On one of my trips home to Colorado, I popped into Barnes & Noble to kill some time and I decided to look at the local section. I ended up going home with a slim book called Ghosts of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak by Stephanie Waters.
I almost never read horror. I don’t like scary movies and I like scary books even less. But as I flipped through this book, it didn’t seem that bad and I thought I could handle it and that it would maybe give me some interesting ideas for my novel. It turns out this is the one book possibly on the entire planet that I could give actually read sitting alone and not need to lock every door. The book is actually told with quite a bit of humor so it’s not unlike visiting Disney’s Haunted Mansion – it’s not really supposed to be that scary.
And, I did get some ideas from reading it. I found myself drawn to the account of the 1911 murders of the Burnham and Wayne families in Colorado Springs – a crime that was never solved. If you don’t like gruesome, creepy stories you should stop reading now and come back for the next Writing Project Wednesday which will be on something less scary.
-For historical reference, the infamous Lizzie Borden axe-murders happened in 1892 in Massachusetts.
-In September of 1911, Nettie Ruth, sister of Mrs. Alice Burnham, went to the home of the Burnham family in Colorado Springs. She was greeted by a terrible, rotting stench.
-Nettie Ruth went inside the home and discovered her sister’s body and the bodies of the two young Burnham children in the bedroom. All three had had their skulls crushed in.
-The police were called and a crowd soon gathered at the Burnham home. It soon became evident that there was an unusual silence hanging over the Wayne home, located next to the Burnham residence.
-When the police entered the Wayne home, they found Mr. and Mrs. Wayne and their young daughter also dead in their beds with their skulls crushed in.
-The murderer’s creepy calling card? He tucked his victims into bed after murdering them, drawing the blankets up to their chins.
-The hunt was on for a serial killer who had murdered six people while they slept. Only one of the victims, one of the Burnham’s two children, appeared to have awakened during the crime. Robbery did not appear to be a motive in the killings as valuables were found in plain sight in both homes.
-Mr. Burnham, who lived at a local sanatorium as he suffered from tuberculosis, was the initial suspect in the crime. He was soon acquitted.
-Later, an Italian butcher was suspected of the crime. Though he was later let go for lack of evidence, many in the town believed him guilty.
-The 1911 murders of the Wayne and Burnham families have never been satisfactorily solved. In 2012, The Smithsonian ran an article that seemed to connect the slaying of the two families in Colorado Springs with a chain of ax murders that occurred across the Midwest from 1911-1912, the most notable of which seems to be the Villisca murders in Iowa. You can read that article here.
-If you want to read more about the case, The Denver Post ran a story in 2016 which you can read here. A longer account of the murders is posted on Genealogy Trails here.
On the next Writing Project Wednesday, I’ll be talking about the history of Colorado Springs’ Alta Vista Hotel.