Axeman’s Bridge in Crete, Illinois

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.

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Lebanon Road and the Seven Gates to Hell

Seven graffiti-covered railroad bridges appear along this stretch of rural road outside Collinsville, Illinois. Locals have crafted a hellish tale around these bridges, which they dubbed the “Seven Gates to Hell.”

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Late night drives are a time-honored teenage pastime, and many communities throughout Illinois have legendary roads that offer more thrills than most. A confusing stretch of rural road outside Collinsville, Illinois is one of the more interesting. Along these roads are seven railroad bridges, some no longer in use. All of them are heavily coated in graffiti—a testament to their popularity for nighttime excursions.

Local visitors have crafted a hellish tale around these seven bridges, which they dubbed the “Seven Gates to Hell.” According to Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk’s Illinois Road Guide to Haunted Locations (2007), these stories have been circulating in the area for at least 40 years.

The legend is that if someone were to drive through all seven bridges and enter the last one exactly at midnight, he or she would be transported to Hell. In some versions, the person entering the final tunnel must be a skeptic. In other versions, no tunnel can be driven through twice for the magic to work.

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The Legend of Lakey’s Creek

The headless horseman of Lakey’s Creek is quite possibly one of the oldest ghost stories in Illinois. Passed down as an oral tradition until John W. Allen put the story on paper in 1963, the mysterious man named Lakey, as well as his untimely end, has been immortalized in the folklore of Southern Illinois. Like Lake Michigan’s “Seaweed Charlie,” this ghost story may be preserving the memory of an unsettling event in local history.

Long before a concrete bridge spanned the shallow creek 1.5 miles east of McLeansboro, a frontiersman named Lakey attempted to erect his log cabin near a ford along the wagon trail to Mt. Vernon. One morning, a lone traveler stumbled upon Lakey’s body. Lakey’s head had been severed by his own ax, which was left at the scene. According to legend, his murderer was never found.

For decades after the murder, travelers reported being chased by a headless horseman who rode out of the woods along Lakey’s Creek. “Always the rider, on a large black horse, joined travelers approaching the stream from the east, and always on the downstream side,” John Allen wrote. “Each time and just before reaching the center of the creek, the mistlike figure would turn downstream and disappear.”

In the October 1973 issue of Goshen Trails, Ralph S. Harrelson published research in which he claimed to have learned the historical personage behind the Lakey legend. In a history of Hamilton County, he discovered a single sentence revealing that a man named Lakey―the same man who gave his name to the creek―had indeed lived near the ford, but more tellingly, that he had been murdered by his son-in-law.

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Mystery and Tragedy at Airtight Bridge

Airtight Bridge spans the narrow Embarras River in rural Coles County. It was designed by Claude L. James and built in 1914. In 1981, the bridge was added to the National Register of Historical places on account of “event, Architecture/Engineering.”

Before this “event,” the bridge was known as a drinking spot for local teens as well as students from Eastern Illinois University. Otherwise, the bridge, which even 26 years ago was described as “old” and “creaky,” had a pretty mundane existence.

That all changed on the pleasant Sunday morning of October 19, 1980. According to newspaper reports, two men from rural Urbana spotted what looked like the body of a nude woman about 50 feet from the bridge as they drove past. A local man soon joined them at the scene and the three quickly discovered that the head, hands, and feet were missing from the cadaver. They called the sheriff’s office, and 20 minutes later a full investigation was underway.

Police used scuba divers and dredged the river to find clues, but the body parts, which had been severed “fairly cleanly,” were never found. There were several false leads in the case, including missing person reports, as well as a sack of clothes that was discovered north of Charleston. The cause of death, which probably lay in the head, was never determined.

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A Harrowing Trip Along Blood’s Point Road

Blood’s Point Road and Cemetery in rural Boone County, Illinois are settings for a variety of well-known local legends.

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As you drive along this lonely stretch of Northern Illinois road, you’ll first notice something out of the ordinary: there are no street signs. Even the graveyard on that furtive highway appears unnamed, as though local residents wanted to erase it from existence. Fortunately, maps still bear its unusual moniker: Blood’s Point Road.

Blood’s Point in rural Boone County, Illinois is a well-known local legend but has only been written about sparingly. The road and cemetery of the same name are home to a cornucopia of stories and myths, each one a variant on the last. The name of the road itself is enough to excite one’s imagination. What kind of event would leave such a name upon the landscape? A gruesome murder or massacre? An ancient battle?

Its origins are actually quite mundane. According to The Past and Present of Boone County, Illinois (1877), Blood’s Point was named after a prominent local family, the Bloods. Arthur Blood was the first white settler in Flora Township; a pleasant area that derived its name from the abundance of flower-covered fields.

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Monmouth’s Crybaby Bridge

This steel bridge three miles northwest of Monmouth, Illinois is one of many christened a “cry baby bridge” because of its alleged connection to infanticide.

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Many years ago, as lightning flashed and storm clouds swirled overhead, a young unwed mother—driven mad by the pain of abandonment, regret, and the fear of being ostracized—hurled her week-old baby boy over the trestles of this rural bridge into the swirling water below. Ever since, passersby have heard the spine-tingling cries of a baby struggling to breathe. Or so the story goes.

This one-lane, steel bridge spanning Cedar Creek three miles northwest of Monmouth, Illinois in Warren County is one of many christened a “cry baby bridge” because of its alleged connection to an incident like the one just described. Another popular story told is that an elementary school bus plunged off the side of the bridge during a flood. All the children drowned, but should your car break down while crossing the bridge, their ghosts will push it safely to the other side.

Because of these stories, otherwise mundane rural bridges have become the focus of intense local curiosity. Ohio alone has at least 24 nearly identical legends. Few residents of Monmouth have never heard of their cry baby bridge.

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Airtight Bridge Murder Part 3 of 3: Mystery Solved?

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2, “The Mystery Deepens”

In 1992, 12-years after the discovery of the body, there was a real break in the case. On November 20, the Sheriff’s Department held another press conference in Charleston, this time to announce that they had determined the identity of the Airtight victim. Her name was Diana Marie Riordan-Small, a resident of Bradley, Illinois, who disappeared from her home a short time before passersby found her remains over 100 miles away in Coles County.

The revelation was the result of cooperation between Coles County Sheriff’s Detective Art Beier and Detective Steven Coy of the Bradley Police Department. Slowly, a picture of what happened to Diana Small began to emerge.

The reason no one matching the description of the body found at Airtight turned up in the missing persons reports was that no one reported Diana missing. “Her husband… told police he wasn’t all that concerned because Small had left home on occasions before,” the Journal Gazette reported. Diana’s mother and sister had joined a small Christian sect before moving west, where they became disconnected from Diana and her husband.

After nearly a decade, her sister, Virginia, left the church and moved to North Carolina. Virginia decided to get in touch with the rest of her family and learned of her sister’s disappearance, at which point she filed a missing persons report. According to Dave Fopay of the Journal Gazette, “Detective Art Beier saw the report on a national listing, realized Small’s descriptions matched that of the Airtight Bridge victim and contacted Bradley police.” A DNA test confirmed the match.

It turned out investigators early on in the case were right about one thing, the Airtight victim did have a child. Vanessa LaGessa was only two years old when her mother disappeared. She shed light on what happened after her mother’s disappearance, and what her family has gone through dealing with the tragedy. Understandably, her father did not want to discuss the incident. “I believe my dad honestly didn’t know how to tell me that my mother was murdered even as I got older,” she explained to the Times-Courier in 2008. Continue reading “Airtight Bridge Murder Part 3 of 3: Mystery Solved?”