Case File: Black Hope Cemetery
Location: Newport Subdivision, Crosby, Texas
Description: Black Hope Cemetery was an old Nineteenth Century cemetery for African Americans, but today, the location has been covered up by a housing sub-division.
History: In 1982, Sam and Judith Haney were one of several couples who purchased homes in the Newport area of Houston, Texas. A year later, when Sam went about having a swimming pool dug in his back yard, an elderly man showed up at his door to report that he was about to dig up human remains. The reason he knew the remains were there was because he had buried them years before when the land was still a cemetery.
Proceeding to dig, it was not long before Sam came upon two bodies just where the old man said they were. There were two pine boxes, each with the indentation of a skeletal form. Sam immediately called the Sheriff and county coroner who conducted an official exhumation. Most of the bones had turned to powder, but twenty-five fragments were found, some so brittle that they disintegrated when touched. Two wedding rings were discovered on the frail fingers of the exposed skeleton.
The Haneys tried to determine the identity of the skeletons. They contacted long-time resident Jasper Norton, who told them that he had dug several graves in the area when he was a teenager. The Haney's home and several other homes had been built on top of an African-American cemetery called "Black Hope". The deceased were mainly former slaves. The last burial occurred at the cemetery in 1939. Construction crews destroyed all traces of it during the building of the sub-division. Local research revealed the remains were Betty and Charlie Thomas. They had been born into slavery and freed during the Civil War. They died during the 1930s.
Plagued by guilt for digging up their graves, the Haneys decided to re-bury the couple. Despite this, the dead would not rest. One night, Judith Haney discovered her clock glowing and sparking. When she checked, the clock was unplugged. On another night, Sam was working the night shift, so Judith was alone. After getting a shower, she heard her sliding door open and close. Then, she heard someone say "What are you doing?" She assumed it was Sam, but he was not there.
The next morning, she went to get her red shoes, but they were not in her closet. Sam helped her look throughout the house, but they could not find the shoes. Inexplicably, they turned up outside over Betty and Charlie's grave. They later learned that the same day was Betty's birthday. Sam believes that this was Charlie giving his wife a birthday present.
The Haneys were not the only ones that experienced supernatural phenomenon. A dozen of their neighbors also reported lights, televisions and water faucets turning on and off. Many heard unearthly sounds and saw supernatural apparitions. Ben and Jean Williams moved into the same neighborhood around the same time as the Haneys. Shortly after moving in, Jean noticed that her plants kept dying. reported that near their flowerbeds, sinkholes appeared in the unmistakable shape of a coffin. They would fill them in, only to have them reappear a few days later.
The Williams also noticed strange markings on a tree near the sinkholes. An arrow pointed towards the ground. Beneath it were two horizontal slash marks. A longtime resident told the couple that he had marked the tree. He said that he had made the markings because his two sisters were buried beneath it. The Williams felt guilty for practically desecrating their graves.
The Williams soon began experiencing supernatural phenomena. Random shadows slid along their walls accompanied by whispers and a putrid smell. Their granddaughter, Carli, who lived with them, reported that during the blazing heat of summer, she would encounter bone-chilling pockets of ice-cold air. "It would be very, very chilly and you'd have this feeling of foreboding, or just, you know, like something wasn't right," she said. "Anywhere in the house you'd have a feeling that you were not alone. Somebody was watching you. It terrified me to be in the house by myself."
Carli recalled other strange incidents in the home: "The toilets used to flush on their own. As the water went down I could hear what was almost like conversations. You could hear people murmuring to themselves. It was a presence or spirit or something there. Something that wanted to be heard. Wanted me to know that it was there." Jean recalled another incident when she and Carli were about to take a nap. They heard the sound of the back door opening and closing. They then heard the sounds of footsteps walking towards them. However, no one was there.
Jean added: "I absolutely believe that all of these things happened to us because we were on the graveyard, and that we were simply going to be tormented until we left there." She wanted to leave, but Ben felt that they had to stay and fight it. He described encountering two ghostly figures in his home as he came home from the graveyard shift. They went straight into the den and headed down the hall towards the bedroom. He entered the bedroom and saw one of the figures standing above Jean. Fearing for her safety, he jumped onto the bed and the figure vanished.
However, the Williams' problems were far from over. Within months, six of their close relatives were diagnosed with cancer; three of them died. They felt that the illnesses were caused by the spirits of the homes. Meanwhile, the Haneys decided to sue the developers for not disclosing that their home was built over a cemetery. A jury awarded them $142,400 for mental anguish. However, in a devastating reversal, the judge ruled that the developer was not responsible. The verdict was thrown out and the Haneys were ordered to pay $50,000 in court costs. They ended up having to file for bankruptcy.
The Williams followed with legal action, but the developers wanted proof that the cemetery had even existed. Jean started digging up her backyard for remains. However, she soon fell ill, so her daughter Tina volunteered to finish the job. After about a half hour, Tina began to feel dizzy. She laid down on the couch but continued to feel worse. Ben called 911 and Tina was rushed to the hospital. She had suffered a massive heart attack. Tragically, she would die two days later. She was only thirty-years-old. Jean believed her death was caused by supernatural forces.
The Williams ended up losing their entire investment and escaped to Montana, later moving back to another neighborhood in Texas. However, back in their old neighborhood, none of the current residents have reported any paranormal activity. No one has ever been able to explain what happened to the Williams or the Haneys.
Background: Research shows that many of the bodies were buried by Jasper Norton. He told the Haneys that their home and a dozen others were built at Black Hope. The deceased were mainly former slaves with the last burial in 1939 and as many as sixty people were interred there in paupers' graves. The Haneys decided to fight in court to sue the builder for not disclosing that their home was built over a cemetery. A jury awarded them $142,000 for mental anguish, but a reversal ruled on legal grounds that the developers were not liable. The verdict was thrown out and the Haneys were ordered to pay $50,000 in court costs.
Extra Notes: This case originally ran on the July 17, 2002 episode.
This case inspired the book, "The Black Hope Horror" by Ben and Jean Williams, and the movie, Grave Secrets (1992), starring David Selby, Patty Duke Astin, David Soul and Blake Clark. Clark is also connected as a witness to the Comedy Store ghosts.
- Black Hope on Unsolved.com
- Black Hope at Ghosthauntings.org
- Official unaware of gravesites
- Knowledge of graves denied
- Jury awards $142,000 US for 'Poltergeist' house
- Jury OKs $142,000 award to pair claiming weird events at home built over cemetery
- House built over graveyard; jury awards couple
- Samuel and Judith Haney v. Purcell Company (1990)
- Memories of hauntings will always follow her
- Tv movie dramatizes true-life horror story
- Fact-based 'Grave Secrets' digs up spooky entertainment
- Black Hope horror doesn't haunt this hood
- Black Hope on Find a Grave