Bones in Our Backyard: 3 True Horrific Events in Colorado History
Colorado is one of the most beautiful states in the country. Our mountains stand proudly above us like great protectors, grand in their majesty. There are fields of green rolling forever. The waterfalls hide in the evergreen forests and the birds seem to sing just a little softer. But beneath the beauty hides a darkness. Colorado is home to some of the strangest and most horrifying events in our nation’s history. Murders, hauntings, massacres, acts of pure depravity, all this happened under the gaze of the mountains. These are three of the most horrific events in Colorado history to remind you why you should be afraid of the dark.
Cheesman Park is popular with Denver residents. When the sun shines, people flock to it, bringing with them their dogs, Frisbees, coolers of beer, the stuff of perfect summer days. But when the sun goes down, Cheesman is one of the most notorious places for hauntings in the state. We’re not here to talk about the existence of ghosts, but there is darkness beneath this soft grass.
Cheesman wasn’t always a park. It was originally Prospect Hill Cemetery, the final resting place for criminals, vagabonds and the poor. 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 upcoming change and given a few months to collect the bodies of their loved ones. However, since the people buried there were of the lowest class at that time, only a handful of families could really afford to claim their dead. It is estimated that around 5,000 bodies have gone unclaimed.
This posed a problem for the city. To remedy this, they hired an undertaker named EP McGovern. His job and that of his team was to dig up the bodies, put them in coffins and move them to another cemetery on the other side of town. This is where the story gets really macabre. McGovern, being a man of low character, was paid per casket and realized a way to make more money. He could ship more caskets if the caskets were smaller. He and his crew began to dismember the bodies and put the smaller pieces in coffins for the children, taking for them any valuables they found on the deceased. However, it wasn’t long before the town began noticing that an inordinate amount of children’s caskets were being shipped from the old cemetery and McGovern’s scam was quickly stopped.
“He and his crew began to dismember the bodies and put the smaller pieces in coffins for the 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 are and start building the park. Cheesman Park officially opened in 1907, with around 2,000 bodies still buried below. To date, there have been reports of workers encountering old bones. When it rains, we know that bodies come to the surface. So the next time you feel like taking your late-night jog in the park and you hear footsteps running behind you, it might just be one of those poor souls who were never allowed to rest. .
Red Rocks is a unique place, sacred grounds, stories trodden by thousands of people who walk it every week. It’s home to many ghost stories, but there’s one in particular that stands out: The Headless Hatchet Lady.
The urban legend is popular in this part of the state. Rumor has it that the Hatchet Lady targets young lovers and those who misbehave. It is said that she appears to the young, to the lustful, to those who try to fill their cars with smoke and sweat. Emerging from the mist, she appears, hatchet in hand and ensures that these young people do not reach adulthood.
Now that’s an urban legend, of course, a story told by parents to keep their kids from getting high and horny. But it’s based on the facts. Two stories are thought to be the origin of 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 who loved her state, her home, the natural beauty that surrounded her. Mrs. Johnson came into conflict with a rich man named John Walker in 1905. Walker was a greedy man and saw these beautiful red rocks and dreamed of building a stage between them. This infuriated Mrs Johnson and she tried to sabotage the construction at every turn until her death, going so far as to cover her head with a balaclava and swing a hatchet at the construction workers. It is said that her anger was so deep and deep that she now haunts the rocks seeking revenge for the destruction of her home.
There is another story. There was a poor couple who lived near the rocks in the early 1900s. They were sickly and prone to seizures, unable to work. She was slimy, quick to anger, and already starting to slip mentally. After a while 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. Over time, her sanity deteriorated and she grew more daring, she was said to wander the outskirts of Morrison waving her blood-covered hatchet at anything she encountered. She became a sinister presence in the area until she apparently died of illness or old age.
“Out of the mist she appears, hatchet in hand, and makes sure these youngsters don’t reach adulthood.”
The Headless Hatchet Lady seems like an amalgamation of those stories, stories that I hope you remember the next time you see a show at Red Rocks. Stay close, don’t stray, and be on your best behavior. You never know when the Hatchet Lady is here.
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 all to himself. His wife, Helen, had broken her hip and was recovering in hospital. During this time, Peters met a man named Andrew Coneys, a poor, unusually tall, and emaciated drifter who had suffered from health problems since childhood and another member of the Denver Guitar Club. One night, Coneys went to the Peters residence to ask for money and food. Philip Peters, being old and alone at home, refused. A few nights later, Coneys broke in to steal food. Peters, hearing the man fumbling, went to confront him. In response, Coneys beat Peters to death with an iron skillet shaker and appeared 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 that followed, Helen and a friend she had hired to live with her as a kind of nurse began noticing strange happenings. The food would disappear. Unknown sounds echoed through the house. Both women became convinced of a haunting. Helen then left the house she had known for thirty years, the house in which she had raised a family, and went to live with her son in Grand Junction.
“Coneys beat Peters to death…and seemed to disappear without a trace.
Strange noises and a strong smell emanating from the vacant house persisted. The police investigated several times, but they couldn’t figure out where it all came from. As more and more reports came in, two detectives were sent to inspect the property. One night, officers noticed what appeared to be a man moving inside the old residence. They rushed to see a pair of legs hanging from the attic door and were quick enough to grab them and pull down whatever was haunting the place. It was Coneys. He had been living in the attic of the Peters’ old house since the murder, about nine months. He had picked up his rubbish in a corner and hadn’t bathed all the time, the smell was so bad that one of the police officers who arrested him vomited on the scene. Detective Fred Zarnow later told the press that “a man would have to be a spider to endure it long up there”, leading the media to dub Coneys as “The Denver Spider Man”.
Coneys was sentenced to life in prison and died there in 1967. He went on to influence several elements of pop culture, including an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. It now serves as a reminder to check areas in your home that are dark and damp. You never know what kind of spider might have gotten in.