WILTW: Grim Fairy Tales Can Come True
(Warning: mutilation/murder of children)
Growing up, my mother would tell me a gruesome story. When she was a teenager, it was discovered that the son of one of the neighbors killed children. He put the bodies in the woods but he kept their private parts in jars hidden in the basement.
On one hand, because my mom was telling this story, it had a little bit of weight to it. I don’t remember how old I was when she first told me, but I processed it like a fairy tale. And don’t forget – fairy tales themselves are gruesome, full evil step mothers and witches who eat children.
What was true in my elementary school mind was that the school janitor was a witch who lived in the woods. All of my classmates knew someone who knew someone who had found her house deep in the woods and been chased away.
Plus, I saw this woman with my own eyes and knew that she had long stringy hair like the witch in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. Did I ever hear her cackle? No. Did she ever try to snatch me up in the hallway? No. But I stayed arms length away from her anyway.
The witch story had to be true because everybody knew.
My mother is the only one who remembered the killer across the street. My grandparents didn’t know anything about it. My friends hadn’t heard the story from their parents. If you are quiet and pretend to be concentrating on something else, you can overhear a lot of “grown folks business.” I never heard other adults mention it at all.
Also, the story was lean on specifics – neither the killer nor the victims had names. So, I thought my mother was mistaken.
Over the years, when I saw a horror or sci-fi movie that had ominous jars with flesh/limbs in the background of a scene, I remembered the story. When the Internet came along, I tried looking up the case but with few facts I always came up empty.
Everything changed with the Serial podcast. I listened to the first season interested in the mystery like everyone else. I could envision the Baltimore City and Baltimore County locations. In one episode, a guest mentioned a website that listed all of the bodies found in Leakin Park over the years.
It was easy to find. Near the beginning where the names and ages of children. The page also mentioned the name of the murderer. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so scared. Could this be the story fragmented in my mom’s memory?
With the additional info, I found an article from the Washington African American about the capture of the killer – an 18-year-old unemployed janitor. The front page story delved into the gruesome details of case. It included his address. This was the killer across the street.
Going further, I looked him up on the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website to figure out the outcome of the trial. He was found criminally insane and locked away in a state mental facility. Every once in a while he tries to get released…
I’ve known about this for a while and tried to write about it a couple of times, but I just couldn’t. I don’t want to forget or try to bury it away, but it feels “wrong” to just throw out the names of children I don’t know. Could they have siblings—parents even—that are still alive? Whatever terror I felt about learning the truth behind the urban legend is nothing compared to the hell and horror they experienced firsthand.
Also, since this killer is alive, I don’t want him or anyone connected with him to see his name mentioned anywhere in the universe. But you can the read the article here.