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10 Chilling Crimes Involving Ouija Boards

Ouija boards tend to peak in popularity during times of uncertainty. Ahem. But before you take yours out of the attic and start asking questions, you might want to read this.

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Collage of ouija board, hand, and planchette.
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The Ouija board’s dark history

Chances are, you came across your fair share of Ouija boards as a kid, but it’s probably been a while since you used one or even thought about one. Here’s a refresher: A Ouija board consists of a board printed with letters and numbers and a small, heart-shaped plank (a “planchette”) that slides smoothly over the board—seemingly of its own volition—to relay messages from “the spirit world.” That being said, the planchette moves only with participant interaction (i.e., when participants lay their fingertips on it), and its current manufacturer, Hasbro, markets the board solely as a “game.”

When the Ouija board was first marketed in 1890, however, it was billed as a method by which the living could communicate with the dead. This was an attempt to capitalize on the Victorian obsession with “spiritualism,” the belief that it’s possible to communicate with spirits. The Ouija board has always had its believers. In 1916, for example, a woman by the name of Pearl Curran became an overnight celebrity by writing poems and stories she claimed were dictated, via her Ouija board, by the spirit of a 17th-century woman. And here are 12 spooky real-life Ouija board stories we’ve culled from readers.

The Ouija board has also always had its doubters. A few years after Curran enjoyed her wild success, her friend Emily Hutchings had a book published that she claimed had been dictated by Mark Twain (who had been dead for ten years) via Ouija board. However, Twain’s estate was having no part of it and sued the publisher, which responded by ceasing publication and destroying all copies. Although scientific studies have debunked the Ouija board’s ability to move without, at least, subconscious intervention, Ouija board historian Robert Murch takes the position that whether it’s science or spirits, Ouija boards “work.”

What Murch means is that for the past 130 years, we’ve been asking Ouija boards questions, and they have been answering; the only issue is whether those answers come from the spirit world, from our subconscious, or from deliberate manipulation. For the unsophisticated, what the Ouija board says can seem like immutable truth. The same is true for those with mental illness or cognitive deficits. That’s precisely why the Ouija board has played a role in some chilling crimes over the years.

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Witch's broom
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The woman who wanted to eliminate her competition

On March 6, 1930, Clothilde Marchand was found dead at the foot of the stairs in her Buffalo, New York, home, where she lived with her sculptor husband and young son. It quickly became apparent she hadn’t fallen but had been beaten to death. Suspicion initially fell on the husband, but it shifted quickly to a woman with whom he’d been having an affair, Lila Jimerson. As it turned out, Jimerson had recruited an acquaintance, Nancy Bowen, to murder Clothilde.

Her method of persuasion? A Ouija board, which Jimerson manipulated to convince Bowen that Clothilde was a “witch” who was responsible for the death of Bowen’s recently deceased husband…and that Bowen was next. Bowen, who couldn’t even read, simply took Jimerson’s word for it, according to Murch. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter once the ruse was revealed. Jimerson also ultimately accepted a plea to manslaughter. Check out these 20 baffling cases that stumped forensics experts.

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Collage of skunk, gun, and ouija board.
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The mother who used a Ouija board to kill off her husband

On November 18, 1933, 15-year-old Mattie Turley and her father, Ernest, were trying to shoot a skunk on their property when Mattie shot Ernest twice in the back. Initially, Mattie claimed she’d accidentally fired after she’d tripped and fallen. However, after her father died of his wounds, Mattie changed her story: While playing with a Ouija board with her mother, Dorothea, Mattie was “ordered” by the “spirit world” to kill Ernest so that Dorothea could marry a man who would “make her happier.” After the Oujia board had “spoken,” Dorothea assured Mattie she could not be arrested for complying with its orders.

Dorothea denied it all, but a jury found her guilty. Three years later, the Supreme Court of Arizona reversed the conviction on the grounds that the trial court had refused to allow evidence that Mattie, who spent her childhood in juvenile detention and never spoke to her mother again, was lying. Here are 13 crimes that were finally solved as a result of forensic evidence.

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The Ouija board with the very specific plan

In 1983, 16-year-old Bunny Dixon told her 25-year-old boyfriend, Anthony Hall, and another young couple that the four of them had been instructed by a Ouija board to leave their home in Florida and join a carnival in Virginia—and to get the money to fund the trip by robbing and murdering a motorist, which they did. After accosting and murdering 25-year-old Ngoc Van Dang, the two couples turned against each other, which led to their arrest. All four were tried and convicted of murder. If you’re fascinated by stories like this, you should be listening to these 12 addictive true crime podcasts.

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Outline of United Kingdom overlaid with knife and planchette from Ouija board
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The boy who believed he was making a sacrifice to Satan

In 1995, London teen Michael McCallum lured a younger boy, Michael Earridge, to his apartment to play with a Ouija board. When the board spelled out “KILL,” Earridge tried to flee, but MacCallum stabbed him to death, allegedly because he believed Satan had ordered him to do so. MacCallum ended up accepting a manslaughter plea and served his time in a mental hospital.

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The grandma who believed the Ouija board had a plan

In 2001, 53-year-old Carol Sue Elvaker was playing with a Ouija board with her daughter, Tammy, and Tammy’s two daughters when the message “came through” that Tammy’s husband, Brian, was evil and needed to be killed. Elvaker got up and stabbed Brian in his sleep and then turned the knife on one of her granddaughters. As Brian bled to death, Elvaker, Tammy, and the two granddaughters piled into a car, which Elvaker proceeded to run off the road. The ensuing car crash caused only minor injuries, but Elvaker then attempted to push one of the granddaughters into traffic because she believed the girl had inherited Brian’s evil. Elvaker was ultimately ruled insane and was committed to a psychiatric hospital. Did you know these real-life exorcisms actually happened?

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Two boys, ouija board
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The boys who asked the Ouija leading questions

Two teenage boys, Joshua Tucker and Donald Schalchlin, were playing with a Ouija board in 2007 and asked it if they should “become serial killers.” When the “board” replied yes, they asked who they should kill first. The “board” replied: “MOM.” And that’s precisely what they did, killing Schalchlin’s mother and also his 13-year-old sister, Elizabeth. Although the boys tried to flee, they were arrested and later convicted of murder. Here are 15 of the most famous psychopaths in history.

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The boy who said, “The Ouija board made me do it”

In 2012, a teenage boy from Weslaco, Texas, stabbed his longtime friend in the abdomen. The friend survived, albeit after a few harrowing days in intensive care. When asked why he did it, the teen said: “The Ouija board made me.” At the time, Weslaco police spokesman J.P. Rodriguez said, “He actually believed what the Ouija board advised him.” The teen, whose name was not released, pled insanity. These are 50 of the strangest unsolved mysteries from every state.

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The Ouija board that wouldn’t stop talking

When Paul Carroll was trying to summon the dead in 2014, he believed an evil spirit had entered the family dog. Carroll killed the dog and dumped the body in an outside drain, resulting in a backup. When workers were brought in to address the issue, they discovered the dog’s body, and an investigation led back to Carroll, who pleaded guilty. A week later, the Ouija board apparently told Carroll’s wife and stepdaughter that they were going to die. Concluding it was preordained, they attempted suicide by setting their house on fire. Both survived, but they were later arrested and convicted on arson charges.

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The irrelevant Ouija instruction

Earlier this year, 63-year-old Donald Hartung was convicted of the 2015 murder of his mother and two half-brothers. As Hartung tells it, he was motivated by money—wanting to hasten his mother’s demise in order to gain his inheritance and keep his half-brothers from sharing in it. A prosecution witness, a fellow inmate while Hartung was in lockup awaiting trial, claims Hartung said a Ouija board convinced him to commit the murders. However, Hartung had been planning the murder for several years, so whether the Ouija told him to do it or not was deemed irrelevant.

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The Ouija board that spawned a killer

Gary Gilmore shot two men to death in Utah in July 1976, then proceeded to demand his own execution for his crimes. It was later revealed by Gilmore’s younger brother, Mikal, in his book Shot in the Heart, that their mother, Bessie, believed she had conjured a demon spirit through a Ouija board when she was just a child. Bessie believed the demon spirit had attached itself to her entire family, including her future children. In the case of Gary, Bessie was certain the demon primed him for a life of anger and violence. Gilmore was executed in 1977, and Mikal’s research for the book was conducted only afterward, so it can’t be confirmed whether Gary, himself, believed a Ouija board had sealed his fate. You’ll never guess the positive thing that Gary Gilmore contributed to our society.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.