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The Murderous Ghost of the Chain Strangler

Ghosts are certainly scary enough as it is. Even scarier still is ghosts that lash out to do harm, and even more frightening than that is ghosts that kill. Although murderous ghosts have long been the realm of horror films, within the world of the paranormal it is actually quite rare for these apparitions to kill, yet it is not unheard of. For whatever reasons it seems that some spirits are more malevolent than most, and have the terrifying ability to reach out to not only frighten but also to inflict death. One such case comes to us from the US state of Kentucky, where a vengeful spirit of a killer in life is said to have also been a killer in death.

It was an otherwise quiet night in Pulaski County, Kentucky in 1938 when a carpenter by the name of Carl Pruitt was heading home after a hard day at work. Tired and hungry, he expected to find his loving wife cooking dinner for him and welcoming him with open arms as usual. Upon arriving home, Pruitt did not see his wife anywhere, and he made his way to the bedroom, where he found her welcoming someone else with open arms. While it is no surprise that he would be shocked to catch his wife cheating on him with another man in their own room, what might be more surprising was the horrifying way in which he dealt with it. Pruitt lunged at both of the two lovers, but the man was able to escape through a window. Faced with his frightened wife cowering on the bed before him, Pruitt, in a fit of rage, fetched a length of chain and proceeded to vengefully wrap it around her neck to brutally choke her to death. Perhaps realizing the grim deed he had just done, Pruitt would commit suicide with a pistol shot to the head shortly after.

Carl Pruitt

Carl Pruitt

In the aftermath of the vicious murder-suicide, the dead wife’s family demanded that the couple not be buried together, and Pruitt’s body was buried far away in another town. This is where things got noticeably bizarre. In the weeks after Pruitt’s burial, it was noticed by both visitors and caretakers alike that the headstone had become strangely discolored, with rings appearing that seemed to be almost etched into the stone and interlinked, as if to make the shape of a chain. The patch of grass covering his grave was also claimed to have odd, dead patches in the shape of rings that overlapped each other like a chain, and the whole thing was rather spooky indeed considering the way in which the dead man had killed his wife. The “chain” allegedly got longer over time, eventually forming what appeared to be the shape of a cross, until unsettled locals requested that the headstone be replaced and the grave re-grassed, but skeptical authorities declined.

News of the strange markings at the grave of the one who had become known as the “Chain Strangler” circulated until morbid curiosity seekers were coming from all over the region to get a peek at the weird sight, and no one could really quite explain what was causing the phenomena. Of course with so many people pouring in to check the bizarres scene out, there were bound to be some troublemakers in their midst. One came in the form of a local boy named James Collins, who allegedly rode to the Pruitt grave one night with a group of friends. Well aware of the spooky stories surrounding the grave and headstone, James is said to have defiantly lobbed a large rock at the headstone, which chipped a piece off of it much to the amusement of his laughing friends. As they were riding home, James’s bike purportedly began to inexplicably pick us speed and he lost control to crash into a tree. Bizarrely, the chain of the bicycle is said to have flung off to somehow wrap itself around his neck and strangle him to death. When his friends went to look at the grave later, it was claimed that although they had clearly seen James break the headstone with a rock, no damage could be found on it.

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The whole strange story began making the rounds in the rumor mill, with whispers of phantoms, curses, and ghosts, until everyone was attributing the freak death to the vengeful spirit of Pruitt. James’s mother apparently was so saddened and infuriated by her son’s death and the dark stories pervading it that she took an axe and went to Pruitt’s grave in order to deface it, seriously damaging it and smashing it to pieces with the weapon in a rage. According to the tale, several days later she was out hanging laundry when she slipped and became ensnared in the clothesline, which wrapped around her neck as she dangled above the ground and strangled her to death. Some reports on this incident say that the clothesline was a thin chain rather than the usual rope or wire. Allegedly, although an axe was found that had been dented up by striking rock and was covered in rock dust, and although everyone claimed that she had gone out to destroy Pruitt’s grave, the headstone itself was reportedly found to be perfectly intact, not even so much as scratched.

The strange deaths associated with Pruitt’s seemingly cursed grave would not stop there. Not long after the death of the Collins mother, a farmer was passing by the cemetery in a horse drawn carriage with his family. As they passed Pruitt’s headstone, the father began to boast that the whole story was a hunch of hogwash and apparently drew his pistol to fire at the headstone. He supposedly hit it several times, sending chunks of rock flying, and at that point the horses suddenly became panicked and launched into a mad dash. Although the family managed to jump to safety, the farmer hung on trying to rein the horses in and get them under control. As the horses careened around a bend at a dangerous clip, the farmer is said to have been thrown from the carriage, and in the process his neck somehow got caught in one of the trace chains. The farmer’s neck was broken and he died instantly. Once again, inspection of the headstone showed no signs of the damage inflicted by the pistol.

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The death of the farmer renewed talk and rumors about the “cursed grave” of Carl Pruitt, and rather than flock to the grave to see it for themselves, most people increasingly opted to stay well away from it. Two police officers, perhaps humoring the local populace, went to the grave to investigate the stories. While they were there, they apparently took pictures of themselves in front of the grave and for the most part did not take any of it seriously. As they were leaving, thoroughly unconvinced that this was all any more than a spooky campfire tale, a ball of light is said to have started following their patrol car. The cops, now starting to get creeped out, tried to speed away from the ghostly light and at some point they apparently lost control of the vehicle. The car then shot off of the road and smashed into some fences, and while one of the officers was thrown safely from the vehicle to suffer only minor injuries, the other was not so lucky. Allegedly, one of the chains between the fence posts ended up catching him on the neck, breaking it and practically decapitating the officer in the process. The one who was killed was allegedly the one who had suggested taking photos and had been supposedly laughing about the whole legend while they had been at the cemetery.

The death of the police officer really cemented the idea that the grave was truly cursed and haunted with a bloodthirsty ghost in the minds of most, but even still there were many who were not convinced. One such person was a man named Arthur Lewis. He had long scoffed at the story and claimed it was all silly nonsense, and one night he went out to the cemetery to prove it. Lewis told everyone he meant to destroy the grave, went out to Pruitt’s headstone with a hammer and a chisel, and purportedly went to work dismantling it. When he didn’t return, some locals went out to look for the man and found him dead near the cemetery gates. It appeared as though the chain from the gates had been used to strangle him to death, perhaps as he was leaving or because he had been running from something. Although the hammer and chisel were found to have been used to bash away at rock, of course the headstone itself was unmarred. Some spookier versions of this incident claim that some people had heard the bangs of the hammer on stone and then a terrified scream, which had prompted them to go and investigate.

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When a strip mining company came in the 1950s to purchase the land the cemetery sat on, it had become an abandoned, weed choked place that no one dared go to. Indeed, many had decided to move their loved ones’ graves and there had been practically no new burials in the notorious haunted spot. The mining company went about exhuming and relocating the remaining graves, and all of the headstones were moved as well. It is unclear what became of Pruitt’s headstone. Some versions of the story say it was destroyed and disposed of and others say it just sort of disappeared or was moved with the others, although no one seems to be quite sure where it went. What seems certain is that the mysterious deaths stopped with the destruction of the cemetery, and apparently there are still those in the area who insist the whole story was true.

Is there anything to this, or is it just spooky tales woven around a series of coincidental, freak deaths? Is this all creepy urban legend or a genuine case of something from beyond our realm pushing past the boundaries between worlds to kill? Whatever the case may be with the Chain Strangler ghost and Pruitt’s cursed grave, it is certainly not the only alleged case of death by ghost. Are there entities that can kill and why do they do it? Indeed how do they do it? Reality or not, stories of murderous ghosts continue to be a scary, yet oddly intriguing phenomenon.