The Nelson Street Haunting

The Nelson Street house in April of 2010.
The Nelson Street house in April of 2010.

Please note: A significantly expanded version of this story appears in our book Haunted Marion, Ohio.

Lisa (not her real name) says she grew up in a house haunted by the spirit of a man who died there. Of course, a lot of people are skeptical when they hear a claim like this. However, what makes Lisa’s story interesting – whether one believes it or not – is the fact that house, located on 770 Nelson Street , does have a history, and it’s not a pleasant one.

He Treated Them Like Dogs

The story really begins on Easter Sunday of 1960. Two girls, 18-year-old Virginia Napper and her younger sister, 15-year-old Edna Mae, creep up the stairs. Edna Mae has removed her shoes so as to make as little noise as possible. Their mother is cooking Easter dinner, and their father is sleeping in the upstairs bedroom. Ostensibly, the girls have gone upstairs to wake their father. Instead, Virginia loads a .22 caliber rifle, slips into her father’s bedroom and, with Edna Mae watching, points the muzzle at her father’s head. And then Virginia pulls the trigger.

At first, police were puzzled by the girls’ actions. They both freely admitted to taking part in the killing, but their motive for wanting him dead wasn’t clear – at least initially. Marion City Police Chief Justin Cornely, in a statement to the Marion Star, said only that the girls’ father had “picked on them.” However, it soon became clear that Mr. Napper had done more than merely “pick on” his daughters.

According to Mrs. Napper, the family, which also included two grade-school age boys, was terrified of Mr. Napper. In the words of Mrs. Napper’s brother, “[H]e treated my sister and her whole family like dogs.” However, it was his two daughters that he brutalized the most. In an interview with the Star, Mrs. Napper said that her husband had been molesting Virginia for years and shortly before his death, he had begun molesting Edna Mae as well. Despite the fact that Mr. Napper had threatened to kill the girls if they ever told anyone abut the abuse, the girls had eventually confided to their mother what their father was doing to them. It wasn’t long thereafter that the girls decided to kill him — a decision their mother understood. In her interview with the Star, Mrs. Napper, sobbing with guilt and anger, declared, “I should have killed him myself – then my girls wouldn’t be in this trouble.”

That Guy in the Stairway

For her part, Lisa, who lived in the house until her family moved out in the mid 80s, says that the family was initially unaware of what had taken place there. It was only after other people told her parents about the Napper shooting that the family learned about the house’s history.

Although Lisa and other family members slept in the bedroom where the shooting had taken place, the ghost seemed to prefer the hallways and stairs since that’s where most of the family members had paranormal experiences. Lisa writes, “When my sister was younger she would sit and talk to ‘that guy in the stairway.’ My aunt was scared to death to go anywhere near the upstairs, and she actually wigged out one night and said that there was someone behind her, even though she was the only one upstairs. She ended up breaking her fingernails off in – yes, in – the drywall trying to turn the lights on. My mom saw him in the stairway. She said that it was like he was just staring at her.” Lisa herself never saw any ghostly activity directly. However, she did say that, “You always felt like someone was watching or following you.”

The Fate of the Napper Sisters

As for the Napper girls, their fates were decided during the summer of 1960. On June 30th of that year, a jury deliberated just over three hours before finding Virginia not guilty by reason of insanity. This meant the teenager would have to enter the Lima state hospital for the criminally insane, though prosecutor Robert Stout suggested that a writ of habeas corpus could result in her complete freedom. Mr. Stout dropped the charges against Edna Mae altogether shortly after Virginia’s verdict was announced.

With Unseen Hands

Please note: A expanded version of this story appears in our book Haunted Marion, Ohio.

Are there those among us whose senses extend beyond the natural range of perception? So-called mediums or psychics? Or are these people simply charlatans preying on the gullible and simple-minded?

A number of articles appearing in the Marion Star in the 1890s specifically addressed the legitimacy of local séances. The articles centered on the Woods residence, located on the corner of Fairground and Park Street (though which corner is not clear). This house was apparently the best place to take part in a séance in Marion at that time.

On February 20th, 1893, an article titled “With Unseen Hands” appeared in the paper. The unnamed author writes (rather tongue-in-cheek) that, upon entering the séance room for the first time, he “beheld quite a little multitude of faces unknown to [me] and three gentlemen friends who evidently as skeptics were present to wrestle with spirits.”

This photo, by Leon Isaacs, depicts British medium Jack Webber during one of his so-called trumpet speaking séances. Webber claimed that the white material attached to the small ends of the trumpets was actually ectoplasm. Similar trumpet speaking séances also took place at the Woods residence in Marion.

Mr. Lem McClaid, a medium from Ashley, conducted the séance, which involved a phenomenon called trumpet speaking.* McClaid instructed the three women and nine men form a circle and hold hands and begin singing. “Finally,” the Star writer notes, “one of the trumpets commenced to circle around the room tapping first this one then that and giving [me] an extra whack, evidently recognizing…a rank skeptic.” Soon after, voices began to emanate from the trumpet, and for the next two and a half hours, the group listened as the dead spoke to them. Members of the departed included an Egyptian who had been dead for 30,000 years, an Irishman “brogue and all” and, perhaps most surprisingly, a couple of dead locals, including one Robert Kerr.

At the end of the séance, the writer says that while he remains skeptical, he’s willing to admit that he is clueless as to how the trumpets were manipulated. Furthermore, even his three skeptical acquaintances present for the séance were “utterly unable to tell how it was done and glad that they had squandered their lucre in the exploration of the realms of mystery.”

This picture, which appeared in the November, 1925, edition of Popular Science, shows Harry Houdini demonstrating how mediums could manipulate trumpets even when their hands were being held down.

Three years later McClaid still seems to have been in the séance business. However, skeptics were growing bolder in their efforts to prove that the sessions were nothing more than sophisticated trickery. In a Star article appearing on January 23rd, 1896, the author notes that during McClaid’s trumpet speaking séance, “One of the skeptics got down on his hands and knees and quietly sneaked across the floor to see who was doing business with the mouth end of the trumpet but was caught in the act and notice given that another such attempt and the séance would end without refunding the thirty-live cents which McClaid charged at the door to take part in the religious exercises.”

Of course, even in the 21st century, there has been no shortage of unscrupulous people who are willing and able to convince others of their supposed supernatural abilities. Case in point: according to a Marion Online article appearing on December 1st, 2008, Sherry Stevenson, a Marion woman claiming to be a psychic, allegedly convinced a mentally-deficient Colorado man to give her $30,000. In exchange for the money, she had promised him that certain parts of his life would improve. Police later charged Stevenson, who held psychic readings out of her 372 S. Main St. home, with fourth-degree felony theft after the Colorado man’s concerned relatives contacted them.

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* In his 1907 book Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism, Hereward Carrington explains “trumpet speaking” as follows:

There are mediums known as “trumpet mediums,” whose specialty is the production of voices, etc. thorough a trumpet, these voices often being recognized by sitters as characteristic of their departed friends, as giving information previously unknown to them, etc.

In the vast majority of cases, the trumpet talking is done by the medium himself. If the séance is in the dark, the medium’s task is an easy one, he having only to wave the trumpet about and imitate whatever voices he desires. By attaching a trumpet to the end of the telescopic rod…and moving this about, voices can be made to appear in various parts of the room at will. Sometimes the trumpet is partly in sight, when the room is only partially darkened, and yet the voices come. This is accomplished by a small piece of rubber tubing being attached to the mouth of the horn, and the medium speaks into the other end of this tube. The voice appears to issue from the horn. At other times the medium employs a second trumpet, speaking into that, and it is almost impossible to distinguish the difference by locating the sound. At other times the medium consents to be held by two sitters while the horn is doing the talking. When this is the case, the medium generally has a confederate, who manipulates the horn, does the talking, etc.

Incidentally, not all of the séances conducted at the Woods residence involved trumpet speaking. An article appearing in the Star on March 6th, 1896, describes how two mediums from Cleveland, Mr. and Mrs. Lindy, conducted a ‘light’ séance (i.e. they kept the lights on during the séance).

For this particular séance, Mr. Lindy allowed audience members to tie his hands together and then sew the sleeves of his jacket to his trousers. The article states that, “During the evening cut flowers were passed out from behind the curtain by hands that could be seen, bells were seen to come up from behind one of the curtains and touch him on the head, and then the audience threw their handkerchiefs into the medium and they were passed out stamped” (in this case “stamped” means folded). The Star journalist’s only response to this manifestation of the spiritual world was a backhanded compliment: “The deception was clever.”