It was a warm and quiet October in Saint Petersburg, Florida during 1971. My family had moved there just a year before to escape the hassle, bustle and crime of New York City. Being an only child with two working parents, I knew what it meant to be home for at least a few hours each day by myself. But at thirteen years of age, it didn’t scare me. Coming from a city filled with crime and crazies, I automatically walked around the small rented home we had in a nice area of St Pete before going in. I looked for any open windows, unlocked or ajar doors or signs of forced entry. Once I felt comfortable that the house was secure, I entered quickly and immediately locked the door again. It was a kind of ritual and probably seemed silly to the neighbors. They left garage doors wide open most of the day and back doors unlocked until it came time for their kids to come home from school. |
Although most people thought of St Pete as a town full of retirees, there was still a significant population of young families and lots of kids. Most of the homes on our block were owned or rented by young couples with children. Although it took some getting used to, I really enjoyed the change that our move to Florida had brought. Even the local Church we attended was a welcome distraction from the cold, closed, cathedral style building where we had worshipped in New York. It was open, airy and bright. And the people just seemed more friendly. Not that New Yorkers aren’t friendly. There just scared! When you live in any big city area it’s a must to keep a sort of protective distance between yourself, your family and everyone else. You want to be friendly, but you also want to be careful.
It was the third weekend in October of 1971 and the weather was great! I woke extra early that Sunday morning and walked up to the 7-11 that was just two blocks from our house. I loved to surprise my parents with the Sunday Paper and enjoyed buying myself some treats. There’s nothing like coke and candy early in the day! But on this morning everyone in the store seemed a bit somber. I shrugged it off and walked back to the house enjoying the fresh morning air. My folks weren’t up yet, so I watched some TV. Like most kids, I hated the news. But while flipping channels, I heard something that made me pause.
A thirteen year old girl had been found dead in her home yesterday. Julie Dodge was stabbed to death by an older teen neighbor who became obsessed with her. He waited until her parents went shopping, came over to her house and entered through the unlocked kitchen door. Julie was sitting in the kitchen having a snack when he entered the room. Surprised, but not frightened by him, Julie asked the boy what he wanted? He sat down and started talking with her. They had been neighbors for several years and the boy had done odd jobs for the family on several occasions, so there seemed no reason for Julie to be concerned. But then, the boy started making unwanted advances toward her. She became scared and started screaming.
Neighbors heard Julie’s screams through the screen door and called the police. A man working in his garage up the street also heard the screams and ran toward Julie’s house. As he approached the kitchen door, the teenage boy ran out and away from the home. A woman who was also walking towards the house saw him run out the door as well. They both recognized the teen as a neighbor. The man and woman looked in through the screen door and were horrified to see Julie’s body lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood with a large kitchen knife nearby. The police arrived moments later and entered the house. Julie was dead, having been stabbed multiple times by her teenage neighbor.
The boy was apprehended later that day at a friend’s house. It seemed that he had a history of odd behavior that his parents had successfully concealed from their neighbors. Problems at school included threats against teachers and damage to school property. On more then one occasion he was seen talking with girls between the ages of twelve and thirteen. He was sixteen. Most of those girls were smart enough to avoid him, but one had complained that he once touched her in an inappropriate way.
Because all this had happened on Saturday afternoon, most people were not aware of it until they watched the Sunday Morning TV News or read Monday‘s newspaper. There were no special reports or break-ins for local events in those days unless something of national or international importance occurred. If there was a Saturday evening local news report, I doubt anyone watched it. And with the event happening so late in the day, the Dodge murder never even made into Sunday’s paper.
I sat stunned while watching the tragedy unfold on TV. There was film of the murder scene, pictures of the suspect being brought to jail and a photo of Julie during happier days. A school picture revealed her to be a beautiful young girl with red hair, freckles and a terrific smile. And I wasn’t the only one affected by the murder. Our Pastor spent his entire sermon talking about Julie’s death and why bad things can sometimes happen to good people. The entire town went into a state of shock and mourning. How could something like this happen in St Pete?
Things were different after Julie’s murder. People starting closing their garages, locking their back doors and became very security minded. It was the only positive thing to come out of any otherwise senseless and tragic death. It took weeks before people started to move past Julie’s murder. But even then, the crime had changed things in St Pete. That Halloween was a very muted one. Police spokespeople appeared on TV for days before warning potential trick or treaters to be careful, go out in groups or with their parents.
The only solace that our family could gather from the terrible event was that it had happened way on the other side of town and nowhere near us. Still, it was a different experience for me coming home from school everyday. I was almost ecstatic when my parents agreed to let a nine year neighbor’s daughter and eleven year old neighbor’s son stay in the house with me after school until their parents got home from work. I was glad to have the company. Thinking as a kid, I figured the bad guys might get one of us, but not all three. That gave us a fighting chance!
A few years earlier, I had become very interested in the paranormal. Not from the standpoint of involvement, but rather as an interest area. Although many books about UFOs, Aliens and various areas of the paranormal were written to take advantage of interest in the subject and had little to contribute in the way of new information or hard facts, there were exceptions. Books by Frank Edwards and John G. Fuller were well-written paranormal case studies injected with as much objectivity and science as possible. By the age of thirteen, I can truthfully say that I had read well over a hundred books on the subject. This gave me a curiosity which later turned my interest into an investigative hobby.
When it came to giving me rides to paranormal seminars, my father usually got the duty. He was a former Air Force Officer who had little to say on the subject and only sat through one of the many seminars that I insisted on attending. I understood how he felt. I started going to these events around the age of eleven, and even at thirteen I must have looked out of place among the crowd of mostly college students and senior citizens. But that didn’t lessen my enthusiasm and most of the speakers were more then willing to tolerate a few minutes of conversation with me after the presentation. I learned much from the ghost hunters, parapsychologists, journalists, UFO researchers and authors who gave these talks.
A little more then a month after Julie’s murder, I flew back to New York City with my mom. Her father had passed away a few months before and she wanted to spend that Thanksgiving holiday with my Grandmother and some cousins. My dad had to work and couldn’t get away. For me, the occasion was a little more somber then I could stomach. We were Scandinavian and they were always big on death and funerals. They actually took pictures! To avoid spending the next few days looking at pictures I’ve already seen of Grandpa’s funeral and watching everyone sit around crying, I linked up with my older cousin and made some plans. As luck would have it, legendary ghost hunter Hans Holzer was giving a talk in Manhattan on Friday night.
After riding several subway trains and a bus, we arrived at a large hall packed with Holzer fans and would-be ghost hunters. Hans came out and spoke for an extended period of time about Manhattan ghosts and haunts. I was especially interested in his work with noted Psychics who helped identify and exercise the spirits. It was absolutely fascinating! Most of the ghost or haunting cases were centered around some sort of tragedy. I took it all in and wrote down many notes. By the time I returned to Florida, much of what Holzer said was still swirling around in my brain.
The all too brief Thanksgiving holiday was over and I was back in school. Mr. Clark was a favorite among students like me. Once a science professor at a prestigious eastern university, Clark had run afoul of his peers and the administration over his spiritual beliefs, which seemed an odd mix of Christianity and Eastern Philosophy. He didn’t believe in evolution, but was convinced that reincarnation was possible and likely. Ultimately, he was forced out and ended up teaching junior and senior high school classes in Florida. For some that might have been unseemly and many steps down, but Clark didn’t care. He relished the chance to influence young minds.
In his early thirties, Clark could often be found with any number of female intellectuals and hippies in their late teens and early twenties. They just loved his explanations of eastern mysticism. But he was also kind of a kid at heart and seemed to relate well to teens. More then a few of us attended talks he gave after school on various subjects. On the very day I returned to school he announced to his class that there would be such a talk the following afternoon. The subject would be ghosts! It was more then ironic.
The next day about twenty of us gathered from all his classes and attended Clark’s thirty minute, after school discussion. It was informative as he gave us his view on the survival of the soul and spirit after death. But something far more interesting happened after the meeting. Eager to tell Clark about my attendance and take on the Holzer seminar in New York, I stayed around after the discussion ended and almost everyone had left. Before I could speak, a female student stepped forward and asked Clark for some advice. Her name was Jennifer. She had recently transferred to our school from across town.
It’s a small world. Jennifer had lived next door to Julie Dodge for some time before her murder and moved just a month prior to the tragedy. The two girls had been close friends and still regularly spoke on the phone right up until the day of Julie’s murder. Shortly after she was killed, Jennifer started having strange dreams about Julie. It was as if Julie was reaching out to her. Then, just before Thanksgiving, Jennifer started feeling cold spots in her home. Florida nights were chilly this time of year, but the family had a modern heater which usually made the home toasty warm. The spots centered around Jennifer’s room. One was near her doorway and the other near her bed.
Things came to a head over the Thanksgiving holiday when Jennifer woke up to find herself staring into Julie’s face. It was just as real and Julie was smiling just as big as she had on any one of the many sleepovers the girls had enjoyed together. Then she was gone. It had all taken just a matter of seconds. No more incidents had occurred since then, but Jennifer was sure that she felt Julie’s presence everywhere in her home.
Mr. Clark thought it was all very interesting, but seemed to hold the opinion that Jennifer was just missing her friend. After all, Julie had never been in the new home that Jennifer moved to. That seemed to go against the norm in days when most haunting cases were poorly investigated and knowledge was limited. I had other ideas.
Instead of speaking with Clark, I left with Jennifer. As we walked out the door, I introduced myself and told her that I thought her ghostly encounter story was fascinating. I enquired about where she lived and found out her house was just a half mile from mine. Like me, she rode her bike to school. Wanting to see what the house looked like, I followed her home with permission. Once at her house, I was about to say goodbye when she invited me in. Her mother was home and seemed happy that Jennifer had made a new friend, even though it was a male one. It turned out that her older sister was the popular one in the family. At sixteen, Christy was a stunning high school beauty. Both girls had long blond hair and great looks, but that’s where the similarity ended. While Christy was outgoing and exuded personality, Jennifer was quietly polite, but not shy.
Before I knew it, I was invited to stay for dinner. Her mom gave me a brief tour of the house, which included the area outside of Jenny’s room. It did feel very cold for a reasonably-warm afternoon! After clearing the dinner invitation with my parents, I enjoyed a terrific sit down meal with Jenny’s family. Her parents couldn’t have been nicer people. After dinner, Jenny and I spent about thirty minutes pretending to play Monopoly in a family room off to the side of the house. In reality, we spoke more about Julie. I shared my own feelings about the murder and Jenny told me more about what a great friend and person the murdered girl had been.
Julie was always very popular and had lots of friends, but Jenny was her best friend. The two were opposites when it came to social matters. Julie fit in everywhere with everyone, while Jenny always took a step back and felt like a bit of an outsider. Like me, she enjoyed studying the world of the paranormal. Julie was always kidding her about it, but she did tell Jenny that if anything ever happened to her, she would come back to make sure Jenny was alright. Then, it became so obvious to me.
The reason for Julie’s return had to do with the fact that Jenny was slow to make new friends and Julie may have been concerned about her. In more then a few cases, it was unfinished business or an inability to abandon earthly matters that seemed to keep spirits from moving on. Holzer had talked about a case in New York City where a stable hand had refused to move on and appeared on a regular basis near what was once some old stables in lower Manhattan. Once contacted by a psychic, it seemed he was worried about a beloved horse. Unable to know time as we understand it, the psychic explained to the spirit that time had moved on and he no longer needed to worry about matters that had been a part of his earthly life. After that, the spirit appeared no more.
I didn’t know any psychics, but I had a crazy friend named Dennis who wanted to be the next John Lennon, loved Chopin music and had a sister deeply into doing séances. I wondered how we would ever sell this to Jenny’s parents? They were nice, but didn’t seem like the types to accept the kind of whacked out plan that I had concocted. Then an unusual opportunity presented itself. Jenny’s dad was a high degree Mason. An annual dinner was scheduled for just before Christmas and Jenny’s parents needed to attend. At the same time, Christy had signed up for a week long trip to the Bahamas with her class and prepaid. There was no way she could cancel. Since the family had no previous need for a babysitter, they didn‘t know any. I interjected a thought by telling Jenny’s folks about my friend’s sister Amber. She could stay with Jenny until her parents returned home from the dinner. I explained that the girl didn’t drink or do drugs and was very responsible. Since Amber would be sitting for Jenny, she asked her parents if I could come over and hang out that evening. Amber would drive me home. They agreed.
A week before Christmas, I arrived at Jenny’s house with Amber. We said our goodbyes to Jenny’s folks and set about contacting Julie. Amber was a pro when it came to séances. She had Jenny take out some items that Julie had given her and began to recite a sort of chant as we sat in a circle in Jenny‘s bedroom. I’ll admit that being a spectator of all things paranormal was far different from being involved. Hearing stories and living one was a totally different experience.
After Amber finished her recitations, she asked Jenny to call for Julie in a very natural way as if she were in the next room. Jenny called out to her several times, and then we waited. It may just have been the atmosphere created by the tension of the moment, but the air seemed filled with electricity. We sat there waiting about ten minutes before a cold breeze seemed to blow by each of us. Then I felt something odd. It was like a warm blanket wrapped around me. We all felt it. Amber said, “Quickly, Jenny, tell Julie that you’re alright. She needs to move on. You’re happy in your new school and Bill is here as proof that you have already made another good friend in your new school.”
Jenny said the words with heart. Another few minutes went by, then Amber announced that we were finished. After straightening things up, we spent the rest of the evening discussing our feelings about the event until Jenny’s folks came home. There were no more incidents after that. Jenny and I became very good friends and stayed in contact for years until she died in 1998 of a brain tumor. I visited her a few weeks before she passed on and recall her saying, “Julie is waiting for me and I can’t wait to see her again.” Sometimes the paranormal just tugs at your heart.
Author Bio :
Bill Knell, Paranormal Researcher,
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