Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Crime Scenes

The House with 160 Rooms

The first order of business was to move from the East to the West Coast, and that took her, by William's alleged guidance, to an eight-room house on 162 acres in the Santa Clara Valley. But it didn't end there. Once the house was in her hands, she hired contractors and builders to start working on additions, one after another. This remodeling lasted 38 years and employed more than 20 full-time carpenters. At times they build entirely new rooms, hallways, and staircases; at other times, they demolished their work and started over.

William Wirt Winchester House
William Wirt Winchester House

There was no rhyme or reason to the architecture; the place, which eventually spread over six acres, was more akin to outright chaos. There were secret passages, stairs and doorways that went nowhere, and rooms built with strange angles. Many rooms had 13 windows with 13 panes of glass or 13 lights. By the time Sarah died in 1922 at the age of 83, the massive four-story building (three stories had collapsed in the 1906 earthquake) contained 160 rooms, several towers and cupolas, numerous chimneys, three elevators, over 2,000 doors, more than 1,000 windows, two ballrooms, dozens of corridors, several upside down newel posts, and 40 separate staircases (one of them with stairs only two inches high). In other words, it was a maze designed to confuse those spirits that might try to harm her. She also ordered a number of rooms to remain unfinished in order not to anger those who wanted her to keep building. Avoiding supernatural wrath was also the reason she avoided installing mirrors

In addition, she had the carpenters work on two areas specifically for the ghosts. Both were windowless rooms and one, the Blue Room, was a secret chamber. In here, at midnight every night, Sarah sat in special ceremonial robes to engage in some activity that remains unknown. She would ring a bell to let the spirits know she was there, and occasionally she would set out elaborate dinners for a dozen at a time.

Sarah Winchester
Sarah Winchester

In her will, she asked her heirs to continue to maintain the house as a haven for spirits, but they sold it instead, and today it's a museum that hosts tours, including special Halloween treats. However, the tour is limited and many of the rooms are closed off.

Not surprisingly, psychics have been drawn to the building and some report that it's definitely haunted. A few have claimed to see Sarah Winchester herself. Visitors also hear the usual accoutrement of haunted places: voices, footsteps, slamming doors (probably when the door clearly opened to a wall), and creaking stairs. The estimated final cost of the home was well over $5 million — a lot for those days.

It's amazing what money can buy. Sometimes it can purchase privacy to engage in evil deeds, as we'll see from the next location.

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