The church is considered a sanctuary and place of comfort for many people. To some, it might seem inconceivable that bad things could happen there. However, churches have been the sites of some truly unusual unsolved mysteries, including murders, disappearances, supernatural events, and even unexplained acts of divine intervention.
10The Mysterious Suicide Of ‘Wm L. Toomey’
On December 4, 1982, a heavily suntanned stranger entered the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Boise, Idaho. He appeared to be in his early forties and seemed to be waiting for a turn in the confessional, which was currently occupied. This man would soon be found dead on the floor.
It was later determined that he had swallowed a cyanide capsule. He had no identification, but $1,900 was found in his possession, along with a note which stated that the money should be used for his burial. The note was signed “Wm L. Toomey,” but it seemed unlikely that was his real name, since Wm L. Toomey was the name of a company that manufactured priest garb. All attempts to determine the stranger’s identity led nowhere, but there is one unsettling theory about his suicide.
On December 21, 1981, a Catholic priest named Father Patrick Ryan was murdered at a motel in Odessa, Texas. He was found naked with his hands tied behind his back. The previous night, Father Ryan had a sexual encounter with a suspect named James Harry Reyos. After Reyos called the police with a drunken confession, he was convicted of Ryan’s murder and served 20 years before being paroled. However, Reyos later recanted his confession, and the evidence shows that he almost certainly couldn’t have been in Odessa that night.
This evidence is bolstered by the similar murder of a holy man committed the next year. In November 1982, another Catholic priest, Father Benjamin Carrier, was murdered at a motel in Yuma, Arizona. Like Father Ryan, he was found naked with his hands tried behind his back.
Since “Wm L. Toomey” wore a distinctive belt buckle which was traced back to an Arizona gift shop, some have speculated that he was responsible for the murders of both priests. It’s possible that he intended to die in the confessional after being absolved of his sins but miscalculated how long it would take for the cyanide to kill him.
9The Disappearance Of Father Henryk Borynski
After leaving his native Poland and moving to Bradford, England, Father Henryk Borynski became the Catholic chaplain for the community’s 1,500 Polish residents. Borynski had been brought in to replace another Polish priest, Canon Boleslaw Martynellis, who had fallen out of favor with the community and was more than a little bitter about it.
Father Borynski had served as chaplain for 10 months when he received a mysterious call on the evening of July 13, 1953. The conversation took place in Polish, but Borynski’s landlady overheard him finish the call with the words “All right, I go.” Borynski then exited his residence, leaving all his belongings behind, and was never seen again.
At the time, many of Bradford’s Polish residents were refugees who had fled their communist country. Spies from the Polish secret police were believed to frequent the area, and Father Borynski was known to be very outspoken about his anti-communist views. Rumors began to circulate that Canon Martynellis was angry about Borynski taking his position and helped communist agents lure Borynski out of his house to be kidnapped and murdered.
Shortly before his disappearance, Borynski allegedly received a phone call from Martynellis asking Borynski to meet him at his house, but Martynellis denied the call ever took place. One month later, Martynellis claimed he was attacked in his home by two men who ordered him to keep quiet about Borynski’s disappearance. Martynellis died of a heart attack two years later, and to this day, Father Borynski’s disappearance remains unsolved.
8The Ghost Of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, built in 1868, is considered a historical landmark in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It’s also rumored to be haunted, and its alleged resident ghost has a bizarre origin story.
In 1886, plans were made to construct a new tower for the church. Two Swedish stonemasons were hired for the job, but they both mysteriously disappeared before the tower was finished. Because of this setback, the tower went unfinished until 1927.
The problem was the unexplained eerie happenings that started to occur inside the church, along with sightings of a mysterious ghostly figure. Whenever construction was planned on the tower, workers often became too frightened to finish the job. The workmen were even granted permission to build a private isolated room to accommodate their ghostly friend.
Decades later, Reverend Eugene Todd was serving as pastor at St. Mark’s when he received a surprise explanation for these supernatural occurrences. He had been summoned to a nursing home in Denver, where an elderly dying patient had requested confession with him. The man claimed he was one of the two Swedish stonemasons who had mysteriously vanished while working on the church many years ago.
Apparently, the other stonemason had accidentally fallen to his death in the unfinished bell tower. His partner was terrified that he would be blamed for the death, so he decided to entomb the body under cement inside an unfinished wall section before fleeing the area. Although the missing stonemason’s body has never been found, many people found the old man’s story credible and believe that the stonemason’s ghost haunts the church.
7The Murder Of Father Alfred Kunz
On March 4, 1998, the small community of Dane, Wisconsin was shocked to learn that Father Alfred Kunz was murdered. The 67-year-old priest who had served St. Michael Catholic Church for 32 years was found inside the church’s parochial school with his throat slashed. The murder has been the subject of an extensive investigation ever since, and a plethora of unconfirmed theories surrounds his death. One of the most outrageous claims is that he was murdered by a group of angry Satanists.
Kunz frequently collaborated on church matters with Malachi Martin, a known exorcist who has published numerous books on the subject. Martin claimed that in the weeks prior to his murder, Kunz was preparing to perform an exorcism on a Wisconsin man who was believed to be demonically possessed and expressed concern that his life was in danger. Martin believes that Kunz’s manner of death showed signs of having been performed by devil worshipers. Another controversial rumor is that Father Kunz was engaged in sexual affairs with some of his female parishioners and may have been murdered by a jealous lover.
Despite all these different theories, the Dane County sheriff’s office claims to have a prime suspect. Unfortunately, he left town shortly after the crime, and police currently do not have sufficient evidence to charge him. As such, Father Kunz’s death remains a bizarre unsolved murder.
6The Papua New Guinea UFO Sightings
In April 1959, a respected Anglican priest named Father William Gill was working as a missionary in the village of Boianai in Papua New Guinea when he saw a strange light traveling across a distant mountain. This same light reappeared on the evening of June 26, but this time, Father Gill was standing outside his mission alongside many other witnesses. As the light moved closer to them, it became apparent that it was a large disc-shaped object, which appeared to have four large legs beneath it. The witnesses also discerned what appeared to be four alien figures moving around on the object’s upper deck.
The strange craft remained in the vicinity for 45 minutes before it disappeared, but when it returned an hour later, it was accompanied by more bright flying objects. After hovering over the area for four hours, the objects disappeared again, but the strange craft and two smaller flying objects returned to the village yet again on the following evening. This time, Father Gill and one of his companions decided to wave at the alien figures on the craft’s deck. Amazingly, the figures waved back.
The next night, a total of eight UFOs showed up to the village, but these were the last that would be seen. Before the objects disappeared, a large metallic banging sound was heard on the mission’s roof, but no sign of any damage could be found. This story was recounted by over three dozen witnesses, including Father Gill, and remains one of the most credible UFO sightings in history.
5The Murders of Harold And Thelma Swain
In 1985, Harold Swain was the deacon of the Rising Daughter Baptist Church in Waverly, Georgia. On the evening of March 11, a mysterious stranger arrived during a Bible study session at the church. When Harold met the stranger in the vestibule, the man pulled out a gun and shot him several times. Harold’s wife, Thelma, ran into the room to help, but the killer shot her to death as well.
The man fled the scene, leaving only a pair of eyeglasses behind. In 2000, a suspect named Dennis Perry was convicted of murdering the Swains and given two consecutive life sentences. Perry had allegedly threatened to kill Harold two weeks before the crime, but the evidence suggests that he may be innocent.
At the time the murders took place, Perry claimed that he was at work in Atlanta six hours away, so it seems physically impossible for him to have committed the crime. A witness who saw the shooter pointed police toward another suspect named Donnie Barrentine, who allegedly later bragged about murdering the Swains at a party.
The police also lost several key pieces of evidence, including the killer’s eyeglasses, which went missing during the filming of a segment for Unsolved Mysteries. Since Perry had perfect vision and did not wear glasses, this piece of evidence could have exonerated him. However, in order to avoid the death penalty, Perry waived his right to appeal, so he remains incarcerated while the real killer might still be out there.
4The Abandonment Of Baby Jacob Gerard
Following Sunday service on the morning of February 27, 1994, the congregation of the Holy Counselor Lutheran Church in Vernon, New Jersey made a shocking discovery: the body of a newborn baby boy lying in the snow outside one of the church windows. The unidentified child weighed approximately 3 kilograms (7 lb), and his naked body was wrapped in a thin blanket.
Unfortunately, the infant was frozen solid, so an autopsy could not be performed until the body thawed three days later. The child was likely placed outside the church sometime during the night and died of hypothermia and exposure in the freezing temperatures. The umbilical cord was still attached to the child’s body but looked as if it had been torn rather than cut, suggesting he wasn’t born at a hospital.
The church held a memorial service for the unidentified child and buried him behind the church in North Hardyston Cemetery. The biblical story of Jacob happened to be the subject of their sermon on the morning he was found, and St. Gerard is the Roman Catholic patron saint of newborn children, so they named the child Jacob Gerard. Since Baby Jacob appeared to be perfectly healthy before his abandonment, the case was classified as a homicide. DNA was taken from his blanket in an attempt to determine who was responsible for his death, but 20 years later, Jacob Gerard remains unidentified.
3The Rothwell Bone Crypt
Built during the 13th century, Holy Trinity Church is a medieval landmark in the town of Rothwell, England. However, beneath the church is a charnel chapel containing one of the creepiest sights ever found inside a place of worship: an entire room stacked with human bones.
Known as the “Bone Crypt,” the room is filled with the unidentified skeletal remains of approximately 1,500 individuals. At one point, the room was sealed up, but legend has it that in 1700, a gravedigger working inside the church accidentally fell through the floor. The discovery of the hidden room allegedly drove him insane. The bones were eventually separated and organized onto shelves, and the Bone Crypt has since become a popular tourist attraction in the area.
Intriguingly, no one knows the origin of these bones. One prevalent theory is that the remains belong to victims of a plague. Another claims that they were soldiers who were killed during the nearby Battle of Naseby in 1645. It’s also possible that many of the individuals were originally buried in the church graveyard but had to be moved to a new location. Sometime during the 16th century, the adjacent Jesus Hospital was built over a burial ground, so the remains might have been dug up and stored in the chapel.
Scientists hope to use carbon dating to eventually determine the possible identities of these deceased individuals. Until then, the Bone Crypt remains one of England’s most bizarre unsolved mysteries.
2The Murder Of Irene Garza
On April 16, 1960, 25-year-old schoolteacher and former beauty queen Irene Garza showed up for confession at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas. She never returned home, and five days later, her body was found in a canal just outside of town. She had been struck on the head by a blunt object and raped before being suffocated to death.
Shortly thereafter, a slide viewer was found in the canal. It was attached to a long cord, which may have been used to bind Garza’s hands. When the slide viewer’s owner came forward to claim it, the case took a very disturbing turn. The object belonged to Father John Feit, the priest from Sacred Heart who received Garza’s confession before she disappeared.
Less than a month before Garza’s murder, Father Feit had been charged with the attempted rape of another young woman inside the church. He eventually received a $500 fine after pleading no contest to aggravated assault. On the night Garza disappeared, Feit’s glasses were broken. Scratches also appeared on his hands, which he claimed to have received after accidentally locking himself out of his residence.
Despite the suspicious evidence against Feit, no one wanted to believe that a Catholic priest was responsible for such a horrific crime, and he was eventually transferred to a monastery in Missouri. Decades later, two witnesses came forward to claim that Feit had confessed to them that he murdered Garza. However, the district attorney felt there wasn’t enough evidence to file charges against Feit, and one of the witnesses soon passed away. Father Feit is currently in his eighties and has always maintained his innocence, but he continues to be the prime suspect in Irene Garza’s murder, which remains unsolved.
1The Miraculous Survival Of The West End Baptist Church Choir
On the evening of March 1, 1950, the West End Baptist Church in the small town of Beatrice, Nebraska was completely destroyed after an explosion. The explosion itself, caused by a natural gas leak, wasn’t a mystery, but the unlikely chain of events that saved the lives of the 15 people who should have been present is nothing short of a miracle.
The church’s choir was scheduled to meet for practice at 7:20 PM on the night of the explosion. The devoted singers were known for their punctuality, but somehow, all 15 members of the choir were late that night. As a result, none of them had yet arrived at the church when it exploded at 7:27.
The choir director and her daughter, the church pianist, had planned to show up 30 minutes early that night. However, the daughter fell asleep, causing both of them to arrive late. The church pastor and his wife wound up running late after their daughter spilled food on her dress. Two choir members didn’t arrive on time because their cars wouldn’t start. Other members were held up by seemingly mundane tasks such as writing a letter, listening to a radio show, and finishing homework. One even ended up running late despite living directly across the street from the church. In the end, every single member of the choir was spared from a potentially tragic event in what was either one of the most astonishing coincidences of all time or an act of divine intervention.
Robin Warder is a budding Canadian screenwriter who has used his encyclopedic movie knowledge to publish numerous articles at Cracked.com. He is also the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row and recently worked on a sci-fi short film called Jet Ranger of Another Tomorrow. Feel free to contact him here.