Murder at the Met
The grounds of the former Metropolitan State Mental Hospital spanned three towns. Its conception was the result of an odd use of available state property, bureaucracy and the seemingly overwhelming need for massive mental institutions.
Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, the body that was dismembered and buried there in 1980 by a former patient spanned three graves. There are rumors that pieces of the body — that of a female patient — are still buried somewhere between the woods of Waltham, Lexington and Belmont, Massachusetts. This is at least plausible since the murderer, a male patient of the hospital, allegedly kept seven of the victim’s teeth on his person. This grisly revelation led to the facility being nicknamed “The Hospital of the Seven Teeth.”
However, we may never know the truth because the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (MDMH) lost or destroyed evidence critical to the case.
One thing is certain: murder was committed there and this fact was not hard to imagine. If ever a place looked like a murder site, it was Met State. After the facility closed, it not only fell into a state of disrepair, but it resembled a place of despair. Some abandoned asylums in New England had, at least some redeeming architectural qualities designed to brighten the lonely existence of the mentally afflicted. Met State was built in 1927 and was a collection of bland, depressing red brick buildings, including wards, medical facilities, an auditorium, cafeteria and even a small lonely building, away from all the others, housing the morgue.
The singular interesting feature of the sprawling facility was the main medical building, which sported a milk-glass adorned clock tower. After it closed in 1992, the whole place congealed into a stinking, rotting mass of mildewed plaster, rampant asbestos, fallen ceilings and flooded tunnels.
The tunnels, which connected all the buildings of the Met, were especially dark and foreboding. They were apparently originally designed to facilitate movement about the campus in inclement weather but were relegated to become storage space even before the hospital closed. Crammed with all manner of hospital surplus such as chairs, beds, equipment and supplies, the most sobering items stored in that dripping, echoing underworld were patients’ belongings, including children’s shoes.
The Gaebler Children’s Center — which sounds like a happy place, but was a actually an asylum for children — was located in the same wooded area near Met State. How children’s shoes made it from the Gaebler to the tunnels under the hospital is a question one prefers not to ponder too deeply.
With the exception of murder, mayhem, madness and the archaic treatments of lobotomies and medically repressed psychosis, Met State was not without fun and games. There was a theater/auditorium in which the patients could stare through movies in a Thorazine-induced haze. There were also plenty of outdoor activities such as art, music, and sports. They also had gardening, but some patients planted things that are better left not described.
It’s a shame the patients couldn’t enjoy the view from the Medical Building’s clock tower. It offered a spectacular panorama of the surrounding property. Yet it’s unlikely anyone but the maintenance staff enjoyed the view because the trek up to the tower involved a labyrinthine crawl through ceilings, air ducts and a precipitous two-story climb up a metal ladder. Once level with the clock mechanism, one had only a six-inch wide wooden board, running around the entire four-sided clock, on which to carefully stand. Maybe it was better that it was inaccessible to patients; persons free of normal phobias would have found that narrow perch hair-raising.
The acres of woods that insulated Metropolitan State Hospital from the rest of the population are forever protected from development. The mental institution was not so lucky. The buildings that formerly housed the criminally insane have been demolished. The site now sports modern condominiums built in the same bland, post modern brick theme as the asylum. The idea is that everyday life and happiness can now be found on the site of such epic suffering. Hopefully, the missing remains of a murdered patient will rest forever peacefully in the woods.
This article represents the author’s personal account, having visited Metropolitan State Hospital. If you want to read more about the hospital and other lost and abandoned asylums check out the his book The Forbidden Tourist.