Urban Legends of the Southeast Midwest

True story:  Just drive over the third knoll in the road and park your car.  Look in the rearview mirror and I swear you’ll see bodies hanging from the trees.

Urban legends.  We’ve all heard them.  The stories about Mr. Rogers being a marine sniper.  What, he isn’t?!  The Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary bathroom trick.  The Candy Man?  We’ve all grown up with our versions of urban legends.

Because there’s nothing to do in Wisconsin, because I went to Catholic school, because I have an overactive imagination  Eh-hem, because my childhood friends were experts at uncovering mysteries, I know quite a few urban legend stories.  My favorite is Paradise Road.

Geographical Interest

Paradise Road is the real name of a windy street in Jefferson, Wisconsin, coincidentally my hometown’s neighboring city and longtime sports rival.  The road is long and narrow with an S-shaped curve near the end, and surrounded by heavy woods on either side and a few scattered houses that never have their lights on…(ok, I’m playing into the urban legend with the lights part!)

The Truth Behind Paradise Road

     The newsworthy story is that Paradise Road is indirectly the setting of the Diane Borchardt Murder Case.  In April of 1994, Diane Borchardt, a teaching aide at Jefferson High School convinced three teenage boys, Doug Vest, 17, Josh Yanke, 16, and Michael Maldonado, 15, to murder her husband for her.  After a tumultuous marriage, Diane and her husband Ruben were getting a divorce.  Rumors include he was seeing someone else, but his two children from his first marriage say the fighting began long before the divorce began.  Borchardt convinced the young male students she was being abused by her husband and promised them $20,000 from the insurance money along with her wedding and engagement ring and two cars.  On the day of the murder, Borchardt packed up the two dogs and headed to her in-laws alone for Easter.  The boys snuck into the main level of the house and woke Ruben who had moved into the basement while divorce proceedings began.  They shot him twice which woke his son who rushed downstairs to find his father slumped over a chair.  The murder trials began and Vest eventually confessed after receiving no payment from Borchardt.  Vest, Yanke, and Borchardt herself are all doing life in prison, and Maldonado received 18 years.  The home where Ruben and Diane lived and the murder took place was on an intersecting street with Paradise Road.

Two years after the murder, the Diane Borchardt story was made into a TV movie starring Ann-Margret in the main role.  The film was called Seduced by Madness.  Other noteworthy performances in the film include Peter Coyote, Tobey Maguire, and Freddy Rodriguez.  While the film is based mostly on truth, the depiction of Jefferson, WI as a graffiti-painted, gang trodden town with palm trees is FALSE.

The Not So Grounded Truths Behind Paradise Road

Some of the legends surrounding this creepy street include the introductory mention of driving over the third bump in the road to find bodies hanging from trees.

Inexplicable radio frequency issues that begin and end on the street’s path.  It’s totally haunted.

Historical practices of witchcraft in the woods.

Undocumented mentions that it was part of the Underground Railroad.

My Experience Encountering Paradise Road

As I said before, my friends and I had a knack for getting into trouble, going wherever ghosts might be researching the haunted places or urban myths of our southeast midwest town.  The following is a recap of what I’ve witnessed while traveling down Paradise Road (and believe me, we went more than once).  I am willing to admit that the frenzy of legend surrounding this street may have toyed with my gullible and willing mind, but I’m also pretty honest, and had friends with me who witnessed the same things I did.  With that said, you may take it or leave it.

  • Dense layers of fog that parted exactly when we approached the street.
  • Having walked the whole street’s length, I was aware of a shadow floating on the opposite side of the street keeping our pace.  This was at night, and I tested to make sure it did not belong to any of us.
  • A friend and I both witnessed shadowed figures climbing the trees.
  • Upon a random stop in the car, our headlights shown directly on the most intricately carved eye on the side of a tree.
  • Having thought we parked in front of an abandoned house with no lights on, a friend witnessed a hand pull back a window curtain and disappear again.

Photo of Paradise Road Orbs courtesy moonslipper.com

We quickly became enthralled with this place that held so much sinister energy.  We took it upon ourselves to interview the people that lived on Paradise Road and wrote about it in the school paper.  When we began the interviews, hardly anyone would talk to us.  One of the houses we went to was still burning peat for heat in the house.  And both vehicles we were using nearly got stuck in the mud while at one of the houses.  Most of the residents claimed urban legend.  The police continue to patrol the street on Halloween as it’s become a popular place for teens to go seeking a good scare.

I just happened to google Paradise Road and was able to find this image from moonslipper.com, an awesome paranormal blog of the author’s own encounter on Paradise Road.  Click the image or link to hear her story.

Paradise Road:  Fact or Fiction

I can’t say with any proof that Paradise Road is legitimately haunted.  I do know what I’ve seen, and that’s enough to make me think this spooky street has a vibe I don’t want to mess with much.  It’s creepy, that’s a fact.  But I probably wouldn’t have gone there in the first place had it not been for small town urban legends.  I’m glad I did.

What urban legends did you have growing up?  Did you investigate?  Did you ever play Bloody Mary?  I totally did.  Scared the crap out of myself, and then nothing happened.  Still, I’m not about to play it again anytime soon. 

34 responses

  1. Girl, you know stuff like this is right up my alley. That is totally spooky about the shadow pacing you on the other side of the road. We live in a fairly new suburb of Houston, so there aren’t many “haunted” places. I love it when I go somewhere old and see something creepy.

    I had never heard of the murder case, so that’s something interesting and new for me. I think certain types of people are carefully disguised predators. When they meet the right sidekick mayhem is bound to ensue.

    Good research on this story and good presentation of your material. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. I kept thinking of you while writing. “Catie would totally go here with me!” LOL. Great minds think ghosts!

  2. I grew up in Alaska- most of the urban legends are stories of fur trappers way up north going crazy and killing the one or two peole living within 100 miles of them. LOL- and I think it might be to cold for ghosts in Alaska.

    1. I bet there’s some creepy tales about those trappers. And I thought cool environments were good for ghosts? Road trip?

      1. I’m sure there are. I’m up for a road trip if you can drive in the snow. I left and moved to California before I learned how to drive.

  3. I don’t know of any urban legends. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and there were no “old” houses or haunted anythings that I recall in San Leandro where I lived. That’s what I think is cool about people who live in “older” states or older areas of California. There are, of course, urban legends in California but I don’t know about them.
    Most of what I’ve learned about spooky things is thanks to your blog, Jess.

    1. Ok you piqued my curiosity. I googled San Franciso urban legends. Here ya go Patti. http://www.yelp.com/topic/san-francisco-san-francisco-urban-legends

      1. Thanks so much, Jess, and why am I not surprised that you’d be the one to find this, right?!!! Thank you again. I’m going to do a bit more research after reading these and see what else I can find! How fun! Maybe there are some urban legends for my small city of Alameda, or perhaps Oakland?

  4. I have seen that movie! But I didn’t recall it being in Jefferson. I think stuff like that is cool to check out. Maybe I will have to find that road if i ever get up that way again!

    I did try the Bloody Mary trick but I could never make myself say it the third time(I am a chicken). There is a road in Michigan City(where I used to live, about 15 minutes from New Buffalo) that has an Urban legend. When you stop your car at a certain point, it feels like you are being pushed up a hill. The myth is that a couple was murdered there and they are pushing you up so the same doesn’t happen to you.

    1. Hey those are good ghosts! They’re protecting you.

  5. We have a similar story of people killed on a winding back road, but for anything in detail, I’d have to google my hometown and see what I can find. Very creepy story…loved it! Great job, Jess…you creeped me out!

    1. I creeped myself out writing it last night. And all my roommates were gone! Slept with the TV on.

  6. The urban legend that hits home for me is that Josh Saviano (Paul from The Wonder Years) is actually Marilyn Manson. Josh is one of only a handful of B-list celebrities I’ve ever met in person, and I think that particular rumor is extremely laughable. He was nothing more than a nice kid who happened to find himself in a starring role on a hit sitcom.

    As for creepy urban legends, there’s a local park called – unofficially – Dark Park, and it is reported to be haunted. I went there once a couple of years ago to walk through the deserted woods, and it’s definitely got a creepy vibe. As you know, I love stuff like that.

    1. The link I gave Patti had a park in San Francisco with statues in it of a mother and two children. Apparently, if you go at night, a third ghost child appears that had been lost and the mother is weeping. Creepy!

  7. Jess:

    Okay two things — maybe three, depends.

    First of all, I love this post. It is waaaaay creepy. You should go to some summer camp and read the kids that post and just substitute “Paradise Road” for whatever the name of their camp road is. Instant terror.

    Second of all, you are a great writer. Now I have tweeted this, responded to you on my blog, and I traveled all this way to tell you that really are fantabuloustic. LIke to the max.

    Third: (See, you just can never predict with me) — I’m sorry you had a poopie day. I’m sorry that the juice made you cry. Sometimes juice can do that. And not because you see a weird eye looking out at you from the Tropicana logo or anything. But you know what I mean. So I hope your meltdown was brief.

    Sending you cyber hugs. 😉

    1. Ok two things more, maybe three: First, Renee, you rock! I would totally love scary kids at summer camp because when I went to summer camp those were the counselors I loved. Second, thank you for the twitter love, blog comments and reply on your page. You really did make my day and let me know I’m not alone. Third, you’re right, juice can make you cry. But thanks for turning my frustration into laughter.

  8. Love, Love, Love this stuff! I have seen a made for TV movie about something very similar to this story….

    I used to live out in the country, and as children we had to be creative with our games. My next door neighbor told me that a murderer lived in the only vacant house in the area. The house was spooky – the yard was overgrown and the windows were broken. Late at night I’d run into our house afraid of the “killer” that I now know didn’t exist was going to get me. TI’d ride my bike FAST past that house. That was our neighborhoods’ Urban Legend. It got me.

    I’ve yet to say “Bloody Mary” or “Candyman” five times in a mirror’ I’m terrified of someone slicing my achilles tendon from underneath my truck; I’m afraid of someone hiding in my back seat and slicing my neck when I get into the driver’s seat; and I won’t eat poprocks and drink coke at the same time. 🙂

    1. Now that you’ve made me terrified to step out of my vehicle, should be interesting to see me spring from my nissan in self defense moves.

      Oh, and I’ve done the pop rocks and coke thing. You’ll be fine.

  9. I remember reading about this or maybe even seeing the TV show Tiffany mentions! I love this stuff too – there’s something about the common experience and eerieness in these urban legends that just makes them inspiring! A big one in our area was Black Aggie, a statue in a nearby cemetary. I think it was our own spin on the “Bloody Mary” legend. If you rode by the statue at night, you’d supposedly see her eyes glowing red in the mirror. And if you said her name 5X in the mirror, awful things were supposed to happen. I remember kids daring each other to do that. Now I want to dig up the story and remember happened that surrounded the statue with so much legend!

    1. Oooh creepy. I like this one. Statues are scary. Especially when they’re broken or the paint is dripping/cracked off. I have an irrational fear of dolls coming to life. Too many Goosebumps books as a kid. That, and Chucky. I HATE Chucky.

  10. Jess, you always write well, but your love of the mysterious and spooky really brings it up a notch. If I were financially independent, I’d spend some of my time traveling around and investigating the more believable stories about the supernatural. I think Paradise Road would make the list. Thanks for a great post.

    1. So nice to see you Charles! I do think I’ve missed my calling as a Wisconsin Supernatural Tour Guide.

  11. As I read your experience at Paradise Road, I got chills. Despite being a big chicken, I would like to visit this place(along with several people, several flashlights, and a whistle). Then I started to think about the haunted place around where I live. There’s the Jane Addams Hull House. Supposedly, people can see a demon-child in the window of the second floor. There’s also Resurrection Mary which is probably the most famous ghost story in Chicago.

    1. OOoh, I definitely want to hear more about that! That sounds creepy. Demon child and a resurrection, you know what I like!

  12. I’ve tried to find the demon child, but of course, each time I’m looking for it, it’s in the middle of the day. The story behind it that an atheist man told his religious wife that he’d rather have the devil in his house than a picture of the Virgin Mary. His wife becomes pregnant and delivers him a demon child with horns, scales, and a tail. The child ends up at the Hull House, and I’ve heard stories that said the child had the ability to fly. The child was put into the attic. Also, Chicago has haunted bus tours. I’ve been wanting to go on one. If you ever come down to Chicago, may be you can check out one of the tours. I’m sure that you will enjoy it a lot.

    1. I so want to do this bus tour right now!

  13. […] are just a few of my paranormal experiences. If you ‘re craving more, check out my post on Paradise Road, a real Wisconsin Urban Legend. I list my many ghost sightings […]

  14. The sentence info of 18 years on here for Maldonado is incorrect. He is doing life.

    1. Good call, Steven! Thanks for catching it. The newspaper article I was using is outdated. I looked it up and you got me! They all ended up with life sentences. Although, I also discovered several appeals have been placed trying to change their sentences. Eerie.

  15. I just got back from there and my group saw a spine in a tree and others I know have gone there and heard screaming and have seen the raccoon with no head. They have also seen people hanging from the trees and horses roaming the street in the woods

    1. So many creepy stories! Be careful out there.

  16. I just read this post because I drove down paradise road last night, but I thought I’d mention an urban legend from my small town in Wisconsin. I live in Oconomowoc, and there’s this cemetery on the lake called Lac La Belle, and there is a statue of a very sad looking woman holding her hands together by her stomach. It’s said that on Halloween at midnight, if you put a penny in her hands, she starts to cry blood and drowns herself in the lake. I’ve never done it because cops always patrol the cemetery at night. Just thought I’d share this with you!

    1. Creepy! Do you know her name? If there’s a statue, she’s got to be someone notable right?

  17. I think you and i might be from the same town and may have experienced the same things on this road. My best friends and i have had many interesting experiences out there and id really like to talk to you. My name is Alex im graduate from fort high and id love tp talk more, please email me (alexljh18@gmail.com) when you get the chance.

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