The COS clothing brand is the height of modern fashion—but did you know their SoHo store was the site of a shocking murder back in 1799? It's true. In fact, the store located at 129 Spring Street, is said to be one of the "10 Most Haunted Places in America," according to the Travel Channel.
This is the fascinating tale of Gulielma Elmore Sands, Levi Weeks, the Manhattan Well, and the spirits that linger behind still today.
More than 200 years ago, Gulielma Sands—better known as Elma—lived in a boarding house at 208 Greenwich Street. She met a carpenter named Levi Weeks who lived just down the street from her, and the pair soon struck up a secret romance. With a plan in place to elope, Elma left her boarding house on December 22nd, 1799, knowing in her heart that she would return a married woman. She was wrong: she'd never return at all.
Elma's cousin, Catherine Ring, reported that Elma had left that night around eight o'clock. At least that's what she thought—she'd heard the door close, but never saw Elma or Levi leave the home. However, she did see Levi arrive at the house at 10, demanding to know the whereabouts of his fiancée. This disruption caused panic to spread through the boarding house.
During an investigation, witness claimed to have seen Elma in the Lispenard's Meadow that night. Though it was said she was spotted with two men, those men could not be identified. A few days later, Elma's body was discovered at the bottom of a well in the meadow. Evidence revealed that she had been strangled to the point of losing consciousness, and then thrown down the well to be disposed of. The impact cracked her skull, and as she failed to regain consciousness, she ultimately drowned to death.
So began America's first recorded murder trial. Levi Weeks was the obvious suspect in the crime. Luckily, his brother, Ezra, sought out two infamous lawyers for his defense: Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. The trial was a brief one, lasting only a little more than a day. Due to a lack of evidence, Levi was acquitted.
Burr and Hamilton suggested that a boarder in the same house as Elma had committed the crime. Besides Elma's family, Richard Croucher had been one of the loudest in accusing Levi of the crime. He distributed pamphlets to the community to convince them of Levi's guilt. Thought Levi had a relatively solid alibi for the night of Elma's murder, Croucher could not provide one. He left New York City about a year after Elma's murder, but was later found guilty in Virginia of raping a child. He then fled to England, where he was later executed for strangling a woman to death.
No one else was ever charged for Elma's murder, and justice for her untimely death may never be served. Perhaps that's why her spirit lingers behind at the well?
In the 1820s, the Lispenard Meadow saw rapid development, with many upper and middle class homes being built. This meant that the Manhattan Well was sealed over and eventually built upon. The well was tucked away in the basement of a shop that sold remedies for those with a tobacco addiction. When that shop closed, it became a German beer hall. Following that closure, it sat untouched for many, many years.
In the 1990 as, a bistro bought the building at 129 Spring Street to use as extra storage. As they excavated the cellar, the Manhattan Well was unveiled for the first time in more than 150 years. The restauranteurs claimed that the well had an eerie presence that immediately unsettled them. According to their accounts, it looked brand new, as if no time had passed since it was sealed up. The men who worked at the bistro said it felt as if they were being watched. Glasses and wine bottles were smashed across the room all on their own. Waiters frequently got locked in the cellar when no one else was nearby. A busboy even claimed to see a woman in 18th century clothing, dripping wet.
Today, this building is co-owned by H&M and COS. Beneath the trendy clothing shops is the well which still appears to be in perfect condition. The employees claim they've had no shortage of unusual occurrences in the building, including disappearing merchandise, frequently breaking elevators, and inexplicable electrical shortages and outages. These events are often blamed on Elma.
People in the surrounding area have also described strange experiences, such as seeing apparitions. Some even say they hear the haunting sound of Elma screaming, pleading for her life.
There are many who believe it was Elma's cousin, Catherine, who caused this chilling haunting. After the jury found Levi innocent, Catherine stood and called upon the "Almighty" to curse the room. Some believe this curse was the cause of Judge Lansing's death, as well as several others.
Lansing left his Manhattan hotel one day about 30 years after the trial to mail a letter at the post office. He never returned to his room, and no evidence of his whereabouts were ever found. Locals attribute his vanishing to Elma.
We all know what happened between Hamilton and Burr...
For those who are curious about this infamous murder and haunting, the Manhattan Well is unfortunately unavailable to the public. However, exceptions are sometimes made upon special request.
Featured image: Gary Meulemans/Unsplash