On the island of Barbados sits the quaint Christ Church Parish. It’s much like any other church, complete with a quiet graveyard, the final resting place for many of the island’s inhabitants. However, not all of its residents are at rest; one tomb called the “Chase Vault” is anything but at rest.
The Chase Vault has been the center of one of the island’s most chilling and sinister mysteries. The vault itself is majestic, with carved stone and coral, and has concrete walls over two feet thick. At the entrance is a massive blue slab of marble that seals the tomb.
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The Chase Vault was originally built for James Elliot in 1724; however, Mr. Elliot never made it to his final resting place. The first body to be entombed while Elliot owned the crypt was that of Ms. Thomasina Goddard on July 13, 1807.
In 1808, the Chase family acquired the vault; which is now over 80 years old. Colonel Thomas Chase, the head of the wealthy family, chose not to disturb Goddard’s wooden coffin, and allowed her to stay within the vault. Unknown to Colonel Thomas, Ms. Goddard would not be alone for long within the tomb.
On February 22, the same year it was acquired, the door of the tomb was opened. Mary-Anne Maria Chase, the youngest of the family at 2 years old, had died. Mary Ann’s coffin, which was made of tin, was placed beside Ms. Goddard’s undisturbed coffin. The Chase Vault doors were then closed again with the big marble door, and sealed with cement.
Just a few years later, the vault was re-opened to allow another family member to be entombed. In a tragic and almost sinister turn of events, Mary Ann’s older sister, Dorcas Chase, died under mysterious circumstances on July 6, 1812. Rumors quickly spread about Dorcas’ cause of death, with many attributing it to her father.
It was rumored that Dorcas had been abused by her father, who had a reputation for being cruel and sadistic to his family and his slaves. Dorcas was no longer able to live with the abuse, so she committed suicide by starving herself to death.
She was then placed within the vault, also in a heavy lead casket, which took several people to haul down into the darkness. However, death was not done with this family just yet.
Just weeks after the burial of Dorcas, her father, Thomas Chase, died in August; his cause of death was also reportedly by suicide. His body was also placed into a coffin made of lead, and was so heavy it took several men to carry it.
He was then taken to the Chase Vault. However, when the vault was opened, what the mourners saw left them shocked and disturbed.
Coffins were scattered around the Chase Vault
As the great marble slab, which covered the stairs down into the vault, was moved aside, the funeral party was horrified to find both Mary and Dorcas’ coffins had been disturbed. Inside the tomb, both of the little girl’s coffins had been seemingly violently thrown about.
Dorcas’ coffin now rested against the far wall “standing on end, with its head downward.” Mary-Anne’s coffin has also been moved against the wall.
With no evidence of human tampering with the sealed vault, it was not immediately obvious how the heavy metal caskets had been violently thrown about. Even though the heavy marble slab used to seal the place up had not been moved, the authorities assumed vandals had caused the disturbance.
Despite the mystery, the two coffins were placed back in their original places, and then the body of Colonel Chase was added to the orderly pile. The Chase Vault was resealed even tighter than it had been before to deter any future break-ins.
The authorities had no explanation on how the vandals had managed to casually toss about lead coffins that took eight men to lift. Little did the authorities know, this was just the beginning.
The vault was re-opened four years later, for 11-month-old Samuel Brewster Ames, a young Chase relative, on Sept. 25, 1816. Once again, upon unsealing the dark tomb, mourners were greeted by coffins tossed around the room, some stacked on others.
Again, there were no signs of tampering with the entrance. The caskets were returned to their original positions, and the vault was again re-sealed.
According to The People’s Almanac, a woman in the graveyard had heard some frightening sounds coming from the Chase tomb. So frightening were the sounds, her horse began foaming at the mouth. A few days after the report, several horses in the area went insane, throwing themselves down into the bay.
The story of the Chase Vault had spread around the island, and it was due to be opened on November 17th, 1816 for Samuel Brewster (the father of the infant). Brewster, who had been murdered by his vengeful slaves, was exhumed from his original burial place and was to be re-entered inside the Chase Vault.
Again, the coffins were found to have been tossed around, and they were lying all about the vault.
The coffins were once again placed in their original positions and the vault was resealed and forgotten. However, the stories began to spread of the mysterious activity. So when the vault was due to be opened on July 17, 1819, for the body of Thomasina Clark, the local authorities were present to witness the event — they were not disappointed.
The strange activities had now attracted the attention of the island’s inhabitants and officials who attended Thomasina Clark’s internment in huge numbers. Reverend Orderson of Christ Church, along with the governor of Barbados at the time, Lord Combermere, arrived to officiate this internment.
The coffins were once again found to be thrown into disorder, moved considerably from their original positions.
This time there was one coffin that was not out of place, the wooden coffin of the original occupant, Thomasina Goddard. However, it had sustained so much damage from the coffins, it had splintered and was falling apart as if it had been squeezed, and Mrs. Goddard’s skeleton was also seen sticking out of it.
Lord Combermere ordered an extensive inspection of the tomb, looking for anything to explain the strange happenings. The governor’s wife explained the investigation:
“In my husband’s presence, every part of the floor was sounded to ascertain that no subterranean passage or entrance was concealed. It was found to be perfectly firm and solid; no crack was even apparent.
“The walls, when examined, proved to be perfectly secure. No fracture was visible, and the sides, together with the roof and flooring, presented a structure so solid as if formed of entire slabs of stone.
“The displaced coffins were rearranged, the new tenant of that dreary abode was deposited, and when the mourners retired with the funeral procession, the floor was sanded with fine white sand in the presence of Lord Combermere and the assembled crowd. The door was slid into its wonted position and, with the utmost care; the new mortar was laid on so as to secure it.
“When the masons had completed their task, the Governor made several impressions in the mixture with his own seal, and many of those attending added various private marks in the wet mortar…”
The Chase Vault remained sealed for 8 months; however, reports of voices and unexplainable sounds emanating from within the tomb got the better of the governor. In April of 1820, the governor ordered the vault opened for inspection.
When he arrived, to his relief the mortar seal was unbroken with the ring impressions still intact. There were no signs of trespassing. However, a macabre curiosity nevertheless compelled the governor to open the vault anyway.
Immediately, it became apparent that something was wrong. The door to the tomb was stuck on something; more help was called in an effort to force the door open. Mysteriously, Thomas Chase’s coffin had been thrown up against the marble entrance, as if it was an attempt to prevent entry.
Once the heavy coffin had finally been dislodged and they had gained entry, what they found inside completely shocked everyone who entered.
The coffins had once again been thrown around; however, this time it was clearly more violent than before. Coffins were upended and tossed upon each other. Mary-Anne’s coffin had been smashed against the wall with such force that a portion had broken off the corner.
The side of Dorcas Chase’s coffin had broken away, revealing a skeletal arm seeming to be reaching out.
The white sand on the floor was completely undisturbed; there was also no sign of flooding or any other disturbance. It also seems unlikely that a person could have gotten past the large coffin that was blocking the door.
After witnessing such a forbidding and bizarre sight, the governor decided to put an end to the phenomenon once and for all.
He ordered the interred bodies to be buried separately in individual graves throughout the Christ Church Parish cemetery. The Chase vault itself was ordered to remain vacant, and no further bodies were ever buried there.
Some have speculated that the Chase Vault never existed; however, I can assure you the Chase Vault does indeed exist, and records also show a Chase Family did in fact reside in Barbados at that time. The most convincing evidence of all is that the vault still exists to this day, empty, and has been for almost 200 years.
Oddly, no one has tempted fate by allowing their family members to be buried there.