It’s All In The Epitaph…
The Salt Lake City Cemetery, located in downtown Salt Lake is a 120-acre cemetery with over 9 1/2 miles of old, narrow roads. The cemetery saw its first burial in September 1847, however it wasn’t until January of 1851 that an ordinance was passed incorporating Salt Lake City, that the cemetery was officially organized. Since that first burial, there have been 124,000 people buried here.
The Salt Lake City cemetery is also home to a few unusual legends such as Emo’s Grave, Jean Baptiste, and Lilly Gray. The draw to Lilly’s grave has nothing to do with who she was, and everything to do with the epitaph on her headstone.
So, she must have had a really ornate eye-catching headstone, right? Not quite. Located on the far northeast edge of the cemetery in Plot X_1_169_4E, Lilly’s red, flat granite headstone blends in with the surrounding headstones and is fairly unnoticeable. That is until you get close enough to read what it says:
Lilly E. Gray
June 6 1881 – Nov 14 1958
Victim of The Beast 666
Whoa! Right?! This is not your average epitaph. Usually, epitaphs are a heartwarming tribute to the deceased. Lilly’s, on the other hand, only leaves people scratching their heads about what happened to this elderly lady who died almost 60 years ago, in 1958.
In the years following her death, legends began to grow about the meaning behind the epitaph. The most popular legend was that she was must have been murdered in some horrific fashion. There were others that suggested she was a follower of The Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley.
He was denounced by mainstream media at the time for being “the wickedest man in the world” as well as a Satanist. Other versions of the legend along this same thread were that she was involved in Satan worship, or murdered by Satanists during a ritual.
So, let’s explore what is known about the life of Lilly E Gray.
Sorting Fact From Fiction
Lilly Edith Gray was born on June 4th, 1880 in Manvers, Ontario, Canada. Interestingly enough, her maiden name was also Gray, which tended to make tracing her life slightly more difficult. She had a twin sister, Ethel Sarah Gray, and Lilly and Ethel were the sixth and seventh of eight children.
According to census records the Gray family immigrated to Benzie, Michigan in 1880, following the birth of Lilly and Ethel. In July 1898 Ethel was admitted to the Traverse City State Hospital (asylum) where she would stay until her death in 1917 at the age of 36. A side note, Traverse City State Hospital is rumored to be one of the most haunted places in Michigan. Lilly meanwhile was unmarried and still living at home.
Shortly after the death of her twin sister, Lilly would marry for the first time. She married a man named Richard C. Walsh in Chicago, Illinois on October 8, 1918. At the time of their marriage, he was 67, and she was 38. Their marriage didn’t last very long however as Richard died a few years later in December 1925.
Her second marriage took place less than a year after Richard’s death. The widowed Lilly married Frank Zimmerman in November of 1926. Much closer in age, Lilly was 46 by this time and Frank was 50. It seems they might have met through work as the 1930 census states they both worked at a post office in Chicago.
Lilly and Frank were married for 17 years until his death in August 1943. In 1950, for reasons I haven’t been able to figure out, Lilly Zimmerman packed up and headed for Salt Lake City. It was here that she would meet her third husband, the enigmatic Elmer Louis Gray.
Who Was Elmer Gray?
Before we get to how Lilly and Elmer ended up together, let’s get to know Elmer Gray, considering he’s the person responsible for her epitaph. It was fairly difficult to trace Elmer’s life as he told many different stories and would use different versions of his name, along with aliases.
Elmer was from Butler, Missouri and was born on March 12, 1881. From a fairly young age, Elmer got himself on the wrong side of the law, and he would stay there for pretty much his entire life. By 1900, the Gray family was living in Nebraska. At some point prior to 1909, Elmer was sent to the Nebraska State Industrial School, which would be similar to juvenile detention today.
On May 21, 1909, Elmer was admitted to the Missouri State Penitentiary following a conviction for Grand Larceny. Although he was sentenced for two years, he was released a little early on November 13, 1910. From here, Elmer headed west and in 1915 he was living in Silver Cliff, Colorado. This is where Elmer’s adventures in crime start hitting the public record.
On his WWI draft registration, he lists his name as Elmer Louis De Gray. The date of birth matches exactly, however, he lists his place of birth as France. There’s one good clue though that shows his record belongs to the Elmer Gray we’re looking for, his unique signature.
From 1915 until 1932 it appears Elmer lived a trouble-free life in Denver. His brother lived nearby and Elmer made a living as a laborer. But for a period of time between 1932 and 1934, Elmer was serving time in the Colorado State Penitentiary for larceny. And this is when we get our first glimpse of Lilly’s future husband. After Elmer’s release from the Colorado State Penitentiary, we pick up his trail in Utah.
I suspect that Elmer had some connection to the railroad either by working for them, or catching rides as a hobo, probably a little bit of both. On the evening of August 9, 1937, Elmer was busy breaking into the Kamas Confectionary building. He was caught in the act by the store owner and police quickly hauled him to jail. When presented in court and charged with 2nd Degree Burglary, he gave his name as Woodrow Lamb.
On September 11, 1937, Elmer aka Woodrow pleaded guilty was sentenced to an “indeterminate term” in the Utah State Prison in Sugar House.
It didn’t take long for Elmer to apply for parole. Shortly after being delivered to the prison, he filed his first application. In it, he holds to the name Woodrow Lamb and proceeds to deliver a seriously strange story. He claims that he didn’t know what offense he committed, and was not arrested, nor did he ever appear in court. He went on to say that he was vacationing in Utah before heading back to work in Iowa. He was being held hostage by the Utah authorities and hadn’t been able to talk to a lawyer because he was sick.
For his next parole application in September 1938, Elmer’s story changed even more dramatically. This time he claimed that he was camping near the Heber river with his wife Florence Potvin on August 6th, 1937. He says he was robbed and shot twice, and his wife was murdered and robbed of $1,600. These unknown assailants stole their car and baggage. He makes no attempt to explain what he was doing in the Kamas Confectionary, or the fact that he had no injuries when he was arrested. He again says he was kidnapped by the State of Utah and held without any trial process.
By the time Elmer applied for parole in 1941, he finally decided to use his real name. He was still holding to his previous story that he committed no crime and was being held illegally. Apparently, when none of his previous attempts at parole worked, he decided to tell the truth during his application in January 1945.
After serving 10 years and 6 months in prison, Elmer Gray was released on July 11, 1948. He was now 67 years old.
When Lilly Met Elmer
According to her obituary, Lilly moved to Salt Lake City in 1950. I’ve been unable to find any records or mention of her living in Utah prior to her marriage to Elmer. We will have to wait until 2022 for the 1950 U.S. Census to be released to see where she was living when the census was taken.
On July 11, 1952, Elmer Gray and Lillie E. Zimmerman were married at the courthouse in Elko, Nevada. At the time of their marriage, Elmer was 71, and Lilly was 72. After their marriage, the couple rented a small house located at 1216 Pacific Avenue. The house was torn down years ago and an apartment building now stands at that location.
Lilly’s Death And The Beginning of The Legends
Lilly and Elmer seem to have lived a quiet life together, and from all accounts, Elmer had no more problems with the law. They were married for six years until Lilly’s death on November 14, 1958, at the Salt Lake General Hospital. Despite all of the rumors, Lilly’s death was caused by something completely natural, pulmonary embolism and kidney failure.
Lilly’s death certificate holds some very helpful clues to her past. Not only does it list her parent’s names, but it also lists all of her married names. One thing I’ve noticed is that depending on what record you’re looking at, the spelling of her first name changes. It appears that earlier in life she went by Lillian, however different records show Lily, Lilly, or Lillie. In the writing of this post I went with Lilly to keep it simple, and because that is how it’s spelled on her headstone.
Lilly Gray was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery on November 19th, 1958. Her obituary was short and to the point. I don’t believe that Elmer wrote it, but that it was probably worded by the funeral home. According to her obituary, her only surviving family was Elmer and several nieces and nephews. A few of her siblings were still living at the time of her death, but from what I can tell all remaining family lived in Michigan. Lilly never had children. Shortly after her death, Elmer had the infamous headstone placed on her grave. There were a few mentions of Elmer in the years following Lilly’s death. Mostly him placing ads looking for a live-in caretaker.
On October 31, 1964, Elmer was brought to St. Mark’s Hospital, dead on arrival. The cause of death was a stroke, Elmer was 83 years old. He was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery on November 4, 1964, far from Lilly’s grave. I have not been able to find an obituary, and it appears a local nursing home provided what little information is listed on his death certificate. Like Lilly, Elmer had no children.
But why did he put Victim of The Beast 666 on her headstone? The most popular explanation is that he really hated the Utah government and law officials and somehow blamed them for her death. Seems like a really weird way to express such dislike for the government, right? I think a clue can be found in Elmer’s bizarre pardon applications, and his unusual signature.
Elmer’s signature remained the same throughout his life, and I believe his very squiggly writing might be evidence that he had Parkinson’s Disease, which was confirmed by his death certificate. When people think of Parkinson’s Disease, they usually think of tremors, which is most likely what caused his unusual signature. However, Parkinson’s can also cause non-motor symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.
The truth behind Lilly’s headstone doesn’t involve murder, cults, or devil worship. Just an elderly man who had trouble staying on the right side of the law, and probably suffered from some mental effects of Parkinson’s Disease. Lilly’s grave is by far my favorite grave in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. I’ve researched Lilly’s life for over 10 years now, and I’ve found nothing to show that she led anything other than a normal life. I am sure she never would have thought her headstone would draw so many visitors to her grave. So the next time you pay a visit to Lilly’s grave, why don’t you take some flowers to leave on her headstone?