The Itsy Bitsy Spider

On October 17, 1941, Seventy-three-year-old retired railroad auditor Phillip Peters was found beaten to death in his Denver home. His murder would lead to one of the most bizarre cases the Denver police had ever experienced.

Five weeks before his murder, his wife, Helen Peters, had fractured her hip and was recovering in the hospital. During the five weeks she was away, Mr. Peters’ neighbors had been kind enough to look after him. They invited him over for meals and would stop by the house regularly to check on him.

On October 17, Mr. Peters was supposed to visit his wife in the hospital but, after he failed to show, one of his neighbors went to check on him. They knocked and rang the doorbell repeatedly, but he never answered. Fearing the worst, they went and collected a group of neighbors and, together, they all searched the premises but found that every window and door was locked. A young girl who was with them discovered a window with a loose screen. Some of the neighbors managed to pry the screen open just enough for the girl to slip inside. What she found would haunt her dreams.

Lying in a pool of his own blood was the body of Mr. Peters. He had been severely beaten and his skull had been crushed in.

The police were called and, when they arrived, they got to work investigating the grisly death. Just like the neighbors, the police found that every window and door was locked. The front door was even secured with a chain, something that could only have been done from inside the house. Nothing had been taken from the home, including his wallet. There was no sign of an intruder nor where one might have gone. In the kitchen, police found two cast iron shakers. One was covered in dust, while the other appeared to have been recently cleaned. Nearby, they found a damp towel covered in blood. The killer had taken the time to clean the murder weapon and put it back.

Nothing about the case made any sense.

The police continued to investigate the case but found no leads. Mr. Peters had no enemies, ruling out revenge as a motive. The neighbors had been keeping a close eye on him and hadn’t seen or heard anything. Even the crime scene itself was a mystery. Police found blood spatter on the ceiling and there was evidence that Mr. Peters had fought back, using several walking sticks as weapons, in an attempt to defend himself. Police were also able to determine that he had been struck thirty-seven times with the makeshift weapon. Whoever did this would have had to have been a large man, but no one was ever seen entering or exiting the home.

The case would continue to grow stranger.

It would still be another five months before Helen Peters would return home from the hospital and, while she was away, neighbors would report suspicious activity in the home. Children in the neighborhood reported seeing lights turning on in upstairs bedrooms. Other neighbors reported seeing a shadowy figure move from window to window. Some even claimed to have seen a ghostly face staring out some of the windows. It didn’t take long before whispers and rumors started to spread that the house was now haunted, possibly by the spirit of Phillip Peters himself.

By March of 1942, Helen Peters had recovered and wanted to return home, despite what had happened there. One night, Helen heard a strange noise coming from somewhere inside the house which caused her to fall and once again fracture her hip. This time, rather than go back to the hospital, she chose to recover at home and hired a nurse to look after her.

It wouldn’t be long before the nurse also started to hear strange noises in the home. She claimed to hear movement and scratching sounds coming from inside the walls and ceiling. Then, one night, as she passed by the staircase leading up to the second floor, the nurse saw a shadowy figure standing at the top of the stairs. The dark figure reportedly chattered its teeth at the woman before it disappeared into the darkness. Terrified by what she had seen, the nurse resigned the very next day.

After the nurse quit, a neighbor stepped in to help Mrs. Peters, but it wasn’t long before she too started to hear strange sounds. One night, she heard a noise coming from the kitchen and decided to investigate. When she entered the kitchen, she noticed that the door to the back stairwell appeared to be opening. She then saw a foot appear out of the darkness, followed by a thin white hand. She would later describe the thing as a filthy, gaunt creature. After she let out a scream, the creature vanished back into the darkness and up the stairwell. Terrified, she phoned the police who once again searched the entire house. They checked every square inch of the house and found no sign of an intruder. Like before, every door and window was locked from the inside. Whatever she saw had simply vanished without a trace.

Following this incident, Helen Peters went to go live with her son and the house was placed under police surveillance. After only a couple of days, the surveillance was called off and the case would continue to remain a mystery.

Then, on July 30, 1942, two patrolmen happened to be responding to a call across the street from the Peters residence when one of the officers glimpsed a face in one of the first-floor windows.

The two men entered the residence and, while searching the house, one of the officers heard a door open upstairs. He quickly bounded up the stairwell just in time to see a closet door close. The officer ran to the closet and opened the door, where he saw two thin pale legs disappearing into the ceiling. Instinctively he grabbed the legs and pulled as hard as he could, causing the mysterious figure to fall from the hatch it had been attempting to crawl into and crash to the floor. Lying on the floor in front of the officer was the body of an unconscious man dressed in tattered clothes.

Police Chief James Childers, who later arrived on the scene, gave this description of the man:

“The strangest looking human I had ever seen. He was a tall man, just under 6 feet, but thin as a wilted weed. His dirty hair hung low over his ears, and his skin was the ugly, unwashed gray of an overcast sky.”

The man was taken into custody where he was identified as fifty-nine-year-old Theodore Coneys.

The photo of Theodore Coneys taken at the time of his arrest.

Coneys revealed to police that he had once lived in Denver and that he had received mandolin lessons from Peters in his youth. When he returned to town in September of 1941, he remembered where the man lived and broke into the house to steal some food when nobody was home. Coneys found the small hatch and decided to crawl inside and sleep.  Coneys informed police that, due to his poor health, he decided to remain in the Peters’ attic.

He stated that, at first, he would remain quiet whenever Peters was home and would come down to steal food whenever he left. But, as time went on, he became bolder and started to come down when Peters was home. He stated that he would stalk him from room to room just to see if he could. 

The night of the murder, Coneys thought Peters had gone out and had come down to steal some food. Peters, however, was home and, when he caught Coneys in the kitchen, he attacked and killed the old man before retreating to the attic. When the police searched the house, they never bothered to check the vent as they assumed it was too small for anyone to fit through.

When the police finally searched the space that Coneys had called home for nine months, they discovered that it only measured twenty-seven inches high and fifty-seven inches wide. Inside, they found an old ironing board that Coneys had been using as a make-shift bed, tattered magazines all over the floor, and a small incandescent bulb hanging from the ceiling. Along with all this, the space was completely covered with spider-webs. 

The attic where Coneys lived for nine months.

Thanks to this final detail, Coneys would forever become known as the “Denver Spiderman.”

Now, think of the times you’ve heard a strange sound in your own home and told yourself it was just the house settling, the wind, or simply your imagination.

Well, the next time you hear something, I want you to pay close attention because the source might not be so benign. The sound could be coming from the person hiding in your attic, just waiting for you to close your eyes.