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 subdivision.
History: In 1982, Sam and Judith Haney were one of several couples who purchased houses in the Newport area of Houston, Texas. A year later, when Sam went about having a swimming pool put in his backyard, an elderly man showed up at his door to report that he was about to dig up human remains. The reason he knew they 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 skeletons just where the elderly 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 exposed skeletons' frail fingers.
Sam and Judith tried to determine the skeletons' identity. They contacted long-time resident Jasper Norton, who told them that he had dug several graves in the area when he was a teenager. Their home and several others had been built on top of an African American cemetery called "Black Hope". The deceased were mainly former slaves. The last burial occurred there in 1939. Construction crews destroyed all traces of it during the building of the subdivision. Local research revealed the skeletons were of Charlie and Betty Thomas. They had been born into slavery and freed during the Civil War. They died during the 1930s.
Plagued by guilt for digging up Charlie and Betty's graves, Sam and Judith decided to rebury them. Despite this, the dead would not rest. One night, Judith discovered her clock glowing and sparking. When she checked, it was unplugged. On another night, Sam was working the night shift, so Judith was alone. After taking a shower, she heard her sliding glass door open and close. Then she heard someone ask, "What are you doing?" She assumed it was Sam, but he was not there.
The next morning, Judith went to get her red shoes, but they were not in the closet. Sam helped her look throughout the house, but they could not find them. Inexplicably, they turned up outside over Charlie and Betty's grave. They later learned that the same day was Betty's birthday. Sam believes that this was Charlie giving her a birthday present.
Sam and Judith 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 subdivision around the same time as Sam and Judith. Shortly after, Jean noticed that her plants kept dying. She reported that sinkholes appeared in the unmistakable shape of a coffin near their flowerbeds. They would fill them in, only to have them reappear a few days later.
Ben and Jean also noticed strange markings on a tree near the sinkholes. An arrow pointed toward the ground. Beneath it were two horizontal slash marks. A longtime resident told Ben and Jean that he had marked the tree. He said that he had done so because his two sisters were buried beneath it. Ben and Jean felt guilty for practically desecrating their graves.
Ben and Jean 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 house: "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 toward 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 the house as he came home from the graveyard shift. They went straight into the den and headed down the hall toward the bedroom. He entered it and saw one of them standing above Jean. Fearing for her safety, he jumped onto the bed and it vanished.
However, Ben and Jean's 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 houses. Meanwhile, Sam and Judith decided to sue the developers for not disclosing that their house 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 Sam and Judith were ordered to pay $50,000 in court costs. They ended up having to file for bankruptcy.
Ben and Jean 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, she began to feel dizzy. She laid down on the couch but continued to feel worse. Ben called 911 and she was rushed to the hospital. She had suffered a massive heart attack. Tragically, she died two days later. She was only thirty years old. Jean believed her death was caused by supernatural forces.
Ben and Jean ended up losing their entire investment and escaped to Montana, later moving back to another subdivision in Texas. However, back in their old one, none of the current residents have reported any paranormal activity. No one has ever been able to explain what happened to the Williams or Haneys.
Background: Research shows that many of the bodies were buried by Jasper Norton. He told Sam and Judith that their house 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. Sam and Judith decided to fight in court to sue the builder for not disclosing that their house 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 Sam and Judith were ordered to pay $50,000 in court costs.
Extra Notes: This case first aired 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, David Soul, and Blake Clark. The latter 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 vs. 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