The Tragedy Boston Wants To Forget

**Warning for Graphic Pictures**

“We’ll meet again
Don’t know where, don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.
Keep smiling through, Just like you always do
‘Til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say hello to the folks that I know?
Tell them it won’t be long. They’ll be happy to know 
That as you saw me go, I was singin’ this song…”

Vera Lynn, 1939

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Taken in the Cocoanut Grove the night of the fire

 

The year was 1942, and on a frigid November night, the Film District of Boston was bustling with life. Everyone wanted to spend the Saturday night out on the town, whether it was eating out with family or dancing the night away with a date. The Boston clubs were hopping with big band and lounge singers, filled to the brim with young military men in full regalia (WWII was the headlines of all newspapers), and none was more packed than the Cocoanut grove.

The Cocoanut Grove was filled far beyond capacity with revelers having a wonderful time, but by the end of the night nearly half of the them would be dead, and the city would be reeling from one of the most horrific events in Boston’s history.

An event that seems to have been lost with time.

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The Grove’s maître d’ who would announce famous guests to an excited crowd.

 

As I walked down Stuart street past the Wang and Wilbur theatres, I marveled at how busy this area was even on a frigid November weeknight. It was November 29th, and seventy five years and one day since one of the single greatest losses of life in a fire in US history. I was on my way to stand in the spot where it had happened. As I walked around the large Revere Hotel and onto Piedmont street, I marveled at how suddenly the sound of city life passed.

In this quiet Bay Village neighborhood, you would never know you were in the heart of Boston. There was not a soul around as I found the only markers to commemorate one of Boston’s most horrific tragedies.

 

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The first I noticed was a street sign for Cocoanut Grove Lane, formerly Shawmut Extension and renamed in 2013. The small street did not exist in 1942, as after the Grove was demolished the area was reconfigured.

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Map from before the condos were built and the street renamed

 

Currently, the majority of the Grove’s footprint rests beneath the Revere Hotel (formerly Raddison). Most of the rest is now covered by condominiums, but one can still stand on Cocoanut Grove Lane and be within the spot where the club once stood. I stood there myself.

There was significant controversy during the construction of the condominiums in 2014, regarding the second marker of the fire.

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The Cocoanut Grove. Erected by the Bay Village Neighborhood Association, 1993. In memory of the more than 490 people who died in the Cocoanut Grove fire on November 28, 1942. As a result of that terrible tragedy, major changes were made in the fire codes, and improvements in the treatment of burn victims, not only in Boston but across the nation. “Phoenix out of the Ashes” “This plaque crafted by Anthony P. Marra, youngest survivor of the Cocoanut Grove fire”

 

The memorial plaque was installed in 1993, and stood at approximately the spot where the infamous revolving door once was. For years it was the only reminder of the tragedy, despite the scope of its impact.

In 2014 the lot near the plaque, which had stood empty since the Grove was demolished, was purchased to erect luxury condominiums. The plaque was removed to keep it safe during construction, with the promise it would be reinterred afterward. However after only a few weeks, rumors of complaints from the new residents arose. According to some, they felt the plaque was too “sad” and was a constant reminder of a tragedy they wanted no part of. They also feared tourists seeking the plaque would loiter.

After a lot of back and forth, the plaque was eventually moved a short way down the street so it was no longer in front of the condos. The move hurt many who had intimate connections to the fire, but the urge to forget won out over the duty to remember.

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The Cocoanut Grove started its life in 1927 as a speakeasy, pioneered by gangland bosses and bootleggers. In the early thirties it was run by Charles “King” Solomon, until he was gunned down by members of a rival gang. Ownership passed to Solomon’s lawyer, Barney Welanskey, who saw great opportunity in the club scene when prohibition ended in 1933. He reimagined the club, modeling it after the well known Cocoanut Grove club in LA, hoping to to bring some Hollywood flair to the east coast. His vision paid off, and the Cocoanut Grove became one of the poshest places to be seen in Boston. Its legal occupancy was 460, but on nights like the 28th, the number of guests soared into the 1000 range.

Only 11 days previously Barney had unveiled the newest addition to the Grove, the Broadway Lounge, after annexing the building next door.

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In the VIP section of the Grove on the evening of the 28th sat cowboy movie star Buck Jones, feeling ill but urged to come out to a celebration by his manager. He was touring to promote a flick, and guests of the Grove craned their necks and chattered in excitement to get a glimpse of a real life celebrity.

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Buck Jones

 

The basement of the building was the cramped and dimly lit. Called the Melody Lounge, it was a favorite spot for young couples. Cooing singer and pianist Goody Goodelle was their entertainment for the evening. At about 10:15pm she was a few songs into her set when a small commotion broke out in the back corner of the lounge. There was a fire.

A few frequent guests and employees let out nervous laughter at the flames creeping up the paper palm tree decorations. This was far from the first time this had happened, and the tiny fires were always snuffed out quickly.

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Melody Lounge

 

Don Lauer, a Marine Private, sat enjoying the evening with friends when he realized this would not be like those other times. The fire shot quickly up to the ceiling, which was draped loosely with fabric. Recognizing the precarious situation, Don leapt up and pulled out his pocket knife, slashing and cutting at the fabric in an attempt to separate the burning bit from the rest and stop the spread.

In another world, Don could have been successful, and the patrons of the Melody Lounge could have laughed and cheered as the handsome marine saved the day. Goody would have begun singing once again, and upstairs, no one would have even known about the tiny, inconsequential fire.

But that was not what happened in our world.

Don worked hard but it wasn’t enough, and flames rushed in a wave across the ceiling of the lounge, sending the guests into panic. chairs were overturned and screams rang out as people flooded to the only exit they knew; the staircase from which they’d entered. Goody Goodelle and a few others dropped to the floor of the lounge to escape the intense heat above them.

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Goody Goodelle

 

As people flooded the staircase, panicked and shoving, they were met with an exit door. The only trouble was, it was welded shut.

Barney Welanskey had sealed off nearly every exit of the club in some way, as he felt people had been skipping out on their bills. Some had bars across them, some were hidden behind decorations and drapes, and one was even bricked up.

As patrons scrambled against the sealed door, those in front were crushed beneath the weight of the crowd. Falling one by one, others atop them, they became a writhing pile of bodies suffocating in thick black smoke.

As smoke funneled upstairs into the main room of the club, patrons in the dining room and seated at the Caricature Bar looked up in confusion. Before they had time to react, the fire below hit the main source of power for the Cocoanut Grove, and everyone was plunged into darkness.

Tables were overturned and dishes smashed as people ran for the exits they could no longer see. The obvious choice was the set of revolving doors at the front of the club, the way most had entered. As the mass of panicked people flooded against it, it became immovable. When some managed to slip out, the next few became trapped, squished in the doors and soon buried beneath others. The pile of bodies in front of the main entrance reached chest high.

Some people ran for a back exit, and some were chased by smoke around a corner into the Broadway Lounge, where 21 year old Coast Guardsman Clifford Johnson was seated with his date for the evening when panic ensued.

Once more, before most could react in any way to the chaos, another twist of fate occurred. In the main dining room, some patrons had managed to bust the back door open, and the sudden influx of oxygen to the starved fire led to an explosive fireball that rocketed through the club and into the Broadway Lounge. Now the entire Grove was engulfed in flames. Since the fire’s start, only five minutes had passed.

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In the chaos, Clifford lost his dates hand. He searched for her desperately, and in the process helped countless others out of the inferno. He ran back into the Grove nearly half a dozen times by some accounts, and on his final exit he collapsed to the ground outside with third degree burns over 50% of his body, some down to the bone. He later found out his date had already escaped.

Downstairs in the Melody Lounge, Goody and a few others, mostly employees, used rags soaked in water or urine to survive, as the smoke and fire was so intense it was nearly impossible to breath and would burn the inside of ones lungs. Those few who had not run to the stairs to escape the basement lounge would be some of the only ones from the Melody to survive. The rest lay in a charred pile in the staircase nearly waist deep. Don Lauer was among those that died.

Upstairs, sickly Buck Jones was overcome by smoke so fast he collapsed in own seat, laying against the table.

Employees of the Grove used their knowledge of the building’s layout to find alternative back exits. Some escaped through windows into a back alley, and some even hid inside the walk in fridges.

A few blocks away, several firefighters were responding to a car fire when they smelled smoke. Only two weeks previously, a horrific fire known as the Maverick Square Fire had claimed the lives of six of their own. As they hurried toward the source, they encountered a crowd of screaming and begging people, and the most popular club in Boston burning.

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The firemen worked as fast as they could, but the scene was chaos. As they tried to break open the revolving door, the second influx of oxygen led to a second fireball which incinerated the bodies jammed in the door, and killed anyone still alive within the mass. As the rescuers desperately tried to pull bodies out, limbs broke off in their hands.

Other rescue workers went around the other side of the building. Some encountered a man trapped in a small window he had broken partway through. They tried to pull him out but were unable, and soon the man was screaming in agony as he burned alive in front of them. The helpless men tried spraying him with hoses, but to no avail.

As the firemen fought the intense fire, their hoses were freezing to the ground, as the outside temperature dropped.

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As “survivors” were helped out of the fire, many gasped and collapsed to the ground. The intense shift between the immense heat inside and the freezing cold outside sent their bodies into shock. Many who had appeared uninjured died of pulmonary edemas before they even arrived at the hospital, or soon after. Most of those who were severely burned did not live long, but Clifford arrived at Boston City Hospital and was worked upon fast, receiving an experimental new antibiotic called Penicillin. He received many skin grafts, the first few sloughed back off of him, but they finally took and he survived.

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At the Grove, the fire was finally brought under control. The entire ordeal had lasted only 15 minutes.

Once the rescue workers got inside, they were met with a sight akin to hell on earth.

Dead bodies lay in piles everywhere, some burned so badly that there was nothing left but a blackened trunk. One woman was found dead in an interior phonebooth, with a phone still clutched in her hand. At the bar, the fire and fumes had overtook people so fast they hadn’t had time to leave their seats and still had drinks in their hands. In the VIP section, Buck Jones was found severely burned, barely alive. He was taken to the hospital where he lingered for days before he died.

In the wreckage, some survivors were recovered. They had only survived because they were buried under dead bodies which shielded them.

Fireman John Collins would recall years later, being one of the first into the Melody Lounge that night. He was shocked to see a beautiful woman sitting serenely at a table.

“W-what are you doing here?” He questioned, but the words had scarcely left him when he realized the woman was dead.

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Children lost their parents, and parents lost their children that night. Entire families were destroyed. As the hours passed, the death toll climbed to a staggering amount. The final agreed total was 492 lives.

The number was 32 more than the allowed occupancy of the building.

The youngest victim was 15 year old Elenor Chiampa.

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Bodies lined the street that first night. Local morgues were filled beyond capacity, and bodies were stored in nearby warehouses as a result.

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Military hats found within the burnt club

 

At the hospital as he recovered, hero Clifford Johnson and one of his nurses fell in love, and were later married. They moved to Missouri. In a cruel twist of fate, Clifford Johnson was in a terrible car wreck in 1957 and was trapped inside his jeep, where he burned to death. In some ways he was yet another victim of the Grove.

One of the other collateral victims of the Grove was Francis Gotterina. He lost his wife in the flames, and jumped to his death six weeks later.

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As the city reeled from the tragedy, the people began to seek answers. How could something like this have happened? How could it have been prevented? Who was to blame?

16 year old Stanley Tomaszewski told his story the next day. He was a busboy working in the Melody Lounge the previous night. A waiter had noticed that one of the lightbulbs over a booth had been unscrewed (perhaps to give the couple seated there more privacy) and Stanley had been ordered to go fix it. Stanley had difficulty seeing in the dark, so he lit a match to screw the bulb back in. He did so, then put out the match. According to him, he did not start the fire. But he hoped his story would help.

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The trouble was, other eyewitnesses confirmed that the fire had started in that same back corner, and the first flames had raced up the palm tree that Stanley had been under only moments before.

The press caught wind of the story, and someone to blame had been found.

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Stanley, who had been working to fund care for his sick mother, had become an easy villain to the story, a careless teen who had essentially murdered nearly 500 people.

Stanley conceded that it was possible his match was the culprit (What else could it have been?) and for years he was an outcast, literally spat on and harassed.

The authorities took pity on him and tried to clear his name, but Stanley’s life was never really the same.

Over the years, scientists and firemen would work together to try to discover the possible cause of the fire. Some felt the cause was a short circuit in the wall, based on the scorch marks behind Stanley’s palm tree. Others suggested that the fires cause was less important than the explanation as to ‘why’ it was so intense. One explanation was the use of flammable methyl chloride in the cooling units. The gas had replaced freon due to wartime shortage. Another culprit was the highly flammable and toxic decorations in the club. While burning they had released poisonous gases or melted and fell upon victims, intensifyini the death toll. And the most obvious safety concern of all was surely the six different exits to the club that had in some way been blocked or hidden by Barney Welansky.

Though the fire raised awareness and increased fire safety laws, the fact was it was already in violation of many laws already in place. Welansky had many important connections, all the way up to Boston’s Mayor Tobin who was a friend. These connections allowed him to run the club however he wanted, and thus put hundreds of people in danger.

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Welansky was tried and convicted of 19 counts of manslaughter, and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. He was pardoned 4 years into the sentence by the now Governor Tobin, due in part to his advance stage of cancer. He died only 9 weeks later, and was quoted as saying “I wish I’d died with the others in the fire.”

As far as settlements for the victims and their families, they only got about $150 when all was said and done.

In the years that followed the tragedy, many improvements were made in fire safety. Exit doors could no longer swing inward, revolving doors had to be flanked by regular doors and/or collapsible, exit signs had to be clearly visible and on a separate power source from the building so they stayed lit, and decorations had to be fire retardant.

Along with safety improvements, another positive outcome from the tragedy was the advancements it paved the way for in healthcare. Doctors learned much about burn treatment and successfully tested penicillin. This knowledge would be indispensable during the War years that followed. Added to this was studies and awareness in the fields of psychology, as the disorder PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) was rampant among Grove survivors. The first ever paper written on PTSD was on one such survivor.

Many of the children of survivors and rescue workers alike recalled severe repercussions from the fire. Some were never the same. Some developed phobias of crowds or cramped interiors. Some refused to talk about that night at all.

But despite all that was learned and all of the ripples outward from the tragedy, years later it lay nearly forgotten in Boston’s past.

The Titanic disaster got an award winning Hollywood movie and taught so many about the subject that it became a household name. But the Cocoanut Grove only got a plaque on the ground.

Some felt that it was because we did not respect and learn from history that 100 more innocent lives were needlessly lost in the Rhode Island Station Club fire of 2003. It was nearly a carbon copy of the Grove, 60 years later.

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When I visited the site, it was impossible to imagine the human suffering that had taken place there so long ago. But the most troubling part of it all seems to be the public’s willingness and eagerness to forget it ever happened.

Cocoanut Grove deserves a statue, it deserves a documentary, it deserves a Hollywood movie. It deserves to be taught, and remembered. Doing so is the only way to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again.

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For more photos, click here 

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ESA’s: The Emotional Support Argument

ESA’s (Emotional Support Animals) have been in the news a lot lately, after one woman tried to unsuccessfully bring her “comfort” peacock on a plane and another flushed her hamster down an airport toilet when it wasn’t allowed on her flight. While these newsworthy examples are a bit extreme, ESA’s have been a point of contention for several years now, and the problem seems to be getting worse.

So what IS an ESA?

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An ESA is not the same thing as a Service Animal. Service Animals are specifically trained to assist a disabled person in some way ( for example a Seeing Eye Dog or a Seizure Alert Dog). They have special licenses which grant them privileges far beyond a normal house pet, because they are vital to their handlers. They are given access to places like restaurants and offices, and often accompany their handler everywhere in their daily routines. Service Animals (usually dogs) are a right protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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ESA’s on the other hand do not require any special training or licenses (Sites that claim to sell said licenses with a nifty little ID badge and pet vest are SCAMS). Legally, all that is needed to qualify a pet as an ESA is a letter from a doctor stating that the person in question has an emotional or mental disorder which is benefited by having said animal. In turn, ESA’s are NOT given the same privileges as certified service animals, however. Normal pet rules apply to ESA’s, typically at the discretion of individual establishments, in all cases except for housing and flying. This means that the only real difference between a regular pet and an ESA is that a landlord may not discriminate against a renter for having an ESA even if they have a no pets policy in place, and that airlines must accommodate for ESA’s flying in the cabin with their owner. Both of these have some restrictions, but that is the gist.

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The rules as to what constitutes the need for an ESA are almost non-existent, and left to the discretion of the doctors asked to write the letter, and there are virtually no limits as to what animals can be ESA’s.

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Because of the laxness given to ESA’s there has been a fair amount of ESA fraud in the last few years. There seem to be few benefits to having an ESA unless you need one, except in the instance of flying. ESA’s are counted as a carry on item, and fly free. They fly with their owner in the cabin, and are generally not required to be kenneled or caged.

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When the alternative to flying a beloved pet is expensive and very often unsafe, it’s little wonder that so many people are tempted to cheat the system. The system is broken.

The only problem is, not everyone who is trying to safely and cheaply fly their pets is using the beautiful thing colloquially known as common sense. Airlines are becoming fed up with supposed ESA’s misbehaving on flights, and even attacking other passengers. As a result, some airlines have considerably tightened their policies on in flight animals, and that has unfortunately begun to impact people who have legitimate ESA’s and even Service Animals. Fraud ESA’s that wreak havoc are giving all ESA’s a bad name, and setting up an environment of judgement and contempt for their owners and handlers, many of whom are now being treated with increased animosity and mocking.

As you can imagine, this is a very unfortunate and damaging side effect. The stigma forming around ESA’s is that their owners are liars, fakers, snowflake-crybaby-millenials, etc. And while this may be true of some with ESA’s, many use ESA’s as a significant, positive part of their lives. They can help soldiers with PTSD, people with agoraphobia and panic disorders, and even people suffering from chronic depression and suicidal tendency. Allowing them on planes is a huge benefit for those whose disorders may be triggered in that environment.

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Interestingly enough, before I ever witnessed all this ESA fallout, I had been considering getting an ESA myself. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression, as well as an intense phobia of flying which I need to be heavily medicated for while on planes. An ESA seemed like a good option for me, and after recently adopting a very sweet ferret and finding out they make good ESA’s (they are small, hardy, don’t scare easily, don’t mind being handled, and can be litter box trained), I started to research. That was where I began to see the extent of negativity and misinformation that is out there.

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Many airlines do not allow ferrets on airplanes, even if they are an ESA. Some states, as well as New York City and Washington DC, don’t allow ferrets at all. In fact, it seems like there is an additional stigma placed on ESA’s that happen to be ferrets. I’m not totally sure where the mistrust of ferrets came from ( I admit they can be smelly, but I have met far smellier humans in my daily life!) but much like the negativity toward ESA’s in general, it is very dissapointing. As it stands, it seems I would get little to no benefit by having a letter saying my sweet boy Taako is an ESA, so it hardly seems worth the effort. For now I will just stay in a medicated stupor on planes and leave the ferret at home.
But there are many people who benefit immensely every day from having an ESA, and whose lives would be severely affected if they lost that assistance. A person with agoraphobia for instance, would be devastated by losing an animal that gave them the confidence just to leave the house.

It’s always disappointing when a few bad eggs ruin it for everyone, but in the case of ESA’s, it’s not just disappointing, it’s debilitating.

So how do we sop this from continuing?

First off, airlines must be held to higher standards in ensuring the safety of the animals they transport. As it stands, unless I was allowed an in cabin pet, I would never fly an animal. I’d sooner drive cross country.

Next, ESA’s need stricter regulation, primarily for the doctors writing the letters. Some doctors simply don’t care and are quick to write a note for an ESA that they may very well know is not needed.

Thirdly and most importantly, people need to be more aware of, and responsible for, their actions. Animals are not just cute accessories that are fun to bring with you everywhere for attention. Do not EVER buy a vest to pass off a fake service animal. Do not try to take a pet that is not trained into establishments where they may be a nuisance. In fact, consider leaving your pet home if possible when going out, especially if they are easily stressed or if you intend to leave them in a car for any amount of time. If you are lucky enough to not actually have a mental illness, you probably shouldn’t try to register your pet as an ESA at all, but if you do, at least have the decency to insure your fake ESA doesn’t in some way ruin it for everyone else.

31 Nights of Horror

**Warning for Graphic Pictures**

For as long as I can remember I have loved horror, whether it was tearing through Goosebumps books at lightspeed in elementary school, watching eagerly as my Nana played Silent Hill at all hours of the night, or watching Night Of The Living Dead on repeat while I was still in the single digits. There as always been something about the grotesque, about monsters and decay and the slow burning dread that fills you and makes a chill run down your spine.

I have seen enough horror movies to be able to call myself an aficionado, and have the knowledge to actually back it up. Basically any time I find a horror film that looks even remotely entertaining, I’m in. In fact I’ve gone through most of what Netflix has to offer at this point, and lots of the films on this list can be found there.

Now that October (spookiest month of the year!) has rolled around again, its the perfect time to revisit old favorites as well as add some new ones to your horror collections. I’ve looked at a good amount of horror lists, and am always disappointed to see a lot of repetition within them, as well as the ever aggravating suggestion that the horror genre is dead.

That’s why I have taken it upon myself to compile a list of 31 of my favorite horror films, including everything from the under-appreciated and indie, to the classics. If you wanted you could even watch one each day of the month ramping up to Halloween. I have ordered them in a way that I think makes the most sense thematically, and added trigger warnings for certain things (gore is implied, please comment if I missed any). So without further ado, lets dive in!

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An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Few films manage to blend comedy and horror as well as this one, and it’s considered one of the touchstone examples of special effects in horror. The movie centers around two young men backpacking through the British moors when they are attacked by a werewolf. David’s journey into becoming a werewolf (and his infamous transformation) are an interesting perspective switch in the horror movie genre. What happens if you’re the monster thats tearing people apart?

Also, the movie has an excellent soundtrack.

Tw; Suicide mentions

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Ginger Snaps Back (2004)

A lot of people talk about Ginger Snaps, but almost no one ever talks about this sequel (prequel? AU??) that in my opinion is far superior. The movie follows two sisters venturing through the Canadian wilderness in the early 1800s. They end up at a fur trading fort that has been suffering from relentless attacks by werewolves, but which harbors an even darker secret within its fortified walls. The film is incredibly attractive visually, is led by two women leads, takes place in an interesting setting and time period, and has a completely new take on the werewolf movie.

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CHUD (1984)

In the years since its release CHUD (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller) has become a bit of a cult classic. If you can enjoy a movie for all its silly absurdity and just have a good time, CHUD is for you. The movie is about…well…cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers of course. It it punctuated by a few genuinely creepy moments, and I was excited to see the use of Geiger counters to track the proximity of the monsters, similar to the use of the radios in the Silent Hill series.

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The Blob (1988)

In my opinion the 80’s were the golden age for horror films. It was a time when remakes were happening frequently, but they were actually good. The original The Blob of the 1950s is undeniably a classic (I mean Steve McQueen is in it for goodness sake) but it doesn’t exactly fulfill in scares. But 30 years later a new take on the movie would do just that and all with a wonderfully ridiculous 80’s flair (I’m talking Kevin Dillon as a leather clad, mullet clad punk). The movie is about a monsterous pile of goo that covers and digests most of the people in a small town. It is genuinely unsettling and has some great moments of practical effects and gore. While the film isn’t perfect (the few moments of CGI are cringeworthy) I respect any movie that is willing to “go there” and show a monster brutally devour a child.

Tw; Implied date rape

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The Thing (1982)

The Thing is my favorite horror movie. It’s the kind of film I could watch a hundred times in a row and still be entertained. In my opinion it’s one of the finest examples of a horror film ever made, and John Carpenter at his best. The Thing is another example of a superior remake (a trend on this list) and I don’t just mean because Kurt Russell looks dang good in it. A team of people on an Antarctic base find a nightmarish shapeshifting creature that can mimic other lifeforms. As it picks the men off one by one they have to figure out who among them is actually who they claim to be. Between the insurmountable isolation of Antarctica, to the uncertainty of the identities or intentions of the other people you are trapped with, Carpenter plays with some of everyones deepest fears with this plot. Anyone who appreciates practical monster effects will love this film as it showcases some of the greatest monstrosities seen on the screen.

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The Void (2016)

The Void is a gorgeous love letter to the genre of horror. While watching it I caught shout outs to The Thing, The Blob, Alien, Jacobs Ladder and more. Any fan should see how many they can spot. The movie makes a long awaited return to the use of practical effects, creating monsters that Carpenter must be proud of. The story centers around a cop in a rural area who becomes trapped with a few others in a desolate hospital as everything around them quickly descends into chaos. While the ending falls a little flat in my opinion, the rest of the film is so much fun its more than worth it.

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Jacobs Ladder (1990)

When people think of twist endings they act like The Sixth Sense invented the idea. Those people never saw Jacob’s Ladder. The movie is a visceral experience that feels more like watching a nightmare than a movie. Tim Robbins plays a Vietnam vet who just can’t seem to escape the hell that was the war, even after he has returned home. And after he starts seeing monsters around him he has to confront his past and a terrible truth. It’s a movie that deserves to be talked about a lot more.

Tw; Graphic depictions of war

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Pontypool (2008)

Pontypool is an incredibly innovative film, both is plot and production. It centers around a radio personality and his colleagues who slowly learn through listener call-ins and news reports that something terrible is happening in their small town. Fans of the podcast Welcome to Nightvale will appreciate the narrator’s use of absurdity and plays on language to tell the story, nearly all of which takes place in a single room of a radio station. The film is a very different kind of zombie movie, and the director and actors do a fantastic job of building tension. This is definitely one that will stick with you and make you think.

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Session 9 (2001)

If there is any regret I can think of in my life, it’s that I didn’t get to visit Danvers Hospital before it’s demolition in 2006. Luckily I at least have Session 9, which was filmed in the eerily beautiful abandoned asylum. After a team of asbestos clean up workers enter the asylum for a clean up, they begin to learn the hard way about the building’s sordid past. I’m not sure if everyone would agree but I find Session 9 to be a gorgeous film. Maybe I just have a thing for peeling paint and forgotten places, but something about the fact that the movie was filmed on location in such a dark, historically charged place really does it for me.

Tw; Stay away if you can’t handle a lobotomy

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The Shrine (2010)

An example of a gem I first found on Netflix. Three people go to a remote Polish village to investigate a missing girl and find some very shady villagers. Naturally everything goes to hell from there, but maybe not how you’d expect. This movie is just…plain good. It’s a real disappointment it isn’t shared more, because it delivers some real moments of unease and has a disturbing and memorable twist ending.

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Splinter (2008)

If you like movies about people getting trapped in buildings while monsters roam outside, you’ll love Splinter. A young couple is out driving in a remote area (I guess we’ve established by now why you should stick to city living) when they are taken hostage by a modern day Bonnie and Clyde. However things don’t go as planned for anyone when they all end up being terrorized by a parasitic monster at a gas station. This film has a fun new take on the parasite movie, instead of the usual wormlike monster this one uses the idea of something more akin to a fungus.

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The Fly (1986)

What kind of horror list doesn’t include something by David Cronenburg? The Fly is yet ANOTHER 80’s remake of a classic, and this one (in true Cronenburg fashion) amps up the horror by amping up the gore effects. If you enjoy body horror…well you’ve probably already seen this honestly. But if you haven’t you are in for a real treat as you watch Jeff Goldblum’s body literally turn to mush and fall apart. The plot involves a scientist as he tries to invent a teleportation chamber and royally screws up by fusing his DNA with that of a fly that sneaks into the chamber with him. Cue the most horrific transformation you can imagine stretched out to fill a film.

Tw; Honestly just…everything.

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Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

If you didn’t get your Goldblum fill from The Fly (can you ever get enough Goldblum really?) then check out baby Goldblum in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. I’m exhausted from saying it but: yes, remake. Invasion is like the horror movie that launched a thousand ships; you’d be hard pressed to find a film that influenced the genre much more than this one. The story has been remade, remixed, parodied and paid tribute to dozens of times, and it’s sort of the grandaddy of parasite/alien invasion films. There are few things scarier than the realization that the entire world has been affected by something, and that the people you loved have been replaced by very inhuman beings. 

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Repulsion (1965)

I hate including this honestly because it’s a Roman Polanski movie and the man’s a trash bag, but the fact is, it’s a good movie. Just don’t pay for it ok? Repulsion is about a woman’s descent into insanity when she is left alone in her apartment, and it excels at portraying her state of mind, symbolized by a rotting animal carcass on a platter. Even if the director is a bad person, the movie is worth seeing and is an important installment in the horror genre.

Tw; Rape in a dream

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The Bad Seed (1956)

This is the oldest film on the list, but don’t discount it. While not very conventionally scary, it brings up some surprisingly thought provoking questions about nature vs nurture in the creation of a murderer. To outsiders Rhoda seems like the perfect little girl, but in truth she is a sociopathic murderer. The film follows her adoptive mothers realization of this and her uncovering of the truth of Rhoda’s parentage. This movie asks the question, could a child be raised in love and normalcy still turn out to be a killer because of some deeper genetic programming?

While I get uneasy about the use of adoption as a horror plot point, I let this one slide for its age and its interesting take.

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The Children (2008)

To continue with the creepy children theme, The Children is a haunting film. This movie poses a truly horrific plot; could we fight against and kill our own babies if they tried to kill us? Parents will definitely find this one hard to forget, and even those without kids will feel a creeping sense of dread as the magnitude of the situation is slowly revealed.

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The Fog (1980)

Another John Carpenter masterpiece, The Fog is the epitome of a ghost story. A small coastal town is haunted (literally) by the dark history of its founding, and when the fog rolls in it brings with it some very vengeful ghosts. This movie holds so much nostalgia for me that I may be a bit biased, but how can you not love listening to Adrienne Barbeau’s sultry radio voice welcoming you to Antonio Bay?

Please PLEASE do not watch the 2005 remake. It was a steaming pile of garbage.

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The Mist (2007)

Another movie involving sight obscuring weather phenomenon, but thats pretty much where the similarities end. The Mist is based on a story by Stephen King, and is masterfully visualized by Frank Darabont. The story revolves around a group of townsfolk who become trapped in a small grocery store after a mysterious mist engulfs the area. The mist contains all manner of horrific monsters, but we learn the real threat is the townsfolk themselves, as religious zealot Ms. Carmody seizes the moment to begin her preaching and gather a following. With one of the most shocking endings in movie history, this film is sure to stay with you for a while.

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Phantoms (1998)

Phantoms is based on a book by Dean Koontz, and it feels a lot like Stephen King but with some bullshit science thrown in. The truth is, Phantoms has everything I love in horror in it. (Also it has a weirdly recognizable cast for a movie that I oftentimes feel I may have been the only person on earth to see?) When two women arrive at a small town in Colorado they find it eerily quiet. At first they think it abandoned, but soon they find out that something is still there.

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Dreamcatcher (2003)

Maybe the most under-appreciated Stephen King movie, Dreamcatcher is like if IT and Cabin Fever had an awful baby…and also there’s aliens? A group of friends go out to spend time at a cabin in the middle of the woods when suddenly things start going VERY wrong. This movie mashes up a lot of fun themes, but one of the stand out plot points is the idea of the “mind” as a physical location being infiltrated. Fun fact, the plot takes place in and around Derry, Maine, King’s fictional town where IT also takes place.

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Silent Hill (2006)

While it’s nowhere near as good as the games, I recognize that not everyone has the ability or interest to play a series of video games, and the truth is as far as adaptations go this one isn’t awful. Its also just a generally creepy movie, and the first half of it is spot on to the game. The story centers around a mother venturing into a fog enshrouded and seemingly abandoned town to find her lost daughter. Things start to fall apart at the end, and it’s clear the director had no idea how to turn the plot of the games into a coherent story. But the atmosphere and monsters are good enough that I let it slide, and most importantly they kept Akira Yamaoka’s songs.

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Deathwatch (2002)

I stumbled upon this one on Netflix and was surprised at how decent it was. They say that war is hell and this movie took that sentiment and ran with it. The film is about a group of soldiers in WW1 stumbling upon an abandoned enemy trench and slowly realizing that something even more horrific and insidious is going on than the war. This movie is one that has a very ambiguous end, and its fun to speculate on all the meanings.

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Last Shift (2014)

A young woman’s first assignment guarding an empty police station turns into a night filled with terror as some very vicious ghosts come out to play. The ending of the film is lackluster and a bit predictable, but the journey there is fun and full of genuine scares.

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Viral (2016)

Viral focuses on how two sisters deal with the sudden outbreak of a parasitic zombie disease while they are home alone. Really it’s just another parasite movie without much in the way of innovation, but its very watchable, and the relationship between the sisters has a lot of emotion to it.

Tw; parasites in eyeballs

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The Carriers (2009)

I incorrectly went into The Carriers thinking it was going to be a zombie movie, which meant that I was very confused for most of it, but I was left ultimately pleased. It’s a pretty brutal version of the apocalyptic disease genre, and it isn’t so much ‘scary’ as it is a chilling downer. But it has one of my favorite lines in film in it: “Sometimes choosing life is just choosing a more painful form of death.” The movie is about a small group of survivors on the road who not only face increasingly violent opponents, but also slowly have their own humanity challenged.

Tw; Suggestions of rape, Suicide

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The Burrowers (2008)

It’s not often one gets to view a horror western so this movie should truly be cherished. After a group of pioneers start being picked off by a mysterious force, they learn form a native tribe that the culprit is a species of creatures that lives beneath the ground.

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Willow Creek (2014)

A modern day version of the Blair Witch Project, Willow Creek follows a young couple making a documentary about the infamous Patterson/Gimlin Bigfoot footage. I have to admit, the idea of bigfoot had never really frightened me before, but this movie succeeds in changing that outlook. The use of found footage to tell the story is justified and well executed, and the build up to the tent finale will have you on the edge of your seat. The best part of this movie is it succeeds in recognizing that sometimes it is far scarier not to see everything.

Tw; The suggestion that bigfoots..feet..? specifically keep women for some reason…coukda done without that wierd plot point tbh.

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VHS2 (2013)

The first VHS film is decent, but the sequel is vastly superior. The film is a series of short movies with varying themes and plots, presented as found footage. The stand out pieces are that of a documentary on a cult, and another with aliens invading. It’s not necessary to watch the first movie to enjoy this one, and I have to admit that this is honestly, in my opinion, one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen.

Tw; Forced offscreen demonic impregnation? Yikes

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Sadako vs Kayako (2016)

You’ve seen The Ring, you’ve seen The Grudge. Now get ready for THE RING VS THE GRUDGE. While I recognize that the plot sounds incredibly stupid to the point where I put this movie on as a joke one night, I was shocked at how good it was. The director, Kōji Shiraishi, somehow formulated a sensible plot connecting these two horror legends, and it manages to deliver genuine scares. Fans of asian horror cinema will get a kick out of seeing the two heavy hitters Sadako (Ringu) and Kayako (Ju-On) crossing paths as their respective curses intersect.

Tw; Suicide

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Black Rat (2010)

If there is anything I have learned it’s that Japanese school kids should NEVER bully each other, because on the off chance the victim dies, it seems almost certain their ghost will come back to take extreme vengeance. Black Rat is a fun slasher flick that is pretty low commitment as far as horror goes. Sometimes its nice to watch a horror movie that doesn’t haunt you even after it’s over.

Tw; Suicide

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Imprint (2006)

Imprint wins as the most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for a movie that will make you say WTF out loud, look no further than this Takeshi Miike short that was included in the Masters of Horror anthology. It was so graphic that Showtime wouldn’t even air it in 2006. The plot involves a man visiting a brothel and meeting a disfigured girl who tells him the story of her life. However things get progressively more brutal as the night wears on.

Tw; Basically every trigger possible. Rape, torture, aborted fetuses, you name it.

 

So that was 31 nights of horror, a good mixture of modern and classic films by well known and little known directors alike. If you want to suggest some movies for me to check out, or discuss those I’ve listed, please leave a comment!

A Bug’s Life (Inside another bug)

**Warning for Graphic Pictures**

When most people think of parasites they likely think of something like a tapeworm. They are a long, wormlike parasite that lives in a host’s digestive track, usually completely unknown to said host. While the idea of having a 55 foot long worm living inside you may not be particularly appealing, tapeworms usually don’t seriously impact their host. In fact, they were once even marketed as a “no ill effects” fad diet because worms sometimes cause hosts to lose weight.

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Though tapeworms may be well known, they are far from the only kind of parasite. And many parasites don’t go quite as unnoticed.

Parasites are an incredible category of creatures because they are so vast and varying. Some parasites are microscopic, others easily seen. Some are insects, some are fungi, some are fish. Parasites aren’t a single species or class, but more of a type of behavior. And while humans may find the idea of a parasite disgusting, some are actually beneficial to the ecosystem and many aren’t very harmful to their hosts.

But those aren’t the parasites I want to talk about.

Imagine a parasite that could not only wiggle into your body and feed on your insides, but could also hijack your brain, turning you into a literal zombie controlled by the parasite’s desires? It may sound like something out of a John Carpenter movie, but this is reality. And there isn’t just one species of parasite capable of this. There are many.

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Schistocephalus solidus is a species of tapeworm with a complex life cycle. It hatches in the water where the larva are (intentionally) eaten by tiny crustaceans called copepods. The copepods are a favorite food of the tapeworm’s next host, the Stickleback fish. Once inside a stickleback, the parasite begins to grow. It causes changes to the fishes instinctual behavior, making it seek warmer waters (preferred by the parasite) and become more solitary. Once the tapeworm is matured enough it changes the fishes behavior even more, causing it to ignore all of its previous survival instincts and approach the waters surface, attracting the eyes of predatory birds. The Stickleback is eaten by a sea bird, and the triumphant tapeworm sets up shop in its new host where it mates, with the eggs being excreted by the bird back into the water.

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Euhaplorchis californiensis is a worm with a very similar lifecycle. This parasite also starts life in the water, where it enters it’s first in a series of hosts, the horn snail. A side effect of its stay is the horn snail will become sterile, which is actually beneficial in controlling the snail populations. After a while the worm moves on to its next host, the Killifish. It enters the fish through its gills and plants itself in the fishes brain. Once there it begins to implement some important changes. Much like the previous tapeworm, this worm’s goal is to get its fish host eaten by a bird. It does this by controlling the fish and forcing it to dance and jump near the water’s surface. The poor Killifish is essentially turned into a suicidal zombie, and eaten by a bird so that the worm can continue its lifecycle.

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Leucochloridium paradoxum is a truly horrific parasite. This species of flatworm enters an unsuspecting mollusk host and travels into the animal’s eyestalk. There it grows, inflating the stalk into a bulbous, pulsing mass. The parasite displays bright colors and patterns through the snails transparent skin, mimicking the appearance of a caterpillar. As if this wasn’t all disturbing enough, the parasite also takes away the snails inhibitions; snails parasitized by the flatworm were more likely to go to open, well lit areas where birds might see them. The light is the cue for the flatworm to begin to move, and attract its next host.

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Myrmeconema neotropicum is a kind of nematode that infects south american ants. Ants pick up the parasite on food they bring to their larva. The young ants become infected before they can even leave the nest. The nematode lays eggs inside the ant’s gaster (essentially the butt). As they become adults the infected ants usually black gaster becomes translucent, revealing the red embryonic parasites. Because of the ants home (in the trees) and round red behind, it now eerily resembles a berry. Especially to passing birds. The ant becomes more sluggish the larger (and redder) its gaster gets, and somehow the parasite even convinces its host to hold its rump up while walking to be more obvious to passing birds! Once eaten the nematode finishes its lifecycle in the bird and is moved through dropped feces to a new ant colony to start again.

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Ophiocordyceps unilateralis isn’t a worm like the previous entries in this list. Instead it is a type of fungal parasite. When an ant becomes infected by the spores of this fungus, it suffers from convulsions which cause it to fall out of its treetop home. The ant is then piloted by the fungus toward a more suitable habitat (for the fungus of course). The ant will go to a very specific height, in a very particular heat and humidity level, and find the northern side of a leaf. The fungus then compels the ant to bite and lock onto the leaf. The ant will never leave the spot, and the fungus will slowly consume its insides before bursting stalks out of the ants head to release spores and infect other ants. In Brazil and Thailand where this fungus lives, certain areas of the forest can be covered in the parasitized carcasses of entire colonies of ants. Luckily many ants have developed a way to sense an infected ant, which they will forcibly remove from the colony and carry far away to prevent further spore transmission.

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Dicrocoelium dendriticum is a type of liver fluke. Like most parasites, its life begins in a pile of poop. A passing snail eats or trails over the feces, and the fluke enters its body. The snail’s body coats the flukes in slime as a defense mechanism and spits them back out, but this is all part of the plan. The fluke is now a tasty slime coated lunch for an unweary ant, who ingests the fluke. Once inside its host, the flukes next goal is to make its host someone elses lunch (noticing a trend yet?). But what this fluke makes the ant do is truly incredible. Each night the fluke takes complete control of the ant and steers it up the nearest blade of grass. There, at the top, it sits all night long, waiting. If the fluke is lucky and it’s plan works, a grazing animal such as a cow will come by and chow down on the grass (and thus the ant and fluke). If not, and the sun rises, the fluke gives control back to the now likely very confused ant. The fluke and ant will both die if they sit all day in the hot sun, cooking alive. But the next night the fluke will take control again. Once the poor mind controlled ant is ingested, the fluke swims to its new hosts liver and reproduces. The eggs are excreted, and the cycle starts anew.

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Toxoplasma gondii has become well known by scientists and doctors alike, because it is one of the few parasites on this list confirmed to be transmittable to humans. In fact, this parasite can infect most warm blooded animals. Gondii may be a single celled organism, but it’s mind control abilities are eerily advanced. The ‘intended’ life cycle of Gondii is to be picked up by a rodent. From there the parasite rewires the rodents brain to be attracted to (instead of weary of) the smell of cat urine. The rodent will linger around areas trafficked by felines and likely be eaten, where Gondii will go onto its next stage. Occasionally however, a different host may pick up Gondii. It is estimated that nearly 50% of humans are infected by this parasite, and most will go about their lives totally unaware of it. But does it have an effect on humans? After all, a rodent/rat brain is far more advanced than most of the other mind controlled hosts in this list. Is it possible that humans could be controlled? So far no one is really sure. But scientists have found some interesting correlations between infected humans. They are more likely to have schizophrenia or bipolar, and more likely to get into car accidents. Whether coincidence or not, we may never know.

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Sacculina carcini is a species of barnacle. While a barnacle might not seem particularly horrifying, this parasite is a crab’s worst nightmare. The female barnacle enters a crab host and sets up shop on its abdomen. The crab becomes infertile, unable to molt, and unable to regrow lost limbs. The barnacle prefers a female crab, but if it mistakenly enters a male, it’s no problem. The barnacle will essentially change the male crab into a female. The parasite will disrupt a male crabs hormones, causing physical changes to the the crabs body (widening of the abdomen) as well as behavioral changes (female mating dances). The reasoning is that the crab will now take care of the barnacles eggs as its own. The parasitic barnacles will remain with its host for the entirety of its life.

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Hymenoepimecis argyraphaga is a species of wasp that attacks a Costa Rican spider. The adult insect finds a host and grabs it, temporarily paralyzing it with a sting, and lays an egg on its abdomen. Once the spider is released, it goes about its normal life for some time, likely thinking it has escaped safely. But the egg will hatch out a larva in the meantime, which latches like a leech to the spider and slowly drinks its blood. Once the larva has had enough, it injects a mind altering chemical into the spider. The spider is then compelled to build a very strange web, unlike any before. It makes one with thicker, stronger anchor threads. It likely doesnt realize that the reason for this is to hold the weight of its hitchhikers cocoon. Once built, the spider will settle in the center of the web, where it will sit calmly as it is killed and completely sucked dry by the larva. The larva builds its cocoon in the stronger, durable web.

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Dinocampus coccinellae is a parasitic wasp that hunts down its host, a ladybug, and lays an egg on its abdomen. The larva that hatches will proceed to begin eating the small bits of the ladybug (including gonads when available), until it is ready to pupate. It paralyzes its host and creates a cocoon beneath its body, using the ladybug as a shield. The ladybug color wards off hungry predators like birds, and if an insect approaches the larva makes the host twitch to scare it off. After about a week the wasp emerges and moves on, leaving its protector behind. Unbelievably, in about 25% of cases it is possible for a ladybug to survive the hostage ordeal and awake from its paralysis.

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Glyptapanteles is yet another kind of parasitic wasp. This kind seeks out a caterpillar whom it lays its eggs inside of. After a while the larva hatch inside the caterpillar. They feed on the host, avoiding its organs, and eventually chew out of its body, leaving exoskeletons behind to plug up the holes they emerge from. The reason for this is to keep the poor caterpillar alive; they aren’t done with it yet. The larva make cocoons nearby while the caterpillar, piloted by a remaining sacrificial larva, guards over the cocoons, spins silk (which should have been used to make its own cocoon) over them, and thrashes wildly at approaching predators to scare them off. Unlike the “lucky” ladybug of our last entry, the unfortunate caterpillar (along with its heroic larva pilot) will eventually starve to death. Broods with a caterpillar guard were far more likely to survive to hatching.

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Ampulex compressa is a deceptively beautiful species also known as the jewel wasp. This wasp finds a very unlucky cockroach which it stings to paralyze. This is to make it easier for the wasp to administer the next, much more precise sting. The wasp aims for the roaches ganglia, a region that controls the escape reflex. Once administered the roach becomes a docile slave to the wasp, who leads it by the antenna like a leashed dog to its lair. Once inside, the wasp lays an egg on the roach, then entombs it in the burrow. The roach then sits and waits until the larva hatches and burrows into its body. The larva slowly devours the roach, eating it methodically in a way that will keep it alive the longest until it can form a cocoon. Finally the fully formed wasp emerges from the husk of its roach host.

 

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Horsehair Worms are the umbrella term for several different species of similar parasitic worms that use an insect host. Some prefer crickets and grasshoppers, some mantids, and some spiders. But they all have one eerie trait in common; when they are ready to move onto their next (aquatic) stage, they compel their host to jump into the water. Some seem to make use of the hosts ability to detect humidity, some reflected light (such as on the waters surface). Scientists still know little about these parasites, but they theorize that the worms use chemical neurotransmitters to control their hosts. In the case of parasitized crickets they will effect the insects behavior, preventing it from chirping which can attract predators and expends energy. Some worms can be a foot long, filling nearly the entire body cavity of their hosts. Miraculously, if a host can make it to land, they can often survive the worm exiting them.

These were only thirteen examples of an untold number of different kinds of parasites capable of affecting the behaviors of animals and even controlling their minds. So far none have been shown to affect humans in a significant way, but parasites are still something that scientists know extremely little about. The idea that our behaviors may be being dictated by a parasite without us even realizing is chilling to say the least, and I have a feeling that in the coming years we will learn about even more nightmarish invaders.

 

 

Shadows Over Waltham

I’ve always got my eyes open looking for interesting places to go urban exploring. I love abandoned, decaying places, as well as their history. So when I stumbled upon info about the Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, so close to where I live, I knew I had to go.

I took the journey with my usual spooky companions (my mother and my nana) and we headed to Waltham armed with comfy sneakers and cameras. As we drove past the gated entrance on Trapelo Rd. we realized we needed to find parking, and we happened to turn onto a road with several old buildings.

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“Is…this place abandoned too?” I raised an intrigued brow and looked to my mom, then hopped out of the car. We both walked around the building, casually trying doors and peering into windows. Then we saw the black SUV driving up…a State Police plate on the front.

We had only been exploring two minutes and already the cops had found us.

The officer stepped out, and we walked up, trying to seem nonchalant. “Oh hi! We were just driving by and saw this building…” My mother smiled sweetly. Luckily the officer seemed to be in a good mood.

“I don’t blame you.” He put his hands in his belt loops. “Do you know what this place is?”

“No.” We admitted. “Was it a school?”

“Sort of. It was called the Fernald School for the Feeble Minded. Lot of history here. You should look it up.” He shook his head gravely. “A disappearance of history…” He trailed off looking over at the brick building.

The name certainly sounded familiar. We nodded and replied “Thank you. We will”

“Alright, unfortunately this is state property and I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

We bashfully conceded and headed out, driving out of the lot as I furiously began to google.

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The Fernald School was built in 1888, and at its peak housed over 2000 young boys. Like most mental asylums of the early 20th century, it was overcrowded and underfunded, and reports of bad conditions and abuse of the children were frequent. Though the Fernald was supposed to be a care center, a large portion of its occupants were not disabled at all, but were instead orphans or the poor/homeless. The boys there had almost no rights, and were treated as “sub human” according to reports from former ‘patients’.

In the 20’s the school became best known for leading in Eugenics research and advocation. For those not in the know, eugenics is the attempt to genetically create more “perfect” people, and was a foundation of Adolph Hitler’s beliefs.

In the 40’s the school partnered with Harvard and MIT and was funded by none other than Quaker Oats to do more experiments on children, this time by feeding them doses of radiated cereal. The children who had parents got permission slips to join a “science club” and were bribed with trips and toys.

Despite all of the this, Fernald existed and continued to house patients all the way up until 2014, with most living there for their entire lives. According to most the conditions greatly improved after the 70’s. Part of the reason for this was because Judge Joseph Tauro heard reports of the conditions, and made an unannounced trip to the institution. He described the school as being the realization of ones “worst horrors”. He found a ‘hospital’ that reeked of urine and patients covered in bugbites.

After learning all of this we were rather amazed, and I’ll admit, REALLY wanted to go back and explore more. Unfortunately the grounds were heavily patrolled by police, and each subsequent time we passed the road we could see a patrol car stationed up the road, watching. Further exploration there was simply not possible. Instead we headed onward to Metropolitan state. We parked in an old ball field and walked to the gate, past several abandoned houses we assume were part of the staff housing of the facilities, and had been abandoned around the same time as the hospital.

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I was shocked to notice a familiar sight…the same small white figure I had seen painted on the Clinton Tunnel in Western Mass. The coincidence was eerie, but I had to assume now that it was some kind of tag, perhaps from a fellow lover of urban exploration but with a slightly more destructive tone. Nonetheless, something about the figure gave me a positive feeling, like it was some sort of guide.

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We weren’t sure where exactly the asylums buildings were located, or if any even still stood. As we walked up the cracked paved road we saw our little friends once again.

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Though tempted to veer down the path we wanted to check the paved road first, and it snaked up the hill and let off at several other dirt paths headed toward an old water tank.

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Though interesting, it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. Our break came in the form of two dogs speeding past us after a rabbit, their owners coming up behind.

We made small talk, (easy to do as dog lovers) and then I probed. “Do you come here a lot?”

“Almost every day.”

“Do you know if any of the buildings are still here?”

The woman launched into explanation, a wealth of knowledge on the area and a goldmine for us. She told us that only one building still stood, and we would have to head down Metropolitan Parkway toward the Avalon condos. She also talked to us about the old incinerator, the secret tunnels, and more. I could tell immediately we would never find the mythical tunnels, but within reach was the cemetery. She told us it was down the path through the woods we had passed earlier.

We thanked her and said farewell to her dogs, then headed for the cemetery. It was down a steep hill in the woods, but the graves were in a small clearing surrounded by a stone wall.

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The graves were mostly stone blocks with numbers carved into them. The patients were from both Metropolitan and Fernald.

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According to our local guide, the cemetery had closer to 350 souls buried in it, and only a few with more dignified memorials.

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The graveyard was a humbling place, dotted with annual flowers that had been planted there in years past by loved ones of the deceased, or just those who pitied them.

On out way out we nearly stepped on one of the cemetery’s few living inhabitants; an extremely feisty snake who lunged at us.

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We headed back to our car and drove down the road to Metropolitan Parkway.  It wasn’t long before we found what we were looking for.

Metropolitan State Hospital was built around 1927, but the only building that we could still experience, the Administration Building, had it’s cornerstone laid in 1928. We were thrilled to see it, beautiful in its decay.

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Metropolitan State had once been a busy hospital for the mentally ill, housing thousands of patients. It was laid out like many asylums of the time using the Kirkbride  model, but it was comprised of many different buildings that gave it a colony effect.

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For some beautiful photos of the buildings pre-demolition click here

The conditions at the hospital slowly decreased as time progressed. In 1978, a patient named Anne Marie Davee went missing. Her disappearance wasn’t formally investigated until 19 negligence complaints against the hospital had been filed and two entire years had passed. It was then that they learned that another patient, Melvin Wilson, had murdered and dismembered Anne with a hatchet and buried her body on the grounds. He had kept some of her teeth as souvenirs.

The horrific crime was likely not the only dark event in Metropolitan’s past.

Other accusations included the attempt to ‘cure’ mentally ill children by adding chemicals to their milk, resulting in multiple deaths.

For 25 years Metropolitan State’s Admin building has stood, slowly crumbling. When I found it, boards firmly covered all the windows but one, where a hole had been dug out just big enough for a person to slip through. I strongly considered it, but my mother had some objections. As we drove away I felt both complete and yet hollow, not unlike the skeletal building I had left behind.

The Unsolved Murder of Karina Holmer

“I’ve got the old man’s car,
I’ve got a jazz guitar,
I’ve got a tab at Zanzibar,
Tonight that’s where I’ll be…”

In 1996 I was only about five years old. It was the year that the first Pokemon game came out, and the Nintendo 64 was released. Dolly the sheep was the first successful mammal clone, and Bill Clinton would secure his second term in office. In Texas, the 9 year old namesake of the Amber Alert was murdered.

In 1996 Karina Holmer thought she was living a dream. The young woman from a small village in Sweden had always had big dreams, and after winning the lottery, she used her winnings to move to America for a summer. The city life, night clubs, new kinds of people and places, a cultural explosion; Karina was ready for an adventure. Tragically, what she found was a nightmare.

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Karina decided that the best way to plan her trip was to become an Au Pair, a sort of nanny to families who would offer boarding and a stipend in return. Most Au Pair’s worked through agency’s which trained the women in childcare, secured visas, and screened employers. However Karina went a different route. She arrived in the US with no visa and fake ID in March.

She began working for a wealthy artist couple living in Dover Massachusetts. Frank Rapp was a commercial photographer, and his wife Susan was a painter. Frank was well off enough that he could afford a studio in the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston. During the week Karina took care of the Rapp children and chores, but on the weekends she was free to travel into the city to party, and spend the nights at Frank’s studio. Friday and Saturday nights Karina would be downtown drinking and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. Friends and family back home in Sweden thought she was having the time of her life. The only indication otherwise was her sudden announcement to family that she would be cutting her American adventure short, and cryptic letter written to a friend in May; “Something terrible has happened. I’ll reveal more when I get home.” Her family believed Karina was returning home because she had tired of housework. Only her friend knew that something else was troubling Karina. But no one will ever know just what it was.

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A photo taken at Zanzibar in 1996

On June 21st Karina went out to a popular club at Boylston Place called Zanzibar. It was a prime hangout for young foreigners with fake IDs. She was seen several times by friends throughout the night, each time chronologically more intoxicated. Before close she was briefly passed out in the club bathroom, and was escorted out by a bouncer after the club cut her off. In the alley outside, Karina struck up a conversation with a local homeless man, whom she happily danced with. Then she was gone.

The next few hours became a hazy mix of possible sightings, as authorities would later try to track her journey. One friend claimed to have seen Karina get into a car with a group of men. Another said Karina had told them she was heading to a private party. Someone swore they saw her walking down Tremont Street in the twilight before dawn. Wherever Karina went that night, we know where she ended up. Her torso was found in a dumpster behind 1901 Boylston Street, sawed in half above the hip, wrapped in trash bags. It was only discovered because a man had ripped the bag while rummaging for cans on Sunday morning.

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The crime scene as it was investigated.

Karina’s body was naked and washed clean, even her makeup had been scrubbed off (perhaps an attempt to get rid of evidence). He neck showed signs of strangulation, and she had been neatly sawed in half with something like a circular saw, a straight cut other than a hiccup at her hipbone. That kind of cut would have been fairly easy; one would only have to cut through one bone, the spine. Her lower half was never recovered, and police considered the possibility it had been destroyed to hide evidence of a sexual crime or secret pregnancy. The only evidence left by the suspect was a single partial fingerprint inside the trashbag, and no matches were ever found.

Detective Tommy O’Leary immediately began investigating, talking to everyone and anyone Karina may have been with that night. It wasn’t long before he would realize it would be a case like no other, and it would haunt him forever.

One of O’Leary’s first leads came in the form of a bizarre subject, one of the last people to see Karina alive. Herb Whitten became known as “the man with the dog” after several people told the police they had seen Karina talking to a man who wore matching Superman shirts with his Great Pyrenees. Whitten told police that he enjoyed the attention that he got from women while he walked in the city, but that he knew nothing about Karina. He also had a good alibi: Whitten had been pulled over for speeding on his way home to Andover that night. It simply didn’t seem possible he would have had the time to have already dismembered a body and dumped it near Fenway. Whether he was involved or not Whitten may have taken the truth to his grave. He committed suicide only about a year later.

Excluding Whitten as a suspect, the police next began to look at Karina’s employer with more scrutiny. The rumor from other Au Pairs was that Frank was a sleazy guy, a “creep”. Neither Frank or his wife could provide a verifiable alibi for where they had been the night Karina was murdered, and both were increasingly hostile and uncooperative toward police. Even more suspiciously, Dover police were called to the Rapp residence for a completely different reason the following Monday. There was a fire in the dumpster on the property shared by Frank and neighbors. Boston police worked with Dover to collect samples from the charred rubbish, but none tested positive for blood or human remains. Perhaps it was just another of many strange coincidences.

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The green line is Boylston Street

It’s been over 20 years since Karina was murdered, and her case has long gone cold.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.