In the early 1930s, a mysterious and handsome Haitian gentleman arrived at Liverpool named Josué Beauchamp. He spoke French, Creole and perfect English. He always wore a bowler hat, a finely-tailored cedar-coloured sacque suit and silk waistcoat, and carried a hickory walking came with a silver handle fashioned as a skull. The source of Mr Beauchamp’s wealth was not known, but soon after his arrival in the city he bought a house on Pitt Street, between the purlieus of Chinatown and the fringes of a black ghetto, and his multicultural neighbours soon discovered that the man from Haiti possessed unearthly talents. Dark rumours circulated about his home. Beauchamp had painted the walls of his residence black, and white candles burned after dark at a Voodoo altar. Strange drumming sounds emanated from the house at night, and upon the nights of the full moon, weird chanting could be heard as well. Then there was Beauchamp’s well-witnessed hypnotic seduction of women from every walk of life. These women came to visit him in the evening, and some were said to be the wives of well-to-do men across the city. One night, gunshots rang out on Pitt Street, and a car was seen racing away from the scene of the shooting. A rich cotton merchant named Asketh Challinor had hired a gunman to kill Josué Beauchamp because the Haitian had been having an affair with his young wife, but the gunman had merely grazed Beauchamp’s arm. That week something terrifying occurred which was witnessed by many, including several detectives and officers of the law. A muscular black man in his thirties died in mysterious circumstances on Great George Street. One version says he fell down stairs drunk, and another says he hanged himself. What is known is that Mr Beauchamp had the corpse taken to his home on Pitt Street. That body was reanimated by a Voodoo spell and by administering a potion to the corpse. This concoction consisted of herbs, psychoactive drugs and chemicals, mingled with fresh chicken blood.
The dead man rose up from the table with a vacant face. He was now a zombie, a mindless automaton who can eat, and drink, hear and see, but cannot feel. It had no memory or any notion of who it was or what it had been, but possessed terrific strength. The black goliath stood before Beauchamp – who was in fact a bokor – a supreme Voodoo sorcerer. The zombie’s eyes bulged white and expressionless as he stood there in the thrall of an ancient West African black magic spell. Under the supernatural guidance of Beauchamp, the dead man walked out into the night. He came to his destination at a house on Belvidere Road, near Princes Park, where he smashed through a door and ascended the stairs to the bedroom of a terror-stricken Asketh Challinor, who managed to narrowly escape the clutches of the zombie. The cotton merchant sought refuge in the neighbouring house of a friend for a while, and telephoned the police. The zombie was soon hammering on the door of the house. Incidentally, it is said that within months of this terrifying incident, Challinor’s hair turned white and the cotton merchant suffered a heart attack one night after screaming out in his sleep.
The police arrived from Lark Lane, and four officers could not restrain the frightening specimen of the walking dead. More police arrived, and they resorted to battering the ghastly looking stalker with riot batons, and such was the ferocity of the onslaught upon the zombie, one rosewood baton broke in two on its skull. A dozen policemen subdued what they assumed to be an unusually resilient but insane man and took him into custody, but soon realised he was not human at all. He gave off choking aromas of decomposition, and vile black fluid dribbled from his mouth. Handcuffs were put on the animated corpse, but the zombie snapped them, even after they had dug into the rotting flesh of his wrists. The police procured the services of one Alaric Romaine, a well-known psychic detective and occultist based on Rodney Street who has featured in my books before. Romaine told them that they were dealing with a zombie, and warned the police to take the matter seriously. The creature was taken (in chains in some accounts) to the Princes Dock Mortuary, and there Romaine filled the zombie’s mouth with salt, sewed its lips shut, and had the corpse interred in a coffin bound with chains in a specially designed grave in Toxteth Park Cemetery. As far as I know, that creature is still at rest there. In the past I have discussed this case with other students of the paranormal and some have said that it was probably all down to some form of localised mass hysteria, but I’m not so sure, and I have discovered from own research that a midnight burial did indeed take place at the cemetery on Smithdown Road around the time of the incident.
And what happened to Josué Beauchamp? Well, he changed his name and lived in the city for many years. They say he never seemed to age, and fathered many children by various beautiful women in Liverpool, London and Amsterdam. All of his children were said to have unusually dark eyes, and each of them gravitated towards occultism and the powerful dark practices of Voodoo. There was a little tale related to me many years ago in the 1980s about one of the descendants of Beauchamp. A little dog was knocked over and killed on Upper Parliament Street one evening, and the pet’s owner, a boy of about 9 years of age, was seen kneeling over the poor animal’s body at the roadside, crying out loud. An outlandishly dressed black man in his forties came upon the scene, examined the dog, and poured liquid into its mouth from a small bottle. A crowd assembled around the man in the fez crouched at the roadside. The dog opened its eyes, and its tail wagged, although it still looked weak. The boy was elated and thanked the exotic-looking stranger, who patted his head, then walked away towards Earle Road.
There is a tale I heard many years ago, about two men we shall call Harry and John. In one of those bleak black coincidences, Harry discovered his friend John was seeing his wife, and John had similarly discovered that Harry had stolen thousands from his home in the previous month while John was on holiday (with Harry's wife). Each man decided to kill the other, and Harry invited John to a secret flat he kept in an old crumbling house in Everton, under the pretence of revealing a business idea that would make them millionaires. The other flats in the old house were unoccupied, which made it an excellent choice for Harry's plans. The two men met at the flat at 11pm and Harry pulled a gun on John as John did the same – each realised the situation, and they waited tensely, with their pistols aimed at one another. Harry had forgotten to lock the front door of the flat, and the Mexican stand-off was interrupted by a faint thudding on the parlour door. Then the door flew open and in came a naked old man with a ghastly-looking face which had black eyeless sockets and a greenish cast to his skin. The old man charged at the two men, and John and Harry opened fire, out of a reflex action, as their nerves were already at straining point. Around six or seven bullets were emptied into the old man, mostly in his head and chest, but he wouldn't stop. Harry and John scrambled past the zombie-like figure and ran off into the night in terror. They were so afraid of what they had encountered at the flat, they went on the run, believing they'd shot an old demented man. After being at large for a week, John and Harry realised that their crime had not been reported in the newspapers, or on the radio or TV. They went back to the flat in Everton, and found clotted bloodstains, but there was no sign of the corpse anywhere. Harry and John forgave one another and buried the hatchet. Harry even started to repay some of the money he had stolen from his friend.
About a year later, Harry was in a pub, when Sean, an old friend he hadn't seen for years walked in. The two old men talked for hours, and the subject of ghosts came up. Sean asked Harry if he still had the old flat in Everton. Harry had bought the flat of Sean's late mother. Harry said he had, but hardly used it, and Sean said a strange thing. 'Did you ever see anything strange in there, Harry?'
Harry wasn't sure whether he should tell his friend about the incident, as it involved firearms, and as he stood there, wondering what to say, Sean said, 'My old Ma, God bless her, said that the place was haunted you know?'
'Yeah?' Harry replied, with great interest.
Sean said that many years ago, he had heard a story from an old man who lived near to the supposedly haunted house. The man had told Sean and his mother that medical students had once taken the corpse of an old man home from a college, where it was due to be dissected, after cutting out its eyes, as part of a prank to be played on the landlady, who was making their life hell. Moments after they had brought the corpse to the lodging house, it had somehow revived – and returned to full life, minus its eyes. The corpse ran naked around the house, screaming as it clutched at its empty eye sockets, and the landlady, who was in her sixties, died from heart failure as a result. Sean said his mother had heard the screams of the landlady's ghost, but thankfully she had never seen the ghost of the old man with no eyes.
Harry was shocked when he heard this, and realised whose ghost he and John had opened fire on that night.
Copyright Tom Slemen 2011. All rights reserved.