Beware the Witch!

hillwitch

The classic representation of “a witch,” in a scene from 1959’s House on Haunted Hill.

How does one spell the word witch? In St. Charles County it is sometimes spelled any one of three different ways–Molly, Mollie or Molley. For those who still remember the story, it doesn’t really matter. However one spells it, it still references the witch. Somewhere between the film plots of The Blair Witch Project (1999) and It Follows (2014) lies the legend of Molly Crenshaw. “Witch Molly,” as she has come to be known by generations of school students in St. Charles County (Missouri), the real story is as much a mystery as the urban legend itself. Reputed to have been a “freed slave of Jamaican decent,” it was her predilection for practicing Voodoo that led to her unspeakable fate. Blamed for the calamitous failure of farmer’s crops during one particularly harsh winter, she was besieged by a mob of irate townsfolk.  Hacked into pieces, her dismembered remains were then “scattered throughout the woods.” In truth, the varying accounts surrounding  “Witch Molly” and her gruesome demise, are actually based on the mysterious 1913 suicide death of former schoolteacher Mollie J. Crenshaw. She was not from Jamaica–but from St. Louis (supposedly born there). The former St. Charles Cosmos-Monitor (1902-1937) reported she had “graduated from St. Charles College” (believed to be Lindenwood) with a teaching degree in Education.

1913

A 1913 article reporting Mollie’s death.

During a late winter visit to the home of relative Harry Towers–a wealthy and prominent member of the community (who lived in the Harvester-Cottleville area of St. Charles County), tragedy struck. Mollie had been staying at the residence for about a week, as she continued to commute to and from a small job she maintained in St. Louis. By then, she was no longer working as a school teacher–as she had gone predominately deaf.

She committed suicide by ingesting a lethal amount of carbolic acid (Phenol),  following breakfast, on a cold and gloomy Saturday morning. She was found in her room, “frothing at the mouth,” by Tower’s wife. A doctor was summoned, but it was too late. Mollie succumbed at 10:20 a.m., on February 22, 1913. The Cosmos-Monitor reported her age at being “about 40 years,” though the official funeral register states her age was “52” (but with no specific birth date noted). She was laid to rest in a small private cemetery—a cemetery which has, in the last fifty some years, acquired a rather “haunting reputation” for peculiar happenings. “Before all those new homes were built, only fools would dare set foot out there at night,” recalls one local man, referring to a time predating the 1970s, when the area surrounding “Witch Cemetery” was still relatively isolated–and foreboding. “You don’t have to physically be there (at the cemetery) to get hexed by her,” according to one former female student who remembers an unnerving experience that took place behind the high school, four miles from the cemetery. Some years ago, a group of female students headed towards the woods behind the school’s football stadium, jokingly on a mission to find “Witch Molly.”

oldcharles

The Old St. Charles Bridge, where the young girl jumped. Closed in 1992, it was torn down five years later.

Fear (and common sense) kept most in the group from actually entering the dark woods at night, while the remaining few “threw caution to the wind” and pressed forward. Their lackluster attempts at “summoning the witch from her slumber” seemingly backfired, after one of the girls in the remaining group began “taunting and provoking” the witch into revealing herself. Strange things later began to plague the lives of all those who had been there. “Bad luck followed me for years after that night,” claims the one former female student–who was part of that original group (but not among those who actually entered the woods). Then there was the infamous bridge incident. It occurred in the 1970s. A “high school prank,” orchestrated by two male students (at the cemetery), scared a young girl so badly, she later jumped from the deck of the Old St. Charles Bridge–fearing “Witch Molly” was pursuing her. The negative publicity surrounding the incident prompted the removal of Mollie’s tombstone from cemetery grounds. The stone was then taken to be stored for an indeterminate length of time at a relative’s home in St. Charles–“for safekeeping.” It was never seen publicly again.

darksharp

The St. Charles home where Crenshaw’s tombstone was taken, following the 1970s bridge incident.

Most will argue “Mollie was no witch. She was just an ordinary local woman, who met with an unfortunate end.”  Examples do, however, exist that suggest that “spectral consequences” may very well await those who take their own lives. In fact, ghostly phenomena has bedeviled visitors at Lemp Mansion for decades–triggered (it is surmised) by the multiple suicides which took place there between 1904 and 1949. Seeing the ghost of a person who has befallen such a fate is one thing, but willfully tampering with those from “the other side,” best be discouraged. Back in the 1960s, a local spiritualist paid a visit to Mollie Crenshaw’s grave. This was at a period in history when the counterculture movement in America was obsessed with the occult. The spiritualist made several attempts to contact Mollie, later claiming the “vibrations” she received while at the cemetery indicated that Mollie Crenshaw was “indeed a witch.”

retrocemetery

At “Witch Cemetery,” in 2016.

Be that as it may, people continue to seek out Mollie in her eternal rest. As a result, area neighbors  nearest the cemetery remain ever vigilant for any sign of malicious trespassing. I stopped by recently (with permission) to pay my respects. I found it to be quiet and serene. As I entered the grounds and turned to close the gate, I heard a loud “snap” in the near distance behind me. Startled, I spun around to look, only to discover it was just a small tree branch, having fallen to the ground. I did notice one minor particular that I couldn’t seem to explain–the temperature inside the grounds. It felt strangely colder than it had been on the outside of the fence? But then again, a pending storm was brewing in the distance. I stayed only long enough to take a few pictures, while pondering in my thoughts the whereabouts of Mollie Crenshaw’s unmarked grave (as I best not say “the witch”).

Advertisements

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.

house3union

“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.

woodunion

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.

storagecrack

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.

blessings

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

cord2

Disney’s Maleficent (top). Belleville’s Lincoln Theater (1926).

Do ghosts still stalk Belleville’s historic Lincoln Theater in Midwestern 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 about a year ago. Be it conjured solely from the depths of a young girl’s “fanciful imagination,” I cannot say (as I was not present). What allegedly happened took place during the early summer of 2014. Disney’s Maleficent–a supernatural fairy tale about Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) had opened on May 31st. It was playing in the Lincoln’s lower main auditorium. Enter 12-year-old Hannah. No stranger to haunted locales, young Hannah had paid numerous visits to many “spook-beleaguered” landmarks before.

cordievalmeyer

Hannah–in 2013, in the foreboding woods above Valmeyer’s old abandoned 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. But then again, Hannah had never before seen an actual ghost. And so the stage was set (so to speak), as Hannah and her neighborhood friend Riley decided to tag along with Hannah’s parents to see the film 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.

ghoststairs

Where “the ghosts” were seen.

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 it,” the father said. “All of a sudden there was a commotion. My wife and I then saw Hannah and Riley racing towards us–out of breath and hysterical. Inconsolable, Hannah claimed she and Riley had just seen a ghost.” Too frightened to return to their seats, the two girls stayed with the adults for the remainder of the performance. 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.

lincbatman

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! She described them as being “a boy and a girl” (a couple). She remembers them seated about midway up on the steps, not far from she and Riley’s seats. At first, Hannah failed to notice them. Once she had, the obvious question came to mind…“Where did they come from?”

The couple appeared to be “watching the film” as well, unaware that curious Hannah was now watching them. Hannah remembered the boy was sitting behind the girl (on an upper step). His arms were wrapped around her. Returning her attention to the screen, Hannah couldn’t help herself…and looked back. Both the boy and the girl had now vanished–and seemingly, in the blink of an eye! There had been no sound of departure from the duo, no visual indication of movement–as if the pair 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 Theatre. Personally, I don’t know that they ever have. Until then, the unsolved 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.

di1

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.

moon

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.

di4

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.

coyjr1

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.

di3

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).

lightsoct24

“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.

quest

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.

farewell

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?

chan8

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

file32b

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).

crowds77

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.

prineset

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.

bettyj

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.”

slaying

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?

homestead

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

syl88

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.

newyorkstreet

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.

mattfloor

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.

GND

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.”

DJ66

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.

girlnext2

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.

cardvd129

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.

ikesset

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.

kyleivan3

ACTORS & MEMORIALS
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.”

hobbshouse2

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.

casketleave

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).

wintgrav

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).

pairsylkyl

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

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.

morse3

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.

morseair

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.

tenantsmorse

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).