‘Come Prepared to Stay Forever.’ The Story of ‘Hell’s Belle’— the Female Serial Killer of Gunnes Farm

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Serial Killer, Belle Gunness—is said to have murdered 40 young men, burying their remains in a “hog lot” on her Indiana farm. (The Lineup)


One man stood trial for her presumed death…and revealed her horrifying secrets…

On April 28, 1908, Belle Gunness’ farmhouse was burned to the ground. The bodies of an adult female and Gunness’ three children were found inside. However, the adult female body has never been conclusively identified as Gunness—as the corpse was found decapitated. Gunness’ jealous former lover, Ray Lamphere, was tried for her murder, but was only found guilty of arson.

Lamphere died of tuberculosis in 1909, after serving only one year in prison. But on January 14, 1910, Reverend E.A. Schell—who had comforted the dying Lamphere—came forward with a startling confession. Lamphere told the reverend of Gunness’ crimes and that she was still alive—having killed her children and a woman that she then dressed as herself, hoping that those who found the bodies would think Gunness also perished, before setting fire to her own home. But that wasn’t the end of it: According to the Lamphere, Gunness had murdered over 40 men—baiting potential suitors with newspaper ads, and then killing them and burying their bodies in her hog pen.

Lillian de la Torre’s stunning Edgar Award finalist tells the true story of the woman who led a secret life as a serial killer in the early 20th-century Midwest.

There was a widespread burning interest in “the Gunness system” of matrimonial bait. The federal government turned a severe eye on courtship by mail, and the press published everything it could dig up on the subject. From the editor of Skandinaven, a Norwegian-language paper, newsmen extracted the text of Belle’s last ad. The indefatigable woman had opened a new campaign in March, 1908, announcing to the world:

WANTED—A WOMAN WHO owns a beautifully located and valuable farm in first class condition, wants a good and reliable man as partner in the same. Some little cash is required for which will be furnished first-class security.

This no-nonsense appeal was designed to fetch good solid farmers, and it fetched them. A Mr. Carl Peterson had been attracted. When the Gunness system became front-page news, he came forward with the come-on letter that Belle had written to him. It was dated April 14, 1908, just two weeks before the fire, and it told him crisply:

There have been other answers to the same advertisement. As many as fifty have been received. I have picked out the most respectable, and I have decided that yours is such.

My idea is to take a partner to whom I can trust everything and as we have no acquaintance ourselves I have decided that every applicant I have considered favorably must make a satisfactory deposit of cash or security. I think that is the best way for parties to keep away grafters who are always looking for such opportunities, as I have had experience with them, as I can prove.

Now if you think that you are able some way to put up $1,000 cash, we can talk matters over personally. If you cannot, is it worth while to consider? I would not care for you as a hired man, as I am tired of that and need a little rest in my home and near my children. I will close for this time.

With friendly regards,

MRS. P. S. GUNNESS

Mr. Peterson was lucky. He did not have $1,000.

Still luckier, in his own opinion, was Mr. George Anderson of Tarkio, Missouri. He had answered an earlier ad, he told the press, liked the lady’s replies, and decided to go to La Porte and look things over.

On the second day of his visit, Mrs. Gunness asked him point-blank how much money he had. He had only $300, but he had a big farm in Missouri. Belle told him to go home and sell it and come back with the cash.

That night, in the small hours, Mr. Anderson woke with a start. Mrs. Gunness was bending over his bed. When he spoke, she ran out.

Mr. Anderson took fright. On the instant he dressed and ran away. Perhaps because he felt he had made a fool of himself, he told nobody of his alarming adventure.

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Gunness and her children. (Public Domain)

Some people wondered if he should have been so very much alarmed. Ole Budsberg, they pointed out, had been perfectly safe at Belle’s—until he went home and sold out.

Then what was Belle after? Did she bring her suitors love before she brought them death? Was that the charm she used to make grown men willingly give up to her every cent they had?

Thinking of the hog lot, Mr. Anderson was still shuddering over his narrow escape. He recalled how Myrtle had looked at him as on a doomed man. “She would eye me with a pitiful look,” he recalled, “and when I glanced at her during a meal she would turn white as a sheet.”

Frank Riedinger of Delafield, Wisconsin, also went to visit Mrs. Gunness. A letter came back, not in his handwriting, to say he had decided to “go West.” When the hog lot gave up its secrets, those he left behind too quickly lost hope and sold him out. Riedinger, who had in fact left La Porte in one piece, had to sue before he could convince them that he was alive and could claim his possessions.

People all over the country were convinced that missing relatives had ended up in the hog lot. Sheriff Smutzer was pestered to death about it. When a wayward girl eloped, when a henpecked husband deserted his wife, the first thing the bereaved thought of was the Gunness farm. Inquiries poured in. Some were foolish. Others made sense. At least ten other Norwegian men, the inquiries showed, had taken their savings and gone off to La Porte, never to return. Were their bones still buried somewhere on the farm? If Smutzer kept notes on disappearing fellows that he really ought to dig for, they must have read something like this:

George Berry left home in July, 1905, saying he was going “to work for Mrs. Gunness.” He had $1,500. Provisionally identified as the second body in Gurholt’s grave in the hog lot.

Herman Konitzer took $5,000 and left home “to marry a wealthy widow in La Porte” in January, 1906. Posted one letter from La Porte.

Christian Hinkley, Chetek, Wisconsin, in the spring of 1906 sold his farm for $2,000 and left. Changed his Decorah Posten subscription to La Porte. La Porte post office testified that Mrs. Gunness received mail as Mrs. Hinkley.

Olaf Jensen, 23, Norwegian, in May, 1906, wrote to his mother in Norway that he had reflected on a matrimonial ad in Skandinaven and decided to marry the lady, a widow from Norway who lived in La Porte. Went down for a visit, returned home to turn his belongings into cash, and went back to La Porte. Never seen since.

Charles Neiburg, 28, left Philadelphia in June, 1906, saying that he was going to marry Mrs. Gunness. Took $500 in cash with him. Had a hobby of answering matrimonial ads.

Abraham Phillips, Belington, West Virginia, told relatives he was leaving to marry a rich widow in Indiana. Had a big roll of bills, a diamond ring, a Railway Trainmen badge. Disappeared in February, 1907. A railroad watch turned up in the ashes of the Gunness house.

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The headless body of an unidentified woman and the bodies of Gunness’ three children were found in Gunness’ home when it burnt to the ground. Also found was a charred railroad watch. Interestingly, one of Gunness’ victims, Abraham Phillips Belington of West Virginia, had told relatives he was leaving to “marry a rich widow in Indiana”; he took with him a big roll of bills, a diamond ring, and his Railway Trainmen badge. He disappeared in February, 1907. The watch found in the ashes is assumed to have belonged to Bellington.  (Murderpedia)

Tonnes Peter Lien saw an ad, sold his farm, and left Rushford, Minnesota, for La Porte to marry Mrs. Gunness. His brother reported that he helped to sew $1,000 in bills in the sleeve of Tonnes Peter’s coat, and asked if a heavy silver watch initialed “P. L.” had been found. It had. Since Lien left home April 2, 1907, and all burials about that time were accounted for, his body had not been found.

E. J. Thiefland of Minneapolis sought by a private detective. Described as a tall man with a sandy mustache. Saw an ad in a Minneapolis paper on August 8, 1906. Corresponded with Mrs. Gunness. On April 27, 1907, wrote to his sister saying he was going down to La Porte “to see if this lady is on the square.” Never heard of since.

Emil Tell took $5,000 in May, 1907, and left Osage City, Kansas, to marry a rich widow in La Porte. Q. Was he the man with the pointed beard seen at the Gunness place in June, 1907?

John E. Bunter of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, fifty-two, light gray hair, left saying he planned to marry a widow in Indiana. Went away on November 25, 1907. Q. Did he accompany Mrs. Gunness into Oberreich’s in December to buy a wedding ring?

S. B. Smith missing. Ring initialed S. B. found in ruins.

Paul Ames disappeared. Initials P. A. on ring found in ashes …

Sheriff Smutzer soon admitted that there needed to be more digging. By fits and starts more digging went on…

In a disused privy vault they found a detached head of a woman with long blonde hair. They never found the woman’s body that went with it, and they never found out who the woman might be.

They never found the man’s head that was missing from Gurholt’s grave.

(Source: The Lineup)


Nightmare at Murder Farm: The Story of One of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killers

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Men digging for victims’ remains in the “hog pit” on Belle Gunness’ farm. Laporte, Indiana. (Laporte Historical Society)

Children in La Porte, Indiana grow up listening to graphic horror stories about the gruesome murder’s committed by Belle Gunness on her farm at the end of McClung Road. The most disturbing part about these grisly stories is that the gory parts are not fiction. Belle Gunness (also known as Lady Bluebeard, The LaPorte Black Widow, The Mistress of Murder Farm, and Hell’s Belle) was probably one of America’s most prolific serial killers who likely killed between 25 and 30 people, including women and children, at the turn of the 20th century.

Belle’s crimes were discovered on April 28th, 1908 when authorities were called out to the Gunness farm to investigate a fire that razed the farmhouse. When officials combed through the ashes they found the remains of a headless woman and three children. The remains were thought to belong to Lucy and Myrtle Sorenson, ages 9 and 11 respectively, and Phillip Gunness, 5.

During the investigation, Asle Helgelien showed up and insisted that his brother, Andrew, had been murdered by Belle earlier that year. When investigators searched the property, they unearthed the butchered remains of at least 11 people buried near the hog pen on the farm. Crime scene photograph below, shows the remains identified to be those of Andrew Helgelien.

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The remains of Andrew Helgelien, one of Gunness’ victims, 1908. 

Rumors circulated for the next 100 years that Hell’s Belle didn’t actually die in the fire and she probably faked her death. So in 2007, forensic anthropologist Stephen Nawrocki, and a group of graduate students from the University of Indianapolis exhumed Belle Gunness’ grave at the Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois to see if they could positively identify her body.

When the research team exhumed Gunness’ coffin and sifted through the bones and dirt they found the bones of children comingled with Belle’s remains. This is odd because the remains of the three children recovered from the farmhouse in 1908 were buried separately. In 2008 Nawrocki and his team returned to the Chicago-area cemetery and exhumed the graves of Lucy, Myrtle, and Phillip.

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Human remains from the 1908 police investigation of the Belle Gunnes serial murders. 

The forensic team had to answer some lingering questions. Did Belle Gunness really die in the fire in 1908? Did the children’s bones, found in Belle’s coffin, belong to her children or did they belong to additional victims?

“Come prepared to stay forever.”

Belle Sorenson Gunness (November 11, 1859 – April 28, 1908) left her native Norway in 1881, at the age of 21, to travel to Chicago. She married her first husband, Mads Sorenson, three years later in 1884. The couple opened an unsuccessful confectionery store that burned down under strange circumstances almost a year later. Belle and Mads collected the insurance on the business to pay for a new home. They had two biological children that survived infancy, Myrtle (b. 1897) and Lucy (b. 1899), and one foster child, Jennie Olsen.

Mads died on July 30, 1900, coincidentally, on the only day his two life insurance policies overlapped. The first doctor to examine Mads’ body believed he suffered from strychnine poisoning. But the Sorensons’ family doctor, who had been treating him for an enlarged heart, overruled the first doctor and determined that Mads died of heart failure. Shortly after Mad’s death, Belle moved to LaPorte, IN where she purchased the 42-acre farm at the end of McClung road.

She soon met a local butcher, Peter Gunness, and they married in April 1902. One week after the marriage, Peter’s infant daughter died while Belle was watching her.Peter died less than a year when a sausage grinder and jar of hot water allegedly fell on him. In this case the coroner believed Peter had been murdered, he showed symptoms of strychnine poisoning, and ordered an inquest.

Because the Belle played a convincing widow in mourning, and there was no hard evidence to convict her, she walked away a free woman and collected on another husband’s life insurance policies. But she was pregnant at the time of Peter’s death, and in 1903 the widow gave birth to a son, Philip Gunness.

 

The La Porte Black Widow was quick to recover and put ads in the “matrimonial columns” of Midwestern Norwegian-language newspapers.

(See an actual newspaper “want add” placed by Gunness herself quoted above.)

Many men answered these ads and traveled to La Porte to meet Belle. In December of 1907, Andrew Helgelien, a bachelor farmer from Aberdeen, SD was one of these men and exchanged letters with Gunness. In January of 1908 he received a passionate letter from Belle that closed with the ominous line, “Come prepared to stay forever.” Andrew promptly emptied his bank accounts and left North Dakota to meet Belle. That was the last his family ever saw or heard from him.

Gruesome Discovery

Early in the morning on April 28th, 1908, a fire destroyed the Gunness farmhouse. When the embers cooled, town authorities found the headless body of a woman, believed to be Belle Gunness, and three of her children of Lucy and Myrtle Sorenson, and Phillip Gunness.

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Human remains such as those shown here were discovered buried in the “hog pit on the Gunness Farm in Laporte, Indiana, 1908.

Initially, investigators believed Gunness was the innocent victim of foul play, until Asle Helgelien arrived in La Porte to look for his brother, Andrew. Asle insisted his brother had met with foul play at the hands of Belle, and he insisted they needed to search the farm for his remains. Investigators soon found the dismembered bodies of at least 11 people, which included three adolescents, an infant, and a woman. One of the belonged to Belle’s foster daughter Jennie Olsen, who was last seen in 1906. The butchered body parts were found in gunny sacks buried near the hog pen.

Belle’s dentist said that if Belle’s head or dentures were found, he could positively identify her by examining her teeth. After searching the burnt out remains of the house, investigators found a piece of bridgework consisting of two human teeth, porcelain teeth, and gold crown work in between. The dentist identified them as the bridge he designed for Belle. The coroner’s inquest ruled that the headless female body found in the house belonged to Belle based on this evidence,

When authorities determined the fire was caused by arson Gunness’ farm hand, Ray Lamphere, became the prime suspect. In November 1908, Lamphere was convicted of setting the house on fire, but not of any of the murders. In January of 1910 Lamphere made a deathbed confession to a clergyman. He claimed that he didn’t kill anyone but he did help Belle dispose of the bodies. A list of Belle’s suspected victims can be found here.

Lamphere said that when a man answered an ad and came to the farm to meet Belle, she would invite her prey to dinner. During dinner she would either drug her date and hit him over the head with a meat cleaver, or poison the food with strychnine. Belle would butcher and dismember the corpse, then either feed the remains to the hogs or bury the body parts near the hog pen.

Lamphere also claimed that they traveled to Chicago a few days before the fire to find a body double for belle. They brought back a “housekeeper,” who Gunness killed and decapitated.

Since the men reported missing who visited Gunness outnumbered the bodies recovered, and since the authorities never searched the property thoroughly in 1908, many believe that that remains of many more victims were left on the property, and likely between 25 and 30 people.

Resurrection of a Killer

Many people believed that investigators mishandled and misinterpreted evidence in the early twentieth century, letting The Mistress of Murder Farm escape unscathed. Like Leatherface or Hannibal Lecter who survive to kill another day, Gunness sightings were reported for years after the fire.

The last sighting was in 1931, when a woman named Esther Carlson, who had an uncanny physical resemblance to Belle, died in Los Angeles while awaiting trial on charges she poisoned a man for his money. Not only did Carlson resemble Gunness, but she was also about the same age Belle would have been in 1931, Esther killed with Belle’s M.O., and there was no record of Carlson before 1908.

To find out if Belle and Esther were the same woman a team University of Indianapolis forensic anthropologists exhumed Belle’s coffin in November of 2007. When the coffin was opened, they were surprised to find the skeletal remains of two children comingled with the remains of a woman. The forensic team believed the mysterious remains could belong to other victims whose bones had been buried in the basement, and were carelessly scooped out of the ashes during the original investigation in 190

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Human remains found buried at Gunnes Farm, 1908.

To forensic anthropologist Stephen Nawrocki this confirmed that the initial 1908 investigations of the fire and murders were bungled. In 2008 the University of Indianapolis forensic team returned to the cemetery to exhume the graves of the three children found with Gunness’ body. They wanted to see if the three children buried in Chicago-area graves were missing the same bones found in the Gunness’ coffin. If not, it’s likely Belle killed more children than originally believed.

The family of one of Belle’s victims gave Nawrocki and his team an envelope sent from the LaPorte Black Widow to one of her suitors. Since the envelope was opened with a letter opener, it was believed that the saliva under the still-sealed envelope flap could contain DNA that the team could compare to the remains in the Gunness coffin. Nawrocki’s team also wanted to do test the DNA of the children’s bones found in the coffin to see if they were her biological offspring.

When the forensic anthropologists measured the bones they found in Gunness’ grave they found the adult remains belonged to a woman who would have stood between 5’6” and 5’9”. Since Gunness was 5’8” or 5’9”, depending on reports, she is well within this range of the bones in the coffin.

Was there a sequel? Did Hell’s Belle die in that fire on April 28th, 1908? The answer to those questions and many others seem unclear even today.

Nawrocki and the University of Indianapolis team were hoping to have DNA test results by the 100th anniversary of the fire on April 28th, 2008. But definitive answers still remained elusive.

The DNA samples on the envelope and stamp were too old to get a viable sample. At the time this article was written the results of the osteological exam of the children found in “Belle’s” coffin in 2008 were not released.

In 2008, one of Nawrocki’s students, Andrea Simmons, announced that she hoped to exhume the graves of Belle’s older sister and Esther Carlson to see if she could get a DNA match.

A version of this story was published on Atlas Obscura for their Morbid Monday series. And there are a number of affordable ebooks, some free, in Amazon.com that cover the story in varying degrees of detail.


For Reference:

Belle’s Story: The Short Version (2012). Retrieved on May 18, 2014 from:

http://www.laportelibrary.org/genealogy/bellegunness.html

Bien, K. (2011 November 14). HOMETOWN SECRETS: Mystery still surrounds 100-year-old LaPorte serial killer story. Retrieved on May 16, 2014 from: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/topic/wsbt-mystery-still-surrounds-100-year-old-laporte-serial-killer-story-20111114,0,7428674.story

Hartzell, T. (2007 November 18). Did Belle Gunness really die in LaPorte? Retrieved on May 16, 2014 from: http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2007-11-18/news/26809754_1_exhumed-three-children-dna

Kridel, K. (2008 February 17). Unlocking secrets of Indiana “murder farm.” Retrieved on May 16, 2014 from: http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2004186653_farmmurders17.html

Kridel, K. (2008 May 14). Children’s remains exhumed in 100-year-old murder mystery. Retrieved on May 16, 2014 from: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-05-14/news/0805130697_1_exhumed-murder-mystery-three-children

McFeely, D. (2008 January 6). DNA to help solve century-old case. Retrieved on May 18, 2014 from: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-01-06-GNS-murder-me_N.htm


Additional Reading

The following links may contain images of the remains of victims of the Gunnes Farm murders that are graphic and may be offensive to some readers. Please proceed with caution…

http://murderpedia.org/female.G/g/gunness-belle-photos-3.htm

***

http://genealogytrails.com/ind/laporte/belle2.html

http://www.allday.com/this-murderess-mastermind-made-a-fortune-killing-her-children-lovers-a-2180813712.html

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-05-14/news/0805130697_1_exhumed-murder-mystery-three-children

http://www.allday.com/this-murderess-mastermind-made-a-fortune-killing-her-children-lovers-a-2180813712.html

 

 

 

“The House of the Vampire” by George Sylvester Viereck

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“Belfry Haunt” by Joseph Vargo. (josephvargo.com)

The House of the Vampire

George Sylvester Viereck, 1907

I

The freakish little leader of the orchestra, newly imported from Sicily to New York, tossed his conductor’s wand excitedly through the air, drowning with musical thunders the hum of conversation and the clatter of plates.

Yet neither his apish demeanour nor the deafening noises that responded to every movement of his agile body detracted attention from the figure of Reginald Clarke and the young man at his side as they smilingly wound their way to the exit.

The boy’s expression was pleasant, with an inkling of wistfulness, while the soft glimmer of his lucid eyes betrayed the poet and the dreamer. The smile of Reginald Clarke was the smile of a conqueror. A suspicion of silver in his crown of dark hair only added dignity to his bearing, while the infinitely ramified lines above the heavy-set mouth spoke at once of subtlety and of strength. Without stretch of the imagination one might have likened him to a Roman cardinal of the days of the Borgias, who had miraculously stepped forth from the time-stained canvas and slipped into twentieth century evening-clothes.

With the affability of complete self-possession he nodded in response to greetings from all sides, inclining his head with special politeness to a young woman whose sea-blue eyes were riveted upon his features with a look of mingled hate and admiration.

The woman, disregarding his silent salutation, continued to stare at him wild-eyed, as a damned soul in purgatory might look at Satan passing in regal splendour through the seventy times sevenfold circles of hell.

Reginald Clarke walked on unconcernedly through the rows of gay diners, still smiling, affable, calm. But his companion bethought himself of certain rumours he had heard concerning Ethel Brandenbourg’s mad love for the man from whose features she could not even now turn her eyes. Evidently her passion was unreciprocated. It had not always been so. There was a time in her career, some years ago in Paris, when it was whispered that she had secretly married him and, not much later, obtained a divorce. The matter was never cleared up, as both preserved an uncompromising silence upon the subject of their matrimonial experience. Certain it was that, for a space, the genius of Reginald Clarke had completely dominated her brush, and that, ever since he had thrown her aside, her pictures were but plagiarisms of her former artistic self.

The cause of the rupture between them was a matter only of surmise; but the effect it had on the woman testified clearly to the remarkable power of Reginald Clarke. He had entered her life and, behold! the world was transfixed on her canvases in myriad hues of transcending radiance; he had passed from it, and with him vanished the brilliancy of her colouring, as at sunset the borrowed amber and gold fade from the face of the clouds.

The glamour of Clarke’s name may have partly explained the secret of his charm, but, even in circles where literary fame is no passport, he could, if he chose, exercise an almost terrible fascination. Subtle and profound, he had ransacked the coffers of mediæval dialecticians and plundered the arsenals of the Sophists. Many years later, when the vultures of misfortune had swooped down upon him, and his name was no longer mentioned without a sneer, he was still remembered in New York drawing-rooms as the man who had brought to perfection the art of talking. Even to dine with him was a liberal education.

Clarke’s marvellous conversational power was equalled only by his marvellous style. Ernest Fielding’s heart leaped in him at the thought that henceforth he would be privileged to live under one roof with the only writer of his generation who could lend to the English language the rich strength and rugged music of the Elizabethans.

Reginald Clarke was a master of many instruments. Milton’s mighty organ was no less obedient to his touch than the little lute of the troubadour. He was never the same; that was his strength. Clarke’s style possessed at once the chiselled chasteness of a Greek marble column and the elaborate deviltry of the late Renaissance. At times his winged words seemed to flutter down the page frantically like Baroque angels; at other times nothing could have more adequately described his manner than the timeless calm of the gaunt pyramids.

The two men had reached the street. Reginald wrapped his long spring coat round him.

“I shall expect you to-morrow at four,” he said.

The tone of his voice was deep and melodious, suggesting hidden depths and cadences.

“I shall be punctual.”

The younger man’s voice trembled as he spoke.

“I look forward to your coming with much pleasure. I am interested in you.”

Continue reading

The Purrinton Tragedy: Augusta, 1806

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‘I came across a good story while doing some research on the Augusta area, just the type of stuff you ghost hunters out there love to hear about. According to the story, A James Purrington moved from Bowdoinham to a farm on the Belgrade road and subsequently massacred his family with an ax and the committed suicide with a razor. Just another in a long line of oddities coming out of that little burg on the Kennebec River. Have you ever noticed that Bowdoinham’s phone numbers start with 666? … Spooks a lurking behind every door, and a skeleton in every closet, as they say.

Stories like this one, and the Mary Knight murder I posted on a while back are just a few of the interesting events that have occurred across Maine throughout her history. These two excerpts are from a couple of different texts that touch upon this event. You can click on the links to read the story in the original publications from the 1800’s.

I found it particularly interesting that Purrintons body was buried near the road, with a mention that gossip claims that Bowdoin College had secretly exhumed the body and taken it to the college for scientific research. Did the college indeed take the body? Maybe, maybe not, but this story would make a good research project for those interested in these sorts of events in Maine history. A century and six years have passed since that tragic day, and we ask, could the spirits of those poor children and Betsy Purrinton still roam that farmhouse on the Belgrade road?

Read the full article here…

Source: The Purrinton Tragedy: Augusta, 1806

Ghostly Houses

The infamous Amityville Horror house (left), located on Ocean Avenue in Long Island, New York; and Raynham Hall (right), in Norfolk, England are two of the most haunted places on Earth.

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Amityville House

The house at Ocean Avenue in the Amityville area of Long Island was the setting of one of the most frightening demonic/ghostly infestations in history involving a family of five—the Lutz family—who stayed in the house, which they had just purchased, for a mere 28 days, before fleeing, taking nothing with them from the home except the clothes they were wearing at the time.

A nonfiction book by Jay Anson (September 1977) was a blockbuster best seller and has never been out of print; and the film, starring Margot Kidder and James Brolin, made in 1979, was also a big hit, and is still watched by new generations. There were a series of post-1979 sequels to the original film, and a scary remake in 2005 with Ryan Reynolds playing the part of Goerge Lutz).

Further Reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amityville_Horror

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

Raynham Hall, a country house in located Norfolk, has been the seat of the Townshend family for 300 years. It is famous for being the location of a rare ghost sighting, that of the “Brown Lady”, who was captured descending the central staircase in one of the most famous ghost photographs of all time (above, left).

According to legend, the “Brown Lady of Raynham Hall” (left) is the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole (right) (1686–1726), the sister of Robert Walpole who was the first Prime Minister of Britain. Dorothy was the second wife of Charles Townshend, who was notorious for his violent temper. The story goes that when Townshend discovered that his wife had committed adultery with Lord Wharton, he punished her by locking her in her rooms at Raynham Hall. (There is another story, according to Mary Wortley Montagu, which states that Lady Dorothy was, in fact, entrapped by the Countess of Wharton at Wharton’s house—where she had invited Dorothy to stay for a few days. knowing that her husband, Lord Wharton, with whom Dorothy had been intimately involved, would never want Dorothy to leave, not even to see her own children.) Lady Dorothy Walpole is said to have remained at Raynham Hall until her death in 1726 from smallpox.

Further Reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Lady_of_Raynham_Hall

Read more about haunted houses here: Ghostly Houses.

The “Old-Fashioned” Literary Ghost Story Has Risen from the Grave—The Fellow Travellers & Other Stories by Sheila Hodgson!

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I usually have trouble finding modern ghost stories I like. I prefer the longer, old style of prose from the past. But I am thrilled to discover this collection. Sheila Hodgson wrote these in the antiquated style, which seems to have been forgotten, unfortunately, or, worse, relegated to remain imprisoned in a specific time that we are now past. Here is an excerpt and the Contents of this 1998 collection. I haven’t yet discovered which story contains that thing with no eyes on the cover. 😬

Table of Contents

Introduction
The Villa Martine
The Turning Point
The Lodestone Childermass
The Backward Glance
The Boat Hook
The Fellow Travellers
The Hand of Gideon Chant
Echoes from the Abbey
Here Am I, Where Are You?
The Smile
Come, Follow!

Introduction

“It began in a pub near Shepherd’s Bush. Several of us, scriptwriters at Television Centre, had been debating why the ghost story is so much more effective on radio than on television; why unseen terrors prove far more alarming than explicit visual horrors. Even in the hands of such a master as Nigel Kneale, there is a real danger that once you show your haunting phantom, one or two people in the audience will fall about laughing.

What frightens you may strike me as ridiculous; what terrifies me may cause you to hoot with derision. Fear is personal. I am not talking here of mass panic, which is a different matter altogether —a kind of infectious hysteria —but rather of icy, isolated dread, the conviction that one is utterly alone yet something has gone bump in the night. As a very small child I got lost under the bedclothes, and to this day feel a horrid frisson every time I read ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’. That face of crumpled linen, you see.

As a result of our pub argument, I wrote to Broadcasting House suggesting that I adapt one of M. R. James’s stories for radio. I got a letter back saying thank you, they believed all the good ones had been done already. I checked with the Public Library. They were right.

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How Old Is Our Very First “Ghost Story”? Here is one from Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (aka. “Pliny the Younger”)

3bb3f5d50ff0c26b8be9dc8a0a1eb147“The Story of a Ghost”

From a “Letter to Sura”

Pliny, the Younger*, ca. 70s AD


Our leisure furnishes me with the opportunity of learning from you, and you with that of instructing me. Accordingly, I particularly wish to know whether you think there exist such things as phantoms, possessing an appearance peculiar to themselves, and a certain supernatural power, or that mere empty delusions receive a shape from our fears. For my part, I am led to believe in their existence, especially by what I hear happened to Curtius Rufus.

While still in humble circumstances and obscure, Curtius Rufus was a hanger-on in the suit of the Governor of Africa. While pacing the colonnade one afternoon, there appeared to him a female form of superhuman size and beauty. She informed the terrified man that she was “Africa,” and had come to foretell future events; for that he would go to Rome, would fill offices of state there, and would even return to that same province with the highest powers, and die in it. All which things were fulfilled. Moreover, as he touched at Carthage, and was disembarking from his ship, the same form is said to have presented itself to him on the shore.

It is certain that, being seized with illness, and auguring the future from the past and misfortune from his previous prosperity, he himself abandoned all hope of life, though none of those about him despaired.

Is not the following story again still more appalling and not less marvellous?

I will relate it as it was received by me:

‘There was at Athens a mansion, spacious and commodious, but of evil repute and dangerous to health. In the dead of night there was a noise as of iron, and, if you listened more closely, a clanking of chains was heard, first of all from a distance, and afterward hard by. Presently a spectre used to appear, an ancient man sinking with emaciation and squalor, with a long beard and bristly hair, wearing shackles on his legs and fetters on his hands, and shaking them. Hence the inmates, by reason of their fears, passed miserable and horrible nights in sleeplessness. This want of sleep was followed by disease, and, their terrors increasing, by death. For in the daytime as well, though the apparition had departed, yet a reminiscence of it flitted before their eyes, and their dread outlived its cause. The mansion was accordingly deserted, and condemned to solitude, was entirely abandoned to the dreadful ghost. However, it was advertised, on the chance of someone, ignorant of the fearful curse attached to it, being willing to buy or to rent it. Athenodorus, the philosopher, came to Athens and read the advertisement. When he had been informed of the terms, which were so low as to appear suspicious, he made inquiries, and learned the whole of the particulars. Yet none the less on that account, nay, all the more readily, did he rent the house.

‘As evening began to draw on, he ordered a sofa to be set for himself in the front part of the house, and called for his notebooks, writing implements, and a light. The whole of his servants he dismissed to the interior apartments, and for himself applied his soul, eyes, and hand to composition, that his mind might not, from want of occupation, picture to itself the phantoms of which he had heard, or any empty terrors. At the commencement there was the universal silence of night. Soon the shaking of irons and the clanking of chains was heard, yet he never raised his eyes nor slackened his pen, but hardened his soul and deadened his ears by its help. The noise grew and approached: now it seemed to be heard at the door, and next inside the door. He looked round, beheld and recognized the figure he had been told of. It was standing and signaling to him with its finger, as though inviting him. He, in reply, made a sign with his hand that it should wait a moment, and applied himself afresh to his tablets and pen. Upon this the figure kept rattling its chains over his head as he wrote. On looking round again, he saw it making the same signal as before, and without delay took up a light and followed it. It moved with a slow step, as though oppressed by its chains, and, after turning into the courtyard of the house, vanished suddenly and left his company. On being thus left to himself, he marked the spot with some grass and leaves which he plucked.

‘Next day he applied to the magistrates, and urged them to have the spot in question dug up. There were found there some bones attached to and intermingled with fetters; the body to which they had belonged, rotted away by time and the soil, had abandoned them thus naked and corroded to the chains. They were collected and interred at the public expense, and the house was ever afterward free from the spirit, which had obtained due sepulture.’

The above story I believe on the strength of those who affirm it. What follows I am myself in a position to affirm to others. I have a freedman, who is not without some knowledge of letters. A younger brother of his was sleeping with him in the same bed. The latter dreamed he saw someone sitting on the couch, who approached a pair of scissors to his head, and even cut the hair from the crown of it. When day dawned he was found to be cropped round the crown, and his locks were discovered lying about.

A very short time afterward a fresh occurrence of the same kind confirmed the truth of the former one. A lad of mine was sleeping, in company with several others, in the pages’ apartment. There came through the windows (so he tells the story) two figures in white tunics, who cut his hair as he lay, and departed the way they came. In his case, too, daylight exhibited him shorn, and his locks scattered around.

Nothing remarkable followed, except, perhaps, this, that I was not brought under accusation, as I should have been, if Domitian (in whose reign these events happened) had lived longer. For in his desk was found an information against me which had been presented by Carus; from which circumstance may be conjectured—inasmuch as it is the custom of accused persons to let their hair grow—that the cutting off of my slaves’ hair was a sign of the danger which threatened me being averted.

I beg, then, that you will apply your great learning to this subject. The matter is one which deserves long and deep consideration on your part; nor am I, for my part, undeserving of having the fruits of your wisdom imparted to me. You may even argue on both sides (as your way is), provided you argue more forcibly on one side than the other, so as not to dismiss me in suspense and anxiety, when the very cause of my consulting you has been to have my doubts put an end to.

-END-

(*Translated from the Latin by John Delaware Lewis and William Melmoth)

About the Author

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pliny_the_Younger

Further Reading…

Greeks, Ghost Hunts, & the First Haunted House Story

“From ghoulies and ghosties And long-leggedy beasties And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!” ~ Old Scottish Saying


‘Stories of ghosts, the spirit world, and things “that go bump in the night” are common threads found deeply woven into the historical and cultural fabric of most nations and people of the world. The earliest recorded story involving the supernatural is the Epic of Gilgamesh, a 4,000-year-old Sumerian saga describing the journey to the spirit world by a Mesopotamian Priest-King of the city of Uruk in his quest for immortality. To his despair, he finds that the gods retain this gift beyond price for themselves. This epic first set forth the notion that the gods shaped humankind from clay, then breathed into their nostrils the breath of life. In time, that “breath of life” has become the thing that survives corporeal death: the spirit.

However, it’s Greeks that hold the prize for the first recorded tale that has all the trappings of the modern haunted house ghost story. Set down in a letter by Pliny the Younger (lawyer, an author and a natural philosopher of Ancient Rome) sometime during the last century B.C., the story takes place in Athens in a stately, deserted house with a “reputation for being unhealthy.” Hmm, sounds familiar…

As the story goes, residents of the house were tormented night after night by the clamor of clanking chains. The unsettling din would grow louder and louder until the ghost of an emaciated, disheveled old man—shackled and chained—appeared. Eventually no one would stay in the house, and it was abandoned.

One day, the Greek philosopher Athenodorus, intrigued by the story, rented the dwelling, determined to wait for the ghost’s appearance and to discover its purpose. I suppose he might be considered the original ghost hunter and this the first official ghost hunt. At any rate, late that night, as hoped, the clatter of chains began to sound throughout the house, growing ever closer until it filled the room where he waited. Then the decrepit apparition materialized … and beckoned.

Stoically, Athenodorus followed. As the ghost reached an open area in the house, it suddenly disappeared. Quickly, Athenodorus marked the spot with a clump of grass. The following day, under the supervision of a local magistrate, the spot was dug up, revealing the shackled and chained skeletal remains of a man.

So, as you can see, the concept of spirits that walk the Earth and interact with the living has a very old and well-established foundation. Humankind, since earliest antiquity, has believed in the existence of the unseen. Thousands of years of belief have been woven in our collective psyche, allowing for the acceptance (at the very least) of the possibility of ghosts and hauntings. Even the staunchest skeptic carries the seeds of belief. As Mark Twain reportedly once said, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I am afraid of them.”’

(Source: http://www.deadofnighttales.com)

The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Told in Two Volumes (ed. Sanguine Woods), 2017 & 2018

final-large1My new book is coming this December from Wick Press. Check it out! And follow Wick Press on wordpress to stay up to date!

Source: The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Told in Two Volumes (ed. Sanguine Woods), 2017 & 2018

Villagers Speak of a Small Hairy Creature: the “Ebu Gogo”…

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(Generationexorcistblog)

Richard Roberts, discoverer of the Ebu Gogo, says local tales suggest the species could still exist…

“When I was back in Flores earlier this month we heard the most amazing tales of little, hairy people, whom the villagers called Ebu Gogo (Ebu = ‘grandmother’; Gogo = ‘he who eats anything’). The tales contained the most fabulous details; so detailed you start to imagine there may be a grain of truth in them.

One of the village elders told us that the Ebu Gogo ate everything raw, including vegetables, fruits, meat and, if they got the chance, even human meat.

When food was served to them they also ate the plates, made of pumpkin – the original guests from hell (or heaven, if you don’t like washing up and don’t mind replacing your dinner set every week).

The villagers say that the Ebu Gogo raided their crops, which they tolerated, but decided to chase them away when the Ebu Gogo stole – and ate – one of their babies.

They ran away with the baby to their cave which was at the foot of the local volcano, some tens of metres up a cliff face. The villagers offered them bales of dry grass as fodder, which they gratefully accepted.

A few days later, the villagers went back with a burning bale of grass which they tossed into the cave. Out ran the Ebu Gogo, singed but not fried, and were last seen heading west, in the direction of Liang Bua, where we found the Hobbit, as it happens.

When my colleague Gert van den Bergh first heard these stories a decade ago, which several of the villages around the volcano recount with only very minor changes in detail, he thought them no better than leprechaun tales until we unearthed the Hobbit. (I much prefer Ebu as the name of our find but my colleague Mike Morwood was insistent on Hobbit.)

The anatomical details in the legends are equally fascinating. They are described as about a metre tall, with long hair, pot bellies, ears that slightly stick out, a slightly awkward gait, and longish arms and fingers – both confirmed by our further finds this year.

[The Ebu Gogo] murmured at each other and could repeat words [spoken by villagers] verbatim. For example, to ‘here’s some food’, they would reply ‘here’s some food’. They could climb slender-girthed trees but, here’s the rub, were never seen holding stone tools or anything similar, whereas we have lots of sophisticated artefacts in the H. floresiensis levels at Liang Bua. That’s the only inconsistency with the Liang Bua evidence.

The women Ebu Gogo had extremely pendulous breasts, so long that they would throw them over their shoulders, which must have been quite a sight in full flight.

We did ask the villagers if they ever interbred with the Ebu Gogo. They vigorously denied this, but said that the women of Labuan Baju (a village at the far western end of Flores, better known as LBJ) had rather long breasts, so they must have done.

A local eruption at Liang Bua (in western Flores) may have wiped out local hobbits around 12,000 years ago, but they could well have persisted much later in other parts of the island. The villagers said that the last hobbit was seen just before the village moved location, farther from the volcano, not long before the Dutch colonists settled in that part of central Flores, in the 19th century.

Do the Ebu Gogo still exist? It would be a hoot to search the last pockets of rainforest on the island. Not many such pockets exist, but who knows. At the very least, searching again for that lava cave, or others like it, should be done, because remains of hair only a few hundred years old, would surely survive, snagged on the cave walls or incorporated in deposits, and would be ideal for ancient DNA analyses.

Interestingly, we did find lumps of dirt with black hair in them this year in the Hobbit levels, but don’t know yet if they’re human or something else. We’re getting DNA testing done, which we hope will be instructive.

Richard “Bert” Roberts is a University of Wollongong professor and one of the team investigating the Hobbits.

(The Telegraph, 2004)