suicide on the front porch steps about 15 years after Sylvia’s attempted-but-failed escape off that very same porch hadn’t helped matters.

My intention was to try and capture the scene at night (as it was), hopefully with a bright moon above. The moon, however, had disappeared into the clouds before I could reach the location. When I did arrive, I found things ominously dark and eerily quiet. I also accidentally interrupted a drug deal going down and had to abort the area quite quickly. My second try came at 4:30 a.m. in the morning. A shooting had just occurred a block or two over from the vacant lot. Police were out in full force. The shooter was still on the loose in the area. I ignored common sense and stayed my course (I needed the photos).


“Ghostly arms” appear to reach out from the next-door neighbor’s window which faces what was once the adjacent murder home’s basement entry and kitchen area.

I snapped off a few general preliminary photos first before finally training my camera towards a rather significant portion of the lot. It was there that I noticed something white and translucent, casually “dipping in and out” of a double-window in the old neighbor’s house (the window had originally faced the murder home’s kitchen area). Like “ghostly arms” blindly ferreting about for something they could not seem to locate, I continued to watch and snap pictures until whatever it was had dissipated. This was in very close proximity to the murder home’s former basement entry [see photo] where Sylvia’s final days were spent.


A point-of-view photo I snapped while driving east on New York Street after leaving the vacant lot. I was puzzling in my mind over the whereabouts of my next stop. Are these netherworld-like “question marks” mocking me or trying to tell me something?

I would drive up to Sylvia’s hometown later that same day. The rains had come and gone by then. Their passing had left the outside temperature feeling a bit chilly. My drive down the Lebanon streets was nothing short of surreal. The scenery on this day, with its multi-colored falling autumn leaves, must have looked nearly identical to the way things were at the time…the day Sylvia was moved to her final resting place at Oakhill Cemetery. The belated Easter rabbit I had left at the grave in early September was still sitting there, untouched [see photo]. After paying my respects, I began to think it would probably be better to leave without attending the memorial. I was tired. St. Louis was a long drive back. But as I turned to leave, I felt the muscle in my upper right arm suddenly tighten and compress–as if some “unseen hand” had suddenly reached out and grabbed me.


Sylvia’s grave on October 25th–on what would have been the last day of her life…exactly 50 years ago.

I had injured my bicep about a year or so earlier, so I figured it was probably just a passing spasm. As I proceeded back through town towards the highway entrance, however, I couldn’t shake what happened back at the grave from my thoughts. Something seemed to be telling me to change my mind? Hesitant at first to do so, I eventually did–and was glad that I had. I arrived late to the memorial gathering. No one knew me–and I didn’t know any of them. I felt uncomfortable and out-of-place. Many were Likens family members. I didn’t wish to intrude on this solemn occasion. But necessity finally got the better of me. I was curious about the fate of Sylvia’s older sister Dianna. Dianna had nearly perished in the California desert a few months ago after she and her husband took a wrong turn and became lost and stranded in the wilderness for two weeks (her husband died). I finally got up my nerve to ask a relative inside the gathering room how Dianna was doing?


Screen-captures from Indianapolis’ News Channel 8’s aired segment on Sylvia’s memorial gathering. I am seen behind Sylvia’s sister Dianna in lower left (yellow circled).

I was shocked by the response I received. “I’ll let you ask her yourself. She’s here.” Her trip back, it seems, was also a spur-of-the-moment decision. “I wasn’t planning to come at first, but then I got a feeling I should be here…for Sylvia,” she said. Dianna had boarded a last-minute flight in California and traveled all night to reach Indiana in time. She had not rested. She had not eaten. Had I left Lebanon early (as I most nearly had) then I would have deprived myself of the chance to meet her–and ask her all about what Sylvia had really been like. Who knows, perhaps even Sylvia herself had had a little bit of a “hand” in this day as well?

Texarkana’s Phantom Killer .32 Caliber Mystery


The “Phantom Killer” poised to strike (top left). Suspect Youell Swinney (top right). Grandma Ina’s .32 caliber Ruby (bottom left). And my grandmother in 1917 (age 9) in Arkadelphia, Arkansas (bottom right).

Could my late grandmother have unknowingly come into possession of the ever-elusive .32 caliber mystery pistol used by the hooded killer in Texarkana’s notorious 1946 murder spree? The chances are slim, but coincidences sometimes beg to be examined more closely. It’s intriguing food for thought that my own grandmother may have actually known the infamous “Phantom Killer.” I remember her alluding to it only once, and only then in conjunction with my having seen the film which was based on the real events. Her response to me was puzzling. It was in the way she said it. Unaware (at the time) that there had actually been a suspect in the murders, I simply assumed that she had “misunderstood me,” or was getting a tad senile in her advancing years. *The loosely-based film version had not included this specific detail (there being a known suspect) as part of it’s storyline. We had been back from our trip to southern Arkansas for about six months by then. We traveled there to visit relatives in the summer of 1976—and see Aunt Clara (my Grandma Ina’s last surviving sibling) in Camden. The Town That Dreaded Sundown had not yet been released. It would open in St. Louis in late March of 1977 (original ad).


The Town That Dreaded Sundown at Texarkana’s Paramount (1977).

During our visit to Camden we talked about Bigfoot creatures (as I did not yet know about the murders). Fouke (Arkansas) was just a short distance away—i.e. The Legend of Boggy Creek. Plus, a new “Bigfoot” documentary (hosted by actor Peter Graves) was currently out and making the rounds. My mentioning of “having recently seen it” prompted my aunt to recall her late husband Dewey’s Bigfoot encounter during deer hunting season one year (Dewey passed away a year before our Camden visit). My grandmother didn’t believe my aunt’s story about Dewey. Amusingly, my aunt didn’t believe my grandmother’s poltergeist story either. I, however, had my own particular reasons for believing both of their stories—for I had already read quite extensively about the many creature sightings in southwest Arkansas, and had also stayed overnight on many, many occasions at my grandmother’s strange St. Ann, Missouri home.


Meeting star Andrew Prine in St. Louis (2013). His climb to superstardom stalled in 1963 after Karyn Kupcinet (original article).

Nearby Texarkana and the “Phantom Killer” murders were not part of my mental “repertoire” yet. Nor was the name Youell Swinney. I would later discover (to my surprise) that both he and my grandmother were from Clark County–and had both once lived in the very same small town! Swinney later ended up in neighboring Cleveland County (about 60 miles away). Grandma Ina had always had an affinity for shady characters and younger men. Active and well-respected in social circles, she preferred instead to align herself with the more impoverished and down-trodden of society. Moonshiners, ex-cons and habitual petty criminals were her friends in those days. She was raised a Southern Baptist (Youell Swinney’s father was a Baptist minister). Whether she herself would have actually known any of the Swinneys is impossible to know at this juncture, but it seems possible—given what meager population the town and vicinity had in those days (Arkadelphia’s population at the time of Swinney’s birth was just under 3000). If the Crawfords (my grandmother’s side) and the Swinneys knew one another, then it seems only plausible that she may have known Youell Swinney himself (and been associated with him in some capacity). Grandma Ina was born in Arkadelphia in 1908. Swinney was born there in 1917.


Victim Betty Jo Booker–age 15, as she was found on that Sunday morning, April 14th (1946).

My grandmother was a mystery to me. She rarely spoke about her Arkansas past. My mother was like that too. I read it was Swinney’s wife who fingered him as the killer. She claimed that he had “forced her” to participate in the murders. But there were holes in her story. It was circumstantially based. Some of what she said made sense, but other things did not. Ballistics evidence revealed the killer had used a .32 caliber pistol in the attacks. Dubbed the “Moonlight Murders,” the killer struck on weekends, from February 23rd to May 3rd. Eight people (all couples) were attacked. Five out of the eight died. Swinney was released from prison shortly before the murders began. His past offenses had included bootlegging, larceny, auto theft and counterfeiting gold coins. Nothing in his history, however, indicated any overt propensity towards “killing people.”


Bullet holes in the window glass (left) from May 3rd’s farmhouse attack that killed 37-year-old welder Virgil Starks while he was seated in his chair (right).

Authorities believed they were looking for a Colt-made self-loading pistol (rather than a revolver) because of recovered shell casings, which were thought to have been “automatically ejected” after firing. But what if the killer unloaded his gun intentionally–in order to leave the shell casings behind for investigators to find for the purpose of hindering investigative efforts? A declassified FBI document later surfaced, suggesting that the gun was probably “not a Colt,” after all, but a cheap “Spanish-made” .32 caliber pistol; referencing Llama Firearms’ foreign-manufactured Colt “knock-off” model–the Ruby. This particular low-cost brand of firearm was widely popular in countries like Europe and Latin America, but not so much in places like Texas or Arkansas. Being available for purchase is NOT the same as saying that they were regionally common. Most gun owners in the south preferred the more reputable and trustworthy brands like Colt and Smith & Wesson. If the “Phantom Killer” was using a cheap Ruby, it was indeed a curious choice. So, what ever happened to it? Did he throw it in a dark and murky lake? Or give it away to an unsuspecting friend?


My mother–age 15 (left) with Grandma Ina in Arkadelphia (1946), unaware that not far away a series of terrible murders were taking place–being committed quite possibly by one of their own former neighbors!

I asked my grandmother back in the ’70s where she had gotten her gun? All she would ever say was that “someone down home” had given it to her. By “down home” she always meant Arkansas (and usually Arkadelphia). Though Swinney at the time officially resided in Texas, it was not unusual to find him drifting back and forth across the border every now and then to visit friends and family–back and “down home” in Arkansas. Swinney was convicted and sent to state prison for life in February 1947 under the “habitual criminal act,” following his latest offense (auto theft). It was the same year my mother and grandmother left Arkansas, settling in St. Louis for the remainder of their days.  The murders in Texarkana ceased in 1946. The case remains unsolved. My grandmother passed away in St. Louis in 1993. Youell Swinney died in Dallas in 1994. Re-questioned about the murders shortly before his death, Swinney adamantly (and vehemently) denied any and all involvement.

Sylvia Likens; Ghost of Indianapolis


Indiana’s “girl next door,” Sylvia Likens (left), and two of the main villains—the diabolical Gertrude Baniszewski and her loyal imp, Richard “Ricky” Hobbs.

“Just wait,” my friend advised me. “It’s too cold to travel there now.” But I couldn’t wait. Something was drawing me, like a magnet…back to Indiana. I had been wrestling with the notion of making the journey back there for some time, but had thus far been successful in keeping the urge to do so at bay. Money was tight, too tight to waste it on frivolous eccentricities. But I was having nightmares about it, nightmares about what happened there—about the crime, the girl…and the place; Indianapolis. It was haunting me. She was haunting me. But I was not the first—only the latest. The victim’s name was Sylvia Marie Likens. She would today be 66 years old, had she survived her ordeal. But she didn’t. She was methodically and slowly tortured to death in 1965 by a brood of adolescent children, guided by a sick, psychotic leader—their mother, Gertrude Baniszewski. To add insult to injury, other children from outside the family eagerly joined in. “Let’s go have some fun with Sylvia,” they would gleefully howl, as they headed off to pay yet another extracurricular visit to the haplessly dying 16-year-old, until life had finally extinguished itself permanently from her worn and ravaged being.


SYLVIA’S LOT—me in early 2015, standing where the Likens murder house was. And the house in 2008, showing window of room where Sylvia died (red square). *Arrows point to old gas station where Hobbs phoned police.

Two films about the crime came out in 2007, returning it briefly to the public consciousness. The house where the events took place was torn down two years later (2009). It was a sad unthinkable affair that most in the Hoosier state just wanted to forget. The second floor bedroom where Sylvia died was barely noticeable until the neighboring house on the one side was torn down. Once that was gone, the window of Sylvia’s death abode became clearly visible. Some even claimed to have seen her ghost there—usually around Halloween (she died October 26th and was buried Halloween weekend). In this room Sylvia had suffered greatly at the hands of her many tormenters, read her Bible for strength, prayed for salvation that never came. Then she died…on a dirty mattress in the room’s decrepit west-north corner. The house was cursed after that. No one could live in it—it seemed. Efforts to restore and use it productively for social services that would have benefited the neighboring community failed—the same neighboring community that had let poor Sylvia down and allowed her screams to permeate the night air without calling police.


DEATH BED—where Sylvia’s last breath was taken (1965). And a 2008 color photo showing a trespasser’s cruel words painted atop the very spot where Sylvia died.

The house deteriorated into a useless eyesore that only served to remind one of the horrors that had once reverberated within its now silent walls. I ran across Sylvia’s story quite by accident. A friend had been prodding me to see a movie called The Girl Next Door. I had missed the opportunity of seeing Sylvia’s former neighborhood for I had resisted watching the movie my friend had suggested (unaware the film had been based on actual events). I learned later that those events had taken place just a couple of miles from where I had been staying when I visited Indianapolis in 2013. I was only 6 years old when Sylvia Likens died. The newspapers in St. Louis had not even mentioned it—preoccupied instead with the long-awaited completion of the Gateway Arch. *When the final section was lifted into place (photo) Sylvia was being readied for burial in Lebanon. Gertrude Baniszewski was damaged goods. In 1965 she was a weary and burned-out 37-year-old. Physical abuse had changed her. She was now emotionally unstable—and very dangerous. She seemed to have a vindictive disdain towards Sylvia right from the very beginning. She hated the pretty young girl who had come to reside at her new home, along with Sylvia’s polio-crippled younger sister Jenny as well. But it was Sylvia who would receive the brunt of Gertrude’s twisted wrath.


Rare trade PB edition–with Lisa Falkenstern’s controversial cover art.

Novelist Jack Ketchum perhaps captured and characterized the situation of Sylvia’s predicament and plight the best–in the synopsis for his 1989 fictionalized account “The Girl Next Door” (made into a movie in 2007, starring Blythe Auffarth). In it, Ketchum summed it up this way, “On a tranquil, tree-lined street in the Suburbs, in a dark basement, fourteen-year-old Meg (Sylvia) and her little sister Susan (Jenny) are about to learn everything there is to know about the savagery in the human heart. And the entire neighborhood, young and old alike, will either turn away from the madness, or succumb to it, joining in the slow, sadistic torture of a victim too beautiful and too innocent for her own good.”


UNHEALED GUILT—Jenny Likens is comforted by older sister Dianna during the court trial in 1966 (top left) and again 35 years later at the unveiling of Sylvia’s memorial (bottom left). At right; Sylvia and Jenny—just months before their terror in Indianapolis would begin. Jenny passed away on June 23, 2004 (age 54).

Had the Likens family only remained in California just a little while longer, then perhaps none of this would have ever happened. Had Mr. and Mrs. Likens not squabbled and separated after their return to Indiana, then perhaps none of this would have ever happened. Or if Mrs. Likens had only taken her two daughters to the local rollerskating rink that day as the girls had wanted to do, instead of to the local discount store where dear mom was then arrested for shoplifting a pair of cheap pedal pushers, then perhaps none of this would have ever happened. Sylvia’s favorite singing group was said to be The Beatles. Their fifth (studio) album was released in the United States on August 13, 1965. Sylvia (and Jenny) had been residing at the Baniszewski home for just over a month by then. By the time the new album’s run at the top of the music charts was winding down, so was by then sweet Sylvia’s own life. One wonders whether she ever got the opportunity to actually hear that latest Beatles album? And if so, what did she think of it? What might have been the thoughts running through her mind when listening to such songs as “Yesterday,” “Help,” “The Night Before,” or “You’re Going to Lose That Girl”? One will never know.


UNEXPECTED—the signed photo (top) I received from Blythe Auffarth, the actress who played the character based on Sylvia in Jack Ketchums The Girl Next Door (2007).

When New Years 2015 arrived, Sylvia Likens was far from my thoughts. I did not realize it was the 50th year since the crime. I had recently re-watched Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. It was the more disturbing of the two films released about Sylvia. A fictionalized adaption of the events, the Ketchum film is far less sanitized than its rival An American Crime. It pulls no punches—and is in many ways, far more accurate in its detailed depiction of Sylvia’s suffering and end. Even it, however, does not approach the madness unleashed upon the real Sylvia Likens. Afterwards I penned a brief correspondence to the film’s lead actress—Blythe Auffarth, who had so effectively portrayed the Likens-based character. I talked about Sylvia in the letter. I never expected a response. To my surprise, Blythe responded. She wrote me back, even going so far as to send me an autographed photo. This had come immediately following a rather strange incident I experienced in a neighborhood parking lot near my home. When I returned to my car, sitting in plain view on the ground in front of it was what looked like someone’s abandoned Christmas present. I reached over and touched the colorful bag warily. It was cold to the touch, meaning it had been sitting there for some time. Why I had not seen it when I first pulled in was unclear to me. Red tissue paper rested just beneath the bag’s rim, hiding from view the contents.I assumed it was “discarded holiday trash.” I began to drive away, when I was suddenly overcome with a strange sensation.


DISCOVERY—my car, parked in the exact same spot where I found the discarded bag of movies, with a copy of The Girl Next Door (lower left) sitting on the very top.

I stopped my car and backed up, intent on investigating the mysterious bag further. In hindsight, I’m glad I did. It was filled with someone’s entire collection of DVD movies. But most odd…sitting on the very top of the discarded stack was a copy of The Girl Next Door! Speechless, I didn’t know what to think? Was somebody playing a practical joke on me? Or was someone—or something, trying to send me “a message?” Looking suspiciously like an unauthorized bootleg copy, the film was in a non-original amber colored plastic case. At first I thought it might be the 2004 comedy of the same title? It wasn’t. It was right after that (albeit strangely) when Blythe Auffarth’s correspondence back to me showed up in my local post office box. I thought about Indiana again. Knowing my present money situation prohibited me from returning there anytime soon, I made a quiet wish for some “extra cash.” I didn’t expect the wish to actually “come true.” But that’s exactly what happened. Two days later I was called literally out-of-the-blue and offered an unexpected job. The extra money I would be making would definitely afford me the opportunity of returning to Indianapolis after all. But should I do it? Still resistant and undecided, the weird got even weirder the following week when I found an old toy I had once owned (and been endlessly searching for) protruding from beneath a stack of dusty books on a vendor table at an Illinois flea market across the river.


CHANCE FIND—box of Indianapolis Krazy Ikes that seemed to be waiting for me. The last time I owned a set was as a child in the 1960s.

I had only recently learned it was called “Krazy Ikes,” a child’s building game with colored peg pieces. I had never seen one in the many years since I had first owned a set. Then suddenly, there it was! Looking up Ike’s history I was stunned! The game was originally manufactured in Indianapolis! But not just “anywhere” in Indianapolis—on the very same street as Sylvia Likens’ memorial! Eerily, the location of the old Knapp novelty plant where Krazy Ikes was produced is situated at a point almost exactly between the memorial and Sylvia’s death address (points map). More coincidence? I didn’t know. Time passed. Then I suddenly awoke one night. It was 2 a.m., much too early to be getting up. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t get back to sleep. I had a nightmare—about Sylvia. It was too vague to recall in specific detail once I was up and around but it continued to vex and bother me. A few minutes later (rather spontaneously) I hopped in my car, proceeded to the nearest gas station, filled my tank to the top and headed off down the highway…blindly on my way to Indianapolis. I was of course entirely unprepared. I had no map with me, trusting only in my memory of the places and addresses that I previously looked up. Oak Hill Cemetery (where Sylvia is buried) was my initial destination. It is not in Indianapolis. It is north of there, in Lebanon. After road construction hampered my efforts in getting there, I turned around.


Myself, with the 1993 Medford, Massachusetts monument I donated for 1947 murder victim Elizabeth Short, The Black Dahlia (top). And me–in 2015, visiting actor/filmmaker Ivan Rogers’ 2001 memorial for 1965 murder victim Sylvia Likens in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Back in Indianapolis I settled on visiting Sylvia’s old neighborhood first. The cemetery would come later. I was anxious to see her memorial. It was paid for and dedicated in 2001 by a man not unlike myself. His name was Ivan Rogers. He wanted to be an Indianapolis police officer, but turned his efforts instead to acting, before then becoming a filmmaker. Oddly, I had once planned on becoming a Los Angeles police officer, before turning my attention to acting (and eventually film-making). Reading about Rogers’ recent death in 2010 at the early age of 55 had a familiar ring to it. It brought back memories of Dr. Valeriani—the man who had gone to great lengths to help me put the 1993 memorial up for murder victim Elizabeth Short; The Black Dahlia. Unable to attend the unveiling myself, Valeriani took my place—then died two years later at the age of 62. Bizarrely, there have been many untimely deaths associated with Sylvia Likens. Richard “Ricky” Hobbs, the neighbor boy who did much of the torturing, died of cancer in 1972 (his mother died of cancer two weeks after Sylvia). Hobbs himself died at age 21, passing away only hours before what would have been Sylvia’s “23rd birthday.”


HOBBS HOUSE—Sylvia’s death house in 1965 (red square) and tormenter Richard “Ricky” Hobbs’ nearby home. Hobbs died on January 2, 1972 at age 21–only hours before Sylvia’s posthumous “23rd birthday” (Jan. 3).

Gertrude, who had orchestrated much of Sylvia’s suffering and pain, served twenty years in prison. She was released in 1985, supposedly “a changed person.” This “change,” however, did not spare her from death. She died of cancer—five years later, at age 62. Three of Sylvia’s primary male torturers (Coy Hubbard, Randy Lepper and John Baniszewski Jr.) all died young, succumbing it seems to the “Likens Curse” as well. John Baniszewski Jr. even changed his name and sought out refuge in rural Texas as a minister. Death claimed him in 2005, at age 52. Today, many of the addresses associated with the tragedy sit vacant and dilapidated. The house at 109 Euclid Avenue (recent photo) where the Likens sisters lived just prior to moving into the Baniszewski house is still there, itself rumored to be haunted. One neighbor I spoke to back on East New York Street mentioned that he had known the Baniszewski family. “I use to play on that street when I was a boy,” he told me. “I knew them. They had not lived there for very long before that happened. My mother still has all the old clippings from the newspaper.” I never asked the man’s name. He didn’t seem like he would have told me anyway. I watched him shrug his shoulders and head off down the block, as I turned the other way to head back to my car which I had parked across the street where the old Shell gas station had once been (where Hobbs had made the phone call to police to report Sylvia’s death). I visited Sylvia’s grave after departing Indianapolis. I found it covered in snow. There were no flowers, only minor token gifts left by other visitors.


AT REST—Sylvia, leaving Russell & Hitch funeral home on her way to nearby Oak Hill Cemetery; Friday, October 29, 1965. Her father (Lester Likens) weeps at far right as pallbearers load Sylvia’s casket into hearse.

As I stood there I felt only stillness. There was no sense of any “after-life” presence, no ghostly vibrations, no strange happenings. My camera batteries did not fail (as they sometimes had a habit of doing in other cemeteries). Where was Sylvia Likens, I wondered? Perhaps her tortured spirit had moved on…and somehow escaped being “ghostly-anchored” to this world by the brutal nature of her sad tragedy and untimely departure? I planned on bringing flowers to her grave, but the little shop up the road had closed early for the day. Rummaging through my car for something I might be able to leave in lieu of flowers, I happened upon an old deck of tarot cards. My friends Tom and Lisa (their photo) bought the deck for me at a bookstore on Cherry Street in Tulsa (1989). We had all traveled to Oklahoma from California to work on a low-budget horror movie for Tom’s father (actor-director Clu Gulager). Lisa was Tom’s girlfriend at the time. On a whim Lisa insisted we should all have our own tarot decks. Tom picked a Halloween deck with black cats and grinning pumpkins. Lisa picked one based on Alice in Wonderland. I chose the Arcus Arcanum (photo).


Sylvia’s grave (Lebanon, Indiana) on a cold February day in 2015–nearly 50 years after she was originally laid to rest there.

Since I already had the deck with me, I decided to carry it over to Sylvia’s grave, just for the heck of it. Using a standard 3-card draw that Lisa had once favored, I shuffled the deck and cut it. I noticed the afternoon sun making its way down through the branches of Sylvia’s tree (the large oak that towers over her grave). It was getting late…and soon dark. So I decided to return the cards to their box–without looking at them (and head back to St. Louis). A few days later I remembered the deck while sitting in my car. Curious what the three cards were, I retrieved the deck from my glove compartment. When I saw the bottom card (the first card) I paused. It didn’t seem like the one I remembered glancing at before I put the cards away while at the cemetery? In any case, it was the card that was on the bottom now: THE HIGH PRIEST—aka “The Hierophant” card (photo).


Sylvia–at age 16, with her mother Betty in 1965, and me–at age 6, in December 1965, with Santa in downtown St. Louis.

Ironically it was one that dealt specifically with communication between the “supernatural world and that of man.” I then slid off the top card…which was the second one. It was JUSTICE (photo)—the blonde virgin who holds the scales of righteousness in her one hand and a protective sword in the other. I found this to be a bit strange—considering how all those “prostitute” slurs directed at Sylvia had later been proven completely false (she died a virgin). Cutting the deck, I then removed the final card from the middle (this was a random selection and had nothing to do with the cemetery, other than the fact that I had pre-shuffled the cards there). The final card was the 8 OF SWORDS (photo)—the card of “bondage and compliance,” in the suit (swords) of strife…and enemies. The card depicts a young female. Her arms are tied tightly behind her. She does not resist, giving in willingly to her captors, awaiting whatever punishment is about to be brought upon her. Surrounded by four accusatory males, she appears helpless and accepting of her fate. “Ironic,” I thought, almost too ironic. If you don’t think so…HERE are but a few comparison examples of that very same card (as it appears in other decks). I paused for a moment with cards in hand—reflecting on Sylvia, and what life may have been like for her…had she survived. All I could do was shake my head and think to myself, what a sad, sad story. Poor Sylvia Likens. Fifty years ago. May she rest in peace.

Follow-up posting, “Sylvia Likens; Ghost of Indianapolis, 50th Anniversary Strange” available HERE

Morse Mill’s Haunted Hotel


Exploring it’s foreboding interior (via outside window), it’s front exterior (minus original porch and balcony) and it’s blue-painted southwest entrance side.

Morse Mill, Missouri

Update–Girl, 17, found dead at Morse Mill Hotel on May 2nd (2015).

November 15, 2014—opening day of hunting season (or so I’ve been told). The streets in Morse Mill seemed unusually deserted. The entire setting in fact seemed eerily surreal and almost too devoid of people. “It’s like we’re driving into Children of the Corn,” I joked to my friend as we proceeded slowly up the hill that led to the decrepit landmark. Situated in the Meramec Valley region of Jefferson County, the town is easy to miss. My friend and I had come to Morse Mill to see if we could locate the infamous “haunted hotel” that many have spoken about. After getting lost on what seemed to be an endless detour into oblivion, we finally found it. Having pulled off the highway to review our traveling directions, I happened to glance up by chance and spied it sitting there—through a bank of leafless tree branches.


The building’s rooftop “Widow’s Walk.” Once utilized in coastal communities to view incoming ships from sea, this one is used only by ghosts.

It was getting late in the afternoon by then. Snow flakes were beginning to whip about as we pulled up to park. My friend and I sat there, debating whether we should get out of the van “for a closer inspection.” The building looked eerily uninviting—even more so, when viewing it at a tilted angle through the van’s wiper blade-streaked windshield. Though available for “ghost tours,” we had not scheduled one. Our visit was purely impromptu and came about at the spur of the moment. The building itself appeared to be vacant, as if stalled-out in a perpetual state of periodic construction. We saw no other cars. And it’s windows were all dark.


Aerial view of Morse Mill above Big River—showing the hotel in proximity to the town’s historic bridge (also built by Morse).

There are said to be over thirty rooms inside—and even a former “slave dungeon” with remnants of shackle bits still visible in the bowels of its old cellar. The Depression of the 1930s sealed its fate. It’s former 18 guest quarters were reportedly last used in 1938. For decades the hotel would sit empty, slowly weathering away. It’s trusty timbers would begin to rot. It’s stony foundation would begin to crumble. Signs are clearly posted—warning visitors of “quick-responsive police and video surveillance.” My friend and I heeded these warnings, careful not to give into our over-anxious curiosities.


Former guests—silent comedy’s Charlie Chaplin, actress vamp Clara Bow, aviator Charles Lindbergh, gangster Al Capone, murderess Bertha Gifford and allegedly-killed Missouri outlaw Jesse James (J. Frank Dalton).

I found myself eager to explore the exterior grounds. I took some random photographs, but soon discovered my efforts were being hindered by unexpected failing camera batteries. Historically, the Morse Mill building was an old farmhouse (built in 1816) before it was modified into a popular hotel establishment by engineer John Morse (who the town is named after). It was once a hospital for Confederate war prisoners (as well as a brothel, speakeasy, post office and half-way house). Outlaw Jesse James was said to have stayed here (actually J. Frank Dalton—who claimed to be Jesse James). Other guests were believed to include such personalities as Chicago gangster Al Capone, silent film actress Clara Bow and comic genius Charlie Chaplin. The hotel’s most notorious tenant was a farmer’s wife—Bertha Gifford. She and her first husband once managed the hotel. Between 1906 and 1928, she embarked on a series of murders. Many involved the poisoning of young children. Only one murder, however, is believed to have actually taken place inside the hotel itself. Gifford’s ghost is said to actively occupy the upper floors—and even administer physically-visible scratching on those she dislikes. Numerous child ghosts are said to occupy the dilapidated structure as well. Some of them even have known names. “Annabelle” (it seems) resides exclusively in the attic. She likes playing with the toys that touring visitors to the haunted hotel sometimes leave for her.

old morse

Built as a modest homestead in 1816, former Confederate officer John Morse redeveloped the property into a successful 33-room, 5300 square-foot tourist attraction in the 1870s.

Jefferson County was settled by a reputedly powerful warlock—Francis Wideman. At the time, the entire area was believed to be “a stronghold for witches.” Wideman’s own brother claimed that Francis was such a powerful sorcerer, that he could even “conjure up the Devil himself.” As I navigated the property I could not help but sense a pervasive “chill in the air” whenever I got close to the building. It seemed to be steadily escalating the longer my friend and I remained. This was no doubt partly due to the declining temperatures as darkness was not far off. But still, there seemed to be something else lingering about there with us? I would from time to time glance over my shoulder to locate my friend. He seemed to be progressively positioning himself  “farther and farther” away from the building—the more I continued to move “closer and closer” to it. I had read about the strange happenings at Morse Mill. They are well documented. There have been many witnesses over the years who have attested to these incidents. Unable to enter the building (at least not legally) I settled for gathering photos of the structure’s interior via its abundance of lower accessible windows (from the outside of course). There was enough available light to take a photo against the glass to get an overall idea of the layout.

fire question

FIREPLACE QUESTION—from what means (or by what circumstance) does this “red fiery glow” emanate? Oddly, the rest of the building was entirely dark.

THE LIT FIREPLACE: There was one window I took the liberty of photographing through which later revealed what appeared to be a fireplace area. I had heard about such a room—where ghostly “knocks, whispers, footsteps and audible growls” are a frequent and routine occurrence. The window pane was dirty. So dirty, in fact, that actually “seeing the fireplace” through the window (from my vantage point) was near impossible. It only became visible after I transferred the photo into my computer afterwards and studied it more closely. I do remain a bit puzzled, however, why there would be a prominent “red fiery glow” emanating from this particular fireplace in such a dark (and supposedly vacant) building? Did a worker forget to turn off a light bulb in the fireplace? Or was it a real fire burning? And if so—who was burning it?

upper ghost

THE WATCHER—distant view of the “smoky grey figure,” which appears to be lurking in the lower left corner of the window pictured (2014).

THE WATCHER: Another window would later catch my eye, but (again) only after I returned home and examined the photos more carefully. The majority of the building’s many windows each have reflections from nearby exterior sources (such as bouncing tree branches, drifting clouds in the sky, etc.). This one did not. It had something unique to offer. It was located on an upper floor. In the lower portion of the window (when zooming in), I could just make out what “appeared to be” the smoky grey outline of some very small figure—peering back at me. Too short in height to be an “adult,” I took the figure (given the stories I had read) as being perhaps one of these so-called “ghost children” that reputedly dwell and reside within? It’s features seemed clear to me—with two beady eyes, a semi-developed nose, and somewhat of a mouth. It’s outline appeared fairly distinctive (but not overly so). It seemed to be “observing me,” while making a half-hearty attempt to partially hide itself from my view (like someone peeking out from behind a curtain, thinking that they cannot be seen). Trying to enhance these details (for enlarging purposes) have thus far been unsuccessful. Only a far-distant view of the “apparition in the window” is all that I can manage to reproduce clearly enough for transfer (as my photo was taken from about 75 feet away). None of my other photos showed or suggested any additional anomalies. No ghostly orbs, no vaporous trails. But then again, I would have taken many more pictures…had my camera batteries not failed me so quickly (as it seems so often the case when visiting in such “troubled” places as these).

Synchronicity (Jack Nicholson, Susan Atkins—and Me)


Me—outside Jack Nicholson’s security gate in 1986 (the three mailboxes are behind me).

Los Angeles, California.

Was Jack Nicholson secretly “keeping tabs” on my new friend Steve? Was the “ghost” of Sharon Tate hampering my Charles Manson research into the 1969 murders? Or was it all just “synchronicity.” The term is officially defined as “the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related—but which have no discernible causal connection.” Back in 1986 I was still living in Los Angeles, when “weird things” began to transpire. They had actually begun the year before, after meeting my new friend Steve. I’d taken a clerk’s position in a seedy West Hollywood adult bookstore on Santa Monica Boulevard, next door to the Pussycat Theater. On the opposing side sat a Russian-owned used refrigerator business. Steve worked there. He wandered into my shop one night during graveyard shift and just started talking. Originally from New York, Steve had been “in and out” of a string of east (and west) coast mental institutions over the years—supposedly “about 28,” by his own estimation.


Steve and I (at left) on Santa Monica Boulevard in 1986. And my only connection in respect to Nicholson himself—up until that time; a personally-signed Cookoo’s Nest photo that I received in 1975 after writing a brief letter to him about having seen the film.

He was in his mid 30s when I met him, but looked much older. For five years of his life—following a mental breakdown, he “thought he was the actor Jack Nicholson.” Or more precisely—the character Nicholson had portrayed in One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest. “It was the story of my life,” Steve told me. He said the movie caused him to relapse after he accidentally watched it in 1975 at a Times Square movie theater. Steve said when he came out of the theater afterwards, he was “Randle P. McMurphy” (and stayed that way). “I’m better now,” he was fond of saying—but only as long as he kept taking his medication. Recovered from his ordeal, Steve now sold used refrigerators. He lived in a small cubbyhole behind the appliance store, along with his large dog “Jack” (which he named after Nicholson). Steve had never met the actor, but idolized him from a far. A customer had scribbled down what he claimed was Jack’s home address. Since Steve was prohibited from owning or operating any motor vehicle, I volunteered to take him up there one day…just for a look. After all, what harm could it do? I knew we would never actually see the man himself—or even the house he lived in, since the property was most likely gated off. I later discovered I was right, it was. This trip up there occurred in 1986.


Me—with my scene partner (Tracy Galvin) at a Santa Monica cable-television station in April 1985 (top). And Jack with Ann-Margret from the 1971 movie.

When Steve and I met that first time at the adult bookstore—in May 1985, I had just completed work on a cable network actor’s showcase. Ironically, I had been blindly assigned a scene to do from the 1971 film Carnal Knowledge. It was strange, because (looking back) I performed the Nicholson role. And equally bizarre…because at that point I didn’t even know Steve (the actual taping of the showcase was done a month before—on April 17th). Even stranger—I had never even seen the original movie. So imagine my surprise the day my scene partner and I showed up for the taping and saw the original movie Carnal Knowledge being aired by the cable station at that very moment! We each noticed it playing on the station’s close-circuit lobby monitors—and at the exact point in the film where our scene occurs. “That’s odd,” I told Tracy. She agreed. Having never seen the movie either, she suggested we not watch it, as it might inadvertently affect our performance. I was still unemployed at this point and would not be hired on to work at the adult bookstore (or meet Steve) for another two or three weeks!


Brando—as The Wild One…and in later years, around the time Steve and I encountered him.

Back to Mulholland Drive—1986. I had Steve take a Polaroid of me standing in front of the Nicholson entrance’s three mailboxes. One box was Nicholson’s. One belonged to his actress friend Helena Kallianiotes (who then owned a private nightclub in Chinatown). And one belonged to Marlon Brando. Before I could stop him, Steve grabbed a garbage bag that hadn’t yet been collected and began ripping it open. He wanted to prove to me (and himself) that Nicholson actually “lived there.” Indeed he did. The contents confirmed it. And not just Jack, but his current girlfriend—Angelica Huston (daughter of revered Hollywood director John Huston) also lived there as well. I lucked into a job around this time, working for Walt Disney’s Imagineering facility in North Hollywood. I had been working there a little over a week, when one day I happened to glance down…and there on the floor (face up) and looking right back at me was a photo of Angelica Huston! Unbeknownst to me, she had been at the facility a couple of weeks before me—to work on the Disney short film Captain EO. This was really weird, I thought? So I mentioned it to Steve. He just laughed. “Jack had it put there,” he claimed. “He’s sending us a message…letting us know that we’re being watched.” I replied by telling Steve that he was just “being paranoid.” He then responded by just smiling back, as if to say “you’ll see.”


After finding Jack’s home telephone number in the trash, Steve pestered Jack’s personal assistant until she finally sent him an autographed version of this “Witches” photo.

The garbage bag we found contained an array of miscellaneous stuff; envelopes with Angelica and Jack’s names on them, Jack’s movie studio call-sheets from the film he was currently working on—The Witches of Eastwick, his crumpled out Marlboro cigarette butts, etc. Steve smoked the cigarette butts. It was then that things began to get even more weird. When we returned to the hill a couple of weeks later, Marlon Brando happened to be driving down to check his mailbox. Steve and I were standing there in front of the three mailboxes when Brando pulled up. I thought we were “in trouble,” but then nothing happened. Brando closed his box after checking it (it was empty) and drove off down the road. He gave us each a friendly “thumbs up” sign as he departed. Within minutes, Jack Nicholson himself appeared. He drove out the same way. Steve and I were already headed back to my car when this transpired. I managed to catch up and tail Jack to the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel. A stop light caught him at the last moment. Stuck at the light, I asked Steve if he wanted me to pull up alongside Nicholson (so he could say “hi” to the actor that he so adored)? Steve panicked, hesitating until the light changed. Nicholson disappeared then into traffic. Some time later (either by a few days or a couple of weeks, I don’t remember) Steve was walking down Sunset Boulevard when he came upon a stretch-limo parked at a curb, adjacent a bank’s ATM machine. The driver was getting out money.


Director John Huston. Within a year of Steve meeting him outside a Sunset Boulevard ATM, Huston would die at age 81—just before the release of his film THE DEAD.

The limo’s rear window was down, so Steve walked up (in his bold New York way) and popped his head in through the open window “to see whether the vehicle contained any celebrities.” Only Steve had the balls enough to do this. There was a “celebrity” inside the limo—JOHN HUSTON! “How do you do, my boy?” he asked back to Steve—not angry at all. Steve didn’t have time to engage him in conversation, before being chased off by the limo’s driver. Steve mentioned the encounter later, showing me the autograph he had Huston sign. Another “Nicholson message?” I wondered. A few weeks later, however, I was starting to think that Steve wasn’t “being paranoid.” One evening, as we were out walking around we happened upon an art gallery. It was on South La Cienega Boulevard—about three miles from the point where we started. It was then we saw it—a giant framed smiling portrait of…JOHN HUSTON! It was looking back at us in an almost mocking way. Neither Steve nor I knew it to be there. We had never even passed that particular art gallery before. But there it was…as if “waiting for us” to find it.


My C.I.W. visitor’s permission slip (top). Susan in her preteen years— around the time of her “prison premonition” (bottom left). And as she appeared during her bodybuilding period in a prison-made Polaroid she loaned to me in 1987 (bottom right).

Then there was SUSAN ATKINS. Her life began to take a dark turn after cancer claimed the life of her beloved mother. Only 15 at the time, Susan’s relationship with her father quickly deteriorated. She would eventually run away from home and later meet Manson (the rest is now history). Former trial prosecutor Stephen Kay called Atkins “the scariest of the Manson girls.” My coming to know her began in Los Angeles on a hot summer day, prompted by my finding of a mysterious VHS tape in an unexpected locale. It showed up in the bookstore where I was working as a “returned item” in a plain gray plastic video case. It had not been purchased there (I am certain) as it was not “porn-related.” Plus, I knew well that the store did not stock mainstream commercial inventory. The one word title on the tape’s face label said it all—MANSON. There was no mistaking the subject matter. It was a rare and forgotten 1972 documentary about the aftermath of the 1969 murders. My parents and I were on vacation in Mexico (our photo) at the time the Tate-LaBianca murders in Los Angeles were unfolding. Lawrence Merrick (the producer of the MANSON documentary) was later murdered himself in 1977…less than a mile from where I would eventually be living, after leaving St. Louis and moving to Hollywood in late 1978.

While “Nicholson things” kept happening to Steve, “Manson things” began happening to me. At the time my only connection to it was my once having owned the 1974 book. I remembered how “cute and innocent” Susan Atkins looked in her high school photo. Because of her marginal resemblance to Partridge Family actress Susan Dey I found myself wanting to know more about her. I had met Susan Dey the previous year—in 1973, at the Partridge Family A.C.S. Bike-a-Thon in Forest Park (St. Louis). Some months later I noticed Helter Skelter (1974) sitting on a shelf at my local bookstore and bought a copy.

DEY 73

Me (top right, red box) waiting to meet actress Susan Dey (top left) in 1973. And Susan Atkins (bottom two photos) looking strikingly similar to Dey.

I eventually watched the documentary I found on Manson a number of times (the one from the box of adult videotape returns), before I got the idea to contact Susan Atkins herself. Morbid curiosity was part of it, no doubt. But there was also a more obvious reason—a “women-in-prison” movie was being cast locally and I wanted to be in it. It was low-budgeted and only non-union, but an acting opportunity nonetheless. It’s producers were seeking young male actors to portray prison guards. Since Susan Atkins was incarcerated barely forty miles away (in Chino), I thought her experience might be beneficial—if she would want to “help me out” that is? In hindsight, it was perhaps probably naive and stupid of me to think this. She was—after all, a “savvy and hardened criminal,” a convicted murderess who was once Charles Manson’s most loyal and dangerous members. I wanted to tread carefully, to avoid making her “feel uncomfortable” or awkward about me. I didn’t want her to know (for example) that I was an actor—primarily because she had once killed an actor (i.e. Sharon Tate).


A photo I took of the former Walt Disney / LaBianca house on Waverly Drive. The book that seemed to be “waiting for me” in that Hollywood bookstore. And the Simi Valley train tunnel entrance where I found the letters “TEX” spray-painted a few hours before I returned home and found Susan’s first letter waiting for me in my apartment mailbox.

I sent two initial letters but got no response back. Shortly afterwards I happened upon a book about the murders (this in itself quite strange) in a Hollywood bookstore. I had never heard of it before? All I knew was that it was not the same one from 1974. It was a first edition copy (from 1971). So I bought it. After reading it, I thought I’d drive out to see one of the murder locations (continued morbid curiosity). The LaBianca house on Waverly Drive was closest. Since the murders the house had developed a troubling history of changing hands on a frequent basis. Perhaps it was all those “curious pesky people” stopping by all the time to look at it? Or perhaps the rumors of it “being haunted” were true after all…and too much for each of its owners to deal with?

CIW Final

A 1987 photo (with inscription on the back) that Susan sent me. She had them taken at the prison—for select friends and family members.

I later discovered to my surprise (after visiting the LaBianca house) that Walt Disney had once lived there himself—the very man who had started the movie studio where I was currently employed (and where I had found that odd Captain EO photo of Nicholson girlfriend Angelica Huston laying on the floor). Not long after that I made a trip out to the Simi Valley area where the Manson family’s Spawn Movie Ranch was once located (it burned down in a 1970 wildfire, one year after the murders). Seeking its former location, I decided to take a “scenic route” and follow the train tracks which ran close to the area—where Manson had ordered the murder of ranch hand Donald “Shorty” Shea (Shea was said to have been buried near the tracks). Getting lost, I was nearly crushed by an oncoming freight train when I defiantly entered a nearly “pitch-black” dark train tunnel about a mile from my destination.


A pencil sketch Susan drew for me to show how her cell was laid out. It was schemed in lavender and rose with wall-to-wall carpeting (the only fully-carpeted allowed cell in the entire prison).

Before I entered it, I noticed on the outside wall where someone had spray-painted three large letters in red, spelling out the word “TEX” (killer Charles Watson’s nickname). Coincidence? Or had something (or someone) been trying to “warn me” of the impending danger? Shaken up greatly by the close encounter with the train—and then followed up with me being chased by an angry large German Shepherd (I accidentally trespassed on private property), I gave up on finding the ranch and returned to my apartment in Burbank. And wouldn’t you know it (as if “specifically waiting” for me), was a letter from Susan Atkins. She was pissed off that I had mistakenly referred to her as “Sadie” (her former Manson name). “My name’s SUSAN!” she stressed. After chewing me out in her letter, I shot a quick “hot-tempered” response back to her.


STRANGE—right before what would be the 18th anniversary of the murders, all of Susan’s sent letters to me suddenly began getting returned to her at the prison—marked as if I had “moved” (I had not). And the actual Manson VHS that mysteriously showed up in that box of adult videotape returns.

I thought I would not hear from her again, then a second letter arrived. She apologized for “snapping at me,” blaming the heat. She eventually invited me out to the prison. I had to go through a background check before I was allowed in. We would begin corresponding back and forth. After a series of exchanges, her letters abruptly stopped (as the 18th anniversary of the murders was approaching). Letters she had been mailing to me were getting returned to her at the prison, marked “no longer at this address.” When we finally reconnected she voiced her concern about this—suggesting someone I know “may be tampering with my mail?” As I lived alone and definitely had not moved, I could offer no logical explanation. Approximately a year and a half later I left California (Thanksgiving 1988) never to return. That was the last time I saw Susan Atkins. We corresponded occasionally up until the time I joined the Army, in late 1991. After that she faded from my life. I remember she once told me about a premonition she experienced when she was “just a little girl.” She said she “saw a movie on television about women in prison.” “Somehow I knew then,” she told me, “that one day…I too would be in prison.” And she was…until the day she died.

The Jean Spangler Premonition


At left—Jean and Sophie on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles; taken in late November of 1942.

St. Louis, Missouri / Los Angeles, California

October 1949—65 years ago. St. Louis, Missouri is not where one would expect to find answers to one of Hollywood’s most enduring mysteries of the 1940s, but don’t tell that to Sophie Spangler. She was there, on that October 7, 1949, when her beloved sister-in-law—showgirl Jean Spangler went missing in Los Angeles. [AUDIO] Her disappearance became to missing persons cases what the “Black Dahlia” murder of Elizabeth Short represented to homicides. In fact—for a while, police thought the two might even be connected. Sophie had been visiting the Spangler family at the time. A long-time resident of suburban St. Louis, Sophie had been married to Jean’s brother Edward Spangler. She was widowed in 1945, when Edward’s WW II bomber was reported lost over the seas of Japan. Born with the gift of “second sight,” Sophie’s sporadic ability to sometimes recognize forthcoming danger via her dreams was more of a curse than it was a blessing. In short, she had premonitions. She had no control over them. They would come when they happened, usually revolving around a deceased friend she had once known. Whenever she would dream about this friend, “something bad would always happen,” she told me, during a conversation we had in the spring of 2001. She was in her later years by then. But her mind was still sharp. She remembered names and places like it were yesterday. In the case of her missing sister-in-law, the remembrances went back well over fifty years. And aside from a few passing remarks about it privately with family members, Sophie had never talked about that day in-depth (since those days) with anybody—until me. I was in preparations for an upcoming episode about Jean’s disappearance for E! Entertainment Television’s cable series Mysteries & Scandals.


Actor Kirk Douglas—whom Jean met months earlier on a Warner Brothers studio film set; the only “Kirk” she was said to have known.

My research on Spangler had come about spontaneously. I got sidetracked on her possible connection to the “Black Dahlia” murder; by actor Paul Burke. He was not keen on discussing Spangler, as he felt she had “only achieved notoriety by disappearing.” Burke—a once familiar face on television (he died in 2009), had known both women during his early days in Hollywood. His first wife had been a dancer at the same club as Jean. Intrigued, I began researching the Spangler mystery further. The pieces finally started coming together after I uncovered documents relating to a long-forgotten child custody battle involving Jean and her ex-husband from 1948. The information contained in the documents seemed to suggest a growing “pattern of animosity” between the pair was fast moving in the direction of a “climatic conclusion.” These documents, former key witness Sophie Spangler—and the Mysteries & Scandals episode, re-captured the interest of the Los Angeles Police Department. Homicide commander Captain Jim Tatreau was especially sympathetic to “the cause” when it came to solving old cases. He would be instrumental in putting in place LAPD’s very first official “cold case” unit within the year (2001)—something that would unfortunately (by default) put the pending Spangler investigation on the “back burner” forever.


Jean Spangler mystery revisited in 2001—LAPD’s Captain Jim Tatreau (upper left) and lead “cold case” investigator Rick Jackson (at desk).

Tatreau (who would pass away in 2007 at age 58) assigned investigator Rick Jackson to revisit the Spangler matter. Unable to locate any of the original evidence or files, Jackson’s efforts to develop the case further became stymied. Spending additional time, money and resources seemed pointless. Had the case only evolved to a more “promising stage,” Jackson said the department could have dispatched investigators to Florida to re-question Jean’s ex-husband “in person.” Now it would never happen. Thus ended LAPD’s 2001 involvement with the case. The night Jean Spangler vanished, she had been planning to pay a visit to her estranged ex-husband. She needed fast money. Two days later, her purse was found laying by an entry gate in Griffith Park (Los Angeles’ large and densely wooded recreational area). An unfinished handwritten note found inside the purse implied that Jean was possibly pregnant, and “planning to pay a visit that weekend to a local abortionist,” while her mother was out of town. There was no date on the note and it wasn’t signed. Until Jean’s mother, Florence, could return from her trip, sister-in-law Sophie would remain front and center—trying as best as she could to assist investigators with whatever information she could remember.


Me—at Griffith Park’s entry Gate #2 (where Jean’s purse was found discarded). Inset…lower right; screen capture from my appearance on Mysteries & Scandals (2001).

“I have a bad feeling Jeannie,” Sophie told her, only hours before she left the apartment that day. Sophie had experienced a bizarre dream the night before. She had awaken in a cold sweat and was shaking. She had experienced similar dreams before—each revolving around her late friend. In the dream, the friend (a woman) was laying in a casket, in a funeral home. “I was looking down at her, lying there. Suddenly, she opened her eyes and raised up and looked directly at me. She said to me, ‘It’s not finished yet.’ Then she laid back down and closed her eyes,” Sophie told me. Regarding it as a “bad omen,” she told her sister-in-law about it. “Jeannie scoffed at the notion of it. She didn’t believe it and even mocked me.” Preoccupied with promises from her ex-husband about getting a “large sum of money” from him, all Jean could do was talk about that. But later that afternoon, she came back down the stairs with a look of concern on her face. “She had been thinking about what I said before,” Sophie said. Sophie could not elaborate on the dream any further, only to say, “Jeannie, I don’t like this. I feel something ‘bad’ is going to happen.”


Town and Country Market; located across the street from Farmer’s Market (2001), where the last confirmed sighting of Jean took place on Friday evening; October 7, 1949.

Sophie declined E!’s offer to appear on the Jean Spangler episode of Mysteries & Scandals.” She said she was still “in fear” of Jean’s ex-husband. At the time, in 2001, he was still alive and well—retired and living comfortably in Florida. He likewise declined to be interviewed for the episode. He would then pass away in 2007. His ashes were scattered at sea. He had loved the sea. In fact, at the time his ex-wife went missing, police were supposedly in possession of a “boating document” indicating Jean’s ex had taken his boat out that night (improbable, it seemed, because the ocean waves that night were rough…and his boat was small). Sophie preceded the man in death by some seven months, passing away herself on Halloween night, in 2007. A former bank teller for Hampton Bank in St. Louis, Sophie would never remarry after the death of her husband, Edward Spangler–Jean’s brother. Sophie did have a marker erected (posthumously) in his honor at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Following her death, Jefferson Barracks removed Edward’s original marker from the location where it had originally been, remade it (to include Sophie’s name and information on the reverse side), and then moved it to another part of the cemetery grounds.


From my collection—a rare original autograph Jean signed for a friend in 1948.

Personally, I believe the answer to Jean Spangler’s disappearance lies somewhere between “intentional murder and accidental death.” And her relationship with the mysterious “Kirk,” (who the purse note was addressed to) and her “plans” to visit a doctor named “Scott” (also mentioned in the note). Police tended to believe Spangler died during an “illegal abortion”—but why would an illegal abortionist throw away a purse with a potentially incriminating note inside with his name written on it?. “I saw his name (“Dr. Scott”) written  in her address book at the apartment,” Sophie told me. “But later, after she didn’t come home, I tried to find it for detectives, but it wasn’t there any longer. I don’t know what happened to it?” Sophie also regretted not letting Jean’s ex-husband come up to the apartment’s door the following morning—Saturday; October 8, 1949. Ironically, he had plans to pick up he and Jean’s 5-year-old daughter (for a court-allowed weekend visitation). One particular angle that I favor to consider (since Jean had not left the note for her intended party—i.e. “Kirk”), was that she was “interrupted” before she could do so–perhaps heading out that night “to leave the note for Kirk” (and/or later…see the “doctor”) but never made it to either place because she took a fatal “detour” just prior to doing so—to confront her ex-husband about his over-due child support check?


Jean Spangler—with daughter Christine.

Required by law to return the little girl, given Jean’s “missing status,” he kept the girl. He would later flee to Florida—out of reach from local authorities and California courts. Upon their divorce (in 1946), he had tricked Jean into giving up custody of the child. She later challenged him in court, in a bitter custody battle in 1948. The presiding judge in the case sided with Jean, giving full custody of the daughter to her–enraging Jean’s ex-husband. Some say Sophie’s premonition of forthcoming doom was “just coincidence,” as was Jean’s ex-husband’s coming by the apartment the very next morning to pick up the daughter (which he would then never return, and from there on out…vindictively block the Spangler family from ever seeing the child again). “I let Christine run out to meet him on the sidewalk. I wished I hadn’t,” Sophie reflects. “I wish I had let him come all the way up to the door that day,” Sophie said. “Then I would have seen the scratches on his face.” [AUDIO] She had never repeated this detail—not in the fifty-plus years that had followed that day. But she told me. She wanted “someone else” to know… that the detectives had questioned her about the ex-husband coming over,
and that Jean’s ex-husband had fresh scratches on his face (he claimed, however, he got the scratches after “dropping a case of glass bottles at work”). They didn’t believe him and later excavated part of the floor in his garage, looking for evidence. But they found nothing.


Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery
(St. Louis, Mo).

Jean had social ties to virtually everyone. Ronald Reagan was a close friend (their families attended the same church together). She had (allegedly) been dating actor Kirk Douglas. Her daughter went to school with Lloyd Bridges’ son, Beau. Previously, she had dated at least two of mobster Mickey Cohen’s henchmen—and hoodlum Johnny Stompanato (later stabbed to death by actress Lana Turner’s daughter). She had also been keeping company with local millionaire Thomas Lee—who committed suicide a few months later by jumping to his death from the 12-story Pellissier Building in Los Angeles. Actor Robert Cummings was also a close personal friend.


Unchanged—Jean’s old apartment (as it appeared in 2001), still waiting for her return. Inset…lower left; Spangler friend, actor Robert Stack (and me) outside his home in 1978.

And so was Robert Stack. Stack (by then an established actor), was on his way home the evening before Jean went missing. According to Spangler family sources, upon passing Jean’s apartment that night, Stack later remembered observing someone lurking outside. It was dark and it was late. Stack could not identify whether the person was a man or a woman, but felt they “may have been trying to gain access to the apartment through one of the windows.” Tired and wanting to get home, he shrugged off his suspicious thoughts…thinking it was “probably nothing.” He later contacted the Spanglers with the information, after learning of Jean’s disappearance.

Carole Lombard UFO Valley of Death

St. Louis, Missouri / Good Springs, Nevada


Mount Potosi—“The Saddle,” as seen from the road that connects I-15 to Good Springs.

“Off course, behind schedule and below altitude.” That is the official determination for what caused the crash that killed actress Carole Lombard (and 21 others) in 1942. Unofficially, some still believe it to have been the work of fate (via “supernatural” design). In short, the number 3—a reputed “bad luck” numeral at the time, seemed to be everywhere. The Lombard party was suppose to travel back to Los Angeles via train after the war bond rally in Indianapolis. Their group of 3 (consisting of Carole, her mother Elizabeth and friend Otto Winkler) only managed to board the plane because of 3 last minute seat cancellations. Carole was 33 years old at the time. It had taken 3 days to reach Indiana (her home state) by train. The plane was a DC-3, designated “Flight 3.” Documentation about a peculiar unexplained “light in the sky,” just prior to the crash intrigued me. The mysterious light had been observed several days earlier by a lead airway beacon mechanic (and his partner) near Baker, California only a month before the “Battle of Los Angeles” alledged UFO incident on February 24, 1942. I was researching the Lombard crash for a possible documentary project when I came across something interesting—the “turning point” appears to have happened in St. Louis–at Lambert Field Airport. By coincidence, Capt. Wayne Williams—the pilot who flew the plane to its doom, had once lived in St. Louis himself (flying mail back and forth between St. Louis and Chicago).


Me—with Lombard friend Robert Stack at his home in Beverly Hills in 1978 (photo taken by his wife, actress Rosemarie Bowe-Stack). Inset (upper left) Lombard and Stack in her last film
To Be or Not to Be.

My only connection to Carole herself (albeit indirect) was my marginal acquaintance with actor Robert Stack during the time I was living in Hollywood. I met Stack in 1978 at his home in Beverly Hills. My mother had been a huge fan of his and had named me after the character he had played in his 1956 Oscar nominated role in Written on the Wind. It was Stack who had taught Carole Lombard how to “skeet shoot.” And it was Stack who had co-starred with her in her final movie—ironically titled To Be or Not to Be.

Kyle Potosi

Me—lost, alone and out of water in the scorching heat of the rugged Nevada mountains.

One of my parent’s favorite films had been Fate is the Hunter (1964). Loosely based upon the novel of the same title, the book’s preface payed homage to all those pilots and crew members that had lost their lives up until then. The captain and co-pilot of Lombard’s flight was noted among them. Watching the film, it is hard not to believe that its source material was not taken directly from the real-life circumstances that sent Flight 3 to it’s doom. During an impromptu trip out to southern California in 1994, I decided to take my rental car to Las Vegas, set on climbing Mount Potosi–in hopes of seeing the 1942 crash site. A pilot friend had mentioned how the area was still rife with plane debris from the wreck. I was a novice when it came to hiking. In fact, I had no experience whatsoever. I purchased a small backpack, some bottled water, cutting tools (if needed) for any large wreckage pieces I might find, one Army MRE (meals ready to eat) and nothing else. I had no cell phone (they weren’t available yet), and had told no one of my plans. I rented a room at the local Motel 6, in Las Vegas. It was close to I-15. It would take me approximately thirty minutes to drive back south, just to reach the highway exit for Good Springs.


This empty lot on Clemens Avenue is all that remains of Lombard pilot Wayne Williams’ former St. Louis home.

The next morning, before daylight, I headed out to meet the mountain. The road to Good Springs was blacktopped. From there out to the mountain base, it was all dirt…all the way. I don’t recall how many miles, but it seemed like I drove forever. Once there, a government entry gate prohibited me access to the actual incline road. So, from there on—I hiked. The mountain was 8500 feet high. The Lombard plane had missed clearing its peak by only 730 feet. The temperature on the desert floor would be reaching upwards of 112 degrees the day of my “adventure.” Once on top of the mountain, however, the altitude temperature was substantially cooler. I located the area of the crash quite easily. In fact, I could see it once I reached the upper peak. I tried to put reason to the “whats and whys” of the crash. There weren’t many answers…just the number 3. *See my 1998 interview from E! Entertainment Television’s Mysteries & Scandals HERE. Equally strange, was that former St. Louis mail pilot Wayne Williams had experienced only one night flight out of Las Vegas before—which, ironically, had occurred exactly 3 weeks earlier (when many of the airway beacons lining the flight route were still “blacked out” due too the attack on Pearl Harbor).


A 1942 FBI report detailing the “peculiar lights in the sky” relating to Lombard’s flight (left). Rare un-retouched 1942 “Battle of Los Angeles” photo (top right). And an illustration depicting the Eastern Airlines DC-3 “flying saucer encounter” near Montgomery, Alabama in 1948 (lower right).

Had the flight not been 3 hours behind schedule (due to a smoke-related two hour stop-over hold in St. Louis), the plane would have landed at Boulder City’s airstrip (TWA’s hub)—26 miles SE from Las Vegas, without incident. Because it was dark by the time Flight 3 reached the lower tip of southern Nevada (due to all the delays), it was automatically diverted to Vegas. According to the official CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) findings, the TWA  plane struck a cliff just below the crest of Mount Potosi–33 miles from its departure point (the North Las Vegas site of Nellis Airforce Base now). Meanwhile, back on the mountain…I had exhausted my water supply by the time I reached the top. The smart thing to have done, would have been give up and head back down the mountain road I had hiked up. Instead, I descended…into an adventure. Within a hour or so, I had become dehydrated. I was out of food and water. I started to feel dizzy and disoriented. It had taken me nearly eight hours just to reach the top of the mountain peak. In a weakened state by late afternoon, my only thought was to get off the mountain. Heading down, I was unaware that Mount Potosi was connected to Charleston Mountain range. It was a mistake I would later pay dearly for.


Star Tom Cruise’s #33 problem.

After slipping and then tumbling down a large open wash area, a thick cactus needle broke off and embedded itself in my leg. The needle pierced my blue jeans, striking an apparent “acupuncture pressure point,” rendering my one leg partially numb. I then began dragging my leg behind me. Walking was difficult at best. If tried to climb back up the mountain (to try and get my bearings), I would slide back down on the loose gravel. If I attempted to find shade, I’d hear rattlesnakes—warning me off. I became bloated and swollen. My high blood pressure did not make it any better. I had brought along my 35mm camera with me. I snapped off a few self portrait shots, so that if I “didn’t make it out alive,” at least they’d know what I looked like. Three hours later, I reached the base of what I thought was Mount Potosi, I believed my parked car was waiting just “right around the bend.” I was mistaken. The range over-lapped, so I was actually 23 miles from my car! Blisters were now covering the underneath of both of my feet. I was severely sunburned and could barely walk. The sun was going down now. Soon, I would be alone out there—in the desert, and with no flashlight; just me and the rattlesnakes. So exhausted, weak and tired, I could hardly stand up. I dare not try and sit down. The last time I tried, a small scorpion had tried to get under my shirt.


Lambert Field Airport (St. Louis), as the Lombard plane would have known it in 1942. Flight 3 arrived at 5:26 a.m. on January 16th. It departed 1 hour and 56 minutes later.

I had been following the sound of gunfire in the distance. It was my only hope. Thankfully, it was not a “desert murder” taking place, but a young father and his three kids. They had been out camping for the weekend. About to head back home, they were all packed up and ready to leave when I stumbled into view. I remember begging for water, as the concerned kids kept trying to force feed me cookies! Finally I got some water. The father was a helicopter pilot for one of the casinos. He graciously gave me a ride back to my car. The pickup truck he was driving was a truck he used for outings. It was old and beat. It also had a bad fuel pump. As we got closer and closer to my car, the fuel pump began acting up. The father and his kids dropped me off, so as not to get stuck out there themselves. I walked the remainder of the way back to my car and headed back to my motel room in Vegas.


Carole Lombard—as the country came to know her in death (left). And as “Roma Courtenay,” possessed by the spirit of an executed murderess in the 1933 horror classic Supernatural.


Much has been forgotten about the “peculiar lights in the sky” that were noted in regards to the crash of Lombard’s flight. “Hanging like a suspended lantern” above the mountain range, the mysterious unexplained light was first theorized to have possibly been part of a sabotage plot to “lure Flight 3 to it’s doom” (because of the 15 Army Air Corps ferry pilots on board). This theory was quickly discounted after an airway beacon mechanic came forward and reported to the FBI about seeing an “identical type light” hovering in the sky above Baker, California just three days earlier. The mechanic was engaged in recovery efforts following the Lombard crash when he by chance learned of the similar light from an area ranch owner who had seen both the light and the plane’s fiery explosion.


The “UFO invasion” over Washington, D.C. in 1952.

These two mid-January incidents preceded the now-famous “Battle of Los Angeles,” (which unfolded on the evening of February 24, 1942) by just a short period. Officially chalked up to having been a result of edgy “jitters and nerves” (due to fear and anticipation following the then-recent December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack), the “battle” was said to have been nothing else. Following the 1952 “UFO invasion” over Washington, D.C. where a rash of multiple bright objects were observed flying in “controlled formation,” many have since re-examined the 1942 Los Angeles incident and cited numerous notable similarities. Was what happened over Los Angeles a “UFO invasion” as well? If so, then perhaps one best devote closer scrutiny to that which transpired in those cold dark skies above Baker, California and above Lombard’s Nevada death mountain. If fate and “the supernatural” was not involved…then perhaps a few “little grey aliens” just might have been?