In celebration of Monday’s release of the highly-anticipated (and highly quirky) Mormon literature anthology Monsters & Mormons, I give you this classic ghost story written by John Lyon, Mormon poet.
It first appeared in the June 1883 issue of The Contributor.
“Murder Will Out”
by John Lyon
WHEN I was nine years old, I was terrified to go to bed alone, I had heard so many tales of ghosts, and witches, that I was afraid even at that advanced age of boyhood to sleep alone. My mother was a strong minded woman on every subject but one, and that was in the fear of spirits after death, and of their appearance to people who survived their decease. In consequence, this subject was often brought up by neighbors who came to visit her, and I became a retentive auditor and stored my mind with these spiritual relations, that to this day cause me to keep a sharp lookout, in out-of-the-way places, for something supernatural.
Among the innumerable stories thus told in my childhood, there was one I could never forget, which was related by a soldier’s wife, and which I believe was quite authentic. Her husband was a private in the Lanarkshire militia, and she was with the regiment as a laundress, in the seaport town of Dundalk, Ireland, in the year 1792, when this circumstance transpired.
In the above town there were two men who kept a store in partnership, doing an extensive business an all maritime articles, and they were thought by the public to have accumulated a great amount of wealth. Suddenly one of them left, and no reason could be imagined for his disappearance. Sometime had transpired, and there being no prospects of his return, his wife demanded that a settlement be made of their affairs in stock and trade. This was not done before in consequence of a report being circulated, that her husband had taken with him a large amount of money belonging to the firm, which the remaining partner had kept secret for the sake of his family. However, he complied with the lady’s desire, and an inventory was taken, that she might know her portion of the stock. This was done so rapidly and the value of the proceeds was so small, that her friends who had been interested in the division of the property, thought something was wrong, not only in the smallness of the amount of goods, and the largeness of the firm’s indebtedness; but the hurried way in which every thing was done by the partner, who had the property and stock in his possession, looked very suspicious. The lady whose grief was already extreme was still more, grieved to know that her husband who was esteemed, not only to be wealthy but honest, having held a respectable position in society, should without any apparent cause so suddenly leave, his worth reduced to an insignificant amount, compared with what it should be in view of his economical way of living, and the vast amount of business done as a ship storing merchant.
A short time after the settlement, the heart sick, and desolate lady lay in her sleepless bed thinking over her bereavement, and the strange turn of her lost husband’s affairs, when there he stood before her, seemingly bathed in blood! So real was the apparition that for a moment she thought he had returned to his home. Stretching out her hand she accosted him by name, and was in the act of rising from her couch, when he waved his hand to her, and said he was no more of this world, and that he had been permitted to appear, and reveal to her the mystery of his disappearance. He informed her, that he and his partner had gone out on a pleasure sailboat, and that the latter struck him down with a hatchet, tied a sack with a large stone in it to his body, and threw him into the sea. Her husband commanded her that she should go directly and inform the magistrates of this crime, and have the murderer apprehended, not only for his murder, but for swindling her out of his property. At this point of the spectres relation, the lady fainted, and when she had come to her senses the spirit was gone. The day following she went as the spirit had told her to the magistrate. When he heard the relation, looking upon it as a delusion, he said he could do nothing in the matter, as there were no witnesses to prove what she had told him.
Sorrowful, and disappointed she returned to her home, and when night again invited her to a weary sleepless couch, through vexation, and the nameless trepidation of a spiritual visitation, she lay down wide awake, when, lo! as she expected, her husband again appeared, and spoke to her in soothing encouraging language bidding her not to be afraid and telling her, as if he knew what the magistrate had said, in respect to having no witnesses to verify the truth that he had been murdered, that he would appear himself in person, at twelve o’clock on the morrow at the levee of the new dock-telling her to describe his wounds, which he showed her, and his appearance as she saw him on both nights.
As directed, the lady again called on the magistrate, and told him the request of the spectre. Still unbelieving, the official ordered a warrant for the apprehension of the accused partner. Early in the day the town of Dundalk was well informed of this wonderful affair, namely, that a dead man would appear as a witness against the murderer of himself! Thousands of people turned out on the levee, some laughing at the credulity of the story as a spirit hoax, others less infidel, and others firmly believing in the truthfulness of the revelation waited in patience, expecting to see a personage of the other world. To the surprise of the multitude, just as the sun was at the meridian, there the dead body of the lost man floated into the new harbor, his skull cloven, as before told. The authorities present thought the fact most damning, as no person could have brought the body to land precisely at the appointed hour, as it was seen borne by the waves when far out on the water, before the time specified it would arrive.
The person taken on suspicion that morning, when he heard of this wonderful appearance and discovery, seen by thousands, so corroborative of his guilt, confessed his crime, and also to robbing his partner’s widow, upon which confession he was brought before the lords of the justiciary, condemned and afterwards executed at the new dock. The place to this day is called the hangman’s harbor.
The person who told me this story was a spectator on the quay and saw the body float into the harbor.