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Mysteries and Death at Georgia’s Cursed Lake

Some places in this world seem mysterious to the point where they almost seem to be beyond the comprehension of mankind. There are mysteries in these places that defy any attempts to explain them, and the very soil and water itself here seems to reverberate with some evil force that pervades its very being. These mysterious places seem to draw death, misfortune, and the bizarre to them like a magnet, and if there are indeed cursed places in this world then these are them. One such enigmatic place can be found nestled within the rolling, verdant foothills of the northern mountains of the U.S. state of Georgia. This is a locale that has long been associated with strange phenomena, weird creatures, and most sinister of all, a large number of inexplicable deaths and unsolved murders. This is the cursed lake of Georgia.

Lying in the northern part of the U.S. state of Georgia, sprawled out among the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains for 26 miles, 75 meters (258 feet) deep at its deepest point and with an area of 150 km2 (59 square miles) of water and 1,114 km (692 miles) of shoreline, is Lake Sidney Lanier, commonly referred to as simply Lake Lanier. Actually a manmade reservoir, Lake Lanier is the largest lake in Georgia and even sports a chain of islands that were originally large hills before the lake was formed. The origins of Lake Lanier can be traced back to 1948, when the U.S. government purchased a 100-acre farm from a river ferry operator by the name of Henry Shadburn in order to start a water project on the Chattahoochee River for the purpose of providing the city of Atlanta with hydroelectricity, flood control and water supply. In 1950, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began breaking ground and constructing the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River, which would be completed in 1956 and begin the process of flooding the foothills to create the lake.

Lake Sidney Lanier

Lake Sidney Lanier

The creation of Lake Lanier was beset with problems from the beginning. Funding for the project faced numerous hurdles which stopped and started construction to the point where it is amazing it was actually finished on schedule. Additionally, the Corps of Engineers, as well as the states which use the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin, comprised of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, all squabbled over water flow requirements, consumption caps, how the water should be used, and whether to give it priority as a water supply, hydroelectricity source, or even recreation, all of this while juggling the federal laws that demanded water be set aside for threatened or endangered species that lived in or around Chattahoochee River. The states of Alabama and Florida were particularly unhappy about how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulated the flow of water from Lake Lanier to their states. There was even debate over what the lake should be called, with the builders finally settling on the name of the poet Sidney Lanier.

Then there was the rather destructive nature of the lake’s creation. The U.S. government began a mad dash to ravenously purchase land from private companies, farmers, and anyone else who lived in the area that would inevitably wind up underwater. During the 5 years it took for the lake to completely fill to its intended water level, the government would buy up over 50,000 acres of prime farmland and pristine wilderness, moving more than 250 families, 15 businesses, and even relocating 20 cemeteries along with their corpses in the process. As the nooks and crannies of the mountain foothills filled with surging water, the inexorable spread of the lake devoured entire towns along with their buildings and houses, farmland, fields, bridges, toll gates, historical landmarks, river ferry businesses, a racetrack called Looper Speedway, country roads, forests, and other lakes. Many of the structures that would be inundated were simply left as is, so that if one were to walk along the lake’s bottom one would find submerged towns complete with roads, walls, and houses all eerily intact; abandoned underwater ghost towns inhabited only by fish and perhaps ghosts of the past. Even the ferries that were put out of business by the lake’s creation were simply abandoned to become rusting hulks littering the bottom and the shore.

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This rather eerie history and the spooky presence of whole underwater ghost towns, derelict ghost ships, and desecrated cemeteries, are far from the only strange things about Lake Lanier, and indeed it has accrued a rather sinister reputation for drawing death and suffering to itself. Over the years, there have been an inordinate amount of deaths associated with the lake, ranging from boating accidents, drownings, and even a fair number of drivers who have lost control of their vehicles to go careening off of roads to crash into the water. There are various stories of boats hitting something in the water only for it to turn out there was nothing there, boats or other watercraft capsizing for no apparent reason, and sudden, dangerous rogue waves that seem to come from nowhere without warning to maraud across the surface. Many of the drowning cases are somewhat odd in that they have happened very close to shore with strong swimmers and in calm conditions, which considering the history of the lake have given rise to rumors that Lake Lanier is somehow haunted or cursed. Some who have almost drowned here and lived to tell the tale have told of feeling as if they were being pulled underwater or held under by unseen hands, or of having the air suddenly seem to leave their lungs and cause exhaustion with startling suddenness. In some of the cases, people who drowned fairly close to shore have had their bodies turn up in positions far from where they died, which is probably due to currents but when mixed with spooky rumors becomes a case of ghostly forces dragging corpses through the water before discarding them.

In 2011, this menacing reputation for accidents and deaths began to get more public attention when there were a total of 17 deaths on Lake Lanier, many due to freak accidents. In 2012 the trend continued when a quick succession of violent deaths and horrific injuries occurred here which made national news. The first of this wave of deaths happened on June 18, 2012, when 9-year-old Jake Prince and his brother Griffin, 13, were riding a pontoon out on the lake and were struck and killed by a speeding boat driven by a Johns Creek business owner named Paul J Bennett, 44. Mere weeks after this tragic accident, on July 9, 11-year-old Kile Glover, who happened to be the son of the popular pop star Usher’s ex-wife, Tameka Foster, was struck while riding an inner tube by a family acquaintance riding a jet ski and rendered braindead. Although doctors struggled to save his life, he died two weeks later on July 21 and was taken off life support. A 15-year old friend of the boy’s was also seriously injured in the same incident, but ultimately recovered. These tragic accidents took the media by storm, and before long Lake Lanier was being deemed “cursed” and “a death trap” by the news and social media sites such as Twitter, with many people insisting that it was an evil, vile place that was best avoided.

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While these were perhaps the most high profile deaths to occur on Lake Lanier, these sorts of accidents and drownings have been happening with unsettling frequency since the lake was first opened to the public. While a lot of people have been quick to call the lake cursed, one of the more likely reasons for these incidents is probably due to the area’s rapid rise as a popular place to visit. Besides being a water source and hydroelectric plant for Atlanta and the surrounding areas, from around 1962, Lake Lanier has become a popular recreational area complete with hotels, full-service boating marinas, restaurants, campgrounds, stables, beaches, a golf course, and even a full water park. People of all ages come here for boating, swimming, fishing, camping, and other outdoor activities, to the tune of around 8 million visitors a year. Adding to the dangers already inherent with so many droves of people converging on the lake, often with a good amount of alcohol involved, there are also very few regulations for operating boats or motorized water craft and those that are in place are weakly enforced. With so many people driving around in boats and swimming, in many cases under the influence of alcohol, there are bound to be quite a few accidents. Yet nevertheless, there are still those who insist that even considering these circumstances the number of deaths, weird accidents, and injuries at Lake Lanier is unusually high, and believe the lake is truly cursed, haunted, or both.

In addition to the myriad freak accidents and drownings that seem to constantly plague the area, Lake Lanier has been the location for more bizarre and mysterious deaths and disappearances that still remain unsolved. One such case revolves around a Georgia man by the name of Kelly Nash, 25, who went missing from his home in Buford, Georgia, on January 5, 2015. Early that morning at 4AM, Nash awoke with flu-like symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, and told his girlfriend Jessica Sexton, who was with him at the time, that he felt terrible and should probably see a doctor before going back to bed. Sexton then woke up again at 7:30 AM to find that Nash was gone and had not taken his wallet, car keys or ID with him. When Nash still had not returned that evening, police were called in and it was discovered that a 9mm pistol was missing from the house but none of Nash’s other belongings were missing or out of place. A massive search would subsequently be launched for Nash, involving authorities, family and friends, and dogs specially trained to sniff out dead bodies, and a $50,000 reward was offered for any information, yet no trace of the man or his whereabouts were found. It was not until one month after his strange disappearance, on February 8, that Nash’s badly decomposed body was found in Lake Lanier by a fisherman. Nash was still wearing the pajama pants and dark shirt that he’d had on when he went missing, and although the body appeared to have no major trauma, it was found that he had suffered a single gunshot wound to the head. The crime has never been solved and it is unclear why he chose to go out in the middle of the night in his sleeping clothes, how he ended up at the lake, and whether he committed suicide, if there was foul play involved, or if the lake’s alleged curse had anything to do with it.

Hannah Truelove

Hannah Truelove

In another mysterious case, a 16-year-old Gainesville High School student by the name of Hannah Truelove went missing from an apartment complex near Lake Lanier where she lived with her mother on the morning of Aug. 24, 2012. The following day, Hannah’s body was found in a wooded area by the lakeside by another resident of the apartment complex. The girl had been stabbed multiple times, yet it was unclear if the wounds were life threatening and the actual cause of death remained elusive, although authorities were able to rule out drowning. Making the case even creepier was a series of tweets Hannah had made on Twitter shortly before her death that expressed general discontent with her life at the apartment complex and her fear of a stalker, with one chilling tweet allegedly stating “So scared right now.” Hannah’s father would later claim that his daughter had made no mention of being under any duress and had not seemed any different or more upset than usual in the days leading up to her disappearance and death. Authorities were never able to glean any insights or information from the tweets, and indeed no leads would ever come up and no suspects were ever apprehended in the case, despite a major investigation and exhaustive interviews with neighbors and nearby residents, none of whom had seen or heard anything suspicious on the day in question, as well as continuous pleas for any information pertaining to the case. Hannah Truelove’s death remains a mystery.

One of the most notorious deaths associated with Lake Lanier is also the source of one of its alleged ghostly mysteries. In April of 1958, a young woman who worked at Riverside Military Academy, Delia Parker Young, and her friend, Susie Roberts, headed off to Three Gables in Dawsonville in Susie’s 1954 Ford for a night out. They would never return. A subsequent investigation into their disappearance discovered that they had visited a gas station that night and left without paying. The only clue left at the scene was a set of skid marks across the road which seemed to suggest that the car had skidded off of Lanier Bridge on Dawsonville Highway and into the lake below, yet no vehicle could be found. Divers who were brought in to search for the car were unable to locate it due to poor visibility in the murky water and the masses of sheared off tree trunks that litter the lake’s bottom. For 18 months, police were unable to find any further clues and no trace of the missing women or the car, but then a fisherman named C.A. Simpson made a gruesome discovery when the decomposed body of what was thought to be that of Delia Parker Young suddenly floated up out of the depths. Oddly, the corpse, which could not be completely positively identified at the time, was missing two toes from the left foot and both hands. It was never ascertained just why the body was missing its hands and toes or what the cause of death had been. With no way of knowing if the corpse was that of Delia, it was eventually buried in an unmarked grave in in Alta Vista Cemetery. The body of Susie Roberts and the car remained missing, despite repeated searches.

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The mystery would baffle authorities for decades until November of 1990, when construction on an expansion of Lanier Bridge was under way. As construction crews were dredging the bottom of the lake in order to set up pillars for the expansion, they uncovered a rusted out hulk of a 1954 Ford which held within it the remains of a human body. The car had been hidden within tree trunks, mud, and other detritus in 90 feet of water on a steep slope. The body was decomposed to the point of being unidentifiable, but the belongings found on it, including a purse, rings, and watch were able to conclusively prove that the body was that of the long missing Susie Roberts. In light of this discovery, it was concluded that the other body had indeed been Delia Parker Young, the headstone was changed accordingly, and Susie Roberts was buried beside her. Interestingly, although the deaths of Delia Parker Young and Susie Roberts is an old, mostly forgotten case, it has spawned one of the area’s most persistent and frightening local legends. It is said that a ghostly young woman dressed in a blue dress and missing her hands can sometimes be seen walking up and down the length of Lanier Bridge, and is said to be the ghost of Delia Parker Young, since she had been dressed in a blue dress on the night of her death and her body had been found minus hands. According to those who claim to have seen the ghost, which has since become known as The Lady of the Lake, Delia’s restless spirit seems to be searching for her missing hands.

The reports of mysterious forces pulling swimmers underwater or causing boats to capsize, and the Lady of the Lake are not the only cases of potentially paranormal happenings on Lake Lanier. There have been occasional reports of a mysterious raft equipped with a lantern on a pole, ridden by a shadowy figure that uses a pole to push it along, and which allegedly appears and disappears out of nowhere. In one particularly harrowing account, two fishermen saw the ghostly raft while out on the lake fishing in a rowboat on one cold autumn night at around 1 AM in the morning. In this case the mysterious raft was around half a mile away and in an estimated 45 feet of water, yet the rider was bizarrely pushing it along with a pole nevertheless. At one point this enigmatic figure shouted something to the two fishermen and proceeded to jump off of the raft into freezing water to swim towards them. This alarmed the two fishermen, who pulled in their lines and were in a hurry to get out of there, thinking it was perhaps someone meaning to do them harm. It was at this point that the lantern on the raft abruptly went out. When the fishermen shone their boat’s spotlight out across the water they could find no sign of the raft or the mysterious occupant who had jumped into the water. The black surface of the lake remained calm and the raft would not appear again.

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Ghosts, freak accidents, and mysterious murders are also not the only weird things apparently going on at Lake Lanier. Local fishermen have long insisted that there are gigantic catfish in the lake which reportedly reach sizes of 5 to 7 feet long and are said to swallow dogs that get to close to the water and even attack swimmers and divers. These giant catfish are said to be particularly attracted to the deep waters below Buford Dam, and there are various accounts from divers working in the area to examine the dam or fix bridges who have seen the huge fish for themselves, which were scary enough to supposedly make some of the divers refuse to go back into the water there ever again. One of the most popular local tales concerning the alleged giant catfish of Lake Lanier concerns a truck carrying live chickens, which supposedly hurtled off of the Thompson Bridge in the 1980s and sank to the bottom along with its cargo. Divers were then sent in to examine the wreckage and to their horror found catfish “the size of 12-year-old boys” gathered about the sunken truck and engaged in a ravenous feeding frenzy swallowing the chickens whole. Other stories have described fishermen hooking into the enormous fish and having their boats towed around the lake. It is unclear whether these reports of giant catfish in Lake Lanier are true, exaggerations, or pure urban legend, but it is certainly enough to give one pause before getting into the water here.

With its history of abundant accidents and drownings, mysterious deaths, ghostly phenomena, and colossal catfish, Lake Lanier certainly has its fair share of strange mysteries. What is going on here? Are the accidents merely the results of the dangers inherit to a place where many people are gathering and drinking, or is the lake truly cursed? Are the deaths just regular crimes or is there something more at work? Are the ghosts and giant catfish just spooky local lore, tall tales, and superstition, or is there more to it than that? Whatever answers may lie behind these various mysteries, they are certainly strange, and it is hard to look at Georgia’s largest lake without wondering what they may be.