7 Oct

31 Ghost Stories – Day 7, The Popobawa of Eastern Tanzania

Posted by Tony Nunes | Thursday October 7, 2010 | 31 Ghost Stories

PopobawaEditor’s note: I have the night off. Tonight’s grisly story of the paranormal is from Tony ‘TVEye’ Nunes and it’s a doozy!

It was one of the last places I’d ever expected to find myself. Here I was knelt before a table of random artifacts and stones in a small mud and grass hut in one of the most remote and far-gone places in the world. Seated in this earthen home in the middle of the Great Rift Valley I was moments from receiving a divination from a Maasai Iloibonok (ritual leader and Chief).

Back in 2006, I spent a month in Tanzania , working with local people and taking in the amazing wonders on various weekend excursions. One of these digressions was a chance opportunity to spend three days with a Maasai tribe that a local friend was familiar with. Who wouldn’t jump at that chance? Needless to say, it was one of the most unique experiences of my life. At dusk on the second day, before a ritual goat slaughter, I was presented with an opportunity to have a divination session with the Chief. It was surreal. This rugged old man, with skinny arms and leathery skin came into this dark little hut, his bright red and black robe accented by the stark white bones which pierced his nose and ears, causing them to sag like tired eyelids. He was an enigma to me. He sat down and shook a jumble of small bones, stones, and pendants out of a gourd and across his table, wary of the pattern they created. Speaking in his own deviation of Swahili, he explained that Eng’ai, their earth mother deity was displeased, delaying the rainy season with drought. Through a translator I was told our meal that night would be plentiful. Not much of a radical divination, but I was grateful nonetheless. We were later given a small lesson on Maasai culture, of which it became apparent that our translator was giving us only the footnotes. In his talk, I heard mention a word spoken with more ferocity than the others. The word Popobawa stuck with me, and later that night, while we danced around a fire, drunk on honey beer, I had to ask one of the tribesmen what it meant. The answer I received shocked me to my core.

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6 Oct

31 Ghost Stories – Day 6, The Union Missouri haunting

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday October 6, 2010 | 31 Ghost Stories

Union, Missouri Fear HouseI don’t really know what it was about the 70’s that made people so aware of the paranormal. Guys like Yuri Geller hit the workshop circuit, charging ridonculous quantities of cash money to teach people how to bend spoons with their mind. You had this post-hippie human potential movement out there convincing people that they could walk through walls, levitate or project their consciousness around the world with nothing more than some meditation and a high fiber diet. Prestigious universities had actual parapsychology programs. Students and professors were receiving grants to investigate the homes of maniacs for signs of reported paranormal activity. To top it all off, The United State government and The Soviet government engaged in a psychic arms race to develop the best psychic soldiers that money could buy. It was a really weird time. It’s this paranormal quality that made so-called true stories of the paranormal such pop cultural hits. Shit like The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror, both alleged to be true stories. The DiFeo Murder House of Amityville Horror fame and the Smurl Poltergeist actually received a lot of headline news until both were revealed to be hoaxes but for a while they Lutzes and the Smurls were fringe-culture rock stars. Eventually these things pass and we stop hearing about the big deal hauntings but they continue to happen. If this were the 70’s, then a particular house located in Union, Missouri would be up there with the best of them. This one is pretty fucking intense.

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5 Oct

31 Ghost Stories – Day 5: Dr. Tom Benton, immortal

Posted by Bryan White | Tuesday October 5, 2010 | 31 Ghost Stories

Re-AnimatorBack in the spring, I was interviewed by a local paper about horror writers in New England. We have a number of sweet publications out this way like Shroud and the Zombie Bomb comic’s editors are out this way as well as a legacy of authors like Stephen King, Poe and Lovecraft. I don’t really know what it is about this region, but there’s an intangible something about New England that is positively spooky and it inspires a lot of people to turn that invisible quality of dread into something spooky and creative. In the case of Dr. Tom Benton, I have to wonder if H.P. Lovecraft has heard of this guy before he wrote the shorts for Herbert West, Reanimator. They have an awful lot in common.

Depending on who you ask, the local mad scientist turned undying spirit of evil goes a million ways. By some accounts, Dr. Benton lived to be some ridiculous age before one day he suddenly aged decades and took to hiding in the forests of Mt. Moosilauke. It really depends on the person telling the story. Many people, in love with the oral tradition of local legends, the Tom Benton story becomes a morbid riff along the lines of The Aristocrats. Some local storytellers have made an art out of expanding the story to ridiculous conditions but the basic premise of the story is such:

Not Dr. Tom BentonTom Benton was born in Carver, NH, later changed to Benton in honor of a completely unrelated Benton. He grew up poor but his exceptional record as a student and the town’s need for a doctor brought everyone together to send Benton to medical school in Germany on the condition that when he was finished, he come home and be the town’s physician. At medical school in Heidelberg, Benton continued his educational hot streak and performed admirably. While there, he meets and becomes the protoege of the eccentric Dr. Stockmayer, who is said to be conducting experiments in the pursuit of eternal life and when he dies, he leaves Benton all his stuff so that he might continue his work. Benton winds up finishing school and true to his word, returns home. He has a great reputation around town and is a kick ass doctor but at some point, either his wife dies or he is jilted by his girlfriend and he takes on a dishevelled appearance before disappearing into the mountains where he lives in a shack.

Benton becomes the local bogeyman that parents scare their kids with but when pranksters sneak up on his place, they peek in to find him barely more than a skeleton working intensely over bubbling chemicals. The Mad Doctor of Benton becomes a favorite local spooky story but shit gets real when livestock turns up bearing red welts and pin pricks behind their ears. Graves of the recently deceased were discovered to have been dug up and opened, the bodies missing, later recovered but with the same marking behind the ears. Eventully, Benton disappeared, entirely. His cabin found empty by locals, as though it had not been lived in for some time. The doctor was out, leaving behind not a trace.

It doesn’t end there, though. Beginning in 1825, Benton sightings become a regularity of people working the forests. He is seen as a withered man wearing either a long black coat or a cape. He terrorizes all who come into contact with him and haunts the people of Benton. Residents are horrified to learn that one of the town’s children has gone missing, last seen with a man in a black cape heading in the hills of Mt. Moosilauke. When the search party finally catches up with the mysterious figure, they arrive in time to see him hurl the child off a cliff to her death. He turns to greet the mob and everyone is shocked to find that the culprit is none other than the good doctor.

Periodically, Dr. Benton appears in the region, killing loggers and disrupting the local industry. In 1860, loggers staying at the Prospect House Hotel, renamed to the Tip Top House are found murdered, left only with the tell-tale pin prick wound of Dr. Benton. In the 1970’s, a rock climber was found unconscious by hikers. When he recovered, he recalled being blitze by a figured in a black cape who pushed him over the edge of a cliff. Sightings continue to this day as hikers in the area frequently spot a figure in black either lurking in the mists near the summit or darting through the heavy forest on the way to the top of the mountain.

4 Oct

31 Ghost Stories – Day 4: Poveglia, Island of Madness

Posted by Bryan White | Monday October 4, 2010 | 31 Ghost Stories

PovegliaI have a mild obsession with Italy. I love the food, the language, the movies and their ongoing preoccupation with progressive rock is something that I can appreciate. It’s a nation and a culture that seems to put a hefty value on the things in life that really matter. Every image I have of the nation was either informed by the crime films of Fulci and Lenzi. When I think of Rome, I think of Fellini. I think of the countryside and colors come to mind, like vivid greens and earth tones and even though I fucking loathe wine of any stripe, the thought of Italy makes me want to give it another shot even though I’m certain that I’m going to hate it. Everybody has a dark side, though, and Italy is no exception.

Poveglia is an island situated in the lagoon of Venice in Northern Italy and it has a really nasty reputation. See, in the 1500’s epidemic plagues had found their way to Italy again and the island became a quarantine zone for sailors seeking port in Venice. Sanitary conditions during this period of the middle ages were pretty bad and just about everywhere you went was a prime breeding pit for disease. Venice was mad obsessed with sanitation at the time and even though they managed to contain the victims on Poveglia, the city still lost half of its population during The Black Plague’s last great push through Europe. Oh yeah, I didn’t mention that yet, did I? Poveglia began as a lazaretto and became a holding pen for anybody even so much as suspected of having plague symptoms. It didn’t matter who you were, if it looked like you getting sick, off you went to Poveglia to die a miserable animal’s death and when the pile of bodies got too high, they toss the corpses in a pit and set fire to it. There are some serious mass graves throughout Europe; in places like Germany and Poland. They’re still turning up pits of corpses in the Baltics. The leftovers from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia is also pretty heavy but none of them hold a candle to Poveglia. 50% of the island’s soil is made up of human remains. Bones routinely wash up on the shore and in the nets of sailors who fish too close to the island. Poveglia is a place of profound suffering. The estimated body count there was somewhere in the neighborhood of 160,000 and as a result has come to be known to paranormal enthusiasts as a “thin place”, where the membrane between here and the other side is particularly thin and while a shit ton of people exited through the plague pits of Poveglia, a lot of nasty energy was left behind and a lot of nasty energy came back through to influence and corrupt the events of the future.

Poveglia Mass GraveFollowing the ebb of disease, the island was left mostly uninhabited. Being the place where over a hundred thousand people went to die, you gain a reputation and nobody wants to live in a place like that. With the exception of a couple of farmers tending to the particularly awesome crops that came as a result of rich soil infused with the remains of a shit ton of terminally ill people, nobody lives there. In 1922 a sort of retirement home was established there where local indigents went to wait out their final years. A portion of the newly built facility was dedicated to the mentally ill, as luck would have it. Legends of Poveglia state that the occupants of this home, not just the crazy ones, reported hearing sounds and seeing things. It’s all stock ghost story stuff, strange lights, apparitions, sounds of wailing, crying and screaming. 160,000 souls locked down to a place on Earth so rancid they can’t move on. Poveglia’s dire reputation affected the staff of the hospital, too, allegedly. An unnamed doctor in the island’s mental facility experimented on his patients, urged on by their babbling about plague victims, he developed sick and savage new ways to lobotomize his patients until his suicide attempt put the kibosh on continued medical malpractice. The unnamed doctor, suffering from what he thought were his own hallucinations, plunged from the hospital’s bell tower and managed to barely survive the fall. Disappointed, Poveglia’s non-corporeal population rose up from the ground as a mist and finished the job by choking him to death.

At least that’s how the story goes.

Since that time, there have been attempts to buy the land from the government, which is off limits to visitors. Private buyers have, on occasion, bought the island, moved in and then booked it the fuck out shortly thereafter, perpetuating the mythology of this black mark on the planet. To this day, Italy shows no sign of relinquishing the location to anyone. Business deals go sour. People move in and more out and it’s said that one such buyer beat a hasty retreat when their daughter sustained a mysterious facial injury requiring 20 stitches. Since that time, Poveglia has remained closed and rotting.

3 Oct

31 Ghost Stories – Day 3: The SS Ourang Medan

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday October 3, 2010 | 31 Ghost Stories

Not the Ourang MedanI fucking hate the ocean, mateys. It’s a vast expanse of this planet that holds a tremendous volume of secrets and horrifying wildlife. Go too deep and the pressure of all that water on your tiny mortal body will crush you. If you even get that deep, that is. Get to a certain point where the pressure becomes a problem and the oxygen in your blood turns to nitrogen. In that environment, nature is out to get you. You wind up at the bottom of the food chain and the very nature of the setting can simply crush your body. Fuck the ocean. As it turns out, you’re not even safe on the surface. With hundreds of miles of nothingness reaching out in every direction all sorts of strange shit can and does happen. Such was the case for the Dutch freighter, the SS Ourang Medan in 1947.

In June of 1947, two American vessels sailing the Strait of Malaca in Indonesian waters received a distress call from a Dutch merchant ship that identified itself as the Ourang Medan. The call came in freaked out bursts of morse code. What could be understood was received as fragments.

All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead.

It didn’t end there, unfortunately. The final transmission from the Ourang Medan simply read

I die.

The responding ship was the SS Silver Star who attempted to hail the undamaged Ourang Medan to no avail. What they found when they boarded the derelict vessel was a scene straight out of a horror movie. The deck was littered with corpses. The entire crew was dead, including a dog aboard the ship. As described in the distress call, the ship’s officers lay dead in the chartroom and the wheelhouse and the captain lay dead on the bridge. This wasn’t the strangest part of the story, however. The bodies of the crew all showed signs of being frozen in terror at the moment of death. Their facial expressions horrified, teeth bared, some pointing at the sky, some simply looking upward as though something from above willed them all dead at the exact moment. A brief examination of some of the victims showed no outward signs of trauma. The crew of the Ourang Medan simply died on the spot.

The Silver Star hitched the Ouran Medan up with tow cables and prepared to haul the ship to port. That is, until smoke from the lower decks billowed up and the whole thing caught on fire. The Silver Star cut the cables in time before the whole thing exploded and conveniently sank.

There are a lot of factors at work that could explain what was going on. I like to think that the crew suddenly encountered the sunken city of R’Lyeh and were simply scared to death by the horrifying majesty of Cthulhu or that a UFO descended on the ship and zapped the fucker with a death ray but it’s actually most likely that the ship was secretly transporting outlawed nerve gas from Japanese research bases to American bases in the wake of World War 2 and the same kind of courtesy that Nazi scientists were granted under Operation Paperclip was given to Japanese weapons researchers. We don’t hear much about it because Unit 731 wasn’t really our concern during World War 2. That was really China and The Soviet Union’s beef but the presiding theory is that the undocumented ship, The Ourang Medan (it’s actual identity unknown), was probably smuggling tremendous amounts of nerve gas and TNT around the south seas and a leaky hold caused the containers to deteriorate and the TNT to become immediately unstable.

Then again, that is if the story is even true. There is documented evidence in shipping logs that the Silver Star engaged in a failed rescue attempt in that location around this time but the details of the log have been lost forever either to the natural shifting of the sands of time or by the swift hand of the United States government during the Cold War. By official accounts, The Ourang Medan never existed. This could indicate that the story is another sailor’s ghost story, like the Marie Celeste, or it could mean that it was operating under false flag conditions to smuggle nasty weapons around for the United States military.

2 Oct

31 Ghost Stories – Day 2: The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Posted by Bryan White | Saturday October 2, 2010 | 31 Ghost Stories

The Dyatlov Pass IncidentOn January 30th, 1959, nine seasoned hikers in Russia hit the trails in a portion of the Ural mountains that the Mansi tribes of the region called The Mountain of the Dead (srsly). They never made it home alive.

It should come as no surprise that hiking the mountain ranges of Northern Russia in the dead of winter carries with it greatly increased chances of freezing to death, even for expert winter survivalists, but the facts, or lack thereof, surrounding this event tell a story that is anything but your average lethal case of hypothermia.

The hikers, Igor Dyatlov, Zinaida Kolmogorova, Lyudmila Dubinina, Alexander Kolevatov, Rustem Slobodin, Yuri Krivonischenko, Yuri Doroshenko, Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle and Alexander Zolotarev departed from the settlement of Otorten for the mountains. All went well until day 2 of the trip when blizzards threw them off course. When they realized what had happened, they set up camp and planned to back track the following day. By morning they were dead. A couple of weeks went by before search and rescue went out looking for them with groups of hikers, dogs, planes and helicopters. Six days into the search, the abandoned campsite was found. The hikers’ tent had been torn open from the inside and footprints were followed away from the camp before they disappeared. A half a mile away, the first bodies were found under a large pine tree near the remains of a camp fire. Krivonischenko and Doroshenko were found dressed only in their underwear. Backtracking to the camp from the pine, the bodies of Dyatlov, Kolmogorova and Slobodin were found positioned as though they were trying to return to camp. The remaining four bodies were found months later under 12 feet of snow in a ravine a little further out from the pine, away from camp.

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1 Oct

31 Ghost Stories – Day 1: The Curse of Johnny Frank Garrett

Posted by Bryan White | Friday October 1, 2010 | 31 Ghost Stories

Here we go, people! It’s October and just about all of us horror bloggers are doing a 31 days of Halloween type blogathon. Last year I did it with daily posts about Halloween, itself. The origins of, strange and spooky things that happened on or around. This year I’m going to tell you ghost stories, but rather than having them just be pieces of random folklore, these stories have some kind of basis in reality. I’m not saying that they’re true because there’s no bigger skeptic than me. I’m just saying that they aren’t some complete fabrication from the mind of a writer or some guy scaring the shit out of cub scouts at a campfire. To kick things off, here’s the story of a tragic murder, a tragic arrest and revenge from beyond the grave.

The Curse of Johnny Frank GarrettOn Halloween, 1983 in Amarillo, Texas, Sister Tadea Benz, a 76 year old nun was brutally raped, murdered and mutilated post-mortem by an unknown subject. Left behind at the scene was an overwhelming amount of evidence. Witnesses spotted a dark skinned man hiding behind some trees near the scene of the crime, a convent, around the time of the murder but Amarillo police had no suspects to arrest. Amarillo residents were horrified and put a lot of pressure on the cops to arrest someone and that’s just what they did. Living near the crime scene was Johnny Frank Garrett, 17 years old, severely mentally handicapped, with a history of intermittent violence. Desperate to calm the population down, the police clapped the irons on Johnny and took him to the station where, for hours, no one is sure what went on there. Johnny was appointed an incompetent lawyer who, based on nothing at all, urged him and his family to throw in the towel and prepare for the worst. Evidence that incriminated Garrett was fabricated by the police, he was pressured to sign a confession full of details inconsistent with the crime scene that he didn’t write, evidence that could have cleared him disappeared. In a whirlwind case, Garrett was tried, convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection before he knew what hit him.  All of this was facilitated by a corrupt police department that framed him with a frightening kind of efficiency that suggested that they had done it before and would probably do it again. The legal system in Texas was complicit in the affair and made sure that this set up went smoothly through the Texas judicial system. Over the course of nine long years, Garrett appealed his case but ultimately wound up on the business end of a needle in the death chamber of a Texas prison. His last words:

I’d like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. And the rest of the world can kiss my ass.

Years later, evidence would surface clearing Garrett of the crimes he was accused of and would conclusively prove that the actual killer was a Cuban refugee with a criminal record in Cuba that included rape and murder. This person was even questioned by Amarillo homicide at one time! I guess sitting on death row for nearly ten years, insisting on innocence, denied any chance of proving it, your mental handicap exploited by a corrupt, execution-obsessed legal system has a tendency to drain your faith in humanity, too. One of Garrett’s last living moves was to issue a letter to the state and the media calling them out for the frauds that they were and in that letter he cursed them all. Actually cursed them! Not in an oogly-boogly sense, but in the sense that he named names and claimed that everyone would get theirs.

And they did.

  • Juror Novella Summner fell down a flight of stairs and died a few days later of complications.
  • Juror Nathan Shackelford’s daughter died form an accidental gunshot wound to the head. His sister was run over and killed by a drunk driver.
  • Garrett’s trial lawyer Bill Kolius died of pancreatic cancer.
  • Garrett’s first appellate lawyer Bruce Sadler and post-conviction trial Judge Sam Kaiser contracted the same form of leukemia. Kaiser died after initially being cured. His healthy bone marrow (collected in case of recurrence) inexplicably disappeared from the hospital.
  • Jimmy Don Boydston contracted leukemia and died.
  • Officer Walt Yerger also died of leukemia.
  • NBC Reporter Cathy Jones died in an airplane crash in Oklahoma while covering a story.
  • Medical Examiner Ralph Erdemann was convicted of numerous felonies for falsifying autopsy reports. His medical license was revoked and he was sent to prison. His wife died of pancreatic cancer.
  • Eugene “Heavy Duty” Patterson was found dead in his vehicle. A cause of death was never determined.
  • Watley, a jailhouse snitch who testified against Garrett for a reduced sentence, committed suicide.
  • Carol Moore, Garrett’s school teacher who testified against him at trial, also committed suicide.
  • District Attorney Danny Hill also committed suicide. His daughter hung herself a few years later.
  • One of Garrett’s many appellate attorneys, Jeff Blackburn lost his wife when she committed suicide. His son was accidentally locked inside a hot car in Houston and is permanently brain damaged.
  • Ann Richards contracted cancer twice and finally succumbed to esophageal cancer.
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