The Headlee House

In my younger days, I used to explore nearby abandoned places with my cousins. There really isn’t much for kids without spare cash to do in my hometown. When you’re too young to visit bars, sex shops, head shops, or strip joints and you don’t have money for shopping at the mall or watching a movie at the cinema, the only options you have left are running around nearby parks LARPing, loitering at places where you aren’t welcome, or sneaking into scary places you know you should probably avoid.

On very seldom occasions, I would continue exploring strange places in town well into adulthood, whenever my cousin Shutterbat could drag me or other friends to some abandoned place he wanted to explore with safety in numbers.1 One fine Sunday just before we went to work, Shutterbat brought me to an abandoned house in affluent East Odessa that he had explored the previous Saturday evening with some mutual friends of ours.

Courtesy of OpenStreetMap.

The old Headlee house — formerly located just off the corner of East Loop 338 and State Highway 191 — didn’t seem very spooky from the outside. It appeared to be a stock standard 1950s middle class ranch house whose interiors had been remodeled at some point in either the 1970s or 1980s.

Only the constant, annoying bleating of peacocks would tell you different.

The house was owned by Dr. Emmet Vincent Headlee, Odessa’s first practicing physician who moved here with his wife, nurse Marie Sprusil, in 1926, when the town boasted only 450 residents. During the worst years of the Great Depression, Dr. Headlee and his wife Marie bought this parcel of land to house the many, many animals they accepted as payment from impoverished patients. They later built their ranch-style house here in 1949; by that time, Dr. Headlee, his wife2, and their children had become pillars of a community that had risen to 80,338 souls by 1960.

Photo by Jutin Sindhu courtesy of Wikimedia.

One of the more peculiar types of animals the Headlee family collected were peacocks. Someone in the Headlee family loved these aggravating birds, since the family practically hoarded them. By the time the old Headlee house was torn down sometime between 2005 and 2007, peacocks had overrun the place. They roamed the area in herds, and they were a stunning sight to behold.

As long as you didn’t have to hear the damned things.

Peacocks have a very eerie vocalization that sounds like a human baby crying out in distress. Having one bird making those kinds of sounds at all hours of the day would be nightmare inducing; having multiple birds making noises like that would be maddening.3 Lovecraft, Bradbury, or King could’ve had a field day writing about such birds.

That was the situation faced by the congregation at Life Unlimited Church, the fairly well-to-do charismatic church located next door to what had come to be known as “the Peacock House”. According to local legend whose veracity I cannot corroborate, some of the congregants at Life Unlimited grew so weary of the sound of peacocks next door that they petitioned to have the Headlee house torn down in the hopes that the peacocks would leave on their own. According to that same legend, some locals — likely members of the Headlee family, if the legend is true — tried to have the Headlee house declared a local historic landmark, but that plan failed. Real estate developers moved in and the Headlee’s plot of land was developed into the Chimney Rock Shopping Center.4

Before the Headlee homestead became the Chimney Rock Shopping Center, however, there was still the little matter of tearing down the old house, which had been abandoned since the 1980s.

What awaited us inside the old Headlee house? That was what I was there with Shutterbat to find out that Sunday morning before work.5

The brief trek into the old house itself was uneventful but tense. Though my imagination filled the edifice with horrific terrors, what I actually saw inside the house was infinitely more bizarre.

The first thing a visitor to this abandoned old edifice would notice is the massive wall-length picture window in the sand-colored living room to the right of the entrance hall. The word NYSTAGMA was scrawled onto the wall directly above the window, which lent the entire experience a strangely artsy vibe. Were the people who invaded this abandoned house after its residents had passed away occultists, urban artists trying to create a uniquely spooky experience, or just a bunch of bored 1980s teenagers who had seen way too many horror films? That’s a fantastic question that I still can’t answer to this day.

When I turned further to the right, three versions of me stared right back at me. An open air bathroom had three surprisingly clean mirrors set up at just the right angles so that the reflections were “looking” right at you the moment you entered the house. This didn’t seem to be something that the vandals that had transformed the old house into the “haunted house” experience it had become had set up, but it still added an even creepier vibe to the living room area.

To the right of that bathroom was an unused hallway. Further right of that, set against the wall next to the entrance, stood a closet door with a dark hole punched into it. The words “LOOK IN HERE” were scrawled underneath in crayon alongside an arrow pointing up to the hole.

“Fuck that,” Shutterbat exclaimed, opening the closet door with his foot while keeping his camcorder at the ready.

We were immediately greeted by a scene of childhood horror. A teddy bear was hung from the closet ceiling with a jump rope, and several other dolls and stuffed animals were either beheaded or crucified onto the closet walls. Terrifying childlike drawings of the house covered the walls alongside the words “DADDY LEAVES ME IN HERE SOMETIMES.”

Having seen enough of the living room, we moved onward toward one of the principal bedrooms located in another hallway parallel to the living room entrance. I was immediately greeted by a large, semi-demonic face grinning in a sinister manner that had been drawn on the opposite wall. The floor had been carpeted, though it appeared that a massive portion of the center of the carpet had recently been cut away. Shutterbat informed me that the carpet had a cliche pentagram-in-a-circle design drawn onto it, but one of the people hired to tear down the house had removed it out of fear.

Several magazine- and newspaper-clipped images of local and national celebrities from the 1980s were nailed to the wall parallel to the living room with the nails placed in their eyes. Nearby, a prayer to the “Son of the Morning” was inscribed neatly in a rectangular portion of the wall… but the reader had to have the medical condition nystagmus in order to read it properly. Several New Testament religious figures’ names were inscribed on the wall catty-corner to this, like MARY, JESUS, PAUL, MATTHEW, and PETER, though the “T” in Peter’s name was rendered as an upside-down cross.6

Deciding I was done with this spooky-ass room, I followed Shutterbat through the hallway to the master bedroom. A makeshift electric chair had been set up on a platform. A lawn chair had been set up using barbed wire as restraints and a kitchen colander as a headpiece to place on the head of the “victim” that sat in the chair. This makeshift execution method had a decently-sized car battery tied to the armrests. Several small red stains that looked suspiciously like blood adorned the chair and its barbed wire restraints.

At that point, I was done with this place and I made a beeline for the rear exit. Unfortunately, Shutterbat’s camcorder kept malfunctioning,7 so we would speed-run through the place two more times before Shutterbat gave up trying to record the house’s interiors.

Emmet V. Headlee, M.D historical marker photo by Bill Kirchner. Courtesy of the Historical Marker Database.

On our final speed-run through the house, we encountered one of the laborers working on tearing down the house. A few hours later, the Headlee house was no more.

Only the chimney of the Headlee house — now called “Chimney Rock” — remains. Why the real estate development company left it standing after demolishing the rest of the house is anyone’s guess.8 In 2011, the Texas Historical Commission erected historical marker #16767, titled “Emmet V. Headlee, M.D.”, next to the old chimney, which stands guard over the entrance to Chimney Rock Shopping Center to this day.

  1. I’ve already mentioned a previous jaunt he and I had made to an abandoned house next to the Sunset Memorial Gardens & Funeral Home.[]
  2. Marie Headlee was named “First Lady of Odessa” in 1957.[]
  3. Peacocks also get super aggressive during mating season and have been known to charge at humans.[]
  4. For whatever reason, the real estate developers opted to leave the Headlee house’s chimney behind as a historic landmark instead of, y’know, leaving the rest of the house there, too.[]
  5. Shutterbat already knew what was inside; he just wanted to film the old house’s interiors before the place got torn down.[]
  6. Were the vandals who had transformed this house into an amateur haunted house attraction Catholic or rebelling against Catholicism? As far as I know, only Roman Catholicism venerates Peter enough that someone would deface his name over Jesus’ name.[]
  7. Suspiciously enough, Shutterbat’s camcorder recording went to static every time we reached the room with the makeshift electric chair.[]
  8. Maybe the chimney was designated a historic site? Why not the rest of the house? Why not turn it into a museum?[]

About Dunebat

Sole specimen: Desmodus desertus. Judeo-Christian anchorite/scribe/scribbler. Lover of nerds, Goths, creatives, & outcasts.

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