Me & Bertha

I first became interested in the Bertha Gifford story back in 2002. On Halloween I had traveled to my Mom’s house in De Soto so my kids could do some trick or treating. When I arrived my mom handed me a sheet of paper with some local ghost stories. Among them was a little story about a woman called the “angel of mercy” from Pacific. At the time I lived in Robertsville with my wife and children. So I began to do some research. I found the house first. What struck me was I recognized it and passed it many times in the past. I had always gotten a strange feeling about the place. Me and my wife had almost rented a trailer near there several months earlier, so already I was off to an eerie start. I then went to the Pacific Library to see if they had any information. It would be the first time I would come across the bitter feelings people still felt about Bertha. At first the librarians were nice and helpful, but when I described what I knew about Bertha’s story, their attitudes became cooler. I had described Bertha as an “angel of mercy,” but the reply I got was scathing. “She wasn’t no angel of mercy,” the lady had said. “She destroyed a lot of lives and families.” She then proceeded to tell me about the Joe Popper article and handed me the magazine. As I flipped through it, she asked if I wanted copies of it to which I readily agreed. That article changed the course of my research. Here was incredible proof of a story so tragic and disturbing that I could hardly believe it had happened so close to where I lived. I felt I was on to something. But unfortunately nothing new came across me for a few years.

I searched the Internet for many long hours but found relatively nothing. There was an article about Morse Mill which mentioned her but not much else. Fast forward to 2004. Through a rootsweb search, I came across a lady from California, whose name was Denise Murphy. She told me that her husband’s sister (who was related to Bertha) was working on a book about Bertha. After promising I wasn’t trying to make money off of the story, she sent me some scanned photos and copies of the scanned copies of the newspaper articles from the trial. It was fascinating. Here was something a little more tangible. Two other things stood out. A book was being written and the person writing it was related to Bertha. But the next five years would be really dry in terms of new material.

In 2008 I went to the Washington Historical Museum, where I met Marc Houseman, who was the director of the museum and, as I found out, the most knowledgeable person on the Bertha Gifford legend. I had swapped emails with him a couple of years before on a haunted location in Washington, Mo. He allowed me access to Bertha Gifford information that I had never heard or seen. He pulled a few things out that I wasn’t allowed to see yet because “someone was writing a book and it hadn’t been published yet.” So here it was, another reference to a book by someone from Bertha’s family. As I sifted through the articles, photos, and stories of this most fascinating woman, I realized her story was just beginning to be told.

In early 2010, I came across the website of Kay Murphy and through emails, she informed me her book, Tainted Legacy, was now published. The Park Hills Library didn’t have it but they ordered it and in February I finally was able to read this wonderful book. The weird sequence of events which led me here was not lost on me. Though I lost contact with Kay at the time, nearly two years later I reconnected with her. I sent her an email telling her who I was and what I was planning. (A Bertha Gifford website)The most important thing to me was having her blessing on the matter. She even gave me the title. And though it hasn’t been online as much as I’ve liked, I’m proud of the site. And because of Kay, I met Ginger Justice-Collins, an incredibly gifted medium. In 2012, me and Ginger met for the first time at the grave site of Bertha’s final resting place. It was awesome and quite a surreal moment for me. It was the first time I had ever been at that cemetery.

In June of 2014, I finally was able to meet with Kay, who also brought along Ginger. Time went by way too fast that day but it was probably the highlight of my summer.

The thing with me and Bertha is a weird one. Whenever I stray away, I feel like she pulls me back in. I can’t escape it and I don’t think I want to. Even after fourteen years, the story of Bertha fascinates me and drives me to find the truth.



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