Monday, December 31, 2012

Spirits in Stone

Ghosts of the Mansfield Reformatory

This date, December 31, was the supposed to be the official closing of the Ohio State Reformatory in 1986 but somehow, the ramshackle structure hung on until 1990. Better known to people today as the Mansfield Reformatory, the gloomy, gothic structure looms on the outskirts of a small Ohio town. Designed as a prison for criminals who were too old for the Boys Industrial School in Lancaster and not hardened enough for the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, the reformatory saw untold thousands of prisoners during its years of operations. Once applauded as a place that could humanely reform first-time offenders, the conditions deteriorated to the point that it became known more for abuse, torture and murder than for its early successes.

It’s been closed down now for many years, but those who cross the threshold of this place today can assure you that the prison is far from empty.

The campaign to build a prison in Mansfield began during the years of the Civil War but it was not until 1884 that the state legislature actually approved the creation of a prison that would serve as an “intermediate” place of incarceration for Ohio lawbreakers. Using land that had served as one of Mansfield’s two Civil War camps, the city raised $10,000 to purchase the land and the state acquired the more than 150 acres that adjoined it. The cornerstone of the prison was placed on November 4, 1886 and marked a day of great celebration in the city. A crowd of more than 15,000 turned out for the event and it featured a parade that started in Mansfield, which was decorated with flags and bunting, and ended at the new building site. A number of dignitaries were present for the celebration, including former President Rutherford B. Hayes, Senator John Sherman, Governor J.B. Foraker and General Roeliff Brinkerhoff, the man who led the drive to have a prison built in Mansfield. Cleveland architect Levi T. Scofield was hired to design the reformatory, which was expected to cost about $1.3 million to build. According to reports, he based his design on sketches of castles in Germany.

Numerous funding problems in the years that followed caused so many delays that the reformatory was not able to accept its first group of inmates until 1896, a full ten years after work at the site began. The prison officially opened on September 17 when 150 inmates were transferred to the news facility from the Ohio Penitentiary. The transfer drew almost as much attention as the original groundbreaking did. Large crowds turned out in Columbus to watch the inmates, dressed in prison stripes, march from the penitentiary to the train station. The prisoners, entertained by the attention, waved and made jokes to the crowds as they passed. Men along the route even passed out cigars to the inmates as they walked by them. The train was greeted by another large crowd when it stopped in Galion, before continuing on to Mansfield. People in town cheered as the men were unloaded at the northwest corner of the reformatory and were taken directly to their cells. The inmates were immediately set to work. The reformatory was still far from finished and the convicts were used to complete the sewer system and other parts of the structure. Construction was not fully completed until 1910.

An early photo of the Ohio State Reformatory

Because the reformatory was an intermediate prison, designed for young offenders, it had few famous inmates during its history. At least one of them went on to great notoriety, however, proving that reform was not always possible with some offenders. The most famous former inmate was Henry Baker, one of the men convicted of pulling off the famous Brink’s heist in 1950.

Some of the inmates at Mansfield didn’t just commit crimes to get into prison, or after they got out. Some of them actually carried on criminals operations while they were still incarcerated. On August 21, 1921, two reformatory inmates, King Williams, age 18, and John Kmetz, age 17, were charged with carrying on a counterfeiting operation while behind bars. The plot came to the attention of the U.S. Secret Service from the superintendent of the reformatory, who acted on a tip from a trusty. The two young men had apparently been creating counterfeit bills and passing them to reformatory guards, who circulated them throughout the area. Assistant Superintendent Rowe had actually caught Williams in the act, putting the finishing touches on a bogus $5 bill. Williams and Kmetz were paroled in late 1921 and were immediately re-arrested by federal authorities, who charged them with counterfeiting.

But darker crimes have occurred in the history of the reformatory, as well. Two corrections officers have been murdered in the line of duty at the Ohio State Reformatory. On November 2, 1926, a paroled inmate named Phillip Orleck returned to the prison to try and help a friend escape. The attempt was unsuccessful but in the course of it, Orleck shot a guard named Urban Wilford outside the west gate. Wilford was killed and Orleck was arrested two months later. He died in the electric chair at the Ohio State Penitentiary the following year.

The second officer was Frank Hanger, who died after being beaten with an iron bar. Hanger tried to stop an escape attempt by a dozen prisoners in October 1932 and paid for it with his life. Two inmates, Merrill Chandler and Chester Probaski, were charged with the guard’s murder and were sent to the electric chair in 1935.

Perhaps the darkest days in the history of the Ohio State Reformatory came with the parole of two inmates, Robert Daniels and John West – who would forever be immortalized in newspapers as the “Mad Dog Killers.” In the summer of 1948, just days after being released from prison, the two young men went on a killing spree that ended with seven people dead, including a guard at the reformatory and his wife and daughter. They started the spree by killing a Columbus tavern owner named Earl Ambrose on July 10, followed by Frank Frech, an elderly tourist camp operator on July 11. After that, they drove straight to Mansfield and the Ohio State Reformatory. Robert Daniels, interviewed after he was captured stated that they had gone to the prison looking for a guard named “Red” Harris, but when they didn’t found him, they went to the home of another guard, John Niebel.

A newspaper featuring the “Mad Dog Killers” and their “13-Day Reign of Terror”

 Daniels and West arrived at the Niebel home around 1:30 a.m. and knocked on the door. When Niebel answered, they told him that their car had broken down and they wanted to use the telephone. He let them inside, but did not recognize the two men at first. It was not until Daniels pulled out a gun that Niebel realized the horror that he had allowed into his home. While West held a gun on Niebel, Daniels went upstairs forced Mrs. Nolana Niebel, and her 20-year-old daughter, Phyllis, to come downstairs. The family was forced into a light-gray automobile and was driven by Daniels and West through Mansfield, around Central Park, and then out of town to Flemings Falls Road. As they traveled, Daniels forced the Niebels to take off all of their clothes and throw them out the window.

Finally, the car was stopped and the family was forced out into the lonely cornfield that would become their death site. Daniels marched them through the knee-high corn and then, forcing them to stand in a line next to one another, shot each of them in the head with an old Mauser automatic.

Daniels and West fled the scene and abandoned the car they were driving. A few hours later, they were captured when they attempted to shoot it out with police and sheriff’s deputies at a roadblock north of Van Wert. The blockade was set up as part of what became one of the greatest manhunts in the state’s history. The newspapers called the killing spree a “13-Day Reign of Terror.” The killers claimed their last two victims just before they were caught, driving a stolen truck that was being used to haul four brand-new automobiles. James J. Smith, a newlywed farmer from Tiffin, was shot through the head when he refused to give up his driver’s license. Less than an hour later, the body of another man, Orville Taylor, a truck driver from Niles, Michigan, was found in a roadside park near Tiffin. Taylor was believed to be the driver of the automobile truck that the killers were driving when they were stopped. Shots were exchanged at the roadblock and Daniels and West managed to wound a Van Wert policeman named Leonard Conn and Frank Fremont, a conservation division employee, during the gunfight. It ended with West being shot dead and Daniels being taken into custody.  

 While in jail, Daniels bragged about his exploits and when he was bought outside to pose for news photographers, an angry mob gathered and demanded that he be turned over to them to be hanged. Officials managed to get him safely back indoors but not before Daniels cursed the police, the photographers and the crowd. He was later tried and convicted for the murders and took a well-deserved seat in the Ohio State Penitentiary electric chair in January 1949.

In other cases, inmates at the Ohio State Reformatory were killing each other – or themselves. In 1955, a guard discovered the body of an inmate who had hanged himself in his cell. A few years later, another inmate poured a can of turpentine over himself and lit a match, setting his clothing on fire. After a prison riot occurred at the reformatory in 1957, 120 prisoners were confined to a solitary confinement area known as “the hole.” This was a dank, pitch-dark place of confinement where it was rumored that several inmates had gone insane. Because there were only 20 rooms in the hole, many of the men had to be locked into the solitary cells together for 30 days. During this time, at least one prisoner was alleged to have been murdered, his body hidden by another inmate under some bedding for several days.
Some blamed the condition of the prison on the mental state of some of the inmates. By the early part of the 1930s, the reformatory was already being criticized for being overcrowded and offering inhumane living quarters for the prisoners. As the years went by, the facility deteriorated even more.

In the 1970s, the state declared that the Ohio State Reformatory no longer met the standards and guidelines for correctional institutes. Public outcry about the state of the prison was led by the Counsel for Human Dignity, a coalition of civic and church groups. In 1978, they filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the 2,200 inmates at the reformatory, claiming that the prisoners’ Constitutional rights were being violated because they were forced to live in “brutalizing and inhumane conditions.” The lawsuit was finally resolved in 1983 with the filing of a consent decree in which prison officials agreed to improve conditions while preparing to close the cellblocks by December 31, 1986. The closing date ended up being extended for a few years, but by 1990, the reformatory was closed for good.

During the final years of the prison, the only people who seemed to appreciate the crumbling prison were Hollywood moviemakers. While the reformatory was still in operation, two movies – Harry and Walter Go to New York in 1975 and Tango and Cash in 1989 – used the prison for some scenes. However, it was not until 1994, when the film crew for The Shawshank Redemption arrived, that film crews began to realize that the Ohio State Reformatory was the perfect setting for prison films. The facility was widely featured in the film with more than 30 scenes shot in the prison or on the grounds. Several years later, scenes from Air Force One were also filmed at the reformatory. In recent years, there have also been a number of music videos produced at the prison, as well.

One of the Reformatory’s Cell blocks – a popular place for both film makers and ghost hunters!

The reformatory continued to decline for a time after it closed but then, in an effort to save the place, the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society (MRPS) was formed. Today, steps are under way to restore the remaining structure to its original condition. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the reformatory’s six-tier east wing is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest free-standing steel cellblock. The MRPS continues its work today by offering guided tours and numerous events and they have received several awards for their efforts to save this piece of Ohio history.

Since the closing of the reformatory in 1990, stories have circulated that the prison is haunted by the tormented spirits of former inmates, guards and prison officials who have simply never left. According to the legends, they are trapped here behind these decaying stone walls and rusted iron bars by the violent and painful events of their individual pasts. The horror and death of years past seems to be replaying itself behind the gates of the Ohio State Reformatory. Visitors who come here today become quickly aware that the cellblocks and corridors of the prison are not as empty and silent as they first appear to be.

One of the most tragic events to occur at the reformatory took place on November 5, 1950, in the administration wing of the prison. One section of this wing contained the home and offices of Warden Arthur L. Glattke, his wife, Helen, and their sons, Arthur, Jr. and Teddy. On that Sunday morning, Mrs. Glattke was in her bedroom alone and was getting dressed to go out. It was believed that she reached up into a high shelf in her closet, trying to get her jewelry box, and moved a .32-caliber pistol out of her way. The gun had been placed in the residence for the family’s protection. Dr. P.A. Stoodt, the attending physician, believed that Helen may have dropped the pistol and as it slipped out of her hands and hit the floor, it went off. The bullet struck her in the chest and penetrated her left lung.

When Warden Glattke heard the shot, he ran to the bedroom and discovered Helen bleeding on the floor. He summoned the reformatory physician, Dr. J.V. Horst, who, unable to treat her on site, had Mrs. Glattke rushed to the General Hospital. She never regained consciousness and died during the early morning hours of Tuesday, November 7.

In 1959, Arthur Glattke died of a heart attack in his office. It is believed that the ghosts of both Mr. and Mrs. Glattke haunt the reformatory. At certain times, visitors have reported feeling cold rushes of air in the administration wing and equipment failures are also common here. The “pink bathroom” located in this wing is a spot where the ghost of Helen Glattke is said to make her presence known through the smell of perfume and the scent of fresh flowers. Mrs. Glattke may also be the ghost who has been seen in the old prison library. A number of psychics have experienced the vision of a woman in the prison and several visitors have also gotten a glimpse of her in this room.

The hospital’s infirmary is another area of the prison where strange experiences often occur. It was here that inmates were treated for influenza, tuberculosis and a legion of other ailments and diseases caused by the poor conditions and inadequate food and medical care offered to the prisoners. A number of men died of these illnesses during the years of the reformatory’s operation and some believe their ghosts may linger at the last place where they suffered during their lifetimes. It has often been reported that video cameras, recorders and electronic equipment behave erratically in this area and that shadows are often seen here, moving about in the dim light. It is a part of the prison where few want to venture alone. 
The prison’s chapel is located just above the infirmary and it has its own tales of ghosts and hauntings. The most commonly reported incidents there seem to involve a man who has been seen peeking around the doors and peering into the room. He always ducks away when someone notices him. At first, visitors believe this is a real person, or someone from their own group, hoping to play on trick on them. But when they check the other side of the door, they discover that no one is there.

The prison’s cellblocks have their own dark stories to tell. It was in these cells where the inmates lived, suffered and sometimes died. Prisoners committed suicide, mutilated themselves and committed horrific acts on one another. Beatings, stabbings and rapes were not uncommon and a brutal attack might be visited on another inmate for something as trivial as looking at someone the wrong way. Life in the reformatory could be agony, filled with hate, violence and insanity. Many of these men carried these emotions with them to the grave and their spirits, trapped within these walls, are still manifesting these feelings in death. The doors to the cellblocks may be standing open these days, but the spirits of the men who were once locked behind them remain imprisoned behind the rusted bars.

The lowest levels of the reformatory are perhaps the most frightening to visitors who come here today. The basement is a maze of dark, twisting hallways and rumors persist that inmates were sometimes brought here to be beaten and tortured by guards. A number of people claim to have seen the ghost of a young inmate, allegedly beaten to death, wandering the dark hallways of the basement. The boy always vanishes, or runs away, after he is noticed.

But perhaps the most sinister location in the old prison is the infamous “Hole.” There is no record of just how many prisoners were subjected to the terrifying conditions of this part of the prison, where they were jailed in total darkness and forced to sleep on bare, concrete floors – or how many of them may have been left behind as restless spirits. The Hole is a place that saw the darkest side of human nature and the most violent acts carried out within the reformatory’s walls. One does not need to have any psychic abilities to feel the intense energies of this area. Those who visit The Hole say they feel goosebumps, cold chills and, on many occasions, become violently sick to their stomachs. Is it merely their imagination, sent into an overactive state because of the bloody stories that are told about this place? Perhaps, but if so, how do we explain the strange cries that have been recorded in these cells, the tapping footsteps and the unshakeable feeling of being watched? The history that has been imprinted on the stone walls of The Hole seems to be making its presence known to a great many people who dare to come to this spot.

The Ohio State Reformatory can be a physically and mentally exhausting place. There are seemingly miles of rooms, offices, corridors and cell blocks to be explored and it’s not a place for the faint of heart. Unexplained occurrences are common here and give evidence to the fact that sometimes escape simply isn’t possible – even after death.

Want to spend the night at the Mansfield Reformatory with us? Join American Hauntings for two different PRIVATE dates in 2013! Click here to see more information about our overnight ghost hunts and we hope to see you in the coming year!

(Some photographs courtesy of Rob Johnson and Troy Taylor’s book DEAD MEN DO TELLTALES)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

When the Show Didn't Go On...


On this date in 1903, one of the most devastating fires in American history occurred at Chicago’s new Iroquois Theater during a standing-room-only matinee performance starring the popular comedian Eddie Foy. The fire claimed the lives of more than 600 people, including scores of children, who were packed into the place for the afternoon show.

The front façade of the Iroquois Theater can be seen to the left of the photo. 

The Iroquois Theater was much acclaimed, even before it opened. In addition to being “absolutely fireproof”, it was a beautiful place with an ornate lobby, grand staircases and a front façade that resembled a Greek temple with massive columns. The theater was designed to be safe. It had 25 exits that, it was claimed, could empty the building in less than five minutes. The stage had also been fitted with an asbestos curtain that could be quickly lowered to protect the audience. All of this would have been impressive it had actually been installed – and if the staff actually had any idea how to use the safety devices that existed.

And those were not even the worst problems. Seats in the theater were wooden and stuffed with hemp. “Unattractive” safety doors were hidden from site and gates were locked across the entrance to the balcony during the show so that those in the “cheap seats” wouldn’t sneak into the main theater. The building had no fire alarms and a myriad of other safety equipment had been forgotten or simply ignored – leading to the ever-popular “Chicago pay-offs” to officials who allowed the new theater to open on schedule anyway.  

As crowds filled the theater on that cold December day in 1903, they had no idea that how close their way to meeting their deaths.

The horrific events began soon after the holiday crowd had packed into the theater on that Wednesday afternoon to see a matinee performance of the hit comedy Mr. Bluebeard. The main floor and balcony were packed and dozens more were given “standing-room-only” tickets and they lined the rear and walls of the theater.

Around the beginning of the second act, stagehands noticed a spark descend from an overhead light, and then watched some scraps of burning paper fall down onto the stage. In moments, flames began licking at the red-velvet curtain and while a collective gasp went up from the audience, no one rushed for the exits. It’s believed the audience merely thought the fire was part of the show.

A few moments later, a flaming set crashed down onto the stage, leaving little doubt that something had gone wrong. A stagehand attempted to lower the asbestos curtain that would protect the audience. It snagged halfway down, sending a wall of flame out into the audience.

A view of the stage from the balcony, showing the devastation of the fire.

Actors on stage panicked and ran for the doors. Chaos filled the auditorium as the audience began rushing for the theater’s Randolph Street entrance. With children in tow, the audience members immediately clogged the gallery and the upper balconies. The aisles had become impassable and as the lights went out, the crowd milled about in blind terror. The auditorium began to fill with heat and smoke and screams echoed off the walls and ceilings. Through it all, the mass continued to move forward but when the crowd reached the doors, they could not open them. The doors had been designed to swing inward rather than outward. The crush of people prevented those in the front from opening the doors. Many of those who died not only burned, but suffocated from the smoke and the crush of bodies. Later, as the police removed the charred remains from the theater, they discovered that a number of victims had been trampled in the panic. One dead woman’s face even bore the mark of a shoe heel.

Backstage, theater employees and cast members opened a rear set of double doors, which sucked the wind inside and caused flames to fan out under the asbestos curtain and into the auditorium. A second gust of wind created a fireball that shot out into the galleries and balconies that were filled with people. All of the stage drops were now on fire and as they burned, they engulfed the supposedly noncombustible asbestos curtain and when it collapsed, it plunged into the seats of the theater.

The fire burned for almost 15 minutes before an alarm was raised at a box down the street. From outside, there appeared to be nothing wrong. It was so quiet that the first firefighters to arrive thought it was a false alarm.

This changed when they tried to open the auditorium doors and found they could not --- there were too many bodies stacked up against them. They were only able to gain access by actually pulling the bodies out of the way with pike poles, peeling them off one another and then climbing over the stacks of corpses. It took only 10 minutes to put out the blaze, as the intense heat inside had already eaten up anything that would still burn. The firefighters made their way into the blackened auditorium and were met with only silence and smell of death. They called out for survivors but no one answered their cry.

A photograph taken from the stage of the fire-blackened theater. 

The gallery and upper balconies sustained the greatest loss of life as the patrons had been trapped by locked doors at the top of the stairways. The firefighters found 200 bodies stacked there, as many as 10 deep. Those who escaped had literally ripped the metal bars from the front of the balcony and had jumped onto the crowds below. Even then, most of these met their deaths at a lower level.

The balcony of the theater had the greatest loss of life. Theater patrons were trapped there by gates that were locked across the stairways and then abandoned by theater staff after the fire began. Others raced for the fire escapes – only to find that they had never been installed. Many of those in the balcony burned to death or plunged to their doom in the alleyway outside. 

A few who made it to the fire escape door behind the top balcony found that the iron staircase was missing. In its place was a platform that plunged about 100 feet to the cobblestone alley below. Across the alley, behind the theater, painters were working on a building occupied by Northwestern University’s dental school. When they realized what was happening at the theater, they quickly erected a makeshift bridge using ladders and wooden planks, which they extended across the alley to the fire escape platform. Reports vary as to how many they saved, but several people managed to climb across the “bridge”.

Several plunged to their deaths as they tried to escape across the ladder but many times that number jumped from the ledge or were pushed by the milling crowd that pressed through the doors behind them. The passageway behind the theater is still referred to as "Death Alley" today, after nearly 150 victims were found here.

When it was all over, 572 people died in the fire and more died later, bringing the eventual death toll up to 602, including 212 children. For nearly five hours, police officers, firemen and even newspaper reporters, carried out the dead. Anxious relatives sifted through the remains, searching for loved ones. Other bodies were taken away by police wagons and ambulances and transported to a temporary morgue at Marshall Field’s on State Street. Medical examiners and investigators worked all through the night.

The city went into mourning. Newspapers carried lists and photographs of the dead and the mayor banned all New Year’s celebrations. An investigation into the fire brought to light a number of troubling facts. The investigation discovered that the supposedly "fireproof" asbestos curtain was really made from cotton and other combustible materials. It would have never saved anyone at all. In addition to not having any fire alarms in the building, the owners had decided that sprinklers were too unsightly and too costly and had never had them installed.

To make matters worse, the management also established a policy to keep non-paying customers from slipping into the theater during a performance --- they quietly bolted nine pair of iron panels over the rear doors and installed padlocked, accordion-style gates at the top of the interior second and third floor stairway landings. And just as tragic was the idea they came up with to keep the audience from being distracted during a show. They ordered all of the exit lights to be turned off.

The investigation led to a cover-up by officials from the city and the fire department, who denied all knowledge of fire code violations. They blamed the inspectors, who had overlooked the problems in exchange for free theater passes. A grand jury indicted a number of individuals, including the theater owners, fire officials and even the mayor. No one was ever charged with a criminal act. Families of the dead filed nearly 275 civil lawsuits against the theater but no money was ever collected.

The Iroquois Fire still ranks today as one of deadliest in history. Nevertheless, the building was repaired and re-opened briefly in 1904 as Hyde and Behmann’s Music Hall and then in 1905 as the Colonial Theater. In 1924, the building was razed to make room for a new theater, the Oriental, but the façade of the Iroquois was used in its construction. The Oriental operated at what is now 24 West Randolph Street until the middle part of 1981, when it fell into disrepair and was closed down. It opened again as the home to a wholesale electronics dealer for a time and then went dark again. The restored theater is now part of the Civic Tower Building and is next door to the restored Delaware Building. It reopened as the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 1998.

Bodies of the dead lined up in the alley behind the theater. Newspaper reporters dubbed this alleyway, officially known as Couch Place, “Death Alley” after the fire. It remains one of the most haunted spots in downtown Chicago today. 

But this has not stopped the tales of the old Iroquois Theater from being told, especially in light of more recent -- and more ghostly events. According to recent accounts from people who live and work in this area, "Death Alley" is not as empty as it appears to be. The narrow passageway, which runs behind the Oriental Theater, is rarely used today, except for the occasional delivery truck or a lone pedestrian who is in a hurry to get somewhere else. It is largely deserted, but why? The stories say that those a few who do pass through the alley often find themselves very uncomfortable and unsettled here. They say that faint cries are sometimes heard in the shadows and that some have reported being touched by unseen hands and by eerie cold spots that seem to come from nowhere and vanish just as quickly.

Could the alleyway, and the surrounding area, actually be haunted? And do the spirits of those who met their tragic end inside of the burning theater still linger here? Perhaps, or perhaps the strange sensations experienced here are "ghosts of the past" of another kind --- a chilling remembrance of a terrifying event that will never be completely forgotten.

The complete story of the Iroquois Theater Fire is available in several of Troy’s book, including AND HELL FOLLOW WITH IT. Death Alley is a regular stop on our WEIRD CHICAGO ghost tours of the city. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Bullet for Billy...


On this day in 1922, the owner of what was once one of the greatest brewing empires in St. Louis history, William “Billy” Lemp II, took his own life in the office of what is now best-known today as the Lemp Mansion.

Billy Lemp

The Lemp Brewing Company, and the family that founded it, came to prominence in the middle 1800s as one of the premier brewers of St. Louis. For years, they were a nationally known beer-maker, a fierce rival to Anheuser-Busch and the first brewers of lager beer in the region. Today, the Lemps are largely forgotten, remembered more for the grand and mysterious house in which they once lived than for the beer they brewed.

The Lemp Mansion, as the house is commonly known, is a monument and memorial to decadence, wealth, tragedy and death. Perhaps for this reason, there is a sadness that hangs over the place and an eerie feeling that has remained from its days of horror, disrepair and abandonment. It has since been restored as a restaurant and inn, and yet the sense of sorrow seems to remain. By day, it is a thriving restaurant, filled with people and activity, but at night, after everyone is gone and the doors have been locked tight, something walks the halls of the Lemp Mansion.

Are there ghosts here? Are they the restless spirits of the Lemp family, unable to find rest? Quite possibly, for this unusual clan was as haunted as their house is purported to be. They were once one of the leading families in St. Louis but all that would change and their eccentricities would eventually lead to their ruin.

The Lemp Brewing Company had a long history in St. Louis, dating back to the arrival of German immigrant Adam Lemp, who first introduced the city to lager beer. The company thrived for decades, but the family was marked by tragedy, including the death of Frederick Lemp, who had been groomed to take over the family, the 1904 suicide of patriarch William Lemp, and the 1920 death of Elsa Lemp. Billy Lemp had taken over the running of the company after the suicide of his father, but never had the same interest in it that his father had. He continued to grow the business, however, but then, around the same time that Elsa died, Prohibition came to America, which meant doom for most American brewing companies.

Like most brewers of the time, Billy was stunned by the developments that led to the coming of Prohibition and the passage of the Volstead Act, which gave Prohibition its teeth by making it enforceable by law. Again, like so many others, Billy never really believed that beer could ever become illegal. Thanks to this, he was totally unprepared for the news that came in January 1919 that the sale, consumption and manufacture of alcohol would come to an end in one year.

Some brewers, notably Anheuser-Busch, began to immediately work on other projects, like ice cream, baker’s yeast and soft drinks. Others, like the Lemp Brewery, faltered along for a time with no clear plans for the future. Finally, Billy decided to follow the lead of some of the other breweries and produce a beverage known as “near beer,” which would duplicate the real thing in all aspects except for the alcohol content. Near beer proved somewhat popular at first, but once Prohibition was in full swing, those who continued to drink found it easy to obtain the real thing from their neighborhood bootlegger. Demand for near beer became non-existent and production largely came to a halt.

The Lemp Brewery’s near beer never even lasted until the start of Prohibition. The company’s non-alcoholic malt brew was called Cerva, and it was said to be quite good. While Cerva sold moderately well, revenues from it were never going to be enough to cover the overhead of the entire plant. Production of Cerva was suspended in June 1919. Soon after, Billy closed the doors of the Lemp factory for good.

The Lemps were not in need of money. All of the remaining family members were extravagantly wealthy independent of their brewery profits and they lacked any real incentive to try and keep the company going. Recent years had been tough for the brewing industry. With the backlash against German-American brewers caused by the war, and the propaganda spread by Prohibition advocates, sales had been low. Billy never saw the need to upgrade the brewery facilities and unlike his father, he was not interested in modern techniques that would have made the aging place more efficient. The end had likely been coming for some time before Prohibition, but the new law signed the brewery’s death warrant.

A Recent photograph of the Lemp Brewery. It still stands near the mansion today, although it has not been used to make beer since 1919. 

The brewery was closed without notice. There were no farewell ceremonies and employees only learned of the factory’s closing when they arrived for work one day to find the doors and gates chained and locked. An era in St. Louis brewing history had come to an end.

While Billy never had the kind of incentive to keep the business going that his father had, he never dreamed that the work of a lifetime would soon become illegal in the land that had embraced his family and allowed them to live the American dream. He was bitter, angry, and most of all he felt betrayed. Prohibition broke his spirit and with this death of his sister, the baby of the family who had always been everyone’s favorite, Billy simply had nothing left.

“We have done nothing since Prohibition. I am tired of seeing all the weeds in the courtyard and the dust upon the windows,” he said in the spring of 1920. “I am out of the brewery business for good. I am 54 years old and it is time to quit.”

The family brewing empire, built by his father and his grandfather before him, had fallen. Now, as the brewery sat idle and neglected, Billy felt that he had no choice but to sell off everything. Beer was likely never coming back, he thought, and if it did, he just wasn’t sure that he cared anymore.

A bottle cap (author’s collection) from a bottle of original Lemp beer. After the logo was sold to Joseph Griesedieck, he replaced the Lemp name with “Falstaff” but kept the familiar shield design. 

Billy sold off the Lemp beer logo and the company’s most popular name brand, Falstaff, to Joseph “Papa Joe” Griesedieck, who was sure that someday, perhaps soon, the American people would realize that Prohibition would never work and it would be repealed. Eventually, he was right and “Falstaff” endures to this day with the Lemp name gone from the famous shield logo and “Falstaff” in its place.

But Billy Lemp no longer shared his friend’s enthusiasm for the brewing business. He told his secretary and friend, Henry Vahlkamp, on several occasions that even if beer production ever resumed, the business would never be the same. He saw no point in hanging onto the aging hulk of a brewery that was down the street from the Lemp offices and decided to put it up for sale. In 1919, the brewery had been valued at $7 million, but three years later, when it came time to auction it off, it was worth only half that amount.

Billy hired the Joseph P. Day auctioneering company to handle the sale, which went to great lengths to advertise that fact that one of the world’s great manufacturing plants would be sold, in parts or as a whole, to the highest bidder. The company prepared a detailed 12-page booklet that described the huge complex and praised it as a first-rate facility that could be adapted to many industrial uses. The booklet contained many photographs and detailed drawings of the brewery’s eighteen buildings. A map was also included, which covered what were the plant’s fourteen acres in 1922.

The brewery had been almost self-sufficient during its heyday, with full-time carpentry, masonry and painting shops. All of these were highlighted in the booklet, as well as the benefits of other structures, some containing more than one million square feet of space. Others boasted twenty-five foot ceilings and the proximity to railroad spurs and the Mississippi River.

The Lemp Brewery had stopped production in 1919, but the factory itself had been built to last forever with heavy stone foundations, solid brick walls, cast-iron columns and steel girders. Some of the buildings stood six stories high and modern electric elevators had been installed throughout the property, including in the eighteen gigantic grain storage bins. Even after sitting unused and nearly abandoned for several years, the brewery was still better equipped and more advanced than many that were still in use in St. Louis and across the Midwest.

The auction was held at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 28, 1922. On that day, the magnificent brewery was sold off in parts to five companies, with the bulk of it going to the International Shoe Company (whose name remains on one of the old brewery smokestacks today) for the disappointing sum of only $585,000. Even though he didn’t need the money, Billy had planned to recoup at least twenty-five or thirty percent of the brewery’s worth from the sale. He was stunned to receive such a paltry amount. “How would anybody feel to get eight cents on the dollar for a great plant like that?” Billy questioned. “They told us that when Prohibition came that we could make something out of our plants, but look what happened.”

The months that followed the sale of the brewery were difficult ones for Billy. He had watched his family’s company crumble before his eyes and with the sale of the famed Lemp logo and Falstaff name, followed by the auctioning off of the brewery; he had managed to destroy everything that his father and grandfather had worked so hard to build. Billy knew that he would never want for anything for the rest of his life and that his fortune would remain intact, but the responsibility that he felt for the brewery’s loss weighed heavy on his shoulders. He became depressed and his friends and employees began to speak of his erratic behavior. He often complained of poor health and feeling nervous.

Then, in the late fall of 1922, Billy seemed to rally and began feeling better. He began making plans to rid himself of the last vestiges of the Lemp brewing business once and for all. He told friends that he intended to liquidate the corporation and sell off the corner saloon sites and the rest of the real estate associated with the brewery. After that, he would sell some of his other property holdings and just “take it easy for a while.” Billy decided to put his country house on the market for $175,000, stating that he planned to take an extended trip to Europe with his wife.

Billy was still having days of illness during the holiday season of 1922, but he seemed better than he had been. His plans for shedding some of his business concerns had reinvigorated him and he began making preparations to be away from the office during his upcoming trip. His employees noticed Billy was smiling again as he walked into the office in the morning – which made what happened on December 29 both tragic and inexplicable.

When company secretary Henry Vahlkamp arrived at the brewery offices, located in the former Lemp family home, at 9:00 a.m. on December 29, 1922, he found Billy was already there. The two of them were joined shortly after by Olivia Berchek, a stenographer for the brewery and Billy’s personal secretary.
Vahlkamp later recalled that Billy’s face was flushed that morning and that when he entered his employer’s office, Billy had an elbow on the desk and was resting his forehead on his hand. He asked Billy how he was feeling and the other man replied that he felt quite bad.

“I think you are looking better today that you did yesterday,” Vahlkamp noted in an effort to cheer him up.

“You may think so,” Billy said glumly, “but I am feeling worse.”

Vahlkamp left and went to his own office on the second floor of the converted mansion. Moments after this exchange, Miss Berchek telephoned Billy’s second wife, Ellie, about instructions for the day’s mail and as she was speaking to her, Billy picked up the other line and spoke to his wife himself. The secretary recalled that he spoke very quietly and she did not hear what turned out to be his last words to his wife. After he finished the conversation, Bercheck asked him a question about some copying that she was doing from a blueprint. He first told her that what she had was fine and then he changed his mind and suggested that she go down to the basement and speak to the brewery’s architect, Guy Norton.

While she was on her way downstairs, she heard a loud noise. Because there were men working in the basement, she thought nothing of it, assuming that someone had dropped something. But when she came back upstairs, she found Billy lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She told the police, “The porter heard the noise from down in the basement and came upstairs; he was the only one who realized it [the noise] was a shot.”

The porter came into the office to find Billy lying on the floor with his with his feet under the desk. He called for help and men from the office across the hall came in as he was placing a pillow under Billy’s head. Billy was gasping for air when his employees came rushing into the office.

Apparently, just after speaking to Miss Bercheck, Lemp had shot himself in the heart with a .38 caliber revolver. He had unbuttoned his vest and fired the gun through his shirt. Vahlkamp, who hurried into the office when he heard the news, arrived to find Billy barely alive. He sent for the police and the coroner’s physician but by the time the doctor arrived, Billy was dead.

Officer John H. Schramm, one of the first policemen to arrive on the scene, told a reporter for the St. Louis Star that Billy had apparently dragged a heavy chair from its usual place in the office to a space about four feet between his desk and the west wall. Billy evidently sat down in the chair before shooting himself. He was discovered after he slid out of the chair lying on his back with his revolver at his side.

Officers found two bullet wounds in the left side of his chest, about a half-inch apart. Since there were two discharged shells in the gun’s chamber, it was initially thought that a second shot might have been fired by accident as Billy’s hand jerked. However, the inquest later determined that only one of the two shells had been recently fired, indicating that Billy left the other chamber empty as a precaution since he normally carried the gun in his pocket.  Captain William Doyle of the Wyoming Street Police Station, the lead police investigator on the scene, searched Lemp’s pockets and desk for a suicide note, but as with his father and possibly his sister before him, Billy left no indication as to why he had ended his life.
When interviewed by the newspapers, Billy’s close friend, August A. Busch, said he was confused by Billy’s suicide. He noted that had recently decided to sell off many of his real estate assets, including his home, Alswel, and relax for a few months. A week before he shot himself, Billy had dined with Busch, who said that Billy seemed “cheerful” at the time and that he gave no indication that he was worrying about business or anything else. “He was a fine fellow,” Busch added, “and it is hard to believe that he has taken his own life.”
Billy’s son, William Lemp III, however, was not as shocked as everyone else was. He rushed to the office when he heard what had happened and knelt down on the floor next to his father’s body. “You knew I knew it,” he sobbed. “I was afraid this was coming.” He refused to explain his remarks to the police.

Ellie Lemp collapsed when she received the news of her husband’s suicide. She did not go to the Lemp office that day and declined to accept visitors at the Chase Hotel, where the Lemps had been living since placing their home on the market.

When interviewed after the shooting, many of Billy’s friends and employees mentioned Billy’s erratic behavior, dating back many years. Their recollections painted a picture of a man with serious mood swings and often-violent behavior, which seemed to indicate that he suffered from manic-depressive episodes, or what we would consider today to be bipolar disorder. Such a condition, unknown to medicine at the time, would certainly explain the collapse of Billy’s marriage, his sometimes-vicious temper and then the calm, orderly manner in which he would carry out his business. His moods often varied between times of happiness and periods of dark depression. Everyone assumed that his melancholy was caused by the death of his sister Elsa and the loss of the brewing business, but it’s more likely that it was a chemical imbalance (possibly affecting several members of the family) that led to Billy’s unusual behavior and eventual suicide.

In the weeks before his death, Billy had been admitted to the hospital three times, complaining of what he called “nervous chills.” His secretary, Olivia Berchek, said, “….he was very morose… he was always peculiar about things, very precise and for the last three or four weeks he didn’t seem to care. He didn’t fight back at anything. He just let everything go, contrary to his former attitude toward things; and on Thursday afternoon, he said to me, ‘I have had enough doctors, haven’t I?’ Later he said, ‘Don’t you think I have had enough trouble? I have had about enough.’”

The Lemp Mansion on the day of Billy’s funeral in 1922.

Billy’s funeral was held at the family mansion on December 31. The offices were used as the setting for the service for sentimental reasons, staff members said, having been used for the funerals of Billy’s parents years before. He was interred in the family mausoleum at Bellefontaine Cemetery, in the crypt just above that of Elsa’s.

Billy’s bad financial luck followed him to the grave. The house, Alswel, which had been built for $125,000 in 1914, was auctioned off in May 1925 for $118,500 to a Chicago real estate broker. All of the furnishings went with the house, as well as the 192 acres that surrounded it. Billy’s estate, valued at a little less than $1 million in 1923, was divided between his widow and his son. By the end of the 1920s, the Lemp company, once one of the largest breweries in the country and a worldwide purveyor of beer, was largely forgotten.

With the factory sold, Billy gone and his brothers and sisters involved in their own lives and endeavors, the days of the Lemp empire had come to an end at last. His two siblings remaining in St. Louis, Charles and Edwin, had left the family enterprise long before it had breathed its last. Charles worked in banking and finance and Edwin had entered a life in seclusion at his estate in Kirkwood in 1911. The fortune they had amassed was more than enough to keep the surviving members of the family comfortable through the Great Depression and beyond.

But the days of Lemp tragedy were not yet over.

This story is an excerpt from Troy’s book, SUICIDE & SPIRITS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE RISE & FALL OF THE LEMP EMPIRE. It’s available by clicking here as an autographed print edition. It’s also available as both a Kindle and Nook edition. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Two Lost Girls

The Haunting Mystery of the Grimes Sisters

On December 28, 1956, Patricia Grimes, 13, and Barbara Grimes, 15, left their home at 3624 South Damen Ave. and headed for the Brighton Theater, only a mile away. The girls were both avid fans of Elvis Presley and on that night were on their way to see his film Love Me Tender for the eleventh and final time. The girls were recognized in the popcorn line at 9:30 p.m. and then seen on an eastbound Archer Avenue bus at 11:00 p.m. After that, things became less certain, but this may have been the last time they were ever seen alive.

Barbara (Left) and Patricia (Right) Grimes

The two sisters were missing for the 25 days, before their naked and frozen bodies were found along German Church Road, just outside the small town of Willow Springs. The discovery of those two fragile corpses began a mystery that has remained unsolved for the 56 years.

In 2012, I wrote a full-length book about the Grimes Sisters called The Two Lost Girls. It’s a story that has stuck with me ever since I first heard it back in the 1980s. The story of what happened to the two sisters from Chicago’s Southwest Side changed the face of the city – and America – forever.

The first sign that something was wrong was felt by the girls’ mother, Loretta Grimes, on the night that they disappeared. She expected the sisters to be home by 11:45 p.m. but was already growing uneasy when they had not arrived 15 minutes prior to that. At midnight, she sent her daughter Theresa and her son, Joey, to the bus stop at 35th Street and Hoyne Avenue to watch for them. After three buses had stopped and had failed to discharge their sisters, Theresa and Joey returned home without them. They never saw the girls again, but strangely, others claimed to. Eerily, they were spotted all over the Chicagoland region and to this day, it remains a mystery as to whether or not any of the sightings were legitimate.

The Brighton Theater on Archer Avenue. The Grimes sisters attended the theater that night and then vanished while on their way home. 

The police theorized that the girls had run away, but Loretta Grimes refused to believe it. She was sure the girls had gone missing against their will but the authorities were not convinced. Regardless, it became the greatest missing persons hunt in Chicago police history. Even Elvis Presley, in a statement issued from Graceland, asked the girls to come home and ease their mother's worries. The plea went unanswered.

More strangeness would be reported before the bodies of the girls were found. A series of ransom letters, that were later discovered to have come from a mental patient, took Mrs. Grimes to Milwaukee on January 12. She was escorted by FBI agents and instructed to sit in a downtown Catholic church with $1,000 on the bench beside her. The letter promised that Barbara Grimes would walk in to retrieve the money and then leave to deliver it to the kidnapper. She and her sister would then be released. Needless to say, no one ever came and Mrs. Grimes was left sitting for hours to contemplate her daughters' fate. By that time, it's likely that the bodies of the two girls were already lying along German Church Road, covered with snow.

Loretta Grimes in a posed newspaper photograph, looking at one of the information flyers that were handed out in hopes of finding the missing girls. 

The search for the Grimes Sisters ended on January 22, 1957 when construction worker Leonard Prescott was driving south on German Church Road early one morning. He spotted what appeared to be two discarded clothing store mannequins lying next to a guardrail, a short distance from the road. A few feet away, the ground dropped off to Devil's Creek below. Unsure of what he had seen, Prescott nervously brought his wife to the spot, and then they drove to the local police station. His wife, Marie Prescott, was so upset by the sight of the bodies that she had to be carried back to their car.
Once investigators realized the "mannequins" were actually bodies, they soon discovered they were the Grimes Sisters. Barbara Grimes lay on her left side with her legs slightly drawn up toward her body. Her head was covered by the body of her sister, who had been thrown onto her back with her head turned sharply to the right. It looked as if they had been discarded there by someone so cold and heartless that he saw the girls as nothing more than refuse to be tossed away on a lonely roadside.

Detectives at the crime scene on German Church Road. This newspaper photograph shows the bodies of the two girls in the spot where they had been dumped along the road. 

The officials in charge, Cook County Sheriff Joseph D. Lohman and Harry Glos, an aggressive investigator for Coroner Walter E. McCarron, surmised that the bodies had been lying there for several days, perhaps as far back as January 9. This had been the date of the last heavy snowfall and the frigid temperatures that followed the storm had preserved the bodies to a state that resembled how they looked at the moment of death.
The bodies discovered along German Church Road sent the various police departments into action. A short time after they were found, more than 160 officers from Chicago, Cook County, the Forest Preserves and five south suburban police departments began combing the woods -- and tramping all over whatever evidence may have been there. Between the officers, the reporters, the medical examiners and everyone else, the investigation was already off to a bad start.

And the investigation became even more confusing in the days to come. The bodies were removed from the scene and were taken to the Cook County Morgue, where they would be stored until they thawed out and an autopsy became possible. Before they were removed, though, both police investigators and reporters commented on the condition of the corpses, noting bruises and marks that have still not been adequately explained to this day. According to a newspaper article, there were three "ugly" wounds in Patricia's abdomen and the left side of her face had been battered, resulting in a possibly broken nose. Barbara's face and head had also been bruised and there were punctures from an ice pick in her chest. Once the bodies were moved, investigators stayed on the scene to search for clothing and clues but nothing was found.

Once the autopsies were performed the following day, all hope that the examinations would provide new evidence or leads was quickly dashed. Despite the efforts of three experienced pathologists, they could not reach agreement on a time or cause of death. They stated that the girls had died from shock and exposure but were only able to reach this conclusion by eliminating other causes. And by also concluding that the girls had died on December 28, the night they had disappeared, they created more mysteries than they managed to solve. If the girls had died on the night they had gone missing, then how could the sightings that took place after that date be explained? And if the bodies had been exposed to the elements since that time, then why hadn't anyone else seen them?

Barbara and Patricia were buried on January 28, one month after they disappeared. Their mystery was no closer to being solved than it had been in December.

The residents of Chicagoland were stunned and the case of the murdered girls became an obsession. The local community organized a search for clues and volunteers passed out flyers looking for information.
Investigators questioned an unbelievable 300,000 persons, searching for information about the girls, and 2,000 of these people were seriously interrogated, which in those days could be brutal.

Eager to crack the floundering case, Cook County Sheriff Joseph Lohman arrested a skid-row dishwasher named Edward L. "Benny" Bedwell. The drifter, who sported Elvis-style sideburns and a ducktail haircut, had reportedly been seen with the Grimes sisters in a restaurant where he sometimes washed dishes in exchange for food. When he was initially questioned, Bedwell admitted that he had been in the D&L Restaurant on West Madison with two girls and an unnamed friend but he insisted that the owners of the place were mistaken about the girls being the Grimes sisters.

According to the owners, John and Minnie Duros, the group had entered the diner around 5:30 a.m. on the morning of December 30. They described the taller girl, who Minnie Duros said was wearing a coat with the name "Pat" embroidered on it, as being either so drunk or so sick that she was staggering as she walked. The couples sat in a booth for a while, listened to Elvis songs on the jukebox, and then went outside. One of the girls came back in, laid her head on the table, and seemed to be sick. The two men eventually managed to get her outside and all of them left together. One of the girls told Minnie Duros that they were sisters.

Lohman found the story plausible, thanks to the unshakable identification of the girls by Minnie Duros, their respective heights, the fact that one of them said they were sisters and finally, Bedwell's resemblance to Elvis. Lohman believed this might have been enough to get the girls to go along with him. And then of course, there was Bedwell's confession, which related a lurid and sexually explicit tale of drunken debauchery with the two young women. He made and recanted three confessions and even re-enacted the crime for investigators on January 27. 

Bennie Bedwell at a press conference in 1957

Everyone doubted the story but Lohman. He booked Bedwell on murder charges, but the drifter's testimony was both vague and contradictory. On January 31, he testified that he had confessed out of fear of Lohman's men, who had struck and threatened him while he was being questioned. Lohman denied that Bedwell had been beaten and told newspapers that the drifter had lied when he contradicted his confession and added that he considered him the prime suspect in the case. After the case unraveled even more, the drifter was released. Bedwell later spent time in prison on a weapons charge and died at some point after he was released in 1986.

The dismissal of charges against Bedwell in the Grimes case set off another round of bickering between police departments and various jurisdictions and the case became even more mired in red tape and inactivity. It got even worse when coroner's investigator Harry Glos publicly criticized the autopsy findings concerning the time and cause of death. He shocked the public by announcing that Barbara and Patricia could not have died on the night they disappeared. He said that an ice layer around the bodies proved that they were warm when they were left along German Church Road and that only after January 7 would there have been enough snow to create the ice and to hide the bodies.
Glos also raised the issues of the puncture wounds and bruises on the bodies, which had never been explained or explored. He was sure that the girls had been violently treated prior to death and also asserted that the older sister, Barbara, had been sexually molested before she was killed. The pathologists had denied this, but the Chicago Police crime lab reluctantly confirmed it. However, they were angry with Glos for releasing the information.

The coroner, Walter McCarron, promptly had Glos fired and many of the other investigators in the case accused him of being reckless and of political grandstanding. Only Sheriff Lohman, who later deputized Glos to work on the case without pay, remained on his side. He agreed that the girls had likely been beaten and tortured by a sexual predator who lured them into the kidnap car under a seemingly innocent pretense. Lohman remained convinced until his death in 1969 that the predator who had killed the girls had been Benny Bedwell.
Other theories maintain that the girls may have indeed encountered Bedwell, or another "older man," and rumors circulated that the reputation of the two girls had been polished to cover up some very questionable behavior on their parts. It was said that they sometimes hung around a bar on Archer Avenue where men would buy them drinks. One of the men may have been Benny Bedwell. Harry Glos, who died in 1994, released information that one of the girls had been sexually active, but later reports from those who have seen the autopsy slides say there is evidence that both of them may have been. It is believed that Coroner McCarron may not have released this because of religious reasons or to spare additional grief for the family.
 Today, veteran detectives believe that there was much more to the story that met the eye. The general consensus seems to be that Barbara and Patricia may have been abducted by a front man for a "white slavery" ring and taken to a remote location in the woods surrounding Willow Springs. They are convinced that the girls were strangled after refusing to become prostitutes. It's also possible that the girls may have been lured into an involvement in the prostitution ring by someone they knew, not realizing what would be required of them, and they were killed to keep them silent.

Others refused to even consider this, and were angered by the negative gossip about the two girls. Some remain angry about this even today, maintaining that Barbara and Patricia were nice, ordinary, happy girls and were tragically killed on a cold night because they made the mistake of accepting a ride from a stranger. They didn't hang around in bars, these old friends maintain, they were simply innocent teenage girls, just like everyone else at that time.

Perhaps those old acquaintances were right. There are few stories as tragic as the demise of the Grimes sisters and perhaps it provides some cold comfort for us to believe that their deaths were simply a terrible mistake or the actions of deviant killer. It can provide us that comfort of knowing that the girls were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and that such a thing could have happened to anyone.

But does believing this make us feel better ----- or worse?

Now, nearly six decades later, the mystery of who killed the Grimes sisters remains unsolved. As there is no statute of limitations for murder, the case officially remains open, but hope of any closure has dimmed over the years and the murderer's trail has gone tragically cold.

And this may not be the end of the story. Since the discovery of the Grimes sisters' bodies in January 1957, the police have received numerous reports about the isolated spot on German Church Road where they were found. Witnesses report hearing a car pulling up to the location with its motor running. They have also heard an automobile door creak open, followed by the sound of something being dumped alongside the road. The door slams shut and the car drives away. Reports claim people have heard these things -- and yet there is no car in sight.

There have also been reports of a 1950s black sedan that has been seen in the area, as well. After being sighted, it mysteriously vanishes. The car, and the residual sounds of the girl's bodies being dumped, still continues to be heard after nearly 60 years.

Is the place really haunted? I’ll leave that up to you to decide. But should you ever travel along German Church Road, I defy you to stop along that spot on the roadway where the bodies of Barbara and Patricia were found and I dare you to say that you are not moved by the tragedy that came to an end here. Without a doubt, I think you will agree, no matter how the area has changed over the years – this is still a dark and haunted place.

Read the full story of the Grimes Sisters Mystery in Troy’s e-book, THE TWO LOST GIRLS from his Hell Hath No Fury Series. It’s available as a Kindle Title by Clicking Here!