The uneasy creak of an old wooden floorboard, the slam of window shutters in the wind or the eerie sound of children’s laugher echoing through the halls. We’ve all seen enough scary movies to know what a haunted house is supposed to look, feel and sound like. Unlike the movies, some haunted houses don’t come with the predisposed “scares” of the silver screen.
These eight horrifying houses don’t come filled with the normal terrors of a Hollywood haunt. They come with real-life horror stories far too gruesome to come from someone’s imagination. From unsolved axe murders in the prairies of Iowa, to the home of Lizzie Borden and ghastly sanitariums, the real stories behind these places are far more terrifying than anything you’d see in a movie. The question is: are you brave enough to visit them this Halloween?
Waverly Hills Sanatorium — Kentucky
It may not be the size of a single family house, but it was the home for many patients with tuberculosis in 1910. Over 150 residents lived in Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Kentucky during the early 1900s. Doctors, unaware that TB was highly contagious and airborne, allowed these patients visitation from friends and family, which only furthered the spread of tuberculosis in the area. Because of this, legends say that over 8,000 people died at Waverly from crippling tuberculosis, with the highest rate of deaths per year at 152. In addition to the souls of the sick, room 502 is supposedly haunted by one of the hospital’s nurses, who hung herself because she had contracted the disease while pregnant. The Sanatorium is now open for ghost tours and haunted house visits.
Robert Berdella Home — Missouri
One of the most horrifying true crime stories in U.S. history, the tale of Robert Berdella’s house of horrors is almost too gruesome to share. Notably one of the worst serial killers in the country, Berdella used his Kansas City home for unspeakable acts of torture. Neighbors began suspecting something awful was happening when the young boys he brought home disappeared without a trace — and when Berdella started boarding up his windows and doors. The macabre odor that permeated the neighborhood only furthered suspicions. Berdella was finally caught when one of his victims escaped from the top floor window with grotesque bruises, wounds and accounts of his imprisonment, which included repeated sexual abuse and human experimentation. The police were only able to identify three victims, though they believe there could be more than 20.
The Myrtles Plantation — Louisiana
Consistently touted as one of the most haunted houses in America, the historic Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana certainly has its fair share of spooks. Built in 1797, the plantation was home to dozens of unexplained deaths from illness, murder and even poisoning. Of the deaths, visitors and owners of the property have claimed to have experienced 12 different spirits, including the most famous — Chloe, a former slave. Legend states that in the early part of the 19th century, Chloe served as the governess to the children of the mansion, the Woodruffe children. Chloe, who was a lover of Judge Clark Woodruffe, had her ear chopped off when she was caught eavesdropping. To stand her ground in the home, she poisoned the mother and children with an oleander-tainted birthday cake, killing them one by one. Scared the judge would take out his anger on them, the rest of the plantation’s slaves rallied against Chloe and hung her in the backyard. A famous photograph taken by National Geographic shows a haunting photo of a young apparition between the buildings of the home, many whom believe it to be the lonely, sad ghost of Chloe.
Villisca Axe Murder House — Iowa
Home to one of the country’s most infamous unsolved mysteries, the Villisca Axe Murder house in Iowa has a very sinister past. On June 12, 1912, all six members of the upstanding Moore family and two young guests were found massacred by an axe in their quaint country home. The murderer was never found, however people of the town have their theories, which range from a wandering vagabond to the town priest. Owners and visitors of the home encounter the slain spirits almost daily, from hearing childhood laughter in the old kids rooms to unexplainable creaking in the attic, which is where the murderer was said to be waiting for the family to arrive home.
Franklin Castle — Ohio
With its rough sandstone exterior, round widow’s peak tower and gargoyle embellishments, the spooky appearance of Franklin Castle in Ohio rivals the scary stories that surround it. Those who have been brave enough to go inside have witnessed an eerie woman in black staring outside the lonely tower window. In addition, they’ve heard the sounds of children crying and have seen doors slam and lights spin and flicker all throughout the house. The reason for the haunting is simple: The Tiedemann Family who called the mansion home at the turn of the century experienced grave sadness while living there. All four of Hans Tiedemann’s children, his mother, his niece and his mistress passed away inside the castle’s walls.
Madame LaLaurie’s Home — Louisiana
This story is certainly not for the faint of heart and still remains one of the most horrifying tales in Louisiana history. The LaLaurie Mansion, which sits in historic New Orleans, once belonged to Parisian socialite Madame Delphine LaLaurie. To guests of her lavish parties, she seemed to have the perfect life, with well-behaved daughters, a doting husband and very respectful slaves. What they didn’t see was the ghastly torture she would inflict on everyone inside the house. Despite whispers around town, the residents weren’t abreast on the mistreatment of the slaves until a fire broke out in 1834. Fire fighters discovered a horrible torture chamber in her attic where over a dozen slaves were found chained to the wall and stuffed in cages with body parts and grisly souvenirs found scattered on the ground. In addition to these 12, Delphine kept her cook chained to the stove and repetitively beat her daughters if they were out of line. Although she fled to Paris without paying for her crimes, thousands of visitors can’t help but feel her presence when they tour the mansion’s notorious attic.
The Sowden House – California
Not only is the Sowden House in California haunted, it’s also for sale. You could take residence with LA’s most famous spirit for a mere $4.79 million. Even though it’s just a rumor, people believe that it’s the place Elizabeth Short, or the Black Dahlia, was murdered in 1947. Another one of the country’s most cryptic unsolved crimes, the prime suspect, Dr. George Hill Hodel, took residence in this mansion. Even Steve Hodel, the grandson of Dr. George Hodel, believes his grandfather murdered Short by cutting her body in half in the basement of the house. Despite cadaver dogs picking up the smell of human remains, the evil doctor was never prosecuted. Guests and potential buyers of the home still report seeing shadows of bodies and hearing the sound of chains against the cold basement floor.
Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast — Massachusetts
We’ve all heard the nursery rhyme depicting the grim murder that took place in 1892 in Falls River, Massachusetts. “Lizzie Borden took an axe / And gave her mother forty whacks. / When she saw what she had done, / She gave her father forty-one.” This macabre song was sung to children for centuries, and truthfully depicts one of the state’s most ill-famed murders. Just as the rhyme portrays, Lizzie Borden was arrested for the murder of her stepmother and father, who she clubbed 30 times with a household hatchet. There has been plenty of speculation as to whether or not she actually did it, but the house remains haunted with the spirits of poor Abby and Andrew. The house is now a working museum and bed and breakfast, although we wouldn’t advise actually sleeping there.