The Curse of Carl Pruitt’s Grave

In 1938, a man by the name of Carl Pruitt killed his adulterous wife and then took his own life shortly afterwards. After his death, his spirit was said to haunt the cemetery where he was buried and may even have been responsible for much worse.

Stretching back over thousands of years, the concept of curses is nothing new. Afflicting a broad spectrum of mediums, from places to people and even various objects, history is littered with stories of the misfortunes which befell those who touched or disturbed something they shouldn’t have. From the tombs of Egypt to the accounts surrounding the death of Christopher Case, with so many examples of such phenomena, one has to question whether there could, in fact, be any truth to these tales or whether they are all just products of susceptible imaginations.

It is a subject we will revisit many times and, in fact, it’s a subject we have broached a number of times already, but tonight we address one of the creepiest and possibly one of the most famous cases in recent times.

Carl Pruitt; the chain strangler

Carl Pruitt was a carpenter from Pulaski County, Kentucky. To most he was known as Mr Pruitt, to his friends, he was simply Carl, but through a strange sequence of events which occurred even after his death, he will forever be remembered as the “Chain Strangler”. Mr Pruitt would never be allowed to rest in peace. And many now wonder whether his spirit was responsible for the deaths of several people who apparently interacted with his gravestone.

In June 1938—so the story goes—Carl arrived home from work expecting to find his dutiful wife in the kitchen cooking his evening meal. Instead, he found her in bed with another man. He was known to have something of a vile temper and this betrayal caused him to fly into an uncontrollable rage. Whilst his wife’s lover managed to escape by jumping out of the window, Carl took the full force of his retribution out on Mrs. Pruitt. In his fury, he wrapped a piece of chain around her neck and garrotted her.

Seeing his wife’s lifeless body lay before him, he became so overwhelmed with grief and remorse that he grabbed his pistol and took his own life shortly afterwards. In the aftermath of such a vicious murder-suicide, it is somewhat needless to say that his wife’s family were heartbroken. They were adamant that the man who took her life should be buried in a separate cemetery, situated a few towns over, nowhere near their beloved relative. In the years that followed, people came to believe that this had angered the spirit of Carl Pruitt

Death by bicycle chain

Bizarrely, after only a few weeks of his body being committed to the Earth, grass started to grow around his gravestone in chain-shaped circular patches. Others noticed a strange discolouration on the headstone itself. The anomaly seemed to be growing in size, forming into links like a chain, which reached out towards other gravestones in the vicinity. But despite requests from the locals to remove and destroy the grave on account that it may be cursed, authorities refused to take these concerns seriously.

Within a month James Collins, a teenager riding his bike along with a group of friends, went to the graveyard, perhaps to show his friends that there was no substance to rumours of Carl Pruitt’s ghost. He was of the opinion that perhaps the chains appearing around and on the grave were merely naturally occurring patterns and nothing more than people letting their imaginations run amok.

After he threw a rock directly at Pruitt’s headstone, taking a chip off the top edge, the boys cycled away in fear of getting into trouble with the grounds-keeper and possibly even the locals.

As Collins pedalled off, his bike inexplicably picked up speed and veered off the path, colliding with a nearby tree. Somehow his chain came loose, wrapped around his neck and strangled him to death. When his friends went to look at the gravestone later, no damage could be found on it, despite the fact that they had clearly witnessed James defacing it.

This story began making the rounds in the rumour mill, with insinuations of curses, vengeful spirits and black magic, until everyone was linking Collins’ death to Pruitt’s grave. Some weeks later, seeking her own form of revenge, Collins’ mother attempted to destroy the headstone with an axe. Eyewitnesses state that she broke it into at least a dozen pieces. After she had not been seen for a number of days, friends became concerned. They found her strangulated body hanging from the clothesline in her back yard. The gravestone was found to be completely intact just a few days later.

The chain strangler strikes again

This only escalated the legend further. By this time, people from all over the country were coming to see Carl Pruitt’s supposedly tainted resting place, much to the annoyance of the locals in the area. In an act of frustration and possibly bravado, a farmer riding past the cemetery in a wagon with three of his family members shot at the gravestone with his revolver. The sound of this gunshot made the horse bolt around a corner and veer off the road. Whilst his family managed to jump free, the farmer himself was thrown from the carriage and got caught in one of the trace chains, which instantly snapped his neck.

Shortly after this incident and at the request of a local congressman, two police officers were sent investigate the burial site. During their assignment the officers were said to have mocked the supposed possibility of a curse and took photos of themselves in various degrading poses in front of the headstone. Though there seemed to be nothing untoward at the graveyard itself, the officers were distracted upon leaving by a ball of light which was said to have emanated from Carl Pruitt’s grave.

It followed their car and after speeding up and swerving sharply to try and avoid it, one policeman was thrown from the vehicle and went on to suffer only minor injuries, whilst the other crashed the vehicle into a nearby fence. Needless to say, one of the chains between the fence posts struck the driver in the neck and almost completely severed his head from his body, killing him instantly.

The legend escalates further

After this fourth death, stories about a vengeful spirit haunting the gravestone were becoming rife. However, a man by the name of Arthur Lewis set out to prove once and for all that the grave was not cursed and that there was nothing haunting the area. His wife wished him good luck and an anxious crowd of locals gathered outside the churchyard. Arthur had armed himself with a large hammer and chisel and soon began to systematically destroy the headstone. Despite his bravery, anticipation soon turned to anguish. An almighty scream let out across the graveyard and split the night sky. By the time rescuers reached him, Arthur was dead. He had somehow been strangled by the large chain that hung across the entrance gate to the cemetery.

Up to fifteen people could vouch for either seeing or hearing Arthur Lewis splinter Pruitt’s tombstone, yet once again, it was found to be fully intact.

Despite yet another death, authorities refused to admit—at least publicly—that there was anything untoward at the grave site. Fearing for their own safety, many of those who had loved ones buried at the cemetery made the difficult decision to exhume the remains of their family members and have them moved to another resting place.

Concerns about Pruitt’s ghost continued deep into the years that followed, until the original burial site was completely redeveloped in 1958 to make way for strip-mining. Common belief was that the reign of the murderous phantom ended forever when Carl’s remains were concealed under the new concrete structure.

However, no more deaths attributed to Carl Pruitt’s grave occurred after the end of the 1930s, meaning that there was a period of almost 20 years where his spirit must have remained dormant and undisturbed. This has added to speculation that Carl’s body was perhaps moved to an undisclosed location many years before the redevelopment took place. If this is the case, it is possible that the ghost of Carl Pruitt is simply waiting for the next time his grave is disturbed, whenever and wherever that may be.

Carl Pruitt; urban legend

This supposed paranormal killing spree has been recounted various times in recent years in books and on internet forums, though as with many events, certain details differ between accounts. Some suggest the discoloured links on the gravestone formed a cross and others suggest that Mrs Collins’ washing line was apparently made of chain instead of wire or rope. Whilst this is intriguing, it does add weight to the notion of embellishment and that the real truths are perhaps lost over the course of time.

Though we should not disregard the possibility of the paranormal, some of the events in the Pruitt story also seem a little implausible. Aside from the notion of a spirit killing a living human being, people have also pointedly asked, amongst other things, why a farmer – experienced in the handling of horses – would risk shooting at a supposedly cursed gravestone. Especially whilst he was in control of a carriage which was carrying his family and knowing full-well that the horse would be likely to bolt at the sound of a gunshot?

Meanwhile, important details including Mrs. Pruitt’s first name, the name of her lover and the name of the farmer all seem to be unavailable. These may have been kept confidential out of respect for living relatives, though some suggest a larger scale cover-up with the search of public data for the recorded deaths, burials or exhumations of Kentucky Pruitt’s at this time also drawing a blank.

In summary

Based on the evidence we do have available (or lack thereof) we are entitled to question whether Carl Pruitt existed at all and whether this entire story may be nothing more than an urban legend.

On the other hand, if there is any truth to this tale, then whatever the cause of the killings, there remains the possibility, at least, that Carl Pruitt now lies in an unmarked spot, untended and undisclosed. His spirit may still be at large, sitting at the fringes of this reality, waiting to exact revenge on anyone who dares disturb his final resting place.

The memory of the Chain Strangler lives on.

AUTHOR: Dwain Reynolds
DATE: August 2018