Skip to comments.Halloween... The Landlady's Tale: a true story
Posted on 11/01/2002 12:04:19 AM PST by Swordmaker
The following story was told to me by the woman who rented my parent's their first home in California when they moved to Sacramento in 1939. A devout Catholic (although she had been divorced by her husband, she did not consider the diverce valid and did not remarry until her husband died many years later) the landlady swore on her Bible in front of my sister and me after she told us the story that it was absolutely true. She was quite serious about it.
In the 1970s, I personally confirmed some of the more mundane parts of her story. The events she described occuring in the 1950s had been reported in the local news, and although there was now an empty lot where it and a gas station once stood, the house did exist.
I will call her "Irene" because that was really her name.
The Landlady's Tale
It was September, 1920. The Smith family was moving from San Francisco, where their youngest daughter Irene had lived her entire 15 years, to their new home in Sacramento, where Irene's father had his new job. The job was provisionary at first so Irene's parents had rented a house instead of selling the San Francisco house and buying another in Sacramento, in case the job did not work out and they wanted to move back.
Irene's father had found a great bargain. The house was a three story Victorian complete with attic and basement. It was located on a corner lot in an upscale neighborhood of other stately Victorians. The rent was lower than usual for the neighborhood. Their new landlord explained to Irene's parents that he was merely the agent for the owner, his sister, who had "moved backeast, because of her health" several years earlier. The owner's brother was apologetic that they could not have the entire basement for their use, but, he explained "The back storeroom of the basement is packed full of some of my sister's belongings that she hasn't sent for yet. You can have the other two basement rooms for your stuff."
The house had large, airy rooms with large windows. The first floor consisted of a large kitchen with walk-in pantry and breakfast nook, a formal diningroom with oaken hutches and sideboards built-in, a living room and a seperate "sociable parlor" for entertaining important guests. The front entry led into the large staircase wrapping around a central core and was open from bottom to top, giving a clear view of all landings and stairs. The second floor had the master suite for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the bathroom, another bedroom destined to become Mr. Smith's office and which would double as a guestroom, and a small storage room. The third floor had one bedroom with a closet that Irene would share with her 22 year old adopted sister, Nita, and her two and a half year old daughter. The attic was actually an unfinished space on the third floor that could be made into more bedrooms.
Nita and Irene got along very well. Although Nita had been adopted (she had literally been left on the Smith's doorstep 22 years before), she and Irene could not have been closer. Irene had been a 12 year old maid of honor when Nita had married her childhood sweetheart, just before he shipped out to Europe where he died in a foxhole from a German bullet just three months before his daughter was born. Irene had been given the option of sleeping in the guestroom with her father's desk and files but she much preferred sharing the big double bed with sister (and best friend) Nita. The little girl would sleep in a crib in the room with them.
The five members of the Smith family all had their jobs in the move... Mrs. Smith directing the workmen moving the large furniture from the horsedrawn drayage cart to the house, Mr. Smith hanging family pictures, Irene and Nita unpacking the fine china and putting it into the built in hutches in the diningroom and the "baby", which is how they always referred to Nita's daughter, was heavily involved in everything, getting in the way, skipping, laughing. It was a hectic but homey scene.
The trouble started that very first day. The family was absorbed in the mundane tasks of moving in. The baby was left to her own resources and was skipping around the house, watching this, watching that, asking questions and generally having loads of fun. She skipped past her mother and aunt and went by herself into the kitchen.
She had not been in there very long when she started screaming... loudly and piercingly.
Nita dropped one of her mother's heirloom plates, shattering it on the hardwood floor, a dashed into the kitchen. Irene was close on her heels.
The baby was standing, petrified, screaming, and shaking her head from side to side. Nita dropped to her knees as hugged her daughter to her, trying to comfort her. The baby was unconsolable. For over an hour Nita carried her and rocked her in her arms before the child quieted and finally fell asleep.
The baby never could tell them what caused her fear and even in later years, she would waken screaming in the night and could only vaguely describe a room in her dreams that Nita and the other could recognize as the kitchen. The child would never again walk into the kitchen alone as long as they lived there... which would not be that long. Strangely, none of the other events that occurred in that house would ever bother her.
That night an exhausted but satisfied Smith family retired for the night. They had gone out to dinner because the kitchen had not been completed enough to cook in. It was about 10:00PM when the lights were turned out after all goodnights had been said. Nita carried the sleeping baby up to the third floor and put her in her crib. She and Irene took turns taking baths and watching the sleeping child.
Their bedroom was a square. The headboard of their big doublebed shared the wall with the door to the landing. The baby's crib was on the inside wall next to the landing door and the wall opposite the bed had two large dormer style windows. The wall to the right of the bed had a closet that was largeenough to hold a couple of dressers and some trunks. The door to the closet was right next to the head of the bed and next to it, closer to the windows was a large dresser with a basin and pitcher.
Both girls were very tired after a day of hard labor and fell quickly asleep.
Several hours later, Irene awoke with a feeling that someone was watching her. She got up and went to check the baby who was fast asleep. As she turned around she was surprised to see that Nita, who was a deeper sleeper than she, was also awake.
"I'm sorry I woke you... I tried to be quiet," Irene apologized, "I know how tired you must be."
"You didn't wake me," Nita answered, "I woke just before you got up. Were you looking at me? I felt someone was was watching me."
"Hmmm. That was what woke me. I thought the baby was awake," said Irene, as she climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up.
The girls lay there and chatted about the events of the day and what lay ahead in Sacramento.
Irene and Nita talked girl talk for about fifteen minutes, when without warning...
Knock! Knock! Knock!
The sound came from the closet door on the right. Both girls turned, startled, toward the closet. The last knock had just knocked when the closet door swung open!
The girls stared. Just as suddenly...
Knock! Knock! Knock!
... and the door swung closed!
Both girls jumped out of bed, screaming. Nita rushed over and picked up the baby and both ran out yelling for their parents. "DADDY! There's someone in the house! Help!"
Mr. Smith came dashing out of the second floor master suite in his nightshirt with his big revolver and ran up the stairs, meeting the panicked girls on the way down. Both pointed up stairs, turned and fled to Mrs. Smith, who pulled them into her bedroom and shut the door.
Mr. Smith continued up the stairs to find an empty room and closet. He searched the attic, checked the windows, turned on all the lights and searched everyroom, checked every window, and even took a light down and searched the basement. Nothing.
"There's nobody here except us" he yelled as he approached the master bedroom.
"No, Daddy, there was someone in our room... in the closet!" Nita cried.
"Look, I've searched the entire house. Everything is normal and there is no one here. It was probably the wind." Mr. Smith stated.
Mrs. Smith offered her opinion. "Its a new house for you. You're not used to it, so it's strange. You let your imaginations run away with you. You probably had a nightmare."
"BOTH of us? The same dream?" asked Nita. "It was not a dream."
"Nita, it was a dream." When Momma made up her mind, it was made up and NOTHING could change it. "Go back to bed. We have more work in the morning. Go to sleep."
"I'm going to turn off the lights and go back to sleep. You girls do the same." When Mrs. Smith made up her mind, Mr. Smith's mind was also made up. He clomped off to shut off the lights. Irene noticed that he took the gun with him, though.
Both girls trudged back upstairs.
"It's only the wind." Nita said, trying to convince herself.
Nita put the still sleeping baby between them on the bed and both got out their Rosaries and started praying. Irene was certain she would not sleep a wink for the rest of the night. She was wrong. Both of the girls fell asleep before they could complete their prayers and slept soundly.
At breakfast, 'Topic A' would have been the events of the previous night but Mrs. Smith's mind was made up and she would brook no disagreement: "It was a dream."
"It was the wind," Mr. Smith said, under his breath.
That second night the girls went to sleep having talked it out between themselves and decided it HAD to have been a dream. Sleep came quickly because it had been another full day of settling in.
Both girls awakened with the same feeling... someone was watching them. Irene grabbed her Rosary and just held it. a few minutes after they awakened...
Knock! Knock! Knock!
...and the closet door swung open!
Knock! Knock! Knock!
... the door swung closed!
Again, two screaming girls grabbed the baby and dashed out the door, awakening their parents. Mr. Smith again, searched the house, and again found nothing.
"It's the wind!" said Mr. Smith.
"it's only a dream!" said Mrs. Smith. "Go back to bed."
The next night was a repeat of the previous nights. By the fourth night, Mr. Smith refused to get up a search. Mrs. Smith had decided that maybe the girls were doing this deliberately because they didn't like Sacramento and wanted to return to San Francisco.
On the fifth night she had had enough. "If you girls disturb my sleep one more time, you will NOT like the consequences. We are staying."
"Momma," cried Irene, frustrated, "we aren't making this up. It really happens."
"Mother..." Nita tried to enter the discussion.
"NO MORE! We're staying... get used to it. I don't want to hear anything more about it."
Get used to it they did. It became a normal thing for them. Nita got a clock and they found they always awoke within a few minutes of 1:35AM and the door would knock three times, open, knock three times and close at 1:43AM. It was like clockwork. It got to be routine.
They discussed it with everyone except Mrs. Smith. She would not allow the subject to be brought up at all. Mr. Smith was certain it was a phenomenum of weather... the wind. Others we sure the girls were making it up or joking. Dreaming was another popular theory.
A friend of their father's came to visit one weekend from Stockton and was to be put up in the guestroom/office. In after dinner conversation, while Mrs. Smith was finishing in the kitchen, the subject of the closet door was brought up. The visitor did not believe them.
"I don't believe in stuff like that. It ain't possible."
The girls assured him it happened every night.
"Tell you what. I'll sleep in your room tonight... you gals take the guestroom and I'll prove you wrong."
The girls agreed, even though Mrs. Smith would object to changes in sleeping arrangements, especially for this purpose, and the guest room only had a single bed. The two snuck downstairs with the baby after Mr. and Mrs. Smith had gone to bed and the guest went up to their room. The girls slept through the night for the first time since moving in to the house.
The next morning, they snuck back up to awaken their guest so they could exchange rooms again and, more importantly, learn what he experienced.
He was gone! His overnight bag, and all, gone. The bedspread was strewn across the floor toward the landing door and the bed was pushed at an angle away from the landing door. His truck was gone from the street in front of the house as well. He never answered their father's letters and never came back to the house. Irene's father was perplexed. Years later, Irene met him again and asked him what happened. Obviously distressed, he refused to tell her and told her never to ask him again. He then got up and walked out.
Several months passed. Irene and Nita were completely used to the phenomena. It was even a bit boring. However they NEVER slept through it and the baby always did. Mrs. Smith would not hear anything about it and Mr. Smith ignored it.
Everything changed on the night of June 7, 1921. That night, about 1:45AM, Mr. Smith had a call of nature and got up to go to the bathroom. As he left the master bedroom, he glanced up the stairs and caught a glimpse of a man standing on the landing. He darted back into his room and grabbed his revolver and charged out, yelling at the top of his lungs. The girls, still awake from the closet door event of the evening came out to see their father dashing around the house opening doors and turning on lights looking for a burglar. He found nothing.
Mrs. Smith decided that Mr. Smith had been sleep walking and dreamed the whole thing.
"I did not dream it... I saw a man." Mr. Smith insisted.
"You dreamed it." Mrs. Smith insisted... and a glorious argument developed. The girls went back to bed.
The night of June 8, 1921. Mr. Smith cleaned and oiled his revolver before going to bed... and he loaded his shotgun for the first time. Mrs. Smith was not speaking with him. His theory was that someone, maybe a previous tenant, had free entry to the house and he was going to catch him.
Over Mrs. Smith's objections, Mr. Smith left the door to their bedroom open and he propped his shotgun next to it. The revolver was on the nightstand.
The girls went to bed. At 1:33AM both of them awoke and ten minutes later the closet door SLAMMED open without knocking! A blood-curdling scream, the most terrifying sound Irene had ever heard, echoed out of the closet! SOMETHING DARK ran out of the closet, around the bed, opened the door to the landing and slammed it behind it!
Both girls were so frozen in fright they could not move to go check on the baby!
Mr. Smith, awakened with a start, hearing a horrible scream coming from upstairs. He jumped out of bed and grabbed the revolver. As he dashed out the bedroom door he hit the light switch for the landing. To his shock, he saw a man, covered in blood, carrying a knife, running down the stairs from the third floor landing! With visions of his daughters lying dead in their bed, he raised his revolver and took aim. The man disappeared! Vanished in plain site with nowhere to go. Gone as if he had never been there!
Mrs. Smith was climbing out of bed to find out what the commotion was all about. Mr. Smith dashed up the stairs and slammed open the girls bedroom to find two very frightened girls fantically saying their Rosaries. The baby was still sound asleep in her crib.
Nobody went back to bed that night. Mr. Smith woke a neighbor who owned a phone and the police were called. They found nothing and chalked it up to a prowler that Mr. Smith had scared off.
Mrs. Smith latched onto that explanation and adopted it as her own. She spent the night demanding that Mr. Smith call a locksmith to replace all the locks on the house as soon as possible in the morning.
Mrs. Smith was adamant... a prowler was NO reason to move out. The police would catch him and everything would go back to normal. The girls just had another nightmare.
Mr. Smith moved the desk out of his office and moved the girls furniture and clothing in. They would never sleep or go into the room on the third floor again.
Mrs. Smith refused to even consider moving. She thought moving the girls into the office was a bunch of nonsense, but if Mr. Smith didn't mind having his office on the third floor, alright.
Two days later, Mrs. Smith came in from a day of shopping with some friends and lay down on the sofa in the livingroom. As she lay there, she looked over toward the kitchen. Remember the kitchen?
"Who is that man in the kitchen," Mrs. Smith asked Irene.
"Momma, there is no one there," Irene replied, looking toward the kitchen.
"Why there certainly IS... I can see him plain as day..."
Suddenly, Mrs. Smith screamed! "Oh, MY GOD! I can see right through him!"
The Smith family left the house within an hour, never to return. They stayed in a downtown hotel for three weeks while Mr. Smith found and bought a house. Movers packed and removed their belongings from the house Mrs. Smith refused to return to.
Many years passed. Irene grew up, married a fairly wealthy man with interests in Real Estate and she, herself, became a Real Estate agent and later a property developer. Her husband, became enamored of his secretary, divorced Irene (but did not get a Catholic annulment). She came out of the divorce proceeding with most of the properties because of the adultery.
Over the years, Irene kept an eye on that house and noted a strange pattern. No one ever lived in the house for more than about 10 months. Almost everyone who lived there moved out within a week of June 8th. Often it went unrented for long periods of time.
In the late-1930s, the brother of the owner cleaned out his bank accounts and moved out of town, abandoning the properties in his charge. No one knew where he went and he was never heard from again. The neighborhood fell into disrepair as the city grew eastward and it soon became an area of broken down houses. Many of the once stately Victorian homes were converted to low-income apartments and the neighborhood drifted into a slum.
The house stayed empty for years. Property taxes went unpaid. One day in the early fifties, Irene, now a very wealthy woman who owned several hundred homes in Sacramento, noticed that a tax lien auction for the property was listed in the paper. Out of curiosity, with no interest at all in buying the property, she attended the sale.
The eventual winning bidder was a property developer friend who was also a competitor of Irene's. She approached him.
"What are you planning to do with this house?" Irene asked.
"The location is ideal," he said, "for a motel I am planning to build. There is a lot of traffic on this corner."
"I don't think I would build a hotel on this site," said Irene. "I don't think it would work. it's not a good idea."
"Why not?" asked her friend.
"Let me buy you a cup of coffee and I will tell you a story about that house. I know a lot about its history."
They went to a cafe down the block and she related her tale. He was not impressed... except with her hutzpah.
"What are you trying to pull... if you wanted this property why didn't you bid on it?"
Irene insisted she had no interest in the property but felt that he should know about its history. HE, on the other hand, was convinced she had some business plot going. "I don't believe in that junk... and I'm surprised a hard-headed business woman like yourself would even spout such malarky. I am going to build my motel." He left in a huff.
Several months later he called Irene at her office.
"Can you meet me? Something has come up. Oh, my god, has it come up!"
Irene agreed to meet him for lunch. They met at the Senator Hotel dining room and Irene's friend was obviously agitated.
"My men started demolition of that house you were wanting," he said.
"I DIDN'T want it..." Irene interupted. But he just continued.
"Irene, there were TWO BODIES in the basement wall!!!"
"Two skeletons actually. It'll be in the papers tomorrow. I told the police about your interest in the house. I think they want to talk to you."
The police never did talk to Irene as they had a confession in hand. Along with the bodies, the police found a box containing a .45 Colt Single Action and a worm-eaten, handwritten confession from the killer. As the story was finally related, the owner of the house had lived there with her younger brother in the early part of the 20th century. The writer of the confession related how, on the night of June 8, 1902, a little after 1:30AM, he was awakened by a terrible scream from his sister's upstairs bedroom. He had gotten out of bed, taken his old army revolver out of the nightstand and ran out onto the landing where he saw a man with a knife, covered in blood, running down the stairs from the third floor. He shot and killed the man on the stairs. Running up the stairs to his sister's bedroom, he found her naked, brutally stabbed body in the closet next to her bed. Covering her body with the bedspread, he went down to put on some pants to go get help.
As he dressed, he wrote, he thought about his future. His sister owned everything and HE was not included in her will. She was leaving everything to charity. Instead of getting help, he carried both bodies to the basement and buried them in the wall. He moved a lot of furniture in front of the wall. He announced to the neighbors and friends that his sister was not well and had gone back east to live with a non-existant sister. He then took over managing her properties for his own benefit. When he decided he couldn't keep it up anymore, he decided to leave... but his conscience made him leave the confession which, along with the gun, was placed behind the same wall where the bodies were buried. He wanted people to know what happened, and that he really didn't do anything wrong.
Thus ends The Landlady's Tale.
Except for the ghostly story Irene related, this was all duly reported in the early fifties in the local newspapers as a old crime that solved itself. The medical examiners office determined the skeletons were those of a young man and a middle aged woman.
The brother, if he was still alive, was never found. The motel was never built... instead a gas station was erected on the site. It was never successful for very long. When I researched this story in the mid to late 1970s, after Irene's death, the lot was empty, a home for derelicts sleeping in bushes.
I again repeat that Irene swore this all happened as she told me it did. I recall seeing the goosebumps that rose on her arms as she told the story. I get goosebumps when I retell it even today.
Mr. Smith died in the 1930s but Mrs. Smith was still alive in the late fifties and I knew her. She was still a no-nonsense type. After Mr. Smith's death, she had gone back to work as a store detective for a large department store chain. My mother asked her once about the events related here and she confirmed that it happened as Irene told it. She then said she didn't want to talk about it ever again... and excused herself to go to evening mass.
What do you all think?
Wonderful Halloween read.
This, I doubt... as I was talking to the very people it happened to and not some thirdhand report. I also confirmed some of the more mundane parts. However, it could be that Irene knew of the mundane story and fabricated this elaborate story AND convinced her over 90 year old mother to agree... for no gain. Irene hardly needed money.
The other possibility is that both women were insane...
The other possibility is that both women were insane... Or deluded. The human mind is subject to many tricks. But people whom I do trust have come out with stories of encounters with ghosts, so I would give them a fair hearing.
Have you ever been to a haunted place or seen a ghost?