NL's Scariest Story

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Oct 22, 2016 12:00 AM

Newfoundland and Labrador’s guru of ghost stories, Dale Jarvis, shares the bone-chilling tale that haunts him the most. Warning: this terrifying story is definitely NOT for the faint of heart!

The Terrifying Trio

I have been collecting and telling Newfoundland ghost stories for a long time, and in my years as a writer and storyteller, I have come across some chilling tales. I have heard about ghosts haunting potholes in the middle of the road, ghostly brides dragged down railway tracks by locomotives, and more headless men than I care to think about. But when people ask me about the creepiest story I have ever heard, my mind immediately races to one particular tale from downtown St. John’s.

The area near the intersection of Long’s Hill and Queens Road is something of a magnet for noteworthy supernatural activity. When I started the St. John’s Haunted Hike ghost tour, there were many scary stories from that area to choose from. One of them really stands out, however. It is a terrible tale to contemplate, and here I have deliberately kept the location of the story vague, though you now have a rough sense of the area where the tale takes place.

In that neighbourhood, if you know where to look, you might find a nondescript, yellow, three-storey home. That house, unremarkable at first glance, is the haunt of St. John’s most chilling ghostly trio, a threesome made only more terrifying by the history of the property itself.

Haunting Cries of Babies
A number of years ago, the top floor of the house was occupied by a family, while the family’s grandmother lived on the second floor. The grandmother was up in years and often complained of the sound of babies crying upstairs. She could hear two infants crying, she said - but there were no babies in the building. The woman would also tell her grandchildren stories of watching a woman slowly climb the stairs to the upper apartment. 

The family humoured her and dismissed her stories as the ramblings of an elderly woman. This, however, did not deter the grandmother, who went on and on about the crying babies and the mysterious woman.
Years later, the truth of the building’s dark history was revealed. The house, you see, was the focal point for one of the most sensational, and unsolved, murder cases of the 1950s. The facts of the case are well known and have been thoroughly documented by noted Newfoundland author Jack Fitzgerald in his book Where Angels Fear to Tread, released in 1995.

“Many around St. John’s,” he writes, “remember it as the perfect crime.”

In 1957, three teenaged boys made a gruesome discovery just outside the city limits of St. John’s. At first glance, the boys found what they thought was a bundle with what seemed to be an arm protruding from it, covered with blood. One of the boys thought it was a dog and kicked at it, revealing that it was in fact the corpse of an infant human child, and that the corpse had been burned.

The police were summoned, and the subsequent search revealed not one, but two corpses. The first was burned considerably and covered with charred papers, tissue and bits of clothing. The second body was in a decomposed state and had been dead for some time, though it was tidily dressed in a nightgown with handiwork around the throat. It was almost mummified, flattened to a thickness of about three inches, and dried and hard like a piece of board.

The discovery of the bodies made headlines overnight. On the testimony of a local taxi driver, the police quickly arrested a 37-year-old woman living downtown, in the same house that would later be known to be haunted by the cries of the ghostly babies. 

The taxi driver claimed to have picked up the woman and taken her to the area where the babies were later found, and had waited while the woman burned a box of what she claimed contained old clothes. He then drove her home. The woman was subsequently charged with the illegal disposal of a human corpse.

The court case that followed was full of unanswered questions. The accused proved she was not the mother of the babies, as she had not given birth in several years. Furthermore, she denied ever seeing the babies and claimed not to have been picked up by the taxi driver, who stuck to his story of taking her to the site. The accused was found with large sums of cash on her person at the time of her arrest - cash which she refused to explain. In the end, the accused was found not guilty.

As Jack Fitzgerald writes, she “thanked her lawyer, tossed her hair back and smiled at the police officers as she left the courtroom. The trial was over but the crime not solved. Two murders had been committed and nobody has ever been charged.”

Memory of the incident has faded, and today the only reminders of the case come from beyond the grave: the shadowy figure of an unknown woman climbing the stairs of that house, and the faint sounds of unseen infants crying out, perhaps in fear at the approach of their ghostly murderess.

A few years back, after I had started telling the story on the Haunted Hike, a man and his family moved into the apartment. They soon heard rumours that their house was haunted and the man contacted me, curious for more details. Before I told him the story, I had a question of my own. 

“Have you ever had anything strange happen in the house, yourself?” I asked him.

“No,” the man said, “I don’t believe in ghost stories, and we’ve never had anything paranormal happen in the house at all.” But, he added, “The only out-of-the-ordinary thing that has happened involves our infant son. When we are out of the house, he is as good as gold. But when we return home, he will immediately start to scream and cry, every time we enter the house. It’s the strangest thing.”

It was only then that I told the man the story of the ghostly woman, the crying babies and the unsolved murder. Later on, I heard that he and his family had moved out. I cannot say that I blame them.

Dale Jarvis is the author of several books on local ghost stories and folklore, and the creator of the St. John’s Haunted Hike walking tour. "The Terrifying Trio" originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Downhome.