Throwback Thursday: The Fox Ridge Park Ghost

Here’s a bit of original research I did way back in the late summer of 2008 about a ghost supposedly haunting a small park in my home town of Las Vegas. I regret that I never got around to following up on the various bits I describe wanting to follow up on. Such as it was as a part-time summer blogger. Originally posted on Jeremy the Skeptic.

While it has been fun trolling through various news websites, scanning them for news fit to write about for this blog, there is nothing quite like writing your own story. Checking on sources, talking to people, doing real investigative work. The thrill produced from such endeavors is really hard to describe, but it’s a feeling I find simply intoxicating. But, enough waxing poetic about doing what amounts to exciting homework, let me tell you what I’ve been up to the past few days.

All this started with the discovery of Haunted Vegas Tours. Driving all over my hometown in a bus, stopping at nearly all the alleged ghost hangouts Sin City has to offer immediately jumped out at me. What experience would be more appropriate to write about for a blog called “Jeremy the Skeptic”? All the sites the tour visits offer an opportunity to interview eyewitnesses, research a bit of Las Vegas history and really exercise my investigative reporter muscles. Fortunately, I’ll be taking this very tour on August 27, accompanied by my beautiful girlfriend, who seems just as excited about the experience as I am. I plan to write a full account of my experiences on the tour, alongside background on each of the allegedly haunted sites. A few days ago, I started research on the stories that will be told on the tour. What follows are the fruits of my efforts so far.

The first site that seemed ripe for investigation was Fox Ridge Park in Henderson, approximately one mile from my house. To those who don’t live in Nevada, Henderson borders Las Vegas, and holds the distinction of being Nevada’s fastest growing city. The Haunted Vegas Tour advertises Fox Ridge as a chance to get off the bus and stretch your legs a bit, and to capture the alleged ghost of a boy killed in a drunk driving accident on film. From the “ghost blog” on the tour’s website:

“The swing at Fox Ridge park in Henderson Nevada is home to the ghost of a little boy who likes to swing late at night. It seems that the ghostly youngster doesn’t like to be bothered while swinging. If you look him in the eyes his face turns into a “demon” and he vanishes.”

The drunk-driving account comes from a book entitled Weird Las Vegas and Nevada, which happens to be co-written by Tim Cridland, one of the Haunted Vegas Tour guides. The book cites an unnamed Las Vegas paranormal investigation group as the source for the story. Finding which Vegas paranormal investigative group provided the book’s information would be my next objective.

Both the authors of Weird Las Vegas and the Haunted Vegas Tours website cite a woman named Janice Oberding as a historian and paranormal investigator with whom they consulted regarding the most well-known ghost stories in Vegas. Oberding is the author of Haunted Nevada, a book published in 2003 recounting all the various ghost stories that permeate Nevada’s past. I looked up Oberding’s name and found her website, which describes her as a member of Las Vegas Paranormal investigations (LVPI). (LVPI’s website has an elaborate Flash animation intro that might take a while to load over some connections. Just a warning.) LVPI appeared to be just the Vegas paranormal group for which I was looking.

The first e-mail sent off in this entire endeavor went to the head of LVPI; a Mike C. I asked if LVPI was indeed the group mentioned in Weird Las Vegas and if they were, would he be able to provide me with any details regarding the alleged ghost. This is what Mr. C. told me:

“I can tell you that the park is haunted by the boy who was killed by a drunk driver. Boy’s name is unknown and a woman who was killed by an axe. The boy plays on the swings and the lady walks the perimeter of the park looking for her kids.”

While the little boy story fit with Weird Las Vegas’s account, the murdered woman was an addition I had never heard. I replied to Mike C. asking if he knew when the boy or woman were killed, and if he knew of any police reports or newspaper articles that supported the stories. He has yet to reply to me.

I sent out a flurry of other e-mails asking about the Fox Ridge story, one to Oberding, others to various ghost-themed websites listing Fox Ridge as one of many haunted sites in Henderson. All contained the question, phrased basically the same, “Where did you hear this story?” (I have yet to receive replies to any of them.) With those sent, I decided I could only do so much with my face 12 inches from my computer screen and my mouse furiously finding its way through links, as if it was searching for some elusive piece of digital cheese. I needed to see this place for myself. So, equipped with camera, pen and notebook, I drove the approximately 20 minutes to Fox Ridge Park.What first greeted me as I turned the corner onto the street adjacent to the park was a flood of childhood memories. It turns out I had spent more than one hot, summer day with my friends at Fox Ridge as a fourth-grade student. At that time, I don’t remember hearing any tales of deceased children or women cleaved by axes inhabiting the park. I suppose that’s for the better. At that age, such stories would have never let me return to the playground and swing sets I found so enjoyable.

With the nostalgia fading, I found a parking space and made my way across the street to the well-tended grass of the park. I was searching for some sort of memorial to a child killed in a drunk-driving accident. All the tales never said where the boy was killed, but I felt it was safe to presume it was somewhere near the park. Why else would the boy’s ghost bother to haunt the place? What I found were 10 memorial plaques placed at the base of 10 trees; one plaque to a tree. Each plaque was about the size of a phone book, and seemed to be professionally placed. Some subsequent research found that a memorial tree and plaque could be bought from the Henderson Department of Parks and Recreation for $250 US. Some of the plaques described people that could have been the boy or murdered woman, so I took pictures of those and continued my trek around the park. While decidedly not frightening during the day, I could see how Fox Ridge could take on a haunted air in the middle of the night. The slightest breeze made the chains of the swing sets clink and the leaves of the numerous trees rustle ominously. However, I heard nothing but cars passing by and the drone of lovesick cicadas. If the park is indeed haunted, no ghost saw fit to make its appearance known to me.

With the names of some possible ghosts in hand, I returned home and delved into the online archives of the Las Vegas Review Journal (RJ), the city’s largest newspaper. I hoped to find any article describing deaths similar to the ones told in the story. I was able to affirmatively rule out five of the 11 memorial plaques whose names I recorded. One story ruled out three plaques at once: those of Esther, Cynthia and Cathy Perez. All three women were killed in 1996 in a car accident. No drunk driver was reportedly involved. From the RJ article:

“Esther Perez was killed on Interstate 15 near the California-Nevada border when the sport-utility vehicle she was traveling in with her daughters Cathy, 16, and Cynthia, 17, veered out of control and then flipped, California Highway Patrol officer Ed Martinez said.”

The forth plaque held the name of a woman who could have fit the description of the murdered ghost. Her name was Brenda Stuart-Rowsell. I was able to find her obituary in a 2005 edition of the RJ:

“BRENDA STUART ROWSELL We would like to say to our beloved wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, cousin, and friend, Brenda Lynn (Stuart) Rowsell, 28, a homemaker, of Henderson, who was called to be with her Heavenly Father Monday, Feb. 7, 2005, in Henderson; that we love you very much and we will see you later. Brenda was born April 23, 1976, in Salt Lake City. Brenda is survived by her husband, Eric; children, Eric, Ashley, Kara and Katie; mother, Karen; father, Jim (Scherry); brothers, Richard (Mindy) and Bryan; sister, Rachel; grandparents, Al and Genette Taylor and Don Cole; aunt, Janice (Ron); uncles, Roger and Ray (Sherri); and numerous cousins, nieces, and nephews who will miss her always. Brenda has been reunited with her grandmother, Joann Cole.”

No mention of a murder in the obituary, nor could I find any news story describing such an occurrence.

The fifth plaque contained the names of two men: Steve M. Szany and Dave A. Bender. No age was given for either of them on the plaque, so I thought either one of them could have been the boy allegedly killed by a drunk driver. It turned these two men were murdered in 2000 by Stephen Ciolino. From the RJ story describing Ciolino’s sentencing in 2005:

“In a sentencing hearing, Stephen Ciolino acknowledged in the courtroom of District Judge Jennifer Togliatti that he participated in the murders of David Bender, 21, and Steve Szany, 22, at a Henderson apartment complex in 2000.”

Searches of the names of the rest of the plaques turned up absolutely no news stories, nor any records from the Clark County Coroner’s office. In fact, I found no stories telling of any drunk driving accident near Fox Ridge Park. I called the elementary school bordering the park, Estes McDoniel Elementary School, on Friday to see if any teachers there had heard the stories. The school was unfortunately closed for the day. I plan to try again Monday.

After I went as far as I could go with the names on the memorial plaques, I decided to search for further retellings of the Fox Ridge ghost tale. This is where the story gets a bit interesting. I could find no account of the alleged haunting before 2005. The earliest record of it I found was a story in the RJ about the Haunted Vegas Tour. From the article:

“A highlight of the tour comes at the halfway point, when visitors leave the bus to take a nighttime walk in Henderson’s Fox Ridge Park where, some say, a deceased boy still visits. According to a tour guide, a swing in the park occasionally can be seen moving, even when there’s no breeze.”

The Fox Ridge ghost is also absent from Oberding’s 2003 book, Haunted Nevada. Why did she not see fit to include it? How did the story make it into Weird Las Vegas, which was published in 2007? Did the people at LVPI simply make it up, or is everyone involved? These sorts of questions, though asked in a less accusatory tone, made up the various e-mails to which I have yet to receive replies. I was amazed at how many ghost-themed websites just list this story with absolutely no sources. Doesn’t anyone do any research? It also bugs me how the majority of stories in Haunted Nevada cite that ubiquitous bastion of credible information, “some.” But that’s a whole separate post.

I’m determined to get to the bottom of this. I have no idea how long it will take for the people mentioned above to reply to my e-mail questions. Perhaps a call to Estes McDoniel Elementary will clear some of this up, but I somehow doubt it. The tour itself may provide the answers I seek, though it might be difficult to talk to the guides while they’re working. The best lead I have so far is a tentative interview I have with Haunted Vegas Tour guide and Weird Las Vegas co-author Tim Cridland tomorrow. I will of course post any further developments here.