Saturday, November 28, 2009

November... it only believes, in a pile of dead leaves

It's a crisp, cool November day... so I thought I'd share some Autumn photos that I have shot w you guys. Enjoy.

Twisted-Tree House, Freehold, New Jersey

Abandoned Howell Carpet, Howell, New Jersey

Franklin Mountains Sunset, El Paso, Texas

Autumn Reflection, Jackson, New Jersey

Poetry Graveyard, Freehold, New Jersey

Autumn Foliage, Jackson, New Jersey

Abandoned Ressel House (aka House of 13 Rooms), Jackson, New Jersey

Autumn Tree & Sky, El Paso, Texas

Sunset During Sandstorm, El Paso, Texas

Abandoned Hope Chapel House, Jackson, New Jersey

Mt. Rubidoux, Riverside, California

Twisted-Tree House, Freehold, New Jersey

You can see the photos & the stories behind these amazing locations on my site

And all are available for purchase as prints (and more), check out

Monday, November 23, 2009

Black Hope: The Desecration and The Curse

It is 1980 in Crosby Texas, a quiet town near Houston. Jean and Ben Williams have moved into a house in the newly-built suburb of Newport with their young granddaughter Carli. One of the first families in the neighborhood, they've been looking forward to settling into the new suburban home of their dreams.

Unfortunately, that dream soon becomes a nightmare.

From the beginning there is a wrongness to the house. Jean and her granddaughter Carli cannot seem to feel comfortable there, and both have a creepy feeling that unseen eyes are constantly watching them. The garage door and various other appliances suddenly come to life on their own. The toilets flush by themselves. The house is persistently chilly and dank year-round. The Williams begin to wonder what is wrong with their new home.

And they are not the only ones. As more people move in and the new suburb begins to fill up with families, dozens of neighbors begin to experience some of the same bizarre and unexplained phenomena as the Williams. A pall of bad luck seems to hang over the Newport suburb. Pets act strangely and die mysteriously. Plants fail to thrive in yards. Residents wage battle against unusually persistent plagues of ants and snakes (some poisonous) inside their homes. Serious storms- seemingly confined to their suburb only- open up and rage against the homeowners, leaving behind cascades of large worms.

It seems that virtually all of the families in Newport are experiencing these ominous and unexplained events.

Across the street from the Williams family, Sam and Judith Haney have also recently moved into Newport. Excited about their brand new suburban home, the Haneys have just gotten to work planning the installation of a swimming pool in their backyard when a knock rings out against the front door. They open the door to find an elderly, stooped man... a stranger.

Stranger still, he commences to tell them that there are human remains buried in the yard of their new dream home. They follow him in mild disbelief as he moves around to the backyard, and points out a spot where he claims that bodies are buried. As he leaves, the man gives them the names of some black families in the area that he says will confirm his story. Of course, the story sounds very far fetched, and somewhat dubious, the Haneys continue with their plans.

They never could have suspected what would happen next.

As the contractor bites into the earth with his backhoe, clearing the way for the new swimming pool, he unearths something awful... two crude wooden coffins containing the decayed remains of a man and a woman. Horrified, the Haneys immediately decide that they must find out who these people were, and, if possible, put them to rest properly. Starting with the names that the mysterious old man had given them, the couple begin trying to track down some answers, and their queries lead them to a man named Jasper Norton. Norton tells Sam and Judith that he had worked as a gravedigger in the area when he was a young man, and that one of the cemeteries where he had dug graves was called Black Hope Cemetery. He explains that old Black Hope had been a graveyard of paupers, and that most of it's dead were former slaves. As many as 60 poor souls were interred there, with the last burial in 1939.

His next words bring a chill to the perplexed couple, as he tells them that their home- and the surrounding suburb of Newport- has been built right on top of the abandoned Black Hope Cemetery.

The Haneys want answers. With Norton's help, they are able to identify the couple in their backyard as Charlie and Betty Thomas, former slaves who had been buried in Black Hope in the 30's. Sam and Judith then try to track down any of the couple's living relatives, with no luck. The couple feels wracked with guilt over the desecration of the Thomas' graves, and they come to an unconventional decision- to respectfully re-inter the remains to their original resting places, in the hope that they will be able regain the eternal peace that had been interrupted.

But it is not to be.

Disturbing events soon begin to plague the Haney's home as well. Water faucets and lights are turning off and on by themselves for no apparent reason. Television sets turn on unaided, even after being unplugged. Disembodied, eerie sounds start to menace the couple. One night, Sam comes face to face with two dark, unearthly apparitions... and when they reach out, their touch is an icy coldness which engulfs his entire body, stealing the breath from him. The serious, asthma-like attack sends him to the hospital. There is a malicious feeling to the phenomena and both Sam and Judith Haney are scared, tired, and tense.

Across the street, their neighbors, Jean and Ben Williams, are having problems of their own. Out in the yard, parts of the lawn have begun to collapse in on themselves, leaving rectangular sinkholes that appear again and again no matter how well or how many times they are filled. The Williams also notice an odd carving on an old oak tree in their yard, near the sinkholes. It is an arrow pointing downward, two horizontal lines slashed below it.

A long-time elderly resident of the area clears up the mystery of the tree when he tells the family that he had etched the markings on the oak himself, many years ago, as a way to mark the graves of his two sisters.

The Williams are outraged and shaken. Their worst fears are confirmed- their dream home is built atop the desecrated graves of Black Hope.

Things only get worse after that. One quiet afternoon, some loud, disembodied footsteps startle Jean and little Carli awake from a nap. Another evening, Ben returns home from work to find a terrifying sight- a dark, menacing figure leaning over his sleeping wife. A darkness seems to be falling over the Williams. Around this time, six members of their extended family are diagnosed with deadly cancers. Three of them are dead within the year. Ruled by fear and dread, the Williams' life is coming apart.

Their neighbors, the Haneys, are also falling apart... suffering from poor health and terrified of their own home. With nothing left to lose, they decide to sue the suburb's developer for not disclosing the fact that their new house is sitting on top of a desecrated cemetery. A jury awards the Haneys $142,000... but their bad luck is not over yet. A judge overturns the jury's decision on a legal technicality and then forces the Haneys to pay the court costs, further decimating their already-stressed lives.The Williams family also tries to take legal action but they are told that they will need definitive proof of a cemetery on their property before anything can be done.

Exhausted, scared, and worn down, Jean desperately decides that she will get that proof, whatever it takes. It is a decision that will haunt her for the rest of her days.

Grabbing a tool, she digs into one of the sinkholes, determined to uncover a coffin, a body, any kind of proof. She digs and digs wildly, until she is exhausted, and then she digs more. When she is on the verge of collapse, her daughter Tina takes her tools from her and takes over the digging. Tina has been digging for about thirty minutes when she collapses. She never recovers, dying two days later from a massive heart attack at the age of just thirty years old.

In 1987, shortly after this tragedy, Jean and Ben Williams give up everything and leave their house, convinced that something unearthly does not want them there. They move to an undisclosed location in Montana.

To this day it is said that the suburb of Newport has a high rate of resident turnover, with people moving in, and then immediately moving back out again.

It is interesting to note that the area where most of the suburb's phenomena is said to be centered at the east end of a street called Poppet's Way and it's connecting side street... according to one of Wikipedia's definitions of the word poppet,"...a poppet is a doll made to represent a person, for casting spells on that person. These dolls may be fashioned from such materials as a carved root, grain or corn shafts, a fruit, paper, wax, a potato, clay, branches, or cloth stuffed with herbs. The intention is that whatever actions are performed upon the effigy will be transferred to the subject based in sympathetic magic. It was from these European dolls that the myth of Voodoo dolls arose..." A strange coincidence, given the seemingly cursed nature of the suburb.

There has been much speculation on this case, and a book called The Black Hope Horror: The True Story Of A Haunting has been written by John Bruce Shoemaker (with Ben and Jean Williams) on the events.

This story was also the inspiration for the movie, Poltergeist...

Feel free to post your thoughts and comments on the Black Hope case in the comments section...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

that's the spirit: ghostly music videos

And now, for your viewing pleasure, I present to you my favorite ghostly music videos...

Slipknot- Vermilion Part 1:

A beautiful, lonely ghost awakens to wander among us another day, tortured with her inability to touch humanity. Still, she wanders and watches the everyday world in frustration, complete with headbanging & hair-pulling, trying to reach out to the living...

Slipknot- Vermilion Part 2:
A companion video to the vid above (with a more melancholy rendering of the song), this is not your usual ghostly, this is a more unsettling, eerie Japanese-esque kind of ghostly, as the body of a beautiful dead (or is she undead?) girl is reanimated by unnatural breezes.

Oingo Boingo- Stay:

Oingo Boingo teams up with some ghostly waltzing spirits (and some midgets!) to play new wave cupid to a pair of 1940's lovers. Yes, it sounds crazy, and it is, in the best of ways. My fave part is at 3:06, when the little old lady sings to her little old man the line: "won't you stay with me one more day..." awww.

White Stripes- Blue Orchid:
I'd say that that is definitely a haunted house. I'm not sure whether ethereal tippytoe girl is a ghost, but I suspect she may be haunting the place after being trampled by a horse in the coolest video ending ever. Jack White looks like the illegitimate lovechild of Jack Sparrow and the devil. And Meg White dreamily bashing china with a demented smile is lovely too (and bonus points for creepy-cute baby!)

Rockwell- Somebody's Watching Me:
OK, Rockwell is living in one f'ed up house. He's got a blood-spraying shower, a veiled-in-black ghost lady spinny-dancing all over the place, a devil dog, a creepy-guy-in-diaper carrying a pig's head on a silver tray (wha?), an inexplicably half-under-the-bed woman, and of course, that no-good mailman. Oh, and somebody's watchin' him, AND he's got no privacy.

Tiger Army- Incorporeal:

In this video for a song about a ghost's lament, a departed spirit haunts his lost love, watching her every move like a sort of rockabilly Patrick Swayze without the sculpting wheel... sweet, ghostly, and retro romantic.

Michael Jackson- Ghosts:
MJ ripping off his face is a little umm, creepy, all things considered... but throw in the Disney-Haunted-Mansion-esque setting, some awesomely moldy, dusty old ghosts getting jiggy with it, and killer FX by the master Stan Winston, you've got a ghostly winna. The skull-busting move at the beginning is a nice touch. Here is an excerpt of the 30+ minute short film...

So, what are your favorite spooky videos?
Feel free to share in the comments!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

famous last words: the executed

"Hoka hey, it's a good day to die. Thank you very much. I love you all. Goodbye"
Clarence Ray Allen, convicted of three murders in 1982 and executed in California in 2006 at the age of 76

"Somebody needs to kill my attorney."
George Harris, executed in Missouri in 2000 for murder

"Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel."
George Appel, executed by electric chair in 1928

"Take a step forward, lads. It will be easier that way."
Erskine Childers, Irish patriot, executed by firing squad November 24, 1922

"You sons of bitches. Give my love to Mother."
Francis "Two Gun" Crowley, executed in electric chair, 1931

"Hurrah for anarchy! This is the happiest moment of my life."
George Engel, last words on the gallows

"I love you."
(Spoken to the executioner)
Sean Flannagan, executed by injection, New York, June 23, 1989

"How about this for a headline for tomorrow's paper? French fries."
James French, executed in electric chair in Oklahoma, 1966

"I'd like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. And the rest of the world can kiss my ass."
Johnny Frank Garrett, Sr., executed by injection, Texas, February 11, 1992

"I did not get my Spaghetti-O's, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this."
Thomas J. Grasso, executed by injection, Oklahoma, March 20, 1995

"You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everyone dances with the Grim Reaper."
Robert Alton Harris, executed in California's gas chamber, April 21, 1992

"Let's do it!"
Gary Gilmore, executed by firing squad, Utah. January 17, 1977

"I'd rather be fishing."
Jimmy Glass, Executed in electric chair, Louisiana, June 12, 1987

"Such is Life."
Ned Kelly, Australian bushranger, executed by hanging 1880

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Axeman Of New Orleans

From May 1918 to October 1919, an unknown butcher held the city of New Orleans in a grip of fear, battering his way into the quiet homes of random sleeping families and savagely attacking them as they slumbered unaware.

His weapon of choice was an axe, and they called him the Axeman.

The night of May 22, 1918... all is quiet in the home of Joseph and Catherine Maggio. The Maggios, an Italian couple who run a small grocery and barroom on the corner of Upperline and Magnolia Streets, live in rooms behind their store, where they are fast asleep in their bed. So are Jake and Andrew, Joseph's two brothers who live on the other side of the double home. It is the dead of night when Jake is awakened by loud groans coming from the Maggio's bedroom on the other side of the wall. Something about it does not sound right. Concerned, Jake knocks loudly on the wall, and when there is no response he knocks harder. When there is still no answer, he rouses his brother Andrew and they head over to investigate. At the front door they find that a wooden panel from the door had been chiseled out, the chisel and panel lying discarded on the ground. Alarmed, they enter the home and rush to the couple's room. What they find is a bloodbath.

Catherine lies dead, her lifeless body partly draped across her husband. She has been struck in the head repeatedly with an axe, and her throat cut ear-to-ear with a razor. So deep is the wound that her head is nearly severed from her body. Her husband lies, still alive, with his feet dangling off the side of the bed. He is also severely injured from numerous axe blows to the head. Upon seeing his brothers he tries to stand, only to half-fall from the bed. The brothers immediately summon the police, but Joseph dies of his massive head wounds before they arrive. In the bathroom, investigating officers find a discarded pile of bloody men's clothing. They also find a bloodied axe, which was later determined to have belonged to the victims, leaning inside the bathtub. A wicked barber-type straight razor is left lying atop the bedsheets.

The Axeman of New Orleans has arrived.

The double axe murder causes a sensation among the shocked residents, who are rightly frightened and clamoring for an arrest. Yet after two weeks pass by without any further attacks, the nervous residents begin to relax and settle back into their routines.

Then, it happens again. On the early morning of June 6, a man named John Zanca is making the usual delivery of bread to a 59-year-old grocer named Louis Besumer, when he finds the store on Dorgenois and La Harpe Streets locked up tight. Mr. Besumer is routinely up early waiting to accept the delivery, so this is very unusual. Zanca decides to head around and knock on the side door. To his horror, when Besumer opens the door he is dazed and awash in blood. In shock, he tells Zanca that he has been attacked, and gestures shakily toward his bedroom. Zanca approaches the room with dread, and find Besumer's mistress, 28 year old Anna Harriet Lowe, lying on the bed, draped with a gore-soaked sheet. She is barely alive, suffering a grievous head wound from an axe. Bare footprints in blood lead away from the bed. Zanca calls police, who again discover a panel pried off of the back door. They also once again find the weapon- a rusty axe belonging to Besumer- left in the bathroom. Although Besumer is still conscious he cannot provide any description of the madman.

Anna Lowe is taken to Charity Hospital, where she lingers for several months before succumbing to her terrible wounds. Although she gives several differing stories of the assault before she dies- including one version where Louis Besumer is her attacker- police are unable to uncover any real leads on the Axeman from her testimony (Besumer was arrested for the murder, but was later cleared when it was proven that there was no possible way that Besumer could have self-inflicted the axe wounds to himself; the couple had a tumultuous relationship and were rumored to be drug addicts, perhaps these circumstances shed some light on Anna Lowe's accusations)

Two months later, on August 5, Anna Harriet Lowe passes away.

That same day, a businessman named Edward Schneider stays at his office later than usual; Schneider is soon going to be a father, and he is working overtime. When he finally returns to his home that evening, he anticipates his glowing wife greeting him at the door, as is her habit. Instead he is met with a silent house and no sign of his wife. Calling out for her and getting no response, Schneider worriedly heads toward the bedroom. There, in the bed, lies his wife- 8 months pregnant and drenched in blood. The room is splattered with red, and a horrific gaping wound is visible on her head. Some of her teeth have been knocked out by repeated blows to the face with an axe and lie scattered about the scene. Schneider rushes to her side and discovers that she is still breathing. He summons police and an ambulance.

Despite the awful nature of her wounds, Mrs. Schneider clings to life and regains consciousness after a few days in critical condition. She tries to recall the attack but cannot provide much to go on. She had been napping, she says, when she awoke to find the dark figure of a man standing over her. Before she could scream she saw the glinting axe whistling down through the air toward her face, and she remembered nothing more than that. Miraculously Mrs. Schneider not only survives the brutal attack, she gives birth to a healthy baby girl one week later.

August 10, five days later. Mary and Pauline Bruno are shaken out of an early morning sleep by a series of loud thumps coming from the room of their uncle, Joseph Romano. Startled, Pauline sits up in her bed and suddenly finds the tall, dark figure of a man standing over her. She screams with all her might, and the figure runs from the room (she later told reporters that the man "was awfully light on his feet" and that he almost seemed to have wings) At her screams, her elderly Uncle Joseph staggers into her room in a blood-drenched nightshirt. His face is marred with vicious gashes from the axe. "I don't know who did it..." he says to his niece, and then he collapses to the floor. His last words are to ask her to call for help. He dies at Charity Hospital shortly after. Police find the telltale chiseled panel removed from the door, and a crimson-splattered axe in the yard.

'IS AN AXEMAN AT LARGE IN NEW ORLEANS?' asks a newspaper headline soon after. The Axeman is here, and the population is terrified. The random nature of the crimes leaves everyone feeling unsafe- the butcher has attacked men, women, an elderly man, a sleeping pregnant woman. People are being killed at their most vulnerable, when they close their eyes and let go of consciousness and vigil. Paranoia is sweeping the city. Reports of potential intruders and possible sightings skyrocket, and families begin sleeping in shifts- often armed with guns- to watch over each other as they sleep.

The frightened city of New Orleans is in the Axeman's grip.

Yet, the Axeman does not make another appearance that year. As the months pass with no further axe attacks, New Orleanites finally begin to relax again and to return to normal life. The end of World War I also turns their attention to other matters. People began to feel that the horrible work of the Axeman is finished, or that perhaps that the killer has moved on to other hunting grounds.

And then, it happens again. Monday, March 10, 1919... bloodcurdling screams are heard from a residence at the junction of Jefferson and Second Streets. Iorlando Jordano, a neighbor, hears the cries and rushes into the home. Upon entering he sees the body of immigrant grocer Charles Cortimiglia splayed on the floor in a pool of blood. He has a grisly, gaping hole in his torso. Beside him crouches his wife Rosie, who is seriously injured with five gashes to the head, and covered in blood. She is screaming, and in her arms she holds the dead body of her 2 year old daughter, Mary. The Cortimiglias had been attacked with an axe as they slept. Rosie had been holding the sleeping baby in her arms when the attacker killed the girl with one single axe blow to the back of the neck. Charles Cortimiglia had tried to fight off the intruder, but had been violently overcome. As usual, the door has a panel chiseled from it, and a gory bloodstained axe is found left behind, lying under the kitchen doorstep. The Axeman is back.

Three days after the horrifying attack on the Cortimiglias, a disturbing letter is sent to the editor of the Times-Picayune. The letter reads:

Hell, March 13, 1919

Esteemed Mortal:

They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.

When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.

If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don't think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.

Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.

Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:

I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.

Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy.

The Axeman

It is unknown if this letter is a prank, or the real thing. However, the people of New Orleans are not taking any chances. That night, every dance hall in the Big Easy is packed to capacity, and hundreds of houses around the city host raucous parties with both professional and amateur bands. Some well-armed citizens actually issue invitations to the Axeman, going as far as to say they would 'leave a window open' for him so he will not have to damage their doors. It is said that that night was one of the loudest, wildest parties in New Orleans history.

Perhaps this pleased the Axeman, for he took no victims that night.

On August 10, yet another Italian grocer becomes the target of the Axeman's bloodlust. Steve Boca is asleep in his bed when he is struck with an axe. Dazed and in shock, he manages to crawl out of bed and stumbles to a neighbor's home for help. Police find the now-familiar chiseled door panel discarded, and an axe left in the kitchen. Boca does recover from his wounds, but he has lost all memory surrounding the incident and can recall nothing.

Three weeks later, the night of September 3... a nineteen year old girl named Sarah Laumann is home alone, in bed, when someone (presumed to be the Axeman) creeps into the house. For some reason, this time entry is not made through a door panel. The girl is discovered in her bed, unconscious, with multiple axe wounds to the head. A bloody axe is left outside an open window. Sarah Laumann later dies at the hospital.

Mike Pepitone is the Axeman's next victim. During the early morning hours of October 27, Mrs. Pepitone hears sounds of a struggle coming from her husband's room, which is right next to hers. She claims that as she hurried to the room she was nearly knocked over by a large man running out through the doorway. He was carrying an axe. Sending her daughter to the neighbors for help, Mrs. Pepitone rushes to her husband's bed, where she finds him bloodied and torn, the victim of a vicious axe attack. The Deputy who responds to the call for help finds Mrs. Pepitone standing over her husband, where she says, "It looks like the Axeman was here and murdered Mike." Mike Pepitone is rushed to Charity Hospital but he dies the following morning from his massive wounds. Again, the panel cut from the door, and again... the gore-covered axe left behind on the back porch. Despite the fact that there were eight people in the Pepitone house at the time of the attack, the Axeman did not let the danger of being identified deter his attack, nor did anyone besides Mrs. Pepitone actually see the attacker.

At this point many citizens, including the States newspaper, begin to wildly theorize that the Axeman is something other than human. Some people point out that the panels removed from the doors were too small for any grown human to fit through, with the locks being unreachable from the removed panels, and the doors always found locked from the inside. With the combination of the atmosphere of paranoia and superstitious nature of New Orleans, some begin to wonder if the bloodthirsty and mysterious intruder with the axe really is from Hell, something not human, some sort of evil spirit, as his letter stated.

On December 2, 1920, investigators in New Orleans receive a report about an incident in Los Angeles, California. A man named Joseph Mumfre, a New Orleans resident, had been shot dead on the street. The shooter was a Mrs. Mike Pepitone, widow of the Axeman's last victim, who had waited in a shadowy doorway, dressed in black, as Mumfre approached, and then shot him dead. After Mumfre died on the sidewalk, Mrs. Pepitone calmly waited for police to arrive. She claimed that Joseph Mumfre was the man that she had seen running from her husband's room that night, axe in hand.

Mrs. Pepitone recieved 10 years for her crime, to be served in Los Angeles. She was released after 3 years and was never heard from again. Mike Pepitone would be the last known victim of the Axeman; there were no more axe murders in New Orleans following Joseph Mumfre's shooting.

The identity of the Axeman of New Orleans is still unknown.

The Axeman has become a legend, one of the most notorious boogeymen of New Orleans lore. Despite tireless investigation the crimes were never officially solved. Theories abound, though. One theory involves the Mafia... many of the victims were Italians, many were grocers. The thought was, perhaps these people had taken out loans and had not repaid their dues in some way. Rumors of a Mafia sect called 'The Black Hand' were whispered on the streets; it was reputed to be a secret oganization that carried out Mafia assasinations. They were said to deliver a warning note imprinted with a black hand to those who crossed them before carrying out their violent reprisals. Some theorized that maybe the Black Hand was sending a message to those who didn't comply with it's demands with the brutal axe murders.

Another theory focuses on Joseph Mumfre, the man that Mike Pepitone's widow claimed was her husband's killer. On May 16, 1912, an Italian couple named Shiambra were shot in their beds as they slept. Mr. Shiambra died, while his wife survived the attack. While this crime differed greatly from the Axeman's usual MO, there are some who believe that this may have been one of the first crimes in the series, due to the similarities in the victims, and the method of attack as they slept in their beds. The interesting thing is that newspapers at the time repeatedly referred to the prime suspect in this case as someone named "Momfre". Another intriguing link was found written on a sidewalk about a block away from the Maggio crime scene on the day of the murder- a message in chalk, scrawled in a childish hand, which read, "Mrs. Maggio will sit up tonight just like Mrs. Toney." ...Mr. Shiambra's first name was Tony... was 'Mrs. Toney' a reference to Mrs. Shiambra? Some wondered at the coincidence. Was Joseph Mumfre the Axeman, and were the Shiambras one of his early attacks? The axe murders did stop with his death, but there was never any concrete evidence of his guilt beyond his killer's accustaion.

Perhaps, we will never know the truth. But the legend of the Axeman lives on. ..

Sheet music for a 1919 song called 'The Mysterious Axeman's Jazz'

Australian band Beasts Of Bourbon's 1988 promo video for a song called 'Psycho', off of their 1984 album 'The Axeman's Jazz'...

Please feel free to discuss your ideas, theories, questions and comments about the Axeman case in the comments....

Monday, November 9, 2009

Death at Dyatlov Pass

The Northern Ural mountains, Western Russia, 1959... nine adventurous Russian hikers have made base camp on a ski trek through the snow-laden Urals. The name of the particular slope they are camped on is Kholat Syakhl- a Mansi name meaning Mountain of the Dead.

The group, led by Igor Dyatlov, consists of two women and eight men... a group of college friends from Ural State Technical University. They are in high spirits... enthusiastic and excited about reaching their goal- Otorten, a mountain peak approximately ten kilometers from their location. At this time of the year, the trip they are undertaking is considered very difficult- Category III- and they have already gotten slightly off track due to a blinding snowstorm, but all are experienced in long mountain expeditions and cross-country ski treks, and are confident in reaching their goal, even looking forward to the challenge.

Little do they know, they are embarking on a dark journey into what will become one of the most chilling and infamous unsolved mysteries of our times. The group kept diaries and shot photos all along the way, leaving behind the following record of their trip...

January 25: the group travels by train to a city called Ivdel. From Ivdel, they find a truck to take them as far as Vizhai- the last inhabited settlement in the north.

January 27: the group sets out on foot from Vizhai into the wilderness, intent on conquering the peaks of Otorten. On the second day of their trek, one of the group- Yuri Yudin- experiences health problems, and opts to leave the hike and return to civilization. They agree that Dyatlov- the group's leader- will send word to him at their sports club as soon as the group returns to Vizhai. Now there are nine.

January 31: The hikers reach the beginnings of the highland area and set about making preparations for the climb. They find a valley shielded by woods, and construct a shelter there to store the extra food and equipment that they will need on the return trip.

February 1: the crew begins the difficult trip over the pass. The plan is to cross over the pass to the other side and set up camp for the following night. As they climb, a heavy snowstorm descends and they lose visibility in the swirling snow. As the weather worsens, the group loses their bearings and mistakenly alter their course to the west, heading toward the peak of the Kholat Syakhl- The Mountain of the Dead. Realizing that they are off course, they decide to stop and set up base camp on the mountain's slope. Later, the weather clears up somewhat, and they have a bite to eat and goof around, taking photos of the camp and each other. Night falls, and they settle in to sleep.

What happens afterward is still an enigma.

The hikers were to have arrived safely back in Vizhai no later than February 12, upon which time Dyatlov had promised to send a telegraph to their friends. The date comes and goes with no word. At first there is no alarm, as expeditions of this nature sometimes have delays and the friends are all competent cross-country hikers. But as time goes by with no sign of the group, worried relatives begin demanding a rescue operation. On February 20 the first rescue parties- made up of volunteer teachers and students from the hiker's university- go out in search of the group. Soon army and police forces join in the search, bringing in planes and helicopters.

On February 26 the searchers find the group's abandoned base camp on the slope of Kholat Syakhl. The tent is tattered and slashed apart. A line of bare footprints leads across the clearing, headed toward the forest on the other side of the pass. At around 500 meters, they vanish under the newly fallen snow.

The searchers follow the trail. Under an old pine tree at the edge of the forest, they find the remnants of a fire. They also find the first of the bodies.

It is Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko, frozen to death. They are clad only in their underwear, and their feet are bare. The searchers continue, and come across three more frozen bodies- Zinaida Kolmogorova, Rustem Slobodin, and Igor Dyatlov. They are located between the old pine and the camp, and their locations and positions indicate that they had been trying to return to camp when they succumbed to hypothermia. Each hiker lies alone, located separately at distances of 300, 480 and 630 meters away from the pine. Like the others, they are dressed strangely for a night when a snowstorm was blowing and the temperature was around -25° to -30°C. Partially dressed, some wear only one shoe, others wear no shoes at all or just socks. Some of them are haphazardly draped in bits of the clothes that had apparently been cut from the dead.

The bodies of hikers Lyudmila Dubinina, Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle, Alexander Zolotarev, and Alexander Kolevatov cannot be found in the initial searches. In fact it would be another two months before their fate is known. In the meantime, a legal inquest into the incident begins as soon as the first five bodies are discovered. After examination, medical professionals conclude that all five had died of hypothermia, with no other injuries present that may have contributed to their demise. One of the hikers has a small skull fracture, but it is determined to be a non-fatal wound that could have possibly predated the incident. It is speculated that maybe the hikers has grown disoriented from hypothermia in the serious snowstorm, and wandered off to their deaths.

The discovery of the last four bodies changes all that.

On May 4, the remaining travelers are found. Their bodies lay deeper in the woods, in a ravine of a stream valley. Four meters of snow covers them. Unlike their comrades, three of the four have violent, fatal injuries. Dubunina and Zolotarev both have had their chests crushed, with major fractures throughout, and Thibeaux-Brignolle has extensive damage to his skull. An expert states that the force needed to cause such devastating injuries would have had to be great, comparing it to the impact of a car accident. Inexplicably, none of the bodies have any external wounds at all. It is almost as if they have been crushed by a high level of pressure. And that is not all.

The female hiker is missing her tongue.

The investigation uncovers even more perplexing facts about the incident. It is concluded that something caused the hikers to rise in the night and to leave their camp without even bothering to dress. The tent had been sliced open by the group, from the inside. All nine left on foot, of their own accord, including the members of the group who were found with injuries. Six of the hikers died from hypothermia, the other three died of their injuries. All perished approximately 6-8 hours after they ate their last meal. The inquest can find no traces of any other people anywhere on or near Kholat Syakhl at the time of the incident. Some people theorize that the hikers had come under attack from the indigenous Mansi, but a doctor disputes that theory, saying no human could have caused such injuries, "because the force of the blows had been too strong and no soft tissue had been damaged". In addition, no other footprints besides the hikers are found anywhere near the site. Some point to the possibility of an avalanche, but it remains unexplained as to why a simple natural disaster like an avalanche would have been shrouded in such an incredible amount of secrecy, or would have resulted in the area being closed down for an entire three years following the incident.

It is reported that tests also revealed high doses of mysterious radioactive contamination on the clothing of some of the victims.

Things get stranger. After the funerals, relatives of the deceased claim that the victims' hair had gone completely gray, and that their skin was an unnatural and unexplained orange color. Another group of hikers, who had been hiking about 50 kilometers south of the site, claim that they all saw eerie orange spheres in the sky to the north above Kholat Syakhl on the night of the incident. In fact, similar sightings of these 'spheres' above Ivdel and the adjacent areas were reported continually from February to March 1959 by multiple witnesses. This included the military and meteorology service.

This unnerving mystery has never had a satisfactory explanation. The sole survivor of this chilling incident- Yuri Yudin, who escaped an unknown fate when he left his nine friends to return to the village due to health problems- has said, "If I had a chance to ask God just one question, it would be, 'What really happened to my friends that night?"

This photo shows Yuri Yudin- sole survivor of the expedition- hugging fellow hiker Lyudmila Dubinina during the trip, before he took ill and left the group; this was one of the photos later found in a camera at the site. You can see the actual last photos from the hikers' cameras here

The area was eventually named 'Dyatlov Pass'. The investigation was officially shut down in May 1959, due to "absence of a guilty party", and the inquest's final verdict was that the hikers died due to "unknown compelling force". All files associated with the Dyatlov Pass incident were locked away in secret archives and were only made available to the public in 1990... with some parts missing.

The gravesite memorial for the Dyatlov victims

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Legend of Sawney Bean

The time: 16th century Scotland. A man and his pretty young wife ride together on a single horse, traveling along a wooded trail on the remote Scottish coastline. The couple has just come from a fair, and are in still in high spirits from the festivities. The moon is beginning to rise, casting a silvery glow onto the wild fern and the flowering heather dotting the edge of the trail. The wife hums softly to herself as seabirds scream in the far distance. She breathes in the sea air and leans her head against her husband's strong shoulder.

Without warning, the quiet of the night is shattered as the trembling of a fir tree bursts into unexplained violence, a disheveled creature darting from the branches into the couple's line of sight.

The wife screams, and suddenly more figures explode from the foliage all around... freakish, disheveled male and female figures like some misplaced prehistoric clan... they are wielding weapons, and in the shadows, there are too many to count. The husband leaps down to the ground, armed with a sword and a pistol and ready to fight. He is trained in combat, and feels he has a reasonably good chance of defending against the bandits. But he does not know what he is up against. The pack attacks with savage ferocity, spooking the horse and overtaking the couple with a single mindedness. Even as his wife tumbles to the ground, the husband fights, dealing blow after blow to what seems like an endless line of brutal assailants. He fights as he hears his wife's terrible screams, and the whoops of the savages as they tear her apart (it is said that the females took her down, slitting her throat and belly, and then feasting on the blood and entrails right before the horrified husband's eyes) Still he fights, even as they gnash their teeth, and countless blows rain down upon him and he crashes to his knees, becoming surer and surer of his own impending death. Just then, the sounds of voices and hoofbeats approach from the bend in the road. A large group of 20-30 fairgoers on their way home suddenly intrudes upon the horrific scene, surprising the attackers, and after a moment's shock they all rush in to help, chasing off the attackers, who seem to melt into the forest without a trace. The husband's life is spared, but his young wife has been horribly mauled to death and is beyond help. The attackers had tried to drag her body away with them but had abandoned it when they had to flee.

It sounds like the plot to some outlandish horror flick. But the fact is, this incident is purported to be real, and it was the beginning of the unraveling of a legend- a real life horror story of madness, incest, mass murder, and cannibalism....

Alexander Bean was born East Lothian, Scotland. He was the son of a hardworking man, a man that trimmed hedges, dug ditches, and worked hard manual labor to provide for his family. The father tried to guide Alexander into the family trade when the time came, but Alexander had different desires. He did not see the need for honest labor, he was lawless and vicious, and he found an equally vicious woman to partner with, a woman that shared his own dark pursuits. He turned his back on his family and left home with her for destinations unknown, and it would be decades before news of them resurfaced, in the most shocking of ways.

Meanwhile, near a place called Galloway (now South Ayrshire), sinister things were occurring. People were disappearing... travelers along the forest roads near the coastline... disappearing without a trace. Every so often, a severed body part would wash up onto the beach, with no further explanation. Fear and paranoia grew, and several major searches of the land were launched, to no avail. The hysteria mounted, leading to false accusations and the lynching of several innocent people. Innkeepers came under close scrutiny, as they were often the last people to see the travelers before they disappeared, and therefore the first targets of the paranoid population. Yet still the baffling disappearances continued unabated.

Then came the bloodthirsty attack on the married couple, in which the husband- the very first victim to ever survive the clan's attacks- was finally able to provide a description of what had taken place. The husband was taken to Glasgow, to recount his terrible, unbelievable experience to the magistrates there. They in turn sent word of the atrocities to King James VI of Scotland, who finally organized a search party of 400 men armed with trained bloodhounds to hunt down the murderous crew, with the husband acting as a guide. The searchers eventually came to a coastal cave in Bannane Head, during which time the bloodhounds went frantic, barking and howling at the cave's entrance. The cave had been considered before, but had been decided to be uninhabitable, as the entrance was completely obscured by water at high tide, rendering it virtually invisible. Now, the stunned searchers discovered that the intricate cave system actually wound almost a mile into the coastline. But that surprise was nothing in comparison for what waited for them inside...

The search party must have felt like they had entered a chamber of Hell when the entered the cave, as they found the arms, legs, thighs, hands and feet of countless men, women and children hanging like beef in a butcher's shop. Pickled human remains were stacked up everywhere, as well as piles of gold and silver, clothing, weapons, cloth, and other assorted spoils from their raids.

The story that was revealed in this awful place was gruesome beyond belief. After 25 years, they had finally found the secret 'home' of Alexander Bean- hence know as 'Sawney Bean'. Along with his wife, Sawney Bean was now the head of a cannibalistic outlaw clan of 48 people- eight sons, six daughters, eighteen grandsons and fourteen granddaughters- all the products of incest and inbreeding and raised for murder and mayhem. The feral family thrived on lawlessness and cannibalism... they would undertake ruthless ambushes under the cover of night, laying in wait to rob and murder individuals or small groups of travelers. They never left a soul alive. The dead bodies of these unfortunate victims were carried back to the family cave, where they were systematically butchered and cannibalized. Leftovers of the corpses were sometimes carefully pickled, stored away as provisions against any times of slim pickings. Extra body parts were tossed into the sea, which eventually swept some of the dismembered parts back onto the beaches and to the horror of the villagers. The searchers found the cave strewn with the butchered remains of humans, and the ghastly evidence of hundreds of acts of cannibalism and murder. Some estimates claim the Sawney Beans took 1000's of victims.

This old drawing depicts Sawney Bean at the head of his cave; a slaughtered person lies on the rocks to the left as a woman in the background carries a severed leg inside

It would seem incredible that such a clan could survive unnoticed for so many years. But the Sawney Beans carefully planned their ambushes at night, in remote areas, never taking more than an individual at a time, or a small group, in a place where wilderness still ruled the land and the Sawney Beans ruled the wilderness. Their ambushes were planned carefully, with enough members in place to surround their victims from all sides, making escape impossible. And they never left anything behind- carting off the bodies and whatever else they could salvage from the brutal attacks. They covered their tracks well, living completely self-sufficiently in a well hidden cave system, no doubt supplementing their diet with the fish and wildlife that were abundant in the area when human prey was scarce. At high tide the ocean crept 200 yards into their underground lair, which itself stretched on for almost a mile. In essence their home of horrors was almost completely hidden from the world. Still, over the years the massive number of unexplained disappearances and the washing up of body parts on the shores already had the community on edge. They had no evidence, however, to point to any culprit or even any crime scenes... so they lived with a sense of dread and fear of the unknown hunters that they knew were out there, somewhere.

But finally, after over 2 decades of murderous mayhem, the king's searchers had uncovered the culprits and the grisly reign of the Sawney Beans was brought to an end with the capture of the family. Records say that they were taken in chains to Tolbooth Jail in Edinburgh, whereafter some were transferred to Glasgow, and some to Leith. Thousands of villagers lined up to witness the spectacle of this monstrous family as they were traveled across the land to their final punishment. At the time cannibalism was considered the equivalent of treason, so the Sawney Bean clan was executed without trial. The men had their hands, feet, and genitalia severed, and were left to bleed to death as the women and children of the family watched. It went no easier on the women and children. They were burned alive in 3 separate fires, after watching the last of the lifeblood drain from their menfolk. It is said that not one of the Sawney Bean family showed any remorse or desire for mercy at the end- instead they remained feral... cursing, spitting, and spewing evil words until their very last breaths.

Some historians debate the existence of the Sawney Beans, yet the tale has become Scottish legend. Some note that the newspapers and publications of the time when the family was active made no mention of the multiple disappearances, and speculate that the later published stories about the case could have been sensationalistic exaggeration. But others note that cannibalism was not uncommon in medieval Scotland, and also, Galloway was also known to be a very wild and lawless place at the time, so it's not unthinkable that crimes such as these could have been committed there. Maybe not on the level of the Sawney Bean story- perhaps there is exaggeration there, as is common in most legends and folktales- but no one can really know for sure.

The story lives on in Scotland's mythology, and has inspired numerous Hollywood adaptations, such as The Hills Have Eyes. It has also inspired books, such as Jack Ketchum's Off Season and it's sequel, Offspring.

Also, a movie based on Offspring was just released on DVD, and it is a really chilling portrayal of a Sawney Bean-like clan bent on a murderous spree:

tunes of the dead

For your viewing entertainment, I present: my top 5 zombie music videos of all time.... enjoy!

Gob- I Hear You Calling: this vid has cheerleading & soccer playing zombies, great zombie makeup, zombies losing body parts, and some humor thrown in... and it's a great song to boot....

Naked Ape- Fashion Freak: have you ever had a fantasy about sexy rotting zombies washing your car seductively? These guys obviously have. Bonus points for the cool 80's synthesized beat and the zombie chihuahua.... yes, a zombie chihuahua!

Misfits- Scream: a classic from the gods of horror punk. Old skool b&w zombie mayhem running rampant in a hospital, with gore galore, and of course starring the Misfits themselves as the hungry undead, it doesn't get any better than this...

Peaches feat. Iggy Pop- Kick It: what do you get when the always-awesome Peaches teams up with the legendary Iggy Pop? A badass and hilarious song, and a highly entertaining video complete with shambling zombie masses...

Phantom Planet- Big Brat: watch the zombie fanatics zombie themselves up, then watch their 'film' about the zombie apocalypse, the ending of which features a very sweet zombie love story awww....

And finally, special bonus mention goes to....

Michael Jackson- Thriller: although it is the most obvious choice for any zombie related list, there is no denying that MJ's undead extravaganza was a groundbreaking phenomena for zombies AND for music videos. Even today, it still stands up to the CGI and effects laden films of modern times, and looks fantastic. And everyone loves the zombie dance!

Well, that's it for zombies, stay tuned for more video posts!

Victim of the Beast

In the quiet, sprawling acres of Salt Lake City Cemetery there lies a grave, a grave surrounded by mystery.

This is the story of the grave of Lily Gray.

The enigma of this famous grave does not lie with the history of its occupant, as there is no known history to speak of. The details of Lily Gray's life are largely unknown.

Rather, the mystery lies in the dark inscription of the stone. It reads:

JUNE 6.1881-NOV.14.1958

This sinister, unexplained inscription has provoked curiosity, and even fear, for generations. So who was Lily Gray? And what is the meaning behind the sinister engraving on her tombstone?

The story of her life shows nothing unusual. According to, Lily Gray was born on June 4, 1880, in Ontario Canada. The discrepancy in the dates and spelling of her name on her tombstone may be a consequence of the times, when tombstone information was often provided by the recollection of a family member and was not always 100% accurate. Lily Gray was not listed in the Social Security Index; again, this is not unusual for the time period, especially if she never worked a formal job in the States. There are no records of any children being born to her, and her cause of death is listed as natural. All in all, what records there are of Lily Gray indicate nothing beyond a seemingly normal and nondescript life.

So how did this bizarre and fearful message end up on her tombstone? It seems that nobody knows, making it one of Utah's most enduring mysteries.

As with any urban legend, theories abound. The first theory has to do with the infamous 'Highway 666', which traversed through part of Utah... U.S. 666 was famous for it's name- which was changed in 2003 by the American Association of State Highways and Transportation Officials from the devilish 666 to a less sinister-sounding 491. U.S. 666 was also infamous for the exceedingly high rate of fatal accidents along its lonely stretches of road, a fact which over the years it earned it the nickname of the 'Devil's Highway'. It's plausible that Lily Gray may have traveled the treacherous Highway 666 in her time... is it possible that she could have met her fate in an accident on U.S. 666, thus prompting the baffling inscription on her tombstone?

A second theory is more diabolical and sensational in nature... in the first part of the twentieth century, famed Satanist Aleister Crowley spent a significant amount of time in Salt Lake City, building up a devoted following there. Some theorize that Lily Gray somehow became involved in Salt Lake City's Satanic movement, leading to the strange inscription on her tombstone. However, records show that Lily Gray did not move to Salt Lake City until 1950- 3 years after Crowley's death. As interesting as the theory is, there is no proof... which seems to be the case in all that surrounds the Lily Gray mystery.

One last theory lies with Lily Gray's husband, Elmer Gray. Records point to the fact that he had mental problems, that he was a petty criminal who had been incarcerated, and that he may have had anti-government sentiments, as evidenced in this application for criminal pardon. Could his mental unbalance be the key to his wife's cryptic inscription? Was the 'Beast' referenced on Lily's grave the government, or some other enemy in the disturbed mind of Elmer Gray? It bears referencing that Elmer Gray is buried in the same cemetery as his wife, but in a plot far removed her location.

One last clue may remain in this mystery of the grave. Lily Gray's tombstone is etched with a border of evening primrose. According to cemetery symbolism, the meaning of evening primrose on a tombstone can have several meanings... from youth, to memory, to sadness, to hope.

But it is the evening primrose's nickname that proves the most interesting... for its nickname it the 'Devil's lantern'.

We may never know the truth behind the dark and curious inscription on Lily Gray's final resting place. We can only hope that she has found peace in the afterlife, and respite from whatever 'Beast' that plagued her.


A quick post to introduce my new blog feature- storytelling.

Since I was a kid, I have loved tales of the strange, mysterious, unexplained, and just plain weird. And part of the pleasure of these stories for me has always been in sharing them with my friends and family... in spinning the tale and watching their reactions. An avid reader of anything and everything since I learned to read, my fascination has always lay with the unexplained, and I collect strange stories the way some collect stamps or old coins. Even as a kid I was the go-to girl when we went camping and some good, spooky campfire stories were needed, and anyone that knows me in real life can tell you, I always have some new, bizarre yarn to unravel. My family always teased me, saying that in medieval times I totally would have been a storytelling bard, travelling the lands sharing my tales of the fantastic with the masses, heheh.

I had the idea that my blog would be a decent place to start sharing some of these stories with you all, since I know many of you have the same interest in the unusual that I do. So with the next post, I will launch a new feature to this blog- storytelling, which I will add to on a regular basis. There will be a new storytelling tag for all these posts, so that you can find them easily. I hope you all enjoy!