Growing up as a child in Salt Lake City, I was inundated with religious culture. From every side, spirituality was a major part of everyday life. From the Sunday worship ceremonies in the strip-mall church I attended, to wondering about the mysterious Seminary courses my LDS friends took every day just off of the main campus. Along with this sometimes suffocating life of varying religious influences came a fascination that every kid seems to have: in superstitions and the paranormal.
Maybe it is our church culture, but Utah seems to be especially full of stories about ghosts of dead men in old mills, Satanic worship in old Native American high schools and demonic forces waiting to lure the unwary (and unrighteous) into the evil night. But one tale that has been a constant source of interest has been the tombstone of Lillian Gray.
For those of you outside of Utah, or just who haven't come across the story, allow me to give a quick rundown of what we know for sure:
Lillian “Lilly” Gray is a resident of the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Born June 6th, 1881 (a date that is disputed), she died on November 14, 1958. It is not her death itself that is of interest to those who come across her final resting place, but the inscription underneath her name. It reads, “Lilly E Gray Victim of the Beast 666”.
This strange, slightly eerie proclamation has been a source of whispered sleepover speculation for generations. This would be the case in any city, providing a certain amount of curiosity. But in the faith-based world of Salt Lake, it is especially chilling for those who grew up hearing the – often ridiculous – theories as to what it meant.
Was she some kind of Satan worshiper who chose for her last words to be a slap in the face to the righteous who had kept her at arm's length in life? Was she murdered by a vengeful, evil human being, of who was called out on her death from beyond the grave? Maybe it was an accusation, a claim from another who felt that even once she had passed from this life she deserved no rest.
I came up with ideas like all the rest, and some were pretty wild. I know at least three friends from school who swear that they knew from someone who knew someone who was a relative of Lilly, who had intimate knowledge of the secret behind the tomb. Alas, these were all unfounded, and I spent my adolescent years vaguely curious about what they could possibly mean, but knowing I would probably never find out.
But a few months ago I was having drinks with friends, and the topic came up amongst the other life-long Utahns. Though older than me, they too had always wondered about the stone. They had even heard the same theories and claims about the truth. This got my hankering for answers up, and I decided that now, as an adult, I would solve the mystery and be a hero to the literally five people who will care about this quest.
I am sorry to say that I failed. I have no concrete answers, despite trying every trick I knew to find a relation to Lilly Gray, who might have some insight into her life. However, I did come across an article written a few years ago, along with a more recent update, by Richelle Hawks, a contributor to the website UFO Digest (see article sources below). With her permission, I recount some of her findings, which gives us both some potential answers, and yet still more questions.
Ms. Hawks became interested in the whole account when she was visiting the cemetery and stumbled on the gravestone by accident. It compelled her to search out information, but she came across many of the same roadblocks I did. Lilly was an old woman who died of natural causes, and there is very little information on her. Eventually, she managed to find a death certificate in digital public records.
Lilly was originally from Canada, was a housewife, and interestingly both her father and husband had the last name Gray, though even the salacious promise of incest is probably nothing more than a mere coincidence.
Her official death is listed as 'pulmonary embolus, renal insufficiency,and nephrotic syndrome'; in layman's terms, the old lady croaked. Nothing to find there at all.
What ended up becoming the most interesting point of the public records was the small amount of information that could be found on her husband, Elmer L Gray. Intense search has not yielded results when it comes to a birth or death certificate. All we know is that, according to a newspaper clipping obtained by Ms Hawks, Gray was arrested for stealing an umbrella. A Utah State Board of Pardons document shows him asking for parole termination....apparently.
The document, which can be found (see article sources below), is either proof of a paranoid and very sick mind, or a very sarcastic and irritable one. His application states that he is seeking “an end to this farce”, and when asked what name he is serving under, he states “Woodrowe Lamb, a bum”, crossing out 'serving' and replacing it with the word “kidnaped [sic]”.
He claims that he was a restaurant owner and Union Pacific carpenter, and that he had been kidnapped for the last ten years, with captors who would not allow him to have any friends. He repeatedly refers to the police who arrested him as “democrat kidnappers”, and said that his parents died of grief when the same kidnappers murdered his wife. Is this a reference to the late Lillian Gray?
It was based on this document that Ms. Hawks created her theory, which seems to be the most sound. She believes that the tombstone is a reference to Mr. Gray's paranoia about law enforcement and the government. Somehow, he believes it is they who are responsible for the death of Lilly Grey. The beast, in this case, is a religious reference to a force he seemed to believe were evil, and somehow killed her..the police.
From my own research into Elmer L Gray, I found one other document that may be associated with him. Under the name “Woodrow Lamb” I came across another parole document from Salt Lake City, Utah. In it, he states that he was born on March 12, 1881 in Missouri, which would be around the right time. A quick search of the Missouri digital public records showed no birth or death certificate under either of the names cited, but it is conceivable that they just haven't been sorted, were lost, or are not available digitally.
Is this Woodrow Lamb the same man? Did Elmer Gray go under an alias, or was the name Grey an alias to begin with, explaining why finding records relating to him is so difficult? It is impossible to say for sure, but one thing I did notice was the handwriting, which in both documents is similar. Particularly the capital 'L' used in both names, which has a unique looping that can be seen in the signatures.
In the end, we may never know the truth of the inscription on the tombstone of the late Lillian Grey, though I do think that Ms. Hawks theory of it being chosen by a husband angry with an institution he distrusted to be a valid one. But the speculation that has given goosebumps to generations of kids will live on, and who can really be disappointed about that?