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TALA Tales: The Tragic Case of Ivan Hoover

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The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, formerly known as Weston State Hospital, is one of West Virginia’s most haunted locations. Each year, hundreds of people ascend upon the massive stone Kirkbride building in hopes of experiencing one of the many ghosts believed to still walk the hospital halls. Every once in awhile, I like to bring in a human element by spotlighting the story of an actual patient committed to the institution. With a history dating back before the Civil War, there are plenty of souls with stories to tell. Although not everyone featured in TALA Tales has a known ghost story associated with them, I still feel like it is important to share their background. Not only does doing so give investigators and students of history a clearer look at everyday life in the hospital, but you never know when an EVP or other response will reveal a name not previously well-known to the building’s ghost lore. So, without further ado, here is Ivan’s story.

Ivan Hoover was born in Parkersburg on September 14, 1927. Once described as a brilliant, A-student, all that would change thanks to an injury suffered while Ivan was playing high school football. At first, it was thought that Ivan had just fractured his jaw; however, as his mental state deteriorated and his parents took him to a number of doctors, it was discovered that he had actually suffered a fractured skull, resulting in a traumatic brain injury. Even worse…it was too late to do anything. The former brilliant student was now classified as mentally retarded and would spend the next 12 years in different mental institutions, namely Spencer State Hospital. 

Ivan was considered to be a shy, tender-hearted boy, and his parents remained devoted to his care. Eventually, he was released from the hospital into their care, and went to live with them at their Ritchie County farm. For two to three years, Ivan and his parents—Lester and Clara—lived on and worked the farm. Then, in late September of 1957, Ivan came down with a case of wanderlust.

According to his brother, Basil, Ivan decided that he was tired of staying home and wanted to head south to get a job. He was afraid that his aging parents wouldn’t be able to get along without him, so he did what HE thought best for them—-and sent them to Heaven. 

When a neighbor noticed that Lester and Clara hadn’t picked up their mail in several days, the authorities were notified and sent out to the farm. There, they found the body of Clara on the dining room floor, with an army blanket over her body. Lester was found in an outside cellar, underneath a summerhouse. Both had been struck in the head with what would be determined to be a mattock. Ivan, however, was nowhere to be found. The sheriff, telling the local press that Ivan was known to be violent with a short temper, almost immediately was blamed, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. 

Members of law enforcement AND civilian volunteers were involved in the manhunt for the ‘dangerous’ Ivan, who was described as having a full, brown beard and most likely barefoot, wearing cut-off denim pants. A pond on the Hoover farm was drained, with the belief that Ivan may have taken his own life by drowning after killing his parents. Ivan’s body wasn’t found in the pond, but apparently a mattock (determined to be the murder weapon) and a pair of pants belonging to Ivan were recovered. 

Ivan was eventually found a couple of weeks later. He was taken in by the Jackson County sheriff’s department. He had walked 50 miles, sticking to wooded areas and living off apples and dried corn. He was found with $11.55 in his pocket, which he admitted he took from his father’s pocket after the murder. Although he didn’t realize people were looking for him, he surrendered without incident and freely admitted to killing his parents with a mattock. He requested to be shown their grave—a request which he was granted—and showed true grief at the loss of his parents. 

Find-a-Grave photo by LCR

Awaiting trial, Ivan was housed at the Weston State Hospital. At trial, he WAS found guilty of murder, but instead of being given the death penalty, he was sent back to Weston for treatment in February of 1958. It wouldn’t take long before wanderlust overtook Ivan again and while out taking his exercise in May of that year, he jumped a fence and headed for the woods. He was captured five days later without incident. 

Ivan continued to live at Weston, and apparently was making progress with his mental health. He was not considered a danger to himself or others when he escaped AGAIN in June of 1966, again by jumping over a fence and heading to the woods. He was picked up on July 18 in Cox Mills, again without incident. 

Although he spent much of his life in mental institutions, especially at Weston State Hospital, Ivan did not pass away there. He died on September 1, 1982 at the age of 54 in Baker County Florida. His body was returned to West Virginia where he was buried alongside his devoted parents in the Cairo IOOF Cemetery in Ritchie County.  But what was he doing in Florida?

This is just pure speculation on my part, but I found some records of Ivan’s brother, Basil, living in Florida. It’s possible that Ivan was deemed safe enough to leave the state hospital, and perhaps was released into the care of his brother and they ended up in Florida. Ivan did say he wanted to head south to find a job, so hopefully he was able to spend his remaining years free of institution life and doing something that made him feel like a productive member of society before finally spending his eternity buried beside his beloved parents. 

Want MORE Trans-Allegheny Stories? 

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