Richmond’s least famous true tales of terror

Six shocking, sickening stories that you’ve probably never heard before

Listen up. If you’ve lived in Richmond for more than a minute, you probably think you’ve heard all the good ghost stories. You probably think you’ve been to all the creepy places too. Maybe you’ve snuck into Hollywood Cemetery after hours or walked twenty paces into the dark of the caved-in Church Hill train tunnel. Odds are you took some out-of-town friends to the Poe Museum or spooked them with the story of the apparition you saw in the balcony of the Byrd Theatre.

Not so fast, Van Helsing. The truth is that you’ve barely scratched the surface. If you want real horror, you need to dig deeper than the watered-down stories the Richmond Chamber of Commerce uses to scare tourists. There’s some dark, weird shit under that flaky, buttery crust. And you need to yank off some scabs if you want to get to the bloody good meat underneath. Because the honest-to-golly, wet-your-pants stuff is the stuff that nobody ever talks about. Never ever.

Until now.

Warning: It is likely that many readers will NOT be emotionally or psychologically equipped to handle the shocking details that follow. Before you continue, please know that from this paragraph forward, I assume no responsibility for sudden nausea, vomiting, heart attacks, explosive diarrhea, panic attacks or fainting spells. Please do not read the following while operating a motor vehicle, handling sharp objects or sitting alone in an unfinished basement.

1. The Curse of Marvin’s Ghost – Little is known about the true identity of the restless spirit who haunts the short block of Laurel between Grace and Broad. After-hours revelers since the late nineties have reported spotting a morose specter dressed in flannel and paint-spattered black jeans wandering aimlessly in the alley. Eyewitness reports all describe the same “rush of cold air” and scent of whiskey sour followed by the unmistakable sounds of public urination. Others recall the gentle jingle of a chain wallet. Though specific details may vary, the outcome has been the same for every one of the six eyewitnesses. Exactly nine weeks after encountering “Marvin’s Ghost,” each witness was found dead… having choked to death… on their own car keys. Designated drivers? How about designated die-ers!

2. The Headless Ass – Thanks to its rich history as a fulcrum point of the Civil War, Richmond is awash in tales of floating soldier ghosts and generic battlefield spooks. But few locals dare mutter the name of Sassafras, the tortured Confederate donkey who wanders the streets of Richmond in search of his severed head. Emaciated and hobbled, this “undead beast of burden” has been spotted shuffling along as far west as Libbie Avenue. Though he appears harmless to all who have seen him, the notorious “donkey of the damned” has been blamed for several acts of public indecency and two counts of misdemeanor property damage. It is also believed that he is terribly racist. Hee-haw? Hee-haunted!

3. The West Avenue Yeti – It’s hard enough to believe such a creature exists, let alone that it terrorizes such an adorable street in the Fan. In September of 1877, a noted Richmond adventurer returned from his prolonged excursion to the Himalayas. Weeks later he was found savagely mangled in his West Avenue residence. Authorities never solved the murder, but neighbors at the time noted that the man’s wife quickly remarried. Her new husband was described as “an unusually large man covered in white fur, who often had to be reprimanded for chewing on stray cats and old people.” Improbable? Abominable!

4. Benatar, Bloody Benatar – In the early seventies, Patti Benatar worked as a waitress in Shockoe Slip. In order to secure her future success as a singer on the pop charts, she sold her soul to the Devil. As a Satanic succubus, she was forced to consume the life force of innocent young men in order to sustain her dark powers. One of her earliest victims was a teenage busboy. She tore open the top of his skull like a can of dog food. After slurping up his warm brains, Benatar returned to her small apartment and wrote “Promises in the Dark” and “Heartbreaker.” Some people say that in the wee hours of the night you can still see the busboy—his noggin gushing like a blood sprinkler—slowly cruising the cobblestone streets in his Pontiac Firebird. Hell is for children? Indeed!

5. The Dirty Litter – In the early eighties, Fort Lee was the country’s leading military base for genetic research. U.S. Army scientists were locked in a desperate race with the Soviet Union to breed a powerful hybrid species of combat soldier. The process involved kidnapping local women of breeding age and “cross pollinating” them with genetically modified “animal DNA product.” A miscommunication between government agents resulted in the 1982 abduction and impregnation of a notable Richmond female impersonator. Months later, while sunning on a rock by the James River, the subject spontaneously gave birth to eight live “hybrids” which promptly disappeared into the murky water. No proof exists except for the oft-repeated claim by the subject that he “once pooped a whole bunch of baby otters.” Rumor has it that the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries keeps several file boxes full of reports of snapping turtle attacks that have been labeled “inconclusive.” Scared? You otter be!

6. Monkeypaw Toll Collector – Beware the Powhite on quiet nights. If yours is the only car on the road, it’s better to keep driving than slow to pay the toll. More than a dozen times a week, 911 operators are flooded with calls about a suspicious character that lurks in the “Cash Only” lane. All drivers report the same details: they roll down their window to be greeted by a pleasant, middle-aged Caucasian woman. They chat briefly about the temperature and the relative emptiness of the roadways. When witnesses describe handing over their money, they say the woman extends a shriveled, hairy hand that resembles the paw of a spider monkey. After snatching the dollar bill, they say she quickly eats it and then disappears behind the tiny half-door. Those who peer into the booth find nothing but a pile of sticky pennies and matted hair. Monkey see? Monkey don’t!

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Pete Humes

Pete Humes is a husband, father and writer who lives in Richmond’s North Side. He enjoys coffee and owns way too many records.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Dean on said:

    I am SPOOKED.

  2. daniel on said:

    Well done! I love the final lines–they had me cracking up.

  3. on said:

    Bad news. “Sassafrass, the donkey of the damned” has now wandered as far out as Hanover. I think he’s figured out I know where his head is.

    I’m scared. Hee haunted, indeed!

    He’s wearing a red tie (although I don’t know how he’s keeping it on, seeing as how he has no head.)

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