Friday, October 23, 2009

The Villisca slaughter

Villisca, Iowa, 1912.

On Sunday, June 9, sisters Lena and Ina Stillinger left for church. Rather than following their original plan to spend the day and the night with their grandmother, they were invited by their friend Katherine Moore to come home with her and spend the night there. The Moores, along with Lena and Ina Stillinger, attended the Children's Day Exercise that Sunday; afterwards, they left for the Moores' house, arriving between 9:45 and 10:00.

The next morning, June 10, the Moores' next-door neighbor, Mary Peckham, realized that she hadn't seen any of the family outside doing the morning chores, and that the house was unusually quiet. Sometime between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., she knocked on the door, then tried to open it when there was no answer.

The door was locked from the inside. Mary called Josiah Moore's brother Ross.

When Ross arrived, he looked in a bedroom window, then began knocking and shouting, in the hopes of waking one or more of the occupants. He then searched through his keys and found one that fit the lock. Ross entered the house and opened the door to the bedroom off the parlor. 12-year-old Lena and 8-year-old Ina were lying dead on the bed, skulls crushed, and the bedding was stained with blood.

Ross Moore returned to the porch, where Mary Peckham was waiting, and told her to call the sheriff. Hank Horton, the City Marshall, soon arrived, and found the bodies of the Moore family upstairs. Josiah Moore and his wife Sarah, and their four children - Herman, Katherina, Boyd, and Paul - had all been murdered in the same way as the Stillingers downstairs. Josiah and Sarah were 43 and 39, respectively. The children were 11, 9, 7, and 5 years old. The murder weapon is assumed to have been an axe that was found at the scene (it had belonged to Josiah Moore). The murders are believed to have taken place between midnight and 5 a.m., which was the hour when neighbor Mary Peckham first entered her own yard.

Villisca is a small town, and news spread fast. Curious residents came to - and into- the house, effectively contaminating the crime scene. As many as one hundred people may have entered the house to see the bodies before the National Guard sealed off the area. In 1912, fingerprinting was still in the early stages, and DNA testing, of course, was decades in the future. The murderer of the Moore family and the Stillinger sisters was never found.

In the early 1930s, the house was rented by a young couple, Homer and Bonnie Ritner. Bonnie was pregnant with her first child at the time. It wasn't long before Bonnie began hearing noises at night, then awakening to see a man - with an axe - standing at the foot of the bed. When their doctor informed Homer that Bonnie's increasing hysteria could cause a miscarriage, Homer took to sitting in a chair at the foot of the bed at night, while Bonnie slept. It wasn't long before Homer, too, began to hear noises; eventually, he heard the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. Finally, the couple moved out.

Decades later, the house was rented by a couple with two daughters. The father of the family was a trucker, which meant that he was often absent from the house. When he was away, his daughters often awoke at night to hear other children sobbing. Sometimes, their dresser drawers were ransacked, and the clothing in them was scattered around the room. The girls told their parents of these events, but the parents could not believe it - until the night when their father was sharpening a knife in the kitchen. The knife shot from his hand, then stabbed him in the palm.

The family left the house that same night.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ida Lupino's ghost story

Ida Lupino was a popular actress of Hollywood's Golden Era who branched out into directing at a time when few women were directors. She became the only person ever to direct AND star in an episode of The Twilight Zone (the name of the episode is "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine").

Ida was raised in London, where her parents, Stanley and Connie, were popular stage performers. When her parents were performing, Ida was cared for by her paternal grandmother.

One evening, when Ida was a child, the phone rang. Her parents were performing; grandmother asked Ida to answer the phone, as her hands were full. Ida picked up the phone and heard her father's friend Andrew speaking. Andrew said in a monotone: "Stanley... I must speak with Stanley... It's very important..." Ida said hello to "Uncle Andy", as she called him, and explained that her parents were performing that night. Andrew, however, continued to state that he had to speak with Stanley.

Ida's grandmother, confused by what she was hearing from Ida, took the phone and, after listening for a moment, asked, "Andrew, are you ill?" Then she made a sound of exasperation and explained that the call had been cut off. She contacted the operator to ask what number had just called them - and the operator said that no calls had been made to their number in more than an hour.

That night, Ida was allowed to stay up until her parents returned from the theater. When her grandmother told them what had happened earlier, Connie Lupino fell into a chair, looking as if she were going to faint. Her father, white-faced, insisted that Andrew could not have called that evening.

"He did," her grandmother persisted, "and I think you should call him back. He didn't sound well."

Finally her father said, "Mom... Andrew is dead. He hanged himself three days ago."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe

The death of Edgar Allan Poe is still unsolved, and something that the author himself might have liked to write about (as he did in his short story "The Mystery of Marie Roget").

In 1849, Poe took a trip to New York. When he left the residence of a friend, he accidentally took his friend's walking stick, leaving his own behind. On his train journey back to his home in Virgina, Poe vanished. Days later, he was found in a Baltimore saloon, in very bad condition. A journalist friend took him to the hospital, where he died later. Nobody has ever been able to determine why Poe vanished, where he had been, or what caused his death. One of the riddles of his disappearance is that, when he resurfaced in Baltimore, he was wearing a suit of clothes that didn't belong to him - but he still had his friend's walking stick.

Poe was never lucid long enough to explain what had happened to him, though in a rare bout of clarity, he stated that "the best thing my friends could do, would be to blow my brains out with a pistol." His last words were typical of his short, impoverished, tortured life: "Lord, help my poor soul."

Poe has not rested easily in the city of his death. His ghost - or, at least, the ghost of a man in dark clothing - has been seen in the streets near his old residence. The spirit also can be seen in the cemetery in which Poe was buried (and later, reburied in grand style). Another place frequented by the author is the Horse You Came in on Saloon.

2009 is the bicentennial of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, and the city of Baltimore is offering many events to commemorate one of its best-known citizens.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Tower of London

The Tower of London is one of the planet’s most haunted locations – not surprisingly, given the number of people who have been executed there. The headless ghost of Anne Boleyn (buried in St. Peter ad Vincula chapel near the site of her execution) has been seen floating around the grounds of the Tower, sometimes carrying her head. In 1864, a sentry challenged what he thought was a woman approaching him; when she made no response, he thrust at her with his bayonet.

The bayonet passed right through the figure.

The sentry was charged with sleeping on duty, after he was found unconscious following the encounter with the ghost. He was only saved from a court martial when others reported that they had had same experience.

Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for only nine days, was executed at – and haunts – the Tower. Her spirit has been seen on the battlements.

The Bloody Tower was haunted by the ghosts of two little boys, thought to have been the two princes who were smothered (possibly on the orders of Richard III) in their room in 1483. The two figures, wearing nightshirts, were seen standing hand-in-hand before vanishing.

Another victim of Henry VIII met a gruesome death on Tower Green. The 70-year-old Countess of Salisbury was dragged to the block, but refused to lay her head on it. She attempted to run from the executioner, who followed her, hacking her with his axe until she was dead. A ghostly reenactment of this scene has been witnessed by visitors to the Tower, while the shadow of an axe falls over the green.

Sir Walter Raleigh has been seen strolling the grounds; unlike most prisoners, he had the freedom to move around the Tower.

The tortured screams of Guy Fawkes sometimes ring through the area.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Okay, folks, here we go. It's now the month of Halloween, the month that (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway) was just made for spookiness, eerie nights, hot drinks by a fire, and scaring the hell out of yourself. I've been pretty lax in my postings recently (and by the way, the previous post was simply to claim my blog at one of those sites that pay you to blog), and I do apologize for it.

I'll be adding more soon - today, I hope - and I plan to continue adding as much as I can.


The unknown resides opposite the strict plant.