The Monster Barn: A Photo Essay

There’s a barn, just a few miles southwest of Marion, that’s full of monsters. If you’re one of the lucky few, you’ll get to see them this year just before Halloween. These monsters are the passion of local graphic designer Jeff Roberts, and when I saw some of his creations on Facebook a few years ago, I just knew I had to interview him.

Jeff clowning around with one of his creations in his barn workshop.

Giant spiders, killer Amish boys, mud-flecked corpses and doctors from hell. Sitting in Jeff’s tidy, cheerful house, it’s hard to reconcile the quiet, thoughtful and funny man in front of me with his nightmarish creations. His enthusiasm for horror was something Deanna, his wife of 17 years, didn’t initially share with him. “When we first got together, I absolutely hated it. Over the years he’s got me used to it,” she laughs.

Growing Up

As an 80s kid growing up in the LaRue and later Marion area, Jeff remembers listening to Disney’s Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House and going to Halloween parties at his uncle’s house in Caledonia. When I asked him what movie scared him the most as a kid, he told me the made-for-TV version of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, which he watched with his two brothers one night while their parents were gone.

He was an artistic kid whose first passion was drawing. Comic book art, especially, appealed to him, and his favorite artist was Bernie Wrightson, of of the creators of The Swamp Thing. Jeff said he was fortunate enough to meet him a few times before Wrightson died of brain cancer in 2017. “You always worry about meeting your heroes. But he was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet,” he told me.

One of Jeff’s monsters, its face reminiscent of a scene in the 1982 classic The Thing. The 1980s were rife with jaw-dropping practical effects, and Jeff told me Stan Winston’s work in Pumpkinhead as well as Rob Botine’s work in 80s classics like The Thing, Twilight Zone: The Movie and The Howling were formative to his own efforts at monster making years later.

Making Monsters

Jeff really got into building monsters after taking his kids out to the Horror Hotel in Chatfield, which was owned and operated by mask maker David Lady, about 25 years ago. The Horror Hotel was not a haunted house in the classic sense – no one wearing a mask would jump out of the shadows and chase visitors – but more of a display of Lady’s work. Jeff said he remembered thinking to himself How does he make all of this stuff? 

While Jeff never got t a chance to learn any prop-making techniques from David Lady himself, he later found out that Lady had taught a guy from Marion, Rob Cametti, some of his craft. Rob went on to run the Mucklebones Monster Museum in Marion for a few years in the late 90s and early 2000s. Jeff eventually got a chance to talk to Rob who divulged some of the surprisingly mundane secrets to monster-making: two-by-fours, carpet tubing, foam rubber. At the time, the internet was still relatively new, and Jeff said he used to peruse a site called the Monster Page of Halloween Projects where like-minded enthusiasts could swap ideas and techniques.

For inspiration, Jeff and Deanna also travel frequently to conventions and swap meets – Transworld in St. Louis, the Midwest Haunters Convention in Chicago, the Haunted Garage Sale in Cleveland
To demonstrate his progression over the years, Jeff showed me two scarecrows he made. The first one (on the left) is based on one of his paintings and is around 20 years old. Jeff said it was one of his first props, and he was proud of the work at the time. Unfortunately, he hates it now. A few years ago, he decided to try his hand at a new scarecrow (on the right), and he is much happier with the results.
While Jeff is not opposed to making gory creations, he has his limits. He said this clown holding an axe and bucket of guts might go a little too far. He also avoids creating anything that he would consider explicitly satanic.

The Barn

About twenty five years ago, Jeff’s uncle, who was living in a decrepit farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere, decided to move out. Jeff got in touch with the farmer who owned the property, and soon enough he moved in. “The place was falling down, ” Jeff told me. When he met Deanna, she said she’d live with him on the property only if he knocked down the old farmhouse and built a new one. So he did.

An old barn was also located on the property, and that’s eventually where Jeff set up his monster-making workshop. The barn is big, though, and Jeff’s workshop occupies only a small part of it. Over time, the rest of the barn began to fill with his creations…

Among the usual implements and clutter commonly found in garages or barns, Jeff’s uncanny creations take shape.
I asked Jeff if he’s ever freaked out by his own creations, and while he said his own work doesn’t generally faze him, he did admit that a nun prop he built a few years ago gets to him. He told me that if he’s working out in the barn and the nun can “see” him, he has to turn her around. “Maybe it’s the eyes?” he mused.
One year Jeff had this twelve foot skeleton in front of his barn. People would stop at all hours to look at it and take photos. Jeff was working third shift at the time, which meant that Deanna was at home alone most nights. The comings and goings of unwanted visitors at all hours began to fray her nerves, and Jeff eventually decided not to put any more big displays outside of the barn.
Jeff generally works on his creations year-round. It’s during the Halloween season, though, that they get the setting and attention they deserve.


Jeff said that since he wasn’t really using most of the barn for much, he decided around twenty or twenty-five years ago to throw a Halloween party in it and decorate it with his creations. He called it Spookfest, and it’s become a yearly event at the Roberts home.

Spookfest usually takes place on the last Saturday of the October

He said around a hundred people show up, most of them friends and family and business associates, though he added with a laugh, “Some people just invite themselves.” It’s a potluck party, so everyone brings a dish, but Jeff doesn’t charge an entrance fee or make any money off the party.

Spookfest embodies some of the fundamental contradictions of the Halloween season: the mixing of the terrifying with the fun, the trick and the treat, the grim reminders of death while experiencing the joy of being around loved ones. Among the dozens of ghastly props and horror show creations, Spookfest is, at heart, a kid-friendly event with games and candy and a costume contest. “I still remember the Halloween parties I went to as a kid, and I want these kids to remember this party for the rest of their lives,” Jeff told me.

Jeff said arranging all of the different scenes in the barn only takes three or four days, though he generally tweaks the scenes right up until Spookfest.
Some of his creations are absolute winners, like the spider and wrapped body shown above. However, Jeff also talked about some of his failures. “I found a mask of, like, a rat person at a convention. I bought it and brought it home. I had an idea for it.  I built the framework to put the mask on and covered it with a hood – I wanted to make it look like an underground rat person – and I put it all together, and it looked so bad. I tore it apart and used the frame to build a ghost. I’ve never gone back to the rat idea, but I’ve still got the mask out there [in the barn].”
When I asked Jeff if he’s ever thought about turning his barn into a fee-charging haunted attraction, he said he has. He even talked to someone at the building commission who sent him a checklist. However, it was such an extensive list and would’ve required so much extra work and renovations on the barn that he eventually decided it would be too much of  a hassle and dropped the idea.
Jeff said that even if some of his creatures include parts he has purchased rather than made, he tries to put them together in an original way. He avoids buying pieces from Spirit Halloween, for example, unless he intends to use them as background props. “Everyone has seen that stuff,” he told me.  “I try to make stuff no one’s seen before.”
Jeff said one of his favorite creations is this witch holding a baby because it’s an image that demands a narrative. “When you see it,” he says, “you start figuring up the story in your head as to how this evil-looking witch in her nasty, dirty living space came into possession of this clean, innocent baby. I like to make scenes that make you think about the backstory.”

When the Party’s Over

Aside from a few props he keeps in the house (Winifred Sanderson from Hocus Pocus and Sam from the cult Halloween film Trick ‘r Treat), most of his monsters live in his barn year-round.

The day after Spookfest, Jeff says he’s out there putting everything away for the year. He said it takes him around a week to clean everything up and put it in storage. “[That part] is so much work. Afterwards, I just want to be done with it and not think about it anymore for awhile. But after Christmas is over, I’m already thinking about the next year.”
The Future

Between them, Jeff and Deanna have four daughters, and they’re all interested in Jeff’s work. His youngest daughter, especially, has an interest in monster making.  Who knows, maybe she’ll be organizing the Spookfest parties some day?

As for future plans, I asked Jeff if there’s anything he’d like to build which he hasn’t tried yet. He said he’d really like to build a headless horseman sitting on a horse. “The horseman’s not the hard part. The horse itself is the hard part,” he told me.

Shipped right to your door? He said he’s thought about selling some of his creations or custom building them, but he’s afraid they wouldn’t ship well.
He’s always experimenting. Here he’s trying to emulate a corpse that’s just dug itself out of its grave.

Many thanks to Jeff and Deanna for allowing me into their home. I would also like to plug Jeff’s business, Lobo Awards and Graphix. If you need a poster, t-shirt, trophy, etc., he’s your man. You can check out his website and Facebook page for more information.

Happy Halloween!
Josh Simpkins
October 2023


Satanic Panic!

The so-called Satanic Panic began in the mid-80s and continued into the early 90s. The panic centered mainly on stories of ritual abuse allegedly perpetrated against children. However, the Satanic Panic also encompassed a more general paranoia that elements of the occult, including Satanism, were creeping into many areas of youth culture.

As a teenager growing up in the 80 and 90s in Marion, I remember hearing the stories: That there were secret messages on Led Zeppelin and Ozzy Osbourne albums that could only be heard by spinning the record in reverse (i.e. back-masking). That the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (a game I never played myself) was part of a ploy to indoctrinate young people into the occult. That the woods on the west side of OSUM were the site of satanic rituals (more on that in a moment). I even remember hearing that Proctor and Gamble’s logo was full of satanic imagery:

This logo for Proctor and Gamble, created in 1932, was rumored to contain hidden Satanic symbols. The thirteen stars, which P&G insisted represented the thirteen original colonies, were interpreted as a mockery of Revelations 12:1 “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet and up her head a crown of 12 stars.” The multi-level marketing company Amway was behind many of these rumors, and P&G unsuccessfully sued them in 1995.

Although no accusations of ritual child abuse¹ or human sacrifice² ever surfaced in Marion, there was concern in the community about “satanic” issues, though, to be fair, the level of hysteria in Marion was much lower than in other cities like Mansfield or Maryville during that time. Nonetheless, a number of interesting articles addressing this topic appeared in the Marion Star during that period.

The Woods Near OSUM

The first article to appear in the Star about concerns over the occult was in March of 1989. It describes how a group composed of representatives from Children Services, the Marion County Juvenile Court and Detention Center and Marion city and county law enforcement gathered for an “Occult Training Seminar” sponsored by Marion County Children Services. The point of the seminar, according to the Star, was to ensure that local officials “[kept] up with trends, to make sure they would recognize a problem if they came across it.”

Despite the sensational subject matter, sheriff’s deputy Russell Rigney had a pretty level-headed take on the local situation:

We’re not seeing anything outstanding. Occasionally, you come across a little [evidence of the occult], but it’s more just kids playing around with it. There doesn’t seem to be a big problem with it around here.

He went on to say that there had been trouble a few year prior when neighborhood residents reported seeing fires and finding satanic and occult symbols in the woods between Siesta Drive and OSUM. Officer Rigney said teenagers were using the woods as a gathering place to drink beer and smoke marijuana. He believed the Satanic symbols were primarily to “scare off those who would put their parties to an end.” Once deputies stepped up their patrols of the area, the problem disappeared.

The rumor around town in the late 1980s was that Satanic rituals were taking place is these woods near OSUM.

More Discussion of Satanism in Marion

A little over a year later, OSUM hosted another seminar focusing on occult-related crimes. However, this seminar did not appear to be a reaction to any local occult activity. Instead, it was a rather run-of-the-mill training course, albeit one with an unusual topic.

That same year, another discussion focusing on Satanism took place at a restaurant located at the Plaza.

This notice appeared in the October 27, 1990, edition of the Marion Star. The Gateway Smorgasboard, incidentally, was located where Mi Jalapeno is today.

During this roundtable, Tim Keifer talked about his experiences with youthful offenders and how many of them had dabbled in Satanism. He said other parts of youth culture like heavy metal music and Dungeons and Dragons also play a role in this subculture. The danger, in his opinion, was that dabbling in Satanism could lead young people, especially boys, to become actively involved with satanic cults.

Dungeons & Dragons

Back before people argued on social media, they wrote letters to their local newspapers.

On July 18th, 1992, the Star published a letter to the editor written by J.W. Votaw of Marion. He opined that this games like Dungeons an Dragons “encourage evil” and draw heavily on the occult. He went on to argue that because the game provides instructions for how to summon demons and cast spells, “Some aspects of D&D are directly linked to Satanism.”

A month later, Kevin Flickinger, also of Marion, responded with his own letter to the editor. He argued that the game was harmless fun. Rather than encouraging Satanism, he wrote, “D&D takes the player back to a different age, when the unexplained was attributed to magic, when dark caves were inhabited by monsters, when kings and queens and knights kept order in the land.”

Regardless of one’s opinion of D&D, the coherence and reasoned thoughtfulness of both letters is actually quite endearing.

Satanic Graffiti

By the late 90s, the Satanic Panic had largely peaked in the United States. However, in March of 1998, a number of properties  in downtown Marion were vandalized with “satanic” graffiti, according to police.

The front-page headline from the March 24th, 1998, edition of the Marion Star

Detective Tim Brown, a Marion city police gang intelligence officer, told the Star, “This is the first time we’ve experienced anything like this. We’ve had other grafitti, but we’ve never had any of the cult graffiti.”

Three location were vandalized in total: Advanced Audio and Yesterday Mercantile Antiques, both located on South Marin Street, and the First United Methodist Church, located on South Prospect Street.

An example of the graffiti. This symbol was spray-painted on the door of the First United Methodist Church, which was located at 215 South Prospect Street. The church has since been razed.

Reverend Charles Martindell didn’t necessarily think his church was the target of devil-worshipping vandals. While he called the vandalism disturbing, he added that, “I believe it’s a random act.”

“We’ve had problems in the past, but we haven’t had the local Satan worshippers,” joked Pete Rife, vice president of Advanced Audio.

The Marion city police, however, seemed to be taking the matter more seriously. Some of the graffiti was a five pointed star inside of a circle. According to Detective Brown, this represented Baphomet. “It’s strictly satanic in nature and represents the goat’s head,” he told the Star.

A few weeks later, a 16-year-old Harding High School student confessed to the vandalism and was charged with three counts of criminal damaging. Whether the boy was indeed a “Satan worshipper” was not addressed in the article.

~ Josh Simpkins

¹ The most notorious case of alleged ritual child abuse concerned a Manhattan Beach, California pre-school run by the McMartin family.  Beginning in 1983, staff members of the McMartin pre-school were investigated for hundreds of cases of abuse. The resulting trials, the longest and most expensive in US history, did not lead to a single conviction. It is now widely believed that the abuse never happened.

² Sadly, this really happened. In 1987 in Carl Junction, Missouri, three teenage boys with a penchant for heavy metal music and animal torture and who shared a fascination with Satanism murdered their classmate, Steve Newberry, with baseball bats. One of the killers, Jim Hardy, said the murder was a “sacrifice to Satan.” The three boys, Jim Hardy, Pete Roland and Ron Clements, were convicted of murder. In 1988, Geraldo Rivera hosted a prime-time special, “Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground,” in which he interviewed one of the killers.


The Marion Star, March 5, 1989
The Marion Star, June 24, 1990
The Marion Star, October 27, 1990
The Marion Star, November 7, 1990
The Marion Star, July 18, 1992
The Marion Star, September 14, 1992
The Marion Star, March 24, 1998
The Marion Star, April 3, 1998