Episode 28 – Shadows in Athens

Some towns aren’t quite like the others. Some towns have secrets.

One of those is close to me, right here in the middle of nowhere.

Medford Fuller’s grave, surrounded by virgin stone and iron chains.

There is a town called Athens. For many years, locals and those abroad have been talking about this town. Some claim that there are tunnels beneath the streets or devil worshippers in the forest.

The virgin stone pillar, drenched in a liquid red substance.

Others claim that the town was built by dark magicians, intent on any means to secure their prosperity.

Some say the tunnels beneath the city exist to this day.

The gazebos in the woods at Fuller Park, possibly the site of the monkey cages.

Still others say that the secrets are no secrets at all and that the strange happenings in town are no mystery. What is the truth? Listen in as I explain the shadows in Athens and make up your own mind about what is happening out here among the pines.

Episode 27 – Ken’s Apparitions

There is something to be said for the power of personal experience. Of course, memory is not always a faithful narrator and our own beliefs may color the memories that we make. Yet, in the face of our own doubt, we simply cannot slip free of the power of a mesmerizing event.

Paranormal encounters are routinely dismissed as nonsense, made-up events that are the result of fear, anxiety or simply wishful thinking. But just try telling that to someone who was encountered the paranormal firsthand. It’s not so easy to discount these stories when the person telling them recalls them with clarity and conviction.

In this episode, I sat down with my friend Ken to listen to him relate some paranormal encounters in his past. I could see in his face, and you can likely hear in his voice, that his stories were not some attempt to scare or startle anyone. They were a faithful retelling of events as he remembered them, and there were no attempts on his part at embellishment or exaggeration.

His stories are as fascinating as they are chilling. They left an impression on me and I imagine that they will do the same to you, dear listener. Whether you are a believer or if you hold on to doubt, there is no denying the power and impact of a ghostly tale. Listen in and decide for yourself the truth of paranormal events out here in the Piney Woods.

Episode 26 – Kristiana Coignard

On January 22, 2015, my town of Longview changed forever. At the time, there was an ongoing national debate about police-involved shootings and, in one brief event, we became a part of that dialogue in a very immediate way.

On that day in January, 17-year-old Kristiana Coignard entered the lobby of the Longview Police Department building on Cotton Street near downtown Longview. Less than 20 minutes later, she was dead.

17-year-old Kristiana Coignard.

What happened that night has been the subject of in-depth investigation and serious debate. It has been established that Kristiana had been dealing with mental health issues for years but exactly what role those issues played in her death is not certain.

The police claimed that Kristiana wrote “I have a gun” on her palm, which she displayed to a police officer who responded to her request for help. The police also claimed that she struggled with officers and, at one point, displayed a butcher knife in a threatening manner. She was also found to be in possession of a suicide note on the night of her death and scars were found on her wrists, as well as elsewhere on her body. It appeared, to some, that Kristiana had been in a state of suicidal ideation and was attempting to end her life when she entered the police station that night.

These allegations were questioned after a surveillance video from the lobby that night was released to the public on YouTube. That video is still available though I caution you that, if you decide to watch it in its entirety, it is very graphic and disturbing.

The Longview PD building where Kristiana was shot to death by officers.

In this episode, I provide a breakdown of this video for those who don’t wish to watch and, for those of you who do watch, you may compare your own opinions with my descriptions of the images contained in the video.

I am not, at all, trying to insert my own opinions about this case into this episode. However, it appears to me, as it has to many others, that the conclusions portrayed by police reports of the incident are, at least, somewhat in conflict with the images that can be seen in the video. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

Despite what we may think about this case, the public’s reaction was undeniable. Public protests occurred in Longview and the hacktivist group Anonymous attacked the infrastructure of the city of Longview’s website.

The only sure conclusion that can be reached about this case, in my estimation, is that Kristiana was in definite need of mental healthcare and, for many reasons, she did not receive that care. This is an issue about which I care deeply and one that I think we should all take very seriously.

Tune into this episode to learn more about one of the most shocking and heartbreaking events to occur here in the middle of Nowhere in many years.

I am including a link to a YouTube video which contains footage of the protests in Longview after Kristiana’s death. CAUTION: This video contains footage from surveillance cameras inside the Longview PD building on the night of Kristiana’s death, including the moment when she was shot by officers. It is graphic and disturbing. Please watch with consideration and discretion:

 

 

Episodes 24 & 25 – The Texas Killing Fields

Part 1 – The Victims

For over 40 years, young girls have been disappearing and then occasionally being found murdered at the far edge of East Texas. This area, the Calder Oil Field, earned the name of the Texas Killing Fields as the years passed and more slain girls were found. Many of these girls were found close to each other and many were abducted, raped, tortured and murdered in a similar fashion. Due to a lack of police and media communication and coordination, many of these cases were not linked even though it was very likely that that at least some of them may have been perpetrated by the same person. As years turned into decades, some people finally began to put the pieces together.

A map of Southeastern Texas showing locations where young girls went missing.

 

Krystal Jean Baker

Disappeared from League City, Texas on March 5, 1996. Her body was recovered later that day in a neighboring county. Her murder was eventually solved.

 

Krystal Jean Baker, who was abducted and murdered in 1996.

 

Some of these cases would eventually be resolved while the vast majority of them remain cold to this day.

Colette Wilson

Disappeared from Alvin, TX in June 1971. Her body was discovered near the Addicks Reservoir in November 1971. Her murder remains unsolved though a confession was made.

Collette Wilson, who was abducted from a bus stop in Alvin, TX in 1971.

Sharon Shaw and Rhonda Johnson

Sharon Shaw and Rhonda Johnson disappeared while visiting Galveston beach together in August 1971. Their remains were discovered starting in January 1972 when two boys fishing in a bayou near Webster, TX found a human skull in the water. Over the next several weeks, a intensive search found the rest of their remains. A person was arrested for their murders was convicted but later determined to likely be innocent of these crimes. Another person has been pinpointed as a person of interest in their murders.

 

Sharon Shaw and Rhonda Johnson, who disappeared in Galveston in 1971. Their bodies were recovered in 1972.

All told, over 30 young girls and women have gone missing or whose bodies have been recovered in and around the Calder Oil Field since 1971. Most of these crimes have never been resolved but evidence recovered as recently as a few years ago has tied several suspects to some of these crimes, suggesting that there may have been multiple serial killers operating in this area at the same time.

 

 

 

Part 2 – Perpetrators and Suspects

At least a few of the twisted individuals responsible for the rapes and murders in the Texas Killing Fields have been apprehended and brought to justice. Hopefully, tips and clues will continue to be recovered as investigative techniques improve and more confessions occur. Many of these suspects were apprehended as a result of improved evidence analysis techniques and confessions given years after the crimes were committed.

Michael Lloyd Self

Michael Lloyd was convicted of two Texas Killing Fields murders in 1974, but he was almost certainly wrongfully convicted.

Convicted of the murders of Sharon Shaw and Rhonda Johnson in 1971, Michael Lloyd Self was sent to prison in 1974. However, the investigation into Michael Lloyd Self was riddled with errors and forced confessions. Despite this, Self’s appeals were denied and he died in prison in 2000, though he was almost certainly innocent. Several other men came forward in later years to confess to these murders and at least one of them may have actually been guilty.

Edward Howard Bell

 

A convicted murder who confessed in prison to eleven murders in the Killing Fields.

Edward Howard Bell murdered a man in 1978 who tried to stop him from sexually harassing a group of young girls. Bell then went on the run for years before finally being recaptured. While in prison for yet another murder, this lifelong criminal, rapist and murderer confessed to murdering “the 11 who went to heaven”, 11 girls who were found dead in the Texas Killing Fields. He specifically confessed to the murders of Colette Wilson, Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw. However, he has not been convicted of any of these crimes due to a lack of evidence. Due to the passage of time, such evidence may never be recovered. Also, due to his advanced age, Bell will possibly die before these cases are resolved.

Kevin Edison Smith

 

Kevin Edison Smith, convicted of the murder of Krystal Jean Baker.

In 2010, Kevin Edison Smith was arrested for a drug charge in Louisiana. Around this time, a detective back in Texas was re-examining Krystal Jean Baker’s case and decided to re-submit the dress she was wearing when she was recovered from the Trinity River. A semen stain was found on the dress and DNA was analyzed. When Kevin Smith’s DNA was taken for his drug arrest in Louisiana, it was possible to show that he was a partial match to the DNA found on Krystal’s dress. After further analysis and a trial, Kevin Edison Smith was found guilty of Krystal’s murder and he was sentenced to prison in 2012. This is perhaps the most hopeful of the resolved Killing Fields cases, as new technology was able to bring about a definitive conclusion.

 

Tune in to Part 2 of the Texas Killing Fields to find out more details about these chilling cases and their resolutions.

 

 

 

Episode 23 – The Backwoods Illuminati

Strange clouds in the sky.

Shadowy organizations infiltrating the government.

Worldwide conspiracies hatching sinister plots.

Do you believe in conspiracy theories? I may not be a believer, personally, but I’m certainly fascinated. I’ve always been interested in plumbing the depths of conspiracy theories watching conspiracy documentaries on YouTube and discussing these bizarre theories with my friends.

I was surprised to learn that East Texas has played a role in several major conspiracy theories in recent years.

In fact, the Masonic Order, long believed to be a front for the Illuminati, a secretive group that aims to control the world, played a hand in the founding of Texas. One of the first Western explorers of Texas was a Mason and a large portion of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence were Masonic members. Are they simply a club for prominent, wealthy men or is there something else at work?

Holland Lodge, the oldest Masonic Lodge in Texas, located in Houston.

 

In 2015, the United States government launched a military training exercise in the Southern and Southwestern United states. Ostensibly, this operation was intended to allow US military units to gain realistic training experience in terrain similar to combat areas in the Middle East. However, conspiracy theorists argue that this is actually a front for the military to prepare to launch martial law on unsuspecting citizens. I myself saw trucks and trains full of military equipment moving around at this time. A training exercise or preparation for a nationwide takeover?

 

 

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was regarded as a natural event by most, he was advanced in age and had health problems, after all. But some conspiracy theorists argued that he had been murdered by government agents in order to change the balance of power on the Supreme Court. They point to the fact that strange, seemingly occult items were found in the building where he died and the building also contained texts on global domination and power. It’s alleged that this is a precursor to an overthrow of our democratic way of life. Here’s a link to an InfoWars (yeah, I know, not super reliable but they’re the conspiracy clearing  house) article about this strange incident:

Scalia’s Death Linked to Bohemian Grove, Illuminati

What do you think, Nowhere wanderer? Are conspiracy theorists simply finding patterns where there are none or are they piercing the veil of secrecy that surrounds our society? You make the call after you listen in.

 

 

Episode 22 – The Michael Ray Phillips Cold Case

In January of 1989, a police officer in Lufkin, TX stumbled across the dead body of a young man lying face down in a creek. The man’s name is Michael Ray Phillips and he had been murdered in cold blood. He had been slain with three gunshots to the head and there was evidence that he had been tortured and mutilated in a particularly gruesome fashion. The investigation quickly began but the trail soon ran cold.

 

Michael Ray Phillips.

 

Investigators followed up every lead that they could find but they were unable to locate a crime scene, a murder weapon or a definite suspect. They tracked down a man named Tommy Davis and one detective swore that this man was the real killer. However, there was not enough concrete evidence to secure a conviction and he was never brought to trial for Michael Phillips’ murder.

 

The site in the Kit Mconnico Park creek where Michael Phillips’ body was recovered.

 

Eventually, the primary suspect was locked up on unrelated charges and the Michael Phillips’ case went cold. Now, 28 years later, the case is still unsolved. There isn’t much evidence to go on but there’s still a chance that the real killer is at large.

 

Mugshot of Gerald Joe Hendricks upon his arrest in 2011.

 

The Lufkin police officer who initially discovered the body of Michael Ray Phillips was eventually arrested and charged with sex crimes after a decades-long career in law enforcement. Though his charges were unrelated to the murder case, it adds another layer of creepiness to the entire ordeal.

 

Few things are as haunting as an unsolved murder. Tune in to learn about the story of Michael Phillips’ murder and the search for justice out here in the middle of nowhere.

 

Episode 21 – East Texas Cryptids

Cryptids are one of the most interesting and popular aspects of creepy, weird folklore. Here in East Texas, the endless pine forests are reportedly the home of all types of bizarre, mystical creatures.

I’ve always been interested in creatures like the Sasquatch and El Chupacabra and I’m very excited to finally make a podcast episode about some of the strange beasts in my corner of the world.

(Note: the images in this post do not belong to me, I’ll post the owner info in the metadata where possible.)

The Wampus Cat

Cherokee woman wearing a wampus mask to defeat the Ew’ah spirit.

 

The Wampus Cat is a creature that possibly has its roots in Cherokee mythology. As the story goes, a Cherokee woman was cursed by a village medicine man and she took on the form of a half-woman, half-cougar beast. In another version, a woman put on a wampus mask to defeat the evil Ew’ah spirit and then continued to walk the woods as a half-cat creature to defend people from other evil spirits. When the Cherokee were forced to move to East Texas by settlers, they may have brought the legend of the Wampus Cat along with them.

In East Texas, the Wampus Cat legend may have morphed into the local legend of the East Texas Black Panthers. Though some mountain lions are found in this area, there are no such things as black panthers in this region. However, some wildcats with a rare genetic disorder may be responsible for sightings of mysterious, dark-colored big cats with an eerie, humanlike cry.

 

The jaguarundi, a possible explanation for East Texas Wampus Cat/Black Panther sightings.

 

El Chupacabra

 

A creature found in Rockdale, TX, reported to be a chupacabra.

 

The chupacabra, or “goat sucker” was first sighted in Puerto Rico in 1995 after many farm animals were found drained of their blood with strange puncture wounds on their chests. Over time, the legend of the chupacabra spread to North America. While in Puerto Rico the bloodsucking creatures were described as reptile-like, two-legged creatures, in the US, they are usually described as dog-like, four-legged animals.

Are chupacabras simply dogs with a skin condition or are they really mutated beasts intent on sucking blood from animals and humans?

A creature found right here in Longview, TX, in 2010, reported to be a chupacabra.

The Jackalope

 

A jackalope mounted on a wall.

Okay, I know you’ve heard of this one. The jackalope is cute, furry little cryptid with an interesting backstory. This creature was created by a pair of brothers in Douglas, Wyoming in 1932. The legend of the jackalope began to spread across the country and even the world.

Jackalopes are admittedly fictional but legends of horned hares and rabbits can be found in countries around the globe dating back hundreds of years. These creatures are a great example of the power of folklore and the persistence of modern legends. It’s amazing how a simple story created by two brothers has achieved such cultural significance, and even a bit of pop culture appeal.

The wolpertinger, a creature from Bavarian folklore and a possible distant cousin of the jackalope.

 

East Texas is undoubtedly home to some fascinating and elusive wildlife. Perhaps there are a few more creatures lurking in the woods, hidden away from the observations of modern science and common knowledge. Listen in and learn more about these mystical animals on the latest episode of the Nowhere Dispatch:

 

Episode 20 – Who Killed Karen Silkwood?

In 1946, a woman named Karen Silkwood was born here in Longview. I’d heard about her story here and there over the years but I didn’t know the full details. I certainly didn’t know that she was born in my hometown and later died near the place where my family lived in Oklahoma.

Karen was bright and excelled at science. She got a scholarship to college but eventually left to elope with her boyfriend. When that relationship didn’t work out, she took on a job at the Kerr-McGee nuclear plant near Crescent, Oklahoma.

Though she enjoyed her job at first, she soon became disturbed by safety problems at the plant. She quickly got caught up in a storm of conflicting events: the safety of herself and her coworkers, the insistence of plant management that everything was fine and a worker’s union that was fighting for better treatment.

Though she was just a young woman, Karen showed bravery, tenacity and ingenuity as she began secretly collecting evidence of the plant’s problems for weeks on end. Finally, she had enough to take Kerr-McGee to court. However, she would never get the chance.

 

Karen Silkwood’s grave in Danville Cemetery in Kilgore, TX.

 

She died in a car wreck on the way to meet with a newspaper reporter to tell her story. The investigation determined it was an accident but found signs that may have indicated foul play. Was she killed and, if so, who killed her?

Karen Silkwood’s story is fascinating and frightening. She was one of the first whistleblowers and stood up to a billion-dollar corporation and she may have paid for it with her life. Tune in, listeners, and find out about her story.

 

Episode 19 – The New London School Explosion

East Texas hasn’t always been the rustic backwater that some folks imagine. At the turn of the 20th century, a recent oil boom had set local communities on the path to modernity. However, this desire was tempered with a resolve for expansion and progress. The result was unimaginable tragedy.

 

 

The New London School Memorial, on Main Street, across from the site of the new school building.
New London School Memorial.

One the morning of March 18, 1937 a faulty gas line causing a natural gas leak caused a massive explosion underneath the New London school building. Of the 600 people inside the building at the time of the blast, over 319 were killed. At the time, it was the greatest tragedy involving school children of the modern era.

 

The grave of a victim of New London.

 

What can we learn from this horrible tragedy? It has shaped the communities where I live, and indeed the entire world, for decades to come.

 

The graves of two sibling victims of New London, buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

 

Perhaps the greatest lesson that we can take from this catastrophe is that the human spirit can always recover, always rebuild into a brighter future, shaped and more ready from the misfortunes of the past.

 

Listen to the episode here:

 

 

 

Episode 18 – The Murder of Diamond Bessie

The shady pine trees and red dirt roads of East Texas hide many secrets and many old stories. Though many have lived out quiet, unassuming lives among the pines, others have met a crueler fate. Of all these stories, it is the ones marked down in blood and sorrow that continue to catch our attention so many years later.

In the 1800s, East Texas was a much different place, though some things have never changed. In those days, just after the end of the Civil War, many places in the South became boomtowns, growing rich on the bounty of the land and the appetites of the newly rich. Jefferson was one such place. Ideally situated on the banks of the Red River, this town drew in many people from across the young nation, ready to spend money on drink and companionship.

The grave of Diamond Bessie, adorned with fresh flowers and coins.

These days, Jefferson is known as one of the most haunted cities in Texas, and sometimes one of the most haunted cities in the U.S. How did it garner such a reputation? The history of Jefferson is a history of blood, of treachery and of heartache.

Thus goes the tale of Diamond Bessie Moore. Almost 150 years ago, this beautiful young woman arrived by train in the city of Jefferson, never to leave again. She met her fate across a bridge in the heart of the bayou, slain by a single bullet to the head. Though many suspected her ne’er-do-well lover, the case remains unsolved to this day.

The Brooks House hotel, where Diamond Bessie stayed just before her murder.

What happened that day in 1877, in the shade of the pine trees in the bayou, as the air hung thick over Jefferson? It may never be known but that is no reason to lose interest. Tune in, dear listeners, and I’ll tell you all about the mystery of Diamond Bessie and the place she still holds in the hearts of the people of East Texas.