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As a child growing up in the 80’s, urban legends, ghost stories, and tales of folklore were a popular way to pass the time by the campfire. I remember various versions of the story of Bloody Mary, and how to summon her. We would dare each other to stand in front of a mirror with the lights out and chant her name, Bloody Mary, three times. This was supposed to conjure the spirit of a girl named Mary who had been murdered in the local area, allowing you to see her manifest behind you in the mirror’s reflection. Only the bravest would attempt this, and those who claimed to be brave may have bragged about doing it, sharing their versions of what they saw.
Of course, these stories weren’t really true, and it was generally understood that it was all make-believe. Stories fabricated to keep children in their beds at night… control through fear. For this very reason, I’m finding it very difficult to entertain the possibility of this week’s witness statement to be true. They say the best fiction is based in some element of truth, but where does the line blur when very real repercussions occur?
Witness statement from Todd Smalley, Monday, August 8, 2006 concerning the disappearance of Shane Masterson. Recorded by Detective Roger Trainor:
We had been camping in the Angeles National Forest every summer since we were in grade school with our families. After we graduated from high school this year, we decided to keep the tradition going since we were all staying in town. Our parents had a barbecue planned on Saturday, and they all agreed they were comfortable letting us go on our own… so long as we stuck together. The group consisted of myself, Shane, Lucas, Lucas’s girlfriend, Cheyenne, and Liz. Some of us had to take time off work last week, but we all agreed to meet at Lucas’s house before heading up to the campsite on Thursday. My dad let us use his Suburban, which had more than enough room for the five of us and all of our gear.
Once we met at Lucas’s house, we packed everything into the truck and headed out around 10:00 a.m. Liz and I were always really close, and she sat up front with me while I was driving. Shane had to pull a late-night shift on Wednesday, so he took the middle row of seats and sprawled out to sleep most of the way. Lucas and Cheyenne sat in the back and spent most of the trip making out and giggling, as they typically do any chance they get. I don’t think they even spoke to us the entire trip except when we first got on the freeway when Lucas said “try to get us there in one piece, Todd-O,” in his usual cocky tone. It was a nice drive spent catching up with Liz, who I hadn’t seen much the last few months. Nothing really happened between us, but I knew her parents were pressuring her about college and picking a major, as well as the SATs. We were both glad to have the time to get reconnected.
We arrived at our campsite shortly after 2:00 p.m. and began unloading the truck. We had just started to set up camp when Liz said she had forgotten her tent. I kind of had a thing for her for a while, so I quickly volunteered to let her stay with me in mine. She seemed almost giddy at the suggestion, which made me think she might have similar feelings. So we finished making camp, and got a fire going to start dinner. We wanted something that didn’t take a lot of effort for the first night because we expected to be exhausted from the trip, but surprisingly we weren’t. Of course, Shane felt great after getting a solid 3 or 4 hours of sleep on the road. We all ate and sat around the campfire as the light turned to darkness and the stars came out. I always loved how many stars you could see from the mountains.
Friday and Saturday were typical days. We spent the day hiking some of the usual trails we would go on every year, looking for local wildlife and stopping for group photos from time to time. But Saturday afternoon, after we had stopped for lunch, we tried something new. Lucas suggested we venture a little bit off of the trail and explore some areas of the woods we never had before. Cheyenne was worried that we would get lost, but Lucas explained that he would mark some trees with a small hatchet he was carrying so we would be able to find our way back to the trail. It didn’t seem unreasonable, and we were all up for a bit of adventure. So we began veering off the trail and gaining elevation.
We probably hiked for a couple of hours when I suggested we turn around if we wanted to get back to camp by dark. That’s when Lucas started calling me a pussy and said “then why the hell are you carrying that flashlight around with you, Todd?” I was used to his style of humor by now, as we all were, and I looked at Shane who just shrugged his shoulders as if he didn’t really have an opinion. When I looked at Liz, she said “we are here to have an adventure, aren’t we?” I didn’t bother looking at Cheyenne since she always did whatever Lucas suggested. I only wanted to get back to camp to spend more one-on-one time with Liz, but if she was having a good time, I wanted to be a part of it. So I said “I guess we’re trekking on”. Lucas nodded and said, “That’s the spirit”.
We hiked until about 7:00 p.m., well after dark before Shane suggested we turn around. Of course, Lucas taunted him, but Shane said he had run out of water and we still had a long way to go to get back. We all agreed to take a break and found a log to sit on while we discussed it. I have to admit, it was really kind of cool being that far out without any idea how far away from civilization we were. The forest was much thicker than were we set up camp, and it was so dark. We all agreed to turn off our flashlights and just enjoy the moment for a few minutes. Nobody spoke, and aside from each others’ breathing, the only sounds we could hear were insects and an occasional owl hooting. The canopy was too thick to see stars where we were at, but still, it was quite peaceful.
Liz leaned up against me in the dark and I put my arm around her. We just sat silently for a while, and I was in a world of my own when Lucas finally spoke. To be honest, I had forgotten he was even there. I didn’t think he had it in him to sit quietly at all, let alone without making some kind of joke or throwing an insult at someone in an attempt to be funny. Lucas said in a more serious tone than usual, “Have you ever heard of Shaelynn?”
Each of us said no, including Cheyenne. I could tell from his voice that he was no more than 5 or 6 feet away from me, despite not being able to see him at all. I remember placing my hand in front of my face to see if I could visualize it, but it was too dark. Lucas continued, “Shaelynn is rumored to haunt these woods. I’m surprised you guys haven’t heard of her in all the years we’ve been coming here.” Cheyenne accused him of making this up on the spot, but assured her he hadn’t. He sounded genuine.
He claimed that he overheard his parents talking about the legend of Shaelynn, and how the real reason the parents didn’t want to go camping this year was because there were rumors that she would appear every 20 years, and that they had seen her kill someone in the summer of 1986 when they had all been there. Apparently, there was a girl in her early 20’s that had gone missing in the area in the 1940’s after some psychopath escaped from a local prison and had been living off of the land out here in these woods. The rumors were that the girl was lured into the woods by some unseen force.
One of her friends that was hiking with her was the last person to see her. They had been hiking in a large group, and Shaelynn, who was near the rear of the group with her friend, had crouched down to tie her shoelace. Nobody stopped hiking, and eventually the few people behind her had passed. Her friend turned around a few moments later before going around a bend in the trail with the group, and witnessed her walking off of the trail on her own. When she called out, she said it was like Shaelynn didn’t even hear her. She just kept walking slowly through the trees, getting scratched up by the branches. By the time her friend was able to tell their group leader, she was out of sight. They spent hours looking for her, but she was never seen again.
Lucas said his great grandfather was a part of that same camping group, and that’s how the story was handed down in his family. But Lucas also said his dad wasn’t aware of a part of the story that his grandfather had told him. It was said there was a way to summon her spirit and communicate with her. By this time, Shane called Lucas out and said “No way, man. I don’t believe any of this bullshit.” Lucas sounded sincere when we was claiming it was the truth… at least how his grandfather had told him the story. It was Shane who suggested we test that theory.
I don’t think any of us believed Lucas’s story had an ounce of truth to it, so we kind of egged him on to tell us how to summon her. With all of Lucas’s typical over-confident behavior, he was pretty easy to manipulate into doing something he didn’t want to do if you called him a chicken.
After we broke him down, he explained that to summon the spirit of Shaelynn, you needed to first make yourself vulnerable. You had to stand somewhere in the woods alone, facing away from anyone else there, and you had to be far enough away that if you needed help, it would take someone a little bit of time to reach you. Shane seemed eager to try this, and said “okay, what’s next?” Lucas said there was a chant that you had to repeat with your eyes closed, and that it was important that whoever vocalized the chant do NOT open their eyes. Shaelynn would appear and communicate with you, but if you opened your eyes, your very soul was vulnerable. Shane thought this was a big joke, so he said “okay.”
Lucas was offended by Shane’s disbelief and suggested that we just head back to camp if we weren’t going to take this seriously, but Shane apologized and said “is there anything else I should know before summoning Shaelynn?” Lucas said, “Yes. Just don’t run.” He said his grandfather never explained why, but reiterated that no matter what you see or hear, you shouldn’t run. The theory was that by running after you’ve summoned her, and before she leaves your presence on her own, you are inviting her to go with you as you leave. “So whatever you do, regardless of what you might see,” Lucas said, “don’t run.”
By then, Shane was excited to try it out, and said, “Okay let’s do this. How does the chant go?” Lucas said once you get away from the group, close your eyes and recite:
Shaelynn, Shaelynn, where have you been?
Was your name not heard when t’was called?
What reason had you, and what fate befell you?
Come forth and commune with us all.
Shane rehearsed it a couple of times and laughed, making some reference to Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. Lucas turned his flashlight on and pointed it straight up toward the canopy. By this time, our eyes had adjusted to the darkness so that small amount of light hitting the bottom of the trees above our heads was plenty to allow us to see Shane walking through a small clearing away from us. He couldn’t have been more than 30 yards or so away when he stepped up on a rock that was about knee-high. He waved, and asked if we were ready.
Lucas reminded him to turn around, and he did. As Shane faced away from us, we all sat in silence as we listened to him chant:
Shaelynn, Shaelynn, where have you been?
Was your name not heard when t’was called?
What reason had you, and what fate befell you?
Come forth and commune with us all.
We sat and waited. Lucas told him to say it again and reminded him once more to keep his eyes closed. About halfway through the chant the second time, I noticed the insects stopped making noises. An eerie silence washed over the area, and I could barely hear a breeze above the sound of Shane’s chanting. I looked over at Liz, and she had been looking right back at me, affirming that she also noticed a change in the atmosphere. I reached for her hand, and I felt a stinging sensation as a small flash of light emanated from my hand. It was a static electricity. Shane continued chanting, and I noticed Lucas and Cheyenne embracing one another in the dim light. Then a few feet behind us, in the opposite direction that Shane had gone, a twig snapped in the dark.
We all turned to look, and it was at that moment I saw a figure. I couldn’t tell what it was at first, but it seemed to be about the height of a person, a little taller than myself. I saw it glide from right to left beyond some trees, as if floating in the air. It was so faint in the shadows that I had questioned what I was seeing. “Oh fuck” Lucas said, then yelled at Shane to stop. He didn’t. Lucas repeated himself, followed by Cheyenne, practically yelling at Shane while we were all still looking in the direction of the apparition I saw, and where the twig snapped. Shane kept chanting, as though he hadn’t even heard them.
That’s when Liz turned around to look back at Shane. Liz’s scream made us all jump to our feet. It took me a moment to realize why she was screaming. Shane was no longer on the rock. In his place, there was a tall figure facing away from us, but Shane was nowhere to be found. We could still hear Shane’s voice, chanting, but it was coming from whoever, or whatever, had taken his place there.
As I focused, I could see long, greasy-looking dark hair flowing down to the figure’s waist line. She was wearing a gray, tattered gown, and I could see her pale forearms and hands down by her sides. Lucas whispered, “don’t run”. I don’t know if I could at that point, even if I wanted to. I was frozen with fear as I noticed more details about this apparition. As I looked down toward the rock she was standing on, I noticed I couldn’t see any legs or feet. The bottom of her gown was about 3 feet above the rock, and she was suspended in the air above it.
We all just stood there and watched. Shane’s voice eventually stopped chanting, and she was still on the rock for a moment. Then we heard a ghastly noise. A loud shriek emitted from the figure, and her arms slowly raised up by her sides as she began gliding backward toward us. As she got closer, the shriek grew louder. Lucas grabbed Cheyenne’s forearm and again said, “Don’t run”. The closer she got to us, the faster she glided, until eventually, she turned around. Once she was about 10 feet from us, she hovered there for a moment. Her face was… pretty. She had a sadness in her eyes, and we all just stared at her as she slowly descended into the ground, inch by inch, until she disappeared. Then there was a slight gust of wind, and the atmosphere changed back to normal. We could hear the insects again.
We were all dumbfounded for a minute. Liz and Cheyenne were crying, and I looked at Lucas. We both said “Shane” at the same time. We walked over to the stone he had been standing on and called his name, but there was no sign of him. We were too scared to break up and look for him individually in different directions, so we stayed together as a group and looked for any sign of him until the sun came up. By around 6:00 a.m., none of us had any water, and we were tired and hungry. We made our way back to camp and I drove to the Ranger’s station to report Shane missing while the others packed our gear.
The Ranger I spoke with called the police, and he accompanied me back to our campground to gather our belongings and the rest of the group, and then you arrived shortly after.
Detective’s notes: Todd Smalley and Lucas Neilson volunteered to lead me, some deputies and the Ranger out to the location where Shane Masterson was last seen. In the daylight, it took us about two hours to hike there, and it was too remote to have been reached by vehicle. We followed the fresh notches hacked into the trees from the Neilson boy’s hatchet. Once we reached the rock the kids said Shane had been standing on, we didn’t see any sign of tracks or indications that anyone had traveled through the area.
Small teams were dispersed in a circular pattern to search for the boy, and within about 30 minutes, one team radioed in saying they had found something. It was a makeshift grave, and it was shallow. Protruding from the small mound were some bones. Old bones. We taped off the area and called a forensics team out there as we continued to search for the Masterson boy.
Search efforts were conducted for over two weeks covering over 100 square miles. Nothing was found outside of the initial grave we found. The Medical Examiner concluded the remains were of a female in her early 20’s with dark hair. No cause of death could be determined, and positive ID could not be obtained. After searching through local records and cold cases, I was able to confirm the disappearance of one Shaelynn Wilson, a 22 year-old female who had been last seen hiking with some friends shortly after the end of World War 2. The police report filed at the time indicated that despite the knowledge of her friends and parents, the missing girl was witnessed practicing witchcraft at the camp that year. Once the parents were informed and shown evidence of this, they ceased to express interest in the search efforts.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the cases I’ve brought forward so far. You can always reach me by social media or email. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @StoragePapers. Or you can leave me a voice message at anchor.fm/thestoragepapers. Make sure to reference episode 7, Shaelynn.
Thank you for listening to The Storage Papers. I’ll be back in two weeks with another case for you. Stay safe, and by all means, please… avoid trying to summon any spirits.