When the director of “The Blair Witch Project” pushed to film a horror movie in the abandoned Frederick Towne Mall in Frederick, Maryland, the local film office described the space as a “horror filmmaker’s dream. It’s filled with dark corners, back alleys, and remnants of civilization, basically.” And he was right; the inside of the abandoned mall had dark, cluttered corridors, buzzing neon lights that were still on even though the mall had been closed for years, and bolt-cuttered storefronts. But Frederick Towne Mall only looked like a mall of horrors; in Akron, Ohio, there’s an actual mall of horrors.
Rolling Hills Mall, in Akron, opened in 1975 and was an immediate success. The mall expanded five times and, at its peak, was host to over 140 stores. But in the mid-Nineties, business flagged, and stores began closing. In 2000 the mall was sold for a little over $33 million; just two years later, it was sold again, for less than $3 million. By 2008, the mall fixtures were being auctioned, and the electricity was cut off when the mall could no longer afford to pay its utility bills. That was also the year that the creepiness began.
By 2008, the vast majority of stores in Rolling Hills were closed except for a few anchor tenants. Employees at an electronics store and at GNC began noticing stuff going missing from their shelves, but they couldn’t figure out where it was going; the locks on the front doors hadn’t been tampered with, and shoplifters couldn’t walk off with the amount of stuff that had disappeared. The mall called the police in. During a search of the back corridors they found a CD player charging in a wall outlet, and saw a suspicious man, but he ran and managed to escape. Upon further investigation, they discovered that the rear doors of several stores, accessible only by employee tunnels, had been jimmied open. The police searched the mall and, in an abandoned “Diamond’s Mens Wear,” found a sleeping bag, a “bathroom bucket,” a bunch of Powerbar wrappers (stolen from GNC), and about $30,000 in flat-screen TVs and DVD players. The next day, security guards on a stakeout caught a man trying to sneak into the mall, and he confessed; he’d been living there for months, living on stolen GNC snacks, and stealing electronics from storerooms in the middle of the night. A judge gave him a year in prison.
But the situation at the mall went from bad to worse. In 2011, a man was electrocuted on the roof of the mall while attempting to steal copper wire. The man, was was so badly burned that he had to be identified by dental records, had clipped into a live wire with a pair of bolt cutters. That same year, another dead body was found at the mall, buried near the main building in a shallow grave. Police eventually connected the dead man to a Craigslist job ad offering $300 a week and a trailer to “watch over a hilly 688 acre patch of hilly farmland.” The ad had been posted by a man named Richard Beasley, and it got hundreds of responses. Over the course of several months, Beasley took three men who’d responded to the ad to a remote wooded area, murdered and robbed them, and stole their identities. He chose older, single men, and might never have been caught if his gun hadn’t jammed during an attempted murder, allowing the man to escape by running seven hours through the woods. Beasley was soon tracked down through the IP of his Craigslist ad, convicted, and sentenced to death. It was never clear why he buried one of his victims at Rolling Hills Mall, but one of the men who responded to his ad, but wasn’t “hired,” said their interview took place at a mall food court. Maybe the guy was just fixated on malls?
The creepiest part of all this is that Rolling Hills might not be an outlier – it might just be ahead of its time. Studies have found that dead malls quickly turn into crime hotspots, and that 75% of malls in America are dying. You do the math.