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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The events of this story are as convoluted as anything I’ve discussed before on the Dispatch. I never imagined that something so bizarre could have happened so close by and when my friend Ashley and I started poring through newspaper articles and websites, we saw how deep the confusion really goes.
Rumors are dangerous. They can send people to jail, let criminals go free and they can obscure the truth for years. Words are much more powerful than we often give them credit for.
Kelly Dae Wilson disappeared from Gilmer, Texas on the night of January 5, 1992. 25 years later, she has never been heard from again. While investigating her case and some other, seemingly unrelated, claims, rumors of witchcraft, cannibalism and Satanic rites began to appear. These wild accusations entwined themselves with the search for Kelly.
The case received national attention and endless coverage in local papers. TV shows like “Inside Edition” and “Dateline NBC” covered the case multiple times. It was a weird time in America, and the Satanic Panic that was sweeping the country would have serious consequences for the Kelly Wilson disappearance.
It was a strange, sordid and confusing investigation. This article provides a decent summary. In this case especially, the devil was most certainly in the details. Even with splitting the podcast into two episodes, there was no way Ashley and I could have covered everything we found. We spent weeks researching before we finally sat down to record.
Reading an article and listening to the podcast is a good way to get familiar with the case, but what really struck me about this whole process were the weird outliers we bumped into while researching.
A secret Stonehenge in the middle of the woods in small-town Texas, with no certainty as to how or why they got there? Check. (Rumored to be the site of Satanic activity, including the activity in the Kelly Wilson case, you can see the Standing Stones on Google Maps here.)
A creepy old house in the middle of town that was rumored to be involved with Satanic activity, due to upside-down “crosses” in its construction? Check.
To this day, people are still searching for Kelly Dae Wilson. The fantastical claims of Satan worship and ritual sacrifice have long since died down in the mainstream press, but some people are still making wild accusations online.
The fact is that Kelly is still missing and the best hope for finding her was lost to mass hysteria and a literal witch-hunt. These days, the Internet and constant communication has taken these kinds of problems mainstream. You only have to log onto any social media platform to see unfounded rumors and bizarre accusations being tossed around. If nothing else, the case of Kelly Dae Wilson reminds us that humans have an endless capacity for suspicion and mistrust and those base instincts can sometimes blind us to the necessity of doing the right thing.
I watched a lot of John Wayne movies when I was growing up. In a lot of those old films, the Indians were the bad guys. If they weren’t the bad guys, they were often cast as the “noble savages” who practiced weird rituals and had access to mystical knowledge.
Of course, that’s total nonsense. The Native North Americans were human beings, not
vicious savages or tree-hugging nature wizards. Most importantly, they were the rightful owners of the land where they lived and some groups, contrary to some historical myths, very much believed in ownership and property rights.
Anyone with a passing familiarity with U.S. and Texas history knows that Native North American groups were slaughtered wholesale by white European settlers, whether by warfare, disease or relocation. Of course, these were real people and they warred with other tribes and may have depleted their own resources as well. This doesn’t excuse the actions of the “God is with us” Europeans, obviously.
My whole point is that there was a real conflict, a genuine struggle for survival that played out on the ground right under my feet less than 200 years ago. That’s just a few generations.
I don’t remember when I first heard about the Killough Massacre. I visited the historical site a year or two ago and I remembered it when I got the idea for this episode. I’d read some articles about the problem of Texas historical markers that portray Native Americans as savages or violent warriors who preyed on innocent white settlers.
I’m not talented, well-known or wealthy enough to take on the state of Texas and make them rewrite all of their inaccurate historical markers. But I live just down the road from one and I can tell all you Nowhere wanderers the truth about what happened one October day in 1838. Tune in and peel back the dark clouds of history.
You really can find the strangest things online. I have a habit of digging around on the Internet for weird, unsolved and creepy stories. That’s the main reason I stared broadcasting the Nowhere Dispatch to all of you lovely people in the first place.
Earlier this year, I stumbled across a post on Imgur about mysterious and unsolved cases. Buried in the list of weird stories and strange occurrences, I found out about the then-unsolved case of Lori Erica Ruff.
This woman was an enigma. She had married a man and had a child with him despite her bizarre behavior and her reluctance to reveal her secretive past. Eventually, her behavior placed a strain on their marriage and her husband filed for a divorce.
This set into motion a weird series of events, which ultimately culminated in Lori’s tragic suicide, right here in my own town of Longview. However, her death was just the start of her unreal saga.
After her passing, her husband’s family began digging into her past. They were shocked to find that Lori Erica Ruff was not her real name. In fact, her name previous to the marriage had been Becky Sue Turner. This was equally bizarre because that was the name of a two-year-old girl who had died in a house fire in 1971. They found strange items in Lori’s house, including an obituary for Becky Sue Turner and a scrap of paper covered in inscrutable scribblings.
From there, things ran into a dead end. The family eventually shared their story with a retired investigator who pursed the case of identity theft for another three years. He sifted through the details of her life and the jumbled collection of clues she left behind. He, too, ran into a dead end, despite finding out a few details about Lori/Becky’s mysterious past.
It wasn’t until three years later, with the help of a forensic genealogist, that the truth would finally come out.
When I first came upon Lori’s case in early 2016, her true identity was still unknown. When I found the case again in September of this year, her identity had been revealed only a few days earlier.
It was then that I knew that I had to share this story with you, nowhere wanderers. This case caught the attention of the world and it revolved around events right here where I live, smack dab in the middle of nowhere.
This is what it’s all about, ladies and germs. Tune in to this weird tale in the latest installment of the Dispach, dear listeners. I have always been fascinated by bizarre and inexplicable stories and this one is, perhaps, the most infamous that I have released on the podcast.
Also: exciting news! The response to the Nowhere Dispatch has been incredible. We’re still a small operation but we’re growing fast. In the coming weeks, stay tuned for updates about a Patreon that I’ll be creating for the pocast so that you can help me bring you the stories that captivate us all and, in return, you’ll get some cool shit!
Do you like rock music? I certainly do, always have. Most of my friends do, too. There’s nothing remarkable about that, though. Many people feel the same way. But it’s a bit different, I think, because music is how I found most of the people that I came to trust and love. It was that way growing up and it’s that way to this day. I play music (though not as much as I should) and it’s led me to a lot of wacky places.
Music also separates people, like weird little fences that we smack down to mark out minefields. If you can dig on a tune with someone else who digs it equally, everything comes up roses and daisies. But if someone is just totally into a genre that makes you grind your teeth, no cups of wine will be crushed betwixt you, y’know?
All of East Texas is like that. From high school on up to today, people blast country at the people blasting punk who are blasting at the people blasting rap. It’s dumb, really, but I get it. Even when I moved away from East Texas for six years, it was like that, to a lesser degree.
Apparently, things were much the same here in Longview back in the 60s. On a certain
evening, almost 50 years ago to the day, some people who weren’t too happy with a certain rock group took torches to vinyl in protest.
It was 1966. The Beatles were the biggest act that ever was or ever would be. Even here in the middle of nowhere, folks were shimmying and head-bobbing to “Love Me Do” and “I Saw Her Standing There”. Then John Lennon had to let everyone know that he thought the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.”
That, to put it mildly, is not something that you say around here. The response was swift and incendiary. All across the American South, local radio DJs refused to play Beatles records and held “Beatles Bonfires”, inviting kids of all ages to come out and torch all of their Beatles records, pictures and memorabilia in a public conflagration.
It didn’t end there though. The DJ at the Longview rock radio station KLUE sponsored and directed a Beatles Bonfire right here in town. The next day, a sudden late summer storm flared up and a bolt of lightning struck the broadcast antenna of KLUE, frying most of their equipment and sending that same station manager to the hospital.
Cosmic justice? Probably not. After all, assuming that the lightning strike was divine retribution goes against everything that Lennon said in the first place.
But, if you’ve ever rocked out the the Beatles in your pickup and watched storm clouds roll in over the horizon, you have to admit that an errant lightning bolt is just a bit creepy, even if it was deserved.
At the very least, the photographs of the Beatles Bonfire phenomenon are truly eerie. Enjoy, nowhere wanderers.
Fire is, and always has been, fascinating. It scares us as much as it serves us. When fires rage out of control, we can be reduced to an almost powerless state.
I think that the unpredictability and power of fire is one of the reasons that the crime of arson is so heinous. In 2016 alone, 17 potential cases of arson have occurred in Longview, with 13 of them occurring in the span of just a few weeks. There’s a chance that these fires are tied to a local gang and that association takes the case much deeper.
Some gang members are associated with a local record label which released a viral music video, while members of the gang were being picked up for weapons violations.
How deep does this connection go? What is the reason behind all these fires?
Sharing a town with firebugs can be a frightening thing. Tune in to learn more about these unsolved arson cases.
UPDATE 21 September 2016: On August 26, the Longview News-Journal released a very brief article online stating that “several suspects” had been arrested in connection with arson incidents in Longview. No suspects were named and the article stated that law enforcement officials were investigating suspects who were already jailed on other charges. In addition, the police department is waiting on several grand jury indictments to be returned before proceeding. The Longview Fire Marshal claimed that tips from local residents assisted in the investigation. The article did not specify which cases of arson were associated with the suspects but it’s still early in the investigation. I’ll post more updates as I find them.
It’s been said that people go missing all the time. According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, 90,000 people are missing at any given time in this country. Where do they all go? How many make it home?
These questions bother me. I’m sure we’ve all known someone who disappeared from our lives suddenly. A co-worker who stopped showing up for work. A friend who took off with a new partner to the other side of the country. Have you ever wondered if those people were taken or led astray? I don’t think that’s as morbid as it sounds. After all, these things happen and they happen everywhere.
They happened right here, in Longview, in the middle of Nowhere almost exactly 10 years ago. Brandi Wells was last seen leaving a popular nightclub just after midnight in August of 2006. She hasn’t been seen since.
But the case didn’t stop there. Her car was found five days later. Three separate men were caught using her cell phone after her disappearance. Then, over three years later, her mother received a mysterious phone call from a man claiming to know where Brandi lived.
Despite all these leads, the case remains unsolved. No one, at least no one who is looking, seems to know where Brandi Wells is. Her case has been featured on national crime shows and now, 10 years later, the local paper is printing her story on the front page.
People are still looking for Brandi Wells. I don’t know if she will ever be found but I hope, for her family’s sake, that the truth comes out. The middle of Nowhere is a lonely place, we need to keep our friends and loved ones close.
Tune in to this episode of the Dispatch to learn about this mysterious disappearance.
I’ve always wondered that. What exactly drives someone to give up their identity to be assimilated into a new group? Loneliness? Fear? Boredom?
I don’t have the answers to those questions but my friend Adam and I sat down to talk about cults anyway. Adam brought up this topic when he found out about a strange Russian cult that worships (of all things) Gadget from the Rescue Rangers. Now, that sounds weird, and it is. Even so, a group of folks, albeit a small group, has banded together with a common cause that many others would find entirely strange, even a bit creepy.
Of course, there are far creepier cults out there. Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Marshall Applewhite and Heaven’s Gate. Ol’ Chuck Manson and his kooky acid-munching murderous followers. I honestly don’t understand how those people could look at themselves objectively and not reach the conclusion that they were part of a mind-bending, reality-denying train that was speeding towards destruction. Then again, maybe they did and they just weren’t allowed to leave.
Whatever the case, cults are entirely fascinating. Here in Longview, there have been rumors and jokes since I was a kid about the Longview Baptist Temple, or LBT. (Affectionately mocked as “Lettuce-Bacon-Tomato”.) I heard stories about their bizarre behavior as a kid and a teenager. For example, I heard that they locked the doors to the sanctuary during services so that no one could leave, not even to go the bathroom. On the episode, Adam shares some truly creepy tales about the way that this so-called bus ministry tried to snag new recruits.
As we state on the podcast, we are in no way insinuating that Longview Baptist Temple is any type of cult. For all we know, they’re just a standard Baptist church with some weird practices. That’s not really the point, though. The point is the story. We always heard tales as kids that really creeped us out. And that’s what this podcast is all about. Weird, creepy local stories. Every town’s got ’em. And this is one from my town.
I hope you enjoy our discussion. Does your town have any local cults? You might be surprised, especially if you live in the middle of Nowhere.
This summer has burned. Literally and metaphorically. We’ve seen innocent people murdered in the streets and the tally of the dead continues to grow. Racial anger and the violence that it engenders is a massive problem that we, as a society, have refused to acknowledge for a long time.
But it’s not a new problem. Right here, in the heart of Longview, we have witnessed this struggle before. In the hot, reckless summer of 1919, the entire country was wracked by a spasm of anger, as whites and blacks battled for equality, decent jobs and fair pay.
Sometimes, that struggle ended in bloodshed and burned houses. That’s how it went down in Longview.
In July 1919, Longview erupted. People were murdered for the color of their skin and their attempts to make better lives for themselves.
Our current summer in the dread year of our lord 2016 is not so very different.
If we can talk about the things that are killing us, maybe our fellow citizens can stop dying in the streets.