Restless Oklahoma: Tulsa’s Hex House

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Archive photo © Tulsa World

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.

#PrayForOklahoma: It Matters

thingsBeing on Facebook and Twitter immediately following the Boston Marathon bombing, I saw a lot of prayer pledges being sent over the network streams. I sent a few myself. I’m assuming all of the others I saw were as sincere as mine, that, like me, those sending them actually dropped what they were doing to pray for the bombing victims. It was the only thing most of us could do.

In the days and weeks following the bombings, I also saw a lot of criticism of those prayers from atheist and agnostic commentators who feel like such expressions are a waste of time, or an exercise in futility, or complete and utter nonsense, a waste of words and breath meant only to make useless people feel useful but doing nothing that actually matters or makes a difference.

Well, if I may be so bold as to speak on behalf of Oklahoma, I’m here to tell you: it does make a difference.

Of course, there are exceptions, and those for whom it doesn’t matter. Although we’re a thoroughly red state and a major notch in the Bible Belt, we’re still a pretty diverse state and there are those who call Oklahoma their home who don’t believe in or understand prayer. But those folks are the minority here.

By and large, the people of Oklahoma believe in the power of prayer. We believe it can result in miracles, and for those who missed their miracles, it can result in peace and healing and the strength to stand up under the weight of overwhelming grief and loss.

When that massive tornado first showed up on the news yesterday, still in progress and bearing down on Moore, people all across the nation stopped what they were doing and lifted up Oklahoma in prayer. And let me tell you, while that storm raged a second storm cell was making its way through my neck of the woods, across several small towns north of Tulsa. That storm carried with it a tornado warning and showed all the signs of being as potentially deadly as the one in central Oklahoma. But before it could gather full strength, the nation started praying for us, and that storm didn’t turn out nearly as bad as it threatened to become. I fully believe that without those prayers, the devastation in Oklahoma yesterday might have been much more widespread.

And look at the miraculous reports coming out of Moore today. The death toll was downgraded by more than half. Over a hundred people were found alive and rescued after being given up for dead. This lady found her dog in the rubble after believing it had perished. And the outpouring of love and support from both within the state and without is awesome to behold. Hospitals and rescue organizations are having to turn away volunteers because so many people are showing up to help. People who have lost their own homes are focused on helping their neighbors. Oklahoma is doing what it does best: pulling together, reminding us that, even in the midst of devastation and tragedy, we are truly a blessed state.

If you believe prayer has nothing to do with any of that, then you and I are on completely different wavelengths.

But if you were one of the ones praying yesterday, I can tell you this: Oklahomans, by and large, are grateful for every single word of prayer sent up on our behalf. It’s not useless, and it most definitely makes a difference. Sometimes it’s all you can do. And sometimes it’s the most important thing you can do.

But if you’d like to do more than pray, my friend Rebekah Loper has put together a list of resources for how you can help support the people of Moore in their recovery.

UPDATE Re: the photo accompanying this post: “My nephew, Heath Alan Dodd, never would have thought his picture would have gone viral like it did. He wants doesn’t want to profit monetarily from the picture and so would like to ask that if the picture Moves You, to please donate to RedCross.org or $10 by texting “REDCROSS” to 90999. Our hearts are with the victims of the 2013 Moore Tornado. Any help in sharing this photo and helping to get the information about donations to the Red Cross would be greatly appreciated!”

Quick update…

I figured I should post a quick update for those who don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter to let everyone know that we’re fine. Tulsa wasn’t in the path of any of last night’s storms, and as far as I know none of our friends or family in the OKC area were affected. It’s heartbreaking to see what the folks in Moore are going through today, but I also know that they’re tough people. They’ve done this before, and they’ll get past this and rebuild again. Even so, our thoughts and prayers are with them today, and we’re counting our blessings.

Ropin’ and Chewin’.

Project: Radium Town, the Steampunk Weird West adventure set in my hometown of Claremore, Oklahoma at the dawn of statehood and featuring Will Rogers and Tom Mix.

Writing stage: Research

What I accomplished: Today’s work was mostly passive research — watching some old clips of Will Rogers on YouTube to get a handle on his voice and mannerisms, and jotting down some character notes. That man sure did like his chewing gum.

C25K/UFYH: Cleaned the bathtub (thank you, Magic Eraser), laundered the shower curtain, and bathed the dog. I also need to bathe me, but I’m waiting for the shower curtain to dry.

Later: It’s a chilly, rainy day, so I’m going to be camped out here on the sofa with hot tea and an afghan and working on the list I posted yesterday and then failed to do most of because I was hormonal and sleep-deprived and those two things broke my brain. Although I did get started on mockups for one client’s website, and, you guys! I’m doing a website for a YA author’s vampire series and what I’ve got so far is SO PRETTY and I can’t wait to show it to her. And I’m so excited about this project I can’t even tell you. I need more SFF authors to hire me to do their sites because THIS is the kind of web design I truly love to do.

Getting Acquainted with Agent Blake

Project: Radium Town, the Steampunk Weird West adventure set in my hometown of Claremore, Oklahoma at the dawn of statehood and featuring Will Rogers and Tom Mix.

Writing stage: Character development

What got done: Wrote up a character outline for Betty. Started reading Green Grow the Lilacs (the play on which the musical Oklahoma! is based) to get a sense of early 1900s NE Oklahoma dialect.

C25K/UFYH: Gave Sasha her meds, then cleaned the toilet and attempted to reign in the ridiculous, out of control pile of used shopping bags that are stuffed behind the kitchen table. I started folding them into little “footballs” a la this tutorial. It took me a little less than fifteen minutes to fold a dozen bags, so, about a minute per bag. I think it will take about an hour or hour and a half’s worth of twenty/tens to get them all. Although I may just bag up the rest for recycling and be done with it.

Later: Client projects and then writing some long past-due posts for my design blog. Giving Sasha the rest of her meds. Writing an article or two for Demand Studios, if there’s time.