Saturday, 31 October 2015

Paranormal Skatetivity 3: Skating Can Be Murder


It's the ghost wonderful time of the year! Hallowe'en has once again fallen upon us and all of you loyal Skate Guard readers know that means. It's time for a yearly Skate Guard tradition: the annual "Paranormal Skatetivity" blog. Dim the lights and prepare for a creepy collection of darker stories that have peppered skating's history through the years. This year's collection may be the darkest yet:

THE SKATING SCENE FROM "CURTAINS"


The 1983 Canadian slasher flick "Curtains" was a cult classic for longtime "General Hospital" writer Bob Guza. The film's iconic skating murder scene remains one of the most unique attack scenes visually in that genre. Seriously... can you imagine going out by yourself for a midday skate and ending up getting chased by a masked homicidal skater with a scythe? That's some downright terrifying stuff right there. In a 2004 interview with The Terror Trap, director/producer Peter Simpson explained the back story of the "Curtains" skating scene: "I brought in a real figure skater. I don't remember the girl's name... it was actually one of the few times I was ever embarrassed in interviewing someone. We brought her in to do the stunt double. She was the right height and everything. But she had this big parka on because it was the wintertime. So she came into my office at Simcom and she sat down. And she had the parka off her shoulders. I said, 'I can't look at you with that parka on, would you take it off so we could see what you look like and what the camera's gonna see?' I assumed she had something on underneath it... but she just had... panties on. I'm standing there saying, "You'll look good on camera, you can put that parka back on!" The skater who apparently auditioned in the nude was named Jo-anne Hannah, and she played both the part of Lesleh (the skater being chased) AND her masked attacker. Talk about a pairs team... from hell.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF SUZY LAMPLUGH

 The 1986 disappearance in broad daylight of London real estate agent Suzy Lamplugh made headlines in the eighties and rocked a nation's sense of security. Declared dead and presumed murdered in 1994, her body still hasn't been found. It has been widely speculated in the media that convicted killer and rapist John Cannan might have been involved in Lamplugh's disappearance and it was a SKATER who actually brought a major break in the cold case in 2000. Cannan's former girlfriend, a former ice dancer named Gilly Paige, told police that Cannan had suggested that Suzie was buried at Norton Barracks in Worcestershire (yes, like the sauce!), a former army barracks. Ultimately, that seemed to prove to be another dead end... however a new investigation began in the Worcestershire area in 2010. This August 2010 article from The Daily Mail suggests a whole new twist in the case. Whatever the case may be, Paige is very lucky she escaped the relationship she was in unscathed.

AIN'T THAT A SKATE IN THE HEAD

In October 2014, a twenty year old British woman named Jemma Fitzgerald ended up with a depressed skull after bone fragments shot into her brain and no less than twenty stitches. Why? She was attacked by an assailant whose weapon of choice was an ice skate. Certainly puts the famous screams of "why?" into perspective doesn't it? Things could have indeed been much worse. Fitzgerald was walking on foot to a boxing club to arrange a meeting about organizing a charity event for cancer research when a twenty seven year old woman brutally attacked her. In an interview with the Chester Chronicle, Fitzgerald told reporters "I was hit in the head with an ice skate completely out of the blue. I actually didn't feel anything and only realized what had happened when I felt blood running down my face. I wasn't really sure what to do and didn't realise how serious it was at the time to be honest. Apparently I was in intensive care up until my operation where doctors found I had a depressed skull and fragments of bone in my brain which they had to remove. The surgeon told me that realistically I shouldn't be alive." The attack happened close to the Deeside Ice Rink and news sources never really followed up on the story to report as to whether or not the attacker was known to the victim or had any connection to the rink but at any rate, scary stuff.

THE FIGURE SKATER ON THE MILK CARTON

Ilene Beth Misheloff was an accomplished young figure skater from Dublin, California. She competed against 1992 Olympic Gold Medallist Kristi Yamaguchi and had finished first in competitions all over the Bay Area of California. On the afternoon of January 30, 1989, the thirteen year old left Wells Middle School and was walking to Dublin Iceland rink for an afternoon skating lesson when she vanished into thin air. Twenty five years after her disappearance, Ilene's parents Maddi and Michael Misheloff remain positive and hopeful for their daughter's return home someday. Over the years, Ilene's family and community have held several vigils marking the anniversary of her disappearance in hopes to not only celebrate her life but to remind the community she is still missing. In a 2012 interview with the Pleasanton Patch Maddi said that "if Jaycee [Dugard] can come back, so can she". Over the years, suspicions have remained that Ilene's disappearance was linked to two other child abductions around the same time in the area. According to Dublin Police Lieutenant Herb Walters, when Dugard was found alive eighteen years after her disappearance, Dublin Police and the Hayward Police Department (who were handling the case of missing Michaela Garecht as well) obtained a search warrant for the residence of Dugard's captor Phillip Garrido. No evidence in the search linked Misheloff's disappearance to Garrido but he has not been ruled out as a suspect. The Charley Project, a website that shares the stories of over nine thousand 'cold case' missing people in the United States, talks in depth about Ilene's case and several suspects including Timothy Bindner, James Daveggio and Curtis Dean Anderson. In reading the information about all three men provided, it doesn't take Jessica Fletcher to deduce that the subject who allegedly sent a letter to one young girl printed backwards, that could only be read in a mirror, drove around trying to lure young girls into a van wallpapered with pictures of children and wrote letters to the FBI about how he thought the victims might have acted stands out like a sore thumb. It's enough to make you sick to your stomach. To this day, no one has been charged with Ilene's disappearance. Her parents maintain hope and a website http://www.find-ilene.org. There's something so simply heartwearming about her parents continued hope and obvious love for their daughter. We may never get to see Ilene Misheloff compete against Kristi Yamaguchi again, but if we keep sharing her story, there's always the glimmer of real hope that like in the shocking case of Jaycee Dugard, Ilene will one day resurface.

JACK FROM TITANIC GOES SKATING

"You're heeeere... theeeeere's nothing I fear..." Engrained in us when we think of one of the world's biggest tragedies are of course the James Cameron film and the Celine Dion song "My Heart Will Go On" but what really stays in our souls when we think of the "Titanic" is the sense of foreboding that comes from the thought of an unsinkable ship sinking with such a high death toll - between 1,490 and 1,635 people - a ship full of people who, without enough lifeboats didn't stand a chance.  It resonates with us to this day. Remember Rose and Jack from the movie? Well this story is about a real life Jack who SURVIVED the Titanic sinking - and it's a sad one with - you guessed it - a skating connection. Jack Thayer was travelling first class with his parents on the Titanic. The seventeen year old's mother Marian joined the "women and children first" in a lifeboat but the teenaged Thayer was left with his father to fend for himself. Thayer's father died in the tragedy but Thayer was one of relatively few who survived the exposure after jumping in the water. In the 2011 The Independent article "Curse of the Titanic: What happened to those who survived?", Thayer's daughter recounts her father taking her skating, "One year, when the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia was frozen over, he took us down to skate. I remember being quite scared, in case the ice would give way and I would fall in and get trapped beneath it, but he said, 'Don't worry, I've got my rope with me.' It was a kind of pole with a rope wrapped around it that he said he could use to pull us out of the water if we fell in. Looking back, it is curious that he should want to go on frozen water after what he had been through with the Titanic. Of course, at the time I thought nothing of this, as he never, ever mentioned the disaster. He was not afraid of water, and loved to swim, but he never sailed and would never go on an ocean liner." Thayer, like most survivors, never liked to talk about what happened on the Titanic and lived by all accounts quite a successful life. However in 1943, his twenty two year old son was killed in action while serving in World War II, his plane shot down into the Pacific Ocean. His mother and fellow Titanic survivor Marian died six months later. Whether it was the fact he lost two people so close to him or that his son's death in the ocean stirred up repressed feelings, we'll never know... but it was too much for Thayer for bear. The 2011 Independent article explains that "on the morning of 18 September 1945, 50-year-old Jack Thayer left his office at the University of Pennsylvania and drove through the streets of Philadelphia. At the city's trolley loop, near 48th Street and Parkside Avenue, he slowed down, pulled over, then proceeded to slash his wrists and throat." Tormented by the water perhaps but afraid not of the ice, Thayer's shocking and tragic death serves the reminder that pain can haunt someone for a lifetime.

PAGING SONJA HENIE



"In order to form a chain, the twelve persons each place their right hand on the table and their left hand on that of their neighbour, thus making a circle around the table. Observe that the medium or mediums, if there be more than one, are entirely isolated from those who form the chain." - Baron de Goldenstubbe

Lewis Spence's "Encyclopedia Of The Occult" describes a séance as "a sitting held for the purpose of communicating with the dead, an essential requirement being that at least one member of the company be possessed of mediumistic powers." From the Fox Sisters to the birth of The Spiritualist Movement to the famed séances of Madame Helena Blavatsky, I could easily write a whole blog on the history of the séance... but this is a figure skating history blog and with Hallowe'en looming, I couldn't resist sharing one of my favourite Tollerism's of all time, the story of his Sonja Henie Séance. In his 2002 book "Ice Cream", Toller Cranston told the story of how he moved the late Olympic Gold Medallist Lyudmila Pakhomova to tears: "Once, after skating in Graz, Austria, a stop on the exhibition tour, I informed the entire cast of skating luminaries that I had decided to conduct a séance in my hotel room that evening. Many skaters arrived for the event, even some who didn't speak English. [Lyudmila] and Alexander [Gorshkov] sat front-row center. I dimmed the lights and pretended to enter a somnambulistic trance. I confess that my nerves nearly failed me, because I didn't possess any psychic ability that I knew of. However, the lark somehow became high theater and ultimately terrified many of the spectators. I called upon Sonja Henie's spirit for assistance. Then, in what I passed off as Sonja Henie's voice, I expressed exactly what I thought of each person in the wrong. Ken Shelley, American champion, was so enamoured of my performance, that when I requested that Sonja give a sign of her presence, Ken released one of the most enormous farts in history. With that, the rabble cracked up. I assured everyone that Sonja was truly with us, though the channels had been temporarily blocked. An aura of serious purpose redescended on the room. Finally I addressed [Lyudmila] and asked her, in 'Sonja's' voice if she was aware of the important revolution in ice dance she had inspired. Did she understand the importance of her role in the sport's history? [Lyudmila] was one of the victims who bought my schtick. The séance ended with her running out of the room in a flood of tears of awe, followed by 'the waiter'. In those days,, my lack of credentials placed me at the bottom of the international pecking order. After the séance, however, my profile rose to such a level that I was treated with great deference until the end of the tour." Okay... so is that not the best séance story ever? This story got me thinking... and ironically, if I ever participated in a séance, Toller would probably be the skater I tried to contact. The beautiful thing is that through his books, many interviews and a treasure trove of archival material at my disposal as I sift through stories from skating history, I come across Toller's opinions of skaters constantly... and like him, lump him, take him with a grain of salt, you can't get any more entertaining. Speaking of quotes and Toller Cranston's Séance, I found just the perfect one to leave you with. A February 13, 1987 article from The Globe And Mail quoted him as saying, "If you allow yourself to become the victim of superstition, every single thing is a sign indicating a positive or negative result." Ever quizzical and ever mysterious... it seems the spirit world and Toller have a lot in common.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

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