Camden Courier – April 9, 1925
Daughter of ‘Mystic’ Says Old Man Killed Woman in His ‘Den’
Police Find Body of Baby in Tunnel Under Liberty Street Houses; Weird Stuffed Birds and Fantastic Symbols in “Chambers of Horrors” Under Houses in Liberty Street
“Dr. Hyghcock” Is Under Arrest
Discovery of the body of a white baby several weeks old, human bones and other gruesome articles in a maze of dungeon-like caves and sub-cellars under 413 and 415 Liberty Street today have led the police to hold without bail “Doctor” H.H. Hyghcock, 71 year-old negro preacher, medicine man and undertaker.
The weird discoveries were made in the fantastically furnished “torture chambers” and “witch caves” under the houses. In addition statements made to Patrolman Charles Naylor and a Courier reporter by a seven-year-old daughter of the accused man, point to a possibility of a woman having been murdered in the place only last week.
“Weirdest Ever” Says Tempest
The labyrinth of underground passages and chambers discovered under the houses is declared by Deputy Director Tempest to be the “strangest and weirdest layout” he ever has visited in all his long career in police work.
Twisting and narrow underground passages and half-buried doors in almost inaccessible portions of the underground passages led to a belief that many more chambers remain for the police to enter in their underground exploration.
Deputy Tempest has ordered that a complete search be made of every corner of the cellars and sub-cellars and that if necessary the two houses above be torn down to make examination possible. The earth of all the cave floors is being dug up by the police in search of further clues.
Bone of Forearm is Found
The white baby’s body was found shortly before 1:00 PM today, lying in a large glass jar in one of the sub-cellars. What is believed to be the bone of a child’s forearm had been found in one of the passages a short time before. In another glass jar the police found what they report to be a human stomach.
To count the rooms, or divisions, of the many underground passages is impossible, because of the irregular arrangement, up and down and in all directions. Some of the policemen engaged in the exploring task have estimated there are more than 75 different compartments.
Second Arrest is Made
While the police were exploring the place shortly after noon a colored man walked into the Liberty Street entrance and started down the tunnel leading to the underground chamber as if he were well acquainted with the place.
Arrested and taken into police custody was Louis Reeves, 23 years, 1061 Ivins Street. he had been employed as a chauffer to drive the voodoo doctor’s automobile, he said, and he had been accustomed to visiting “Doctor” Hyghcock daily and being given a bottle of soda water. That was the only purpose of his visit today, he declared, and he disclaimed any knowledge of the activities of Hyghcock.
The little daughter of the “proprietor” of the strange “place of horrors” made her hair-raising statements while being questioned in regard to her father’s recent activities.
“Shot a Woman”- Took Her Away
“How many people has your father killed here?” she was asked.
“He never killed nobody until last week” she replied with childish frankness. “Then he shot a woman, and he took her away in her automobile at night.”
In his cell at City Hall, Hyghcock maintains an air of mysterious silence. He is of an impressive personal appearance. although below medium height, he has a proud bearing, made more compelling by his white hair, mustache and imperial.
He has boasted to acquaintances that he is the father of 32 children.
Bootblacks tell of him giving 50 cent tips.
Hyghcock was arrested last night when he appealed to police, demanding a warrant for an unknown thief about whom he told a weird tale of threats to return and kill him. Hyghcock styles himself a clergyman, physician, an undertaker, a real estate operator, a clairvoyant, a palmist, and a fortune teller.
Hyghcock was held on $500 bail early today on the charge of obtaining money under false pretenses and in an equal amount on the charge of practicing medicine without a license when arraigned before Police Judge Cleary this morning.
He could not raise the money and was held in jail.
Then, when the other discovered were made, he was held without bail.
A visit to his place by the police led to the exploration of the intricate series of underground chambers. They were separated by swinging doors operated by mechanical springs. Some of the cave-like dungeons contained weird contraptions, like ancient machinery of torture, believed to have been used in connection with “cures,” is to which patients of the voodoo man were terrified.
Patient Believes In Him
Besides Hyghcock police arrested as material witnesses Mrs. Bipp Hyghcock, 43 years old, aid to be his wife, and Mrs. Lotte Ingram, also a negress, 43 years old, of 59 North Peach Street, Philadelphia.
Mrs. Ingram, who was found in the house at 413 Liberty Street, aid she was there to receive treatment for heart disease from Hyghcock. In a statement to Detective Hunt, Mrs. Ingram said she gave Hyghcock $25 as part payment for the cure of her disease, and that she had been visiting his house for several months. Upon questioning she revealed further that Hyghcock had given her herb medicines, adding that she had faith in his powers and believed she was being healed.
Hyghcock has no license to practice medicine, police say.
The revelation of the startling interior of the place and the practice of Hyghcock, at the Liberty Street houses, both of which were rented by him, was brought about when the “doctor” inquired for a magistrate to issue a warrant for a Philadelphia man who, he said, stole some automobile tools from him and threatened to return to slay him. Hyghcock made the first inquiry of Howard Westsell, 797 Mt. Vernon street, who was standing at Railroad and Kaighn Avenues til 6:00 o’clock last night. Westsell referred him to Howard Fisher, a negro policeman of the Second District, who approached the two.
Cops Take Him Home
Fisher, becoming suspicious, questioned Hyghcock, who became evasive and insisted that the officer could not aid him. Fisher placed him under arrest, summoned Policeman James McTaggart and William Prucella, of the Second District, who were in plain clothes at the time, and went to the Hyghcock house, where they were admitted.
In the house at 413 Liberty Street the policeman found Mrs. Ingram, Mrs. Hyghcock, and the latter’s 7 year old daughter. The two women were sent to police headquarters for questioning.
The dingy front room of the house was heated with a glowing coal stove and dimly lighted with a flickering kerosene lamp, faintly disclosed several ancient and must articles of furniture, several dozen bottles of soda water inside a glass showcase most of whose sides were missing or broken, several mysterious looking grips, bed-clothing, bric-a-brac, and other odd articles scattered about, it suggested what might be found in the rudely constructed entrances to chambers beyond.
In the glow of their flashlights the officers made a hurried search of the premises.
Entering the kitchen the trio descended a narrow, winding cellar-way into a gloomy cellar
McTaggart branched into one passageway, while Fisher and Prucella each chose a different path. After stumbling upon blind tunnels which ended in closets or in compartments from which there were no exits, the three officers joined into one party.
Stooping at times under low ceilings, squeezing between the sides of converging walls, jumping over pits covered with rotted trapdoors, and pushing through a seemingly endless series of doors rudely constructed of odd pieces of lumber, and each equipped with a powerful springs, the officers wormed their way through a tunnel extending 50 feet under the yard after leaving the cellar. It ended at a trapdoor in the floor of a ramshackle refuse littered woodshed in the rear of the yard.
As soon as they emerged they took Hyghcock, who had accompanied them through the tunnels, to police headquarters
Cops Go Look For More
Hyghcock, his wife, and Mrs. Ingram were placed under arrest. Captain Arthur Colsey assembled Sergeant Charles Smith and Policemen Prucella, McTaggart, Howard Fisher, Harry Kreher, William Bryant, Herbert Anderson, and John Bryant of headquarters for a needed investigation of the premises. On the way to the house the patrol picked up Officers Enoch Johnson, Charles Smith, and William Michalak.
With the arrival of the patrol a crowd gathered in front of the unkempt buildings. Bordering the gloomy houses on each side are modest, well-kept two and three story homes, inhabited by white families.
Guided by flashlights and lanterns, a long line of policemen laboriously wound through the circuitous underground passages, scrutinizing every nook, and opening every container upon which they came.
Many Rooms Entered
At least seventy-fie rooms or compartments were entered and hurriedly examined. Contents of innumerable closets and holes in walls were left undisturbed for fear that they would litter the narrow passageway and block the progress of the searchers.
In one room was found a large cartwheel daubed with dabs of white paint on each spoke. the wheel was mounted on a short upright axis set into the ground, permitting its rotation. Above the wheel was suspended a stuffed bird. The legs could be made to twitch and the wings to flap by the manipulation of a set of strings attached to them and fastened to a stick in an adjoining den.
Beside these the room contained an old iron bed, an oil lamp. and an oil stove. Other dens were similarly furnished.
Wires and Bells and Things
Closets and alcoves revealed odd collections of preserves, trinkets, charms, and indescribable odds and ends. In one closet in the kitchen of 413 Liberty Street were discovered a complicated set of improvised signaling devices. Wires attached to sticks will ring bells and unlock doors and various rooms of the house. Each door was equipped with a spring and bolts, and contained bells of various shapes and sizes.
In the rear of 413 Liberty Street partitioned with odd boards, curtains, and rags was a chapel. This room, about 10 feet wide by 13 feet long, contained an old wheezy organ, an altar, and religious pictures. Two more organs helped furnish two other rooms.
In a bedroom by the third floor of 413 Liberty Street, evidently occupied by Hyghcock, the searchers found charms sewed up in bags, odd implements, and three high silk hats.
Mrs. Hyghcock said that she her husband and daughter had occupied the two houses for eight years. Hyghcock, she said, had been working on the tunnels and underground dens for four years, carrying out earth in small quantities and depositing it in the back yards. police doubt that all the sand extracted from the subterranean dens would have been dumped in the yard, and believe that Hyghcock must have carried it away under the cover of darkness.
The Police Knew Him
A year ago Hyghcock was arrested by District Detectives David Kates and Walter Smith on Mount Ephraim Avenue near Van Hook Street. At that time he was searching for a policeman to report a hold-up. Looking into the closed automobile, the detectives found in the tonneau a bed in which lay a young negress, a lighted lantern hung from the roof, and a kerosene lamp on the floor. After questioning at police headquarters Hyghcock so changed his first story of an alleged hold-up on Kaighn Avenue and Cooper River bridge that the police disbelieved his tale.
Captain Colsey will notify the fire department today to safeguard the buildings from fire hazards and also will call to the attention of the health department the unsanitary condition of the place.
In his seventeen years completed with the police department, Captain Colsey said he has never seen such a layout.