Thirty years ago on October 24, 1988, in Greenfield, Massachusetts, Mark Branch re-enacted the urban legend of a small-town killer inspired by popular horror films. He dressed up as Jason from the Friday the 13th series and brutally killed one woman. Now referred to as the “Friday the 13th Copycat,” Branch’s acts are one of the most unsolved mysteries of the past 30 years.
Why was he fascinated by the horror films? And what exactly occurred on that spooky October evening?
An Early Fascination With ‘Friday The 13th’
Branch, an 18-year-old grocery store clerk, had a keen interest in horror slasher films, especially the Friday the 13th series. As a rental movie store clerk later commented, “He rented strictly gore, period. The gorier, the better.”
Some have referred to Branch’s fascination as an obsession. He loved Jason, the machete-wielding protagonist of the film series. He wanted to be just like him. Branch became an urban legend in the city of Greenfield. Everyone knew who he was, and Branch collected files of various women at his high school. He was searching for his first victim.
This victim would be Sharon Gregory, a freshman psychology major at Greenfield Community College. After learning about Branch’s obsession, Gregory decided to compile a psychological profile on him as an assignment for her coursework.
Unfortunately, this decision would lead to her murder on October 24, 1988.
What We Know
No one knows exactly what happened that night when Branch entered Gregory’s house. But, hours later, Gregory’s twin sister, Cheryl, reportedly discovered her sister’s body in the bathtub with multiple gashes in her head, chest, and abdomen.
Police immediately suspected Branch of the murder, especially when they discovered his blood-stained car abandoned near the woods of Gregory’s house. A manhunt followed, but the suspect could not be found.
Police and Greenfield residents feared more murders would occur as Halloween approached. The city canceled its Halloween parade and downtown activities, and trick-or-treat hours were confined to the afternoon. The local movie theater also postponed the release of Halloween IV to discourage Branch’s obsession with horror.
So, What Happened?
Everyone was on edge on Halloween. They expected Branch to appear for another murder. But when the holiday came and went, nothing happened. Police were still searching for Gregory’s murderer, but it started to look like they would never have any answers.
It wasn’t until late November, a month after Halloween, when Branch’s body was found hanging from a tree in rural Buckland, Massachusetts. He was discovered by hunters at the beginning of the deer-hunting season.
A coroner determined Branch’s suicide occurred shortly after he murdered Gregory. But, there is still a mystery related to his death. Did he really commit suicide? Or, was there another murderer in Greenfield at this same time?
We’ll never know the answer to this urban mystery. But the story alone is scary enough for you to stay indoors this Halloween season. After all, you never know who could be lurking around.