Mysterious Willows Weep — Cayuga, IN

For a number of years now there is one haunting in Indiana that has been petitioning to place itself at the top of the most evil in the state, and that location is Willows Weep. With a loose history of traumatic events entwined with the ghost lore of this location, what events of Willows Weep’s past connect to the paranormal claims of its visitors? Ultimately though, the bigger question is, does our location truly matter when it comes to paranormal research?

Video:

Willows Weep
5173 North Elm Tree Road 
Cayuga, IN 47928

Approximate 1,427-square-foot single-family home, believed built in 1890; Anuel Sykes often referenced as original owner

Owners/Occupants, Notes of Interest

• David Spinks

o Current owner, a paranormal investigator

• Brenda Zimmerman

o Purchased in 2010

• Curtis and Cheryl Skinner

o Purchased in 1999

o Cheryl died in 2001 at age 42 of myocardial infarction; residing in home at time of death.

o Curtis died in 2009 at age 63 of self-inflicted gunshot wound in the home.

• Janie and Ritchie Keller

o Purchased 1997

• Sharon Golcynski (aka Walters/Clifford West/Stanley Golcynski),deed transactions 1988-1989

o Sharon Golcynski purchased in 1978 from Letha Wampler

▪ “Estate Case Under Advisement By Circuit Judge” – Witnesses mainly from Cayuga take stand concerning contesting of marriage of Leatha (sic?) Wampler and Robert Sandlin, by those claiming to be his legal heirs. (Daily Clintonian, 4/27/1951)

▪ Siblings contest Sandlin died intestate and unmarried at time of his death in 1950; resident of Vermillion County and was the owner of real estate. (Daily Clintonian, 4/26/1951) 

• Died 6/23/1950 of coronary occlusion, weeks before real estate transaction published, at residence?(see below); coroner’s inquest indicated.

▪ Real Estate Transaction – Mary Mae Runyan (Sykes’ daughter, see below) and others to Robert Sandlin and wife lot 3, block 1. Eugene. William Collett’s addition. (Daily Clintonian, 7/5/1950). Property description matches today’s current location.

Historic Timeline

Anuel Sykes

Home referenced as built by Anuel Sykes (also transposed Anul, Annuel, Annel, Annual, Amiel, Sikes, Tykes, Lykes) in 1890

• References to Sykes’ residence

o 1860 & 1870 Census – Clay Township, Wayne County child in home of father Jesse Sikes

o 1880 Census – Boarder – George Street

o 1900 Census – Vermillion Township, Vermillion County

o 1910 Census – Cayuga, Eugene Township, Vermillion County

o 1920 Census – Collett Town (unincorporated), Eugene Township, Vermillion County

▪ Collettown referenced as suburb of Eugene

▪ Legal description of Elm Tree Road parcel is W.C. Collett addition

▪ “Annel Sykes of Gallatin, five miles east of here has purchased Joseph Mitchell’s residence property in Collettown. Mr. Sykes will get possession in September, when he will move there.” (Newport Hoosier State, 8/23/1905)

▪ “Mrs. Sallie Julick of Eugene has purchased a residence property of Anuel Sykes. The property acquired is the cement dwelling, adjoining Mr. Sykes’ home place, and she will occupy the place for a home.” (Cayuga Herald, 1/31/1913)

o 1930 Census – Eugene, Eugene Township, Vermillion County (Eugene written in street designation column)

o 1930 Clinton City Directory – Cayuga, RD 1

o Real Estate Transaction – Anuel Sykes to Mrs. R. B. Pearson, part lot 1, in W. M. Collett’s add (Daily Clintonian, 12/12/1936)

o Real Estate Transaction – Anuel Sykes to Arnold Cheesman block 1, Collett’s add. (Daily Clintonian, (8/8/1945)

• Anuel Sykes, born 1858, son of Jesse B. and Mary Ann Bish Petty Sykes. Married Minnie Lamb in 1887. Minnie died in 1932 of bronchial pneumonia (likely at residence; no other location of death given.) Anuel died in 1950 of cerebral hemorrhage in Dana (length of stay listed as 5 mos; usual residence listed as Eugene.)

o Couple had one child, Mary Mae Runyan (1897-1986)

▪ “Miss May (sic?) Sykes is under the doctors care. She was nearing a nervous breakdown, but is now improving.” (Cayuga Herald, 1/12/1923) 

o Anuel farmer, shopkeeper, onetime postmaster at Gallatin (5 miles west of Cayuga)

▪ “Anuel Sykes, the store keeper in Stumptown, sold his property to Wm. Ditto, and is now moving to Eugene, where he will retire from business. Mr. Sykes was a good man and he will be much missed in our town.” (Stumptown Danville Democrat; reprinted Cayuga Herald, 8/26/1905)

• “Stumptown” – Unincorporated, approximately four and half miles north of Dana. In 1900, Anuel Sykes bought two acres, house and store building. Post office also added to store, named “Galatin.” In 1903, Sykes gave up post office and it was forgotten. Also bought blacksmith shop nearby. Brothers George and Elias built store south of schoolhouse. In 1905 Anuel sold all 42 acres, including house. (“Vermillion County, Ind. History & Family Vol. 1, 1990)

• Family tragedieso Jesse B. Sykes (father, 1818-1892)

▪ References to residence

• 1860 & 1870 Census – Clay Township, Wayne County 

• 1880 Census – N. Half of Vermillion Twp

o Elizabeth Petty listed as unmarried, residing next door; six children, noted as living with grandfather; some speculation Elizabeth also married to Jesse(she later took the Sykes name), and that he fathered some or all of her children (see below)

▪ Also appears her age may have been changed by census taker from 30 to 36; speculation done after age of son revealed to be 19

• 1900/1910 – Vermillion Township; wife Mary (1828-1915) with son Elias as head of household

▪ Incest indictment – 1874 state charged filed against Jesse for engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with stepdaughter Elizabeth Petty (daughter of Mary Ann Bish Petty Sykes; approximate age at time of indictment 25)

▪ “Devoured by Hogs” – Jesse Sykes, an old farmer and respected citizen of this township, residing about three miles west of town, met with a most horrible death. After did not return for dinner after going to hog lot (about 100 yards from residence) to feed hogs, stepdaughter (some believe Elizabeth) went to check on him and found fifteen to twenty hogs feeding on his remains. Suffered from epileptic fits; was believed he had fed hogs and was returning to residence when he was stricken and paralyzed and before could recover, “the hogs had partly devoured him.” Remains removed to the house. (Clay County Enterprise, reprinted Newport Hoosier State, 11/24/1892)

 

• Other family/location reference notes of interest

o “He Still Liveth: We were a little premature in our statement that Jesse Sykes, of Opedee, had dropped dead. He fell over in a fit …” (Newport Hoosier State, 2/1/1882)

▪ Opedee located southeast of Newport.

o Eli and Elias Sykes, twins, were given a birthday celebration at the home of their mother, northwest of town. (Cayuga Herald, 4/13/1901)

o Mrs. Mary Ann Sykes, who makes her home with her son, Elias Sykes, at Gallatin (sic), five miles west of here, was given a surprise by her children in honor of her 79th birthday. The old lady went to church and while there relatives and friends gathered at her home … counter in storeroom cleared and food spread on it. (Newport Hoosier State, 7/12/1905)

▪ George and Elias Sykes built store, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop in Stumptown in 1904.

o Mrs. Mary Ann Sykes of Stumptown is visiting her son, Anuel Sykes, and family. (Cayuga Herald, 8/7/1909)

Vermillion County 

Once home to mound-building Native Americans; clusters of mounds found along tract of land between Eugene and Newport, and southeast of Dana. Later home to native tribes including Miami, Kickapoo, Mosquitan and Pottawatomie. Treaty grounds at Big Springs, south of Eugene. First settlers in 1816. 

• Eugene Township – Formed in 1828, contains two large towns, Eugene and Cayuga. Towns developed close to each other, nearly form one large town. Eugene platted 1827; Cayuga developed around Eugene Station, railroad depot built in 1870 southeast of Eugene. Once contained many Indiana villages and trading posts. Gen. William Henry Harrison’s crossing of Big Vermillion River en route to Tippecanoe to battle Indians in 1811 marked. 

Haunted house lore

Location rumored to have been site of numerous deaths, including murders and suicides, and home to malevolent forces; home said to have been built in shape of cross that faces east; original owner characterized as superstitious recluse. Paranormal investigators’ claims include attacks, disembodied voices, shadow figures and poltergeist activity. Profiled in episode of History Channel’s “The UnXplained” as “The Most Haunted House in America.”

Architectural opinions

• Style of home described as likely either a cross- or T-plan cottage dating from between probably 1885-1900; alterations/additionsappear evident in the southwest corner; corners of the cross/T have been filled in and likely that at least one (but possibly both) of those areas were porches at one time. The angled windows on the gable ends (the front and side walls that have triangular roof shape) relatively common feature called chamfered corners. Often, as is the case here, there is a decorative bracket set above the window on these chamfered corners. If a corner was chamfered there may or may not be windows on the wall; angled corner was simply different decorative twist on common house form of the time.

• Little addition between two of the arms of the “T” added later, so would not be considered part of the design of the house; longer arm of “T” that makes house into cross shape may also have been an addition to the house. Interior corner points could once have been part of a feature there like a bracket that has since disappeared, perhaps part of chamfered or beveled corners.

• Fairly typical late 19th-century house form; details lean bit towards Stick-style architectural features; also not too atypical of a Victorian-era vernacular worker’s cottage.

Additional sources: Indiana Historical Society, ancestry.com, indianalandmarks.org, Ball State University, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Vermillion County Historic Plat Book

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