Along the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania, in Lawrence County, just north of the small Italian immigrant populated village of Hillsville is a unsettling quiet and eerie region locals call “Zombie Land”. Mainly “urban legend” than actual historic folklore are tales of the macabre, mystical beasts, deaths, and grisly murder. There is definitely a feeling of “odd” and “something not right” when entering this several mile strip of heavily wooded spots meeting farming, transportation, and industrial works along Lawler Ford Road a.k.a. “Zombie Road” or Route 224.
The Virgin Mary:
It begins around the old St. Lawrence Catholic Church which has long been converted to a private residence and its accompanying graveyard along route 224. There is a alcove with a statue of the Virgin Mary who has a creepy air about herself. Legend has it, she will greet visitors with open arms when it is safe to enter Zombie Land, and have praying hands when it is not. In the 1990’s it was reportedly vandalized and a plexiglass (or glass) window was installed to protect the statue.
St. Lawrence Church and Graveyard:
Some say the gravestones behind this church glow at night. Others say it is at the Presbyterian graveyard down the road. We’ve been to both, and outside of solar-powered grave lights, there is no glow. Others say it is a historic stone in the older part of the graveyard behind the old Church (St. Lawrence) that has a particular shine that reflects off the full moon or light from the house (old church). We unfortunately during our night visit did not see that section, although we did explore the two graveyards – seeing no glow, but experiencing the eerie ambiance.
The Hilltown Bridge:
Just down the road from the St. Lawrence Graveyard north is the Hilltown Bridge. The original Bridge in March 1913 was swept away and has since been replaced by a new concrete monster. It was torn down again in 2007 and replaced with a modern concrete span. It is from this bridge that reports of unexplained lights moving around it and underneath, like the Will o’ Wisp has been reported. Also some say one can hear screams and gun shots from the bridge at night. It has also been reported to be a “crying bridge” with sounds of a crying baby underneath, with the urban lore that a mother tossed her child over the edge. It has reports of suicides being conducted from its rails.
The Killing Fields or “Murder Swamp”:
Just north of the Hilltown Bridge are the “Killing Fields” where at night many report hearing screams and gunshots. In the woods bordering the railway some say there are “ghost whistles” to be heard late at night. If one parks near the rails, strange things will happen to the car. It is also reputedly where a serial killer dumped more than a dozen bodies with decapitated heads in Zombie Land. From 1921-1942, between Mahoningtown and New Castle, over 15 bodies were found in the swamp and may have been the same serial killer who conducted decapitations in Cleveland around the same time. There are many stories of the Italian Immigrants who settled in the area also killing many farmers, authorities, and residents leaving them in the Killing Fields to decay. It was in 1907 when several Italian men in Hillsville, believed to be associated with the Italian mafia/mob who proclaimed that “No person in the Hillsville district, either Italian or American, will give the slightest assistence to any officer desiring the prosecution of Italian offenders.” and it was then that a Hillsville farmer allowed an officer named Sealy Houk to use his phone to effect an arrest of an Italian found to have killed his cow. It is believed that the officer was killed and dumped in the “Killing fields” of the region, discovered by a train passing by. Three days after Houk’s body was discovered, three Italian mob men went into the fields killing and pouching animals, aggrivating and attacking (murdering at least one – William Duff) farmers who tried to stand in their way.
There are said to be various mines in the area used by the mafia from Youngstown to dispose of bodies. While travelling through area, we only saw signs for “Limestone” mines.
Skyhill Road Bridge:
(aka Frankenstein Bridge, Hookman’s Bridge, Ghost Bridge, Graffiti Bridge)
A few more miles down into Zombie land on Skyhill Road is a small bridge that was built in 1917 crossing off the Coffee Run River. It also has been replaced in 2013 changing the eerie attraction. It became to be believed to be haunted by the “Bridge People” and the “Hook Man”. Apparently they were mutated zombie-like people who lived nearby that were bothered by people hanging around the bridge so would hunt them down to maim or kill them. It is believed that if one writes someone’s name on the bridge, the “Bridge People” or “The Hookman” would go murder them. The bridge is covered with peoples names and symbols. The Original bridge had wood railings where the graffiti would be, but now a metal railing, the graffiti is on the asphault itself. Oddly, underneath the bridge are lover’s dedications and love notes scrawled on the walls. The Hate is above, the Love below. We also saw the corpse of a dead deer lying halfway on the ground and in the water, half-wrapped in a garbage bag like an offering to the Bridge people. Someone else writing about the Bridge also stated there was a dead deer but that was back in 2016, so a different dead deer. It is said a young boy leaped from the bridge killing himself as a suicide.
The Zombie Torch:
Right around the corner from the bridge west is the Eternal Flame dedicated to the Zombies that haunt the woods. The mutant colored metal pipe protruding from the ground is just a stone’s torch from the road – it is a iron pipe venting fumes from the natural gas field below. If one lights the torch it will anger the Bridge People and the Hook Man, summoning them to cause death unto the one who lit it.
The Blood House, Bridge People, Hook Man:
Deep in the woods near the bridge and torch is the purported home of the Bridge People and/or Hook Man. It is said also to have been the home of a wicked witch named “Mary Black” who snatched and murdered children of the area, buring them in the fields. It has long been burnt down and demolished by authorities and no longer exists. Others state that the Blood House is located off of Erskin Quarry Road and had a small graveyard attached to it. Some say the Witch was a woman who went crazy and hung her children. Others say it all happened when some mental patients escaped and settled in the area. Others say the “Bridge People” were mutant-like residents of the woods who suffered from “hydrocephalus” or “water on the brain” that settled in the area along the Mahoning River to avoid being harassed for their deformities. They were also nicknamed the “Light Bulb Heads”. A escaped mental patient nicknamed “Zombie” who was a serial killer supposedly lived in the woods along this road. Some claim that his bloodied hospital gown was once found on the road and murdered local kids. Other paranormal investigators call the “Bridge People” as the infamous legendary “Shadow People” of lore. There is some belief that the “Hook Man” came from the Killing of Seely Houk written about above.
The Railroad Bridge:
Along Coffee Run, at Robinson’s Crossing, just north of the Manoning River, within Zombie Land, not too far from all the haunted locations is a Railway Bridge still in use by CSX trains was the scene of a grisley rape and murder of a 12 year old girl named Shannon Leigh Kos. Her boyfriend and two other 20 year old boys brought her there, raped her, and stabbed her to death. They attempted to burn her body, but her remains were found by the bridge three days later. The sick criminals – William George Monday (21), David Christopher Garvey (20), and Perry Sam Ricciardi II (20) were arrested and convicted. There are purported rumors that Robinson’s Crossing was once a popular “lover’s lane” but police reported many arguments and spats, domestic violence calls, etc. were popular there as well as abandoned dates they had to come to escort home. Rumors of suicides at this spot as well as the other bridges are also common.
The Glowing Green Man:
There are legends of a green man who had been burned in an industrial accident that lived in the area. Others say he was a local handyman who was electricuted and had a light green glow to his skin. According to Jim Mosley, the Green Man not only existed but was someone whom he had met on occasion through his wanderings in Zombie Land and spent many evenings drinking with him at the local pub. His real name was Raymond Robinson.
A zombie land facebook fan page exists here: https://www.facebook.com/ZombieLandHillsvillePA/ and t-shirts are sold at a local beverage shop.
- Associated Press 2000 “Accused told police of Killing”. The Associated Press. Website referenced on 11/12/18 at http://www2.sharonherald.com/localnews/recentnews/0011/ln111600f.html
- Lawrence County Memoirs n.d. “Zombie Land – Hillsville PA” website referenced 11/12/18 at http://www.lawrencecountymemoirs.com/lcmpages/1073/zombieland-hillsville-pa
- Reddit 2016 “Gruesome Murder of a Girl I Knew NSFW” by u/nebbles1069. Website referenced 11/12/18 at https://www.reddit.com/r/nosleep/comments/462b6r/gruesome_murder_of_a_girl_i_knew_nsfw/
- Penn Live e2016 “From Hell’s Hollow to Zombie Land: 13 western PA places with haunting legends. Website referenced 11/12/18 at https://www.pennlive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2016/10/haunted_western_pennsylvania.html
- Summers, Ken 2011 “The STrange History Behind America’s Creepiest Zombie Road Legends … and How You Can find them”. Website referenced 11/12/18 at http://weekinweird.com/2011/09/26/home-zombie-roads/
- Tinsley, M. Ferguson 2000 “This time, Zombie Land tale is true”. Post-Gazette Staff. Website referenced 11/12/18 at http://old.post-gazette.com/regionstate/20001031zombie1.asp
- Torisk, Emmalee C. 2013 “Urban legends haunt Zombieland” : Vindy.com. Website referenced 11/12/18 at http://www.vindy.com/news/2013/oct/29/urban-legends-haunt-zombieland/
- Warren, Louis S. unknown “The Hunters Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth Century America”. Website referenced 11/12/18 at https://books.google.com/books?id=OfeB1wAdQHwC&pg=PA30&lpg=PA30&dq=killing+fields+hillsville&source=bl&ots=GdJ2Dgjuqh&sig=A0EsgLm8cPefd44V8l6owSsq0IQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiZocuBqtDeAhUp11kKHYObBIsQ6AEwFXoECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=killing%20fields%20hillsville&f=false