The Halloween Ashland Fishing Murder Mystery
It Was A Dark And Cloudy Halloween...
Get your cocoa, cuddle up in a dark corner with a candle, and prepare to give your storytelling audience a suspenseful treat!
I hope you enjoy my story, and have a happy Halloween!
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The 2004 Halloween Eve Fishing Murders At Ashland
John, then age 17, and his mom Sheila were due for some of what they called "John/Mommy Bonding Time." The two night-owls hadn't seen much of one another lately. So when John suggested at midnight on the eve of Halloween that they head out to the pond at Ashland, Nebraska,, Sheila hesitated momentarily because of the late hour but quickly assented. They stopped at Walmart to load up with red worms and a couple of lanterns, and headed west on Highway 6 to Ashland, Nebraska.
It was a beautiful night to go fishing! The Hunter's Moon was shining bright and the temperature hovered around 65 degrees, not too chilly near the water with jackets. Now it was 1:00 a.m. when they arrived at their favorite pond in Ashland, Nebraska but John was a big strapping guy and Sheila always felt safe being anywhere with her son.
The streets of Ashland, a tiny town of around 5,000 were deserted at the late hour and they barely passed a car on the highway. They arrived at the pond, a lovely place surrounded by farmers' fields. It had drive-up gravel road access, beautiful still clear water, and lots of old beautiful trees. In short, it's the fisherman's dream - it is even stocked with nice, big fish every year!
After placing the lanterns and settling into comfy portable chairs with steaming cups of coffee, the night seemed perfect! The talk was easy between mother and son, and the only problem was that, after about half an hour, no fish had seemingly ventured near either fishing line!
As the night deepened and the talk slowed apace, Sheila was amazed at the quiet, which she was sure she could cut with a knife, had she one available. Even the cicadas and crickets stilled their incessant singing, leaving only the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore interrupted now and then by the gentle whirr of a reel casting out its bait followed by a gentle "plunk."
This silent scene was suddenly interrupted by an extremely loud crash! It was so loud and so unexpected that Sheila nearly jumped into the pond! "What the heck was THAT?" she asked John, who was similarly startled. "I don't know, but it sounded like metal on metal," he replied. "Let's just be quiet and see if we hear it again," he advised.
It took a few minutes for the silence to seep back in and Sheila was absorbed in untangling her tackle from a weed on the bank when the "CRASH!" sounded again, this time sounding much nearer. Now, her nerves more than a bit jangled, she tried to puzzle out the source of the loud noise. As far as she could see in any direction, there was NOTHING. No houses, no buildings, no vehicles, no persons carrying lights - nothing. It was unsettling, to say the least. John decided to shine his flashlight around, unearthing nothing but numerous pairs of beady eyes illuminated within their cover of darkness and brush by the flashlight's high beam.
"What do you think we should do?" Sheila asked. "Should we stick around here or not? Do you think it's safe?" she continued. John said, "Well I tell you what, if I hear it one more time or if it's any closer, we are out of here. I don't like the sound of it, whatever it is!"
Once more they settled back into their chairs and continued fishing. Thirty minutes or more passed with no more crashing sounds. Sheila began to relax and enjoy herself, congratulating herself on her braveness being out in the dark at 2:30 a.m. in the middle of the "boonies."
John decided he was going to walk up the bank a ways to see what he could see. As soon as he left the "campsite," Sheila began to feel nervous again. "You're being silly," she told herself. "There is nothing here to be afraid of."
As the minutes passed, she began to wonder about John's whereabouts. "John!" she called in an urgent voice just above a whisper. Then she felt silly, thinking "OK, who am I going to disturb out here in the middle of nowhere," and she called more loudly, "JOHN!" She was answered by the sound of footsteps crunching through the weeds coming toward her from perhaps fifty feet away, and started to breathe a sigh of relief but John did not answer her. Once more she called, this time more questioningly, "John?" and still no answer. "OK now this is ridiculous," she thought, getting irritated now. "JOHN!!!" she yelled. "Do you hear me?" No sound came forth and the footsteps abruptly slowed, then totally stopped.
Just then, the wind, which Nebraska residents endure on a near-daily basis, decided to run a 25 mile-per-hour race with itself, promptly blowing out both of Sheila's candles and upsetting her chair. John had the other lantern. With her bad balance, she was terrified of falling into the cold water with John nowhere in sight, so she stepped gingerly about trying to right everything, holding the remaining lantern, perilously near the water's edge.
With no small sense of relief she finally sat down in her chair with the lantern safely stowed next to her chair, coffee mug in hand, and her fishing pole secured. She nervously looked about for any sign of John - nothing. "JOHN!!!" she called loudly. From the darkness a dozen or so feet be hind her, she heard, "Lady, what are you yelling about? There ain't nobody here but you and me," the gravelly female voice said. Sheila darned near had a heart attack, right on the spot but was determined to act brave.
"N-no, my son is right here with me," Sheila stated assertively. "Well, it don't look like he's nowhere near here since he ain't answerin' you," the stranger observed. "So it looks like he done took off and left you here, or else he fell in the lake I reckon," she continued.
Sheila fought the urge to stay frozen in her seat, steeled herself, stood up, and turned around to face the menacing sounding stranger who had intruded on her space. The tiny woman of about five-feet-two looked to be in her mid-30's with straggly long brown hair carelessly tossed into a clip, a ragged-looking CPO jacket covering a ketchup-stained t-shirt and jeans, and a sad, tired face that had seen better days. There seemed to be nothing intimidating about her except for her unexplained presence there, with no vehicle to show how she got there, along with the fact that she seemed to find John's absence amusing.
Trying to buy time to think, Sheila asked the woman, hoping to appear casual and unconcerned, "So are y'all here fishing here, or what? I didn't see y'all earlier," she observed, trying to match the woman's vernacular to make her feel comfortable. "No, not fishing," the woman replied without further explanation. Silence. Staring. Waiting. Now Sheila was stuck - she couldn't very well ask what she wanted, "well what the heck ARE you doing here," without illustrating her nervousness. So she settled upon silence, waiting it out and hoping the woman would reveal the reason for her presence at nearly 3 a.m. next to a pond in the middle of nowhere.
Sheila's determined silence was interrupted after about a minute by another "CRASH!" This time it was much closer. She asked the woman, "Do you have any idea what that noise is? It keeps happening every half hour or so."
"Oh yes, I know what it is," the woman replied. "That's my boyfriend, shooting his rifle in his metal shed."
"So you all live around here?" Sheila asked.
"No, but my boyfriend comes out to this deserted shed every so often to play around with his guns and knives," she explained.
Sheila's heart filled with fear. No John, and this unknown boyfriend was shooting... something. Her mind raced, running scenarios of what might have become of John. It was time to take the initiative.
"So, what are you doing out here all alone in the dark," Sheila asked.
The woman shrugged, and said "It's fun messin' with people when they come out here. I'm reallly pretty harmless, don't you think?"
"Well that's just very funny," Sheila retorted. "So did you play a similar 'funny' joke on my son? Have you seen him?"
"Sure, I saw him earlier," the woman answered. He was walking up the bank towards the shed and my boyfriend called him over. I left and walked over here."
The woman's explanation made Sheila yet more fearful. "Can you take me there," she asked.
"Sure, I can walk you over there. Or would you rather ride?" she asked, gesturing to Sheila's car.
Sheila quickly debated a mile or so walk in the cold damp air opposed to a one-minute drive in a heated car with a stranger. "Hmmm... tough call..." she thought. "Come on, I'll drive you," Sheila replied.
The two women got into the car and drove through harvested cornfields to the abandoned shed. "We're here," the stranger informed Sheila. "Come on," she said, "Let's go in. I hope he's not mad I"m here," the woman commented, which Sheila thought was odd.
There was a vague, flickering light coming from somewhere inside the metal building's filthy windows. How Sheila wished she had brought her lantern along but she had been too frightened to think of it! "Oh my God," she thought as they walked up to the building - "Here I am in an incredibly dangerous situation that I totally put myself into, I have no idea where John is, and the rest of my family will probably never know what happened to me!"
The door creaked open on rusty hinges, the woman had to shove it a bit until it gave way. Sheila looked around - there were various farm implements, ancient looking tools, a barrel full of trash, and scariest of all, various firearms and knives hanging on a rack on the wall - but no sign of any boyfriend.
"OK, where is this boyfriend of yours?" Sheila asked. "And where do you suppose my son might be?"
"Don't worry, Sam will show up soon. Just sit tight and we'll wait for him." No mention of John.
The minutes crawled by and the warmth Sheila began to feel from being out of the cold wind did not assuage the cold lump she felt where her heart should be. She tried to call to John mentally, as she had done many times before, hoping he would hear and find her...
The Story Continues...
The minutes crawled by and the warmth Sheila began to feel from being out of the cold wind did not assuage the cold lump she felt where her heart should be. She tried to call to John mentally, as she had done many times before, hoping he would hear and find her. Nothing.
The strange little woman sat nervously and waited, sipping on a cup of coffee undoubtedly cold long before.
Suddenly the woman seemed to come to life and an expectant but somewhat fearful look came over her face. "He's coming!" she exclaimed. Sheila, hearing no indication that anyone was approaching, felt chill bumps rising on her forearms.
The shed door didn't move, but somehow Sam suddenly appeared in the room. "Oh great," Sheila thought, "a ghost. Just wonderful."
"How ya doing girl," Sam the apparent ghost asked the strange woman.. "It's about time you showed up," he added.
The woman replied, "No, I just showed up here a little bit ago. It is... good to see you again, " she added.
"So who's our friend here," Sam asked. The woman replied, "Oh, some woman fishing out alone on the bank with her boy. She can't find him. Have you seen him?"
"Yeah, I saw him earlier," Sam chuckled. "When I did my disappearing trick on him, he ran like the hounds of hell were chasing him!"
Sheila sighed in relief... at least the boyfriend apparently hadn't hurt John, even if he WAS a ghost. She was used to seeing and hearing from people who had passed on... she didn't tell many people about it, afraid they would think she was nuts. So it came naturally to her to talk to him. "Sam, do you have any idea where my boy could be? I don't want to intrude on you guys' time together but I really need to find my son and get headed home."
"Well," Sam considered, "I reckon we'd better go out and look for the boy. I probably scared him shooting my gun off in the shed here and that combined with me disappearing on him, I figure he's pretty scared about now."
The three walked out to Sheila's car and headed back through the cornfield. "Lovely," Sheila thought to herself - "Now I have a stranger AND a ghost in my car. Am I dreaming this, or what?"
Sam pointed to a half-hidden dirt road veering off to the right of the first field. "I think we might find him here," he surmised. Sheila quickly pulled off onto the dirt road and they bounced through the stripped-dead stalks of corn blowing hard in the wind.
"Pull over here," he said. "Here" was a little turnaround in the dirt road. Only when you drove around the turnaround could you see a tiny shack, hidden by the huge cottonwood that stood in front of it. Sam explained, "The farmer who owned this place before used to use this as a little getaway from the wife, and now I have to guard it from the kids playing pranks here."
Sheila stopped the car and got out. "John!!!" she nearly screamed. She waited a moment, heard no reply. Once more, "JOHN!!"
A very sheepish looking John came walking out from the little shed. "Hey Mom, what are you doing way down here? Did you get cold?" he asked. He started visibly and turned pale white when he saw Sam's tall figure in overalls coming toward him with the strange woman. "It's ok John," Mom reassured him. "He's not going to hurt you, he's just here to visit his girlfriend. He helped me find you," she added.
"Uh, Mom... I think you'd better... uh..." John broke off mid-sentence, settling on silence.
"Well, let's thank these good people and be on our way," Sheila strongly suggested. "Sam, it was nice to meet you and your girlfriend, umm, I don't know her name..." she said.
"Her name is Sophie," Sam said. "We were supposed to get married a few years back but things didn't turn out that way, " he added.
"Well, Sophie, I want to thank you for helping me to find my boy," Sheila said. "Can I give you all a ride back to the shed, or anyplace?" she asked.
Sophie replied, "No, we'll be just fine. I love walking around out here in the dark, as you know," she grinned.
Sheila and John piled into the car, locked the doors, and hauled it back to their "campsite," where they found everything just as they had left it. They quickly loaded up and Sheila nearly threw gravel tearing out of the gravel road to turn onto the main highway. Once safely on the highway and several miles away, Sheila asked John, "What in the world WERE you doing out there? How could you leave me alone like that!" she began to lecture.
"Wait a minute Mom, you don't understand... it was weird," he said.
"Well okay then, tell me what was weird?" Sheila asked.
"Well, I was walking up the bank like I said. I got probably a quarter-mile away from where you were when I heard that crashing noise again. I was sure I was going to find what it was or die trying. It was really close," he added.
"Then what?" Sheila asked, her curiosity piqued.
"Well, there I was walking along, and I saw this woman.... the one who you were with," John explained.
Sheila began to think, wait a minute - he was out there and saw her when he heard the noise, and I was with her and WE heard the noise. What, twins? Another prank for their amusement? She began to get mad, now.
"Mom, she had blood all over her. It was horrible. She was staggering all around, and then she fell down.. I went to check on her but she was too far gone."
"OK, " Sheila said. "Let's just get the heck outta here. This is WAY too scary now. No wonder you hid!!" she exclaimed.
The next day, Sheila listened anxiously to the evening news, waiting to hear news of the woman's death. Nothing. She checked the newspapers, the internet - nothing.
She couldn't get it off her mind, the evening's events were far too disturbing to forget. Suddenly, as she sat drinking coffee after supper, it hit her like a ton of bricks!
She jumped on the internet, and went to the state police's missing persons database. Yes, sure enough, there was a woman named Sophie! Gone missing on 6-8-94, last seen in Ashland. WOW. She was 31 at the time. It all fell into place quickly in her mind Sam, the boyfriend, must have murdered her in the shed! That was the crashing sound! "So they were BOTH ghosts?" Sheila wondered.
Just to be sure, the next day she drove to the county courthouse and asked the clerk if she knew of a Sam who had lived... and possibly died... at a farm in that location.
"Oh no honey," the clerk said. "You've got it all wrong. Sam is alive and well and still living on that farm!"
Sheila's mind turned over various ideas and rejected each as she drove to the county sheriff's department in Ashland. "They will think I am NUTS," she thought. "I can't tell them I saw ghosts... or should I say A ghost!" As she parked the car, she thought with self-determination, "Sophie deserves justice. That's why she appeared to both of us, and why I have to do this no matter what."
Sheila was taken aback when the Sheriff said, after her brief explanation, "Well I know Sam well - we're hunting buddies! "Great," she thought, "now Sophie will never see justice with the good-old-boys network in full force." But she was gratified when the sheriff said, "You know, as odd as your story sounds, and it DOES sound odd, it's a darned funny thing. Those two were fixing to get married, and then all of a sudden Sophie was just gone.. without a trace. We all figured she just got sick of Sam's crap and took off he used to knock her around some when he drank but her parents insisted she would never do that, so eventually we put her on the missing persons' list." he explained. "Old Sam never found himself another woman, and he still lives out there with his dogs all alone."
"Let me just make a little phone call," the sheriff said, and gestured to a pot of coffee on the warmer indicating she should help herself. As Sheila helped herself to a cup of coffee, she listened to the sheriff's end of the conversation.
"Harvey? Sam here. You remember that old missing persons case on Sophie Ingle? Well, we got ourselves a nibble here. Got a lady with one very unusual story, but it gives me an idea we oughta check Sam's place out. Back in '94 when she went missing, we didn't have a forensic unit and so forth. Might be worth a look-see," he finished.
The sheriff hung up and barked instructions to his deputy. Within minutes the fax machine whirred with an incoming fax - a search warrant! "That must have been the judge he was talking to!" Sheila realized.
"Well you want to ride along?" the sheriff asked Sheila. Shocked, but curious, she quickly agreed.
Arriving at the farm, in daylight, it appeared a peaceful, innocent scene compared to the frightening night she had spent there. Cows grazed, dogs barked around the farmhouse at the end of the gravel road, and chicken hawks floated overhead without a care except where they might find the next field mouse. The metal shed, at night so terrifying, just looked like a rusted-out old relic. Nothing scary about that!
"Why don't you just stay near me," the sheriff suggested, "and don't touch anything. The guys from Forensics are meeting us here."
Before long, the crime scene unit arrived and stopped for briefing with the Sheriff. "Now where did you say you heard the noise coming from?"
I'm sure it was from this shed," Sheila stated. "The noise sounded like something hitting metal loudly," she added. After thinking a moment, she suggested, "Well, you might want to check the bank of the pond too. My son swears he saw the woman there injured, covered with blood and dying," she added. It suddenly dawned on her that the stain on the woman's t-shirt probably wasn't ketchup, after all. More goosebumps.
After a long afternoon of work, the crime scene unit emerged with news they had found evidence of blood spatter on the wall of the shed and were going to compare it with a DNA sample they would hopefully obtain from the woman's parents.
And... The End!
The sheriff decided quickly that the pond must be dragged for the woman's body. It was another hour before the dive team arrived from Omaha, but with the small pond it didn't take long before a small bundle emerged from the water under the highway bridge. "We've got something," they shouted.
The sheriff now had enough evidence and left to place Sam under arrest. When he emerged from the farmhouse, he looked at Sheila in disbelief. "YOU!" he exclaimed. The hateful look on his face left Sheila hoping he would get a life sentence!
Sheila sadly left Ashland, gratified that Sophie would receive her long-deserved justice, but deeply saddened at what she must have suffered at Sam's hands. Just then, she saw a woman hitchhiking on the highway going her direction. She slowed the car a bit - she never picked up hitchhikers, it was far too dangerous - but as she slowed and took a closer look, she decided this one looked safe. She pulled to the shoulder and stopped. The woman got in, asking "Can I get you to drive me to Omaha? You going that far?" she asked. "I've got a happier place to be there now," she explained.
Sheila replied, "You betcha, Sophie. I can take you to Omaha."
And then Sheila woke up, realizing she'd had yet another episodic nightmare while falling asleep in the chair on the cold lakeside!
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