Thursday, February 2, 2023

Safety Square (2002-2003)

I’m sorry for this blog being dead for so long; I got swamped with projects by other Institute members, on top of recovering from COVID. What projects, you ask?

Some members of the Institute prefer to record their findings with audio and then have someone like me transcribe it. The Institute doesn’t have many rules, but one of them is absolutely no automated speech-to-text software like Dragon or Speechnotes; either a human transcribes it, or it collects dust. We learned our lesson the hard way in London.

Believe it or not, this is normally my ‘job’ at the Institute when I’m not busy pursuing a case; the Institute’s Board (if it can be called that) prefers that we have written copies of all reports. I only started this blog, and started documenting new cases, literally because I ran out of work.

Then I got twenty audio recordings on my desk the same day. This is just one of them, sent by an investigator I’ll call Clark, sealed inside a Faraday pouch wrapped under six layers of masking tape in a tamper-proof envelope.

I should note that this transcript discusses the deaths of and injuries to children aged eight and under.


[several seconds of clapping to calibrate the audio]

Begin recording.

This is a story that can be told using three graves in Northern Ohio. Their links are not obvious; their dates of death do not line up with each other, but each of them are connected by an insidious thread that I aim to unravel.

The first grave is located in Woodlawn Cemetery in a small town called Norwalk, situated almost exactly at the midpoint between Cleveland and Toledo. It is in an area dedicated to children, and belongs to Suzanna Moore, born May 1997, died October 2003. The circumstances of her death were bizarre-- her father, Alexander Moore, carried her through the front doors of the Emergency Room at the local medical center, saying that she wouldn’t wake up, apparently oblivious to the massive wound in her head and the blood that had run down her face and stained not only her Halloween costume, but also her father’s jacket. Furthermore, he seemed to not comprehend that the ER nurses were telling him that his daughter was dead for almost three hours, until he saw her in the morgue, at which point he had to be restrained for violently attacking several members of ER staff.

I cannot interrogate Alexander Moore about this topic, as he took his life in 2009. His grave is in his native Connecticut; part of his divorce settlement with his ex-wife included the stipulation that he not be buried within five-hundred miles of his daughter’s grave. I did not wish to bother the former Miss Moore, though-- [the tape cuts off here before resuming, audio may have been deleted]

In any event, the information I seek can be more easily obtained from public record than private testimony. Autopsy information does not fall under HIPAA, and I was able to glean the information I required from a line describing the clothing of the deceased.

‘‘Halloween’ costume, styled after an alligator/crocodile wearing a tutu”.

If this sounds like a non-sequitur, then it is time to move on to the second grave.

This one belongs to the Spinelli Family. Miranda Spinelli, born June 1964, died July 2014, and her son Carter, born August 1992, died September 2000. The name ‘Carter Spinelli’ may be familiar to those of you who walk in the more morbid circles of the internet; the ‘true crime’ [He says with no small amount of disgust] podcast Strange Deaths of the 90’s covered it in Episode 129, ‘Kids These Days’.

Carter Spinelli died after jumping off a bridge in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. While not suicidal, Carter was developmentally disabled--though they used a much harsher term in 2000--and may have had trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality. That was the assumption police made when they found him in between the train tracks with a nylon cape from a superhero Halloween costume wrapped around his body. There were allegations that bullies from his school had encouraged him to attempt the jump, as he was apparently called “Specialboy” [all one word, per Clark’s notes] due to his developmental issues, with the words “Specialboy: the World’s First [slur removed] Superhero” written in his 1999-2000 yearbook. These allegations never panned out.

Miranda had a surviving son from a previous marriage, sixteen-year-old Martin Spinelli. After shoving a reporter who was attempting to interview him on the way to school and being suspended following this incident’s broadcast, he threw himself into a project, a video tribute to his little brother, using various imaginary friends of Carter's. Among them was ‘Manda’, who Carter had drawn in the image of a crocodile wearing a tutu.

This was a very elaborate video tribute, with Martin creating puppets and drawings in the image of his little brother's imagination. This became a sort of obsession with him, and he would claim to find himself lurking-- pardon, working on it as late as 3:00 AM. His efforts manifested through his failing school grades, and eventually, the video was shown at a memorial service to Carter on what would have been his ninth birthday in 2001.

An uninvited party was in attendance at the service-- their name was Winston Plummer, a station manager for the local PBS affiliate, WGTE. He was impressed with Martin's work, and asked if he would be interested in working on a series of safety-focused TV shorts that they were planning to air early in the morning; specifically, they were interested in using the Manda puppet. Plummer explained that the aim of the program was to teach children about dangers such as peer pressure, loaded firearms, and high falls. They also invited Miranda onto the show to discuss her son.

The program, called Safety Square, began production in September 2001, before being postponed for reasons that should hopefully be obvious. It resumed in November of that year, and in February of 2002, the first episode, “Don't Go Up”, aired, focusing on the dangers of high falls.

Safety Square is clearly a public access production; it was shot on tape, and the copies of it that exist today are full of magnetic aberrations and glitches that even Institute technology struggles to compensate for and repair when it’s digitized. None of the child actors seen on-screen have camera presence, several of them mispronounce their lines, and they look past the puppets and at the people operating them. To call it ‘low budget’ would be generous.

And-- [clunking sound, scream of pain] SON OF A BIT[audio cuts out here]

Apologies, apologies. I made the mistake of watching “Don’t Go Up” while doing research on this. Its anomaly is probably the least obvious of the six episodes produced; after approximately thirteen minutes, around the time when Manda says the line “Make sure you always hold onto something when you’re going up and down the stairs”, viewers begin to experience feelings of intense vertigo when looking down from a height-- for instance, descending stairs from the second floor to the entrance of your apartment building. It’s just a sprain, and I know that someone is going to lecture me about watching media before it’s been parsed, and I’m not about to let it be you, Tristan.

I didn’t watch any of the others after that. The only reason I watched “Don’t Go Up” was because of Miranda Spinelli’s testimonial at the end, about Carter. She wanted to dedicate the series to him to make sure that no other child in North-West Ohio suffered the same fate that he did.

In the aftermath of “Don’t Go Up”’s airing in February 2002, seventeen children eight and under were admitted to hospitals in the area after falling down flights of stairs, off of playground equipment, or in one case, off of a couch. No fatalities resulted.

Episode 2 of Safety Square is entitled “Safe in the Kitchen”. Individual frames I collected safely this time, Tristan, show Manda and several other characters learning how to be safe in the kitchen-- not to drink stuff in cupboards that isn’t clearly labeled, always checking expiration dates, staying away from the knife drawer. That kind of thing. It aired in June of 2002; reportedly, a four-year-old in a town called Berlin Heights crawled into the oven as his mother was starting to prepare dinner, but was unharmed.

The tape for Episode 3, “Fire Safe”, was presumed lost. It evidently surfaced at a garage sale in 2009, shortly before a house fire killed a family of three. The slagged remains of a VCR were found, but the tape inside was not identified, see included documentation.

[I’ll spare you that much. Official Institute reports are very dry compared to what I put up here.]

I believe you see the pattern by now, but in case it’s not evident, Episode 4 was called “Guns Aren’t Fun”. See included data drive for a series of autopsy reports dated to October 2002, soon after the episode aired.

[Again, sparing you that. This is already rough enough to write without me transcribing the autopsy report of a six-year-old.]

Episode 5 was called “Owie!”, make sure there’s an exclamation point in there. It talked about how to deal with injuries if you got hurt-- cuts, scrapes, bruises. It was simple enough for kids to understand, and…

The last episode of Safety Square aired in May of 2003, but they had finished “Owie!” by that time. They didn’t air it until October of that year, to fill a gap in the schedule. It aired a couple of weeks before Halloween 2003, just enough time that a father could help his daughter put together a Halloween costume based on the alligator puppet.

I don’t think the connection was ever made while Miranda Spinelli was alive. It would have broken her heart, knowing something that her surviving son helped create negatively affected, or even killed, so many people.

I talked with Martin Spinelli about this; he works at the local CBS affiliate in Toledo, and denies any knowledge that what he created caused so much harm, going so far as to call me a lunatic and… well, suffice to say, I’m happy that it didn’t escalate. Man looked like he could do some damage with the equipment he was carrying.

I did mention that there were three graves that told this story, but that isn’t quite true; the third one is in the process of being dug. It belongs to a man who was found inside a red 1990 Hyundai Excel in an inlet in Lake Erie. Police ran into some trouble with identifying the body, and understandably so; it was entirely skeletonized by Lake Erie and its wildlife over the course of over twenty-five years. They ran into a break in the case when the glove compartment was opened, and they found a mostly-intact wallet inside. Among other things were a AAA Membership card, a photograph of the deceased and their family, and a driver’s license, issued in 1995.

The name on the license was Winston Plummer, the aforementioned WGTE station manager, who, by all accounts, was alive at the time. Dental records on the body did not match those taken from the entity calling itself Winston Plummer during an exam in 2021-- but they did match those taken from Plummer during a dental exam in 1994.

It’s the teeth. It’s always the teeth they get wrong. They can replicate somebody down to the pattern on their retinas, but they always have trouble with the teeth. I don’t know why.

Winston Plummer, whoever this version of him was, was not located following the discovery of the wreck. He had reportedly come into the station that morning and locked himself in his office; when maintenance unlocked the door, the office looked as if it hadn’t been used or had upkeep done in over twenty years, with rotting carpet, peeling paint, and a stain on the ceiling over where Plummer’s chair used to be.

Publicly, Winston Plummer died from crashing his car into Lake Erie about… four days ago? As of recording. Privately, something is rotten here, and everyone knows it.

I am still investigating Plummer’s posthumous tenure as station manager, and I’m dreading what I will find. While Safety Square was thankfully not more widespread-- the range of casualty failed to even reach nearby Detroit-- Plummer, whatever he was, collaborated with PBS stations across the nation from 1997 until 2023. The infamous ‘Hat Man’ episode of Sesame Street aired during this time-- surely you remember that, with how Big Bird dedicated a whole minute to telling children how important it was to have a fire extinguisher in their house?

Whatever happened to this version of Plummer… the entirety of the office smelled like ozone, and there were… footprints in the carpet. Snowmen don’t come after normal humans, and they don’t attack unprovoked.

I think that Plummer was an Algernite. If so, that’s the longest one has continually existed in our reality. As you can imagine, I’m going to be asking for more resources dedicated to investigating Algernon.


Algernon, where Algernites come from, is… a whole can of worms I don’t have time or energy to get into. Turns out, getting COVID makes you long for the sweet embrace of death long after your symptoms are better.

I’m well enough to travel, at least. Algernon will have to wait; some urban explorers and a few dozen institute members are getting together to perform a rescue operation… on an arcade cabinet.

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