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One of the top fears people have is being alone. Another is meeting new people. Two seemingly opposite fears that can come together and create some sort of uber-fear. One such job where with these two fears conjoin is the hospitality industry. The overnight shift. One person left alone to take care of dozens of strangers. What could possibly go wrong?
Statement of Sandra R. Cantry to the Stone Park Police Department (SPPD) May 23, 1998
I worked at the Homecoming Inn & Suites. I was the night shift employee. Four nights a week I would come in from 10 P.M. To 8 A.M. It was easy money. I basically just sat around.
My nightly schedule went as follows: check in the evening stragglers looking for a room and watch the little television at my desk. Plus one more thing I’ll get to later.
The stragglers were easy. Usually, they were truck drivers having just finished unloading their cargo to the local stores that needed a place to lay their heads for the night before heading back out to do it all again the next day.
The television was a bit more difficult. It was a five inch set, supposedly portable. The problem was that any time you moved even an inch the antenna would jiggle and the picture would turn all wavy. As long as the guests weren’t too needy, calling in for towels and wake-up calls, I could watch Letterman and Conan, undisturbed. The channel change could be difficult so I’d usually miss the last seconds of the Letterman’s musical guest to make sure I saw Conan’s monologue.
It was nearing eleven-thirty and the local CBS news was wrapping up. I didn’t pay close attention to the fluff piece they always seem to end because a man entered through the front door. He came over to the desk and I turned the volume down on my television, scrambling the picture in the process.
He didn’t say anything at first, just staring at the board on the wall behind me that spelled out our nightly rates. I initiated the conversation with the forced B.S. the management makes us say, “Welcome to Homecoming Inn & Suites. We hope to make you feel like you’ve come home.” He continued staring at the board for a few more seconds. Until his hand went into his pocket and he pulled out a mess of crumpled bills and coins. Then he said, “One night. Keep the change.”
I finished up with him by giving him a keycard to room 312 and he was off. Room 312 was one we set aside each night for specific type of guest. You see, 312 is the crap room. TV only gets the local channels. The toilet only goes down properly every third flush. And the bed hasn’t been replaced since man first walked on the moon. It is a room for only the creepiest of clientele. And that night’s Mr. 312 fit the bill. I just wasn’t sure why. Something about his look.
I went back to my TV, fixing the static and turning the volume back up. Letterman was just coming on. The announcer saying that tonight’s guests are Harry Connick Jr. and Hank Azaria. Dave came out and began telling his jokes. I laughed a couple times. The Top Ten List was just about to start when the phone rang.
I waited for the third ring to answer, taking the phone from its cradle. I didn’t want to have to mess with the TV reception again so I took the phone as far as the cord would reach, which wasn’t far. The caller wasn’t Mr. 312 dissatisfied with his accommodations, as I feared it might be. It was a couple in 305, our honeymoon suite, not that we ever got real honeymooners at this hotel. Mostly, anniversaries. Some affairs. The couple wanted fresh towels brought up. I grabbed two from our linen closet and headed to the elevator.
The doors opened with a ding. The elevator was old-fashioned. Emphasis on the word old. If it was ridden too much it began putting a burning smell in the air. There were three numbered buttons, sort of. The 2 and 3 were relatively clear to make out, but the 1 had long ago faded away, only the tip left looking like an apostrophe.The first floor featured the front desk, dining area, gym, formerly a pool that we had to fill in, etcetera. The second floor was where the family rooms went, two beds, half of the rooms connected. The third floor was two floors in one. To the left of the elevator, from the perspective of getting off on that floor, were the single rooms. To the right, our suites. We had two honeymoon suites. They each had the hot tub in the middle of the room for god knows what reason.
I rode the elevator to the third floor and found room 305. I handed them the towels, they gave me a tip, $2.00. People here don’t do that. Almost made up for missing some of Letterman.
I began walking back toward the elevator and, as the doors were opening, I noticed the light at the other end flicker out. In the darkness it seemed that there was something staring at me but then the light returned. And nothing was there. I entered the elevator and returned to the first floor. I finished Letterman and Conan undisturbed. It was time for me to do a part of the job I hated most. Rounds.
My job entailed two aspects. One, to do all the duties of a hotel employee. Two, be a security guard. Not really. But sort of. Every hour or two I was supposed to go outside and walk the premises. Then, I was to do the same inside. Up and down each hall. Check to make sure nobody was trying to crash for the night. Go to the second and third floors and make sure nobody was doing anything in the halls. It was easy, but it was also time consuming. Time I’d rather be spending watching infomercials like new Oxiclean thing.
I grabbed my flashlight and headed outside. I began by walking around the outside of the hotel. The night was chilly for late May. Clouds were in the sky. The trees rustled with the wind. The parking lot was unusually full. I had gotten dropped off by the employee entrance around back so I hadn’t seen earlier. Nothing seemed amiss on the outside so I returned to my desk. Something seemed off and for a minute I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then, I noticed the noise. The static of the TV. That itself wasn’t unusual. That the TV was on its side was. I righted the TV and turned it off. I’d turn it back on after rounds.
I used the elevator for every other part of my duties except for rounds. I’d put on some weight over the last couple years. So for rounds the stairs would do. I walked over the stairs pretending to check each door along the way, in case management put cameras somewhere. But stopping and entering one room. The old pool.
It was a good sized space. A shame we had to close it down after the accident. No one even died. Just sued the shit out of the hotel. The old owners went into bankruptcy after. It was probably just in mind but I could swear the smell of chlorine still lingered in the air. Some nights it even seemed like I could hear the water splashing about. Now we only use it for storage. If anyone ever wanted to steal ten years worth of tiny bars of soap, then this would be the place for them. Also, we kept the lost & found boxes in there. I looked in one. There was a Gameboy Color some kid must be crying his eyes out for forgetting laid on top. I should remember to snatch that at the end of shift before anyone else got to it. There were a lot of cigarette lighters and the smokes themselves. One was an old Zippo, monogrammed on the side with the initials A.R.C. Same as my dad’s. Arthur Reginald Cantry. Died at 37. Lung cancer.
I shoved the Zippo in my pocket and started back toward the stairs.
On exiting the pool area, I heard the ringing from the phone at my desk. I ran over, nearly out of breath from the short jog. Thinking to myself that I should start taking the stairs every time I needed to go up and down them. I made it to the phone at the fifth, maybe sixth ring. I said “Hello, Front desk speaking.” There was no sound from the other. Then, a voice from the other end of the line, “One night. Keep the change.” It was Mr. 312. The eerie thing being that he said the phrase exactly as he had earlier. Same non-inflection. Same underlying creepiness in every word. I’ve been taught to be polite to the guest so I said back, “Is there anything I can do for you?” The other end hung up.
I stood there for a moment just standing and taking the odd exchange in. Then, I put the phone back down and noticed my TV back on its side. No time to right it. I had a place to be. I grabbed the pepper spray from purse, never leave home without it. My mom got me one with an alcohol base thinking it would be more effective. I’m no scientist so I don’t know if she’s right or not. I didn’t plan on using the pepper spray but it would be nice to have just in case.
I headed for the elevator, forgetting my promise to use the stairs more. As the elevator dinged, the phone began to ring again. I headed back over and answered. I said “Hello” out of ritual. The other end of the line went right into it. “One night. Keep the change,” said in the same way again. This time I hung up the phone before Mr. 312 could. I headed back to the elevator, the door still open, and got in, pressing the button for the third floor.
I was angry. I don’t like being messed with. I was off to see what this guy’s problem was.
I got out on the third floor and noticed the same thing as before. The light was out. And there I was, having not brought the flashlight with me. I started to walk slowly down the darkened hallway. I knew the place well enough to make it to the door but that didn’t become necessary because just as I entered the darkness, the light started flickering. On/off. On/off. On/off. I timed my movements with the moments of light and made it to the door for 312.
I stood there for a second. I was still angry but becoming aware that this man on the other side of the door was far larger than me. What was I going to do if this turned physical? Probably scream a bunch and hope 310 or 314 came to help a damsel in distress. Before I knew that I had made a decision to continue, I was knocking at the door. But not really knocking because the door just creaked open the second my fist met it.
I stepped inside and said, “Hello.” A reply came in the form of two sentences I had become sick of: “One night. Keep the change.”
My pace slowed with each step. The floorboards creaking under each and every one. I’d made it far enough in that I could see the bed. And the man standing on top of it. Mr. 312. There was blood gushing from his eyes. It streamed down his body and pooled by his feet. In each eye was a spring from the bed below. I could see the holes in the mattress from where they’d been taken out. Mr. 312 was motionless except for his mouth. That wouldn’t stop moving. Saying the same two sentences over and over again like a broken record. “One night. Keep the change.” “One night. Keep the change.” “One night. Keep the change.”
I didn’t know what to say so I said the only thing that popped into my head, “What change? You gave exactly the right amount, asshole.” This may not have been the smart thing to say because motionless Mr. 312 was moving more than just his mouth. His head turned to me. It seemed like he was staring at me in the way he had stared at the board when he first entered the hotel. Then he took a step forward and I was booking it out that door and into the flickering light of the hall. Except it wasn’t flickering anymore. I came out the door into darkness. The elevator seemed forever away and the light of the other side of the hall even further than forever. I ran into the black anyway. Hearing the possibly alive but can’t be, Mr. 312. He ran behind me. More than keeping pace, his long legs allowing him to gain on quickly.
I got to the elevator hoping I could press the button for the first floor and the doors would close before he reached me. When I got to the elevator I found it no longer there. Someone must have called it from another floor.
I didn’t have time to think of another plan and just ran toward the light at the other end. One thought did come through my mind these next paces. I was fast enough to get to the stairs, but he would overtake me on them. I needed somewhere else to go and found it looking at the doors I was passing as I ran. I stopped abruptly and knocked on the door of 305. It opened to my touch much in the same way 312 had. I didn’t have time to be suspicious this time and entered. I closed the door behind. Mr. 312 started banging from the other side.
I walked slowly into the main area of the suite expecting to find the couple sleeping in the king-sized bed. They weren’t sleeping nor were they in the bed. The male of the couple was in the hot tub. The hot tub bubbling away, steam coming up into the air, almost masking his appearance but not enough. I could see the blistering all over his body. Burns had formed and a mixture of pus and blood was seeping from each pustule. The female was in no better shape. She hung from the ceiling fan, the towels turned into a makeshift noose, her feet dangling into the hot tub, looking to be just as burned as her male counterpart. They were both very obviously dead and that’s when I remembered the other dead guy.
His knocking was growing louder at the door. The doors were old and wooden. They wouldn’t last forever. I needed yet another plan but, again, had no time to think of one because the dead were coming back. The male got up, his skin sliding from his legs like a pair of unbelted pants falling from a waist. He tugged at the female, ripping the fan from the ceiling, but the knotted towels stayed connected to both fan and neck. The female began moving too, dragging the fan along with her as she did.
I was trapped between the dead couple and the door. Neither side of the door seemed great anymore, but I needed to make a choice between the two. Die in 305 or chance that I could, somehow, get past Mr. 312. I’d have to chance it.
I went over to the door and timed my opening. He knocked on the other side and as he readied his next knock, I opened the door. I grabbed his arm and pulled. Luckily, catching him off balance and pulling him down into the door. His legs gave out from under him and he fell. I jumped over him and ran for the stairs.
I’ve never been a very good runner, but I would have made the Olympic track team in that moment, getting to the stairs in record time. And then, just like in every horror movie ever made, I tripped. I fell down a half flight of stairs.
I laid there dazed but conscious. My right ankle feeling unusual. I looked down and saw it at an angle it should not have been at. Then I saw shadows hit the doorway above. I looked up to see the three dead guests beginning their descent toward me. I tried getting up but the pain from my ankle was too much. I fell back onto the step. They were nearing me. I looked around and saw nothing helpful to get me out of this situation. I reached into my pockets and found two items. My pepper spray and the Zippo lighter. Alone neither was useful to me right that moment but together they may be.
The sprayed the pepper spray toward them with my left hand and with my right I lit the lighter, turning the two into a makeshift flamethrower. I swept the flamethrower back and forth, making sure it would hit all three of them and it did. They caught quickly. Even the towels attached to the female’s neck caught. But it only slowed them. The three human balls of flame continued toward me, while also catching the railing and all other surrounding areas on fire.
I got up onto my good leg and hoped for the best. I hopped each stair and made it all the way down to the second floor and another decision. I could try to keep hopping down the stairs or I could try for the elevator. My sprained or broken ankle wouldn’t be any help and those few hops to that level left my other one hurting too.
I entered the second floor and limped my way down the hall while holding onto the wall for some added support. Both of my ankles cried in pain but the choice between death and pain was an easy one.
I made it to the elevator and pressed the button. As I waited for it to get to the second floor I looked back for the first time. The three balls of fire were still coming my way and the flames continued to spread along the walls. I followed the flame’s paths with my eyes and noticed something disconcerting. Every door on this level was open.
New dead guests exited from those open doors. Each obviously dead in all manners of ways. One had a glass shard from a television protruding from his neck. Another had only the tip of a remote control peeking out from inside his throat.
The elevator dinged as the mess of new faces began running for me. I got in and pressed the button for the first floor a million times before the door finally closed and left me in relative safety. The journey down was fast, though I could smell the burning smell that sometimes came from the elevator. Or, and this was probably more likely, the burning smell may be coming from the second floor.
I got out of the elevator and fell to the floor. Neither ankle would be of much use anymore. I crawled along the floor and out into the night. I looked up when I was far enough away and saw that all of the second and third floors were now ablaze. I thought about going back in and calling 911 from the phone and even started back toward the hotel to do so, but the flames were spreading too fast. There was a payphone on the sidewalk so I started toward that.
Just as my hand touched the phone to make the call it started ringing. I answered. “Hello,” I said into the phone. The other end was silent for a moment. Then a voice came loudly into my ear saying, “One night. Keep the change.”
I dropped the phone and curled up on the sidewalk. I began to hear sirens coming in the distance and passed out from some mixture of pain and fear.
I woke up some time later in the hospital and found an officer waiting by my bedside. He asked what had happened and I told him the story. Leaving out no detail even if it all made me sound crazy. He handed me with a pen and paper and told me to write all of this down. Then he walked into the hall where he radioed for a psych consult. After the night I had, that sounds about right. Maybe I am crazy.
Signed, Sandra R. Cantry
After reading about the case of Sandra Cantry I was left with more questions than answers. What killed all the guests at Homecoming Inn & Suites? Why did they come back from the dead? Why did they try to kill Sandra? Did they survive the fire? And what kept knocking the TV over?
Further research has given me no answers to any of these questions. One question not in that list that was answered is what happened to Sandra Cantry? After a legal battle, Sandra was ruled to be sane and that her story was all a fabrication. She was convicted of thirty-five counts of manslaughter and one count of arson. She will spend the rest of her days at the Stone Park Women’s Correctional Facility.