(The State Asylum)
Published by CCA Media
Cape Cod, U.S.A.
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: The Dreamer
: The Breezeway
: Grader’s Revenge
: The Wall Walker
: Seeking Cannabelle
: The Sea Captain
: A Ray of Hope
: The Hug and Drug Killer
: The Scariest Town in the U.S.A.
: Across the Border
: Getting Poison Ivy
: The Prison-Box
: Finding de Calva
: The House by the River
: The Asylum Today
: The Asylum Refuses to Die
Chapter One: The Dreamer
At first the monster was weak. A figure more of shadow than substance, it came only in bad dreams separated by spaces of weeks at a time. It was humanlike, but ugly – like a faded rock singer with long, greasy, mottled hair touching its bony shoulders.
When the dreams increased in intensity and became full blown nightmares with no spaces between them, the ogre devolved into a solid, foul-smelling behemoth.
Its face, hidden behind an obscure sepia mask, was lit only by two bloody, fire-like circles where the eyes should have been. Its hands were clad in rigid, bumpy, alligator skin ending in sharp claws where before there had been fingers.
With each sunset the dreamer was more panicked, hopelessly awaiting, but equally dreading the nocturnal visit of the demon. In daily increments the thing edged ever closer, its drooping claws splaying out like a screaming sea-eagle ready to pierce the flesh of a defenseless fish.
“Yewk. Yewk. Yawk. Cherawk, Yawk, Yew, It’s you,” rasped the beast, its foul words saturated with fumes of putrid breath. The claws of the brute stretched to within a hair-width of touching the quivering, terrified man who answered the fiend’s cries with his own – “Arrrrgh. Help me! Ahhhhh! Get away!!! God help me! Somebody help me! Please. Arrgh.”
The neighbors did not leave their beds to lend support – nor did they arrange palliative care for him. But they did help him, in a way. They had him committed!
Angered at being awakened by the terrible screams in the middle of the night, every night for weeks, several people from the surrounding homes took action by calling the superintendent of the Taunton State Asylum for the Insane.
Under a full moon and chained to a gurney, the dreamer, James Wilkes, was carted off to a padded cell without a hearing and with no recourse.
A stranger to New England might wonder how Mr. Wilkes could have been incarcerated in an insane asylum without being a criminal and without being insane!
Ah but he did commit a crime – disturbing the peace. In Massachusetts in the 20th century, men and women were sent away (sometimes for life) for even lesser crimes than this.
Once behind the sturdy brick walls of the ‘hospital’ and its hundreds of secluded acres, all inmates were treated equally – equally bad!
A person whose offense was perhaps no more than being considered ‘a little slow’ might be confined at close quarters with the most infamous murderers of the day.
Perhaps the worst punishment an inmate could suffer in the asylum was to have “Cannabelle” for a room-mate.
Chapter Two: Cannabelle
One of the most feared dwellers of the asylum, Annabelle Parsons, was convicted of killing and eating more than two dozen people. Certified as a “Lunatic”, she escaped the hangman’s rope and was confined to the state hospital. A reporter for the Taunton Daily Chronicle dubbed her “Cannabelle’ and the nickname stuck with her for the rest of her life.
In her early 20s, sickly and ravaged by tuberculosis, she developed an appetite for eating human meat after reading a series of ‘scientific’ articles claiming the ingestion of homo sapien flesh produces wondrous health benefits and prolongs life.
Whether it was her cannibalism or the exercise regimen she began when she started her murdering ways, her ‘Consumption’ lessened and her constitution was markedly strengthened. She became a robust, healthy woman – more so with the ‘consumption’ of each new victim.
Taunton police began to suspect Cannabelle’s involvement in the disappearance of a number of local residents and visitors to the city. She was using her home as a rooming house and some of the victims were her boarders.
One evening just as she was about to make a fresh kill, the authorities broke into her quarters. She had slipped a ‘mickey’ into a glass of beer and served it to one of her guests. When the man fell unconscious she plugged his nose with corks and his mouth with an apple and patiently waited for him to suffocate. She was eager to begin her favorite job – gutting and butchering her prey. Luckily for the victim, the police arrived before he succumbed.
Cannabelle was shackled to a stretcher and transported to the asylum. According to the Chronicle reporter, John Grady, the authorities were astonished when they pried opened her locked pantry and found four dozen mason jars full of pickled human fingers and toes, neatly stacked in rows, plus large quantities of jerked human flesh in cloth sacks.
It took less than four hours for the vicious woman to make her mark of horror at the asylum. When Nurse Maggie Chappell and orderly Curt Martin entered the padded cell with her supper meal, they thought they were safe because Cannabelle was tightly bound in a straightjacket.
As Nurse Chappell held out a forkful of food, Cannabelle turned her head and slowly opened her mouth, revealing a dazzling set of white teeth filed down to razor sharp daggers.
Instinctively recoiling, the nurse drew her hand back – but not fast enough. Cannabelle’s head flew like the lash of a whip, tearing into bone and flesh, biting off three fingers at the second joint.
While she was greedily chewing the fingers, the orderly walked towards the ferocious inmate and backhanded her across the face – only to have his fingers similarly munched off in a split second of agony.
Four more victims lost pieces of themselves to the cannibal woman before the superintendent contacted the Raynham Iron Works and placed an order for a special metal mask that was fabricated and delivered in just two days.
After Cannabelle lost consciousness from a sedative secreted in her evening meal, two orderlies clamped the mask on her face. Covering her securely from nose to chin, it was padlocked in back.
Painted glossy black, the iron mask had a small white image stenciled in front where the mouth would be – a picture of a skull and bones across, the universal signal for poison or danger. One of the black spots in the in the skull was actually a small hole, big enough for a straw – but just barely.
The superintendent of the asylum decreed that never again would Cannabelle have flesh of any kind, or any solid food. Her sole sustenance from that day forward was to be liquid, which she would suck up through a straw pushed through the tiny opening in her iron mask.
Cannabelle thought that the ‘straw diet’ was the ultimate torture. Later she would find that there were far worse things in the Taunton Asylum than liquid starvation.
Chapter Three: The Breezeway
James Wilkes awoke when the first blades of the dawning sun stabbed through the immense floor to ceiling windows of a Breezeway connecting two residential wings of the asylum.
As the effects of the sedatives given to him began to wear off, he noticed that his bed was one of about two dozen lined up in a drafty, unheated circular hallway.
All the beds were occupied by haggard looking patients still sleeping deeply from whatever potions had been given them. Wilkes later found out he was in a temporary area for new arrivals. As space in the overcrowded hospital became available, the patients were switched to dormitories or in some cases, private or semi-private rooms.
An orderly makes up the beds in the temporary section.
He moved his right arm – but something was holding it down. After attempting to move his left arm with the same result, James Wilkes realized he was bound hand and foot to the bed-frame.
He tried to recall what happened. The dream. The monster. He had just awakened from the nightmare when a group of people dressed in white exploded into his bedroom. They held him down while a nurse as big as a tackle on the Boston Patriots football team, jabbed his arm with a needle. He knew virtually nothing of what took place between then and waking up in the crowded hallway.
The occupants of the other beds began to stir. Most were bound just as he was. A few were unencumbered. Wearing faded gray hospital pajamas they rose from their bunks, pacing back and forth.
Three men came close to his bed, looked at him, and silently walked side by side to the massive windows. Peering out for a time, they turned and walked back to the beds. After standing mute for a few moments they repeated the trip to the windows. The patients peered out at the well trimmed lawns surrounding the hospital complex for a moment and once again turned around and walked back to the wall of temporary beds.
“Excuse me. Can anybody tell me where I am?” Wilkes asked, lifting his head in the direction of the walkers.
The trio walked slowly toward him. One man spoke, “Is this your first time here?”
“I don’t even know where ‘here’ is or how I got here!”
“That means you were committed. This is the State Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Somebody put you here. Who hates you? Is it your wife?”
“I’m not married and I don’t think that anyone hates me although I’ve been having nightmares lately and the neighbors complained about it to me. Bur surely that can’t be it.”
“Oh yes it can. If they knew who to call, they could get you committed for playing your radio too loud.”
Later, white suited attendants came, removed the restraints and herded the patients to a dining hall where they were served plates of pallid scrambled eggs, some kind of mystery meat, toast with no butter, and weak coffee.
Wilkes had little appetite for the scant, unappetizing meal. He pushed the food around the plate for a moment or two without eating any of it.
“If you don’t want that, slide it on to my plate,” said a tall rangy man seated next to him. When James did not answer, the gaunt, bald man with a long, flowing grey beard picked up his own empty plate and swapped it for Wilkes’ full one.
A moment later an orderly came to get him and commented:
”Mr. Wilkes you ate all your food! That is a very good sign and I’ll make sure the Director hears about it. Come along now. You have an appointment with Doctor Mal.”
He was taken to a large, well furnished office. Overstuffed couches lined the walls, with expensive paintings hanging above them. Wilkes was instructed by the orderly to sit in front of a sturdy oak desk that had nothing on it but two rectangular wooden containers with stacks of typewritten sheets of paper overflowing from them. One box was marked “in” and the other “out”.
Saying nothing, the man behind the desk reached for the “in” box and pulled out a sheaf of papers bound together by a paper clip.
“This is quite a file you have Mr. Wilkes. Fifteen pages of information and you have only just arrived! This is most troubling. I think yours is a very serious case, although there is a paragraph here in your favor. Igor, the orderly notes that you ate all your breakfast. This is most encouraging! By the way, I am Doctor Mal, the Director of the hospital. You will be in my care until such time as you are cured or for the rest of your life – whichever comes first!”
The old doctor howled with laughter and continued. “This was a little asylum humor Mr. Wilkes! But you did not laugh. This is not a good sign! I’m convinced humor is sometimes the best cure for diseases of the mind.”
To say the least, Dr. Mal was remarkable in appearance. He was not tall yet would stand out in any crowd, for his face was almost one hundred per cent obscured by a mane of snowy white hair that ran un-interrupted from the top of his head nearly to his waist. His full beard plunged past the belt of his pants, and his mustache looked like the twin tails of an albino fox!
It was as if someone pulled the shaggy white hides from a hundred fluffy angora rabbits and stuck them on a human face. There was no way to distinguish beard and mustache from the waves of wild hair that spilled down from the top of his head.
There was so much hair that the only facial features easily discerned were his eyes – and even the eyes were hard to find for their whites blended with the hair, leaving visible only the coal-black dots that were his pupils.
Chapter Four: Grader’s Revenge
The eccentric Doctor Mal dismissed James Wilkes after telling him that he was to be moved to a semi-private room and would be seen again in seven days for a weekly review.
His room was on the third floor of the first building in a chain of some 40 ornate structures built in the 1800s. The prevailing thought at the time was that pleasant surroundings would have curative value.
The asylum, from the South Side
Sadly, the interior of the hospital included a basement complete with inmates chained to the walls. The cellar treatment areas were in fact ‘torture chambers’.
The worst of all was the infamous “Operating Theater of ‘lobotomies’ where conscious patients had ice-picks driven from a point near the eye, through the bony skull and into the brain!
The lobotomy was considered a wonderful tool to cure many ills. The most famous victim to receive the barbaric treatment was one of the daughters of Joseph Kennedy, who made an illegitimate fortune selling liquor during the Prohibition days. Kennedy became famous in old age for being the father of John F. Kennedy, the 35th United States President.
There were many horrific things about the asylum, but Wilkes’ room was pleasant and airy. Its location on the top floor afforded an unrestricted view of the beautiful countryside surrounding the facility. To his right were lush fields with great rolls of fragrant, new mown hay placed next to tracts of corn growing higher than the heads of sleek horses running playfully in a corral close-by.
A pond filled with waters from the pure springs near the Hockomock Swamp shone like a cobalt blue jewel to the left. A paved hiking path circled the entire pond, affording the patients a peaceful walk of more than a mile. Park benches were placed on the stroll-way in strategic locations near shady trees.
Wilkes was told to stay in his room until lunch. Next to his bed was a padded chair which he sat in. It was between his bed and a four drawer bureau on the side wall.
Opposite him was the same configuration on the other side wall. Its seat was also occupied – by the same man who had eaten his breakfast. They spoke, each introducing himself. The man, Earle E. Grader, was a partner in one of the first computer companies. He was the ‘brains’ of the firm while his opposite number, a lawyer, took care of the business end.
In the early days of the company, the attorney suggested Grader sign what he called a ‘keyman’ agreement. The trusting Mr. Grader signed it without having it checked by a neutral lawyer.
“After the firm became wildly successful, my partner had me committed, and under the terms of that ‘Key Man’ provision, he got sole control of the firm. I’ve been here ever since.”
“That’s a sad story Earle. I think I may be in the same boat as you. I’ve been visited at night either by a real monster or by nightmares of a monster. I’m not sure which it is, but it frightened me so much that every night I wake up in terror and my screaming annoyed my neighbors so much they had me committed and I don’t know if I’ll ever get out.”
Jim Wilkes was not destined for an early release, but Earle Grader was – and it would be his computer skills that purchased his exit from the asylum.
The computer that Earle Grader invented was significantly ahead of the state of the art “IBM” machines of the early days of the computer age, and light years ahead of the puny 32k Apple 2 computers developed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple Corp.
The closest machine in quality to the ‘Grader’ was Commodore’s slick Amiga. It carried a low price tag of $500 and had a virus proof operating system.
Grader’s ‘OS’ also was virus proof, and its much higher price tag ensured that the company was extremely profitable, though the actual numbers of units sold was much less than the competition.
The asylum, like many public institutions at the time, used a motley assortment of antiquated computers, some of which were donated and all of which were balky and troublesome.
When a catastrophic crash of the entire system resulted in a total loss of data, the desperate head of the computer department turned to Earle Grader.
Earle repaired and upgraded the entire system and restored all the lost data. Given unlimited access, it took him only a short time to write some code that gave him his own release as well as commitment papers for his traitorous ex-partner.
Chapter Five: The Wall Walker
Though he liked Grader for a room-mate, Jim Wilkes was pleased to learn that it would be at least a week before a replacement was assigned. He believed the solitude would provide a restful mini-vacation.
Reading in bed on his first night alone, he started to feel sleepy though it was barely nine p.m. His eyelids were drooping and soon closed. The book fell from his hands. His last thoughts before sleep overtook him were of dreams.
He had not had any dreams or nightmares during the several months of his incarceration. The eccentric Dr. Mal informed him he was progressing well and might soon be released, as long as there were no setbacks.
Around midnight Wilkes stirred. Half awake he wondered, “What if my dreams went away because I had another person to talk to. Alone now, will they return?”
He went back to sleep until roused by the familiar cry of the demon: “Yewk. Yewk. Yawk. Cherawk, Yawk,”
“Yewk. Yewk. YAWK. CHERAWK, YAWK, YOU, IT’S YOU!” The call was louder now. James Wilkes opened his eyes and saw the thing walking on all fours. But it was not walking on the floor like a dog – it was walking upside down on the ceiling like a fly! Nimbly it crawled, its hideous hands and feet gliding along until it reached the wall, where it faded in and out for a few seconds, flickered, and became solid again.
The monster walked effortlessly down the wall to the floor and scuttled towards the terrified John Wilkes who clamped his pillow over his face to block the beast from view. It didn’t work. Somehow, even through the foam of the pillow he saw every detail of the foul smelling monstrosity.
The creature sprang up to the bed and perched next to his face. With one of its alligator-skin hands it hooked a sharp claw into the pillow and yanked it away, sending it thudding into the wall.
James Wilkes was certain his face would be the next thing clawed by the monster but instead, on fumes of rancid breath it whispered in clear English, “It’s not you!”
The sharp-clawed brute leaped down from the bed. Still on all fours, it scampered across the room. The thing was real and solid when it reached the door, but began to fade in and out. During a moment when it was barely visible, it walked through the solid oak door without opening it.
In the large interior hallway, orderly Ralph Frame looked at the wall clock above his desk. There were just five more hours until the end of his shift at six in the morning. The night was quiet and boring. His floor, the third, was one of the easiest to manage. All of patients save one were non-violent and most were trusties who never caused problems.
The exception was the murderess Cannabelle. But she’d make no trouble tonight because she acted up last night and was moved from room 312 to the padded cell by the elevator. Dr. Mal ordered restraints as well, so she was bound to a gurney hand and foot.
Though he had just checked it, Frame looked up again at the wall clock. He blinked his eyes hard four or five times and looked again. There was nothing there but the clock, yet a moment ago he had seen something. It looked like a man walking on the wall, but the image was almost transparent and only lasted a split second before seeming to go right through the wall and into 312, Cannabelle’s old room.
The patient in 312 was wide awake despite the late hour. She was still angry and upset at being forced to share a room with the most unpopular and deadly inmate in the facility. When Dr. Mal threatened to put her in the infamous basement torture chambers, she relented. She had been Cannabelle’s room-mate for a week.
The Wall Walker materialized just below the ceiling and started creeping toward her, but the patient in 312 didn’t scream. She was more fascinated than fearful. For the past several months, rumors percolated through the hospital, about a strange creature that walked on walls and ceilings while spying on patients.
Inmates described the thing as harmless; usually just walking across the ceiling, doing nothing more than merely watching them. Some said it had no face. A few described it as wearing a white suit, while others said it was naked but had no ‘private parts’.
What the patient in 312 saw, and later described to the staff, was a frightful creature with a face obscured by a dark mask of metal or perhaps rubber.
Two pools of fire were visible where there should have been eyes. The thing walked like a fly across the ceiling, its hands covered by thick, dark alligator-like skin. Claws as long and sharp as hunting knives sprouted from the places on its hands where there should have been fingers. The beast made no noise and though ominous in appearance, made no threatening advances.
“It just looked at me,” she said, “as if it were trying to memorize my face. Then it walked to the wall and started to fade out as it went through it, leaving no marks and no damage.”
Under questioning over the next week, Ralph Frame recalled in detail what he saw around 1:30 that morning.
“As I was filling out the reports for the morning shift, I saw for the second time, a glimpse of a nearly invisible thing that only slightly resembled a man. It materialized out of the wall of Room 312 and disappeared almost as quickly as I saw it. Over the next 30 minutes I saw the apparition several more times, walking across the walls and ceiling, darting from room to room as if it were searching for something.”
“I didn’t report it at the time because it was just too bizarre. I was afraid that if I told my superiors what I saw, they might think me unfit for the job. I thought that if I got them up in the middle of the night and they came here to investigate, but found nothing, I’d be in serious trouble.”
Chapter Six: Seeking Cannabelle
After leaving room 312 the eerie wall walker peered into the remaining 23 semi-private rooms on the floor, one after another. In each case, it crept up to the bed, studied the face of the sleeping inmate for a brief time and left, causing no harm or damage.
Moving faster, as if it had become impatient, the thing examined every closet, room, office and cubicle on the third floor. Its last stop was the padded cell next to the elevator, where Cannibelle slept.
“Yewk, yawk, yah, yah, you’re the one! yawk, yawk”
Hearing a strange voice that sounded half animal and half human, Cannabelle stirred and opened her eyes. She tried to rise, but couldn’t budge the full body restraints strapped on her after being moved from room 312.
She was able to turn her head from side to side, though the weight of the iron mask made it painful to do so. Even more painful was what she saw when she looked towards the top of the wall, near the ceiling where the sound was coming from.
In the light cast by a bare 60 watt bulb suspended from the ceiling, she saw an inhuman creature fly-walking, upside down. It scuttled along the wall and slowly advanced towards the gurney she was strapped to.
“Yewk, yah, yewk, yah, yah, you’re the one, yawk, yawk,” said the creature in a bizarre combination of guttural growls and actual words.
Cannabelle screamed as loudly as she could but her efforts did little more than hurt her own ears. The iron mask with only a tiny slit for a straw prevented the sound from being heard for more than a short distance.
She could shout as long as she wanted and nobody would hear. Even if somehow someone did, it’s unlikely that any staff member would come to the aid of Killer Cannabelle who lunched on the fingers of six staff members, after killing and eating at least 24 people before she was ‘committed’.
Cannabelle stopped struggling and looked at the creature. A swatch of metal or perhaps hard plastic, covered most of its face like a mask. Just as with her own mask of iron, there was no hole for a mouth or a nose.
There were eyeholes but the fiend didn’t have eyes – only two circles of fire, with smoke and blood spurting out like steam from a boiling hot geyser.
When it spoke, the sound burst through the flaming eyes, the words rushing along a path formed by a bloody, foul smelling spray gushing outwards.
The hands were the worst. Covered by bumpy, alligator skin, they ended, not in fingers, but in razor sharp, curved claws. The thing edged ever closer, its drooping dagger-claws splayed out like a screaming sea-eagle ready to pierce the flesh of a defenseless fish.
The spiky claws glistened in the light from the bulb hanging down from the ceiling. With a blood curdling growl, the beast slashed away at the heavy restraints binding Cannabelle to the gurney. Falling away like husks from steamed corn, the straps were quickly cut and Cannabelle was free, springing cat-like at the wall walker.
Unable to slash with her deadly teeth because of the mask, she used the Iron Mask itself as a weapon, ferociously head butting the beast. Under the unexpected siege, the wall walker backed off. Cannabelle, with amazing strength tore off one of the metal legs of the gurney and began bashing the brute with it.
The monster retreated further, its back now touching the wall. Scratching, kicking, and clubbing with the metal leg, Cannabelle felt better than she had in many months.
The wall walker received every blow without a counter attack until his back touched the wall. A low, rumbling noise traveled up the body of the brute all the way to its eyeholes, where it streamed out in the form of loud laughter riding atop a spray of bloody droplets.
“It’s my turn now,” roared the creature, snapping a quick claw strike to Cannabelle’s left bicep, tearing away most of the flesh and muscle covering her humerus, the long bone that runs from the shoulder to the elbow.
With her left arm hanging useless and spurting blood, Cannabelle lashed out with a right hand punch to the monster’s side, near where the kidney would be in a human. The punch did no damage and she never got a chance to throw another because the monster launched a new claw strike, stripping away the muscle and flesh from her right humerus.
Alternating with an endless flurry of rapid left and right strikes, the monster soon gutted and filleted the killer cannibal woman. Ignoring the almost two gallons of blood that formed a spreading puddle on the floor, the wall walker carefully picked up the pieces of Cannabelle and placed them on the white sheet covering the gurney.
The next morning when the orderlies went in to check on Cannabelle, they saw the floor, died red by drying blood. But that was nothing compared to what was on the gurney; a party platter of steak-sized slices of Cannabelle arranged in a perfect circle on the sheet with a large pile of bones in the middle. The bones were uniformly cut to the length of a straw.
An investigation by staff, local and state police, and the FBI found no clues about the identity of the killer. The authorities discounted the story of the woman in 312 and quickly discharged the orderly, Ralph Frame, charging him with drunkenness on the job.
There were no fingerprints at the scene but there were plenty of claw marks. Since Cannabelle was universally hated, the police speculated that one of the other inmates killed her. The authorities worked the case half heartedly for a week or two before giving it up as a bad job. They decided they really didn’t even need to find out who the killer was.
The Chief of the State Police spoke for all of the authorities when he said, “She was undoubtedly murdered by one of the other inmates. It doesn’t matter which one, because they’re all locked up anyway. Since the killer is already behind bars, so to speak, the case is closed.”
Chapter Seven: The Sea Captain
For reasons not explained to him, James Wilkes did not get a new room-mate. He was instead transferred to the Sauer wing and assigned to a new semi-private room. Wilkes reported to his new quarters on a Monday morning just after nine.
The man with whom he’d be sharing the room was sitting in a chair next to his bed. With an old fashioned quill pen he was writing feverishly in a notebook that lay on top of the bed.
“If you have a report for me shipman, deliver it quickly and leave, I’m too busy trying to find a way to save the boat to listen to any foolishness, so it better be important!”
“Excuse me sir,” said Wilkes tentatively “but I’ve just been assigned this room under orders of Dr. Mal.”
“Dr. Mal is not the ship’s physician sir and I don’t recognize you. State your business or I’ll call the watch and have you clapped in irons!”
“Dr. Mal is the head of this hospital,” Wilkes replied, “and he gave orders for me to share this room with you. By the way, who are you?”
‘Why I’m Captain Sumner of course and I must get this vessel back to Scotland. Who are you and how did you get on board?”
“You may have been a Captain, Captain, but now you’re just another inmate at Taunton State Hospital for the Insane. Welcome aboard,” said Wilkes bluntly.
The captain looked as confused as a two year child old trying to read a book. Putting his papers down, he rubbed his balding head as if to stimulate his memory.
“I remember now. They took my ship away from me. They said I was losing my mind. It’s not true of course, except that sometimes I do get confused.”
“We all do Captain, Taunton State Hospital is a confusing place. My name is Jim Wilkes by the way. I was put in here for having bad dreams.”
“Bad dreams? They can’t throw a man in a loony bin for having nightmares.”
“Actually they can. I’ll explain that later but first, tell me your story. How long have you been here?”
“I don’t know. I remember that our ship was sailing from North Carolina back to our home port in Scotland. The sailing was smooth until we got just past Wales. First we were becalmed. The sails were as still as a gravestone for three days. It was as if the ship were somehow glued to the same spot for 72 hours solid. That was bad but it got worse Jim.”
“What could have been worse?”
“Cloud cover my friend, cloud cover. We were totally socked in,” said the Captain gloomily. “Unless you’ve been a sailor you wouldn’t know that you cannot navigate if the sky is one hundred per cent cloudy. That was our situation for four solid days.”
“Did the weather clear on the fifth day?” Wilkes questioned.
“Not really but there was a tiny break in the clouds and somehow, perhaps by divine inspiration I invented a whole new system of navigation based on that one tiny reading. No such system had ever been successful before my discovery. We quickly got back to Scotland where I published my findings and became wealthy from the distribution of my “Celestial Navigation” books. Life for me was wonderful for a few years until they cheated me out of everything.”
“Who cheated you Captain?”
“My wife and her lover. They had me committed, saying that my mind was gone. They bribed the administrators of the hospital to go along with it. They came for me one day, chained me to a stretcher and brought me here, and here I’ve been ever since.”
“How long ago was that?”
“I don’t know for sure but it’s been a long, long time.”
Chapter Eight: A Ray of Hope
Due to Dr. Mal’s latest report saying he was improving rapidly, Wilkes was assigned to the care of a new doctor, Martin Starling, a recent Harvard graduate.
“Come into my office Mr. Wilkes,” said Dr. Starling, with a pleasant smile and a calming voice. Tall and lean, his brown hair was clipped close in a buzz cut, like a military man. “I’ll be speaking with you every week from now on and I promise to do my best to help you.”
Not as grand as the director’s suite, Dr. Starling’s second floor office was nonetheless impressive. It was airy, large, and well furnished. A huge oak desk, planted in front of a massive window stretching from floor to ceiling was the main feature. A pair of well-stuffed recliners on a side wall, were placed on either side of a mahogany coffee table.
“Don’t be put off by that big old desk,” counseled the Doctor, “I’m sorry to say, the builders of this hospital put much more thought into elegant buildings and offices than actual patient care. Let’s sit in the chairs, Jim. May I call you Jim?”
“Yes, yes. Of course, please do Doctor,” said Wilkes as he settled into the chair. At 57, he was balding but still trim, athletic, and attractive to women. He looked as though he’d do well playing on a men’s senior softball team, which in fact he sometimes did.
“Thanks Jim and while we’re in here, I’m simply Marty or ‘Doc’ if you prefer. I’ve read your folder and I’m very impressed with your career.”
“Thanks Doctor, I mean Marty, but it wasn’t really much; thirty years with my nose to the grind-stone is all.”
“In those three decades, starting as a teacher of Geography, you rose through the ranks, became a vice-principal, and won several awards. I’m pretty sure you were far above average in all respects,” complimented the young psychiatrist, who was also a medical doctor.
Right away Jim Wilkes felt at ease with this new situation and thought there was a good chance he’d get a quick release from the asylum, until the Doctor spoke his next words.
“Jim, I know you are not insane and you think you do not belong here, but you are very sick and you may be in the hospital for some time.”
“But I’ve never caused any trouble, you’ve seen my record, I am…..’
“It’s the dreams Jim,” interrupted Doctor Starling. “I’m sure you don’t realize it, but your nightmares were so intense that your screaming was heard for almost a mile in all directions of your house. The neighbors were concerned and frightened. After a while they called the police. When the officers drove their cruiser into your yard, they told the dispatcher that the shrieks sounded like they were coming from the gates of Hell. They said there were two voices, one human and one that sounded like a wild beast. The officers were the ones who got you committed.”
“I guess I didn’t realize it was that bad. But the dreams have almost stopped since I’ve been here. Except for the night Cannabelle was killed, I haven’t had any.”
“That alone may be reason enough to stay here Jim. The asylum may be helping to lessen the number of episodes. We need to find out why you’re having the dreams, before we can end them.”
For the rest of their first meeting, Dr. Starling tried to pin down exactly when the trouble started.
“Before you retired from your teaching job, you traveled the country during the summer vacations?”
“Yes, I’ve always been interested in people and places. I’ve visited just about every state in the union as well as Canada and Mexico. One year I did Europe in seven weeks! I love to visit new places, and this hobby of mine was a great help in my work as a teacher of Geography.”
“That’s one of the perks of teaching Jim. You have the whole summer to do whatever you want.”
“Most teachers aren’t that lucky Marty. They have family obligations and such. My wife died a few years after we were married and we had no children. She left me a little money and my expenses were low, so I was able to go pretty much wherever I wanted.”
“I think we’ve made a good start today Jim. Next week we’ll talk about the first time you had the nightmares and perhaps we’ll get lucky and find out why you started having them. By the way how do you like your new room-mate?”
“Captain Sumner? He seems like a brilliant man. I know he’s a bit forgetful, but how could they have stolen his money and his book rights, and gotten him declared insane? The poor guy’s been here a long time”
“You could say more than a hundred years Jim! Captain Thomas Hubbard Sumner really did invent an innovative navigation system and he really was committed to Taunton State Hospital. But Jim, he was sent here in the in the 1800s.”
“That’s impossible Doc that would make the man in that room close to 200 years old!”
“No Jim that would make the man in that room legally insane! Captain Sumner died in 1876!”
“So he’s just pretending to be the real Captain?”
“Think where you are Jim – Taunton State Hospital – the Asylum. I guess that poor man somehow just latched on to the idea that he was a famous ship captain of the 1800s. He’s been here for more than 10 years and has always maintained that he really is a captain who invented a new system of navigation. We have no idea who he actually is, but he’s harmless, unlike that new female patient. Have you heard about her?”
“No I haven’t heard anything about any new patients.”
“Well this lady is going to be very famous. I’ve got a whole folder of newspaper articles about her. I’ve heard that there are four or five books being written about her as well a few movies in production. Her name is Ivy – Poison Ivy. She earned that nickname by killing more than 100 people.”
Chapter Nine: The Hug and Drug Killer
The most famous resident of Taunton State Hospital would have been Lizzy Borden of Fall River, who is said to have taken an axe, and used it to give her father 40 whacks, and when she was done, give her mother 41.
While awaiting trial for the brutal murders, Lizzie claimed that she was held in Taunton State Hospital. In actual fact she was confined for ten months nearby, in the old Taunton jail on Hodges Avenue; but for reasons unknown, throughout the rest of her life she refused to admit that she never resided at the infamous asylum.
Taunton Police Station and Jail, circa 1900
Though Borden was found innocent by a jury in New Bedford, many people, even to this day, consider her a double axe-murderer and her false report of staying at the Taunton Asylum merely adds to the institution’s reputation for horror and the bizarre.
Illustrated newspaper – 1893, Lizzie Borden at her Trial in New Bedford
The most infamous person who actually was confined to the Taunton Asylum was Ivy Sutter, known as ‘Poison Ivy’ for her ambition to be the all time champion serial killer. Her horrible tally of a hundred victims did indeed make her the worst multiple murderer in history.
She has since lost her title to Luis, “The Beast”, Garavito of South America who slaughtered at least 140 boys. He was captured and convicted in 1999. He was not sent to an insane asylum, but to a general population prison, where he resides to this day, slowly serving out his sentence of 1853 years and nine days.
Like a lot of people, including Garavito, Ivy Sutter was unable to overcome a horrible childhood. While Ivy was still in infancy her mother died under mysterious circumstances. Though her father, a tailor of barely adequate skills, was suspected of involvement, he was never charged.
Scarcely able to feed and clothe himself let alone care for a child, he struggled along as best he could during the early 1930s, years of great poverty in the United States.
Little Ivy, an intelligent girl, helped her dad as much, or even more than could be expected of a four year old child. One afternoon, he sent Ivy on an errand to the store next door to his tiny shop. When she returned she found to her horror that her father was sewing: sewing his own eyelids together.
Carted away to the Taunton Asylum, he survived for three more years before bleeding to death in the basement torture chambers after a botched ice-pick lobotomy.
Right after her father was committed Little Ivy was dispatched to an orphanage and later, to a series of horrid foster homes where she suffered extensive physical and mental abuse over a ten year period.
Taking note of her innate intelligence, a well meaning official of the Welfare Department, procured a job for 14 year old Ivy at the Whittenton Hospital, not far from the Asylum. The work was hard, consisting of floor scrubbing, changing bedpans, lifting patients, and other menial chores.
Within months, Ivy’s personality underwent a dramatic change from sullen and quiet to outgoing and pleasant. Her emaciated frame quickly filled out, revealing an attractive young woman whose presence had a notable and positive effect on patients.
Promoted to Nurse’s Aide, young Ivy showed a great deal of promise in her work, especially with the most severe cases. A little more than six months later, the director of the hospital summoned her to his office and offered to enroll her in the institution’s nursing program.
Delighted, Ivy accepted and fully applied herself to her studies. After a year, near the top of her class, she was given regular nursing shifts. Her teachers were impressed with her abilities in the hospital as well as with her work in the classroom. The only criticism they had, and it was a mild one, was her fascination with autopsies. She never missed a chance to assist in the grim work of dissection, and was occasionally seen caressing the cadavers.
At the beginning of her second year as a student nurse, Ivy claimed to be baffled when two of her patients died under mysterious circumstances. After a third person expired similarly, she was quietly dismissed from the nursing school without a certificate.
Fearing bad publicity that might hurt the institution’s prestige as well as its finances the director didn’t file a report with the police, but was convinced that Ivy was responsible for the deaths. In his private journal he wrote:
“She is obsessed with autopsies and has been observed embracing corpses in the same manner a woman might caress a lover. Further she seems to have been experimenting with morphine, using her patients as lab animals by alternately diminishing and increasing dosages to see the effects of the drug. It was reported to me, that she was observed lying in bed with her victims as they died. Since the patients were seriously ill to begin with, it would be difficult to prove Ivy guilty of murder. The best thing I can do is discharge her from her duties and from the nursing school.”
Lesser girls might have been set back by the dismissal but the resourceful Ivy simply forged herself a Nursing Certificate, using forms she previously pilfered, and began a decade long career as a private nurse.
Her first job was the care of a wealthy old man in a nursing home. The facility was a good one and well staffed, but his family wanted the additional security of a personal private nurse on duty 24 hours a day. Ivy was given a room adjoining the 93 year old man’s and was instructed to take over his nutrition as well as his medications.
Under her gentle ministrations the old gentleman rallied and was much improved for several months. His grateful relatives gave Ivy generous bonuses.
One evening near the end of her fifth month of employment Ivy told her patient that she had a special surprise for him.
“I’m just going to adjust your medicine a tiny bit to make you more comfortable,” she said, hanging a secondary bag of fluid just below his primary drip. As the new fluid combined with the contents of the primary bag, a look of extreme pleasure crossed the patient’s face.
“I feel wonderful – better than I have in 40 years. What’s in that bag?”
“Just some new medication I got especially for you dear. Now the rest of the surprise, I’m going to lie down beside you to keep you nice and warm.”
Pulling back the covers she crawled into bed with the frail old man and hugged him tightly for several minutes, until he lost consciousness.
“Oh no, we can’t have you going so quickly,” Ivy said, jumping up from the bed and turning off the secondary drip, which contained 800 milligrams of morphine – enough to kill 13 average sized men.
Returning to the bed she began rubbing the old man’s cheeks, massaging his hands, and then directing her ministrations to his back. Dropping still lower, she groped his pelvic area, before sliding her supple hands to the front of his pajamas. When she began stroking the 93 year old man’s private parts, his cheeks flamed, his breathing quickened, and he opened his eyes.
“Oh you’re back,” she gushed, “I was afraid you left me. It’s too soon dear,” she stated. Getting up to readjust the drips, she reopened the flow of the secondary bag.
For nearly an hour Ivy played her game of ‘hug and drug’ – taking the old man to the doorstep of death and then dragging him back to life. Finally, she opened the secondary drip as wide as possible and the aged man breathed his last.
Removing the secondary bag and hiding the evidence, she rushed to the front desk to file a report claiming that her charge died of natural causes, peacefully in his sleep.
Ivy wasn’t questioned after the death, nor was she suspected of foul play after five more of her patients died in mirror fashion. Emboldened by her success Ivy strove for bigger things – more plentiful opportunities to kill.
She applied to and was accepted at one of the most prestigious hospitals in Boston, the capital of Massachusetts, and the largest city in New England.
As many as 60 patients succumbed to the ‘hug and drug’ killer during her three year spree at (name redacted) Hospital, one of the nation’s most modern and advanced medical facilities. As always, the crafty Ivy was so skilled in her horrid work, that there was never any direct evidence to link her with the deaths.
There was however increasing suspicion. Looking for a way to quietly dismiss her, the director of nursing began tracking exactly how much medication was being administered to Ivy’s charges.
In a move that was uncommon in the early and mid 1900s, Ivy was terminated for ‘recklessly overprescribing opiates’. In the 2000s there have been a number of medical people similarly disciplined, but in Ivy’s day it was virtually unheard of.
Once again Ivy escaped criminal charges and there was no public record of her misanthropy to harm her chances of continued employment as a nurse.
Steering clear of public institutions for the next three years Ivy went private. She played it safe for a while, taking only patients that were already in end-of-life situations. This allowed her to play ‘hug and drug’ with absolutely no questions asked when her victims expired.
After another 15 or 20 murders Ivy grew restless and once again desired multiple kills, instead of mere singletons. She moved to tiny Eastham on outer Cape Cod, where she was convinced that the lack of a nearby hospital would make her work easier.
She soon found a wealthy family that traced its roots and fortune to the whaling industry of Cape Cod’s glory days. She moved in with the Crosby family at their summer home, an immense three story mansion overlooking Cape Cod Bay.
While sunning herself on First Encounter Beach on a hot July afternoon, Ivy concocted perhaps her most evil plan. She was hired primarily to take care of old Nate Crosby, whose ‘consumption’ was so severe he was not expected to last a month. Ivy fell in love with Cape Cod and decided to fix it so that she could stay on the pretty island for as long as possible.
Surprising everyone, the 83 year old patriarch improved dramatically under the ministrations of the pretty and perky nurse, Ivy Sutter. The happiness of the household was cut short when Mr. Crosby’s much younger wife died suddenly of a virulent stomach ailment.
Just after Mrs. Crosby’s funeral, her three young children from a previous marriage also contacted the mysterious disorder and they too perished.
As for Ivy, she was thrilled with her success. Instead of the old ‘hug and drug’, her mainstay for years, she was now killing with arsenic, the substance that would earn her the nickname, “Poison Ivy”.
In the face of all the heartbreak in his mansion, the old fellow, Nate Crosby was in resurgence. He left his bed, was taking walks, and looked ten years younger. Despite his sadness at losing his family, he had a new interest in life – his shapely young nurse.
In six months time wedding bells rang for Ivy and old Nate. Three months later, funeral bells tolled for the poor fellow when he perished from ‘hug and drug’.
As it turned out, that was Poison Ivy’s last stand. The surviving members of Crosby’s family, including the grown children from his first marriage, brought in medical experts from the Boston Hospital where Ivy had murdered 60 people.
They couldn’t prove anything in the old man’s death because ‘hug and drug’ done right, is almost foolproof; but when they exhumed and autopsied the late Mrs. Crosby and the children, the experts found solid evidence that they died from contact with Poison Ivy.
Under questioning by Cape Cod police, Ivy cheerily admitted her crimes. Giving details of dozens of her murders she proudly stated, “I want to be the greatest serial murder of all times.”
Ivy was arrested and formally charged with four murders. In Taunton Superior Court she was found innocent by reason of insanity and sentenced to confinement for life in the Taunton State Insane Asylum.
Chapter Ten: The Scariest Town in the U.S.A.
“Sit down Jim,” said Dr. Marty Starling as Wilkes entered the doctor’s office for his weekly session. “How’ve you been? Any problems, any dreams?”
“No Marty, none at all. I can honestly say I feel great.”
“That’s good news. Sometimes these issues go away on their own but we’ve still got work to do. We need to find out when and why the nightmares started.”
“You told me to give that some thought and I have. I’m sure that my last trip to Mexico was where and when it all began.”
“Did you go there during a summer vacation?”
“I did make a few visits to Mexico when I was teaching, but this particular trip was after I retired. When I was working I had to travel in the heat of summer, but this time I was able to go in the cooler weather.
My plan was to drive from Massachusetts to Arizona, where I’d spend a week or two in a wild-west town called Bisbee before crossing into Mexico. Have you ever heard of Bisbee Doc?”
“It’s an old mining town in the surrounded by mountains, I believe.”
Phillip Capper’s photo of downtown Bisbee, with the part of the Mule Mountain Range in the background – Wikipedia.
“That’s true. Bisbee was a gold rush boomtown. After the mines played out the town shrunk from more than 10,000 people down to about half that. Though the population changed, nothing else did. Today, it still looks the same as it did about a hundred years ago in the mid 1800s.
Except for the cars on it, instead of horses; Main Street is still like a Wild West city, complete with saloons, dancin’ girls, pool halls, and barroom brawls.
Visitors commenting about the quirky community on the Mexican border say… “Bisbee is the highest town in America, and not just for the elevation!”
Bisbee’s Main Street, as shown in Willijay’s photo on Wikipedia.
Most people who tour the town are impressed by its frontier persona, but I had a different feeling right from the start. Partly it was the Christmas Lights.
I got there in the middle of October, arriving about seven o’clock at night. There was nobody on the streets. No cars and no pedestrians. It seemed like the town was deserted, but there were Christmas lights blazing and twinkling everywhere. They were strung across the roadway, wrapped around windows and doors, wound around phone poles and draped over the outside stairways. The whole village looked like one giant Christmas Tree, but there was not a soul in sight.
Tired from twelve hours on the road, I looked for a Motel Six or similar hotel, but there were none. Not a single Holiday Inn or a Ramada. There was just one lodging place – a hotel in the center of town, called the Copper Queen. It looked like it was just built yesterday, as long as yesterday was sometime in October around 1880!
The Copper Queen Hotel, Main Street,
Photo by James Scott, Wikipedia
I parked my car and walked up the steps to the entrance of the hotel, braving the October Christmas lights which by now seemed much more eerie than cheery.
After I opened the front door and walked inside I was sure it actually was 1880 all over again. Behind the front desk were dozens of pigeon hole boxes like you see in old movies – for mail, keys, and messages to hotel guests. There wasn’t a single person in the lobby, and not a sound interrupted the total silence that enveloped the dimly lit room.
An ominous looking man who seemed even older than the hotel stood mute and unmoving behind the reception desk. I wasn’t even sure he was alive until he slowly turned his head, looked at me with glaring eyes and said, or at least I think he said, “There is no room for you here.”
I’m not an especially brave man Doctor, but I’ve never run from a fight in my life. And yet when that old man spoke to me in his icy voice, I felt the temperature drop 20 degrees in two seconds. Shivering, I wheeled about and sprinted down the steps like a race horse, got in my car, and headed for Mexico as fast as I could.
Chapter Eleven: Across the Border
I don’t know to this day if that clerk in the hotel was human or a ghost, but I never looked back until I was safely in the industrial city of Agua Prieta, in the State of Sonora, Mexico. The city has about 100,000 residents, is fairly prosperous, and played a crucial role in the Mexican Revolution.
As soon as I hit the streets I saw right away that it wasn’t one of the cheap hang-out places that you hear so much about. There were no street peddlers selling knock-off watches, sunglasses or other paraphernalia.
After a quick look around, I felt tired and booked a hotel room. Before going up to my quarters I went to the duty free shop and bought a bottle of Scotch – Johnny Walker, Gold Label Reserve. I paid $19.00 for the bottle, which would have been at least $50.00 if I purchased it in Arizona. It was a great find. I’m not much of a drinker, but on the occasions I want a highball, I want the best. I expected the bottle would last my entire vacation. I certainly didn’t expect to be sharing it with anyone.
Outside the shop, was another great find – Jose, though I didn’t know it then. He looked just about like you’d expect a middle aged Mexican to look, dark hair, a well trimmed mustache, dungarees (also called jeans), and an un-tucked flower patterned, long sleeved shirt. He wore no jacket though the temperature was barely 50 degrees.
“Buenos dias Senor, I am Jose. I’ve lived here all my life and know the city better than anyone. I speak pretty good English. I love baseball and the United States. I’ll be happy to act as your guide to Agua Prieta. There will be no fee.”
“Thanks for the offer Jose, but I’ll be just fine on my own.”
“No Senor. I am afraid you will not be fine. Forgive me, but I noticed you coming out of your hotel and saw the danger you are in. That’s why I followed you here.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t have any trouble.”
“But you will Senior and it will probably happen later today. If you will walk back to the hotel with me I can prove what I’m saying. Even just being on the street in that neighborhood puts you in grave peril, but I’ll keep you safe. No charge, though if you’d care to offer me some of what’s in that bottle after the threat has passed, I won’t object.”
“I have no idea why Jose, but somehow I believe you. Yet I can’t imagine how I’m going to have a problem since the neighborhood looks fine and there’s a beautiful little church right next door to my quarters.”
Chattering on non-stop like a prisoner just let out of a month in solitary, Jose chewed my ear off all the way across town, telling me the history of the city as well as lurid tales of the upcoming holidays, Las Dias De Las Muertes, the Days of the Dead.
“You should be on the radio Jose, you tell a great story. Look, we’re passing a shoe store. I’d like to go in and see what they have for Western boots.”
Inside, an elderly man behind the counter, was assisted by two young boys, probably around eleven or twelve.
“Hola,” I said in my best Spanish, “Quiero compra some cowboy boots. TIene algo?”
I wasn’t sure exactly what I said and I’m still not positive it was right but the boys piped up instantly…
“Hello Senor. This is our grandfather’s shop. He doesn’t speak English, but he does have some great Western boots….”
“Thanks guys”, I interrupted, “but you’re speaking English and I’m trying to learn your language, so if you don’t mind, please talk to me in Spanish.”
The boys told me their home is in Arizona and were visiting with their grandfather for the holidays, and they wanted to practice their English with me. We compromised by speaking mostly Spanglish!
The grandfather showed me several pairs of high quality boots. As soon as he brought out an elegant black leather Concho style with a harness of silver, I said, “Those are the ones I want.”
The boots had a silver plate partially covering the toe, and a removable leather harness, studded with silver medallions. Previously, when I stopped in Tucson for a few days, I’d seen similar gear for over a hundred dollars.
My new friend Jose said something to the owner of the store, speaking so rapidly I didn’t get a word.
One of the boys smiled and told me….
“Senor, mi abuelo, my grandfather; says that the special price for you for these boots is one hundred pesos.”
“That’s it?” I questioned. “Only one hundred pesos? That’s just 10 dollars in American money.”
“Si, that is the special price for you. Our grandfather appreciates you trying to speak Spanish to him, without demanding that he attempt to speak English. He said you are a good representative of your nation.”
When we were outside I commented, “Jose, I think you had something to do with that deal I got, how about a little breakfast before we continue?”
“Yes Senor, I know a fine place.”
“Call me Jim.”
He led me to a cantina that was closed and I felt a little uneasy.
“Jose this is a barroom. I wanted breakfast and even if I did want a drink, the place is all shut up.”
“Wait a minute Jim,” he said, tapping on a window near the entryway. In a moment, a burly young man in an apron opened the door and told us to come in.
“Juan, I would like you to meet a good friend of mine, he is an American, and his name is Senor Jim,” said Jose.
“Buen day Senor. Pliz scuze. No speak English mucho good.”
In my best Spanish I told Juan that his English was a lot better than my Spanish. We talked back and forth for a time in a mish-mosh of both languages.
“Senor Jim is hungry Juan. Can you fix him a breakfast?” Jose asked.
Going to the kitchen Juan quickly prepared Huevos Rancheros – corn tortillas filled with eggs and a tomato sauce spiced with a hint of chili powder. On the side were frijoles (beans) and papas fritas (fried potatoes).
Juan brought my food on a steaming platter along with a pot of coffee, but there was nothing for Jose.
“What about my amigo?” I asked.
“Jose prefers something a little more substantial for his breakfast,” Juan reported.
“Whatever he wants, I’ll be happy to pay for it,” I said.
Juan went to the bar and came back holding a tray containing a 12 ounce bottle of Tecate Cervesa (beer) and a two liter bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila. Jose drank a huge swallow of the Cuervo straight from the bottle and washed it down with almost half the Tecate. Before long he needed another Tecate to help him wash down the rest of the Jose Cuervo.
It was almost one in the afternoon when we walked out of Juan’s Cantina – well, I walked; but Jose looked like a tightrope walker struggling to stay on the tightrope, even though in Jose’s case the ‘tightrope’ was a whole sidewalk!
“Don’t worry Jim, I’m fine,” he claimed as he stopped for a moment to anchor himself to a utility pole. “I’m okay – just a little woozy because I forgot to have salt and lime with my ‘breakfast’!”
“Speaking of breakfast, mine was great Jose. I’ve never had better. That was an unexpected pleasure, getting my greatest breakfast ever in a bar that wasn’t even open. I think I’m going to like having you for a guide my friend.”
After a minute or two hugging the pole, Jose declared himself fit for duty and resumed walking, much more steadily than before.
The afternoon was cool though there was a strong sun. Loud, vibrant mariachi music blared from the storefronts as we strolled along Main Street. Everyone was happy and most people waved at us and said, “Buenas Tardes Seniors”, (Good afternoon gentlemen) and we replied “Que no!” which means ‘yes isn’t it’, even though literally translated it’s something like ‘but no’.
The longer we walked the more I was convinced that Jose was a well meaning guy, but probably completely wrong about the danger factor. Passing the little white adobe church next to my hotel, I was certain I had nothing to fear.
I was fascinated by a shiny 20 peso Mexican coin I picked up somewhere and was flipping it up in the air when the church door opened.
The six men who walked out of the church were not Padres or even parishioners. Each one looked like his wanted poster would be in every town’s top ten. They all had long unkempt hair and scruffy beards. Their short sleeve shirts revealed arms so heavily tattooed that there was little skin that hadn’t been inked.
“Put that coin away right now!” Jose snapped.
“It’s only two dollars American money,” I protested.
“Many people in this city don’t see two dollars in a whole week Jim. Put it in your pocket now.”
I did as Jose suggested but it was too late. The six sour faced men looked at me and grinned. Like bulky linemen on an American football team, they advanced on me with evil intentions.
The biggest and most fearsome member of the crew was in the lead, with the other five lined up behind. Drawing a thin bladed knife from somewhere under his shirt, he held it chest high in front of him – “Your money Gringo! Ahora – right now! Give us a pocketful of dinero and maybe we don’t hurt you.”
“No. Senor! No. Momento! Por favor, escuche, listen to me!,” said Jose, jumping in front of me to plead with the thugs.
In rapid Spanish, most of which was too fast for me, Jose spun some sort of a yarn about me being connected with the powerful Patriarca mob in Rhode Island. Whatever tale he cooked up, it worked. The six punks grumbled, scowled, and slinked away without harming or robbing me.”
“Those men were from Los Malandros Prieta (The Agua Prieta Thugs) – the biggest and worst gang in the whole state. I convinced them that you’re from the Patriarca Gang of Providence, Rhode Island. They have heard of it and were impressed. They don’t want to risk a war with a crew from the States over the few hundred dollars they figured to get from you.”
“But why does the church allow them inside the…..”
“It’s not a church anymore Senor Jim. The parish was closed down and the gang took it over. It’s the headquarters for the whole club now. That’s how I knew you were headed for trouble.”
I thanked Jose for saving me and for his bravery. I offered him twenty dollars American and my bottle of Johnny Walker Gold Label Reserve. He quickly snapped up the Scotch, but refused to take the cash. I persevered and he finally accepted it with a smile on the condition that I allow him to return the next day and continue as my tour guide.
“No other way Jose! I will have it no other way. I’ll see you at nine tomorrow morning.”
Doctor Starling looked at his session timer and noted that the hour was expired.
“This is a fascinating story Jim, and I want to hear the rest, but we’re going to have to stop now. I’ll see you back here next week.
Chapter Twelve: Getting Poison Ivy
In the dining hall that night the buzz at all the tables, was about the asylum’s newest resident, Poison Ivy. Because she was not violent and had been a model patient since her admission, she was allowed to participate in various activities including mealtimes and recreational periods.
Ivy sat alone at a table, daintily eating her food. Her reputation was such that nobody was willing to sit with her. Nearly every other inmate stared, wondering how such a harmless looking woman could be responsible for so many deaths.
Though her appearance was calm and her looks were fair, the other patients, and the staff too, were unsettled, even fearful. Midway through the meal, a few asylum wits whipped up a poem about Ivy and first whispered it, and soon chanted it aloud….
“Beware of the Asylum called Taunton State,
and its most dangerous and feared inmate.
Poison Ivy is pretty and just as cute as a bug,
but she’ll kill you dead with a hug and a drug!”
Happily chanting along with it, Ivy smiled and seemed to wholly enjoy having a rhyme made about her – but the majority of the patients were in a near panic.
“She’s probably put arsenic in our food!” somebody wailed, prompting a dozen or more patients to throw their plates directly at Ivy, who ducked under the table. Soon the entire dining hall was in an uproar. Tables were knocked over. Fights broke out, people ran over each other trying to get out of the hall.
It took the orderlies and security staff an hour to get the ruckus sorted out. Eight people were injured and sent to the infirmary. Most patients were put back in their rooms, with their doors locked from the outside. A few were restrained in straight-jackets, some were forced into padded cells, and several particularly violent inmates were banished to the clammy basement where they were chained to the walls.
Of the hundreds of patients and staff, only Ivy seemed undisturbed by the mêlée. Gaining satisfaction from her ‘celebrity’, she was willingly led to her room where she stripped off her clothes and went to bed. Quickly falling asleep with a smile on her face, she looked more like Virgin Mary ‘The Madonna’, than ‘The Mad-Drugger’ the newspapers called her.
Ivy dreamed; a sweet reverie in which she was the Head Nurse at the world’s largest hospital. Sick and dying patients pleaded with her for a hug and she happily complied. Ivy dreamed that all of her charges died in a state of euphoria while she snuggled with them in their beds, a morphine drip tied above their heads.
Jim Wilkes also dreamed that night, his first nightmare in months. It began with the dim vision of a circle of fire above his head that split into twin discs of searing, yellow flame. The spheres developed blossoming red spots in the middle that transformed into tiny oceans of boiling blood, giving them the appearance of eyes set ablaze by Satan himself.
A wispy, dark cloud surrounding the devil eyes gradually assumed the shape of a face. The face, if it could be called that, was a grotesque lump of pseudo-flesh. Its burning eyes were perched above a black mask of rubber, or possibly metal, that shrouded its mouth and nose. Jim Wilkes wasn’t certain the beast even possessed those features, because when it spoke, the sound surged from the boiling eye sockets and floated out on a spray of foul smelling, boiling blood-drops.
Jim Wilkes looked to see if his room-mate was awake. Captain Sumner was sleeping soundly, and didn’t stir, not even when the beast spoke. Its words flew at Wilkes, streaming from the eyes of fire along a path of a foul-smelling, spurt of bloody bubbles…”Not you. Nargh, no, Nargher, never, never you.”
Rising to the ceiling, the unholy fiend fly-walked upside down to the wall where it started to fade in and out, almost completely dissolving, before walking through the solid wall to the interior hallway.
Making no attempt to hide itself the creature darted in and out of the walls, walking upon the ceiling of nearly every room on the second floor of the Sauer Wing. From the Nursing and Housekeeping Stations, it took a number of items, placing them in a white cloth sack.
The beast resumed its check of patients’ quarters, until it arrived in room 289, a private room housing just one inmate, Poison Ivy.
The seething fires in the monster’s eyes gentled down to flames as calm as a single candle. The devil-eyes fixed upon the sleeping form of the beautiful young woman. She appeared to be in her mid thirties, with long, jet-black hair, and a complexion the color of writing paper. Full figured and healthy looking, she was sleeping soundly, a smile on her face.
The beast scampered down the wall and crept silently to the bedside. With amazing dexterity it used its claws to scissor off a portion of the sheet covering Ivy. It repeated the procedure, slicing off a second section.
With the skill of a surgeon the monster used one piece of the sheet to fashion a tight, nearly soundproof gag on Ivy’s mouth. He wrapped the second piece securely around her head to serve as a blindfold. The creature pulled back the sheet and stuffed it into the cloth bag, exposing the woman’s naked body.
So delicate was the touch of the fiend that Ivy never stirred until she heard the sound of a man’s voice. It was a wonderful voice, as good as a movie star’s.
At first she thought it was all part of her lovely dream, but panic set in when she realized she was blindfolded and couldn’t see, and was gagged so that she could not scream.
“Just lie still and don’t fuss dear. I have a surprise for you. Don’t move. This will be the highlight of your life,” said the voice, sounding much like Alan Ladd, star of many films of the 1900s, including “Shane”, the ultimate American Western Movie.
Ivy pondered her situation and started to calm down. Becoming increasingly aroused by what she thought might turn out to be a romantic encounter, she relaxed and waited for the handsome man to make his move.
The beast opened the white cloth bag and withdrew a tripod with metal legs and set it on the floor. Reaching in the bag again, it took out a drip bag, tubing, and a bottle of 800 milligrams of morphine.
Filling the drip bag from the bottle, the thing with the eyes of the Devil, draped it over the arm at the top of the tripod and took a needle from the cloth sack.
Ivy felt the mattress sag under a new weight. He was getting into bed with her. She felt his caress on her shoulder. Her breathing quickened as his touch moved down her arm.
“Lie still dear, I’m going to give you something to make you feel better,” said the deep, clear voice that Ivy was certain belonged to a handsome, rugged man.
The movie star man put his arms around Ivy and held her tight, “Relax dear. Tonight you’re going to have the most thrilling experience of your life.”
She felt the stab of a needle in her arm. “That didn’t hurt did it dear? “I’m going to hug you now so that you’ll be nice and warm.”
Within seconds the first effect of the morphine hit Ivy and she writhed in agony. Spasms rocked her body. Her back arched as she convulsed and fell unconscious.
The monster released his grip and quickly turned off the Morphine drip. He spent 20 minutes reviving Ivy. When he was certain that she was aware of what was happening he spoke again,
“Oh you’re back dear,” gushed the voice of the man who sounded like Alan Ladd, the movie star, “I was afraid you left me. It’s too soon, I argh want yew to sfaffer suffer march much more beffaar yew die” he said, choking out the words as his voice changed from human to a guttural, beastly growl.
Getting up to readjust the drips, the thing reopened the flow of the secondary bag. Once again Ivy’s body reacted violently. Her last thoughts before she died were about the irony of it all. She had given a wonderful death to a hundred people by “Hug and Drug”. Now a man with the voice of a film star was killing her with “Hug and Drug” but she couldn’t enjoy it, because she was allergic to Morphine!
Poison Ivy was found dead in her room the following morning. An empty ‘I-V’ bag was hanging from a tripod next to her bed. There was no sign of forced entry, her door was still locked, and there was no indication of a struggle or foul play.
The local police ruled that Ivy committed suicide, taking her own life by the same means she used in the murders of a hundred people or more. The authorities discounted the reports of dozens of patients who claimed to have seen the Wall Walker of Taunton State in their rooms or in the hallways.
The Chief of Police summed up the death and the Wall Walker sightings in his official report:
“Nearly every inmate on the second floor of the Sauer Building claims to have seen a creature fly-walking on their ceilings and walls on the same night as Ivy Sutton’s death.
Even if they did see such a beast, they all agree that it caused them no harm, merely watching them for a moment and then fading in and out before disappearing through a solid wall. The hospital staff confirms that most of the patients in the institution are delusional, which is one of the reasons for their incarceration.
Ivy Sutter gave herself a taste of her own medicine.
Death by Suicide. Case Closed.”
Chapter Thirteen: The Prison-Box
“I had the nightmare again. It was the same night that Poison Ivy was killed,” Jim Wilkes told Dr. Starling at their next session a few days after Ivy was found dead in her bed.
“The police said that she committed suicide Jim.”
“But you and I know better Doc. The Wall Walker, the monster from my nightmares killed her and Cannabelle too. I didn’t want to believe it but I have to face up to it. Somehow the monster of my dreams is real and is connected to me. Maybe I’m responsible for the deaths.”
Wilkes told the doctor every detail of his nightmare including what the monster told him… “Not you, never you.”
“I agree with you that somehow the beast is bonded to you Jim, but we have to find out why. Do you have any idea?”
“Yes, it’s the Mexican trip I told you about. There’s more to the story. As you remember, I was in the city of Agua Prieta in late October. Jose, the man who became my friend and guide, told me about a fascinating national holiday celebrated in Mexico around the time of Halloween. It’s called El Dia de Los Muertos – the Day of the Dead. It’s a celebration that to an outsider might seem like Halloween because there are ghostly and ghastly costumes involved, as well as candy and food.
But the differences between Halloween and the Dia de Los Muertos are as vast as the disparity between a hill and a mountain range. In Mexico the Day of the Dead is a three day celebration involving everyone in the community, not just children on a treasure hunt for candy.
The festivities begin at sunset on All Hallows Eve, October 31st, when children fashion altars in their homes to invite the “Angelitos” (little angels/children who have died) to come back to life and visit them on the second day, November 2, All Saints Day.
On the third day, All Souls Day, November 3, the dead adults are encouraged to emerge from their graves and spend a pleasant 24 hours among the living.
Though most people celebrate the holidays as nothing more than a three day fiesta, there are some who cling to the old beliefs that on the Days of the Dead, the departed actually do come back to life.
Many cities have parades with elaborately costumed figures and beautifully decorated floats.
Photo by G. Mannerts, Wkipedia
A Ghost Train float designed for the “Day of the Dead Parade”
Designed and made by Museo de Arte Poplar, in Mexico City. Photo: Wikipedia
All Souls Day is a day of picnics attended by the adults of the community. Huge platters of food and drink are set out on long, makeshift tables in the middle of the graveyards. As the eating and drinking continues, the happy party goers sometimes actually believe their relatives have jumped out of the grave and are joining in on the lively party.
Jose and I attended one such fiesta in a cemetery just outside of the city. After about three hours of eating and drinking, mostly drinking, Jose wandered over to a grassy knoll and fell asleep.
Enjoying the relaxing afternoon of food and friendly chatter, I was deep into a conversation with a heavyset middle aged man in a white suit who said he had the most unusual job in the city, that of ‘Crypt-keeper’.
“That is a bit of an odd occupation but certainly not the most unusual,” I countered.
“Correct Senor, except that the crypt I keep is the most extraordinary place of its kind, not just in our city, but perhaps the whole world. It is the Tomb of the Cajas de Carcel, the Prison-Boxes.”
“Surely it isn’t the only prison in Mexico….”
“It’s not a prison senor, I said ‘Prison-Boxes’, in a tomb, deep under the ground”.
Curious, I pressed him for more information and he explained that the people buried in the main cemetery had bodies and coffins as would be expected, but there were no bodies in his crypt – only ashes.
“Cremation is not allowed by the leaders of our religion, but in the cases of notorious killers, we hang them and burn their bodies to dust. The Padres turn a blind eye to the cremation because they are certain the murderers went straight to Hell as soon as their necks snapped.
We take the pile of five or six pounds of ashes remaining, and lock it inside a wooden container we call a Prison-Box, a ‘Caja de Carcel’. We believe that as long as the murderers remain secured inside the ‘Caja’, they can never rise to commit another gruesome slaying.”
Over time we have developed a kind of a museum of horror from these boxes. Part of my job is to add a new box to the collection on those occasions when we capture and execute a new murderer. The main part of my work is ensuring the inhuman monsters do not escape their wooden cells during Days of the Dead.
It is time now for me to inspect the tomb,” he said, “perhaps you would like to accompany me and see it for yourself.”
I said I would and we set off on foot, walking to the perimeter of the cemetery and then continuing on for more than a mile until we reached the edge of a steep, grassy hillside. In the middle of the mound was a great arched door of heavy oak, surrounded by massive granite blocks.
“This is it senor, that door is the portal to the Tomb of the Cajas de Carcel, the Prison-Boxes. Inside are the remains of the most deadly and violent killers our nation has ever seen. Do you dare to enter?”
“You lead, I’ll follow,” I replied.
Producing a large iron key, he unlocked the immense brown door and started to open it.
“It’s too heavy senior. It seems to have sagged on its hinges since I was here last and is partly stuck in the earth. Can you help me?”
Together we tugged at the enormous russet portal and gradually got it open wide enough to go inside. A blast of cold air hit me instantly. It was at least 30 degrees cooler than outside.
The crypt-keeper located and lit a lamp and we began walking along a dank hallway of earthen walls, shored up occasionally by time-worn timbers. Sloping gradually downwards, the corridor continued for what I’d guess to be a quarter of a mile until we reached a windowless metal door. Producing a second key, the crypt-keeper unlocked it and we entered a frosty tomb.
After the keeper lit several lamps, I saw that the center of the room contained a table and four chairs as well as a four-drawer file cabinet. A typewriter and a thick stack of paper sat atop the table.
From floor to ceiling, the walls were lined with wooden pigeon-hole shelving, painted white. The individual storage spaces were about two feet square.
Most of the nests were empty but about one of every five contained a wooden box, about a foot wide and deep and six inches high. Each container had a name plate identifying the killer inside.
“Part of my job is to type out the information sheets that accompany each box but one.”
“May I pick up one of the cases?”
“Certainly, examine anyone you like, but I must warn you; No Abra – Do Not Open It!”
I picked up the box closest to me. It was surprisingly heavy, about the weight of a bag of sugar from the supermarket.
The ashes inside the box were those of a killer named Fernando de Calva.
“Do you know anything about this man?” I wondered.
“That’s de Calva,” replied the crypt-keeper and it’s interesting that you picked up that one to look at because he’s the only one who does not really belong here.”
“Why doesn’t he belong here?” I wondered.
“It’s a long story but let’s just say it’s because he was not hanged like all the others. He died in the crash of car.”
I can’t say why, but the box of de Calva’s ashes intrigued me. I held onto it tightly as I looked at some of the other cubby holes.
Each Prison-Box was accompanied by a typewritten biography sheet pasted onto an eight by twelve inch square of cardboard. In chilling matter of fact detail, the horrid crimes of each murderer were listed. Browsing through them was similar to viewing a car crash, you don’t want to watch, but you can’t stop yourself.
“There’s no information sheet for the box that I’m carrying.”
“I told you, that’s de Calva. He doesn’t belong here. If you’re interested in that box, why don’t you buy it from me? I don’t want him here.”
“Why? Isn’t he a killer like all the others?”
“He was a killer, but not like others,” the keeper responded. “For 1,000 pesos (100 American dollars), he’s yours.”
Without hesitation, I drew five twenties from my wallet and bought de Calvo on the spot. When I returned home, I put the Prison-Box on my desk in my home office.
I was fixated on that box. I looked at it for hours. I held it like a pet cat, walked around with it and even talked to it. I don’t know how or why but the box seemed to have power over me.
As the days passed, I thought about opening the container, despite the warning, ‘No abra – Do not open’. Finally one sleepless night, I resolved to unlock it and see what was inside. Pulling down all my shades, I turned off every light in the house save for the one at my desk. I locked all my windows and doors. I even pushed furniture up against the door of my home office so that no one could easily break in, or no ‘thing’ could easily get out.
Taking the box from its shelf, I cradled it like a newborn child and brought it to my desk. I sat down, put the box on the surface and stared at it for several minutes before grasping it, unlocking it and opening it.
I looked inside and saw….ashes! Only ashes. Five and a half pounds of ashes. I don’t know what I was expecting, a pair of glowing eyes and a ghostly face perhaps. A plume of smoke morphing into some sort of a demon maybe?
Just ashes, exactly what was supposed to be inside. Disappointed and suddenly very tired, I went to bed and immediately fell asleep. Sleep. Sound, peaceful sleep, until awakened by the monster from the box. That night I had my first dream, no – my first nightmare.
Though I shut the container and locked it the next morning, it was too late. The monster had left his Caja de Carcel, his Prison-Box, and was roaming free.”
Chapter Fourteen: Finding de Calva
Dr. Starling rubbed his head in a circular motion, as if moving his hand over the tiny shafts of his hair trimmed in a buzz-cut, might stimulate a thought or a solution to his patient’s problem.
“Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a ghost hunter! I hold a medical degree from Harvard in Boston and a degree in psychology from Bowdoin in Maine – a school whose graduates include President Franklin Pierce, the writers Longfellow and Hawthorne, as well as the researcher Alfred Kinsey; but nothing I’ve ever studied has prepared me for anything like this.
I don’t believe in ashes swirling around in the air and taking the form of a killer monster. I don’t believe people can rise up on the Day of the Dead and have a picnic lunch in the cemetery: and yet it appears that is exactly what we are dealing with. Somehow, by means and ways unknown, you’ve unleashed a demon from Hell and it’s going to be up to you and me to send it back.”
“How are we going to do it?” Jim Wilkes wondered.
“Don’t know yet. Where’s the Prison-Box now?”
“It must still be back at my house on my desk where I left it, unless someone has gone in and moved it.”
“The first thing we have to do is get that box and somehow coax the demon back inside. Once we have it safely locked up, that should be the end of it.”
“How can I do anything while I’m locked up inside of Taunton State?”
“That’s going to change tomorrow Jim. I’m releasing you effective at nine in the morning.”
“You can’t do that! Crazy old Dr. Mal will chain me to the walls of the basement and you’ll be lucky to get a job as a medical assistant at a village in the Yukon.”
“Don’t be so quick to judge Dr. Mal. I grant you that he’s an oddball Jim, but he’s a very skilled psychologist as well as a fine hospital administrator. Under his watch there have been vast improvements here, as you should be able to attest. We haven’t done too badly by you.”
“I meant no offense Doc. And yes, I’ve been treated very well. I wouldn’t have survived on the outside. Even though the creature isn’t after me personally, I would probably be dead now, if not for you and this institution.”
“The other thing is this Jim,” said Dr. Starling, “I’m in charge now. Dr. Mal has accepted an immediate appointment to a government commission studying ways to improve the nation’s mental hospitals and he recommended me as his successor.”
“Congratulations Marty, that’s fantastic. I mean congratulations, Director Starling!”
“No, I’m still Doc or Marty to you. Now, as to your release, it’s all set. You’re leaving in the morning after breakfast and I’m going with you. I want to be there when you retrieve the box. Somehow we’ll figure this thing out. By the way are you still in touch with your Mexican friend Jose?”
“We talk on the phone every now and then. Since I’ve been in here I haven’t been able to call him.”
“I think you should phone him right now Jim. Tell him everything that’s happened and put him on the trail of de Calva’s identity as well as that of the person who sold you the Prison-Box.”
“We can’t call right now Marty because I don’t remember the number. We’ll have to look it up in the morning when we get to my house. It’s written down in my personal phone directory.”
“Okay we’ll wait on that, but what we can do today is contact some of the larger newspapers in Mexico and see if we can get some information on Fernando de Calva. You know a few things about him don’t you?”
“You’re right Doc. The metal plate on his Prison-Box says that he was born in 1904. It also says he died in 1951 – in a car crash, according to the crypt keeper. He also said that de Calva was a killer, but he didn’t belong with the other murderers.”
“That puzzles me Jim. Did he mean that he didn’t want de Calva’s box in his crypt because he wasn’t hanged like the rest of the criminals in the tomb? Or was there another reason?”
By suppertime, with the assistance of several members of the clerical staff, Jim Wilkes and Doctor Starling had gathered a comprehensive biography of a man the Mexican press said only killed those who needed killing. The reporters said that all his murders were committed under what he thought was divine guidance according to “The Rule of Retaliation”.
An article in a Mexico City daily, dated October 29th, 1951 stated:
“Mexico’s most celebrated self-styled vigilante, Fernando de Calva , died of injuries suffered when he lost control of his new 1951 Volkswagen Beetle during a high speed police chase on this city’s Autopista Gran (Grand Highway) at four this morning.
Police claim that de Calva hid in a delivery truck and sneaked into the Rio Gordo Maximum Security Prison and somehow got to the cell where multiple murderer Gilesteban Mendez Alvarez Hernandez was serving a life sentence.
The authorities allege de Calva slit the throat of Hernandez and then cut his heart out, in a horrific and symbolic reenactment of the very same method Hernandez used when he murdered 15 women, seven men, and four children over a five year period before his capture last year.
Police say de Calva fled the prison after the killing and jumped into his Volkswagon, which was in the staff parking lot, next to the warden’s car. The vehicle crashed into a guard rail when de Calva failed to negotiate the hair pin turn at Horquilla Curve”
“Well Doc, after gathering all the information we did, I see now why the crypt-keeper said de Calva didn’t belong with the others in the tomb. He was a kind of a folk hero. When he killed, he only killed killers. He personally exterminated at least twelve of Mexico’s worst mass murderers.”
“Yes that’s it Jim. He only killed convicted murderers who somehow escaped the hangman’s noose. That would explain why the monster of your dreams, who must somehow be the spirit of Fernando de Calva, murdered both Cannabelle and Poison Ivy. Further it sheds light on why he killed them in similar fashion to the way they murdered their victims.”
“I get it Doc. He explained everything in a letter he sent to the newspapers in 1949, He said:
“I do not kill out of enjoyment or a propensity towards violence, but because of the ‘Rule of Retaliation’ as set down in the Holy Bible – an Eye for an Eye. I take no pleasure in murder, other than the satisfaction of knowing I’ve done a service for the people of the country that the authorities are unwilling or unable to do.”
“That’s all we can do today Jim. Get a good night’s rest and meet me here in my office at 7:30 in the morning. We’ll have breakfast together in the staff dining room and then drive to your house.”
Happy at the prospect of freedom after his long confinement in the asylum, Jim Wilkes slept soundly that night and was not visited by the monster from the Prison-Box.
Chapter Fifteen – The House by the River
In the morning after breakfast, a member of the hospital’s security team drove Dr. Starling and Jim Wilkes to an elegant three story home, with a widow’s walk on the roof, near the Taunton Green.
After instructing the driver to wait in the car, Dr. Starling followed Jim into his house.
“I’ve got to get some windows open Marty. After being empty so long this place has definitely got that ‘vacant house smell.”
“Probably a little bit Jim but it’s not too bad. It is a beautiful house by the way. Have you owned it long?”
“My wife and I bought it just after we married, more than 30 years ago. It’s an old sea captain’s home. Though we’re 20 miles from the ocean, the Taunton River made this city a thriving sea port in the days of sailing ships. Big schooners could sail all the way from Fall River and New Bedford right up to my back steps, which are less than a hundred yards from the river.”
After getting fresh air circulating through the ground floor rooms, Jim Wilkes led Dr. Starling to his home office, a large room in the rear of the home overlooking the Taunton River.
“What a delightful room this is Jim. The front of your house looks out on the city with all its cars and foot traffic, yet here in the back of your home with all the trees and the fast moving river, it’s just like being in the country.”
“It always was very comfortable here, until the nightmares.”
“Speaking of that,” said the Doctor, “Let’s have a look at the Prison-Box.”
“It’s in the closet behind my desk. I’ll bring it out.”
The two men examined the box but there was nothing remarkable about it, other than the fact that it contained the ashes of a killer of serial killers.
Jim Wilkes called Jose in Agua Prieta and filled him in on everything that happened and asked him to track down the man who sold him the box.
“I don’t have to track him down Jim, I know him well. I’ll go speak with him and get all the details about Fernando de Calva and I’ll get back to you later.”
“We already know about de Calva. What we need to know is how to get him back in his box and how to return him to the underground tomb.”
“I’ll have the information very shortly, don’t worry. I’ll call you right after I talk to the crypt-keeper.”
Dr. Starling sent his driver back to the hospital to retrieve copies of any new information that had might have come in on de Calva. While waiting for him to return, the doctor and Jim Wilkes re-examined all of the information they had gathered the day before.
They found nothing new in the second reading, but when the security officer returned, he informed them….
“We’ve got something Doctor Starling – autopsy results and a disposition of body report.”
Eagerly the doctor took the typewritten sheets and rapidly scanned them.
“The autopsy report doesn’t really tell us anything. No alcohol or drugs were in his system at the time of the fatal car accident. All of his internal organs were in good shape. He was by all appearances a very healthy 47 year old man.”
“What about the disposition of the body Doc?”
“That report rounds out the picture a little bit Jim. It says that there was a fight over who would get the corpse. There were no known relatives, but there was a tug of war between at least three factions wanting the body. A local judge ruled that it was to be given to the keeper of Tomb of the Cajas de Carcel, for cremation and storage.”
“And that’s where I found him. Say Doc, do they mention the name of the crypt-keeper in the………”
Jim Wilkes was cut off in mid sentence by the ringing of his telephone…
“Jim, this is Jose. I’ve spoken with Alfredo Bernardo, the crypt keeper of the tomb here in Agua Prieta. Though he professed disbelief when I told him what’s been happening, he was quick to tell me the local legend of the Prison-Boxes. He said that the boxes must remain undisturbed in his underground vault. He said that if a box is removed from the crypt and is unlocked and opened in the light of day, the ashes can rise up in a swirling mass that morphs into a grotesque beast that will prey upon the world.
Bernardo states that to sustain its life, the beast must return to its ashes for two hours every day, before the morning twilight. He said you must wait until thirty minutes before twilight and then lock the box. The creature will be trapped inside. As long as the box remains secured, the monster cannot escape.
When I told him you planned to return the box, he grew very frightened and he absolutely refuses to allow the box of Fernando de Calva to be returned to his tomb.
The good news is that I talked to the Museo/Museum in Mexico City. It turns out they tried to obtain de Calva’s remains after his fatal car crash, but were denied. They will pay you $25,000 in American money for the Prison-Box!”
“Great work Jose. We’ll trap the beast in the box tomorrow morning. Right now, I’m going to wire you money so that you can grab the first plane out. Come here to Massachusetts. Visit for a day or two and then you can take de Calva to the museum.”
“Okay Jim, after I hang up I’ll go straight to the airport. I’ll see you by suppertime. I’d like to have a New England ‘Boiled Dinner’ tonight. Can this be arranged?”
“Yes Jose, I think that Dr. Starling and I will treat you to Taunton’s finest dining this evening in Benjamin’s Restaurant on Lake Winnecunnet. Oh one more thing Jose. Before you go to the airport, call the museum and tell them you’ll be there in a few days with the Prison-Box of de Calva. And tell them to make the check out to you my friend. The money is yours.”
Within a week, Jose delivered the locked container of ashes and collected the $25,000. The museum dedicated a whole room to an exhibit of Fernando de Calva, his Prison-Box, and his exploits.
Jim Wilkes wondered if Jose would put a big dent in the money by buying a few hundred cases of tequila. He happily learned later, from Jose himself, that instead of liquor, he bought a travel agency, gave up drinking, and rapidly turning his new venture into the most successful business of its type in all of the State of Sonora.
As for Jim Wilkes, he never had another nightmare or nocturnal visit from ghosts or monsters. He did not lose his taste for travel and adventure however, as noted by his friend Dr. Marty Starling one day when they spoke on the phone….
“I’m glad to hear the progress you’re making at Taunton State Marty. They sure are lucky to have you as the director. I can’t make it for golf this week. I’m going on a little trip.”
“Where are you going this time Jim and how long will you be gone?”
“It’s kind of open ended Marty. I’m planning on staying two months but it could be longer. I’m going to Egypt.”
“Oh no,” groaned Dr. Starling, “Listen Marty, go if you must, but don’t venture inside any pyramids and if you do, don’t buy any strange box that might have a deranged mummy inside. I don’t think I could survive a mummy running amuck in the asylum.”
“We’ll see. Bye Marty.”
Chapter Sixteen: The Asylum Today
Under Doctor Martin Starling’s leadership the asylum entered a brief golden age. For as long as he remained the Director, the basement torture chambers remained closed.
He banned controversial and painful treatments like ‘ice-pick lobotomies’, brain damaging electrical shock therapy, chaining patients to walls, and more.
The nocturnal killings of the ghostly wall walker ceased. Never again would a patient be murdered by the beast with eyes of fire and claws of steel.
But the weirdness of the asylum remained through the remainder of the 1950s and continues right up to the present day.
Patients and staff alike say that there still are strange cold spots in various places, especially near the elevators and the entrances to the basement.
A temperature difference of 20 degrees or more was reported by a recent Director, who wrote in his notebook. “I went to my office this morning and everything seemed normal until I walked by the upholstered chairs in front of my desk. As soon as I got near the first chair, I felt a sudden chill. I shuddered from the cold, and quickly walked past the second chair. Less than a foot from the chair, the temperature was normal. An unexplained cold, damp blanket of air hovered around the front of the desk and remained there for hours.”
Though under rules initiated by Dr. Starling, the tortures in the basement were banned, and the area was largely abandoned; patients and staff often report they still hear blood-curdling screams rising up through the floors from the dingy cellar – horrible cries issuing from the throats of people wide awake and staring at an ice pick being hammered through their eyesocket into their brain.
When orderlies go to investigate the screams, they occasionally report that as they try to descend the cellar stairs they are stopped by some invisible force. When they are finally able to get into the basement, they find weird writing on the walls, unintelligible scrawling, perhaps made by alien beings.
Under a full moon, the moaning of the patients is so loud it can be heard by fishermen on the shores of Hockomock Swamp Pond, five miles away, in the neighboring town of Raynham.
In the cemetery a few hundred yards from the main building, the remains of dead patients are buried. Most of the graves are unmarked and few of occupants died from natural causes. Most were victims of ice-picks, electro-shocks, or other ancient barbarisms carried over from the 16th and 17th centuries.
A local newspaper reporter doing a feature article on the asylum recently sat down near one of the tombstones to record his thoughts on his tablet.
As he wrote about the eerie quality of the neglected burial grounds housing the remains of tortured souls, he felt a pair of cold hands grasp him by the shoulders.
Thinking a watchman wished to speak to him he turned around but there was no one there. A slight patch of mist hung in the air just a foot in front of his eyes. From the little cloud a barely audible voice whispered a single command – “Leave this place. Now!”
Inside the Freeman wing on the third floor where Cannabelle once resided, inmates often report seeing a faint, transparent figure walk right through the wall. It’s a woman, a woman whose face is fully encased in an iron mask with holes for eyes but none for a mouth. Where the lips would be, is a stenciled image of a Skull and Bones Across.
Sometimes the apparition speaks, as reported by a patient named Sarah Goodall, who said…
“The creature oozed through the wall, her face shrouded in an iron mask. The only things visible were her white eyeballs and a Jolly Roger painted on the mask, where her mouth should have been. She walked silently to my bed, where I lay frozen in terror. She told me not to be afraid. She was bringing me a treat. It looked like a jar of pickles. She held it out in front of her chest with both hands and asked me if I wanted some. She opened the jar and removed one of the pickles. But my stomach turned as I realized it was not a regular pickle, it was a pickled human finger. She held it towards my face. Then the horrid creature spoke to me…..”
“I can’t eat it!” moaned the monster, “They’ve shut me up in an iron mask and I can only eat through a straw. I’m so hungry for a finger or a nice fat toe,” she moaned. “I’ll share it. Here, you eat it.”
Another spectral lady makes regular appearances in the Freeman building, though she is a much more benign and attractive ghost than Cannabelle.
Often seen during the hours of the graveyard shift, the beautiful woman wears the crisp white uniform of a nurse. She appears not as a ghost or apparition but as solid as anyone else. She doesn’t walk through walls or scuttle around on the ceiling like a fly – but is every bit as evil and frightening as Cannabelle. She is none other than “Poison Ivy” herself, and she has been sighted more than two dozen times.
The patients who encounter her give the same story, without variation…
“I was having a bad day. My medications weren’t helping me. I just felt like giving up, and then I heard a knock on my door. A smiling pretty nurse entered and said she had a surprise for me. She quickly affixed a secondary drip below my primary medication bag and pulled back my sheet. She crawled into bed with me and started hugging me. I started screaming so loud and kicking, that I scared her away and that’s the only reason I’m still alive today.”
Chapter Seventeen: The Asylum Refuses to Die
Is everything written here, simply an imaginary tale?
The book, although partly based on real people and events, is a work of fiction – and yet many of the tales related here have been circulating in New England for decades.
The accounts of horror and of the undead, center around the real life Taunton State Hospital, an insane asylum the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been trying to kill for four decades, without success.
Government funds have been stopped; buildings have been closed, burned down, or abandoned, yet the hospital refuses to die.
The Kirkbride building where James Wilkes was housed was officially shut down in 1975. Many of the other elaborate structures were abandoned and left on their own to be slowly whittled down by the elements. Others were sold off piece by piece to collectors, film studios, and other institutions.
In 1999 the stately dome of the administration building collapsed from decades of neglect.
In 2006 a suspicious fire claimed several other buildings of the historic complex.
In 2009 the government ordered demolition of even more structures.
Taunton State Hospital Administration Building just 12 years before the dome collapsed.
The hospital has officially been shuttered a dozen times. And yet, if you drive on Route 95 to Massachusetts, then hop on Route 44 to the City of Taunton, you can motor right by the ancient grounds of the State Lunatic Asylum.
Of the more than 40 structures on the site, only a handful are left and they are supposed to be closed – but somehow, like the legends of the ghosts who walk the hallways and fly-walk the ceilings, the Taunton Asylum lives on.
After trying to destroy it for 20 years, the State of Massachusetts doled out 19 million dollars from 1990 to 2000 to improve the remaining pieces of the ‘campus’.
Then in 2012 the elected officials decided once again to shutter the entire hospital. A rapid reversal of that decision resuscitated the invisible beating heart of Taunton State; and as we near 2020, there are still 48 psychiatric beds remaining as well as a drug rehab program, and a center for troubled teens run by the Department of Youth Services.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. There’s also a greenhouse on the lovely grounds of the asylum. It’s run by patients. A wide variety of flowers, potted plants, garden vegetables, and other edibles are offered for sale to the general public.
Most of the workers in the program are ‘trusties’ and they will treat you very well. Be careful though, of one worker that I’ve heard about. She’s not there all the time, but if she’s around you can’t miss her.
She sells pickles in clear glass jars. Her face is covered with a mask made of iron, with a white decal of a Skull and Bones Across, where the mouth should be.
Stop in any time for a pickle, or perhaps a toe.
If you’ve enjoyed this little tour of the Taunton State Asylum, please consider leaving a review on the site where you got the book.
About the Author:
Bill Russo is the author of The Creature from the Bridgewater Triangle and Other Odd Tales from New England; in which he recounts his meeting with a swamp creature called a Puckwudgie. His blog about that scary encounter led to an appearance in the award winning documentary, The Bridgewater Triangle. He also was also featured on national television in ‘Monsters and Mysteries in America’ and ‘America’s Bermuda Triangle’.
A number of his fictional works are centered in the Bridgewater Triangle, where he says “Fanatasy and reality are crowded together into a haunted 200 square mile area of Massachusetts – where they share an uneasy truce”.
Parts of this story are adapted from “Cape Cod’s Figure in Black” which introduces John Deer and the Russo Brothers, as well as the little girl from Provincetown who becomes the new ‘seer’ of the Cape.
‘Swamp Tales’ and its prequel, ‘Jimmy Catfish’ take readers deep into Southeastern Massachusetts and neighboring Cape Cod for various adventures involving ghosts, monsters, and a strange amphibious boy who swims with, and leads, a school of shark-like, killer catfish.
In ‘Ghosts of Cape Cod’, Russo does not write the typical tale of people waking up and seeing spectral beings at the foot of their bed; rather, he probes into the fascinating lives of the real people who became the legendary ‘haunts’ of one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States.
Many of the ‘Ghosts’ are well known such as the real ‘Pirate of the Caribbean’, Sam Bellamy. He was Captain of the Whidah – the richest prize ship in history. Others are lesser known but no less fascinating, like the Reverend Joseph Metcalf who owned the first of the once ubiquitous Cape Cod Flower Boats. The story of the Ghost of the 13 Churches is told in detail for the first time. It’s an odd yarn of a peculiar doctor who amassed one of the biggest fortunes in Colonial Massachusetts. He gave it away to the 13 churches of Cape Cod when he died; but then returned from the grave to take it all back!
The Ghosts of Cape Cod audio book is available at all major retailers. The narration is by Scott R. Pollak of National Public Radio.
Bill Russo, retired on Cape Cod, was educated in Boston at the Huntington School and at Grahm College in Kenmore Square. He was editor of several newspapers in Massachusetts as well as a former disc jockey, news writer/presenter, and broadcaster for various outlets in New England.
His other employment included management positions in logistics and warehousing as well as a stint as an ironworker and President of Boston Local 501 of the Shopmen’s Ironworkers Union.
Contact Bill at All e-mails are personally answered
Bill’s Blog is called Adventures in Type and Space:
He also shares news and videos on his Youtube Channel:
Taunton State Hospital for the Insane: an eerie New England campus of forty ornate 19th century buildings that have housed some of America’s most bizarre and dangerous criminals – murderous monsters who avoided the hangman’s rope only because they were judged to be lunatics. Sometimes punishment comes from a different source, as Poison Ivy (the Hug and Drug Killer) and "Cannabelle" who pickles human fingers and toes, are about to find out in Bill Russo’s take on ‘Hauntin’ Taunton – The State Asylum.