Thursday, October 31, 2019

John Armstrong Haunting in Carlisle Iowa

Every night at just after sunset the residents of Carlisle. Iowa grew accustomed to seeing Mr. and Mrs. John Armstrong sitting in their armchairs. The only thing that bothered people a bit was the couple had been dead for two years. 

In July 1903 their grandson, C. C. Sumter sent a man to fix up the home so he could rent it out. The man came back, wild-eyed, screaming that he’d “seen the ghosts of two old folks, as real as life.”

Sumter had his doubts and asked Mayor Atkins to investigate. 

The mayor wrote back: Decorator right. Ghosts of John Armstrong and wife seen nightly at their old home. Entire town perplexed and witnessing the spectacle.

Sumter thought they were crazy but came to see for himself.

Sure enough his grandparents materialized in their chairs at daybreak and faded out come nighttime. Just like in real life, his deaf grandmother tapped on the floor with her cane to get the old man’s attention. The couple appear to talk. Their lips move, but no sounds are heard.

Upon further investigation, it developed that ghosts only appeared on bright, sunshiny days. Apparently, John Armstrong didn’t like dark, gloomy days. He’d close the blinds and hide away in his house. 

Years later, a small boy solved the mystery. The stained glass window in the Christian Church across the street had an image of an old couple. When the sun shone it cast their reflections into the Armstrong’s living room. On dark days, there was nothing.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch. August 23, 1903.

A Haunted House on Dry Creek in Fort Madison

There’s a haunted house in the west end of Fort Madison that sits on the bank of a ravine called Dry Creek. 

James Dixon, a section hand on the Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad lived there with his family for a few weeks in 1898. 

One night they heard footsteps outside their door. The sounds came up almost to the door. There was a loud stomp, and then nothing. The family supposed it was a neighbor playing tricks on them.

The old haunted house sat in a ravine off Dry Creek in the West end of Fort Madison.
(from The St. Louis Globe-Democrat. January 16, 1898.) 
It happened again night after night. The footsteps came right up to the door and stopped. When James opened the door there was nothing, just open space.

The next time he heard the sounds James was ready—he had a gun. When the footsteps stopped, he fired two shots through the door. Still nothing, except two holes in his door.

Another time, the steps didn’t stop at the front door. They walked around the house and then came up the basement stairs. A few days later Mrs. Dixon went to get a drink of water and she saw the shape of an old man with gray hair near the basement stairs. 

The next time the old man appeared, the family heard strange noises, and found pools of a liquid that looked like blood on the floor. 

That was all they could take. Mr. Dixon packed up his family and moved away. After that, hundreds of people flocked to the house hoping to solve the mystery.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Davenport, Iowa Girl Murdered By H. H. Holmes

“Yes, I was born with the devil in me,” wrote H. H. Holmes. “I could not help the fact I was a murderer any more than a poet can help the inspiration to song... I was born with the evil one standing as my sponsor...”

“I killed twenty-seven.” He would have murdered six more had circumstances, not intervened.[1]

The murderer’s real name was Herman Webster Mudgett—a New Hampshire farm boy, and the son of devout Methodist parents. Mudgett worked on his parent’s farm at Gilmanton until he graduated from high school, then taught school. The next year he married Clara Lovering, his high school sweetheart.

Teaching was good, but medicine was Mudgett’s ruling passion. In 1879, he enrolled in the medical program at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He studied anatomy under Professor Herdman, and dissection under the direction of Dr. Nahum Wight.

That led to digging up bodies at local cemeteries — some that he experimented on, and others that he sold to medical students for the cadaver lab. Soon, Mudgett moved on to bigger crimes.

He purchased a $15,000 insurance policy on his life, then passed a cadaver off as himself to collect on the policy. It was a deception he would repeatedly pull from then on.

Mudgett graduated from the Ann Arbor, medical school in 1884. He left his wife in 1887 and moved to Chicago where he became a clerk at a drugstore at No. 700 Sixty-third Street. Several months later, he owned the property and began construction on what would become known as his murder castle.

You know what they say? A new city, a new start.

Shortly after he moved to Chicago, Mudgett changed his name to H. H. Holmes.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Death of Colonel George Davenport at Rock Island

Colonel George Davenport was murdered on Friday, July 4th, 1845.
Colonel Davenport being tortured by his captors. 
(From The Banditti of the Prairie by Edward Bonney. 1855)

The rest of the family had gone to the Fourth of July festivities in Rock Island. The Colonel stayed home to keep watch over his property because he had seen several suspicious characters lurking around the island the day before.[1]

The gang—Robert Birch, William Fox, John Long, and Aaron Long—concocted their final plan at Grant Reddin’s house on Devil Creek. They traveled to Fort Madison, then on the steamboat Osprey to Albany, Illinois. Most likely, they fine-tuned their plan along the way.[2]

The robbery of Colonel Davenport was a “favorite scheme” of the gang. Everyone knew the Colonel was wealthy. The band expected to find at least $30,000 in cash and specie at his home on Rock Island. Instead, their take was closer to $600.

They camped in the woods about ten miles outside of Albany. That gave them time to work another scheme along the way. The story was there was a man named Miller nearby who kept a lot of money on his property. Fox decided to test him first before they made their move. He asked Miller to cash a ten-dollar banknote. When Miller couldn't cash the bill, they gave that idea up.[3]

The men walked back to Albany that night, stole a boat, and made their way downriver to Davenport’s island in the middle of the Mississippi. The gang bided their time waiting for the perfect moment. Aaron Long bought food and other supplies at Rock Island. John Long made a whiskey run on July 3rd.[4]

Later that day, the boys met with John Baxter, another gang member who lived in Rock Island.[5] They met behind J. W. Spencer’s place to hash out the final details.[6]

Baxter watched the Davenport house on the Fourth. When he was sure everyone had left except the Colonel, he let the band know it was time.[7]