Among the obelisks, monuments, and statues of the Salt Lake City Cemetery is a rather unusual headstone inscription: “Lilly E. Gray / June 6, 1881 – November 14, 1958 / Victim of the Beast 666.” The plot on the far northeastern side of the cemetery attracts visitors from all over, many on guided tours of the ghostly and paranormal. But who is Lilly and why does she have such a headstone?
Using records in the collection of the Utah State Archives, the following is a compilation of known documents and insights into the actual person of Lilly Gray. We are also indebted to other researchers who have made their conclusions available, providing a framework for the entire story.
“[T]he time has come to allow dear Lilly to rest in peace. In order to do so we must remove the paranormal and other spooky and devilish speculations that have been attached to her name by those who were searching for answers but were obviously searching in all the wrong places.”1
Little is known currently about Lilly’s life before moving to Utah in about 1950. Her death certificate indicates she was born in Canada to Wilmer and Francis Gray on June 4, 1880. It’s not clear why her headstone has a different birthdate of June 6, 1881. Using her birth information and parents’ names on the certificate, it appears that her family may have immigrated to the United States, showing up in Michigan for the 1900 and 1910 federal census.2 There’s probably quite a story for her life in the years between living with her parents and marrying Elmer Gray, a story that should be told someday. She may have married someone with the last name Zimmerman, as the spouse’s name on Elmer’s death certificate, but more research will be needed to verify this. And it’s important to keep in mind that, while death certificates are very useful, they are only as accurate as their informants.
The future husband of Lilly Gray led quite a life of crime prior to landing in Utah. According to his Utah State Prison commitment register entry in 1937,3 he had a prior record in what may be the Genoa Indian Industrial School in Nebraska (“Neb. Ind. School”), the Missouri State Prison, the Oklahoma State Prison, and the Colorado State Prison. Elmer was sentenced to 1-20 years for the crime of burglary in the second degree on August 16, 1937 at the age of 56. He ultimately served 11 years, despite multiple denied applications to the Board of Pardons every year of his incarceration4 and offers from family to take care of him.5 He was released July 11, 1948.6
It is his applications for termination of sentence that first opened up the research possibilities for those interested in the case of Lilly Gray.7 An online index of pardon applications was available for many years, then the Archives posted the actual records online in 2008. Elmer’s application is about as unusual as Lilly’s headstone, with accusations of being “kidnaped[sic] by 5 Democrat Officials.” After a decade in prison, Elmer applied for an “end to this farce Termination.”8 A year later, he applied again in a possibly more sober manner and was granted his release.9
Though “never…in court,” there is indeed a criminal case file in the Utah’s Third District Court of Summit County (view criminal case file online). Using only the alias Woodrow Lamb, Elmer was charged on August 10, 1937 as follows:
That the said Woodrow Lamb at the time and place aforesaid in the night time of the said day, did wilfully, burglariously, unlawfully, and feloniously break in and enter the building known as the Kamas Confectionery in Kamas, County of Summit, State of Utah, said building being then and there occupied by Douglas Simpson with intent, the goods and chattels then and there being in said building, then and there wilfully, unlawfully, and feloniously to steal, take and carry away.10
He entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to an “indeterminate term in the State Prison of the State of Utah” on September 11, 1937.11
Marriage to Elmer Gray
Whatever may have brought Lilly and Elmer Gray together, they married in Elko, Nevada on July 10, 1952.12 The actual marriage record, such as a license, is not online and is likely in the records of Nevada’s Elko County. She was 72 and probably married before, while he was 71 years old and less than five years out of prison. Elmer may have been living in Salt Lake City already, with a city directory entry from 1952 on 20 Angelo Avenue. Lilly (or Lillie) joins him in 1953 (at 116 W Apricot Ave), in 1955-56 (at 767 W 300 N), and finally just after she died in 1958-59 at 1216 Pacific Avenue.13
Death in Utah
Despite numerous theories and speculation, Lilly died of natural causes on November 14, 1958, after about a week in the hospital. Her place of residence on the death certificate is the house on Pacific Avenue in the Poplar Grove area of Salt Lake City. The informant is listed as Elmer, though he doesn’t seem to have deviated much from the facts this time. Her obituary is short and to the point:
Mrs. Lily [sic] Edith Gray, 78, 1216 Pacific Ave., Died Friday, 11:10 a.m., in a Salt Lake hospital of natural causes. Born June 4, 1880, Canada. Salt Lake resident since 1950. Married to Elmer Lewis Gray, July 10, 1952, Elko, NV. Survivors: husband; several nieces and nephews. (Deseret News for Nov. 15, 1958, p. B5)14
Elmer’s life came to end at the Snyder Rest Home a few years later, from a stroke likely due to Parkinson’s Disease. His death certificate is less informative, without name of parents but including Lilly as his wife.
Afterlife and Infamy
There are still mysteries when it comes to Lilly Gray. How did her infamous headstone come to be? Why is the information different from her death certificate? What kind of life did she lead before living in Utah?
Even when people seem less documented, they still leave a paper trail. Elmer Gray committed crimes in multiple states, and tried to use an alias when arrested in Utah. His family still found him and made his real name known to authorities. However, lack of records either surviving or easily found should not be license to fill the gaps in the story with speculation. Within the routine but enduring government forms, files, and registers, real people’s lives will emerge from the past for our understanding today.
Explore the Documents
1. “Lilly Edith Zimmerman Gray” FindAGrave.com, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=10550322.
2. 1900 U.S. census, Benzie County, Michigan, population schedule, Gilmore, dwelling 14, family 198, Lily Gray; digital image, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 702. 1910 U.S. census, Benzie County, Michigan, population schedule, Gilmore, dwelling and family 38, Lilly Gray; digital image, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 637.
3. Department of Corrections. Inmate Services, Prison commitment registers; Utah State Archives and Records Service, Series 80388, Reel 7, Number 6700.
4. Board of Pardons and Parole, Minutes; Utah State Archives and Records Service, Series 332, Box 5.
5. Board of Pardons and Parole, Correspondence; Utah State Archives and Records Service, Series 80460, Box 5.
6. Department of Corrections. Inmate Services, Prison commitment registers, Reel 7.
7. Richelle Hawks, “Mystery Solved: Lilly E. Gray, Victim of the Beast 666,” UFO Digest, http://www.ufodigest.com/news/0509/666-2.php.
8. Board of Pardons, Prisoners’ pardon application case files; Utah State Archives and Records Service, Series 328; digital images (http://images.archives.utah.gov/cdm/ref/collection/328/id/7157).
9. Board of Pardons, Prisoners’ pardon application case files; digital images (http://images.archives.utah.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/328/id/78/rec/1).
10. District Court (Third District : Summit County), Criminal case files number 347; State of Utah vs. Woodrow Lamb; digital images, Utah State Archives and Records Service, Series 90025, Box 4.
11. District Court (Third District : Summit County), Criminal case files number 347; Utah vs. Lamb.
12. Elko County (Nevada). County Recorder, “Marriage records, 1869-1951; index 1869-1955,” Image 658; FHL microfilm 1,888,135, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C913-Y3BS-Z?cat=646201.
13. R. L. Polk, compiler, Salt Lake City, Utah, City Directory (Salt Lake City: R. L. Polk Directory Co.); Utah State Historical Society.
14. “Lilly Edith Zimmerman Gray” FindAGrave.com, https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=10550322.
Feature photograph of headstone by Noel Fields, CC BY-NC 2.0.
Utah State Archives and Records Service, Office of Vital Records and Statistics, Death certificates, Series 81448.
“Index to Board of Pardons Prisoners’ Pardon Application Case Files, 1892-1949,” database, Utah State Archives. https://archives.utah.gov/research/indexes/328, entry for Elmer Gray; citing application case number 9015.
15-02-307-016; Box 37; Tax Appraisal Photographs, 1934-1970s; Salt Lake County Assessor; Salt Lake County Records Management & Archives, West Valley City, Utah.
Stephen Wagner, “A Gravestone in a Salt Lake City Cemetery is the Focus of a Curious Mystery” ThoughtCo, https://www.thoughtco.com/victim-of-the-beast-666-2594198.
“Lily Edith Gray” Bachelor’s Grove Paranormal Forums, http://www.bachelors-grove.com/bgf/index.php?topic=715.0.