Three times every week I will tell you about a missing person, true crime, or paranormal story from the South. I encourage listener feedback and if you have a suggestion then I want to hear from you. You will be credited in that episode description.
Dealing with the Devil
Today I'm going to tell y'all about a Blues musician who may, or may not, have sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in rural Mississippi way back in the 1930s. Almost 100 years later you can still listen to him play guitar and sing.
To read today's transcript you can visit the website.
Haunted, Abandoned Mental Hospital in Alabama
Hey, y’all, and welcome to Southern Macabre. I’m Aeryn and I am so glad that you could join me today. I hope you’re having a fantastic week so far. Mine has been good. My birthday was last week and one of our cats surprised us with four kittens. We’re working on naming them since most people who want cats already have them so we’re figuring we have four new cats. I’m hoping to convince the kids to let me name one Edgar Allen Poe, but only my oldest child really appreciates his work.
Anyway. Today we’re going to talk about mental health and I’m going to tell you about a hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This episode took two weeks for me to research and write, but I think it’s worth the wait.
Also, I feel it’s important to tell y’all about mental health treatment beginning in the Victorian era (1880s to about 1910s) and how it changed through later decades. You may be shocked by what I’m going to tell you, but you will find sources to all of this information on the website.
To start off, mental hospitals were once called asylums. It was supposed to give the feeling of a rest or break from one’s mental illness and during the Victorian era it actually was. I was surprised to learn that in the late 1800s most patients were well cared for in the UK and in America.
William Ellis was the first superintendent of Hanwell Asylum in London and he believed mental illness could be cured through meaningful work. His successor, John Connolly, introduced the idea of a no restraint system at Hanwell. These two men likely influenced Dr. Peter Bryce, a twenty-seven-year-old psychiatrist from South Carolina. He had studied mental health in Europe and then worked in both New Jersey and South Carolina before being hired as the first superintendent of The Alabama Insane Hospital when it opened in 1861.
Robert Jemison, Jr. donated his estate to the state of Alabama to build the state-run mental hospital. He was a senator and he was convinced to make the generous donation by Dorothea Dix, an advocate for the mentally ill. In the early years, African American patients were housed in a barn loft. All of the patients worked to provide food along with clean clothes and living quarters. This was considered part of their treatment and all patients were encouraged to spend time outside. The Jemison Centre was built in 1939 for African American patients and it housed patients until 1977.
Dr. Bryce lived with his wife, Ellen, in the mental hospital and even ate with the patients in the hospital’s dining room. He dealt with budget cuts due to the Civil War, which shifted the patients working as part of their therapy to them working to make sure no one starved. His colleagues didn’t understand his model of treating patients with kindness and respect, viewing the practice as primitive and old-fashioned. This must have been infuriating to him after seeing how well it worked.
While Dr. Bryce cared for patients medically, Mrs. Bryce beautified the grounds as well as the inside of the hospital. She agreed with her husband that the way patients were treated and their surroundings played a role in their ability to get better. They even brought in birds for long-term patients to care for and all to enjoy as part of their therapy.
Sadly, Dr. Bryce died of kidney disease in 1892. The hospital was renamed in his honor in 1900. His wife, Ellen, passed away in 1929. They’re buried on the grounds of the hospital they devoted their lives to for so many years. I can’t help but wonder if they may still be there caring for patients unable or unwilling to leave, even in death.
There isn’t any information on Bryce Hospital after his death until the lawsuit in 1970, we’ll get there in a moment, so I’ll tell you about “treatment” in the United States in general. I can’t prove or disprove that any of these things happened at Bryce Hospital or the Jemison Centre, but the likelihood is high.
Sigmund Freud came on th
Where is Keisha Turner?
Hey, y’all, and welcome to Southern Macabre. I’m Aeryn and I am so thankful that you’re joining me today. I hope y’all are having a fantastic week! Today we’re going to visit a small community in West Alabama that just completed their first murder trial in over seventeen years.
Before I tell you about Ms. Keisha Turner, I want to apologize for not posting an episode on Wednesday. Y’all know I’m not originally from Alabama so I don’t know all of the nicknames for places. That happened with a very spooky, sad haunted location I have been researching for two weeks. I finally know what I’m talking about so I will tell you about it on April 27th.
Now back to Keisha. She was from Vernon, Alabama, a town of just under 1,500 people in Lamar County on the Alabama-Mississippi line. Despite its small size, it offers a lot in the way of restaurants, boutiques, and the largest antique mall in the area. Vernon is very proud of its mom-and-pop businesses and does a lot to support them.
On Friday nights, everyone shows up for football or baseball games, depending on the season. Those mom-and-pop businesses sponsor the games, and you will see Bulldog banners in yellow and black around town. It’s like a Hallmark movie set.
The town goes all out for Christmas with a parade, the businesses decorate trees on the courthouse lawn, and everyone stands outside sipping apple cider or hot chocolate. Nearby towns do this, too, but there’s something special about the one in this little town that brings people together.
It’s also a very safe place to live. It’s not unusual to run into a store and the owner has stepped out for dinner or a customer has left their car running to grab groceries at the Shop ‘N Save. Before 2015, there hadn’t been a murder in Lamar County in twenty-some odd years.
Keisha Turner left her home just outside of Vernon on February 19, 2015 to run errands. She was a twenty-nine-year-old mother of three who was divorced from Brandon Sykes, 40 years old. She had recently posted on social media that she had gotten engaged. When her family didn’t hear from her, her mom went to her home and found a back window busted in. She called Vernon Police to check her home and they discovered blood inside and part of Keisha out in the yard. They didn’t elaborate.
Her 2001 Honda Civic was found burned about 35 miles southeast in New Hope Mississippi, another rural community, a few days later. People called the Vernon police to inform them that they had seen Brandon Sykes carrying a gas can in that area around the time the car was discovered.
Sykes was charged three months later for her murder, even though her body has never been found. Police found enough blood in her home and in the bed of Sykes’s truck to prove that she had been murdered and that he was involved. Unfortunately, 2020 happened before he could go to court so it was postponed until February 2022.
He was staying at Pickens County jail on interference with custody and aggravated stalking charges relating to Keisha’s disappearance. Those charges were dropped when he was charged with capital murder.
Sykes was found guilty of capital murder on February 22nd and sentenced to the death penalty on the 23rd. The jury deliberated “briefly” before convicting him of murder in connection with a burglary, kidnapping, and robbery.
I recently saw a News Break article condemning Lamar County, Alabama for sentencing a man to die without a body. How does that even happen? It’s simple to explain, but far more difficult to get a conviction. Evidence. Lamar County police found Keisha’s blood throughout her home and a piece of her flesh in her yard. There was enough of both to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Keisha was murdered and that Sykes did it.
It's hard enough to prove that someone committed murder, but it’s nearly impossible without a body. All I am able to get ahold of are newspaper articles, but it sounds like the local
Update and Announcement
This is just a quick update and announcement about the future of Southern Macabre.
From Ashes to Brush
Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
What Happened to the Whatleys?
John and Faye Whatley disappeared without a trace in 1976 from Bastrop, Texas. What happened to them? Where did they go?
This episode is brought to you by From Ashes to Brush.
To read the transcript, you can click here. Like us on Facebook and make sure you follow Southern Macabre on Twitter and Instagram.
From Ashes to Brush: Immortalize Your Loved Ones in Art
I had the honor of speaking to Jon Flannagan of From Ashes to Brush recently, which was a lot of fun! He told me about his artwork and what he uses to create his unique paintings. If you want to see his artwork, and trust me you do, then click here.
You can find our website here.
Aeryn does a great job of telling you about the people in the stories she shares. Keep up the good work!