Camden Courier – April 10, 1925
Cops Discover Secret Vault, Baby Skeleton
- The finding of a bloodstained hatchet buried under the floor of one of the underground rooms.
- Discovery of a hidden vault, the entrance freshly cemented and covered with wall-papered boards
- Discovery of what is believed to be a well under the “sacrifice room.” When the police tore off the lid of the well today, they were driven from the underground passage by the odor that emanated from the large hole.
- A blood-stained mattress cover, hidden in a second story rear room, was found.
- Police digging in the underground den this afternoon unearthed the skeleton of a baby, the fourth infant’s body found in the “voodoo den”.
- Lastly, police say Hyghcock is the biggest liar they have ever seen.
When informed of the finding of the supposed vault, Director Tempest instructed Captain Gordon to “tear it out if you have to tear down the house”.
The police questioned the “voodoo medicine man” for an hour this morning during which he admitted he is a bigamist. He confessed that he had five wives and is the father of 37 children.
Hyghcock Questioned For Hour
Hyghcock was visibly serious as he sat in a chair facing the police officials. He clasped and unclasped his hands and stroked his goatee as his eyes shifted around the room.
Director Tempest started the first shot of a barrage of questions that swept over the voodoo man before he was allowed to leave the room.
For nearly an hour the medicine man matched his wits with those of the police. Several times he seemed about to crack and reveal something startling but caught himself just as he was to fall into a trap.
As each questioned was asked him Hyghcock repeated it slowly and after thinking a few seconds made answer.
“Hyghcock,” Director Tempest began, “how many children have you?”
“Newspaper reporters printed stories that I have thirty-two children” the prisoner answered. “That is all wrong. I have thirty-seven children.”
Five Wives, Says Hyghcock
“How many wives have you had?” “Five” he answered.
“All living?” “Two are living.”
“Are you a bigamist?” “Yes, I guess you would call me that. I don’t know where my fourth wife is now.”
“How long have you been married to this wife?” “Thirty-two years”
“All your children living?” “All but two.”
“Where are the other thirty five?” “Scattered all over.”
“How many women have you killed in your time?”
During the questioning of his married life Hyghcock smiled continuously as he answered the questions. The last question had the effect of an electric shock upon the prisoner.
“Come on, come on,” Director Tempest said. “How many women have you killed?” This was one question that Hyghcock did not repeat.
Says He Bought Dead Bodies
“I never killed any women” he answered as he looked at the faces of those gathered around him.
“How many operations have you performed in that den of yours?” “I didn’t perform any operations”
“How do you account for the finding of those bodies of these infants in the cellar?”
“I bought those babies from Dr. White on South Street in Philadelphia.”
“You are lying, aren’t you?”
“No sir” Hyghcock said, as he toyed with his hat.
“Tell the truth now. How many women died in that house of yours?”
“Who said I killed anybody?”
“We have the goods on you, so you might as well come clean. Your daughter has told us she saw you kill that light skinned colored woman when your wife was away. What did you kill that woman for?”
“My daughter say that? She must be wrong.”
“Why should your daughter say you killed a woman if you did not? We know you shot that woman and your daughter saw you do it. Why should your daughter say such a thing if it were not true?”
Stumped by Daughter’s Tale
Beads of perspiration broke out on the prisoner’s face.
“I don’t know” he answered.
“Didn’t you take a woman’s body out of that house not so long ago?”
“How many women have died in that house?”
“Only my daughter.”
“Are you a physician?”
“Sort of a physician.”
“Why do you have the stethoscope in your home?”
“What kind of thing is that?”
“Are you a physician and well acquainted with surgical instruments?”
“Yes, sorta,” Hyghcock said. The stress was beginning to tell on him.
“And you don’t know what a stethoscope is? You are not a doctor, Hyghcock. You are a liar.”
“Yes sir” he answered.
“Are you a regular minister?”
“Sorta. I’m an evangelist.”
“What do you mean? I’ve been an evangelist since I was a child.”
“Ever been arrested before?”
“Yes, in Philadelphia. Man I was with shot a woman with a baby in her arms.”
“You did the shooting, didn’t you?”
“But you shot the woman in your house on Liberty Street, didn’t you?
“How many women do you keep at your house at one time?”
“Four or Five”
“You are lying now, aren’t you?”
“How many women have you killed?”
“What do you know about the bloody hatchet we found in your cellar?”
“I don’t know anything about it. Where did you find it?”
“We are asking the questions, you just answer them.”
“Did you ever have a hatchet?”
“Yes, I lost it six months ago.”
“How did the blood get on it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why did you cement that vault?”
“The vault in your cellar that you just cemented a short time ago. You might as well come clean and tell us about what is hidden behind that cement wall because we are going to find it out.”
Hyghcock shifted in his chair and the perspiration flowed in a stream from his forehead. He bit his lips.
“There is nothing much there” he said after thinking for fully a minute.
Walls Against Water
“What did you build it for?”
“To keep the water out.”
“Why didn’t you cement up the rest of the cellar?”
“I don’t know.”
“You know that we know you are lying, don’t you?”
Hyghcock did not answer that question.
“Why did you dig out all those rooms in the cellar?”
“For church services.”
“Did you use about 65 small rooms underground for church services?”
“In the room way back under the yard. That was he main church?”
“How can you take nine people and put them in 35 rooms?”
“I don’t know”
“The why did you have so many rooms?”
“The people wanted them”.
“Are you a regular minister?”
“Mr. Johnson in Newport News told me I could be a minister.”
“What was that room where the crow was swinging on the board supposed to be?”
Noah’s Ark Room
“That was the Noah’s ark room. The bird was on the ark.”
“What was the idea of having ropes to make the stuffed bird flap his wings?”
“That was part of the church service.”
“How many women are you in love with?”
“I don’t know. A lot are in love with me.”
“Hyghcock, you have been performing illegal operations in that house of yours, and we have more than 100 letters from women that were sent to you. Those letters contain evidence that will be used against you. What have you to say about them? You read the letters, because they were open when we found them.”
“Just what particular letters are you talking about?”
Director Tempest then went through some letters and mentioned the names and addresses of the senders. Many of them were from white women. To each letter called to his attention Hyghcock said:
“I just can’t recall reading that letter.”
“How about this letter from Ann Miller of Philadelphia telling you that she was thorough with you because you killed the man next door?”
“I don’t remember seeing that letter.”
“You are lying Hyghcock, and you had better come clean and tell the truth.”
“Women Stuck on me”
Then letters containing endearing terms were read to him. Asked what he had to say about them, he answered:
“They are some of the women who are stuck on me.”
“How many women are stuck on you? Are there as many as 100?”
“I don’t think there are that many. I know women all over the country and they write to me.”
What do women all over the country write to you for?”
“I guess they like me.”
“I guess they do”, Director Tempest said as he gazed at the prisoner, who averted his glances.”
“Ever perform any operations on any of these women?”
“Then what do they write to you about?”
“I don’t know.”
“What is in that well under the board in the cellar?”
“Did you throw any bodies down there?”
“No sir, I ain’t hid no bodies.”
“Where did you bury the women who died in your house?”
“Nobody died there.”
“Why did you go out late at night in your automobile with a shovel?”
“Who said so?”
“You did, didn’t you?”
“I can’t recall.”
Says He Took Women Into Tunnels
“Just think for a minute”
“Nope, I can’t recall.”
“Did you take women into those underground rooms”
“Yes, I took them down to church services.”
“Didn’t take any men down there, did you?”
“How did you come to dig all those rooms?”
“I was looking for money.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I first moved into the house I dug in the cellar one day and found $25.00”
“What has that got to do with the rooms?”
“Well, I kept on digging and found $300.00 more.”
“Yes, go on.”
“Go on where?”
“What gave you the idea for all of the rooms?”
“Well, when I moved into the house there were rooms directly under the XXXXX and I dug XXXX the back yard XXXXX XXXX XXXXXXXX.”
“For how long have you been live there?”
“Eight or ten years”
“Who dug that cellar with you?”
“A man by the name of ______ (Name withheld at the request of the police).”
“What did he do?”
Becomes Badly Mixed
“He helped me to make the room- the chapel.”
“Did he help you get rid of the bodies?”
“Who did help you get rid of them?”
“Did it all yourself?”
“Did I do it all myself- yes, sir- no, sir.”
“Well, what do you mean?”
“I mean I didn’t do anything. I hid no bodies.”
“What did you bury the hatchet for?”
“I didn’t bury any hatchet”
“How did it happen the hatchet was covered with blood?”
“I don’t know.”
“What did you have those shovels and picks down in the cellar for?”
“To dig with.”
“What is is this religious college you have up by Willow Grove?”
“Who told you about that?”
“You tell me about it now.”
“I started a church up there.”
“You built shacks and rented them to colored people for $30.00 a month and then charged them $10.00 a month extra. What was the extra $10.00 for?”
“It was for the Lord.”
“What do you mean Lord hyghcock?”
“No for the church.”
Sold Willow Grove Settlement
“Do you still have the church settlement?”
“No, I sold it.”
“Sold the church too?”
“Why did you tell your wife you would kill her if she went into the cellar of the house where all those rooms were?”
“Who said so?”
“You did, didn’t you?”
“I can’t recall.”
“When you would have a crowd of women in the rooms you would send our wife away, wouldn’t you?”
“Speaking of illegal operations, do you know Miss…..”
“Who ain’t one of the women I operated on.”
“Who are some of these women, then?”
“I ain’t operated on any women?”
“Did you tell women to keep away from you?”
“Tell us about how you shot that woman and buried her body?”
“I ain’t shot nobody”
“How did you kill her, with that hatchet?”
“Come on, tell us how you killed her?”
“I didn’t kill any women.”
“The woman just died in the house, oh?”
“How about the man who lived next door whom you said you killed?”
“I didn’t kill anybody.”
When Tempest finished, each of the police captains fired a barrage of questions at Hyghcock.”
Several times under severe questioning by Captain Golden, Hyghcock became confused and gave evasive answers.
“He’s a liar, take him upstairs.”
Mrs. Hyghcock Quizzed
Hyghcock was then taken up to the bureau for further questioning by detectives. His wife was quizzed in an adjoining room and when she was taken back to her cell, their seven year-old daughter, who told the police her father killed a woman in the house when she was questioned again repeated her version of the killing.
During the questioning of Hyghcock in the Detective Bureau, Commissioner Middleton came into the room. He sat with the detectives as they questioned the 71 year-old medicine man.
Where the Ropes Came From
A Broadway hardware merchant called at police headquarters today and told the police that he had been selling rope to Hyghcock for the past two years.
“He would come into the store and buy the rope in six foot lengths. He would also buy barn lanterns by the dozen. I often wondered what he intended to use them for but I never asked him.”
The ceiling of the underground den was a cobweb of ropes, which operated through pulling and rang bells, opened doors, and made the raven in “Noah’s Ark” flap his wings.
That Hyghcock contemplated more cement work, when discovered yesterday when the police found a load of sand in the front part of the cellar. In the afternoon a truck with fifteen bags of cement came to the Hyghcock house.
The driver, seeing the crowd, drove away, taking the cement with him.
Director Tempest sent a detail of police and firemen to destroy the maze of underground tunnels and “torture chambers” under the “voodoo” houses. The entire cellar of the two houses will be dug up to a depth of six feet in an effort to learn if any human bodies are buried there.
The “voodoo palace” was raided early yesterday morning by a detail of police who arrested “Dr.” H.H. Hyghcock, a 71 year-old “medicine man.” When the police searched the house yesterday they discovered the bodies of two small infants hidden in one of the underground rooms.
County detectives who went on the case yesterday and city police are endeavoring to learn if any women were murdered in the house. The decision to tear out the thirty-five underground rooms came at a conference at police headquarters last night between Prosecutor Wescott, City Prosecutor Bernard Bertman, Director Tempest, and Chief Tatem.
Each of the officials declared that he believed a digging up of the cellar would reveal the finding of human bodies.
Will Do It Monday
‘I am going to order a detail of firemen and policemen to the cellar of the two houses” Director Tempest said, “with instructions to tear out every one of those rooms in the cellar. After the cellar is cleared the policemen and firemen will dig up every foot of the cellar. I have some information which I cannot divulge that leads one to believe that our search will not be unsuccessful. It is not probable, however that the work of clearing up that underground ‘hotel’ will be started before Monday.”
“In my police experience I have never seen anything that compares with that underground voodoo den.”
Hyghcock as questioned for several hours last night by detectives. He refused to make any statements, even when he was shown incriminating letters that were found in his home. The police seized more than 100 of the letters which were mailed from every state in the Union. Many will be used against the “physician” when he is placed on trial as they reveal he practiced medicine without a license.
The police place great stress upon the statement of Hyghcock’s seven year-old daughter who told them that her father killed a woman in the house a week ago and buried her body. The child is being held in custody as a material witness as is the wife of the “medicine man”.
Last night more than 5,0000 morbid curious people gathered at the Hyghcock house and stormed the doors seeking admittance to the underground passages. A detail o police inside the house fought back the crowd. A riot call was sounded at 9:00 o’clock and two details of police were rushed to the scene. The crowd was driven back and the street roped off. During the excitement the front door was smashed in by the crowd.
Today detectives are reading the large bale of letters found in the house. They also seized the prisoner’s set of books, which show he received large sums of money from superstitious persons for “love and enemy” charms. The books contain the names and addresses of more than 1,000 of Hyghcock’s customers.
Police said that although Hyghcock has only been a resident of this city for three years, he has amassed a small fortune and owns considerable property here and in Pennsylvania. They said that several years ago Hyghcock built a small chapel near Willow Grove. Around this chapel he erected 20 small frame houses. he rented them to colored folks who joined his religious sect and in addition to the rent paid him an assessment of $10 a month which he said he turned over to the Lord.
Three Years of Work
When Hyghcock was taken from his cell in police headquarters last night to be questioned he smiled as the cell doors clanged open. He was taken to detective headquarters and questioned, but refused to make any statement. he will be questioned again today.
The police said he must have spent nearly three years building the underground “chamber of horrors” So quietly did he work that none of his neighbors knew the spooky subway rooms existed. Most of the excavating was done between midnight and 3 o’clock in the morning.
Entering the house at 413 Liberty Street, a visitor sees a small counter and a candy show case. Arrayed on shelves behind the counter are bottles of pop and packages of cigarettes. Three feet away from the counter toward the kitchen is a door leading into a hallway three feet square. A winding flight of steps lead to the upper floors and a door in the hallway opens opens on to a narrow winding stairway into the cellar.
Secret Winding Passages
Once in the cellar the visitor finds himself in a small alley running toward the front of the house. In this alley are shelves filled with roots and herbs. The aisle turns at right angles to the right and one sees a large door upon which is printed “Noxvill.” A heavy spring slams the door to. The visitor is then in complete darkness. In front of him is a winding, twisting passageway, barley three feet wide, Directly over his head are ropes running along the ceiling which control the opening and closing of doors and the ringing of bells.
To the right is a dark room. The rays of a flashlight thrown into the room reveals a stuffed bird resting on a swinging shelf. A pull on one of the many ropes causes the crow to flap his wings. Just ahead in the passageway, and to the right and left are three doors. Sleigh bells are fastened to each of the doors. The door to the right leads to a tunnel connecting with the house at 415 Liberty Street, next door. The other doors lead into other rooms and n the rooms are other doors leading into still other rooms.
Rooms Poorly Furnished
And so on down the entire length of the cellar.
In the rooms which are not more than four feet square there is very little furniture. The walls and partitions are made of packing box lumber covered with various pieces of wall paper, one shade bordering on the other. In each “den” a kerosene lantern, or lamp hung on a hook. The air is stifling.
In the room known to the police as the “Graveyard” are three lanterns and several spades and picks lying on the dirt floor. The soil shows that it has recently been dug up.
Still following the dark passages the visitor find himself confronted with a door, with a glass panel in the bottom. A heavy spring makes the door hard to open, but a pull on one of the many strands of rope running along the ceiling and the door swings slowly open without the least effort. it is controlled in some mysterious manner by weights.
Hyghcock has undermined his entire back yard. Back under the yard runs the passageway with the dens turning off to the right or left. In one of the underground rooms a large clock instead of being placed high on the wall is fastened down near the ground. The clock was functioning yesterday but was four hours fast.
Tunnels Become Confusing
Now the passageways gets narrower and darker and the odor is sickening. Towards the extreme rear of the room is the “Sacrifice Chapel.” This contains a baptismal bath, a large Bible, a <<text illegible>> and a carriage wheel with various colored spokes. The wheel spins from an iron peg driven into the wall. Everywhere is seen patchwork carpenter work. A birds-eye view of the underground rooms reminds one of the futurist, or cubist, paintings. In one of the rooms the floors are covered with freshly laid cement. The police will endeavor to find if anything is buried underneath the flooring.
Just ahead is daylight. One finds a small hole in the roof where a chimney or a uphill coal stove extrudes into the yard. This follows another maze of doors. In several parts of the tunnel thick doors can be opened at the same time to form a triangle. Not twenty more feet down his dark passageway and a ladder leading upward is seen. It is a hastily constructed affair and the top rungs are covered with grips made of automobile tires.
A walk through the upper story of the two houses show that bedrooms have been partitioned off to make three rooms.
He Doted Bells
Overhead is the network of ropes operating on pulleys the <<text illegible>>. In the underground rooms and tunnels, <<text illegible>> and a door <<text illegible>> will open or a bell will ring. Hyghcock just doted on bells. The largest bell is fastened to a door on the third floor. This one can be sounded from the rear room in the tunnel by means of the rope. Bells are everywhere. They range from baby bell rattles to large cow bells.
The rooms on the upper floors each contain beds. Yesterday they were in disorder. The bed clothing was scattered on the floor and the floors were strewn with papers, letters, books, and clothing. In a closet in a third story room was found two new dolls in a basin, glassware, phonograph records- everything imaginable. The rooms resembled “junk shops.”
Yesterday the police spent most of their time searching for bloodstains on the floors and walls of the buildings. Trunks were forced open and those were found to contain soiled linens. The police questioned Hyghcock’s seven year-old daughter.
“How many men did your father kill in here?” Patrolman Charley Naylor asked the girl?
Says “Pop” Killed Woman
“My Pop did not kill any men” the child answered, ” but when my mother was in Washington to see my sister not long ago, a woman came to the house and started to fight with Pop. It was late at night. They fought terrible and they were in the big room in the front of the house. I saw them fighting and my Pop got a gun and shot the woman. Pop took her out in the automobile and buried her. He told me to keep quiet and said the woman was sick and died and he buried her in a cemetery.
The child was taken to police heads when she was again questioned by Director Tempest and Chief Tatem. The police tried to get her to change her story but she refused to do so and stuck to the narrative she first told in her home. Her mother was then arrested and detained as a material witness.
Persons living in the neighborhood said today that on two occasions they had seen Hyghcock place large bundles in the back of his car at night, place a shovel in the rear of the car and drive away.
The police have been unable to learn much so far about Hyghcock prior to coming to this city. They do know that he came here from Norfolk VA where he still claims to be in the undertaking business.
Strange Powders Sold
Hyghcock, the police said, manufactured powders and sold them to colored people as good luck charms. if a woman was unfriendly with another woman she went to Hyghcock and for $12 she received a small bottle of powder. This she sprinkled in front of her enemy and from then on “everything will suffer for the enemy because she would be pursued by evil spirits and her luck would be something terrible.”
If a superstitious young man who “rolled the bones” as a pastime wanted to stage a winning streak, he would visit the medicine man. For $40.00 he would give the man with the gambling instinct a blue powder that he was supposed to rub on his hands just before it was his time to “roll.” Powder to keep another woman from stealing one’s husband went for $30.09, Hyghcock records show. What the 9 cents was for is not known. In one day, the police said, Hyghcock sold more than $190 worth of powder that originally cost about twenty cents.
The more serious charge against the prisoner is that he used the building for immoral purposes and for performing illegal operations.