A SLAYING IN SLANESVILLE

Director Russell England talks about finding the solitary house in the woods that was the real setting for The Bad Man and how Paranormal Witness tracked down the story behind the haunting.

Set deep in the woods of West Virginia, The Bad Man is the chilling tale of how Belinda and her children are visited by the spirits of a little boy and girl.  The family eventually realizes that the ghostly children are there to warn them, and to try and save them from the evil clutches of a ghostly prowler.

Last October Interview Director Amy Lee-Jones and I traveled to Arizona to meet our primary witnesses for The Bad Man – Belinda Milburn and her daughter Blaire. They had previously lived in the small town of Slanesville in the Appalachian Mountains where the haunting had happened more than 20 years ago.

The interviews went very well with both Belinda and Blaire proving to be compelling witnesses.  However, the warmth and sun of Tucson felt a long way from the mountains of West Virginia.

While we were there we had a stroke of luck – Blaire called her father Brian Kendall who still lives in West Virginia.  Brian, along with Belinda’s sister-in-law Barbara Milburn, then agreed to be interviewed for the film and invited us to come up and take a tour of Slanesville with them.

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Slanesville actually used to be called ‘Dog Town,’ (because of the high canine population) and then ‘Slainsville’ (in honor of the local Slain family).

This already felt like a good portent for a horror film!

The name was misspelled along the way, and the new spelling stuck.

It takes just a couple of hours to drive from Washington DC to Slanesville, but it feels like entering another world.  It has a real small town feel – Brian refers to it affectionately as ‘hick.’

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The real Slanesville gas station and general store

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The location chosen for the drama filming

There’s a church, a fire station, the general store and gas station - and that’s pretty much it.  More houses are now being built as second-home owners and people attracted by the staggeringly beautiful landscape move in to the area.

With Brian as our guide, we soon found the ranch-style house that his family moved into in 1991, before abruptly leaving just months later.

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We approached the house with caution – stories of careless travelers being welcomed by the twin barrels of a shotgun were very much on our minds.  But we needn’t have worried as the combination of our British accents and Brian’s friendly West Virginian drawl soon seemed to put the current occupants at ease.

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In fact, Mr and Mrs Dickens were very welcoming and curious to hear about their house being the subject of a Paranormal Witness film.  Karol Dickens declared herself an avid fan of paranormal TV shows.  She had no idea of the history of the house.  Although when we told her our tale, she did profess to being aware of some spooky goings-on in the house!

Although West Virginia in the fall is exceptionally beautiful on a sunny day, we were starting to get a sense of the history that can sometimes remain hidden behind this landscape of trees, rivers and ravines. 

Barbara then led us to the small family graveyard in the trees which her sister-in-law, Belinda, came across soon after moving into the house. Belinda believes that the occupants of these graves could be the mysterious children that appeared to her and her daughter, Blaire.

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The backwoods of West Virginia contain other secrets too.  It was here that Brian told us of the local rumor of the slaying of a child-molester behind their old house.  Certainly, people have been said to ‘disappear’ in the endless woods of this sparsely-populated State.  Brian says that it’s known locally as Vigilante Justice.  One such story of a summary execution forms the dramatic climax to Brian and Belinda’s story.

Back at the graveyard, the sun was going down and the birds in the trees had fallen silent.  Amy and I looked around us in the gathering gloom.  All of a sudden the air felt chilly.  We hurried back to our hire-car, glad to be out of the woods of Slanesville, leaving the trees to their secrets.