13 Nov 2013
by Kathryn Haake
“Leave,” a woman’s voice whispers.
The request is faint, but distinctive in the video recorded by Missoula-based paranormal investigators Tortured Souls International.
In 2010, the group investigated the home at 319 S. Fifth St. W., once known as the House of Screams.
“Mary, are you trying to contact us?” one of the investigators asks in the video, eliciting her reply.
By all accounts, the House of Screams was Missoula’s most haunted home, with a spooky history of screeching echoing through the Victorian’s walls, the harrowing death of one of its residents, and at least one exorcism of its uninvited ghostly houseguests.
Dubbed “a spirited Victorian charmer” in 1986, the house’s first 50 years were quite uneventful – in terms of hauntings. Built in 1899, it was home to an early Missoula family before a widower named Elizabeth Scheuch purchased the property.
She moved to Missoula to be closer to her son and his family. Her son, Frederick, was a well-known and beloved professor at the University of Montana. He married a woman named Jimmie and they had two children, Natalia and Straughn.
The family lived, by all accounts, happily in the house until the professor sold it in 1936 and moved to Michigan.
Elizabeth, Jimmie and Straughn all died in the home, but their deaths were nothing out of the ordinary.
From 1937 to 1939, Valentine and Caroline Jacky owned the house before selling it to its longest – and perhaps most unusual – inhabitants, the Zakos family.
Jim Zakos was a native of Greece and became a citizen of the United States in 1937.
He married Eleanor Barker, of Butte, and they raised eight children in the home.
In May of 1946, Eleanor, her sister Henriette Lambros and a Zakos child were in a bedroom on the second floor when they first heard the screams.
They started at a low growl, then escalated, becoming higher and higher to an ear-piercing pitch. The noise would stop for a moment, then start again.
“There were two screams – they were shrieks – and it was a woman’s voice,” Eleanor said in an interview with the Missoulian in 1980.
Eleanor and Jim tried desperately to find the source of the reoccurring noises. They contacted the fire department, the police, and even electricians – to no avail.
When the screams started, Mary Zakos, one of the Zakos’ eight children, was 5 years old.
The tormented sounds continued throughout her childhood until her family decided to allow a minister to perform an exorcism on the poltergeist in 1956.
The Rev. Andrew Landin, minister of the Light of the World Tabernacle, performed the ceremony that successfully removed the manifestation from the house.
The screams were never heard again.
Mary Zakos remained in the house for most of her adult life. She began writing demonic pornographic stories that she sent into confessional magazines for $50 a tale.
One such story, “Virgin Sacrifice: Satan was my Sex Teacher,” ran in Jive magazine, a publication out of Fort Worth, Texas.
Meanwhile, the house itself was falling apart.
Feral cats roamed the premises. Piles of trash piled up in the once stately, two-story carriage house, as Zakos rejected trash pickup services.
“As the years went by, the Scheuches’ once well-tended Victorian home began to look the part of a house tormented,” Ellen Baumler writes in her book, “Beyond Spirit Tailings.” “As Jim and Eleanor
Zakos grew older and retired, the house deteriorated.”
Mary, herself, became a bit of an enigma.
In the 1980 interview, she claimed to have a presence living with her in a second-story bedroom and said she saw handwritten names and numbers on the wall and feared it was some type of warning. Mary didn’t drive out of fear, but smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and spent her free time watching horror movies.
Then, in 1985, Mary died tragically after consuming a lethal dose of drugs. Eleanor, who had been a widower for two years prior to Mary’s death, abandoned the home – and everything in it – to go live in a nursing home.
By this time, the dilapidated home played the part of Missoula’s most haunted home.
Several owners purchased the property – rebuilding this and that, but the house wasn’t restored to its original glory until the Esteps purchased it in 1998.
“People thought we were out of our minds the way it looked,” Mark Estep said.
And sure enough, photos of the Esteps’ housewarming party show a shell of a house – the structure was intact, but little else. There were no wires, no insulation, and no pipes.
Today, the house tells a different story.
It’s stunning, warm and inviting, with parquet flooring and warm hues emanating from the walls. The turret boasts a winding staircase and a chandelier bought from a historic Anaconda hotel and installed by a previous owner reflects brilliantly in the afternoon light.
Nowadays, it seems, the spookiest thing about the home is the Esteps’ sweet black cat.
“The spirits that are here, they are pretty nice now, I think,” Mark Estep said.
Or they live in the spirit house, he suggests. It’s a little house, like a birdhouse, that stands upon an 8-foot pedestal in the garden. In Brahmin beliefs, a spirit house gives the household’s spirits a home to use, if they so choose.
But Estep himself has never had an encounter with the screams or Mary Zakos’ spirit. The room where Mary saw the handwriting and eventually died is now painted a lovely shade of green and beautiful trees filter sunlight through the many windows.
By all accounts, it’s a charming room, bereft of any other-worldly writings.
“It’s not really haunted anymore – I am kind of convinced,” Estep said.
Kate Haake covers police and courts news for the Missoulian. She can be reached at (406) 523-5268 or by email at email@example.com.