The Recorded Screams of Thelma Taylor

As discussed in detail by Colin Dickey in his great book “Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places”, there is a theory first advanced by Sir Arthur Lodge and then developed more fully by anthropologist T.C. Lethbridge that says that in effect when tragic events, violent murders for example, occur in or near a structure, that structure, thought thereafter to be haunted, actually in effect “photographs” the event (according to Oliver), which then remains forever as a part of the structure. Lethbridge went on to theorize
that images of ghosts and ghouls and ghostly and ghoulish events are not in fact happening over and over again, but rather that live humans through spiritual (or rather psychic) powers transmit these events to others, acting in his words a like a television projector, with other people then in effect watching the show. Under this theory, visions of ghosts and ghouls are harmless to those seeing them, as they are only images of spirits, recorded in the past and now being replayed like a 1950s “I Love Lucy” re-run.

Is this perhaps an explanation why yet today, 68 years after her violent murder, the screams of Thelma Taylor are still frequently heard below
Cathedral Park
the vast expanse of St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon’s Cathedral Park? Have the massive stone pylons and sweeping gothic arches of the bridge recorded Thelma’s screams, to be repeated time and again, hour after hour, day after day, year after year?

It was 1949 and Thelma was an average but popular high school girl trying to earn a few dollars the way teenagers in Portland generally did in those years, by picking beans and berries at a local farm. These are true facts about Thelma, and they are about the only true f
acts that do not change from story to story as one hears the tale of that awful time when Thelma was brutally murdered.

Why was Thelma in the area under St. Johns Bridge? There was no beautiful, auspicious Cathedral Park there yet. In fact, the area under the bridge adjacent to the Willamette River was a desolate, forbidding area, little more than a dumping ground with thick underbrush, and a high crime area, attracting vagrants and derelicts. It was not for another 20 years until the city acquired the land and subsequently built the park which had its opening in 1980. Some say that Thelma was hitchhiking to one of the nearby farms for her next picking shift, others say that she
was at or near a regular stop for what was called the “Berry Bus”, a bus that picked up kids around Portland and took them to one of the farms where they worked. What is clear on that day in 1949 is that Thelma never got to the farm and never on that day picked berries or beans.

Instead, she met a 22-year-old ex-convict named Leland Morris. Morris was a car thief who had recently completed a jail term, and a few days after Thelma’s disappearance, he was pulled over while ….. driving a stolen car. It was reported that while being questioned about his latest car theft, that Morris asked to speak to a homicide detective, and without prompting confessed to Thelma’s murder. What Taylor admitted about the crime, what rumors were spread about the crime, what Thelma’s family knew and discussed about the crime, and what was actually revealed a couple of years later in court, all seem to differ significantly, and maybe, just maybe, only the massive stone pylons and sweeping gothic arches of St. Johns Bridge know the real truth.

Rumors around Portland about the abduction and murder of 15-year-old Thelma Taylor ran rampant. Stories circulated about how Morris had come up to her at the bus stop, or more commonly while she was hitchhiking, and made lurid suggestions to her, about how
he then grabbed her when she refused his advances and how he kept her for as long as seven days in the dense, overgrown and treacherous grounds beneath the bridge, repeatedly beating and raping her, until finally he strangled her to death.

Some people reportedly heard screams of agony from the area during those specific days, but that searches of the area found nothing. Others did nothing, being use to “hobo derelicts” and kids making noises to scare the most nearby residents and passersby.
Thelma Taylor Headstone
These are the “facts” that support the stories of decades of eerie sounds, sounds of pain, sounds of suffering and plaintive cries for help, said to emanate from the dense, forbidding area that was transformed into majestic parkland beneath St. Johns Bridge.

But how true are those “facts”? Maybe only partially true? Maybe not true at all? Other sets of facts abound, facts that tell a different story, facts that say that Thelma was not kept for days and that she was not beaten and raped, but rather that she was quickly killed, with the crime occurring perhaps as far as a mile away from St. Johns Bridge.

Yet people swear that when in Cathedral Park and in proximity to the bridge, they to this day can hear the cries of “Help me … Help me … Somebody, help Me”, that screams of horror echo off the walls of the bridge, on a regular basis. But the park sits merely one hundred feet below the heavily trafficked bridge, with its constant flow of cars and trucks whizzing through at high speeds, and the park sits on the banks of the Willamette River, with its rushing currents and with heavy winds whipping up from its waters.

Eerie sounds emanating from various sources deep below St. Johns Bridge heard in Cathedral Park, perhaps the natural sounds of traffic, rushing water and heavy winds, perhaps the “residual haunting” of sounds recorded by the massive stone pylons and sweeping gothic arches of St. Johns Bridge, replayed like a 1950s television sitcom, or perhaps the agonizing screams of a spirt that in the very location had seven decades ago met her horrific, violent death.

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