Former residents of Brentwood 'demon' house dispute book's claims
October 26, 2014 12:00 AM
Grand Oaks Manor, the historic home in Brentwood owned by Bob Cranmer. Cranmer has written a book about the home, which he believes was haunted until it underwent an exorcism several years ago.
Grand Oaks Manor, the historic home in Brentwood owned by Bob Cranmer.
Former Allegheny County Commissioner Bob Cranmer has written a book about his allegedly haunted or possessed home in Brentwood, which he says underwent a successful exorcism eight years ago.
By Sean D. Hamill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In his recently released book “The Demon of Brownsville Road,” former Allegheny County Commissioner Bob Cranmer said he and his family lived for 18 years in a haunted house in Brentwood before an exorcism chased out the demonic infestation in 2006.
They said they’ve seen blood running down the walls and heard pounding on the walls and mysterious footsteps in the hallways. Family members have awakened with mysterious scratches on their legs or said they’ve been tripped or pushed by the demon.
The book has become popular with people of faith — who see it as a testament to Mr. Cranmer’s devotion to Christianity — and those who are intrigued by the paranormal, boosted by a 2011 Discovery Channel documentary detailing the exorcism.
The publisher Berkley Books, part of the multinational Penguin Group, says the book is a “true and accurate report of the events.” Mr. Cranmer said it has sold out of its first printing of 10,000 copies, and he has done dozens of television and radio interviews across the country, and his book signings at local libraries and bookstores have drawn droves of people.
But is it true? Members of two families who owned the house prior to the Cranmers, and a third family whose ancestor Mr. Cranmer says fueled the evil in the home, say the events involving their families are not true or accurate.
“I can imagine they would be” upset by the negative depiction of their relatives in the book, Mr. Cranmer, 58, said in an interview. “But the last thing I want is to get into a he-said-she-said with people who weren’t there when I heard what I wrote.”
The families who lived in the house at 3406 Brownsville Road before him point out that much of what Mr. Cranmer says he knows about their experiences there came from conversations he had with their parents, who are now all deceased.
Members of the families, who lived in the home for a combined 47 years before Mr. Cranmer bought it in 1988, have a common objection to the book: The author asserts that they had paranormal experiences similar to what he and his family experienced there.
“Other than squirrels in the walls, I never experienced anything there,” said Karen Dwyer, 59, who lived in the house for seven years in the 1950s and 1960s, after her mother, Barbara Paisley, got divorced and moved in with her parents. Ms. Paisley’s parents, Walter and Margaret Wagner, owned the home from 1941 to 1979. “My mother never said anything about the house being haunted. My grandmother never said anything about the house being haunted. And my grandfather never said anything about the house being haunted.”
“If he wants to go and write it from 1988 and go forward, do it; I don’t care,” said Ms. Dwyer, who still lives in Brentwood. “But if you want to lie about other people and things that happened before that, well no, that’s not right.”
Her brother, Ken Wilock, 58, and their uncle, Walter Wagner Jr., 79, both said they never had any experiences either.
Mr. Cranmer writes at one point that Ms. Dwyer and Mr. Wilock’s mother, Mrs. Paisley — whom he never names directly — told him before she died in 2009 that the Wagners had a family dog that seemed “to sense the presence of a ‘spirit’ and would go from room to room apparently looking for it.”
“That’s interesting,” said Mr. Wagner, who was 6 when his parents bought the home in 1941, and visited regularly as an adult, “because we never had a dog, and my parents didn’t like to have pets.”
As for the family who bought the home from the Wagners in 1979, “We have no evidence of anything like [Mr. Cranmer describes in his book] ever happening in the house,” said Michael Joyce, 40, who lives in Baldwin now and lived in the Brentwood home from age 5 to 14 until his parents sold the home to the Cranmers. Both his parents died in the past 13 months.
Mr. Cranmer, who still lives in the home, said he knew the families would not be happy with the book: “I was waiting for this [reaction from the families] to happen. But I thought after the Joyces died, it might not.”
Mr. Cranmer asserts that the house has had this demonic infestation since it was built in 1910. He writes that the Wagners — who bought the home from the original owners, the Malicks — and the Joyces knew about the evil there. Despite that, Mr. Cranmer maintains that the Wagners sold the home to the Joyces without telling them about what they experienced, and the Joyces — whom Mr. Cranmer renames the “McHenrys” in the book — then sold it to the Cranmers without telling them.
The result, Mr. Cranmer writes, is that he, his wife, Lesa, and their three sons and one daughter, unwittingly moved into a home filled with an evil presence that physically and emotionally attacked them, nearly destroying the family.
He writes that the land itself was cursed after some settlers were murdered there by Native Americans in the 1700s, and that evil grew when one of the workmen building the house in 1909 and 1910 put a curse on the home.
That evil was then inflamed, he writes, in the 1920s and 1930s when a local doctor, James C. Mahan Sr. — whom Mr. Cranmer names only as “Dr. M” — began renting out space in the home from the Malicks to perform illegal abortions that killed “a lot” of children, and at least one of the mothers.
As a child, Mr. Cranmer, who grew up in Brentwood, always had an interest in the stately house. He was told in 2012 by a Catholic “intuitive,” Connie Valenti of Aspinwall, that the reason he was long “drawn” to the home was so that he would be the one to fight the evil.
In 2005 and 2006, when Mr. Cranmer says the demonic infestation reached its peak, Ms. Valenti worked with the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, in trying to find the source of evil.
Father Lengwin had been assigned to work with Mr. Cranmer then, he says, after a friend — former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy — asked then-Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl to help.
In the book’s epilogue, Mr. Cranmer says Ms. Valenti told him he was chosen to fight the evil because she believed from her visions that he was a reincarnated child who died in the home after an illegal abortion, a procedure that also ended in the death of his mother.
“I’m still puzzled by it, can’t say that I fully believe it,” he writes, “but it is intriguing.”
Most of the allegations against Dr. Mahan Sr. are based on Ms. Valenti’s visions, which were passed on to Mr. Cranmer by Father Lengwin. He describes those visions as well as a series of rumors and old stories Mr. Cranmer says he was told by Brentwood residents over the years that Dr. Mahan Sr. was a limping, profane drunk who was also not a very good doctor, and his wife was often drunk, too.
Neither Ms. Valenti, nor Father Lengwin, nor Mr. Cranmer said they had any documentation to these claims against Dr. Mahan Sr., or the claim of the worker putting a curse on the house.
“I don’t need to verify it in order to tell the story,” Father Lengwin said in an interview.
Ms. Valenti said in an interview that what is in the book “is all true” and “I can only tell you what I saw” in her visions.
Father Lengwin said he had no problem with those stories being printed in the book because Dr. Mahan Sr. is never directly named and “we didn’t accuse anyone of anything.”
Though he concedes “Dr. M” is Dr. Mahan Sr., when initially asked about him, Mr. Cranmer said: “Well, I didn’t identify him in the book, so I’m not going to discuss him.”
Two of Dr. Mahan Sr.’s grandchildren were upset by the description of their grandparents.
“Wow. Wow,” said Anita Mucha, 60, when told by a reporter what the book says, since she hadn’t read it. “I’ve never heard anything about” such allegations.
Ms. Mucha, who lived in Brentwood for much of her life before moving to Upper St. Clair, is the daughter of the late James C. Mahan Jr., one of Dr. Mahan Sr.’s two sons. She was 4 when Dr. Mahan Sr. died in 1958, and has few memories of her grandfather.
Her brother Dean Mahan, 58, said he knew enough of his family’s history to know that part of the allegation against his grandfather — that he performed illegal abortions in the 1920s and 1930s in the home — did not fit the timeline.
“My grandfather wasn’t even there on Brownsville Road [in Brentwood] then,” he said in an interview.
Dr. Mahan Sr. did not move into a home down the street from Mr. Cranmer’s home until sometime in the 1940s after he filed for divorce with his wife.
The local press covered a weeklong hearing in the divorce case in 1942 because of some scandalous allegations the doctor lodged against his wife and the prominence of the family. The doctor later retracted the allegations and they never divorced.
Dean Mahan said the general description in the book of when and where Dr. Mahan Sr. practiced “is definitely correct.”
“But part of that, about the character he’s describing, he’s writing his character to enhance his book or to entice his audience,” he said. “It’s just not true.”
Sean D. Hamill: email@example.com or 412-263-2579
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