One of the joys of archival newspaper research is being able to find the background for a local ghost story and any subsequent sequels. For example, while I was looking into the truth of certain “crybaby bridge” legends, I ran across a story of a man who threw his infant son into the Ohio River from the Chesapeake and Ohio Bridge, which connects Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky. For some reason I copied out the story—I’m not sure why–there was nothing ghostly even hinted at in the account. About a year later, quite by accident, just before finishing the final draft of The Face in the Window: Haunting Ohio Tales, I ran across a story of a wailing infant ghost at a boarding house in Cincinnati (“The Babe in the River.”) And I realized that I was reading about a spirit which was believed to be the baby who had been thrown into the river. The room where the ghost appeared to a woman who knew nothing of the story was the room where the child had been born. Cincinnati and Indiana papers contained a wealth of detail about the murder, the detection of the murderer by two alert ladies who recognized the clothing of the dead infant from an article in the paper, and the heartbreaking account of the baby’s public funeral. It made for a very satisfyingly complete story.
In the following story, instead of initially discovering the true crime account, I found the ghost story first, and then went in search of the backstory’s paper trail. I’ve left out the accounts of John Gross’s trial and conviction. I have not found any coverage of this murder/ghost story outside of a very limited geographic area—within about a 30 mile radius of Reynolds, Indiana.
A Probable Murder
The little town of Reynolds, in White county, is enjoying a first class sensation. The circumstances seem to be like this: John Gross living four and a half miles northwest of Reynolds, had been parted from his wife for about five years. On the 8th of March, 1889, she came to him from South Bend, bringing a male child said to have been born at South Bend the first day of March. For some weeks the child has been missing, and it leaked out through older children that “one night pa sold the baby to some man.” Gross told others that he had given it away. This did not satisfy the neighbors, and an investigation was begun. Gross now claims that the baby died and he and his wife buried it early in the morning before the children were up and told them that they sold it. Many things point to foul play but the result of the coroner’s inquest, now being instituted, will decide that.
The body of the child was found yesterday near the Gross residence, buried in an old potato hole. The skull was fractured and there were other marks of violence on the body. The coroner returned a verdict implicating Gross in the death of the child. A preliminary hearing was held at once and he was remanded to mail to await the action of the grand jury. Logansport [IN] Pharos Tribune 20 July 1889: p. 4
John Gross, a White County Murderer, Hangs Himself in Jail.
John Gross, a murderer in the county jail at Monticello, hung himself last night at midnight. Gross was convicted recently of killing the illegitimate child of his wife, with whom he separated four or five years ago. Last spring Gross wrote to his wife, who was living in northern Indiana, that if she would come back to him he would live with her and treat her all right. She came, but brought with her a child about 2 years old. Gross did not like the idea of supporting a child not his own and made away with it. The child was missed by the neighbors, and a search instituted for it. It was found buried in the garden. Gross and his wife were arrested for the crime and Gross convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary for life. His wife was acquitted. Yesterday Gross was denied a new trial, and was to have been taken to the penitentiary to-day. Last night, after being locked in his cell, he secured a towel and hung himself to his cell door. He was found hanging shortly after by one of the prisoners. Gross was a Swede, and lived on a little farm near Reynolds station, west of Monticello. Logansport [IN] Pharos Tribune 20 September 20 1889: p. 4
Real Ghostly Story.
The little town of Reynolds out west on the State Line Division of the Pan Handle is enjoying a real live sensational ghost story. The “spook” in question is said to be that of the infant murdered by its father, John Gross, who hanged himself in the jail at Monticello when convicted of the murder. A large number of the most prominent citizens of that place say they have seen the ghost in the window surrounded by a resplendent light forming a tableau scene as oftimes witnessed on the stage of music and drama. The old Gross homestead is about three miles northeast of Reynolds and is nightly visited by people from the village and for miles around to witness the ghostly spectacular. Those who have seen the strange sight say that it is wonderfully beautiful. None have yet had the courage to go to the house when the ghost is in the window. It comes and goes, makes not a motion, but in the brilliant light can easily be recognized the features and form of the murdered babe. Since the murder was committed the house has been vacant and the owner might as well burn it down and build another. He can never rent it now. Logansport [IN] Journal October 6, 1889: p. 3
Some days ago the Journal contained an account of a ghostly visitation, near Reynolds, where the shadowy form of the infant murdered by its father John Gross, appeared at the window of the Gross habitation on several consecutive nights much to the alarm of those superstitiously inclined. A communication from Reynolds received yesterday reveals a complication of ghostly incidents, sufficient in fact to keep the hair of the average citizen of that region standing straight up for an indefinite period. The communication is herewith presented and can be taken for what it is worth. “Last Saturday night, while quite a large party of citizens from the village were watching the Gross house for any supernatural manifestations which might develop, the apparition of John Gross, the suicide, appeared at the door of his house, at 12;30 a.m., carrying in his arms what appeared to be the body of the murdered child, and walking across the road to the potato hole in which the remains of the infant had been found, seemed to hover in the air above it for an instant, then vanish as mysteriously as it came. Those who were watching were so dumfounded by the ghostly spectacle that not a move was made until all was over. There is much excitement here over the affair and the haunted house is visited daily by hundreds of curious people from all parts of this region. McCarrigan. Logansport [IN] Journal October 16, 1889: p. 5