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Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday the 13th Copycat Killing in Western Mass

Almost everyone in the western world takes notice, at least in passing, when the thirteenth of a month falls on a Friday. Many people are blatantly superstitious about such a day- some considering it lucky, some unlucky- but widely associated with luck in some fashion. In fact, considering that the belief in the significance of the day is only about a century old, it is maybe even a little surprising how nearly universal it is in the English-speaking world, and beyond.

Individually, though, superstitions about the number thirteen (the most popular superstition in the world, according to author Nathaniel Lachenmeyer) and Fridays in general have existed for a great deal longer. Both have roots in the Christian gospels- the old “thirteen at a table” rule (which appears to be the oldest superstition about the number), after that fiasco at the Last Supper, and the universal agreement in scripture that Christ’s execution took place on a Friday. Until recent decades, executions in general were typically carried out on Friday, contributing to its somewhat grim reputation.

Since the 1980 debut of Shaun Cunningham’s film of that title and its subsequent franchise, Friday the 13th has taken on a somewhat ‘spookier’ connotation in, and when it takes place in October some even take it as cue to start getting in Halloween mode early. For some though, it can be a cause of serious anxiety. There is even a name for this: triskaidekaphobia, an overwhelming and irrational fear of Friday the 13th (as opposed to jasospacephobia, which is merely an extreme repulsion to Friday the 13th Part X).

Some people have even more convoluted ways of relating to the pop culture of the day. This is the story of how Friday the 13th came to life and terrorized the town of Greenfield Massachusetts through Halloween, 1988. That is, at least as much of it as ever leaked out to the press.


Mark Branch
Mark Branch was an 18 year old grocery store clerk with an avid interest in slasher films. As the clerk at Video Expo 1 in Greenfield put it later: “He rented strictly gore, period. The gorier, the better.” He was particularly entranced with the Friday the 13th series, and its machete-wielding protagonist, Jason Vorhees. Some might have called it an obsession.

Perhaps that’s the way it might have been described by Sharon Gregory, a freshman psychology major at Greenfield Community College. Sharon was apparently intrigued enough by Branch to do some sort of psychological profile on him. Curiously, police were later unable to confirm that this was done as part of her course work. Just how well acquainted the two were is opaque, but what is known is that Mark knew that Sharon had written up a psychological profile of him, and that he wanted it.

On the night of October 24, Mark donned Jason’s trademark hockey mask and big black boots, and headed for Sharon’s apartment. What exactly transpired will never be known. Her twin sister found her mutilated body in the bathroom, having been stabbed repeatedly in the head, chest, and abdomen.

Police honed in on Branch as a suspect immediately, and suspicion of his guilt became a growing certainty when they found his bloodstained car abandoned near the woods in nearby Buckland. A massive manhunt ensued, but the Jason copycat remained undiscovered. As Halloween approached and more and more sensational media coverage came out about Branch’s obsession with Friday the 13th, area residents became increasingly frightened. Greenfield cancelled its Halloween parade and downtown activities, and confined trick-or-treat to afternoon hours. The local movie theater even agreed to postpone the release of Halloween IV- though how exactly that helped is somewhat unclear. Perhaps they feared that Branch would show up to attend the film- after all, Jason is, to a large extent, just a rip-off of Michael Myers.

Everyone seemed convinced that Branch would show up around Halloween for some kind of climactic slaughter, demonstrating that perhaps he was not the only one who’d seen one too many slasher movies. In fact, Halloween passed without incident, and also without new breaks in the search for Branch, despite the involvement of reputed psychic John Monti. There were no new developments in the case until late November, when a hunter discovered Branch’s body hanging from a tree in the woods of Buckland. The coroner determined that Branch’s suicide took place shortly after the slaying of Sharon Gregory.

Attempts to draw out more sensational details of the case, particularly those surrounding Branch’s obsession with Friday the 13th, were made by local newspapers, who petitioned the courts to release documents pertaining to the murder and to evidence confiscated from Mark’s home. The motions were successfully blocked by an attorney for his family, and the story essentially ground to a close, wrapping up with a quote from Greenfield police chief David McCarthy:

“He was so entrenched with Jason that he had to have the Final Chapter in his own feelings. He wanted to know what it felt like to live out the part of Jason,'' McCarthy said.


United Press International: Oct. 29, Nov. 1, Nov. 5, Dec. 1, 1988
Associated Press: Oct. 29, Nov. 1, 1988
Syracuse Daily Herald Oct 30, 1988
Boston Globe Nov. 30, 1988


Anonymous said...

I lived in Shelburn Falls across the river from Buckland and heard from reliable sources the copycat was hung by local vigilantes, for the girls murder.


Unknown said...

another Inn with Ghost was Christines Bed and Breakfast and tearoom, but now its called the English Hideaway inn on rt 41 in Housatonic ma.

the guest room in the main house was well noted for the underground railroad and where they would hide the slaves, there was a slave left behind and she loves being around and doing odd things to the guests.

Anonymous said...

ahh No he hung himself cause like most people like that there COWARDS reliable sources LOL

Unknown said...

Nice post. thanks for the shared it with us. pet flakes

Anonymous said...

I was living in Greenfield at the time and went to school with the Gregory twins. Sharon was in my Psych 101 class. This murder was a pivotal moment for our circle of friends, it affected us all. I would say it was the end of our innocence and sense of security. I remember seeing her twin sister afterwards and I could see that, obviously, this profoundly and horribly affected her. What a horrific time.

DSachse said...

I was 8 when this happend, I lived right next door at 134 so. Shelburne rd. And the car was found close to my aunts house on Avery rd.

Anonymous said...

I was one of his teachers but had moved out of state before the killing. The story still haunts me to this day, however.

Anonymous said...

They hurt me

Anonymous said...

I just wanted them to rewind the movies..she was to pretty for me anyway ...ahhhh im stupid stupid whyyyyy...em truh ouy

Anonymous said...

daeD mI eM pleH

Anonymous said...

eyb dooG

Anonymous said...

☝ Youre an attention seeking douche bag.

Anonymous said...

I too lived in Buckland but I think Shelburne at the time, I know who found Mark Branch (we all do) and I never once heard he was hung by vigilantes.

Sharon Gregory was my first friend at GCC in 1988. We sat in English class together and make each other laugh. Then our seats were reassigned, and she was moved across the room, then, she was gone. She was quiet, smart and sweet.

Everyone I knew who had known Mark Branch weren't surprised about what he turned out to be. He had gone to a certain school growing up where he had tortured and killed small animals, I won't go into detail.

I am thankful I never knew him, and that I knew Sharon for a short time. Yes, Halloween was cancelled that year. Yes, there were reports of Mark branch being spotted all over Franklin and West Counties, before his body was found.

Some of the details of the murder listed here are not consistent with what I had heard previously.

His twin Cheryl was at GCC, she wrote about the murder, which is why I say some things are not consistent.

RIP Sharon.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I was also told by a relative of a police officer involved in the case that he had "help" hanging himself.

Anonymous said...

He didn't have help the pussy HUNG wasn't her apartment it was her and her parents house....I have that whole day of the police scanner recorded I also loved very close to her

Unknown said...

Joe Durwin sucks. He’s a terrible writer and and even worse parent and person. Lol

Unknown said...

Joe Durwin will never be famous. Nobody cares about his findings. Don’t quit your day job dude. Durwin sucks. Just give up because you’re very stupid and uninteresting. Nobody likes you and equally as many people do not care what you have have to say. Your son doesn’t even love you :)

Unknown said...

Damn, LMAO

Unknown said...

I lived right next door on S Shelburne Road, but many years after the murder. Was the slaughterhouse up and running at the time? I have no idea when it closed. Actually, maybe it wasn’t cuz I heard they searched for him there? All I know are second hand accounts.