Friday, October 31, 2014

Murder in Montgomery - October 31, 1912

The State Capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama is haunted by the ghost of Will Oakley.

The morning of November 1, 1912 the headlines of the Montgomery Advertiser reported,
“Will Oakley Kills Step-Father, P.A. Woods, at Capitol”; "Dead Man Is Shot Four Times with 41 Caliber Revolver—Slayer Offers Him Pistol For A Duel" 

In 1912, a property suit was filed regarding the division of family land owned by P.A. Woods of Odenville, Alabama. His stepson, Will Oakley, was an eighteen year old farmer from St. Clair County at the time. The feud over the property had been going on for some time, and the Thursday prior to the murder, Mr. Woods, Will and his half uncle J.G. Oakley (who was president of the convict board) met at the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama in Oakley's office to give disposition on the case. 

Will had been wearing a pistol in a shoulder harness all day. It was visible and, for the most part, in plain sight. This was disturbing to his step father and Uncle since Will was known for his quick temper. He had made the statement at one point during the disposition that he had been in the army and wasn't afraid of anyone.

The State Capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama were Will Oakley shot and killed his step father, P.A. Woods.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
After the conclusion of the disposition, just before three o’clock that afternoon, Will became enraged when the outcome of the case didn't turn out in his favor, and he began threatening his stepfather. He warned him that he’d better not leave the building without a bodyguard. Mr. Oakley was uneasy at the behavior of his nephew and feared that he may just be crazy enough to kill someone. It wasn't long before his fears turned into reality. 

Will and his stepfather were opposite each other over the desk in Oakley's office. The two argued for several minutes and suddenly Will produced two pistols from his coat and offered his stepfather one for a duel. Mr. Woods pleaded with Will not to kill him. He feared for his life and his brother-in-law quickly left the room to find help. Seconds later, four shots rang out from the office, and Will Oakley fled the room and down the stairs of the capitol building.

He made a steady and hasty retreat from the building, down Washington Street, and headed to the county jail to turn himself in. He was followed by a black man who heard the shots and saw him running from the building. He was apprehended by the sheriff just before making his way inside in jail. Will was immediately arrested and searched. Two, 41-caliber pistols and a knife were taken from him. He refused an attorney and said, “I shot a man, and I was justified in doing so.” He refused any further statements and was charged with murder the following day. 

The coroner’s report stated that the fatal shot that killed P.A. Woods most likely came from the first shot to his neck, which pierced his jugular. The three remaining shots were all in the abdomen, which implied they came after the victim was already on the ground. This was confirmed by the powder burns found on the face and neck of P.A. Woods.

On Halloween 1912, Will Oakley murdered his stepfather, P.A. Woods in the
State Capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama. Will's ghost returns to wash
the blood from his hands.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Will Oakley was inevitably sent to prison, and over the years, the excitement from the shooting died out. Most people have never heard the story of Will Oakley, but a strange and unusual phenomenon associated with the murder is still happening in the capitol building that keeps people talking about his ghost. Since the murder, employees and state officials who work in the offices of the State Convict Board have seen the water mysteriously running in the bathroom sinks. Oddly enough, when the phenomenon occurs, the facets turn without any visible source and the water keeps running until someone turns it off. Even after years of renovations, repairs and makeovers to the building, the water continues to run from the faucets.

Legend says it’s the ghost of Will Oakley; who is returning to the scene of the crime to wash the blood from his hands. Will’s anger and anxious spirit may have condemned him in the afterlife, or he may have some unfinished business to take care of. Is it possible that his soul cannot rest until he has made amends for the dreadful sin he committed? That’s a question only he can answer. Still, it’s doubtful anyone living or dead would want to approach him to ask. If he’s still washing one hundred years of blood from his hands, he may have more to make amends for. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Edgar Cayce - The Sleeping Prophet

Edgar Cayce was known for his ability to tell the future by placing himself in a trance-like state. He is most recognized for his work in metaphysical healing. 
Edgar Cayce was born on a small farm in Hopkinsville, Kentucky on March 18, 1877. At a very young age, Edgar’s mother noticed that he could see and hear things that no one else could. Edgar’s earliest encounters with ghosts and spirits were of his late grandfather who was killed in a horse accident when he was only four. Edgar could also see auras (bands of colored light believed to be bio-chemical energy fields given off by living beings). He claimed to hear and see angels and ghosts and had the unusual ability to sleep on his school books and retain the information inside them. From the time he realized his ability to see, hear and communicate with the dead was paranormal, he struggled with the aspect of how religion quantified and portrayed his gifts and the circumstances he had while dealing with the supernatural.

In 1893, Edgar quit school to work on his grandmother’s farm. He struggled for several years to keep steady employment, working in several book and general stores. By 1900, Cayce was working as a salesman for the Woodmen of the World Insurance Company. During that time he caught a severe case of laryngitis which debilitated his speech almost completely. Cayce was forced to gain employment in another trade due to his inability to speak. He was offered a apprenticeship with a local photographer in Hopkinsville named, W.R. Bowles. He accepted the job and excelled quickly in learning how to use photographic equipment.

In 1901, Cayce met a traveling hypnotist named, “Hart”. He heard about Cayce’s condition while preforming at the local opera house and offered to treat his laryngitis with hypnosis. Edgar accepted the offer and went to see him. Hart conducted a series procedures to induce a trance-like state over Cayce and while under hypnosis, Cayce’s voice returned to normal. However, when he woke up, his voice was again effected by the laryngitis. Hart left Hopkinsville before he could finish his work with Edgar Cayce but Cayce was intrigued by the hypnotist’s ability to cure his laryngitis and sought out a local Osteopath named, Al Layne. Cayce described his ailment to Layne who suggested that continuing the hypnosis treatment may help cure the mysterious condition.

Edgar Cayce laid down on the couch in Layne’s office and folded his arms across his chest. Layne began hypnosis and Edgar fell into a deep, trance-like state. While under hypnosis, Edgar would often refer to himself as another person. This third person communication seemed as if some other person or “entity”, as Edgar referred to it, was speaking through him, much like a medium who can channel spiritual energy through themselves. The entity would speak to Layne and tell him how to treat Cayce's condition. Once he was awake, Mr. Layne followed the instructions given to him and Edgar’s laryngitis did eventually disappear, completely curing him of the condition.

After a series of hypnotic sessions with Edgar Cayce, Mr. Layne asked about other illnesses and conditions that may be cured through the knowledge that was somehow psychically locked in Edgar’s mind. The following year, Edgar began working with people and giving them regular, “readings”. 

Local newspapers and other media flocked to meet him and speak with him about his abilities. One of his most noted patients at the time was a 6 year old girl named Aime Dietrich. She was stricken with a mysterious brain issue that caused her to have convulsions and seizures. The condition had been treated by several doctors and nothing was helping. The young girl’s family had taken her to Al Layne with the hopes that Edgar Cayce would be able to provide them with the information they needed in order to find a cure.

Edgar worked with Mr. Layne who took down the instructions given by Cayce’s entity while in a trance. The entity said that Aime’s condition was caused by congestion at the base of the brain and treatment was started immediately to correct it. For several weeks, Edgar and Mr. Layne meet for follow up information regarding Aime’s condition and she was subsequently cured of the condition all together.

Over the years, Edgar Cayce continued to give psychic readings. He worked for several photography studios in Kentucky and Alabama and moved to Alabama permanently in 1909. Several articles were written about Edgar Cayce’s psychic readings and many doctors studied his unnatural ability to diagnose and treat illnesses and other conditions. Edgar’s wife, Gertrude, contracted tuberculosis in 1911 and was able to fully recover from the otherwise deadly disease because of Edgar’s readings.
Edgar and Gertrude Cayce.
The Cayce family moved to Selma, Alabama in 1913, where Edgar continued to work as a photographer and give readings. When his controversial methods of holistic healing came under attack by doctors, he opened a hospital and institute for study in Virginia Beach, Virginia called Atlantic University. Unfortunately the school was closed February 28, 1931 due to lack of funding, but Cayce continued his psychic readings and metaphysical work for more than a decade after. 

Cayce died on January 3, 1945 and upon his death, he gave his last reading for himself. In his lifetime, over 14,000 recorded and unrecorded readings were documented. Numerous studies of his ability to communicate with spiritual beings, interrupt energy signatures as auras, channel energy through mediumship, predict future events, and of course, diagnose illnesses through hypnosis, were conducted by scientist and doctors from all over the world.

Edgar Cayce left a legacy that exists today because of his unusual sensitivity to the supernatural world around him. Numerous biographies about his life, his work and his holistic healing techniques have been written, making Edgar Cayce one of the most documented and studied psychics of the 20th century.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Haunted Tornado City - Albertville, Alabama

Albertville, Alabama 1908

It was April 24, 1908 in the north Alabama city of Albertville. The people in town had noticed the rainy and humid weather that day but in that time, severe weather was simply a part of everyday life living in tornado alley. The area had always been prone to tornado weather but no emergency warning system or any amount of human intuition could prepare the city for the devastation that was coming.

In the late afternoon, severe wind and rain began to fall on northern portions of Alabama, dumping hail and sleet for miles. As the warm air of the hot Alabama spring hit the cooler air masses, a change in the weather went from bad to worse. By 4 o’clock, a tornado had touched down near Albertville and was spiraling quickly toward the small town. Hiding was futile as the monstrous cyclone ripped through the city. It left a trail of destruction and devastation for almost ten miles; straight through the heart of town.

Albertville was almost completely destroyed. The rows of stores along Main Street had been ripped clean off the facade. Entire buildings collapsed under the crushing winds and the small wooden homes in the region were spun about the country side. One of the homes was the McCord residence. It wasn't destroyed but the heavy winds from the tornado picked it up off it's foundation and dropped it back down as it passed by. Unfortunately, young Eric McCord had taken refuge under the house and when the house came down on top of him, it crushed him to death.

The ghost of Eric McCord is believed to be one of the many spirits that haunts the Main Street businesses located in Albertville, Alabama. He was crushed to death during the tornado of  1908. 
There were people both dead and missing in the wreckage. The result was 35 people killed from Gadsden to Albertville and 15 of those people were residents of Albertville. 

Since the great cyclone of 1908, other storms have devastated the region as well, earning that particular part of the United States the nickname, “Tornado Alley”. It’s a dangerous place to live but tougher still to live among the scores of ghosts who still consider Albertville their home. The City library was one of the most haunted locations in Albertville until it was destroyed by another tornado in 2010.

Ironically, the storm happened 102 years to the day of the great cyclone disaster. The library was built on the grounds of a former home and the spirits who haunted the library were apparently the long dead people who used to live there. Slamming and stomping inside the library were a every day occurrence when the librarians arrived to open for business. The facet in the bathrooms often turned on and off by itself, scaring the daylights out of many of the patrons.

Other parts of Albertville are also exclusively haunted by the spirits of young children. Main Street has been a source of paranormal sightings since the 1908 tornado. One apparition of a little boy, wearing khaki colored suspender nickers and a white shirt has been seen running barefoot through the street late at night. He’s reportedly stopped a few cars by darting out in front of them, giggling hysterically as he runs by. 

One resident of Albertville had an experience she would never forget when she lived in the small apartment building complex located on Main Street. As she looked out of her apartment window one late summer night, she peered down at the street and saw several young children, dressed in 19th century clothing, playing and walking along the streets and sidewalks. She knew it was much too late for young children to be out and in the middle of the street. What self-respecting parent would allow such a thing? She watched the children for a long time and said as the dawn broke over the horizon, the little children simply faded away.

Main Street in in Albertville, Alabama has been a location closely associated with the sightings of many "ghost children". They are believed to be the spirits of those who died in the great cyclone of 1908. 

If that isn't odd enough, other business locations in town also claim to have seen the ghost children of Main Street inside their shops and restaurants. A flower shop recently contacted the Alabama Ghost Hunters for an investigation regarding their supernatural experiences that was featured on The Weather Channel's, Twisted Believers. The ladies who worked in and owned the flower shop said they often heard banging beneath the store floor and sometimes the front door would open and close, as if someone was leaving the store. One of the most unnerving experiences came one afternoon as the ladies were working inside and heard the front door chime as if someone came inside. As they turned to greet their customer, no one was there. But, they could hear the sound of footsteps approaching the back counter as if someone had come in and walked toward the register. Several minutes later, as the ladies looked through the store, baffled by the experience, the front door open again and the footsteps stopped.

Other strange experiences from the city cemetery, located just a few blocks from Main Street, have locals wondering about the spirits that haunt Albertville. The small cemetery is located in a residential area but many of the graves here are now covered or no longer marked. Encroachment has made the cemetery much smaller than it was originally, but residents who live in the surrounding homes and neighborhood, say they close their windows and lock their doors at night, but it doesn't keep the ghosts from coming in.

The City Cemetery - Albertville, Alabama

Albertville has suffered weather related tragedies for over a century. The Cherokee people who inhabited the region before 1830 called the area, “gi-ga-ha-i e-qu u-no-le” which translates too, “land of great winds”. They obviously knew the dangers that came with living in the area and the devastating consequences. It's doubtful that anyone in 1908 would have known that the terrible storms that impacted the region would have produced such a haunted town. However, much like the cyclone of 1908, the weather related tragedies of the city are still a very real threat to the people who live in Tornado Alley. But for the ghosts of those who were killed in the storms, they will forever take refuge among the living. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Supernatural Saint James Hotel - Selma, Alabama

The Saint James Hotel, located in Selma, Alabama is one of Alabama's most haunted hotels. The paranormal phenomenon here is most often associated with the the ghost of the outlaw, Jesse James and his lover, Lucinda and a murdered slave named, Plez. 

One of America’s most famous outlaws was a man named Jesse James. He was born and raised in Clay County, Missouri. However, James and his brother Frank, have a legacy they have left behind in the state of Alabama. The James boys and their sister, Susan, were the children of a preacher and hemp farmer named, Robert James. Robert died during a migration to California where he was working as a minister. His widow, Zerelda, remarried twice after his death and the James clan grew into a family of nine.

As the Civil War approached, bordering states like Missouri were divided into groups that supported and opposed both the Confederate and Union causes. These militia groups of guerrilla fighters were known as “Bushwhackers” and “Jayhawkers”. The Bushwhackers supported the secession and upheld the Confederate cause. The Jayhawkers were Unionist who supported the anti-slavery laws. The entire state of Missouri was engulfed in its own civil war between the groups and the James boys took up arms against the Unionist in an effort to support the Confederates in Missouri. The Bushwhackers were known throughout the territory for their brutal murders. They executed civilians, scalped their dead and took prisoners until Federal troops imposed Martial Law over the region in August 1861.

Frank James was a member of a local militia group of Bushwhackers known as the “Drew Lobbs Army”. They fought with Confederate troops on the bloody hill at the battle of Wilson’s Creek. Frank James got sick sometime during his time in service and was sent home. According to the legend of Jesse James, in 1863, Frank was recognized as a potential member of the outlaw group of guerrillas and Union troops went to the James Plantation where they brutally tortured Reuben Samuel (Jesse’s step-father). The Federal troops strung Reuben up in a tree, nearly strangling him in an effort to find out where Frank James was located. They also took young Jesse out back and lashed him repeatedly but none of the family would talk.

When Jesse was sixteen, he and Frank joined a group of fighters led by the South’s most notorious Confederate guerrilla, Bloody Bill Anderson. Anderson was an extremely wicked and intimidating man who only found justice in murder and killing. While Jesse was involved with Bloody Bill’s outfit, he was nearly killed after being shot during a raid on Union troops. Shortly after, Anderson’s group was ambushed when Federal troops caught up to them. Bloody Bill was killed in the attack and when Jesse tried to surrender, he was shot. He recovered from his injuries while staying at his Uncles home in Harlem, Missouri. Because of the brothers involvement with the renegade militias, their family was forced out of the state of Missouri by Union troops and they later moved to Nebraska. 

The Outlaw, Jesse James.
While Jesse and Frank were on the run, Bill Anderson’s group disbanded, and the James brothers parted ways. After the Civil War was over, the brothers reunited and they started their own gang of renegade outlaws. The James gang had quickly become a group of bandits and murders who ravaged the American South from as far West as Kansas, Texas; throughout the Tennessee Valley, and down into the coastal regions of Georgia and Alabama. 

Historically, Jesse is most recognized for his daring robberies. Banks, stage coaches and trains were among his favorite targets but he also held up people and small time establishments. 

The outlaws of the American frontier may have been made famous by flamboyant characters in books, novels and television shows, but life as an outlaw was never really a glamorous or appealing way of life. By 1874, Jesse James gave up some of his criminal activities and married his first cousin, Zee. He was rumored to have many girlfriends as well. In 1881, while the James gang was in West-Central Alabama, during their infamous raids on the South, Jesse found a lover in Selma, Alabama. The couple often stayed together at the Saint James Hotel, located on the banks of the Alabama River. Because Jesse and his gang never stayed in one place very long, the relationship between Jesse and his Selma lover was short lived.

Frank James went on trial in Alabama on April 25, 1884, for his involvement in a robbery of a government payroll near Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Dozens of witnesses identified Frank as the robber, but the case was heated and the cross examinations were brutal. In the end, Franks James’s attorney, Leroy Walker, was successful in his portrayal of Frank as a war hero, and he was acquitted on all charges, walking out of the Huntsville Federal Court House (Calhoun House) in Madison County, Alabama, a free man. Frank later moved and lived throughout the southern states, working different jobs until his death on February 18, 1915.

Jesse James died on April 3, 1882 after he was betrayed by a member of his gang named, Bob Fords. Fords was a new member of the James gang and shortly after the governor of Missouri offered a $5,000 reward for Jesse James, Ford met with the governor and organized the assassination. Jesse’s death hit national headlines all over America. One of the greatest American outlaws had finally met his end. Or did he? 

According to staff and visitors at the Saint James Hotel in Selma, Jesse is still very much a part of the preserved, 18th century hotel. The ghost of Jesse James will perhaps never rest. His spirit has been seen throughout the hotel, especially in the downstairs bar. The bar staff leaves a chair out for the ghost of Jesse James. It’s not unusual to pass by the closed saloon doors and peer through the glass to see the ghostly apparition of an outlaw sitting at the bar having a whiskey or glass of beer. He's been known to make eye contact with people passing by as well, sometimes even lowering his folded arms over the bar to the pistol holstered at his hip. 

In the bar at the Saint James Hotel, bar staff often leave a chair pulled out for the ghost of Jesse James. 
Several of the rooms at the Saint James are also reportedly haunted by Jesse and his lover. They can often be seen walking through the corridors together, and holding hands and caressing each other near the fountain in the outside garden. The smell of lavender perfume is often reported in rooms 314 and 315, which were apparently the favorite overnight rendezvous, for Jesse and Lucinda.

Other rooms at the Saint James are also haunted, but not by the ghosts of Jesse James or his lover. There is another story from the nearby ghost town of Cahaba that ties into the Saint James hotel. According to this local legend, there was a slave named, Plez who once belonged to the Bell family. Plez was accused of stealing from another family in Cahaba, The Troy Family. The Troy's, (who were conveniently bitter rivals of the Bell’s) became disgruntle over the alleged theft and hunted Plez down and murdered him in cold blood. 

The slave quarters at the old Cahaba ghost town. Also allegedly haunted by the ghost of Plez.
Plez’s body was later discovered at the Saint James hotel and his murdered spirit dwells in the room where he lost his life. The ghost of Plez doesn't seem to bother the hotel guests. However, he has caused a fright from time to time when he is seen and felt sitting on the end of bed.

The Saint James has been saved from destruction for more than 177 years. Union forces spared it, as did the city of Selma, establishing it as a historical landmark. It’s been a place known for supernatural experiences. Generations of people have come to stay and spend the night with the spirits who haunt the Saint James. The hotel ghost stories continue to thrive, preserved along with the town of Selma that has become one Alabama’s most significantly haunted cities.