Friday, September 29, 2006

Devil's Backbone

This is another one from my old blog's archives:

It had been a great night so far. The varsity football team had won again, cementing their place in the playoffs Down State, and Jake had played one of his best games ever. Now he was turning off the highway onto a gravel road that served as the local lover’s lane- with the unlikely name of Devil’s Backbone Road- with Claire Benson sitting right next to him in the pickup. Jake glanced behind him at the cooler and sleeping bag. Oh yeah, it was going to be a great night.
The clear night sky with a thousand stars gave way to a thick tangle of branches overhead. Devil’s Backbone made an L between one highway and another, the road hugging close to a ridge of sandstone that erupted from the ground like the twisted spine of giant unearthly beast. Years before, tales had been told of finding arrowheads and beads at the top of the ridge, that the Indians who had lived there so long ago had viewed this rock as sacred ground. In the dark, though, through the trees, it just looked…menacing.
None of that was on Jake’s mind as he backed his truck into an overgrown driveway. He had heard that there had once been a house at the end of this drive, reputed to be haunted. It was gone now, and the drive gave fairly good cover should any other cars come by. Jake slid a CD in the stereo and Kenny Chesney started singing about no shoes, no shirts. Jake was hoping for a whole lot more coming off before the night was over as Claire snuggled closer. He reached behind his seat to grab a couple of beers and handed one to Claire. As he twisted the top off, his gaze passed over the ditch that ran along the road at the end of the drive. Something-someone? - was rising up from the ditch. Jake grabbed Claire tightly as they both watched in terrified silence at what appeared to be young woman climbing up to the driveway. She looked to be about their age, but neither of them had seen her before. Her summer dress blew lightly in the cold autumn air. Slowly she walked towards the pickup until she stood in front of Jake’s window. Just as slowly, Jake turned his head.
“You need to leave here. Bad things happen here,” she whispered.
Jake tried to speak, but his voice shook badly. “Who are you?”
The girl looked troubled, as if the question was beyond her to answer. She shook her head and said, “I’m…I was…my name is Mary. But please! Go now before he comes.”
Tears might have been in the girl’s eyes as she turned back towards the road; it was too dark to tell. But the sound of a car approaching was unmistakable. It stopped at the end of the drive where the girl now stood. What little light there was showed the profile of a bubble rack on top of the car. A police car, it had to be, Jake thought, but the shape looked odd, and wasn’t the county driving SUV’s now anyway?
Claire clung even more closely to him, softly crying. “Jake, are we in trouble? Are we trespassing? Is it the beer?” she sobbed.
At that moment, a man emerged from the car. The girl just stood there, as if this was a scene that had been played through many times before. The man grabbed her by the shoulder and roughly spun her around. His hand came up and the silhouette of a pistol pointed at the back of the girl’s head. There was a flash of light and a sharp crack as he pulled the trigger. The girl fell and tumbled into the ditch.
Pistol at his side, a glint of metal on his chest, the man looked from the ditch to the pickup.
“I think we’re in a lot more trouble than that, Claire,” Jake whispered.


from this article published August 25, 2005:

OREGON -- They might never discover who killed Mary Jane Reed 57 years ago, but Ogle County authorities said Wednesday that the process to exhume her body quelled long-standing rumors that have bounced around their small town.
Like rumors that her head wasn't buried with her body or that a gun was buried in the casket. Both proved false when her casket was opened Tuesday after it was exhumed from Daysville Cemetery in Oregon.
Officials were surprised to find her body mostly intact. She was buried with all of her bones; organs and flesh still covered her body.
Mary Jane, then 17, was slain in 1948 along with her date, 28-year-old Rockford Navy veteran Stanley Skridla. The killings were never solved.
There's been no talk of exhuming Skridla's body, which is buried in Rockford, and authorities said Wednesday they didn't find any evidence that pointed them toward Mary Jane's potential killer. Many of the people who knew about the case or potential suspects are dead.
"Even if we came up with something positive, I'm not sure we've got any place to go," said Ogle County Sheriff Mel Messer, who noted that he was 11 years old when Mary Jane was killed.
"I would be extremely happy to walk away and say I was the sheriff who solved the 50-year-old murder case. I'm not sure that's gonna happen or if it ever will."

Some of my story is true, some is pure fiction and some is based on rumor. Devil's Backbone Road is pretty much as I have described it. My mom did find Indian beads there when she was little, and my husband swears that when that house was still standing, he saw a skeleton in the closet. Personally, I think he was either drunk or trying to scare the hell out of a date. Mary Jane Reed's body was dumped in the ditch on Devil's Backbone Road. She wasn't found until 3 or 4 days after she was killed. I've never heard any names mentioned in connection with her murder, but it was widely rumored that either someone in law enforement did it or was covering it up for someone else.

Hope you enjoyed that! I peed my pants writing it!

UPDATE: 9/29/06
Nothing was found from Mary Jane's second autopsy that could help identify her killer. Strange details, though. She was buried in her underwear, with a dress, a newspaper containing the story of her murder, and a ring from her mother in the coffin. They reburied her that same day WITHOUT her head or a femur. I think her brother finally got them back.

The bottom line is, someone DID get away with murder, because all of the suspects have now died themselves. Devil's Backbone Road is still a helluva creepy place to be after dark.


At 10/22/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hehe...great story. Hope you don't mind if I pass this one along to my kids. This part of Illinois is strangely devoid of cool haunted ledgend.

At 11/29/2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 12/20/2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mother and Mary Jane were cousins. So I guess I am her second cousin. My grandmother Clara Wakenight was her aunt. I hope this can be solved. My mother passed in 94. I have also heard that someone in a position of authority is responsible. I hope we can get some closure for Warren. I remember being at Mary Janes home when I was around 5or 6 and they were talking about how they never found the killer. I know somebody who lives by Devils backbone. I am afraid to go there.He also said it is rumored that a cop did this this to Mary Jane. And I guess he lives by them. He is in his 80s.Dont know his name. There are a lot of different things coming out about the case. I hope it gets solved . There wont be any justice,only closure. One of the suspects has got to live his life out,hes in his80s. Mary Jane and Stanley had very short lives. What happened to the vehicle they were in? Matbe ther is DNA in it. I didnt know there was a house in Devils backbone a long time ago either.If I thought Mary Jane could tell you what happened I would go to Devils Backbone. I am afraid to got there.

At 1/18/2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My friend said that she was and is related to Mary Jane I am into this stuff and it sound creepy

At 2/06/2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have discovered if you visit the web site at that some one (Possibly the Reed family or foundation) is trying to methodically unviel the truth of what actually happened in 1948 all the way through the recent exhuming and litigation with Ogle County authorities.

I think if we are patient as this site continues to be constructed that the whole truth will come out devulging who the murderer or murderers actually were.

An interesting footnote that is becoming more and more apparent is that from the day the papers were filed to exhume Miss Reed there seems to be a tremendous effort on the Ogle County authorities to continue the original cover up that obviously began back in 1948.

Why this is so important to them is probably the real mystery, or maybe the most important clue to date as to who the perpetraitor actually was?

At 1/02/2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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