A Horrific Murder
On December 3rd, 1931, a freight train with 14 cars attached derailed just southwest of the small town of Gurdon, Arkansas. Railroad officials discovered that the rails had been tampered with and believed that whoever had done it meant for the Sunshine Special, a passenger train that usually traveled at speeds of 60 to 70 mph to derail.
The following day, December 4th, 1931, Will McClain’s wife alerted the city marshal that her husband had not returned from work the night before. Will was a section foreman for the Missouri Pacific railroad. She had asked around the small community that morning and no one had seen him since he was at work the evening before. She was concerned because it was not like him to not come home. The marshal began going around town talking to people and looking for any sign of Will. The marshal spotted a laborer named Louie McBride who was known to work under Will McClain. He thought that McBride was acting suspiciously and brought him to the jail for questioning.
Louie (Louis) McBride was a member of the section crew and a longtime resident of Gurdon. When he was brought in for questioning he quickly admitted to murdering Will McClain and brought the city marshal to the site of McClain’s body.
When the marshal got close to the area McBride indicated, it became abundantly clear that something terrible had taken place. A trail of blood almost a quarter of a mile long stretched from the railroad tracks to the nearby swampy woods. McClain’s body was found and it was determined he had died from four severe blows to the head. A bloody spike maul and shovel were also found nearby. The marshal determined that McClain did not die right away, and had actually tried to crawl out of the woods.1Ghostly Lights Still Haunt Tiny Gurdon Legend has it that McClain’s lantern was still clutched tightly in his hand when his body was found.
McBride told police he beat McClain to death because he was angry over being denied seniority rights during recent layoffs. Initially, police thought that McBride might have been involved with the tampering of the railroad track the previous day. Louie McBride was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by electrocution. Despite appeals, McBride was executed in the electric chair at the Little Rock penitentiary on July 8th, 1932.
Almost instantly reports of a strange yellowish-white and even sometimes bluish light seen along a 4-mile stretch of railroad track near Gurdon began pouring in.2 Eerie ‘Gurdon Light’ is 50-year mystery – The Daily Journal (Franklin, Indiana) 30 Oct 1981, Fri Pg 5 The mysterious light hovers a few feet above the railroad track and is shaped like a medicine ball. It often disappears only to reappear behind people who are walking the tracks hoping to see the light. To make things even creepier, the area is surrounded by dense, swampy woods and a small, old cemetery.
Over the years residents began making trips to the area with the hope of seeing the mysterious light for themselves. By the 1950s the phenomena had made the local newspapers, and since that time scores of people have reported seeing the mysterious light.
For years people tried to debunk the light. Some said that the light was caused by headlights from the nearby highway, others said it was “swamp gas” rising up from the ground. The headlight theory has been largely debunked for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that sightings have been reported as far back as 1931 – 1932, long before the highway was nearby. The second reason is that there is a large hill between the railroad tracks and the closest highway.
Mike Clingan, a man who probably spent more time than anybody else investigating the mysterious light felt that the best scientific explanation for the light is what is called ‘the piezoelectric effect.’ An easy explanation of this is that there are quartz crystals in the ground underneath the tracks which in response to constant stress an electric reaction is created which shows as a glowing light. Gurdon also sits at the tip of the New Madrid seismic zone.
According to Mike, sightings of the light pre-date the murder of Will McClain. Some of the “old-timers” in the area claim the light was dated to the Native Americans and first white settlers in the area. Unlike other ghost lights, the Gurdon Light has all the makings of a great ghost story. A well documented violent murder, swampy surroundings, a cemetery and even Bigfoot sightings near the Stickey Road crossing of the tracks.
Mike shared some of his personal experiences with me, and he says as a physicist he’s experienced things he can’t find an explanation for. He watched a group of people through binoculars as they walked down the tracks towards him for 10-15 minutes only to see them vanish when they got to him. He’s seen a strange blueish mist hovering over the rails, voices and shuffling sounds with no visible source. On one occasion he was overwhelmed with a strong sense of dread while walking back to the group he was with. As he approached them, they all started to report the same feeling without him having said a word.
So perhaps the Gurdon Light has a strange yet scientific explanation, or maybe, the light serves as a spooky reminder of a terrible murder that took place here over 80 years ago.