Haunted History brings to light a story I was previously unfamiliar with. During the 1930s, America was gripped with the Great Depression. The country as sent into economic collapse and scores of peoples lost their jobs and their homes. Shanty towns popped up where the homeless and the jobless tried to ride out the economic storm. It was in one of these shanty towns in Cleveland that a series of murders known as The Torso Murders took place. The bodies of unrelated victims were emasculated, decapitated, drained of blood and dumped for the police to find. The area was sent into a panic as year after year bodies showed up but no suspect was ever charged with the crimes.
The murders started in 1935 near the B&O Roundhouse in Cleveland. The first body was found by some boys playing baseball. A search of the area yielded another body buried in a very shallow grave. The police were meant to find it. The style of murders coincide with another body that washed up on the shore of the lake a year before. Right off the bad the police have three murders and not a single clue to work with.
After the stunning victory over Al Capone in Chicago, Eliot Ness is brought in to help clean up the police department and solve the series of murders. He immediately clashes with the lead detective Peter Merylo as the two have completely different suspects in mind. Ness feels a doctor, Francis Sweeney is behind the murders, while Merylo believes it’s a railway man doing the crimes. A man of the rail could commit the murders, hop a train and be states away before the body is discovered. He could then drift back into town and commit another series of murders.
The bodies began to stack up and the pressure mounts as both the Great Lakes Exposition and the Republican National Convention are coming to town. In an odd twist, they actually use the Exposition to display castings of the victims faces to try and help identify them. Hundreds of thousands of people walk past real life molds of decapitated victims, but they still remain unknown victims.
In 1938 there are 11 victims and still no suspects. Ness is convinced that Sweeney is the murderer and questions him for weeks at a nearby hotel. Sweeney had an office near the dump sites, he was known to drink to much and become abusive and he was committed to an asylum multiple times. For the questioning they bring in Leonard Keeler, the inventor of the modern day polygraph machine. Keeler says Sweeney is the man, but there is no evidence to link him to the crimes. Days later bodies turn up in the rubble and trash right outside Ness’ police office. In a fit of rage, Ness rounds up all the inhabitants of the shanty takes, takes them away and burns the entire housing development to the ground. The citizens are outraged and through this event Ness has effectively destroyed his career. However, the murders stop.
Merylo isn’t convinced of the doctor’s involvement and in May of 1940, 3 more bodies are found in derelict railway cars. Now Merylo is convinced he was right all along and goes undercover as a hobo to try and ferret out the truth. The police arrest Frank Dolezal who ends up being murdered in his cell. The whole event was staged to look like a suicide. And right after the police get letters from the alleged murder saying he’s moved on to California.
Ironically in 1947 Elizabeth Short (The Black Dahlia) is found death in a similar fashion as the Torso Murders. Did the killer indeed move from Cleveland to California as the letter stated? Either way, no one was ever caught and charged with the murders. It still remains unsolved.
Because of the nature of the crimes there are many claims of the paranormal around the areas where the murders took place. Near the B&O Roadhouse investigators have gotten the recording of "I don’t know" when asked if they knew the murderer. They also hear lots of banging and scratching in the rail cars and feel a presence. In some of the exterior buildings, heavy barrels have been pushed away, forcing the doors to slam shut during investigations. Hearing noises doesn’t seem all that uncommon around old railway cars and a single EVP saying "I don’t know" doesn’t really convince me of a supernatural hotspot. Further, a barrel moving clearly can’t be the work of a prankster or someone trying to scare the hell out of someone.
Additional paranormal investigations take place at a location called Jackass Hill, the location the first body was found. Many people feel a sense of sadness in this area and claim to hear voices.
Another spot of activity is the Great Lakes Brewing Company, where the dark shadow of a female is said to walk around. This could be Flo Polillo, one of the victims. She may be at the Brewing Company because it was a hangout for Eliot Ness. Once liquor was legalized again, he was known to indulge in Scotch. It’s theorized that she keeps going there to ask for his help.
Many investigators see shadows, hear voices and feel a presence in these locations. Is this activity linked with the Torso Murders? Are these the unknown victims trying to reveal messages about their killer? Are they even related to these murders? Nothing conclusive or substantial stands out so we aren’t sure who, if anyone, is actually making contact. What we do know is that multiple people lost their lives in a very brutal manner. Their killer was never caught and may have moved on to other areas to commit the same crimes. These victims may be reaching out, but so far, I don’t think we’ve got the message.
Other Articles of Interest:
- Haunted History Season 1, Ep. 3 "Murder Castle"
- Whitechapel Series 1
- Whitechapel Season 2
- Haunted History – The Manson Murders – S01E01
- Whitechapel Season 3
- Killer Contact – Jack the Ripper – S01E01
- Murder Maps–Life and Crime in London
- Hannibal – Season 2 Premiere
- American Horror Story – Asylum – S02E01
- The Murder Hotel of H. H. Holmes
This is honestly one of the strangest and most unusual stories I’ve heard about. The year is 1938 and the place is Poland. On the eve of World War 2, a small group of women hold a séance that opens a portal unleashing pure evil into the world. What follows is a series of unspeakable events, up to and including the holocaust.
The story begins with Kevin, owner of an antiques shop who bought some curious items at an Estate Sale. After bringing them back to the shop his assistant is terrified of an unknown and unseen force in the basement. Glass is shattered, machinery is thrown around the office. She quits her job, moves to Seattle and never speaks to Kevin again.
Shortly thereafter Kevin gives one of the items from the estate sale, a wine box, to his mother as a birthday gift. Within minutes she is struck down with a stroke. While at the hospital she scrawls "Hate box" on a sheet of paper. Has this old and rather non-descript wine box somehow given her a stroke? Is it laced with toxic chemicals?
Kevin goes on vacation with members of his family. While sitting and talking one night, they all explain they’ve had the same horrible dream – a hag that turns grotesque and feelings of death. They quickly learn they’ve all had the wine box in their possession at some point.
Kevin tries to get rid of the box and in this modern age feels eBay is the way to go. Why he feels this is appropriate is a bit of a mystery to me. He’s been plagued with bad luck and feels the box is the source of the problems and thus decides to pass the bad mojo onto someone else? Not cool. Although had I known about the sale I would have snagged it up.
Yosef buys the box, knowing the checkered history. He scoffs at the possibilities, but is soon trying to get rid of the box himself. It’s brought him nothing but back luck and nightmares. Soon it’s in the possession of Jason who also falls victim to health problems, nightmares, shadow figures and putrid smells. This box is far more powerful than the cursed Brady idol.
We come to learn the box may be a "Dibbuk Box" a vessel used to hold evil spirits. So how did this all come about and what does that original séance have to do with anything?
Working together, Kevin ends up going back to the estate where he bought the box from to try and get some answers. Turns out the woman who answers the door is an old schoolmate of his and she explains that her grandmother was the owner of the box. She relates a story of her grandmother and her cousin practicing séances in Poland right before the war. The poverty was rampant, there was a lot of death and the tide of anti-Semitic feelings were on the rise. Without making it sound trite, the séance was a way to pass the time. And perhaps gave hope of life after death.
During one of their sessions, the pair believe they locked on to an evil entity and it pushed it’s way into our world. They tried to perform a ceremony to trap the spirit. The night was Nov 10, 1938 – Kristallnacht – Night of Broken Glass.
This is the night synagogues were destroyed and Jewish men were rounded up and arrested. Another example of Eugenics was in full swing and the Jewish people were the target. The women believe their failed ceremony influenced the Holocaust. They brought evil into the world during a séance.
Another ceremony is tried and this time they believe they’ve trapped the spirit – in the wine box that Kevin bought from the estate sale. Now Jason is in the possession of the box of evil and needs to figure out what to do with it.
Jason calls in a Medium who gets strong feelings of pain and death from the box. She also feels it’s from outside the US. She also admits she feels and evil presence from it. Now what can Jason do? Ironically, he speaks with a Jewish rabbi and builds and Ark for the box. He makes a box of acacia wood and is lined with 24k gold. The wine box is placed inside and he hides it away where only he knows where it is. In essence he has made his own little Ark of the Covenant.
As I said, this story is truly bizarre and would make most likely send John Zaffis into a tizzy. A little salt in a glass container wouldn’t stop this rascal. Can this box really contain the energy of some sort of demon? Did a séance bring forth an evil that actually set the wheels in motion for the Holocaust? What of the pains and strange coincidences that happened right after Kevin brought the box into his shop and gave it to his mom? Is the box just covered with a strange varnish or built from a wood that causes a reaction in people? Is it chemically toxic rather than spiritually charged? And what would have happened if Kevin or Jason would have just burned the box? Would that release the energy and start another series of horrible events?
It’s widely believed that an object can hold both positive and negative energy. Clearly a battery is a solid object that holds chemical energy. Can something like a wooden wine box used in a séance ceremony contain evil? It’s really hard to imagine, but is it possible?
There is a lot of coincidence surrounding that wine box. And those who mess with it all seem to have similar experiences. I can’t really say a homemade Ouija board is responsible for those atrocities, but what if…..?
Other Articles of Interest:
- Deadly Possessions – Dibbuk Box and Robert the Doll – S01E01
- The Dead Files – Terror in the Shadows – S01E03
- Ghost Adventures – Ashmore Estate – S05E01
- Paranormal Lockdown – Oliver House – S02E03
- Lucifer – New Series with Tom Ellis
- Ghost Adventures – The Haunted Museum Live – Halloween Edition
- Ghost Adventures – La Palazza Mansion – S04E09
- Ghost Stalkers – Whisperers Estate – S01E01
- Paranormal State S04E02 – Invitation to Evil
- Haunted Collector – Shadow Boxer and Ghost Storm – S03E08
Make no mistake, this is a tough episode to watch. Pennhurst Asylum has been brought up before, most specifically with Zak and Ghost Adventures. Zak’s editorial captured the shocking living conditions for the residents. Without exaggeration it was common practice to lock patients into cages, remove their teeth without anesthetic, perform lobotomies, leave patients unattended, starve them and even sterilize them.
When it was started in 1903 in Spring City, Pennsylvania, the Pennhurst Asylum set out to take care of those citizens who couldn’t take care of themselves. It was a sprawling 600 acre self-contained facility that boasted it’s own farm, dentistry, hospital, ball field, cemetery and morgue. But what started out as a grand idea turned into the shameful treatment of the mentally ill. It took a film crew and lawsuits to bring the facility to a close in 1987. While it was open, Pennhurst turned from a place of healing to a place of torture. And it’s claimed that many of the patients still linger and the energy can still be felt.
Some describe Pennhurst as an experiment in the idea of Eugenics. This is the thought that the lower functioning citizens need to be removed from the gene pool. This same idea fueled Hitler and his idea of creating a master race. With that in mind, Pennhurst became a dumping ground of the unfit and unwanted of society. People of lesser value could be hidden away from regular society. Over time the patients overwhelmed the nursing staff who didn’t have the resources to tend to them.
There was violence against the patients and the patients were violent with each other. Abuse and death were common. Since the grounds had it’s own morgue, crematorium and cemetery, it was easy to dispose of the bodies and keep it all contained within the facility.
When news reporter Bill Baldini, showed up on the scene in 1968 he found patients sitting in their own feces, the rooms smelled of human waste, patients were naked and beating their heads against the wall, they were malnourished, bruised, some had broken bones and some patients had never been let out of their "cribs". From a mental standpoint, they had gone from bad to worse. The facility was exposed and over time the patients were removed and finally the doors were closed. But now it’s claimed the energy lives on and many patients are still there.
Many visitors claim to get EVPs of patients speaking to them. Phrases such as "untie me", "don’t leave me", "I’ll kill you", the sound of gunshots and even a heart monitor have been picked up. Many people claim to see shadow figures and feel as though they’re being touched. They hear things being thrown around as well as people getting scratched.
The grounds of Pennhurst seem to have multiple hotspots. Why are these areas so charged? Are the former patients confused about crossing over to the other side? Are they unaware of what’s happened? Does the anger from the violence still linger in the air and play itself out?
While the mistreatment is well documented, there is a great deal about Pennhurst that comes across as "what we believe" or "this is what we’ve heard". Since Pennhurst is shrouded is scandal, it’s not hard to imagine that records have been sealed or destroyed. The patients had to sue for their right to get away from the place. News reports splashed the misconduct across the screen. I have no doubt administrators got rid of as much damning evidence as they could to keep themselves from going to jail or destroying their careers. But when it comes to evidence, does Pennhurst really set itself apart from any other location?
So much of what people talk about are the usual events of shadow figures moving around, cold spots and the feeling of sadness. Unfortunately, that’s not tangible evidence. That doesn’t fall into the hard facts category. That can easily be sympathy or emotion creating feelings and experiences. There are a few recordings of voices so there may be something going on. However, it’s hard to latch on to the idea of things being thrown when the building is in such disarray and such a state of decay. (That’s just one theory, not an explanation for everything.) Maybe the patients are lashing out, and they have every right to do so, but so much of what’s happening can be interpreted another way.
For as many investigations as people claim they do there, it would seem the evidence would be overwhelming. It would seem they would have names, events, the people involved, and so much more than what they have now. It’s hard not to feel paranormal activity is going on within those walls, simply because of the energy and sadness that prevails, but it’s not really substantiated. I’m sure most of the stories about how the patients were treated are true, but it’s hard to correlate that to paranormal events. It’s a fascinating place and I would really like to see more of what people come away with.
Pennhurst is a very dark story with ties to some very sinister people. Putting the paranormal aside, this should be a cautionary tale of what happens if and when we neglect our citizens.
Other Articles of Interest:
- Ghost Adventures – Pennhurst State School and Hospital
- Ghost Adventures – Lechtworth Village – S05E06
- Ghost Asylum S01E02 – Kuhn State Hospital
- Ghost Adventures – Clovis Wolfe Manor
- Paranormal Lockdown – Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – S01E01
- Ghost Asylum – Ironton Psychiatric Hospital – S01E05
- Paranormal Lockdown – Randolph County Infirmary
- Ghost Asylum – Hayswood Infirmary – S01E03
- Paranormal Lockdown – St. Ignatius Hospital – S02E04
- Ghost Asylum – Old Cannon Hospital – S01E06
In July 1863 the Battle of Gettysburg would begin and before it was over three days later 51,000 men would be dead. It is considered to be the bloodiest battle the US has ever known. And with it many feel the very ground itself is charged with paranormal activity. That the soldiers of the wounded still patrol the area and still cause harm to the living.
Many visitors claim to hear voices and see apparitions. For example, one re-enactor felt as though he was shot in the gut when he played "Dixie" on his banjo. Two sisters swear they heard the song "Taps" being played even though no one was in the field. Others have heard the phrase "I’ll shoot you" and others have seen an apparition crouching in the attic in what some feel is a sniper den. There is even a report of man being dragged down the hill by Confederate soldiers.
So who could these spirits be and why aren’t they at rest?
The area of Gettysburg is made up of several locations each with a potentially sinister past. To start with there is the Homestead Orphanage. It was started as a way to help bring comfort to the 20,000 children who were made orphans after the "war". Things started off well, but then a headmistress by the name Rosa Carmichael took over. It’s claimed she was exceedingly cruel to the children, a woman who would lock them in the outhouse, chained them to the fence and locked them in the basement. It’s even claimed she brought on a teenage henchman named "Stick Boy" to help keep the children in line through fear.
There are claims that dolls left for the children will be moved and later found dismembered. There is another story that a tour guide was locked in the basement after saying she was going to lead the children upstairs and out of the basement. People also say toys will move on their own, balls roll up hill, they see dark figures in the area where the children used to play and a medium felt the presence of a very angry young boy.
What drove Rosa to act out in this way? We’ll never learn that since she simply disappeared after the orphanage was closed.
Another hotspot is the Jenny Wade House. Jenny is the only civilian casualty of the war. She was hit with a stray bullet, perhaps from a sniper. People claim to see dark figures roaming around the house. Visitors feel the presence of a woman and a medium is able to communicate with a entity who claims to be Jenny. Another guest takes a photograph of what she believes is a picture of a woman in period dress. Turns out it’s a mirror and not a picture at all.
The Farnsworth House was a base of operations during the was. The basement was used as a hospital to treat the injured. Treatment is a kind word for amputation. The sheer volume of people needing help meant the injured limb was simply removed. They didn’t have the time, tools or training to truly heal the wounded. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of amputations would have taken place in the basement. Limbs were simply tossed out the window as the doctor moved on.
Many people claim to hear screaming and cries of pain. There are reports of people getting touched and one tour guide says he saw the full torso of a man up in the attic. This is the same attic that is claimed to have been used as the sniper den and the fatal shot that killed Jenny Wade.
Since the surrounding area of Gettysburg is filled with Limestone rock, many believe this stores the energy of the lives that were lost on the blood soaked fields. And everyone would have died in a traumatic way, charging the air and soil with energy and emotion.
While there is no doubt the death and violence is beyond belief, are the claims real? Do the spirits of the soldiers still walk the fields? Are they capable of causing harm to those who don’t support their cause such as the man who played Dixie? Does the evidence support paranormal occurrences or do people feel the events so strongly that they see and feel events that really aren’t there? Is an old rusty door that won’t open the sign of an ill-tempered headmistress keeping children in the basement? Are chills at the sound of horrific tales signs of the paranormal?
Both Paranormal State and the Ghost Adventures team have investigated this area. They both feel the area is alive with paranormal activity even though their evidence is more wrapped in personal experiences rather than tangible proof. What’s going on out there? Are we sympathizing with our tortured past or do the spirits of soldiers want to make contact and tell their story?
Other Articles of Interest:
- Ghost Adventures – Gettysburg – S04E01
- Ghost Adventures – Loretta Lynn’s Plantation – S05E06
- Paranormal Lockdown – White Hill Mansion – S02E08
- Paranormal Lockdown – Franklin Castle – S01E03
- Ghost Adventures – The Haunted Museum (Old Wengert Mansion) – S12E13
- Paranormal State – Ghosts of the Forgotten – S05E08
- Ghost Adventures – Dumas Brothel – S13E10
- Ghost Adventures – Crazy Town – S07E13
- Haunted History – The Manson Murders – S01E01
- Haunted Collector – Lakeside Terror and Pythian Secrets – S03E09