Manhattan Well Murder & The Ghost Stories That Followed

Manhattan Well Murder

Photo: By Beyond My Ken (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

To the untrained eye 129 Spring Street, New York City, looks like your average building, one that’s held dozens of businesses over the years and somehow seems to still remain busy; however, locals know a much darker story dating back over 200 years. The murder of Guelielma Sands, now known as the infamous Manhattan Well Murder, would be the first ever recorded trial in American history. The location of her murder was buried beneath buildings in present-day Manhattan, a well that had been hidden for decades.

The Gulielma Sands Murder

In late 1799, Guliemla ‘Elma’ Sands lived in a boarding house located at 208 Greenwich Street, New York City. In December of 1799, the young woman enjoyed a secret love affair with another tenant on Greenwich Street, Levi Weeks, a local carpenter. The two had planned to elope, and when Elma left her home on December 22nd, she hoped Levi and herself would return as a married couple.

Elma’s cousin, Catherine Ring, claimed that she had heard the front door close at around 8 that night, but didn’t witness Levi or Elma leaving. When Levi arrived at 10 o’clock, demanding to know where his future bride was, a panic took over the home.

Witnesses would later testify that they had seen Elma traveling in the area of Lispenard’s Meadow with two unidentified men. Just days later, Elma’s body would be pulled from a well in the same area with evidence showing that her neck had been broken before her body was dumped in the well.

The trial of Elma’s death would last a little over a day. Backed by the infamous lawyers Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, who were retained by Levi’s elder brother, Levi was acquitted of all charges. To this day, the murder of Elma Sands has been a mystery; although, some claim they can still see her haunting the well where she was found 200 years ago.

The Manhattan Well

The Manhattan Well was originally built just shortly before the death of Elma. At the time, the well sat in Lispenard’s Meadow, a popular destination for local sweethearts in the winter. In the 1820s, upper-middle-class houses were built over the property, sealing the well in the basement of one of these buildings and making 129 Spring Street the legal address of the well today. After that, the location transformed regularly over the years. In the late 1820s, it was a shop which sold remedies for tobacco addiction, then a German beer hall before it was finally vacated and left abandoned for years.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the well hidden under 129 Spring Street would be featured in the headlines again. When The Manhattan Bistro decided they needed more storage for their restaurant, they chose to excavate the cellar, unearthing the well that had been hidden for nearly 200 years. According to the owners, the well had an eerie presence, looking as though it hadn’t aged a day since it was covered up all those years ago.

Today, if you travel to 129 Spring to see the haunted well, you’ll find COS, an H&M sister company. The well still remains unnervingly perfect in their basement.

Ghostly Sightings and Catherine’s Curse

Since the murder of Elma, young men and women have often reported seeing ghostly apparitions in the area. As the story goes, a select few can still hear Elma screaming in the area of Spring and Greene, pleading for her life. Most recently, employees of COS have often blamed strange occurrences in the store on the ghost of Elma, holding her responsible for missing merchandise, broken elevators, and various electrical shortages.

Many blame Elma’s cousin for the strange occurrences that surround the mysterious well to this day. Transcripts show that following the ruling, Catherine Ring had cursed the room, shouting, “I call upon the Almighty to curse you all, and He will do it!” It’s believed by many that Catherine’s curse resulted in the peculiar death of the man ultimately responsible for the acquittal of Weeks, Judge Lansing. Nearly 30 years to the day of the trial, Judge Lansing left his Manhattan hotel to post a letter. That day, Judge Lansing disappeared into thin air, all trace of him ultimately vanishing. The investigation that ensued turned up no leads and the case was ultimately abandoned, although locals would soon link the disappearance to the death of Elma.

Shrouded in mystery, the Manhattan Well remains a hidden gem for many. Whether you believe in the ghost stories that have followed 129 Spring Street for decades, its historical significance to the city can’t be denied. Elma’s story, much like the hidden well, is sure to remain a mystery for years to come.


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