On Sept. 17, 1911, a malevolent subject under the cloak of night silently entered the Wayne family’s Colorado Springs home, where husband, wife and daughter slept. Standing over them in the dark, the invader lifted an ax and swiftly bludgeoned all three to death. Before leaving, he methodically shrouded their faces with bedclothes and covered all the mirrors in the house.
He continued his murder spree at the neighboring cottage. There, Alice Burnham and her children slept while Mr. Burnham worked at a local sanatorium. Again, the killer overlaid both the victims’ faces and the mirrors.
More than a century later, the case remains unsolved.
“[This] is one of the true stories we have, and it’s documented in a book called The Man from the Train,” says Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs’ Claire Swinford. “The author, Bill James, finds 14 years of cases across the country where the modus operandi … [and] details are the same: a family with children … a house within a mile of the tracks … and every mirror covered. There were no shared records between police departments [then], and the trains allowed this perpetrator an escape.”
As director of urban engagement, Swinford leads scheduled walking tours of downtown Colorado Springs the first Saturday of each month. Throughout October, the tours focus on haunted history. The spooky events are popular, and are added on request.
“For historical interpretation, we frame much of the tour around Colorado Springs being a refuge for … tuberculosis [sufferers],” Swinford says. “There was a point when one in three had the disease—or a close family member battling it.”
Colorado Springs has businesses currently operating where the city morgue used to be, with cadaver storage during the 1918 global influenza epidemic (when the morgue ran out of room). Thousands of Coloradans succumbed to that historic outbreak. With soldiers going to Europe to fight the Great War, the flu became pandemic, with estimates of the death toll reaching as high as 50 million worldwide.
“Many who work downtown believe there are ghosts—experiencing unnerving cold spots, pushes by unseen forces, inexplicable accidents and visible poltergeists,” Swinford says.
One account supposedly occurred in Colorado College’s Cossitt Hall. In the 1990s, a technician tasked with removing asbestos from the basement crossed a coworker who claimed he heard drumming growing closer. Suddenly, an apparition appeared with a woman in white climbing a staircase. As the specter neared the top, she turned—but where a face should have been, there was a skull with empty, black sockets.
The worker was so horrified he never returned to the project.
Some theorize the apparition was Dorothea Cornick, a ballet dancer who taught in Cossitt Hall. She died in 1962 of sinus cancer, which mercilessly ate away her face.
“Colorado Springs’ past is hardly boring,” Swinford says. “A walk through local history allows individuals to envision themselves as part of the ongoing story of our community. Learning our past makes us more connected. We gain a shared sense of identity based on the stories we tell. The ghost treatment offers a hint of mayhem, making the educational experience all the more intriguing.”
Haunted Tours to Explore the Frights
Haunted tours bring to light local history, legend and the unexplainable.
Ghosts of Downtown Tours
Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs
Haunted History Cemetery Tour, Old Colorado City Historical Society
September and October
Blue Moon Haunted History Tours
Owner Stephanie Waters wrote the book, Haunted Manitou Springs.
Memorial Day through October
A great resource for the history and lore of the Pikes Peak Region
Frights and Pints Haunted Beer Tours
Walking tours feature ghost stories and stops at local breweries.