Featured in the Sci Fi Channel's recent special "Children of the Grave", (www.childrenofthegrave.com) author Troy Taylor in his book, "Out Past the Campfire Light: Hauntings, Horrors and Unsolved Mysteries of the Great Outdoors," writing about Zombie Road, notes that "numerous legends and stories sprang up about the place, from the typical tales of murdered boyfriends and killers with hooks for hands to more specific tales of a local killer who was dubbed the "zombie."
"He was said to live in an old dilapidated shack by the (Meramec) river and would attack young lovers who came here looking for someplace quiet and out of the way. As time passed, the stories of this madman were told and retold and ... there are many other stories too, from ghostly apparitions in the woods to visitors who have vanished without a trace.
"There are also stories about a man who was killed here by a train in the 1970s and who now haunts the road and that of a mysterious old woman who yells at passersby from a house at the end of the road. There is another about a boy who fell from the bluffs along the river and died but his body was never found. His ghost also is believed to haunt the area. There are also enough tales of Native American spirits and modern-day devil worshippers here to fill another book entirely."
It's not just the purported ghosts making Zombie Road scary.
Wildwood and Ellisville police complain that the number of trespassers on Lawler Ford Road - better known to locals as "Zombie Road" - is what's really spooking those communities.
And, though Wildwood plans eventually to create its Rock Hollow Trail there and allow daytime use, both agencies have stepped up enforcement of laws that ban being on the nearly three-mile, broken asphalt, gravel and dirt road.
For the time being, until the trail is installed, Wildwood is discouraging its use at all. There is a sign that reads "No trespassing: Violators will be prosecuted." But most daytime users, such as dog walkers, birders, hikers and bicyclists, have caused few problems.
"Our problem is the 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. crowd," said Capt. Gary Crews, commander of the Wildwood Precinct of the St. Louis County Police Department.
He told the Wildwood City Council Nov. 10 that a crackdown has been under way on trespassing since earlier this year, especially after a recent television special called "Children of the Grave, " (www.childrenofthegrave.com) which featured legends surrounding the road, aired on the Sci Fi channel.
In a recent memo to City Administrator Dan Dubruiel, Crews said, "Considerable attention has been brought to Lawler Ford Road, commonly referred to as 'Zombie Road.'"
Since Aug. 31, there have been 117 trespassing cases referred to the city's municipal court after being cited by precinct officers on Lawler Ford, Crews said.
In addition, companion charges to the trespassing cases have included:
- five controlled-substance violations;
- four charges of carrying a concealed weapon;
- three charges of possession of liquor by a minor; and
- one charge each of supplying liquor to a minor, possession of drug paraphernalia and interfering with the duties of a police office.
In addition, other "companion charges" were referred to the state Family Court and St. Louis County, including 34 instances of trespassing, eight curfew violations and two warrant arrests, Crews said.
"There have also been 17 parental neglect notifications issued as a result of the above cases being submitted," he said.
Crews also reported that from January through now, county park rangers have issued 59 summons in lieu of arrests on Lawler Ford Road; and Ellisville police have issued 27 summons in lieu of arrests or traffic citations relating to trespassing issues.
"That brings the total number of cases involving Lawler Ford Road, as investigated by three separate law enforcement organizations, to 262," Crews said.
He said that of the cases submitted by Wildwood precinct officers, few have been issued to Wildwood residents. Those cited have come from, for instance, not just Ballwin, Ellisville and Chesterfield, but from as far away as Troy, Columbia, Gray Summit, Chillicothe and Cottleville, all in Missouri.
Councilman Tony Salvatore suggested those caught trespassing for the first time should be warned instead of a summons being issued. However, he failed to get council approval.
Crews insisted that, earlier in the year, officers did handle trespassing complaints with warnings.
"(And) there are reports written since Aug. 31 that actually reflect warnings," Crews said. "However on several occasions, individuals that were warned and released were caught later on the same date accessing Zombie Road at a different location."
Mayor Tim Woerther said, "We don't want to put shackles on our police regarding enforcement."
Crews insisted police now are making it "very obvious and clear that trespassing is not allowed and will not be tolerated."
The reason for the sudden, drastic increase in problems "has been ... based in large part to numerous Internet rumors of the property containing paranormal occurrences," Crews said.
"There are several Web sites and a documentary that is total nonsense that is playing on the Sci-Fi station encouraging people to make this area an attraction, he said.
Crews said police "have a DVD where 'supposed' police officers advise anyone (who) travels Zombie Road to make sure they are armed."
"We are not sure, but we think that the same 'paranormal experts' that we have allowed on at least two occasions to investigate activity on Zombie Road are partly responsible for the ridiculous information being presented," Crews said.
However, he said, this permitted activity occurred before Wildwood took control of the property from St. Louis County last April.
"The result (now) is a collection of violators (who) range in age from 12 years old to 50 years old," Crews said. "We have parents (who) bring their 12-, 13- and 15-year-old children down there for fun after midnight. We have 22- and 23- year-old men with 15- and 16-year-old girls."
He recalled the recent case of three 16-year-old ghost-hunting girls who were followed down the trail by three men in their 30s who were carrying drugs, beer and knives.
"The parents of the girls first were irate with our officers, saying they were being inconvenienced, until we showed them the knives, beer and dope," Crews said. "The potential of what could take place there is a huge concern."
Crews said even those on the road during daytime could get hurt due to the rough road surface.
"Portions of the trail have deteriorated, especially due to this year's rains and lack of maintenance over the years," Joe Vujnich, Wildwood's planning director, told the council Nov. 10. "And residents in Ellisville and Wildwood have complained due to late-night noise."
In addition to concealed-weapons cases that officers have made (including brass knuckles and knives), Crews said officers also have taken baseball bats and pipes away from several groups.
He admitted Lawler Ford "has always attracted problems, known police characters and all sorts of clandestine activity.
"I have been aware of the area since the middle 70s," Crews said. "It was a place where secretive parties took place, drug dealing was frequent, stolen cars were stripped and dumped and drownings took place. (Then) it was hard to get to, almost impossible to surprise the bad guys and easy for the bad guys to escape ... Undesirables came from all over."
But after Wildwood's incorporation in 1995, "the city became more involved in that area, (and) it got very quiet in comparison to former years," Crews said.
He said new residents moved in nearby, such as in Crown Pointe Estates subdivision in Wildwood, which made the Lawler Ford area easier to reach.
"A tremendous benefit is the fact that the police now have almost total and immediate access to areas that were almost impossible to reach," he said.
"Now the city (and the police) have hundreds of eyes daily in that area to report all sorts of important concerns that we can address immediately ..."
However, Crews warned, "If areas like this are ignored, little problems become big and very bad things can happen."
Ellisville Police Chief Tom Felgate also is familiar with the troubles on Zombie Road because his department deals with trespassers who park in the Ridge Meadows Elementary School parking lot on Ridge Road and in subdivisions near the northern entry to the trail.
"We're going to be meeting with Ridge Meadows officials, who would like to see us crack down on trespassing, and we're starting immediately to issue summonses to violators," Felgate said. "They've had a recent spike in problems ever since that TV show aired.
"It's a safety issue. People are down there in the dark, and there is potential for injury; plus they just have no business parking in subdivisions and on school property."
Ridge Meadows Elementary School principal Carol Kottwitz said she's pleased with the action by Wildwood and Ellisville police.
"How did we get so lucky as to be next door to Zombie Road?" Kottwitz said jokingly.
She said she had seen the TV show, which listed the school's name, location and parking lot.
"However, I've been here 20 years, and it always seems around Halloween that we get more visitors, though I think they picked up after the show," Kottwitz said.
Daytime visitors to Zombie Road on weekends cause no problems, she said.
"In spring, for instance, bird watching groups go down during the day," she said. "But I've had to call police at night, sometimes when we have school functions and we need to reserve our parking for patrons. We are keeping our eyes and ears open, and we will enforce trespassing laws to ensure our children are safe."
ZOMBIE ROAD GHOST HUNT SAFE PLEASE DO NOT TRESPASS
COTG's Note: The GHOSTS are REAL but so is the DANGER!.