Spooky Ghost Stories

Spooky Ghost Stories

Looking for a spooktacular ghost story for the Halloween season? Here are a few top fiction selections. Support your local library by checking them out.

  1. The Book of Cold Cases, Simone St. James, 2022. https://www.amazon.com/Book-Cold-Cases-Simone-James/dp/0440000211.

The Georgia Guidestones Destroyed

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Aerial view of the initial bomb damage.

The Georgia Guidestones Destroyed

On July 6, at approximately 4 a.m., a bomb exploded destroying the Swahili/Hindi slab of granite of the Georgia Guidestones. Also known as America’s Stonehenge or Georgia’s Stonehenge, the 19’ 3” monument was a popular tourist attraction outside Elberton, Georgia, on Highway 77. The monument was deemed unsafe and was demolished later that day. Many questions still surround the structure.

In June 1979, a well-appointed man calling himself Robert C. Christian commissioned the structure from Joe Findley of the Elberton Granite Finishing Company. The construction costs are unknown; however, Findley reportedly exaggerated the estimate in hopes to dissuade Christian from building. It was to no avail.

The 20-year vision was to become a reality. A 5-acre plot was purchased on October 1, 1979, from Wayne Mullenix. The monument was unveiled on March 22, 1980. Four stones surrounded a capstone. Ten “guidelines” contained messages written in twelve different languages to instruct humans after some unknown catastrophic event, possibly nuclear war. The messages were controversial, even if intended for future generations. A legend was erected with reference to a possible time capsule buried underneath.

Many have theorized and postulated the origins of the “small group of loyal Americans who believed in God,” as the messages were not exclusively Christian. Slightly troubling was the admission that none of the members actually resided in Georgia. Mr. Christian claimed to have a great grandmother who did; however, this is unsubstantiated. According to local tales, only the manager of the local bank knew Mr. Christian’s true identity, and he never disclosed.

Ownership passed to Elberton County, which publicized the roadside attraction. The website Explore Georgia removed all mention of the monument on July 7, 2022.

The documentary film The Georgia Guidestones Movie was released in 2012. The film can be viewed on YouTube from http://guidestonesmovie.net/.

The guidestones are not without criticism. Online conspiracy theorists have attempted to link the messages to Satan, claiming them to be the ten commandments of the antichrist. Some have even speculated some New World Order involvement. It is doubtful that either are true.

What remains factual is that vandals have targeted the monument in the past. Graffiti was spray painted onto the slabs in 2008 and 2014. Security cameras were erected and caught the latest criminals. Video footage shows a silver sedan leaving the area shortly after the blast. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) are investigating. It is unfortunate that someone took it upon himself/herself to ruin an attraction that brought 20,000 annually to this rural community. The economic impact will be felt. It has not been reported if the structure will be replaced since it is probably cost prohibited. And that’s a shame.

Historic Designation for Jack Kerouac’s St. Petersburg Home

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Historic Designation for Jack Kerouac’s St. Petersburg Home

Beat pioneer Jack Kerouac lived in the Disston Heights home less than 2 years before he died. Located at 5169 10th Avenue North, St. Petersburg, Florida, the home passed down via Probate to Kerouac’s third wife Stella’s brother’s son, John Sampas, Jr. It was quite the journey! William Kennedy (Ken) and Gina Burchenal purchased the 1750’ home for $360,000 in 2020. They prepared the application for historic designation, which was approved this month.

American literary writer Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac (simply called Jack) was an enigmatic traveler whose estate was valued at $91 when he died at the age of 47 from cirrhosis of the liver. His paralyzed mother, Gabrielle, remained in the home, along with Stella. When Gabrielle died, she left her estate to Stella, who died in 1990. Stella’s brother Sebastian was a lifelong friend of Jack’s. Her other brother John inherited her estate. Since then, Kerouac’s estate has only grown—upwards of $10 million dollars.

The Kerouacs initially resided in the home next door, 5155 10th Avenue N but bought the #5169 home, situated on a corner lot, in 1968. It’s a modest home. However, the architectural features were enough for the St. Pete City Council to vote 6-0 (with 2 members absent) to approve the application.

Although Jack and Stella did not have any children, Jack did have a daughter, Janet Michelle “Jan” Kerouac (1952-1996), for whom he had only seen twice. In fact, it wasn’t until Jan was 10 years old that Jack learned and tested as her biological father. This did not stop Jan from contesting Gabrielle’s will in an attempt to collect on the fortune. Her attempts failed when she also died at a young age.

The Burchenals do not reside at the home. It has been preserved and is open for special events by the operating non-profit 5169 10th Ave, LLC. Another non-profit, The Friends of Jack Kerouac, previously hosted events to help support the home. They no longer support the home, but they do sponsor an annual Tour de Kerouac bike tour, along with the self-walking and self-driving tours. The tours include Haslam’s Bookstore, a favorite haunt of Jack’s.

Haslam’s has been an institution in St. Pete.

Local legend is that Jack does in fact haunt the bookstore. Unfortunately, Haslam’s closed shortly into the pandemic and has not reopened—nor is it likely to.

One aspect of Jack’s life falls to the sideline. He was arrested as a material witness in a murder case. On August 13, 1944, Jack and fellow Beat Generation member Lucian Carr attempted to sail to France. They were kicked off the ship prior to its departure. They proceeded to spend the evening drinking, with Jack heading home before Carr. On his way, Jack met up with David Kammerer, an older man who had a complicated relationship with Carr. There is much speculation about the nature of the relationship, but what remains clear is that Kammerer followed Carr across the nation in a stalking manner. On that night, Carr and Kammerer ending up walking to Riverside Park in Manhattan. Something happened (Carr testified that Kammerer attempted to sexually assault him), and Carr stabbed Kammerer with his Boy Scout knife. Carr disposed of the bound body in the Hudson River. He ran to his Beat friends for help, and Jack obliged. After Carr confessed, both were arrested. Jack’s family refused to post bond. He spent 2 days in jail until his then girlfriend Edie Parker’s family posted bond on condition that they marry. The marriage was annulled a few years later. Carr spent 2 years in jail before being released. Kerouac turned the tragedy into two fictional stories. In total, Jack penned 15 novels and 4 short stories/novellas, with On the Road (1957) as his most famous.

If in St. Pete, take the Jack Kerouac driving tour. Even though Haslam’s is closed, park and walk around. It is a reminder that bookstores, and reading, are still popular. Who knows? Maybe Jack’s ghost will pull at the paper coverings on the extra-large windows. Let me know if he does.

Mexican Gothic: Your Summer Read!

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Cover

Mexican Gothic: Your Summer Read!

In June 2022, Silvia Moreno-Garcia published Mexican Gothic. It was met with much acclaim and sits on many reading lists including those of shortlisted titles for best book of the year. And it deserves it! Moreno-Garcia weaves Mexican folklore with modern gothic genre motifs.

Set in the 1950s, Noemí Taboada is dispatched to evaluate her recently married cousin, Catalina. The orphaned cousin quickly married with her husband, Virgil, sweeping her from the social circles of Mexico City to the isolated Mexican mountains. High Place is the decrepit family mansion of the Doyles, a proud British family relegated to live outside the small town El Triunfo without the wealth generated from the now-shuttered silver mine.

Noemí finds her cousin profoundly changed and tries to unravel the creepy family history of the mysterious and strange Doyle clan.

The story incorporates Mexican culture and the newly expanding paranormal research of the decade. If you skim, you may miss the references! The hybrid fantasy/horror tale evolves slowly with the writing more literary than genre fiction. In the end, it remains a modern retelling of a gothic fairytale.

An 8-10 episode limited series was commissioned by Hulu after Milojo Productions (Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos) secured the rights. (Note: There are reports that the show may be a continuing series instead of a limited series.) The author will serve as an executive producer.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

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Interior

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

One of the best museums in the New Orleans is located at 514 Chartres Street. It was purposefully selected to rehabilitate a vacant building that was historically confused as “Napoleon House.” (The building that supposedly was the “Napoleon House” was located on the corner.) In the mid-1900s when the city was transitioning from a morally decadent center to a more inclusive travel destination, the citizens of the Quarter sought to include the vacant house located situated between street numbers 514 and 516. Through extensive research and historical maneuvering, the Pharmacy Museum was born.

The Dufilho family arrived in the Crescent City from France in the early 1800s. The father and two brothers fashioned themselves druggists. Louis J. Dufilho, Sr. opened an apothecary in the French Quarter. During this time, Louisiana was enacting legislation to regulate the pharmaceutical industry. In 1804, the legislature enacted a law requiring all pharmacists to pass a 3-hour oral exam. According to historical documents, two men competed to become the first man to pass.

Louis J. Dufilho, Jr.

Either Francois Grandchamps or Louis J. Dufilho, Jr. are America’s first registered pharmacists. A third person, Jean Peyroux, was ruled out as his license was granted under Spanish rule and not a North American governing body. Peyroux’s contribution to the industry has been lost.

However, an argument for either Grandchamps or Dufilho holds. The organizers for the museum would have tourists believe that the argument is settled. It isn’t. But this issue is irrelevant to the wonderful museum.

According to the museum. Dufilho was the first person pass and to receive certification. He passed the exam in 1816. In 1823, Dufilho opened his own pharmacy at 514 Chartres. It was called La Pharmacie Françoise, alternatively Pharmacie Dufilho. Dufilho ran a pharmacy, soda fountain, hardware store, and post office out of the business.

The house was a Creole townhouse. The building housed a pharmacy on the first floor off the street. A courtyard led to slave quarters and horse stables. The family resided on the upper floors.

Dufilho sold the property to Dr. J. Dupas in 1855 for $18,000. Here is where the interesting stories begin. There is much speculation about what “medical” procedures Dupas conducted. Little is known about him; however, I am working on a follow-up blog that expands on his sinister activities.

The museum is interesting and unique for the city. It houses a vast collection of items and stretches beyond pharmaceutical items. It is more of a museum of medical practices. The first floor is a replica of the original pharmacy. The second floor is divided into 4 rooms, each highlighting an area of medicine.

Is the museum haunted? Honestly, I don’t know. While I did not conduct an investigation or activate any equipment, I did read of the various stories posted online. After you read of the nefarious acts conducted by Dupas, you may see how it could be haunted.

For more stories about New Orleans, watch the recorded session from Ghost Education 101, https://www.facebook.com/GhostEducation101/, recorded on Wednesday, April 27, 2022.

Ghosts, Vampires, and Urban Legends: NOLA!

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New Orleans prides herself as being one of the most haunted cities in the United States. The city embraces her paranormal side. I’ve been visiting NOLA since I was a little girl. On every trip, I learned something new. And this year’s trip was no different. There’s so many places and stories. I’ve compiled some of the most interesting and look forward to sharing them with you! In the meantime, I leave you with 3 teasers: trunk, voodoo, and axman. Hint: Some of the storylines in American Horror Stories “Coven” were spot on.

Missing Sodder Children

Christmas Eve 1946, Fayetteville, West Virginia.

Giorgio “George” and Jennie Sodder emigrated separately from Italy but found love in Smithers, West Virginia. They had 10 children and built a better life by moving to Fayetteville, settling on Route 16. With their older son serving in the military, the family of 11 (9 kids plus George and Jennie) celebrated Christmas Eve by opening a few gifts and tucking in early. Five of the children slept upstairs in two rooms. The three older children fell asleep downstairs near the Christmas tree. George and Jennie retired to their bedroom with the 2-year-old toddler, Sylvia. Nothing seemed amiss until a fire broke out at 1 am.

Reflecting back, there might have been signs of trouble brewing. George was an outspoken Italian who provided lively commentary about the recent downfall of the Italian monarchy. He was not a fan of “Il Duce,” Benito Mussolini, killed the year prior. Witnesses retold a heated argument George had with a life insurance salesman, who left casting an ominous threat: You will regret not purchasing the policies as your house will burn and your children shall perish. And just that evening, Jennie answered a telephone call shortly after midnight where a female asked to speak with a man who did not reside at the home. Jennie hung up noticing the unlocked front door and the downstairs lights still on. She closed up and returned to bed.

And then there were a series of failures when the fire erupted. George, Jr. (16), Marion (17), and John (23) easily escaped, as did George and Jennie carrying Sylvia. Stories differ as to how many people attempted to contact the fire department. One of the children ran to the neighbor’s house to call. No one answered. Another neighbor may have also tried. Again, no response.

George was desperate to reach the second floor. He couldn’t find the ladder. He devised a plan to drive one of his trucks to the house and then jump into a second story window. Neither truck would start. Panicked, the family watched as the fire blazed for 45 minutes. Still, the fire department had not arrived.

The fire burned itself out by the time the fire department arrived on scene at 8 am—nearly 7 hours after the fire started. The family began to grieve as it seemed obvious that the 5 remaining children perished in the flames.

But had they?

No human remains were found. Theories, however, began to circulate. One neighbor claimed that s/he saw a car carry the children off. As press reports ran about the strange disappearance of Maurice (14), Martha (12), Louis (9), Jennie (8), and Betty (5), people outside of the area reported seeing them. A motel owner contacted police about a shy Italian family with 5 kids who matched their descriptions. Some pondered whether the mafia was involved. Wondered if the children had been taken back to Italy to live in an orphanage. Police investigated, but no evidence was uncovered. No children were found.

Once the police began a proper investigation, probably too late to be of value, they discovered that the telephone line was cut, as were the power lines. Fire Chief F.J. Morris explained the 7-hour delay in arriving. The firemen did not sleep at the station. Instead, a telephone tree was initiated when there were emergencies after hours. It took 6 ½ hours to round up a crew. The final police report listed the 5 children as dying in the fire. Their date of death was Christmas Day, December 25, 1946.

The surviving Sodder family grieved. They hired Private Investigator C.C. Tinsley. He uncovered that the salesman was a member of the coroner’s jury. Tinsley heard a rumor of a box with a human heart dug up during the investigation. He tracked down the source: Fire Chief Morris, who fessed up to burying the box hoping the family could move on in their grief. The organ was dissected; it was a beef liver. Not human.

George brought in fill dirt, and the family created a memorial. The dirt was processed, and a few human bones were discovered. However, it was not hardly enough for one child, let alone 5. Jennie was determined to challenge the police report. She researched the amount of heat required to burn a human body to ash. It became clear that the fire had not been hot enough, nor did it burn long enough. The children’s remains were not there.

In 1952, George and Jennie erected a large billboard offering a $5,000 reward. Over the years, the reward grew to $10,000. The family never had to pay out a reward. The children were never found.

Hope resurfaced in 1968. Jennie received an envelope addressed solely to her. It had a Kentucky postmark. Inside was a photograph of a young man. On the back was scrawled, “Louis Sodder, I love brother Frankie, Ilit boys, A90132 or 35.” The family hired another private investigator, located in Kentucky as not to draw media attention.

The PI took their money and disappeared. No man was found. George and Jennie updated the billboard and added the image. Still, the reward remained unclaimed.

Decades passed; people drove past the billboard retelling the tale of five missing children. George died in 1969; Jennie died in 1989. The surviving children grew up but never stopped searching. The youngest, Sylvia, was the last remaining child. Sadly, she died in 2021 at the age of 79.

Today, the billboard no longer exists. A private Facebook, Sodder Children. What Happened to Them?, (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1517621841830429) was created.

Will this mystery ever be solved? I think it may. With the advancement of DNA processing and more people uploading their samples, the mystery may be resolved. Should a descendent upload his/her DNA, it would be linked to other family members. This premise relies on Sodder ancestors uploading DNA profiles.

This tragic mystery hits close to home. My father’s maternal line was part of the Fayetteville community. When West Virginia was annexed from Virginia, the family was granted land and settled in the area. I have friends and family still in the region. I’m sifting through my DNA matches to see if there are any links to the Sodder family. It is a massive undertaking.

I’m drawn to this tragedy. I pray that the descendants ultimately find out what happened all those years ago.

To hear more about this case and three similar unsolved murders, check out Ghost Education 101 on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/GhostEducation101. I gave a presentation on March 30.

The Grimes Sisters: An Unsolved Cold Case

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The Grimes sisters

Barbara and Patricia Grimes were huge Elvis Presley fans. They had already seen his new film Love Me Tender 11 times. On December 28, 1956, the sisters sat through two screenings before heading home. Somewhere along the way, they were abducted, never to be seen alive again. This is one of America’s unsolved murders: A gruesome double murder of two young females.

So much remains unknown about this case. Their nude and frozen remains were discovered on January 22, 1957. An unseasonably hot spell came over the Chicago, Illinois area causing the snow to melt, revealing the bodies. If not for the change in weather, their bodies may have lay for months or even years.

Photograph from crime scene

Coroners were unable to answer several questions regarding the cause of death. They remained at odds over several details. Ultimately, the deaths were listed as “murder, secondary shock.” They theorized that the sisters died shortly after their abduction. The stomach contents consisted of remnants eaten on December 28th. Although the cause was not ascertained, the medical experts eliminated other causes.

For instance, they sisters were not stabbed or physically injured. While Barbara had sexual intercourse prior to her death, she and Patricia were not sexually violated. They were killed at different location and dumped along German Church Road near Devil’s Creek. Date unknown.

Interviews reached into the thousands, with several individuals held for further questioning. Edward “Bennie” Bedwell, age 21, was a semi-literate drifter who possibly resembled Elvis. He confessed to killing the sisters with William Willingham, Jr. Bennie claimed that he and William fed the girls hot dogs and then beat them to death. Based on the evidence, his story did not hold up. He was released.

Max Fleig, age 17, also confessed. Like Bennie, his story did not match up to the facts of the case. He, too, was released.

Walter Kranz was a 53-year-old steamfitter who had psychic abilities. He contacted the police after having a dream showing him how the girls were killed. He quickly became a person of interest. However, there wasn’t any evidence to detain him.

Years later, another individual came to light. Charles LeRoy Melquist was a 23-year-old stone worker. Two years after the disappearance and murder of the Grimes sisters, Melquist was arrested for killing Bonnie Leigh Scott, age 15. Melquist was not a master criminal. No, he was another inept criminal.

Bonnie was a sophomore at York Community High School in Elmhurst, Illinois. The school district includes Addison, where Bonnie lived. Bonnie’s parents were divorcing; therefore, she resided with her Aunt Jean and Uncle Robert Schwolow, along with their 15-year-old daughter Sue and grandmother Doris Hitchins. She was last at 6:30 pm on September 22, 1958. Melquist contacted police claiming to be a witness to Bonnie Leigh’s abduction.  

Bonnie’s nude and decapitated body was discovered on November 15, 1958. Police brought Melquist in for another voluntary interview. While he was with one group of detectives, police officers were executing a search warrant on his 1958 silver Chevrolet. They found enough evidence to charge him. Melquist wrote out a 7-page confession. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison but served only 11 years.

Bonnie’s body was dumped a few miles from where the Grimes sisters were found 2 years prior. Because of the location and broad similarities in the cases, people have theorized that Melquist may have gotten away with additional murders. Further, he did resemble Elvis—but that wasn’t difficult given Elvis’ popularity. To be clear, the basis for the connection is very thin and a stretch. A very long stretch.

Joseph and Lorretta Grimes died without knowing who committed these heinous murders. Sadly, the deaths of Barbara and Patricia were not the first instance of a child predeceasing Joseph and Lorretta. Older sister Leona Grimes Freck died at the age of 26 in 1954. Three children remained: Shirley, Theresa, and Joseph James.

Side note: There are a couple of pronounced errors online. The mother’s name is spelt Lorretta. There are 2 Rs. The other relates to Patricia’s age at the time of her murder. Patricia was born on December 31, 1943. She was 12 years old at the time she disappeared. Even though her remains were found in January the following year, her age is listed as 12. This is because coroners were unable to determined when she died but theorized based on her stomach contents that it was before her birthday. Further, there wasn’t any evidence to suggest that the girls were held captive.

This case is a reminder that there are many unsolved murders in America. In a 2019 NPR story, it was reported that there were 250,000 unsolved murders per year in America, with 6,000 added annually. The FBI estimates that 40% of homicides go unsolved. These are terrifying numbers!

For more information on this case or 3 additional unsolved murders/disappearances, please see my presentation on Ghost Education 101, https://m.facebook.com/GhostEducation101/posts/293007789193183?locale=ne_NP. Scroll down to find the video.