Synchronicity (Jack Nicholson, Susan Atkins—and Me)

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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.

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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.

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CARNAL KNOWLEDGE
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!

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Jean Spangler Premonition

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

UFO ADDENDUM

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.

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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?

Gary is Haunting the House

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Gary Sortor—as he appeared around the time of Dottie and I’s 1969 Ouija board “experiment.”

St. Louis, Missouri (Baden area)

“Gary is haunting the house.” Those are the words that met me when I returned to the Sortor family’s residence in the Baden neighborhood area of North St. Louis following Gary’s untimely passing in 2003, at age 49. They came from his older brother; Kenny. He was waiting outside the home when I pulled into the driveway.  My Grandma Mary (my father’s mother), who lived two houses up the street and had been best friends with Gary’s mother; Dolores, also died that year. The Sortor father; Otho (they called him “Okie”), had passed away in 1980. Only Gary, Kenny and mother Dolores remained living at the residence. Another brother; Terry, had died in a tragic freak accident in 1982, at age 36. Dottie was the only daughter of the Sortor clan. Married, she resided at the time in Spanish Lake. As I had spent the majority of my summers off school at my grandparent’s house, I became well acquainted with the Sortors. My grandmother often served as weekend “babysitter” for Dottie, on occasions when Dolores was out. Dottie and I were closer in age (unlike the three brothers, who were much older).

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Gary’s sister—Dottie (and I) outside my grandparent’s home in 1969. Eighteen years later (1987) Dottie would see “the ghost” of my then-deceased Grandpa Joe standing inside the doorway pictured behind us.

The “Ouija board incident” took place in 1969. I was 10 years old. Intrigued by stories my Grandpa Joe had indoctrinated me with about his “ghostly past,” growing up in Chester, Illinois with his spiritualist aunt (specifically in regards to frequent usage of a Ouija board), I badgered Dottie into helping my embark on a “little adventure” after we ran across an old Ouija board, sitting on an old dusty shelf in her parent’s living room closet. With board in hand, we toted it down the steep flight of steps, leading to the dark recesses of the home’s rather “scary looking” cellar, to search out a suitable location in which to facilitate our anticipated endeavor. A small room had been built adjacent to the staircase; complete with door. Originally a “play room” for Dottie (when she was very young), by 1969 it had become a storage area for junk. A musty, old black steamer trunk occupied the room’s immediate center. One single dim light bulb hung from a cord above the trunk. It could only be turned on and off by way of a switch on a panel located upstairs, in the kitchen.

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The former Sortor family home on Nassau Drive, as it appeared in 2014. (St. Louis, Missouri)

We closed the door to the room, so as not to be disturbed, and seated ourselves facing each other on top of the old trunk. Placing the board securely on our laps between us, we began to ask it questions. At first, nothing. It was a while before the planchette began to actually move. Then it did. The movements, at first, seemed to be slow and jerky. In time, they became more fluid and quick. Dottie immediately accused me of doing it. I, in turn, returned the favor. We then began to giggle, thinking how ridiculous this all seemed. While we were both still young children, each of us knew enough to understand that such things were “not scientifically logical or possible.” So, we furthered by starting to ask the board stupid questions, “condescending it,” and mocking it’s alleged abilities. This, apparently, was the “wrong way” to go about it; as the planchette soon began to swing wildly about. At one point, it seemed to even lift slightly “off the board,” sticking to our tiny fingertips–as if suspended there. Still believing each other was responsible for moving the planchette, we went from giggling about it to all-out laughter.  It was then that the light bulb above us began to sputter and spark. Our laughter subsided, as we both glanced up uneasily, looking towards the failing bulb. Then it went dark; suddenly and without warning.

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Grandpa Joe—whose spooky tales from his early Chester days (top two photos) served as the primary catalyst for Dottie and I’s 1969 Ouija board undertaking. *Bottom photo is from 1969 (St. Louis).

I could feel a sudden chill come over me. So dark was the room itself, that all I could see was a narrow slit of light, creeping in beneath the closed door. I couldn’t see Dottie at all, at first. Then I began to slowly make out her darkened silhouette. She seemed to be frozen in place; shaking. Then I heard her. She called out to her mother, Dolores (who was upstairs). We assumed her mother had turned off the upstairs light switch by mistake, not knowing we were both down there. Dottie’s voice and vocal tone grew panicked, “Mom, turn on the light! Turn on the light! Turn on the light!” But once we heard Dolores’ footsteps coming into the kitchen, we knew the light switch had not been touched. We heard her stop when she reached the light panel. “The light is on,” she called out to us. As soon as she said that (almost as if prompted), the light bulb  suddenly “POPPED” back on and grew extremely bright in intensity (unlike previously).

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Gary’s original Ouija board. Look—but “don’t touch” (whatever you do).

Dottie screamed, leaping from the trunk and grappling blindly for the door knob. Soon, she was tearing out of the room and fleeing back up the stairs to safety. I was left holding the Ouija board, with the planchette dangling loosely from my finger tips. I then followed her. My heart was pounding. I couldn’t think; only react. By the time I reached the summit of the staircase, I felt light-headed, weak, drained. We returned the board to its original spot inside the living room closet…and never went near it again. I raced back home, eager to tell my Grandpa Joe about what had just happened. He was not surprised. Remaining unimpressed, all he could do was snicker back, “I told you so,” he said, continuing to read his newspaper, never lifting his eyes from the page.

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Gary Sortor—shortly before his death.

In the early 2000s, I visited the Sortor home during a brief stopover from Oklahoma (where I had since moved). I brought up the 1969 Ouija board incident while talking to Gary. It was then I discovered that not only was it his old Ouija board that we had used that day, but that it was still sitting in the home’s living room closet-right where Dottie and I had originally left it, all those many years ago! For sentimental sake and value, I asked Gary if he wouldn’t mind “giving me the old board…as a kind of memento?” He complied, but not for free–for twenty dollars. I left with it, tucked beneath my arm, taking it with me back to Oklahoma. Shortly afterwards, I was informed Gary had “suddenly died.”

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100% WEIRD—After a stray dog attacked and bit Gary’s dog Pokey in 1997, Pokey’s hair color at the bite spot mysteriously changed from his own hair color…to the other dog’s hair color!

I returned to the Sortor home a year or so later to touch base with his older brother Kenny. Kenny; a local amateur wrestler, Vietnam Vet and unofficial crowd mascot for two former St. Louis indoor soccer teams, welcomed me by informing me “Gary is haunting the house.” Dolores confirmed the strange happenings that had been taking place there since Gary’s death. Lights would turn on and turn off, and flicker. The television set in her bedroom would be found on, after it had previously been turned off.  A generic store-purchased framed picture that hung on the wall in the den, above where Gary usually sat, was repeatedly found tilted. “Gary had always disliked that picture, for some reason,” Kenny explained. Strangest of all; what appeared to be “human footprints” began showing up in the new plush carpeting that Kenny and his mother installed following Gary’s death. The prints were found coming out of the room Gary had formerly occupied (which originally was brother Terry’s old room).

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Dolores Sortor (left), visiting my Grandma Mary in 1969. Dolores originally purchased the Ouija board for Gary.

Kenny had recently moved into this room. Because he and Gary had the same general foot size, I suggested that the footprints were most likely his–meaning Kenny’s. Kenny gawked back at me with a patronizing glare. “With FOUR toes?” he barked back. See…apparently, before Gary died (while still in the hospital and suffering from diabetes), it had become necessary for doctors to remove the little toe from one of his feet. The imprint in the plush carpeting, ironically, came from the same foot that Gary’s toe had been removed from! Dolores Sortor acknowledged the “strange happenings” in the house. Asking her, “Aren’t you frightened?” She told me, “No. When it happens, and the lights start flickering and such, I just say ‘GARY, QUIT IT,’ and they stop.”

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Me—with Kenny Sortor, promoting Back to Da Nang (my 1995 documentary) featuring footage Kenny filmed in 1971 whilst serving with the U.S. Army’s 196th Light Infantry “Charger” Brigade in South Vietnam.

Kenny died in 2008, at the age of 56. His mother Dolores followed him in death two weeks later. The house was immediately sold, and for a mere “$6000,” I was told. No explanation was given as to why. The neighborhood where the house is located is no stranger to “unusual phenomena.” Ghosts and tragedies have long vexed and perplexed many of the households on the block. Back in early 1987, Dolores and daughter Dottie had been visiting my Grandma Mary, two houses away. With Dolores driving, they were in the process of backing out of my grandmother’s driveway. They watched her standing there, at the front door, waving back and smiling (as she always did). Behind her, Dottie noticed something “odd.” It was Grandpa Joe. He wasn’t doing anything, just standing there behind my grandmother. The strange part about it was, Grandpa Joe had died…three weeks earlier, inside that very house.

Ghostly Message From Beyond?

St. Louis & St. Charles, Missouri

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Dengler’s haunted cigar store building
on Main Street in St. Charles, Missouri.

We had been at a local area toy show and I had brought my father’s digital camera along to take some pictures. On a whim, I talked my traveling companion into driving across the Missouri River bridge into nearby St. Charles. There was a “haunted cigar store” on Main Street that I wanted him to see. Dengler’s  cigar store was formerly home to Missouri’s very first governor. The old brick two-story has been used for many things over the years since, including a boarding house. In the 1800s, there had even been slaves housed in special quarters in the cellar. There had also been a death in the building; a firefighter. It was his ghost that some suspect as having a predilection for “pinching and pestering” some of the women clientele who visit there. Other ghosts no doubt inhabit the historic landmark, but I only had personal knowledge of the one; told to me by the building’s current owner and proprietor.

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My father’s computer room. For two weeks-plus following his death, the computer would repeatedly turn on by itself in the middle of the night, and immediately shut down if I tried to enter the room.

My father had passed away earlier in the year. Since then, I had found myself beleaguered by a whole host of personal and financial problems as a result. Detouring my attention for the day provided a welcome distraction from all the misery. For two and a half weeks following my father’s death, his apartment (that we shared) exhibited what could only be described as “highly peculiar activity.”

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The phone in the room where my father died. Following his death, it would light up in the middle of the night, like “a call was coming in,” but would never ring audibly. The display would then go abruptly dark if I tried to pick it up to answer.

My father’s personal home computer would turn itself on in the dead of night, then shut down suddenly whenever I noticed the light coming from the room and moved in to check it out. In life, he had spent many a day into the long nights in this room, and on this computer. It finally stopped one day, after the computer’s hard drive suddenly crashed. That was at the end of this two and a half week run, I speak of. My father’s bedroom phone had also developed this same habit. It was this particular phone that had been lying next to him when he passed. The phone’s display face would light up, as if a call were “coming through.” But when I tried picking it up to answer, the light on the panel would suddenly go dark. After the computer went down, the strange phone activity stopped. It had been quiet and uneventful at the apartment ever since.

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Magician Paul Wood, performing while in the Army during the 1950s.

His name was Paul Wood. A former professional magician in St. Louis, he appeared regularly on  television in fellow prestidigitator Ernie Heldman’s locally-produced show Parade of Magic, beginning in late 1948. He gave up magic following his military stint with the Army (1953-55). He and my mother (a local nightclub singer) married in 1955–and divorced in 1980. I moved in with him in February of 2012, shortly before his 80th birthday. I lived with him a year. Then, in February of 2013 (almost a year to the day I moved in with him) he died. Just like that. Doctors were unable to determine an actual cause of death, but believed he had passed away in his sleep after suffering a heart attack.

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Inside the cigar store, showing the “lettering” across my jacket. Inset to lower right: a reversed mirror image of the same area.

Back to St. Charles and the cigar store…”Take a picture,” I told my friend, having brought along my father’s personal digital camera. “Just in case anything strange might want to show up on the film,” I added, jokingly. We both laughed. He took a few pictures, and that was that. We left. It was only later, after reviewing the photos my friend took that day that I noticed something odd about one of them. What looked like “white, bright letters” were emblazoned across the front of my jacket. It was obvious they were a result of where I happened to be standing at the moment, but an anomaly nonetheless. Still, I found the phenomenon a little “too conveniently odd.” See, the interior of the cigar store is predominantly dark, with high shelving and lacy curtains blocking out the majority of outside light. The sun on this day was playing “peek-a-boo” with the clouds, so it made only sparse and occasional appearances. For it to have found its way through the crevice of a curtain the way in which it had to in order to reach me in such an exact and peculiar fashion, was unusually bizarre.

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Closer view of same reversed mirror image
(viewed in negative) of the “lettering.”

My father’s death had been weighing heavy on my thoughts that day; much more so than usual. Having heard stories about “after life communications” from the grave, I flipped the image around in my father’s old computer once I had failed to make sense of the “lettering” the way it appeared. It was then I felt a sudden chill race up the back of my spine.  These “letters” do seem to suggest something, I thought to myself. Perhaps they were “a message”? From left to right, across the jacket, the “lettering” appeared to be P – W – I – M and S. Ironically, my father’s initials were “P and W” (i.e. Paul Wood). Even stranger were the last three (I – M and S). In the months prior to his death, I had noticed my father had become quite fond of using the phrase “I’m Sorry.” Could the last three “letters” have stood for that? I and M; standing for “I’m,” and the “S”–perhaps an abbreviation for the word “sorry”? Was it true message from beyond the grave? Or just idle randomness and perfect lighting conditions? I’ll never know for sure…but still, it does make me wonder a bit…and often.

Uncle Dewey and the Bigfoot

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Me—with my Uncle Dewey (in 1968) in Camden, Arkansas. Aunt Clara is behind the screen door, inside. My uncle’s hunting dog “Dewey” (he named the dog after himself) is in the middle. The dog was not along at the time my uncle encountered the creature.

 Camden, Arkansas

Dewey Greeson had lived in Arkansas all his life. Married to my Grandma Ina’s sister, Clara, Dewey loved hunting and fishing. He preferred the more isolated reaches of the woods, if he could get there. Usually accompanied by a friend during deer season, he would set off into the wilds and thickets, not to return until he had “bagged a good one.” One minor distinction Camden has in regards to where it is located, is that it is less than a hundred miles from Fouke—where the “Fouke Monster” sightings took place, and of which 1972’s Legend of Boggy Creek was based on. In addition, Camden lies southeast from Ouachita National Forest, where Bigfoot sightings have been taking place for decades. As it has been a generally-accepted “working theory” among researchers over the years that Bigfoot creatures “may migrate,” one might expect one or two of them to have passed through the Camden area at one time or another.

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Illustration of a hunter encountering the “Boggy Creek” Bigfoot creature of Fouke, Arkansas.

“Dewey saw one of those things,” Clara said, looking over to her sister Ina, who was sitting on the couch. Grandma Ina and I had traveled down to Camden from St. Louis in late summer 1976. We had stopped off in Little Rock to see relatives and then onto Hot Springs to rest up a night. My grandmother was taking a much-needed rest break from all the poltergeist activity that was happening at her St. Ann, Missouri home at the time. Once in Camden, there wasn’t much to do except sit inside the house and talk. Aunt Clara was being dead serious when she made the remark about Uncle Dewey seeing a “Bigfoot.” She had never been one to “make up stories.” In fact, I don’t remember her having any kind of a sense of humor? Neither she—nor my Uncle Dewey. Raised in Arkadelphia (about 50 miles north from Camden), Clara never drifted far from home. While her other siblings moved on to larger communities like Little Rock, she would remain happily in Camden for the remainder of her life.

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Aunt Clara and me–in 1968.
(Camden, Arkansas)

Clara and Ina had not seen each other since their husbands had passed away—Dewey in 1975 (the year before our visit), and Hank in 1974 (one year before Dewey). I found myself always intrigued by stories of Bigfoot creatures. Shortly before our trip to Camden I decided to stroll across the parking lot behind my Grandma Ina’s haunted St. Ann home (just south of Lambert Field Airport in St. Louis County) to see a new Bigfoot documentary hosted by actor Peter Graves; The Mysterious Monsters—which was showing at the St. Ann Cinema (adjacent to the St. Ann Drive-In). The movie opened in August of 1976 (see original ad). I didn’t envision at the time I saw it that my Aunt Clara would have a Bigfoot story of her own to tell. We even had one in Missouri once—a Bigfoot. It was nicknamed “MoMo” (i.e. “Missouri Monster”). First reported in 1971 (90 miles north of St. Louis), sightings of the creature continued into the ensuing years. Then—in early 1973, UFO reports suddenly began popping up in nearby Piedmont, Missouri (130 miles south of St. Louis). I remember the Piedmont phenomenon quite well, as a neighbor friend’s father owned a small hunting cabin down there at the time all this “UFO business” was going on. He would sometimes take kids from the neighborhood down with him on weekends to help out fixing his cabin up. For some reason, I never seemed to be around on these occasions (so I never got invited). When the neighborhood kids returned, bragging about their own experiences of seeing these same strange lights in the Piedmont skies, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit “cheated.” Because the Piedmont reports and St. Louis-area “MoMo” sightings overlapped at certain points, some believe the two might have been connected? This theory is nothing new. The proposed “Bigfoot-Alien” connection has been floating around for years. No one as of yet has been able to prove it though.

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1970’s Piedmont UFO scare and MoMo—the Missouri Monster. Two stories that wouldn’t go away. Were they connected?

While no known UFO sightings were ever reported in regards to any of the Arkansas Bigfoot sightings, widespread reports involving each started flooding out of rural parts of Pennsylvania in late 1973, suggesting the two may indeed be related after all? Was Bigfoot really a “space alien” (as the supermarket tabloids were postulating)? Or was Bigfoot some kind of  “extraterrestrial pet” that often came along for the ride? Whatever the case, the debate continues. I remembered Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) more than anything else. Unlike The Mysterious Monsters it profiled an incident that had taken place not far from where my Aunt Clara then-currently lived. Because I knew Camden was close to Fouke I happened to bring up the subject. That’s when Aunt Clara mentioned Dewey’s encounter. “He was way far back in the hills…near some train tracks or something,” my aunt said. “They (Dewey and a hunting buddy) were tracking a deer they spotted. They were closing in on it and were about to come out of the woods into a clearing. That’s when they saw it.”

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Me and Grandma Ina, as we looked one year after our visit to Camden. I was graduating from high school in St. Louis. Photo taken at my parent’s University City home in June of 1977.

According to Dewey, Clara said the creature was “very tall and very hairy.” Dewey said it “didn’t appear to be doing much, just meandering about.” Clara was steadfast that Dewey was not joking when he told her this. “He said that it was like an ‘ape man,’ walking upright on both legs the whole time,” Clara said. “They watched it for a little while, before it finally moved off and was gone.” So was Dewey’s white-tailed deer. Clara said he returned that night, empty handed and highly agitated by the whole affair. When he tried telling people about it, he soon discovered they wouldn’t believe him, even “mocking him.” Humiliated and angry, Clara said Dewey finally gave up talking about it and never mentioned it again.

map ark234Interestingly, just four months before Dewey died, a young Camden man was on his way home from work. It was dark at the time. He was in a sharp turn on the road, when his headlights hit something “strange,” crossing the blacktop ahead of him. His description (though vague), matched closely with what Dewey said he’d seen–“a giant hairy animal, like a man but not a man…walking on two legs.” The young man had never known my aunt or uncle personally, but was certain of what he’d seen for himself that night on the road. “Whatever you want to call it, I saw it. It was real. And it was here…in Camden.”

St. Ann’s Poltergeist; Grandma Ina’s Haunted Home

St. Ann, Missouri

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My grandmother’s former St. Ann “poltergeist” house—as it appeared in 1998 (20 years later).

Grandma Ina did not take up residency in her St. Ann house until May 1975. By then, eight months had elapsed since the tragedy at the previous home in Bridgeton, Missouri. Married to her third husband, Henry Jeglenski, an immigrant from Warsaw, Poland (who came to America as a boy, shortly before the Nazi takeover),  “Hank” (as he was known to his friends) had recently become despondent over escalating health issues. He shot himself on Labor Day 1974. The weather in St. Louis that day had been unusually rainy and cold for that time of year. Hank would die two days later at nearby St. John’s Mercy Hospital.

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The suicide house on Foxwood Drive in Bridgeton, Missouri. Grandma and Hank (inset) in the upstairs living room. And the home’s lower level basement den area, where shooting occurred.

His widow; Ina (my grandmother, on my mother’s side of the family), sold the Foxwood Drive in Bridgeton the following month, approximately one week before Halloween. She would remain in seclusion for eight months, before resurfacing as the new owner of a smaller residence located in St. Ann, a suburb of St. Louis County. Only minutes from her previous one, she and Hank had once considered purchasing it instead of the one in Bridgeton. Unavailable at the time though, the Bridgeton property became he and Ina’s first home instead. Before that, they had lived in apartments and mobile homes. They married in 1968 ( photo ) at a Lutheran church in Bel Nor…located just around the corner and down the block from the now-famous 1949 exorcism house which served as inspiration for author William Peter Blatty’s fictional novel about demonic possession—The Exorcist.

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Hank (left) in 1970, on his beloved “The Land” in St. Charles County. I’m seated next to him (age 11), alongside my Grandma Ina and her daughter Marilyn (my mother).

An employee at nearby McDonnell Douglas Aircraft, Hank worked there as a technical illustrator. He would eventually invest in 115 acres of rural undeveloped land in St. Charles County. It was an investment that he hoped would pay off with a profit. It did. The Bridgeton home would be later purchased using that “profit” money. Affectionately dubbed “The Land,” Hank was cautioned against tearing down the last remaining remnant of the former homestead which had once stood there; an old dilapidated barn, who some in the area believed was “haunted.” Whether is was or whether it was not, Hank eventually hired a local contractor to tear it down, before putting the property up for sale.

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McDonnell Douglas concept art illustration–painted by Hank in 1973.

Hank had always been in perfect health. Following the sale of the St. Charles property (and the tearing down of that so-called “haunted barn”) Hank’s health began to decline. Problems with his eyes was soon followed by accelerated diabetes. He developed leg problems, heart problems, and was soon being treated for acute depression. It was like all the luck he had once had was now used up. Fearing that he might soon become “a burden” to Ina, he shot himself on Labor Day (1974) with a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson. He met death forty-eight hours later (his death certificate) with his head still heavily wrapped in bloody bandages, without ever having regained consciousness.

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Memorial Park Cemetery (St. Louis, Missouri)

The disturbances inside the St. Ann house did not begin immediately. There was a four month period, between its initial purchase on May 2nd (1975) and late August/early September, when all was normal, quiet and uneventful. Then, right around the first anniversary since Hank’s death, “strange things” began to take place there. The first I became aware of it was when my mother received a phone call late one evening from a “very frightened” Grandma Ina. There was no calming her down. She insisted that my father come over immediately. At the time, we lived in University City. Not far away, the trip over there would have been an inconvenience at best, but since both of my parents worked and had to get up early, whatever was happening over there would have to wait. “But there is someone living in my attic!” she whispered. “I can hear them walking around up there!”

carmine77

Me—with my early graduation present from high school, a 1976 Ford Maverick. Behind me is the “cold room,” where Hank’s personal effects were stored.

My grandmother had placed all of her late husband’s personal effects in a small connecting room that had been built to merge the main house with the formerly detached garage. Had Hank lived, this room would have become his private work den. Intended as merely a sun room, it was not wired for any electricity, nor was it climate controlled. Whatever the outside temperature was, that’s what this room would more than likely reflect. However, no feasible explanation could be given how when in the high heat of August (with temperatures pressing near 100 degrees), why this particular room would continually feel “ice cold.” A faintness-like dizziness seemed to come over anyone who remained in this room for an extended period of time. In the adjacent garage, garden tools which Hank had once owned and used kept falling off their hooks and wall mounts. Shovels, rakes, hedge clippers and other items could be heard on a semi-regular basis falling loudly onto the garage floor. This would usually occur in the middle of the night, shortly before bedtime.

cherie2

Meeting KTVI Channel 2 news anchor Cherie Bank at Northwest Plaza on Labor Day (1977). I wanted her to do a story about the house. It was the third anniversary of Hank’s death—and the second year of the haunting.

Disembodied “male moaning” seemed to come out of the walls at other times. Floorboards up in the attic would constantly “creak” as if someone were slowly and carefully navigating themselves atop the narrow rafters. Echoed “knocking” that seem to emanate from inside the walls, were continually being mistaken for late-night knocks at the front door. Grandma Ina was most alarmed by the strange “pops” she heard, coming from the attic in the middle of the night. She described them as sounding like “gunshots.” My mother, Marilyn,  never believed in ghosts. But after spending one night in the house, I heard her tell my father “I’ll never stay over there again.” Recently retired, my grandmother returned to work, cleaning rooms at a nearby hotel  and working in a neighboring funeral parlor so she wouldn’t have to spend more time in the house than absolutely necessary.  This was something the house, however, “did not take well.” “I think my house is haunted,” she began to tell friends. But all they did was scoff back at her. They suggested it was “probably the car pole speakers at the St. Ann Drive-in,” which sat directly behind the house.

drive old in

The entrance to the old St. Ann Drive-In. The lane the cars entering would take to purchase tickets ran right alongside my grandmother’s backyard privacy fence (see photo) which blocked the house from view.

But she knew better. When the disturbances first began, the drive-in had already closed for the season. My father continued the routine of checking out her attic every time we would come over for a visit. By 1978, she had enough. Her nerves were frayed. She sold the house on Little Flower Lane and moved out. “Something” had obviously happened in those last nights that had led up to her abrupt decision to sell it. She would never talk about “what” had happened, only to say that leaving there when she did, was “for the best.” Her new home was much smaller, but more peaceful. It was just another house. Located just a mile or so away from the more “troubled home,” the only complaint she ever had about it, was that it was too small. “I wish I had kept the one on Little Flower Lane,” she would sometimes say, years later. By then, age and senility had set in and she had forgotten the reasons why she had gotten rid of it in the first place. She passed away in January of 1993, and is laid to rest in the same St. Louis cemetery as her beloved Hank.