Hiking: The Frigid Haunting of Lake Crescent | Olympic National Park, WA

The Pacific Northwest – known for it's dense forests and wet weather – can sometimes belay a dreary, if not eerie feeling when one ventures out into the mossy woods. While nobody can deny the natural beauty that graces the region, many point to mysterious disappearances, Native American lore and paranormal activity as evidence that the region is in fact a haunting hot spot.

One frightening example is set around Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park, where locals recount a grisly true story about a barmaid who went missing around Christmas of 1937. When her body was found floating in the lake 3 years later, locals were disturbed by the circumstances of her death – and her strangely preserved corpse.

The scene is the Olympic Peninsula - just a few miles west of Seattle, outside what is now Olympic National Park. The area is a vast evergreen wilderness dotted by sparsely populated logging towns and pristine glacial lakes. Lake Crescent is among the largest of these lakes, and a contender for the deepest in the United States – some estimate up to 1000 feet to the bottom.

The lake is a stunning example of the region’s natural beauty which narrowly avoided deforestation during World War 1, when the Spruce Railroad was built to harvest the forest to build war planes. Luckily, the war ended, the forest was spared, and the railroad was abandoned. The railroad bed was subsequently turned in to Spruce Railroad Trail, which traverses the forest around Lake Crescent.

The tale begins one year before the park was established, just before Christmas of 1937. On the morning of December 21, a recently married barmaid named Hallie Latham Illingworth, who worked in Port Angeles at the Lake Crescent Tavern, went missing without a trace. Suspicion was immediately cast on her abusive and adulterous husband Monty, who claimed Hallie ran off with another man. Monty soon left for California with his new lover, while Hallie's family's doubt grew regarding Monty's story when she failed to make contact with them.

Finally, in 1940 a pair of fishermen were appalled to find a woman – hogtied, wrapped in blankets and a thick rope – floating in the frigid waters. The body was taken to a nearby hospital, where it was examined by a medical student who documented the body's condition.

The description of the body is quite morbid – her fingers and parts of her face were missing, making identification difficult, while obvious signs of trauma suggested a violent death by suffocation. Perhaps most disturbing however, is that despite floating in Lake Crescent for over 3 years, the corpse was remarkably well preserved - mummified by a process called “saponification.”

Her flesh was described as having the appearance of “Ivory soap,” easily scooped with a teaspoon. It was concluded that the near freezing temperatures and mineral content of the water had turned her body's fat into soap – a natural process of mummification.

Residents where obviously quite distressed by the findings, and the corpse was quickly dubbed “The Lady of the Lake” by the local press. The lady would have gone unidentified if had not been for a distinctive dental plate that was confirmed as a match for the missing barmaid, Hallie Illingworth.

Her husband Monty had been living a new life in Long Beach California, but was extradited to Port Angeles to stand trial for Hallie's murder. Using the dental plate and a rope sample from a local vendor which matched the rope used to tie up Hallie's body, the jury convicted Monty and sentenced him to life in prison. He was granted parole after serving only 9 years and returned to California until his death in the 1974.

It was later concluded that Monty had murdered Hallie in a vicious bout of domestic violence in which he beat and strangled her to death. In order to cover up his crime, he commandeered a rowboat for a morbid trip onto Lake Crescent, where he submerged her weighted body in the middle of the night. It was suspected that he had an accomplice in the crime, however nothing was ever proven.

The story of the lady of the Lake now chills the campsites of visitors on the popular Spruce Railroad Trail – one of the only trails in a national park that allows dogs and bicycles. Numerous reports of the Lady's ghost being spotted along the banks of Lake Crescent – and floating above the water itself. Locals claim to have experienced unexplained noises and sightings in their houses and the Lake Crescent Tavern – all attributed to the Lady of the Lake, a woman who met a cold and violent death before her time.

To learn more about haunted hikes in the United States, check out Healthlisted’s list of the Most Haunted Hiking Trails in the US.