Places of worship are considered sanctuaries of comfort to people who visit them, like a break from the real world into a spiritual space where nothing malicious can happen. It therefore seems unimaginable than anything mysterious could happen at these places, like murders, disappearances or supernatural incidents. But not quite. This article lists the creepiest and most unimaginable events that happened in places of worship.
1. The Murders of Harold and Thelma Swain
It was in the hallway of the Rising Daughter Baptist Church in Georgia where Harold Swain and his wife, Thelma, met their fates at the hands of a stranger back in 1985. Harold Swain was the deacon of the church at the time, and it was during a Bible session that this stranger walked in. Harold went up to him in the church’s hallway, not long after the stranger pulled up a gun and shot him several times. His wife, Thelma, hearing the gunshots, ran into the room to see what the commotion was about, and was shot as well. The stranger fled the scene rapidly, leaving behind only one piece of evidence: a pair of eyeglasses.
Almost 15 years later, a suspect named Donnie Perry was apprehended and subsequently charged for the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain. He had allegedly threatened to kill Harold two weeks before the crime took place. However, some evidence surfaced that Donnie may actually be innocent. For one, Donnie claimed he was working in Atlanta that day, meaning he would’ve had to operate on a very tight schedule if it was, in fact, him who killed Harold and Thelma Swain. Moreover, Donnie had perfect eyesight, that is, the pair of eyeglasses left behind at the crime scene was likely not his.
However, while being persecuted, Donnie waived his right to appeal, — he remains behind bars, serving the two consecutive life sentences for the crimes he may or may not have committed.
2. The Murder of Father Alfred Kunz
The small town of Dane, Wisconsin was stunned to learn of the murder of Father Alfred Kunz, who had served the St. Michael Catholic Church for over 30 years. The elderly priest was found inside the church’s parameters with his throat slashed; a truly disturbing scene to behold.
The murder was a hot topic in town and was of course extensively investigated. Since then, a number of unconfirmed theories, all varying in degrees of dubiousness, have emerged. Some believe the crime was that of passion, after rumors emerged that Father Alfred was having sexual affairs with a number of the female church residents. Others believe that the murder was performed at the hands of a group of angry satanists. Malachi Martin, a local exorcist who Kunz collaborated with many times, noted that the crime showed signs of having been committed by devil worshipers.
Wisconsin police were able to identify a prime suspect, but could never collect enough evidence to press charges, leaving the murderer to remain scot-free up to this day.
3. Indian Temple Ablaze
It was a night of festivities inside the Puttingal Devi Temple when disaster struck one fateful night in April, 2016. It was the Hindu New Year, and Hindus all over India were celebrating well into the night, not least those in the south Indian temple. Fireworks were lighting up the sky, filling up the dark skies with pretty colors, until one spark lit up a bunch of stockpiled fireworks, which caused a blast and turned a portion of the temple into a blazing inferno.
106 people in total were killed in this tragic disaster, between those being crushed by falling debris, choking on the smoke or those who were burnt to death. High ranking government employees offered their condolences and a criminal case was opened, since pyrotechnics were technically not allowed in the temple without permission, and foul play could not be ruled out without any investigation. Despite this atrocity, no individual was formally charged.
4. The abandoned baby ‘Jacob’
On a cold February morning in 1994, the churchgoers of the Holy Council Lutheran Church in New Jersey made a horrifying discovery: the frozen body of a newborn babysat atop the window sills of the church. The baby was, unfortunately, frozen solid, the thin blanket wrapped around him did little to protect him from the shivery cold.
The baby’s body was frozen solid and had to be thawed out for three days before an autopsy could be performed. The umbilical cord was still attached to the child’s body but looked like it had been torn off rather than cut off, suggesting this baby was likely not born or registered in a hospital. He was named Jacob as that morning’s sermon was about the biblical story of Jacob, and the church had a memorial service in his honour. Since the baby was perfectly healthy before being placed on the windowsill, this was classified and investigated as a homicide, and despite some DNA being pulled off, neither Baby Jacob nor his ‘killer’ had been identified.
5. Stampede in Mecca
A day of peace, piety, and prayer turned into a hellish nightmare for hordes of Muslim pilgrims, in September 2015. It was the third day of Hajj, the annual five-day pilgrimage to Mecca, in which millions of Muslims worldwide participate in.
Thousands upon thousands of people were making their way to Jamarat through an area known as Mina, to conduct a ritual in which people symbolically throw stones at the devil. Since millions of people travel to Hajj every year, the Saudi Arabian authorities reserve people’s tents according to where they are from, to avoid overcrowding.
Authorities said that the incident occurred when two large groups of pilgrims merged together in an intersection. Bodies pressed up from all directions, piling enough pressure to bend steel. People were literally crushed and could not breathe, with not so much as an inch of space for people to move in. Despite no official death toll being released, upwards of 700 people died from asphyxiation that day. It was one of the worst tragedies to befall the sacred days of Hajj.
6. Suicide of ‘Wm L. Toomey’
It was the 4th of December, 1982 when a tanned stranger walked into Idaho’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church. No one had seen him before. He was waiting in line for confessional when he suddenly collapsed on the floor and drew his final breath. In his pocket were $1900 in cash and a note with clear instructions to use the money for his burial, signed ‘Wm L. Tooney’ (not his real name.) The man had swallowed a cyanide pill in what was clearly a premeditated event.
The man’s identity still remains a mystery. However, a few disturbing theories have emerged. One such theory is that this was an act of self-retribution.
To further explain, about a year earlier, in December 1981, a Catholic priest was murdered at a motel in Odessa, Texas, found naked with his hands behind his back. In November 1982, another Catholic priest, this time in nearby Yuma, Arizona, was also found dead in eerily similar circumstances. Both murders had gone unsolved. A suspect was apprehended in relation to the murders, but evidence shows that there was no way he could’ve been in Odessa the night of the first murder.
Linking ‘Wm L. Tooney’ to these murders, he was wearing a belt buckle belonging to an Arizona gift shop at the time of his suicide. Another thing to ponder on is that the name ‘Wm L. Toomey’ may have come from William L. Toomey, a company in Boston which manufactures priest garb—another thing that connects him from the murders. Conspiracy theorists have speculated that ‘Wm L. Tooney’ is actually responsible for the murders of both priests, and have mentioned how it may be possible that he was waiting in line for confessional to be absolved of his sins before dying, but perhaps miscalculated the time it would take for the cyanide pill to kill him.
These are just a few of the many tragedies that befell different places of worship around the world. These stories are tragic and frightening on their own but add to that the fact that they happened in places of worship – where people go to find solace, tranquillity and peace – makes them all the more spine-chilling.