As an author, sometimes you get stuck. The well of inspiration runs dry. What do you do? Well, when I need a good kickstart to get writing again, I look online for weird or interesting articles. But here’s the thing: I write horror, so my search for a subject to ignite a fire in my brain tends to lead me down a darker rabbit-hole than most.
This Disturbing Painting That Predicted Hitler — In The Year He Was Born
Something about this one really weirds me out. In 1889, prolific painter Franz von Stuck created a harrowing piece that depicts German god Wotan leading a procession of the dead. Between the look of anguish on the faces of the damned and the soulless eyes of Wotan, the painting is not exactly something one would hang in their living room. (Not even me.) But here’s the really creepy part: it was painted the year Adolf Hitler was born, it was said to be one of Hitler’s favorite paintings, and let’s not beat around the bush here: IT LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE GOD DAMN HITLER.
Here’s another thing. Wotan was not a very nice god — in fact, he was a god of war — and upon his awakening, legend said he would do basically just what’s depicted in the painting. He would, essentially, lead a march of the dead through Germany. Sound familiar to you?
Carl Jung even likened Hitler to “Wotan’s avatar” and, as early as 1936, theorized that Wotan had “awoken and resided not only in Hitler, but the German people as a whole”. That’s what makes the painting and its backstory so unsettling to me. Did Franz von Stuck know what he was creating? Was it just a bizarre coincidence? Or is history already written long before we have a chance to recognize it?
Politician Budd Dwyer’s On-Air Suicide
You’ve either never heard of Budd Dwyer in your life or you wish you’d never heard of Budd Dwyer. Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way: Dwyer was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate and, most notably, the 30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania.
But something went wrong. In the early 80s, the state discovered its employees had overpaid federal taxes due to errors in withholding. Accounting firms lost their shit competing for the multimillion dollar contract to fix the mess. Supposedly, Dwyer had received a bribe from a firm in California who wanted the contract; he maintained his innocence, but he was convicted and scheduled to be sentenced on those charges on January 23, 1987.
Which leads us to January 22, 1987. Dwyer called a press conference the day before his sentencing and the media went nuts, assuming he was going to resign from office. Reporters showed up in droves, ready to get the top story.
Dwyer began by reading what people described as a “rambling polemic about the criminal justice system”, where he speculated on his sentencing, which was a maximum of 55 years in prison and a $300,000 fine. He restated that he was innocent and hadn’t participated in any illegal activities. Then, he stopped reading from his prepared text (leaving out the last page, which contained the true reason for his press conference) and began handing out envelopes to his staffers.
Those in attendance immediately began pleading with him to put the gun down. Dwyer tried to continue his speech but kept the people trying to approach him at bay, telling them, “Don’t, don’t, don’t, this will hurt someone.” After only about 15 seconds, Dwyer put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, committing suicide in front of a live midday television audience. He died instantly.
In the unread page from his prepared text, Dwyer stated his suicide was meant to be a sacrifice to encourage “the development of a true Justice System here in the United States”. Many years later, the main witness in his trial admitted to lying under oath about Dwyer taking the bribe, effectively clearing his name… far too late.
David Parker Ray’s Reign As The “Toy Box Killer”
Considering how truly and utterly insane this guy was, I’m surprised he’s not one of the more well-known serial killers. And that may be due to one simple fact: David Parker Ray has a total confirmed victim count of 0, but he’s suspected to have taken part in the sexual torture and murder of between 14-60 women.
His victims woke up in an old mobile home that Ray spent $100,000 customizing into his very own torture chamber, which he fondly called his “toy box”. It was stocked with what he called his “friends” — whips, chains, straps, clamps, surgical blades — and a homemade electric device he used for some really awful purposes. It’s bad enough that there was ONE guy who was willing to do these things to innocent women, but get this: Ray had at LEAST two other accomplices, one being his own daughter.
You can find the transcripts online to the tapes he played for his captives that laid out the “rules” for their stay but I warn you, they are extremely disturbing. Here’s a little taste, the very first thing his victims heard upon waking up in hell: “Hello there, bitch. Are you comfortable right now? I doubt it.”
June and Jennifer Gibbons, The Silent Twins
Here’s a great example of how a little online sleuthing can really inspire an author. After stumbling upon June and Jennifer Gibbons, I immediately wrote a piece about my own pair of spooky twins. While my story is fictional, the story of The Silent Twins isn’t, and it’s just as eerie — with a mysterious, tragic end.
June and Jennifer Gibbons were born in Barbados and moved with their parents to Wales after their birth. Life was hard for the daughters of Caribbean immigrants; they were the only black children in their community, not popular in school, and spoke so quickly that it was hard for anyone outside their family to understand what they were saying. After being bullied and ostracized, their language became even more difficult to interpret and eventually became completely unintelligible.
As many children who don’t fit in tend to do (*ahem*), the twins found an outlet through creative writing. Their stories were usually set in the United States and revolved around young men and women exhibiting strange, criminal behavior. They penned a few novels and tried selling their pieces to magazines without success. So, understandably, they turned to a glamorous life of crime. Who wouldn’t? Rejection sucks!
After being charged with a number of illegal activities including arson, they were committed to Broadmoor Hospital, a high-security insane asylum. They remained there for 14 years, silent and despondent.
Sad, yes, but not really all that creepy, right? Well, according to journalist Marjorie Wallace, the twins had a long-standing agreement that if one died, the other was supposed to get her shit together and start living a normal life. During their years in the mental hospital, they became obsessed with the idea that one of them HAD to die in order for the other twin to speak again. Like a champ, Jennifer decided to be the “sacrifice”.
In March of 1993, they were transferred to a clinic with less security; upon arriving, Jennifer didn’t wake up. She was rushed to the hospital and died soon after of acute myocarditis, a sudden inflammation of the heart. Doctors were stumped. There was no evidence of drugs or poison in her system, and she’d never had heart problems before. Weird, right?
And guess what? June DID get her shit together. No longer committed to a mental institution, she lives a quiet life near her parents and was even quoted as saying, “I’m free at last, liberated, and at last Jennifer has given up her life for me.” So basically, Jennifer took one for the team — literally. What has your sister done for YOU lately?
The Train Wreck That Killed Over 100 Circus Performers
I’ll admit it, I don’t fall into the category of people creeped out by clowns. I mean sure, I don’t want one to murder me or anything, but I just don’t have that visceral reaction to clowns that a lot of others seem to. However, the idea of a catastrophic train wreck where massive numbers of circus performers were mutilated beyond recognition? Yeah, that’s a visual to keep me up at night.
Early in the morning of June 22, 1918, Alonzo Sargent was operating a Michigan Central Railroad train with 20 empty cars. He’d been following close behind a circus train going considerably slower, and whoopsy-doodle, fell asleep at the wheel. (Do trains have wheels? Or is it like a control panel? Whatever, he fell asleep at a bad time.)
The 26-car circus train had stopped to check a hot box but Sargent was taking a little nap so his train plowed into the caboose and four rear sleeping cars at an estimated 35 miles per hour.
Most of the 104 dead were killed in less than a minute after collision, then the wreck burst into flames. Many of the bodies couldn’t be identified due to the severity of the injuries, so most casualties are marked “Unknown Male” or “Unknown Female”. In case that’s not creepy enough, you’ve also got graves marked “Smiley” and “Baldy”, plus the confirmed deaths of the Great Dierckx Brothers (a strongman duo) and Jennie Ward Todd of The Flying Wards. (If you’re interested, you can visit Showmen’s Rest in Forest Park, Illinois.)
A historic tragedy, sure — but there’s just something undeniably haunting about the idea of an early 20th century circus wandering the train tracks at night, searching for the final performance that will never come.
Tara Calico And The Mysterious Polaroid
On September 20, 1988, 19 year old Tara Calico went on a morning bike ride in her hometown of Belen, New Mexico. She never came back.
Almost a year later, on June 15, 1989, a Polaroid photo was found in the parking lot of a convenience store in Port St. Joe, Florida. The photo showed an unidentified young woman and an unidentified boy, both gagged and bound.
There was speculation on the identity of the boy that eventually fell through, leaving who he was a mystery — but Tara’s mother insists the woman in the photo is her daughter. There’s a definite resemblance, but the biggest clues were a scar on her leg (similar to one Tara had gotten in a car accident) and the V.C. Andrews book in the photo, which happened to be one of Tara’s favorite books.
And to make matters even more insidious, two more Polaroid photographs that are similar to the one found have surfaced since her disappearance… but they have yet to be shown to the public. Nearly 27 years later, no one has even CLOSE to an idea about what happened to Tara Calico, if she’s still alive, or who the boy with her in the photograph is.
20,000 Orphaned Children Who Became Mental Patients Thanks To The Canadian Government
I’ll be totally honest here, I didn’t find this one online on my own. I heard about it from the movie “Tusk” and looked it up so it sort of counts, okay? Anyway, in the 1950s, the premier of Quebec was Maurice Duplessis and he was a super-staunch Catholic. He decided that the Church should be the sole caretaker of the poor, alcoholics, orphans, and unwed mothers. Good idea in theory, right? Duplessis said he “trusted them completely” and signed over responsibility of schools, orphanages, and hospitals to the Catholic Church.
Well, there were a few problems with that plan. A lot of orphans were actually born to parents who weren’t married, but the Church didn’t approve so they were sent away. So not only were the orphanages fuller than they should’ve been, but the Quebec government didn’t get enough money to subsidize orphanages. They did a little math and found out they were getting $1.25 a day for orphans but $2.75 a day for psychiatric patients.
Here’s where it gets really screwed up: there was an old law called Loi sur les Asiles d’aliénés (Lunatic Asylum Act) that said you could commit someone to an insane asylum for three reasons: to care for them, to help them, or a security measure to maintain social order. So the idea of “social order”, not being directly defined, translated into 20,000 orphans being deemed “mentally deficient”. Suddenly there were a lot less orphans and a hell of a lot more psychiatric patients. Weird how that worked out.
These kids were subjected to abhorrent treatment, including sexual, mental, and physical abuse, all for a little extra cash — not to mention the drug testing and medical experiments, because you know, they were “mentally deficient” so I guess that’s a good excuse? The 1960s ushered in the end of the asylum era but by then the damage was done for most of the former mental patients; about 78% of orphans from this time period reported difficulty in maintaining a normal, healthy adult existence. They dubbed themselves “Duplessis Orphans” for Maurice Duplessis, whose poor decisions they felt ruined countless lives. As of today, the Catholic Church has refused to apologize.