Suspicious deaths, basement-dwelling slaves, fraudulent activity and mysterious midnight burials — these are just a few of the sordid goings-on inside a stately-looking brick duplex in early 1940s Tulsa, which served as inspiration for one of today’s top annual Halloween haunted house attractions.
The true story is about as crazy as it gets.
Carolann Smith, a seemingly mild-mannered woman of 51, lived in the duplex with two other women, Virginia Evans and Wiletta Horner, both in their early 30s at the time. It might not seem so strange for a middle-aged matron to share a duplex with two younger women. But what is strange is the apparent hold Smith had over the two.
See, Evans and Horner didn’t live in the other half of the duplex. They made their home in the house’s basement, living in rags and sleeping on orange crates, while Smith herself occupied the rest of the house and lived in luxury, “buying expensive perfume, a $250 silverware set, a Packard car, 46 pairs of shoes, 18 pairs of gloves, 26 hats and enough makeup and beauty supplies ‘to stock a drugstore’,” according to the Tulsa World. She was able to afford this largely due to the fact that Evans and Horner, both of whom had steady jobs, signed all of their paychecks over to Smith. When all of this came to light, the women claimed that Smith had “mesmerized” them into becoming her slaves, earning Smith the nickname “She-Svengali.” Upon searching the house, authorities later found several books on magnetism and the power of the mind, as well as on magic and witchcraft.
After finally being discovered and rescued, the women told authorities that Smith had starved and beaten them for “religious purification” purposes. News coverage at the time also hinted at details pointing to a “sex angle” that was apparently deemed too lurid to report in full.
But that’s not all. Smith also managed to bilk Evans’ father out of $17,000 by convincing him that she was providing nursing care for the young woman. She also somehow convinced the federal government to give her a wartime ration book in the name of her pet bulldog, Bon Bon–one of two dogs later discovered occupying coffins that were dug up after neighbors reported witnessing a suspicious moonlight burial in Smith’s back yard.
And that’s still not all. The bulk of Smith’s income actually came from life insurance policies taken out on her husband, father and even her maid — each of whom conveniently died after naming Smith the beneficiary.
Was Smith a serial killer, a Svengali-like mesmerist wielding her occult powers to control her victims, or was she simply a con artist? Apparently no evidence was found to support the former, despite the convenient timing of the insurance payouts. For all of her apparent misdeeds, Smith was only convicted on charges of inducing Evans and Horner to falsely testify against a neighbor she apparently didn’t like, and also charged for mail fraud over the war rations. For this, she served only a single year in prison.
No one’s sure what became of Smith after she served her short sentence, and not much else is known because the file kept on the house by the city library was since stolen. As for the Hex House itself, it was demolished in the 1970s and eventually the site became a parking lot. The basement where Evans and Horner were enslaved, however, reportedly still remains beneath the black top, and both the rock foundation and the original front steps can still be seen around the lot.
The parking lot doesn’t get a lot of use these days, but when it was in regular use there were anecdotal reports of car lights coming on by themselves. Whether or not the location is actually haunted, there’s no doubt that the Hex House left an indelible mark on Tulsa and its history.