Fog covered the mountaintops as Mike and I made our way southward towards the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in northern Berks County. Although we both knew finding any birds, raptors or otherwise, was nearly impossible due to the fog and rain, we were not about to let the bad weather keep us from our goal. Between the storms, we managed to stop at a handful of places, but the cold rain prevented us from visiting most of the destinations we had planned during this trip.
We had made a stop in Ashland to photograph the statue of “Whistler’s Mother,” and the cold rain was beginning to take its toll on my positive attitude. Thinking of nearby places I knew I wanted to visit, the dreary, overcast day gave me an idea. “Want to go find a ghost?”
“Ummm….sure,” Mike replied. “Where we going?”
“Yeah, it’s just south of here. With this weather, it’s a perfect day to see if we can find her.” We arrived in Gordon and found the Mountain Road which the Gordon, or Broad Mountain, Ghost is rumored to haunt.
“Are you sure this is the right road?” Mike asked as I turned onto a narrow, leaf-covered road. I affirmed this was the road as we turned off of East Biddle Street in Gordon. The road, known as Mountain Road, Old Mountain Road, and the Old Gordon Mountain Road clung to the side of the mountain for almost two miles as it stretches from the eastern end of Gordon to meet the present-day Gordon Mountain Road just north of Interstate 81.
The legend most often repeated is vehicles traveling between Gordon and Heckschersville are known to mysteriously stall and then the lady in white appears. She approaches the vehicle and looks inside to see if those responsible for her death are inside. Not seeing her murderer(s), she disappears and the vehicle resumes running. Others have claimed to see her restless spirit wandering the woods where she lost her life while others have reported hearing her cries for help.
The ghost story, which is based on a real murder, has its origins on April 5, 1925 when a gruesome discovery would be made along the Old Mountain Road by flower pickers. Curious about the number of crows fussing over something in the brush, they discovered the horrific remains of a murdered girl.
The unidentified girl had been badly beaten and her body was set on fire. With little evidence at the scene, police believed the girl was still alive when she was brought to the remote spot. She fought for her life, but the fight ended with her being struck on the forehead, just over her left eye, by a blunt object. A large quantity of blood was discovered under the leaves surrounding the body, which indicated t the police she had been murdered at this remote spot. Police discovered a rock near the body, and though it had no blood on it at the time, they believed it was the weapon that struck the unfortunate girl on the head.
The coroner determined that the girl had been dead between four and ten days before being discovered. The young lady, believed to be in her early twenties, wore an old wedding band with no inscription and a couple of cheap rings – one ring was a twisted wire and another was set with imitation pearls. The remaining clothing showed she wore a lavender sweater with buckshot-like buttons and a pink garter with buckles. Note: most newspapers place her age in the range of twenty to twenty-four, though I have read in a couple of articles it was believed she was in the range of sixteen to twenty-eight.
Locals reported that a small, dark-colored coupe had been spotted making a number of trips up the mountain. It was believed that this vehicle had taken the girl’s body to the location and then made trips for engine oil, which was poured over the body before being set on fire.
The body was initially believed to be the remains of Anna Richardson, also known as Anna Sullivan, who had disappeared roughly a week before from Pottstown. The body was similar enough that her neighbors initially identified the body as that of Anna’s. It was soon discovered that Anna was still alive and living in Shamokin.
By the end of the first week of investigating the murder, police rounded up a group of seven people (five men and two women) who were thought to be involved in the girl’s death. This group was arrested at the Sunset Inn, a roadhouse located on the Columbia/Schuylkill County line near Centralia, and taken to Pottsville to be questioned but were later released.
The information provided revealed that the unidentified girl may have been from Shamokin and was going by the names of Lillian and Babe while staying at the Sunset Inn. The girl’s full name was Lillian Tyler, age sixteen, and she had last been seen in Mount Carmel. The girl’s mother, Mrs. Francis O’Conner viewed the body, but failed to positively identify it as her daughter. The state police were convinced it was Lillian, so imagine the surprise when a couple weeks later Lillian was discovered alive in Detroit.
Despite not being able to positively identify the remains, what the murder did reveal was the prostitution ring that operated out of Sunset Inn. The exact number of girls forced to work there was not known, but in the aftermath of the discovery of the unknown victim, the house of ill repute was closed down.
By this time, a decision was made to have the body cremated and the situation goes from mysterious to bizarre. The unidentified girl’s head was removed and stored in a jar of chemicals in hopes of her one day being identified. A cast was made of her head and it eventually ended up as a part of the collection at the Schuylkill Historical Society.
Soon after the murder, rumors began to circulate that the road was haunted. Some locals would later claim they were responsible for the creation of the ghost. They had dressed up in sheets and run around the mountainside to scare those searching for the murdered girl’s spirit. But that did not explain all of the sightings and strangeness. Some reported hearing her cries for help. Others claimed to see the young girl roaming the woods near the murder location.
Despite the rain and fog, we did not find the ghost of the murdered lady on our trip. I did not have any vehicle problems, either. There were a lot of huge rocks along the two mile stretch of road. Near the junction with the Gordon Mountain Road, I stopped and got out of the vehicle to take some pictures of Rattling Run. Standing there, I glanced around the area. Though I do not know exactly where along this piece of old highway the murder happened, in my mind, I could see it happening near this spot where I had parked.
I suddenly shuddered, not from the cold, but from the realization of the horror she must have gone through in those final moments of her life. She died in a manner I cannot even start to imagine. The mere thought of her death sent goosebumps running up my arms. But worse than that, she died here alone and mostly forgotten. It did not matter the bad choices she may have made or the bad things she may have been forced to do while alive – I could only hope that somewhere, somebody missed her. She was a daughter who never came home, who disappeared and had unfortunately been forgotten by most. I hoped that her smile or her laugh were missed by those who had been in her life.
Large, very cold drops of water began falling out of the sky, reflecting the sadness I was feeling and I jumped into the vehicle as the skies once again burst open. I imagine that her killer(s) have since passed on from this world and with the death of the killer(s), the girl’s identity faded into history. Maybe with the death of her killer(s) she was able to finally find the peace.
I can only hope so.