“Yes, definitely,” said Pittsburgh spiritual intuitive Jack Kaine, when he was asked whether he believed an incident at Indian Mound in McKees Rocks could have triggered events that made life miserable for a McKees Rocks man and his family. Jack’s specialty is detecting spiritual energy, whether it’s a positive force or not, and seeing to it that it goes on to its greatest good. Drawing upon his own Native American spiritual practices and intuition, he added, “The energy coming out of there is more than a tad ticked off.”
In the late 1890s, local legend has it, a young boy was playing with his friends atop a large hill in the Flats area of McKees Rocks. He had no idea why the hill was there. It was just a monolith to climb. Once it was conquered, it became a place to run and jump and feel as though he was on top of the world. He was not the only boy to play there, but there is little doubt that by the time his life was over, he had become the most notorious.
Indian Burial Mound
After this and other discoveries of buried bones on the intriguing hill, local archaeologists identified it as an Indian burial mound. The bones of Native Americans from several generations are buried there, one grave atop the other. Excavations uncovered specimens that went back 5,000 years or more. It is rumored that this included the bones of a giant race comprised of people up to 8 feet tall.
Most likely, all this small boy named James Westwood was hoping for while he was playing atop the mound was to have some fun. No one knows for sure how he found that skull. He could have been rummaging through the reeds, dodging poison ivy and thorns, maybe groping for a ball that had gone astray, or looking for worms and bugs to add to his collection. When this somewhat round, hard and dusty object appeared, he probably didn’t realize it was part of the remains of a Native American. He encouraged his playmates to keep digging with sticks and baseball bats, and finally, they discovered they had unearthed the remains of a human being!
Little Jimmy took a special liking to the skull, it is said. Maybe it’s a distorted legend, an old memory, or even an imagined supposition, but what they say happened next certainly makes it sound like his childish impulse led him to real trouble. Word around the Flats has it that he tossed the skull around, rolled it on the ground, and began to kick it to and fro. He must have been having a most delightful time playing with this intriguing discovery. But before long, his playtime, and perhaps his innocence, came to an end with a splash. Having kicked the skull just a tad too hard, he watched it fly off the edge of the mound, out of control, and tumble into the river.
If there are spirits associated with those bones, there could be little wonder why they would be “more than a tad ticked off.”
There are rumors of “Indian Curses” that go back as far as the beginning of the settlement of North and South America by Europeans. The most famous one is the Curse of Tecumseh that supposedly plotted out the deaths of several American Presidents on behalf of Native Americans who had been slaughtered by those who took over their land. Are these curses real? Can someone incur the wrath of those who have passed on without knowing when they created a disturbance?
What happened to James Westwood as he grew older, and how he and others precious to him came to meet their demise, makes people wonder about what forces might have been set loose after that skull cascaded down into the mighty Ohio River. Our own local psychic Jack Kaine had little doubt that Westwood’s woes could be traced back to the energies he felt in that mound.
There are not many people in McKees Rocks who haven’t heard about The Westwood Murder, and in fact, the entire nation was once focused on the outcome of the intrigue that took place that summer day in 1935. Married to a stunning socialite named Martha Winkler, Westwood certainly felt he was fortunate enough, and maybe it was his apparent good luck in rising through the ranks of McKees Rocks’ legendary political hierarchy that made the rest of what happened even more difficult.
In 1932, his 13-year old daughter Clara died. Some reports say she perished from pneumonia, after recovering from a gunshot wound she acquired whilst examining her father’s revolver. Others say she was found dead at the scene with his revolver in her hand. As her father was a prominent politician, there could have been some latitude allowed regarding the veracity of the stories that were put out to the newspapers.
His in-laws, John and Josephine Winkler, also died in 1932, from an apparent murder-suicide, or so it was believed at the time. They were found dead “in the same house in the first floor apartment behind the store they operated,” according to one report which quotes the local coroner. Later on, there would be investigations into these incidents, when authorities could no longer help but wonder if they were linked.
Westwood’s record as a trusted public official was severely tainted by his 1934 conviction for tampering with ballot counts during the 1932 elections, and there was talk then that he would be sentenced to some serious jail time just for that.
Then, on July 10, 1935, Westwood’s wife Martha was shot to death by three .38 caliber bullets aimed at her through a window, while she slept. The couple were known for being “socialites”, and their lifestyle was marked by parties, forays into night clubs and high-profile antics, not always while they were with one another, or even in the same place at the same time.
Despite efforts to shed doubts upon his guilt, Westwood was eventually convicted of the murder. Jack Kaine stopped by the house where this murder took place to see what he felt.
“There’s something, a sense of panic, coming from over there,” he said as he pointed to the adjoining yard. This is where witnesses said they saw Westwood run after shooting his wife. Kaine also noted he sensed there were secrets in there, as he detected presences that didn’t want to allow him to go inside the house.
Westwood Sent to Prison
Westwood was sent to prison for the murder of his once-beloved Martha, but not before one of the star witnesses against him met his end by getting his head crushed in a highly unusual industrial accident. Enough fear for the lives of other witnesses promoted 24-hour guard in at least one case. The harder Westwood proclaimed his innocence, the less the public, and ultimately the authorities, were prone to believe his story.
We were unable to discover if the conviction for election tampering became part of his sentence, but Westwood was sent off to spend the rest of his life in prison. Even that didn’t last very long.
There are more rumors and intrigue surrounding the story behind his demise, whether it was a Native American curse or the consequences of keeping bad company, but Westwood didn’t have time to plead for parole. The former Justice of the Peace met death while working on a scaffold at the Western Penitentiary. Some say he simply fell, but others wonder if he was pushed.
Even after he perished, the casualties surrounding Westwood’s life weren’t over. His son Jimmy Jr. also fell from a scaffold on Helen Street in 1955. The bricks of the firewall came loose, the wall gave way, and he fell to the ground. He died at the scene.
Obviously, Westwood’s life and his family’s astounding experiences numbered more than most of us could imagine in our worst nightmares. Were they caused by a curse? Did evil come upon Westwood, or was he responsible for bringing out the worst elements of himself? Did the curse bring the evil, or was it all just a rather unfortunate, dramatic, and almost unbelievable coincidence? It’s hard to know for sure, but one thing is certain: his story will continue to be told for many generations to come.
Special Thanks go to Sandy Saban and Tracey Pederson of the McKees Rocks Historical Society, as well as Jack Kaine.