This is a transcript, originally published as part of the Crimes & Witch-Demeanors Podcast. You can listen to the episode below.
INTRO: Hello, and welcome to the first episode of Crimes and Witch-Demeanors, I am your host Joshua Spellman. On this podcast, we investigate the paranormal, historic crimes, myth, legends, and other curiosities through a critical lens. I am an academic and a skeptic, but also a practicing witch. I find many paranormal podcasts are either a little dry in their tellings or are poorly researched and a detached from reality. I am a librarian and archivist by day and have worked in museums, special libraries, and universities. I have an undergraduate degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in information science. With my professional background, I’m hoping to bring a little archival spice into the usual ghostly gab, and see if we can seek out the truth among the tall tales. I’m hoping to strike a balance between fun and facts while also looking for logical explanations of some of our favourite ghostly tales.
I want to play around with format, but the idea is that each episode will begin with a formal story time, after which we will have a ghoulish gossip sesh where we investigate the history of the locations or topics using primary sources, seeing what is fact and what is fabrication, and read first-hand accounts of the ghostly activities experienced in these locations.
In today’s episode we will be covering the Legend of the Pigman. The Story? A crazed butcher with a deformed face, placed pig heads on stick s outside his home to keep away intruders and he was responsible for the brutal slayings of innocent teenagers, leaving their bodies hanging from hooks in town. He murdered his children and his wife. In death, the Pigman now roams Holland Road as a half-man half-pig hell beast summoned from the hereafter by demonic rituals and pagan sacrifice. In his new form, he continues his reign of terror confronting anyone brave enough to enter his land between the two tunnels on Holland Road. Sit back, relax, and let’s learn about the alleged history of Angola’s Pigman.
The myth of the Pigman is part of an intricate interwoven web of tales, or as I see it, a tangled mess resulting from using a common thread to attempt to weave together a number of tragic events that befell a small town. But, in order to understand the story of the Pigman, we must begin our tale with a seemingly unconnected, very real mass casualty event: The Angola Horror.
The village of Angola, in Evans, New York, is a town seemingly plagued by strife. It is located 30 miles south of Buffalo, New York and sits on the western edge of Lake Erie. This small village was erected around the Evans train built in 1852 which serviced the Buffalo and State Line Railroad.
Elisha Derrecks was a gentleman who built a homestead in 1855 on Holland Road, just south of newly laid tracks of Angola. Winters in Western New York are unforgiving due to the lake effect snow that blows off of Lake Erie to the west and Lake Ontario to north, capable of snowfall of over 8 feet. In the winter months, Elisha and his teenage sons, Loring and Henry, would scour the railroad tracks in search of coal that had fallen from the passing trains. They would use this coal to fuel their hearth as it burned longer and hotter than wood. During one of these such trips in 1867, the Derrecks boys, while collecting coal, decided to remove a couple of the rail ties from the track use to as braces for one of their fences that had fallen into disrepair. Little did they know this decision would impact their lives and change the history of Angola and the railroad forever.
A train heading from Cleveland Ohio to Buffalo New York on December 18, 1867 was running very, very late. It had departed Cleveland’s Union Terminal at 6:40 that morning and was due to arrive in Buffalo at 1:30 in the afternoon. However, along the way, the train lost time and was running 2 hours and 45 minutes late. In an attempt to not be any later, the train was traveling at a dangerously high speed and at 3:11pm, just as it was approaching a truss bridge over Big Sister Creek, the train derailed.
The train rocked from side to side. The brakes were applied. But the train was traveling too fast across the bridge. The last two cars detached from the train, with the last car careening down into the icy gorge below. The other car made it safely across the bridge, but slid 30 feet into the embankment. Only one person was killed in this car. The passengers in the other car were not so lucky.
As the last car plunged 40 feet into the gorge below, it came to rest at a dangerous angle, sending all the passengers toppling to one end of the car. As they lay there in a pile, the stove fell upon them, releasing hot coals. The train caught fire. The kerosene from the gas lamps fueled the fire as it ignited the upholstery and dry wood inside. While some of the passengers died from the smoke, the majority were burned alive. Witnesses to the scene heard the screams of those trapped inside and could smell their burning flesh. For five long agonizing minutes the horrid scene was filled with tortured shrieks of those inside …then, just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. Nothing but the silence could be heard over the freshly fallen snow.
49 people died and even more were injured. This infamous accident led to a number of railway reforms, including safer methods of heating and more efficient braking systems. However, the role of the Derreck boys in this tragedy was allegedly covered up by the town of Angola, for fear of any further damage to the town’s already tarnished reputation. Nevertheless, a clipping from the Buffalo News detailing the accident was hung in their home. It sat there either as a grim reminder of their shame, or as a macabre testament to their ghoulish accomplishments.
Henry married and moved to main street, while Loring remained on the original homestead on Holland Road. He renovated the property immensely and Loring married Betsy Crabtree, a woman who lived as an outcast in her hometown due to her parents being first cousins.
Loring Derrecks’ hand in tragedies did not end there. In 1911 he volunteered to help ignite fireworks for Angola’s July 4th celebration. In unexpected turn of events, falling sparks ignited the store of fireworks launching them into the crowd, one rogue rocket pierced the arm of a young boy and burned many others.
After this incident Loring became more or less a recluse, rarely leaving the homestead on Holland Road. Despite this, Loring and Betsy bore a son, William Derrecks, on April 13, 1913. This would-be joyful event was marred by misfortune as the boy was born horribly disfigured. He was of normal proportions but possessed a clef lip and his nose was upturned and split down the center like a pig’s. Perhaps William’s physical disabilities were due to the nature of Betsy’s parentage, but Loring couldn’t help believe that he was paying for his crimes.
After the birth of their son, the agoraphobia of the Derricks only worsened, ashamed to let anyone ever see the boy.
In 1919, the six year old Derricks boy had wandered onto the train tracks completely unaware that a speeding train was barreling quickly towards him. Luckily, he was spotted by the one-armed crossing watchman, Theodore Miller, who ran to his rescue, pushing him out of the path of the oncoming train. Miller was awarded the Carnegie Hero Medal for his heroic act and gained some notoriety, for he was already somewhat known as skilled a one-armed boxer who used to travel the country demonstrating his skills. However, William Derricks was never identified in the press, for he was deemed too horrific. Despite this, Theodore felt for the boy as he also had a physical disability, and became friends.
As William grew older, he worked as an apprentice in a butcher shop not far from the Derrick’s homestead on Holland Road. Though, it turns out William wasn’t very good at butchering, and was soon was relegated to cleaning up the mess in the shop; sweeping up entrails and wiping the floors clean of blood.
Theodore Miller, having been a traveling oddity himself, used his connections in the circus to get William Derricks a deal. William jumped at the chance to be able to travel the country, earn a decent wage, and escape the ridicule and shame of his family. After a few years traveling with PT Barnum and Ripley, Derricks grew tired of the unsanitary conditions and transient nature of circus work, and once again returned to his home on Holland Road, marrying a woman by the name of Mildred Crabtree…his first cousin.
During his absence, Ed Ball Sanitation had opened a landfill adjacent to the Derricks family homestead and William gladly took up the position of night watchman and morning gatekeeper for the facility. Wearing a hood to hide his deformities, William conducted bi-hourly nightly checks of the landfill to ensure there was no trespassing or illegal dumping, and in the morning he would open the gates to allow trucks inside and hand off to his daytime replacement. Although, there was one aspect of his job that William loved the most – he had first dibs on any items coming into the landfill. He took full advantage of this perk, filling his home with items he considered to be valuable. This perk of the job soon evolved into a hoarding obsession and he ran out of room inside his house and so began scattering his spoils about his property.
To deter thieves from stealing his treasure, Derricks acquired animal heads from the butcher he used to apprentice for, and placed them on sticks around his property as a gruesome deterrent. The stories typically only speak of the pig heads, but William also used the heads of cows, goats, and sheep to repel unwanted guests.
William and Mildred had a son, William Jr., in 1962, and a set of twin girls at an unknown date. In 1966 Mildred died and, like all of the trinkets that William loved so much, he buried her in an unmarked grave on his land. William Jr. was sent away to a boarding school and no one knows what became of the twins. Word of mouth says they went to live with Crabtree relatives in Pennsylvania, but no one knows for certain.
Ed Ball Sanitation left the Angola area, leaving Holland Road destitute and nearly abandoned. The road fell into a state of disrepair, so eroded and full of potholes that it was nearly impassable by car. However, nestled between the two tunnel bridges, the Derricks’ Homestead still stood, William left to reign over his kingdom of refuse, now truly and utterly alone.
Local teenagers began to use Holland Road as both a party spot and a lover’s lane, since it was convenient that police rarely patrolled the area, due to the poor condition of the road. But it wasn’t the law enforcement they should have been worrying about.
Young lovers spending time together in their cars would be suddenly startled by loud poundings, not their own, on the car. And through the fog of their windows they could see the monstrous face of a Pigman leering at them, striking their vehicle in a rage.
These reports continued without serious threat or injury until 1972, when things really…caught fire. So to speak.
Jacob Nesbit and Melissa Mallory had pulled over on Holland Road because they were, “lost and needing to read the map” when all of a sudden flames surrounded their vehicle and smoke flooded their lungs. Hastily, the couple pulled back onto the road and headed west toward Route 5 and Lake Erie to escape. It should be noted that while Holland Road is a two-way street, the bridges are only wide enough for one car to pass at the time, and they are nestled at the corners of hairpin turns. Speeding now, they came to the bridge but their way was blocked by a large, old black Ford Pickup truck, revving its engine. It’s blinding headlights, nearly falling off the vehicle, shook violently and appeared to strobe. Flames shot from the exhaust stacks. Fearing for their lives, Jacob and Melissa turned around as quickly as they could but the old truck was in quick pursuit. It tailed them closely, nearly running them off the road, and now they were coming upon the second one-way tunnel bridge. They didn’t even think to see if another car was making its way through the other side of the tunnel. They pressed hard on the gas, accelerating faster, plummeting into the darkness of the tunnel, and before they could even register it…they made it safely to the other side. The truck did not cross the threshold, and they were fortunate enough there were no oncoming cars.
The police sent two officers to the area but never saw a sign of the truck, but they found the patch of scorched earth, steaming in the night. They went to William’s house and knocked, but the lights were out and there was no answer. Since no one was hurt, the incident was written off.
The first nefarious incident happened that same year when a utility worker by the name of Harris Tompkins went missing while conducting door-to-door surveys. He was said to be last seen around Route 5, not far from Holland Road. Is it possible he knocked on the door of William Derricks and suffered at his hands, his body now buried amongst William’s hoard as a gruesome trophy?
This time, law enforcement followed up on the tips they received and searched William’s property. They did not find poor Harry Tompkins, but the site they discovered was almost as gruesome as happening upon a corpse. The Derricks’ homestead was filled to the brim with newspapers, feces, and piles of William’s spoils. Put more bluntly: garbage. Amongst the squalor they found a child, aged approximately 11, who was presumed to be William Jr., with a number of animals. William Sr., however, was not able to be located.
Before any legal action could be taken to remove the child and the animals from the property, on the night of October 31, 1973 the home was set ablaze. The smoke could be seen from miles around but nothing could be done. The road was not easily accessible and the water level of nearby Delaware creek was so low it could not be used as a source of water to extinguish the blaze. The house burned hot, fueled by the kindling of garbage inside, straight down to the foundation. Investigators could not discover a source of the fire and no bodies were ever recovered. However, William and his son were presumed to be dead.
Nevertheless, the sightings of the Pig Man continued. Strange guests began visiting the area, stealing from local shops and camping in the woods. They were thought to be William’s family members or perhaps comrades from his circus days.
Then, on Halloween of 1978, exactly five year’s since William’s house went up in flames, the last home that stood on Holland Road was burned to the ground. The owner had been away on vacation at the time and so escaped a fiery fate. Although, upon his return, he discovered that all of his belongings from inside were scattered around the woods in neat little piles.
The road was repaved in 1980, making it accessible by car once more. Fisherman and Hunters reported finding makeshift huts in the woods and in caves. Piles of trash would be found along the side of the road, and animal carcasses could be found hanging from the tunnel bridges that bookended the property of William Derricks.
To this day, sightings occur to those foolish enough to pass through the tunnels on Holland Road, or as it’s become known, as he’s made it clear the land is his…Pigman’s Road.
Wow, what a ride! I really hoped you stayed with me for it, because here’s where the fun starts. Where we can sus out fact from fiction and read first-hand paranormal encounters. How much of this legend is true, and what ghosts sightings are seen around here?
So…what here is true? I can tell you with 100% certainty that the Angola Horror was very real and it had a lasting impact on the history of railway safety. But did the Derricks’ boys have any part in it whatsoever? Probably not. There’s a fantastic book by Charity Vogel titled he Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads covered the event itself and the factors leading up to it great detail. No boys or track tampering had been mentioned. If there was any evidence of track tampering or the boys’ involvement, it would have been included.
So there’s no mention of the Derrick’s family in her book…and actually I couldn’t find anything on the Derrick’s family. I assumed their names had been changed for privacy, as one of the main internet sources claims, but using their birthdates I couldn’t find anything. The source allegedly had pictures of William Derricks but they were conveniently removed for the family’s privacy. Which is a little fishy. If this was the case, maybe their names and birthdates were changed? So…what could I look up to discover their identities?
I looked up the botched July 4th celebration that was mentioned and couldn’t find any evidence of it happening. I scoured microfilm scans of The Angola Sun following that particular Independence day and those for an entire decade before and after and came up empty-handed. I think it would have been quite newsworthy if someone launched a whole bunch of fireworks into a crowd and burned their clothes to cinders and pierced a young boy’s arm…but alas, nothing.
What else could I look up? What else would have been notable and recorded? And then I thought…oh my god. Theodore’s heroic act on the train tracks. The story mentioned that he had won a Carnegie medal and a cash prize for his heroism. And I know for a fact that many institutions like the Carnegie keep records of all their awards. So I went to their website and they had a database.
So I searched: ANGOLA 1919. Nothing. THEODORE MILLER, 1919. Nothing. THEODORE and ANGOLA…bingo!
It actually did happen but it did not happen in 1919 as the story claims, the incident occurred in 1917. But there is an explanation for the 1919 date. That is when the Angola Record published the story and the award was officially granted. The actual event happened in 1917. And even better, a great surprise, even though the legend says that the name of the boy was never revealed…both the Carnegie foundation’s records and the Angola Sun mention the name of the boy prominently. The boy who was allegedly never identified because of who he was. Was it William Derricks, the Pigman?
No. It was Francis J. Anselmo. But assuming his name had been changed maybe it was him. So, I looked up his birth records…and yes! He was born in the spring of 1913 as William was supposed to. This matches up perfectly with the information we have. While Francis was born in May, and William was supposed to have been born in April, it lines up nicely. It’s the same age and he was involved in the incident. This must be the disabled man that the story is based on.
But…it definitely wasn’t.
I investigated further. Dead end. It turns out Anselmo had moved to California was drafted into the second World War; I found his military registration records. The good news is he survived the war and lived to be 68, dying in 1981. He’s buried in Los Angeles’ Forest Lawn. So…definitely not the Pigman. During the events of the Pigman, Francis would have been off living his best life in sunny California away from the 9 feet of snow that we get in Western New York.
But finding out that the boy was real, and that Theodore Miller was real…I was like — okay. What about Theodore Miller was true? Did he really have one arm and was he really a wondrous one-armed boxer? This was…somehow…ABSOLUTELY true. It was probably the most joyous discovery was his obituary in the April 26, 1962 issue of the Evans Journal as he seems to have been the sweetest man.
He passed away at 88 years old on April 15, 1962. It turns out that he was a world champion “arm bag puncher” and boxer having won a few medals. But the thing that really pierced my heart and made me go “Oh my god, Teddy is so precious” is that he was an accomplished glass etcher and known for his love of flowers (particularly roses) and was known for his beautiful gardens.
For his time, Teddy was really subverting stereotypes. He had one arm, so he was disabled, he was a world champion boxer, he saved a boy from being struck by a train, he was a real estate mogul (which I didn’t mention earlier, but it was also in his obit), and he was also this really sensitive artist who just loved roses? Like. Teddy. I love you.
But I digress. Enough about my crush.
I searched all the birth records of Angola and wasn’t able to find anything matching the description of William or Loring or Henry or anyone in the family. So where did the name William Derricks even come from?
The name William Derricks didn’t even show up until 2011 when a story was published in the Hamburg Sun about Holland Road. The information came from Tony Burtis of Western Door Paranormal Soceity. But other articles including emails from Angola historians support my hypothesis that William Derricks never existed.
I also looked for Harris Thompkins, or Harry Thompkins, the missing meter man? I didn’t find any record or any story of that ever happening.
There’s also that myth I briefly mentioned in the beginning of teenagers sneaking into the Pigman’s home, being murdered, and their heads replacing the pigs on the sticks. Well, first off that is extremely unlikely that it happened…someone would have noticed and it would have been national news.
Another tale is that the Pigman had killed a butcher and hung him on a hook in his shop. Interestingly enough, this story has more of a…hook…in history so to speak. There actually was a murder of a butcher near Angola which made headlines in 1931. An interesting tale in its own right, involving the mob and warring meat sellers, but this was most likely the source of the butcher part of the Pigman story as it was an eventful part of the town’s history.
On a scale of ooky to spooky, this story is rated dukie. There is no basis in fact. There may have been a boy that had a disability that people were scared of and maybe this developed into the legend being mixed with people retelling parts of the town’s history they heard as kids. Overall, it seems the Legend of the Pigman was a desperate attempt to make sense of all these tragedies and crimes that occurred within Angola and try and make this mythology of their own.
But what about the sightings on Pigman’s road? What are people seeing that is so scary?
I can tell you firsthand that I went to Pigman’s road. I went there with my ex and his friends one winter night and the scariest thing about it is honestly those tunnels. The roads are newly paved. There’s room for two cars on the road, but the tunnels only can fit one car at a time. So when you’re driving through them in general you’re supposed to honk your horn because there are hairpin turns right at the end of the tunnel so you can’t see if another car is coming through or not. The horn honking is supposed to let them know that you’re coming.
But interestingly, this has even been incorporated into the Pigman myth where you’re supposed to turn off your headlights, drive through the tunnel without stopping your car, and if you honk your horn 13 times by the time you get from one end of the tunnel to the other the Pigman is supposed to appear. I can tell you that we did this–and there was no Pigman.
Other things that people are alleged to see are fires that start seemingly out of nowhere and are extinguished just as quickly. They report being followed by vehicles that just come out of nowhere or disappear into thin air, especially when they’re entering or exiting one of the bridges. The sounds of humans screaming or the sounds of pig squeals coming through the woods with no known source are also heard. Shadow figures looming on the bridges. Sightings of the Pigman himself doing various things including walking in the woods, pickup up trash on the road, chopping down trees, or…asking you to stop your vehicle. Which, honestly? I would crap my pants.
And also trains. The bridges are still used by trains, mind you. But people see trains that are absolutely silent or trains that stop on top of the bridge as they’re driving up to it and then when they get out of the tunnel, the trains have disappeared completely. So that could just be…trains.
So Angola and Evans are a small towns and I think a lot of the disturbances and screams are honestly just bored teenagers. I mean, what are you going to do? Go to Pigman’s road to drink and do drugs? Or stay at home to drink and do drugs? You’re obviously going to go to Pigman’s road.
And then people say that especially in winter there are many experiences that they attribute to the Angola Horror. Which, I would be 100% on board with (chugga-chugga-choo-choo) for…but the Angola Horror…if you actually look at a map…happened nowhere near Holland Road. It actually happened 3.6 miles north. I don’t think that the ghosts that suffered a horrible, tragic death 3 miles away would come all the way to Holland Road just to hang out and sit there.
Also, people report electronic interference a lot. People lose their cell signals and radio signals. I think that happened to us when we were there. We either had walkie-talkies or old flip phones and we found it hard to communicate with one another. SO maybe there is something fishy going on there…but don’t take my word for it.
I looked at comments on news articles and facebook posts to see if I could find some other firsthand encounters. The first one is going to ruin everything. I’m not going to give her name, but her comment on the facebook post was just:
Sorry to ruin everyone’s experiences but my family raised pigs on hardpan road… That’s where the actual squeals came from. There’s an explanation for everything that has happened there.
And a lot of people where just like “Yeah, I grew up there. Literally nothing happened.” But one person named Curt, had this story to tell:
Two events happen to me in early spring of 2015 My son and I were driving on Pigman road as soon we went under the stone bridge my GPS and cell phone was turn off the GPS was still plug in after a few past the bridge they turn again.The other event took place around this time last year I was going under the same bridge my car high lights started to fade and my engine started to loss power it was like something was draining all the electricity out of the car after few yards away from the bridge the car was fine.I truly believe that the road is haunted.
And this is not the first story within the comments about car engines mysteriously stopping and lights fading. But who knows? I don’t have an explanation for that. It’s not like car engines run on electricity — I mean, well, mine does because I have a Prius, but not everyone has a Prius…so…who knows? Maybe there is something strange going on there…but it’s definitely not the Pigman.
It’s abrupt, but that, ghoulfriends, concludes our episode on Holland Road and the Pigman. I assure you that not all episodes are going to end with the stories being completely baseless like this one was.
Angola Butcher Slain; Suspect Held. (1931, July 13). Buffalo Evening News, 1, 3.
Anselmo, Francis J. WWII Draft Card (1947). WWII Draft Registration Cards for California, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947 (Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 49). The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Carnegie Hero Medal and $1,000 Cash Awarded Ted Miller for Saving Boy’s Life. (1919, May 1). Angola Record, 1.
Colmerauer, Catherine. (2011, October 27). Misguided man or unmerciful monster: Uncovering the legend of Pigman. The Hamburg Sun, 35–36.
Francis Joseph Anselmo (1913-1981)—Find A Grave… (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2020, from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/85844336/francis-joseph-anselmo
THEODORE MILLER, Angola, New York. (n.d.). Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. Retrieved November 7, 2020, from https://mychfc.org/hero.aspx?hero=18422
Theodore Miller Dies, Native Angolan. (1962, April 26). Evans Journal, 2.
Vogel, Charity (2013). The Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads. Cornell University Press.