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Mysterious America

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.”

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Mysterious America

Mystery and Tragedy at Airtight Bridge

A gruesome murder, eerie silence, and remote location combine to make any visitor’s hair stand on end at this steel bridge in rural Coles County.

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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Mysterious America

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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Mysterious America

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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Mysterious America

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.

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Mysterious America

Airtight Bridge Murder Part 2 of 3: The Mystery Deepens

Continued from Part 1, “A Gruesome Discovery”

As police cordoned off the bridge and word spread of the discovery, reporters and television crews descended on the remote location. The gruesome nature of the crime caused a sensation, and the story remained in the headlines for three days. It was the second time in three years someone had found a body at a popular hangout along the Embarras River in rural Coles County. In 1977, a local man named Andy Lanman died of a massive drug overdose at a spot south of Charleston known as “The Cellar.” He was missing for 25 days before hunters stumbled on his morphine-saturated body near the river.

Back at Airtight Bridge, police worked into the evening using scuba divers to scour the river for clues. But police never found the missing body parts, which the murderer had cut “fairly cleanly.” The cause of death was also never determined. Coles County Coroner Dick Lynch described the woman as being in her 20s, “rather flat-chested,” “not in the habit of shaving,” about 5 feet 9 inches, weighing around 130 pounds, with dark auburn hair. He deduced that she had not been dead more than a day or so, and that the murderer killed her somewhere other than at the bridge.

Coles County Sheriff Chuck Lister agreed. He believed the perpetrator(s) murdered the woman, dismembered her, and drove to Airtight with her body and “rolled [it] down the bridge embankment.” Police shipped her remains to Springfield for examination by pathologist Dr. Grant Johnson at Memorial Medical Center. He could not uncover anything definite because of the advanced state of decomposition and lack of vital extremities.

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Mysterious America

Airtight Bridge Murder Part 1 of 3: A Gruesome Discovery

On a typical autumn evening, Charlie and his girlfriend Megan left the campus of Eastern Illinois University to enjoy a game of miniature golf at Lincoln Springs Resort. They found themselves driving down a rural route somewhere northeast of Charleston. The sun had gone down before the two could find their way back to a main road, and Charlie hadn’t bothered to bring a map. As trees and fields flew past, it was clear they were getting further and further away from their destination.

Tensions were already running high when their headlights fell on two pairs of eyes that shimmered near the mailbox of a white, double-wide trailer. As Charlie’s silver Mitsubishi Outlander drove past, two unleashed dogs jumped at the car and chased it to the edge of the paved road. They disappeared into the dirt and dust kicked up by the Outlander as it ground the chalky gravel under its wheels.

Navigating several sharp curves, Megan and Charlie’s hearts raced as the road pitched downward and the fallow cornfields disappeared behind thick woods and desolate meadows. Charlie slowed down to avoid spinning out, and everything became eerily quiet aside from the sound of tires against the road.