The Pine Barrens of New Jersey are known for many unusual and unexplained happenings and stories. The Jersey Devil supposedly lives there, there are roads that teleport you to different places while stealing moments of time, and even entire villages said to be the home of goblins and trolls. It would not take much for a person to get caught up in the unsettling feeling of the wild wilderness and think that something evil was lurking there. But in reality, there isn’t anything to be afraid of besides dangerous wildlife and the elements. They are secluded woods that are easy to get lost in, but there is no reason to be afraid of them. That is, unless you happened upon the Cranberry Bogs many decades before when a serial killer was on the loose; and maybe even now.
The bogs themselves are the major supplier of cranberries out of New Jersey and a popular attraction for people visiting the area during the time of the year that the harvests happen. But there are also many bogs that have been abandoned for many years either because of low yield or for more sinister reasons. Back in the late ‘70s, one of the small bogs was closed due to a crazed murderer attacking young men and taking their bodies to one of the old pump-house buildings. The hysteria of such a tight-knit community being targeted was enough to cause a panic among the locals and tourism suffered thanks to the stories of the cranberry fields being tainted by dead bodies. None of that was true, other than that they found the guy hiding out in one of the buildings after a large manhunt for him, but it didn’t stop many of the cranberry farmers from closing up shop.
Most of those old bogs and their various supply buildings still litter the Barrens to this day. Some are just a few hundred feet from the still active harvesting spots. The tourism and cranberry business recovered after the murders, but people were still well aware of what happened and that those old buildings stood as a reminder of it. When I was a kid, I knew all about the story and its many different versions of events. Some people would say that the man kept his victims hostage for weeks before finally bleeding them out into the cranberries. Another version says that he actually grinded them up, mixed them with the berries, and was somehow able to get away with it. A more supernatural story was that he was killed in a shootout with the police once they surrounded him in the bogs and his spirit still roams the area looking for new victims. You’d be just as surprised as I to learn that that is the version of the story that I had an encounter with many years ago.
One of my close childhood friends lived just outside of the barrens and would often have sleepovers during the summer. Being as that we were all familiar with the stories involving that entire area, we would often end up going on long adventure seeking walks through the trees. Sometimes we’d be searching for the Devil’s lair and other times we’d be looking for a portal into another dimension. There was never much of a discussion about what we would do if we found those things, but that didn’t keep our young minds from searching for them. I can’t remember exactly who brought up the story of the cranberry bog murders, but we all decided one night that we would visit one of the abandoned shacks about half a mile from his house.
It seemed like a longer walk than it was because of having to slowly maneuver our way through the thick forest before finally coming upon the old fields. We could make out the shape of a building near the center of the opening in the dim glow of our mid-90s flashlights. It was ominous and entirely uninviting all at once. None of us wanted to be the first to get anywhere near it, but we found ourselves moving together like a school of fish until we were standing right outside of it. The only sound we could hear was that of our breathing and the cavalcade of insects that were seemingly getting louder and louder the longer we spent out there. The building, an old pump house or tool shed, was in surprisingly good shape considering how long it must have been left empty. There was no longer glass in the window frames, but otherwise it looked like it might have when it was still being used.
We weren’t sure what it was we were actually going to do now that we were there, but we eventually decided that we’d vote on which one of us would be the unlucky one to have to open the door and step inside. You can’t imagine just how happy I was that it wasn’t me who got picked at the time, but looking back at it now, I wish that I had. Our friend tried to stall as much as he could before we all but forced him through the rickety old door and into the building. His “final request” was that we kept talking to him while he was in there and that he would stop being our friends if we ran away and left him in there. We were usually pretty mean, but we weren’t that cruel and weren’t going to leave him in there alone. The lucky group outside kept asking him what he saw and if he saw any dead bodies or dangerous weapons. The longer we spent out there, the more lighthearted it was starting to feel.
That good time quickly turned south at the sound of what could only be described as a blood-curdling scream emanating from deeper in the old bogs. None of us knew what to do or how to react, but there wasn’t really much time to react before we saw him. Standing in the darkness just a few dozen feet away from our little group was a man clad in all black. He had on a black brimmed hat and was holding in one hand a large blade and in the other…a human head. Or at least that’s what I thought it was in the dimness of my light as I shown it on him. We all let out screams and shouts just as loud as the one we heard before and fled as quickly as we could back towards our friend’s house.
It wasn’t until we all got back home that we realized we have left our other friend inside of the old building, presumably to be killed by the man we saw. We loudly argued in his front yard about what we should do. The consensus was that we should call the police, but we were worried that we’d get in trouble for trespassing. The next option was to go back and try to rescue him, but that was met with the fear that we’d all just end up dead. Somewhere in the middle of the argument, our friend came walking out through the trees unharmed. He was pissed off that we had left him when we said we wouldn’t and didn’t think that it was funny to scream and run like we did just to give him a spook. We told him what we saw and why we ran, but he didn’t believe us at all because he said there wasn’t anyone there when he left the barn.
He never did believe us when we told him what we saw and I guess I can’t really blame him. I can’t say for sure whether we saw the ghost of the murderer or just another psychopath out there who had the same idea to use the isolated bogs as a hiding place for his awful deeds. I never wanted to go back out and check to see which of those two options the true one was. And I can’t really say I’m a fan of cranberries at all anymore either; you never know what that red juice in them might be.