Hilltop Manor - The Beginning

From the front sidewalk, the 1875 Queen Anne style home looms large and imposing at the top of cement steps.  We have arrived at Joie de Vie Tea Room/B&B for an evening investigation.

The homeowners, Randa and Carlton Le Jeune, bid us welcome and we enter the house.  Warm, inviting and richly appointed with antiques from the late 19th century, the house serves as both business and home to Randa and Carlton and several unseen houseguests.  More about them later…..

Not original to the site, the three story house was carefully moved from the Drake University area in the 1990’s to save it from demolition.  The current lot where it rests in the Sherman Hill area of Des Moines is not without its own sad history and ghosts.

In 1900, a five story brick apartment building, known as the Coronado, was built where the home rests today.  Over the years, as the area fell into neglect, so did the Coronado.  In 1977, a renter by the name of Robert Veverka, ignited a fire that quickly swept through the carpeted hallways of the ancient brick building, spreading to all floors without hesitation.  It was there on the highest floor that Vivian Rand (26) and her five year old daughter, Sonya, burned to death in front of screaming neighbors, unable to do anything to aid in their escape.  Bystanders pleaded unsuccessfully with Vivian to drop the child.  The old, metal fire escape ladder, which was so close to Vivian’s foot, was also red hot from the flames and she couldn’t touch it; much like seawater to a stranded sailor dying of thirst….so close and yet so far….

In addition to the Rands, there were three other Coronado casualties who died of smoke inhalation.  Their names: Fae Warrick (54), Nellie Hall (55) and Larry Gene Thomas (28).   Knowing about their lives and deaths brings a human aspect into the supernatural happenings on this corner lot.

There are certainly other nameless spirits who reside with the Le Jeunes.  Who runs through the Coronado’s hallway searching for a way to escape the fire?  Why do scissors frequently go missing; only to appear in an upper bedroom?  Could it be the original mistress of the house, Georgia Jordan, who was an accomplished seamstress?  Who moves chairs with unseen hands and raises a teacup to invisible lips?

There are apparitions who tease the living with the ability to appear then disappear.  One, a young man dressed in 1920’s golfing attire, has been seen on the front staircase.  Another is a lady dressed in a long white gown.  They don’t stay for long….just enough for the living to wonder “what did I just see?”

But, I’m sure you want to know how the investigation fared.  After spending 6 hours in the house and then analyzing audio, video, photographs and researchers’ accounts, we were rewarded with two unusual EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena) (I'm sorry) EVP by Kevin & (I'm a negro) by Kevin, two anomalous photos, a ghostly touch, a moving object and the appearance of two apparitions!!!

Is there supernatural activity in the old mansion?   Absolutely!  What we saw just skimmed the surface of that which awaits us in the rooms from the parlor to the second floor bedrooms and, yes, even in the attic.  We’ll return again to see what other ghostly evidence will be presented to us!