ON A MUGGY NIGHT, TWO POLICE OFFICERS CHASED AN ARMED ROBBER through the darkness. The suspect led them to an abandoned industrial complex where he disappeared among the clutter of buildings. Unable to locate the man and unwilling to split up in the dangerous environment, they had decided to regroup and return with a larger search party. Then an unearthly scream filled the night.
“It was a sound of pure anguish,” stated one of the officers, “It was pain, fear, and rage all mixed together. I’ve never heard a scream like that, like some tormented soul.”
Fearing someone else had fallen victim to the desperate gunman, they entered the structure from which the sound had come. They encountered the suspect, who fired at them. They returned fire and the man fell still and silent.
The scene was investigated, and no other people were found, but a grisly discovery was made. Atop a pile of concrete rubble, they discovered a human skull. An excavation beneath the mound found the remainder of the skeleton.
The suspect survived the shooting, though he lingered in a coma for several months. When he awoke, he made an eerie confession.
The remains belonged to a homeless man known as Grey Jack for his long, gray beard. He was a member of a small community of people who squatted in the area.
Jack was the subject of many rumors though he was friendly. He was often known to talk about a grave he had purchased in better times and it was some comfort to him to know he would be buried among his family someday. He was never known to panhandle, but always seemed to have some food or a bottle of cheap booze.
“They said he had money,” stated the suspect. “And I wanted it.”
As winter came on, most of the transients had already moved south to warmer climes. Only he and Jack remained and he saw his chance. At gun point, he demanded Jack hand over the cash. Jack refused.
“I shot him. He didn’t die right away. He begged me to contact a lawyer, I forget the name, to tell him where he was and that he was dead. I shot him again and went through his pockets.”
The murder yielded nothing to the killer, who quickly went south like the others.
“I started a rumor,” he continued, “I told other people the place was haunted. When I came back the next year, it was empty. I had it all to myself. People told me I was crazy to go there. Maybe they were right.
“I heard things in the night. At first they were just sounds, like someone far away crying. But there was a mumbling that got clearer night by night. I heard it at last, a voice begging, ‘I don’t want to be buried here.’ it said.
“I went to the spot I buried him and I found the skull. Somehow, it came up, out of the ground. I buried it again and the noises stopped for a while. But they came back again, louder and louder and, for a second time, the skull came up out of the ground. When I buried it a third time, I put the concrete and rocks on top. I thought that would finish it, but I left that place and swore I’d never go back.
“But there are only so many places I can go. The night I robbed those people I had nowhere else to hide. I didn’t mean to go back, it was like my legs had a mind of their own. I thought I had got away but the next thing I knew I was standing at the mound.
“I saw the skull, sitting on top… and then it screamed.”
The gunman was found unfit to stand trial and committed to a state mental hospital. Speaking off the record and anonymously, a doctor commented on the inmate.
“He suffers from a combination of conditions, antisocial personality disorder and paranoid schizophrenia seem apparent. On the night of his apprehension, he came face to face with the horrid nature of his crimes. Under the stress of the pursuit, facing inevitable capture, the sight of the skull was too much. Certainly it was him, and not the skull, who screamed.”
When asked how it was that the skull was placed atop the mound, however, the doctor had no comment.
The true identity of the man known as Gray Jack has never been determined. His remains were interred in a grave provided by the city. Whether he has found peace or not is impossible to say, but perhaps there is more to the legends, some recent, of muffled sobbing that can be heard in graveyards late at night…
story by Joe Stanley