People allege that they see a ghost walking the southern shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The ghost, they say, is a male, dressed in various bits of old-fashioned clothing and carrying a shovel. This infamous shade has earned a place of dishonor in the annals of bizarre Utah history, as well as being high up on the list of creepy ghosts.
In 1862, three cowboys (Lot Huntington, Moroni Clawson and John P. Smith) were on the run … their main offense, among many, was beating up Utah’s Territorial Governor, John W. Dawson. A posse caught up with them as they were desperately making their way to California. Huntington was killed immediately. Clawson and Smith were returned to Salt Lake City to stand trial, but were shot and killed while trying to escape. All three men were buried in the Salt Lake City cemetery.
A few days later, Clawson’s relatives arrived to claim the body and move it to the family plot in Draper. When the grave was opened, relatives were appalled to discover that Moroni had been buried naked and face down. Officials began an immediate investigation, starting with several of the gravediggers at the cemetery. Their investigation led them to the home of John Baptiste, who had been working as a gravedigger for three years. They found boxes and boxes of moldering clothing, all of it clearly removed from the graveyard. Rumor also has it that Baptiste made some extra cash by selling the jewelry he found on these corpses.
Here the story diverges, and since there are no court records, we can only surmise what really happened. One story says that police staked out the cemetery for several nights, carefully keeping track of Baptiste’s actions. In this version, they actually caught Baptiste moving a naked body from a storage shed, back to the grave from which he had exhumed it. They found the victim’s clothing piled under a nearby bush. One has to wonder what Baptiste was doing in the shed alone with the corpse.
The second story says that after they searched Baptiste’s home, law enforcement officers choked a confession from him and threw him into the jail to await punishment. Word of his crimes spread like wildfire throughout Utah. Outrage over Baptiste’s crimes rose to a fever pitch (even to raising a lynch mob) when he appeared in court wearing a suit known to belong to a storekeeper that had been buried several years before.
Strangely, grave robbing wasn’t considered a capital crime in those days and because no records were kept, we only have word of mouth to tell us what happened to John Baptiste. Legend says that his forehead was branded to identify him as a grave robber and his ears were cropped, much as one does to livestock to mark ownership. Then he was hauled off to either Fremont or Antelope Islands, two remote islands in the Great Salt Lake, which were barren, inhospitable and far from shore.
A few months after his banishment, either a local sheriff or a cattleman discovered that Baptiste’s provision shack had been knocked down and he was nowhere to be found. Legend says that he either committed suicide out of remorse, drowned, or crafted a raft out of the shack and escaped to shore. No one knows for sure, and although a search was conducted for him, nothing conclusive was ever discovered.
Today, many Utah residents believe they have seen the ghost of John Baptiste’s, whose disturbing shade still haunts the southern shores and the two islands of the Great Salt Lake. Paranormal investigators have found nothing conclusive.