Screenwriter Eric Heisserer is best known for his work on such recent horror films as The Thing (2011), Final Destination 5 (2011) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). Still, the spookiest thing he’s ever written is without question the details of a true(?) story which he posted to Reddit. Encapsulating these events for you would do it no justice, so we’re reprinting it here for safe keeping… just in case.
This is a long read, but damn is it creepy.
Okay, first things first: I’m Eric Heisserer. While I’ve been a lurking reader here, I’ve been more active on Imgur for the last year or so. Ten years ago, I wrote an online epistolary story called “The Dionaea House” that caught some attention, including here on reddit, and it launched my screenwriting career. Since then, I’ve learned some brutal lessons about working for studios, and I’ve had some rewarding experiences, too, but the most interesting are the potential horror projects sent my way for adaptation, either as a movie or a documentary. The minute you succeed with one scary story, everyone calls you “the horror guy.” So for the past years I’ve been a kind of catch-all for weird and creepy stuff. Sometimes I’m approached by a friend or extended family member with a disturbing experience, and they just want someone to listen to them and not say they’re nuts. (Also, having worked in supernatural fiction for a decade, I’ve become friends with a paranormal investigator, whom I occasionally introduce to people asking for help.)
Most of the projects are, well, kind of boring. They’re derivative, or too subjective to the person’s own life. But now and then something truly unsettling crosses my desk. Those projects tend to get made, or at least get some traction. But now I’m in an odd position on one that began last month, when a friend-of-a-friend named Kevin asked for a meeting to discuss the disappearance of his sister.
Since then I’ve put in countless hours on this thing, time away from my home and my wife, digging around in an empty house, working with Kevin to trace his sister’s last week before vanishing. Then, on Friday, her estranged husband shut everything down and denied us adaptation rights, even threatened to sue me.
I understand his position, but it still pissed me off. Because this is a true story people need to hear about, and not in a “I want to be the one to break this news” way, but more of a “what the hell is really going on” way. So I checked with my lawyer at Jackoway Tyerman, and while I might not have the film or documentary rights, legally there is nothing to stop me from sharing my own personal experience on this thing plus whatever Kevin volunteers, as long as I don’t use the last names of some of the people involved. So that’s what I’m going to do.
It’s still tough, regardless. While the writer-brain in me tends to think, “This is unnatural and bizarre and we should show it to others,” I’m also aware that I’m intruding on the lives of real people. This isn’t a group of fictional people I’ve invented for a Final Destination movie. I’ve come to some conclusions about Gwen and Robert and their son Dash, and I’m dumping a lot of that here for context, but it still feels awkward (at best) for me to discuss the lives of other people, especially when some of my assumptions could be way off base. So: grain of salt.
Gwen and Robert have been married for ten years. They had their son Dashiel a year into their marriage. Two years ago, in July, when he was seven, Dash disappeared from their house overnight. They tucked him into bed, then woke up the next morning and he was simply gone.
Police investigated. I haven’t delved into the cold case reports or contacted the IIC on this yet (and I don’t have much authority to do so, really) but Kevin tells me that whole year was “emotionally vampiric” for them. His sister began developing OCD habits like checking locks on doors, and Robert had to deal with an invasive police department that refused to rule him out as a suspect before going elsewhere. Added to this pressure: A lack of ransom call or note. Zero signs of a break-in at the house. And a head-scratcher for evidence: Dash’s bed had been moved from the wall, as if to vacuum behind it. That’s the bit Kevin remembers.
Eventually both Robert and Gwen were dropped as suspects, but Dash was never found, and they joined the sobering ranks of families burdened by unsolved crimes.
(As an aside, this past month I’ve learned that a staggering 800,000 children are reported missing in the United States each year, and upwards of 115 cases each year wind up as ‘unsolvable riddles‘ like this one.)
I will say this: I’m surprised they stayed married after this ordeal. Well, I guess I am and I’m not. My second cousin lost her 12-y/o child to a DUI driver in Florida and the death fractured her family, I think she’s divorced now. That’s not unusual. But maybe Gwen and Robert clung to the idea that one day Dash would come home, but they couldn’t really work as a couple in his absence anymore, so they separated last October. Gwen remained in the house and Robert moved across town. This was the situation. Gwen lived alone, in the home where her only child disappeared one night.
And then last month, Gwen vanished as well.
Since she’s a 38-year-old woman who lived alone, it doesn’t garner the attention of an urgent missing persons case, although the detective working the case would argue otherwise (and honestly I think he’s doing a good job so far). Before I stepped foot in that house, I even posited to Kevin a crazy scenario, partly because I wanted him to be aware how easy it can be to imagine a scenario like this: Gwen wanted to start a new life with Dash somewhere else, without Robert, and waited two years to finally make her move to join him. But a lot of circumstantial evidence weighed against that scenario, honestly, and the fact that both mother and son have gone missing from the same four-bedroom house is disturbing.
According to Kevin, who kept in touch with his sister throughout the whole mess, she went to a therapist to manage her emerging OCD. For two months after Dash’s disappearance Gwen was losing her hair; it would fall out in clumps of strands. The doctors said it was psychosomatic. She finally got past that, and a year or so later stopped taking klonopin regularly and instead took a therapist’s advice and picked up a hobby. Kevin had been pushing her to try an art class like painting or sketching, but instead Gwen took up amateur photography.
From what I’ve seen in her house, and stories Kevin’s shared, Gwen is one of those people who gets a dozen books on a subject that interests her, and so there was a shelf of reference material on photography and lighting in her home office, many stuffed with colored Post-it flags.
But conventional photography wasn’t quite her pursuit. As Kevin put it, she became more and more focused on a way to make a living at it, primarily by carving out some niche that hadn’t been oversaturated in the market. Some artistic application of photography she could sell and claim as unique or at least rare. This drove her to more eclectic books on the subject, including one on infrared photography she may have purchased from eBay. Friends and family were always on the lookout for new material on the subject.
At some point in July, she acquired a book. I’m still looking to see if it was an online purchase or something from a local reseller who set it aside for Gwen since it mentioned photography.
This is the book that got me involved in the case.
I don’t physically own this journal right now. Robert has it, who’s moved back in as of last week and has demanded Kevin provide any and all material he may have taken from the house before Robert arrived. (And look, I get it, this guy is probably scared to death that police and/or Gwen’s family will want to pin this on him somehow, so it’s partly a defense mechanism.) But whatever, point is, I do have a series of scanned photographs of the thing, courtesy of Gwen’s home computer. The recently-saved files and browsing history on her hard drive was the first place Kevin looked when trying to track down his sister.
Here is the journal where Kevin found it on her kitchen table:
Some things to know about this book:
- It’s old. This was someone’s work journal.
- It’s been beaten up and even chewed up during its lifespan.
- It’s in a foreign language. My guess is some Filipino language.
Gwen must have made these scans to send to a translator, but Kevin doesn’t have her gmail password so we don’t know what those results were. But here are some of the images from her drive:
Gwen had been testing some homemade camera that uses film that looks like oversized Instamatic sheets, plus traditional film cartridges and a flash strobe with a bulb etched with a thousand little bevels, akin to the surface of a cut diamond. We think she purchased most of it online. In her downstairs darkroom plus the master bathroom, which she converted into a second darkroom, we found eight trays marked with different number sets, and sealed jars of chemical solutions. The place smelled vaguely of ammonia and toner.
Something from this journal gave her an idea. Kevin says she’d told him a week before she had been working non-stop on a new “groundbreaking” project, and had asked him to take a look at her progress and let her know she wasn’t going crazy. (The regular check-in from Gwen with the question, “Am I going nuts?” has been recurring for two years. Kevin has helped her find her keys, replace batteries in her smoke detector, and other tasks, but mainly he just listened to her. Whenever she would lose something in her house, he’d have to come over and calm her down.)
When Kevin went to her house, she was nowhere to be found.
He did eventually find a set of photos she’d developed. One version, she developed normally, as far as I can tell. It’s a color photo of Dash’s room.
But the other one has been taken with some special process.
And this is what’s been keeping me awake at night.
I hope to share more information as I get it from Kevin, but for now this is what we have.
UPDATE: Some news. Some good, some frustrating.
First up — I’m told the language in the journal is Ifugao. I don’t have any translations yet, but I’m reaching out to friends to see if I can find someone to a) confirm this and b) work on reading it for us.
Next: Some people have been asking about that photo with the door. I don’t know what to tell you. I can say that when Kevin and I inspected the wall where the door appears in the grainy image, we didn’t find anything unusual. No invisible handle, no hinges, etc. It felt colder to me, like just in that area, but that may be psychosomatic.
Gwen apparently tried several times to get the exposures right, and I have some of the ones from the same batch that the first one was from. Kevin lent me all that. Here they are.
(And yes I’m drinking this early, don’t judge.)
The real kicker this morning was my email with Kevin. He went over to retrieve some more photos (developed or undeveloped) from Gwen’s rooms, and Robert was there with a locksmith. He’s moved back in, and doesn’t want Kevin or me around anymore. He claims it’s because we’re making her disappearance a “tourist attraction.”
I really don’t want it to be that, and Kevin knows I haven’t shared addresses or locations, but okay. The thing is, I don’t believe Robert buys into any of these weirdness. And I’m worried he would rather just get rid of anything that looks unexplainable than try to look into it further. It’s even more agonizing because Kevin said Robert confronted him with one of Gwen’s photos, demanding to know if he “let” his sister do these crazy art projects.
The photo, as Kevin described it (copied from his email):
“It was a shot of their house, from the street. Done in that weird development process, black and white and weird shadows. Only there was another goddamn house fused to it on one end. Like someone left a really old house standing and built a new one attached to it. It was on the side of their house where Dash’s room is.”
I really want to see that photo now, but things are tense now.
Oh, and one more tidbit: Robert did admit to contact with Gwen, two days before Kevin went to her house and couldn’t find her. She left Robert a voicemail, telling him, “I found his car!” She was ecstatic. I asked Kevin what that meant, and he said he thinks it’s the toy car Dash loved, it went missing when he did. One of those little McQueen cars from the movie. Gwen replaced it a year ago and left it in his room, and then started adding new bits of Disney merchandise, particularly on Dash’s birthday. (I think this is what drove her and Robert apart the most; the way Gwen kept adding little touches to his room as some lure to bring him back.)
I have not seen any photos to suggest a car toy in them. But if Kevin can get into her gmail, we might find it.
UPDATE 2: We have the pages translated (mostly). Go here for that info.
Now let us be clear… we do not know if this is a hoax, a pet project for Reddit, or a viral for an upcoming film. Either way, it sent a chill down our spines and we’ve presented it here for you to draw your own conclusions. Share what you think in our comments section below. We’ll keep tracking this story for updates.