There is nothing peculiar about the concrete bridge along Old Post Road two miles east of Crete, Illinois. If a motorist were to drive past, over the trickling waters of Plum Creek on a pleasant summer day, not much would alert this passerby to the Axeman’s gruesome story.
In the woods a few yards to the northeast, however, sits a rickety steel bridge, collapsed into the water. It is tagged with graffiti. For years, local teens imagined this was the scene of a gruesome ax murder. The remains of a home hidden in the trees and the closure of the road leading to the steel bridge have only fueled the legend.
Although landmarks set the stage for this story, the exact history of the area is difficult to determine. According to John Drury’s photographic history, This is Will County, Illinois (1955), David Harner was the first white settler of Crete Township, and a large contingent of ethnic Germans followed.
Early in Will County history, the thick timberland along Plum Creek was called Beebe’s Grove. It was named after Minoris Beebe, who arrived in 1834 along with David Harner. According to an old county plat map, a man named William Vocke owned the property around Axeman’s Bridge in 1909. I have been unable to determine when this bridge closed.
Two books mention the legend of Axeman’s Bridge: Windy City Ghosts by Dale Kaczmarek and Weird Illinois by Troy Taylor. Both have competing accounts of the story, but neither is necessarily incorrect. In folklore, there is no “correct story,” since the details change with every retelling.
In one version, told by Dale Kaczmarek, the Axeman (or Ax-Man) was a lonely old hermit who killed a pair of kids he caught trespassing on his property. Their friends, waiting safely on the road, had dared the two boys to run from one side of his bridge to the other.
The version found on the Internet and related by Troy Taylor tied the Axeman’s tale to the abandoned house in the woods. The man, who had a history of abusive behavior, chopped up his family and then set his house on fire.
Online, others have added that the Axeman then murdered two sheriff’s deputies who came to investigate the fire. When backup arrived, the police chased the murderer to the old steel bridge, where they shot him dead.
Since that time, some visitors have reported that their car has stalled on the bridge along Old Post Road, or that they have spotted the soft yellow lights of a house in the woods. Others have heard screams and the sharp ping of an axe hitting iron supports.
Old bridges and axe murders are staples of folklore, but rarely are the two combined. The legend of Axeman’s Bridge is an interesting mixture of tropes that makes this location unique. Unconfirmed reports say the bridge has been completely removed in recent years.