Man of Mystery

img_0991Rob Craighurst.
PHOTO BY Linda Kobert

Downtown denizens who stroll the bricks on a warm weekend evening may have noticed a new addition to the parade of characters haunting the Mall recently. Tall and lean, sporting a grey mustache and spectacles, and clad in a turn-of-the-century cutaway and top hat, Rob Craighurst is exactly the sort of person one would expect to be luring folks into murder and intrigue.

Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening from April through October, Craighurst leads whoever shows up at 8pm in front of Marco and Luca Dumpling Shop on a two-hour, one-mile ramble through the century-old mystery of the most famous murder in Charlottesville history. Stepping back in time, he unwinds the tale of Fannie McCue, wife of former mayor and prominent lawyer Sam McCue, who was murdered in the couple’s Park Street home on the night of September 4, 1904.

“I love storytelling,” Craighurst said, “and the murder of the mayor’s wife is just an amazing story.”

The journey, which is wheelchair accessible and appropriate for mystery-lovers of all ages, includes stops at several sites significant to the story, and refers to one of the most complete accounts of the tale that appeared in the Hook in 2003.

Tour goers who pay the $10 fee (kids are $5) will hear about the old First Presbyterian Church whose Sunday night service the McCues attended just prior to the fateful event. The tour moves on to Court Square where Sam’s illicit lover lived, to the Albemarle Courthouse where Sam was tried for the murder, to the old County Jail where Sam was held and eventually executed, and to the former McCue house at 601 Park Street, which now stands empty and suitably spooky.

Along the way, Craighurst peppers his spiel with other eerie anecdotes. He talks, for example, of strange apparitions at UVA’s Pavilion X and Ash Lawn/Highland, tales that officials at these historic homes don’t want to talk about.

“Rob has really done his research,” said fellow tour guide Gayle Floyd. Floyd, who led tours in Washington, D.C. for many years and now works at Monticello, celebrated her 65th birthday by inviting all her friends along on Craighurst’s tour. “We had lots of fun. The whole murder is fascinating. It’s just a fun and interesting part of Charlottesville history.”

Craighurst developed his business, Tell Me About It Tours, four years ago after visiting Savannah, Georgia where he and his wife Sue Berres participated in one of the old Southern city’s many ghost tours.

Still searching, at the age of 59, for what he wants to be when he grows up, Craighurst was looking around for a new occupational diversion.

“I personally have never knowingly experienced a ghost,” Craighurst said, “but there are lots of things that I can’t explain. I just tell the stories. People can decide for themselves whether they believe in ghosts or not.”