We had SO much fun last week that we’re going to do it again!
This Friday, May 8, join Tasha for an open discussion on Lori Vallow, Letecia Stauch, UFOs, and more! Bring your case suggestions with you. Tell a friend to tell a friend. If you guys continue to show up, we’ll make this a thing!
This is the latest installment of the Tales From My Hood segment. Today I’m going to tell you about the weirdest story that Gary, IN has to offer. This situation made international news and even had a documentary to cover the case. To make things even more interesting, I knew the family this shocking story revolved around. Grab your wine, light a fat one, and pull up a chair because this week we discuss “The Exorcisms of LaToya Ammons”!
A Tale From MY Hood
What’s up to my Faithful Few and a big welcome to any newcomers to Sinister Silhouettes! I’m your host, Tasha, and do I have an awesome story to share. This is the latest installment of the Tales From My Hood segment. Today I’m going to tell you about the weirdest story that Gary, IN has to offer. This situation made international news and even had a documentary to cover the case. To make things even more interesting, I knew the family this shocking story revolved around. Grab your wine, light a fat one, and pull up a chair because this week we discuss “The Exorcisms of LaToya Ammons”!
First, let me explain how I know the players. It was Gary, IN circa 1986 and I had recently lost my mother to cancer. My dad was a steelworker and his job required him to work varying shifts. That meant that he would need help ensuring that us kids had proper supervision as he did shift work. He placed an ad in the classified section of the Post Tribune, our local paper. After interviewing dozens of people and even testing a few out on a trial basis with us (some of them were some real characters- I should probably write a book) he came upon Rose Campbell. She was a thirty-something mother of 3 back then. Out of all the women that my dad hired to be our caretaker, she was the one I was most fond of.
At the time, I was about 13-years-old, my sister was 8, and my only brother who was still at home was 16. Rose had a daughter, Latoya, who was roughly the same age as my sister. You guys kind of informally met my sister when she pod bombed us in a previous episode. She was an odd little girl, and I say that with nothing but love. My sister and almost all of her friends were absolutely OBSESSED with horror movies! She loved Children of the Corn, all the Freddy Krueger movies, People Under the Stairs, Amityville and the Exorcist- at 8 years old! So, while Rose’s daughter hung out with my sister, she was introduced to the absolute worst horror movies of the time.
Before anyone comes for my family about how irresponsible it was for us to be exposed to that level of horror at such a young age- DON’T. The worst horror in the world was losing our mom. We survived that. The second worst thing we survived was coming of age in Gary, IN! Trust me, you don’t want that for yourselves. But anywho-
Time went on, and my dad met a lady that he fell in love with. She was a single mother of one daughter and after dating for a while they moved in with our family. Suddenly, she was doing all the things that Rose was being paid to do, so we didn’t need a nanny anymore. Over the years, we would still stay in touch with Rose and my sister stayed in contact with LaToya at school.
Now, we’ll fast-forward many years. In January, 2014, I was reading the Post Tribune while having my morning coffee. We were sitting under about 10” of snow and it was bitterly cold. You know- a regular winter day in Gary. However, what I read in that morning’s paper made my blood run colder than the wind chill factor on the lakefront. The story went like this:
In 2011, LaToya Ammons and her three young children- along with her mother, Rose- rented a home on 38th and Carolina. After living there for a while, strange things began to happen.
It began with huge black horse flies swarming around the home in the dead of winter. Rose stated that they would kill them and kill them- but they kept coming back. Shortly after, the children began to display troubling and violent behavior. Their eyes would roll back in their heads, and they would speak in growling voices. The family would hear thudding footsteps throughout the home and even would find muddy footprints on the floors where no one had been. Then shit really got real. The children were being hurled across rooms by invisible forces. The violence intensified, with one son threatening to kill the other and choking him until he was pried off. LaToya’s daughter was found levitating her bed before descending back on it. This was apparently witnessed by a house full of guests- people who never returned to visit the Ammons family at the home.
At this point, Rose realized that they may be dealing with supernatural forces and she implored her daughter to reach out to people who could deal with this type of situation. LaToya reached out to churches in the area, but no one took her seriously. In the meantime, the attacks on the children became more frequent and more bizarre. The spirits in the home would torment them all day and night. LaToya’s 12-year-old daughter had to get stitches after a headboard flew across the room, striking her in the head.
LaToya finally found a pastor who visited the home. He told her there were spirits there. Latoya was told to anoint her children’s head and feet with oil, as well as all the doors and windows. He also recommended cleaning the house with ammonia and bleach, burning sage, and reciting the 91st Psalm. She and a friend performed the ritual and for three days all was quiet. This must have pissed those evil spirits off because they came back with a vengeance! Rose would find her 6-year-old grandson sitting in the closet talking to someone only he could see.
After the ritual failed to have lasting results, the family turned to two clairvoyants. The witches told them to get the fuck out of that house because it was inhabited by 200 demons. I guess they took a headcount or some shit, but one fucking demon is too many for me. But Ammons couldn’t afford to break the lease to leave. She had to find a way to protect her family until they were able to get out of there.
The demonic activity was a huge disruption in the lives of the family. Now, Rose said that she was immune from attack because she was born with a “protector” that prevented her from being possessed- although she did claim to have seen a shadowy figure pacing in the living room. The rest of the family was constantly being harassed- so much so that the children were missing a lot of school.
LaToya then reached out to Dr. Geoffrey Onyeukwu. He was a primary care physician- in fact he was my doctor for many years. She explained what was going on with the children and insisted that they were possessed. Dr. Onyeukwu is a man of science, though. He believed that there had to be a reasonable explanation for the children’s behavior. He visited the family’s home to observe them and was shocked by their behavior. He deemed it necessary to call law enforcement when they cursed him, began to thrash about, and finally passed out. The children were transported by ambulance to Northlake Methodist Hospital. One of the boys came to and acted regularly. The other was still violent and had to be restrained.
When the police responded to the situation, they listened to the doctor’s complaint and gave Rose and LaToya an opportunity to explain their situation. A representative from DCS and a psychologist also were present to get to the bottom of things. In the tiny exam room, Rose held her grandson by the hand as she answered the DCS worker’s questions. It was then that the 7-year-old began growling and showing his teeth. His eyes rolled to the back of his head and then- in front of the caseworker and psychologist- the child walked backward up a wall to the ceiling and flipped off the ceiling onto the floor. At that point, the caseworker and doctor got the fuck up out of there.
It’s time to throw the whole kid away. I mean, he can’t come back home with me after I see some shit like that. Hell, forget trying to break the lease. I’m burning the whole house down if I see some shit like that- but I digress.
The children ended up being temporarily removed from the home. Rose and LaToya returned and still were haunted by the unseen forces at work in the house.
Enter Father Michael Maginot. He was called to the home to investigate whether they were dealing with an actual demonic possession. While in the tiny 3 bedroom home, Maginot was greeted by a flickering light. Each time he approached the light, the flickering stopped. The blinds in the home began to move as if being blown by a breeze. There was no wind entering the windows- no air current to explain the phenomena. Maginot also noted the manifestation of wet footprints on the hardwood floors. Neither he nor the women had walked through any water upon entering the house. He had seen enough. He told Rose and LaToya to leave the home because it was not safe. There was at least 1 demonic presence in the house. The two ladies packed a few belongings and stayed with a relative.
They weren’t gone long. One week later three police officers, the DCS worker, and Rose went to the house so that the caseworker could inspect the home. Rose escorted the group throughout the home including the basement. In her professional opinion, this was the epicenter of the demonic activity. There was an altar set up on a small table. A ring of salt was placed around it to dissuade the evil spirits. Directly under the stairs was an area that was dug up to expose dirt. The police were using digital recorders and their phones to record the visit. Suddenly, the voice recorder’s batteries drained completely. The officer who held it mentioned that he had just put fresh batteries in that morning. When he later listened to the audio he captured, he heard an other-worldly voice whisper “Hey”. In photos captured, another officer claims that ghostly figures appeared that were certainly not visible to the naked eye. These officers were now convinced that some top tier bullshit was happening at that house.
LaToya’s children remained in state custody until she could find suitable housing since her place was crowded with her family and the 200 damn demons. In the meantime, she was visited by the three officers who had initially accompanied the DCS caseworker, Father Maginot, two new Lake County police officers and a canine, and a new caseworker. The original case manager refused to go back to the home. If they were looking for supernatural activity, the demons didn’t disappoint. After going into the basement, the caseworker noted an odd liquid dripping on a wall. She touched the fluid. It was slippery and sticky at the same damn time. The group went back upstairs and looked at each bedroom. In one bedroom there was a film on the blinds. Father Maginot didn’t notice it there earlier, so the officers cleaned it off the blinds then sealed the door to the room.
At about this time, the caseworker began to have a strange sensation on the fingers that she used to touch the unknown fluid. When she looked at her hand, it was ghostly white. Then it began to feel as if it were broken. Ten minutes later, she was in a full-blown panic attack and was removed from the house. Father Maginot thought that there may be something under the stairs that could explain the unusual activity. The officers went downstairs with a shovel to uncover anything that might be used in satanic rituals- particularly a pentagram or human remains. After digging a 4-foot by 3-foot hole beneath the stairs, unearthing a pink press-on fingernail, a white pair of panties, a political shirt pin, a lid for a small cooking pan, socks with the bottoms cut off below the ankles, candy wrappers and a heavy metal object that looked like a weight for a drapery cord, police raked the dirt back over the hole.
Where are my Creole chicks at? Y’all know what they say about burying personal effects- specifically underwear. Could someone have put roots on LaToya? There were rumors that she had been in an abusive relationship. Would a jilted ex be sinister enough to put a curse on her and her family?
Well, there were now a large number of witnesses to unnatural events in the home. But wait- there’s more! Remember that room the police sealed off? Before leaving, they opened it up. To their absolute horror, the film had returned on the blinds! Maginot told the officers that the oil was a manifestation of evil energies or a demonic presence. He knew what he had to do. He would petition the bishop to perform the rites of exorcism on LaToya Ammons and conduct an intense blessing of the home. That same day, Maginot performed a minor exorcism on Ammons. The ritual consisted of prayers, statements, and appeals to cast out demons.
Two police officers and Ilic, the DCS family case manager, attended the ritual. lic said she left believing that something was going on, although she wouldn’t go as far as saying it was demonic. She said she got chills during the nearly two-hour rite.”We felt like someone was in the room with you, someone breathing down your neck.”
Ilic said she had a string of medical problems after visiting the home. A week after she visited the house for the last time, Ilic said she got third-degree burns from a motorcycle. Within 30 days, she also broke three ribs Jet Skiing, broke a hand when she hit a table, then broke an ankle running in flip-flops.” After breaking three ribs, I’m pretty sure I would have wrapped myself in bubble wrap and sat the fuck down somewhere. Less than 30 days later, she was RUNNING? In flip-flops? Unless someone was chasing her ,that’s next level crazy. She later said, “I had friends who wouldn’t talk to me because they believed that something had attached itself to me. I’m already evil. They try to find something that’s not evil and corrupt it. They wouldn’t waste their time on me.” Nice to know a woman who has the power to remove your kids from your home and turn your life on its head considers herself “evil”. I know- that’s low-hanging fruit, but I digress.
After the ritual, Father Maginot told LaToya to look up the names of the demons who were tormenting her. He told her that there was power in those names. Now, this seems like it would be a job for a priest, but LaToya and a friend pored the internet looking for names of demons that matched the type of harassment she was experiencing. The internet kept shutting down, the computer turned off several times, and LaToya was sick as hell, but they found some names. They also discovered (I’m not sure how) that LaToya had several high-ranking sergeant and lieutenant demons assigned to her.
After the minor rite, Maginot said Bishop Melczek gave him permission to exorcise Ammons. The ritual is the same as the minor exorcism but more powerful because it has the backing of the Catholic Church, Maginot said.
Father Maginot ultimately performed three major exorcisms on LaToya – two in English, and the last one in Latin – in June 2012 at his Merrillville, IN church. Maginot said his voice continued to get louder and more forceful until the demon weakened. He said he could tell how strong the demon was by how much LaToya convulsed.
Two police officers, who had kept in touch with Maginot since the home investigation, stood nearby in case LaToya needed to be restrained.
She said she prayed with Maginot until it became too painful.
She said she felt as if something inside her was trying to hold on and inflict pain at the same time. She said it was different from a natural pain but felt as intense as giving birth.
Before her third exorcism, LaToya and Rose moved to Indianapolis. They put a whole lot of miles between themselves and the demons. They still had to go back to Gary because the kids were still in DCS custody. Father Maginot performed the final exorcism of LaToya Ammons in Latin. She convulsed as the priest condemned the demon and compelled it to leave her. She was still and responsive while Father Maginot prayed over her. Then she fell asleep. The rites lasted two hours. When they were done, Father Maginot’s assistant wrote the very long name of a demon on a sheet of paper. They sealed it and put a barrier of salt around it. If LaToya had any more issues with old what’s his name, they would burn the paper. Rose and LaToya headed back to Indianapolis. That night, LaToya experienced horrendous nightmares. She called Father Maginot. The paper was burned. And with that, the entire ordeal was over. She eventually got her children back and things went back to normal.
Nahh- no the fuck it didn’t. The story got out. The local, then national, then international media started sniffing around 3866 Carolina Street in Gary, IN. Of course, by this time the homeowner had rented the home out. The tenants were not very happy to have all this activity around their home all day and all freakin night. But media gonna media- shit was an absolute clusterfuck for months. People the world over were talking about the “Demon House” and this caught the attention of paranormal investigators everywhere.
Enter Zak Bagans. Zachary Bagans is an American paranormal investigator, actor, television personality, museum operator, and author. He is the principal host of the Travel Channel series, Ghost Adventures. Zak had heard the stories. He. Wanted. That. House.
You know- money talks, bullshit walks. Zak rode into Gary with $35K and left with the deed to the crown jewel of the paranormal universe. He was seeing nothing but opportunity. He wanted to film the shenanigans that he could get into with 200 motherfucking demons! Big fun, right? Well, it’s all fun and games til somebody gets hurt. Y’all know what that means, right? I came to bring the pain hardcore to the brain.
Now, I’m gonna laugh an awful lot at the shitshow that was the “Demon House” documentary. I think I felt some kind of way because old Zakky boy jumped the whole thing off with a whole lie. See, he said that he had to wait to begin filming because there were “squatters” in the house. In reality, those are the people who were getting tired of the press camping out in front of their rental. If a director would lie about something so fucking insignificant, I can’t believe shit that comes after that. I took that shit personally. Cause in Gary, IN you don’t call motherfuckers paying rent “squatters”. You call them tenants. So, now I have to pick Zak’s shitty documentary apart on principle.
First of all, fuck yo bitch and the clique you claim… Nah- I don’t have to go that hard on Zak. But, I will point out that he couldn’t score an interview with LaToya and her mom. Seems they had sold the rights to their story to a big production company. He was able to talk to Gary Police Captain Charles Austin, who was one of the officers present for some of the paranormal activity. This guy would be believable if he didn’t sound like a complete lunatic as he described his experiences. He provided the photos and audio that was recorded in the house during his visits. Present in the photos, were sinister silhouettes (get it?) but they could have been from anything. Have you ever heard of pareidolia? Pareidolia (/pærɪˈdoʊliə/parr-i-DOH-lee-ə) is the tendency for incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer, such as seeing shapes in clouds, seeing faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or hearing hidden messages in music. Pareidolia can be considered a subcategory of apophenia. Apophenia (/æpoʊˈfiːniə/) is the tendency to mistakenly perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things. And these motherfuckers were perceiving connections from bursts of light and shadows because they expected to see an apparition. I guess I‘ve shown my hand. I don’t believe any of this nonsense. Now, I know that my audience will likely be split about this- I welcome your correspondence on this and any matter, but for now, I’ll continue to hate on the whole damn story.
Zak tries to convince us that on his first night in the home with his crew, he was overcome with an aggressive energy that made him attempt to assault his cameraman. Unfortunately, this encounter was only captured by the home surveillance system so there was no audio. We have to take his word that this little spat wasn’t about something else entirely. And right now, Zak’s word ain’t worth much to me. That tends to happen when you start a relationship off with a lie- but anywho.
We later see an apparition in the bathroom of the house that looks remarkably like the shadow of someone’s hand around the lens. Don’t worry, though- Zak turns the footage over to an expert who assures us that this is definitely not a hand. I don’t believe you. You need more people.
Then, a lady named Meka caught up with Zak, telling him that she used to live at 3866 Carolina Street. She visited the home with her three children out of curiosity. In fairness, Zak warned her about bringing her kids to a home said to have 200 demons that consistently preyed on children. But hey, there’s only 15 minutes of fame so the whole family had to get in front of the camera. At least one of them would be a star.
Predictably, one of the children takes an evil spirit home with her. The mother frantically called Zak three weeks after their visit. She tells him that her daughter had become uncharacteristically combative with her and also attempted suicide. Yep- shit escalated QUICKLY. The biggest question I had was why the FUCK did the mother call Zak before the police arrived to her house? I’m not sure he should have been at the top of her mind. Meka- this has the smell of HOAX all over it. Now, I’m not positive that this child fabricated this story at the urging of her mother to play a bigger part in this documentary but- if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck- QUACK, QUACK- it’s a duck, man. It’s a duck.
I’m also not saying that I didn’t ponder showing up at the Demon House in full makeup and dressed like I was going to the damn Soul Train Awards. I may have considered it. But I wouldn’t involve my son in my deception. Supported by nothing but gut instinct, I feel Meka’s story is a bit contrived.
Zak met back up with the family to discuss what had happened. The “possessed” child claimed to have no recollection of even meeting him. Meka was all smiles when she talked about the horror of her daughter’s suicide attempt. Her whole affect was off- it seemed like she was talking about a birthday party instead of a near death experience. She also stated that this same daughter also inexplicably had the number 6 carved in her back because why not?
Then there was the exorcism of this child. I swear when Father Maginot (still on the clock for his 15 minutes), prayed over her she was literally holding back laughter. If you’ve seen the documentary tell me if you agree. After the demon was successfully cast out, we don’t see Meka and family again.
After one of Zak’s camera crew, apparently besieged by evil entities, goes berserk in their hotel, he is forced to fire him. At this time another crew member had already quit. The demon house had already made Zak behave antagonistically. For some reason, after seeing all this crap go on, Zak decides to have himself boarded into the house overnight and alone.
We see snippets of Zak yelling for the spirits to leave him alone. He hears a woman’s voice clearly but there is no one else in the house. Of course, we shouldn’t just assume that this is a neighbor’s voice, we are led to believe that this voice was coming from within the room that Zak was sleeping in. Zak, baby, Gary is the city that never sleeps. I’m not sure where he is from, but we kinda expected to hear things at night. I’d rather it be voices than gunshots.
At some point before morning, Zak’s eyes had begun to cross and he had double vision. After seeing his doctor, he learned that this would forever be a part of his life. He has an eye condition that causes him to have horizontal double vision. He was told that the surgery required to reverse this ran a risk of leaving him blind. He opted, instead, to wear prism glasses to correct his vision. The condition could be caused by neurological damage or disease, but Zak is 100% positive that it had something to do with being in that house.
By the end of the show, Zak decided to just tear the house down. Who cares if the 200 demons attach themselves anywhere else, right? I guess Gary has so many demons, these new ones would have to get in line. Still, after all he had been through, Zak Bagans couldn’t let the house go entirely. He kept several “mementos”, including the stairs that led to the basement.
There are just a couple more pieces of evidence that may give a little insight into the case of LaToya Ammons. First of all, in 2009 she had a DCS warning given to her. Why? Her children were missing too much school. This was 2 years BEFORE moving to the so-called “Demon House” at 3866 Carolina. Second, her landlord said all the demon talk started when she fell behind on the rent. No tenants before or after ever spoke of unusual happenings in the house. Third, her step-mother has gone on record stating that she doesn’t believe her. She thinks that there may be mental health issues. The stories were making life difficult for LaToya’s siblings. They all wanted to distance themselves from the entire ordeal. Lastly, LaToya has been in the local news since her experience with the house. Why? She claims her apartment in Indianapolis is covered in mold and affecting her family. What is it with this family and houses?
No matter what, I appreciate everything Rose did for my family in the 80’s, but there is one more thing that is truly baffling to me about this story. If the paranormal activity centered mostly around the children, why did LaToya have three exorcisms? That is one of the dumbest parts of this whole thing. In fact, this is just one of many things that make it a conspiracy and a true-crime. It’s so dumb to me that it’s criminal.
At the end of it all, there is one person to blame for this whole fucking spectacle- my sister, Felicia. But how could she know LaToya would take those movies so seriously?
That’s it, that’s all for The Exorcisms of LaToya Ammons- this week’s Tale From MY Hood. Tell me what you think about this. Make a believer out of me- if you have had paranormal experiences that you’d like to share shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. My social media handles are tcbytb on all the things. The website is where you’ll find a shitload of sources- tcbytb.com. Beginning April 29, Audioburst will be featuring Sinister Silhouettes as a featured podcast on its app- I hope my Faithful Few will download the app and listen. Do me favor and tell a friend. Last but certainly not least, please rate and review Sinister Silhouettes on your platform of choice. The name change is going to make every review super important so the show can be discovered! Thanks so much for all your support, guys! I can’t wait to get together here again next week. Until then, stay outta the shadows!
I’ve got great news! Beginning April 29, 2020, Sinister Silhouettes will be featured on the home screen of theAudioburst Mobile App! That’s an excellent chance to grow our community- it’s kinda a big deal. I’ll be featured for one month. Please, if you haven’t already, download the app on your phone and listen to Sinister Silhouettes (and all your faves) IN THE APP! That way, Audioburst will know that I have support from my audience and may feature us again. Also, this would be an absolutely perfect time to share the app with friends- and of course, suggest Sinister Silhouettes!
I know things are tight right now. Some of you wish you could do more for the show. This is your chance to do something that costs nothing and means a lot. Continue to rate, review, share, and support! I appreciate you taking out part of your week to hang out with me.
Remember, look forSinister Silhouettes on theAudioburst Mobile App on April 29!! Oh! And stay outta the shadows!
Earl Van Best Jr. was 27 years old when he met Judy Chandler, 13 at the time. It was October 1961 and they were in front of an ice cream shop in San Francisco. He became fixated on the teen, but Van Best knew he was far too old to be trying to court Judy. Worse, she had a less than ideal home life- her father was said to be abusive which made her a prime target for a guy who knew how to say all the right things.. Van Best did continue his pursuit and the two began sneaking to see one another for months. The couple was soon found out, and the whole city was disturbed to know a pedophile was operating and grooming young girls in their area. After running away together, Van Best and Judy eventually eloped in Reno, Nevada.
Their illicit relationship was tabloid news in the ‘60s and in July of 1962, Van Best ended up behind bars for statutory rape. The marriage was annulled and Chandler was sent to a juvenile facility. In February of 1962 true perversion prevailed and Van Best got Chandler to again run off with him to Mexico. While there, Chandler became pregnant and Van Best began to show his true colors. He was having problems holding down a job and according to Judy, he asked her to turn tricks while she was pregnant. Before the baby was born, the couple continued to elude the law- they made stops in California and finally settled in Louisiana for a while.
Judy was all alone when she gave birth to Earl Van Doren Best, Jr, on Feb 12, 1963, when she was just 15 years old. Van Best was not going to win father of the year when the baby was born- in fact, he would routinely lock the crying child in a footlocker. Judy would do everything she could to protect her son, and she had considered leaving Van Best because of his complete disinterest in the baby and his constant abuse of her. She got in contact with her mother, who allegedly told her that she could come home but the baby couldn’t come with her.
Their son was 1 month old when Van Best announced that the baby had to go. He jumped on a train from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Around 11:30 am, Van Best found himself at 736 North Boulevard where he entered the building with the baby and came out without him. Baby Van Best had been abandoned in the stairwell of a building by his father. He was found by a woman about 5 hours later.
Upon finding out that Van Best really did get rid of her baby, Judy found the strength to leave. Amazingly, the pedophile called the authorities on Judy and she was promptly arrested. Of course, she had dirt on him as well so he ended up back in the slammer.
The whole saga was constantly reported on by San Francisco media outlets, most scathingly by Paul Avery at the San Francisco Chronicle (?).
The poor baby was adopted into a very loving family. Loyd and Leona Stewart renamed the infant “Gary Stewart” and treated him as their own, but their son still wanted to know who he was and where he came from.
The Ice Cream Romance could be a true crime episode all by itself, but today it serves as the prelude to a possible conspiracy to cover up the identity of one of the most notorious serial killers of all time. In his quest to find his birth mother, Gary Stewart believes he stumbled upon the name of the Zodiac.
The Zodiac killer has been covered extensively in episodes of well-known podcasts, on documentaries, and even on the big screen most recently in 2007’s Zodiac (starring Robert Downey, Jr as Paul Avery, Mark Ruffalo, and Jake Gyllenhaal). I’ll eventually tell the entire story of the murders committed by the Zodiac, but today I want to give my full attention to Gary Stewart and his journey.
After years of both of them searching, Gary found his birth mother. She was Judy Gilford (formerly Chandler). As one could imagine, Gary had many questions for his birth mother, but it seemed like she couldn’t give him all the answers he had hoped for. He did find out that she never meant to give him up. That may have been somewhat of a relief to Gary, finding out that his mother did love him. When he heard what his father had done, he initially had no desire to find out where he was. In time, however, curiosity and that incomplete feeling washed over him again. He wanted to meet the man who abandoned him all those years ago. He felt a need to clear the air.
Judy was a big help to Gary because she had connections in law enforcement. Her husband Rotea Gilford was a cop in San Francisco before his death in 1998. Through her connections with the police, Gary was provided with his father’s name, date of birth and social security number.
According to Gary, after getting that information, the police became hesitant to give him any other leads pertaining to Earl Van Best.
Gary had enough info to discover he had siblings on his father’s side of the family who lived in Austria. When he reached out to them, they politely declined to provide any details about dear old dad, except that he had abandoned the family years ago.
After that rejection, Gary decided he would call off his search. One day, while watching TV, Gary and his son Zach were floored by what they saw on Cold Case Files. A police sketch of the Zodiac Killer from 1969 was on the screen. Zach remarked that this guy bore a striking resemblance to Gary. Gary thought he looked like someone else entirely. He went to his folder of research on his birth father, then took out a photo and could not believe his eyes. He was looking at a face, from that era, that matched the sketch.
From that moment on, Gary dug up everything he could on the Zodiac. He claimed that he had proof that Van Best’s movements in the late 60’s- early 70s lined up with the murderer’s. He said he could trace his father’s involvement with Anton La Vey- head of the church of Satan and Charles Manson. He had proof that Earl Van Best’s father was a codebreaker who exercised his son’s brain by challenging him to solve cryptograms. It was well known that Zodiac liked to use ciphers to taunt the police and the public. Gary also claimed that Earl Van Best’s name was hidden in one of the ciphers. Van Best had a grudge against Paul Avery for his embarrassing coverage of the Ice Cream Romance. Avery was the only journalist to receive a personal threat from Zodiac. Gary dug up Judy and Earl’s marriage certificate. He found a handwriting analyst who ascertained the writing on that certificate matched the handwriting of the Zodiac. He also submitted a DNA sample that he says indicates he shared genetic markers with DNA from a stamp that was used on a letter sent to newspapers by Zodiac. There were more claims made by Stewart that seemed to point to the fact that Zodiac was indeed Gary’s biological father, Earl Van Best.
So, if Gary has all this circumstantial evidence that points directly to his father, why would the police NOT consider his research to close this ice-cold case? Gary submits that the San Francisco police (including Judy Gilford’s deceased husband, Rotea) bungled the investigation. They allegedly had interviewed Van Best and Gilford noted that he was the pedophile who had kidnapped, abused, and impregnated his now-wife. For some reason, the case was botched and buried because of this. If this was true, not only had Gary unmasked Zodiac but he had also stumbled upon one of the biggest cover ups ever.
The police may have ignored Gary’s findings, but Susan Mustafa- a true-crime author- found them to be intriguing. She and Gary pored over his research and before you know it she was set to co-author a book with him. This story was sure to make a shitload of money because EVERYONE who is about this true crime life wants to know the identity of the Zodiac. Of course, armchair detectives around the country were all pissed off because every good web sleuth has their own theory about the Zodiac. They mostly dismissed Gary’s claim because it didn’t line up with their own speculations. I myself would be thrilled to know who this fucker is- just like I was when the world found out that Joseph DeAngelo is allegedly the Golden State Killer (I can’t wait till that bastard pleads guilty so I can remove that “allegedly”). But, I digress. So, what happened after the book was published in 2014?
Duh- it became a New York Times bestseller, that’s all!
It has a rating of 4.1/5 on Amazon’s reviews.
Just like the true-crime community in general, the reviews are pretty divided.
I could not put this book down. The whole story is so well written and put together. I am completely convinced that Earl Van Best Jr is the Zodiac killer. I did not think that I would be so thoroughly convinced. I am really surprised that so many people are being critical about the “lack of evidence.” Back in the day and even now, without DNA, many cases are won if you have enough convincing circumstantial evidence. Nowadays, most of us prefer DNA, or both, but honestly, just comparing his picture to the sketch, and taking into account his unique scar on his finger which matched a fingerprint left behind from one of the Zodiac crime scenes alone was huge!
It lacks significant evidence. All the victims looked like mom…I don’t see it. EVB Jr photo and Zodiac sketch …many people could have be seen as be as bearing a resemblance to a sketch. Perhaps there is something to the handwriting but too small sample of EVB Jr writings in my opinion to give so much potential of a match even from a Professional. Lastly, no DNA TEST. AND the cyphers, seems that many people have found various names with no definitive answers with confidence.
Despite the varying opinions, the book was a huge success. Earlier this year, FX and Hulu teamed up to give us a 4 part docu-series that takes a deep dive into the life of Gary Stewart, an adoptee who needed to find himself and the research he did that apparently uncovered the Zodiac. It was directed by Academy Award nominee Kief Davidson and Ross Dinerstein. Wow! We met law enforcement officers, the handwriting analyst, Susan Mustafa, Judy Gilford (who is now estranged from her biological son after he wrote that book without giving her a heads up) and so many more people who Gary says substantiate his story. The series was well done and I found myself wondering if this was it. Had the Zodiac finally been named?
Sadly, it appears he has not. The documentary fairly laid out Gary’s evidence and told his story of searching for his identity. It shed light on the struggles of many adoptees who have little to no knowledge of who they are. It made me scratch my head and ponder whether there was a conspiracy to keep Zodiac’s identity a secret. It made me look forward to the final episode aptly titled “The Truth”. In it, we learned that Gary Stewart was an unreliable narrator. And it finally revealed enough truth to make me doubt not only Gary’s story but his motivation.
It seems that Gary saw that sketch on Cold Case Files and immediately became married to the idea that his dad was a serial killer. All the evidence he “found” was carefully manipulated to fit his narrative. Yes- Earl Van Best resembled the sketch, but -real talk- half of the white guys in this documentary resembled the sketch. The marriage certificate was filled out by the judge presiding over his parents’ marriage, NOT by Van Best. The handwriting analyst who definitively said that the certificate was filled out by the Zodiac was debunked by his own peers. The DNA Gary submitted was never matched against the known sample of the Zodiac. All of the evidence that placed Van Best in the areas that Zodiac was known to be in was stretched by Gary to fit times and dates. Susan Mustafa and Gary turned on one another, each blaming the other for failing to check and double-check the facts surrounding the case. Gary accused his biological mom of selectively forgetting details of her life with Van Best- and if she did, could you blame her? She was a REAL victim of Van Best, also. Yep- the final episode was a real shit show. Thus, I spent 4 hours watching this show and the only thing I’m sure of is that Gary Stewart was obsessed with the thought that Earl Van Best was the Zodiac Killer. Obsession is one of those things that lets you see what you want to see. Gary NEEDED his biological father to be a MONSTER. It would explain why he took him to 736 North Boulevard and left him in a stairwell. It would explain why he never looked for him. It would validate his worth if the person who threw him away was a fucking MURDERER. Even if Van Best is not the Zodiac, he was a terrible person. If his only crimes were against Judy and Gary, that qualifies him as a shitty individual. And shitty individuals deserve shitty endings. Earl Van Best got his.
He died in 1994, choking on his own vomit in a bar in Mexico City, Stewart said. He was buried in an unmarked grave where Gary and his son were the first visitors. That’s it, that’s all- The Most Dangerous Animal is finally in the books.
What do you think of Gary’s story- also, who is your favorite Zodiac suspect? Let me know! I’m still TCbyTB on all the things, including my blog at TCbyTB.com where you’ll find sources and shit. There’s also a little donate button in case you are so inclined. My email is still TcByTb@gmail.com if you’d like to catch up with me that way. I can’t wait to holla at you all next week- until then Stay outta the Shadows. Peace!!
Being in this predicament made me think of how poorly I treat myself. The few minutes I take to put my thoughts down have become exponentially important to me. In these moments, I force myself to think about ME. Well, not only to think about me, but to consider alternate ways of doing the things that matter. I get to imagine a life that has me earning money doing what I love, taking better care of my health, and maybe even falling in love (who knows?).
In years past, it was admirable to put any and every one first. Single mother, doing everything I could to raise my son. People actually congratulated me for that when I should have been taught to balance parenthood with placing some priority on myself. Now that my son is grown, I find that the only thing I know how to do is be “mama”. Of course, I am coming around to again finding out who “Tasha” is through creative outlets like blogging and podcasting. Oh- and being ill. I have had an abundance of time to figure out what I like, dislike, and everything in between.
So as my favorite First Lady put it: I’ll take control of my time. I’ll take control of my life. I will prioritize myself. I will put myself at the top of my list.
Today, I feel like crap. I spent the whole day dragging, my body very sore, and longing to crawl under my covers. Like many others, I have an immense amount of anxiety surrounding Covid-19. I believe that I have fixated on this disease so much that I have begun to manifest symptoms. Now, I have to stay off work (my symptoms aren’t severe enough to be tested), and assume that I have this thing that I fear.
I guess I shared that because this is going to be a lazy post. It also reminds me about the power of suggestion, the power I give a thing or thought. Covid-19 isn’t imaginary, it’s a real enemy. But, I can’t tell you how many times I handed fear my power. How many times I allowed myself to be paralyzed into inaction.
Even the movie “IT” ended with the Losers finding out that Pennywise the (horrific) Dancing Clown was only so terrifying because he fed off their fear! I read the book, watched the miniseries, and later saw the movies. I NEVER applied the “moral” to myself. I continued to power my personal demons with my fear. My demons are quite gluttonous as well- I fed them big Thanksgiving feasts, yet they were never full.
I realize that I can simply stop giving my monsters my energy. I need to face my fears and recognize them for what they are. Pennywise was just a clown. The things I fear hold no power. Tangible or intangible, I give everything permission to either help or hinder my growth. Fear is power- I will be afraid, but I must evaluate those fears and devise a way to overcome them. Lazy post over.
“You become what you believe.”
My goal is to become a professional content creator by 2022.
How could I talk about success without mentioning Oprah Winfrey? I can’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, and won’t! I remember watching Oprah as a child on a show called A.M. Chicago. Even then, her personality was enormous. Her presence was magnanimous. A young black woman with ambition. I was inspired by her journey from morning anchor to mogul. I saw myself when I saw her.
Somehow, along the way, Oprah stopped being an extension of me. I stopped believing that I could follow in her footsteps. In fact, the responsibility of “expectations” began to weigh heavily upon me. I didn’t know its name, but anxiety was still my constant companion. I actually intentionally underachieved so I wouldn’t be expected to do more. I always thought I was lazy, but I now know that I was afraid.
Fast forward 30+ years- Oprah is a self made billionaire. She imagined herself as the queen of a media empire, believed it would happen, and executed accordingly. In the same span of time, I talked myself out of chasing dreams. I did raise a son, work in different fields, and learn a lot. As far as believing I had the tools necessary to do what I love full-time, I didn’t.
Suddenly, I realized that I have to take a leap of faith. I wanted to start a podcast and I actually followed through! In November of 2018, I launched “After the Snap”. There are about 70 episodes in the archives, but I discontinued after I started True Crime: By The Book. I also have “Gifts of My Ancestors” as a third show idea. I have been talking myself out of attempting to revive “After The Snap” or start “Gifts”. I realize now that my inner voice is telling me that I can produce three podcasts. Now, I have to convince the rest of me that I do have what it takes to generate $35000/yr through podcasting. I know it won’t happen tomorrow, but I need to start laying the groundwork today. My goal is to become a professional content creator by 2022.
“You become what you believe.”
When you believe something, you move like you have a purpose! I’ve shared my long term goal; it’s time to break down what smaller steps I need to make to get there. By 4/12 I will have outlines to determine what I have to do and when I have to do it. I have to begin to believe that I can podcast for a living. Everything else will come.
That’s what jumped out at me when I saw today’s mantra. That could honestly just be the post.
I am enough.
I am present.
I am smart.
I am beautiful.
I am funny.
I am loved.
I am LOVE.
I am safe.
I am a leader.
I am a nationally ranked podcaster.
I am a teacher.
I am a mother, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend.
I am where I need to be.
I am the right person.
I am possessing the right gifts.
I am here at the right moment.
This is my time, simply because I AM. When I really meditate on being, everything looks different. I feel bad about not loving myself when I center on not just WHO I am, but THAT I AM. I am is a complete thought- a noun and a verb. I am a complete person. I have come to realize that all the things I conceive I can BE. I am here because this is where I am meant to be. I will achieve what I am meant to achieve. If it’s for me, it will be mine. Simple shit, right. I can unburden myself of worries and self doubt.