• Underground




    Tunbridge Wells Cemetery – England – 1891


    Nightmares had always troubled Daryl Hempstead.  They started when he was very young.   Bad dreams were typical for boys his age – sitting naked in school surrounded by his classmates, not being able to find a bathroom when he was desperate, or a large spider in his pants.  As he grew older the dreams grew into fearful events – being assaulted, chased by a demon, or some other event with extreme violence and threats of death.  They were filled with horror, fear, despair, anxiety and sadness.  Eventually the nightmares were repetitive, the main one a dream where he had murdered someone and was doing anything he could to hide and get away. But the dead person kept coming after him over and over each night.  Even when he knew his dream was a nightmare, he had a hard time jerking awake.  And like most constant dreamers, he had difficulty discerning whether the nightmares were real or not.  He guessed that some of his dreams were the result of being addicted to smoking an opium pipe each night. Often he delayed, eating and drinking to stay awake, so he wouldn’t have to face his nightmares.  His physician told him that was the opposite of what he should do, but Daryl paid him no attention.


    This night he awoke with a start, eyelids jumping open.  It was black, completely black – blinked his eyes several times – still black.  “I’ll close my eyes and when I awake I’ll be in my own bed.”   He turned on his side, closed his eyes and nodded off, bumping his shoulder on something above. Dreamed that he was eight years old, lost in a forest with nightfall approaching. When he awoke, it was still the same blackness. He pinched himself, but no change.  “All right, I’ll close my eyes one more time and get released from this nightmare.”


    In ten minutes he opened his eyes again.  Same inky black.  He felt around and his arms bumped against sides of what seemed to be a box.  He kicked his feet against the sides, same thing – he kicked harder, trying to wake up. Then he raised his arms and ran into something soft.  As he pushed he could tell it was a fabric like linen or felt.  Even though he knew it was a dream, fear shot through him.  I’m in a dream coffin, terrified  even if I know it’s just a nightmare.


    Then he heard something above him.  It was faint, but there was no mistaking that there was a faint sound, like something falling  – not right on the box or coffin he was in, but above.  Okay, he decided, I’ll play along with my dream. He began to yell, to shriek, to pound on the lid above him.  Nothing, after five minutes of thumping, still nothing.  The sound had faded away.

    He tugged at his clothes, – shirt, long pants, socks, but no shoes. Bringing his knees up, he wedged them against the top, and pushed as hard as he could. Nothing. Then he tried with hands and arms, but again no movement.  He ripped the cloth away and banged on the lid as hard as he could with his fists, once again he didn’t wake.  “What if I really am in a coffin.” he thought, “maybe I can break through the top, let some dirt down a little at a time and dig my way out?”  Already he was starting to get short of breath and wondered if the air was being used up.  He started to push on the top of the casket with hands and knees, and could feel movement, in fact the lid went up about an inch.  He put his finger out – there was no dirt.  Then it dawned on him, the coffin was sitting in a cement vault.


    Using all his strength he turned around with his back against the top, using both his hands and legs for additional leverage.  The nails shrieked and the lid moved up about six inches before his strength gave out.  He waited a minute and then shoved again.  The lid came open about a foot but hit on something. He realized it was the underneath of the vault top.  He turned and smashed his feet and fists against the wood, finally breaking through, but scratching himself badly.  He touched a cut and tasted blood.  This was no dream. Terror gripped him. In a rage he smashed into top of the casket until he could kneel and push up on the concrete vault top with his back.  Thank goodness the coffin was made of thin planking or he would have never been able to break out.  But did the vault lid give, not one bit.  He called aloud for a few moments but he knew that the earth covering the vault would not transmit sound unless someone was standing right on the grave.


    He lay on his back and pounded on the vault with his feet – no movement. Then he scrambled around inside to see if there was anything that he could use to scrape or pound against the cement.  All he could feel was wood and cloth remains.  Then, as he ripped into the casket bottom, he found some thin metal supports, crisscrossing the floor.  He strained to rip them out – painfully getting a couple about three feet long.  Quickly he found the seam where the lid sat on the vault and then traced it along until he hit the midpoint – where he thought the concrete might be the thinnest.  He tried to wedge one of the metal slats into the seam.  It would barely go in a quarter of an inch.  He used the largest piece of the wooden casket as a mallet to drive it in as far as he could. Then he began to hammer away at the concrete right below with another metal support, chipping as fast as he could.  After 10 minutes he had driven the slat into the seam about an inch.  All this in pitch black.


    But now he was gasping for air, sweat running down his ribs.  He wondered if it would be better to go slower and not use as much

    oxygen.  Controlling his breathing he made sure he didn’t gasp.  He would chip for five minutes, then feel with his fingers and drive the bars in as hard as he could.  Eventually he had the first bar driven in about an inch and a half. “Another inch to go,” he thought.  In fifteen minutes he was through, with a small hole beneath the seam, but the air was getting warmer and thicker.  Now he used one slat to pound the sides of the hole to make it larger.  He clawed the dirt in with his fingers, pushing it behind him into the vault – crushing the last segments of the coffin to create space.  Eventually he had a hole about the size of his fist.


    He was now coughing several times a minute – struggling for breath.  Then he got lucky.  As the hole expanded a stone about the size of an open hand fell in.   He immediately used it to batter away at the concrete side.  The concrete was porous and big chunks came away quickly.  The dirt flooded in as the hole expanded.  He kept dragging the soil back into the vault as quickly as he could.  Finally he had a hole large enough to put his arm through, then his shoulder.  His arms and hands were bleeding and his head pounding where he had hit it on the vault top.  His right hand was missing three fingernails, but he hardly felt the wounds.


    Increasing his efforts he dragged dirt down into the vault with his hands and then pushed with his legs.  As he did so, he used a metal spar to break up the dirt above.  He could breath easier now, and guessed that a new grave did not have compacted earth and so there was air in between the dirt and rocks.   He finally got to the point where he could get half his body out of the coffin.  The problem was that the vault was filling up with soil.  He tried stomping it down, but was only partly successful.  He figured there was five feet of dirt above the vault.  At best he had tunneled only two feet.


    He continued to push the dirt inside as he chopped away. Finally he was able to get all but his lower legs out.  It was extremely hot and his throat was almost closed.  As he poked his slat upward, the dirt and rock came down over him and then he had to shuffle it into the vault.  Then there was no more room.  He had opened about a three-foot area next to the vault, just slightly wider than his body.  But his eyes were burning and one was closed – mucus dripping from that eye and his nostrils.


    Cramped over, he would thrust upward, let the dirt fall, stomp it down between his knees and then thrust again.  He finally had to stop and rest, figuring he had about eighteen inches to go – the height of his hole was now about three and a half feet above the lid – dirt compacted below and soil above.  His breathing was rapid and his heart was pounding, his clothes torn and soaked with sweat.  He tried to think what had happened to place him in this situation and what he would do if he ever got out.  He still wondered slightly if this was still a nightmare, but after all this time, he knew it to be real.


    He started in again, thrusting, coughing, and trying not to let a side collapse on the tunnel.  Resting, he slumped back down, feeling his remaining strength ebb away, trying to suck air into his lungs.  Then he shoved the metal bar as hard as he could and this time it didn’t stop.  Big chunks of dirt and rocks fell on him.  He clawed like a madman, thrusting up and burying himself from stomach down.  He filled his lungs with fresh air and yelled as more dirt fell and left a foot wide hole at the top.  He could see the stars above and screamed again and again.  But he was solidly encased in dirt and could only move his arms.  Slowly, bit-by-bit he widened the exit hole and threw stones and soil up and out.  After an hour he pulled himself up so he could get his arms over the edges of the opening.


    He crawled over the edge and lay on the cemetery grass, his chest heaving, hair matted, and scratched everywhere, bleeding from his head, arms, fingers and feet.  Finally he rolled over and tried to get up.  He couldn’t, he was too exhausted.  After ten minutes he tried to crawl and was able to move five feet at a time before collapsing again.   Through his one eye he could dimly see the silhouette of the church against the moon.  “I know who did this, he mumbled to himself.  And I shall have him in a grave permanently.”  Finally he levered himself by grabbing a headstone and got to his feet.  He took three steps, tripped on a flat gravestone and fell headlong into the corner of a Granite Monument.  Then everything went black.




    Tunbridge Wells Times. – Tuesday


    Yesterday morning the vicar at the Tunbridge Church was out for his morning constitutional and found a body next to the large tombstone of Sir Alfred Nance.  The corpse was covered from head to toe in dirt and muck and had various body wounds, the most grievous injury a severe head wound.


    On further exploration, it was found that there was a three-foot opening in a grave some two hundred feet away on the north corner of the cemetery.  The burial had been recent and when the grave was reopened the remains of a damaged vault and destroyed coffin were found.  As improbable as it seems, apparently the victim in this extraordinary affair was buried alive and then escaped by brute force, digging his way to the surface only to fall and strike his head on the angular side of Sir Nance’s Headstone.


    TWT – Thursday


    The ongoing saga of the man who escaped from his grave has new details. The man’s name is Daryl Hempstead.  He and his twin brother, Delbert, run a Mortuary business – Hempstead Morticians.  Interviews with others in this affair brought the following light:


    The casket was made by Hollister and Son in Brighton.  They said the casket was ordered six months ago, paid for in cash and then picked up within the month.  Two of the burial crew that work for the Tunbridge Sexton got an order to pick up a body, coffin and vault from a storage building in Crowborough.  A man in a dark coach told them to deliver the casket, the vault and body to the church graveyard.  He said there would be no service, just dig the grave, install the vault and coffin, and fill up the gravesite.  A headstone would be added later.  They were paid handsomely in cash and given specific directions to conduct the burial at midnight with little or no noise.  The man’s face was never seen, he had a handkerchief over his nose and mouth and said he was afraid of catching the bloody flu.  The coffin maker in Brighton had the same experience.


    Delbert Hempstead was interviewed and had the following to say.  “My brother has long been interested in seeing if someone could really escape from a grave.  He had told me just how he would do it successfully.  I think that he gave himself a strong sedative after making all the arrangements and decided to have himself buried, so as to prove his escape.  He also was a heavy opium user, so maybe a pipe may had added to his stupor before the burial.”  The police asked Mr. Hempstead many questions.  “Did you have anything to do with your brothers death?  What chemicals do you have that would induce stupor. Where did you think your brother was when you didn’t see him that evening?  Who benefited most from your brothers death?”


    Mr. Hempstead was aghast at the thought that he could have harmed his brother.  As for not seeing him the day of his burial, “He often did not appear in the evening.”  Where was he then?” asked the police?  “I don’t know,” he said, then laughed. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” On further investigation, the police found that Daryl Hempstead had no wife, but a very nice home, half interest in the business and a life insurance policy made out to Delbert.  There were also reports from neighbors who said the two brothers quarreled regularly, and had come to blows. When the police prodded Delbert about the financial gain he would enjoy from his brother’s death, he refused to answer any questions and referred the police to his solicitor.


    The police stated to this paper that at this point they do not believe that Daryl Hempstead arranged his own burial, and the investigation is continuing.


    TWT – Three months later


    Today Delbert Hempstead came to the Tunbridge Wells Police Station and confessed to the killing of his brother.  It appears he had used a large dose of Laudanum to put his brother down and then forced him to swallow more until he was comatose, after which he was put into the coffin.  He arranged for the transportation from Crowbridge, and the burial, knowing that Daryl would eventually awaken underground.  His plan had worked perfectly except for Daryl’s escape from his tomb.


    Delbert confessed that he was having the same horrible dream every night. Daryl would come into his bedroom, covered with gore and freshly turned earth, then drag him into a grave.  As the soil covered him he would begin to suffocate.  Screaming he would awake gasping for air.  Even during a nap he would experience the nightmare.  Afraid to sleep, he couldn’t work, couldn’t eat, and was slowly dying of starvation and lack of sleep.  He was terrified to close his eyes even for a few minutes.  The only thing he believed would save him was to confess the killing of his brother.  He hated Daryl and had since they were school children. His brother was terrified of being buried alive and Delbert thought this would be a fitting revenge for all of the misery his brother had caused him.  He was certain that his brother would never escape from the grave.


    TWT – One month later.


    Delbert Hempstead was found guilty of his brother’s death, hanged, and then buried in the same original grave as where his brother, Daryl had been entombed alive.  Daryl had been reburied in a grave right next to him.  While in jail he continued to have nightmares, his screams torturing the other inmates. He said he was afraid that his brother would follow him into the afterlife – to torment him through the eternities.  As he was cut down there was a expression of peace on his features.  “Finally he is at rest.” the coroner said.  But to make sure Delbert was really dead, he slipped a thin blade through the ribs and into his heart. Then he accompanied the casket to the church graveyard.  He opened the casket for one last look at Delbert and jumped back.  The eyes were wide open with fear and the expression on Delbert’s face was an opened-mouth scream that was not there after the hanging.


    March 2014


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