The Creepy, Bloody History Of Execution Rocks

By Debra Kelly on Saturday, February 22, 2014
Line4046_-_Flickr_-_NOAA_Photo_Library
“I figured it would be a good plan to hire a few sailors to work for me, get them out to my yacht, get them drunk, commit sodomy on them, rob them and then kill them. This I done.” —Carl Panzram, serial killer, on his plans at Execution Rocks

In A Nutshell

The aptly named Execution Rocks is the site of a lighthouse off the western end of Long Island Sound. Unproven folklore says that the rocky island got its name from the British soldiers who would chain colonists to the rocks and execute them via high tide. In the 1920s, serial killer Carl Panzram used the island as a dumping ground for bodies, and it’s long been a hotbed for claims of paranormal and ghostly activity.

The Whole Bushel

Execution Rocks sits just off Sands Point on the western end of Long Island Sound. As suggested by its rather gruesome name, it’s long been a site of horrific history, repeated fires, and ghostly activity, and was the dumping ground for a serial killer.

Its name comes from folklore that’s never actually been proven, but given the gory details in the rest of the little island’s history, it wouldn’t be surprising if there was something to it. The story goes that in Colonial America, tensions were always running high between the British redcoats and the American colonists. But executions were still a matter of necessity at the time. In order to avoid any potential uproar, the British also avoided public executions. Instead, they would supposedly take the condemned to Execution Rocks, were they would be chained to hooks that had been buried deep into the rock. Then, it was simply a matter of waiting for high tide to drown the unfortunate detainees. It’s said that the dead bodies were left there to give future victims a look at what the high tide was going to bring them, a final mind game as they waited for the waters to rise. (That last bit isn’t very likely, as that would likely have caused the public uproar the location was intended to avoid.)

The other idea about how the rocks got their name isn’t really all that much better. This one says that the settlers of Manhasset Neck saw many ships trying to navigate through the dangerous, rocky waters of Manhasset Bay and run aground on those rocks. So many ships met their demise on the rocks that it was finally decided that a lighthouse was probably a good idea.

Government being then much the same as it is now, they first suggested a light-boat instead of a lighthouse; it was cheaper, after all. Debate when on for about 10 years until a lighthouse was finally built, going into active service in 1850. There wasn’t enough money for a lighthouse keeper’s home, though, so Daniel Caulkins and his wife lived in the base of the tower.

The first fire happened on the watch of his successor, in 1918. The lighthouse keepers and the Navy put out the fire; another happened in 1921, also with only minor damage.

In 1920, Execution Rocks was a stopover and brief dumping ground for serial killer Carl Panzram. After robbing a New Haven, Connecticut home belonging to former US President William Taft and stealing one of his guns, Panzram used the stolen money to buy a yacht. He then headed to New York City, where he docked his yacht at City Island before prowling the city streets in search of more victims. He would select his target, then approach them saying that he needed a crew. Once lured on board and sedated with wine, Panzram would kill them with Taft’s revolver, tie a rock to the bodies, and dump them in the waters off Execution Rocks.

Today, the lighthouse on the rocks no longer has a keeper—that job has been replaced by an automated system. Ghosts are still reported there, even though former lighthouse keepers have said that they never experienced any paranormal activity on the island.

According to ghost hunters, though, the spirits of the dead are very much active there, haunting Execution Rocks with apparitions, the sound of footsteps, and cries of pain and terror.

Show Me The Proof

US Coast Guard Aids to Navigation: Execution Rocks
Crime Library: Carl Panzram: Too Evil To Live, Part I
Paranormal Activity Network Investigation Center Database: Execution Rocks Lighthouse
Featured photo credit: NOAA Photo Library

  • Lisa 39

    Haunted lighthouses are awesome, but the history of how this one got haunted is pretty twisted.

    • Atlas

      Lighthouses by themselves are pretty creepy to me, they’re isolated and just plain eerie.

      • Lisa 39

        I agree and i also think they’re very beautiful!

        • Atlas

          Almost every year my family and I go down to North Carolina for vacation, specifically the Outer Banks, and we stay within walking distance of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. It’s a really pretty lighthouse with loads of history and interesting stories, so we try to see it every time we go! I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it before, but if you get the chance you should check it out!

          • Lisa 39

            Thank you atlas, i’ll keep that in mind, what state do you live in?

          • Atlas

            I live in Pennsylvania.

          • Lisa 39

            I’m next door in ohio!

          • Atlas

            Awesome! Most of my family is from Ohio!

          • Lisa 39

            Are they near cleveland?

          • lbatfish

            Hey! I’m near Cleveland, too! But probably not the one in the state you were thinking of.

          • Lisa 39

            Well crap lbatfish, i just drove thru georgia last september on my way to sc from tn, i think your state is beautiful!

          • Atlas

            I guess I should clarify, a lot of my family was from Ohio, but now they have moved here to PA. My mom lived near Colombus for most of her life and I have a few very distant relatives who live somewhere in southern Ohio (I haven’t seen them in a while).

          • Lisa 39

            Well i guess you won’t be visiting relatives close to me then lol when i was young my grandparents had a cabin in pa, around or in erie, it was right on the allegheny, that’s where my grandpa took my brother and i fishing, we also took baths in the river with our soap, shampoo and bathing suits lol

          • Atlas

            Lol, my mom tells my brother and i many stories about her having to bathe in rivers and lakes when her parents took her camping!

          • Lisa 39

            Aren’t those the best stories ever?

          • Atlas

            They are!

          • Lisa 39

            Then i have a story for you, so i was 10 and my brother was 9, my grandma, mom, brother and i were at the cabin, of course its in the woods and sometimes nature attacks, so someone, i don’t remember who, opened the door and a bat flew in, it flew around the cabin while we were ducking and yelling, finally it flew into the bathroom so my grandma grabbed the broom and mop and went in there, she beat that dumb thing to death, used the broom to sweep it into the dustpan and threw into the yard, my little old grandma (she was 60 at the time) saved us from the big mean flying rodent lol

          • Atlas

            Lol that’s a good one! Did you by chance watch The Office when it was on? Your story made me think of the episode when a bat gets into the office, and Dwight takes a paintball mask, a broom, and a trash bag to deal with it……oh that show was hilarious.

          • Lisa 39

            No i never saw that, i don’t really watch tv but i love movies, have you ever seen “the great outdoors” with john candy and dan ackroyd? The bat in the cabin scene is frickin hilarious lol

          • Atlas

            I actually have, I love Dan Akyroyd and John Candy too! I really enjoy movies also, and The Great Outdoors was hilarious, I especially loved the two raccoons! I actually took a film history class last year after school which really got me interested in film.

          • Lisa 39

            That’s great! When i was in school we learned the 3 r’s, reading, riting and rithmatic, no, i didn’t make that up lol i think my fav john candy movie is uncle buck, its so damn funny! Have you seen it?

          • TheMadHatter

            Gotta love cape hatteras, my friend has a beach house there and I’ve been a few times. Usually I just go to myrtle beach though. And my ‘healthy fear’ of heights means I’ve never actually gone to the top of the lighthouse. One day, maybe. The Carolina’s just happen to be beautiful. I find it funny when people who are visiting or new are just like “… Much trees… How…”

  • 1DireWolf

    I think having a job as a lighthouse keeper would be awesome.

    • Lisa 39

      I agree, if the bacon doesn’t work then i can move in to one with my cats!

  • UN

    my school badge had a light house as some kind of source of beacon or knowledge……..school days r the best

  • Hinrik Stefnir Ævarsson

    When i read the name of he article my first thought was of a rock in a nearby village, on which my ancestor “Axla” Björn was strapped, had his arms and legs broken with sledgehammers and was subsequently beheaded. Dude was the only serial killer in my countries history. He let people stay in his farm overnight when they travelled to market, and he’d bury a hatchet in their skulls and steal their things. So he had it coming to him.

    • Lisa 39

      Wow, awesome family history!

  • mo

    Glad the “debate when on”.

  • Spartachilles

    I misread the title as “Rockets”, rather than “Rocks”. I also thought that the lighthouse the picture was a spaceship.

  • Errkism

    According to ghost hunters, everything and everywhere is haunted.

  • yankeegirl1

    Most likely true that people were executed there. Hanging of pirates and criminals also happened on Nixes Mate in Boston Harbor. Their bodies were left hanging to rot as a warning to other pirates.