Stuff of Nightmares

Annie Andrews (middle) with her mother and younger sister, Jessica.

Some people enjoy watching horror movies. The sensation of a tingling spine and racing pulse gives them a little thrill. But when the credits roll, and the TV flickers off, it’s only stories. They can curl beneath the cool sheets, close their eyes, and know none of that can happen. It’s all make-believe. Right?

Well, sometimes the truth is scarier than fiction. Such was the case for Annie Andrews and her family.

The year was 1986. Annie and Jessica’s mother had passed away, leaving them grieving and often alone while their father worked to pay the bills. Their mother had been the glue that held the family together, and Annie wished she could talk to her one more time.

One day, the phone rang, and Annie answered. A neighborhood boy, Danny LaPlante, had begged her number from mutual friends. Without being a total skeez, he told her she was pretty and how much he’d like to get to know her. All the things girls want to hear. After several phone calls, he asked her out for ice cream. It sounded innocent enough, and Annie hoped to somehow fill the void her mother left behind. Maybe a boyfriend was the answer. She agreed, and they made a visit to the ice cream parlor together.

Like teenage girls–or any girl, for that matter–Annie’s mind built Danny into a dream boat he could never hope to be. When she met him face to face, disappointment soured the ice cream. As kindly as possible, she ended things with the anti-Prince Charming.

Needing her mother more than ever, Annie, along with Jessica, grabbed an Ouija board and candles. It was time for a seance. She had to talk with her mother. Tell her good-bye. Let her know how much she was missed. Candle flames bobbed, casting light against the grimy basement walls. Nothing. The planchette didn’t move. It was all just a bunch of baloney

Later that night, when Annie lay in bed, a knocking sound tapped the walls. When she searched the house, everything seemed normal. But the thumps persisted. Was it her mother? Had the seance actually worked?

As months progressed, the tapping continued intermittently. Probably just a friendly greeting from their dear departed. But when the girls started finding personal items and furniture moved around the house, a creepy crawly feeling settled it. Whatever was happening was more sinister than their mother’s presence.

After their father left for work one day, strange sounds filtered from the basement. Together the girls trekked the creaking steps. When they reached the concrete floor, words written in what appeared to be blood dripped from the walls. ‘I’m in your room come find me.’ This wasn’t Mother. The girls ran screaming from the house, looking for a neighbor to call their father and alert him.

The girls’ father, Brian Andrews, hadn’t heard the noises. He believed his daughters’ hysterics were their way of acting out after losing their mother. When he checked the writing on the basement wall, he found the cryptic message had been written in ketchup. Yep, nothing more than a cry for attention.

For the next few days, things in the Andrews’ home returned to a semblance of normal. No more noises, ketchup messages, or misplaced furniture. Annie breathed a relieved sigh. Fear’s clutches loosened their hold. But all good things must come to an end, and one night another message appeared on the wall. Again, the girls ran from the house in an attempt to escape the unknown menace within.

Seeing the girls’ terror, Brian Andrews entered the house with his daughters, planning to find another staged work of art from Annie and Jessica. But when he stood still in the foyer, sounds from upstairs snagged his attention. Slowly, he moved to the second floor. The noises grew louder with each step. Light seeped under a bedroom door, and a shadow played from somewhere inside the room.

Brian pushed open the door. Panic rippled as Danny LaPlante, dressed in the clothing of the deceased Mrs. Andrews turned to face him. The teenager carried a hatchet, poised to strike.

LaPlante chased the family through the house. Once he’d captured Brian, Annie, and Jessica and tied them up, he told them to start praying, because they were going to die. Their prayers were answered when one of the girls broke free of her ligatures and helped her sister and father escape through a bedroom window. They called the police. It was over. Or it should have been, anyway.

Police arrived at the scene, and what they found left them scratching their heads. Messages written on the walls and coins glued to the ceiling. Weird. But they didn’t find Danny LaPlante. Still, the Andrews family was understandably uncomfortable with the idea of returning home and stayed away for nearly two weeks. When they gathered the courage to go back, Danny LaPlate was standing in the window–waiting for them.

Again, the police stormed the Andrews home. They searched the place top to bottom, and in the basement, an officer found something odd behind the washing machine. When they moved it away from the wall, shock prevailed. A hole in the plaster led to a space between the inside and outside walls. Danny LaPlante crouched inside his hiding place, and he didn’t come out quietly.

Danny LaPlante

Eventually, they coaxed him out and arrested him. In the space behind the wall, lay a sleeping bag, beer, and food wrappers. He’d been living there a while. When the whole story came to light, it was discovered he broke into the Andrews’ home for the first time after Annie decided they weren’t a match. He’d watched the seance Annie and Jessica had performed nearly a year earlier. In that moment, he had seen the girls’ vulnerability and determined to terrify them. Annie would pay for spurning his advances. Turns out Annie Andrews’ radar was working. I’d like to say she dodged a bullet, but after the horror movie she and her family survived, that wouldn’t be a fair statement.

I’d also like to say that Danny LaPlate was sentenced to some serious hard time, and they all lived happily ever after, but the story doesn’t end here. Due to the fact Scary McCreeperson (a.k.a. Danny LaPlante) was a minor and no physical harm was done, Annie’s ex-boyfriend spent a few months in a youth detention facility. Then, before the trial, his mommy paid his bail.

Court was scheduled for December 1987, but before Danny could be tried for his crimes, the unthinkable happened. LaPlante disappeared.

Then one day, Andrew Gustofson returned home from work to find his pregnant wife had been shot in the head, and their two children drowned in separate bathtubs. The evidence pointed to Danny LaPlante. Police tracked down the seventeen-year-old triple murderer. It was still unclear whether the killings resulted from a robbery gone wrong or something more evil.

This time, justice was served and the judge sentenced LaPlante to three life sentences. Good call, Judge!

Despite the fact this seriously disturbed man will never breathe free air again, I can’t imagine Annie Andrews is able to crawl into bed at night, knowing the monsters on TV are little more than figments of a writer’s imagination. She knows monsters are real. And sometimes, they live in the walls of your home.

Deadly Resolutions

A new year is upon us. For some that means making resolutions that will last until sometime next week. For others that means pulling out a Twinkie and a Coke and laughing at those who are trying once again to turn over a new leaf. Maybe you’re one to make resolutions and like Kelly from The Office, you plan to get more attention by any means necessary. Maybe you’re like Creed and want to perform the perfect cartwheel (and your idea of perfect is a little ambiguous.)

Statistically, losing weight is the most common resolution made this time of year. Couch potatoes flock to gyms and produce sections for their annual appearance–much like the one day in February that Punxsatawny Phil pokes his fuzzy head out of his burrow to tell us if we have a whole six weeks left of winter or if there are only six weeks left of winter. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that kind of the same thing? Seriously, there is no way for this groundhog to fail. How does one find a job like this?)

If you are the type to make resolutions, I’d like to caution you not to go overboard like British sisters, Claire and Dorthea Williamson did at the turn of the century.

Claire and Dorthea were orphaned by a wealthy father, and their inheritance left them more than comfortable. Still, money doesn’t buy happiness. But it can put you on the road to good health, and as far as the Williamson sisters were concerned, that was almost the same as happiness. While summering at the Empress Hotel in British Columbia, they stumbled across an advertisement for Linda Hazzard’s book, Fasting for the Cure of Disease. While neither sister was sick, per se, they did suffer from rheumatism and swollen glands at times. #thestruggle

In a quest for health, the sisters had already given up their corsets and eating meat. (I understand the corset burning, but nobody better come between me and my steak.) When the Williamsons realized Linda Hazzard ran a clinic for natural health in Olalla, Washington, they packed their bags and checked themselves in, determined to undergo what Linda Hazzard referred to as ‘the most beautiful treatment.’

Hazzard’s Institute of Natural Therapeutics in Olalla

Set in the lush Washington countryside, Hazzard’s Institute of Natural Theraputics’ scenery was almost as inviting as the promises of improved health. They dreamed of breathing in fresh air, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and sampling the homemade broth Linda Hazzard promised contained healing properties. But when they arrived, Linda informed them that the sanitarium was undergoing renovations and wasn’t ready for their extended stay. Instead, they were put up in a Seattle hotel where she began feeding them broth made from canned tomatoes. One cup twice a day was all the food they were allowed. In addition to the meager portions, they were also given daily enemas in the bathtub that lasted hours on end. (If you don’t know what an enema is, ask your mom. But whatever you do don’t watch the YouTube videos unless you’ve got a strong stomach than I do.) When the girls grew weak and fainted, canvas supports were brought in to hold them up for their ‘treatment.’

By the time the facilities were ready for patients two months later, Claire and Dorthea Williamson weighed just 70 pounds according to a concerned neighbor. Unfortunately, the Williamson family was unaware of the sisters’ stay at the Hazzard Institute. More than once they’d discouraged the girls from extreme health fads, and since they’d manage to rain on this parade too, Claire and Dorthea kept their newest health resolution to themselves. Their childhood nurse, Margaret Conway, who was visiting family in Australia received a mysterious telegram. The message contained nothing but gibberish and only a few words. Concerned, she hopped on a boat to the Pacific Northwest to check on Claire and Dorthea.

While on her way to the Hazzard Institute, Margaret ended up on the bus with Sam Hazzard, Linda’s husband. (As an aside, Sammy Boy served jail time for bigamy after marrying Dr. Linda. Yeah. He was a real peach.) While on the ride to Olalla, Sam dropped a truth bomb. Claire was dead. Dr. Linda Hazzard later explained her passing as the result of a course of drugs administered to Claire while she was still a child. Hazzard believed the drugs had shrunk Clair’s intestines and caused cirrhosis of the liver. According to the good doctor, Claire was too far gone by the time she arrived at the Institute for the ‘beautiful treatment’ to do her any good.

A photo of Dorthea when Margaret found her. Yikes!

Now, Margaret wasn’t a doctor, but the whole think made no sense. Claire had been healthy and vibrant before her stay at Hazzard’s Health Institute. How could she be dead? When she stopped at the Butterworth’s Mortuary to view Claire’s body, it didn’t even look like the woman Margaret used to know. The hands, face, and hair color looked like they belonged to a different person. After her trip to the funeral home, she hurried to the sanatorium to check on Dorthea. Shock set in when her gaze fell on her former charge. Weighing in at 50 pounds and with bones jutting out at every joint, Dorthea was little more than a shell of her former self. Strangely enough, Dorthea Williamson didn’t want to leave, even though she was obviously starving to death.

When Margaret tried taking matters into her own hands, she was distressed to find that Linda Hazzard had been appointed executor of Claire’s fortune and sole guardian of Dorthea. In addition to Linda raking in the Williamson inheritance, Dorthea had declared Sam Hazzard her legal power of attorney. The Hazzards had helped themselves to Claire’s clothes and around $6,000 in the family jewels. As cringey as it sounds, Linda Hazzard gave her report on Dorthea’s mental state while dressed in Claire’s clothing. Talk about sick.

Nothing Margaret said could convince Linda Hazzard to let Dorthea go. Linda flashed her dark eyes and shook her head, perhaps conjuring a curse in keeping with her rumored dabbling in the occult. Was she hypnotizing her patients. Were they so helpless under her control that they were willing to sign their lives away then starve themselves to appease her?

Finally, Dorthea’s uncle, John Herbert, came to the rescue. He payed Linda Hazzard $1,000 to free his niece. With Miss Dorthea Williamson safely away, Herbert started investigating Dr. Hazzard’s deadly sanitarium. He found his nieces weren’t an isolated case. In fact, Hazzard was connected to several deaths of wealthy people. People who had signed their fortunes over to her before dying of starvation. In total, the death count at Linda Hazzard’s health spa is guessed to be around twelve, though some believe the number is significantly higher.

Linda Hazzard’s mug shot. Huh…looks like she didn’t eat her own broth.

In 1911, Linda Hazzard was tried for the death of Claire Williamson. Nurses and servant from the facility testified against her, claiming the Williamson sister cried out in pain during treatments, suffered through never ending enemas, and were forced to take scalding hot baths. Not only was she accused of physical starvation, but financial starvation as well. There were also unproven allegations that Hazzard had a little side deal with Butterworth’s Mortuary and had swapped Claire’s body for a healthier one to hide just how shriveled the poor woman had become.

Linda Hazzard never took responsibility in any of the deaths on her watch. She believed that dying during a fast was the result of organic imperfections. Not starving. So basically, anyone who died, must have an underlying condition that would have killed them anyway. She believed the trial was a battle between traditional medicine and her more natural methods. However, the jury didn’t think Claire had an underlying condition. They found Ms. Hazzard guilty, sentence her to hard labor, and revoked her medical license. While on the chain gain for two years, Linda fasted to show the validity of her methods.Then, for some strange reason, the governor of Washington pardoned her.

In 1920, Linda Hazzard returned to Olalla to build her dream sanitarium which she referred to as a ‘school for health.’

In 1935, the health institute caught fire and burned down. Three years later in her early 70s, Linda fell ill and started a fast to get herself back to health. It didn’t have the effect she’d hope, and she died soon after. Today, ivy scaled ruins of the Health Institute are all that remain of Linda Hazzard’s dreams of better health for the masses and a chubby pocketbook for herself.

What’s left of Linda Hazzard’s ‘School of Health’

So, friend, if you want to kick off the new year with fresh health goals, I’m proud of you. But please, don’t go to extremes. Don’t strive for perfection at any price, because history has taught us that the price could be too high.

Baby Fever

Cute Little Ice Cream Shop . . . or Death Trap?

Happy Friday, friends! As I pondered which story to share next, I remembered this little gem from not so very long ago. 2012 to be exact. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Well, I think we all know there’s something a little wrong with me. Why else would I have such an unsettling fascination with this kind of stuff? But I’m talking about a different issue entirely. I’m taking a deep breath as I share my secret with you. Please, don’t judge me too harshly, but . . . I’ve never had what some call ‘Baby Fever.’ Apparently, this is not normal. I work in my church nursery fairly regularly, and hear women ooohing and aaahing over wriggling, crying bundles of joy. They talk about how they can’t wait to have a baby, or another baby depending on their circumstances. I get weird looks when I don’t share in their wishing upon stars. For one, I’m not married, so having children isn’t on the to-do list. For two, I know my limitations. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like kids, especially after they’re verbal enough to tell you what they need. I’m no Miss Trunchbull, snapping my whip and making disobedient little boys eat entire chocolate layer cakes. But I haven’t experienced baby fever like most women my age and younger. And I certainly never suffered a severe case like ice cream parlor owner Estibaliz Carrazna. When this tale is told, I think even the maternal ladies in my church will find their case of the fever to be mild.

Estibaliz Carranza

Owning or working at an ice cream shop would be a dream come true. How could you be stressed or annoyed while surrounded by something as wonderful as ice cream? When have you ever been treated like a second-class citizen by someone scooping your mint chip or cookies n’ cream? Never, right? Well, apparently, Estibaliz Carranza, owner of an ice cream parlor in Vienna, Austria never got the memo regarding the love affair between ice cream and happiness. Not only did she fail to appreciate the blessings of ice cream, she failed to make the necessary repairs to her slice of paradise, and the parlor fell into a state of disarray. Business slacked, but the business school graduate didn’t see a problem. I’d say the education system failed her, but hey, that’s just my opinion. Looking back, I’m sure she wishes she’d kept the place up though.

Married to Holger Holz, Estibaliz appeared to have it all. I mean, she owned an ice cream parlor for crying out loud. Still, there was something missing. A baby. More than anything, Estibaliz yearned to be a mother. To hold a baby in her arms and shower it with love. But after years of marriage and no children, she started an affair with ice cream machinery salesman, Manfred Hinterberger. Estibaliz divorced her husband Holger, but due to financial constraints the pair continued living together. After Manfred dumped Estibaliz for another woman in 2008, her ex-husband found joy in taunting her. Telling her she would never be a mother and would die alone. This played on the business owner’s deepest fears and insecurities. Before long, Holger was no longer in the picture. Financial problems or not, she couldn’t bear living with him.

Estibaliz, Holger, and her new BF, Manfred Hinterberger

Before long, Manfred returned, begging Estibaliz to take him back. Though her trust in him was a thing of memory, her desire to hear the patter of little feet over-rode the fact he was a scoundrel. Despite her career, she believed being a mother was her main purpose on earth, and Manfred was her ticket to fulfillment. Time passed, and no children came, no positive pregnancy tests, nothing. Tick tock, tick tock. Her biological clock trudged on and her anxiety soared. If she didn’t have a child, how on earth was she supposed to live her best life? The life she was destined to live? Soon she ended her relationship with Manfred. What use was he anyway? She wasn’t getting any younger, and there was no time to waste. Like seriously, no time to waste. She was 32 years old for pity’s sake.

With a new man in her life and hope for a happy ending, a pipe burst in her Vienna ice cream shop and dumped cold water on her dream. Estibaliz called the repairmen, and they hurried down the basement to address the issue. They noticed patches of uneven concrete on the floor, but they needed to dig the floor up anyway to get to the pipes. No doubt they’d leave the basement floor in better shape than they found it.

Basement floor

The workers didn’t think much of the janky floor until their tools hit metal. Something wasn’t right. What they found beneath the basement floor was the very thing no human being wishes to find in his lifetime. A freezer filled with the disembodied remains of two men. The decomposing bodies were later identified as belonging to Holger Holz and Manfred Hinterberger.

The infamous cellar

In an ironic twist of fate, Estibaliz learned she was pregnant the day her two victims were found and police hauled her off to the pokey. She would finally have the child she longed for, but would be unable to care for it.

After the discovery of the bodies, many creepy details came to light. And if you know me at all, you know I love creepy details.

  1. When Estibaliz finished shooting each of her former significant others in the back of the head, she brought their bodies to the basement where she used her trusty chainsaw to make fitting them in the freezer easier. To drown out the mechanical drone of the saw, she made sure the ice cream maker was churning out fresh treats. When neighbors asked about the racket, she blamed it on the antiquated ice cream equipment.
  2. Here’s another detail that made my skin crawl. After dismembering Manfred, Estibaliz made a beeline to the nail salon. She got a manicure, because her nails were ‘wrecked’ after her night of hacking up the man who burst her dream of motherhood. I guess when you’re out looking for victim number three it doesn’t do to have jagged fingernails.
  3. The body parts of her victims were not only found in small freezers in the basement, but in garden containers. She had filled the pots with concrete to cover the smell of decomposition.
  4. The father of her child actually married her in 2011 while she was in prison. Yikes! That takes guts . . . or something.
  5. Carranza was so violent that women’s prisons in Austria weren’t equipped for her brand of crazy. She is serving time in a men’s prison staffed by nurses, therapists, doctors, and prison guards.

Well, now you know the story of the Ice Cream Killer and perhaps have a better handle on just how mild most cases of ‘Baby Fever’ are. Of course, this begs the question: If Estibaliz Carranza would kill a man who didn’t give her what she wanted, what would she do for a Klondike Bar?