“The most bizarre set of tragic events ever to occur…” – The Fairmont Times
“Charlotte Laws is a tsunami.” – Snatch Magazine
“Alone and bitter, [the killer] fabricated a horrible revenge—on the world and on himself.” – The West Virginian
“Gritty… Fascinating.” – Robert Markowitz, New York Times essayist
Reporters have called the crimes embedded within this story as “the most shocking in the history of West Virginia.” The bare bone facts made headlines across the nation in 1948, but no one ever researched the slew of scandalous, simmering, and heart-wrenching details, until now—until this book. Having worked as private eye (and even with the FBI), Charlotte Laws used her skills to track down anybody who had knowledge of the murders, satanic rituals, explosives, mobster dealings, love relationships, local Ku Klux Klan members, wife beatings, and familial ties which make this book a roller coaster of ecstasy and tragedy, of thrill and anger, of humor and passion.
Laws chose this story for one simple reason. It is about her family—her birth family. She was raised in Atlanta, Georgia as an adopted child and only learned the true identities of her natural parents in her late twenties. She met her half-siblings five years ago and was given a shadowy sketch of the sordid tale that involved her grandfather and some of her kin in Fairmont, West Virginia. She flew to the area twice and met with a slew of cousins, as well as other witnesses to the mind-boggling events of the past. She toured the location of the eerie rituals and observed bomb blast residue that has not been repaired to this day. She was shown a murder weapon, satanic carvings, and photos of a creepy, life-sized doll—that, in the mind of one man, conspired with him to carry out his heinous deeds.
This book is written in the style of the “nonfiction novel” because one cannot possibly know all of the conversations and scenes that took place some eighty years ago. For the most part, Laws stuck with facts as they relate to the crimes, main characters, and the bulk of the scenes. She invented a few people, who she believe existed in some form, although there are no living witnesses to the fact.
The story begins in the 1920s when thousands of Ku Klux Klan members march through this sleepy town. Great uncle Jal’s passions were ignited that day, as were those of Laws’ grandfather Tucker, who changed his Italian name to “sound white” with hopes of escaping poverty and racism, and of eventually becoming a U.S. Senator. Meanwhile, Laws’ great-grandmother, Margaret, set up a criminal enterprise in the back barn, and Laws’ great aunt, Rose, was hauled off to an insane asylum before becoming the mistress of a renowned Detroit mobster. (He is today listed as one of the FBI’s prime suspects in the killing of Jimmy Hoffa.)
But this story is not just about her family. It is also about their creepy neighbor, Ernie, who lived in the run-down house around the corner and who was one of the first documented Satanists. He abused his wives and dabbled in his favorite pastime: evil. He liked evil. He was creative when it came to evil. He was all about evil.
Many odd things happened in Fairmont in those days. There was a clearing in the woods called “Hangman Forest” where, as rumor had it, children were brought and tortured. There was an abandoned coal mine, where a small boy was left to die. There was a ghoulish, life-sized doll, which was spoken to as if it was a person. In the end, there were bombings and brutal murders which shook the town and shocked the nation.
Devil in the Basement is a story of love and horror, racism and hope, of Christian piety and satanic ritual. It is a book that shines a light on one of the most ghastly real life incidents in West Virginia history. It is a story you will never forget.