Sunday, March 4, 2018

'Miracle Mile' - An Unexpected Romance

“Every great film should seem new every time you see it.”
-Roger Ebert

‘Miracle Mile’ opens with a wacky, romantic montage depicting a man’s comical exploits as he playfully pursues a woman in a museum. We hear his voice as he does so:

“Love can sure spin your head around,” Harry Washello (played by Anthony Edwards) muses in the film’s opening moments, “God, where do you begin?”

Love, then, in my estimation, is a lot like the movies. The art form has the unique ability to take you someplace visceral. To challenge what you think you know, what you think you feel and to ultimately- what was the phrase? Spin your head around.

The opening does a lot to establish expectations. Initially, this sequence made me question what I was watching. What little I knew about the film did not connect to the light hearted romantic comedy playing out on screen. Expectation can be an enemy to art: a predetermined opinion that often binds without relevance or fairness. On the other hand, as evidenced in MIRACLE MILE, expectation can be the seed of subversion. The promise of a journey that you can’t possibly predict.

I’ve always been partial to genre heavy cinema. Movies that push the boundaries of reality. Films that force characters into the types of scenarios that will draw forth truth and honesty. For, when else can we be true to who we really are, but when faced with decimation? The unknown? Our own mortality?

But that wasn’t what I was watching. No, ‘Miracle Mile’ was a somewhat quirky flick about Harry and Julie’s (actress Mare Winningham) meet-cute and the misadventures which would undoubtedly proceed it.

Clearly this was a film well aware of the romantic-comedy genre setting in which it began, one that by 1989 was very well worn. Audiences too were savvy and, given the proper context, knew exactly what to expect. After all, movies like “Into the Night” and “After Hours” had already explored what happens late at night, just who it is that comes out to play and the dangers (and rewards) that go along with it. This was a film running with the baton of the those that had come before it.

So it is that when a series of events leads to Harry oversleeping his alarm and missing his midnight rendezvous with Julie, we know exactly what we’re going to get… right?

As I watched Harry discover just how eclectic the crowd at Johnie’s Coffee Shop is at 4AM, my expectations began to evolve beyond the simple, quirky romantic-comedy I initially signed up for. Still, given the unfortunate nature in which Harry had broken his date with Julie, his wrong had to be made right. That was the narrative thrust. That was what mattered

Then, a phone call. Random. Unintentional. Wrong place at the wrong time. And it changes everything.

Chip: I told you what would happen if it ever came down. Well, it is! We don’t know why! Why would we, huh? It’s for real, dad! It’s no drill! We shoot our wad in fifty minutes. They’re going to pick us up in five or ten. And you could get it back in an hour and ten. Maybe seventy-five minutes!
Harry Washello: What exactly are you talking about?
Chip: I’m talking about nuclear fucking war.

There’s nothing quite like the odd tug in your gut when a film changes gears. At first, it feels wrong. Misplaced. In a lesser picture, maybe it would’ve been. Instead, Harry treats the event with a seriousness that’s grounded in very real fear. As he hurries into the restaurant to digest and subsequently inform the others of what he has learned, I too was digesting. Nervous. Unsure of how to proceed.

My expectations were shifting. They had to. This wasn’t the same movie as before. I, like Harry, would have to adapt, become something different in order to survive the experience. The night was supposed to have been fun. And after the call… nothing would ever be the same.

When faced with the angry, emotional reactions of those in the diner and their desire to disbelieve, Harry responds simply: “Listen I’m just a guy who picked up the phone.” He’s the protagonist that’s supposed to spend the runtime of the story being inflicted by the events around him. His path, based on the sub-genre he had so recently occupied, would only in the end bring him to the conclusion that he writes his own narrative and is not merely the victim of its occurrence.

‘Miracle Mile’ discards that notion. He must learn this lesson early. He must choose his path fearlessly. He must not hesitate, if he hopes to survive.

The transition from love and loneliness to life and death occurs so quickly and so deftly that by the time Harry finds himself running the gamut of the city’s underbelly, you’re no longer sure of what to expect. A chance encounter with a yet another quirky individual, a man named Wilson played by Mykelti Williamson, that steals stereos leads to the horrific deaths of two police officers. Later, an attempt to save Wilson leads to not only his death, but that of his beloved sister, Charlotta. Her poignant dying words remind of the idea of love and the drive that it can provide, even when hope is all but a memory: Is this your blood… or mine? 

Yes, the death toll mounts and still Harry’s priority is the same as it was at the beginning.

After all, as Wilson did Charlotta, Harry loves Julie.

He collects her, traversing the city in an effort to get to a helicopter promised by an affluent patron from Johnie’s Diner. Word of imminent destruction seems to grow throughout the city like wildfire. Is it all because of the phone call? Because of Harry? Was it all a prank?

Harry has no time for guilt. No time to fear such things. He is the antithesis of the beleaguered, neurotic protagonist of the quirky, romantic comedy. He has evolved. His situation has evolved. And, yet, the world around him is devolving. Slipping into the kind chaos that is so immediate and crude that one finds the absurdity of it all just bizarre enough to believe. Deep down, I think, we all know how imminent annihilation would proceed.

Julie Peters: People are gonna help each other, aren’t they? Rebuilding things?
Harry Washello: I think it’s the insect’s turn.

Schizophrenic drama turns to heightened mystery thriller which in turn becomes epic disaster all in the span of 50 minutes. The events feel as though they’re playing out in real time because for all intents and purposes they are. Harry is given the knowledge that they have 75 minutes. The viewer too. We, like Harry, enter in to this knowing exactly how it’s all going to end.
And, still, we fight. The viewer by caring and engaging mentally in Harry’s plight. Harry in his fight for survival. His fight for love.

As the film treads toward its conclusion, Harry and Julie find the helicopter, locate a pilot and make it into the air. They’re together.

The blast hits and the helicopter falls. Earlier in the film, near the beginning, Harry and Julie found themselves flirting whilst overlooking a tar pit. A statue of a struggling wooly mammoth sat in the middle, fear and damnation etched in terror on its unmoving face. As the helicopter sinks and our two protagonists hold one another, the love they share is never more palpable.

Harry Washello: They’ll find us here someday.
Julie Peters: They’ll put us in a museum.

The aim of the wacky, romantic comedy seems to be an effort to showcase love. Certainly in a humorous way, perhaps even a subversive one. But, ultimately, the genre wishes to leave its viewers with the warmth and knowledge that love is real, it exists and it can overcome all odds.

‘Miracle Mile’ does the exact same thing, with the same components, only it adds in the ingredients that comprise every other genre. It is not content to tell one story, but to journey through all of them, painting a picture of what a human being is capable of in the stead of love. It is simultaneously meeting the expectations of its opening premise while undermining what it was the viewer had expected to see.

Harry Washello opens the film by saying, “I never really saw the big picture before… not until today.” ‘Miracle Mile’ is a movie which posits that most of us never really see the ‘big picture’ Harry’s talking about. Not until it’s too late. Why do we tell these stories? Why do we flock to these movies? These big, idealized romances? Why is it that we want to see the neurotic somewhat handsome lead win over the person to which he knows his heart belongs?

Maybe it’s because we want a distilled glimpse of euphoric love. A feeling, captured and contained on celluloid, that mirrors what we all value, desire and treasure more than anything else in the world.

‘Miracle Mile’ accomplishes this lofty goal- just not in the way you’d expect.

Harry Washello: Maybe we can get a direct hit. It'll metamorphosize us. Superman, he can take a lump of coal and he'd squeeze it, and it would make a diamond.
Julie Peters: Diamonds - you and me, Harry.
Harry Washello: You and me. Diamonds.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Shaping the Conversation: Why I Didn't Mind Listening to the Elderly Couple Talking During 'The Shape of Water'

People go to the movies for a variety of different reasons. Some like to be entertained. Others moved. Still some are attempting to understand or dissect the world around them by way of the art which represents it. And when I ventured out to the theater with a friend to see ‘The Shape of Water’, a film I had been dying to see since the moment I heard it was going to exist, it was to achieve a combination of all three.

I had gone in expecting to have my mind blown by outstanding visuals, a heartfelt narrative and compelling characters. What I didn’t expect was to simultaneously overhear the commentary provided by two elderly individuals who neither understood what it was they were seeing nor cared much to try.

Now, before I continue, let me be up front about my expectations regarding the theatrical experience:

The movie theater is a place to go experience and enjoy a film, undeterred by the distractions of the outside world. Theater etiquette is important and essential to the viewer’s ability to enjoy and digest what is occurring on the screen. Under no circumstances should talking, texting or otherwise acting in a manner that might distract from a fellow patron’s theatrical experience be allowed.

Having said my peace, let me move forward by saying this:

There are exceptions to every rule.

Why does this matter? Why is this important? Why in God’s name would I elevate the very act I so often denounce? Because sometimes two conflicting ideas collide and create an unspoken conversation, a clash of belief systems that both signify the progressive change sought by the repressed and the lack of empathetic understanding regarding that shift employed by the status quo.

So it was that the in-the-moment reactions by an elderly couple to Guillermo Del Torro’s masterpiece regarding the ever-evolving landscape, language and incorrectly perceived luridness of love amplified and improved my own digestion of the film’s already palpable message.

To provide context, my friend and I attended one of those “dine-in” theaters where the seats recline, small lamps with call buttons adorn every chair and each place is assigned ahead of time. Therefore, there was a bit of a birth between our two seats and our neighbor’s (the aforementioned elderly couple). I couldn’t tell you how old they were exactly, from the looks of it probably their late 70s or early 80s. They wore large grins and seemed relatively excited for the picture.

My initial impression? I was sitting beside two life long cine-files, there to experience Del Torro’s new masterpiece.

Broadly, “The Shape of Water” tells the story of a mute woman who is as repressed sexually as people perceive her to be physically. Her inability to speak, however, is not so much a handicap, as it is a difference. This is a film that concerns itself with those who are different- those who are forced to repress what makes them special and unique in an effort to achieve success in the eyes of the society which unfairly labels them as less than.

The film is a beautiful, expressionistic exploration of what happens when that sort of individuality which has been shoved so far down into one’s self is allowed to break free. What happens when one soul truly connects with another, regardless of how foreign or impossibly different that entity may seem. Ultimately, the work concerns itself with love and attempts to visualize the raw elegance the sentiment embodies.

My counterparts sitting beside me, however, seemed to miss all of that.

The first utterance I heard from my peripheral was a quiet titter and the words “Oh my..!” Which accompanied an early sequence in the film, featuring a montage of Sally Hawkins’ character getting ready for the day and taking a few minutes to pleasure herself. Without having seen the movie, based on her reaction, I suddenly had the distinct impression that this woman had no idea what she was in for.

As the film progressed, I heard more and more whispered surprised assertions. Without going into spoilers, let me just say that when certain scenes of a sexual nature arrived, her “Oh my”s got louder and more embarrassed. Still, each comment was either preceded or followed by an uncomfortable laugh, either from her or her husband.

What struck me about all of this was that repeated snickering. That subconscious admittance that despite their outward aversion to what they were seeing, there was a part of them that found humor in their own outcry. Some aspect of themselves that they could not hide, something that suggested the “Oh my” was what was said in the absence of words or understanding.

Later in the film, I heard the old man lean over to his wife and whisper: “I thought this was a remake of ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’.” His wife responded, in a somewhat silly, almost whimsical tone, “I guess this is what the kids want these days. They must like this stuff.”

Those words resounded in my head as Sally Hawkins danced with the creature in beautiful black and white. The thought that this sequence was rendered for, in the old woman’s words, “the kids” was hilarious- but also beautiful and a tad heartwarming.

If the youth of today demanded challenging storytelling concerning what makes people special as individuals rather than celebrating the monotony of fitting in as a cog in the great machine, then it was hard not to be happy. And all of it, all of the comments and the very fact that these two were still sitting in the theater, spoke to their desire to understand, to break through their confusion and see what it was that attracted so many to the film that was playing out before them.

When the credits rolled I contemplated saying something to them. Engaging them in conversation about the film. But I didn’t. I left. I didn’t want to seem disingenuous regarding what I heard, so I thought it best to let it lie as a fascinating memory.

As I was walking to my car, blabbering on and on to my companion about how much I loved the film and how interesting it was to hear the thoughts of a different generation’s reaction to it, I heard a voice behind me.

“Did you actually like that?” The old man said genially.

There was not an ounce of accusation or condemnation, it came from a place of genuine curiosity. From a man who was confounded by a picture that he simply didn’t connect with.

I turned, probably more excited than I should have seemed, and exclaimed that not only did I love the movie, I really enjoyed hearing their thoughts. I said, “it actually enhanced the experience for me!”

Sheepish and a little embarrassed, his smile waned a bit and he said, “Oh, I hope we didn’t bother you.” I shook my head and insisted, it was really entertaining to hear real-time reaction to a movie that was so much about challenging societal norms.

He and his wife chuckled and proceeded to dive into their issues with the film, their thoughts on the outlandish goings-on and, finally, what their expectations had been going in.

“It’s just a silly science fiction movie! I don’t know what all the fuss is about!” He said, waving a hand and laughing.

His wife nodded and said, once again, “kids these days just like different things, I guess.” Her voice trailed off at the thought.

We shook hands and parted ways. I got into my car and sat for a moment with my friend, laughing about the exchange. One thing was for certain, the film we had just seen was not only expertly crafted and gorgeously rendered, it was an important social statement.

People go to the movies for a lot of different reasons. Entertainment is certainly a part of it, necessitating the need for what my friend in the theater labeled “silly science fiction”. But what happens after a decade of silly cinematic science fiction? How do our monsters evolve? How do we?

I went to see ‘The Shape of Water’ with the intent of witnessing a great film. What I got was a conversation between the society that’s attempting to understand it’s ever changing counterparts and the art that’s inciting the shift.

In the (very) paraphrased words of the kindly old woman who was sitting beside me, kids these days are looking for something different, something new and something which affirms their right to be unique and complex individuals. I find it refreshing that at least some of those people who aren’t “kids” are attempting to understand that and appreciate it too, even if they don’t always succeed.

Moreover, I’m grateful to filmmakers like Guillermo Del Toro for creating art worthy of representing the ideals which will help create a better future for all of us, young or old.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Missing Link

JUNE 1981

Most of Everett’s body was found hanging from the branches of a tree just outside Starkton, New Hampshire. The sinewy flesh had begun to rot by the time the rangers found him and they wouldn’t have known for sure that it was Everett were it not for the handful of teeth still lodged in his broken jaw.

Meredith Craw, Everett’s mother, was notified first. The authorities decided to forgo the typical identification process as Everett Craw was scarcely identifiable as a human being, let alone a specific one. Authorities brought with them the man’s dental records and the knowledge that her son was last seen heading into White Mountain National Forest, which they figured would be enough to convince her.

They were mistaken.

Meredith Craw was nobody’s fool. Neither was her son. If he went into the woods, you better believe he’d be touting a big, ol’ gun to keep him safe. A hunting knife too. No, Everett didn’t get gutted by no animal, that was someone else’s idiot boy. Someone else’s slop.

It didn’t take long for the rangers to find Everett’s big ol’ gun or his campsite which was only several yards away from where (most of) his remains were found. His tent was in shreds and his belongings were covered in blood. The rangers and homicide detectives determined that what they didn’t find of Everett’s body in the trees, had most likely been left behind at the campsite and subsequently devoured by the wildlife.

When faced with the overwhelming evidence that her son was most certainly dead, Meredith Craw suffered what the doctors referred to as “a mental breakdown.” She shut herself in her trailer and refused to come out, brandishing a shotgun and threatening anyone that got within a yard or two of her front door. The situation climaxed when the Starkton Sheriff arrived to quell the situation.

She fired high, intending to startle him but misjudged the range and size of her shotgun’s blast. Sheriff Frank Hitchers was not killed but he did lose a piece of his right arm and he certainly could’ve died had the paramedics not arrived so quickly. Upon realizing her error and before anyone else could even attempt to apprehend Meredith Craw, she placed the shotgun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

The trailer was impounded and soon after destroyed, being salvaged for scrap. According to his mother before she died, most of Everett’s life was in that trailer: what little from his childhood that his mother kept, his baseball card collection, his nudie mags, everything. He didn’t have any other relatives that he was on speaking terms with and he had never met his father.

The story quickly became about crazy old Meredith Craw shooting the sheriff whilst grieving the loss of her son, which was a much more interesting one for the papers to run with than: middle aged recluse who still lives in his mother’s trailer mauled to death by unknown predator on ill advised trek into the forest alone. The story ran for a few weeks. The sheriff came off looking like a hero. After a couple of skin grafts and some rehab, he was back on the job- as right as rain.

People talked about what happened from time to time, never paying it much mind. They would say they always knew something was off about the Craws. They would joke about the extreme nature of their temper, especially the boy and his odd fascination with the fantastic. After a while, the manner in which he died didn’t even raise eyebrows. Of course he was eaten by a bear, they would say, going out that deep into the forest like that is just asking for it.

In fact, after a few years, the story of Everett Craw’s messy remains barely came up at all in Starkton. No one cared how he died. No one cared why he was out there. No one asked what he was looking for. Or if he found it.

If they had, then maybe Christine Preston would still be alive.


A decade after Everett met his unfortunate demise, Christine Preston set out into White Mountain National Forest on a dare.

Later, a young girl named Barbara Masters admitted under oath during the locally televised trial that the dare had been a part of a hazing ritual. Although her teary eyed confession did garner some sympathy from the jury, the judge was not to be swayed. The sorority was held accountable and forced to shut down in light of the ruling. The school had to pay 1.5 million to the Preston family and only a few years later perished under the weight of their social and financial losses.

Christine didn’t know it, but she set up camp not far from where Everett Craw had established his own years before. Neither the rangers who found her campsite, the homicide detectives who investigated the scene or the people who lived in Starkton that read about her ghastly end managed to make that connection.

Not much is known about what occurred the night she died. Judging from the state of her campsite, there was a struggle. Her tent was found in shreds and her sleeping bag sopping wet with blood. Like Everett, Christine had been strung up, only this time, directly above her savaged campsite instead of yards away. It should also be noted that Christine was found much quicker than Everett, as her sorority sisters went looking for her in the early afternoon when she didn’t return for their scheduled brunch.

Five young women found Christine Preston, all in their early 20s and all having never seen a dead body before. One ranger who was no less than 15 miles away claimed he could actually hear the screaming from his post at the approximate time the corpse was located.

Christine was in bad shape, although unlike Everett, recognizable as her former self. Her right eye was in tact, wide and staring, but her left had been gouged out. Most of her left cheek was missing, a large portion of her jaw clearly visible through the hole in her face. She had been partially scalped and what did remain hung loosely from her skull. The skin and muscle had been mostly stripped from her left arm, leaving nothing but white bone that shimmered proudly in the sun through the leaves. She was naked and her body was brutalized. Her left foot was missing altogether and was never found.

The headlines reported a killer on the loose. Several of the girls gave interviews right away, selling their story to the highest bidder or, in one case, simply spilling the details stupidly while intoxicated. Given the way the body was positioned, most of the girls assumed it to be the work of a sadistic man, not a hungry animal. That is, aside from one. One girl, Alicia Dano, developed a different theory.

Instead of going to the newspapers with her story, Alicia phoned her father. Henry Dano was on his way to New Hampshire within the hour. His trunk contained a tent, a cook kit and several rather large guns.

Henry arrived early the next morning and asked his daughter to show him to the place where the girl was found. She tried, but the area was still cordoned off by the police. Still, Henry marked the spot on a map and waited.

The sorority was brought to trial by Christine’s family and the town turned its attention to the morality of hazing and peer pressure. As the shift occurred, Henry moved into the woods, positioning himself atop Christine’s former site. Alicia would later inform those who were interested that her father had been waiting for something like this. A sign. A gruesome murder. An upside down corpse in the trees.

Unlike Everett and Christine, Henry was not found dangling from a tree branch. Henry Dano was never found at all.

JULY 1998

It took another 7 years for a body to turn up dangling in the trees and this time, finally, a connection was made.

Half of young Brandon Hescher was discovered by his poor grandmother on the morning of July 2nd, 1998. They had been camping in White Mountain National Forest some ways away from the designated grounds. Brandon’s grandfather Thomas liked to see what he referred to as “real nature” and therefore avoided the more curated sites.

Thomas lived to regret his decision however when he awoke to the piercing sound of his wife’s screeching and the image of his grandson’s torso lopped over the side of a thick tree branch some thirty feet above their tent. Thomas’s immediate, panic-stricken thought upon taking in the horrific sight was that he had awoken the night before in the early hours and noted that it must have been raining.

The revelation that what the old man had believed to be the pitter patter of raindrops striking the tent was actually the sound of eight year old Brandon Hescher’s blood emptying from his splayed form made him wretch until he passed out.

The rangers had a much harder time with this one given the boy’s youth. The newspapers ran the story as a homicide. This time, comparisons were drawn with Christine Preston, who’s murder had remained unsolved. Soon, the papers were asking questions about the still missing Henry Dano and the odd way in which he turned up and disappeared right after Christine had been murdered.

In an emotional interview, Alicia Dano defended her father, claiming that he went out into the woods to avenge Christine and others like her but had more than likely fallen victim to the same predator that he had hoped to slay. When sources inquired further about this “predator”, Alicia declined to comment.

Old Thomas Hescher was the very first to connect the murders back to that of Everett Craw. He had planted himself firmly in the town of Starkton after the tragedy in the woods, determined to get answers. He spent much of his time in the library, studying microfiche of the local papers over the past several decades. Once he discovered Everett, he went back further.

More bodies had been found, certainly, but yet more people had gone missing from Starkton over the years. All that was found of one little girl was her foot, strung up in a tree by her long shoelaces. In the 30s one man’s skeleton was found in a tree, lord knows how long it had been up there. And, Thomas even found evidence that around the turn of the century an entire encampment was annihilated in the night, their bodies hung in the branches over their camp, drained of blood.

If it went back that far, Thomas wrote in a letter to his wife, it couldn’t be a serial killer. It had to be something else.

Unfortunately, something else, while not an inaccurate statement, was not enough to carry favor with the city or state government. Not only was he denied a local hunting permit, Thomas was denied the funds he was asking for to mount an elaborate study on the wildlife found in the State Park. Citing that these sorts of studies had already been completed in the past, the board which oversaw White Mountain National Forest ultimately expressed their disinterest in Mr. Hescher’s venture and forbade him to take the matter any further.

Three weeks following the board’s decision, Thomas Hescher set out into the White Mountain National Forest with an arsenal of weaponry and enough rations to survive for at least several months.

Muriel Hescher reported her husband missing later that same day, calling off the search when she discovered a note left by her husband. While she has yet to share the contents of this note with the press, it was reported that it explained her husband’s intentions to “find and destroy” whatever it was that murdered their grandson. The people of Starkton digested this news as an admission of guilt. Rather than viewing the man’s mission as heroic, the townsfolk interpreted the act as an escape plan.

Rangers and local law enforcement spent two weeks combing as much of the 800,000 acres that comprised White Mountain as they could but came up empty handed. It wasn’t until 2 months to the day that Thomas disappeared into the forest that he emerged again. He was hurt and emaciated, but very much alive.

He was rushed to a hospital. His face was badly scarred and he was missing his right index finger and thumb, the wounds of which he appeared to have cauterized crudely. He was interrogated 37 hours after he was brought out of the woods, once physicians deemed him mentally capable. While what was said in that hospital room is not on public record, rumor persisted that Thomas Hescher claimed that a terrible beast murdered his grandson. Mr. Hescher, allegedly, informed the detectives that he went out to locate the creature and found what he was looking for.

Three days later, Thomas Hescher was escorted out of the hospital in handcuffs to be transferred to a holding facility while he awaited trial. In between the front door of the hospital and the back door of the police car awaiting him, a reporter asked if he aimed to go back into the woods were he to regain his freedom and continue his vendetta against whatever it was that killed his grandson. Thomas Hescher’s response was recorded on video. He said plainly:

“I aim to never step foot in the woods again.”

Thomas Hescher died that very evening in his holding cell. His heart, it was reported, simply gave out. Muriel Hescher declined interviews but did release a statement to the press:

I stand by my husband’s innocence. Our family has been decimated by the events here and if what lies in the White Mountain National Forest is not dealt with, I imagine ours will not be the last family decimated while visiting Starkton, New Hampshire.

Muriel sent the statement to as many news outlets as she could find, providing a brief synopsis of the events which occurred. While it did not become a national headline, it did evolve into a very popular discussion topic on burgeoning internet chat rooms.

One such Chat Room was called The Missing Link. Which brings us to Joe Gunther.


Joe Gunther liked to consider himself a hunter, despite the fact that he never did much hunting. He had made a name for himself online, boasting mistruths that were impossible to substantiate but sounded great in type. His notoriety on the internet, given what it was he was claiming to do, was why his gruesome demise made headlines across state lines, finally catapulting Starkton into the national spotlight.

Joe Gunther started The Missing Link as a lark. In the journals found in his home, Joe revealed that he had always wanted to be perceived as more masculine and intimidating than he was in real life. He also had a proclivity for the monstrous and held the belief that much of what the world believed to be myth was very much real.

He opened his chat room with the description: The Missing Link - top secret details regarding the current whereabouts of the Sasquatch. Hunters and experts discuss tactical plans for the capture and or destruction of the ancient beast.

Joe had archived every line of text posted over the two years that he ran the chat room which seemed to have attracted a rather eclectic crowd. Many of the claims made by users were ridiculous and unfounded. Several reported that they had captured the fabled creature. Several more announced they had actually killed one. Photographs uploaded included a doctored mounted deer head to look like a Sasquatch as well as a questionably bloody picture of what looked like a man gutting an ape with nothing but a butcher’s knife and his bare hands.

Joe Gunther easily came across as the most sane voice in the space, albeit one that spewed nothing but lies. According to Joe, he was a globetrotting millionaire naturalist, who spent his days planning and plotting trips to the most remote places in the world in search of the infamous creature. He would say he had come close several times, only to watch the beast slip through his grasp.

It was the news regarding Thomas Hescher that changed the tone of the room and indeed sent Joe to his death. It was one thing to believe in the Sasquatch, to know that the creature was out there in some distant jungle, it was another entirely to think the creature was inhabiting a National Park in New Hampshire. As word spread, those who frequented Joe’s chat room most regularly decided to mount an expedition. Knowing Joe, of course, they assumed he would already be there.

Joe Gunther was in a spot. Most of his self worth had become entangled in this other life he had created for himself on the digital plane. So, rather than allowing that to fall apart, he decided to use his two weeks of vacation time at the Auto Mechanics workshop where he made his living and drive out to Starkton.

While he had previously invested in camping and hunting gear, Joe hadn’t the slightest clue of how to use any of it. He stopped at a gas station just before he entered park grounds. He spoke to an attendant there who later recalled that Joe seemed “nervous”. “He asked me how to put up a tent,” the attendant who decided to remain anonymous told authorities, “and if I could help him load his rifle. He told me that the man who had sold it to him showed him how, but that was over a year ago and he couldn’t remember the instructions.”

The gas station attendant would be the last person to see Joe Gunther alive.

Six months passed before anyone found his body. During that time several hunters did travel to Starkton, New Hampshire. Their efforts turned up nothing, however, and as the heat died down and new stories emerged elsewhere around the country, so too did the hunters depart. Still, Joe Gunther was out there.

When his body did finally turn up, much like Everett Craw, it was scarcely recognizable as Joe Gunther. He was 50 miles north of where his camping gear had been found three and a half months prior and, unlike the previous victims, his rotting remains were found in a pile near the entrance to a cave.

Amidst the remains were small pieces of fabric that matched the clothes Joe had been wearing in the gas station six months prior. Some hair was found and, later, proven to be a DNA match for Joe. All that could be determined from the remains was that Joe most likely died from massive trauma to the head. All of his bones were broken and several missing, but it was difficult to determine if this occurred before or after his death.

The hiker who found the body, a man the media referred to only as “Jack”, radioed the rangers immediately. When the rangers arrived with law enforcement in tow, a search was conducted of the cave. Evidence that bears had dwelled there at some point in time led them to believe Joe was mauled and eaten- although even the rangers had to admit, they had never seen evidence of a black bear doing what had been done to poor Joe Gunther.

News of Joe’s recovery and death slowly filtered into the newspapers. What the local papers didn’t know was that Joe Gunther’s notoriety had only grown in the past six months. He was thought to be the first hunter to enter the woods in pursuit of the Sasquatch and still the only hunter who had not yet reported back his findings. As time passed, more and more hunters discussed the possibilities of Joe’s fate. News of his gruesome death was enough to confirm the collective suspicions of those who frequented The Missing Link.

Within days of the news of Joe Gunther’s death, dozens of hunters turned up. As that news spread, dozens more arrived. Soon, even the New York Times contained a featured article on the Sasquatch craze that seemed to have struck Starkton, New Hampshire. With the people and the media, came speculation. All it took was one intrepid reporter to dive into the area’s oddly sordid history of accidental deaths, unexplained animal attacks and open homicide cases for that speculation to transform into full blown belief.

A CENTURY OF DEATH, was the first of many headlines to accuse White Mountain National Forest of housing something sinister. The paper was the Starkton Moment and in their Sunday Edition in late April 1999 they printed a detailed account of every recorded death that had occurred in the national park over the past one hundred years. They would have went back further, the author of the article, Julie Dobbs, had said in an interview, but most of the records prior to 1905 had been lost in a fire around that same year. The article was incredibly controversial, many accusing the paper of being salacious in an effort to sell copies. The editor, a man by the name of Christian Franklin, did not help matters by later admitting that improved sales numbers was the only reason he allowed the outlandish article to go to print.

Jule Dobbs held firm to her stance that she took in the article: no matter what you believe, the woods surrounding Starkton have an incredibly high death rate and the similarities between the state of the corpses found seem far too frequent to be coincidence. Never does the article even mention the word “Sasquatch”, but it begs the question - what is killing people in the White Mountain National Forest?

For the next year, Starkton was overran with visitors hoping to spy a glance at the alleged Sasquatch that was in and around their town. T-shirts that read “I’m with Big Foot” and visors with a snarling half-ape, half-human face printed on them were sold at roadside stands and small, pop up shops with all of kinds of monster hunting equipment sprung up practically overnight. The rangers spent most of their time chasing after unlicensed, gun touting individuals who would just as soon fire at anything that moved as they would the beast they actually sought. Local law enforcement was grossly unprepared for crowd control of this magnitude and most nights, one officer later recalled to in an interview, they just threw up their hands and figured if the morons in the woods got themselves killed, it’d be one less for them to chase down in the morning.

After about a year of the frenzy, interest began to wane. No one had spotted a Sasquatch and even those who followed the exploits detailed on The Missing Link had to admit that a bear attack was the more likely explanation for Joe Gunther’s demise. In May of 2000, most everyone cleared out and went home. However, a few hunters did remain, several of Joe’s most die-hard acolytes, to further explore the more than 1250 square miles the park had to offer.

One of these men was named Reginald Mack, known today as the White Mountain Bomber. He had been hunting for his entire life. His father even had a picture of the boy holding a rifle at three years old. He was bound and determined to find the creature and his instincts told him, if he ever were going to find it, he’d find it in White Mountain.

And he was right.


Reginald Mack’s wife, son and two daughters had been killed in a car accident seven years, two months and sixteen days prior to the day he claimed to have found the Sasquatch. A drunk driver missed a red light and slammed into the side of their station wagon going sixty miles per hour. His two daughters and his wife, sitting closest to the side of the vehicle struck by the car, were killed instantly. Reginald, who was driving, and his son who was seated behind the driver’s seat, both came out of the accident in critical condition. Reginald awoke from a coma one month later only to discover that he was once again a bachelor with no children, as his son didn’t last the first night.

Reginald began keeping a journal after the incident. They were recovered several months after what happened in the woods and a few were published as part of an expose on Starkton. In them, Reginald discusses all manner of things: his near misses with suicide, his pain inducing strategies to keep his depression and sense of self loathing at bay and, of course, his obsession with finding the Sasquatch. He had always been peripherally aware of the movement to find the creature. His own father was a Sasquatch hunter. Still, Reginald had never been all that interested in such a path.

After the death of his family, Reginald needed something to pour himself into. In one of his last journal entries, he wrote: I will never again love as I have loved, ahead of me is only hate. But at least hate is… something. While I cannot pursue something that I hope to love, I do have the ability to hunt something that I yearn to destroy.

Having been a prominent member of The Missing Link, Reginald was well aware of what was happening in New Hampshire. When Joe Gunther went missing, he became immensely more interested. He researched the region and discovered its unpleasant past long before the headline A CENTURY OF DEATH hit the newsstands. Several of his journal entries also reveal that Reginald was the first to truly take note that Everett Craw had himself been a Sasquatch hunter.

He arrived at the tail end of the mania that was occurring in Starkton alone and unnoticed. He made his way into the woods with nondescript camping gear, the rations he required to survive and several homemade explosives. He entered, it was later gathered from his journal entries, with no intention of leaving until he found the Sasquatch. He had even referred to the trek as: his last stand.

Here’s what we know:

On the morning of August 9th, 2000, at approximately 9:30am, a young woman named Elizabeth Pope went for a trail run while camping just outside the approved area in White Mountain National Forest. She ran for twenty minutes or so and stopped when she came upon what she believed to be an abandoned campsite.

She picked up a dirty pot and dropped it, which let out a loud, metallic bang as it connected with a rock. Startled, Elizabeth backed away and nearly fell into a still standing tent. She reached out to balance herself against one of the tent poles when she heard a loud bang.

The first call to the police was put in by an anonymous camper who said he thought he had heard a gunshot at approximately 9:57am. He was concerned, it was recorded, because they were in an area that was strictly no hunting, due to the volume of campers.

Authorities located Elizabeth on an old, out of use trail some two miles away from her campsite several hours later. She was unconscious and had lost a significant amount of blood. She had a gunshot wound on her right shoulder. She appeared to have attempted to get back to the campsite before finally passing out due to blood loss, which was later corroborated by Elizabeth herself.

She lived, but just barely. When she regained consciousness that evening she explained that a hermit who was camping out of bounds had shot her while she had been out for a jog. That evening, the Sheriff and his deputies, along with several volunteers from the town and a slew of rangers ventured into White Mountain National Forest to suss out the hermit. With everything that had happened in Starkton, they didn’t need a murder spree on their hands.

The campsite was quickly unearthed, although the man had clearly attempted to cover his tracks. They walked, spread out for several miles, communicating via radio as the night wore on. Gerald Marks, the Sheriff at the time, recalled later that, “the deeper into the woods you went, the darker they seemed to become- almost like the moon just… shuts off.”

Gerald was the first to find the cave. He radioed for the others when he spotted the torn arm of the plaid shirt the hermit was said to have been wearing. He moved to pick it up but dropped it in haste when he felt how wet it was. He recalled later that he immediately recognized the stuff as blood.

Twenty six men and women entered the cave that night, carrying flashlights and armed with rifles, shotguns and, in the case of several of the townspeople, wooden baseball bats. Gerald was the first to call out, saying, “We know you’re in here. Come out now and we won’t hurt you.” When no response was given, Gerald spoke once more, “If we come in after, we might have to shoot you. Nobody wants to do that. Now, please, come on out.”

When the group was met with silence, they proceeded. Amy Justice, a local shop owner in Starkton, was the first to spot the bloody footprints. Shortly thereafter, they came upon the bones.

“At first I thought we were walkin’ on stones or pebbles, maybe twigs and that’s why my feet were crunchin’ so loud,” Amy recalled later in an interview, “it was bones- hundreds of ‘em. Thousands maybe.”

It did not take long for them to reach a fork in the cave tunnel. After a moment of deliberation, the group was split in two. Thirteen went east and thirteen went north. Both carried radios. They said their goodbyes and moved on, none of them realizing that neither half would ever see the other again.

Sheriff Marks headed the group moving north. He reported seeing strange markings on the wall, similar to cave drawings he had seen in old history books. The markings resembled crude drawings of humanoid creatures, but that’s all he could recant. He claimed years later, after enduring much ridicule during his mayoral campaign, that he wasn’t paying much attention and that, perhaps, he had been mistaken about the drawings altogether.

After ten more minutes of walking the tunnel, a burst of static came through on the radio. Sheriff Marks recalls attempting to contact the other group and receiving nothing but more static for several minutes. Others in his group substantiated the claim as well. Then, after several minutes more of silence, one final communique came through. It was one of the ranger’s voices, although no one could say with certainty who it was. All that could be made out through the static were the words:

“Something’s in here with us.”

The group in the North tunnel all confirm that immediately after the radio page, the collective screams of the other group could be heard echoing through the caves, as if they were just beside them. The screams were described as “petrified” and “unearthly” by those that were there to hear it. The surviving members of the party were also able to confirm that the screams were snuffed out one by one followed by loud, echoing crunching sounds and what one person described as: “raw meat slapping against a stone wall.”

Sheriff Marks commanded an immediate retreat. The group ran back the way they came until they reached the cool air just outside of the cave. They regrouped several yards from the black entrance, still marked by the torn plaid sleeve, twitching in the slight wind. They waited, silently, as though unconvinced that what they had heard was real. Sheriff Marks raised the radio and again attempted to reach the group.

After several minutes of this, the Sheriff was about ready to give up. It was then, at approximately, 11:05pm that Reginald Mack responded on the radio.

“Your people are dead.” Reginald broadcasted to his audience of thirteen.

After a string of obscenities, the Sheriff inquired as to who was speaking and Reginald informed him. While the conversation was not recorded and of the nine that decided to go public with their story, only several have agreed on what exactly was said, this is what Sheriff Gerald Marks recorded in his debriefing:

“He said his name was Reginald Mack. He said he was a hunter. He apologized for shooting the girl. Said it was an accident. He said he had come to find and kill the creature that lived in those caves. And he meant to.”

When asked what Reginald’s final words before detonating the explosives were, Sheriff Marks responded:

“He, uh, he told me that we couldn’t know how many people the, uh…”

The Sheriff had paused uncertainly. An officer could be heard coaxing him to continue on the recording.

“Fine, Jerry, Jesus Christ, he said we couldn’t possibly understand just how many people the… Christ… the Sasquatch had killed. You happy, Jerry? He thought he was in there with a f***in’ Big Foot! He said he was doing the world a favor. Said the caves were underground and they were puttin’ the bodies up in the trees to throw us off of where they really were. Said he had found their lair and that’s when…”

More coaxing, then the Sheriff continued.

“We heard some kind of roaring and… then the explosion.”

When the cave entrance collapsed in on itself, several of the thirteen people standing nearby had the foresight to dive out of the way, or shield themselves. Four were struck directly by debris, one of whom, a young ranger named Derrick Gritt, was killed instantly due to blunt force trauma. The other three lived but were hospitalized, one of which suffered from tinnitus for the remainder of his life and another permanently lost sight in her left eye.

It was later determined that the detonation set off a chain reaction along a previously unexplored system of underground caves, many of which collapsed in on themselves. Sink holes developed around the surrounding area for miles, causing damage to other campsites and in once case swallowing an entire RV into the earth. Luckily, no one was injured or killed due to the aftermath of the event, but significant financial losses were incurred by multiple campers, the White Mountain National Forest and the Starkton community itself.

The papers again ran stories of a rogue Sasquatch hunter and his attempts at glory, however painted the man with a discrediting hue of insanity rather than emphasizing the mythology surrounding the woods. Julie Dobbs, who was no longer employed by the Starkton Moment, wrote and released an article on her blog regarding the life of the hermit who had become known as the White Forest Bomber. It chronicled the man’s history following the death of his family in a car accident and delved into his handwritten journals plotting his long term plans to find and destroy the alleged Sasquatch found in White Mountain National Forest. She even managed to get a brief quite from his estranged father:

“He did it. He found ‘em. And I couldn’t be prouder.”

The article got very little exposure and was soon after forgotten, despite being championed by local Sasquatch celebrity Alicia Dano, still searching for answers regarding her missing father.

Starkton moved forward, as it always did after just such a tragedy. When neighboring such a vast and untamed wilderness, the more chaotic elements of nature and mankind were bound to seep into the community from time to time, or so was said.

As for the Sasquatch, to this day no other recorded deaths, inexplicable or otherwise, have occurred in or around White Mountain National Forest. The Missing Link chat room was shut down shortly after Joe Gunther’s death, but much of that community is still very active online, plotting annual trips to areas most rumored to inhabit the creature they so desperately seek. Few of them hold much stock in the work of Reginald Mack. Much like the media, they could hardly believe in the sanity of a man who shot a young girl and then blew up thirteen innocents.



Two weeks ago, Mary Anne Highland left her home in Mason County, Vermont around dawn to take her morning constitutional. Several miles in to her walk, still within the confines of her privately owned land, she came upon a large divot in the path. The hole was approximately fifty feet wide and seventy feet long and seemed to lead into an underground cave of sorts.

The hole in and of itself would have been startling enough without what Mary Anne discovered next. At first, she thought someone might have fallen in. The blood on the grass was slick and shiny, recent looking and not yet congealed, so she peered in for a better look. As she watched a drop or two splash down from above, she turned her gaze upward and saw the body.

A man she recognized as her neighbor, Harold Johansen, hung there, gutted, his stomach open and organ-less, dripping blood into the hole in the earth.

Authorities in Vermont are still searching for the killer. As of this time, no new evidence has been discovered, other than the fact that the sinkhole Mary Anne discovered appears to lead to an intricate system of caves that may well span state lines. While the caves being a possible means of travel for the killer has not yet been ruled out, local law enforcement has deemed it highly unlikely that a man could traverse such a passage effectively.

No official connection has been made to what occurred in the neighboring state of New Hampshire eighteen years prior, or a century prior to that.