It has been said that truth is stranger than fiction. If you didn’t believe that before, you will after reading about these 8 unsolved mysteries that have taken place in Mississippi over the years.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Death of Norman Ladner
The year was 1989, and high school student Norman Ladner decided to do some hunting on family owned land near the small town of Picayune. Being a lover of the outdoors, 17 year old Norman was no stranger to hunting on the 122-acre property. At 7:00 pm, when the young boy still hadn’t returned home, his father began to worry. After searching the property, Norman Sr. found his son face down on the ground with a single gunshot wound to the head. Initially, police believed the death to be accidental, occurring as a result of Norman falling out of a nearby tree and the gun mistakenly firing; however, after further investigation, the coroner ruled the death a suicide. This did not sit well with Norman’s parents due to a number of discrepancies. The young boy had a fresh cut on his head that couldn’t be accounted for, his wallet, which contained about $140 was missing, and no bullet was found by investigators nor was Norman’s gun fingerprinted. These discrepancies combined with the fact that Norman’s parents did not believe their son would take his own life, led to the Ladners doing a little investigating of their own - which raised a number of questions. Norman Sr. and his wife did, in fact, locate a bullet covered in blood and hair at the crime scene; however, the type of bullet found would not fit in the gun Norman had been using. Additionally, a radio-like device was found at the crime scene. After speaking to a neighbor that had worked as a DEA agent, it was concluded that this type of device was often used by drug dealers to signal aircraft for drop-offs. Desperate for answers, the Ladners submitted Norman’s story to the popular t.v. show “Unsolved Mysteries,” but the crime has never been solved.
2. Pascagoula’s Phantom Barber
While a “phantom barber” may seem like a silly concept, it was actually very frightening for the residents of Pascagoula. It all began in 1942, when the population of Pascagoula had greatly increased due to warships being manufactured in the area. Nicknamed the “Phantom Barber” by local newspapers, the culprit would strike on Monday or Friday evenings. He would sneak into homes through windows, find his sleeping victims which were normally young, blonde girls, and he would cut off their hair. Aside from the victim’s hair, the Phantom Barber wouldn’t take anything else from the home. At one point, the culprit did leave a clue – a single footprint. The community was extremely frightened, women refused to go out at night, pistol permits were being applied for in large numbers, and a reward was offered. Eventually, the Phantom Barber changed his pattern. He broke into the home of the Heidelburgs, an elderly couple, and rather than cut their hair, he brutally assaulted them. William A. Dolan was charged with the attack on the Heidelburgs; however, he vehemently denied that he was the Phantom Barber and wasn’t charged with any other attacks aside from the Heidelburgs.
3. Witch Dance
Located on the Natchez Trace, the area known as Witch Dance still remains a mystery to this day. It is believed that witches gathered in this area to perform nighttime ceremonies which included dancing. Legend has it that wherever the witches’ feet touched the ground, the grass would wither and die, never to grow again. Believed to be a bad sign, these barren spots of ground were avoided by both the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians. The War of 1812 brought Andrew Jackson to the area, and while there is no record of Jackson avoiding these barren spots, he did find them noteworthy as he recorded them in his journal. Word had spread and travelers and traders in the area avoided the spots at all costs. Local criminals, the Harpe Brothers, were familiar with this local legend; however, chose to ignore the warnings. One of the brothers, known as Big Harpe, chose to dance along these barren spots and even called to the witches, challenging them to show themselves. Not long after, Big Harpe was murdered and his head was nailed to a tree. It is believed that the witches came and took his head, ground it up, and made a potion with it. Additionally, it was reported by many in the area that cackling and laughter could be heard coming from the surrounding woods. These barren spots can still be seen and, to this day, nothing grows in their place.
4. Local Big Foot Sightings
No list of unsolved mysteries would be complete without a Big Foot sighting. Spanning from the 1950’s to as recently as the 2000’s, this well-known creature has reportedly been spotted dozens of times in the state with a majority of sightings in Bolivar County. During the 1950’s, a farming family from the area reportedly had several run-ins with the creature which would often occur while working in their cotton field. In 1987, a witness claimed to have seen a hairy creature standing at about 8 feet tall walking in the area. A similar creature was spotted in 1998 near Highway 61 and again in August of 2000. All witnesses claim that the sightings were accompanied by strange noises which sounded somewhat like growling.
5. Unsolved Columbus Murders
Coined “The Ghosts of Mississippi” by local media outlets, the unsolved murders of five elderly people shocked local residents. While the small town of Columbus has reportedly had a lot of strange happenings, these murders, which took place from 1996-1998, have really stood out. During that two year period, elderly residents, all of whom lived within 1 mile of each other, had been found in their homes - strangled to death. Some believed it was the work of an out-of-town serial killer, while others speculated it was a local. Even after investigating hundreds of leads, enlisting the help of a serial killer specialist, and featuring the story on Investigation Discovery, the police were never able to solve the murders.
6. Disappearance of Levitz Heiress
In 1995, Jacqueline Levitz, the wealthy heiress to the Levitz Furniture fortune, was found murdered in her Vicksburg home. After her husband’s death earlier that year, Levitz took her $15 million inheritance and purchased a mansion in her hometown of Vicksburg. The socialite bought the home with the intent of renovating it. On November 18th, Levitz was seen at a local hardware store looking at wallpaper samples – this was the last time she was seen alive. No sign of Levitz was found in the home, but there were signs that a crime had taken place which included a blood-soaked mattress and artificial fingernails scattered about. Initially, investigators had suspected kidnapping, but this theory was quickly put to rest since the family never received any requests for ransom. Robbery was ruled out since nothing of value was taken from the home. Perhaps the most puzzling part of this crime is the fact that the heiress’ body was taken from the scene.
7. U.F.O Caught on Hunting Camera
In February of 2014, footage from a hunting camera showed what was believed to be a U.F.O of some type. The incident occurred around 7:20 p.m. near Cumbest Bluff, which is in Jackson County. The automated trail camera caught what first appeared as a dim light. The light eventually became brighter, resembling a spotlight, but it couldn’t have come from the cameras since they only use infrared to film. The light on the video then turned in to two lights and was described as “two headlights floating in the sky.” Due to the fact that there are no roads nearby, an actual car was quickly ruled out as the source of the light.
8. The Copeland Gang’s Buried Treasure
Responsible for robberies from Texas to Florida, James Copeland and his gang had made quite the name for themselves. Supposedly while in route to Alabama, the gang had stopped in New Orleans and picked up three whiskey barrels. It is reported that they then filled the barrels with gold coins, transported them to Pearlington, and buried them somewhere along Catahoula Creek. One of the gang members, Gale H. Wages, lived near the creek so it is assumed that they buried the treasure in that location because of its close proximity to his home. Over the years, stories about the gang have continued. As recently as the 1980’s, there were reports of a group of treasure hunters who had located a barrel containing $22,000 worth of gold coins in Pascagoula. While Pearlington and Pascagoula are quite a distance from one another, it is possible that the gold did belong to James Copeland and his crew as the gang supposedly buried several containers of gold all over the state.
These unsolved mysteries are definitely fascinating to say the least. Know of any other unsolved mysteries in Mississippi? Or were you exceptionally intrigued by one of these? Be sure to share your thoughts/comments below!