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This time, Zombie Land tale is true

Tuesday, October 31, 2000

By M. Ferguson Tinsley, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Every town has some version of a Zombie Land -- one of those out-of-the-way, desolate places where the young go to smoke cigarettes, drink illicit alcohol, perhaps steal kisses.

And, of course, to tell ghost stories -- localized versions of haunted houses, legends about signs that death is approaching and, of course, the one about the Green Man.

The body of 12-year-old Shannon Leigh Kos was found near this culvert under an abandoned railroad line in Mahoning Township. (Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette)

And Halloween night is the night for spinning ghost stories in such places.

For youths in Youngstown and the rural areas that sit near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, Zombie Land is a piece of Mahoning Township less than two miles square, near the state line in Lawrence County.

But since 12-year-old Shannon Leigh Kos was found dead there on Oct. 11, police have stepped up patrols and are keeping teens out.

Police believe that on Oct. 8, Shannon, a Youngstown, Ohio, seventh-grader, was raped and stabbed multiple times under an old railroad bridge in Zombie Land. Her body was later burned in an effort to conceal the murder.

Three Struthers, Ohio, men -- William George Monday, 21; David Christopher Garvey, 20; and Perry Sam Ricciardi II, 20 -- face homicide charges for the crime.

A preliminary hearing, originally set for today, has been rescheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 15 before District Justice J.V. Lamb of North Beaver Township.

State police say Shannon, who had known Monday for a month and reportedly had a relationship with him, was left to die in a part of Zombie Land called Robinson's Crossing.

Pennsylvania Trooper Greg Gargasz said Robinson's Crossing has been a lover's lane for years.

 
   
Map showing Zombie Land location

 
 

"Sometimes we end up having a domestic out of there," he said. Gargasz said a guy and girl may go there for romance but wind up in a spat. The girl gets dumped and has to call the highway patrol for a ride home.

Lying about a half-mile north of state Route 224, Robinson's Crossing is just on the other side of a faded metal bridge spanning the Mahoning River.

A few houses and a bike trail sit to the right of the crossing, going north. On the left is a gravel-covered railroad bed bereft of tracks. CSX, the freight rail company still using and maintaining the crossing, stores railroad ties there. The ties are stacked up 12-feet high and double that much across. Balding trees with a few auburn leaves just hanging on line the gray bed.

About a hundred yards in, the low, white-washed, graffiti-splattered walls of the old bridge remind one of recent visitors. A male body part is sketched out in black. A-L-A-B-A-M-A stretches across in red. Next to that is a facsimile of the Confederate flag.

Shannon's body was found under the bridge, lying partially in Coffee Run, the rivulet flowing below. She lay on the brook's rusty pebbles, her blood washing into its water, for three days before her body was found.

A thick silence smothers Robinson's Crossing. From time to time, a blue jay's squawk or a nuthatch's fussing slices through the quiet. At noon, a CSX train clacks into view along the still-used parallel line. Its whistle moans six times. Then silence returns.

Sometimes young thrill-seekers stand on the tracks at night. They wait until the engine is close enough for the headlight to wash over them. They listen to the engineer frantically blare the horn, then scurry off .

Amy Hogan, 19, of Struthers, said she's been to the crossing at least twice. She said she knew Garvey and Monday at Struthers High School.

"I think it's the dumbest stuff," she said of Zombie Land. She said entering the place causes an eerie feeling. "It's stuff in your mind and you get scared. And the little nature noises you hear there scare you because it's in your mind."

She said everyone knows the stories. "It's been passed down from generation to generation. My cousin's 26 and he used go there."

Long before Shannon's death, legends about dark doings in Zombie Land passed through generations.

Lowellville, Ohio, police Officer Dan Coler, 28, has the bike patrol in the town of 1,300 people right next door to Zombie Land and has heard many of the stories.

There's the one about Puerto Rican Bridge, also known as Frankenstein Bridge, where a youth reportedly committed suicide.

"They say if your name appears on the bridge, you'll die," Coler said. He said the name "Puerto Rican Bridge" came from the graffiti that first appeared on the bridge, composed mainly of Hispanic names, Coler said.

Once a name was written on the bridge, murderous people who live under the bridge rise up to kill the person named, Coler said.

A few steps away from the bridge, an old oil well, still seeping natural gas, is sometimes lighted by nighttime revelers. Coler said the story goes that if anyone dared to light the escaping gas, it also signaled an attack from the bridge people.

And then, there's the "Blood House," Coler said. He said the house is in ruins now, and difficult to pinpoint, but it is said that a witch lives there who steals and murders children. She supposedly buries their bodies in the cornfield near her home.

Kathy Penwell, 47, said Zombie Land is in her back yard. She said the story about the witch comes from an old homestead in the area that was on the market several times, but never sold. She said the locals started calling the place haunted.

"They say the witch will come out whenever she wants to inhabit someone," Penwell, a Struthers High School special education teacher, said.

"I grew up there. My kids grew up there. We always knew not to go there," Penwell said. "My parents always said not to be caught there after dark."

Of course, she went anyway.

"Heck, yeah," she said.

Penwell said she remembered the "Green Man" legend. His fluorescent green figure supposedly haunts the roads of the area. Penwell said the man was electrocuted while working. Western Pennsylvanians, of course, have their own Green Man, who was electrocuted or struck by lightning or transformed in some industrial accident and haunts South Park or the North Hills or Washington County, depending on who is telling the tale.

In Zombie Land, the teens tell each other the Green Man died. Penwell said he was simply a local handyman who was indeed burned by electricity, but did not die. However, he did live out his days with strangely colored skin because of the burns. She said he would be seen in his garden.

One story she hadn't heard was that of the old St. Lawrence Church statue. The 70-year-old building now containing apartments, stands at the corner of state Route 224 and Churchill Road in Mahoning Township.

The tale is that the ivory statue of the Virgin Mary stands at the foot on the hill below the old church and opens her hands when it is safe to enter Zombie Land. She folds her hands and prays when danger is there.

Of course, no one has ever seen her hands unfolded.

Lisa Klamer, 33, also of Hillsville, said she grew up in Bessemer but knows and shuns Zombie Land. She was sitting in her car near the Virgin's statue waiting to meet her kindergartner at the bus stop.

"I would never hang out there," she said recalling her teen years. "Too scary."



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