A Strange Way To Die

Several years back I was enthralled with the case of Elisa Lam. The case ultimately seemed to amount to a mentally ill woman who got herself into a very strange predicament that cost her her life. Whether or not that is the whole truth we may never know. But it took some time for me to accept the validity of such an explanation. It just seemed absurd that a person, even if suffering from some mental break, could end up the way Elisa had.

The trouble is, such cases may not be as rare as one would think. I have begun to notice a pattern, one I will illustrate in 5 cases below, of people (in this case all women) who began exhibiting signs of erratic behavior before ultimately meeting tragic ends. Several had previously been diagnosed with bipolar (which Elisa also suffered from). Whether or not all of these strange deaths can be attributed to breaks from reality due to mental illness I cannot say. All that I can say is that if you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness, I urge you to seek the help that you need.

 

Wanda_jean_mays

In 1986, 26 year old Wanda Jean Mays was described by her loved ones as having a “chemical imbalance”. What precisely they meant is unclear, but it can be guessed from other descriptions that she suffered from panic attacks and “emotional distress” that she may have had a mental illness. On May 11th Wanda was spending the night at her aunt and uncles lakeside home. She headed into the guest bedroom at approximately 10:30pm. The next morning her relatives discovered (after breaking into the locked room) that Wanda was gone. The bed had not been slept in, her possessions were still on the dresser, and the large Venetian glass window had been smashed out from the inside, as if someone (presumably Wanda) had leapt through it. Outside, Wanda’s ripped, bloodsoaked nightgown was found laying on the end of the families dock, and some time later police located a bloodied canoe adrift on the water. But Wanda was gone. Despite the bizarre circumstances of her disappearance, police could find no evidence that anyone else had been in the bedroom with Wanda, nor that any actual crime had taken place. It seemed as if Wanda had leapt out the window herself. It was not until October of 2003, 22 years after her disappearance, that Wanda’s remains were discovered at the foot of a cliff about two miles away. But by then Wanda was only bones, and Police maintained their opinion that no foul play was involved.

Patricia_Meehan_missing_person_flyer

Patricia “Patty” Meehan was a 37 year old animal lover living on a ranch in Bozeman Montana. In the days leading up to her death her loved ones had noticed some unusual behavior, but nothing could have prepared them for the events of April 20th 1989. That evening Patty was involved in a car accident, due to her driving down the wrong side of the road. Patty and two other witnesses exited their respective cars to assess the situation, but the others were unnerved at Patty’s behavior. One of them described Patty as “staring” as if in a trance, and looking through them, not at them. After a moment Patty abruptly climbed a nearby fence and hopped down to the other side, where she again stood for a moment and stared. She then wandered off into a darkened field, never to be seen again. The other motorists were haunted by her behavior, and wondered if she had received a head injury in the crash. The trouble was, when police arrived they uncovered more evidence suggesting that Patty had been acting strangely before the crash took place. On a camera in her car they found the last photo ever taken of her, an unsettling self portrait in which Patty stares out of the same glassy eyes described by witnesses.

pattymeehan

Why did Patty take this unsettling selfie?

After the accident, there were hundreds of reported sightings of her, across the country. A few seemed to hold water, including one of a woman matching Patty’s description who sat in a diner for hours staring into space. Despite all the follow up and years of searching, Patty has never been found. Though she may well be alive, I included her case for its grim similarities to the others in this list.

resized_matrice

Mitrice Richardson was 24 year old with a bachelors in psychology living in Covina California. She was known by her loved ones as a free spirit and a tough cookie, and was an out and proud lesbian. In the days leading up to her disappearance, Mitrice had reportedly suffered from insomnia. On september 16th 2009 police were called to a Malibu California restaurant, Geoffrey’s. A customer there had been acting very strangely and was now attempting to leave without paying her bill. Witnesses reported that Mitrice had joined several different groups of people without invitation, and was acting flirtaciously as well as possibly intoxicated. At one point she claimed to a Geoffery’s employee that she was from Mars, and later she stared for a long time at a computer screen as if in a trance. Police issued a sobriety test and found that Mitrice was not on any drugs or alchohol. They took her to the station and booked her on minor charges. Her car and belongings were impounded.

mitrice

Mitrice’s booking photo which I find eerily similar to Patty Meehan’s final selfie.

At some point Mitrice’s mother, Latice, found out about her daughters strange behavior. She was assured by police that Mitrice was safe, and if she was to be released then they would notify Latice to pick her up. Latice was relieved; she had been concerned that her daughter would be let out in an unfamiliar area with no phone or car. Later on, after midnight, Mitrice asked to leave the station. As she was exhibiting no unusual signs to them and they had no legal way to hold her against her will, they agreed, but asked her to call her family. Mitrice agreed, and called her grandmother Mildred. At least, she said she did. Mildred never spoke to Mitrice that night, and though the calls were made they were not recieved, and it seems that Mitrice had babbled away for some time to a dial tone. Then Mitrice walked out into the darkness. At aound 6 in the morning, police received a call from a man in a rural area six miles from the station. There was a young black woman sitting in his backyard. Police didn’t arrive until some time later, and by then the woman was gone. It was the last time Mitrice Richardson was seen alive.  Mitrices-Map.jpg

Mitrice’s body was found completely by accident 11 months later, by police searching for illegal pot farming. Her naked body was in a remote area called Dark Canyon, and her clother were strewn around a wide radius. Her body was partially mummified, unusual for corpses in that area, especially after a rainy season. Despite this, police had her body removed before the area was properly processed as they did not feel it was a crime scene. In their opinion Mitrice had wandered into the night and died of exposure.

jamieminor

Jamie Minor was a beautiful 26 year old working at the Trace Restaurant located in the W Hotel in downtown Austin. She had been previously diagnosed with bipolar, but was leading a normal life until May 23rd 2011. On that evening, fellow employees noticed a change in Jamie. They described her behavior as “erratic”, and whatever she did it was bad enough that Jamie was terminated from her job on the spot. Friends concerned about her state of mind called her a ride, but Jamie wandered off before it arrived. She walked several blocks away to another restaurant, Perry’s Steakhouse, that she knew either from previous employment or a currently employed friend. However rather than entering through the front, Jamie was spotted on CCTV trying to force open the locked back and side doors of the establishment. After failing to gain entry, Jamie went up three floors of the adjacent parking garage and located an air duct leading into the building she was trying to access. While there is no footage of Jamie entering the ventilation system, some of her belongings were found on the ground at its entrance. Over a month later Jamie’s body was discovered lodged in the ducts a floor down. She appeared to have become trapped, and expired due to hyperthermia, as the vent was about 115 degrees inside. Some sources claim that MDVP (the active ingredient in bath salts) was found in her system, but the truth is unclear. Why Jamie was attempting to enter the building at all is unknown.

telekapatrick

Teleka Patrick was a 30 year old working as a psychiatry resident at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Though not diagnosed with a mental illness, Teleka did have a history of unusual behavior, including her obsession and stalking of a minister from Grand Rapids whom she was convinced she would marry. For her job Teleka worked long hours and sometimes went days without sleeping. In the days leading up to her disappearance, Teleka began exhibiting some disturbing warning signs. She claimed to some that she had begun hearing voices in her head, and posted strange things on her social media accounts before deleting them altogether. December 5th 2013 started as a normal day at the hospital, with no one noticing any odd behaviors from the troubled woman. But when her shift let out she approached a colleague, claiming she needed a ride and to borrow some money. The truth was Teleka had a car at the hospital, and she had purposefully left her wallet and phone in her locker for unknown reasons. Her coworker gave her a ride to her requested destination; a downtown Radisson hotel. They also lent her $100. Hotel employees and CCTV witnessed Teleka come in and try to get a room, however she was turned away (likely due to not having a card with her they could put on file). Teleka next went out to a shuttle and hitched a ride back to the hospital. The driver, the last person to see Teleka, described her as seeming anxious, as if she was being followed. From there Teleka got into her car and drove over 110 miles. Where she was going is anyones guess, but she never got there. Several reports came in to police stations about a car matching Telekas driving erratically on the highway, including crossing into oncoming traffic. Her car was found crashed in a ditch in Indiana, near Porter, minutes later. But Teleka was already gone. Search dogs traced her scent back up to the highway where it ended, and police presumed she had hitched a ride. Just in case, they had also searched the lake adjacent to the highway with sonar, and found nothing. It seemed unlikely the woman who had just crashed her car would scale a barb wire topped fence to get to the Charles Lake. And yet, on April 6th of 2014 her body was found in that very lake, $100 still in her pocket. Her cause of death was determined to be drowning, despite being in only 3ft of water.

Screen shot 2017-03-07 at 4.17.36 PM

Approximate location of the crash.

What was it that truly killed each of these women? Mental illness? Drugs? Bizarre accidents? I have even strongly considered the possibility of sleepwalking as a culprit. Its frightening to imagine that a person can seem perfectly fine one day, then completely wrong the next. Were these women suffering from mental breaks which lead to bizarre behavior they were not fully in control of? Were they hallucinating in the time leading to their deaths? Were their illnesses causing sleep disorders and possible sleepwalking? The truth is, we may never know. Unfortunately mental health has a strong negative stigma attached to it that leads to many not seeking treatment for illness, and leads to some being treated improperly. Hopefully one day we can better understand the vast unknown territory that is the mind, and learn to better treat the disorders that affect it.

The Universe Next Door

When I woke up this morning, Gettysburg was in Virginia.

It sounds silly, of course, to people who have always known Gettysburg to be in Pennsylvania. But for me it was a shock to discover, like Ashton Kutcher stepping out of my closet to tell me I was on the longest running episode of Punk’d. Or maybe a better example, Morpheus giving me the red pill and pushing me down the rabbit hole. I was…am…confused…shaken to my core…and questioning everything I know to be true about my reality.

You see, I learned in High School (where I took multiple advanced US History courses) that the Battle of Gettysburg took place in Virginia. MAYBE it was West Virginia (I always confuse those two). But it sure as hell wasn’t in Pennsylvania. Throughout the years since then nothing has ever come to my attention to signify anything different, and I have watched plenty of shows about Gettysburg’s history (and its ghosts).

But as I sat with my family planning our next trip, I suggested Philly and my Nana suggested Gettysburg, adding “They’re both in Pennsylvania.”

I looked at her in confusion. “…Gettysburg is in Virginia.”

I had said it with such conviction that it gave her pause, and she questioned her own knowledge. We were all quiet and contemplative a moment, then we turned to google. Gettysburg, it turns out, is in Pennsylvania. At least, it is in this dimension.

gettysburg-map-google-maps

It seems to me like I have suffered from a very personal example of the “Mandela Effect”, a phenomenon coined several years back after a large number of people were shocked to discover that Nelson Mandela died in 2013, and not the 80’s or 90’s like they had apparently believed. Some even vividly remembered watching his televised funeral back in the day.

Personally I couldn’t remember him dying either time, so the effect went over my head…until another example went mainstream.

Starting in the 1960’s a series of children’s books about a family of bears learning lessons came onto the market, and made an impression that lasted long into my childhood and spawned several animated shows as well. While never a fan myself, everyone knew about “The Berenstein Bears”.

1438789236-05f1f54137a3681e2cfa55e01bf581fb2642c65581540

The trouble was, that’s not what they are called. The eponymous family is called the BerenSTAIN’s. And supposedly they always have been.

truth

When the discussion first arose on Reddit, people lost their minds. Some Redditors literally clawed their way up into their attics in desperation to retrieve original copies of the books that would PROVE the spelling had been changed sometime between the late 90’s to early 2000’s, only to be horrified to discover that their entire lives were apparently a lie. When I first told my mom the “truth” about the bears, she looked like she had learned what they keep in the secret tunnels under the Vatican. Like most others, she refused to believe me at all until she had literally googled it herself. As far as I know, no one has ever uncovered an “original” copy of the books with the “correct” spelling, something that makes perfect sense to the Berenstain family, who wrote the books in question.

But why do so many people share the same false memory?

Some truly believe the name was changed in some sort of vast conspiracy to make the characters sound “less Jewish”. Others are content to believe most kids are just dumb and can’t read so good. I however, know for a fact that if there was a book about characters with the word “Stain” in their name, I would have found some way to turn it into a poop joke as a child.

An obvious explanation is a sort of “memory hysteria” in which word of mouth and assumptions cause the general population to believe in a falsehood that isn’t corrected in an obvious way until a long while later. People thought it was spelled that way and communicated it to others and then to others and so on like a massive game of telephone.

And the fact is, no one can prove that’s not what’s happening. You see, the only proof that it was ever spelled a different way lies in peoples memories, which have been proven time and again to be incredibly flawed and unsettlingly adept at completely fabricating “truths”.

But a more disturbing and interesting explanation ties the idea of the Mandela Effect to something that is being studied by some of the brightest minds on planet earth: Quantum Mechanics.

You see, there are real scientific geniuses out there right now who are studying, believe in, and are trying to prove the existence of other dimensions. And if they think it’s possible, why shouldn’t we?

The idea is called “Many World’s Theory” and it posits that there are an infinite number of parallel dimensions beside the one we reside in. In other words, for every different outcome to an event there is another dimension. So perhaps you reside currently in the dimension where you put on a blue shirt today, but there is another universe identical to this one in every way except that you chose to wear a red shirt instead. That example illustrates a small, nearly unnoticeable change. But what about events with higher stakes, ones with far more consequence?

59f46380ff5d2ce0b29cfb17b8c08f82

This is where the idea of Many Worlds intersects with another theory known as “Quantum Immortality“. Now I’m not a quantum physicist so theres plenty about all this I can’t explain, but the gist of it is this: If you die in one dimension, your consciousness will combine with an adjacent dimension. Basically, you won’t realize anything is different, but the dimension you just left will now be dealing with your death. The dimensions can have differences so minuscule you’d never notice, and because your life will be (nearly) exactly the same, you never will.

201112301

But what if you DO notice?

Many Worlds and Quantum Immortality have been used to explain occurrences such as deja vu and the Mandela Effect. Perhaps instead of our memories being faulty, our worlds have actually changed subtly around us. Or…WE are the ones who changed. Because these theories would mean that in our current dimension, the Berenstain Bears have always been spelled as such. We just remember differently because we are remembering the dimension we used to reside in.

But how could such a vast number of people all have come from the same alternate universe into this one? The most obvious explanation would be a large scale disaster that killed most or all of the population of earth sometime in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. The residents of that dimension’s consciousness-es (or “Souls” if you prefer) would have then merged seamlessly with a parallel timeline where everything was exactly the same except the apocalypse did not happen…and one family of author’s names was spelled slightly different. 

It may seem fantastical or far fetched, but again I say, Quantum Mechanics is real and there are scientists working right now to prove that alternate dimensions are real, so it’s less crazy than it sounds.

So assuming all this is true, could there be a possible explanation to the Berenstain mystery? What catastrophic event could have happened that killed so many and fits the time frame?

On December 31st 1999, I was eight years old and at the annual New Years party at a family friends house. I was with my parents and my best friend (it was her family’s house) but even as an ignorant child, I was terrified. The rumor was, when the clock struck midnight, the world might end. The adults were laughing and drinking and pretending everything was fine, but the truth was, the world was caught in a sense of unease as the clock neared midnight and the new millennium approached.

theend4

In retrospect it might seem silly, the fear that gripped the world. After all, what was the worst that could happen? Some ancient computers stop working because they aren’t programmed to handle the date? Well not exactly.

The fear was that some very important computers, namely the ones controlling the worlds nuclear weapons and those warning us of nuclear attacks, might fail and thus literally end the world. Politicians and scientist had been scrambling in panic trying to avert any chance of a crisis, but everyone held their breath the night that ball dropped.

But nothing happened. Or at least, nothing we remember. The next morning everyone had a good laugh at how foolish we had all been, to think that a simple change of a minute hand would be our great undoing. But I will never forget where I was when the year changed over. I was hiding under a blanket, trembling, praying that we wouldn’t die.

But what if we did?

deja-vu-fi

And what if I died again earlier today, and woke up in a dimension where my life was the exact same except here, Gettysburg was a town founded just a little further north? The strange thing is, on my way home from Boston, my mother and I were nearly in a car accident caused by a large chunk of ice falling off a truck in front of us on the highway and slamming into our windshield like a brick. Miraculously there wasn’t even a crack left behind. At least…not in this dimension.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-1-25-17-am

The Story of Zombies

Many people muse about their odds of surviving a zombie apocalypse. I am one of those people. Ok…maybe I go one step further.

Just because I dress myself every morning with the thought “Could I successfully fight zombies in this?” in the back of my mind, constantly consider the closest objects that could be used as a weapon when walking through a store, and always keep my exit plans in mind not in case of fire, but in case of zombies, clearly doesn’t mean I’m obsessed. But for as long as I can remember I have had a fascination with zombies. I watched Night of the Living Dead when I was four, I think that pretty much explains it all.  But zombies aren’t just a fun cultural phenomenon or fad…they actually hold a lot of intriguing symbolism and history.

Long before the living dead were shambling across the silver screen or trying to eat Rick on The Walking Dead, they were shambling through the nightmare worlds of Haitian culture. Though creatures described as ‘the dead returned to life’ or ‘dead bodies inhabited by demons’ had existed in lore before, it was in Haiti that the monster we know today was truly born. In Haiti however the Zombi, a creature created by a sorcerer or Bokor by voodoo, was a very real threat, not just a bedtime story to scare children.

There have been several documented cases of ‘actual zombies’, the most famous being a woman named Felicia Felix-Mentor, who died in 1907 and then inexplicably wandered dazedly back into town again in 1936. A doctor later diagnosed the woman claiming to be Mentor to be a random, schizophrenic look-alike, this despite her own husband having verified it was her. Whether Mentor or the dozens of other cases similar (written off as the mentally disabled or brain damaged) were actual zombies may never be known for sure, and though to many it may seem like a farce, to Haitians the idea of voodoo and zombies is deeply ingrained in their culture and religion.

zombie-life-magazine-dec-13-1937_0

A Zombie or a misidentified sick woman?

Much like they still do today, Haitian zombies symbolized a crisis at the time. In the past the crisis was slavery. As was quoted in Bishop’s book American Zombie Gothic, to Haitians the “fear is not of being harmed by zombis; it is fear of becoming one”. The idea of an evil bokor being able to use a person like a puppet to do their bidding was a reflection of the horrors of slavery which they themselves suffered. This made it even more ironic that when zombies were introduced to America, they symbolized the racist fear of the Haitians themselves.

What amazes scholars about zombies is the fact that they are a creature born straight out of folklore, not having a precedent in literature. Unlike vampires and other creatures, the zombie was never solidified in text. There have been mentions of the dead rising as far back as the epic Gilgamesh, and even the Bible had a ‘zombie’.

In John 11:1-44, the story of Lazarus rising from the dead thanks to Jesus is told. Taken as an uplifting story of Jesus’ power, the story takes on a more sinister meaning when you introduce the idea of zombies. In many cultures, especially older ones, a person’s name is a sacred and important thing. To control the name is to control the person. Africans captured into slavery regarded renaming as a form of subjugation in itself, a loss of their identity. In the story of Lazarus, Lazarus’ name is mentioned for the last time when Jesus calls him forth. The Bible then refers to Lazarus only as the “dead man”.

lazarus.jpg

“Uh…Jesus? Thats a zombie…also why are you white?”

But zombies of today actually bare few similarities with the zombies of old, even the zombies that were first in cinema such as the 1932 film White Zombie, which (although racist as heck…) is much closer to the traditional voodoo zombie of Haiti. The zombies of today were really crafted in 1968, in a film that ironically never even says the word zombie.

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead changed the canon of zombies forever, turning them into the flesh eating horde that we know today. Romero is seen as the the “Godfather of zombies” for his pioneering of the genre in his Dead films (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and Survival of the Dead). I had the pleasure of meeting Romero myself, and it’s a bit shocking to think that such a kind, grandfatherly looking man could be so skilled at making gory masterpieces. But skilled he was, and Romero’s movie, which had a $114,000 budget, became internationally famous and inspired countless other independent filmmakers to make their own zombie movies. The proliferation of zombie films to this day is surely partially due to the fact they are (or were?) so much cheaper to make than most traditional movies. In fact small indie filmmakers have churned out hundreds of zombie flicks in the last 20 years.

night-of-the-living-dead-coming-to-get-you-barbara-320x180

Romero’s zombies set up several important zombie guidelines that, although occasionally tweaked, have remained mostly true for every film since then. The most important rule is that, one way or another, zombies are prolific. In most media the zombie bite spreads the agent that makes one a zombie, usually a virus. It is never clear what originally made Romero’s zombies (although something about dust from a meteor is mentioned, alluding possibly to one of Romero’s obvious inspirations Invasion of the Body Snatchers) but in Night the zombies are quite literally the dead come back to life. In some of todays movies the ‘zombies’ (which many argue can’t really be classified as zombies anymore and are typically called ‘infected’) are not ‘dead’ but are infected with some sort of virus (like the ‘Rage’ virus in 28 Days Later). In my opinion however, they are all the same, because it is not how the zombie is made that is important, but what the zombie stands for.

zombies

Night of the Living Dead came out during a troubling time in American history. The Vietnam War was in full blast, tensions between races were high, and many felt that America was suffering from a breakdown of traditional family values. All of these were themes explored in Romero’s movie. Then in 1978 Romero released what many consider to be his masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead. Working a bit like a sequel to Night, Dawn follows several survivors’ attempts to live in a mall, and tackles themes of American consumerism. Since then, every resonating zombie movie has explored important global themes such as these, and its no surprise there is always an upswing in zombie movies during times of crisis. For a while, especially in the 90s when the Clinton Administration had lulled the country into calm, there were very few movies in the zombie genre, and the few there were were unsuccessful. Then, 9/11 happened. Almost immediately the number of zombies movies being made and released saw a huge increase. Now the movies explored the nations fears of terrorists and the collapse of the government. In American Zombie Gothic, Kyle William Bishop states that:

“Because the aftereffects of war, terrorism, and natural disasters so closely resemble the scenarios depicted by zombie cinema, such images of death and destruction have all the more power to shock and terrify a population that has become otherwise jaded to more traditional horror films.”

In fact, zombies reflecting our culture is just one of many reasons that zombies freak us out. In the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead the movie’s heroine awakens to a neighbor, a little girl, entering her room. In the shadows the girl seems fine, but is seen to be a mutilated zombie in the light, who promptly attacks the heroine. The innocence of a child being distorted by the instincts of a killer is eerily similar to the stories of child suicide bomber’s from the warfront. The next disturbing moment in Dawn is restated perfectly by author Joe Nickell:

“[O]ur heroine encounters a municipal bus on the side of the road. Through the back window, she can see the silhouettes of a passenger’s futile struggle against two zombies who are attacking her. The violence of the shot isn’t what unnerved me. It was that shot, taken out of the film’s context, didn’t look all that different from graphic news footage of places in the real world where people suddenly and savagely turn on each other. We have seen it all too many times in places like Haiti, Rwanda, the former Yugoslav Republic and now in Darfur. It was the notion that the peace we take for granted is indeed a far more fragile thing than we realize, and one day we might wake up to discover that those we love and live alongside might inexplicably want to kill us. That unnerves me every time I think of it, because if you really immerse yourself in the fictional world of a zombie movie, you realize that there is no way to manage the risk of an outbreak unless you sever all connections with other people and begin viewing them as zombies-to-be.”

Because of the familiarity of scenes like these to real world horror, zombies become all the more frightening. There’s no denying that it takes a lot to scare an audience nowadays. With the hyper-realistic gore of films like Saw, and the news’ constant broadcast of the horrors around the world,   filmmakers have to try to reach their audience on a psychological level if they want to be successful.

Residents look for survivors at a damaged site after what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo

Post Apocalypse? ….Nope. Modern day Aleppo.

But being reminded of the news certainly isn’t the only reason people flocked to Gamestop to pre-order games like Left 4 Dead 2. For starters, people love to hate zombies. In zombie movies and games, it is perfectly acceptable for the hero to riddle this humanoid looking creature with bullets and feel absolutely no remorse whatsoever. Zombies are not people. They were, and they certainly look like people to an extent, but survivors no longer feel any sort of human empathy for them. According to scientist and robotocist Masahiro Mori, this is due to the ‘Uncanny Valley’ theory. The idea of the ‘Uncanny Valley’ is that humans find things that look humanoid to a certain extent ‘cute’ (for example, stuffed animals) but once the likeness becomes too great, the attraction turns to fear and revulsion, as the thing looks human, but is not.

18sqkzga6cy7bjpg

Oh my God.

This ‘Uncanny Valley’ is recognizable to everyone, whether it was the creepy lifelike doll your grandmother had, or your grandmother herself in her coffin, looking so alive, and yet unlike the living woman you once knew. This feeling of detachment allows the zombies to become ‘things’ instead of people, and though this ‘inhuman’ quality does scare us even more, it also makes their extermination easier. This paradox between familiarity and unfamiliarity has been explored in many forms, as it seems humans are most frightened by monsters that look like us. From the aliens of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, to the nurses of the Silent Hill series, humanoid monsters seems to reign most successful in leaving a lasting impression.

Possibly the biggest fear a zombie poses however, is infection. Just the idea of a horrific, unstoppable, and incredibly contagious disease has haunted humanity since we were living in caves. Look at the Ebola scare a few years ago, or the H1N1 scare a few years before that. Humans have an innate fear of disease, so it would only make sense that mixing the fear of disease with all the fears zombies conjure up on their own is a nightmare inducing cocktail for success.

ebola

Zombie outbreak?…Try Ebola.

It was exactly this theory that likely spawned things like the Resident Evil franchise, a series of games, movies, and other media about a virus (the T-Virus) that escapes a secret laboratory and spreads like wildfire, turning everyone in its path into a zombie or horrific monster.  In fact it seems that nowadays the fear of the zombie comes hand in hand with the fear of infection itself. Movies like 2009’s Carriers even take out the zombie aspect and make the disease spreading threat regular, albeit desperate, humans. Many zombie stories take a combination approach, especially The Walking Dead. You think the zombies are the biggest threat, only to discover the real threat; other humans.

tumblr_ofvzcef7nh1sfj44oo1_500

He’s a lot hotter than a zombie though…

Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead sagely said that zombies are “our own death, personified”.  No one wants to be a zombie, and the impending fear of becoming one, especially the horrible foreboding once you have actually been bitten, is the epitome of psychological terror. A common trope of zombie tale is of the frightened survivor who gets a bite chomped out of him or her, then hides the wound from their fellow teammates in some unfounded hope for a miracle.

19787101

May I just say right now, in case zombies do attack, please do not be THAT GUY. Everyone hates THAT GUY. THAT GUY always dies, and also always brings a few friends along with them. However a trope found about as often is the hero who knows they are doomed by the bite, and decides to go down in a glorious hail of bullets or fire and take as many zombie bastards as possible with them (if you want to get a good example of both in action check out Resident Evil: Extinction). This is the guy that everyone loves, and the one that you should strive to be should the undead rise.

Ultimately, a zombie movie done right can literally encompass every human’s worse nightmare. With critically acclaimed shows like The Walking Dead and bestselling books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, zombies have managed to slowly stumble out of the realm of ‘joke’ that campy parodies like Return of the Living Dead and Dead Alive sadly once resigned them to. Not that there shouldn’t be a bit of humor equated with zombies. Though undeniably frightening in numbers and power, the single rotting and moaning zombie can very easily become comical rather than terrifying. A truly brilliant zombie program knows how to take the serious and humorous elements of zombies and blend them. Zombieland does this pretty well, and even Shaun of the Dead has its serious and truly distressing moments. Sometimes when a zombie movies takes itself too seriously, it can be a bit TOO soul crushing, such as 2007’s I Am Legend. But regardless if you like your zombie movie purely gory and fun, or if you like a more physiological and philosophical approach, you simply can’t deny that zombies have had an impact on American culture. And whether you find them them the most terrifying monster or the most overrated, it is also impossible to deny that if a zombie outbreak began you would be afraid.

Boston’s Mysterious Vanishing Men, part 2

To read part 1 please click here

To view an interactive may of all cases click here

A note from the author Cryptid/Elise:

It has been almost a year since I wrote a blog post called “Boston’s Mysterious Vanishing Men” and it has been an incredible journey for me since then. I have experienced heartbreak in talking more with loved ones of the men I wrote about, anxiety over sharing my work to a larger and larger audience, and pride in my readers and my city in working to find solutions to this bizarre problem. I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not have an answer, and I do not know what is really happening. I do not know if these water deaths are accidental or intentional, preventable or inevitable. But I believe that each of the men I write about has a story that deserves to be told, and that it just might help us stop these tragedies in the future. 

I apologize profoundly for taking so long to write another post. It has been a difficult year for me, with many personal and health related problems keeping me from investing the time that I believe these cases deserve. Finally feeling strong enough to delve back into this work, I bring to you a part 2 of “Vanishing Men” As you may notice, many of these cases occurred outside of Boston, but there are incredible connections and similarities. It is my hope that these cases combined with the others can start to piece together this puzzle more and more until perhaps some day the mystery is solved. I want to give a final reminder as you read however, that these are not merely “cases” but also individuals, people with loved ones. Please read and respond to these posts with utmost respect. Thank you.

The cases so far:

Jerald Gelb (44) 8/2001

John Daverio (49)  3/2003

Daniel Mun (20) 12/2003

David W. Crockett (45) 1/2004

Dustin Willis (26) 3/2007

John Pike (23) 6/2007

Neo Babson Maximus/Charles M. Allen Jr. (22) 10/2007

William Hurley (24) 10/2009

Eugene Losik (26) 2/2010

Justin Marshall (30) 6/2010

David Mark (24) 2/2011

Christopher Martin (24) 12/2011

Franco Garcia (21) 2/2012

D’Anthony Green (23) 7/2012

Pedro Colon-Rodriguez (69) 10/2012

Jonathan Dailey (23) 10/2012

Joseph A. Gage (32) 1/2013

Eric Munsell (24) 2/2014

Shilo Morgado (36) 8/2015

Josue Quispe (18) 10/2015

Dennis Njoroge (21) 11/2015

Zachary Marr (22) 2/2016

jeraldgelb

Jerald Gelb had a Master’s degree in computer science and was a former employee at IBM. He suffered a mental breakdown after being let go from his job in his 30’s, and his family members suspected he was battling schizophrenia. On August 16th 2001 he showed up unexpected at his parents home in Brookline, Ma. He spent the night, but was gone by approximately 5am the next morning when his parents checked on him. Jerald was 40 when he went missing, wearing a red sweatshirt, and has not been heard from since. The area he disappeared from is very close to the Muddy River, a small offshoot of the Charles.

If you have any info on Jerald please call the Brookline Police Dept. at (617) 730-2222

danielmun

Daniel Mun was a 20 year old from Kirksville Missouri. He was a biology student at MIT and a member of a frat house. He was good at sports, particularly tennis, and was remembered as very friendly. Daniel went missing on December 5th 2003 at about 4am, and may have been intoxicated at that time. Daniel’s roommate recalled that he did not seem stressed or sad before his disappearance, though there was apparently a concerning note found in his computer suggesting a suicide was possible. Daniel’s body was found under the ice near the Harvard Bridge in March of 2004. His MIT ID was in his pocket, and he was wearing inline skates (not ice skates). Daniel’s death was ruled a suicide.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-2-09-48-pm

David Wayne Crockett was a service tech at an auto shop in Wareham, MA. He was an avid mechanic and loved car racing and motorcycles. He went missing in January of 2004 after last being seen at a restaurant near the water of Buttermilk bay. Three months later on April 3 2004, his body was discovered under a dock at the Continental Marina only 100 yards away. The water had supposedly been frozen until recently and authorities said it appeared to have been in the water for some time, though the marina owner described the body as “very visible”. David’s death was ruled an accidental drowning.

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-11-55-10-am

pike

John Pike was a 23 year old Syracuse University graduate in Public Communications, where he made Deans List and honors society. He was an athlete and avid musician, the drummer for a band called Ra Ra Riot. In June 2007 his band had played a show and was attending an after party in Fairhaven MA. Several friends saw John step outside at about 3am, but were concerned when he did not return later. His girlfriend received a text from him around this time saying he loved her, but this was not unusual. The house backs up to a Buzzards Bay beach, but Pike was notorious for his dislike of water and the tide was out. Later on that day at about 3pm John’s phone was found in shallow water on the west side of Wilbur Point. The next day his body was found about 200 yards away in 7 feet of water. Police said no foul play was suspected. Ra Ra Riot was enjoying growing success and John was passionate about the band.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-2-59-01-pm

charlesallen

Charles M. Allen Jr. was a senior psychology major at Umass Dartmouth. In his past he had been a relatively famous online gamer, well known for his abilities in the  Valve game Half-Life. His passions shifted in college toward Tennis, and his dream was to become a professional player. “Charlie” had recently legally changed his name to “Neo Babson Maximus” perhaps in a effort to have a ‘famous persona’. His loved ones still knew him as Charlie, and insisted his name change was unrelated to his disappearance or mental illness. Charlie suffered from Bipolar disorder, though until not long before his disappearance it was well managed with medication. The trouble seemed to begin when Charlie’s sister contacted him asking him why he had deleted his facebook. Charlie became alarmed and insisted he had not. He told her that he believed he was in danger after sending some emails to “important people” and that she needed to be careful. He also said that the “answer” was in the “periodic table” then hung up. He later left a voicemail on his parents phone that sounded as if he was running through the woods. He was not heard from again until several days later when he reportedly broke into the second floor of a strangers house at 3am on October 13th 2007. He seemed confused and told the stranger he thought he was at his friends house, then he hurried off. Charlie’s car was found abandoned at his University’s parking lot, his backpack was found on Slocum Rd. and his shoes were found off Chase Rd.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-3-45-57-pm

His computer at home had been completely wiped. He has never been found.

If you have any info on Charlie please contact the Dartmouth Police at (508) 910-1700

justinmarshal

Justin Marshall was a star high school football player, went to West Point, and graduated from Notre Dame. He then graduated from Suffolk Law with honors, and was working at Boston City Hall in Mayor Menino’s legal department. In June of 2006 Justin was out with friends in the Charlestown neighborhood on Pier 6, when the others in the group realized he was missing around 1am. His body was found in the water nearby. There has been little follow up to indicate a cause of death or other info.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-4-05-27-pm

096585056c774a4cbbf1d05768d5b0bd

Christopher Martin lived in New Bedford and worked at Barden’s Boat Yard in Marion. He was 24 years old  and intoxicated when he was last seen in Downtown New Bedford at 1:30 am on December 17th 2011. His girlfriend reported him missing at 3:45 am. His body was discovered in the water behind a seafood restaurant the next morning, tangled in several life preservers. Authorities found this suspicious, as it appeared that someone may have tried to help Christopher. The stairs to the water near where he was found had been ripped up. No further information is known at this time.

danthony-green

D’Anthony Green was a 23 year old student at Suffolk University. He was very athletic and active, as well as artistic, enjoying everything from photography to skydiving. Because he lived alone, the exact date he went missing is unknown. He was found in the water, having been there ‘several days’, wearing his running pants under his regular pants, as if he had been coming or going from a work out. D’Anthony was a very capable swimmer with no history of suicidal tendencies, leaving his family suspicious about his death. Despite this, police ruled his death a suicide.

17rodriguez3

Pedro Colon-Rodriguez had immigrated from Puerto Rico to Boston. He had five children with his late wife, whose death hit him hard. In his recent years he had become a heavy drinker, and spent most of his time with Cambridge’s homeless community. He was well liked for his giving nature. In early October 2012 Pedro went to Cambridge Hospital for treatment of a fall related injury. He was not seen again until his body was discovered in the Charles River monday the 8th. He was still wearing his hospital bracelet. Pedro was found the day before Jonathan Daily, leading to his case being largely underreported.

103018237_135716873860

Joseph A. Gage was a 32 year old New Hampshire native with a degree in Mathematics from University of Hartford. He was athletic, a musically gifted guitar player, and loved to travel. On January 1st 2013 at about 3am, witnesses reported seeing Joseph crossing the Harvard Bridge with another man. Halfway across they hailed a cab, but instead of getting in Joseph apparently intentionally hurled himself over the rail of the bridge and into the Charles. Despite an intense search and theoretically knowing the exact location of the body, Joseph was not recovered until March 14th. One site described his death as a “tragic accident”.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-5-34-35-pm

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-6-04-13-pm

Shiloh Morgado was from Vallejo California, and lived in Westborough Ma. He had two children. Shiloh was known by many to be a “tech wizard” and was happiest while doing things like building his own computers. His body was discovered near Quincy Yacht Club on August 30th 2015, at around 6am. No foul play was suspected.

********

Already the similarities between these cases and those in the previous post may be jumping out at you. You’ll notice in this group several technologically gifted men, several musicians, and many very intelligent individuals.

There are multiple men missing in a cluster around Buzzard’s Bay that I found intriguing.

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-4-36-31-pm

Again, as far as I can tell, the locations of these similar deaths are not sporadic, and do not happen along every coast or waterway. There seems to be several “hot spots” in Massachusetts alone, indicating that whom or what is causing the deaths may have a sort of “territory”. Whether it is a single migrating cause or two separate causes I cannot say.

I have charted the cases I have researched so far here to better illustrate the cluster areas.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-10-45-21-pm

As most of Eastern Massachusetts is surrounded or in close proximity to water, it stands to reason that other cities should be seeing similar deaths if this was a “normal” occurrence, particularly areas with high populations of young people and bars (cities such as Salem and Provincetown come to mind). And if this was a problem related to college aged drinkers, surely students in the western MA college areas have many lakes and rivers that could pose dangers?

The average temperature of Boston Harbor varies greatly between October and March (the peak months for disappearances). Here are some stats:

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-6-04-39-pm

Even at it’s coldest, Boston’s water never dips below freezing point at 32°, nor does it come close to the estimated 28° of the Atlantic when the Titanic sank. Death from hypothermia in freezing water can happen in as little as 15 minutes, but even in that small window it seems that someone could be crying out for help or trying to climb out of the water.

Normally alcohol in the system increases ones chances of hypothermia, but there is evidence to suggest that sometimes the exact opposite is true. Charles Joughin survived the 28° water after the Titanic for an astounding two hours until a lifeboat picked him up. Joughin was an avid drinker, carrying a flask with him everywhere, and said that thanks to his intoxication he barely felt the cold.

While this may be an unusual case, it does make one think. I have never heard of a case of a drunk college kid falling off a pier, climbing back out, laughing it off and going home to warm up. (If this has happened to you or someone you know, please let me know in the comments.) My only other thought on the matter is that perhaps in many of the cases the men suffer shock from the coldness of the water almost immediately as they hit it, causing them to gasp deeply and inhale water, speeding up the drowning process. Still, it seems unlikely that so many men would not survive the critical moments after entering the water, as hypothermia is a slower process.

********

I hope you have found part 2 of my research interesting and informative, and I hope you join me in the comments for discussion! Thank you.

 

 

Some More Thoughts on Zachary Marr

“Empty handed I entered the world and barefoot will I leave it”

The words were scrawled on yellow columns, one word to each, which were lining the walkway I traveled down. The graffiti seemed particularly fitting for the occasion. I was walking down a path to the place where Zachary Marr had died.

IMG_3932

The quote was a shortened, bastardization of a quote by a Japanese Monk, Kozan Ichikyo. He wrote it the day that he died in 1360. The full version is

“Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going —
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.”

The winding path sandwiched between TD Garden and the Zakim bridge was presumably the same as the one Zach had walked just a few weeks before. I tried to imagine what he was thinking or seeing on that bitterly cold February night. Had he also read the words along the posts? Or were those written sometime after he had gone into the water? The sidewalk, if one followed it, led to a wide area directly beneath the Zakim, where the Charles River’s salty water lapped quietly at the cement footings.

IMG_2451

It was an almost pleasant area by the light of day, a secret seeming place. Across the water to the right, one of the State Police buildings abutted the water, their patrol boats docked about only a few hundred feet from where Zach Marr had been that night. Despite the location, no one except the cameras attached to the bridges underbelly had seen what happened. Or at least, no one that we know of. For a reason we still cannot understand, Zack seemingly walked to this place, then along a catwalk under the bridge that runs parallel to the train tracks, separated by a fence.

IMG_2453

The catwalk ends in a dead end, while the train tracks continue across a steel beam bridge.

IMG_2455
Zach then apparently (according to reports of the cctv footage which has not been released) climbed up onto the railings by the water, and stepped off into the darkness.

I would give nearly anything to see that footage. Not for any sick pleasure or macabre entertainment; I suffered from nightmares for some time about Zach. In fact, the idea of seeing the video fills me with a sense of unrivaled dread. But something in me needs to see it, in some strange way. Maybe I feel like I will learn something I couldn’t understand before? Maybe I believe I will feel somehow vindicated? What was he wearing when he went over that railing? Was he moving clumsily, drunkenly? Or in the same surefooted, trancelike state I had seen on so many other eerie cctv videos of similar cases? Did it look like a simple accidental slip? Did it look like a resolute suicide? And even if I had these answers, what would they mean?

As I walked along the length of the catwalk I noticed the signs of homeless people’s camps; beds made of old blankets and cardboard, snack wrappers and cups, even some articles of clothing that could have been anyones. (Zach’s? Someone who was there that night? If he was somehow murdered, a suspect?)

IMG_2454

The weather was warmer now, more bearable, survivable. There was probably no one else around the night Zach was here. It had been the coldest night of the year in Boston in recent memory; hypothermia could happen in only a short time and most of the cities homeless population would have had to seek shelter in more protected places. Still, I wondered if the police had tried talking to any of the regulars around North Station. I doubted it.

For most people Zach’s death was quickly accepted as just another accident. Just another drunk college age boy who wandered off into the water. I of course have difficulty accepting that. That theory leaves too many unanswered questions, and is simply too similar to the hundreds of other cases like it. I feel in my gut that something else happened that night, that there are still more puzzle pieces that need to be collected and fitted together before we can understand what.

Did you know any of these people?

I am reaching out to the public for information on a list of people who have either gone missing or died in Massachusetts. If you knew any of them and can give me any info, even if it’s just to tell me you do not want them included in my investigations, please reach out to me. The list is comprised of people that might fit with my previous investigated cases, and most I could find very little info about.

Jerald Gelb (40) Aug. 16 2001

David W. Crockett (45) April 3 2004

Daniel Mun (20) Dec. 5 2004

John Pike (23) June 2nd 2007

Charles M. Allen Jr. (22) Oct. 13 2007

Justin Marshall (30) June 6 2010

Christopher Martin (24) Dec. 17 2011

D’Anthony Green (23) July 30th 2012

Joseph A. Gage (32) Jan. 1 2013

Shilo Morgado (36) Aug. 30 2015

If you can tell me about any of these men, or if you knew someone else that you feel might have been a victim of the Boston Drownings, please comment or message/contact me. I will keep any info you want private. Thank you.

The Mysterious Death of Kendrick Johnson

Kendrick_Johnson.jpg

On Thursday, January 10 2013, 17 year old Kendrick Johnson went to school like any other day. Kendrick was a student at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia. It was the first week back after winter break for students. Kendrick was a decent athlete with a close group of friends who called him KJ.

At about 1:09 pm according to a motion activated camera in the school, Kendrick entered the older and lesser used of the school’s two gymnasiums. He may have been going to fetch a pair of sneakers that he co-owned with a friend, and stored in the gym corner to avoid locker room fees. What happened next will probably never be known for certain. But Kendrick never left that gym alive. Though other student’s came in moments later, they did not remember seeing Kendrick anywhere. Kendrick was marked absent for his next class of the day. That evening a color guard practice took place in the same gym, and still no one saw or heard anything.

n

When Kendrick did not come home that day his mother began to worry immediately. She recalled having a bad feeling in her gut. Jacquelyn Johnson called around asking about her son Kendrick, but no one had seen him. At about 11pm she got in her car and drove around desperately searching for him. Kenneth Johnson, Kendrick’s father, was out of town and could not assist or comfort her. By 12:30 am the distressed mother finally did what she had been dreading; she called the police and reported her son missing.

kendrick-and-parents

The next morning Jackie headed to the school. It was the last place anyone had recalled seeing Kendrick, and her only lead. At 8:30am she met with several member of the administration, who helped her make and print missing persons flyers. At around 10:30 am Jackie witnessed a flurry of activity around the school. She overheard a conversation she was never meant to, and words that would change her life forever: they had found a body in the gym. In the following hours a parade of police, investigators, and the county coroner Bill Watson would descend upon the school.

But Bill Watson wasn’t called to the scene until late that evening, long after the body had been found. Upon arriving he was confused about other aspects of the handling of the case as well; the crime seen was being processed incorrectly and thus contaminated. People on scene were not wearing foot coverings. Not all evidence was being bagged or even considered. And Johnson’s body had been sitting and decomposing for hours without being examined.

Screen shot 2016-07-01 at 1.19.20 PM

The scene that greeted Bill Watson was disturbing to say the last. Kendrick Johnson’s body was in the back corner of the old gym, hanging halfway out of a rolled up wrestling mat. The body was covered in blood and vomit. His face was swollen and he had clearly been dead almost 24 hours, the smell of death hanging heavy in the gym. Despite all this the Sheriff, Chris Prine, was already ready to make a statement that evening: “Foul play is not suspected.”

“I definitely would not have ruled it an accident” Watson recalled of the scene. Or perhaps at least not so soon. (Footage of that scene can be easily found online, but I will not be including a link as it is graphic.)

When questioned about the discovery, witnesses said they had been near a grouping of mats when they noticed socked feet in one of them near the center. After alerting a teacher who helped move the mats and tip the one in question over, it became very clear the student inside was deceased.

8c9616075-131106-gymmat-4a.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

Johnson’s feet can just be made out in the rolled up blue mat. This image gives an idea of the set up before the mat was laid on its side.

Johnson’s body and personal affects were bagged and sent to the Valdosta Crime Lab. There they awaited positive identification by Kenneth Johnson. When Kendrick’s father arrived he recalled being concerned about the temperature in the drawer where his son’s body was stored. According to him warm air wafted from the supposedly refrigerated unit. This was to be just the first in a long list of contested facts about Kendrick Johnson’s death and the following investigation, a back and forth shouting match between dozens of Valdosta citizens about the ‘truth’, and series of seemingly endless examples of “he said” “she said”.

Barry Funck, director of the Valdosta Crime Lab, refutes Kenneth’s claims. He assured everyone that body storage is always kept to temperature, and alarms would sound if it ever got too high. This was pointed out to NAACP representative of Valdosta, Leigh Touchton, who visited Funck some time later to get a better idea and left feeling reassured.

Leigh Touchton had been the Lowndes/Valdosta NAACP president several times despite being a white woman, and initially worked with the Johnson family to get answers on the case. She would eventually side with authorities however that the death was a freak accident. But more on that later.

Johnson’s body was next transported to Medical Examiner Maryanne Gaffney-Kraft, who would preform the autopsy. However at some point along the journey, Kendrick’s clothes and other belongings went missing; all he arrived to Maryanne with was a pair of headphones clutched tightly in his hand. No one seemed to be able to explain where the clothes had gone. Funck, Maryanne, and even the driver of the transport vehicle blamed one of the others for the loss.

After the autopsy was completed, Kendrick’s body was sent next to the funeral home of Antonio Harrington, who had offered the family a free service due to their tragedy.

Police meanwhile requested the surveillance video surrounding the gym from the high school. Rather than having one of their people retrieve it, they left the school to their own devices, and received a copy of the videos five days later. The video was from 35 motion activated cameras, and after going through the hours of footage, police were satisfied that it showed no evidence of a crime.

Results of the autopsy were released on May 2nd 2013: Kendrick Johnson had died of “accidental positional asphyxia” after becoming stuck in an upside position inside the gym mat.

kendrick

Though certainly bizarre, the death made sense. Johnson would have suffocated fairly fast, and the mat and the pressure on his chest would have muffled any cries for help. The investigation was closed, perhaps not tidily, but satisfactorily for police.

Not satisfied, however, were Kendrick’s parents. They hired attorney Benjamin Crump, a high profile lawyer who had worked previously for both Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown’s families. What they felt was a lack of a thorough investigation by police in a southern town with a long history of racial discrimination and lynchings was enough for them to decide to reexamine the case.

Just 15 years before a case bearing strong similarities to that of the Sandra Bland case occurred in Valdosta. Willie James Williams Sr. was a middle aged african american who died in police custody after ‘falling’ and hitting his head on the pavement. Though his cut lip was stitched, his other injuries were ignored and he had a seizure in his cell later that night.

The Johnson family had come by a picture taken after Kendrick’s first autopsy that they felt proved their son had actually been beaten to death. The gruesome photo (again, easy to find but which I will not share here out of respect for Kendrick and his loved ones) showed Kendrick’s face swollen and disfigured. However the picture was not indicative of how Johnson had actually looked at the time of his death. It was taken long after he had been dead, and the skin of his head pulled back for autopsy. So while horrific, it proves very little.

The family and their attorney got Kendrick’s body exhumed for a second autopsy in June. Medical Examiner William Anderson came to a very different conclusion about Kendrick’s death; the boy had died of heart attack brought on by blunt force trauma to his carotid artery near the back of his neck. The proof, he felt, was in a small 3cm bruise to the area. Further proof would be difficult to come by however, as Anderson also revealed that all of Kendrick Johnson’s organs were missing, and his body stuffed instead with newspapers.

When questioned, Antonio Harrington at first balked. He claimed that he had never received the organs at all, and that they must have been thrown away by the medical examiner. Sherry Lang, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) denied the accusation, assuring that the organs were most definitely in the body before being sent to the funeral home. Finally Harrington changed his story. Yes they had received the organs, but they had been too decomposed to salvage and had been thrown away. As for the newspaper, it had been a practical, albeit insensitive, way to fill the cavities the organs left behind. Many funeral homes use similar methods but with sawdust. Ultimately Harrington’s methods were called inappropriate, but totally legal.

Next Crump wanted a second look at the school surveillance video. An analysis of the videos revealed bizarre facts. There was a period of time between 11-1:30 in which multiple cameras around the gym recorded nothing at all, a blackout period. This was despite other footage showing that several students entered the gym in that time and should have activated the motion cameras. This means that there were other student’s in the gym when Kendrick went into the mat. Yet no one saw anything. Or at least, no one was talking.

In fact, some students had been literally barred from talking. Two such students were the Bell brothers, who had been commanded by their FBI agent father Rick Bell not to make any statements. Perhaps Rick was nervous about how an altercation that had happened in 2011 between Kendrick Johnson and his son Brian would look to the media. The boys had been football teammates and were on a bus at the time. His fears were well founded. Once the story broke suspicions immediately fell on the brothers, who were now being accused of murder. It was up to them to pull together some irrefutable alibis.

A teacher and a classroom full of students confirmed that Brian Bell was in a class on the other side of the school during the time Kendrick was seen entering the gym. Multiple students and Wrestling Coach Spencer Graybeal confirmed that Branden Bell was on a bus trip halfway to Macon for a wrestling meet. It seemed that both brothers could be accounted for during the time period that Kendrick went into the mat. Despite their names being cleared legally of suspicion, the family has not managed to avoid crushing speculation and online threats. Brian even had a football scholarship to Florida State University revoked after Twitter users contacted the school calling him a racist murderer. The Bell family believes they have become scapegoats and were unfairly targeted.

But other Valdosta students and friends of Kendrick’s have suggested that a bullying death, even if not by the Bell’s, is not out of the question. Solomon Arrington, Kendrick’s cousin and friend, reported that he received threatening messages on facebook the day Kendrick was found, implying he would be the next to end up in a body bag. Valdosta Lt. Sheriff Stryde Jones assured the media that the messages were investigated and determined not to to be threats. The names of the senders were never released. But Arrington felt a change in the air after that day. He felt he and other friends of Kendrick’s were outsiders, shunned by the school. He said was disheartened when only three Lowndes High School teachers (one a substitute) attended Kendrick’s funeral.

Other voices have risen up to refute Arrington’s claim. According to them, dozens of Kendrick’s teachers were present, and one of his former coaches even gave a eulogy. (If any of my readers were there and can share their own side to the story I would love to hear.)

20 year old Dalton Ray Chauncey was brought before police after claiming that he had overheard a conversation in which two students were telling a third that they had killed Kendrick Johnson.The students he had spoken of, whom he only knew by first name, could not be located by police. After hours of questioning, Dalton changed his story. He ‘admitted’ he had made up the entire thing, including the students themselves, for attention. His mother doesn’t believe it. She believes her son, who is bipolar, was taken advantage of and coerced by police. He is now being indicted on a felony charge for making “false statements” to investigators.

Meanwhile, some questions were arising about the crime scene itself. Certain aspects of the evidence gathering process were not adding up. One was a rather large spattering of blood on the wall of the gym near the mats.

oldbloodstain

According to police the drips were “too old” to have been relative to the case, although how this was determined was not mentioned. The blood was also confirmed not to be Kendrick’s, but testing all 3000 of the Lowndes High students was out of the question.

A shoe was also found nearby which from pictures some theorized had blood on it. However the red was actually just paint. Regardless the shoe was also not bagged as evidence. Kendrick’s own shoes were another issue. Supposedly Kendrick had gone into the mat to reach for a shoe at the bottom, then had died. Over the course of the next 20-ish hours, blood and other fluids had leaked from his body onto the floor beneath him. But somehow his shoe remained pristine, sitting in the pool as if placed there.

article-0-1918D30100000578-449_634x370

Johnson’s Body was found like this.

johnson-body

As you can see, the shoes he was wearing that day are kicked off and in the mat beside him. If Kendrick died of suffocation, he was likely thrashing and struggling to get out of the mat, which could explain his kicked off shoes and the socks slipping from his feet. But why during his panic would he bother to continue clutching a pair of headphones? Why wouldn’t he be pushing up on the ground and mat with his arms? And how, if he was struggling so much, could none of the other students that had to have been in the gym at that time have seen him?

In October of 2013 U.S. Attorney Michael Moore ordered a federal review of Kendrick Johnson’s death.

But after a full review of the case himself, Benjamin Crump resigned as the Johnson Family attorney.William Anderson’s autopsy findings were under new scrutiny; he was later fired from other positions for “unethical actions” in other cases. His autopsy results are still contested. The Johnson families’ supporters soon began to drop like flies. Leigh Touchton, who had once worked alongside the Johnson’s, agreed with the findings of Maryanne Gaffney-Kraft, that Kendrick’s death was simply a freak accident. Even Reverend Floyd Rose, once the leader of raising funds for the Johnson’s case (and a man who had even put up his home as collateral to bail out on the Johnson’s after their arrest for protesting outside a courthouse), was now singing a different tune. “You won’t find a person of any reputation in this town who says that boy was murdered.”

In the years since Kendrick Johnson’s death, both Michael Moore and his replacement Steven Dettlebach, have resigned their positions as US Attorney’s overseeing the Johnson case. As of June 2016, no charges have been filed due to insufficient evidence.

But what changed? According to most people the problems lay with the Johnson family themselves. They fought for justice for their son, but at times it verged on irrational. They posted images of his swollen face across social media and on signs at protests, maintaining their baby had been beaten to death; but the evidence just wasn’t there. Even Anderson admitted that Kendrick’s body showed no signs of having been beaten.

The Johnson’s also accused a hefty list of people as being involved in the murder and subsequent coverup, including the police and many school officials. But the amount of people involved in the theoretical conspiracy seems far too large to be sustainable or possible. After a conference call between the family, their attorney, and members of the NAACP, Leigh Touchton resigned. She felt that the family was milking their tragedy for donation money and telling outright lies to gain support.

Wrestling Mat Death

The Johnson family denies that they are doing anything except seeking justice for their son. They are still working with a new attorney, Chevenne King Jr., and say they will not rest until they are satisfied they know the truth.

Unfortunately, in a case filled with mishandling of evidence, uncertain witnesses, and red herrings, it’s a truth that might never be known.

As for what I believe happened, there are many possibilities. Bullying or hazing gone wrong could have lead to some students pushing Kendrick into the mat as a prank, thinking he could get out on his own. Perhaps students did see him fall in, but thought it was funny and left without helping. Afraid they could get in trouble, they never came forward with what they saw. But whatever happened, it seems a vast conspiracy to cover up a murder are the most unlikely. Either way, I hope Kendrick and his family can find peace somehow.Regardless of how he died, he shouldn’t have, and the fact that his case was handled so poorly and lightheartedly by authorities must be troubling for his loved ones.