A Gruesome Find

Imagine you’re going about your day when you come across something completely unexpected. Something, well, gruesome. The following stories, culled from Marion’s past, demonstrate that even in the most mundane situations can take a horrific turn.

boys find human head headline medium
The May 21st, 1934, Marion Star headline.

What the Boys Playing in the Dump Found

On May 21st, 1934, five boys playing at the city dumping grounds on Marion-Agosta Road found a human head. The boys, all of whom lived on Bennett Street, notified police. The county coroner, Dr. Axthelm, examined the head and determined it had been discarded by a medical school. According to the Star:

 He expressed the opinion that it is an elderly woman, probably a Negro. The head and some of the preserved face muscles were covered with a coat of shellac, and the veins and arteries were filled with a colored paste to enable students to study them.

Dr. Axthelm planned to forward the head to the Ohio State medical school.

The Discovery in the Erie Rail Yards

Strangely, on the very same day as the human head discovery, railroad workers unloading sheet metal at the Erie yards discovered three men in one of the freight cars. Two of the men, Arthur Wells and Leo Shultis, both of Poughkeepsie, had died instantly when a load of metal shifted and fell on them. The third man, Thomas O’Brien of Boston, was found alive but later died from his injuries at the city hospital. The three men had met up in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and were hoping to make their way to Mitchell, South Dakota, where Mr. O’Brien had family.

This story appeared in the Marion Star during the Great Depression when it was common for men to ride the rails from town to town looking for work.

The Murder of Violet Elswick

On the morning of December 6th, 1953, at another dump just east of the Little Scioto River in Green Camp, an unnamed Marion man – a “junk man” according to the Star – and his son were picking through the dump when they spotted a hand “showing above a pile of rocks, tin cans and other debris.”

elswick mug shotThe hand belonged to 31-year-old Violet Elswick, and investigators soon determined that someone had strangled her to death. When investigators later picked up her husband, 37-year-old Bert Elswick, for questioning, he quickly confessed to the crime.

Both Violet and Bert had checkered pasts. Violet Elswick had served two years in the Marysville Reformatory for Women after she burned down a house near Martel. Bert Elswick had served time in a Maryland prison for armed robbery.

Though originally from the Ironton area, both had ended up in Marion, presumably to see if their fortunes improved. They didn’t. At the time of his arrest, Bert was only marginally employed doing odd jobs, mostly as a welder. The two were sharing a dilapidated 6’ by 12’ shack with a man named William Baker on the north side of the Little Scioto River in Green Camp.

According to the confession Bert gave to investigators, after spending the evening drinking in both Marion and Green Camp taverns, the two had gone to the dump, which was a few hundred yards way from the shack, to search for a bottle of wine they had hidden there earlier. They got into an argument, and Violet hit Bert in the nose. Losing control, Bert grabbed her by the throat and strangled her. After she slumped to the ground, he told investigators he sat there drinking wine for a time and “thinking what to do.” Eventually, he went back to the shack and passed out until investigators came knocking the next morning.

On March 26th, 1954, a common pleas jury found Bert Elswick guilty of manslaughter, and he received a sentence of one to twenty years at the Ohio Penitentiary. He died in 1985 at the age of 69 in Ironton, Ohio.

The junk man and his son were never mentioned again in any of the Star articles. However, one can only imagine that the image of what they found that morning stayed with them for a long time.

The Fetuses

At the turn of the century, it was not particularly unusual for the residents of Marion to chance upon the tiny, lifeless bodies of a fetuses. What follows are a few examples of these heart-breaking discoveries.

On November 22nd, 1894, the Marion Daily Star reported that a fetus has been discovered on the property of a man named Jacob Findling on Girard Avenue. The exact circumstances of the discovery – who made the discovery or how the details became public – are not given. The article only states that an “indignant” Mr. Findling, in a meeting with the mayor, had claimed that “his name and his family name had been connected with the find and he wanted to know if there was not some way to stop this talk and comment.” The unvoiced implication is clear: a fetus found on the Findling property suggested that someone – possibly an unmarried Findling family member – had been pregnant and either miscarried or had an abortion.

coroner order foetus buried
The April 1, 1908, Marion Daily Star headline.

Another very short article appearing in the March 11th, 1902, edition of the Star mentions that two fetuses had recently been found by boys playing “in the commons at the rear of Leader Street.” The article goes on to state that coroner Robert Ramroth was carrying out an investigation that had brought to light “some facts that may lead to something sensational.” Oddly, this is the only mention of either the discoveries or Mr. Ramroth’s investigation to appear in the Star that month. What (if any) “sensational” information Mr. Ramroth hoped to make public remains a mystery.

This last incident, described in the April 1st, 1908, edition of the Star is perhaps the most macabre. Farming Street resident Orville McCombs told officials that his wife spotted their dog with something in its mouth, and when he went to investigate, he realized that his dog was carrying a fetus. Unsure of what to do, he buried it at the rear of his property. Some of his neighbors later notified the police of the incident. In response, the chief of police sent a sanitation official as well as the county coroner to Mr. McCombs’ property to dig up the 4-month-old fetus. Apparently finding nothing worth pursuing, the coroner ordered the fetus re-buried. The final resting place of the fetus as well as where the dog originally found it are unknown.

Note: A special thanks to Dodi Mawer at the Marion County Historical Society who helped research this article.

Sources:
The Marion Star, May 21, 1934
The Marion Star, December 6, 1953
The Marion Star, December 7, 1953
The Marion Star, March 26, 1954
The Marion Daily Star, November 22, 1894
The Marion Daily Star, March 11, 1902
The Marion Daily Star, April 1, 1908

The House on Mason Road

Like so many stories on this website, this one began with an e-mail. In May of 2017, Jeff Roberts sent me an e-mail telling me that his cousins had grown up in a haunted house out on Mason Road, which is near Caledonia. Was I interested in hearing their story?

Of course I was.

Jeff got in touch with two of his cousins, Angie and Marty, and they agreed to meet me at Jeff’s shop, Lobo Awards and Graphix, last August to talk about their experiences growing up in the house. What follows is drawn directly from that interview.

The Beginning

Like a lot families in Marion County, the Roberts family has roots in Appalachia – in this case just across the Ohio River in Greenup County, Kentucky. In 1964 Mr. and Mrs. Roberts came up to Marion with the hope that Mr. Roberts could find work here.

Eventually Mr. Roberts settled into a job at Eaton, and in 1972 the Roberts family, which by then had grown to include six children, bought the house, located at 3834 Mason Road.

It was an isolated property, situated on five acres of land and surrounded by corn and soybean fields.

Initially the family lived in a trailer next to the house while Mr. Roberts renovated it. By the next year, the house was livable and the family moved in. A few years later in 1978, the last Roberts child – number seven – was born.

Even before the family moved into the house, there was a hint of things to come. The house’s previous owner warned the Roberts family that the house was haunted, but added, “Don’t worry. They’re good ghosts.”

According to family lore, there was a soldier who hanged himself in the tree next to the driveway. Marty told me that Mr. Roberts found a few boxes of old army gear – boots, jackets, hats – in the attic, suggesting that an ex-soldier had lived in the house at some point. However, the origin of the hanging story or whether there’s any truth to it is unclear.

The house on Mason Road. This photo was taken a few years after the Roberts family moved out.
The house on Mason Road some time in the 2010s after the Roberts Family had moved out. This photo is courtesy of Angie (Roberts) Tackett.

The Lights Were on but Nobody Was Home

One of the most vivid recollections Marty and Angie shared with me was an incident that occurred one night as the family was arriving home after church. From the road, they saw that a light was on in their sister Lois’ bedroom. Their dad, irritated at this waste of electricity, asked who had left the light on, but none of the kids would admit to it. As the family got closer to the house, the light went out. Suddenly (and for obvious reasons), everyone was on edge.

“Listen, we’re going inside,” their dad told them, “and when we do, act normal.”

After they went inside, their dad got a shotgun. He went upstairs and started going from room to room. In Lois’ room, the bulb was still warm to the touch, but no one was in the house.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

The day-to-day phenomena that led Marty and Angie to believe their house was haunted was far less dramatic than the light bulb incident.

More than anything, they both said they constantly heard what sounded like people going up and down the stairs. Angie shared a room with her older sister, Diana, and her younger sister, Julie, and sometimes they would hear footsteps on the stairs. When they would look out into the hallway to see who it was, no one was there. At other times, she said, the ghosts were so loud that the kids would actually say out loud, “Would you just be quiet so we can sleep?” Sometimes it even worked, she said, laughing.

But there were other noises as well. Angie said her closet door opened and shut on its own so often that their dad eventually took it off the hinges.

Marty recalled coming down the stairs one morning hearing kitchen sounds: banging pots and clanging silverware. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘What is going on in there?’” he told me. When he got to the kitchen, however, no one was in there. He peeked in on his mom and dad in their downstairs bedroom, and they were sleeping.

When the kids would complain about the noises, their parents would try to calm them down by telling them, “They won’t hurt you. They just want you to know they’re there.”

The Red Eyes

The unsettling incidents weren’t confined to just the house, either. Marty described an experience he and his father had while they were coon hunting one night in the woods near the house.

The dog treed a coon in an area that was hard to get to from where we were. We decided it would be easier to go back to the house, get the car, and drive to the next road over and approach the coon from that side. So we started walking back to the house. There was a cornfield on one side and a creek on the other. Dad had the light and it started to go dim. In the distance, from the direction of the house, we saw something with red eyes approaching us. Dad said, “Here comes the dog.” But then we realized the eyes were too high off the ground. Dad hollered at it, but it didn’t react. Whatever it was just kept coming closer and closer. By now we were getting scared. Dad hollered, “I’m gonna shoot if you don’t say anything.” Then whatever it was disappeared. We walked up to the spot where it had just been, but we didn’t see anything. And then I turned around, and it was behind us! Dad looked at me and said, “Well, now it’s time to run!” We ran all the way back to the house.

This excellent illustration is courtesy of Jeff Roberts. He specializes is creating custom awards, shirts, sports uniforms, signs and banners, and his shop is located at the Marion Centre Shopping Mall.
This excellent illustration is courtesy of Jeff Roberts. He specializes is creating custom awards, shirts, sports uniforms, signs and banners. His shop, Lobo Awards and Graphix, is located at the Marion Centre Shopping Mall.

Every Room and Every Closet

I asked Angie and Marty if people outside of the immediate family knew about the house, and they both said yes without hesitation. While they occasionally had creepy experiences on the property, they both said they seldom felt truly scared.

The same couldn’t be said for other people, however.

Both Marty and Angie said that they would have to warn friends who were spending the night that they might hear or even see some strange doings in the house.

Jeff recalled that after his brother Jason would spend the night at the Roberts house, he would come home so troubled that he would search through every room and look in every closet to make sure nothing was there.

Angie mentioned that one of her sister’s boyfriends came over and got so spooked that he drove all the way back home to Plain City with his dome light on.

“Let’s Go Look at Some Haunted Houses”

The house eventually acquired a certain notoriety in that part of the county.

Marty said he would sometimes hear people talking about a haunted house out on Mason Road, and he would tell them, “Well, that’s my house.”

Angie added, “We were hanging out uptown one night and someone was like, ‘Let’s go look at some haunted houses. There’s one on Mason Road.’” Angie laughed and told them, “I can take you inside that one – give you a tour.”

Halloween and Hay Rides

Once the Roberts kids reached their teens, they began throwing Halloween parties out on the property.

“We had a hayride that would take everybody out near an old cemetery,” Marty told me. “The wagon would stop and everyone would hop out and go through a trail in the woods to a clearing where the cemetery was. Usually I would be hiding back there waiting to jump out and scare everyone else.”

Angie said that after the parties would die down, the remaining kids would gather around the fire and listen as the Roberts kids told stories about their house. “Some of the kids,” she said, “would get so scared, they wouldn’t even go into the house to pee!”

Marty laughed and added, “The thing is, we weren’t even making up the stories.”

Different Rooms, Different Stories

Angie and Marty said that certain rooms of the house spooked them more than others.

For example, they both disliked the furnace room, which was a small, windowless room – a closet really – on the ground floor beneath the stairs. Angie said that no one liked going in there. Marty added that when the furnace kicked on, “It sounded just awful.”

There were seven kids but only four bedrooms in the upstairs of the house. Of these four bedrooms, the kids only used three. For reasons neither Marty nor Angie could really articulate, none of the kids ever moved into the “back bedroom” (as they referred to it), which is especially strange considering it was the biggest bedroom.

However, in the mid 70s their cousin Stanley and his wife Linda came to stay with the family, and they used the back bedroom. But not for long. When they moved back out a short time later, Linda told the family, “I’ll never walk into this house again.” Marty said that, to this day, he doesn’t know what she saw or heard in the back bedroom but that it scared her profoundly.

The room they talked about the most, however, was the “pink” room. They called it that simply because it had pink curtains. Angie told me that when the family bought the house, the room contained a wardrobe and a hospital bed. Old syringes and pill bottles lay scattered around. They kept the wardrobe but threw everything else out.

This room became their older sister Lois’ bedroom.

Although Marty never spent a night in there, Angie said she did. But only once.

“I slept in there one time when I was little,” she said. “I remember how unsettled that room made me feel. And that wardrobe creeped me out. The doors would open and close by themselves, and I remember waiting all night for that to start.”

Marty also heard the wardrobe doors opening and closing at times when he knew no one was in the room.

The most disconcerting aspect of the room seemed to be the effect it had on their teenaged sister, Lois. She began having night terrors.

As Marty put it:

When she’d wake up in the middle of the night screaming? It was like nothing you’ve ever heard. I mean, somebody getting murdered couldn’t have sounded any worse. And it would wake the whole house up. I mean, they were gut-wrenching screams. It scared me to death.

I’d like to know what she saw in that room. Because she actually saw  it. She didn’t just hear it. She saw it. “It’s right there behind my headboard! It’s right there!” she’d be screaming, and she wouldn’t go back to sleep in the room. This happened a lot. Once a week or more.

Later he reflected:

Here’s what was weird: She’d have these nightmares in the night and then get up and go to school the next day. When it got to be bedtime, she’s go to sleep in that room. She was never afraid to go to bed.

After Lois left home, these episodes ceased. Unsurprisingly, after Lois moved out, none of the other kids moved into the room.

Gone

The house is gone now. As their kids began leaving home, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts decided they didn’t need such a big place anymore, and they sold the house in 1998. When the day came to move out, their dad told the family that the ghosts were “probably sad to see them go.”

Apparently the new owners also had some spooky experiences at the house. Marty told me that their dad ran into the new owner some time after the sale, and the new owner said, “I can’t believe you sold me a haunted house!”

Owl Creek Trails Farms bought the land in 2013, but by then the house was already gone. Angie and Marty don’t know who decided to tear the house down or why.

Looking Back

Both Marty and Angie looked back on their childhoods fondly. To them the place on Mason Road was always just home, albeit one that could freak them out from time to time. As Angie told me, “To all of us, the weird stuff was part of our day to day life. To us it was normal.”

After they moved out, neither of them ever again experienced anything they would term supernatural.

I was struck by how unselfconscious both Marty and Angie were about discussing the house. When I asked them if the Roberts kids ever talk about their experiences in the house when they get together, they both replied instantly: “All the time.”

- Josh Simpkins