Top Ten Midwestern Mysterious Tales…
I’ve always loved a good mystery – especially those with a paranormal element. As a child, I watched reruns of “In Search Of” religiously every Saturday afternoon and begged my parents to order the Time Life Mysteries of the Unknown series (sadly, they never did). I particularly love these stories when the setting is in my own backyard. Midwesterners aren’t always as wholesome as they appear, you see, and evil lurks among the cornfields. Here are some of my “favorites” in no particular order.
- Villisca Axe Murder – In June of 1912, an entire family of six along with two neighbor children were murdered in their beds in this tiny Iowa farm town. Cigarette butts found in the attic suggested that the killer or killers lay in wait there until the victims had all fallen asleep. Despite several suspects, no one was convicted of the murders.
- Watseka Wonder – In July of 1877, 13-year-old Lurancy Vennum started falling into catatonic trances. She was said to channel spirits and soon the spirit of Mary Roff, a dead child from the same small town, took over Lurancy’s body. It was so convincing that Lurancy even went to live with the Roff family for a time as Mary. After a few months, she announced that she had to leave and one day “Mary” was gone. Lurancy was back to herself and lived a happy and healthy life afterwards.
- Bloody Mary Worth – Mary Worth lived on a farm in the far northern suburbs of Chicago in the 1860s. The Underground Railroad was active in the area, and Mary had instituted a reverse Underground Railroad on her farm, capturing escaped slaves and sending them back down South. It’s said she’s the basis for the Bloody Mary mirror game.
- The Devil Baby of Hull House – Hull House, founded by Jane Addams in the 1800s to help Chicago’s poor immigrant community, was rumored to harbor a devil baby in its attic. Born as a curse to an atheist father, the baby was said to have cloven hooves and was able to speak from birth.
- Piasa Bird – Native Americans left pictographs depicting a mythical monster bird along the cliffs of the Mississippi River. According to Father Jacques Marquette’s diaries from his exploration in the area in 1673, the bird “was as large as a calf with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger’s, a face like a man, the body covered with green, red and black scales and a tail so long it passed around the body, over the head and between the legs.” The Illini Indians of the area named it Piasa, which means “bird that devours man.”
- Cleveland Torso Murders – It’s not well known that after his time with The Untouchables in Chicago, Eliot Ness moved on to Cleveland. He was that city’s public safety director when headless, limbless torsos began appearing around the city in 1935 – twelve officially, but possibly more by the time the killings tapered off in 1938. The killer was never found.
- Resurrection Mary – Since the 1930s, men have reported picking up a pretty young woman in a white dress along Archer Avenue near the Willowbrook Ballroom on the Southside of Chicago. She always asks to be let out near Resurrection Cemetery where she vanishes through the gates.
- Circleville Letters – In 1976, residents of Circleville, Ohio, started receiving threatening letters claiming to know their darkest secrets. Then the letters centered on Mary Gillespie, a school bus driver. One day in 1977, Mary’s husband received a phone call and stormed out of the house with his gun. He was found dead, his car wrapped around a tree. Then Mary almost lost her life from a booby-trapped sign along the roadside. Mary’s brother-in-law was convicted of her attempted murder, but the letters didn’t stop. The convicted man even received his own poison pen letter while in prison.
- The Mad Gasser of Mattoon – In August and September 1944, dozens of residents of Mattoon, Illinois, claimed to have become violently ill by being gassed in their own homes by a mysterious figure in black. Despite eyewitness accounts and some physical evidence found at the scene, authorities speculated that it was just a case of mass hysteria.
- Bloody Benders – In 1870s Kansas, a family of serial killers owned an inn and general store. They’re claimed to have robbed and killed at least a dozen men traveling through the area during that time. They fled when their crimes were discovered and were never found.