On September 29th, 1929, police
in Old Monroe, Missouri arrived at the dilapidated farmhouse of
Eli Cobb, who was at the time suspected in the robbery of a local
general store and disappearance of its owner. Receipts indicated
that Cobb had been the last customer at the store.
Cobb's desolate farmhouse was a study in chaos.
Inside, junk and rotting garbage covered the floor and counters.
It was almost impossible to walk through the rooms. The smell of
filth and decomposition was overwhelming. While the local sheriff,
Ethel Woodrow, inspected the kitchen, he felt something brush against
When he looked up to see what it was he ran into,
he faced a large, dangling carcass hanging upside down from the
beams. The carcass had been decapitated, slit open and gutted. An
ugly sight to be sure, but a familiar one in that deer-hunting part
of the country.
It took a few moments to sink in, but soon Woodrow
realized that it wasn't a deer at all, it was the headless butchered
body of a woman. Beatrice Cobb, Eli's wife.
A quick search of the house turned up the bodies
of his children, Joshua age 12, Emily age 9 and Adam age 4, in the
large back room that served as their bedroom. Each child's body
had been laid in bed as if they where asleep, however later evidence
turned up to suggest Cobb hunted them down in what reporters eventually
dubbed his "maze of death." The Maze, which was completely
overlooked during the initial days of the investigation was created
by Cobb cutting confusing paths into his cornfield, some of the
"walls" where reinforced by plywood or barbed wire.
In the master bedroom, dead from an apparently
self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head, sat Eli Cobb himself.
Initial newspaper reports at the time said the
focus of the criminal investigation was on vagrants who may have
attacked the homestead. Unfortunately, as much as many of the townspeople
wanted to believe this version of events, it soon became clear that
there had been no vagrants, Eli had killed his entire family before
turning his death lust on himself.
While the shocked deputies searched through
the rubble of Eli Cobb's existence, they realized that the horrible
discoveries didn't end with a murder-suicide. They had stumbled
into a death farm.
Throughout the house investigators discovered
body parts that had no corresponding bodies. The funny-looking bowl
was the top of a human skull. Eli's chair was made of human skin,
and in his bedroom chest they found a human head, four noses and
a heart. The more they looked through the house, the more ghastly
trophies they found. Finally it was discovered that even the scarecrow
in the cornfield was hiding the grisly remains of an unidentified
man. Their heads spun as they tried to tally the number of people
that may have died at Eli's hands.
1st, 1937, after the discovery of the Cobb family and other gruesome
artifacts in Eli's house, police began an exhaustive search of the
remaining parts of the farm and surrounding land. They believed
Eli may have been involved in more murders and that the bodies might
be buried on his land. Over the course of the next 35 days
body parts where found for an estimated 65 individual people, most
unknown and unidentifiable.
When investigators revealed the facts about what
was found on Eli Cobb's farm, the news quickly spread. Reporters
from all over the world flocked to the town of Old Monroe. The town
became known worldwide and Eli Cobb reached celebrity-like status.
People were repulsed, yet at the same time drawn to the atrocities
that took place on Eli Cobb's farm.
Psychologists from all over the world attempted
to guess at what had made Eli tick. During the 1930's and early
40's, he gained notoriety as being the largest serial killer on
record. Even children who knew of the exploits of Eli began to sing
songs about him and make jokes in an effort to, as Harold Schechter
suggests in his book Deviant, "exorcise the nightmare with
laughter." These distasteful jokes became known as "Cobber's"
and were quick to become popular around the world.
Back in Old Monroe, residents endured the onslaught
of reporters who disrupted their daily life by bombarding them with
questions about Eli. However, many of them eventually became involved
in the mania surrounding Eli and contributed what information they
had. Old Monroe was now known to the world as the home of infamous
Most residents who knew Eli had only good
things to say about him, other than that he was a little peculiar,
had a quirky grin and a strange sense of humor.
In November of '38 Eli's farm went up for auction
along with some of his other belongings.
Thousands of curiosity seekers diverged on the
small town to see what possessions of Eli's would be auctioned.
Some of the things to be auctioned off were his tractor, furniture
and musical instruments. The company that handled the business of
selling Eli's goods planned to charge a fee of fifty cents to look
at Eli's property. The citizens of Old Monroe were outraged. They
believed Eli's home was quickly becoming a "museum for the
morbid" and the town demanded something be done to put it to
an end. Although the company was later forbidden to charge an entrance
fee to the auction, residents were still not satisfied.
In the early morning of March 20, 1939 the Old
Monroe volunteer fire department was called to Eli's farm. Cobb's
house was on fire. The house quickly burned to the ground, as onlookers
watched in silent relief. Police believed that an arsonist was responsible
for the blaze and although they carried out a thorough investigation,
no suspect was ever found.
Although the fire destroyed most of Eli's belongings,
there were still many things that were salvaged. What was left of
Eli's possessions would still be auctioned off, including farm equipment
and most notably the rags and scythe that had adorned the scarecrow
(the scarecrow's body had been buried in an unmarked grave). The
scarecrow lot, which contained the only auctioned off items known
to have touched a dead body, caused a bidding war and was eventually
sold for six hundred and sixty-six dollars, a sum no bidder seemed
willing to overtake. The man who purchased the rags and scythe later
used them to dress a scarecrow that he claimed was the exhumed corpse
of Eli Cobb which he then put on display at a county fair, where
thousands paid a quarter to get a peek at the Cobb"Grim Reaper."
It seemed to the people of Old Monroe that the public's fascination
with Eli would never end.
The land that the Cobb farm rested on was left
empty and untended until 1999 when it was rezoned as a commercial
property. On September 29th, 2002, 65 years to the day of the original
horrible discovery, construction was stopped on the land when bones
bulldozers uncovered where discovered to be human remains. A
quickly organized police investigation discovered a total of 38
more bodies, which where attributed to the lands infamous prior
owner. The investigation, which received surprisingly little
press coverage, was closed shortly thereafter even though several
of the investigators believed that a number of the bodies appeared
"much too fresh to have been rotting in the ground for 65 years."