Tag Archives: Wisconsin

127 – Historian Of The Strange: Robert Damon Schneck and The Bye Bye Man

The man who brought us the story of The Bye Bye Man, Robert Damon Schneck is a writer with a passion for finding the weirdest stories of American history. As a writer, he’s delivered articles on strange and unusual topics for Fortean Times (the paranormal gold standard!) and Fate magazine, as well as writing two incredibly well-researched books on the subject.

Robert Damon Schneck The Bye Bye Man
Historian of the Strange, Robert Damon Schneck

When we heard Robert tell the story of The Bye Bye Man on our way back from the Haunted America conference in Alton, Illinois last summer, we just knew we has to bring him on and for several reasons.

  1. The original story of The Bye Bye Man takes place in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, which is a suburb of our hometown, Madison.
  2. It’s college kids playing the Ouija Board, which is what we used to do when we attended the University of Wisconsin.
  3. There’s a part that takes place in Wausau, which is one of our favorite towns to perform in and we have lots of friends there.

So, it’s not every day that you get a true-life terrifying story that takes place in your area. And when we found out they were making a movie of it? Well, that was it. We made the note to contact Robert when the movie was coming out and now that time is here! The Bye Bye Man has arrived on theaters, and one of the special treats is that they kept the location of the film in Madison (even if they didn’t actually shoot the movie here!)

The Bye Bye Man Robert Damon shneck

Robert wrote the tale of The Bye Bye Man as just a single chapter in his 2005 book, The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America, but it’s become his most famous story. It was told to him at a Devil’s Night party by a friend he met at the Parapsychology Foundation in New York City and that person was actually one of the three people that the story really happened to.

During the cold Wisconsin winter of 1990, three friends kept themselves occupied by messing around with the Ouija Board. But the board put them in touch with a supernatural killer who rode America’s railways and who could sense you if you only thought of his name. Once you said that name out loud, he bound the train in your direction. And not too long afterwards, the friends experienced some strange things that made them believe The Bye Bye Man might be more than just a scary story.

the bye bye man robert damon schneck
Oh no, The Bye Bye Man is so scary, I lost my shirt!

Of course, we make Robert tell the whole story of The Bye Bye Man again in this episode, because that’s half the fun! But if you’re interested in the process of professional writing,  he also gives us the story of how he became a successful paranormal author, what happened that turned a chapter of his book into a wide-release feature film, and some more strange and fascinating facts from our nation’s history.

We heartily recommend following Robert on his Facebook page, Historian of the Strange and pick up a copy of his original book, which has been re-released in 2016 with new material as The Bye Bye Man And Other Strange-But-True Tales.

robert damon schneck the bye bye man gloomsinger
The Bye Bye Man and his hunting beast, Gloomsinger

And, perfect timing, the Page 2 Screen podcast discusses the screenplay for The Bye Bye Man in this week’s episode! We’re curious how the film will compare to Robert’s original telling of the story. Check it out here:  International Screenwriter’s Assocation Page 2 Screen

One of the best parts of The Bye Bye Man‘s story is the killer’s strange accomplice, who acts as something of a hunting dog for The Bye Bye Man. You’ll have to hear the whole story to really appreciate it, but we just couldn’t resist writing a creepy soundtrack for the Bye Bye Man’s little buddy, the terrifyingly named Gloomsinger.

When the whistling of a thousand tongues draws near
When a name will find you once you only hear
On the tracks and impending, never resting, never ending,
the whistling of a thousand tongues draws near

When the vision of a thousand eyes grows nigh,
Seeing you wherever you try to hide,
A friendly voice, knock at the door, a bloody sack, flesh and gore,
When the vision of a thousand eyes grows nigh.

105 – Exorcism: Carl Seige and The Four Signs of Possession

Exorcism, it’s back baby! From scores of possessed Peruvian kids to the Catholic Church increasing the number of priests they train for exorcism, to a psychiatrist seriously discussing possession in the pages of The Washington Post, the word on the street is that people are getting possessed by demons and it’s gonna take some of that Power of Christ to compel them out of there!

One of our favorite paranormal experts, Allison Jornlin from Milwaukee Ghosts, has been researching cases of demonic possession and we brought her on to talk about a little known, but very influential exorcism case, that occurred in the Devilish Dairy State (that’s Wisconsin) in the 1860s.

watertown wisconsin carl siege exorcism
Watertown, WI in the 19th Century – this is the best they could do for aerial views, I guess.

It all begins with the Seige Family, who were living in Germany in the late 1840s. Carl’s little sister was playing outside when she found a duck egg with a pinhole in it. She brought it into show the family but the mother immediately said to get rid of it. However, before they could, the dog ate it. Soon after, the poor pooch passed on and the sister became violently ill. She suffered for a year with blindness and fits and then passed away. One side of Carl’s body shriveled and he became very sickly. Soon after the family emigrated to Watertown, Wisconsin because they knew that the Devil wouldn’t follow them to America (right? Right?!)

Not so, Carl continued to suffer from strange symptoms. Newspapers reported that he had a lizard (or some said a snake) in his stomach. He started acting crazy so his parents brought in a Native American doctor to help draw out the evil, but that didn’t seem to work. So, they finally called in the demon-cleansing professionals, the Catholic Church.

Now the Catholic Church says that there are four Signs of Possession:

  •  Knowing The Unknowable – This is where you possess knowledge that you can’t possible have known beforehand. People’s locations, things that they were doing, who they were with, secrets, etc… Basically psychic powers like you’re Professor X watching them through Cerebro.
  • Understanding Unlearned Languages – Being able to comprehend when people are speaking to you in a tongue with which you have no prior experience. This is especially useful when possessed people go on vacation.
  • Aversion to Sacred Objects – Crosses, holy water — all the kind of stuff that people try in vampire movies but never seems to work because they don’t have enough faith.
  •  Supernatural Strength – When little kids can throw a grown man across a room or a tiny middle-aged woman can bench press a sofa bed, that means they’ve probably been popping Satanic Steroids.

You don’t have to exhibit all the signs to be authentically demonically possessed, but it’s an important checklist because at least 3 out of the 4, you can’t really fake. (It’s easy to act freaked out around a cross, people do it in Dracula movies all the time. It’s a lot harder to answer someone speaking in Latin or deadlift a Mini-Cooper.)

In Carl’s case he exhibited three of the signs, number one, he met his would-be Exorcists, the Rev. John Gmeiner and another priest as they were arriving, even though no one told him when they were coming. Number two, the priests would ask him questions in Latin and he’d give the correct answer, responding in German, but showing that he understood the Latin nonetheless (even though he had no prior education in the language.) Number three, when he was deep in the throes of his possession, he reacted violently to the crucifix.

spirits of darkness carl seige exorcism
Father Gmeiner invented the “Horror Movie” font 30 years too early!

The priests exorcised Carl and were able to drive the demons out of him according to Father Gmeiner’s book, Spirits Of Darkness. But like herpes simplex, the demons never really go away, they just hide and come back in multiple outbreaks of possession throughout your life. Carl Seige had to be exorcised many times during his life to keep the Devil at bay.

In the present day, they recently held an Exorcist training seminar in Northern Illinois at Mundelein Seminary. Allison stopped by there last week to do some research and maybe catch a glimpse of some of those Catholic heroes who are learning the proper angles to spray Holy Water and the latest in projectile vomit-avoidance techniques. Our friend, Tea Krulos, wrote an article about it in the Milwaukee Record and called it “Exorcist-palooza”.

mundelein seminary carl seige exorcism
Excuse me guys, is this where all the Exorcists hang out?

There’s an new Exorcist TV show coming on FOX this season as well. William Peter Blatty’s book was famously based on a 1949 case, but there’s some connections that Allison has been researching that are less well known, and that’s a story for another podcast.

Self-harm is one of the cornerstones of demonic possession. There’s even a case in the Bible where Jesus encounters a possessed man cutting himself with stones. (Mark 5:5) This song, “Mercy of Myth” by our band Sunspot talks about how punishing yourself needlessly isn’t worth it, because not only does it make you feel bad, it also opens you up to being possessed!

There is a Hell we hold within,
you can’t forgive yourself for the things you did.
A hair shirt and a bottle,
won’t let you forget.

Consequently, rear entry
is all that we’re left with.
We camouflage our sabotage,
and lay at the mercy of myth.

And culpa’s even worse than Crack,
You don’t need a sheepskin to know that,
even after cutting, nailbiting, hair pulling and spiting.
All your shame is still toxic.

Consequently, rear entry
is all that we’re left with.
We camouflage our sabotage,
and lay at the mercy of myth.

I’ll abandon ship on this guilt trip,
and let it drown,
Need some clemency from self pity,
and burn it out.

89 – Cowboys and Call Girls: Live from the Haunted Old Baraboo Inn

old baraboo inn promo picture
Hey now, that’s a good looking group!

We took the show on the road this last Saturday night to the Old Baraboo Inn in Baraboo, Wisconsin to do a live podcast and ghost hunt.

old baraboo inn

Allison from  Milwaukee Ghosts joined Wendy and I to explore what is reputed to be one of Wisconsin’s most haunted buildings. She put on a presentation about Dairy State weirdness at the beginning of the night and it was fantastic because there were a bunch of stories that I never heard before and she gave us a preview of some of the cool stuff she’ll be doing at this year’s Milwaukee Paranormal Conference.

Allison Jornlin Old Baraboo Inn
Here’s Allison presentin’!

Once Allison finished her presentation, we took some time to interview owner B.C. Farr about the place and its history. Built in 1864, the saloon has had several owners over the decades as it shifted from a boarding house to speakeasy to brothel and then just a nice Wisconsin tavern.

B.C. had been a regular there since the 80s and was on a path to become a professional NASCAR race car driver. But the entrepreneurial spirit got the best of him and after a strange fire gutted the place, he got the opportunity to own it for himself. And it only took a short time before he started seeing his tools disappear randomly and shapes out of the corner of his eye. And that was just the beginning…

B.C. Farr from the Old Baraboo Inn – Photo courtesy of Baraboo News Republic

Since it was a live interview, it was even more fun because there were people at the bar who had seen things with B.C. over the years and he calls out a friend who had sat with him at the tavern one night and listened as the jukebox turned off and they could hear old honky tonk piano music wafting through the room for 30-45 seconds before the jukebox kicked back on. Another patron talked about the ghost of a cowboy they both saw one night. And according to this Wisconsin State Journal article, there’s plenty more ghosts there, including a few of the ladies of the night that used to work upstairs in the establishment. Whatever specials they’re offering, the ghosts are taking it, because it seems they’re just as popular with the dead as with the living!

old baraboo inn sign
Oh God, they knew that we were coming!

Once we finished interviewing B.C. we talked with Melanie Carroll, who was dressed up like a spirit named Cybil, who’s been seen wandering the tavern in a fancy white dress. Melanie has a team called Date With The Paranormal in the area and has been investigating the Old Baraboo Inn since she moved into the area.

Her team uses what’s called an SLS Camera, which stands for Structured Light Sensor. Its use in ghost hunting has been made popular by Zak Bagans and Ghost Adventures. The camera captures an interesting variety of electromagnetic fields and seems to be able to detect movement that we cannot with our naked eye. In addition to doing photos earlier in the evening as “Cybil”, Mel was gracious enough to take us on a mini-ghost hunt up in the apartment upstairs where the old brothel used to be! My internet cut out after a few minutes, but I was able to capture a little bit of it in our See You On The Other Side Facebook live stream…

Okay, now here’s something weird. For this episode we originally recorded a tribute to Prince, who died this week at his estate and recording complex in Minnesota. So, Wendy and I worked up an acoustic version of “Delirious” and we played it for the crowd right after the podcast.

We set the Zoom to record, just like it had been for the podcast interview recording, but when we went back the next day to check the recording – it was gone! Prince was famously known to be insanely protective about his songwriting copyrights. Was it the Purple One himself who turned the recording off?!

Who knows, but since we were having a great time at the Old Baraboo Inn, with a few glasses of wine, we decided to make this week’s song, “In Vino Veritas”, about the simple pleasures of having a couple of drinks!

In vino.
In vino.

The drunken man’s words
are the sober thoughts,
little bit of truth
serum in the sauce.

Another round, you’re on a roll,
tell me the secrets of your soul,
Confess your sins, and let go,
I love you more when you lose control.

So you can call me when you’re messed out of your mind,
Now that’s something I can get behind,
You finally say the words you’ve always wanted to,
when you bid sobriety adieu
There’s nothing to tell but the truth.

The words flow fast,
with a wedge of lime,
and moderation’s
just another waste of time.

Another round, you’re on a roll,
tell me the secrets of your soul,
Confess your sins, and let go,
I love you more when you lose control.

So you can call me when you’re messed out of your mind,
Now that’s something I can get behind,
You finally say the words you’ve always wanted to,
You’re so much more fun when you’re crunk,
because you don’t lie to me when you’re drunk.

You’re much more interesting on your third glass of wine,
your honest flavors always come out on the vine,
It’s your boss and his secretary or your friend that popped her cherry,
the truth is you ain’t no girl scout,
when the skeletons come out.
The skeletons come out.
The skeletons come out.

Another round, you’re on a roll,
tell me the secrets of your soul,
Confess your sins, and let go,
I love you more when you lose control.

So you can call me when you’re messed out of your mind,
Now that’s something I can get behind,
You finally say the words you’ve always wanted to,
when you bid sobriety adieu.
And you can call me when you’re messed out of your mind,
Now that’s something I can get behind,
You finally say the words you’ve always wanted to,
You’re so much more fun when you’re sauced,
In vino veritas.

In vino.
In vino.

Why Would Terrorists Attack the Milwaukee Masonic Temple?

On Monday, January 25th, the FBI just barely stopped a terrorist attack at the Milwaukee Masonic Temple, where  a twenty-three year old man was planning on carrying out a mass shooting and dreamed of killing thirty or more people in the name of Islam. Samy Mohamed Hamzeh was just a personal trainer in Milwaukee who made the decision that he wanted to kill people to strike fear into the hearts of the infidel.

samy mohamed homzeh
Do you even kill people, bro?

Terror doesn’t have a military strategy, it’s designed to break down the morale of non-combatants.  I’ve often said that if terrorists wanted to really scare the United States they would’t attack New York City or Los Angeles, they’d attack smaller cities in the USA, and particularly in the Midwest, to show that no one is safe. And being a native to the area, this was particularly scary. Milwaukee did have  a white supremacist mass shooting at a Sikh Temple in 2012 and that guy was even worse. He was a musician as well as embarrassingly stupid and tried to start some kind of Holy Race War by attacking the Sikhs, who are non-violent, but wear turbans (like I said, embarrassingly stupid.)

But why attack the Milwaukee Masonic Temple? What did they do to Samy Mohamed Hamzeh? Here’s what the would-be terrorist said:

“They are all Masonic; they are playing with the world like a game, man, and we are like asses, we don’t know what is going on, these are the ones who are fighting, these are the ones that needs to be killed, not the Shi’ite (Mike’s note: another branch of Islam), because these are the ones who are against us, these are the ones who are making living for us like hell”

samy-hamzeh
That’s a good boy, that’s a really good boy, now let’s go kill people!

“These are the ones who are making living for us like hell” – the Masons? You mean the guys who drive the little cars from the Circus? (No, that’s Shriners, but the Shriners did develop from Freemasonry…) But it’s a society that keeps some of its initiation rituals secret and its membership often includes a lot of prominent individuals in the community. It’s a club with secrets that has business leaders, politicians, and rich people as members. It’s pretty easy to figure why you think that they’re up to no good.

The Freemasons will get their own episode of the See You On The Other Side podcast soon because there’s centuries of conspiracies surrounding them. The idea is that this secret society presents themselves as charitable citizens who are getting together to perform good works, really they are a criminal organization who controls the media and has a sinister agenda.

I’m sure there are bad Freemasons and I’m sure a judge or a cop has let one of his Masonic brothers off easy a few times. But are these low level Milwaukee masons really the kind of world dominators that make life a living Hell for Muslim fitness trainers in the Brew City?

This is why it’s important to pay attention to conspiracy theories in real life as well as in Pop Culture (like these “Top Ten Masonic Conspiracy Theories“)? Because sometimes those theories can provide excuses and justification for killing innocent people.

True Detective and the Steven Avery Cult Connection

Like most of you who had some free time over the Holidays, I enjoyed myself a little bit of the ol’ “Netflix and Chill”. And my sedative of choice was Making A Murderer. I can’t help it, yes, I am addicted as much as everyone else to this true crime phase of Pop Culture. I listen to Serial, I was just as shocked at the ending of The Jinx as everyone else. I know that these are sensationalized accounts of real people’s lives. I know that my outrage has been elicited by design. Yet, somehow this foreknowledge of manipulation doesn’t change my interest in the twisted case of Steven Avery or the depressing case of Brendan Dassey. So, I read on every article and criminal records search associated with it, and everyone from The New York Times to Buzzfeed has anticipated our interest and used it to their clickbait-y advantage.

steven avery cult
How many times have you seen this picture over the last month?

I can’t help it, I’m in Wisconsin and paid attention to the story as it happened the first time. One of my good friends was on the Innocence Project at the law school of UW-Madison right before Steven Avery went on trial the second time (she was talking about him as one of their great successes), my wife went to high school in Manitowoc (she exclaimed at one point in the show how her next-door neighbor was on the witness stand!), one of the people I work with in music mentioned how his neighbor was the woman who did the (flawed) DNA testing of the key. These were all people that are in my life. When do most people ever get that close to a national phenomenon without being in it? Of course it’s going to fascinate me!

True crime is one thing (and I know that murder is tragic, no one’s downplaying that) but when people start looking for paranormal explanations, that’s where I start getting really interested. Because this is when we get beyond regular human interest and start entering a different level of conspiracy theory. Sure, it’s one thing to say that the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department planted some evidence. Sgt. Colborn plays a wonderful patsy and Lieutenant Lenk is the cold middle manager whose job it is to make the frame up work. But what if it goes way deeper than that? What if it goes into True Detective Season One (the good season) territory?

steven avery cult true detective yellow king
The Yellow King lives in the Fox Valley and this Lone Star Beer can prove it! 

First, Coast to Coast AM (with Twin Cities host Dave Schrader from Darkness Radio taking the lead) featured a special episode on the case, with the last hour devoted to a retired police detective who believes it might be the work of a Satanist serial killer named Edward Wayne Edwards (who the author also connects to California’s infamous Zodiac Killer) who was caught in 2009 in Jefferson, Wisconsin and admitted to five murders. John A. Cameron claims however that Edwards has killed dozens of more victims over the course of a six-decade murder spree where he framed many other innocent people and Steven Avery was just one of his last victims. Now the tale is pretty unbelievable for sure, but Cameron does his best to make a compelling case and even suspects Edwards of dressing up like Santa to perform JonBenét Ramsey’s 1996 mureder as well as killing people on Aleister Crowley’s birthday October 12th. Cameron turns Edwards into some kind of murdering superman and while the evidence is weak, it’s a compelling read.

But the idea of a Satanic murder of Theresa Halbach has also been floating around on that bastion of constructive discussions, Reddit. In this particular thread, people theorize that a Satanic Sex Club might be the ones who murdered the poor girl. Why? Because it was Halloween of course! Okay, Manitowoc is a small city, how would some kind of secret Satanic sex club go around unnoticed? Quick answer. It was noticed. Hat tip to Cult of Weird for sharing this story about a man named Dave Begotka, who has created a series of YouTube videos about how there’s a secret Satanic cult in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley.

I’m not trying to be judge-y, but his old channel was called DrNephilim666, so I think he might be an old hat when it comes to wacky theories. However, Dave has a detailed story on his website about how he was invited to join this secret sex club in Manitowoc by a very influential local businessman. It’s got that Eyes Wide Shut vibe, but hopefully it’s not as mind-numbing as that movie turned out to be. The people of Reddit think that Dave Begotka’s story “could be huge!” for the case, but he’s sent the whole story to Avery’s legal team (and my wife even has a crush on Dean Strang now) and they haven’t used it yet, so its credibility is dubious. But that turns this whole thing right into the land of True Detective, just what is going on in Manitowoc County?

steven avery cult dean strang jerry buting valentine
That’s right boys, nothing is sexier than justice!

Anyway, if one thing makes a close-to-home true crime story more exciting, it’s bringing in some kind of occult murder society. It’s like one of my high school urban legends come to life and the whole Internet is getting in on it. There’s not much to these theories right now, but if Avery and Dassey get a second trial and the Defense puts forth a Satanic Sex Club defense, you know we’re going to have to go to the courtroom.

47 – Beyond The Smiley Face Killers: Looking for the Hidden Truth in La Crosse

Since 1997, nine college-age men have drowned in the Mississippi River by La Crosse, Wisconsin. Authorities have consistently said that it’s a result of the men getting too drunk, wandering into the river accidentally, and not being able to get out (or maybe going for a swim and it’s a “death by misadventure”.)

It’s a case that’s close to our hearts because Sunspot has often played in La Crosse and Mike used to work at a television station there in the early part of the century during which some of these deaths occurred.

After Mike and Wendy talk about their new 5-star review, they go into the history of the “smiley face killers” theory.

In 2008, two retired NYPD detectives, Frank Gannon and Anthony Duarte, came up with a controversial theory. They said that a group of serial killers was roaming the Interstate Highways along the Mississippi River and was killing young men all over the country and throwing them in the river to hide their crimes. The detectives claimed that was a pattern of “smiley faces” at each of the scenes where the victims went into the river.

Here’s a documentary about it:

But Neil Sanders, a retired deputy Medical Examiner from La Crosse, just didn’t believe that the “smiley face killers” theory added up and wanted to see if there might be something more to it than serial killers or drunken accidents. He wanted to look into a supernatural explanation. That’s when he contacted Jay Bachochin of Wisconsin Paranormal Investigations and that formed the basis of the documentary film, directed by Scott Markus, The Hidden Truth?. 

Mike and Wendy are then joined by Allison Jornlin from Milwaukee Ghosts and they proceed to interview Sanders, Bachochin, and Markus about the movie and some of their theories.

There was a steam boat that sank in La Crosse in 1870, the War Eagle, where 5 people died, including a young woman named Mary Ulrich. One of the theories that they pose in the film is that the recent drowning victims might have been “more open to spiritual channels” while inebriated and heard Mary or another ghosts’ voice and jumped in the water to try and save them.

Another part of the movie has Neil talking to a Ho Chunk elder about the “water spirits” of some Native American legends, supernatural entities that live in river and lakes. This is similar to the Slavic vodyanoy or the Welsh kelpie, and that creature was known over here as “the water man”. Allison proceeds to talk about some research that she’s discovered in a 1930s collection of American folklore about water spirits and how the water man might try to “take your soul”!

Jay and Scott talk about their interest in the paranormal and their search for the truth above anything else and how it influenced their decision to document the paranormal investigation into a film. Scott discusses the weird things that happened to some of their equipment while conducting the investigation over the site of the War Eagle sinking and Jay goes into some detail about an interesting EVP that they capture as well.

Paranormal vs. a serial killer vs. accidental drowning – there’s no smoking gun and conclusive evidence in any of the directions. But the conversation wraps up discussing how The Hidden Truth? respects the victims and gives us another theory to entertain as to their true fate.

If you’re interested in purchasing The Hidden Truth?, you can order a DVD copy right here.

This Week’s Song: Smiley Face Murder Club by Sunspot

You were stumbling when you walked along the river,
You were crying when you walked along the river.
You never heard me follow you,
You shoulda watched your liquor.
No one ever expects to be lost without a trace,
No one ever expects the smiling face.

I don’t give a damn what your name was,
I don’t give a damn who you were.
You could have been somebody else,
but it was just your turn.

I wanted to know what it felt like,
and it’s not fair.
But they won’t ever understand,
the bond we now share.
No one ever expects to be lost without a trace,
No one ever expects the smiling face.