Three Salt Lake places that should be haunted based on their spooky history

Oct 26, 2022, 4:56 PM | Updated: 6:16 pm
(Published by Utah State History; digitized and hosted by J. Willard Marriott Library, University o...
(Published by Utah State History; digitized and hosted by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah)
(Published by Utah State History; digitized and hosted by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah)

SALT LAKE CITY — Forgotten graveyards, a reverend serial killer, and a Halloween mask in a lake — here are three places in Salt Lake that have particularly spooky histories. Two apartments and a  local park have chilling pasts that may continue to haunt the premises.

You decide.

Rachel Quist, an archaeologist, and Fiona Robinson Hill, a historian, talked with me about some unique and lesser-known spooky histories.

Rachel Quist, an archaeologist, shown in front of the Liberty Crest Apartments in Salt Lake City, the former location of the Scandinavian Methodist Episcopal Church.

Quist studies the history of Salt Lake extensively and has an Instagram and blog where she shares her latest findings. Robinson Hill works as a historian and enjoys leading Grimm Ghost Tours around Salt Lake City.

Liberty Park

A murder has haunted the lake at Liberty Park since 1920. The mystery surrounding 40-year-old Frances “Frae” Korous, who was believed to be murdered and then dumped in the lake, has never been solved.

A few days after Halloween, 13-year-old Truman Pratt was sailing his toy boat at the southern end of Liberty Park Lake when he saw what he believed to be a Halloween mask floating in the water about 15 feet from the shore.

Pratt fashioned a wire on a stick, and used it to pull the mask towards the shore, but once pulled closer, he realized it was attached to the body of a woman.

The Salt Lake Telegram published an interview in 1920 with Pratt who stated:

“The hook caught in what I thought was a mask, and I started to pull it ashore. It was unusually heavy, I thought, for a mask, so I was careful not to break my hold on it. When I got the object close to the shore and saw it was a body I gave a scream…”

Horrified, he ran to tell Park Superintendent, Sidney R. Lambourne, who contacted Salt Lake City Police.

The body was identified as, “Miss Frances Korous,” and was found with a white cloth tied tightly around her neck.

Salt Lake Telegram reports the discovery of a body in Liberty Park. (Utah Digital Newspapers)

A native of Iowa, Korous had worked as a nurse in WWI and moved to Salt Lake City after she was discharged from the US Navy, joining her brother, Yaro, and her sister Rose. She lived at the city’s YWCA at 306 E. 300 South until she found a more permanent apartment.

The last time she was seen was the night of Sunday, Oct. 17, 1920.

That evening she attended the Methodist church and then went to visit her brother Yaro and his family for Sunday dinner. At the end of the evening, her brother escorted her to a streetcar to take back to the YWCA for the night.

Korous never made it back to YWCA and was never heard from again.

As relatives became concerned, search parties, organized by police, were organized to find her and Boy Scouts even searched in nearby canyons for the missing nurse.

(Google Earth Pro)

Her body was recovered on Nov. 6, 1920, in Liberty Park.

When her body was found, it was discovered in the same clothing she was wearing when she disappeared with all her jewelry intact, and a watch that had stopped at 2:34.

The family of Korous denied any possibility of suicide and the coroner determined that her lungs were not full of water, and neither was her stomach, ruling that she had been killed before she was dumped in the lake.

Previously it had been believed that maybe she had been hit by a car and dragged away, but the tightly knotted rag around her neck and suspicious location of her body pointed to murder.

“The park keeper said that he had been all around the lake several times during the past few weeks. The police say that a body usually rises to the surface within at least ten days after it has entered the water.” However, Korous’ body didn’t rise to the surface until it was found by Pratt, three weeks after her disappearance.

Korous’ murder was never solved, though the lake she was found in (now more of a pond,) still exists in Liberty Park. To our knowledge, no Halloween masks have been recently spotted in the water.

The Palladio Apartments

The Palladio Apartments were built on a former cemetery for Mormon pioneers and an indigenous burial ground. It is likely, because of the rush to finish excavation and continue construction on the apartment buildings, that some remains continue to lie beneath the apartment building. And if you’re thinking, ‘isn’t that the whole premise of the movie “Poltergeist”?’ You would be right.

The remains were discovered when construction was beginning on a set of apartments that were built before the currently standing Palladio Apartments.

Construction workers were pouring the foundation for a building and found the remains, but the project was never finished as the company declared bankruptcy, the foundation was then reconfigured for the Palladio Apartments.

The Palladio Apartments in Salt Lake City.

“I think at the time there was an idea that there was a cemetery somewhere in the area because you know you have the story of the first child dying, and that’s well before the city cemetery’s established,” Quist said.

She said there was an official archaeology report written about what they found and how they found it; newspapers at the time also covered the discovery.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports on the pioneer remains found. (Utah Digital Newspapers)

However, less mentioned at the time was the presence of human remains and artifacts from Native American burials too.

“While they were digging their Mormon burials, they probably, absolutely came into contact with all sorts of artifacts. That’s the case out in Grantsville, that’s the case at Brigham City, Willard, basically everywhere that the Mormons settled they were already settling on a village site,” Quist said.

Construction was halted when formal grave sites were found. Typically, when a body is found during construction, everything is stopped and local authorities are contacted.

“The process now is you contact local law enforcement, generally the police, they then evaluate which path it goes down.”

If the remains are more recent, police begin an investigation into the identity and cause of death. If the remains are historic, archaeologists are called to look into it.

“They’ve encountered human remains with their back hoes there in the back dirt, they’ve already found the Native American remains and either didn’t notice, or didn’t care,” Quist said. “But once they found Mormon Pioneer graves in wood coffins all of a sudden, ‘We’ve got something here, we’ve got to call the authorities.’ ”

Quist explained the pioneer grave sites were obvious with coffins all facing the same direction.

“This was an established, laid out, pioneer cemetery. So everybody’s buried in roughly the same direction, in very rough lines or rows, in [coffins of] milled lumber with wood and metal hardware. So you know for sure, it’s definitely going to be the Mormon pioneer era, because pre-historic burials are different.”

The Salt Lake Tribune reports on new remains discovered in the pioneer cemetery. (Utah Digital Newspapers)

Since the graves were identified as Mormon pioneers, they were given to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who arranged to have all the pioneer remains removed and reburied at This is the Place State Park.

According to the This is the Place website:

“The building project paused for quite some time while archaeologists from Brigham Young University’s Public Office of Archaeology undertook an excavation of the cemetery. The remains of those buried were sent to the University of Wyoming for testing and research, and upon their return the bones of 32 bodies were laid in separate coffins. The remains were relocated to This Is the Place Heritage Park on Memorial Day, 1987.

“Research indicates that the very first pioneers who died in the valley were buried in the cemetery unearthed by the construction crew.”

The indigenous remains pre-date the pioneer remains by almost 1,000 years. Three bodies of Native Americans were found, prepared for burials, and two pit houses were discovered dating back to the ancient Fremont Indians.

“The Piute and Goshute are hunter-gatherers, mobile groups,” Quist said. “The Ute were early adopters of the horse so they are all over the place. But [this is] before that time period, so we’re talking roughly, about 2,000 years ago, it’s called the Fremont Era. There was an established village settlement in Salt Lake.”

The indigenous remains were given back to tribes.

“Native American remains take a different path and in this case they were repatriated to a local tribe. I don’t know which tribe though because that was not in the report,” Quist said. “That’s the correct and legal thing to do. They’re repatriated to the tribe, sometimes it’s a group of tribes and they collectively determine amongst themselves what will then happen.  And we are not privy to that information.”

The return of indigenous remains is done in a formal process with respect with as much publicity or as little publicity as the tribes desire. In this case, little information is known about what happened to the indigenous remains other than three bodies found were returned to the tribes.

So you might be thinking, “OK bodies were found there, but then relocated, what’s the big deal?”

Well here’s where it gets “Poltergeist” movie-style creepy. Archaeologists had very limited time to complete the excavation.

“They had three weeks to do the excavation which is not very long especially when they’re dealing with human remains, especially child human remains,” Quist said.

I asked Quist what the chances were of remains being left behind.

“Oh I think very high. The archaeologists at the end of their allotted two, three weeks of excavation were pretty adamant that they thought there were other indigenous remains present,” Quist said.

Despite those concerns, construction continued anyway.

Robinson Hill said although there is a small plaque in the corner of block, tenants may have no idea what they’re living on top of.

A plaque mentioning the pioneer cemetery and Native American burial ground on the corner of 300 South and 200 West. (Eliza Pace, KSL TV)

“We’re still finding artifacts in this area, so there’s probably remains still around here,” Robinson Hill said. “A lot of times, they do not disclose that information when it comes to indigenous burial grounds in urban settings or even cemeteries like in “Poltergeist,” they don’t disclose that information. People don’t know, ‘hey this used to be an old cemetery.’ ”

The Palladio Apartments in Salt Lake City. (Eliza Pace, KSL TV)

As we stood on the block, Quist showed me where these unmarked graves were based on the archaeology report. Meanwhile people walked in and out of the apartment building, some with their morning coffee, some with their pets headed out for a walk, with no idea what had been, and potentially still remained, beneath the surface.

Liberty Crest Apartments

The Liberty Crest Apartments, built on what was formerly a Scandinavian Methodist Episcopal church, was also the home of one of Salt Lake’s first serial killers, Reverend Frances Hermann.

Liberty Crest Apartments in Salt Lake City. (Eliza Pace, KSL TV)

The church sat at 158 S. 200 East in Salt Lake City, the location of Liberty Crest Apartments now.

The Salt Lake Herald sketch of the Scandinavian Methodist Episcopal Church.

Hermann who was a well-known pastor in Scandinavian social circles lived in several other states before moving to Salt Lake City in 1895.

The Salt Lake Herald sketch of Rev. Francis Hermann.

“So the Reverend lived in the church, there was kind of a housing unit associated with it, but also a Mr. John M. Hanson, he resided in the second story apartment in the church and he was on the board of trustees,” Quist said. “He was always pretty suspect of the reverend.”

Hermann was known to be close to a 25-year-old Swedish immigrant named, Henrietta Clausen also spelled Clawson by some sources.

“The last time Miss Clausen was seen alive was in the company of the Reverend,” Quist said. “Hansen, the trustee and his wife – they were suspicious since their good friend, Miss Henrietta Clausen, who was a young Swedish immigrant had gone missing.”

The Salt Lake Herald sketch of Henrietta Clausen [Clawson].

Clausen was last seen Sept. 29, 1895 and then disappeared.

“She was well known to have been madly in love with him and had been sleeping in his study,” Quist said. “Now the reverend of course denied any improper behavior.”

Apparently Clausen had confided in a friend that he’d proposed marriage to her, that she was pregnant and she had been sleeping in his quarters in the church.

“He certainly had pursued her…” Quist said. “Although I think the cover story was she was his housekeeper.”

When asked about her disappearance, the Hermann said she had “propositioned him” and he in turn rebuked her.

“He said because of his rebuff of her, she must have left the state, and that’s why nobody had seen her,” Quist said.

On Sept. 30, 1895, Hermann had the janitor of the church, only identified as “Johnson,” clean out the furnace in the basement of the church for a fire. The furnace had previously been used to warm the church, but because of a fire that nearly destroyed the building years before, was no longer used.

John M. Hanson who resided in the second story of the church observed that soon after that, Hermann lit a large fire in the furnace accompanied by a terrible stench.

It wasn’t until months later, sometime around May 1896, that Hanson investigated the basement of the church. Hanson found a knife blade, a garter buckle, corset steel, a belt buckle, two straight razors, and several human bones in the Church’s ash grate.

The Salt Lake Herald sketch of one of the bones found. The Salt Lake Herald sketch of a remnant of something burned. The Salt Lake Herald sketch of weapons found.

After the human remains were discovered, police became involved and made an even more harrowing discovery: the decomposing torso of Clausen buried in a corner of the church’s dirt floor basement.

Items also recovered by police included bloody overalls of the Reverend found in a bloody barrel, and two false teeth from Clausen.

“They didn’t have real dental records way back then, but they did have a dentist here in Salt Lake who remembered putting in, or  working on her mouth and installing those teeth for her,” Quist said. “That’s how they identified the body as being Miss Clausen.”

The door of the furnace was smeared with blood and at 10 inches by 6 inches, was a small opening to fit a body into.

The Salt Lake Herald sketch of the basement of the church.

“The police believed that the barrel was used as a butcher block to dismember the body so that at least parts of it would fit into the furnace.”

Police searched two trunks in Hermann’s study and found items belonging to Clausen and another missing Swedish immigrant, Annie Samuelson.

“So now they’ve got two victims,” Quist said. “The police also found bottles of poison, chloroform, which is what I suspect he used, and other drugs, some of which produced abortions and they were found in reverend’s study.”

“Now Miss Samuelson had an aunt living here locally and the aunt admitted to her niece having ‘improper relations,’ ” Quist said. “Her aunt said that the reverend had performed an abortion shortly before her disappearance.”

At that point it was 30 to 40 years in prison if a doctor was caught for providing an abortion, and anyone considered an accomplice to an abortion also could serve jail time.

“According to members of the church, Miss Clausen, after she had gone missing, that’s when Annie Samuelson became the reverend’s favorite. She went missing in January.”

Soon after she went missing Hermann pawned her gold watch and ring.

The Salt Lake Herald sketch of Samuelson’s ring and watch.

“So police suspected that Annie Samuelson had also been poisoned by the reverend, her body dismembered, and either burned or buried elsewhere because he was also known to take midnight rides in his carriage out into the country,” Quist said.

The city was shocked and the story was widely circulated, first in Salt Lake and then reaching headlines in papers in San Francisco and Arizona. The Salt Lake Herald reported the story with the headline, “Sanctuary of God defiled with blood” on May 23, 1896.

“Since then the Salt Lake readers were just enthralled and followed this for like the next several months” Quist said.

“It was also found that the reverend embezzled $7,000 of church funds so that’s around $300,000 today, a  lot of money,” Quist said.

Here’s where it gets really interesting or just really creepy.

“He [Hermann] had been married three times before and in each instance his wife died under mysterious circumstances and two of his three children also died in unusual circumstances,” Quist said.

Quist and Robinson Hill say there are likely multiple other victims.

“The pattern with serial killers is one, two, if there’s two then there’s a likelihood of more. You don’t just start with one, and you don’t just start with two because then they’re like, ‘I know how to do this,’ ” Robinson Hill said.

Hermann never returned to Salt Lake City and was never charged for his crimes.

The church fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down in 1906, mostly due to the memory of the heinous crimes committed on the premises. The Liberty Crest Apartments remain — standing over the ground where a dismembered and decomposing torso was once found.

The residence of a vicious serial killer who was never apprehended, is now home to hundreds of people.

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Three Salt Lake places that should be haunted based on their spooky history