Podcast Episode 14: Most Metal Crimes

Our August podcast episode is officially here! This month, Jen and Collective contributor Steve sit down to chat about the dark and violent black metal scene of the 90s. This episode will cover Satanic church burnings, ritualistic crimes, gruesome killings and everything in between, all at the hands of black metal musicians.

You can stream the episode on iTunes, Spotify, Podbean, or listen below:

As mentioned in the episode, there’s quite a big of supporting content worth watching in association it. Keep scrolling to check it all out!

In the following clip, which we included part of in the epsode, Gorgoroth member Gaahl discusses Satan being his musical inspiration and his unwavering support of church burnings:

In the episode, we discussed Mayhem frontman Dead’s suicide, which was photographed and later used as an album cover. Below you can see the photo, taken by the guitarist when he discovered his bandmate’s body, and its use by the band.

The following video is Gorgoroth’s infamous 2004 show in Poland which local authorities were quite displeased with and which got Gorgoroth kicked off their record label. Definitely worth a watch.

In the following Vice documentary, we get an introduction to the Norwegian black metal scene and run into Gaal sipping on his glass of red wine (or blood?) once again.

EPISODE SOURCES

Featured image courtesy of bigking.info

Aftonbladet

Blabbermouth

Dark Side of History

Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind

Loudwire

Noisecreep

Stained Glass Attitudes

Ultimate Guitar

VH1

Zoom Dune

The Legacy of 10050 Cielo Drive

WARNING: Graphic images ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

On the morning of August 9, 1968, 49 years to the day, Winifred Chapman, maid to director Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate, went running down the driveway of 10050 Cielo Drive, screaming, “Murder, death, bodies, blood!” Chapman had been the first to witness the brutal slayings of six people inside the now infamous house, including Tate and her unborn child, at the hands of the notorious hippie murder cult known as the Manson Family.

We all know the story of the Tate-LaBianca murders. But what do we know about arguably the most renown “murder house” in the country, tucked away at the end of a dead-end street in Los Angeles? Former occupant Candice Bergen described the house as “a fairytale place… a Never Never Land far from the real world where nothing could go wrong.” But unfortunately, things did go wrong. Very wrong.

J.F. Wadkins, who built the house in 1941 on a 3.3 acre plateau in Beverly Hills, drew inspiration for the residence from the French countryside. It was originally purchased by French actress Michele Morgan for $32,000. When Morgan returned to France sometime between 1944 and 1945, the home was purchased by Dr. Hartley Dewey and his wife Louise, who rented the home and its guest house to the likes of Baroness de Rothschild and silent film actress Lillian Gish.

In 1963, the home was sold and purchased by Hollywood business agent Rudolph Altobelli, whose list of high-profile clients included Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda. Like the Deweys, Altobelli also began renting out the house. In 1966, music producer Terry Melcher moved in.

Here is where things begin to get interesting. Melcher was well-known in the music industry at this time. He began his career as a performer but eventually became involved with producing, composing and songwriting. He had a close relationship with The Beach Boys, particularly Dennis Wilson, the group’s drummer.

It was through Wilson that Melcher was first introduced to Charles Manson. Manson once accompanied Wilson when he dropped Melcher off at his residence at the time: 10500 Cielo Drive (so keep in mind, Manson was completely aware of where Melcher lived). Those who are not familiar with the story of Charles Manson may be surprised to learn he was an aspiring musician, and he saw his connections with Wilson and Melcher as a possible “in.” However, despite allowing Manson to audition for him on multiple occasions, Melcher eventually refused to sign Manson, something that deeply angered him.

After Melcher and his girlfriend Candice Bergen moved to Malibu, Altobelli rented the home to up-and-coming director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate. Tate had even affectionately referred to the Cielo Drive house as “the love house,” obviously unaware of the far different reputation the house would soon have.

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The Cielo Drive victims, photo courtesy of Bonnie’s Blog of Crime

Shortly after midnight on August 9, 1969, Manson followers Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel ruthlessly murdered the following people at the Cielo Drive residence: 18-year-old Steven Parent, celebrity hairstylist and Tate’s friend Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Polanski’s friend Wojciech Frykowski, and of course, the pregnant Tate, just weeks away from her due date.

Although the 1969 murders are by far what the house is most known for, its story didn’t end there. Altobelli sold the property in 1988 to investor John Prell for $1.6 million, several hundred thousand dollars less than his original asking price of $1.99 million. The house sold again in 1991 for $2.25 million.

In 1992, the main house was rented to Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame for $11,000 a month. Allegedly, Reznor claimed to not have known the house had been the site of the murders until reading the lease agreement.

Regardless of whether or not Reznor had sought out the house on purpose or not, he took advantage of the home’s sinister history and named the studio “Le Pig Studios” (the word “Pig” had been written on the front door of the house in the blood of the cult’s victims). It was at the Cielo Drive house that Reznor recorded the albums The Downward Spiral and Broken EP. Marilyn Manson also recorded Portrait of an American Family in the house.

In December of 1993, Reznor decided “there was too much history in that house for me to handle” and he moved out. Shortly after, in 1994, the house was demolished, making Reznor its last known occupant. Despite the demolition, the house lives on. Reznor could not resist taking a piece of the house before its destruction: the front door where the word “Pig” that had inspired his studio name was written. The door now has a new life as the front door of Reznor’s new studio, Nothing Records, in New Orleans.

A new house has since been built on the property, but the address has been changed to 10066 Cielo Drive. However, the house that once stood in its place still haunts the quaint, dead-end street of Cielo Drive.

SOURCES:

Curbed LA

feelnumb.com

The Haunting of Al Capone

Although decades have passed since his criminal reign, it’s hard to find someone who isn’t familiar with the name “Al Capone.” Named Alphonse Gabriel Capone at birth, he was an infamous American gangster who used violence and murder as a means to gain success and power during the Prohibition period. Despite having been such a powerful crime boss, his final years were spent screaming out at night for “Jimmy” to leave him alone. This odd behavior left those around him to question if Capone was suffering from mental illness or if he was being haunted by one of his many victims.

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A mugshot of Al Capone, courtesy of history.com

Capone entered a life of crime at a young age, and had managed (perhaps by having half of Chicago’s police force on his payroll) to get away with it for the most part — that is, until the St. Valentine’s massacre of 1929.

On the morning of February 14, 1929, Capone’s men brutally murdered 7 members of a group known as the “North Side Gang” with machine guns. The North Side Gang was a group of rival racketeers that posed a threat to Capone’s domination of the illegal liquor trade in Chicago, so naturally, he had to take care of them. Capone’s men posed as police to enter the gang’s bootlegging headquarters on Chicago’s North Side. They launched a fake raid on the gang, lining them up along a wall and gunning them all down. One of the men killed in the massacre was named James “Jimmy” Clark.

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The victims of the St. Valentine’s massacre, photo courtesy of omgfacts.com

Authorities were unable to prove a connection between Capone and the massacre, but in May of 1929, he was arrested for carrying a concealed and unlicensed .38 revolver during a trip to Philadelphia. The bootlegger was sentenced to serve the maximum sentence of 1 year in prison in the city’s notorious Eastern State Penitentiary (said to be one of the most haunted locations in the country. I’ve been here many times and can definitely attest to the chilling vibe this place gives off).

One of the Penitentiary’s biggest attractions is Capone’s cell, which has been preserved to look the same as it had when Capone had inhabited it and is a must on any Philadelphia tourism checklist. Where every other prisoner lived out their sentence in bare concrete cells, Capone’s was well-furnished, decorated with paintings and even had a radio. Check out the shocking comparison below:

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Typical Eastern State Pentitentiary cell vs. Al Capone’s cell, photos courtesy of Ancient Origins

But to Capone, it seemed the “luxurious” accommodations were meaningless, as he was being tormented by the unseen “Jimmy.” Even after his release from Eastern State, Capone didn’t seem to leave alone. At one point, he even hired a psychic to help get rid of the unwanted spirit, but to no avail.

Capone was arrested again for tax evasion, originally imprisoned in Atlanta but sent to Alcatraz, and as you probably could have guessed by now, Jimmy went with him. At this time, Capone was suffering from syphilis, a disease that begins in your genitals but, left untreated, will work its way into your major organs, including your brain.

Eventually, Capone’s behavior became so bizarre he was actually released early from Alcatraz “on good behavior.” In 1947, he passed away at the age of 48 at his Palm Island Estate, leaving me to wonder if Jimmy followed him all the way to hell.

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The grave of Al Capone, courtesy of Greta Polites on Flickr

Sure, one could argue that “Jimmy” was actually conjured up by the disease slowly eating away at Capone’s brain. But isn’t it fun to wonder if a man like Al Capone, with such a violent history, could perhaps actually have been getting stalked by one a particularly bitter victim?

SOURCES:

Featured image courtesy of WBUR

ancient-origins.net

omgfacts.com

prarieghosts.com

Podcast Episode 13: Columbine

The moon is full so you know what that means — I released a new podcast episode today! Today’s episode is certainly not for the faint of heart: the Columbine tragedy.

After recently reading Dave Cullen’s phenomenal account of the tragedy, Columbine, I realized that, even almost 20 years later, much of what I knew about Columbine was actually misinformation thanks to the media frenzy that occurred in the wake of event. I felt compelled to do this episode to bring the facts to the surface. Listen to the episode below and keep scrolling to check out all the supporting content I discuss in the episode.

Patti Nielson’s 911 Call

The Columbine library was the location of the most fatalities. Below is the full 911 call made by Patti Nielson, a Columbine teacher.

Patrick Ireland, aka “The Boy in the Window”

Patrick Ireland was shot multiple times, but managed to drag himself to the window of the library over a period of three hours, as he was in and out of consciousness due to blood loss. His escape from the window and into the arms of the SWAT team below was broadcast live. The video below shows clips of Patrick’s escape and his recovery from severe neurologic trauma.

The Basement Tapes Documents

As promised, here is the detailed account of the Basement Tapes as documented by one of the Jeffco sheriff’s officer. It is 10 pages long but definitely worth a read given the actual Basement Tapes are not available for viewing.

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Drive-Thru… Funerals?

The South can be a strange place, and R. Bernard Funeral Home in Memphis, Tennessee, is no exception to that rule. The owner of the funeral home, Ryan Bernard, has come up with a unique but bizarre way to say your final goodbyes to a deceased loved one: a viewing drive-thru. In the same way you can order a Big Mac, you can also now pay your respects to your dearly departed.

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Photo courtesy of commercialappeal.com

“Being in Memphis, we are surrounded by a lot of big-name funeral homes that have been around for 100 years, so being the new kid on the block, so to speak, I needed something unique to make me stand apart,” says Bernard. With the building he purchased for his business existing as a bank in its past life, he decided to make use of the bulletproof drive-thru teller window as a means to achieve that unique feature he was searching for.

He claims the worth of the strange service he provides is in the convenience it allows. “Some people, they don’t want to deal with the hassle, the chaos of a large funeral… It helps out those that lack (physical) mobility, those who don’t feel like the hassle of parking cars and getting out or those who are scared to come into a funeral home. A lot of funeral homes creep people out.”

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Photo courtesy of commercialappeal.com

In addition to the drive-thru, Bernard is coming up with other creative ways to stand out amongst other funeral homes, including live streaming services for out-of-town family members who are unable to attend the services. According to him, it’s all about options. “We still offer traditional visitation services,” said Bernard. “The drive-thru is just an added bonus for your family member. It is up to the family to decide if they want this option.” The service is free for customers with funeral packages.

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Photo courtesy of dailymail.com

Surprisingly, Bernard’s drive-thru viewings are actually not an innovative concept, though R. Bernard is the first funeral home to offer this style of viewing in the mid-South. Paradise Funeral Chapel in Saginaw, Michigan, has been offering drive-thru funerals since 2014. “When we first started it, everybody was talking about it and it was a big deal,” said the funeral chapel’s owner, Ivan Phillips. “Things have calmed down, and we used the service two to three times a week.”

Although Bernard says he has had mostly positive reactions toward this bizarre service and has even had several families utilize it for their deceased loved one, not everyone is so fond of it. According to Bob Arrington, president of the National Funeral Directors Association, “In my opinion, I don’t think the body should be put on display like a new car.”

Personally, the idea seems to me to be just yet another way the funeral industry has become more about the almighty dollar and not actually about honoring the dead. I’m definitely curious to see what the readers’ thoughts are on this, so join in on the conversation on this week’s #WEIRDWEDNESDAY post on our Instagram! And don’t forget to check back in next Wednesday for your weekly dose of weird.

SOURCES:

commercialappeal.com

localmemphis.com

Harvard is Home to Book Bound in Human Flesh

If you thought books bound in human skin were only found in the Evil Dead franchise, you would be wrong.

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A flesh-bound book titled Des destinees de l’ame, which translates to Destinies of the Soul, has resided at Harvard University’s Houghton Library for over eight decades. The book, which is about the destiny of the soul in the afterlife, was gifted by writer Aresene Houssaye to his friend Dr. Ludovic Bouland in the mid-1880s. In the 1930s, Dr. Bouland donated the book to the library with a note stating that he bound the book with the skin of an unclaimed female patient. According to Bouland, “a book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering.”

Binding books with human skin is a practice known as anthropodermic bibliopegy, and it was actually once rather common. Reports of this practice date all the way back to the 16th century. The confessions of executed criminals were often bound in their skin, and families would occasionally bind books with the skin of deceased loved ones as a memorial to them.

The skin came from the back of the patient, who died of “apoplexy,” according to Bouland’s note. Apoplexy is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as a “stroke” or “gross hemorrhage into a cavity or into the substance of an organ.” Bouland’s note goes on to say that he preserved this piece of flesh, though it is uncertain whether he harvested it with the knowledge of using it to bind the book or if he simply decided to save it for a special occasion.

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Des destinees de l’ame, Photo courtesy of The History Blog

In 2014, with the use of several testing methods, experts were able to confirm that the book is indeed bound with human skin. One of the methods used is called peptide mass fingerprinting, and according to Bill Lane, the diector of the Harvard Mass Spectrometry and Proteonics Resources Labratory, this particular method was able to clearly distinct that Des destinees de l’ame was not other parchment sources like sheep, cattle or goat. Although it matched the human reference, Harvard scientists cannot rule out that the book could be bound in skin from another closely related primate like great apes and gibbons. Guess we’ll have to take Bouland’s word for it.

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A page of Bouland’s note, photo courtesy of The History Blog

The book is believed to be the only example of anthropodermic bibliopegy at Harvard.

SOURCES

Featured photo courtesy of crienglish.com

BBC News

Raw Story

Death in the Victorian Era

Welcome to #WEIRDWEDNESDAY! As much as we love true crime over here at The Hex Files, we started to feel as though we were neglecting the other stuff we love too — hauntings, aliens, urban legends, strange history, etc. And so, #WeirdWednesday was born. Without further adieu, here’s the first installment of our new weekly series!

A few weekends ago, I attended the Bloodmilk Night Market and had the opportunity to chat a little with the artist behind Handsome Devil Puppets. In addition to the bewitching finger puppets she was selling at the Market, she also showed me some work that was inspired by Victorian mourning dolls. As soon as I got home, I hit the Internet because I just had to know more. I soon found out mourning dolls are just the tip of the iceberg for Victorian funeral customs. They had a strange yet alluring fascination with death that I felt compelled to explore further and of course, compile some of my favorite examples for your reading pleasure.

Mourning Clothing

It is honestly not surprising that the Victorians had such a fascination with death. Due to the lack of modern medicine, death was extremely prolific in their lives. It was everywhere. It seems, though, most of the dramatic traditions surrounding death began when Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861. He was a victim of typhoid fever, and poor Victoria was so heartbroken by the loss she mourned him for the rest of her life. In fact, Victoria (and her entire court) dressed in mourning clothes for the first three years after Albert’s death.

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Photo courtesy of ranker.com

The tradition of wearing mourning clothes for an extended period of time actually carried over outside of the Queen’s court to the common people. When mourning the death of a loved one, people would wear black and other muted colors  for one to two years after the death to represent their grieving period. Due to the high mortality rates of the time period, it was not uncommon for people to wear these colors for the majority of their lives as they mourned the deaths of multiple family members.

Women were particularly subjected to these traditions. They wore black for the first one to two years after a death, depending on their relation to the decedent, and also had to isolate themselves from their community. As the years went on, women could transition slowly from black to purple to gray as they became reintegrated with society.

Mourning Dolls

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Photo courtesy of ranker.com

Just as they do now, little girls and dolls went hand-in-hand in the Victorian era. They served many purposes: they helped young girls exercise their maternal instincts, served as a toy, and even prepared them to execute a wake and funeral. Wait… what?

Young girls were given all the necessary supplies to host a wake and funeral in what was called a “death kit.” The kits included black mourning clothes and a small coffin for the doll. The girls would practice dressing the doll, laying it out for visitation, staging funeral and even comforting the doll’s mourners. This is perhaps something I may have enjoyed during my own childhood, but is definitely too morbid for the average modern child. However, putting on fake funerals served the same purpose as preparing a girl for motherhood: it was just what women did, and therefore, they needed to be prepared.

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Victorian wax doll, photo courtesy of listverse.com

In addition to preparing girls for various aspects of life, dolls served another morbid purpose for the Victorians. If a family experienced the death of an infant or child and had some wealth to their names, they could have a wax doll created in the likeness of their deceased loved one to aid in their grieving process. To make the wax doll seem as legitimate as possible, it was dressed in the deceased child’s clothing and wore a wig of the deceased child’s hair.

Over-the-Top Funeral Services

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Photo courtesy of kathleenmaca.com

In general, Victorian funerals were extremely ostentatious events. They involved funeral directors, invitations, hearses drawn by black horses, large floral arrangements, etc. People became competitive with one another for who could host the most showy services for their deceased loved one. As you can guess, this could get pretty expensive. People, especially those of lower classes, often had to begin saving for their family member’s funeral while the person was still alive and healthy in order to afford the elaborate event that came to be expected of the time. Sometimes hey would pass on everyday necessities like food and heat in order to put money aside for their eventual funeral.

People would even hire professional mourners to attend the service to build-up the grief. The mourners, often called “mutes,” would hover around the casket, looking desolate and dismal. Charles Dickens’ fictional character Oliver Twist was a mute hired to “perform” at children’s funerals.

“Saved by the Bell”

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Photo courtesy of unc.edu

Most of us are familiar with the phrase “saved by the bell” (and we’ve probably all watched the television show at some point in our lives). However, you probably don’t realize that this commonly used phrase is said to have been inspired by a Victorian funeral custom.

In Victorian England, the dead were occasionally buried with a rope in their hand that was tied to a bell outside their grave. If the person was pronounced dead incorrectly and regained consciousness after burial, they could ring the bell for help. This particular style of burial was known as a “safety coffin.” Although there is no evidence to show that a life was ever saved by one of these devices, I can appreciate their extra (and I mean extra) precautions.

Protection from the “Resurrection Men”

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Photo courtesy of cvltnation.com

For those who were actually dead, the Victorians took precautions to ensure they remained in their graves. During the Victorian era, grave robbing was a big problem. Grave robbers were known as “resurrection men,” and their theft was driven by the high demand for cadavers for medical training and research. During this time, it was against the law to leave your donate your body to science after your death.

The resurrection men would typically dig into the end of the grave where the head was, tie a rope around the corpse’s neck and then drag it from its grave. Often, the grave robbers would leave behind the shroud and any other items accompanying the body in the grave. This was because, should one be caught stealing the deceased, sentencing was lighter if only the body was taken.

However, protection against body snatchers was reserved for the wealthy, as such protection could be expensive. For those who were able to afford it, mausoleums, vaults and iron-encased grave sites were built to protect their loved one’s body from being stolen.

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William Burke and William Hare, photo courtesy of irishcentral.com

However, sometimes there was very little that could protect you from being a victim of the body-snatchers, as some eventually decided to skip the exhumation process entirely and resorted to murder as a means to obtain bodies to sell. William Burke and William Hare, often referred to as simply Burke and Hare, sought out those who were ill, homeless or prostitutes — essentially, those who would not be missed — to be their victims.

As outlandish  and morbid as some of the Victorians’ funeral traditions may seem, you can also probably tell that many of them have carried over to modern-day funeral customs in some shape or form. Personally, I’m glad murder for the sake of medical research has not been one of them. See you guys next week.

SOURCES

Ancestry.com

The Phrase Finder

Ranker

SleuthSayers

Everything You Need To Know About ‘The Staircase’ Owl Theory

If you’re a true crime fan, you’ve probably watched (or perhaps are currently watching) Netflix’s latest docuseries craze ‘The Staircase.’

‘The Staircase’ documents the events following the death of Kathleen Peterson, a woman found in a pool of her own blood at the bottom of a staircase in the Durham, North Carolina mansion she shared with her husband Michael. Naturally, Michael is accused of being responsible for her suspicious death, and the documentary follows his journey as he defends his innocence in the untimely passing of his wife.

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The staircase where Kathleen Peterson mysteriously met her end, photo courtesy of thegeekden.com

After watching ‘The Staircase,’ I was left feeling immensely torn. I just couldn’t fathom how Michael cold have beaten Kathleen to death without causing any fractures to her skull. At the same time, the photos of Kathleen at the bottom of that staircase seemed far too bloody to constitute an accidental fall down a couple of steps. And then I found what I am almost ashamed to admit may be the most plausible theory surrounding the death of Kathleen: she was murdered by an owl.

In 2008, Larry Pollard, an attorney and neighbor of the Petersons, proposed what has come to be known as the “Owl Theory.” He believes Kathleen suffered injuries from an owl attack that led to her death at the bottom of the stairwell.

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Larry Pollard, photo courtesy of newsobserver.com

If you watched the documentary, you’ll recall the struggle between prosecutors and the defense to explain the large lacerations to Kathleen’s scalp without any associated skull fracture. The prosecution argued Michael had beaten Kathleen over the head with a blow poke while the defense claimed she sustained this injuries during an accidental fall down the stairs. Pollard proposes a third explanation by stating that these lacerations actually occurred from an owl swooping down onto and attacking Kathleen on that fateful evening of December 9, 2001.

According to Pollard, Kathleen was attacked by an owl (not an uncommon occurrence, apparently) as she arranged reindeer Christmas decorations outside. He believes the owl may have mistaken the decorations as prey, leading it to initiate the assault. Kathleen ran into the house to take cover, attempted to go up the stairs, but fell backward down them. He suggests that in her drunken, injured and partially conscious state, she tried to get up several times, causing the infamous blood splatter on the walls of the stairwell.

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Diagram of Kathleen Peterson’s autopsy, photo courtesy of wral.com

As crazy as this may seem, maybe it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. According to the SBI report, Kathleen actually had a microscopic feather and sliver of wood from a tree limb in her hand, along with her own hair, when they examined her body. Assuming they had nothing to do with her death, examiners disregarded these findings.

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the director of ‘The Staircase,’ also views the owl theory as being a possibility. According to Lestrade, “The first time I heard about the owl theory, I really laughed. But when I started looking at it and I met with Larry Pollard… It might be the more plausible explanation. How can you explain all the cuts and lacerations and the absence of fractures? When you start thinking about the owl theory, and the kind of injuries she had, you start thinking maybe there is something there.”

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Michael Peterson with his lead defense attorney David Rudolf, photo courtesy of huffingtonpost.com

Even Michael Peterson’s lead defense attorney, David Rudolf, said the following regarding the owl theory: “When you step back and really start getting familiar with the fact that there have been literally scores if not hundreds of documented instances of owl attacking the heads of people… and you look at the wounds and you compare them with the talons of an owl, it starts having some real credibility.”

The theory has also been backed up by multiple expert witnesses. University of Minnesota professor of veterinary medicine Dr. Patrick T. Redig, who stated such an attack is “entirely within the behavioural repertoire of large owls.” Kate P. Davis, director of Raptors of the Rockies, reported that the lacerations “look very much like those made by a raptor’s talons, especially if she had forcibly torn the bird from the back of her head.” Davis goes on to say this would also explain why Kathleen’s body presented with her hand holding clumps of her hair that also contained the feather and wood sliver.

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The lacerations to Kathleen’s scalp juxtaposed with an owl talon, photo courtesy of owltheory.blog.lemonade.fr

And, as I stated above, owl attacks are not uncommon, especially in Durham. On NBC’s Dateline episode of the Peterson case, they interviewed a man who was once attacked by an owl. He stated the attack felt like being hit with a baseball bat, and that he bled so much he thought he had lost his eye.

If you are interested in learning more about Pollard’s owl theory, I highly recommend listening to episode 9 of the podcast Beyond Reasonable Doubt?. The episode is only 17 minutes long but thoroughly explores this bizarre yet surprisingly plausible theory.

All in all, it appears as though the only person who knows what happened in the stairwell the night of December 9, 2011 is buried beneath a beautiful rose bush in Durham’s Maplewood Cemetery. If only walls could talk — what would they say?

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Kathleen Peterson’s grave, photo courtesy of newsobserver.com

SOURCES

Esquire

The News & Observer

Vulture

Jumped or Pushed? The Spreckels Mansion Mystery

I have been patiently waiting for a week when Tess needed a cover again for #MurderMonday so I could talk about this completely bizarre case. As you might be able to tell based on my last pick for #MurderMonday, complex, unsolved cases are kind of my thing.

But before we get into it, I’m excited to tell you guys that this is an extra special #MurderMonday because we have teamed up with True Crime Magazineto offer you guys 40% OFF your first purchase! True Crime Magazine is a best-selling true crime publication offering you the ultimate journey through the criminal mind. You can’t possibly call yourself a true crime enthusiast without a subscription to this e-magazine and now you can get it for a great price using the code HEXFILES at checkout. I’ll give you all a moment to go get your subscriptions and then I’ll meet you back here for this week’s #MurderMonday feature.

Okay, now that you’re all subscribed to True Crime Magazine, let’s get back to your regularly scheduled #MurderMonday. This case was actually introduced to me by my aunt (I have to say, it’s pretty fantastic how supportive my family has been about me starting a blog and podcast about murder, demons, etc. — hi, Aunt Jan!) and I’ve been dying to talk about it more. So, without further adieu, I present to you: the Spreckles Mansion mystery.

I use the term “mystery” because, well, that’s what it is. Was it a suicide? Or was it a murder? I know what my opinion is, but I’ll give you the facts and let you decide.

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Photo courtesy of travelandleisure.com

Welcome to beautiful Coronado Island, California.

On Coronado, there is a magnificent home known as Spreckels Mansion, a gorgeous 26-room French Baroque chateau designed for Adolph Spreckels, son of sugar tycoon and entrepreneur Claus Spreckels. The stunning mansion was purchased in 2007 by pharmaceutical tycoon Jonah Shacknai for close to $13 million dollars as a summer home. According to Shacknai’s former wife, Dina, Coronado was the chosen location because “… you felt like nothing bad could happen in Coronado.” But unfortunately, something bad did happen. In fact, multiple bad things happened.

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Sprenkels Mansion, photo courtesy of welcometocoronado.com

In July of 2011, Dina received the call that no parent ever wants to receive: Dina and Jonah’s 6-year-old son, Max, was in a medically-induced coma at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. Max had suffered a fall over a railing on the second floor of the mansion. Unfortunately, Max’s devastating fall would not be the only tragedy the mansion would see that week, but hold that thought.

It was concluded that Max had been running down the hallway at the top of the stairs when he went over the balcony, hit or tried to grab onto a chandelier, hit a banister before finally crashing to the floor. The young boy was found face-down beside the fallen chandelier.

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Photo courtesy of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department

At the time of Max’s fall, his father, 54-year-old Jonah, was not home. Watching Max was Jonah’s girlfriend of two years, 32-year-old Rebecca Zahau, who claims she was using the restroom at the time of the accident but rushed out the moment she heard the crash. Two days after Max’s fall, Rebecca was found hanging naked from one of the mansion’s balconies, her hands and feet bound with rope.

“I got a girl, hung herself.”

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The balcony where Rebecca Zahau was found hanging, photo courtesy of ABC News

Rebecca’s body was discovered by Adam Shacknai, Jonah’s brother. Adam had flown in from Tennessee to be with his brother during the difficult days following the accident, but was in the mansion’s guest house the evening of Rebecca’s death while Jonah was at the children’s hospital with Max. Only Rebecca and Adam were home the night of July 12th. Adam told investigators he had been watching porn that evening in the guest house and had not gone into the main house. Maybe it’s just me, but if I’m going to fly across the country to be with my family during a tragic time, I’m probably going to actually be with my family and not be back at their house watching a porno (if that’s what he was actually even doing, if you catch my drift). Regardless, the morning of July 13th, Adam discovered Rebecca’s body, cut her down and then called 911. Below is the audio of Adam’s call.

As you can hear in the audio clip, Adam performed CPR on Rebecca while waiting for emergency services to arrive. However, the only fingerprints and DNA found at the scene were Rebecca’s, despite the fact that Adam had cut her body down and also tried to resuscitate her. Investigators did not find Adam’s fingerprints on the knife he had used to cut Rebecca down. Adam also showed investigators the table he had stood on to cut her down — a 3-legged table. As you can imagine, it would prove quite difficult for a grown man to stand on a 3-legged table and be supported enough to then cut down a lifeless corpse.

If you think all this is strange, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

When investigators discovered the scene left behind in the bedroom attached to the balcony from which Rebecca’s body was found, it was certainly puzzling. On the door to the bedroom was a cryptic message written in black paint: “She saved him, can you save her.” Investigators also took note of a book found on one of Rebecca’s shelves: “Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft” which included images of a rite with a woman with her hands tied behind her back. Rebecca’s toe and heel prints were found on the balcony, as well as a print from a male boot.

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Rebecca Zahau’s bound feet, photo courtesy of cbs8.com

Let’s jump back to how Rebecca’s body had been found. She was naked. She was gagged with a T-shirt. Her feet were bound. Her hands were bound in complex sailing knots that Rebecca would have had to do blindly considering her hands were bound behind her back (seriously, think about how difficult this would be to do). Oh, and did I mention Adam Shacknai worked for a tugboat company and was very familiar with various nautical knots?

Dr. Lisa Boeski is a clinical psychologist who specializes in suicide cases. According to her, there are known suicides where the decedent had bound their hands as an attempt to keep them from changing their minds during the act, though very rare and never with such complex rope-tying. She also adds that she is unaware of any other suicide case, attempted or completed, where the decedent was gagged or their feet were bound, making Zahau’s suicide completely unique (if a suicide at all). Dr. Boeski also pointed out that the message on the door was written in the third-person, another unusual occurrence in a suicide case.

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Rebecca Zahau and Jonah Shacknai, photo courtesy of people.com

As investigators sorted through the strange evidence and tried to make sense of Rebecca’s suspicious death, Max Shacknai died on July 17th, 2011 at the age of 6 from injuries related to the traumatic fall. In an interview, Jonah Shacknai stated, “All I can think of, is that Rebecca saw what happened, felt responsible in some way, not that she did anything, but she was entrusted with Max. And that was too much to bear.” But let us not forget, Rebecca’s suicide occurred days before Max’s death. At the time of Rebecca’s hanging, Max was in critical condition but still alive.

On August 20th, 2011, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department ruled Rebecca’s death as a suicide, stating that her autopsy as well as DNA and fingerprints left at the scene did not show a sign of an attack. They presented this video to show how Rebecca would have been able to bind her own hands behind her back to support. According to them, the boot print found in addition to Rebecca’s toe and heel prints on the balcony were accidentally left behind by a police officer when investigating the scene.

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Adam Shacknai, photo courtesy of AZcentral.com

On April 4, 2018, a 12-member-jury found Adam Shacknai guilty of Rebecca’s death in a 9-3 vote. Jurors awarded $5 million dollars to Rebecca’s family, but for her mother and sister, it isn’t about the money. They just want to see justice for Rebecca. Because this was a civil trial, there does not need to be a unanimous decision. Also, Shacknai will not face any criminal charges and cannot be sentenced to prison.

In conclusion, did Rebecca go over a railing because Max went over a railing? Or did this poor woman feel so much guilt related to the young boy’s accident that she took her own life in such a dramatic fashion? I hope for the sake of Rebecca’s family that one day, this case will be reopened.

Sources

ABC News 1

ABC News 2

Atlas Obscura

AZ Central 1

AZ Central 2

Marcia Clark Investigates the First 48: The Spreckels Mansion Mystery

NBC San Diego

Town & Country

Podcast Episode 11: “The Warrens”

I’m so excited that the podcast is back! Episode 11 is now available on iTunes, Stitcher & SoundCloud. Or you can click play right above and listen right here.

Episode 11 features psychic research couple Ed & Lorraine Warren whose work has been featured in cult horror movies like The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring and Annabelle. In Part I, I discuss the lives and career of the Warrens and in Part II, I’m joined by Hex Files’ contributor Craig to talk about our experience meeting Lorraine Warren and touring the Occult Museum.

As I promised in the episode, here are some of the photos I took while touring the Occult Museum. Light was certainly not on my side, so I apologize that most of the photos are poor quality but they’re still pretty awesome!