SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Lilly Gray died in 1958, nearly 60 years ago. Her grave, however, remains the subject of fierce speculation and debate because of the mysterious message inscribed on her headstone.
“Victim of the Beast – 666” is written under Gray’s name – a reference to the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, and the Antichrist.
Ghost tour guide Nanette Watts gets asked about Lilly Gray all the time.
“Nobody knows, really,” said Watts. “We are left to speculate.”
Watts gives tours for Story Tours, a company in Ogden and Provo that takes visitors to haunted locales throughout northern Utah. But Watts said the most chilling place she visits is the grave of Lilly Gray.
Why does her grave bear that mysterious message?
“There are rumors that she is the first witch in Utah,” said Watts. “I’ve also heard people say there was this man…and he led her away from her family…her loving family! She was brought back in a box,” Watts said.
Are these just rumors? Watts said they likely are. There are no records, according to Utah state archives, of there being anything untoward about Lilly Gray’s life.
Her husband, Elmer Gray, is another story.
Elmer Gray was a notorious criminal, jailed in 1937 for ten years after robbing Kamas Confectionery. Elmer and Lilly met in Nevada late in their life, according to records, and were married in their 70s.
The Utah State Archives still has record of Elmer Gray’s 1947 parole hearing, in which he accused five “democrats” of “kidnaping (sic)” him. Gray left quite a paper trail with a seemingly paranoid personality, which was most apparent while he was locked up in jail.
“With a criminal history, [Elmer] had a lot more interaction with government agencies,” said Gina Strack, a Utah historian.
Gray’s parole application shows a seemingly paranoid man with anti-government sentiment. During his hearing he used an alias. “Woodrow Lamb – a bum” was the name he dictated to the record-keeper in 1947 when he was being considered for pardon or parole. Strack said Gray’s paranoia probably did not serve him well that day.
“He did not get released from prison that day,” said Strack.
Eventually, he was released, and shortly thereafter, he met his future wife, Lilly. There is little known about their courtship. Only a wedding certificate from the state of Nevada. The two relocated to Utah and lived in a house in the Poplar Grove neighborhood.
Lilly died just a few years after the two were married – of natural causes. Questions remain as to what type of marriage the two had. Strack believes Elmer Gray is behind the mysterious inscription on her tombstone, which is located thirteen rows in the northeast corner of the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
The grave is covered in items left by visitors, including candy skulls, coins – and other spooky items; all because of the strange epitaph.
Strack said there is virtually no record of Lilly Gray in state archives. As far as we know, she had no descendants, which makes it difficult to complete her story.
Watts says there’s another allusion to the devil on her grave, that most people might not recognize.
“Her headstone has the evening primrose flower on it…the nickname of the evening primrose is ‘the devil’s lantern,'” said Watts. “But it’s also the symbol of deep love, longing and missing someone.”
Watts believes it could be Elmer Gray was angry with the government for not letting him ride in the ambulance with Lilly to the hospital (as was state law), where she died of a pulmonary embolism in 1952.
Could that be the reason he had the words “victim of the beast” written on her tombstone? Is the “beast” in this case, the government?
Or was he just grief-stricken?
All state historians know for sure, is that Lilly Gray’s grave is one of the most visited in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
“I was at the gravesite once with someone saying it felt like somebody poked them on the shoulder.
maybe it was Lilly poking them away…saying ‘Hey! this is my space!,'” laughed Watts. The ground is worn around the grave, because there are so many visitors.
Strack – who relies on data and records – prefers not to speculate, as so many have done.
“We all want to fill in those gaps,” she said. “I think there’s definitely a story here, we just don’t know the full story.
Watts, a storyteller, believes in her heart that Lilly Gray was probably a lovely woman – and hopes more records about her life emerge.
“It will let Lilly rest in peace,” said Watts.