You’re listening to The Storage Papers. Episode 5: Ice Cream Man
I remember growing up in the 80’s and playing outside all day during the summers. The neighborhood kids might be doing different things in a number of different groups down the street, but one thing was certain when we heard that familiar tune projecting from around the corner or down the road. We would all experience that Pavlovian watering of the mouth, and we dropped what we were doing to run and ask our parents for spare change as if life or death depended on it.
If we hustled, we might just get lucky enough to wave down the ice cream man to stop, and a line would form full of children we were both familiar with, and some we hadn’t even seen before. Looking back, there was a kind of magic to those moments. It didn’t matter what our differences might have been, whether we had been getting along okay or not, or if you were meeting a new kid on our street for the first time. We all put it aside for just a few minutes to wait in line and enjoy some ice cream together.
Today’s witness statement comes from Marianne Ward, a single mother who worked two jobs to provide for her and her daughter, Chelsea, who probably had similar experiences chasing down the ice cream man during her summers off of school. But for Chelsea, they would not be formed into fond memories following the summer of ‘84…
Statement by Marianne Ward, Monday, October 14, 1984, 6:45 p.m. Detective Glenn Speck taking statement from the Emergency Room at Long Beach Naval Hospital:
I need to find out what happened to my daughter. Chelsea has always been an outgoing and fun-loving 7 year old, but she’s been out of it since they found her this morning. She won’t eat. She refuses to speak to me. I can’t even tell if she understands what I’m saying. All she does is look off into the distance with a thousand-yard stare. I mean, she’ll look at me when I try to get her attention, but I can’t tell if she’s processing anything I’m saying. I think something traumatic happened to her, and I just want my little girl back.
No one knows anything about the few hours when she was gone, but I can tell you what led up to her being missing. Last Friday night, we had a sleepover. One of her friends from school was invited, Grace is her name, and she’s slept over several times before. Her mother, Debbie and I are both divorced, and we’ve developed a great friendship over the last several years. The night was fairly uneventful for the most part. We ordered pizza, and after dinner the kids rolled out sleeping bags in the living room and watched some movies while I read a book on the couch.
When it was bedtime, they begged me to let them sleep in my bedroom instead of going to Chelsea’s room. There had been a news story about the rising rate of child abductions in the middle of the night right before the TV was turned off. I didn’t have any problem with that, but they did keep me awake for a while with their chatting and giggling. I didn’t object since it was the weekend and I didn’t have plans the next day.
That night I was awoken by a noise coming from the living room around 2:00 a.m. It sounded like footsteps, but I wasn’t certain. I laid in bed listening to make sure I hadn’t dreamed the noise, but I figured one of them might have gotten up to go to the bathroom. I rolled over to see which one of them was up, but their sleeping bags were empty next to my bed. As I got up to see what was going on, I became aware of music playing. It sounded like the same music that you hear being played when the ice cream truck drove down the street during the summer, but I couldn’t be certain. It was very faint, and somehow… different.
Before I could get out of my bedroom, I heard our front door being unlocked. I had a deadbolt and a sliding chain lock, which I could hear being unlocked from the inside. I rushed down the hall and into the living room to see what was happening, and as I arrived, I saw that both girls had also opened the front door, as well as our screen door and were walking outside.
I told them to stop, and they acted like they hadn’t heard me. I had to go to them and grab their arms to lead them back in the house. Both of them had that catatonic look on their faces as if they had been sleepwalking at the same time. Then simultaneously as if they had rehearsed it, they both said “The ice cream man is here, We have to go.” Then the music began to fade, and it was like they returned back to normal as soon as it got quiet again. They were confused, and somewhat alarmed. Grace seemed bothered that I was holding onto her arm and shook loose. I apologized and asked them why they were going outside, but they didn’t seem to recall doing that.
The next morning, when Debbie picked up Grace, she was greeted at the door by a big hug from her daughter. Apparently, she was anxious to leave, and blamed me for “acting scary”. I’ve tried to call Debbie a couple of times this week, but she hasn’t returned my call yet. I’m a little concerned about what Grace could have told her, and want her to at least hear from me about what happened. But I’m far more concerned about Chelsea now.
The following night, on Saturday, it happened again right at 2:00 a.m. Chelsea had been in her room this time, and her door creaks when it opens. That’s what initially woke me up, and as soon as I heard it, I got up. Fortunately, she was still in our hallway headed toward the living room, but when I called her, she did not reply. I could hear the ice cream truck’s music again, and again, it seemed off-tune.
I decided to follow her to see if she went for the door again, and she did. Once again, I had to grab her arm and pull her to keep her from going outdoors. Again, she said, “The ice cream man is here. I need to go.” As soon as the music stopped, she snapped out of it and asked to sleep in my bed the rest of the night. She was extremely frightened and crying.
For the entire week, I was afraid to go to sleep. On Sunday night, I ended up staying up the whole night, and then I called in sick to work and stayed home after I took Chelsea to school. The rest of the week, I set an alarm to go off at 1:55 a.m. I wasn’t able to go to sleep after my alarm went off any of these nights, and on Friday night, it happened again. My alarm went off at 1:55 and the music started up at 2:00 a.m. on the dot. Chelsea had been sleeping in my bed, and she stood up to walk out of the bedroom.
This time, I tried to catch her before she even got out into the hallway. I tried to wake her, calling her name softly at first while I grabbed her arm above her elbow. She wasn’t responding, so I pulled harder and called her name louder with each attempt. She made it out to the hallway, and I still couldn’t get her attention. It felt like no matter how hard I pulled, she moved forward with the same slow walking pace as if I wasn’t even there. It was like she had superhuman strength. The only reason she didn’t reach leave the house successfully is because I blocked the front door so she couldn’t reach the locks.
This whole time, I had been behind her, trying to pull her away from the front door. I hadn’t noticed her face until she turned around. Her eyes were pitch black like hollowed out holes, and she had tears rolling down her cheeks. Then a voice came out of her that wasn’t hers saying the same thing as before, but angrily, and what sounded like a distorted adult male voice. “The ice cream man is here. I must go.”
This scared me so bad that I let go of her arm and backed up toward the hallway. She started walking toward the door again, but the music faded, and she started crying. She wiped tears from her eyes as I watched her eyes return to normal. I thought she was just scared, but then she asked me why her arm hurt. I could see swelling beginning above her elbow where I had grabbed onto her, which quickly turned into bruising. This all frightened her significantly more when I told her how hard I had tried to pull on her to keep her from leaving the house. Both of us were scared. I didn’t know what to do or who to call. Nobody was going to believe this.
And then last night, she managed to get out the front door without me knowing. I woke up freezing cold to find my sheets and comforter on the floor between my bed and the door going into the hallway. I could feel the cold air coming in through the door. I looked over at my alarm clock confused, wondering what time it was. I made sure it was set for 1:55 before falling asleep, but it was flashing 12:00. We had experienced a power outage, and the alarm didn’t go off. I looked at my watch, which was laying on my nightstand next to me, and it said 3:30 a.m.
Chelsea wasn’t lying next to me, though she had gone to bed with me at 9:30 p.m. the night before. I called for her and nobody answered. When I ran into the living room, the front door was wide open, and only the screen door was closed. I walked outside and into the street, looking all directions for signs indicating she had walked any particular direction, but found nothing. All I could hear was a faint breeze. She was gone.
I went back inside to search the rest of the house just in case she was in another room before I ended up calling the police. I remembered hearing somewhere that they couldn’t file a missing persons report for 48 hours, so I told them we experienced a break-in and my daughter was missing. They arrived within 10 minutes, and I let them know limited details about what had happened because I didn’t want them to think I was crazy. Just that I had woken up and she was gone, with the front door left open.
They had stayed for a couple of hours until the sun started coming up, and I received a phone call from my friend, Debbie. It was the first time she had attempted to call me since the sleepover, and she was in a panic, crying, asking if I had seen Grace. Debbie said she just woke up and Grace was gone. Her front door was wide open too, and I told her I was experiencing the same thing. I offered to go pick her up so we could drive around and look for the kids, but she wanted to call the police first.
So I left my house around 6 in the morning today. I drove around for hours with my window down, yelling her name. I had to stop for gas once, and I just kept driving. At one point, I stopped over at Debbie’s house. Grace had been found shortly after our phone call this morning. Apparently she had only made it a couple hundred yards from the house when an early-rising neighbor found her and brought her home. Debbie was surprised to hear that I hadn’t found Chelsea yet, so she and Grace began driving around in their own car to help. I told her where I had already gone, and we split up the rest of the town to cover more ground faster.
By 3 this afternoon, I was feeling defeated and I had some time to think about other things I could try. She had a few friends within walking distance, so I got out my black book, thinking I’d make a few phone calls. As I picked up the phone to dial, one of the policemen was knocking on my door. He said they found her, and had been trying to call me, but couldn’t reach anyone at my home number. Apparently, she wouldn’t talk to them, and Social Services has been called for what he described would be a routine check-in, nothing to be worried about.
When I arrived at the police station, they indicated they had just taken her to the emergency room for a medical examination. You want to know how to make a mother worried sick? Tell her that her kid is in the emergency room and fail to provide any additional information. I hurried over here to the ER, and have been waiting here since. Thankfully, there’s been nothing identified as medically wrong, though the Social Worker asked me about the bruising on her arm before allowing me to see her. I’m glad they found her, but right now they have no idea what’s wrong with her.
The Police Officer who found her came to check on her and speak with me… said he found her in a junkyard. She didn’t respond to him at all when he tried to get her attention at first. He said she was just standing there next to an old, rusted out van, one of the few vehicles that hadn’t been crushed. She appeared to be having a conversation with someone in the van, but as he approached, she stopped speaking. I’m not sure why he told me this, but he swore he saw a dark figure in the van, and was certain it had been rocking just a little bit as if someone were inside it. Though Chelsea was close to the van, she was never witnessed touching it. When he approached the van to look inside, there wasn’t anyone in it.
What he did find was horrible. The officer told me that they had found remains inside the van. What looked like 5 or 6 people, children most likely, all clothed in what looked like pajamas. He said he wasn’t sure because they were all so old and dirty. The Medical Examiner had been called out to the lot to determine exactly how many individuals were there, and to ID them all. He asked me again if I knew of any other missing children just to make sure, but I assured him I don’t. Just what I had seen some of the news coverage.
Then I asked the officer if he happened to notice if it was an ice cream truck she had been standing next to. He said yes, and asked how I had known. I just told them what she had been saying about needing to go because the ice cream man was there. He looked as confused and horrified as I felt.
I just want to know what happened to my daughter. I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to sleep at night now.
Ms. Ward was able to take her daughter Chelsea home that evening under the conditions that they receive professional counseling, that the Social Worker was given permission to drop in on them unannounced for up to 6 months, and that they communicate any intention to leave town to the Department of Social Services. I will most likely check in with them after we can ID the remains from within the van.
Additional notes following 6-month check-in: Everything appears to have gone back to normal for the Wards. Chelsea is undergoing some counseling, and the Social Worker indicates no further check-ins are necessary. Chelsea is speaking, attending school, and performing well, but she still has little memory of the events leading to her disappearance.
Thank you for listening to The Storage Papers. I would love to hear your thoughts on the cases I’ve brought forward so far. You can reach me by social media or email. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @StoragePapers. Make sure to reference the episode. Today’s is Episode 5, The Ice Cream Man.
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