Clearing Out the Spirits

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez courtesy

Today I’m giving you a bit of an update and a short observation. Let us start with the former. Some of you may recall my blog “…for the repose of the soul…” which I posted at TKZ on June 16, 2018. It concerned a husband who murdered his wife at their home on the street where I live during what had been a peaceful and quiet early summer evening. They had been separated for an extended period but were trying to work things through. The incident was accordingly totally unexpected. 

The husband was almost immediately arrested and jailed  The aftereffects of his actions roiled and rippled beneath the surface of neighborly encounters over the next several months. Conversations on the street either began or ended with a discussion of what had occurred and what would happen next. If there was any benefit at all to what had occurred it was that everyone on the street became just a bit closer. Folks who before had only waved in passing stopped to talk for a few moments or longer and there were a couple of block parties where those assembled talked out what had happened but discussed other things, too. The husband ultimately in November 2018  pled guilty to a charge of aggravated murder pursuant to a plea agreement which guarantees his imprisonment for the next two decades without the possibility of parole. 

Time and life have moved forward now that justice of a sort has been obtained.  The home where the couple lived and raised their children, the home where the evil deed was committed, was extensively redecorated. There was some question as to what would happen to the house and how quickly, whether a buyer would find it sooner rather than later or if it would be on the market for an extended period of time, given the history. It actually sold very quickly. The new neighbor moved in on a quiet, snowy day in February 2019. She is delightful, a very down-to-earth person of southern origin who leads with a twinkle in her eye and who is a bit of a character around the edges in all of the best ways. When I first met her I told her that I was glad that the house had a new owner so quickly, given that people tend to shy away from places where darker incidents have occurred. Her response was that in such situations the problem is with the people who commit the actions and not the house. Just so. 

It is the house, however, which she ultimately decorated for Halloween a few weeks ago. And what decorations they are. She has transformed her front yard into a graveyard, with tombstones sprouting from the ground like toadstools after a summer rain. She has giant spiders — I mean these are big-posterior spiders — crawling up (or is it down) the front of the house around the upstairs windows. The most noteworthy decoration, however, can be found on the front porch. The entrance is festooned with hazard tape and the front storm door features with bloody handprints and the words “HELP ME” written in crimson.

Now for the observation. What does it say about me that I find this by turns to be wonderfully appropriate and hilariously inappropriate in ways that I have difficulty describing? Not everyone on the street is amused as I am, of course. A couple of my neighbors whispered to me that the display was in poor taste. My response was that if they felt strongly about it they should take up a collection and start paying our neighbor’s mortgage and property taxes. Otherwise, it’s her home, and she can decorate it for Halloween the way that she wants. The most telling reaction came from the neighbor across the street from her, who with his wife was best acquainted with the husband and wife who are respectively now in prison and deceased. The close neighbor said that, if our late neighbor were able to do so, she of all people would probably enjoy the display the most. I get that. It’s exactly the way I would want to be remembered, should I meet my unplanned but inevitable demise in a memorable if notorious way. 

There’s more than that going on here, however. I can recall when people who were moving into a new domicile would invite a clergyman over to bless the home. Nobody called it an exorcism, and that wasn’t the form of it by any means, but it was done not only with the hope of keeping things reasonably happy and peaceful going forward but also chasing out any nasty emotions that might be lingering and hiding in the rooms, corners, and cupboards. I think that is what my very practical and savvy new neighbor is doing. That’s my observation and I’m sticking to it.

So let’s raise a glass a frosted glass of apple cider (or your favorite fall beverage) to that most macabre of holidays just past, when tastes, rich or poor, are celebrated. If you have any similar stories, be they recent or long ago, that raised a “tsk” or two when they occurred, please share. And thank you as always for being here today. 


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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

28 thoughts on “Clearing Out the Spirits

  1. Another great Joe-Saturday column.

    People can interpret things in such different ways–both what something “means” and whether it’s “good” or “bad.” This is because the interpreters are coming from such different places (and often are seeing a different part of the elephant).

    As authors, we’re always looking for ways to show personalities and character. This different-interpretations thing is one I’ll keep in mind. Thanks for showing it.

  2. First! Thank you so much, Eric. You make a terrific point, particularly with the elephant. And, of course, someone always grabs the posterior. I also like your point about the different interpretations. Throw in cultural differences and things get even more interesting. Thanks as always for your comments and for stopping by.

  3. Great read, Joe. I wonder what the neighbors would have said if an “ordinary” house, or one where they were unaware of its history, had been decorated this way.

    “Eye of the Beholder” and all that.

    • Thank you, Terry. From the couple of negative comments that were shared with me it seems that the folks who objected were upset because of what occurred at that particular house. The decorations themselves were not extreme for our area, which kind of goes all out on Halloween. My particular favorite that I found on another street was a small shrouded skeleton on a tree swing. Yikes!

    • I totally agree, Cynthia. Thanks. They are also our best storytellers. And charmers. And cooks. And…

  4. Black humor is a tried and true way to deal with violent death and preserve one’s sanity. Law enforcement, military, and medical providers all use such humor regularly as a defense mechanism.

    Bad taste? Maybe. I doubt your neighbor meant to disrespect the unfortunate victim but rather intended to point out the irony of a tragic situation. She poked her thumb in the eye of the Grim Reaper.

    Thanks, Joe. Your posts are always thought provoking.

    • Thanks so much, Debbie. I totally am with you on the black humor thing. It’s my favorite type. And it’s gotten me in trouble in the past, but that’s another story.

  5. Good morning, Joe.

    Thanks for another great post, an update, and a reminder of how
    people (characters) can observe things so differently.

    I don’t have any good Halloween stories. Now that my children are raised, I tend to withdraw and avoid the celebration, sitting at home and enjoying the quiet.

    Have a good weekend and enjoy the extra hour of sleep.

    • Good morning, Steve, and thank you so much. I think you have the right idea. I gave some thought to withdrawing as well, but we have a relatively new group of young children who have joined the neighborhood over the past couple of years so I don’t want to be “that guy” Actually, I already am “that guy,” but that’s a tale for another time.

      Another hour of sleep, alas, will not be in the cards. Fennec will be on DST for at least another couple of weeks and will be getting me up at the time he has become used to. Thanks for the good wishes, however. Enjoy the weekend.

  6. “Big-posterior spiders.” You crack me up.

    I admit, hearing the story, I’m both impressed by the new owner and yet a part of me thinks it’s in poor taste of what happened before. Yet I err on the side of liking the idea. When it comes right down to it, no one can do anything about the terrible tragedy that formerly occurred at that home. But going all out with the decorations is a way of saying “Tragedy, kiss my grits. This is my house now and we’re living life.”

    • Exactly, BK. Thanks. I was disappointed when she took the decorations down yesterday. The house won’t look the same without them!

  7. I share your dark sense of humor, Joe, so I love the decorations!!! History or no history, your new neighbor really rocked the spirit of Halloween.

    Around the corner from me a toddler was murdered by his mother’s boyfriend. Terrible tragedy. When the mother didn’t also get arrested small town justice took over and burnt the house down. I understood why. Many of the folks couldn’t move past the child’s death while driving by the scene of the crime. At the same time, I felt bad for the innocent landlord (although there’s some speculation that he’s the one responsible for the fire).

    Fast forward two years. A builder bought the house. What did he do? Built the exact same house, same color and everything, and gave it to his son. Read from that what you will. 😀

    • Thanks, Sue. What a story (though I expected no less from you!). Re: the landlord, it is possible (though I am not accusing anyone. Of Course) that he thought that he would not be able to rent the house again and decided to let it get hit by lightning, so to speak, to collect the insurance. The story stands on its own, however. Thanks for sharing.

  8. In real estate speak, a house with a violent history or even a peaceful death is “marked” or “stigmatized.” Some states say the agent must tell that upfront, some the buyer must ask, and in most of the others the agent doesn’t have to say anything or can lie if he wants with impunity. My sister and BIL just bought a new house. For each house they looked at, she always asked, and, if the house felt wrong, they walked out. You don’t have to be psychic or a sensitive to feel this. You just have to pay attention to your gut or spidey senses.

    According to what I’ve read and anecdotal evidence, the neighbor is wrong. Houses are like sponges for good and bad energy like an abusive marriage, let alone a murdered spirit. A new house blessing, not an exorcism which is for really bad energy, is very common in many cultures because it removed others’ energy so you can fill it with yours.

  9. Thanks, Marilyn. I live in a disclosure jurisdiction where the cat is on the back of the seller to disclose material issues to the buyer. There are exceptions to the rule kicking in, including but not limited to a forced sale or the transfer of the property from one co-owner to another. As far as houses being sponges are concerned, yeah, maybe. I know of one home that has had several owners over a relatively short period of time. A couple buys it, gets divorced, sells it, and the pattern repeats. Odd for sure.

    • But, of course, ghosts are, by definition, not “material.” Nor is some strange, undefined “energy.”

      Houses are just aggregations of wood, metal, gypsum, and plastic. These aren’t the kinds of things that can take on “energies” or “spirits.”

      Any house over a hundred years old and many houses over seventy years old will have hosted multiple natural deaths. Are they all “stigmatized”?

      • Everything is energy, and energy can be altered so I disagree that a house can’t take on energy. If you asked a room full of people if a new place has given them the creeps or made them sad, a majority would truthfully say yes. I’ve never talked to anyone on the subject who hasn’t said yes.

        Historical buildings, particularly homes, are automatically assumed to have death attached to them. It’s a given. I don’t know what the states with stigmatized property laws say on the subject.

  10. No thanks. I vote for the clergyman to bless the home & have nothing to do with death, imprisonment, bloody hands, etc. I’ve been in a house that was cursed by a warlock, and there WERE spirits in there. It was real. Utterly terrifying. I had to have my house exorcised, and afterward, there were no more invisible beings breathing down my neck, I could finally sleep again, and I had PEACE when I was home. When people actually experience the reality of witches, warlocks, demons, spirits, death, fear, and horror…they don’t make light of it. (Unless they are part of it.)

    • Lora, I haven’t had the experiences you’ve had, but I have experienced incidents in my life that the words of a now-deceased friend of mine ring true: “We don’t know every damn thing!” To which I would add (source unknown) “The more we know, the less we know.” Thanks for sharing.

  11. In one house we lived in, my mother had what she called her wide awake dreams. My father worked out of town during the week, coming home on the weekends. These “dreams” always happened when he was gone.

    The house had a full basement with a door that led out to the side yard. In the middle of the night, Mother would hear the sound of the basement door opening and shutting, and footsteps cross the concrete floor, and walk up the wooden steps to the kitchen.

    Terrified of an intruder, she would take my dad’s revolver from the shelf at the head of the bed and point the gun at the doorway. The footsteps would cross the linoleum floor in the kitchen, become muffled on the carpet in the living room, and change again when they step on the wood floor in the hallway.

    We always had a nightlight in the hall and the steps would stop just short of the light. Mother would sit with the gun for hours, until finally falling asleep.

    We later learned a man had committed suicide in the room just past the room where my Mother and Dad slept, actually my sister’s and my room. The other odd thing, my mother never had those dreams in any other house.

    Without having a good explanation, we chalked it up to one of those strange things that sometimes happens.

    • Yes, spirits are territorial and stay in a specific territory, be it a person or a place. That spirit terrified your mom, ruined her sleep, and tormented her constantly. Evil spirits do that. I know with 100% certainty that the spirit realm is real. Evil spirits are literally spirits that are evil. God’s power is WAY greater, and those who belong to Jesus have His authority to kick them out. After my incident with evil spirits set loose in my house by that warlock to torment me, after they were kicked out, I wanted to know more. I did years of study about the spirit realm at my church and learned how to kick them out myself–and help others, which I do to this day. As I said, those who have been tormented by spirits do not take it lightly.

    • Thanks for sharing that story, Cecelia. It’s telling that your mom had those experiences before she heard what had occurred in the house. I wonder…did the man who committed suicide have those dreams as well? Maybe they were manifested as the result of something that predated his own act…

      • You are spot on about the evil spirits. I have had my own terrifying encounters and have also been taught how to expel them. The biggest factor is faith.

        My sister once participated in an occult ceremony and it produced terrifying manifestations. She was just a teenager and thought it was a fun game until it wasn’t.

        My mother called our pastor to expel the spirit. He taught me how to send any residual spirits away by prayer invoking Jesus’ name and a few other things to keep them from entering the house.

        Most encounters try to stop me from writing certain scenes in my Christian suspense novels. The books are peppered with confrontations with evil and holy scripture. They evidently don’t like that.

        The amazing addition to the terrifying encounters with the dark spirits, are the ones with the divine. God has directly rescued me so many times. These also find there way into my novels.

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It sometimes feels as if I am alone with these experiences. Most people shake their heads and step back several paces if I should mention any of them. So, I write fiction stories with a some true events thrown in, which of course are so improbable for most, they never believed as true.

        Someday I would like to hear your story. And, you have an interesting theory about the manifestation in the house and the man’s suicide.

  12. Wow. I am intrigued by this topic and love that you posted. I don’t read this blog all that often, but I do remember reading your post when that crime happened in your neighborhood. I am not a fan of gory Halloween decorations in general and am very glad I don’t live near a house with bloody handprints or anything hanging from trees. Given the sad history of that house, yeah that is an odd choice. I live in a 90-year old Tudor. We knew before we bought the late husband had died of a heart attack at home after mowing the lawn one day. Three weeks after we moved in my husband died suddenly in a motorcycle accident. That was a long time ago. I have heard from more than one person who grew up here that they all thought the house was haunted. I love my home and have always been comfortable in it but I have definitely been in places that creeped me out only to find out later they had been crime scenes. Go figure. Maybe some houses have a preference for who lives in them?

    • Margaret, in other countries, people are fully aware of evil spirits. They even know them by name. They’ll say, “Oh, watch out for that person–they have demons.” We live in a culture of denial, especially if we don’t have a “logical” explanation for something. We just deny it. But denial never changes facts. Yes, crime scenes have demons involved in them–and people carry them with the trauma. Jesus pointed out: Satan’s goal is to steal, kill, and destroy; but I give people LIFE in abundance and fullness. (John 10:10). In every crime, there is something stolen, something killed, and something destroyed–the prints of Satan. Wherever you see life, those are the fingerprints of Jesus. It’s very obvious who does what. I’m not surprised at all that people feel something “creepy” in places. There IS something creepy actually there.

      • Hi Lora,
        I don’t want to go into a lot of details because this is not the forum for it, but I would be grateful if you can steer me to any online forum where I could read more from others who share your view of faith in Christ which is also my view :-). Thank you.

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Margaret, for visiting TKZ, and for sharing the story of your own tragedy. I don’t know if houses have a preference — that’s way above my pay grade — but I would say that certain places most certainly seem to have memories.

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