Established in 1717 by William Lyeford, the town was never large nor wealthy, and sustained itself primarily on the fishing business situated at Lyeford lake.
The town was, and remains today, an unincorporated community, several miles from any other town. The town is surrounded by dense Virginian pine forest and is noted for its isolated location and closeted community.
The most recent census conducted in the area in 1990 indicated that the population was around 700 people, 37.7% of which were below the poverty line.
Lyeford is infamous for its dark history, and supposed "curse". The town was struck with frequent tragedy from its earliest days, when a local man known as Mad Jack massacred 13 townsfolk, wearing a dog's face as a mask. He was never caught, after escaping into the surrounding woods. A small factory and oil drill built in Lyeford in the 1830s burnt to the ground in 1840.
Smog and ground chemicals produced by the factory killed off much of the surrounding forest, poisoned the water and all but destroyed the fish-life, devastating the Lyeford economy. By the early 1900s the town had already slumped into depression and became largely forgotten, even being unintentionally excluded from American maps.The land Lyeford was built on was never a long term habitat for any Indian tribes.
The dense forest was sometimes used for hunting, but this practice was only in the most desperate of times. Water from the lake was not to be consumed, according to native lore, due to the Water spirits inhabiting the flooded cave system beneath the lake. Why the area of land was so revered is an enigma, as it offered fertile ground, food and water. When speaking to local Indian tribes, William Lyeford was told that the area was perceived as a circular shaped across the land.Years earlier, it appeared, a circle around the circumference of the cursed placed had been etched into the earth by another tribe.
The etched circle remains visible today. Within the circle were the lake, a large expanse of forest, a stretch of marshland east of the lake and a burned out clearing in the woods. The forest itself had a name, translated by Lyeford as 'The Trinity Woods', but no explanation was offered as to how it got its name. Furthermore nothing else within the circle was given a name by the local peoples.
The burned out clearing, in which no living plant has ever grown through the blackened soil, was to be the place of an important, grim event in Lyefords history. In 1718, the construction of William Lyefords home was completed, after several unfortunate accidents resulting in the deaths of two builders. At its time the largest home in the town, it was a place avoided by the locals due to the tragic case of William's youngest daughter, Lilly, aged thirteen, who went missing in the Trinity woods for almost a month. She was found in the clearing, severely bruised and covered in blood. With much difficulty could she speak at all to the young men who came across her by chance. When first discovered it is known that she mentioned a "circle of light", before becoming unconscious. The clearing had been searched many times before Lilly was discovered there, and her enigmatic words caused tension in the small community.
When at home, she took the upstairs room of the house as her own. It would be in this room that she spent the rest of her days, having contracted a totally unknown illness which caused bleeding skin lesions to come and go, hair loss and mental deterioration. The only people to ever see Lilly again during her time in the room were her father and older sister, Lydia, aged sixteen, as well as the many doctors from all over the United States, called in privately and discreetly.
None were able to help, and inhuman screams from the Lyeford house were heard regularly for many years by townsfolk. Many believed that Lilly was possessed, and speaking of her in public, especially near William Lyeford was taboo. William himself never mentioned his 'other daughter' as the townsfolk called her, again. Lilly died in 1740, days before her father, but Lydia, who inherited the house, claimed to continue seeing and hearing her sister frequently in the house.
Sometimes she would walk past that horrible room and glimpse Lily's grotesque, bald face staring up at her from the supposedly empty bed. She refused to enter the room herself, and guests who did always reported feeling a presence in the room. The ghost of Lilly Lyeford eventually became too much for Lydia, and after less than a year alone she refused to enter the house. She eventually left Lyeford altogether with her husband, years later.
From then on, the house remained empty. Yet the screaming from the upstairs room carried on, almost every night. In 1780, Lyeford became the setting of the Mad Jack murders.
Mad Jack had arrived in Lyeford two decades previously, with his mother, father and younger brother. The family name is not known. The family kept to themselves in a small house by the Trinity woods, quite far from the rest of the town. Jack was seen very rarely, but quickly gained a reputation amongst the towns youth as being unpleasant and unhinged, throwing a dead cat at a boy who picked on him. The cat incident had him removed from the schooling system, and he became a total recluse. Although not an unattractive boy, particularly amongst the Lyeford townsfolk, who were notoriously inbred, Jack was often taunted for being ugly. John Garrow, one of the few children who were friendly to Jack would later say that Jack had, on many occasions, made the express wish to remove his ugly face and replace it with something "pretty".
Jack also appeared to have what was quite possibly unrecognized schizophrenia, often found talking to himself or in hysterics over faces in the lake surface. His father was by no means a cruel man, but we must keep in mind that the values of the times were very different to those we look up to now, and when Jack's father beat him for his "cloud-cuckoo land" fantasies, it was out of parental love.
Jack clearly did not see it as such and became hateful towards his father. The woman of the family was, by all accounts a wretched mother who adored her second child but was openly neglectful to Jack. His brother observed and replicated these feelings towards Jack. He was a year younger, but was always the more mature of the two. Some nights it was claimed that Jack was seen entering the now abandoned Lyeford home. At least once it is known that his father forced him out of the house, having had enough of his son's paranoia. On these nights the unexplained, unmentioned screams of Lyeford Hall were never heard. His strange behaviour only worsened. Some recalled seeing Jack drowning rats in the lake.
On April 5, 1780 Jack brought a dog from the woods back to Lyeford hall. That night there were no screams. Jack all but lived in the hall at this point, having been rejected by his family, and even his few friends. John Garrow claimed to have abandoned Jack years earlier, after an incident in which Jack cracked his own forehead with a hammer in an attempt to change his facial features.
Garrow's ending of the friendship may have been the factor that finally drove Jack to violence. On the overcast, cool morning of April 6, 1780, Mad Jack emerged screaming from Lyeford Hall, a dogs face messily stitched onto his own like a grotesque mask. He first killed an elderly couple in their bed, three houses down from the Lyeford house, on what would later become Steinlan street. Jack used a hammer to commit the murder.The next victim was a young mother, asleep with her four month old daughter. Jack did not harm the child in any way, being careful to aim his blows far from the child and to kill the woman swiftly, as to not wake up her baby. He did, however, place a small dot of blood upon both of her eyelids.
Jack proceeded to strangle a woman on the path who screamed upon seeing him. The event was witnessed by several residents, who watched through their windows. It was claimed that at this point he began to bark like a dog, before storming into the nearest home and stabbing Mr. and Mrs. Mons as well as the three guests hiding in their upstairs room. All five died of their injuries. By this time the Lyeford police force, a small unpaid group had entered the Mons house and were advancing upon Jack. In panic he flung himself from the window, and hit the ground behind the house on his right leg.
The bone was seen to tear Jack's skin as it snapped, but Jack was claimed to make no sign that he was in pain, and, still barking, he sped away from the Mons house, his right leg twisting and slipping with every step. Garrow alerted the police that Jack would most likely return to his family home. By the time they arrived he had been and gone, leaving behind three corpses and a set of bloody footprints, which trailed off into the Trinity woods. Jack's climactic killing of the family who had taught him to hate was his most brutal act. His brother was missing his tongue. It appeared to have been ripped out by canine teeth. His toes, too had been removed, before he was ultimately killed by asphyxiation.
Jacks mother woke upon hearing the racket in her son's room, and had no time to so much as scream before Jack was upon her, tearing her flesh and ripping off her cheeks. Jack's father suffered the most extensive mutilation, however, much of which is thought to have occurred before death, with Jack keeping his father alive in order to savor his pain.
The eyes, lips and scalp were removed. The left arm was severed and both legs were broken. Most of the internal organs had been crudely gouged out. Shards of glass were found inside the body. Once his father died from his injuries, Jack then cut the body in half with a his fathers own saw. The atrocious nature of the crime should have been big news, however the townsfolk did all in their power to keep it unheard of in the outside world.
Regardless, word spread of Mad Jack throughout Viriginia and Ohio, until it had spread, in one form or another all throughout America. For weeks people kept their doors locked, and their windows shut at night. The people of Lyeford were given no time to recover. The screaming from Lyeford hall returned as usual every night after Jack's disappearance, lasting several minutes every midnight. The family home was burned down, but Lyeford hall remained. Inside, in the upstairs room, a bizarre shrine was discovered, with incomprehensible writing on the walls and the dogs body lying in the bed.
Chunks of flesh had been torn from the bone, seemingly by human teeth. It was dressed in a brides gown and had a long, deep scar in its side, within which was an enveloped letter."I have seen them. They live so sadly beneath you. Their pure glow in the murk is at once beautiful and terrifying to behold. Like a dying angel. They begged Jack not to do this thing. Have you seen the eye in the woods? It is the reason you can never leave. Jack can leave; the eye has let Jack leave. We blame this thing but pity its beauty. I must leave now. The children in the lake want to speak to me now. I think I shall return for them someday. "What became of Jack after his escape is unknown. No clue of his whereabouts were ever discovered.
No footprints in the dirt, no torn hair tangled in a low tree branch. To anyone who stumbled into Lyeford unknowingly it would be as though Jack's bloody touch had never graced the place at all. In 1838, following a severe earthquake, oil bled from the cracked earth beneath Lyeford. A wealthy New Yorker invested a considerable sum in setting up an oil drill in Lyeford. This was seen by the poverty stricken population as the town's brightest hour in years, and many became involved in the project. The employment rate rose vastly. For some time Lyeford seemed to be reaching prosperous days.
The towns happiness was, of course, nothing but temporary. On the frostbitten morning of January 6, 1840 the oil pocket beneath Lyeford was mysteriously ignited. The drill burst into a tower of flames which could be seen for miles. The blaze spread quickly, decimiting several residences. Of the locals who attempted to control the flames, fifteen were killed. John Garrow, former friend of the infamous "Mad Jack" killer died as he tried to save a young boy from the inferno. He was seventy nine. The boy was seven. He also perished.
The fire lasted three days, until a torrential downpour diminshed it, leaving behind only ash, and the drill's skeletal form standing alone among blackened trees. It stands to this day. During the economic downfall following the fire, the people of Lyeford naturally sought some kind of rationalization for the chaotic, terrible thing that had happened. So it was that a building in the centre of the town was repaired, and became a church.
Religion had never been prominent in Lyeford before, but following the disaster, little else could comfort the small Christian community. It is interesting to note that, according to local lore, it was by sheer coincidence the same day the church was erected that a young, smiling priest, Henry Wylde wandered down the road and into town. Henry Wilde identified himself to the congregation as a new priest from New Jersey, who had heard all about the church and wanted to be a part of it. Some wondered how he had heard about the church project at all, but most were delighted to have a real priest leading them.
At first the town stuck to its traditionally Christian ways, but some of Henry's more unorthodox teachings became much talked about. Henry, for example, insisted at times that as the spiritual leader of the town he had the right to take money from the community at will and place it into personal projects, which he assured them would benefit Lyeford as a whole. Aside from this, he was known as a kind and softly spoken man. He slowly but surely made the town stick closer together, and converted most, if not all of the residents to a new religion, revealed to him, he claimed, by a glowing orb in the burnt clearing in the Trinity woods. The cult became increasingly dependent on him, and he certainly abused his power over the townsfolk. For no reason he would sometimes make whole families fast for days on end, usually with the feeble excuse of sin. Sometimes family members would die of starvation, their loyalty was so fierce.
In one of Henry's most unusual acts, he declared that virginal daughters of the town belonged, by right, to him, and would occasionally take a young girl to the church with him at night, after which she would never be the same. By 1850, Wilde was rarely seen, living alone in the church, which was not allowed to be entered, ever. The town was absolutely under his control. Crops were grown in the name of Henry.
Prayers were said in the name of Henry. The dead were given as gifts for Henry, placed upon the altar outside the church. They would be gone by morn. However the full horrible extent of Wilde's influence was not known until 1861, when a young Susan Moth received a letter from a friend informing her of a most unpleasant incident in Lyeford. She was called into Lyeford to investigate a fellow hiker's claim that after staying a night at Lyeford Motel with a friend, the two were assaulted by people unknown, dragged out of their beds and taken into the Trinity woods clearing, where his friend was shot dead. He managed to escape and alert the authorities.
Moth was intrigued by the case, and chose to stay in the motel herself. She continued reaching dead end after dead end. The towns folk would not speak up. The motel claimed to have no record of a second guest. No matter how much she pursued the matter, she was not allowed entrance into the abandoned church. On her seventh night at the motel, Moth was gagged and tied up, then dragged into the town center by people wearing what appeared to be dogs faces. She was, however, a physically strong woman, and was able to free her legs and run from her assailants, who followed close behind, screaming incoherently at her. She ran for Lyeford hall and slammed the door, where the dog-faced men howled at her from outside, but did not enter themselves. She ripped open her arm restraints with a broken window pane and armed herself with a knife from the kitchen.
She entered the upstairs bedroom, although two conflicting accounts were given by Ms. Moth as to what occurred in the room. In her memoirs and in early interviews that she gave on the subject, Moth claimed to have leapt from the window and onto the veranda roof a short way below, spending no prolonged period in the room. However, in a later interview, in her old age, Moth gave quite a different account. She claimed this time to have stayed in the room for almost half an hour, during which time the dog faced men refused to enter the hall. Moth however, heard noises from within the room. Downstairs she registered a noise that she believed to be footsteps, and was surprised when the door was flung open by what she described as "a hideously pale, gruesome old woman whose eyes and mouth were nothing but black, screaming holes." In fright, rather than by choice, Moth scrabbled backwards and found herself crashing through the window.
The reason behind Moth's change of story is unknown. The second version is often considered unlikely and a symptom of Moth's old age corrupting her memory of the event. Some, however, consider the second version of events to be, in fact, more realistic, citing the time-frame of the following events which would not fit correctly unless Moth had indeed remained within the room for at least half an hour.The men in dog masks were upon her immediately, but in self-defense Moth slashed the throat of one, and swiped wildly at the others in an effort to scare them off. They simply did not move however, and stared at her. They then picked up the dying man, who was still gurgling as he was taken away, and left. It was at this point the young agent discovered that the Church's doors had been opened, very slightly, presumably by the same men who had attacked her. Moth entered the church, and very nearly fainted in shock upon entering.
Moth wrote that: "Henry Wild's home in the church was a place smelling of death. Limbs in all stages of decay and flesh long ago rotted made a grotesque cocoon around the walls, behind which were innumerable bones. Some animals, mostly human. I caught sight of too many skulls to name.
How many of these belonged to travelers? Men and women who had simply stumbled upon this terrible place, and paid for it with their lives? I caught a glimpse, at least once, of an infant skeleton. Unmistakable and sickening. The people of the town, so warped in their obsession with the almighty, all-hating Henry had sacrificed even children to him. He had eaten children."
It took some time for Moth to see Henry himself. When she did she was at first unsure if what she was witnessing was even human.
"Henry had finally grown into the beast he always was inside. His sins had heaved up within his flesh and turned him into something, that I dare say was far beyond human proportions.
I stood at first shocked unable to convince myself that the beast in the church could be, could ever have been, human. The limbs were impossibly long and outstretched like a pale, hairless spider. The body was hunched over, and skeletally thin. The face... oh god, the face. The eyes, inky black and always open. The nose long gone, tearing a hole into the lip through which more and more of his unending fangs tore out of the black gum.
The lower jaw hung on its sockets, and out of it tongue poured out, twitching and wet. It was more horrible to realize that yes, this thing was indeed human, at least once, than it would have been to simply know of it as some demon from hell. He let out a monstrous groan and heaved towards me, his hideous smell of decay filling my lungs as he came upon me, with an intent so evil I, at first, was paralyzed.
With surprising stength he pinned me down, one hand pushing down into my chest, the other leaving a wet print upon my face. I was in no doubt of my impending death, but vowed to myself that if I were to die I should take with me to hell this monstrosity. Fumbling in my pocket for my pen I struck the thing in his eye, causing him to scream in pain and recoil, clawing at his face.
I tore myself off the ground and sprinted into the wall, fitting myself between three fresh bodies, and standing there, limp as though I were one of them.
Henry seemed to follow my scent, his nostril holes widening and contracting as he sucked in long, wheezing breaths, the pen still lodged deep within his dripping eye.
I knew he would find me. In a bizarre moment of clarity, nothing short of a miracle, I felt on my fingertips the oil that coated the walls, trickling slowly down every corpse and every dead face. The organic oil seeping off the walls, rolling down them like sweat on some foul skin. Making a conscious effort to make as little movement as possible I retrieved from my jacket pocket a single match I had taken from the pack they gave me at the hotel. Just before Henry could come across my hiding place, I struck the match against the wall behind me and simultaneously ignited the whole thing. The fire burst to life and spread faster than I could have anticipated, and the back of my jacket caught fire. I sprung out and Henry, hissing madly attacked.
Wasting no time, I whipped off my jacket and flung it at him. He himself was shiny with the liquid on his flesh, and the fire enveloped him fast. Henry screeched as the flames spread up his limbs, until his writhing body was all but consumed in smoke and flame. With much difficulty and immense luck I managed to escape the fire myself."
The entire church was burned to ashes.
The cult was brought down and seventeen people were found guilty of murder, although Moth insisted that the whole town was a part of the cult, she never spoke out as her efforts put her in much higher respect and her memoirs, which primarily discuss the Lyeford Incident, allowed her to retire wealthy, if not at peace.