The Arabian Theatre Murders

ct-central-park-new-regal-endangered-movie-palaces-met-20150528

The head usher, James Cooper, found the body next to one of the real palm trees in the lobby of The Arabian Theatre.

He wasn’t the kind of person who panicked easily, especially after serving with the Army during World War I, and seeing his share of combat; which helped earn him the rank of Sergeant-Major before mustering out. He only had minutes before the movie ended and thousands of waiting customers would pour into the lobby for the next showing.

The Arabian Theatre, built-in 1927, rivaled The luxurious Uptown Theatre in Chicago. Both were picture palaces that Chicagoans could escape to, away from the hard realities of the 1930s.

For a quarter, movie-goers could sit in the courtyard of a Moorish or Spanish palace. Before the movie even came on they could look up at the sky and marvel at the twinkling stars (recessed lights) and flowing clouds on the spacious ceiling. 

The Arabian Theatre covered 52,000 square feet and seated 6,000 patrons. The decor was something out of 1001 Arabian Nights, with a lobby that featured pillars that ascended seven stories to an elaborate dome ceiling.

Over 150 people worked there, including a 38 musician in-house orchestra. Most of the rest of the employees were ushers who were essential cogs in managing some 20,000 people who were moved in and out of The Arabian Theatre in just one day.

As you can imagine, that required great organizational skills. The Arabian’s owner hired  Cooper, who had the skills to keep everyone moving in two directions in the space of one half hour. That’s all the time there was between shows.

Usher uniforms of the day were sharp-looking and reflected a theatre’s theme. In the Arabian’s case that meant wearing a fez with their colonial-style outfits, complete with a yellow sash hanging from a wide belt on their navy blue trousers. Their white jackets had gold epaulettes and stitching down each sleeve.

Cooper called two ushers over and had them carry the bleeding body over to a storeroom. He called out for another usher to get some wet rags and helped him clean the trail of blood off the expensive marble floor.

No sooner did he stand up and straighten his jacket before the front doors were thrown up to a long eager line outside. Cooper watched the traffic flow while standing outside of the storeroom where the body was.

He waited until the movie started before going to his office and calling the police. There was no use in starting a riot by letting the theatre-goers know a man had been murdered. When they arrived the head detective was less than pleased with Cooper’s decision.

“In other words, you cleaned up the crime scene right?” the angry detective asked while looking down at the dead man.

“I did it to prevent…” he repeated.

“Shut up! I don’t want to hear that excuse again damn it! I’m going to need your cooperation to solve this case so don’t hold anything back that you know about the deceased.

“Certainly, I’ll get his employment file right away,” Cooper said and started to head for his office.

“Hold on pal! Not so quick. I want to ask you a few more questions.”

While they huddled outside the storeroom talking, an ambulance arrived and the driver and his assistant took the body away, after a beat cop quit taking photos of the victim.

“How many people work here?” the detective queried.

“About 150. I’d have to check my files to be sure.”

“That’s fine for now. Any trouble-makers? Maybe a fight between employees?”

“Listen…I only manager the ushers. They’re all I can account for, and as far as I know there’s no bad blood between any of my guys. You’ll have to talk with the manager, or the owner, about the rest of the staff.

When the detective left, after getting the dead man’s personnel file, Cooper sat down and sighed. His desk was cluttered with files, notes, and messages nearly burying the mahogany humidor for his good Cuban cigars. His one vice. He opened it, took one out, and lit it with a finely carved silver table lighter the manager gave him last year for Christmas.

The only thing he knew for sure was the victim was stabbed in the heart. He’d have to start with that as he conducted a personal investigation into the murder. Despite being a tough disciplinarian, Cooper was also known for being fair to all of his employees. He expected everyone would cooperate with his search. 

The sensational headlines the next day did little to discourage movie-goers who turned out in even greater numbers than usual for a Wednesday, which always featured lowered rates for women to attract customers.

During the last show of the day, one of the women who worked at the ticket windows came running out of the Ladies Room screaming her lungs out! Cooper who was counting receipts in his office, heard her through the closed-door.

He jumped up and ran outside seeking the source of the scream. An usher and a bartender from the lounge were trying to calm down a woman when he got there.

“What?” he shouted over her wails. “What’s wrong?” he pleaded.

“Dead woman in one of the stalls,” she sobbed.

He didn’t wait to hear more, and ran to the women’s restroom. Bursting through the door he immediately saw a body sprawled out in one of the stalls. A pool of blood was forming near the head.

Cooper got up close and saw her throat had been cut, from ear-to-ear. She wasn’t wearing a uniform, and he guessed she was an attendee. The shit was really going to hit the fan now he thought, as he carefully stepped back and then out of the room. He posted an usher outside the room and called the police.

“It’s a damn good thing you didn’t touch a thing this time…right Cooper?” the detective was prattling as he stood there in a daze.

“This is bad,” the detective kept repeating, as the photographer and medical personnel entered the room. Two regular beat cops stood guard outside of the lady’s room as the detective tried to get Cooper’s attention.

“You got a killer working here somewhere,” he assured him.

“You don’t know that,” he pushed back.

The newspapers went wild after the second murder. One headline writer suggested the killer might be a Phantom of the Opera copycat, reminding readers of the 1925 film featuring Lon Chaney as the phantom.

Two weeks went by before the killer struck again. A stagehand was found hanging from a prop in the backstage storage area. His stomach was slit sideways, exposing his intestines which hung from the terrible slash.

The public’s reaction to the murders was mixed. Some people (especially the owners of the Uptown Theatre) demanded the Arabian be closed until the killer was exposed. Others showed up every day like nothing happened. Ticket-sales remained steady despite the headlines.

The Arabian’s manager, American born Herman Mueller, and Cooper spent hours every day talking with employees, seeking clues, and cooperating with the police and the mayor’s office, which got involved after the second murder. Mueller and Cooper both had several things in common. One being their hated of Hitler, and what he was doing to Germany.

Hans Ziegler, the owner of the Arabian, spent his time between Germany, where he had another palatial movie theatre, and Chicago. He was a mystery man who was born somewhere in Europe (most likely Austria), and was reputed to have business ties worldwide. He was also an ardent supporter of Adolf Hitler, who assumed the Presidency of Germany after the death of President Hindenburg in 1934.

Wealth, and growing political power through Hitler allowed Ziegler to indulge in one of his favorite hobbies; killing innocent people for no good reason other than to experience the thrill. He was also a master-of-disguise. Few people really knew what he looked like.

Ziegler honed his hunting skills in his movie theatres across the world. Moving from one property to the next, he easily eluded the police. His current hunt at The Arabian was entertaining enough to stay around for a fourth victim before moving on.

He decided to make this kill more challenging. His head usher’s combat experience from World War I, would be a step up from his usual helpless victims. The thought intrigued him. Cooper wasn’t a real big man. He stood five-feet, nine-inches tall, and weighed about 145 pounds. According to his resume he was 38-year years old.

Ziegler was ten years younger and larger; at six-feet, 190 pounds. He felt confident he could overwhelm the smaller and older man. After eight years of killing people off like flies he finally got the urge to up his game.

But that didn’t mean he was going to play fair.

One night Ziegler decided to make his move. He sat through the last movie and when the audience headed out to the exits he went back inside the theatre, passing inquiring ushers with an excuse of looking for his wife, and went down the hall off the lounge where Cooper’s office was.

He expected Cooper would be alone and counting the night’s receipt’s and money as was his custom at this time. He was partly right.

Ziegler knocked on the door and when it started to open he thrust his body against it, driving the person on the other side into the wall! 

Cooper, from behind his desk, saw Ziegler push past Mueller, waving a knife and growling like an animal! He picked up the heavy wooden humidor on his desk and hurled it at Ziegler, hitting him on the side of his head.

Mueller, who had recovered, threw a wicked right cross and connected with Ziegler’s chin. He dropped like a rock. 

It took five days before Ziegler’s identity was finally revealed and the story made the national headlines. Cooper and Mueller were hailed as heroes, but were soon out of a job when The Arabian was shut down.

“Maybe we ought to try something different in life,” Mueller said as they drank coffee at a local diner and looked for jobs in the newspaper classifieds.

“What do you think about being private eyes?” Cooper asked while dunking his donut in his steaming cup of black coffee.

“What do you know about the job?” Mueller asked.

“Not a damn thing,” Cooper grinned. 

“Oh…well count me in!” Mueller said.

As It Stands, Cooper and Mueller may emerge again in a future case.

The Gentle Embrace of Death

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

GangstersLouie Marozzi wasn’t part of anyone’s gang.

It’s true that Al Capone, Dion O’Banion, and Bugs Malone all asked him, at one time or the other, to drive trucks for them. But he turned them all down. He wanted to stay independent…no matter the cost.

Not only was Louie an exceptional driver, he was a giant of a man. At six-feet, seven-inches, and 340 pounds, he was a specimen to behold. People thought Big Louie, as many called him, wasn’t too bright.

He seldom spoke and when he did he stumbled over words, going from Italian to American in the same sentence. His appearance, with a dark unibrow and jutting forehead, probably furthered the narrative about his low intelligence.

He was slow to anger. He didn’t drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes. The few friends he had were homeless, and lived on the streets of Chicago. His daily challenge was to stay out of the way of warring gangs.

Louie saw plenty of guys get gunned down in a hail of bullets from a passing car. The gangsters spent as much time killing each other as they did innocent victims. Dead men turned up all the time.

It was that environment that gave Louie his chance to kill people without getting caught. He wasn’t a violent killer, and never used a gun. He preferred to put his victims to sleep in his firm, yet strangely gentle, chokehold.

Unlike some psychopaths, Louie knew it was wrong to kill people. He justified his hobby by killing what he judged were bad men. He tried to keep the murders down to just a couple a week.

With the rate of weekly murders in the streets of Chicago in 1931, two more a week were easily lost in the shifting statistics.

In Louie’s mind he was doing his criminal victims a favor. They probably would have been violently killed by someone else. He was nice enough to make their passing painless and not traumatic.

Even in that violent time and city, there were whispered rumors of a serial strangler stalking the streets. The police, aware of the rumors – and the circumstances involving a string of choking victims – kept their eyes open for a suspect.

One day his friend Leo emerged from the streets, and hunted him down.

“I need your help Louie,” the shriveled old man pleaded.

“Sure Leo.

“A couple of thugs in Bugs Moran’s gang took Angelo this morning! They beat him up and dragged him into one of those big black cars and took off!”

“Why they do that?” Louie asked.

I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s about a briefcase he found in an alley, and they were looking for it.

“You sure Bug’s boy’s did it?”

“Yeah…I happen to know a couple of them. Ran a few errands for ’em.

“I’ll see what I can do come amico.”

As Louie walked back to where his truck was parked, he noticed a couple of thugs loitering around it. The first thing that went through his mind was Angelo convinced them he had the briefcase, in order to stay alive.

The normally calm and composed Louie was slowly melting away, as he watched them from the window of a shop he went inside of. He didn’t like being threatened. He looked at both men closely, memorizing their faces.

There was a rear exit in the shop and Louie took it out to the alley. He knew where the Moran mobsters hung out. There was one location in particular, a house, that he suspected they’d taken Angelo too.

It was a couple of miles away, but that didn’t bother him. He liked a good brisk walk. It helped calm him down. He didn’t want to shed blood. He just wanted to gently put them to sleep in his powerful arms.

He was right about the house. It was on a big lot and fenced in, but Louie had no trouble getting over the fence. As he got closer he heard a muffled scream. Louie sat down and waited for hours until the moon climbed to the top of the sky, before overpowering the sleeping guard on the front porch.

He went through the front door, surprisingly quiet for a man of his size. He took care of the two thugs sleeping in the living room. He went to the cellar door and opened it. He softly descended the stairs.

Another guard was asleep on a chair. Louie wished him sweet dreams and sent him to eternity. Angelo was a bloody pulp. His hands were tied behind him with twine, and he was unconscious.

Louie approached his body on the floor. He was laying sideways. He checked for a pulse and was surprised to find a weak one. He probably wasn’t going to make it from the looks of his smashed skull.

Louie sent him gently into the night.

No one knew what happened at the Bugs Moran gang’s house, because it was engulfed in flames set by Louie that night.

Locals said Moran’s gang never bothered Louie again. Some say it was because Al Capone and his thugs took a lot of Bug’s time just trying to survive.

Other’s say that Louie Marozzi was the most feared and famous killer in Chicago… that the public never heard about.

As It Stands, this tale is a chapter out of the urban lore from Chicago’s “gangster days.”

The Mail Order Bride

Mail order brides were a common occurrence in the Old West, so when Hank told his friend Logan he’d sent for one, they celebrated in the Bucket Of Blood saloon until they were kicked out by the bartender who was closing up.

Logan had married a lady from Boston last year, when she replied to his ad for a bride. Seeing his friend so happy, Hank decided it was time to seek martial bliss himself. It was pretty lonely at the miner’s camp in Big Gulch, Nevada.

He’d saved up money that he earned hunting for meat and furs for the miners, and felt confident that he could support his new wife.

Unlike Logan, who worked hard everyday at the gold mine owned by the Loman Brothers, Hank was a free spirit who didn’t want to be tethered to anyone, or business.

Gold was first discovered in the vicinity of Carlin in Eureka County, Nevada, in the 1870s, and by the time Logan and Hank arrived from Ohio, it was a thriving business in Jackass Junction.

Hank was a good hunter, and the fur that he cured was easily sold to miners. He also made arrangements with other small mining towns like Jackass Junction, to bring them meat in exchange for coffee, tobacco and liquor.

Once he decided to get married he built a log cabin away from the boom town, and filled it with crude wooden furniture he made himself. There was a bed, kitchen table, four chairs, and several wooden shelves on the wall near a wood-fired stove he bought in a 1887 Sears catalogue.

There were still very few women in the area, and when one arrived in town it was a big occasion for the men, who gathered on the street to greet them. As soon as word got out a newcomer was there to meet her husband, most of the men lost interest and went about their business.

Hank purchased a buggy and two roan horses to pull it. When the day came around for his new bride’s arrival, he joined Logan and the other men in town, lingering around at the saloon.

“What’s her name again pard?” Logan asked.

“Annabel Lee,” Hank cheerfully replied.

There conversation was abruptly terminated when someone shouted, “Coach is here! The stagecoach is here!” The men poured out of the saloon like lemmings to get a look at the new arrivals.

It was a bumper crop of brides, with five women inside. Turned out that only two were brides, and the other three were “soiled doves,” to the absolute delight of the women-starved miners.

Annabel Lee stood out from the other sun-tanned women, because she was so pale. She wore a black dress, with a matching hat and veil, and carried an umbrella. Hank couldn’t help notice some men staring at her oddly.

The stagecoach driver was pulling down Annabel Lee’s luggage when Hank approached her timidly.

“Might you be Annabel Lee?

“You are Hank then. You’re much more handsome than in the photo you sent me.” she said matter-of-factly.

Hank blushed under his recently trimmed beard.

“Thankee mamI’ll take care of your luggage.

Hank helped her up to the buggy seat and went after her luggage. Left alone for a moment, she raised her veil slightly…and hissed, as she surveyed the townspeople.

Hank returned after loading her luggage, and hopped nimbly up onto the buggy seat beside her. He took the reins and gently tugged them. The roan’s took off in a steady pace as they headed to the cabin.

After a few cursory questions the conversation died down. Hank had never felt more awkward in all of his life. His only experience was with a prostitute in the nearby boom town of  Hell’s Half-Acre. Once.

When they got to the cabin he helped her down and unhitched the horses. He led them over to a water trough as she stood silently in front of the cabin. After securing both horses near his stallion, he came back and opened the front door.

“C’mon in,” he said with as big a smile as he could muster.

She didn’t comment on any of the furnishings while Hank started a fire in the woodstove.

“Built this place m’sef,” he offered, by way of conversation.

She took off her hat and veil, and appeared paler than before.

“Very talented,” she softly replied. “What else can you do?” she asked coyly.

“Well…I’m a pretty fair hunter, and a decent shot with a Colt .45. Been riding horses since I was five…

She studied his face as he spoke. He seemed like a nice guy. She knew he would provide good cover for her being here.

He was her complete opposite. She was a traveler who had seen many cities in her long lifetime. He was a country boy out of his league right now. She spoke 22 languages. It was apparent to her that he hadn’t even mastered one, with his accent.

She was tired of the east coast, and when she heard about mail order brides it encouraged her to go on another adventure. So, she answered Hanks letters for a proper period of time, and then made arrangements to come out west and get married.

It had been over 30 years since Edgar Allen Poe immortalized her. She, in turn, encouraged him to pursue his tales of mystery and the macabre. He was the last man she lived with for a while.

The intervening years were spent single, roaming the streets of eastern cities in search of new blood supplies. Unlike novice vampires, Annabel Lee had evolved over the centuries to the thing she was now. The sun was no longer fatal to her. Just something to be avoided.

“I just can’t get over what a handsome man you are Hank! Please forgive me. I know I’m being forward and we aren’t married yet.”

Awwww shucks mam. I set it up with the preacher so we could get hitched tomorrow.

“How thoughtful,” she said. “Come here Hank…”

The next morning while they were riding to town, Hank felt an itch on the side of his neck. When he scratched it, he got a little blood on his fingernails. Not overly concerned, his thoughts quickly returned to getting married.

Most of the miners in town were working when they got there. The preacher was waiting in the saloon for them.

“Sorry mam!” the preacher said, “We don’t have us a church yet. This will have to do.”

Annabel Lee smiled sweetly and declared, “Oh, that’s all right reverend. I’m ready to marry this fine man anywhere.”

After the five-minute ceremony the bartender bought the bride and groom a drink. He set two beers down on the bar for them. Hank tossed his beer down without hesitation.

Annabel Lee looked at hers, and then at her new husband, “I’m so sorry. But I don’t drink any kind of alcohol. Not that I mind if you do though. It doesn’t set well with me,” she explained.

Months later, a dozen miners grew so weak they could no longer walk. The local doctor, between bouts with John Barleycorn, had no idea what was wrong with the men. He told anyone who asked that they were sicker than anything he’d ever seen. He knew it wasn’t consumption.

Hank and Logan were having a beer at the saloon one afternoon when Logan asked, “What do you think about what’s happened to those men? I ain’t never seen anything like it. The doc says the same.”

“Not sure pard.

As Hank rode his horse back to the cabin he was troubled. He knew Annabel Lee was sneaking out at night when she thought he was asleep in the wee hours. He decided that he had to find out what was going on that night.

The moon was at its fullest when Annabel Lee stealthily got out of bed. He marveled at how quiet she could be, then rolled off the bed, and pulled his trousers on and his boots. He slipped on a shirt, and leather jacket.

After a slight pause he strapped his gun belt on. One ould never be sure in this wild country.

Hank followed her trail on foot. It wasn’t easy. She barely disturbed the ground she walked on. As a hunter, he learned long ago on how to track prey. As he followed her a growing uneasiness told him this wasn’t normal.

Women didn’t just get up in the middle of the night and go for long walks without telling their husbands. There was something about her that made him uneasy at times. He just couldn’t figure out what it was.

He was lucky to catch a flash of her skirt as it disappeared inside the tent set aside for the twelve sick men. Hank got down on all fours and crawled over to the tent. A candle flickered weakly on a table next to the woman who was asleep in a rocking chair.

A pitcher of water and partial loaf of bread were on the small table. Annabel Lee confidently moved from man-to-man, sucking on their sleeping necks! Hank who was peeking from underneath the tent flap, recoiled back in sheer horror when he saw what she was doing!

The thought of lying next to that monster who was sucking the poor men’s lifeblood away was too much. He was a simple man who knew very little about supernatural things. He heard a few scary yarns growing up in the Ohio Valley.

But nothing like this.

Hank crawled away from the tent until he was near the livery stable. He got up and made a mad dash for it. Inside, he found the preacher snoring loudly and still clasping a bottle of rot gut rye in one hand.

Hank plucked the bottle from his chubby fist and shook him hard, “Wake up! I need you!” he whispered. It took a pail of water and some slapping, but Hank got him to finally wake up.

Sputtering indignantly, the preacher demanded to know why he was so rudely awakened?

“Hush! Keep it down and listen to me. What kind of creature sucks folks blood?

The preacher’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Why do you ask?

“That gal I hitched up with, is sucking men’s blood. That’s why those miners are so sick!”

This time the preacher crossed himself, “Are you sure?”

“Saw it with my own eyes a little bit ago,” Hank assured him.

“She must be a vampire!” he said, and crossed himself again for good measure.

“What in Billy hell is that?

“A demon of the night. They can only be killed by a wooden stake through their black heart, or cutting their head off!” the Preacher explained.

“You mean bullets don’t kill them?”

“I’m afraid not Hank. They also have supernatural strength, so don’t get in no wrestling match with her.”

Hank left the now very sober preacher and went back outside. He got back down to the ground and crawled over to the tent. She was still there, stroking the hair of the sleeping woman.

Careful not to make a noise, he headed back to the cabin as fast as he could. It seemed like he no sooner got there when the front door creaked and she slipped in inside beside him on the bed.

It took all the will power he had to lie still, and wait. It wasn’t long before he could tell from her regular breathing that she was asleep. The predawn quiet seemed sinister as Hank slipped out of the bed.

Without dressing, still in his long johns, Hank went outside to the woodpile and went through a stack of sticks that were trimmed off from his last load of firewood. He picked one that was sturdy and narrow on one end.

With a nearby hatchet he sharpened it. Then he got a hammer from the tools in his small shed. The hunter in Hank kicked in as he went back inside.

Before he chickened out he put the stake over her heart and thrust down! He hit the stake again with the hammer! It was over in a moment. Her body turned to ashes. There wasn’t even a skeleton left.

Horrified and amazed, Hank got dressed and rode into town. He went straight for the saloon and waited until it opened. The bartender shook his head when he opened up the saloon.

“Kinda early Hank.”

Nearly a bottle later, Hank was still standing but reeling awkwardly.

When Logan came in the saloon later that afternoon, after working at the mine, he found Hank three-sheets-to-the-wind. Logan patted his old friend on the shoulder and asked him about married life.

Hank started to say something…but started coughing so hard, he fell down to the ground gasping for air. He finally got air enough to moan, “Never again!”

As It Stands, whose to say a few bloodsuckers didn’t go west back in the day?

In The Dead Of Night

“Your got here just in time.

“Find yourself a comfortable place near the bonfire, because I’m ready to tell a story.”

“My name is Duke Masterson, and I’m the oldest resident in Weston… still able to talk that is. There’s old Charlie Dent, but since he lost his dentures no one can understand him. Truth be told, his memory isn’t as good as mine. 

“Any of you folks from Missouri?

Only one arm went up. The rest of the group was tourists from all over the country. One young couple was busy passing a bottle of Jack Daniels back and forth while keeping their eyes on Duke.

“Just a little history first. One of the things this town has always been proud of was our rich heritage built by beer and whiskey. There was a time, long ago, Weston was a main port for riverboats, but things changed.

I’m proud to tell you we have been drinking quality beer since 1842, when John Georgian built one of the first lager beer breweries in this country. Old John was a German immigrant who brought us a fine old world beer they we still enjoy today.

“Any questions?”

“Yeah! What time does that brewery open tomorrow?” a young man with a baseball cap that said “Booze Hound” asked. A couple of other tourists laughed. Duke waited until the laughter died down.

“I’m back to bragging again about liquor. We’re also home to McCormick Distilling Company, founded in 1856. For you history buffs, it’s the oldest whiskey distillery west of the Mississippi River that’s still in operation.

How about this; the Lewis and Clark Expedition stopped not far from here at today’s town hall. Remember reading about William Buffalo Bill Cody? He was a resident here for years.”

“Hey Duke! One of the men sitting on a lawn chair said, “Enough history. We’re here to listen to your story!”

Applause broke out as the group looked at the old man eagerly. Duke managed to muster up a smile. They were right. They wanted to be scared tonight. They wanted ghost tales that would tickle their fears.

He was happy to accommodate them.

“Back in 1840, before we had beer and whiskey industries, most folks were farmers. Hemp was a crop that grew well and exporting rope helped keep the town going. I think I mentioned that riverboats used to come here.

“One day a strange-looking fella got off one of those riverboats and caused quit a stir. He had tattoos all over his body. His bald head was painted blue. He had three negro servants and was wearing silk robes. You can imagine what a sight they made.

“The tattooed man hired someone to haul their baggage over to the old Frontier Hotel where he rented two rooms. Well, it didn’t take long for rumors to circulate about him being a witch doctor and his negroes being zombies.

When a series of strange things started happening around town, people started questioning the tattooed man. All of the cows stopped producing milk and the chickens stopped laying eggs. The owner of the hardware store went nuts and ran down the street frothing at the mouth!

The city fathers got together and held an emergency meeting. They decided that the tattooed man and his negroes were bad medicine. Tempers flared and things sorta got out of hand because they marched over to the hotel and pulled the tattooed man and the negroes out of their rooms.

The next thing you know, they hung them from all from a tree just outside town. Before they slipped the noose over the tattooed man’s neck he cursed them all…and their descendants!

Just before they liberated him from this world, he warned them that their town would become his at night from that moment forward.”

Duke looked at the group to gauge their reactions. They were quiet and subdued.

A wolf howled nearby. The bonfire sputtered and a sudden rush of wind put it out. As the group watched in horror Duke transformed before their bulging eyes. Gone was the old man. A tall tattooed man with a bald head painted blue drew a knife from the sash at his waist.

He roared in rage, and then plunged into the terrified group!

As It Stands, storytelling time in Weston is a hell of an experience!

The Secret Of The Old Dunsmere House

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

If it wasn’t for the lightning, Cecil would never have gone into the old Dunsmere house.

The intensity of the storm made visibility difficult. He was still, at least, an hour walk from town. The fierce storm lashed the trees that lined the lane leading to the deserted old house.

Cecil cursed his junk heap of a pickup truck for the hundredth time. It was broken down on the side of the road four miles out-of-town. He suspected the engine finally gave up the ghost when he saw smoke pouring out of the block.

He was born and raised in Louderville, Tennessee, population 1,788. He knew all about the Dunsmere House, and the ghost stories associated with it. As a kid, he and his friends would go by there on Halloween and dare each other to go inside.

No one ever accepted the dare.

The house was built in 1858. It’s builder, Lucius Dunsmere, was destined to be a captain in the Confederate Army. He was killed at Gettysburg in Pickett’s valiant charge against a well-entrenched Union Army.

His wife, Dorie May, remained a widow for two years before marrying a prosperous businessman; Earl Jason Jones, who came with a cloudy past. No one seemed to know where he was from, or exactly how he acquired his wealth.

He built a hardware store in town and soon became a member of the city council. He was an outgoing personality who never tired of hearing his own voice. At six-feet, two inches, he was taller than the average man at the time.

It was easy to see how he stood out in a crowd with his flaming red beard, and booming voice. No one in town could beat him at arm-wrestling during drunken saloon gatherings. His ability to consume alcohol was legendary.

What people in town didn’t know about Jones was that he beat his wife and young adopted son, Blake, for the slightest infraction of his rules. They were prisoners in their own house. One more thing about Jones; he was a hired killer, willing to murder anyone for the right price.

It amused him to live in two worlds. 

One day Earl pushed his luck too far. He was beating Dorie May for not shining his boots well enough when 12-year old Blake snuck up on him and stabbed him in the back! He pulled the hunting knife out, and when Earl turned to face him…slit his throat with a vicious slash!

His life blood squirted out on Dorie May, and Blake. It splattered the floor and two walls. His big body crashed onto the wooden floor, thrashing about for a bit before finally stopping.

They both knew they hid to hide his body. It would be too hard to convince his cronies that he was attacking them, and they were only defended themselves.

It was Blake’s idea to cut the body up and to hide the parts throughout the house.

The story goes that Dorie May and Blake convinced the towns people that Earl Jason Jones took off on his own, deserting his family. When Dorie May passed away in 1891 the house reverted to Blake, who didn’t want anything to do with it.

The new owners were said to have discovered a dismembered torso in the basement and promptly moved out while the police investigated. The house was already in need of repair and the new owners gave up trying to sell it (the local gossips assured that).

As Cecil warily opened the front door, his heart was beating like a drummer in a rock band. He tried to calm himself and stepped inside. Lightning lit the room up through the open door for a moment, revealing antique furniture in need of repair.

A broken chair lay in the entryway. As he carefully stepped around it a loud clap of thunder made him piss his pants! The suddenness and the following humiliation were draining away his resolve to be brave.

He couldn’t help from feeling like that little boy who came to the house for Halloween and was afraid to enter. He did it now, but there were no witnesses. No one to share the feeling of terror that was growing inside of him like a living thing.

The wind whistled through a broken window in the living room and screeched through the house like a banshee. The spatter of rain that followed, soaked the moldering couch beneath it. A rat ran across the room and disappeared into the ancient cushion on an overstuffed chair.

He felt an additional coldness in the air. An evil presence. Even with his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could only make out basic shapes. He slid down the wall in the entry way into a sitting position.

A woman cried out in pain! A man growled something in response. The voice of a boy pleaded with the man to stop.

Cecil tried to stand, so he could run, but his legs had turned into rubber.

A woman screamed in terror! Again, and again!

The blood curdling quality of the scream finally motivated him enough to stand up…but, he ran the wrong way and into a wall, smashing through the thin sawn wood lath that was used to support plaster, exposing a hidden room.

Thunder rolled through the valley. The following lightning lit up the old house once more and Cecile saw a skull sitting on a tiny table in the corner. Next to it stood a tall man with a red beard.

Cecile’s sanity slipped away into the night.

When the search party found him two days later, he was near death and in a coma. They transported him to the county hospital where he was put in the intensive care ward.

Two weeks later Cecile came out of his coma, and was transferred to a regular room. He still hadn’t talked yet.

The doctor thought it was a good idea for his old school buddies to visit him. They might even get him to talk. One Sunday, when a group of his old buddies stopped by to see him, Cecile spoke!

He sat up in the bed and looked everyone over carefully. They clustered closer.

Any of you boys wanna arm wrestle for a drink?” he asked his stunned friends.

As It Stands, it’s always a good idea to avoid haunted houses.

The Handyman Cometh

(Listen to Otis Jiry, master storyteller, narrate this story)

Albert was born without the ability to speak. As if to make up for his loss, he was a genius when it came to fixing things from a very early age.

By reverse engineering everything within his reach, by age five, he learned how things worked, and never forgot. He enjoyed building gadgets and testing scientific theories, unlike most of the other 10-year olds on his block in 1977.

He was called a bookworm long before bullies learned to call kids like him a nerd. He was taller than most of his peers, and awkwardly thin. Despite his height advantage (or maybe because of it) he was clumsy, and did horribly at sports like basketball.

As if his intelligence and size didn’t already isolate him in school, being mute was the spark that got him teased since his first day of school. Kids can be cruel when someone isn’t the same as they are.

The one thing kids didn’t call him was dummy. He was too smart for that slam. Most secretly envied his ability to fix things. The boy handyman could fix go-carts, fans, and electric toasters.

When his 10th birthday came along, his mom and dad took him to Sears and said he could pick out any toy he wanted. When Albert saw the Atari VCS with nine-games titles available at launch, he fell in love with it.

His parents, true to their word, bought it for him and his love affair for computers was born. He instinctively knew that the Atari VCS was the tip of the iceberg.

In the following years he kept up with technological advances while going through high school, and eventually to a full ride scholarship at M.I.T.

Upon graduation with honors, Albert was offered a juicy job in the government helping to build a robust, fault-tolerant communication with computer networks. He was instrumental in building a primary precursor network, the ARPANET, which served as a backbone for interconnection of regional academic and military networks in the 1980s.

He was still with the government in the 1990s and made his contributions known again in the development of the World Wide Web, or Internet, as it became commonly called. Throughout his successful career he stayed a loner. He didn’t have any old high school friends.

Just the opposite.

He considered most of the kids in high school his enemies.

Their taunts over the years scarred Albert deeper than anyone, including his parents, suspected. The mild-mannered bookworm morphed into a mild-mannered nerd with a grudge, and became further isolated from his peers and the rest of the world.

He was a computer programmer, software developer, and troubleshooter. His colleagues respected him, but were not comfortable around him. He was the department’s all around handyman. But, to some of the women he seemed creepy, quietly walking around the office and lab staring at people.

Then one day his well-ordered life was shattered! His parents were killed in an auto accident! He was so distraught that he quit his job without notice. He went into a deep depression and left Washington D.C. and moved back into their house in Azusa, California.

As his days wilted into months he slowly began constructing a super computer. One like the world had never seen before. He designed it to surf flawlessly through the internet unobserved.

He discovered the dark web where youthful hackers were comparing techniques to access other people’s computers. He found arsonists, perverts, socialists, neo-Nazis, fascists, religious extremists, conspiracy nuts, and serial killers.

It was the wild, wild, west and Albert felt comfortable viewing what the dregs of humanity had to say to one another. There were a lot of angry people out there…like him.

The denizens of the dark web were anonymous or used fake names to protect themselves. Albert was soon logging in as The Handyman. He asked questions that no sane person would answer. His new found friends weren’t afraid to express their feelings, or to share their dark deeds.

One afternoon he went through his high school year books with revenge on his mind. It was a long time coming, but that was okay. He looked them up on social platforms and hacked their computers.

He started with the six worst offenders from his freshman year to his senior year. Five boys and one girl. He trolled them with death threats for months. He didn’t fear that someone would discover him. He was too good for that.

It amused him that he could toy with them, but he felt like there had to be more. It was ridiculously simple for him to track down where they all lived. It was also easy, and fun, building the bombs he was going to kill them with.

He was a fan of trip wires and set up a trap for each one of them in their homes. When all six bombs went off as planned, he found himself bragging on the dark web. Admirers asked questions like where did he set the traps, and his choice of explosives?

The police quickly realized they had a serial killer on their hands, despite differences in each one of the bombs their forensic team researched.

The sense of power Albert felt was indescribable. “The Handyman cometh...”he boasted on the dark web. Then he went back to the yearbooks and looked for more victims!

As It Stands, beware the loners.

He Who Laughs Last…

When Felix achieved his lifelong ambition to be a clown with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, he felt it was time to get married. He was 30-years-old, and had spent the last nine years training to be a classic clown.

The year was 1959, and the famous circus was wintering in Venice, Florida. The owners, John Ringling North and Arthur Concello, had moved the circus from tents to indoor shows a few years ago.

Felix was a thrifty bachelor who saved his money. He dated the same woman, Laura, for two years, and he was very much in love with her. She said she was in love with him and wanted to have his babies.

It was a small, but nice wedding, with mainly family members from both sides attending. Afterwards, they said goodbye to New Jersey, and moved into a one-bedroom house they bought in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

It was more of an investment than a place where they stayed, because the circus was always touring the country. The circus arrived in every city in a precise order. The first train consisted of 22 cars loaded with tents and the workers to set them up.

The second train to arrive was even longer, with 28 cars holding canvas-men, ushers, and sideshow workers. The performers always arrived last in 19 sleeping cars. Felix and Laura had their names written on the wall above their sleeping space in the seventh car.

Felix became a beloved clown who appealed to children and parents alike.

He pushed poodles around in a baby carriage, rode a tiny bicycle, wore a squirting flower that he used on everyone, did acrobatic tricks, juggled everything from bowling pins to toasters, and interacted with the other clowns in funny skits.

One of the secrets of his success was that he was always working on his acts and thinking up new ones. Some days went by when Laura only saw him at bedtime. When they stayed in a city they sometimes got a hotel room for more privacy.

Other performers and their spouses (if they had one) did the same thing if they could afford to. Those who couldn’t afford to, lived in the sleeper cars and tents set up outside near the train.

It was late into their second touring season when Laura started having roving eyes. One of the acrobats, Luigi, considered himself a ladies man and quickly picked up on Laura’s friendly vibes.

It wasn’t long before the two were involved in an affair. Both took every opportunity to be together. She was married, and he wasn’t. They managed to hide their affair for several months before Felix found out.

His first reaction was to confront her about her adultery and ask why?

But as he thought about it the need for revenge grew stronger. Ever since he heard those two acrobats talking about their brother Luigi making time with one of the clowns wives, a hardness settled over his heart.

For the first time in his life he didn’t want to be laughed at.

He didn’t want to hear the gossip that was surely circulating throughout the circus. People were laughing at him because he was a cuckhold. Not because of one of his routines.

One day he saw the two of them together talking by the Tiger cage. He knew who Luigi was now. They held hands for a moment and then parted ways in opposite directions. Felix watched Luigi walk over to his brothers who started laughing when he said something.

Felix watched, just out of sight, behind stacked up bales of hay. An elephant trumpeted loudly, spinning him around in surprise. It’s keeper was bringing food. He walked back inside the big top, picked up some bowling pins, and began juggling them.

His anger was transforming to rage and threatening his sanity. His own thoughts disturbed him. All he could think about was getting the last laugh…

Luigi and Laura were talking about what to do about Felix. They wanted to declare their love to the world. But what was the best way to get him out of the picture? Divorce? Laura didn’t think she could stand the stigma and balked at the idea.

Hot-blooded Luigi brought up killing Felix one day after they were finished making love. Laura acted shocked, but something bad inside her considered the idea. The next time Luigi brought it up she asked, “How?

A monster was stirring beneath Felix’s clown makeup. He looked in the mirror on his dresser and didn’t recognize the eyes that stared back at him. He sat the jar of black grease paint down. This look was unlike any other clown around.

They called it “Blackface” in vaudeville. He pulled on a wooly wig and looked at the transformation. Tonight was the night. He would settle with his unfaithful wife and her lover.

That same night, Luigi talked his brothers into murdering Felix. He convinced them it was a family thing that needed doing. When they left to look for him, Luigi hurried off to meet Laura at a pre-arranged spot across the railroad tracks in an old lineman’s shack.

Not far behind him, Felix stealthily followed with a knife he stole from the circus kitchen. All Luigi could think about was meeting up with Laura. He never heard Felix come up from behind him!

In a swift vicious stroke he cut Luigi’s throat! He gasped for air and blood bubbled up from his lips. His body teetered for a second then came crashing down on the rough gravel. Felix watched his body twitch in its death spasms and smiled beneath his blackface.

Laura asked the lion and tiger tamer, Victor, if the plan would work. Again. He was getting impatient with her. Being the third wheel in a love triangle is never easy. He assured her the police would be waiting for Luigi’s two brothers and would interrogate them.

Felix would be dead, and Luigi would be left out in the cold.

Victor was right. Luigi couldn’t get any colder than he was. He was wrong about Felix however, who came up behind him, and drew his knife cleanly across his throat!

Laura screamed in horror!

Felix couldn’t stop laughing…

As It Stands, affairs of the heart can often be bloody.