Julia had to walk. It was the only way to work things out in her mind, especially when it came to her parents. On this night, however, there was no getting out of it. They had control, and the choice was theirs alone. She was like a sleepwalker in her own life. It didn’t matter how much she loved him; they would never allow them to be married. It was like something from the old country, some horrible tradition left over from the days of giving animals as part of the marriage package. They chose her husband, and she had no say, and as she walked among the wooden planked fences leading back to her house, she wondered just how easy it would be to start a new life with the man she loved in a new place and never speak to her parents again. It wouldn’t be that hard, right?
She had just decided to sneak out later that night to meet him when she saw him step out from behind the tree. Even in the dark with almost no moonlight she could tell it was him by the way he leaned against the post and tilted his head slightly towards her. She couldn’t see his eyes, which was the first thing that she had fallen in love with when they had met. She also could not see the gun before the barrel exploded loudly enough to wake up the people in the neighborhood. She hit the dirt road feeling the pain in her stomach starting to make its way across her chest and into her arms. He was over her now, more an outline than an actual man. “We’ll be together, Julia,” he said as he raised the gun to his own head.
Julia still walks. Decades later and she can still be seen making that journey down Rolling Acres Road in Lady Lake, Florida. For as long as anyone can remember, long enough that her last name is lost to records and tax rolls, the ghost of the young lover can be seen dressed all in white or sometimes glowing white, walking the path to try and get home. She never makes it, even in those instances when people pull over and ask her if she needs a ride home. Love, an emotion powerful enough to make her defy her parents and twisted enough to inspire her murder, keeps her walking even after her death, although there might be something else forcing her to repeat the moments before her death.
Time and again the woman is seen on the road. She has been described as a glowing white figure walking on either the side of the road, walking into the woods, or in the middle, waiting to be driven through. Enough people are spotted it to say there is probably some truth to the sightings, although no one can remember when the name Julia entered the picture. The most popular story is that she was killed by a jealous lover, although people disagree as to who killed her. Some say it was a boyfriend she had to break up with because of her parents. Other claim the decision was hers alone, and the other man could not stand to lose her. It has all the elements of a folklore put on something unexplained that people are experiencing. Even her name and the slight variations make sense. Many of these kinds of ghosts tend to be Mary or a name with a J like Julie or Julia.
Different rituals have developed around the ghost. They say if you drive to the intersection of Lake Ella Road and turn off your car, you can catch the ghost. Roll your windows down and you’ll hear the voices in the woods, including Julia, or a female child, cry out for help or calling out for her father. If you honk your horn three times, she’ll tap on your window. There is a warning though. People who attempt to contact her this way suffer from unexplained engine failure and have trouble leaving.
Lady Lake is just one of many towns to have a Julia, or Julie depending on the person telling the story. If ghostly lore is the backbone of the history of this country, the star cross lover forced to haunt the nights of isolated roads is the vertebrae making it stand straight up. Wherever you find a street with some trees and a lack of streetlights, you’ll find a ghost, and many of them are the stories of love gone wrong. It’s hard to tell where the stories like Rolling Acres come from. The part of the road where she is seen has been the site of several fatal accidents over the years, which either may have created a ghost but definitely is in the back of the mind of some of the motorists travelling in the dark. One can only imagine there is something odd going on, whether there is a natural explanation to them or not. From road hypnosis to the odd way headlights react to their environment to a real ghostly experience, there are far too many roadside ghosts for them to not have their own motif within ghostly legends.
There is more to the story though. The woods surrounding the road, especially on the western side where the pavement disappears and the road abruptly stops at a dead end, is said to be haunted as well. Children are heard crying from the trees in the dark, and some residents have even reported hearing unhuman growls and screams. Backpackerverse.com even tells of drivers reporting three children in the backseat of their cars on that part of the town, including at least one incident where the kids were seen as if they had been involved in an accident with blood coming from their noses and mouths. Drivers on the road often break down and attribute it to something spooky controlling that part of Rolling Acres.
Then there are the more recent reports of a mysterious dark man in the road, sometimes described as looking like the Grim Reaper. This type of figure is reported time and again in places suffering from other hauntings, but in this case there may be another explanation.
Lady Lake might have an identity problem. It’s one part Leesburg, a town with a rich history and a rich paranormal center, and one part The Villages, the relatively new community at the heart of controversies being played out in the small towns around Lake and Sumter Counties. Lady Lake prides itself as being known as the Gateway to the Villages, but its history goes back much further than that. Like many of the smaller towns around Florida, it was a railroad town incorporated in 1885 in the shadow of the Seminole Wars and the Homestead Act of 1862. Like its neighbors, it prospered under the conditions of Central Florida post-Civil War, although it did not suffer many of the setbacks of its neighbors. Some towns, it seems, are meant to succeed.
The town was born to hold a legend. Even its naming holds the mystic of something supernatural. These boom towns were usually named for their first citizens or the politicians and businessmen who were crucial in their development. Either that or people fell back on a Native American name they have gotten used, often adopted from a local river or lake. Lady Lake is kind of that way, although it owes itself more to the legend surrounding the water. According to Seminoles in the area, years ago a settler woman had been found mysteriously drowned in the lake. Some say she had continued to haunt the location and to dispel some of the fear they named the land after her to appease her. Or maybe it was just to remind people there was something off about the place. Either way, the newly formed town mimicked what the Seminoles had started and simply called the new town Lady Lake.
The town has a belief in Julia so deep she gets blamed for everything. Lady Lake is a haunted town, even though there is little evidence that it has seen the tragedies and history of other towns. People report several ghosts for such a small community, and when their minds try to wrap around what they have seen, they fall back on the woman in white to explain it away, even if the spirit they see is not wearing white. Time and again, online people connect a ghost they see in their kitchen and living rooms and barns to Julia. No strong description of her face exists, so she makes for a great canvas for stories to be told about. Even those who disagree with the legend will go on to tell their own ghost story and talk about how traffic in the area has made it less likely to see her but how their friend might have seen her at the kitchen table wringing her hands. This helps to keep her alive. These random connections add to her lore and justifies what people see on the road, like one hand washing the other.
You are never too from Rolling Acres road when you are in Lady Lake, which not only explains how the myth moves from the west end of the road to the east. It also helps to justify this transference of Julia to anything unexplained. There’s a ready-made story, a ghost that makes sense. It helps to ease the surprise and confusion of what has just happened to make it part of something bigger. Julia has a history, even if you only partially believe. She gives you a platform for understand but also a forum to talk about what has happened to you. In a small town you might never share a true ghost story, but if people are already spinning tales of the Woman in White you can get the story out without fear of being laughed at. This of course adds to her lore and moves the legend throughout the decades.
While no actual date is given for Julia’s death, everyone who talks about her seem to remember the story always being there. Another theory might be able to explain the ghost and the other oddness that has risen around it. In 2007, a murder case was officially closed even though no charges had been filed and no murder had been brought to justice. The full story of Pamela Nater and Nancy Leichner might never be known, but police are satisfied they know who abducted and killed the two women.
In October of 1966, the two women, relative strangers but part of a skin diving club known as the Aquaholics, walked down a nature trail in the Alexander Springs Recreation Center in Altoona never to be seen again. They left behind their purses and personal belongings on a picnic bench, implying whatever they were planning to do did not involve them leaving the park or straying too far. Both of the men who had come to the park with them would later say the women were good swimmers (why else would you join a skin-diving club if you were not), but that the water had been too cold that day to make diving possible. No trace was ever found of them, and of the few suspects the police would bring up, no one looked good enough for the crime. It was not until later it became clear from evidence and MO would the killer was.
If Florida has a boogeyman, his name is Gerald John Schaeffer who became a policeman in the early 1970s in nearby Martin County. He may be Florida’s most prolific serial killer, claiming he killed dozens of women during his active hunting time. He was known to be drawn towards pairs of women and the murders he was convicted for in October of 1973 are eerily similar to the abduction of the women in Altoona. Before the trial his mother’s house had been searched and evidence was found that implicated him in several other double murders across the state. Although he never confessed to being involved in Nater and Leichner’s deaths officially (he was known to lie and brag about his involvement in murders), evidence and statements from another convict were enough to have the police close the case.
Altoona is more than 20 miles from Lady Lake, so it may be hard to connect the murder of these women to what people see on Rolling Acres. However, there was evidence back in 1966 and 1967 that he may have transported the bodies to Lady Lake once they were abducted. He often travelled with the women he took to a second location, and it would not have made sense to stay in a crowded park once they were discovered missing. Whatever the tips were at the time, before they knew about Schaeffer, the police searched the water in Lady Lake with boats and divers believing the women could have been brought there.
The cries from the woods of “help” and “papa” would also make sense. He often held them for a time, torturing his victims and leaving them and returning after death. Several other hauntings are attributed to him in Florida, most notably the Devil’s Tree in Port St. Lucie. Those locations report a large dark figure that appears to linger in the spot, just like Rolling Acres. He may be responsible for other murders in the Ocala Forest, where this same Grim Reaper has been reported for decades.
We want an easy way to explain it all away. That may seem like a contradiction, an easily explained ghost sighting. There are too many things we can’t push aside as imagination or hallucination, so our mind is forced to consider that ghosts may exist. When we get there, we want it all to make sense and have the loose ends tied up. In the confusion, a haunting like the one happening on Rolling Acres Road makes more sense to us if we have the right story to go along with it. Ghosts aren’t real, but if they are, they better come in a neat package that is familiar. Lady Lake has that, and if we are still left trying to classify and understand all that is happening on that dark road, the residents can at least find comfort in being able to tell a ghost story people can nod over. As long as they do, Julia will continue to walk.
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