“Desperation Mona,” as historic Colorado Springs investor Spencer Penrose and others have called her, always appears at the same time — dusk — and in the same place — mile marker 13 — on the Pikes Peak Highway, which Penrose built in 1916.
The site is where, in 1932, Wynona “Mona” Roberts’ car went off the edge of the road and plunged 150 feet down the mountain. While the crash didn’t kill her or her new husband, Mona died after she got out of the hospital three weeks later. She expired in a bathtub in the California couple’s honeymoon cottage in Manitou Springs.
The beautiful, young brunette had succumbed to a brain hemorrhage, doctors surmised. But her husband later confessed to bashing her in the head with a hammer, before he was executed for the murder of his five previous wives.
Since then, storyteller Sebrena Forrest said Friday during a ghost story presentation at the Ute Pass Library, there have been many police reports of people seeing a naked woman with long, stringy dark hair on Pikes Peak making gestures of desperation.
In 1973, a man who had worked on Pikes Peak for 33 years stopped his motorcycle at Glen Cove one June night after work to have a cigarette and take a leak, when he spotted the woman. He said he threw his leather jacket over her shoulders and gave her a ride to the toll booth down the hill.
“He remembered her hands around him were clammy, and her breath on his neck was freezing, icy cold,” Forrest said.
But when he stopped the bike, the woman got off, took off his jacket and ran back up the mountain.
“When he goes home, he looks for his cigarette lighter in his jacket and pulls out a receipt from what was then the Glen Cove Gift Shop,” Forrest said. “It was dated Sept. 21, 1932.”
The next day, he went to the gift shop and learned that the nude woman who had hopped on the back of his motorcycle was a ghost. People, including Spencer Penrose, had known about her for years and had named her Desperation Mona.
Such ghost stories from the Pikes Peak region are interesting, Forrest said, because “these are documented cases from responsible people who have experienced encounters. It’s not just one person making something up.”
And the accounts happen over a long period of years, from people who have not known the stories, she said.
But the Pikes Peak region is no more or less haunted than other communities, said Forrest, a Cascade resident and member of the Mohawk Nation who is best known for preserving Native American culture and was named 2017 Elder of the Year by the Native American Women’s Association.
At the request of the Pikes Peak Library District, she dug up unexplained events and documented ghost encounters from the area, based on the library district’s Special Collections section of archived materials and personal interviews.
Desperation Mona is known as a crisis apparition because she died in a crisis, so she materializes in her naked, drowned state, Forrest said.
“Hauntings can be at a place you’re stuck or where something happened or you had a fond memory of,” she said.
Up in Woodland Park, employees of the Ute Inn, an historic bar and restaurant, have reported glasses zooming through the air and exploding, Forrest said.
“It’s not like a big truck goes by and knocks one off from the vibration,” she said. “It’s like a whole bunch flying off the shelves.”
When the old Homestead House in Colorado Springs was a bed-and-breakfast, no one wanted to go in one upstairs room because furniture would rearrange itself, and noises could be heard coming from the empty room, Forrest said.
The Egg Man of Manitou Springs has been known to follow people, attack them and beat them with his cane. Victims can hear the short man with whiskers and a hat dragging something like a leg or a cane, Forrest said, and the sulfurous smell of rotten eggs emanates from the ghost.
In 1988, a man named Gail Bailey ended up in the hospital from an Egg Man beating, Forrest said.
“It’s been going on for a long time,” she said, and is thought to be linked to a man who carried a basket of eggs to eat at a local bar and one day committed suicide at the pub.
Another tale of the unexplained comes from Simla, about 50 miles northeast of Colorado Springs.
In the late 1950s, ranchers named the Lemleys, who ran about 50 head of cattle, would see bright spotlights at night across their prairie land that would mess up their television, but they couldn’t pinpoint the source.
“It was a mystery,” Forrest said. “All the ranchers were talking about it.”
One night, the husband found his wife, Louise, crouched in the kitchen, naked and trembling. But she had no memory of what had happened. Their son was found in his Jeep in the long driveway, where he had been all night, after seeing bright lights and not remembering anything else.
And then, the family could not find some of their cattle. They located 10 cows laid in a circle dead, with a tree and sand in the middle.
“There were no footprints, no tire tracks,” Forrest said.
The cows’ genitals and eyes had been removed.
“But they were not torn up; it was a neat scene.” And, “No predators would go near those dead cattle.”
Law enforcement and Air Force officials responded, and told the family if anybody asks, it was predators.
“Just because I can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” Forrest said.
One of the creepiest stories that made national news concerns Old Jackknife Tom. A mean Irishman with red hair and buck teeth who in the 1850s, Tom kept a knife in his boot and cut off people’s ears or fingers if he lost too much money in the gambling halls in Old Colorado City.
One day, a guy killed Jackknife Tom by shooting him in the head.
Dr. Isaac Davis, Manitou Springs’ pharmacist, town coroner, doctor, mayor, chief of police and judge, collected specimens such as severed limbs and fetuses and kept them in pickle jars in his laboratory.
When nobody claimed Jackknife Tom’s body after three days, the doctor/coroner removed the organs and mummified the body.
“He’d prop the body up in the sun to dry in front of his pharmacy on Canon Avenue,” Forrest said. “He’d prop him up in the barber shop and put whipped cream on his face. He dressed him as a woman. He took him to the bar. It was in all the papers.”
After the doctor died, Tom’s mummified body ended up in Kansas City and toured the country in an exhibit called “The Petrified Indian of the Manitou Caverns.”
“Nobody knows where it is now,” Forrest said.
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