Unexplained Voices

Hey, Readers. Welcome to another Mystery Monday post. This month’s topics are personal experiences or family stories.

I’ve always maintained the sixties and seventies were the best decades to grow up. Every generation feels this way, but life was simpler in those days. We didn’t have cable TV, cell phones, or video games. In summer, we played outside all day and never had a problem entertaining ourselves.

For me, forty acres of woods and fields was an ideal place. I climbed trees, waded in our creek, and rode a bicycle (on the road). Even though our house was only four miles from the nearest small town, with no nearby neighbors, I sometimes only saw friends when we went to church on Sundays. That was okay because I had an active imagination.

But on this particular summer afternoon, I heard something that wasn’t my imagination. It was late in the day, probably after dinner, when I went outside to play at the barn. It stood about thirty feet behind the house. Mom and Dad were inside. My brother wasn’t home. In those days, we didn’t have air conditioning, so we kept the windows open.

I was behind the barn when I heard someone call out my name. “Joan, Joan!” Thinking it was my dad, I hurried back to the house.

“Did you call me?” I asked.


“But someone called my name. I was at the barn, and I heard it.”

Both Mom and Dad could see I was sincere and not making up a story. I can’t recall if Dad went to check, but I stayed inside the rest of the evening. We never knew who called my name.

A path in the woods between my brother’s cabin and my house. (My own photo)

This wasn’t the only time we heard unexplained voices on our property. Years later, my brother built a small cabin near our creek. One day, he was outside when he heard someone plainly say, “What are you doing?” No one was around.

Sound travels, and by this time we had closer neighbors. It could have been an echo. Then again, maybe not.

In the late 1970s, during an ice storm, Dad fell and broke his hip. Mom, my brother, and I were in the house. When Dad was unable to get up, he called out for help. Not to Mom and not to my brother. His words? “Joan, Joan!”

It was much like that summer afternoon when I was a child. I’ve often thought the voice I heard that day was a premonition of things to come.

I still live on the family property, but I haven’t heard any more unexplained voices.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the personal stories this month. Next week is Memorial Day, so I won’t be posting then. June is a busy time for me as I’m editing not one, but two pieces of fiction – a novel and a novella, so I’m taking a break from writing Mystery Monday posts then. They take a lot of time and research, so with my busy publishing schedule this year, I need to focus on that. I’m also going back to a twice-monthly schedule for Mystery Monday and Legends and Lore.

The next Mystery Monday will be in July. I may have a random post or two during the month of June, otherwise, I’ll see you at the end of the month with my book reviews.

Don’t Go

Hey, Readers? Ready for another Mystery Monday? This month’s posts come from personal experiences and family stories. Some of these family tales inspired short stories or events in my novels. This story served to inspire a scene in my novel, Cold Dark Night.

In the late 1950s, when I was a toddler, my parents sold their home in Irving, Texas, and purchased forty acres in the eastern part of the state. Having lived all their married life in cities, they were ready for a change. They also purchased a couple of cows, grew a garden, and raised chickens.

Until our new house was built, Mom and Dad rented an old farmhouse across the road from the newly acquired property. For a few years after we moved, Dad continued to work in the Dallas area and came home on weekends. Mom and my brother did all the chores.

One of my own photos. The old house where we once lived stood just to the left of the old concrete building.

One cold winter evening, my brother was sick with pneumonia. Dusk had already fallen by the time Mom was able to milk the cow. They kept her on our property, and the barn was a short walk from the house.

Mom set out from the house with a pail in hand. When she got to the end of our driveway an inner voice spoke to her. “Don’t go.” She paused for a moment, but knowing she must milk, walked on.

She’d walked a few yards further on the dirt road when the voice spoke to her again, this time in a firmer tone. “Don’t go.”

She stopped. Even turned around. “I have to milk the cow.” She turned back toward the barn. The cows always waited for her at a particular spot near the fence but on this day they weren’t there. She saw them near the barn gazing intently toward the thick woods. (Our closest neighbor was at least a half-mile away.)

The voice came a third time. “I SAID DON’T GO!”

This time, she didn’t hesitate. She went back to the house and told my brother and me to bundle up and get into the car. She drove the short distance, parked near the barn, and kept the headlights on while she completed her chores.

She never knew the reason for the warning. It could have been a wild animal or someone lurking in the woods. Mom always said warnings came in threes, and when this one happened a third time, she knew to heed it.

I’ll always wonder about the reason for the warning on that cold winter night, but it’s a mystery that will never be solved. Next week, I’ll share a story about some other unexplained voices.

The Lasso

Hey, Readers. Welcome to another Mystery Monday. This month’s posts are events that either happened to me or to members of my family. This one is a mystery—one that some people might chalk up to someone’s active imagination. I have my opinion, but I’ll let you decide.

My mother was forty-two years old when I was born. She grew up in North Texas and lived during the years of the Great Depression. Her father was a textile worker. When she was a teenager, the family moved from Fort Worth to Dallas and lived in the area around Love Field Airport.

In the 1930s much of the southern plains were in a period of severe drought, known as the Dust Bowl. While Dallas wasn’t affected like towns in the panhandle, Mom said the summers were hot, dry, and often without so much as a breeze blowing. It was on such a day that Mom, her sister Mary, and four friends decided to explore an empty house.

According to Mom, in those days people didn’t lock houses after moving out. This particular house was a large-two story structure with a front porch and a wide and heavy solid wood front door. As excepted, the girls found the front door unlocked, so they went inside, exploring every room, nook, and cranny.

At one time, someone had been murdered in one of the upstairs rooms, and Mom said the blood stain was still visible on the hardwood floor. The back entrance of the house was locked, so the only way for someone to enter was through the front. Once they finished looking through each room, the six girls went back outside to sit on the front porch.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Being teenage girls, they imagined what it would be like to live in the house. It was large enough to accommodate several people, so they talked about how they would divide the rooms. Suddenly, on that hot, dry, windless summer day, they heard someone throwing a lasso. The heavy front door slowly closed.

Frightened, the girls took off, running in different directions. One of them lived with her grandparents a couple of doors away. When she told her grandfather, he and her brother immediately went to the house and looked throughout each room. No one was there, and no one had an explanation for the sound. Needless to say, the girls didn’t return to that place. Mom said the house burned to the ground not long afterward.

I was only a child when Mom first told me this story, and it always fascinated me. Years later, when I was a teenager, one of Dad’s sisters and her husband came to visit. Mom and Dad rarely entertained people in the living room. Everyone sat around the kitchen table, talking, and drinking coffee.

Often, I would join them as they often reminisced and told stories of things that happened before I was born. On this day, they must have talked about unexplained events. My uncle said, “Joan, there was a house near Love Field where you could hear the sound of a lasso being thrown, and the door would close by itself. I’ve seen and heard it myself.”

I’ll never forget the surprised look on Mom’s face. She was unaware that Uncle Melvin had heard the sound, and he didn’t know she had.

I’m inclined to believe this event wasn’t the product of over-active imaginations. What do you think?

The Marfa Lights

Okay, I’m cheating again. There is not a new Mystery Monday post this week, but there’s a good reason. After a couple of weeks of being “stuck in the middle” of Blood Red Dawn, I’m writing again. (Sorry, couldn’t resist a reference to an old Steeler’s Wheel song.)

Part of my problem came about because of the third book, Edge of Twilight. I haven’t even begun that one, but a secondary character in Blood Red Dawn will be the male lead of book three. After an evening of serious brainstorming, I addressed my concerns. Not only is Blood Red Dawn moving along, but I’m making notes and a skeletal outline for Edge of Twilight.

To solve the problem for Mystery Monday, I decided to bring back my very first post from 2019. The Marfa Lights have long been a source of fascination for me, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them.

The town of Marfa is located in Presidio County between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park. With a population of less than two thousand, it might just be another dot on the map in a remote area of Texas where people measure distance by minutes and hours rather than miles.

“How far is it to San Antonio?”

“About six hours.”

“Where’s the closest Walmart?”

“Three hours away.”

In recent years, Marfa has become a center for minimalist art. The Chinati Foundation and Building 98 are two of its major attractions. I frequently mention Marfa and the art community in the third book of my Driscoll Lake Series, Unclear Purposes.

But long before the artists arrived in the Trans-Pecos region, Marfa became famous for something entirely different—a mysterious phenomenon known as the Marfa Lights. Just what are these lights and when were they first discovered?

In 1883, Robert Ellison and his wife were driving cattle westward from the railroad in present-day Alpine through the 5,067-foot Paisano Pass when they stopped their wagon on a high, open plateau called Mitchell Flat. Around sundown, the mysterious lights appeared. Ellison thought them to be the campfires of Apache Indians.

Not long afterward, a surveyor named O. W. Williams claimed to have seen the lights. He later recorded in his journal the Indians of that region believed they were the spirit of an Apache chief named Alsate. Ranchers in the 1890s saw the lights and assumed they were Apache campfires. However, when they checked the following day, no one could find signs of any fires.

Sightings continued throughout the years, including during World War II when the Army established a pilot training base near Marfa.

I took this photo in the town of Marathon which is about 57 miles (or 55 minutes) from Marfa. It gives you an idea of what the West Texas landscape looks like.

I first heard of the Marfa Lights in the late 1980s when the television show Unsolved Mysteries did a story about them. In July 1989 the show’s producers asked three scientists from Sul Ross University and the nearby McDonald Observatory to investigate the lights. One was a professor of chemistry, the other was a geologist, and the third was an astronomer. The investigation included eleven other technicians and observers.

The team placed border markers along the road through the Chinati mountains to easily identify automobile headlights. Around midnight, a light appeared near one of the markers which were determined not to be from traffic. The team concluded this light did not come from a man-made source but was unable to determine the origin.

In 2004, a group of students from the University of Texas at Dallas spent four days studying the lights and concluded they were from automobiles traveling along U. S. 67. In May 2008 scientists from Texas State University spent twenty nights in the area. They concluded the lights could be attributed to headlights from vehicle traffic.

Other theories include they are a mirage caused by gradients between warm and cold layers of air. Marfa is at an elevation of 4,688 feet and can experience as much as 40-50 degree temperature differentials between night and day.

It’s not surprising these lights have become a popular tourist attraction. They are best viewed on US 90 about nine miles east of Marfa. There is a pull-off, complete with tables, where you can have a nighttime picnic and wait for the lights to appear.

In 2003, the town of Marfa used $720,000 from the Texas Department of Transportation and the federal government to build the Marfa Lights Viewing Center. It has restrooms, mounted binoculars, and several bronzed plaques.

I have never seen the Marfa Lights, but I have a family member who has. A friend who once lived in the neighboring town of Alpine saw them several times. Ironically, her husband, who was with the border patrol, never saw them during the years he worked in the area.

What do you think? Automobile or campfire lights? A ghost? An atmospheric phenomenon? Please leave a comment.

The Circleville Letters

Hey, Readers. Another Monday has rolled around, so that means it’s time for another mystery. This one is certainly baffling and is still unsolved. It’s been the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles as well as episodes of Unsolved Mysteries and 48 Hours.

There has been lots of speculation, but just who was this mysterious letter writer? Read on.

cars, street, buildings

Main Street, Circleville, Ohio. (Photo by Analogue Kid at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Circleville, Ohio is a quaint midwestern town located about twenty-five miles south of Columbus on the Scioto River. It’s best known for the Circleville Pumpkin Show, an annual event that dates back to 1903. It’s not the sort of place you would expect anything sinister to occur.

But that’s exactly what happened.

In 1977, residents of the small town began receiving anonymous letters that detailed personal information about their lives. No one was exempt—newspapers, elected officials, and private citizens were all recipients.

Mary Gillespie, a wife, mother, and school bus driver was the main target. The letters claimed she was having an affair with school superintendent Gordon Massie.

“I know where you live. I’ve been observing your house and know you have children. This is no joke. Please take it serious.”

The envelope was postmarked Columbus, Ohio.

Mary’s husband, Ron Gillespie, also received a letter “informing” him of the alleged affair and stating that if he didn’t do anything to stop it, he could end up dead.

“Mr. Gillespie, your wife is seeing Gordon Massie. … You should catch them together and kill them both. … He doesn’t deserve to live.”

“We know what kind of car you drive … We know where your kids go to school.”

Mary was on vacation in Florida with her sister-in-law on August 19, 1977, when Ron received a phone call, supposedly from the anonymous letter writer. He told his daughter he was going to confront the letter writer. He was traveling at a high rate of speed, lost control of his truck, went off the road, hit a tree, and was killed.

At the time of his death, Ron had almost twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system, but those closest to him stated he was not a heavy drinker. Beneath Ron’s body was a .22 caliber revolver. One shot had been fired. Some questioned if Ron had been shooting at the letter writer. The coroner ruled his death an accident, but his brother-in-law, Paul Freshour, believed Ron had been murdered and pressed the sheriff to continue the investigation.

The letters didn’t stop after Ron’s death. Both Mary Gillespie and Gordon Massie continued to receive threats. Letters arrived at various businesses, government offices, schools, and other Circleville residents.

Mary had always denied having an affair with Massie, but after Ron’s death, Mary and Gordon began seeing one another. The threats escalated.

“It’s your daughter’s turn to pay for what you’ve done.”

On February 7, 1983, Mary was driving her empty school bus when she saw a handmade sign on a fence about her daughter. She stopped, got off the bus, then attempted to remove the sign. But when she did, she discovered it was rigged to twine and a box. She took the box home. Inside was a handgun rigged to go off. Mary contacted the police.

Investigators from Ohio’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation found the serial number on the gun belonged to a coworker of Paul Freshour. According to 48 Hours, he admitted he’d sold the gun to Paul.

Paul’s estranged wife Karen—a sister to Ron Gillespie—told police that Paul was responsible for the letters and was furious with Mary over her involvement with Massie. Freshour was cooperative with the police. He admitted it the gun belonged to him but claimed it had been stolen. Paul did not ask for an attorney and he allowed police to search his house and car. He also provided handwriting samples. When he agreed to take a polygraph, he failed.

He was arrested for Mary’s attempted murder, but no charges were ever brought for the letters. Some interesting facts about the case:

  • Mary was allowed to testify about the letters and answer questions from the defense about them. Some experts say this was damaging to Paul’s case.
  • The judge allowed 39 letters to be brought up at trial, due to the fact the writing on the booby trap was similar to the block letters used in the handwritten letters.
  • Handwriting analyses indicated Paul Freshour could have written the letters. A second expert—originally a defense witness—agreed.
  • Paul’s fingerprints were never found on the booby trap or the box with the gun. However, he was off work the same day. The industrial size chalk box containing the gun was similar to those seen at Paul’s workplace, Anheuser Busch.
  • No one saw Paul near the booby trap and he had a fairly good alibi for most of the day.
  • Paul Freshour didn’t take the stand, but multiple defense witnesses testified to seeing him at home.

Paul was sentenced to 7 to 25 years for attempted murder, but some in the community doubted his guilt.

The letters continue to come after Paul was in prison, despite being banned from using paper and pens. The sheriff was convinced it was him but couldn’t answer how he was able to do it, but the prison warden said it was “impossible.”

Eventually, Paul himself received a letter boasting about how they had set him up. 

“When we set him up, we set him up good,” it read.

Paul Freshour served 10 years in prison for the attempted murder of Mary Gillespie. He died on June 20, 2012, at the age of 70. He continued to maintain his innocence. Today, the identity of the Circleville Letter Writer is still unknown.