Haunted History – The Manson Murders – S01E01

image For the first episode in this series, History goes all in with the story of Charles Manson and the Manson Family murders. They believe there are still connections between the murder sites and paranormal activity. History goes to three "hot spots" that were pivotal in the tragic events and are supposedly charged with energy.

The first location is the house of David Oman on Cielo Drive. He claims to have seen a full bodied apparition in his house. The odd thing is, this isn’t the house were the first set of murders took place. Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring lives a couple hundred feet down the road. The first question is, what relevance does this house have to the events? Unfortunately, there doesn’t really seem to be an explanation for that. David simply feels that Jay is visiting him. He had paranormal investigators come in who claim to hear a voice say "Jay Sebring" and the words, "I had big plans". That to me seems a little too thin to draw such a strong conclusion. And again, why this house? Why not where the events actually took place?

The second location is the Spahn Ranch where Manson began to build his family using drugs, rituals and orgies. He began to develop and instill his god complex. This is where he launches his plan to seek vengeance against those who wrong him because he didn’t get a record contract. Investigators claim to have visions of the Manson family congregating and planning murders. They feel a lot of angry energy still lingering.

Who may be the spirit out there? Some conjecture it’s Shorty Shay, a man Manson thought had called the police to raid the ranch. Shorty was supposedly taken out, killed and buried. His body was found several years later buried in shallow grave.

The activity continues at another location called Barker Ranch where Manson made his "final stand". Susan Atkins, one of the "family members" claimed that a lot of bodies are buried out in the desert. These could be young men and woman who didn’t accept Manson as their leader and when they tried to leave where silenced. Barker Ranch is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, out in Death Valley. No one would be allow to leave or be disobedient and since there was no transportation they could use, it would be easy to make them disappear. There are no names for those who might have been killed out there, but a cadaver dog has come across the scent of what could be four distinct graves.

There are also claims by Michael Channel that the odd outlines in the photographs that a friend took while they were camping out there is of a man turning to look at him in the face. Since these photos were taken at night and not with a very good camera by the look it, how can he say it’s nothing more than a bad photo? It’s the exact image of his body, just skewed. A lot of people would call this "fringe" lighting.

Since the land is now owned by the Park Service, they are less than enthusiastic to start digging up the area. Susan was quite chatty about the deaths and said the bodies were buried deep. She gave no number, but if it was that "easy" to find 4, who knows how many might be out there.

While this is a compelling story and certainly a sensational one, there seems to be a lot of holes in their theories. The first location really doesn’t have anything to do with the murders and is simply located close by. If that were the case, wouldn’t every house along the path experience the same thing? I’m not quite sure I buy into the proximity of it all.

And as for the other locations, while there was a body discovered at Spahn Ranch, and that is indeed a tragedy, it doesn’t seem like quite enough to support the claims of seeing the Manson family plotting the murders. Perhaps with all the drugs, anger and violence, something has been imprinted out there, but it doesn’t seem to stem from the source their putting forward.

Are there bodies at Barker Ranch? If Manson was involved, that’s certainly possible. And there could be a lot of energy out there. But then again, it could just be the ramblings of a weak willed and addle minded cult follower.

Some interesting evidence is brought up, but I’m not sure we’re getting closer to the truth.

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Haunted History Season 1, Ep. 3 "Murder Castle"

image A new series from the History Channel just popped onto my radar and one episode in particular grabbed my attention. The name "Murder Castle" should strike a chord with plenty of people. While this isn’t the first episode in the series, I felt compelled to jump ahead and see what new information they had to offer. Holmes is a uniquely fascinating, bizarre and terrifying creation. As you read of his ill deeds and lengths he would go it seems like the whole thing is made up. This is stuff or horror movies. Sadly, it’s real. Perhaps through time embellishments have been made, but there is no doubt that Holmes specifically built the Murder Castle within walking distance of the World’s Fair so he could find victims, perform experiments, carve up their bodies, sell the skeletons, steal money and property and then incinerate the bodies.

This episode expands on "H.H. Holmes – America’s First Serial Killer" which is where I first learned of these events. Since the original feature was made in 2004 a couple of new events have come to light, specifically we have Jeff Mudgett, the Great, Great, Grandson of H.H. Holmes who offers more insight into Holmes and goes so far as to say that Holmes is more than likely Jack the Ripper. Much of this can be found in his book, "Bloodstains", which I have read and find fascinating. But there is a slight problem. Much of what Jeff writes is hard to discern as fact versus hypothesis. You get the sense he’s revealing the truth, but in reality it may just be his opinion. So what does Murder Castle have to offer?

Jeff Mudgett and author Adam Selzer offer their understand of Holmes and the events he perpetuated on Chicago. Holmes started off his career as a doctor and made a fortune digging up bodies and selling the skeletons to medical schools. He would make hundreds of thousands of dollars in this endeavor. But money wasn’t enough. He enjoyed the kill and took that vast wealth to build the Murder Castle in Chicago. It is indeed a real place and when police investigator found it, it really did have hidden rooms, body chutes, an incinerator, acid baths, gas tubes for asphyxiating guests, peep holes so he could watch his guests, rooms that locked from the outside and holes in the floor that dropped people to their death. It was designed from the ground up as a way for Holmes to trap victims, kill them and make money off their death. And while the Castle was destroyed, a Post Office has been built on the site and the basement is largely intact.

New to this episode is the idea that Holmes is Jack the Ripper. Holmes bought the land for the Murder Castle in the summer of 1888, but construction didn’t begin until Spring of 1889. And during this time Holmes is unaccounted for in Chicago. There is evidence to suggest he took a boat abroad. There is also evidence of an American doctor selling skeletons to the University of London Medical School. As we all know, this was his old tried and true method of making money.

Mudgett puts forth the theory that based on the murders, medical training would be needed. Holmes had this training and would be quite adept at performing these procedures in the conditions of London. Holmes had the training, the temperament and perhaps even the timing to be Jack the Ripper. And since the Ripper was never caught, does this coincide with Holmes whisking back to Chicago before being caught?

We also get some more evidence about the Pietzel and some of his other victims. Could there be links to those victims and some paranormal activity that new homeowners are experiencing? Are the Holmes victims trying to be heard? Some Post Office workers speak about their experiences down in the basement of the building.

While most of the information has been presented in different books and documentaries, it’s interesting to see and hear it all in one place. Mudgett offers his interpretation of the events and Selzer offers his insight based on research and investigation.

Did Holmes fake his death? Did he commit the murders under the guise of suicide and what became known as the Holmes Curse? Were there far more victims that we realize? And most of all, can Holmes be linked to the events of Jack the Ripper?

This new documentary is available on Amazon as an Instant Video purchase. I only wish it were longer, there is simply too much story to tell in the 44 minutes that are allotted.

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The Possessed – The Watseka Wonder

image I should have learned my lesson, but that’s what I get for giving something a second chance. I previously watched Children of the Grave which turned out to be an extremely poor documentary on children who lost their lives and their identities within the walls of the orphanages. But I was willing to take a chance and see if time and experience would let the Booth Brothers make a documentary worth watching. Sadly, that’s not the case.

The Possessed is a telling of the story documented as "The Watseka Wonder" where a young woman who is supposedly possessed, dies and then comes back to possess the body of another young girl in the same town.

Again, the story is a jumbled mess that jumps from history to present day interviews with teenagers who "cut" themselves and claim it’s possession, to a high school class full of students, to an investigation, back to historical lore, over to the emo teenagers, then back to the past. It makes absolutely no sense and turns what could have been an interesting story into something you just don’t care about. The "re-enactments" are just plain horrible and everything they discuss is complete conjecture.

At the heart of the story is Mary Roff and Mary Lurancy Vennum, two girls who suffered from what we would now call epilepsy. Roff supposedly possessed the body of Vennum after her death. The story goes into mental illness and how it was so largely misunderstood and the lack of treatment. But as we listen it becomes pretty clear that Vennum was indeed suffering from epilepsy and more than likely some form of split personality disorder. Considering almost all forms of mental illness were considered possession by the devil during the 1800s, it’s a pretty big injustice to keep following that line.

But like the other film, Children of the Grave, the Booth Brother can’t quite decide if they want to make a horror film or a documentary. They jump from events of the past and the Vennum story to talk to teenagers who cut themselves, teenagers who claim they did it while possessed. They can’t possibly have their own mental illness or psychological damage, it must be possession.

The entire film quickly becomes a farce. These guys desperately want to remake the Exorcist and bring out cheap theatrics whenever they can. After a few minutes it becomes so annoying it’s hard to pay attention let alone care about the story. I gave up before I hit the end. These guys are just feeding into the hysteria. Instead of gather facts and analyzing them for what they are, they’re desperately trying to build up demonic possession. They claim the children could read books without opening them, could see through envelopes, and showed signs of being clairvoyant. Not for one second do they try to dispel a single one of these myths. If you do a few minutes worth of research you will find this story is universally considered to be a hoax.

Clearly no more Booth Brothers movies for me. They suck.


Watseka Wonder

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Children of the Grave

image As I browsed around the Amazon catalog of paranormal titles, I came across a "documentary" called Children of the Grave. It documents the lost children of an orphanage that died and were buried in a mass grave. As is so common with stories during this time period, the children were stripped of their identity and referred to by numbers rather than names. But what should have been a look at this institution turns into a "mockumentary" full of ridiculous "re-enactments" and a story that jumps all over the place to the point of being unintelligible. What should have been a somber and sobering subjects comes across as foolish.

The Booth Brothers drag this story over the coals and jumble it up so badly that you don’t know if this is supposed to be a documentary or some make shift re-enactment of the Blair Witch Project. They over dramatize just about everything about this story. They color the sky surrounding the house, they add creaking and whispers every time they go into a location, they shake and jumble the picture as though it’s become taken over by something evil. None of this is necessary. They’re talking about children who were cast away by their parents and left to starve in an institution that couldn’t take care of them. What’s with all the theatrics?

And the story jumps all over the place. It goes from the past, to the present, to random interviews, to random pictures, to an investigation, back to the past, back to the investigation, then to another interview. There is absolutely no way to follow the story and how these people related to one another. And then we find ourselves in a classroom talking to high school students. What the hell is going on here?

This all comes across as very silly which degrades from the overall point of the show. But then it utterly shifts gears and we’re on something called "The Zombie Road" look for shadow people that supposedly exist in the woods. The brothers are talking about children who died in the area as though something sinister is going on. They keep talking about this high body count, but have no real evidence in regards to any of this. They even bring in the local police, who say the place is dangerous, but that’s because it has rising flood water, broken down bridges, bad roads and you can get lost.

Children of the Grave was very disappointing and even frustrating. This whole documentary, and I use that term loosely, comes across as mockery of these poor souls. It’s as though these filmmakers started off making a historical drama and then it would sell better if they turned it into a horror file. It was indeed a waste of an hour and a half.

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