LITTLE ROCK Some people who live in Cleburne County believe ghosts, including a WWI soldier and a family, haunt a Victorian-era home in downtown Quitman.
Why so many restless spirits in a sleepy town like Quitman? It may have to do with the area's past, said Dr. Mike Barnett. A retired physician and member of the Heber Springs Historical Society, he said, "Quitman is much older than almost any community in north-central Arkansas. During the Civil War, it was a popular place for men to enlist in the Army," he said. Until 1870, Quitman was a major trading center, and an important crossroads. "It was a halfway point for those traveling from Memphis to little Rock, or from Batesville to Conway. There were nice big houses and buildings there," he said.
Long-time resident Nelda Kennedy says the Garrett family erected one of Quitman's finer homes about 1890. Another local, Mary Nell Holabird, recalled the Jackson family who lived in the house at 65 Mulberry St.
"Benjamin Jackson lived there with his wife, who died when she was about 28 years old. Their son, Joseph, was born in 1898, served in WWI, and died at the age of about 21," Hola-bird said. She also claims that Jackson's spirit is among those who remain in the house across the street from hers.
In more recent years, the Garrett House has become notorious for its connection to a different family and has become known as the Bettis House.
Floyd and Alline Bettis moved into the large house in the early 1950s. The couple, childless for many years, had a son, Gerald Floyd Bettis, in 1954, according to a local historian and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette archives.
Gerald was a difficult child from early on, reported those who knew of him. "His parents were good people, but Gerald was a brat, vicious and cruel," Holabird said. Bettis also developed some unusual habits early on, including collecting cats and dogs, leading to his nickname, "Dog Boy."
"He would catch stray animals and torture them. We could hear them howl, "said Holabird.
Kennedy agreed with Holabird's assessment of Bettis. "I had almost forgotten about all those cats and dogs he had, but he even added onto the house so he could keep more of them," she said.
Kennedy also confirmed that Bettis had difficulties at school. "Kids would pester him and take things away from him. It was like he wanted to be aggravated to get attention," she said. She cited one instance in which there was a large family reunion at Quitman City Hall. "Gerald took one of those old chaise lounges over there. You know, like the ones that the Romans would lay back on? He got some grapes and laid down on it to eat them in front of everyone, "she said.
Bettis' actions allegedly turned more sinister. "He kept his parents virtually imprisoned in the upstairs part of that house," Holabird said. "He would feed them, but only when he decided it was time for them to eat," she said. By the time he was an adult, locals say Bettis towered over his elderly parents at 6'4', and weighed close to 300 pounds. It was also regularly reported that he beat up his father and even threw him out of an upstairs window one time during his teen years. Although he was in his 70s at the time, the elder Bettis hung onto the ledge until the local police showed up, Holabird said. According to the Heber Springs Sun Times, Floyd Bettis died in 1981 after an illness at his home. Others say he was pushed down the staircase and died of a broken neck.
"I was afraid of Gerald, " Kennedy said. "If you had ever seen his eyes, they seemed to glow at night. One time he came over here and got onto us because we had trimmed a magnolia tree that overlapped into his back yard," she said. "And when they started cleaning that house up, one of his uncles came to my house to borrow a gun, because he was afraid that Gerald would get riled up," she said.
In the early 1980s, Alline Bettis fell and broke her hip, requiring a trip to the hospital. A retired nurse, Holabird witnessed Bettis' treatment of his mother. "He was slapping her around, and telling her, 'I'm going to have you arrested if you tell anyone what I did.' Not long after this incident, Alline Bettiswas placed in adult protective services and removed from the home permanently.
A little later, Gerald Bettis built a sunroom on the back of the house, and sold the plants he grew, including marijuana, Holabird said. Authorities arrested him based on this and his mother's testimony of her abuse. Bettis was put in prison in the late 1980s and died of a drug overdose, Holabird said. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette archives confirm Gerald Floyd Bettis death in May 1988 at age 34.
When Alline Bettis died in 1995, Holabird's niece, Reba Carter, inherited the house. Not long after, there was an estate sale at the house.
Carter later sold the house to Tony Weaver, a truck driver from Morgan. Weaver and his wife lived in the Bettis House for a couple of years. However, the Weavers experienced paranormal activity, said Karen Shillings, founder of The Central Arkansas Society for Paranormal Research (CASPR).
After seeing a newspaper ad placed by CASPR, Weaver's wife contacted Shillings.
"She said she would turn off all the lights before leaving to work a night shift, but when she returned, the lights would be back on," Shillings said. At first, the woman thought such actions were the result of an intruder, but then more supernatural events began to happen. "One time, pennies floated down the stairwell from the upstairs part of the house. The coins stopped and fell to the floor all at once, right in front of her!" Shillings said. After six months of such occurrences, the wife was "very scared and didn't want to live there anymore."
Tony Weaver has also had his share of baffling incidents. "One day I was working on the house, and I saw a man looking through the foyer into the living room.
He looked like a WWI soldier, complete with the helmet. He looked so real, and when he walked into the living room, I ran after him, but no one was there," he said.
Holabird's nephew, Quinton White, and his wife, Stephanie, lived in the house in 2003. "Strange things would happenon a regular basis, like the commode would flush on its own," Stephanie said. One day, Quinton was working on the house, and he was on the phone with her. He heard a crash upstairs, she said, and went to find out what had happened. White had previously stacked a large pile of 2-by-4s on the floor. When he reached the upstairs room, he told his wife that the boards were all standing up straight, she said. The couple only lived there for a few months.
Weaver, who still owns the Bettis House, continues to show the home to prospective buyers, so far with little success. Weaver said once he placed a new pair of sunglasses and a prescription medication on a table. During the time he was there, he said he became angry about his inability to sell the house, and voiced his resentment, saying, "These darned spooks; I'm tired of taking care of this place." He said his comments apparently angered someone, or something, as later both the glasses and the medicine were gone.
"If you bring somebody in there that they (the spirits) don't like, you'll feel chills, and your hair will stand on end," he said. One lady who was interested in buying the house brought her young daughter with her. The woman told Weaver that her daughter was "sensitive." While the women were walking through the home, the daughter stopped on the stairs, and "said she felt very sad," he said. Another time, some prospective buyers saw a recliner in the home "flipped back on its own, like someone was sitting there. It stayed stuck like that the whole time they were looking at the place," he said. Yetanother prospect brought their dog with them to see the house, but the animal refused go inside, Weaver said.
Ed Munnerlyn of Little Rock said he had eerie encounters in the Bettis House this summer. A former pilot with Federal Express, Munnerlyn has worked remodeling the home since May. He prefers to work on the house at night, because he said too many people who are curious about the ghosts want to come in.
He has also had several unexplainable incidents happen to him. "I'm a rational person. I don't believe in the paranormal, but since I've been working on that place, I feel very uncomfortable - like someone's watching me, "he said. He also claims to have seen spirits several times. "When I pull up into the driveway of the house at night, I see a man looking down at me. He is dressed in a brown jacket and a bow tie like from another time period."
An extension to the house is where Munnerlyn claims to have seen the ghost of Gerald Bettis looking at him several times. "He was this huge, weird-looking cat, with long, brown hair, creepy eyes, and great big arms and hands. He walked right in front of me and glared at me," Munnerlyn said. "Right after I saw him, he walked through the hall and disappeared," he said.
Munnerlyn said he also experienced what felt like a "cold wind" blowing down his neck.
"Sometimes I hear something slam or someone walking across the floor but I can't see anything. They let me know that they're there," he said.
In 2005, CASPR investigated the house. Shillings was the lead researcher on the case. "We went there on two different occasions," she said. "The first time, we noticed cold spots, 10-15 degrees cooler than the ambient temperature of the house. A very sensitive electromagnetic field detector was used that picks up all kinds of electromagnetic readings, and we picked up an energy force that had no explanation," she said.
Shillings also reported that the team "tracked an entity" through the kitchen area, where one of the team members felt like someone touched him. "When we went outside at one point to get some items from a car, we looked up and saw a face peering down at us," she said.All three of the CASPR team members witnessed the face in the window, but it was confirmed that "there was no one upstairs at the time," Shillings said.
The second time, the team used a medium, who got in touch with what seemed to be the spirit of Gerald Bettis, Shillings said. "He cursed us and told us to get out."
The team used videotape to document what they considerto be additional evidence of paranormal activity, including orbs flying through the wall and unexplainable flashing lights, she said.
Although footage of these ghost-hunting expeditions was shot over the two occasions, Shillings said that the more spectacular tape is missing. Multiple attempts to locate the film failed. "It was disconcerting, " she said.
River Valley Ozark, Pages 149, 160 on 10/28/2007