When Walls Talk

In the late 90s, State Rep. Steve Vossmeyer was renovating the grand staircase of his West End mansion when a shocking discovery was made under layers of wallpaper — a confession.

April 3, 1902

Forest Park 

By the time you read this I’ll be gone. Paxton did murder Tyrese Simpson on April 3, 1902 in Forest Park

Tyrese Simpson was a young girl and her case was never solved.

In April 1902, the Westminster Place home was under construction and Earl Paxton was the plasterer. If his date is correct, he returned after the murder to write and conceal his confession, perhaps so he could boast about it from the grave.

Realtor Gregg Williamson of Berkshire Hathaway HSA lives in the neighborhood and is familiar with the story.

“I’m very interested the history of the houses in the West End,” he says. “I want to know everything I can about them and record that information.”

When he listed this property, he needed to decide how to handle the confession on the wall, which had been framed.

“I had an agent open house and asked for opinions,” he recalls. “It was unanimous that I leave it. It’s creepy, but it’s not like someone was murdered in the house, plus it is part of the history.

When friends around the world ask about St. Louis, I tell them it’s a haunted old city. First of all, it’s built atop the ancient burial grounds of the mound building Mississippians, a tribe that created a mighty civilization that thrived on this land from A.D. 700 to 1400 A.D. and was larger than London in A.D. 1250, only to vanish for unknown reasons.

It’s where the real story behind The Exorcist took place and it’s the home of the famous Lemp Mansion, where three members of the brewing dynasty committed suicide and are believed to haunt the property – one manifesting as a “stink spirit,” which engulfs some visitors in a putrid odor.

It’s the kind of town where we find a murder confession under the wallpaper, frame it in crimson and list it as an amenity; where we entomb a favorite drag queen’s ashes in the old brick wall – as is the case with Midnight Annie at Clementines – so she can hang out with us in spirit.


 

Although St. Louisans have a high tolerance for the spooky, there’s at least one property that strikes terror in the hearts of many familiar with it – people who claim it isn’t merely haunted, it’s cursed.

At the corner of Lafayette and Louisiana Avenue, there is a house so feared, the only willing buyer was a collector of macabre properties. I learned about the story when a friend listed the house and spoke of its history of tragedy and misfortune. For instance, of three recent owners, one went bankrupt and two died during renovations.

Built in 1898 for a doctor who studied sexually transmitted diseases, the basement was once used to conduct research on cadavers. In those days, cadavers were often the unclaimed bodies of the poor and mentally ill and some say that’s the origin of the curse.

Of course, “curse” is in the eye of the beholder. The widow of one deceased owner told me she blames her husband’s death on cancer rather than a curse, but others aren’t risking it.

A few years ago, a realtor, who told me that one deceased rehabber was only in his 20s, opened up the back door for me, but made it clear he’d wait outside. “I’ll open up the door but I’m not going in. It’s creepy as hell!” the agent says.

I wonder if Paxton has secrets hidden in other homes around town, and I wonder what will come of the next person who attempts to defy the Curse of the Cadavers. Today, the forbidding house sits and waits, vacant but not unoccupied, in this haunted old metropolis where restless spirits still speak.

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About the Author

Chris Andoe

  • Columnist
  • chris@thevitalvoice.com

In the preface of his critically acclaimed book Delusions of Grandeur: A Few Hundred Tales From the Emperor of St. Louis, Metrosource NYC editor Paul Hagen writes, "Chris's writing - in particular his chronicles of the goings on in around St. Louis - had the urgency of a journalist embedded in a war zone...He opened doors to a world of people with multiple aliases and secret identities, sinister perpetrators of long cons, and drag performers who embody every aspect of the world legendary." Andoe's long-running "Tales From the Emperor" column in Vital VOICE attracts an international following. When he's not writing or touring, his interests include politics, climbing through abandoned buildings and knocking wigs back.

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