Imagine the scene, the year is 1812, the place is Barbados and a man is dead. This man is not a poor local but a gentleman born into affluence and privilege. His name is Thomas Chase. Sadly, he is not the only member of the Chase family lost in recent years, tragedy seems to have plagued the family.
Just two months before Thomas’ death his daughter Dorcas had died, four years before that a young baby Mary-Ann had passed away.
The rituals they will perform today are rituals that have become familiar. The family have assembled, the church service is complete and now the solemn procession proceeds to the internment.
As they wait for the family vault to be unsealed, the mourners are comforted knowing that Thomas will soon rest with his children. Imagine their horror then when the door slides open to reveal the chamber within…
The shocking sight that greets them is one of confusion, turmoil and vandalism. The heavy lead lined coffins are no longer arranged in order, but are upended and strewn about the crypt as if they are weightless objects.
Troubled and bewildered the family can think of no one who would perform an act so wicked upon the caskets of their dead children. As they bury Thomas and reseal the vault they must surely hope this is the end of an unsavoury matter.
Sadly, it is just the beginning of an unsolved mystery, the mystery of the Chase family crypt.
The History of The Chase Family Crypt
The Chase family crypt was constructed in 1724 by James Eliot. Located in the Christ Church Parish Cemetery and built half into the ground, it was entered by descending six stone steps.
To seal the vault a giant slab of blue stone was placed across the entrance. The door was so heavy it took six or seven men to move it. There was little chance that anyone could enter the tomb without a great deal of effort.
Strangely the crypt remained empty until 1807 when a Mrs. Thomasina Goddard was interred. The following year it was purchased by Thomas Chase when his daughter Mary-Ann died. Chase decided to leave Thomasina’s body undisturbed where it lay and the vault was resealed.
In 1812 it was opened again after the funeral of Dorcas Chase. Dorcas is rumored to have starved herself to death as a consequence of her father’s cruelty. Two months later her father, perhaps plagued by guilt, committed suicide and joined his children in the vault.
After discovering the crypt in disarray during the funeral of the family patriarch, those left behind must have hoped that it was a sad but isolated occurrence, unfortunately it wasn’t.
When the crypt was opened again in 1816 and in 1819 the family was greeted by the same disturbing scene. The stone led-lined coffins were upset, sometimes standing on end or tipped upside down.
Only the light wooden casket of Thomasina Goddard remained where it was originally placed. There seemed to be no rational explanation for the movement of these immensely heavy objects and soon whispers of supernatural activity began to sweep the area.
Rumor And Superstition
As each strange incident occurred, rumours gathered pace among the deeply superstitious locals. Thomas Chase was a much hated plantation owner who had been cruel both to his slaves and to his own children.
The strange occurrences only began after his second daughter’s internment. Thought to be responsible for her own death, the favoured theory was that her restless spirit displaced the heavy coffins.
Others believed that Thomasina Goddard was a vampire who had accepted the body of the tiny Mary-Ann lying close to her but was not going to accept the rest of the family.
Whipped into a fever of speculation, the events surrounding the tomb were used by the local people to explain any strange phenomena or unusual animal behaviour in the area. By 1819 the Governor of Barbados, Lord Combermere decided that enough was enough and a rational solution to the bizarre events must be sought.
Lord Combermere ordered that the crypt be opened and inspected for signs of penetration by outside forces. Amazingly, the lead coffins appeared to have been tampered with once more.
Once again the caskets were placed back in their correct positions and the vault thoroughly examined. No evidence of penetration could be found, the walls and floor remained intact much to Combermere’s bewilderment.
This time before sealing the crypt, sand was sprinkled on the solid ground hoping to catch the footprints of any future intruders. The heavy door was replaced and the Governor’s seal impressed upon it as a further precaution.
Some months later at the beginning of 1820 there was another death in the Chase family. Lord Combermere and others arrived to witness the internment. The Governor’s seal was still intact upon the heavy stone door clearly showing that no human being had entered the vault in the interim months.
The group must have waited with a mixture of both anticipation and trepidation as the heavy stone door was slid back. Once more the coffins of the Chase family had been thrown around as if they were weightless boxes.
The tomb of Dorcas Chase had been smashed and a skeletal arm hung eerily out of its broken side as if pointing at some unknown force. Only the fragile wooden casket of Thomasina Goddard remained intact and untroubled.
Combermere decided that this was the final straw and ordered that all of the bodies be removed and reburied elsewhere in the graveyard. The crypt has remained empty ever since.
A Mystery Solved?
Over the years many theories have been proposed to explain the phenomenon of the moving coffins. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes books, suggested that the answer lay with the unquiet soul of Dorcas Chase.
Others have sought a more rational explanation. Seismic activity is one possible theory but this doesn’t explain why other crypts or graves in the area have shown no evidence of disturbance.
Another viable theory is that the vault was flooding periodically causing the caskets to rise and float about the crypt. As the waters receded the coffins were deposited where they were eventually discovered.
This theory seems perfectly logical until you consider that the lightest wooden coffin was the only one that never displayed signs of disturbance or movement.
One Investigator, Joe Nickell, has suggested that the whole story is historically dubious and was based on a masonic myth of a secret vault. He goes on to suggest that the stories of the crypt are laden with masonic imagery that will be immediately obvious to a freemason.
While no evidence for the veracity of the story can be found in the local papers of the time, it is certain that the family did exist, they did own the crypt and their bodies are now buried in the graveyard.
Many people have tried to solve the puzzle of the moving coffins without success. The enigma still challenges the imagination of many and defies rational logic.
Unless you accept that the events never took place and are part of an elaborate hoax, you are left with incidents that can’t be satisfactorily explained.
Many have turned to the paranormal for the solution including the author of the greatest detective stories in the English language.
To this day the events that took place on the island of Barbados two hundred years ago continue to baffle, intrigue and fascinate in equal measure.
What is for sure is that two centuries after the strange events occurred, the final answer to the mystery of the Chase family crypt remains unsolved and far from elementary.