|The Rose Files
True Scary Stories from Life
| Small Town Ghosts
~ Rose Titus ~
Imagine a simpler time, long ago, when crime was something that happened
somewhere else. Imagine, if you can, a time and a place where innocence still
lived, and played among the trees and in the meadows of a small, quiet New
It was the early 1970's and children could still play outside without fear,
without disappearing. And if someone was killed, it shocked everyone beyond
belief. It would occupy everyone's thoughts and conversations for days, weeks,
months, until finally calm settled back in.
The Manson murders had already happened and when people talked about
it, they said “those kinds of things” happened in California. That's what the
grown ups said, "those people in California. They're all crazy." When you
asked what happened in California, though, they would tell you to go out and
play. You knew something bad happened in California, but what? What in
California happened that could be so bad that it frightened all the grown ups?
Grownups were never frightened, so something really, really bad must have
happened in that far away bad place called “California.”
Sometimes when grownups visited and brought their kids and they stayed
late they would talk in the kitchen, to "finish their coffee." Grownups took an
awful long time finishing coffee. Coffee could go on for hours. Kids would play
in the next room. When we got bored with Barbie, we would talk too. "There
was a murder," said an older kid, and we all got scared. "My mother talks about
it sometimes. Before we were born. This girl got killed. He ate her ear off and
left her in the woods." "No way, you lyin'!" "Am not!" "Are too!” “He killed her,
and ate off her ear, and left her body—“ But that had happened long years
"Come on, kids, it's time to go!"
The town then was filled with forests and open fields. Open fields filled with
butterflies to catch. At night there were lightening bugs too. And always bunny
rabbits. We all tried to catch a bunny rabbit to bring home and "keep him!" But
none of us ever could, no matter how fast we ran. The bunny always ran faster.
Winter came and filled the forests with snow. The large fir trees were
covered, their branches bent down. The fields were a blanket of the purest
white. At night the moon would shine brightly, making the ice crystals on the top
of the snow appear like flakes of diamonds, scattered across the cold meadow…
One cold morning my grandfather came to our house. I had never seen him
upset before. He was usually a calm man who spent most of his time smoking,
coughing, and watching TV. He enjoyed watching Archie Bunker and wrestling
— the "Rasslers," he called them. He remained calm whenever Grandma yelled
at him for doing something she didn't want him to do. He pretended to be deaf,
so that helped. "What?" He would laugh, then cough. "C'mere," he would say
when I sat on the floor under his feet. "Wanna dollar?" he would say. "Here's a
dollar! Go buy yah self some candy!" He coughed. "Wait a minute... Here's
some more. Get on your bike and go the store and me some Camels."
That morning he was enraged when he came in our house. His friend was
The men in town who hunted all knew each other. They shot mostly
pheasants and brought them home for their wives to cook. The tragedy was in
the morning paper. My grandfather’s friend, his wife, their son, had all been
butchered the night before.
Grandpa was enraged when he read the news in the morning paper. He
came to our house to tell us. I heard everything. No one really knew who or
what, or why a nice, normal well-liked family had been butchered in the middle of
Some tough kids in the neighborhood knew for sure, they said. They always
seemed to know everything. "It was a motorcycle gang!” “Maybe it was
Satanists! Maybe they did it!" “Shut up.”
It stopped everyone, shocked and stunned our whole small world. It was all
anyone could talk about. It gave kids nightmares, and made housewives
whisper to each other in the supermarket in the household cleaner section.
People were no longer safe. The town was getting "just like that damn
California." The world had gone crazy.
Innocence died that day. Innocence died and was replaced by fear. We all
had to be in before dark. Where are you going? Don't talk to strangers! Don't
be gone long. The world had changed, and not for the better...
Eventually we found out who really did it. Their pictures were in the paper.
The thugs responsible looked just like Charles Manson himself. Long hair, filthy
beards, cruel eyes. They were caught on a motor vehicle charge, and their car
was searched. A weapon was found and there was blood. It was a botched
burglary, and it was about drug money. The man and his wife were held at gun-
point while the men went for money and looked for jewelry. The boy came down
the stairs with one of his father's guns to save his parents. Hands shaking, he
missed... The boy was shot, then his parents. It was horrible.
But things settled down after a while. Their home was closed down for years,
abandoned, then eventually sold off.
I grew up and moved to another town, but never forgot the shattered look on
my grandfather's face that morning. And I never forgot the images of the men in
the paper. Something died in me that day, too. My belief in a safe world.
Many years later on I ran into some friends who still lived in the town, who
were older and more familiar with the local mythology than I was. "By the way...
?" And I asked if it was true about the murder from the sixties? You know, the
"one where the guy ate her ear off?" It had happened before I was born, but I
grew up hearing whispers of it. We all did. It was something people whispered
about for years, the mystery never solved. "Yeah... they caught the guy."
"Huh? I thought it was just a story someone made up to scare kids."
The girl was pregnant, she explained. He wanted out of it, and bad. He told
her to meet him in the woods, near an old barn. She thought he would ask her
to marry him, they would run away together, happily ever after... He beat her to
death, and in the process, bit her ear off. Some years on, he was drinking too
heavily in a bar and mumbled guilt ridden things to the guy next to him. That's
how he was found out. Her mangled remains were found in the woods. The
community was shocked and horrified, just like it would be again, ten years
later... And the cycle would repeat itself.
The murder of the family is now part of the mythology of what was once a
small, quiet little town. That small town no longer exists. It has become a
collection of strip malls, bars, nail salons, used car lots, fast food and donut
places, all put up quickly as if overnight. During the 80's the town became
almost citified. Its forests became condos, the meadows were paved for parking
lots. People who lived there all their lives moved away, or died. The younger
generation moving in is multi-ethnic, professional, multi-lingual, educated...
none of them shoot pheasants or own rifles. They live in the condo filled suburb
the town has become. None of them know about what happened down the
street from their condo, decades ago.
And if they knew, would they even care?
I would care where I moved in. I would want to know... Are there ghosts
there? Do they cry at night for lives never lived? Does the awful spectral gun
blast echo on a cold winter's night? Is that the wind blowing through a chilled
New England winter, or the cry of a lost soul? It wouldn't be logical to wonder if
there is anything else there besides cheap rental units. Does the land itself
remember? No. How could it? Those ancient trees that surrounded the proud
old house have been long ago destroyed, the ground dug up, all memories
bulldozed. Another condo unit, another strip mall... nobody remembers.
Nobody but the old people. Sometimes they talk about it. You catch bits and
pieces of it whispered in donut shops. And I remember. It was a day I'll never
forget. That was the day, I believe, when everything changed.
Sometimes I drive by the old neighborhood, just for the hell of it. There is
nothing left that I can remember. As I go down the street, have a look around
out of curiosity, nothing is as it was. Everything is new, farmland turned into
duplexes. But as I drive around the corner, look down that dark street where it
happened, I shiver, feel a chill — the kind of chill you would feel on a cold
They say that there is no such thing as ghosts. But as I drive by, I look away
and sadly wonder.