Continued from Part 1, “An Unspeakable Crime“…
Shortly after Julia Markham used an ax to murder her seven children, a postman discovered a letter she had written to her husband. The letter proved the murders had been premeditated. “Dear Clarence,” she wrote. “This is to say goodbye to you. Some give their souls for others, and I will do this for my children. God bless them! They will all die happy in the arms of Jesus. I will meet them there, and some day you will join us, too.”
A coroner’s jury ruled that Julia had acted while temporarily insane. An investigation into her personal history revealed that she had suffered from an emotional breakdown several months before the crime. “As early as July Mrs. Markham manifested symptoms of a diseased mind,” the Rock Island Argus reported. Her father visited the family during the summer and said that Julia was suffering from “extreme melancholia, due… to the dreary monotony and drudgery of her life.” Her eldest children had to stay home from school to watch after her health.
On the morning of October 2, as the Wright brothers prepared for the flight of their third airplane, Julia Markham and her children were laid to rest in nearby Rose Dale Cemetery. The children were interred in one casket and Julia in another. Distraught over the gruesome deaths of his wife and children, Clarence Markham shot and hung himself.
Decades passed, and the ruin of the Markham’s home was plowed over. Their aging, red barn remained, however, and became a focal point for local teens who grew up hearing stories about the murders. Fact blended with fiction, and people began to report seeing the ghost of Julia Markham along the roadside. They blamed accidents at the curve in Timber Ridge Rd. on her ghost.
The particulars of the case became ever more confused. Like a generational game of phone tag, each retelling of the tale altered the details until the fact that a woman murdered her children became the only kernel of truth. For instance, the story according to an anonymous contributor to Strangeusa.com was that Clarence Markham died of an illness, leaving his wife to take care of their seven children.
“So one day she took her kids lined them up in a line in the front yard. And she decapitated each one,” the post read. “When she realized what she had done she set her house on fire and shot herself in the head.” From then on, at exactly 10:27pm Julia’s ghost could be seen sitting on the fencepost near what became known as “Death Curve.”
In 2007, the Moline Dispatch ran an article on the Cambridge Death Curve that featured one eyewitness account of the haunting from 18 years earlier. The red barn was still standing at the time, and two young women drove out there looking for a place to hang out. As they neared the curve, they caught sight of something unexpected.
“On the fence, you could see something white floating off into the cornfield,” one of the women told the newspaper.“It was white with long flowing hair… I didn’t know what the heck it was.” But a translucent phantom was not the only thing spotted along the road. Paranormal researchers Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk spoke with one woman who told them that she had seen a spook light floating near the old fence.
There is nothing unusual about the curve in Timber Ridge Road, even less so now that the ruined barn has been torn down. The graves of Julia Markham and her children are unmarked. Aside from a few articles on dusty microfilm reels, nothing tangible remains to remind passersby of the unspeakable acts committed outside the village of Cambridge that fateful day in 1905. Yet the act of a mother murdering her own children—something so anathema to our basic values—is a stain that will not be so easily removed. Even after a hundred years, the spirits of Julia and her children cry out from the grave, to never be forgotten.
The Argus (Rock Island) 30 September 1905.
The Argus (Rock Island) 2 October 1905.
Anonymous, “Death Curve,” 1 June 2005, <http://strangeusa.com/viewlocation.aspx?locationid=2850> (21 May 2009).
The Dispatch (Moline) 19 May 2007.
Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk, The Illinois Road Guide to Haunted Locations (Eau Claire: Unexplained Research Publishing Company, 2007), 135.