In Episode 112, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore Fountain Hill Cemetery in Deep River, Connecticut, in search of the grave of XYZ. Beneath the headstone resides a would-be bank robber who was gunned down in the act December 13, 1899, but no one ever claimed the corpse, leaving police baffled. A ghostly woman in black is said to still haunt the grave, forever paying her respects.
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*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
RAY: Jeff, we spend a lot of time in cemeteries, don’t we?
JEFF: We do, Ray. Cemeteries are where so many stories end. But it’s also the place where countless legends begin.
RAY: What are we looking for in here in Fountain Hill Cemetery in Deep River, Connecticut?
JEFF: We’re looking for a specific headstone.
RAY: Okay, what’s the name? I’ll start looking around.
JEFF: That’s the thing. We don’t know the name.
RAY: Then how will we know when we find it?
JEFF: I’m not sure. Plus, there’s reports that a woman dressed in all black visited this grave every year for almost 40 years. Some reports suggest her ghost is still keeping a vigil here.
(PAUSE) [SFX WALKKING]
RAY: Wait… this is weird. Jeff, check out this headstone way over here in this empty corner of the cemetery. It’s tiny, but it’s covered in coins.
JEFF: That’s it! I see there’s just three letters on it. X, Y, Z. This is the grave an unknown bank robber.
JEFF: Hi, I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, welcome to episode 112 of the New England Legends Podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
JEFF: Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one week and one story at a time. This is a grass-roots movement that combines this podcast, our self-funded television series on PBS and Amazon Prime, and our Web site. And we can’t do what we do without the help of our patreon patrons who are sponsoring this week’s episode. We love patreon because you decide what we’re worth. If you go to patreon.com/newenglandlegends, for as little as $3 bucks per month you’ll get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes that no one else gets to hear.
RAY: Also consider joining our super-secret Facebook group. I bet you could find a link from our Web site at ournewenglandlegends.com. There’s always great discussions happening in there about various legends. In fact, this week’s story began as a tip from Lauren Middleton, she’s one of our Facebook group members.
JEFF: Thanks, Lauren. We had to know more about this one, which is why we’re here in Deep River, Connecticut today. To solve the mystery of XYZ’s curious little grave, we’re going to have to head back to December of 1899 in Deep River.
JEFF: It’s early December of 1899 here in downtown Deep River. And we’re heading across the street to the Deep River Savings Bank.
[SFX DOOR OPENING]
RAY: (PAUSE LOOK AROUND) Man, Jeff. Everyone here seems a little on edge. And that security guard is looking at us pretty funny. (PAUSE) Hello, sir.
JEFF: Friendly guy. The reason they’re on edge is because the Deep River Savings Bank received a recent tip that they may be the target of a bank heist. The ivory trade has made Deep River a rich town, and there’s rumors that the bank has over $1 million dollars on hand in its vault. So Deep River Savings hired that guard, and they sent a man over to New Haven to buy a brand new Winchester rifle.
RAY: No wonder everyone is nervous. And of course, we’re strangers in town… Maybe we should wait outside.
JEFF: That sounds safer to me.
RAY: Let’s hunker down over there across the street by those bushes and keep watch on bank.
[SFX OWL HOOING]
JEFF: (WHISPERING) It’s now December 13th. About 1:15 in the morning. It’s cold and dark and quiet. Almost too quiet.
RAY: (GETTING EXCITED) Jeff, look over there!
RAY: By the corner of the bank. I see four men sneaking around the building.
JEFF: You’re right.
RAY: One of the men is wearing a derby hat. He’s prying open the bank’s window!
[SFX RIFLE SHOT]
RAY: Oh my God! The man at the window was just shot from inside the bank. I saw something fly off the top of his head, and he just dropped to the ground.
JEFF: It looks like the other men are running for it.
MEN: Let’s get outta here! Run!
RAY: The bank door is opening, and there’s the bank’s night watchman, Harry Tyler, holding a rifle.
JEFF: Some neighbors from nearby houses are walking outside to investigate the gunshot. I can’t imagine those three other men are sticking around, though.
[SFX CROWD NOISE FADING TO NOTHING]
[SFX ROOSTER COCK A DOODLE DOO]
RAY: It’s now the following morning. Though search parties have scoured the area, there’s no sign of the three other bank robbers. They may have escaped by boat on the Connecticut River. There’s no trace of them, and police departments around the state are now being told to be on the lookout.
JEFF: The robber that took a bullet last night is dead. The shot went through his eye and took off the top of his head. The police have searched him and found no identification, but they did find this postal note issued to T.J. Farley, a bartender in New York. The note is signed by F.E. King. Police believe this dead man is King. Authorities also find some burglary tools and blasting caps they assume would have been used on the bank safe. No matter what, it’s clear that this guy was a pro.
RAY: Police reach out to T.J. Farley who admits knowing King. Farley describes what King looks like and police believe they have their man. King was employed as a brakeman in the Boston and Albany railroad. Now they just have to put the pieces together.
JEFF: Wait, wait, wait.
JEFF: The only problem with this theory is that F.E. King is STILL employed by the Boston and Albany railroad. It only takes a couple of days to verify he’s alive and well, and obviously not our guy. That note found on the burglar’s body doesn’t seem to have a connection to the two men mentioned in it. Police are stumped.
RAY: The local undertaker collects the body and brings the man back to his building. Authorities figure it won’t be too long until someone identifies the corpse and that may help them track down the other would-be bandits.
JEFF: So we wait.
RAY: And wait.
JEFF: And wait.
RAY: Days go by, and still there’s no clues as to the whereabouts of those other bank robbers, and no one has stepped forward to claim the body of the man killed.
RAY: The local undertaker has no choice but to bury the body in an unmarked grave in Fountain Hill Cemetery.
JEFF: During this time, the news of the foiled bank robbery and Harry Tyler’s expert shot, is spreading through the newspapers. Tyler is becoming a bit of a minor celebrity in Deep River.
RAY: After word of the events spread through the papers, Tyler receives an anonymous letter in the mail. The handwriting is that of a woman, and she has one request of the bank guard. She asks that the grave of the man he killed be marked with three letters: X, Y, and Z.
JEFF: It’s pretty common for some graves to be marked with the three initials of the person buried in the plot. This is a time when you have to pay by the letter, so that’s all some people can afford.
RAY: Tyler turns the letter over to the cemetery. The folks at Fountain Hill Cemetery don’t see the harm, so they erect a wooden cross marked with X, Y, Z. Eventually, the cemetery upgrades the wooden cross with a small stone, but they keep the letters.
JEFF: Now we jump ahead in time a few years. Though XYZ has drifted into memory for locals in Deep River, suddenly someone new enters the legend. The story goes that each year a mystery woman dressed in all black arrives at the Deep River train station. She walks the one-mile to Fountain Hill Cemetery, and she lays flowers on the grave of XYZ. Every year for forty years, people claim to see her on her annual pilgrimage. The story of the mystery woman made it into a publication called Deep River New Era on November 3rd, 1939. The article claimed the woman was never stopped, followed, or investigated. No one really knows what her connection was to the dead bank robber. But the story of the woman never fully leaves the minds of locals in Deep River. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: Okay, it seems to me we can figure out who this mystery man is below the XYZ stone.
JEFF: I agree. Sometimes too many details can mess up a legend, but thanks to searching the newspaper archives, we made a few discoveries.
RAY: So a post-mortem photograph of the bank robber, taken at just the right angle to show his profile and not the gaping hole shot through his head, circulated in the newspapers back in 1899. Eventually some folks way out in Michigan put the pieces together.
JEFF: According to the Detroit Herald, in the spring of 1889 a man looking exactly like the dead man in the photograph entered Cook’s Hardware store in Bellaire, Michigan, and blew open the safe in order to rob the store. Soon after, the man was chased down. He shot one of his pursuers through the hip.
[SFX PISTOL SHOT]
JEFF: But he’s overtaken a little while later and captured. The man was Frank Howard, AKA Frank Ellis, AKA Tom Howard.
RAY: Frank Howard served ten years in Michigan’s state prison for his crimes before he’s released in 1899, and then he makes his way to Connecticut where he picks up once again on his life of crime.
JEFF: So he’s our guy. Mysterious to the end and beyond.
RAY: That’s right.
JEFF: The local legend says that if you say X-Y-Z over his grave three times quickly, then he’ll haunt you. Some leave him a few coins as an offering so his spirit won’t follow. Others say they still see the woman in black making her pilgrimage to the grave before she melts into nothing.
RAY: What do you say, Jeff. You want to try this out and say his name three times?
JEFF: I’m game if you are. Ready?
JEFF/RAY: XYZ, XYZ, XYZ
JEFF: Oooo what if we say Frank Howard’s name three times fast?
RAY: Okay let’s try that.
JEFF/RAY: Frank Howard, Frank Howard, Frank Howard
RAY: I guess we’ll have to report back next week and let folks know if the ghost of Frank Howard has followed us to our next New England Legend.
JEFF: Speaking of following us, please do subscribe to our podcast because it’s absolutely free on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, we really appreciate it when you post a review. Those reviews go a long way in helping others find our show.
RAY: Be sure to tell a friend or two about our show as well. If you like it, they might too. And join our super secret Facebook group. You can find a link on our Web site at ournewenglandlegends.com.
JEFF: Also on our Web site you can find a link to purchase my limited-edition 2020 Haunted New England wall calendar. It’s full of 12 haunts, my stories, and the spooky photography of Frank Grace. These are selling fast, and once they’re gone, they’re gone.
RAY: Our theme music is by John Judd. And thanks to Stephanie for leaving this week’s show closing on our Legend Line.
VOICEMAIL: Hi, this is Stephanie Roswell from Austin, Texas. Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.
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