There's a legend in my town that has always stuck with me, and it's something we grow up hearing about since we’re very small.
Tommy Cold Toes is as much a part of our lives as things like Soap Sally and the Wampus Cat. It's a story that our parents use to scare us into behaving. It's always the same thing, said in those tones of knowing that makes you believe it's true.
"Better get to bed on time or Tommy Cold Toes might decide to crawl into your bed."
“You better not get up to mischief or Tommy Cold Toes will find his way into your bed.”
“Don’t you dare lie to your mother, or Tommy Cold Toes will let her know.”
The story it comes from is even more chilling than the thought of a ghost in your bed.
It's a story about how even a town with less than a thousand people can host a murderer.
Our town was founded in 1789 by a handful of settlers. By 1819 they had either befriended or conquered the Indians in the area and their daily struggles were mostly personal. The town had around three hundred residents, give or take, and one winter they had a problem with a lake in the area. Mathers Lake was a common place to find picnickers or fishermen, but this winter it became the dumping ground for a serial killer.
The accounts say that the sheriff was called to the lake one morning at first light to access a body. A fisherman by the name of Jeremy Gooding had come before dawn to cut a hole for some ice fishing. As the sun rose, however, Jeremy felt like someone was watching him. When he looked down to find a body looking up at him through the ice, he said he nearly had a heart attack. Jeremy had driven back to town in his wagon to get the sheriff, and he had brought a few men with saws to break through the ice. With the help of the fisherman they had pulled out the body of Gilbert Campbell.
Gilbert was a farmer from the area and a notorious sot. He wasn’t a very good farmer, and it was well known that he had too many mouths to feed and not enough money to afford his drinking and his children. The general consensus was that he had been walking across the ice on his way home from town and had fallen through and drowned. He couldn't swim, this was widely known, and he was likely too drunk to properly flounder to the surface. His wife and children mourned him, but it was all chalked up to an accident and life went on.
When Gooding went to the same lake two weeks later and found two more bodies floating beneath the crust of ice, it was harder to push it off as an accident.
The victims, Delbert Moore and Winston Fergan, were also of the town, though Delbert was a day laborer and Winston was a blacksmith's apprentice. While Gilbert's route home would have taken him across the lake, there was no reason why either of these men should have been in the area. Delbert worked for a farm on the other side of town, and Winston lived above the blacksmith. The sheriff refused to entertain the idea that these had been anything but accidents, but when the fourth body came out of the lake, he had to admit that they had a problem.
The fourth was Harvey McMillan, the son of Drake McMillan who owned the local bank, and Drake was mad to catch the man who had killed his son.
As Mr. McMillan leaned on the sheriff to get results, the sheriff began to apply more pressure to people of interest. There were patrols set around the lake and the other local fishing holes were checked for signs of bodies. That was when they discovered four more bodies, all farmhands or laborers and a pattern began to become apparent. All of them were immigrants, except for Harvey. Harvey was born in the town, but he’d taken his accent from his father and the sheriff supposed that's why he had been targeted. It appeared they had a problem on their hands, and it was a problem that the sheriff was very interested in solving. The local sheriff was supposed to keep the peace, and if he couldn't protect the people from whoever was dropping them into the frozen lakes then they would find someone who could.
The town had instituted a watch, keeping citizens on the street to a minimum after dark. They had to assume that these deaths were the result of people being coerced away after dark, and if they could limit the killer's potential victims then they could catch him in the act. They suspected Jeremy Gooding for a time, but the boy's alibi was strong. There was a rumor going around that a strange woman might be responsible, luring men away from the tavern so she could hide her crimes beneath the ice. They picked up a few women who frequented the local water holes, but they were released in short order. For a time the town lived in fear of who would be the next body pulled from the icey lake.
Then, just as December began, they found the body of Thomas Graves.
Thomas, Tommy to his friend, was new in town but well known to those who frequented the tavern. He was a laborer, but his exploits were known to lie at the bottom of a tankard. Tommy could drink any man in town under the table, and his thirst was prodigious. What's more, he wasn't prone to anger or the hooligan behavior of his peers. He was a sociable drunk, a cheery sot, and everyone knew that he could drink a keg and still be awake to do the milking at first light.
So when the sheriff was called to Carters Pond at dusk to collect him, it was considered a shame by all. The sheriff sent a pair of constables out to collect him in a wagon, and as they pulled him from the lake they say his skin was as blue as the ice atop it. They checked his pulse and found him stone-cold dead, so they loaded him into a wagon and took him into town.
This was December, so the snow was deep and the road was pitted. They had a sheet over him as he lay in his funeral wagon, and the men shivered as they rode with only the moon to keep them company. Both were in some hurry to be done with this task so they could get to the tavern before heading home to their wives. This grim task would be easier to sleep on after with a drink inside them, and neither were paying as much attention to the body in the back as they should have been. The body bounced like a stone as they rode, and neither of them could have said when the bouncing stopped.
When they arrived in town and pulled the sheet away, they found the back of the wagon empty.
They had lost the body somewhere along the way, and when they told the sheriff he was livid. He told them the town already believed they were making a botch of this and made them go back the way they had come and look for it. "It should be easy to find," he told them, "It's a frozen body lying by the side of the road."
The two men set out to backtrack their route, but no matter how much they looked or how far they went, they couldn't find the frozen body.
They found no sign either. There was no indent in the snow, no sign of scavengers taking something away, and they were left to wonder where it had gone. They searched till morning, spending a night in the cold as they looked for their missing victim. They were still out when the sun began to rise and when they heard hoof beats approaching, they hoped it was others who would help them search.
Instead, the Sheriff came riding up with another man in tow to collect them.
The body had been found, and it was in the last place they had expected.
Judge Henry Margus, a judge for the county seat, had awoken to find the body of Thomas Graves in his bed. His servants had heard him screaming and come to check on him, finding him in a corner as he shook and pointed at the bed he had evacuated. They said he had been gibbering about rolling over and feeling the cold feet of the dead man against his leg and wouldn’t say much else. He had been shaking as his butler took him to his sitting room. That same butler, the man who had come out with the sheriff, had secured the bedroom so they could have a look and came to fetch the sheriff immediately.
He and his men took statements from the staff and the very shaken judge, but it was ultimately nothing but a very strange bit of gossip for the woman around the well that day.
They took the body back to the station so some family could come collect it, and that was when it disappeared a second time.
The Sheriff, who had reprimanded the two deputies soundly for losing the body in the first place, was perplexed how Thomas Graves had disappeared a second time.
He was less perplexed when the judge's footman arrived in the morning to say that Thomas Graves had appeared in his master's bed again.
The Sheriff arrived to find the man shaken, unable to even speak, but he stuttered about the cold toes of the dead man that had pressed against him as he slept.
They took the body away and decided it might be time to bury Tommy Graves so he would stop haunting the judge's house.
He would have no idea how fitting a statement that would turn out to be.
They buried Thomas Graves in a pauper grave in the churchyard and thought they had seen the end of it. They had considered leaving him in the crypts in case his family decided to come for him, but the Sheriff was becoming tired of whoever was using Thomas to bedevil the judge. The man hadn't been to court in days, and it was said that the incident had rattled him.
The Sheriff watched as the undertaker and his apprentice buried Thomas Graves eight feet in the ground and hoped that this would be the end of the trouble.
It hadn't gone unnoticed that there hadn't been another body found since they had pulled him from the ice, and some of the townspeople were whispering that Graves might have been the killer. Now his body was haunting the judge after death, and somehow that seemed to make it more believable that he was the one putting people into the ice. They had begged the sheriff to put a cage over top of his grave, maybe even to burn the body, but the sheriff was steadfast in his conviction that Tommy be buried.
No servant came on the third morning.
On the third cold morning after Thomas had come out of the ice, the judge came bursting into the station to confess to the murder.
He confessed to the murders of all those pulled from the ice, including Tommy Graves. The sheriff’s hunch had been right, and he confessed to killing all of them because they were immigrants. He had never liked foreigners and assumed no one would notice if a few of them went missing. He had assumed that someone would catch him after killing Harvey McMillan, but when he had walked away scot-free, he felt invincible. That was before, though. Now he was being hounded by the vengeful Thomas Graves and wanted the sheriff to protect him.
"I would have never killed him had I known he would haunt me so."
The sheriff knew they would find Tommy in the man's bed again, and that's just where he was when they went to collect him.
It seemed, however, that Tommy wasn’t content to stay put. They never found him in the Judge's house again, but there were plenty of people who claimed to have seen him after that. Usually, it was a shadowy figure walking along the road to town, the same route the wagon had taken when he disappeared. Others say they've seen him near the lake where he died, walking along the shore and watching the water.
Others, however, claim that those with secrets, those with guilt, feel the press of cold toes against their leg in the night, and know it's time to confess.
I’ve never felt them, but I know people who claim they have, and that's as good as a confession around here.
Whatever the reason, Tommy Cold Toes has become a story told from Halloween till Christmas.
So if you roll over in the middle of the night and feel the cold press of toes against your leg, don't worry.
It's just Tommy Cold Toes trying to get warm.
About the Creator
Writer, reader, game crafter, screen writer, comedian, playwright, aging hipster, and writer of fine horror.
Tiktok and Instagram- Doctorplaguesworld