"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Ghost and Mr. Koett

Fred Koett, circa 1927

According to numerous newspaper reports from 1927, a prosperous farmer named Fred Koett, who lived near Ellinwood, Barton County, Kansas, acquired a new, highly undesirable tenant: A very cranky ghost.

Early that year, the forty-one year old Koett, who was recently widowed, married a very pretty young woman who was less than half his age. After that event, his farmhouse, where he had lived his entire life without incident, became a nightmare.

Mayme Koett

The liveliness started on the very first day he and his bride returned to his family farm. That evening, Mayme, the new Mrs. Koett, was upstairs with the year-old baby of her predecessor. Mr. Koett was in the kitchen. He was about to blow out the lamp when he saw a face looking in the window. He hurried to investigate, but by the time he got outside, the Peeping Tom was gone. At the same time, he heard, from the direction of the woodshed, his dog barking madly. Then, in the barn, the cows and horses all suddenly became frenzied. The inmates of the chicken coop quickly followed suit. The increasingly irritated Koett could find no reason for the uproar.

The Koett farmhouse

Then, he saw a very tall, dim figure in the distance. “What are you doing there?” he shouted. The strange intruder said nothing, merely drifting quickly away. As the puzzled farmer watched, the figure appeared to float over a fence and disappeared into the orchard.

Koett, who had a firm disbelief in “spooks,” merely laughed and called after the figure, “That trick is a corker. Come back and do it again some time.”

He would soon regret that invitation.

When he returned to the house, he was baffled to find that during his absence, all the furniture had been rearranged. When he asked his wife why she had taken to redecorating in the middle of the night, she replied that she had done no such thing. She had been asleep all the time he had been gone.

Koett let the subject drop, but he did not sleep very well. The animals outside kept up their restless, noisy protests at…something. The night was further disturbed by a loud moaning noise outside the window.

When he got up the next morning, he found that someone had turned his first wife’s picture to the wall.

Koett continued to try to persuade his bride—and himself—that nothing abnormal was happening, but as the disturbances continued, he finally had to concede that something beyond his comprehension was invading his farm. At night, he and his wife would hear footsteps coming up the stairs, pausing to give three loud knocks at their door. One time, when Koett got out of bed in time to quickly throw open the door, he caught a glimpse of a tall, black shape moving down the hall. The climax came one eerily moonlit night, when both the Koetts both saw the portrait of his late wife slowly turn its own face to the wall.

That did it. The farmer held a private family meeting to come up with a plan of action for dealing with this…whatever it was. Figuring there was safety in numbers, Mayme’s mother and brother moved in, and Koett hired three tough, no-nonsense farmhands. One of these new employees, Charles Ammonds, was particularly scornful at the idea that there could be ghostly mischief afoot.

That attitude did not survive his first night in the place. At about ten pm, he woke up to strange moaning sounds in his bedroom closet. When he yanked open the door, the dark figure emerged. Ammonds tried tackling the intruder…and the next he knew he was flat on the floor.

The three farmhands gave their notice the next morning.

Still trying to tell themselves that all the menacing phenomena was the work of a neighbor, perhaps jealous at Koett’s wealth or his remarriage to a beautiful young girl, the family went to Wayne Lameraux, the county prosecutor, for help.

The official was probably not accustomed to being asked to arrest a phantom, so perhaps he can’t be blamed for not taking the matter very seriously. “Bring on your ghost,” he laughed, “and I’ll have him put under bonds to keep the peace.”

Not knowing what else to do, Koett wrote the Governor, who was intrigued enough to order the local sheriff, James Hill, to investigate. When Hill heard of Ammonds’ TKO, he scoffed, “anything that has two fists can be made to wear handcuffs.” He sent five armed deputies to Koett’s farm to guard the barn, the chicken coop, and the farmhouse itself.

A little after ten at night, the three officers camped outside the farmhouse saw the all-too-familiar blurred dark shape slowly moving in their direction. When the apparition ignored their orders to halt, they pounded it with six charges of buckshot. The whatever-it-was let out an eerie, highly offended wail and drifted back into the orchard. The next morning, the deputies left in triumph, assuring Koett that they had scared the trespasser off.

Those men did not know their ghost stories. The Thing was back that night, louder, busier, and obviously angrier than ever.

It never pays to irritate a spirit.

The weird goings-on continued.  Items around the house were mysteriously disarranged, at times when no one--well, no one human--was at home.  The strange spectral figure continued to drift in and out around the residence.  A ghostly face was often seen peering into windows. The final straw came when life at the farm went from merely unnerving to horrifying. After one encounter with the Thing, Koett’s dog was found stabbed with a pitchfork.

The farmer conceded defeat. He sold his animals and furniture and took his family to a location he kept secret, fearful that his phantom enemy might follow them. “I couldn’t stand it any longer,” he told a reporter. “I don’t know what it is that has caused so many mysterious happenings, but I’ve experienced things that are barely believable and I have stood it longer than any other man would.”

Koett had vowed he would return to his home and find some way to deal with the poltergeist once and for all, but he eventually realized that discretion was the better part of valor. The last we know of him records that he deserted the farm and moved to Arkansas. The Ghost of Barton County had the last laugh.

Ghosts usually do.


  1. Why do I have the feeling that the spectral presence of the first Mrs. Koett had something to do with this? Either that or Mayme had some real kinetic energy about her.

    1. One or two of the old newspaper articles hint at that possibility. The strange phenomena at the farm apparently ceased after the Koetts left. Unfortunately, we have no idea how things fared for the family in Arkansas. It'd be interesting to know if their lives returned to normal, or if the general weirdness followed them.

  2. Unless Koett did in his first wife - and there's no evidence or even hint of this - he and his new bride deserved some peace after their ordeal. I hope they found it. This story was one of your creepier ones. I especially thought it strange that the dark "very tall" figure could be the ghost of the first Mrs Koett. Creepy.

  3. Hi, Undine. Here's one possible motive for the haunting.
    Spectral Wraith Reported in Barton County Few Years Ago Seeking Cache
    Hens Find “Pay Dirt”
    Scratch in Old Shed, Can of Coins Is Revealed – Second One Uncovered.

    Great Bend, March 28. Hens scratching for worms in the dirt floor of an implement shed at the farm of Bob Rick, a bachelor farmer in east Barton county, near the county line, dug up gold, said to be in the amount of more than $5,000.
    Mr. Rick noticed the top of a buried can there the chickens had been scratching, several days ago. At first he paid no attention, but he then recalled that years ago his aged father, Carl Rick, had told him, just before he died, about two cans of gold that he had buried somewhere.
    The aged man, 84 years old, was incoherent and did not make plain where the gold had been buried and a search that followed, failed to reveal the hidden treasure.
    When he recalled this, he knew at once that the chickens had unearthed one can of the gold, and sure enough, when Rick pulled the old can from the ground, he found it filled with gold coin.
    It didn’t take him long to dig up the floor of the old shed and find the other can buried there.
    Amount in Doubt
    Neighbors said the two cans contained a total of $5,220 in gold coins. Rich denied this, saying there was only “several hundred dollars.”
    Rich immediately took the gold to a Great Bend bank and turned it in on deposit, and the bank forwarded it to the U.S. treasury at Washington, as provided by the new federal edict.
    Rich is about 51 years old. He and a sister live together on a farm in the Sts. Peter and Paul community. Their father was thrifty and hardworking. He was a pioneer in that community. He died five years ago, and his wife passed away two years later. Besides the son, Bob, and daughter, Hulda, on the farm, a married daughter lives at Sioux City, Iowa.
    Method In Ghost’s Acts
    Neighbors of the Ricks recall that a few years ago a “ghost” visited the Fred Koett farm, near the Rick place, turning pictures to the walls, moving tables, digging into walls and floors, and turning things upside down on the place.
    Koett and his family abandoned the farm and moved to Arkansas. They could not stand the ghost business. Since they left Rick has been farming the place.
    It is thought now that someone suspecting gold or valuables had been buried there had terrorized the Koetts in order to drive them away so they could seek the hidden gold, and that they had made a mistake and picked on the wrong place for the gold, which proved to be hidden on the Rick place.
    Hutchinson [KS] News 28 March 1933: p. 1

    1. Yes! I came across that story a while back. It's hard to know what to make of this tale, but it certainly adds an interesting postscript.


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