ByMatthew Ryan Spencer, writer at
Matthew Ryan Spencer

The grand story of Jean Baptiste, the most craziest story you'll ever hear, well, at least one of many weird stories from Utah's history, many you don't normally get to here about, until 2011, when the movie Redemption: For Robbing the Dead came out, and is a much watch. My personal favorite Utah legend is of Jean, he was a grave digger for the Salt Lake Cemetery one of the biggest and mostly widely known cemeteries in Utah. It is still around, and is fairly scary place if you ask me, many stories about that place alone.

The story goes like this. One day 3 criminals were shot by the police some time in 1862. The three people were dumped at the cemetery in Salt Lake. One of the brothers of one of the dead bodies went to take his brother to the Draper cemetery to be properly buried, only to find that his brother was completely naked, even though officials claimed they buried them with some decency.

Cut to the chase, detective's investigation finds them at Jean Baptise's house, the grave digger. They went while Jean was at work, and his wife let them in. What they found was shocking and weird, boxes and boxes of dead peoples clothes. Sickened they went to the cemetery and basically beat a confession out of him.

You think this story ends, or can't get any more mysterious, guess what. The police put the clothes up where everyone could see them so family members could point out their dead families clothes and take them back. While this gesture was meant to be of sympathy, it only made people mad. The clothes on displayed pissed enough people off to start a crazy mob, especially since Jean was wearing a known storekeeper clothes while being hauled off, think that is weird, well that storekeeper died 2 years prior.

Basically everyone in the valley is going crazy about it, even Brigham Young one of Utah's greatest leaders of all time joined in for what I read was "killing isn't enough for him". Well it wasn't a capitol crime, but it was so sickening to people they didn't care, so police did their own justice, due to the severity of the crime and the angry village people wanting to kill him.

A man who would become a Mormon president wrote that over 50 people's clothes were laid in courthouse, men, woman and children, yeah weird. It is said that in his few years as the cemeteries grave digger, that he took somewhere near 300 sets of clothes.

So what is Utah's punishment in 1860's, well according to a policeman they branded him like a animal, "for robbing the dead" right across the forehead, every single word! Some say the police mutilated him cutting his ears like cattle. What is for certain, since the evidence was found, he had been brutally attacked by the police themselves.

It is said that the mob were going to kill him, and cops didn't know what to do. So they exiled him in Spring to one of Salt Lake's desolate islands, Fremont Island, which has some of the deepest water of the shallow lake. Well the story doesn't quite end, even though the Mormons and the newspaper try and hush the story so people can go back to their lives. They exile him and is forgotten.

That Fall a farmer went to the island and found that Baptise was nowhere to be found, dead or alive. Between being exiled and the farmer not finding him, is filled with much legend and mystery, but the fact is no one truly knows, at least that is a legend. According to history, Baptise was never found or heard of again after the police left him. Some say he died escaping, others say he haunts the south shore as a spectre, and so the Ghoul of Utah becomes the legend of ghosts on Fremont Island, and if you ask me the island is scary, even as scary as the cemetery itself.

Shockingly to historians, the Mormon's never ran the story in the newspaper, let alone announce that Jean Baptise had disappeared, apparently they didn't want to talk about the story even though a madman could be loose. So him and his story vanished, yet the police and I am sure many knew he was no longer exiled on the island.

Now to get really weird. 30 years later after Baptise disappeared, a hunting party found a skull at the mouth of Jordan river. 3 years after that another hunter found a headless skeleton in the same area. The non-Mormon newspaper reported that it was the remains of John Baptise. So even though the Mormons and their newspaper made it all disappear they had to write about it cause a competing newspaper said it was Baptise. Now the skeleton is real, but legends around it are wild, all of which you can read for yourself. I don't know much around the investigation or if there was one for the skeleton, just what I heard from rumors.

As for my local knowledge from what I heard, I am not an expert and I don't really know all the details, but I do know some legends. The police took Baptise to the island and left him to die, that is for certain. Part of one story line, part of the mob went to the island not long after, and apparently did unspeakable things to him (even though police already cut his ears off and branded him like cattle). There are many legends on what the police did to him, now we got a legend of the mob going to the island, and legend on top of that of what the mob did. Some claim the police were in on it, and some say most people in the valley knew what happened to him, but what they did was so disgusting no one ever spoke of it again. Some of that would explain why his story ends with him disappearing, don't you think they would do a crazy man hunt and the public panicking for justice to find him, as far as I know, the farmer tells the police, and end of story.

Some other legends from truth. What I was also told was, the skeleton found was said to be Baptise because not many unaccounted for people back then, but also because the skeleton was cuffed, which would have been around 1890, so not many criminals who could fit that profile. Well police claimed they never put cuffs on him, which made it even more mysterious and the skeleton itself also has its own legends some not even of Baptise. To some they think the police took him to the island cuffed him and made him walk into the water on the south shore, these are same people who claim of the spectre, to me this is the most believable story, because we know the police were insanely brutal to him, so what was to stop them from doing worst things on that island. From the skeleton legend, some claim the mob are the ones who cuffed him, did their unspeakable things, and sent him afloat. Either way the mouth of Jordan river is in the bottom part of the Salt Lake, so to be caught in the mouth you would have been dumped off an island, or from a boat, cause Salt Lake doesn't really have waves. I don't know if this is part of the legend, but I do recall someone saying their hypothesis is that the skeleton was tossed years later.

Jordan river has become notorious itself for finding dead bodies over the years, its the only river that goes through the valley. It is a huge scary river that connects Salt Lake itself and Utah Lake.

If your wanting the whole story, I found out they made a movie about it, not a big movie, but enough to hear how things unfolded, from the time the first body found naked to the arrest. Everything after that is some facts and a ton of legend, that I personally believe comes from truth. If you search it you can find other published stories that cover the whole thing in greater details, including some legends that I might have missed. The movie is called "Redemption: For Robbing the Dead" 2011 by Thomas Russell.

Personally I think he was cuffed and badly mistreated on that island. I think they only did it out there so no one could find any evidence about what they did. What you need to know is, Utah was known as Deseret at the time, it is completely controlled by crazy cult leaders of Ladder Day Saints, with Brigham Young as their leader, a man who had 50 wives, him and his people were known as Mormons. These people had very, very crazy beliefs back then including polygamy, even today some say they are crazy cult followers. So you take an entire town ran by a religion (which the only comparison that I know is Vatican City, and we know how mysterious that place is), and add in a bunch of people who follow the cult of Mormonism, and take in the real stories of what they did to Jean. I think it is an easy to believe that the police force are the ones who made Jean "disappear", whether by themselves, with some public, or from direct orders of the Mormon leaders of that time. Either way, these legends are endless. If you watched that movie, you probably wouldn't think it is a true story.


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