A murder is always traumatic, leaving behind physical and emotional scars that remain in the community for years. Every once in a while, however, a homicide leaves behind psychic scars, and ghost stories grow up around the murder scene. These stories help preserve popular memory of these traumatic events for generations. Mysterious Heartland has browsed dozens of these tales (separating fact from fiction) to bring you this list of the top 10 most haunted murder scenes in Illinois.
10. Coliseum Ballroom Antique Mall
This former large, red brick building was once the most famous ballroom and music venue in central Illinois. It was originally built in 1924 as a front for local bootleggers who ran liquor through the area. Its owner, Dominic Tarro, was arrested for bootlegging in 1930. Shortly after he posted bail, his body was found in the Sangamon River. He had been tied up with wire and shot in the back of the head. His wife, and later his daughter, took over ownership and led the establishment through its glory days. Sadly, after her death, it declined. Subsequent owners reported seeing figures from the 1920s and ‘30s. The ghost of a young woman with dark hair was also seen, and visitors felt unexplainable cold spots. On July 30, 2011, the building was completely destroyed in a fire while the band Shadow of Doubt was performing on stage. Only an empty lot exists there today.
9. Bloody Gulch Road
Bloody Gulch Road is named after a brutal murder that took place in the late 1800s. Popular memory relates that a young man named Moss beat a Bible salesman named Teil to death with a baseball bat in a field near Pump Factory Road. He buried the salesman’s body in a drainage ditch that ran under a nearby road, and it was discovered after rain washed some of the soil away, exposing the victim’s hand. The road over this ditch became known as Bloody Gulch. According to legend, a bloody hand can be seen there on dark and stormy nights. Nearby, an abandoned house is also thought to be haunted by the ghost of a murdered girl, and at least one homeowner along Bloody Gulch Road has reported strange activity in his residence.
8. Lakey’s Creek
The headless horseman of Lakey’s Creek is quite possibly one of the oldest ghost stories in Illinois. Passed down as an oral tradition until John W. Allen put the story on paper in 1963, the mysterious man named Lakey, as well as his untimely end, has been immortalised in the folklore of Southern Illinois. Long before a concrete bridge spanned the shallow creek 1.5 miles east of McLeansboro, a frontiersman named Lakey attempted to erect his log cabin near a ford along the wagon trail to Mt. Vernon. One morning, a lone traveler stumbled upon Lakey’s body. Lakey’s head had been severed by his own axe, which was left at the scene. According to legend, his murderer was never found. For decades after the murder, travellers reported being chased by a headless horseman that rode out of the woods along Lakey’s Creek. “Always the rider, on a large black horse, joined travellers approaching the stream from the east, and always on the downstream side,” John Allen wrote. “Each time and just before reaching the centre of the creek, the mist-like figure would turn downstream and disappear.” The headless horseman has been seen much less frequently in recent years.
7. Airtight Bridge
Coles County, Illinois
Designed by Claude L. James and built in 1914, Airtight Bridge spans the narrow Embarras River in rural Coles County and was long known as a drinking spot and a hangout for rough characters. That all changed on the pleasant Sunday morning of October 19, 1980. According to newspaper reports, two men from rural Urbana spotted the body of a nude woman about 50 feet from the bridge as they drove past. The body was missing its head, hands, and feet. After an extensive murder investigation, no killer was ever located and the identity of the victim remained a mystery for years. Ever since then, an aura of mystery has surrounded the bridge. Locals say it earned the name “Airtight” because of the unnatural stillness encountered while crossing it, or because early automobiles would stall on the steep hill leading to the bridge if there was more air than gas in their fuel tank. The bridge is currently closed to traffic.
6. James Martin Home
In 1915, this Victorian home on N. 9th Street was the scene of a notorious murder. On a hot July day, a live-in handyman named Joe DeBerry brutally beat Lizzy Martin, wife of local attorney James Martin, to death with a fireplace poker. DeBerry wilted under questioning and confessed to the murder. He was hanged in front of a crowd of over 2,000 people. Many years later, after James Martin joined his wife in death, a fire destroyed the second floor of the home and it was remodelled into a bungalow. Residents began to hear strange sounds, and the house was widely believed to be haunted by the ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Martin.
5. Roadhouse Restaurant and Bar
The Roadhouse Restaurant and Bar has a colourful history. It began as a grocery store, but during Prohibition it was converted into a gambling house and speakeasy. By the 1990s, the building was in serious need of repairs. Its current owner purchased it in 1993 and fixed it up, but soon began to experience some strange activity. He was visited several times by a mysterious young woman who seemed to vanish upon leaving the building. Employees smelled cigar smoke and heard the clink of poker chips in the basement. Most notably, however, the owner became convinced the Roadhouse is supernaturally connected to a double murder. In 1948, Mary Jane Reed and her date Stanley Skridla were found riddled with bullets near a lover’s lane along Country Farm Road. The murder is still unsolved. Among other active spirits, Mary Jane’s ghost is thought to haunt the Roadhouse—the last place she visited before she died.
4. The Dormitory/ Parkway Inn (Former)
In the late 1940s, Bernie Shelton, a member of the infamous Shelton gang, had aspirations to become the leading crime boss in Peoria, despite growing pressure from an alliance of St. Louis and Chicago gangsters. Carl and Bernie Shelton, brothers, both had a $10,000 price on their heads. Carl was murdered in 1947. On July 26, 1948, as Bernie was leaving the Parkway Inn (later it was called the Parkside Inn or Parkside Tavern), he was shot through the chest with a .351 Winchester Rifle by an unidentified man hiding in the woods below St. Joseph’s Cemetery. He was mortally wounded and died at the hospital. By 1951, the Shelton Gang had been run out of Illinois. Since Bernie’s death, however, owners and patrons of the tavern reported lights turning on and off, sudden chills, items moving, and the feeling of someone breathing on their necks. Additionally, gunshots have been heard and patrons have reported seeing lights above the tavern coming from St. Joseph’s Cemetery. The Parkside Tavern is now known as The Dormitory.
3. Hundley Home
On December 12, 1928, John Charles Hundley, a former mayor of Carbondale, and his wife Luella were shot to death in their stately home. The killer was never found, although their own stepson was a prime suspect in the crime. Over the years, the building has been remodelled to serve many different purposes. The room where John and Luella slept, and where they were killed, became known as “the murder room.” In 2008, Dan Jones purchased the building and converted it into a bed and breakfast, despite stories of strange sounds, phantom piano music, and doors that slammed shut on their own. Having heard about the ghostly activity, Barry Klinge of the Discovery Channel’s series Ghost Lab brought his camera crew to the home in August 2010. They walked away convinced of the validity of the haunting.
2. Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park is a natural, scenic woodland park surrounding a large butte overlooking the Illinois River. It contains 18 canyons and 13 miles of trails. American Indians inhabited the site for several thousand years before the French arrived and built a fort at the location. According to legend, Potawatomi Indians trapped a group of Illiniwek on the butte and starved them into submission, giving the rock formation its name. In March 1960, three women were murdered in the park, and their bodies were found in one of the canyons. Eventually, a man named Chester Weger was convicted of the crime. Some visitors to the park have claimed to hear groans and other disembodied voices amidst the rock formations. Between 1685 and 1702, Henri de Tonti was the most powerful man in central Illinois. He accompanied René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in his exploration of the Illinois country, and La Salle left him to hold Fort Saint Louis when he returned to France. During his time in the Illinois River Valley, he is rumoured to have accumulated over $100,000 in gold, which he buried around Starved Rock. He told a priest about the gold just before he died, but it has never been found despite search attempts in the 1750s by the French and the Potawatomi.
1. “Death Curve”
On the morning of Saturday September 30, 1905, while her husband laboured in a neighbouring field, Julia Markham took an ax and murdered her seven children, who ranged from five months to eight years old. Julia had carefully planned the massacre and intended to commit suicide afterward, but the knife that she used to cut her throat was too dull. Reeling from the wound, she laid her children out on a bed, side by side, and doused them with coal oil. She lit the oil on fire and the entire house went up in flames. She intended to die with her children, but the heat of the conflagration proved to be too much and she tried to crawl to safety. Julia expired soon after rescuers arrived and discovered her grisly crime. Decades passed, and the ruin of the Markham’s home was plowed over. Their ageing, red barn remained, however, and became a hangout for area youths. Even after the barn was torn down, passersby reported seeing a white spectre along the roadside. Locals say that Julia’s ghost haunts this curve, tormented by remorse over the murders.
Check out these places and more in Michael Kleen’s Haunting Illinois
A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State! Three years in the making, the 3rd edition of Hunting Illinois is your ticket to adventure in your own backyard. This edition contains 60 new listings and 35 new pictures, for a total of 260 haunted or mysterious locations and more than 120 photos and illustrations. Divided into eight distinct regions and listed by county and town or neighbourhood, each location features a description, directions, and sources from a wide variety of books, articles, and websites. Haunting Illinois challenges you to get off the couch and start exploring our wonderful State of Illinois.