Regular readers of my rambles will be familiar with my love of urban legends. For me, few things are more satisfying than throwing myself into some darkened rabbit hole, spelunking about in its sinister depths, and emerging with that one kernel of truth, that forgotten genesis, responsible for spawning generations of terrifying tales. To that end, I invite you to consider the strange origins of the Pigman.
Among the pantheon of mythical bogeymen, the Pigman stands out for his pig-like countenance. Some describe him as having the actual head of a pig, others claim it is a pig mask, while still other witnesses insist that it is a physical deformity. Like any misunderstood misanthropic murderer might, the Pigman haunts remote lovers’ lanes, darkened railroad bridges, and lonely rural roads. Hardly unique for this class of villain, I know. However, what piqued my interest was the prevalence of the Pigman and the abundance of states that claim to be home to the legend.
Near Northfield, Vermont, there is a place called the Devil’s Washboard that is home to an axe wielding maniac that goes by the name of Pigman. Depending on the version, he either wears the rotting head of a pig or merely a pig snout. In Texas, there is the Pigman of Bonny Brae Bridge with two variations. In one, he is a hunter out chasing wild boar when, through some unfortunate incident of lycanthropy, he is bitten by a boar and doomed to haunt the area as a half-man, half-pig hybrid. The second version states that he was the victim of an infamous local motorcycle gang who cut off his nose and sliced his cheeks in a “Joker’s” smile. This hapless and mutilated man then lived as a recluse in the woods around Bonny Brae Bridge.
Then there is the Pigman’s Bridge of Hawkinsville Georgia, which merits its own discussion because of the striking similarities to my principal suspect. Pigman’s Bridge crosses the rural and winding Holland Road near the site of a tragic train wreck in 1888. As for the Pigman, there are two variations. The first states that he was a violent recluse that lived near the bridge and hung the heads of pigs on spikes to mark his territory. When a group of teenagers failed to heed his warning, the Pigman decapitated them and replaced the pig heads with theirs. The second, slightly more spectral version, insists that the Pigman is the ghost of a man who trained hogs for the circus and, for reasons unknown, was slain by his swine. The area is also said to be haunted by the ghosts of the fifty-some victims of a violent train wreck. Which brings us to Angola, New York, in my estimation the most likely origin of the Pigman legend.
Angola is a village in the town of Evans, about thirty miles southwest of Buffalo, New York. The place is probably best remembered as the site of the Angola Horror, a catastrophic train wreck that occurred in December of 1867, the deadliest train accident of its time. Located just west of the wreck site is Holland Road, Pigman Bridge, and the epicenter of Angola’s Pigman activity. As in Georgia’s Holland Road and accompanying bridge, Angola’s Pigman also stands accused of spiking the heads of pigs and teenagers. Similarly, the area is also said to be haunted by the victims of the Angola Horror and is a favorite destination of paranormal researchers. However, Angola’s Pigman is said to be a deranged butcher who hung a man on a meat hook in his shop before retiring to the woods to slaughter folks, or at least that’s one of the more popular origin stories.
In fairness, by this point in our tale, there was no real evidence to deem Angola’s claim any more valid than that of Hawkinsville, other than the veracity and quantity of Angola’s stories. Sure, there were a few paranormal television shows covering it and even a low budget slasher film based on Pigman, but nothing concrete until I came across a local author’s history of Angola and their take on the Pigman legend. It was a bombshell, telling a story that was far darker and exceedingly more intriguing than some lunatic staking pig heads and haunting a bridge.
The author’s story was extremely long and included a detailed history of the village of Angola and, while interesting, I will paraphrase here for length. The Pigman story begins in 1855 with a man named Elijah Derricks who built his home on Holland Road, not far from the railroad tracks. He was married, had two sons, but lived in relative poverty. In December of 1867, his two sons, Loring and Henry, were walking the tracks collecting pieces of coal that commonly fell from the passing trains. They then decided to remove two railroad ties, deeming them necessary to use in repairing a fence on their property. This would prove to be a fateful decision as, at 3:11 p.m. that afternoon, when the next train came through, the loosened track caused the two rear passenger cars to derail and plunge forty feet into a gorge. The cars were equipped with potbellied stoves that were not fastened down, thus tumbled through the cars spewing burning coals everywhere. Contributing to the blaze were numerous kerosene lamps which fueled the flames. At least forty-nine people perished and countless others were injured.
Residents of Angola rushed to assist the burning commuters and, according to the author, to cover up the involvement of the Derricks family in the tragedy. It was believed that the wrath of the railroad, and the country itself, would not be exclusive to the Derricks and would likely bring doom upon the town. In the end it was blamed on a “frog,” the raised area of track where it shifts from one gauge to another. At that time, not all trains ran on the same gauge of track. While the town may have been saved embarrassment, the Derricks still lived on in infamy.
After the death of Elijah, Henry moved into Angola while Loring stayed on Holland Road and renovated the family home. Sometime around 1906, a mysterious fire destroyed several buildings and once again cast suspicion on the Derricks. Henry, bearing the brunt, packed up and left town for good, leaving his brother behind. In 1911, Loring was at the center of another fiasco while volunteering with the town’s Independence Day fireworks display. A child’s arm was pierced with a rocket and several others were severely burned. The town was sued for $12,500 and Loring was ostracized.
Loring married Betsy Crabtree, an outcast in her own right as her parents were first cousins. On April 17, 1913, they had a son, William Derricks. William was born with a terrible facial deformity, frontonasal dysplasia, in which the two sides of his face never fully connected. The result was a split nose, separated eyes, and a badly cleft lip. The people of Angola secretly believed this to be a curse inflicted by God to punish Loring for all of his bad deeds.
Loring and his family became increasingly reclusive, even as the town thrived. William received little to no education and had few friends. The one exception was a one-armed boxer who rescued him as a toddler, ironically, from an oncoming train. This man eventually secured him an internship at a butcher shop and then later introduced him to sideshow and circus promoters.
William spent much of the 1940s and 1950s touring with various circuses and sideshow acts, returning to Angola sometime in the late 50s. He married his first cousin, Mildred Crabtree, and together they had a son, William Jr. It is also rumored that they had twin daughters, though this is uncertain as there were no birth certificates. They all lived together in William’s ancestral home on Holland road.
Sometime after that, Ed Ball Sanitation opened near the Derricks House, serving as the town dump, and William became employed there. Throughout the sixties, residents spoke about the strange, hooded figure at the dump, who spoke in short, mangled sentences, directing them to where they were to pile their trash and how he was frequently seen rifling through those piles, even before the depositor had left.
In November of 1966, Mildred died and was buried illegally on the property. There are three graves on the site, the other two presumably belonging to his grandparents, who built the house. It is unknown what exactly became of the children, though rumor has it that they stayed, at least partially, with the Crabtree side of the family.
Things took a darker turn around 1969. The dump closed, leaving the area around Holland Road and neighboring Hardpan Road almost unvisited. This is about the time that the legend of the Pigman began to take form. With the area becoming increasingly more isolated, it became an attractive spot for teenagers to throw parties or to park their cars for make-out sessions. William Derricks was not amused.
To preserve his privacy, he began posting dead animals along his driveway to deter trespassers. Reports of an angry man in a rusty ford truck running kids off the road and chasing them away became common. Some, unfortunate enough to see his face, were granted a deeper level of horror and Holland Road became known as Pigman Road.
In 1973, Harris Thompson, a utility worker, turned up missing, last seen visiting homes in the Route 5, Holland Road area, never to be seen again. During the search and investigation, authorities visited William Derricks’ house, finding him not at home. A young boy, presumed to be William Jr., was present, along with numerous animals. The investigators found the house to be filled with refuse, animal feces, and generally unfit for human habitation, subsequently contacting Child Protective Services.
However, before CPS could respond, on the night of October 31, 1973, the Derricks house mysteriously burned to the ground. While it was assumed that the Derricks perished in the fire, no human remains were ever found. As for the Pigman, the matter is less clear. For years after the fire, small piles of neatly sorted trash could be found along Holland Road. In October 1978, fire claimed another nearby home while the occupants were away on vacation. The owner returned to find many of his things neatly sorted into small piles throughout the woods. Other witnesses report being chased out of the area by a rusty old Ford pickup, not unlike William Derricks’. Then, of course, there are the persistent sightings of the Pigman himself, and that bring us nearly full circle.
So, there it was, I had my smoking gun, a piece of local history to link it all together. But I just had to dig deeper, I had to research the claims and fact check it. That’s when the wheels came off.
The first, and most obvious place to begin, was the Angola Horror. That train wreck was responsible for more safety innovations than probably any other event of its kind. It seemed unlikely to me that a couple of pre-teens could unearth and abscond with a single railroad tie, let alone multiple. Sure enough, nowhere in this hugely publicized and extensively investigated tragedy was foul play or a coverup ever suggested.
The author claimed, at the beginning of their story, that the family name of “Derricks” had been changed to protect anonymity. Still there were other clues, like young William’s rescue at the hand of the one-armed boxer. While the event actually happened, the child in question could not have been our Pigman. He was not deformed and spent almost the entirety of their adult life in California doing very un-Pigman-like things. As for Harris Tompkins, I could find no such person or missing person’s case. Then there was the fireworks disaster and the fires, neither of which I could find a record of. While it was clear that this individual was well familiar with the town history, it seems our Pigman had been inserted into it.
I did find one, unrelated piece of evidence about the 1931 murder of an Angola butcher. As the Pigman is reputed to be a butcher, I found the case interesting. In fact, this is probably the most reasonable solution, considering how these myths develop from an almost “telephone game” chain of invents. Allegedly an Angola businessman named Antonio “Tony” Amico was trying to get in with the Mafia in Buffalo (not the Bills Mafia) which required a murder. Amico had a beef with one of his tenants, Steve Soleki, so he chose him to be the victim. The gist of the story is that Amico was never convicted of the crime, though he was widely believed to have done it. He went on to live in Angola for decades, the rumors of his crimes only becoming more gruesome with time.
As for William Derricks, the Pigman, I was out of luck. Then I found it, the one true clue, April 17, 1913. Though it drug me down an entirely different rabbit hole, when I got to the bottom, I found the Pigman. His name was William “Bill” Durks, aka The Man With Three Eyes, aka The Man With Two Faces.
William Durks shares the same birthday as our fictional William Derricks, April 17, 1913. Like our Pigman, Durks also toured as a sideshow freak where he met the love of his life, Mildred, aka the Alligator Skinned Woman. After they were married, they toured under the moniker of the “The World’s Most Unusual Couple.” Unfortunately, that is where the similarities end. Durks was born in Alabama and, as far as I can tell, never lived in New York. He died in Florida on May 7, 1975.
It is, however, entirely within the realm of possibility that Durks traveled through Angola during his time working freakshows. Further, it is interesting to note, that the most common method of touring in Durks’ day would have been by train. Though it might be a stretch, trains and train bridges feature prominently in all of the Pigman legends. Could it be that some of these myths were born of chance midnight encounters with William Durks upon darkened train tracks? Certainly possible.
One final piece of circumstantial evidence to consider is the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Train Wreck of 1918, near Hammond, Indiana. During the early hours of June 22, a troop train rear ended the circus train, resulting in a fiery and catastrophic wreck. 86 people, mostly circus performers, were burned alive and another 127 were injured. Most of the dead were buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Forrest Park, Illinois. The plot became known as Showman’s Rest and is maintained by members of the circus industry to this day. The memory of that tragedy echoed for decades in the public imagination. Perhaps, somehow elements of the circus train, the Angola Horror, and the Pigman became conflated over the years, the way urban legends often do.
While the historian whom I allowed myself to be bamboozled by clearly knew who Durks was, it doesn’t really solve Angola’s Pigman mystery, leastwise not to my satisfaction. There was too much truth in the lie for my taste. It does, however, satisfy the question of the greater portion of the myth, the Pigman himself. Among Durks’ many stage names and aliases, he had indeed been called Pigman on many occasions. While his fame has certainly eluded more modern generations, during his lifetime, William Durks would have been at least a minor celebrity, enigmatic enough to leave behind some latent memory in the collective conscious that is urban legend.