Haunted Whores and the Men Who Love Them

Posted: August 30, 2011 in Life, Radio, storytelling, Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

He lit into town in the summer of ’86, a stranger from back East. The shopkeepers and townsfolk watched him drive up the dusty Main Street, past the faded facades of stone and brick. Even the miners left their barstools and stood in open doorways as he passed. The Homestake Mine was still open then, would be for another 15 years, the last one still operating from the Gold Rush of ’76. But the stranger wasn’t there for gold. He’d come to Deadwood, South Dakota for one reason only: he aimed to find himself a dead hooker and he wasn’t leaving without one.

His name was Norman Gauthier and he was an investigator with the New Hampshire Institute for Paranormal Research. Yep, Norman was a ghost hunter. And the ghost he was hunting was a prostitute who’d lived and died at the Green Door.

The Green Door was one of four whorehouses that had occupied the second floors of connecting buildings on Main Street in Deadwood since the business district had been rebuilt after the fire of 1879. The courts knew the brothels as the Pine, Shasta, Cozy and Frontier Rooms; everybody else knew them by the colors of their street-level entrances: the Green Door, White Door, Purple Door and Beige Door. All were closed for business by the time Norman came to town, the result of a raid by law enforcement in 1980.

But Norman had a personal invitation to the Green Door and he was bringing us along as his special guests. “Us” being the local media which included myself as a news intern and Steve, the assistant news director at the Rapid City radio station where I worked. Newspaper reporters and a television crew rounded out the group.

That evening, we went through the infamous Green Door, up the steps to the men’s parlor where clients for decades had waited their turn. There, the owner of the building gave us the 50-cent tour, past the bathrooms and the kitchen, storage areas and finally the “cribs”, the business end of the operation. The one where we would spend the night was on the front of the building, with an alcove that overlooked Main Street.

We waited as Norman set up his recording equipment, each finding places to hunker down for the next several hours. When everything and everyone was in place, the owner told this story:

“In this room in the 1930’s, a hooker was strangled by a man of questionable reputation. They’d fought about the evening’s business, a matter of price, it was thought, and the hooker had come out on the wrong end of the argument. Thing was, she was nearly dead yet wasn’t and without finishing the job, the john had thrown her in the closet. Where she finally died.”

Except that she didn’t know she was dead. She was still walking and talking around the Green Door and that’s why Norman had been called in, to prove it. Back 25 years ago, a paranormal investigation was nothing like you see now on “Ghosthunters” (which incidentally, is one of my favorite shows). There were no infrared cameras or EMF detectors or laser grids. It was all audio recording equipment and cameras, 35mm and Polaroid. Recordings were taken for 10 minutes at a time and for those 10 minutes, nobody could breathe or move for fear of contaminating the evidence.

If you’ve ever been cloistered in a room with a group of reporters, you know how nearly impossible it is for them to do absolutely nothing for 10 minutes. Silence is not normally a reporter’s friend. But during those recording times, the only sounds in the darkened room were the hum of the equipment, the beating of our hearts and for me, kneeling alone in the alcove, the drunken crowds on the street below. You see, it was the “Days of ‘76” in Deadwood, an annual celebration of the community’s gold mining heritage, and it was not an event that was celebrated quietly.

By daybreak, we were all ready to talk and eager to listen to the tapes to see if the dead hooker had been among us that night. The media took a short break outside, stretching legs and smoking cigarettes, while Norman quickly perused the recordings for evidence. Then the call came down the stairs: he’d found something. We rushed back up to the parlor, notebooks, tape recorders and cameras in hand. Norman Gauthier had found his dead hooker and we were there to witness it.

“She was here all right,” Norman exclaimed in the authoritative tone of a man who knew his business. He played a snippet of tape and in the white noise was a faint…something. A laugh? A cry? Was it female? He said it was, and that there were words, too. We strained to hear. A man’s name, perhaps? The name of her killer?

He followed that up with some other random recordings – footsteps brushing the carpeted floor, the tinkling of piano keys. Had there been a piano here in the brothel back then? he inquired of the building owner. She nodded in the affirmative. They’d had music to entertain the men while they waited to be, ahem, entertained.

There was the evidence, plain as could be, and while the reporters surged on Norman Gauthier to do their interviews, I sat in my chair in the parlor and wondered just what HAD I heard? The laughter and the talking could have just been faint catches from the crowd outside, couldn’t it? I mean, I had heard them myself, right through the window. The footsteps? The normal sounds of an old building settling as the warmth of the day cooled into night. I had to admit, the piano keys had me a bit stumped; I couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation for that. But all in all, I wasn’t quite convinced.

It didn’t matter whether I thought the Green Door was haunted or not; my job was to write a news story that would invite readers to consider the possibility that it was. Which I did. That story became one of my first wire credits with United Press International and the circumstances that led to my writing it still remain one of my most enjoyable experiences as a reporter and a writer. It gave me a healthy respect for things that can’t be readily explained and the curiosity to look deeper to try and find the words to explain them. And that’s all a writer really needs, isn’t it?

Want to hear the dead hooker from Deadwood, SD yourself? Check out the Black Hills Paranormal Investigations website at http://bhparanormal.com/brothels.htm

  1. The automatic parental settings on my computer were worried about letting me see your post, but I assured them you wouldn’t corrupt my mind with your whores and all. I hope the killer john got his just desserts. Ghosts, why not? If nothing else, the idea of them is a fascinating imagination booster for anyone, especially writers.

  2. jessica hardage says:

    that was my uncle norm gauthier

    • Seriously?!? I’ll bet he was a great one for stories! I’m unsure how to ask this delicately but has he passed away? Thanks so much for reading the post and commenting. And best wishes to your family!

  3. Ragen M. says:

    My grandmother, Nita Celaya was running the tour at the time, I was just a kid, but I was there that night. I still get chills when I think of that place!

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