Destination America Ignores, Rewrites History with Helltown

Note: This piece originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of The Ghosts Of Ohio Newsletter (subscribe here to start receiving your very own free issues). But as someone who has been wearing the moniker “The Man Who Debunked Hell Town” since the early 2000s, I have been bombarded with questions about the validity of Destination America’s recent program, Helltown. So much so that I felt the article needed to be reposted here. For it is my firm belief that if anyone expects to be taken seriously in the field of paranormal research, they must be willing to openly admit instances of BS when they come floating across our airwaves.

Helltown cover

When I first learned that Destination America was going to be running a 2-hour program on the truth about Hell Town, I immediately began planning to do a review of it for an upcoming newsletter. For the premiere, I even made sure that I had a notepad and laptop within reach so I could take notes, including references and different aspects of the legend that I needed to dig deeper into. I had snacks and beverages and had even turned the cell phone off. This was going to be fantastic: 2 hours of in-depth history on the legend of Hell Town. And then the show started.

For the next two hours, I sat there in stunned silence. Twenty minutes in, it began to dawn on me that the huge review article I had been planning could be boiled down to two simple words:

It’s fake.

That’s the short version, anyway. The full thought would be that Helltown was the most ridiculous piece of garbage that I have ever seen on the Destination America channel. And let’s be honest here: that’s saying a lot! In fact, the idea that Destination America would willingly put out this piece of work speaks volumes as to how low this channel has sunk. Yeah, I get it, they called it Helltown instead of using the more popular two-word title that most have come to know the area as. But this was 2 hours of the most bizarre and outlandish claims I have ever heard, which is again saying a lot. I could take up pages of this newsletter going scene by scene, pointing out the various inaccuracies, but since I found roughly 95% of what I saw to not only be inaccurate, but total fabrications, that would take forever. Plus, I’ll be honest with you: I don’t want to devote any more of my time and effort to this steaming pile than is absolutely necessary. So, let’s just get right at it and rip it apart as quickly as possible.

Let’s start with this: ALL of the people shown in Helltown are actors and actresses. Canadian ones, no less. I’m not going to list their real names because they are just trying to make a living here. But if you want to find their names, just wait until the end of the credits for Helltown and you’ll see them all there, right along with a good 3-4 screens’ worth of disclaimers about the so-called “facts” of the case and one screen, which flies by, that all but admits it’s all made up and that, among other things, actors were used as opposed to “actual persons”:

End Credits

Wait a second. Is this saying that every single person in Helltown is an actor and/or otherwise pretending to be someone they are not? Yes, that’s exactly what it’s saying.

What, you mean this guy, too? The one who was from the area and knew all about the local history, especially all about the reports of human sacrifices and cults in the area?

Paul Wyndham

It even says he’s a Professor of Folklore and Mythology at Cuyahoga Community College, so he has to be real, right? Nope, another Canadian actor. And one who couldn’t even pronounce “Cuyahoga” correctly, which is a little weird since, you know, it’s part of the name of the place where he works and all.

OK, but this guy, Conor Dwyer, has to be real.

Older Conor Dwyer

He’s even shown as a young man in that television special that ran back in the 1980s. He’s sitting with his grandfather on their front porch and the grandfather mentions that he doesn’t want to move his family out of the area because Conor is deaf and would have trouble in a new location.

Dwyers on porchHe’s fake, too. Plus, he’s a great example of how far Destination America was willing to go to mess with its audience. You see, For The Good Of All was indeed a special about the Boston Township area that ran in the 1980s. In Helltown, they make it appear as though they are playing a clip from that 80s special and are interviewing a local resident, who is not named. He talks about not wanting to move, especially because his grandson, Conor, is deaf and there are concerns about how he will be able to function outside of the only home he’s ever known.

The problem is that in For The Good Of All, the comments Helltown attributes (and shows) as belonging to Conor Dwyer’s grandfather were actually said by someone else: a man named Burrell Tonkin. And in the original, Tonkin is not talking about concerns over relocating his grandson, but rather his elderly mother.

I could continue, but let’s leave it with this guy—Terry Greenbaum, the big conspiracy theory guy who ran a website and posted conspiracy videos about Helltown and other locales. He’s the one who teams up with some weird video guy and they go off in search of those hidden tunnels under Helltown.

Terry GreenbaumYeah, he’s a Canadian actor, too. Don’t believe me? Just fast forward to the point where Greenbaum and his buddy are in the tunnels and they get scared—they both totally lose their fake accents and start sounding like a bad SCTV skit. Oh yeah, and none of his websites or videos exist, either.

As I’ve thoroughly documented, beginning as far back as 2001, the legends surrounding the area that would become known as Hell Town sprung up as a result of the US Government declaring eminent domain and pushing residents out in order to create and extend what is now known as Cuyahoga National Park. That’s it. It’s a sad, tragic story, but one that does not involve government conspiracies, satanic cults, slaughterhouses, or secret tunnels. And for God’s sake, please don’t go out there looking for any wendigo, either. I know, I know, it’s incredibly tempting because who wouldn’t want to meet a creature that Helltown depicts as being something straight off the back cover of a King Crimson album (BTW, I feel old just typing those three words):


To sum everything up, Destination America’s Helltown is about as truthful as Animal Planet’s Mermaids: The Body Found. Still, the most appalling thing about the presentation is how gullible Destination America must think their audience is. I’d like to give them credit and say that perhaps they were trying to create a thrilling mockumentary, but I can’t even do that. The acting is horrible, the plotline is incomprehensible, and it appears as though they went the “found footage/home movie” route to cover up the fact that no one on the crew appears capable of successfully framing a single shot. For these reasons, I would suggest you not walk, but run from your TV should this monstrosity appear on the screen. And if someone suggests that you watch it yourself, immediately make a mental note to remove said person from your holiday gift exchange list. For clearly, anyone who suggests Helltown to you is not a friend.

For more information about what really happened in the area known as Hell Town, please visit The Ghosts Of Ohio’s original 2001 article on the history of Hell Town.


32 Thoughts

  1. The sorry excuse for US soldiers they depicted did it for me. I don’t know where they got those uniforms and those haircuts simply are NOT allowed in the US military. It was fun to watch, kind of like the last 2 bullshit seasons of Mountain Monsters, but impossible to take seriously.

      1. I kept asking my wife “How did we live 2 miles from Helltown for 10 years and not hear about these legends?” Now I know, lol. She is an army vet and picked apart the soldiers (actors).

  2. Sorry, but I’m reading this page and my eyes are rolling. You’re watching a Destination American supernatural feature and you’re expecting REALITY instead of ENTERTAINMENT? Was it not rather obvious from the moment it began that it was not going to be a real feature?

    I wasn’t around when the Helltown feature was first advertised or anything, but unless it was really trying to pass itself off as real like the Blair Witch Project’s advertising or something, I feel like no one’s really being defrauded here anymore than going to a mall to see Santa is not seeing the “real” Santa.

    1. Jay, I appreciate your comments, but dare I say that your eyes were rolling so much that you missed the point of the article.

      Like you, I do not expect to see anything “real” on Destination America. But given the amount of e-mails and texts I received from people asking where to find the (non-existent) locations depicted in the feature (not to mention the local media and even the police feeling the need to publicly “out” the special as being a work of fiction), I think it can safely be assumed that we are in the minority.

      If you go back and look at the history of the Helltown urban legend, you will find two things: A lack of proof and a whole mess of vandalism and trespassing. For decades, local residents have had to endure people wandering across their property, peeking in their windows, and, sadly, even disturbing the graves of their departed loved ones. And all of this was before the DA piece was even created.

      Also, if Destination America wasn’t trying to pull a Blair Witch, then they didn’t need to use the Helltown urban legend as the basis for the special–they had created enough of their own fictitious tales, including the tunnels, the wendigo, and the “bear attack” to create their very own fictional town. Instead, they chose to incorporate not only bits and pieces of Helltown urban legends already in circulation, but also real names, dates, and locations from area history. And yes, they promoted the entire special as being real:

      Thanks again for writing. Now about this whole “real” Santa thing…

  3. I tried to watch it, but I turned it off after they flipped the fake bolder and found the glass tunnel opening…. “I feel like Nicolas Cage in Nation Treasure!” really?
    I actually went to Google to see if anyone really honestly believed any of it…. What a waste….

    1. The minute I saw the supposed “Professor ” I thought he looks like the guy from ” The Mermaid Story “ Google search and I had my answer….done wasting recording space on my DVR…


  4. Your article seems to be a fairly direct ripoff of a YouTube video on BrianVision’s channel. Credit?

    1. Patrick, thanks for the note. But I would caution you about using phrases like “direct ripoff”. I take things like that very seriously. Because of that, I feel the need to point out that I have been researching (and have had published articles about) Helltown since 1999. My 2001 online article chronicling the history of Helltown has become my most cited (and “borrowed from”) one on the web.

      Concerning the BrianVision channel, I’d never heard of it before now. I did Google it, though, and just watched several of the videos. One of the videos does indeed include some information that I included in my article. But since both he and I were reviewing and critiquing the same show, it would stand to reason that there is inevitably going to be overlap. I also found it interesting that while there are several Helltown videos on BrianVision’s channel, only one of them pre-dates the early December 2017 date when my article was submitted for editorial review for publication in the newsletter. And there is very little, if any, content in that video that is covered in my article. So in essence, you have two people, calling out the same examples of BS in a very bad television program. Nothing more.

      Again, thank you for the note. I appreciate you taking the time to write.

    1. That event never took place and was fabricated for the broadcast. All of the people involved in that particular “segment”, including the girl in question, are actors. And that tunnel is not even located in the area commonly referred to as Hell Town.

  5. The professor guy….I recognized right away as the “NOAA scientist” on the discovery channel thing, Mermaids: the body found lol so even tho I was looking for a fun interesting REAL ghostie show this I immediately knew was fake

  6. Yeah, so that “professor”… As a Cuyahoga Community College alum myself (it’s known as Tri-C around here), I immediately called shenanigans on the whole thing as soon as I heard him state that he worked at “The Community College of Cuyahoga.” Er, what? And yes, he mispronounced “Cuyahoga.” Every Clevelander knows here’s two acceptable ways to say it (and everyone who says Cuy-uh-HO-ga will tell everyone who says Cuy-uh-HAW-ga they’re wrong, and vice versa). But you didn’t hit either, friend. Nope.

  7. I anticipated a big old steaming pile based on the description, but I didn’t expect to laugh so much. Those conspiracy theorist bits could have come straight out of a Christopher Guest movie, assuming he lowered his standards. It was only missing Fred Willard as the harrowed veteran and Eugene Levy as the community college folklore and mythology professor.

  8. I appreciate your tone and your analysis, and I find your approach refreshing. For me, the giveaway is emotional inauthenticity in reaction, and the actor playing the present-day military officer displayed that in abundance. Nice link to the rumor-debunking page, too. I have loved my paranormal-hunting media since I was a kid, but only a few sources ever seem to hit the right balance of legitimate inquiry and strict, disciplined skepticism.

  9. Can tell the cast are “actors”! Even down to the teenagers at the beginning of the show. Shame on DA for trying to make like this is a “real” documentary. It was a really bullshet job of a long azz movie.

  10. It was fun to watch. They didn’t care to make it extremely believable, just fun. Too many paranormal shows try too hard to convince the audience all the events are real.

    This was like 3 or more separate groups were given an assignment for a class project & combined them for a weekend film party.

  11. Thank you for confirming what I thought less than 15 minutes in…surely no one is falling for it but you never know….

  12. One’s willingness to suspend disbelief would definitely have to be stretched beyond limits with this docu-drama–I was a pre-teen in Akron when Boston bit government dust, and my grandparents, who lived in Cuyahoga Falls, would treat me and Mom to Sunday lunches after church at an old restaurant they loved in Peninsula–but it’s admittedly still nostalgic and damned good fun to watch with popcorn and the lights out at 3 in the morning! Honestly, though, if “Helltown” grabs someone’s twig & berries, just tell ’em to meet me out at Crybaby Bridge, and I’ll tell ’em wen-di-go.

    P.S. Hell’s bells, *I* used to own a ‘King Crimson’ album too!!!

  13. The minute I saw the “Professor ” I thought he looks like the guy from “The Mermaid Story “…one Google search and I ended the recording…no need to waste DVR dumb…disguise him better than that.


  14. I am normally ok with fake ghost stories, especially at Halloween time. But this was too much. The “professor” was not a very good actor & he did remind me of the guy from the crappy Mermaid mockumentary. I thought it was the same person. I had to turn it off.
    I probably could’ve watched it & been a little entertained but I can’t stand that guy.

  15. Just when I thought it was safe to venture back into corporate tv… This happened. What a mess. My grandfathers family house in Wilkes-Barre PA was taken for the same reasons back in the early 20th century. They burned them all down and made it a state park once nature reclaimed it.

  16. The classic War of the Worlds radio broadcast by Orson Wels was a mockumentary as well. It was fake and succeeded in convincing a vast amount of people that we were being invaded by Martians. It created a lot of fear and hysteria. Helltown just made a bunch of people believe something that isn’t real, like Santa Claus to a child. I enjoy mockumentaries. They bring an excitement and wonder to an increasingly boring world. I get enjoyment and satisfaction when people actually fall for these works of art or get upset that they’ve been lied to when they find that its fake. Art is in the “eye” of the beholder. For me, the reactions of this author are priceless and enjoyable, and make watching Helltown that much more worth it. Thanks for your article!

  17. I grew up here, I spent my crazy teenaged years driving the valley and Stanford Rd. was one of our favorite roads to “cruise”…those were fun times!
    How the hell did I miss all this good stuff?
    Wendigo signs? I always heard those concrete pilons were for the railroad so that they knew when to blow the Whistle at a crossing. W=Whistle…
    Mother of Sorrows church was satanic? That sweet little gingerbread church had Satan Worshippers? Someone needs to tell the Catholic Diocese this . Quick!
    Teenagers died there? Ok…it wasn’t any of us and we ran that tunnel under Rt.303 all the time..funny thing…..Happy Days picnic area where it connects on one side is a great place to hang out…. sigh
    Lastly please learn how to say Cuyahoga…we locals hate it when it’s pronounced wrong…and we honestly let Cawga Falls slip by as long as we know that you know…. it’s KY A HO GAH….learn it!
    Thanks for the laugh …and next time I am in Boston Cemetery… I won’t fall off the edge looking for fake headstones!

  18. It was just on tv (April 2020) &nthought it was utterly ridiculous. When I saw them poking a supposedly dead soldier & he jerked his arm while trying to play dead, it had me rolling my eyes even more. Have to admit that I didnt watch the whole thing BUT what peeked my interest the most was that Professor Paul Wyndam…. with a semi-photographic memory, I knew, that I knew that face immediately! He was the same exact actor (but older & with a beard & weird haircut) as the lead/main actor in that other stupid mockumentary – Mermaid, The Body of Evidence…. have been trying to find his actual name in a list of cast members for both for comparison/ confirmation – of course they apparently don’t exist anywhere online (how convenient! ) There is absolutely no question that its the same guy, they just repurposed him!

    An absolute absurdity… the scariest thing about it (or the other one), is that there really are people out there that actually believe it as being real! Go look on Amazon at some of the 4 & 5 star reviews! Are you freakn kidding me?! Somebody has to do something to force Discovery Network’s hand to stick with real life & facts if they’re going to try tonpass this JUNK off as a real documentary (despite the tiny illegible disclaimets at the END that nobody evwr bothers to read!) Maybe big bold letters on the opening scene or title screen or something… I just cannot get over how stupid people are in this 1st place!

  19. Just saw DC “Hell Town.” One or two good actors, the soldier with dementia and the deaf resident. The dead bodies filled like a waterbed? Color 16mm film processed after decades in the Ohio ground? (I hate it when stories have plots with old video or film found after long periods and no degradation? )The soldiers attire – costume people didn’t do their research! So many inconsistencies and plot holes. However, great underground set. The more I watched the more I had that sinking feeling. Very good analysis, sir.

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