This story was featured on our radio program as part of our on-air investigations. We were told the legend by a local man who’s family history goes back to the time of the incident. The man was told the story by his father and believes it to be true.
Arbor Cross Church was built in 1893 in the swamplands of the deep south. The town was a poor community and education consisted of little more then learning to grow what could be grown in the swampy soil, hunting game for meat, and keeping safe from alligators and other dangerous preditors that lurk in the dark.
Rev Alvin Carter was a bit progressive for his time. Being schooled in Medicine, he had been a town doctor from the North. After the death of his wife, he gave up his practice and his home to relocate in the south. The loss of his beloved wife made him decide to devote the remainder of his time to the lord and he became a preacher. At the age of 62, considered pretty old in his time, he had Arbor Cross Church constructed and on April 23, 1893 he dedicated the building to his late wife.
Rev. Carter built a solid congregation, teaching, not just religion, but also love and kindness, and secular things like science and literature. During Sunday School, he taught the people to read by using the bible and explained many of the ideas that people knew in the bigger cities. He encouraged questions and taught his church to think for themselves. Within the year, the congregation grew to over 50 people, some coming from miles away. Rev. Carter was well loved.
Jacob Kinnley was another story completely. Jacob had a mental disorder that would today be called Schizophrenia. He lived in an old shanty that was falling apart down in the deepest edge of the swamp. The bones of long dead animals could be found littering the grounds around his property and a few could be found decorating the outside of his house.
Now, Jacob would occasionally come into town, always talking to someone that only he could see. He was always disheveled and dirty. His eyes were manic and he seemed easily angered by his invisible friend. When he passed someone, he would quickly look away as if frightened and they could hear him telling the unseen person things like, “no, don’t hurt him” or “she doesn’t deserve to die”. Most people were more afraid of Jacob then they were willing to admit. Most believed that he ”traveled with the devil”.
Rev. Carter believed no such thing. He understood that Jacob was ill and being a man of kindness, he talked Jacob into coming with him to the church. He was somehow able to get through to him and become as close to a friend as was possible. Jacob stayed in a spare room on the church grounds and earned his keep by doing odd jobs around the church. Rev. Carter was able to reach Jacob and many of his symptoms seemed to disappear or at least lessen.
Although they were weary at first, the parishioners eventually began to get used to Jacob being around and even began to interact with him. The Reverend had taught them about mental illness and promised that Jacob was not a danger to them or anyone else.
Of course, like every small town across America, there were those who were angered by the inclusion of Jacob and deemed Arbor Cross Church “The House of Satan”. Word spread that the Reverend was giving shelter to the devil and a small group of parishioners stopped attending. Matters got worse when a mysterious illness plagued the small community and people began to die a slow, painful death.
The first symptom of the illness was small blisters all over the body that began to get larger and larger until they eventually burst and green ooze poured out of the openings. After that, the victim was struck with a fever so high that hallucinations were brought on. The sufferers began to speak nonsense and what even sounded like a foreign tongue. After about a week, the victim finally, mercifully fell into a deep coma and soon after, death would finally come. No amount of medicine or prayer seemed to do any good. The sickness was believed to be the work of the devil. Fear and paranoia swept the small community.
The weirdest thing about the illness, was that no member of Arbor Cross Church got sick, although those that had left were among the first to display symptoms of the disease. After about the twentieth person died, the preacher of a nearby church held a secret meeting. Rev. Donald Smith called in his two most loyal men. “The devil is at work in our midst’s”, he began. “He is killing our children and friends and bringing damnation upon our souls” he told them. “The lord commands that the unholy shall be struck down and our loved ones will be spared”.
That was all the encouragement that it took for Tom and James Wilkes to decide that Jacob Kinnely had to die.
Tom and James were brothers that were born to cause trouble. They were the bullies who terrorized the other kids as children and they were known to torture, maim and mutilate any animal unlucky enough to get caught in one of their traps. They were unable to find a rule that they were unwilling to break. Some would say that Tom and James were just “born bad”. As adults, they weren’t much better. Although they professed a devotion to Rev Smith and his church, they couldn’t be found without a whiskey bottle in tow and a curse word on their tongues.
Full of whiskey and self righteousness, the two set out to rid the world of the demon that was no doubt responsible for the sickness that would claim them all if they didn’t stop it. Once at Arbor Cross church, they found the doors of the Reverend’s small house unlocked as always. Quietly, they crept through the house until they found the room where Jacob Kinnley lay sleeping.
Without so much as a single pang of guilt, Tom Wilkes drove his six inch, double edged blade deep into Jacob’s chest. A gasp was the only sound that escaped Jacob’s lips as Tom drove the blade into him over and over again, stopping only to wipe the blood from his face. The local doctor would later document over thirty stab wounds to Jacob’s chest, neck, and face.
The commotion in the other room woke Rev. Carter and he got up to investigate. As he turned the corner, he saw Tom Wilkes covered in blood, standing over the mutilated body of the man he had tried so hard to save. That vision would be the last thing Rev. Carter would ever see. Before he could scream out, James Wilkes grabbed him from behind and with one slice, the Reverend’s throat became a bloody mess. Slowly, he fell to the ground, hand to his neck in useless attempt to stop the blood.
There was a “sort of” investigation of the crime, but Rev. Smith gave Tom and James an iron clad alibi, swearing that they were staying with him the evening of the massacre to have an all night prayer vigil for the ill in the community. No one ever questions the honesty of a preacher. Even those who doubted the story just went along with it because after the night of the murder, there were no further cases of the disease that had claimed the lives of so many innocent people.
The doors to Arbor Cross Church were locked for the first time since it’s construction and services were suspended indefinitely. No one wanted to step up to the pulpit in a church surrounded by so much horror. The building was left to rot and the small cemetery that held the remains of Rev. Carter and Jacob Kinnley was allowed to become overgrown by weeds and destroyed by time and weather.
The final chapter in this tale comes years later on the third anniversary of the gruesome murder. A couple of men happened to be out hunting and came across the abandoned and overgrown church. They had heard the stories that surrounded the property, after all, the story was already legend. They decided that it would be fun to have a look around inside the church and see if they could find anything of value, or at least take home a souvenir from the “Devil’s Church”.
The two brave men climbed into the church through a broken window and began their expedition. The building seemed to be completely dark and there was a stench of rotting meat and urine. The men would later claim that the smell of sulfur filled the air. The first man turned on his flashlight and beheld a sight that would forever stain his memory.
Above the alter was a life sized crucifix and nailed to that crucifix was what appeared to be the skinned remains of what looked like a man. Kneeling before the cross were two more bodies, also devoid of flesh. Police would later find that the remains belonged to Rev. Smith, Tom Wilkes, and James Wilkes. All three men had apparently been alive while the flesh was removed from their bodies, or at least when the removal began. There was no other sign of injury to the bodies. The killer was never found. Most people simply believed that after three years, the devil finally got his revenge.
*There are grave markers bearing the names of the Reverend and his charge, although we have changed the names in this telling. There are also birth and death records for the men accused of the crime and the dates do seem to line up with the story.
The church was eventually restored for historical purposes and much of the structure is the same as it was back then. The building that was the home of Rev. Carter and Jacob Kinnley also still stands.
It is said that if you are brave enough to come out here, you will experience all types of paranormal activity. We were told that the grave of the Reverend will glow with an eerie light and the church windows will light up and you may get a glimpse of Rev. Smith, peering through the window. It is also said that as you near the home of the Rev. Carter, you will hear gasping and gargling and an occasional plea for help.
It is said that this place is unholy and will bring your worst fears to life and you will experience hallucinations those fears. It is also said that the spirits of Rev. Carter and Jacob Kinnley will appear to those who are pure of intent. One spirit is said to be of light, the other, of shadow.
Anyone who has listened to this episode knows that we had technical problems from the very beginning. Because we have chosen to do the show live from the field, we have to rely on cell phone use. During the very beginning of the show, Karma lost the call and almost immediately, so did Lissa. Signal strength was very good in the area and the sky was clear. The girls use different types of cell phones on different networks. We still aren’t sure what happened.
We also had two ir lights quickly and completely drain of battery charge, one ir vidoe camera died after just a short period of time and an audio recorder turned off for no apparent reason. It later came back on by itself (or at least for a reason we can’t explain).