After attempting to give the box to his brother, sister and girlfriend, all three returned it with various gripes, saying it smelled or the doors flew open on their own. Mannis says he sold it to a young couple then found it back on the shop doorstep with a note: "This has a bad darkness."

Finally, Mannis took it home himself. That's when he began experiencing nightly dreams of a horrifying witch. After each of his siblings and his girlfriend described identical nightmares when they'd housed the box, Mannis says he decided he had to get rid of it.

"I am afraid (and I do mean afraid) that if I destroy the cabinet, whatever it is that seems to have come with the cabinet may just stay here with me," he wrote toward the end of the 2003 online listing. "I have been told that there are people who shop on EBAY that understand these kinds of things and specifically look for these kinds of items. If you are one of these people, please, please buy this cabinet and do whatever you do with a thing like this. Help me."

The “real” dybbuk box — shown here inside its protective ark — is kept in a secret location somewhere in northeast Missouri.
The “real” dybbuk box — shown here inside its protective ark — is kept in a secret location somewhere in northeast Missouri.
Jason Haxton at the Laughlin family plot in Kirksville, where Harry Laughlin is buried.
Jessica Lussenhop
Jason Haxton at the Laughlin family plot in Kirksville, where Harry Laughlin is buried.

The auction drew a fair amount of online interest, and before long a student from the small college town of Kirksville bought it for $140. Mannis says he spoke by telephone to the kid and tried to warn him about the risks but that the boy wasn't interested in the occult; he claimed it was a gift for his parents.

"The day, literally the day I ship it," says Mannis, "there was a palpable difference in the environment in my house. It was like coming up out of water...absolutely amazing."

Meanwhile, the trouble in Missouri was just about to begin.

Michael Callahan was at his former job at the A.T. Still University admissions department in Kirksville when he got an excited instant message from Jason Haxton from Haxton's office a floor below in the medical museum.

"Should I get this thing?" Callahan recalls Haxton typing. "It's only going for 200 bucks."

Callahan bemusedly read the unusual item description on eBay from a seller also right in Kirksville. The auction included Mannis' original posting and, as a postscript, a log of everything that had happened to its current owner in the last six months:

Sunday, 31 August 2003: Over the last week some interesting, though possibly coincidental, items of note have come up. Firstly, I share a house with six other people; we have been taking turns sleeping with the box in each of our rooms.

Two people are now complaining of burning eyes, one is listless and depleted of energy, and another became spontaneously sick. [In retrospect I would say it was allergies.]

A few days after these ongoing annoyances started, the air outside our house was filled with small bugs for several hours (a Friday). [Weird summer stuff?]

Last night (Saturday) we discovered that the box, now located in the back corner of the house, had come mostly open, though it had been shut and it seems unlikely that anyone could or would have touched it.

Wednesday, 10 September 2003: Though it seems impossible to prove that the box is a direct cause of misfortune, we have definitely seen a tidal wave of "bad luck."

Strange odors now permeate the house, the dumpster out back overflows with trash and decay, one roommate suddenly got bronchitis, and I broke a finger.

Several mice have died in the engine of one car, and more electronic devices seem to be dying everyday: xbox, toaster, t.v., and watches.

The poster — a young man in his mid-twenties identified only as "Joseph" in Haxton's book — ended by saying he was seeing dark blurs out of the corner of his eye and that about half his hair fell out in the past four days.

"For personal reasons I very strongly do not want this box anymore. I hope there's someone on eBay that will take this thing off of my hands," he concluded.

Haxton actually knew about Joseph and the box through an intern at the museum, one of Joseph's six housemates. The boys lived next to Truman State University in a worn-down apartment building nicknamed the "Pirate House" for the skull-and-crossbones flag flying from the roof. (Attempts to reach the roommates were unsuccessful. RFT received a chilly response after phoning the Kirksville parents of the boy believed to be Joseph: "He does not want to speak to you. He does not live here.")

Haxton mentioned the box to Callahan, whose real passion was a side career as a magician who sometimes used ghost stories in his act.

"I probably did encourage him to get it. It was an amazing story," recalls Callahan.

Haxton won the box for $280, and Callahan was there the day it arrived.

"The creepiest thing about it was just seeing that hair and those coins," he recalls. "Those are artifacts that are real links to real people."

According to Haxton, the trouble began for him as soon as he touched the box with his bare hands. In his book Haxton writes that a searing stomach pain overwhelmed him, and that evening he was haunted by dreams of a horrible old woman with sunken eyes. His health soon deteriorated. He began experiencing choking attacks, sudden rising welts and hives, a strange acrid taste in his mouth and what an optometrist called a "spontaneous eye event" that left large dry patches on his eyeballs, giving him a wild, bloodshot look.

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