Birthday gifts from the sky.

I had a lovely birthday today yesterday, which included a lot of writing, some quality time with Ogre, fried ice cream, and a long walk with my dog, on the first summery late-afternoon of the year. (It was sunny and in the 80s.)

No one in our little family makes a big deal out of birthdays, especially now that the kids are pretty much grown. (You know how I hate holidays.) We might have a cake this weekend, when everyone is home from work, and that will about do it.

We don’t worry about specific birthday presents much. We prefer to give each other gifts throughout the year, whenever we see something that’s just right for someone else. I think none of us are good at delayed gratification. We’d rather give the right thing, at the right moment, whenever that may be.

Today, then, I was surprised to receive TWO gifts:

birthday gifts

The stick is from a Cooper’s hawk and the “helicopter” seed is from a gray squirrel.

Years ago, I spent a couple of seasons doing observations for a raptor conservation program. I was given a territory to survey for hawks and eagles, and I was lucky enough to find a pair of nesting Cooper’s hawks on my parcel of land … in a damp, tangled thicket of underbrush and old, storm-damaged trees, half a mile off the nearest path. It was beautiful.

I visited the pair weekly through the spring and summer, and was privileged to see them court, mate, (yes, actually do the deed,) build a nest, and raise two healthy and boisterous young. For years afterward, I was immune to the effects of mosquito bites.

Today, as I was pleasure-strolling with my dog, along a perfectly spotless sidewalk, in a high-end neighborhood of White Bear Lake, wearing a sundress and strappy sandals, I heard a familiar call.

(I found this youtube video so you can see and hear a Cooper’s. You’ll have to turn up the volume to hear what I heard.)

I stopped dead and started to scan the branches above me. Sure enough, there was a pair of Cooper’s occupying the highest branches of one of the big old trees that line the avenue.

All I had was my cell phone so I snapped this pic:

Cooper's Hawk blob

The vaguely bird-shaped blob in the Y is the male. I know this because he was hunting for proper nest-building twigs. I watched him break one off, and expected him to take flight, but he chose to drop it instead … right at my feet. Then he broke off another and carried it down the block.

Of course I picked up and kept the one he left for me.

A few blocks later, as I was walking down the middle of a little-used side-street, I noticed a chunky, noisy, gray squirrel above and ahead of us, perched on a high branch that overhung the road. He chattered at my dog and me as we approached, then fled toward the tree’s trunk. When he skittered away, he dislodged a single helicopter seed which began to spin its way toward the ground, 10 or 15 paces in front of me.

I swear to you, I don’t think I altered my stride at all, yet–when I stretched out my hand at the appropriate moment–the damn thing landed in my palm.

(Hey, the paranormal isn’t always dark and scary.)

Right now, both objects are in a place of honor in my writing “office” (otherwise known as a big closet.) I have my own theories about what each gift (and each giver) means, but I’d be interested to hear your ideas.

This Week in Macabre & Mysterious Media: May 18 – 24, 2015


Another Tear Falls – Puddles (“The Sad Clown With The Golden Voice”)

My best advice this week: See Mad Max: Fury Road while it is available on the big screen!

movie poster mad max fury road



Between (2015-) Netflix Original Series

Available  on Netflix streaming May 21st.
Children of the Corn meets Under the Dome? The preview looks like maybe it’s not just teen bait. I’m gonna give it a go.

UPDATE: I’ve caught one episode. So far, I’m at an orange level, because nothing turned me off. That said, I haven’t gone back yet to pick up where I left off, so it’s obviously not compelling to me. I think it’s worth another hour, though.
On IMDb here.

Woman In Black: Angel Of Death (2014) PG-13

Available in Redbox.
The reviews aren’t good, but I may give it a shot. I do like a British ghost story.
On IMDb here.

The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) R

Available on Netflix streaming.
This isn’t new, and it isn’t leaving Netflix anytime soon, as far as I can tell, but I just got around to watching it. The trailer (below) doesn’t do it justice. I was impressed by the performances of Jill Larson (Deborah Logan) and Anne Ramsey (Sarah Logan, the daughter.) Larson, in particular is just chilling in this demanding role which required a fair bit of courage. I have to say the movie overall fell down for me in the last third, but it didn’t entirely fall apart, so I can live with it. The ending suffers, though, in comparison to the deeply creepy first two-thirds of the film. Watching the first signs that something is not right with Deborah unfold was a riveting experience.
On IMDb here.

Silent House (2011) R

LEAVING NETFLIX STREAMING ON MAY 23rd – Watch it while you can.
On IMDb here.


Poltergeist (2015) PG-13

Opens in general release on May 22.
Yeah. I’ll probably go. I can see how the story could be served by an update. I hope they tone down some of the special effects and concentrate more on the creepy factor.
On IMDb here.

This next one isn’t coming until October, but I just saw the first trailer and I had to share. I’m excited!

Crimson Peak (2015) R

general release in OCTOBER
Director:  Guillermo del Toro Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain
On IMDb here. (linked)




The color of the title in all M&M Media posts is keyed as follows:
Black = Have not yet experienced. I’m interested … or I think you’ll be interested.
Red = Have experienced. Not recommended. Worse than the reviews or buzz indicated.
Orange = Have experienced. Recommended, with reservations or cautions.
Green = Have experienced. Recommended. Good (or great) work that lives up to its potential.

Investigating a Haunting: Carlos Avery WMA, MN – part three

I’m in the early stages of my investigation of a suspected haunting in the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, a local nature preserve. So far, I’ve shared the Facebook conversation which inspired me to begin this series, as well as brief sketch of the park’s history (both mundane and murderous) in PART ONE of this series. I’ve shared my personal history with dead things and predators in one area of the park, as well as the preserve’s paranormal legends in PART TWO. Today I’ll provide the details of the most recent murder that occurred on the property.

If you are reading this page because you searched for information about Carlos Avery after encountering something unexplained in or near the preserve, please contact me to share your story. To remain anonymous, send me a PRIVATE message at my Facebook page. Our conversation will be confidential, and you will determine how you will be identified if I quote you or include your experience in this series.


Finding my location, in both time and place.

I’ve been putting off writing this installment of the Carlos Avery series. The truth is, I don’t want to do it, because the crime itself makes me so sad. In this story, two children and a teacher are the victims of a pathetic, maladjusted man with life-long psychological problems. In this part of Carlos Avery’s history, there is no tragic swashbuckling, and no mystery. Only the brutal death of a six year old boy in a remote, randomly chosen corner of Anoka County.

I’ve been busily collecting resources and pre-writing for the other tragedies that have occurred in or near the preserve, but as I sit down to write this, I realize I have been shying away from what happened in the spring and summer of 1980. Part of the problem is that this time period feels so recent to me. As I look into other events connected to the Carlos Avery WMA — like the O’Kasick manhunt of 1957 and the Dygart murders of 1911 — I am partially insulated from my feelings by the patina of age that surrounds those stories. They happened in what feels like an entirely different world, and they involved people who seem almost like characters in a novel. I don’t feel a sense of personal juxtaposition. How could I? I wasn’t even born when they happened.

On the Friday when Jason Wilkman was being kidnapped and murdered, though, I know I was just getting ready to turn 13. I was finishing up my 7th grade year … my first year of junior high. We were living in the town of Anoka then, in a house directly across the street from the school I attended. According to the records of KMSP’s weather history, it was a seasonably warm day in the 60s, there was a variable wind, and the skies were overcast. By 10 pm that night, a light rain started.

I don’t remember any details from that day, but I do know I had no awareness of the terrible things that were happening within a 25 mile radius of my home … not that day, and not later, as the story unfolded in the news.

NOTE — MAY 16th: I’ve been trying to get this installment done for more than a month. In the last week, I’ve been determined to finish it and move on, so I’ve been chipping away at it every day. I didn’t realize, until I was putting the last pieces in place tonight, that it will go live on the 35th anniversary of Jason Wilkman’s death. The delay was not intentional.

The insanity of Ming Sen Shiue:

Before we get to what happened to Jason Wilkman, in the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area on that afternoon in mid-May, 1980, it’s important to understand the history of the man who killed him.

Ming Sen Shiue was born on October 15th, 1950, in Taiwan. He moved to Minnesota with his mother and his two brothers, to join his father, (who was a professor at the University of Minnesota,) when he was eight years old. Starting in his early years, Shiue was reportedly abusive toward his younger siblings.  In adolescence, he severely beat one brother with a broken belt, and put the other in the oven, which he then turned on. Within three years of the family’s move to Minnesota, Shiue’s father died. Shiue exhibited inappropriate, sexualized actions toward his mother throughout his life, and one psychological report describes his behaviors as “indicative of blurred boundaries and psychosexual disturbance.”

Shiue came to the attention of the justice system in 1964, when he started fires in the apartments of three different individuals. (He also threw rocks at cars.) He was ordered into psychotherapy for the arson at the age of fourteen. At that time, Shiue’s mother reported to his therapist that her son was a frequent liar and that he was very concerned with being right. She also revealed that his was out of her control and that she feared him. She said she believed he was someone who was absent of feelings, “like a dog.” For a short time, Shiue was placed in a detention home. He was caught peeping into neighborhood houses while living there. After he returned to his mother’s house, and his juvenile probation was up, he did not continue with therapy.

The genesis of the nightmare:

In the 1965-66 academic year, when Shiue was in the ninth grade at a Roseville, MN high school, he took an algebra class from a teacher named Mary Stauffer. He became obsessed with Stauffer and admitted (in his testimony at his 1981 trial) that he had violent sexual fantasies about her from then on.

Sometime in the next ten years, between 1965 and 1975, Shiue decided to kidnap Stauffer so that he could act out some of these fantasies.

In 1975, Shiue came to believe that Mary Stauffer was living in Duluth, MN. (She was, in fact, living in the Philippines doing Christian missionary work with her family.) He broke into a residence in search of her but found, instead, Stauffer’s inlaws. He tied them up at gunpoint, then threatened to kill them if they every reported his break in. They did not. He continued to look for Stauffer for another four years.

In 1979, Mary Stauffer, her husband and their two children returned to Minnesota from the Philippines. They intended to go back, to continue their missionary work, the next year.

While the family was in Minnesota, Shiue discovered they were living on the campus of Bethel College, in Arden Hills, a town close to his own home. He began to stalk them in earnest. He attempted to break into their apartment three times. (His attempts included burning the area around the patio door and drilling holes into the floor beneath Stauffer’s bed.)

I can’t tell, from the news coverage that I’ve found, if Stauffer knew someone was stalking her, nor can I determine if she was aware that the 1975 break-in at her in-laws’ home was related to her.

May 16th, 1980:

Shiue was living alone in a house in Roseville when he finally decided to go through with his plan to abduct Mary Stauffer. According to newspaper accounts, he saw Mary as she exited a Roseville beauty salon with her eight year old daughter, Elizabeth.

I don’t know if he stalked her to that location or if he just happened to see her exiting a shop while he was going about his business in his own town. As unlikely as the second scenario is, it’s not hard to see how that kind of coincidence could trigger Shiue to act in that particular moment.

Shiue approached the Stauffers with a gun. He instructed them to get into Stauffer’s car, then forced Mary to drive by holding the gun to Elizabeth’s head. When they had reached a “deserted area,” he had Mary pull over so he could bind both females and put then in the trunk of the car. He then continued to drive. Twice he heard noise coming from the trunk as the Stauffers tried to escape or attract attention to their plight. Each time he pulled over to quiet the captives by adding more restraints in the form of ropes and duct tape.

On the second stop,  while he had the trunk open, a six year old boy named Jason Wilkman approached the car to see what was happening. According to a young witness at the scene, Shiue tossed the boy into the back seat of the car and fled the scene. Mary Stauffer later testified that a boy named Jason was put into the trunk with her and Elizabeth.

Jason Wilkman

Shiue then drove to Carlos Avery, which is 30 miles north of the Roseville abduction scene, where he killed Jason Wilkman and dumped his body. After the murder, he returned to his house in Roseville, where he kept Mary and Elizabeth Stauffer captive until July 7th.

I don’t understand where Shiue was going with all this driving. If he had a house in Roseville, and he abducted the Stauffers from a beauty salon in Roseville, how and why did he end up Carlos Avery? Why was he headed away from the home where he intended to imprison Mary and Elizabeth Stauffer? Newspaper accounts indicate that Jason Wilkman was abducted about two hours AFTER the Stauffers. Why was Shiue still driving around with the Stauffers in the trunk? 

Jason Wilkman he was taken from Hazelnut Park, less than one mile from the beauty shop where the Stauffers were abducted. Both the beauty shop and Hazelnut Park are less than five miles from Shiue’s house … which is south of the abduction sights.

So. It appears Mary Stauffer / Shiue drove around the neighborhood for two hours before Jason Wilkman was put first into the back seat of the car, then the trunk. Then Shiue headed north approximately 30 miles to the northern edge of Carlos Avery, where he killed Jason Wilkman. Then he turned around and went back home.

This is a static screenshot, but if you click it, a window will open with an interactive map.

This is a static screenshot, but if you click it, a window will open with a fully functional, interactive map.

Carlos Avery - Jason Wilkman map key

What happened to the Stauffers?

I’ll get back to Jason in a moment, but it wouldn’t be fair to leave the fate of the Stauffers a mystery, even though nothing else in their story is associated with Carlos Avery.

When Shiue arrived home with his captives, he told Mary that he had released Jason Wilkman in a place where he would be found. He then confined Mary and Elizabeth to a small closet he had prepared for the purpose. Later that night, he brought Mary out into the living room and told her that she had ruined his life by giving him a poor grade in Algebra. He claimed he’d lost a scholarship and was consequently drafted into the Viet Nam war, where he was captured and held as a prisoner of war. His entire tale was a lie. He then violently raped her for the first time. During the next seven weeks, the rapes continued.

In order to better control his captives, Shiue sometimes took Elizabeth with him when he went to work at his repair shop. (He would leave Elizabeth bound in his vehicle.) Over time, however, Shiue relaxed into a fantasy that the three of them were a family. Eventually, in order to keep her daughter healthy, Mary requested fresh food and, under close supervision, she was allowed to prepare meals for the three of them. In early June, Shiue took the Stauffers with him to the Chicago area so that he could attend a job fair. (He kept them tied up in an RV.) For Father’s Day, Shiue took the Stauffers to a pay phone so they could call home to let Mary’s husband know they were alright. On the 4th of July, he took them to a park so they could watch the fireworks.

On July 7th, Shiue left both Mary and Elizabeth at his house, confined in a different, slightly larger closet, when he went to work. Mary was able to pry the bolts from the door hinges. The Stauffers were bound together with a cable, but they were able to get to the phone and call the police. They managed to get outside where they hid behind a car until a squad arrived. Officers asked if Jason Wilkman was still in the house. It was then that Mary first knew for sure that the boy had not been found.

The police had no trouble arresting Shiue at his shop. In September of 1980 he was tried in federal court on kidnapping and rape charges. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 30 years served before becoming eligible for parole.

In February of 1981, Shiue was tried for the murder of Jason Wilkman. During those proceedings, while Mary Stauffer was testifying, Shiue broke away from the defendant’s table and attacked her with a pocket knife he had somehow concealed. He slashed her face before he was subdued by six men. The cut required 62 stitches to be repaired.

A slideshow of  photos, from ABC NEWS, including the house and closet where Stauffer and Elizabeth were held.

And what about Jason?

In October, 1980, Shiue agreed to show the FBI where he had left Jason Wilkman in exchange for a second-degree murder charge rather than first-degree. (At least one newspaper article indicates that he was still claiming that he’d simply left the boy in the woods alive.)

The Carlos Avery WMA is so large and difficult to navigate that, even with forensic clues taken from the under-carriage of Stauffer’s car and the cooperation of Shiue, several days of searching had to conducted before the boy’s skeletal remains were found.

Shiue was convicted of second-degree kidnapping and murder in 1981. For these crimes against Jason Wilkman, he was sentenced to 40 years, to be served concurrently with his federal conviction for his crimes against the Stauffers. He would become eligible for parole on July 6th, 2010.

On October 16th, 2009, a petition to commit Shiue “as a sexually dangerous person and as a sexual psychopathic personality” was filed. The petition was granted on September 29th, 2010 (and a later appeal by Shiue was denied.) This means that, if Shiue is ever paroled, he will likely spend the rest of life incarcerated in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

The 25-page, 2010 Anoka County Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order in the matter of the Civil Commitment of Ming Sen Shiue is interesting reading if you want to discover more details about Shiue’s behavior and psychology. I’ve extracted one piece from it below, because it directly speaks about Jason Wilkman.

From the Finding of Fact:

Finding 21.

[Shiue] drove to Carlos Avery Wildlife Refuge in rural Anoka County, removed Jason Wilkman from the trunk and murdered him. An autopsy of Jason Wilkman revealed several fractures to his skull. The pathologist who examined Jason Wilkman’s remains indicated that the cause of death was severe cerebral trauma caused by at least two blows to the head delivered by a blunt instrument with a great deal of force. During [Shiue’s] trail for the murder of Jason Wilkman, [Mary Stauffer] testified that [Shiue] took a one-and-half-foot metal rod with him when he removed Jason Wilkman from the trunk.

Jason Wilkman probably died quickly from the blows. His body was left exposed to the elements.

On the night he was killed, a light rain fell in Carlos Avery. On the day his body was found, the sky was partly cloudy, there was a fitful breeze, and the temperature never rose above 41 degrees. In between those events, 165 nights passed, and the season changed from spring, through summer, to deep autumn. I didn’t know he was out there when I was busy being 13, but I do now. The knowledge makes me terribly sad.

I keep thinking about how cold most of those nights must have been. When I go out to the preserve again, I think I’ll take a blanket with me and leave it in the area where he lay for so long.

The Paranormal Hotel: Knock, knock …

… knock, knock.

I’m just recovering from coming away from a long weekend of working at the paranormal hotel. It’s true, I quit that job months ago, but, when I left, I agreed to occasionally fill in when the owners go on vacation. I’ve known, almost since I quit, that I’d be covering four day-shifts in early May.

I didn’t expect anything particularly dramatic to happen, in the hours between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Mother’s Day weekend, and, mostly, I was right.

Of course it was still hard. Having had many weeks away from that environment, I had nearly forgotten how dreary and hopeless if feels there. Just one day of dealing with the hand-to-mouth existence of the residents and guests drained me.

Knock, knock …

To be fair, I wasn’t at my best. Lately I’ve been having some trouble with absent-mindedness. I’m told it’s a function of my age and stage, and that it will pass, but it pisses me off. When my brain stops cooperating with me, I get cranky.

I’m trying to keep a light tone here, but the truth is that it’s scary when I have these little lapses. They aren’t exactly like what you’re probably imagining right now. Yes, we all have occasional brain spasms when we forget where we left our keys, or drive for a few miles on autopilot without really seeing the road. Usually, these things happen when we are sleep deprived, or upset, or trying to multitask too much. A deliberate deep breath and a good mental shake will clear the mind and allow full functionality to return.

This hormonal stuff is more like being drunk. I know there’s a problem, I can try to shake it off, but sometimes I have to accept there’s going to be a period of a few hours, or even most of a day, when I just can’t trust myself to think clearly, or even perceive accurately.

It’s enough to make some small part of my mind start toying with the idea that I just might be going mad.

The paranormal hotel is a terrible place to be for a woman who distrusts her sanity. People there lie to you. Ineptly, yes, but with absolute conviction that you will believe whatever they concoct. On Saturday, in particular, deception seemed to be the order of the day.

… knock, knock.

Allow me to share some of the versions of reality I heard:

Room 127:

Guest (upon check-in): “I’m supposed to be seeing a doctor tomorrow, but I’m not going to need to do that, because I’ve got an appointment in an hour with a woman who can pray over me and take the tumor away. Isn’t God amazing?”

Me: (Non-committal nod.)

Guest: “So I only need the room for one night, not the two I reserved. It will just be me and my Michael.”

Me: “Not four people? The reservation says you wanted a room with two beds, to accommodate four.”

Guest: “Yes, that’s right, but just one person. I like to lay my stuff out on the second bed.”

Me: “Two people then; just you and a Michael?”

Guest: “He’s my kitty cat.”

Me: “Oh. I’m so sorry, but we don’t allow pets in the hotel.”

Guest: “He’s my service animal. And he’s so good, he always uses his litter box.” (She goes on for a while about the cat.)

Me: “He sounds lovely. I’ll just need to see his papers then.”

Guest: (Absolutely blank stare.) “Umm. They are somewhere in my luggage, and I have to get to that appointment, so I can’t get them for you now. I’ll find them for you later. If you’re still here. When is your shift over?”

Me: “Ma’m, I’m sorry, but I can’t let him in until I see his papers–”

Guest: “But he won’t make any mess.”

Me: “It’s not that. It’s a matter of inoculations and health codes.

Guest: “He has his shots. I don’t understand why hotels don’t welcome a nice clean cat like Michael.

Me: Hotels are legally required to accommodate service animals, but when it comes to pets, they are trying to avoid allergens–”

Guest: “Oh, he’s a Turkish angora, so he’s hypoallergenic.”

Me: (In my head.) Well that’s just not true. You know this, Renae. You raised purebreds when you were a little girl, and you know a hell of a lot about cats. There’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat, really, and a Turkish Angora is NOT on the list of lower-allergen breeds

Guest: “It IS true!” (My face must have shown what I was thinking–which is another sign that I’m not operating at my best.) “I’ve read lots of articles on The Internet.” (I could hear the capitals in her voice.)

I like cats. The paranormal hotel used to accept pet guests, and only really changed its policy because a large dog did some major damage. Plus, I was only filling in for a few shifts. I judged the situation to be not worthy of a fight. I checked her in and warned her that she’d have to show the papers to whomever was at the desk when she returned.

What happened later:

When I cam back the next day, I was told she never produced papers, claimed that she was leaving the cat in the car overnight, then had the inexperienced girl who was covering the early morning shift carry the cat from the hotel room to her car when she checked out. Apparently the cat sprayed on most of the upholstered furniture.

Knock, knock…

Room 343, 410, 112:

Guest(s): “I’m waiting for my friend to bring me some money. I absolutely have to stay here again tonight, because (fill in the blank.) I know I agreed to check out at 11:00, but he/she will be here before noon. I promise I’ll come right down as soon as I have the money.”

What happened later:

They each delayed as long as possible with frequent promises that it would only be a few more minutes until they could pay, then were just gone when I went to clear them out at 12:45 p.m. As far as I can tell, they were in no way affiliated with each other; that’s just the way people are at the paranormal hotel.

knock, knock.

The laundry room:

As the housekeepers strip each room, they gather the dirty linens into a bundle, then toss the bundle down a chute that descends through all five stories of the hotel. The bundles end up in an industrial sized bin in the laundry room. Part of my job is to stand at the bottom of that chute and sort the laundry into loads. Staff members are supposed to shout “clear” before they drop a bundle down the chute, but sometimes they forget to do it.

I can forgive that.

On Saturday morning, I had just spent four or five minutes in the quiet laundry room, emptying the bin. I was bent into it, fetching out a few loose towels from its bottom, when I heard a trap door from somewhere far above me open. I didn’t have enough time to get out of the way before a heavy, wet bundle dropped onto the back of my neck.

It hurt. I swore. In a clearly annoyed voice, I shouted up the chute, “Hello?” There was no response. I thought, You scared him or her. Watch your cranky level, Renae. Then, Well, at least now it shouldn’t happen again today.

Later, the guy who had been helping out by stripping rooms for the housekeepers came up to me, his sky-blue eyes wide with sincerity, and said, “You didn’t hear me when I shouted clear. Good thing it was a light load, huh?”

An apology from him would have been followed by one from me, for snapping. His words, though, left me speechless. I had to wonder if I was going crazy. Maybe I had missed his warning, even though the machines hadn’t been running yet. Maybe it had been a small, dry load, but my neck was still sore from the blow I’d received. Then I remembered another encounter I’d had with him.

What happened before:

The guy lives at the paranormal hotel, of course. He and his wife have a habit of narrating the world to be as they prefer it to be. They are convinced that they are good liars, too.

Once, they found a very expensive bottle of liquor in a room and appropriated it for themselves. (This doesn’t bother me much. I can see how they could have considered it a gratuity.) I didn’t know about the cognac until the guest who had left the bottle behind came looking for it. When I contacted the couple to see if either of them had found it, they told me they’d thrown it out, and that they’d fetch it from the dumpster for me. (It’s common to find liquor at the hotel, by the way, and it’s standard practice to bring it to the laundry room in case a guest returns for it. Usually, though, it’s  a half-case of cheap beer.)

Eventually they brought the bottle to the front desk, in pristine condition, with its contents intact. The husband regaled me with how he had to climb into the dumpster and move bags until he found it. He also let me know he’d washed it off in his bathroom before bringing it to me. The couple was anxious to tell me that they had no idea it was valuable because they don’t drink ever.

But back to the stories from Saturday.

Knock, knock …

Room 317:

Guest (on the phone, at about 11 a.m.): “Can I get a noon checkout?”

Me: I’m sorry, we are booked up for later today, so we need to get the housekeepers into the rooms as soon as possible. I can give you until 11:30 though. Will that help?”

Guest: “Yes. I’ll have time for a quick shower then. I really appreciate that, and I’ll try to hurry. Thank you.”

What happened later:

Just before noon I called all the rooms that hadn’t yet checked out, (including 317,) in preparation for my first sweep of the hotel. This is standard routine. When the phone is unanswered, it’s an indication that the guests have probably left. Once I’ve noted all the rooms that are likely empty, I go check each one in person, by first knocking, then–assuming there is no response–opening the door with my pass key to confirm the room is empty. Once I’ve visited all the rooms in this way, I can give the maids an update on where they can go next.

When I got to room 317, I knocked, then slid my pass key into the lock and tried to open the door. I immediately hit the security bar which can only be fastened from the room’s interior. I let the door close, then called the room with the portable phone I was carrying. I heard it ring five or six times before the same woman I’d given the 11:30 checkout to answered. Her voice was groggy. I told her it was now past noon, and she’d agreed to leave by 11:30.

She said she’d never spoken to me. I didn’t argue; I just told her she had to vacate the room as soon as possible.

When she finally cleared the room, after 12:30 p.m., she left a wad of foil-lined paper and some food scraps in the microwave with the timer set to maximum.

… knock, knock.

Room 432:

432 was another of the rooms I had called just before noon. There had been no answer, so I had every reason to believe it was vacant. By the time I got to the fourth floor, however, I had run into several rooms that were still occupied, despite the unanswered calls, (including 317, above, where the security bar had been engaged.) When I came to 432, I was a little gun shy. I rapped firmly on the door

Knock, knock.

then paused to listen carefully.

… knock, knock.

From inside the room someone rapped back. It was a soft sound, but distinct. I looked up and down the hall, in case someone was knocking at another room, but I was alone. I tried again and got the same response. My cordless doesn’t always work well above the third floor, but I dialed the room anyway. The phone behind the door rang ten times as I strained to hear any movement beyond the door, but all was silent, save for the rings.

I tucked the phone into my back pocket and tried again, this time with a louder, triple strike

Knock. Knock. Knock.

which was promptly returned.

… knock, knock, knock.

It occurred to me that maybe someone was messing with me deliberately. I checked my occupancy list and found that the rooms on either side of  432 were empty — one had been so all night, and the other had checked out earlier, by turning in their keys to me. Again, I looked up and down the hallway. I paged through the papers on my clipboard. Telling myself it must be an echo, or a sound coming up from the floor below, I raised my had to knock one more time, but I didn’t have the chance. From inside the room came an impatient-sounding


It’s my job to open that door, no matter what I think I might see or not see, so I did.

empty hotel room by Renae Rude

What’s going to happen now:

I think it’s best for me to avoid the hotel until I have a little more confidence in my ability to perceive things are they really are. It’s bad enough when the residents and guests are lying to me, but when the hotel itself gets in the game, I’m out … at least temporarily.

Because such is life at:

This Week in Macabre & Mysterious Media: May 11 – 17, 2015


Nostra Morte | Perséfone

Thanks to Joanna Wagner, who brought this to my attention.

This week, I think I’m most excited about:

Wayward Pines



Granite Flats (2013, 2014, 2015) TV series from BYUtv(!)

All three seasons of this series will become available on Netflix streaming on May 15th. (No link available yet.)
This blurb caught my eye: “It’s the 1960s. The height of the Cold War. The rural town of Granite Flats, Colorado, suddenly becomes a hotbed for mystery and intrigue.” (IMDb) A little more research reveals that this is an original, scripted drama from the folks at Brigham Young University TV. That’s interesting in its own right. Apparently the show has been on for BYUtv for the last three season, but now they have partnered up with Netflix to screen the whole show. To be honest, the few trailers I can find feel a little “after school special” to me, but I want to give it a fair shake because I love this era.
On IMDb here.

Extraterrestrial (2014) NR
Available on Netflix streaming on May 12th.
This looks fairly average, but I do love anything with Michael Ironside in it.
On IMDb here.


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) R
Opens in general release, Friday, May 15th.
Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
[UPDATE] I had my doubts for the first 15-20 minutes, but in the end I came out stoked about this movie. The visuals are stunning. (I can close my eyes and “see” the sandstorm sequence.) The tone is much closer to Mad Max and The Road Warrior than to Beyond Thunderdome. The story is fine, but it’s the spectacle that will impress you. Don’t wait for it to come to DVD — this is one that deserves to be seen on the big screen.
On IMDb here.

Every Secret Thing (2015) R
In general release, Friday, May 15th.
Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks, Dakota Fanning
I’ve not seen any previews for this on TV or in the theaters, which surprises me a bit, considering it opens Friday. Looks suspenseful. And I love what I see of the cast.
On IMDb here.


Wayward Pines | FOX | Thursdays | 9/8c | Starts this week, May 14th.
10 episodes
From the homepage:
“Imagine the perfect American town, beautiful homes, manicured lawns, children playing safely in the streets…Now imagine never being able to leave. You have no communication with the outside world. You think you’re going insane. You must be in Wayward Pines.”

“Based on Blake Crouch’s bestselling series of books and brought to life by M. Night Shyamalan. An “intense psychological thriller evocative of the classic hit Twin Peaks.””
UPDATE #1: I’m giving this orange status for now, based on one episode. I realized as I watched that I don’t really trust M. Night Shyamalan anymore. I adored The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but somewhere along the line, I realized that everythinghe’s done since is a trope, and there aren’t a lot of genuine twists to enjoy. I fear this is going to be like The Village, which was pretty and creepy, but essentially flat in the end.

UPDATE #2: I’m several episodes in now, and I think I hate it. I am willing to continue for a while longer, because I’m hoping things will become clear and/or something will happen to make it not so frustratingly bland. (A turn-around … I need a good turn-around.)
On IMDb here.


And that’s pretty much it for this week. I’m just coming off a four-day stint at the Paranormal Hotel, so I’m a bit worn out, but I hope to finish and post the next installment of Investigating a Haunting: Carlos Avery WMA, MN on Friday or Saturday. I also promised a little story to go along with a snapshot of an empty hotel room that I tweeted/facebooked a couple of days ago. (If everything goes just right, you might see that on Wednesday.) Right now, though, I have to catch-up to my word count goal for my novel project. Have a great week, Folks.



The color of the title is keyed as follows:
Black = Have not yet experienced. I’m interested … or I think you’ll be interested.
Red = Have experienced. Not recommended. Worse than the reviews or buzz indicated.
Orange = Have experienced. Recommended, with reservations or cautions.
Green = Have experienced. Recommended. A good movie that lives up to its reputation.

This Week in Macabre & Mysterious Media: May 4 -10, 2015


Buckle up, Folks…

Nekromantix – Gargoyles Over Copenhagen


You know I don’t feature many books here, in my Macabre & Mysterious Media posts, (which is CRAZY, I know, all things considered) but occasionally something new comes along that I just have to share. Recently I had a chance to read an advance copy of The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, by J.H. Moncrieff, and I loved it.

There’s even a spiffy book trailer:

This novella becomes available on Tuesday, May 5th, for just $2.66.

Support this debut author by grabbing a copy HERE.

You’ll want to have read it by the time June rolls around, because … (I’m excited to announce) … I’ll be interviewing J.H. Moncrieff on Skype at the end of May!

We’ve been in contact for the last month or so, working out the details of our plan. We still need to nail down a firm date and time for the conversation and decide what specific cocktail we’ll be sampling together. FYI, we have agreed the concoction we settle on must 1) be something that neither of us has every tried 2) include Malibu rum, and 3) have a spooky name.

I’ll be creating one or more videos from the raw footage, and will post the end product(s) in early to mid June. Of course we’ll be discussing The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, and there might be spoilers in the video(s). (Especially if we choose to indulge in strong cocktails.)



It’s a quiet week on Netflix except for this:

Grace & Frankie (2015) TV SHOW

All 13 episodes will become available on Netflix on May 8th.

Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, Sam Waterson

Not even a tinge of spooky here, but I’m really looking forward to this cast! It’s going to be a perfect binge on a rainy weekend. Update: On first viewing, I thought it was too on the nose and over the top, but Ogre fell asleep while we were watching the second episode, so I had re-watched it last night. It was better. Perhaps because I’m already invested in the happiness of the characters? 

On IMDb here.

Also, my favorite Angry Scholar has led me to something I missed:

The Road (2011) R

Avaliable on Netflix streaming.

On IMDb here.

Warning: this is hard to find on Netflix, because of the OTHER movie titled The Road (2009). (You know, the deeply depressing one, based on the Cormac McCarthy novel.) Scholar mentioned THIS movie in his recent post:

 Smart, Beautiful, Horrible: Horror’s Thoughtful (and Funny) Filmmakers

…where he also recommended Starry Eyes (2014) which I featured last week. (I’m going to have watch that one, despite my reservations.)


Maggie (2015) R

Opening Friday the 8th, though it may not be in wide release yet.

(I can’t find it playing near me this coming weekend, though a couple of theaters say it’s “coming soon.”)

Another zombie movie, this one starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. WAIT! Don’t just skip along. I’m hearing really good things about this one.

(I’ll probably share it again, when I believe it’s ACTUALLY going to be available to a lot of us.)

On IMDb here.


Nothing exciting on TV this week, except for that Grace & Frankie show, which is really a Netflix thing.

Last week, I rounded up the best of April’s paranormal entertainment. Most of that stuff is still around, so if you need more, check there.


The color of the title is keyed as follows:
Black = Have not yet experienced. I’m interested … or I think you’ll be interested.
Red = Have experienced. Not recommended. Worse than the reviews or buzz indicated.
Orange = Have experienced. Recommended, with reservations or cautions.
Green = Have experienced. Recommended. A good movie that lives up to its reputation.

This Week in Macabre & Mysterious Media: April 27 – May 3, 2015


Tristis est anima mea | Preformed by La Compagnia del Madrigale | Composition by Carlo Gesualdo

This beautiful music was composed by a man who murdered his wife and her lover in 1590.

The absolute best movie I saw in April was:

movie poster housebound



Starry Eyes (2014) NR
Available on Netflix streaming and in Redbox.
I’m probably not going to watch this one, because the reviews are telling me that it gets pretty gory in the second half. It’s a shame, because the first half sounds really intriguing. If you do watch it, and think it’s worth the splatter, let me know. Because I know I’m not the best person to judge hard-core horror, I’ll share the following review (with spoilers) by Craft Fear, who loved it. (She pairs her movies with an appropriate beer, then reviews both, which I think is brilliant.) Read the piece here: A Devil’s Tale Paired with Soul-Selling Starry Eyes.
On IMDb here.

An American Haunting (2005) PG-13
Donald Sutherland & Sissy Spacek star in this film inspired by the Bell Witch haunting. This one has received several recommendations in the comments section of my post The 13 most haunting films, for ghost story lovers (and another 13+ worth watching.) I’ll be making the time to see it this week.
On IMDb here.

Fantastic Voyage (1966) PG
On IMDb here.

(As we come to the end of April, it seems like a good time to create a simple status update list on the stuff I’ve featured this month. For more details on any item, click the embedded link.)

** Available in Redbox, but not yet Netflix streaming, as of this posting.


True Story (2015) R
In general release.
On my weekend get-away, we saw THREE movies in the theater. This was the best one. (I’ve gone back to the appropriate listings for Ex Machina & Age of Adeline to leave my opinions of those movies.) There’s nothing paranormal here, but there’s plenty of dark psychology. The relationship that develops between the two main characters gives me the chills. Fine performances by both Jonah Hill and James Franco, plus at least one fantastic scene by Felicity Jones. Well worth the watch.
On IMDb here.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) PG-13
In general release on Friday, May 24th.
On IMDb here.

Little Boy (2015) PG – 13
In general release.
Paranormal activity or just fantasy? I can’t tell. But you know my weakness for period pieces.
On IMDb here.

(As we come to the end of April, it seems like a good time to create a simple status update list on the stuff I’ve featured this month. For more details on any item, click the embedded link.)


Penny Dreadful | Showtime | Sundays | 10/9c | Resuming May 3rd.
(2nd season.)
Season 1 is available on 3 Netflix discs.
On IMDb here.

Showtime is giving away a taste as follows:

Penny Dreadful | Season 1 Episode 1: Night Work | Full Episode

Penny Dreadful | Season 1 Episode 2: Seance | Full Episode

Penny Dreadful | Season 2 Premiere | Full Episode

I’m still not sure I should be sharing programs that are only available on premium channels, so my featuring of such shows will be hit or miss. I did want to mention Penny Dreadful though, because it’s really quite wonderful, once you get used to it. We don’t have Showtime, but I saw most of the first season while I was staying with my daughter in North Carolina last summer. I’m actually fighting temptation to subscribe … there are other shows I miss too. 


pooka monster movie buttons

 I have been waiting for my daughter to make this listing go live for a MONTH. This set is available in pin-back style (think flare buttons) for $14, or in magnet style (think refrigerators) for $20. I’ll be ordering all 12 designs in the magnet style so that I can wear them in my pendant necklace. Order yours here: Pooka Creations. And, if you think they are cool, why not share the link to my daughter’s work on your social media outlets?


My son brought my attention to a Tumblr artist who is developing Erma, a character reminiscent of one of our favorite ghost girls, Samara Morgan, from The Ring. See the imgur gallery here or visit the artist’s Tumblr bog here.


The color of the title is keyed as follows:
Black = Have not yet experienced. I’m interested … or I think you’ll be interested.
Red = Have experienced. Not recommended. Worse than the reviews or buzz indicated.
Orange = Have experienced. Recommended, with reservations or cautions.
Green = Have experienced. Recommended. A good movie that lives up to its reputation.


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