The Legend of Stumpy - The Flying Torso of Houston, Texas
Was "Stumpy" a Tasmanian Devil?Click thumbnail to view full-size
The day the house burned down...
I was not quite five years old, so my memories are faded with the passage of time. Although I was very young, I remember the images of that evening in1957 just like I am still sitting there in my mother's lap. These visions haunt me.
Our good neighbor's house had burned to the ground. We had been friends with the Griffins for as long as I was alive. Their closest child to my age was Roger Griffin and I haven't seen or heard from him in over 40 years.
But the tale of Stumpy begins with the sisters. They were around my sister's age, teenagers, and their names were Bonnie and Sybil. My sister was Verna. The whole Griffin family needed a place to stay of course, and since our families were friends, we tried to take in the whole bunch.
Our house on Fitch Street in North Houston was in the process of getting a new carport added on to the west side where the kitchen was. The wall was torn open, but it was summertime and there was a good breeze being piped in through the open wall. We were all pretty much gathered in the kitchen to prepare dinner for everyone.
Verna, Sybil and Bonnie were asked to get on their bicycles and go borrow some silverware for dinner as we did not have enough on hand for everyone. This was back in the days before plasticware was common. The girls hopped on their bikes to travel the two or three blocks to another neighbor's house. They had to ride past a heavily wooded lot to get there. On the way, no problem. On the way back, big problem!
The torso flies out of the woods!...
They were rounding the corner to come back home, probably at a good rate of speed. Then something scared them so bad, that they had a spill on the bikes. They arrived running to the house, covered in cuts and bruises and screaming about a torso flying out of the woods at them!
"What do you mean, a torso?" my mother asked.
"A body with no head, no arms, no legs!" they screamed!
Well, this was sufficient to cause my mom to call the cops and to bundle us all into the car and drive around the block looking for the "torso". I distinctly remember standing up in the back seat looking out of the back window of the car as we drove slowly past the woods.
We didn't find so much as a hair, of course. But we did recover the bikes and had a look see. The cops arrived and also found nothing. Everyone calmed down, but I remember sitting in the chair in the kitchen with Roger and both of us holding onto the borrowed knives thinking we would save the rest of the folks if the torso came flying through the carport opening. No sleep for us that night.
The Mystery Deepens...
A few days later I remember seeing the cover of a news tabloid similar to The Inquirer or some such. On the cover was a photo of a Tasmanian Devil. The headline read, "Tasmanian Devil escapes from traveling zoo!" I know what the headline said because my dad read it to me and explained that a Tasmanian Devil wasn't really a devil, but a small animal from Australia or New Zealand or parts thereabouts. Actually they are from Tasmania, near the southern coast of Australia.
So, we all seemed to breathe a sigh of relief and had a good laugh at the girls being scared by a monkey-like animal that had escaped from a zoo. Years passed and we all seemed to forget about the incident.
How I met "Stumpy" the torso of Houston...
During my single dating years, I once dated a Houston police officer. I was about 30 years old at the time and the policeman and I attended a retirement party for the outgoing Medical Examiner of Houston and Harris County. He gave a speech and I was about half listening to it when he said something about "Stumpy".
Stumpy was the nickname he had given to his most unforgettable case of an unidentified body. My head jerked up when he was saying that the body was unidentified to this day because all he had to go on was a torso. The body had no head, no arms, no legs. It was found in a local bayou some 25 years ago (at the time). The time line instantly brought back all the memories of the day my sister had the run in with the "Tasmanian Devil".
Could it have actually been a torso flying out from the woods that day? Could the killer have tried tossing it out of a car as the girls rode by? Did he swing around and scoop it up again? Could the killer be someone we knew? Could Stumpy be someone we knew? How do you identify a body with no teeth or fingerprints or any other identifying marks?
Is the family legend real?...
I am currently investigating this case. I am in the process of contacting Jennifer Love, PhD who is overseeing the Harris County Anthropology Division of the Medical Examiner's office in Houston, Texas. I really don't know if I can help, but maybe by knowing that Stumpy was seen on the corner of Fitch St. one night back in the summer of '57, she'll be able to match it to a missing person report or something.
Perhaps with new DNA testing and technology, Stumpy may actually have a name!
The North Side of Houston
Approximate area of where the torso came flying out of the woods! (allegedly)
As of March, 2015, there are over 5,000 unsolved homicides in Houston!
Are you interested in solving some of these homicide cases?
© 2010 Lela