The Cursed Forest of Massachusetts
There seem to be places in this world to which strangeness seems to gravitate. Whether it is their geography, topography, or some inexplicable, unseen forces, these locations possess what can only be described as a certain disconnect from reality as we know it. They are imbued with some sort of undercurrent of mystery, strangeness, and sometimes even terror. Certainly an area that fits the bill as one of the most singularly bizarre locations on the planet is Freetown-Fall River State Forest, Massachusetts; a place so saturated in the bizarre and unexplained that it has become almost the very definition of the term “haunted forest.”
Freetown-Fall River State Forest, usually referred to as just Freetown State Forest, is a large swath of forested land located at Freetown and Fall River, Massachusetts, with the bulk of the forest passing through the center of the town of Freetown. The forest currently covers approximately 5,441 acres and has around 50 miles of unpaved roads and trails, which are used by a large number of hikers and bicyclists in the summer, and cross country skiers and dog sledders in the winter. The forest is also popular with fishermen and hunters, who come for the scenic views and abundant game.
The area has a history rife with friction between settlers and the Native people who lived there. The whole area originally belonged to the local Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe, but over the years much of this land was acquired from them, beginning with the 1659 purchase of Freetown, which was subsequently incorporated as a town in 1683. Over the years, more and more of the land was purchased from the tribe, much of it by greedy chiefs without proper consent from the tribe members. During the King Phillip War (1675-1676) the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe fought on the side of the English and was rewarded with 190-acres of land in Fall River Mass., which was at the time known as the Wattuppa Reservation. However, in 1907 Fall River commandeered 100 acres this land through eminent domain in order to secure the city’s drinking water supply. It was not until 1939 when the State of Massachusetts returned some of the land that had been taken and the tribe was left with the current Wampanoag reservation, which covers 227-acres.
Besides its scenic beauty, outdoor activities, and its interesting history, Freetown State Forest is perhaps most well-known for its intense amount of bizarre, unexplainable phenomena. The forest sits squarely within the infamous “Bridgewater Triangle,” a 200 square mile area within southeastern Massachusetts that is the epicenter of a mind boggling array of inexplicable bizarre phenomena reported since colonial times, including strange creatures, Bigfoot, UFOs, ghosts, specters, ominous black helicopters, mysterious orbs of light, strange disappearances, giant snakes, poltergeist activity, and cattle mutilations, to name but a few. The exact boundaries of the Bridgewater Triangle are nebulous, but were perhaps most clearly laid out by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman in his book Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide to the Nation’s Weirdest Wonders, Strangest Spots, and Creepiest Creatures. Coleman defines the Bridgewater Triangle as being comprised of the towns of Abington, Rehoboth and Freetown at the points of the triangle, and Brockton, Whitman, West Bridgewater, East Bridgewater, Bridgewater, Middleboro, Dighton, Berkley, Raynham, Norton, Easton, Lakeville, Seekonk, and Taunton inside the triangle. Within this cauldron of weird occurrences, Freetown State Forest is said to be the most active; a veritable wellspring of the weird and bizarre.
When discussing the numerous cases of strange phenomena within Freetown State Forest, it is hard to even know where to begin. The forest is said to be home to a race of diminutive humanoid creatures known as Pukwedgies, which have long been known by the native Wampanoag tribe. These creatures are described as being troll-like beasts around 2 to 3 feet in height and with smooth, hairy grey skin that is said to glow on occasion. The Pukwedgies have a notorious reputation for mischief and mayhem, and are said to intentionally startle people, throw rocks or sand in their faces, push or shove them, kidnap them, hurl them from cliffs, wrestle with them or even attack them with knives or spears. The creatures are also said to be competent magic users and shapeshifters. The Natives of the area have long given these creatures a wide berth, claiming that they are not to be approached or trifled with. Although this may seem at first glance as nothing more than spooky folklore, there are numerous visitors to the forest who have claimed to have seen such creatures, and the mischievous beasts have been blamed as the cause of the unusual number of people who have supposedly fallen from cliffs to their deaths in the area. Such sightings reports are not even limited to Massachusetts, with such reports coming from such far-flung locations as New Hampshire, Virginia, and even California.
Freetown State Forest is also littered with places that seem to be possessed of some dark power. Perhaps the most infamous of these is an 80 foot deep rock quarry known as the Assonet Ledge, or simply as “The Ledge.” This area was once owned by the Fall River Granite Company, and has become associated with a range of weird phenomena. The quarry has an inordinate amount of abandoned cars left here, and is the location for numerous suicides. Visitors to The Ledge have reported being overcome with an urgent, unshakeable sense of dread and foreboding when venturing near the quarry, and the area has been rumored to be an alleged hotspot for satanists and strange cults, as well as ghost sightings. There are numerous reports of people seeing ghosts jumping from the ledge only to disappear before they hit the water, or merely standing ominously at the top of the ledge.
The Ledge is also the site of a particularly infamous UFO sighting allegedly made in 1974 by then governor Ronald Reagan. The story goes that Reagan was flying in a Cessna over The Ledge with pilot Air Force Colonel Bill Paynter and two security personnel when a strange light was noticed to be tailing the plane. The light was seen to accelerate, decelerate, and become elongated, all within the space of a few minutes. It then is reported to have suddenly shot up at a 45 degree angle at a high rate of speed and disappear. Reagan would go on to relate the incident to Norman C Miller, who was at the time Washington bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal.
Another site worth a look is a large granite outcropping known as Profile Rock, also sometimes called Joshua’s Mountain. The rock is 50 feet high and has a striking likeness to a human face. According to the legends of the native Wampanoag people, the rock takes the image of Wampanoag Chief Massasoit, and is the location where the chief’s son died. The tribe has long held the rock to be a sacred place, and it has over the years been associated with a variety of ghostly phenomena such as strange glowing, disembodied voices, orbs of light, and sinister apparitions.
Indeed, haunted places come in spades in Freetown Sate Forest. One dark and mysterious place located within the forest is the murky Hockomock Swamp, a vast wetland which covers much of the northern part of southeastern Massachusetts, and at 16,950-acre (69 km2) in area is the largest freshwater swamp in the state. The swamp gets its name from the native Wampanoag people, and means “place where the spirits dwell,” believing it to be inhabited by both sinister spirits as well as more benign, helpful spirits. The swamp is a remote, treacherous morass of brush, thick, impenetrable trees and vines, marshes, muddy rivers, ponds, quicksand, thorns, and sinkholes. Early settlers to the area quickly learned of the swamp’s dangers and numerous alleged ghosts prowling its darkness, and called it “The Devil’s Swamp.”
The list of weirdness to be found within Hockomock Swamp encompasses everything from ghosts, to UFOs, to strange beasts lurking within its depths. Some of the creatures said to be spotted here are giant, pterodactyl-like creatures, giant, red-eyed dogs that attack ponies, and the glowing eyes of unseen creatures hovering in the darkness. There are also numerous reports of a shaggy, ape-like creature within the swamp. One such sighting was made in 1978 by a man named Joe DeAndrade. As he was walking near a pond called Clay Banks, he turned around just in time to see a large “apish-and-man thing” lumbering towards the woods. DeAdrade was terrified and reported running towards the nearby road. The sighting prompted a thorough search of the area for any signs of the beast, but none were found. A few years later, fur trapper John Baker saw something similar when he was out on his canoe laying muskrat traps. Baker reported hearing something crashing through the woods and then witnessed a huge, hairy creature wade into the water and pass him within a few yards. The creature was described as being wreathed with a horrific, odious stench.
In addition to the mysterious animals said to prowl the swamp, the area is also a hotbed of UFO sightings, and ghosts, specters, and phantoms are regularly seen in the vicinity as well. One theory for why Hockomock Swamp is so thickly laden with weird phenomena is that it happened to be the site of much of the fighting during the brutal conflict between early settlers and the native people of the region that took place in the vicinity of the swamp, with various bloody massacres and atrocities carried out by both sides here. Some say that this violent history has infused the swamp with an evil force, and has made it the haunt of vengeful spirits screaming for revenge.
Adding to the list of anomalous places within Freetown State Forest is an immense, 40 ton boulder known as Dighton Rock, which is approximately 5 feet (1.5 m) high, 9.5 feet (2.9 m) wide, and 11 feet (3.4 m) long. The boulder originally lied in the riverbed of the Taunton River at Berkley, Massachusetts but has since been moved. Covering the rock are numerous and various mysterious petroglyphs, drawings of figures, geometric shapes, and alleged cryptic writing, none of which can be comprehensively identified and have unknown origins. There have been many theories as to the origins of the strange carvings upon the rock, ranging from the native peoples of the region, to ancient Norse explorers, to even the Phoenicians and the Chinese. The rock was described in 1690 by Rev. Cotton Mather in his book The Wonderful Works of God Commemorated thus:
Among the other Curiosities of New-England, one is that of a mighty Rock, on a perpendicular side whereof by a River, which at High Tide covers part of it, there are very deeply Engraved, no man alive knows How or When about half a score Lines, near Ten Foot Long, and a foot and half broad, filled with strange Characters: which would suggest as odd Thoughts about them that were here before us, as there are odd Shapes in that Elaborate Monument.…
In addition to strange creatures and haunted, mysterious locales, Freetown State Forest also hosts its fair share of brutal murders, unsolved crimes, and alleged cult activity. The area has long been a reported haven for cultists and satanists. The late 1970s and 1980s in particular saw a spike in sinister cult activities in the forest, with police finding various pieces of evidence that supported the existence of such activities, including an actual underground bunker that was apparently used to carry out various cult rituals and possibly even human sacrifices. One famous story comes from the 1980s, when a bog worker complained of trespassers converging on his shack dressed in black robes. When the man contacted police, investigators found a large pentagram in the ground as well as a design made up of carefully placed stones. The pentagram was taken away and the stones dispersed, but when authorities visited the scene the following day, both the pentagram and the stone configurations were reported to be back to precisely where they had been before they had been removed. Various cattle mutilations reported from the forest, including the butchering of a cow in the woods and a group of calves found horrifically mutilated in a clearing, both from 1998, were connected to the work of satanic cults performing dark rituals in the area.
One of the most famous crimes committed in Freetown State Forest is the murder of Mary Lou Arruda in 1978. On September 8 1978, Mary Lou Arruda was seen riding her bicycle near her home in Raynham Mass. at around 4PM. At 4:30PM, the girl’s bicycle was found abandoned by the side of the road with a skid mark from a car and a cigarette right beside it. Several witnesses would come forward to report that they had see a green car with a black racing stripe speeding away from the scene at around the time the girl is though to have gone missing, and the police were able to gain enough insight into the driver’s appearance to cobble together a sketch of the suspect, which was then placed on wanted posters and plastered across the area.
An intensive police search was also launched into the area of Arruda’s last known whereabouts, and her decomposing body was finally found on November 11 1978, tied to a tree within Freetown State Forest. It was determined that the girl had still been alive when her beaten and battered body had been tied to the tree in a standing position, and when she had lost consciousness, the weight of her body had caused stress on her neck and ensuing asphyxia. It was determined that she had died the same day she had gone missing.
Authorities finally tracked down a man by the name of James Kater, a donut maker who owned a car matching the description; a bright green 1976 Opel with a black racing strip. He also smoked cigarettes, the exact same brand that had been found at the crime scene, and had been in trouble with the law before. In the ensuing trial, Kater denied having anything to do with the murder of Mary Lou Arruda, although he would eventually be found guilty for a separate 1968 incident in which he was convicted of assault with intent to rape, assault & battery with a dangerous weapon and kidnapping of a young woman from Andover Mass. He was sentenced to life in prison but to this day denies having anything to do with the Arruda case.
Another mysterious crime revolves around a place known as the Ice Shack; a small building constructed for the purposes of logging during the 1940s. It has long been determined that cult activities and drug dealing had been carried out in the structure, but one series of murders connected to the Ice Shack stands out in particular; that of a string of vicious killings by a pimp and alleged Satanic cult leader by the name of Carl Drew. Drew was known for using his Satanism to keep his prostitutes in line, threatening them with human sacrifice or worse if they stepped out of line. On October 13, 1979, the brutally mutilated corpse of prostitute Donna Levesque was found, and two alleged witnesses, prostitutes Karen Marsden, 20, and Robin Murphy, 18, explained later that it had been a ritual killing carried out by Drew near the Ice Shack.
Mardsen had allegedly been repulsed by the violence and sought to break free from the cult. It would not work out well for her. On February 8, 1980, she would be tortured and killed in an alleged Satanic sacrifice. Her corpse had allegedly been brutalized in a most disturbing manner. Mardsen had allegedly had her hair and fingernails ripped out while she was still alive, and she had then been savagely beaten over the head with stones until Drew had then snapped her neck. Her head was then cut off and kicked around by other cult members. Her fingers had been removed to steal her rings and a large X had been carved across her chest. This is the story that Murphy, who was implicated as an accomplice, would eventually tell police, but the only signs of Mardsen’s body were some skull fragments and pieces of clothings that were discovered in the forest on April 13, 1980. Murphy would eventually testify in court to her part in the murders, as well as Drew’s brutality, and would receive a life sentence. Drew, who had also been implicated in the killing of Levesque and suspected of at least one other murder of a prostitute, was found guilty of the murder of Mardsen on on March 13, 1981, and he would receive further prison time when he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon on yet another prostitute. There have been other murders in Freetown State Forest as well, including a transient who was apparently mistaken for an undercover police officer and two men who were found mysteriously shot to death and abandoned in the forest in 2001. Satanists and cultists are said to favor this location for their dark deeds not only because of its remote, out of the way location but also due to its undercurrent of dark energy that they believe they can tap into to power their rituals and sacrifices.
What causes this forest to attract such violence and suffering? What is it about this place that causes so many weird phenomena to congregate here? There are those who would point to the area’s dark history of pain and loss. It is said that the native spirits of the forest were angered by the stealing of this land and the massacres and atrocities that took place here, thereby cursing the forest until the land returns to its rightful owners, the Wampanoag people. Others say it was the native elders themselves who cursed the land while under the shadow of oppression and inequality. The numerous Indian burial grounds that are said to be scattered throughout the forest certainly give gravity to this eerie story. Or maybe there are just some places that lie at a crossroads between our world and another, or which lie on some mysterious vortex that imbues them with a certain energy. Perhaps there are just places that bump up against a thin spot between realities, or are somehow magnets for the bizarre. Or maybe these are things we are not meant to ever know the answers to. Whatever the answer is, it is abundantly clear that something is not quite right with Freetown State Forest and the larger Bridgewater Triangle of which it is a part.