Assonet/ Fall River, Massachusetts
The Freetown State Forest has a tragic history that stretches back centuries to a time when this country’s earliest European settlers and established native settlers clashed over its boundaries. Tales of war, suicide, curses and sacrifice stain the grounds of this hallowed area. It exists in what is infamously known as the “Bridgewater Triangle;” an area rich with UFO sightings, ghosts, and the Lizzie Borden museum (which we will cover in another post). The Freetown State Forest takes up a significant portion of the triangle.
Some of the earliest tragedies within the forest occurred right off the boat from England. The Puritans settled in New England because they were considered Zealots back in Old England and therefore came to settle away from “persecution.” Everyone is aware of the story of the first Thanksgiving in which the Pilgrims and the Natives broke bread together, and how every single interaction after that was one more act of oppression against the natives. The Freetown State Forest is no different. This land was sacred to the Wampanoag tribe which existed in the area. Systematically, the Pilgrims purchased or stole the land that the forest encompasses; including several Wampanoag burial grounds. Legend suggests that the land was cursed as soon as the forest was purchased. (1)
Regardless if the natives actually cursed the land, it certainly seems cursed. Fights and skirmishes broke out between the natives and colonists within the forest immediately after the colonists arrived, leading to bloodshed on both sides (not to mention the dead natives already buried on the land). In the centuries that followed, the land would see rampant crime, murder, cultist activity and drug deals gone wrong. This area was also the site of some of the rougher parts of King Phillip’s War.
In 1978, a 15 year old girl named Mary Lou Arruda was abducted from her hometown of Raynham, Massachusetts. She went missing on September 8 and wasn’t found until November 11. Mary Lou was found tied to a tree within Freetown. Her autopsy revealed that she died of strangulation, likely after falling asleep while tied to the tree. Unfortunately her killer wouldn’t be brought to justice until 1996, and even more unfortunate is that Mary Lou was nowhere near the first nor the last victim to succumb within the forest. (2)
The Freetown State Forest even has an indirect tie to the start of the “Satanic Panic.” In 1979 and 1980, several killings occurred in Fall River that were allegedly linked to cultist activity. (3) Around the same time, locals came forward reporting supposed cult ceremonies within the woods. Recent clearings stained with animal blood were found within the forest. Later, animals were found in curious arrangements throughout the forest, suggesting ritual sacrifice. All of these incidents led people to assume that the murders and the cultist activity within the forest were related. (4)
On October 2, 1987, Edward Cereto was discovered on Ledge road within the forest. Cereto had been shot multiple times in the head, torso and groin. (5) Cereto also had been partially burned in an attempt to destroy the body. (6) Michael Costa, Kevin Costa, Steven Costa, and Bruce Frank were all tried and convicted of the murder. (5)
Perhaps the most iconic spot in the area is the Assonet Ledge. This ledge is the focal point of a specific ghostly legend. There is a legend of a “lovers leap” or a “suicide leap”with this ledge. Legend has it that a native woman and a white settler fell in love. Their love was “forbidden” and so either she killed herself because he wouldn’t stay with her, or they jumped together to their deaths. Legend has it that you can occasionally see a woman walking along the ledge. In one variation she is even a Native American princess. They say that she steps off the ledge and falls to her death, but disappears before hitting the water. I was told these stories verbally by someone who is familiar with the forest so I don’t have a source to point to for this one.
A source I found indicates that a young man and woman fell in love and that their love was also forbidden (I’m sensing a theme here). It doesn’t indicate an era but instead suggests that he stood her up and she leapt from the cliff. This source also indicates that there is another legend of native Americans jumping form this cliff in an attempt to avoid capture by white settlers. Perhaps someone did leap from this cliff over unrequited love however, any Native American suicides by cliff are unlikely given that the cliff and pond are both a result of a 19th century granite quarry. (7)
However, this isn’t to say that the ledge is not responsible for any deaths at all. In fact, it is responsible for some recent deaths! Even if a Native American princess does/doesn’t haunt the cliff, someone likely does. Occasionally reality mimics myth. There have been at least 2 documented deaths at the ledge since 2001. In 2001, Edward Cabral died after attempting to scale the outcropping. In 2007, Paulo Oliveira died after falling from the edge. Oliveira’s death was unfortunately witnessed by his friends. (8)
When I visited the edge, I can say that I didn’t necessarily witness anything othwerworldly. However, it is an experience. I felt almost as if the cliff were looking at me. I was aware of the supposed native ghosts at the ledge, but not the more recent deaths. I visited Freetown in the middle of the day with company. It was quite the adventure and despite its gruesome past, it is definitely worth a visit. I don’t recommend going alone. It is large, and it can be confusing. Fortunately we didn’t stumble upon any recent bodies while going through the forest. I’d like to do more exploration of the area when life permits so perhaps there will be additional follow up posts to this one.