In her new book, Haunted Plano, Mary Jacobs chases down local horror stories. In honor of Halloween, enjoy a chilling glimpse into the ghosts of Plano’s past.
You won’t find any newspaper reports, but in the 1970s and 1980s, everybody in Plano knew about Ranch 111—a wooded area where unspeakable things happened.
Devil worship. Human sacrifice. Animal mutilation. Witches’ covens. Satanic cults that would kidnap your kids for their fiendish rituals.
Ranch 111 was reportedly an abandoned Scout camp. Today, it’s home to a subdivision of homes, Firewheel Golf Course and One-Eleven Park in Garland. But before it was developed, Ranch 111 was a destination for thrill-seeking teens, who would pile into cars after dark and head there for a little adventure.
Sometimes they found more than they bargained on.
Susan Jantz remembers a nighttime foray with a group of friends out to Ranch 111 in the early 1980s—and a horrifying discovery.
“We saw several dead animals hanging in the tree, all bloody beyond recognition,” she said. “I will never forget it!”
To add to the area’s mystique, there was a big old oak tree that had been struck by lightning and grew sideways. Rumor had it that a few people had been hung from the tree. Nearby was about 10 acres of land where a Plano family, the Stovers, raised cattle and pigs. Sometime around 1977, devil worshippers allegedly carved up and bled out one of the family’s steers.
“We actually saw a coven out there,” one resident commented on Facebook. “I’m talking people in dark, hooded cloaks, chanting in a circle. It scared the you-know-what right out of us.” The group of friends took off at lightning speed and never returned.
One online forum on Ranch 111 drew ominous warnings from those who claimed to have witnessed its horrors. One called Ranch 111 “unholy ground” and pleaded with fellow forum members, “Please, don’t go chasing horror stories. I did, and that decision cost me eight years of nasty experiences. Best to let some things lie.”
Another reported a late-night visit when a man in a truck threatened him with a shotgun. They took off in a panic and crashed their car; the armed man left without stopping to see whether they needed help. One recalled some “distinctly weird” sights: a candle-like flame suspended in midair, and multicolored lights that seemed to appear from nowhere.
Another in the forum observed a group of adults conducting a ritual around a bonfire. “I couldn’t say whether this was a real hardcore satanic cult, or if it was a bunch of young people sucked into the legend,” he wrote. “I do know that what I saw that night and it scared the hell out of me.”
Longtime Plano resident Kenny Bush also confirms multiple sightings of people dressed in black, gathered around bonfires. On one occasion, Kenny and his friend Carter Fitzgerald decided to take a group of girls to Ranch 111, partly to scare them and possibly to inspire a little romance. The kids all piled into Kenny’s dad’s old car.
Sure enough, they spotted a gathering of people in cloaks around a fire. When the girls started screaming, Kenny tore out through a pasture, hitting a rock and ripping a 10-inch gash in the gas tank. As gasoline poured out onto the road, the group inched home, terrified they’d end up stranded in this scary, isolated area where devil worshippers could turn up at any time. Luckily, they managed to make it back alive to a gas station and get the tank repaired.
“We never did get lucky with any of those beautiful women,” Kenny jokes. “Damn devil worshippers ruined it for us.”
Not knowing the place’s reputation, another resident recalled going to Ranch 111 for a party, only to realize she’d actually been invited for a satanic ritual.
“Luckily, I left before they ate me,” she said.
Another remembers visiting Ranch 111 to “have bonfires just to scare ourselves,” she said. “Now it’s a great park and we go out there for picnics with the whole family and dogs. Go figure.”
The Satanic Panic
Likely it’s no coincidence that the legends swirling around Ranch 111 coincide with a period of mass media hysteria dubbed the “Satanic Panic,” when many Americans were convinced that Satanists maintained a vast and unholy grip on society. At its height, it inspired a rash of false and often outlandish allegations of satanic ritual abuse in daycare centers in the 1980s.
A number of factors contributed to the Satanic Panic. First was the 1973 release of The Exorcist, one of the most profitable horror movies ever made. Loosely based on actual events, the story centered on a young girl, Regan (played by Linda Blair), who began levitating and speaking in tongues. After seeking medical help, to no avail, her mother turned to a local priest in desperation. The church sent in an expert to exorcise Regan’s demons.
“The Exorcist profoundly impacted America’s collective psyche regarding the existence of demons, and single-handedly transformed the popular Ouija board from a fun, harmless parlor game into a malevolent device capable of inducing spirit possession, demonic infestation, or other paranormal activity,” Aja Romano wrote in a 2016 article for the website Vox.
Another factor was the 1969 publication of The Satanic Bible, by Anton LaVey. A mishmash of mostly plagiarized ideas from writers like H.L. Mencken and Ayn Rand, the book became the key text for the Church of Satan, which LaVey founded in 1966. (The Church still maintains a website, calling itself “the first above-ground organization in history openly dedicated to the acceptance of Man’s true nature—that of a carnal beast, living in a cosmos that is indifferent to our existence.”)
At the same time, Romano reports, Christian fundamentalism and a literal belief in angels and demons was on the rise, as were anti-occult crusaders like Pat Pulling, who claimed her son committed suicide due to a Dungeons and Dragons curse. Law enforcement jumped on the bandwagon, turning to self-styled “experts” in Satanism for guidance.
But what may have affected the public most deeply was the series of mass murders that put ritualistic killing in the headlines: the Manson murders in 1969, followed by the Zodiac killer, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam.”) Not only did they commit horrific crimes, these killers created a perception that they had an upper hand in some way. As Romano reports, “The Zodiac Killer and Berkowitz wrote taunting letters to the press and police; Bundy escaped from prison and immediately resumed his terrifying killing sprees; John Wayne Gacy hid his evil under the most banal of disguises, a friendly clown who performed for children.”
Around the same time when the rumors of Ranch 111 began to spread in the 1970s and 1980s, the people of Plano likely had these fears—of the satanic, the occult, and the demonic —on their minds. One remembers warnings in the news media issued at Halloween, cautioning parents to watch out for Satanists looking to kidnap their children.
At the same time, inspired by the hype, many young people dabbled in the occult. Mike Judge, creator of the animated TV series King of the Hill and a former resident of Richardson, poked fun at these wannabes in an episode titled “The Witches of East Arlen.” (The episode features a coven led by a self-proclaimed warlock named Ward, who claims he’s gifted with supernatural powers—but apparently not so powerful that he can escape his menial job at a video store or move out of his mother’s basement.) No word on whether Mike Judge was inspired by the tales of Ranch 111, but it seems likely.
All of this is not to say that the reports of terrifying activity at Ranch 111 were imagined—only that the Satanic Panic may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Undoubtedly there were groups of people in dark cloaks, who called themselves witches or Satanists and gathered at Ranch 111 late at night. But were they dangerous? For the most part, probably not.
Haunted Plano was released for sale on September 17. Visit hauntedplano.com.