Weird Times at Muncie High (2024)

Fortunately, most schools avoid being the site of a weird and inexplicable death, but it has been known to happen. However, when one school is known for twosuch unsolved mysteries, well, you know you’ve just enrolled in Strange Company U. The institution boasting such an unenviable record was Muncie Central High, a four-story building in Muncie, Indiana.

Sixteen-year-old Perlie Guelsby Hogg was a sophom*ore at Central High. His was one of those lives that seem destined to be defined by tragedy. Just before he was born, his father, Ben Hogg, vanished. As Ben was never seen again, it is unclear whether he deserted his pregnant wife, or was the victim of foul play or some accident. In any case, Perlie’s mother Mary was left to fend for herself and her baby as best she could. When Perlie was only two, Mary died. The boy was shuffled between various relatives for a couple of years before settling in with his aunt and uncle, Minnie and Charles Cooper. Perlie told another aunt that Charles was an overly strict guardian, to the point of being abusive. The household was also extremely poor. Not surprisingly, Perlie became a deeply unhappy boy, who occasionally threatened to run away, or even kill himself.

On the morning of December 16, 1922, Perlie left for school, telling his aunt and uncle he’d probably be home late. (He had an after-school job as a grocery delivery boy, and as it was the Christmas season, he had recently been working overtime.) Because of this, Minnie and Charles were not alarmed when he failed to return home that night. However, when Perlie did not turn up on the following morning, Minnie contacted the police.

Investigators soon learned that two days before Perlie disappeared, he and several other boys had gotten into a physical fight with a teacher who had allegedly threatened them. The following day, Perlie withdrew himself from the school, vowing never to return. However, many people who knew the boy expressed the firm belief that he would never have run away while Minnie, who was in poor health, was still alive. She was apparently the one person in the world the boy loved.

Despite that, police classified Perlie as a runaway, and the official search for him soon sputtered and died. Minnie and Charles continued doing what they could to find what had happened to the boy, but eventually, they too were forced to give up.

Nearly ten years after Perlie vanished, some plumbers were doing repairs at Central High. After climbing down a ventilation shaft, one of the men was stunned to realize he was standing on human remains. At first, the identity of the corpse was unknown, but after local newspapers published photos of shoes and a pocket knife found with the body, Charles Cooper recognized them as belonging to his long-missing nephew. Perlie had finally been found.

Weird Times at Muncie High (1)
"Evansville Journal," July 11, 1931, via Newspapers.com

The ventilation shaft could be accessed by students from the back of broom closets in the boys’ restrooms. Boys would often enter the shaft to smoke cigarettes, or just lounge around. Pearlie’s body was found in a “crouched position” at the bottom of the shaft. He had died holding his open pocket knife, and his shoes were at the opposite side of the little chamber.

The autopsy did little to clarify how Perlie died. The coroner found no broken bones, suggesting that he had not accidentally fallen down the shaft. However, he could not rule out that possibility. Or did the miserably unhappy boy use his knife to follow through on his many threats to commit suicide? Or were Charles and Minnie correct in their belief that Perlie had been murdered, and his body subsequently hidden in the ventilation shaft? In July 1931, a grand jury was brought in to examine the mystery, but the lack of evidence led to the case being dismissed, and that, as they say, was that.

Life at Central High went back to normal. And then on the night of April 13, 1948, a Muncie painter, 36-year-old Nelson Dull, was having a hard time getting to sleep. (He suffered from “painter’s colic,” what we today would call “lead poisoning.”) He told his wife Marian that he was just stepping outside for some air. Around 1:30 a.m., Nelson left his home and started walking down the street. He never came back. Marian realized quite quickly that something was wrong--a few months before, Nelson had suffered a leg injury which left him unable to walk for very long--and she called the police. A search was made, without finding any sign of Nelson.

On the morning of April 26, Central High’s custodian, Aramis Joris, turned on the ventilation system for the first time that year. When staffers subsequently entered the school, they were greeted by a hideous stench which filled the entire building. As the day went on, the smell only got worse. Joris went in search of the source of the odor. When he opened a little hatch leading to a three-foot-tall attic above the school, he found it: A decomposed human corpse was lying on the attic floor.

Weird Times at Muncie High (2)
"Muncie Evening Press," April 26, 1948

The body in the attic was soon identified as Nelson Dull. However, what nobody could say was what in hell it was doing there. Dull was found completely naked and lying face up. His clothes were piled up near him. However, his wedding ring and silver “lucky piece” were missing. (They were later discovered scattered elsewhere in the attic.) A few other items were found nearby--jars of food, a straw hat, an old newspaper, and a small chair that police thought was used to climb in and out of the attic. As had been the case with Perlie, the autopsy was unable to determine how Nelson died.

Joris told police that several times in the recent past, when he looked up the shaft leading from the boiler room to the roof, he had seen a man staring down at him. (It is unknown why he apparently had kept this interesting information to himself.) This led police to theorize that, for reasons best known to himself, Dull had formed the habit of “hanging out” in the attic. During one of these visits, Nelson took off all his clothes, lay down, and died. The sort of thing that could happen to anyone.

Dull’s family rejected this scenario, arguing that he simply wasn’t the sort of weirdo who would camp out in school attics. Besides, they asserted, his leg injury rendered him incapable of climbing into the attic unassisted.

The investigation into Dull’s death ended on this frustratingly inconclusive note. In 1973, the Central High building was demolished, taking all its secrets with it. Good riddance, I say.

Weird Times at Muncie High (2024)
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