The Julian Blacke State Mental Hospital operated here in Lubbock, Texas, from 1942 until 1977. Dr. Julian Blacke, a prominent physician and legislator from Houston, never worked at the hospital, never ran the facility, never even set foot within the city. He died in 1939, and the State of Texas decided to name their new, modern hospital after him.
It was three stories tall, 250 beds, gleaming art deco style. The neighbors had grumbled about locating a mental hospital in Lubbock -- the good old "Not In My Backyard" problem. But it was a beautiful building, and property values started climbing even before it was completed, so folks got used to it and decided they liked it.
The hospital director was Dr. Oliver Seiffer, a very distinguished psychologist who had run the State Home for the Mentally Ill in San Antonio for over ten years. He was considered one of the finest medical minds in the country. He brimmed over with optimism, good humor, and laughter. He was beloved by his family, the doctors, nurses, and orderlies he supervised, and his patients. He himself had lobbied for the construction of the hospital in West Texas, arguing that the South Plains and Panhandle populations were growing fast enough to warrant a modern facility to treat the mentally ill, instead of shipping them to Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio -- away from their homes and families.
After the ribbon-cutting on January 14, 1942, Dr. Seiffer took visiting dignitaries, physicians, the media, and his wife and infant son on a tour of the hospital, wowing everyone with his in-depth knowledge of the facility and amusing them with strings of jokes and humorous stories. At the top floor, Mrs. Seiffer, holding her son, leaned against a staircase rail overlooking the hospital's lobby. The railing gave way, and before the horrified eyes of dozens of onlookers, Dr. Seiffer's wife and son fell to their deaths.
The contractor employed by the state had decided to save a little money on the railing.
Dr. Seiffer plunged into a deep depression. His energetic, good-natured personality gave way to gloomy silence, temper tantrums, and apathy. He also dove headfirst into alcoholism. His dark moods quickly seemed to infect his staff, the patients, and even the building itself. The contractor had cut a lot of corners during construction, and the cheap building materials started to fail rapidly. Roofs leaked, floors cracked, paint peeled.
In 1945, an orderly was arrested for beating a patient to death.
In 1946, an orderly and a nurse were arrested for murdering patients in two separate incidents.
In 1947, a doctor actually told a patient that he should kill his wife because she was unfaithful to him. The patient followed the doctor's advice and beat her to death with a hammer.
In 1948, a severe rat infestation was revealed when a crumbling wall in the hospital's second-floor cafeteria collapsed, releasing several dozen rats that had been hiding inside the wall. Two patients immediately suffered psychotic breaks, and a severely phobic patient had a fatal heart attack. A female patient tried to fling herself through a closed window -- she got caught in the glass and bled to death. Her blood ran down the exterior of the building and soaked into the cheap walls, leaving a long, gory stain that never really washed out.
Dr. Seiffer shot himself in his office in 1949.
By now, no one in Lubbock called it the Julian Blacke State Mental Hospital anymore. Everyone just called it the Blacke Asylum.
Seiffer's replacements were, at best, half-hearted, and at worst, incompetent or malicious. The Blacke Asylum had quickly gotten a very bad reputation statewide, and most people picked to run the place typically wanted to get another job somewhere else as quickly as possible. The legislature could never find the necessary funds to repair the building, so it just looked uglier and uglier and got more and more unsafe.
The doctors and nurses no longer thought of their patients as people to cure, just as lunatics to keep locked up. And the patients just wanted out -- telling someone he was being put into the Blacke Asylum was like telling him you were condemning him to death. Of course, very few patients actually died, but too many did die. And the stress, coupled with poor treatment and unhealthy surroundings, meant that too many patients came out worse than they'd been before.
I don't want to paint the place as some sort of gothic house of horrors. Don't think of it as some cartoon madhouse, with drooling psychotics gibbering in straitjackets, hordes of howling maniacs running loose, and serial killers stalking the hallways. The building was generally clean. Instruments were safely sterilized. People spoke quietly, most of the time. If you didn't know the place's reputation, I expect you could take a stroll through the building and come away with the impression that it was a run-of-the-mill hospital, if maybe a little run-down and unfriendly to visitors.
Still, people died there. People who went in just a little mad came out a great deal madder. Bad people -- doctors, staff, and patients alike -- sometimes used it as their personal playground. This went on for years.
Finally, on April 7, 1977, Governor Dolph Briscoe visited Lubbock for a press conference at Texas Tech. Dr. Lawrence Loudon, the current head administrator of the hospital, unwisely invited Briscoe to visit the facility, and the governor took him up on the offer. Unfortunately, one of the orderlies had sneaked several hits of LSD into the cafeteria breakfast that morning, thinking it would be good for a laugh.
By the time Dr. Loudon escorted Briscoe, his entourage, and several members of the media into the hospital, most of the patients and quite a few of the staff were tripping hard.
When Briscoe entered the building, he was met by two elderly female patients in the lobby. There's a photo of Briscoe meeting these two women -- it ran in just about every paper in the state. The governor is smiling very nervously as he tries to shake their hands. Both of the women have the most disconcerting and predatory smiles imaginable. They reportedly giggled very disturbingly. As bad as that might have been, what followed was worse.
Remember what I said before about the hospital not looking like a gothic house of horrors? Forget I said that. Imagine every horrible stereotype about insane asylums. Multiply it by four. Several people were already dead. Everyone was screaming. Blood was smeared on one of the walls. Half the patients were unclothed. The assistant director of the hospital was trying to cut hallucinatory spiders out of his arms with a penknife. When the governor and his entourage fled the building, one of the orderlies took that moment to commit suicide by flinging himself from the roof of the hospital, landing about 25 feet away from the governor's car.
The police started moving all the patients and staff out that afternoon. The injured went to local hospitals. The uninjured went to jail, at least until the drugs wore off. Those who were patients were moved to other mental hospitals or treatment centers. In total, 12 people died that night, and over 50 suffered injuries requiring hospitalization.
Gov. Briscoe got back to Austin the next morning and ordered the Blacke Asylum closed immediately. It was never re-opened.
No one else in Lubbock wanted anything to do with the property. The state was hopeful that the building could be used for something else eventually, so requests from the city that the asylum be demolished were refused.
The Blacke Asylum quickly decayed. Its windows were broken out. Part of its roof collapsed. The exterior tarnished to a dull, mottled gray, except for that one eternal stain from the second-floor cafeteria. The grounds became an unkempt forest of prairie grass. Most people forgot it.
On Halloween night, 1989, six junior high kids decided to go have a romp through the old Blacke Asylum. Some neighbors across the street saw them enter the building and called the police. Four police officers were dispatched to the scene. Twenty minutes later, one of the officers radioed the station, begging for backup. Multiple voices were heard screaming in the background.
Numerous squad cars were dispatched, along with the SWAT team. Four of the kids and three of the cops had disappeared completely. They couldn't even trace the police radios. No blood, no hair, no clothing, no teeth, no bones, no nothing.
One of the kids who got out alive, a 13-year-old named Janice Wendelboe, was left mostly catatonic. However, she screamed her head off anytime she saw something colored red. The doctors and nurses had to be very careful about the clothing they wore, just to keep her from screaming her vocal cords to shreds every time she saw a Valentine pin or a drop of blood.
Six months after she was brought in, her younger brother smuggled a gun into the hospital and shot her dead. The local DA couldn't bring himself to charge him with anything.
Officer Dale Geraldes, the one cop who came out, kept insisting that he wasn't a cop, that his name wasn't the one on his badge. He insisted that his name was Allan Greenmyer and that he was a truck driver. In fact, a truck driver named Allan Greenmyer was one of the patients who had been killed on that last night of the Blacke Asylum back in '77. Greenmyer had been found with a homemade shiv in his throat in one of the bathrooms; Geraldes was found unconscious in 1989 in that same bathroom.
Geraldes was kept for observation at the hospital, but a week after he was brought in, he just got up, left his room, and strolled off into the night. The security cameras at the hospital recorded him walking out, but no one seemed to notice at the time. No one knows where Geraldes is.
The other kid who came out seemed perfectly normal. His name was Arlen Bray, and he was 15 years old. He had amnesia and couldn't remember anything that happened inside the asylum, but other than that, there was nothing wrong with him. But just short of a year after the incident, the police found a nice little stockpile of dead bodies in the family's tornado shelter. Five missing child cases got cleared up just like that. The police think there's a pretty good chance that he ate parts of the bodies.
Bray refuses to this day to tell anyone why he killed five children. But he has the most disconcerting and predatory smile.
The Blacke Asylum still stands today.
Dallas Morning News, "Hell on Earth: Is this the most evil building in Texas?", October 30, 2005.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "Tragedy strikes at new hospital; Two dead in accident," January 15, 1942.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "Chaos at Blacke Asylum mars Briscoe visit to Hub City," April 8, 1977.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "12 dead in Blacke tragedy; Hospital shut down; Governor orders investigation," April 9, 1977.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "Halloween horror at 'haunted' asylum; children, police missing," November 1, 1989.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "Search continues for missing children," November 2, 1989.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "Police tight-lipped about asylum investigation," November 2, 1989.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "Mystery officer disappears from hospital," November 11, 1989.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "Wendelboe shot to death by brother," May 14, 1990.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "Police make gruesome discovery; Bray accused of child murders," October 20, 1990.
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "The Blacke Curse: Sixty Years of Tragedy," January 15, 2002.
Texas Monthly, "Blacke as Sin," Theodore Knapp, October 1999 issue.