Colorado is one of the most beautiful states in the country. Our mountains stand proudly over us like great protectors, awe-inspiring in their majesty. There are fields of green that roll on forever. Waterfalls hide in evergreen forests and the birds seem to sing just a little sweeter. But under the beauty lies a darkness. Colorado is home to some of the strangest, most horrific occurrences in our nation’s history. Murders, hauntings, massacres, acts of pure depravity, these have all happened under the mountains’ gaze. These are three of the most horrific happenings in Colorado’s history to remind you why you should be afraid of the dark.
Cheesman Park is beloved by the people of Denver. When the sun is shining, people flock to it, bringing with them their dogs, frisbees, coolers of beer, the makings of perfect summer days. But when the sun goes down, Cheesman is one of the highest reported places for hauntings in the state. We aren’t here to speak to the existence of ghosts, but there is darkness below that soft grass.
Cheesman wasn’t always a park. It was originally Prospect Hill Cemetery, final resting place for criminals and vagrants and paupers. It operated as such until 1890, when a senator named Henry Teller convinced Congress to let him convert the land into a public park. Family members of the deceased were notified of the coming change and were given a few months to collect the bodies of their loved ones. However, due to the people buried there being among the lowest class at that time, only a handful of families could actually afford to claim their dead. It is estimated that some 5,000 bodies remained unclaimed.
This posed a problem for the city. To rectify it, they hired an undertaker named E.P. McGovern. His and his crew’s job was to unearth the bodies, put them in coffins, and move them to another cemetery across town. This is where the story becomes truly macabre. McGovern, being a man of low morals, was getting paid per coffin and realized a way to make more money. He could ship more coffins if the coffins were smaller. He and his crew began to dismember the bodies and put the smaller pieces in coffins meant for children, taking the valuables they found on the deceased for themselves. However, it wasn’t long before the city started noting an inordinate amount of children’s coffins being shipped from the former cemetery and McGovern’s scam was quickly shut down.
“He and his crew began to dismember the bodies and put the smaller pieces in coffins meant for children…”
This again left the city with a problem. What to do with the rest of the bodies? They decided to leave them where they lie and commence construction of the park. Cheesman Park officially opened in 1907, with an estimated 2000 bodies still buried below it. To this very day, there are reports of workers coming across old bones. When it rains, bodies have been known to come to the surface. So, next time you feel like taking your nightly jog through the park and you hear footsteps running along behind you, it just might be one of those poor souls that was never allowed to rest.
Headless Hatchet Lady of Red Rocks
Red Rocks is a singular place, hallowed grounds, stories tread into its pavement by the thousands that walk it weekly. It is home to many ghost stories but there is one in particular that stands out: The Headless Hatchet Lady.
The urban legend is a popular one in that part of the state. Rumor is that the Hatchet Lady targets young lovers and those who misbehave. She has been said to appear to the young, the lustful, those trying to fill their cars with smoke and sweat. Out of the haze, she appears, hatchet in hand and makes sure those youths don’t reach adulthood.
Now, this is an urban legend, of course, a story told by parents to stop their children from getting high and horny. But it is based in fact. There are two stories that are believed to be the inspiration behind the Headless Hatchet Lady of Red Rocks.
The first is that of a woman known as Old Mrs. Johnson. She was a virtuous and proud woman that loved her state, her home, the natural beauty that surrounded her. Mrs. Johnson came into a conflict with a wealthy man named John Walker in 1905. Walker was a greedy man and saw those beautiful red rocks and dreamed of building a stage between them. This infuriated Mrs. Johnson and she tried to sabotage construction at every turn until her death, going so far as to cover her head in a hood and swing a hatchet at the construction workers. It is said her anger was so deep and so profound, that she now haunts the rocks searching for revenge for the destruction of her home.
There is another story. There was a poor couple that lived near the rocks in the early 1900’s. He was sickly and prone to fits, unable to work. She was viscous, quick to anger and already beginning to slip mentally. After some time, he died and she couldn’t afford to keep their house so she found her way to a nearby cave and made it her home, using a hatchet to hunt for food. As time passed, her sanity worsened and she became more bold, being said to wander the outskirts of Morrison waving her hatchet caked in dried blood at all she encountered. She became a sinister presence in the area until she apparently died of illness or old age.
“Out of the haze, she appears, hatchet in hand and makes sure those youths don’t reach adulthood.”
The Headless Hatchet Lady seems to be an amalgam of these stories, stories I hope you remember next time you see a show at Red Rocks. Stay close, don’t wander off, and be on your best behavior. You never know when the Hatchet Lady is about.
Denver’s Spider Man
This is the story of a man named Phillip Peters and the man who murdered him in 1941. Phillip Peters was a retired railroad worker who had lived with his wife in their home for three decades. Together, they were members of the Denver Guitar club. In the weeks leading up to his murder, Peters had the house to himself. His wife, Helen, had broken her hip and was recovering in the hospital. During this time, Peters met a man named Andrew Coneys, a poor, unusually tall and gaunt drifter that had been afflicted with health issues since he was a child and a fellow member of the Denver Guitar Club. One night, Coneys went to the Peters residence to ask for some money and some food. Philip Peters, being old and home alone, declined. A few nights later, Coneys broke in to steal food. Peters, hearing the man rummaging around, went to confront him. In response, Coneys beat Peters to death with an iron stove shaker and seemed to disappear without a trace.
The police investigated but no leads were found and the case went cold. Helen Peters returned from the hospital a widow. In the months to follow, Helen and a friend that she had hired to live with her as a sort of nurse began noticing strange occurrences. Food would go missing. Unfamiliar sounds would echo through the house. The two women became convinced of a haunting. Helen then vacated the home she’d known for thirty years, the home she’d raised a family in, and went to live with her son in Grand Junction.
“Coneys beat Peters to death… and seemed to disappear without a trace.”
Reports of strange sounds and a powerful odor emanating from the vacant house persisted. Police investigated multiple times but they couldn’t seem to figure out where it all was coming from. As more and more reports came in, two detectives were sent to survey the property. One night, the officers noticed what appeared to be a man moving around inside the former residence. They rushed in to see a pair of legs hanging from the attic door and were fast enough to grab them and pull whatever was haunting the place down. It was Coneys. He’d been living in the attic of the former Peters home since the murder, some nine months. He had been collecting his waste in a corner and hadn’t bathed the entire time, the smell so bad that one of the arresting officers vomited on the scene. Detective Fred Zarnow then told the press that “A man would have to be a spider to stand it long up there,” thus leading the media to dub Coneys as “The Denver Spider Man.”
Coneys was sentenced to life in prison and died there in 1967. He’s gone on to influence several pieces of pop culture, including an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He now serves as a reminder to check the places in your home that are dark and dank. You never know what kind of spider may have found its way in.