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When a Mastermind of Horror Set His Sights on an Illinois Town, Things Got Scary — for Him 


Two weeks before Halloween, Russ McKamey fired off an email to the police department and district attorney in McLeansboro, Illinois.

"No offense, but with all the crazy things that have happened, and how the people have's actually a little scary," he wrote.

Coming from McKamey, even that lukewarm admission is startling. This is the same man who has achieved infamy as creator of McKamey Manor, "the most extreme haunt in the world." From a handful of Southern Californian homes converted to abattoirs, McKamey has spent the last fourteen years preying on adrenaline seekers from every walk of life. No matter if the entrants have been office drones or U.S. Marines — McKamey breaks them all.

After more than a decade of fine-tuning, what started as a DIY haunted house has become an hours-long test of mental and emotional endurance, a nightmarish marathon featuring everything from kidnapping to forced bug-eating. Everyone who enters McKamey Manor is warned: "You really don't want to do this." After their ordeal is over, McKamey uploads the suffering to YouTube. The waiting list to get in is now more than 27,000 names long.

Halloween is big business, but McKamey would prefer to keep the production running all year long. He's got ambitious plans, including several documentaries and a TV show for a major network.

Yet on October 15, the day he composed the message from his cluttered home office in San Diego, the 56-year-old former Navy man with a carnival barker's baritone was about as far from his comfort zone as he'd ever been.

This summer, McKamey made plans to move his operation to McLeansboro, a southern Illinois town of just 3,000 souls. In July, during his only trip to the hamlet, McKamey shook hands with residents and a local business partner; together, they finalized plans to transplant the manor from its West Coast birthplace to the American heartland.

McKamey got as far as delivering one van-load of equipment and props before the deal fell apart. Threats were made. Bricks were thrown through windows. Then rumors of theft reached McKamey's ears. Messages sent from anonymous Facebook accounts warned that his business partner was selling off equipment in his absence.

McKamey decided he needed to return to Illinois to get his stuff. And, as he wrote to the police and D.A., he feared what would happen upon on his return.

"I would like some reassurance that I'm not being set up in any way once I get there," he wrote. "I have never been involved with anything like this and I'm not going to lie...I'm worried about what might take place there."

McKamey is not the kind of man who pleads with authorities. He is the kind of man who breaks people. But now it feels like this tiny town — located smack dab in the middle of nowhere — may have bested him.

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September 9, 2020

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