Stench of Death: A True Investigative Adventure (Story)

Hello Interwebs! Five years ago, Justin and I stumbled upon a possible conspiracy which reverberated through our first year at York University… Join me if you dare for a paranoid adventure of youthful exploration, all based on true events, and ripped straight from my personal journals.

Justin Church (co-founder of Thought Plane Media) is a curious guy. I mean to say he’s a strange fellow, but also a man to stick his nose in where it doesn’t belong. Speaking as his best friend, I find Justin’s adventurous spirit simultaneously enticing and worrisome. It’s probably put my life in danger equally as much as pushed me out of my comfort zone. But hanging out with him is never dull!

Early in our first year at York University, Justin discovered some fascinating information about our school from one of his TAs. For one thing: the older parts of Keele campus were intentionally built like a fortress and designed for military applications during the Civil Rights movement. The Ross Building (the campus’ most trafficked area) is surrounded by tall concrete walls on each side, impossible to scale. And, up until the 1990s, the Ross Building’s entrance was a large ramp allegedly intended for tank access! The building also has a helicopter pad on its roof… With this knowledge in mind, the design choices in the heart of Keele campus make a lot more sense.

But it’s not just the Ross Building. The oldest section of the school (where our residence– Winters College– was located) was intentionally built like a maze to prevent race riots and make navigation confusing for rioters so that students could get to safety. I must concede the campus layout is far from straightforward, so this also makes sense.

The final thing Justin learned: there used to be a network of tunnels under the oldest grounds of our school for pedestrian access, connecting all residences and lecture halls. But here’s the intriguing part: these tunnels mysteriously closed down over 20 years ago with little explanation. The prevailing theory is that unruly behaviour and security concerns were the main causes in the tunnels’ closing. Some say they were condemned for health reasons. Yet none of the teachers we asked knew why they closed– even the ones who’d worked at York since then!

What the Ross Building entrance used to look like

Justin became determined to discover these tunnels for himself, and possibly even break in to the old system if he could. I was quickly roped in to the investigation. We expected to find trouble, but what we discovered during these next weeks gave us cause for concern…

The adventure began in earnest when Justin discovered a 20 year-old map of the tunnels online, from around the time they closed. We discovered there were 2 distinct networks: the pedestrian tunnels for simple travel, and the steam tunnels for maintenance workers. The later are still open, but notoriously difficult to navigate. Many folks have allegedly gotten lost in that labyrinth. But they also weren’t supposed to be down there, so you can judge their plight for yourself.

The majority of our story will be told via excerpts from my journals. I kept detailed records of the investigation. And I’ll chime back in with asides marked “NOTE” to provide further context. So– we began our tunnel search in the basements of old residences and lecture halls…  

SEPTEMBER 23rd, 2016

They’re all over the old part of campus: They’re in the basements of all the old buildings, but most of them are locked. If the doors are open, I’d say we’re allowed in, but most are just locked for safety/ health reasons if they’re not outright condemned. Justin and I found two locked ones, one of the later (condemned), and one of the unlocked newer ones (though that one wasn’t connected to the old system).

It was close to 7:30 when Justin and I quit for the night, but not before we saw some stuff that really freaked us out in that condemned place (like conspiracy level stuff). We’re probably poisoned for one… Justin in particular has been to a lot of sketchy places and he honestly thinks that that was the worst one yet.

While looking into all the school’s oldest buildings for tunnel access we came upon the biology building, and taking the one entrance inside (a stairwell) we were hit immediately with the overpowering stench of something. It was unbearable and we were convinced that it was something rotting from somewhere close by.

Going down the staircase as far as we could (like we did in all the other buildings) to the basement we discovered the door to the tunnel, and also found that the odour was so intense here we had to use our shirts as masks to block it out. It couldn’t have been more obvious to us that the rotting smell was coming from inside the tunnels.  

Heading down the stairwell, examining the locked entrance to the tunnel.

This door was different than the others we’d found, seemingly older and less reinforced. It also had windows on it, so even though they were blocked up we managed to sneak a peak into the tunnels beyond. Next to this door was a large black fire door which essentially read that it should never be opened. That was sketchy enough before considering that this tunnel door was in the basement, and there was no other way to it besides the stairs and that door. Clearly, somebody doesn’t want people finding this area if it can be helped.

We couldn’t stay down there for long because the odour was so bad, but we were down there long enough for Justin to determine what kind of key the lock on the door took. Apparently it’s a very hard kind of key to make a bump for or pick. Justin was shocked at the level of precaution [York seems] to take with these tunnels. They’re clearly really opposed to anyone getting in by any means.

As class hours were over, the building was essentially abandoned by this point in the day and so we figured we’d explore it some more while we were there. The whole place had a creepy vibe to it, and we didn’t think that it was just due to it being after hours. Something here just felt off. We couldn’t put our fingers on it.

The worst of it was when we took another staircase down to the basement (this time it was the actual basement and not just a dead end stairwell) and saw what they had down there. The lighting was dim and ominous, and we were the only souls in the place.  

Exploring the creepy basement.

Walking down the hall we smelt the odour from before and realized we were standing on the other side of the fire doors that aren’t supposed to be opened. Interesting. Making our way down further we found a little doorway cut out of the original brick and a decidedly more modern white room with nothing in it but an elevator. That really creeped us out because it seemed to us that the elevator only went down, but we were already in the basement (though we didn’t really take a good look at it. It just seemed that way from where we saw the elevators earlier).

Everything in this basement was strange and scary. Every poster and notice on the wall was dated as being from the late 2000s or early 2010s, and all the equipment we could see in the rooms was extremely dated and looked archaic. The scariest part, however, had to be the hot-boxed room in the comer. It was a room completely sealed by duct tape, even the key hole, and there was a maintenance order sign posted to the door dated 5 years ago!

Keeping in mind this room was in the basement of the biology lab, our imaginations starting running wild with what could be behind there. In any case, it was very creepy. Eventually we got so creeped out we had to leave and decided to go back to residence. Both of us had the feeling that we’d stumbled in on some kind of conspiracy. The tunnels being mysteriously closed off, the powerful odour, the strange goings on in the basement of the biology lab; all of it seems a bit weird to not take notice.

Part of us seriously felt that Men in Black would be waiting in our room when we got back, so we opened the door and turned on the lights as fast as we could… It seems paranoid but we were legitimately scared.

Justin and I imagining we’re in the X-Files.

OCTOBER 3rd, 2016

Justin and I were holding a further investigation on that tunnels conspiracy, and things got weirder tonight… [T]he smell in the biology building tunnel has only gotten worse since the last time we were there, but there was more to it than just that… Before getting into it, I just want to say how the elevator we thought only goes down actually only goes up, so that’s one less weird thing.

Now I’ll get into the weirder stuff. The tape on that one hot-boxed door has recently been removed and has left glue residue all over the door. While on the surface that doesn’t seem so strange, Justin says that from his own experiences duct tape doesn’t leave glue unless it’s been on something for well over a year at least.

Continuing on from the beginning of my story, the smell in the tunnel has grown even worse! We decided to cave and ask somebody about it, and since we were in the building rather late, the only soul we could find was a janitor on duty. We led him to the stairwell, and even though we could clearly smell the odour (it was quite powerful), he seemed to play dumb and acted like there was nothing as far as he could tell.

As we got closer to the place he didn’t flinch in the slightest (he allegedly didn’t know about the odour in the first place. Meanwhile Justin and I were so bothered by this point we were using our shirts as masks again).  

Suspcious Janitor guy.

Finally entering the stairwell, it was VERY POWERFUL and apparent, but this man didn’t so much as bat an eye, though he seemed to acknowledge something off about it. The first thing he tried to pin it on was a wet carpet. Justin and I knew this was bullshit, so we convinced him to go downstairs, and when we came back he blamed it on tunnel mould.

The thing is that those tunnels were closed off YEARS ago and the smell has become noticeably far more powerful in just a few weeks time. Mould wouldn’t have built up to be so powerful in such a short amount of time.

When Justin suggested it might be rats, the janitor immediately agreed, suggesting it was the rat holding place in the basement near there. Too convenient for our tastes. Essentially we thought this guy was incredibly suspicious, and it just led us to think that we might have stumbled on something we shouldn’t know about. It was quite odd he didn’t seem to smell anything even though Justin and I were forced to use masks, and on top of that he was incredibly agreeable to everything we suggested (and his first guesses were ridiculous, as mentioned).

Tonight Justin looked up ways to pick the lock, but it’s such a complex one that he’ll basically never crack it (not easily anyways). So that’ll be our project for this year. Frankly everything about that building is a red flag for suspicion… It’s really freaking us out still.

Anyways, that was my adventure for the night. At the time (7:30), Justin was doing his research on what certain things smell like (mould and dead animals for a few of them).

Justin embracing his inner PI and examining a lock.

NOTE: I wouldn’t doubt that this investigation partially inspired our X. Files web series We were looking into these conspiracies around the time we came up with the idea for a conspiracy show. Coincidence? Probably not, no.

A few weeks following our last notable trip to the biology building, I texted my friend to share our adventures. I’m going to change his name in the journals, just in case he doesn’t want to be called out…

OCTOBER 11th, 2016

I had to mention that Justin and I are in the middle of an investigation into the biology building… This piqued his curiosity and so I explained the short version: ‘There is a tunnel system that runs under York like a maze and it’s been closed off to the public for 20 years. We tried to find the entrances one night and we found most of them but the biology building freaked us out.

All the doors are in the basements and the basement of that building is creepy. Apparently there are hardly any classes down there and all the technology and posters are at last a few years old. One room was duct taped shut (even the crack in the middle and the key hole) and it had a maintenance sign posted on it from 5 years ago!

In the stairwell that leads to the tunnels there is an odour so powerful that you can’t even stay in the area without gagging your brains out. That smell has only been getting worse over the last month! We asked a janitor one day and he didn’t even seem to realize it and then he was really agreeable to everything we suggested.

Justin and I checked the tunnel lock and it’s a lock so complicated that it’s basically impossible to lock-pick. The smell is coming directly out of the tunnels and it’s the most powerful, terrible thing… Something has to be rotting in there. But yet nobody in that building seems to pay any mind to it (since it’s an out of the way staircase nobody really uses except to go outside). We know it can’t be mould or rats since the tunnels have been locked for 20 years and it’s gotten about doubly as bad over a month.

Something is totally going on in that building. Our prevailing theory is that there’s a body in there, or many bodies. It’s quite possible the biology lab decided to stuff their rotting cadavers in there or something.’  

Me frantically texting “Sam” about our adventures.

The best analogy I could give Sam for how the building feels is like the air conditioning school at Greendale [community college from the show Community]: They’ve got their own thing going on there that the rest of York probably doesn’t know about.

At the end of this tirade, I assured him that this is about the freakiest thing I’ve gotten into so far. He agreed that this is seriously freaky stuff and questioned why one of the staff won’t tell us what’s in there. We’ve only been to the building after hours so there’s hardly anyone there to question, but it’s unsettling even during the day. We really should find a prof, but somehow I doubt they’d know (or say).

Every time Justin and I go there we feel like there’s going to be Men in Black waiting for us in the dark of our room. We’ve been there multiple times and it gets freakier every single time. Tonight Justin and I went back out to the tunnels in the Biology building and we found that the smell has subsided somewhat, but we still find it to be curious. We’ve determined that we’re anonymously going to call campus security tomorrow to make them aware of the potential issue.”

NOTE: I know the idea that there could be bodies down there seems ludicrous, but who knows?

OCTOBER 12th, 2016

[I]n the evening, Justin and I decided to anonymously call up campus security about the biology lab staircase odour. We specifically called from the girl’s side of our building just so they’d have a harder time tracing the call back to us if they tried. Upon telling them of our concerns, they said they’ll check it out, so that’s good.

Calling campus security.

NOTE: Though the smell was in the hands of campus security now, Justin and I weren’t done with the biology building. That weekend, when our friend Jessica came to visit us, we dragged her into our investigation as well…

OCTOBER 14th, 2016

All this hardcore jamming [playing Rockband] really worked up an appetite, so once we’d had enough of the game we got dinner and then went to the biology lab. Because this was Jess’ first time back at York since we’d made all our discoveries, we tried to show her the odour in the basement, but she couldn’t smell it… This sort of frustrated us because we thought it was obvious and we wanted conformation from a third party that it wasn’t just our imaginations. Oh well. At least Justin and I could confirm for each other.

In our never-ending quest for discovery we decided to go upstairs for a change. Down this one hallway we happened upon a weird room with plants, pots, seeds, and wood-chips. Because there was a whole stack of them, we stole one of the pots, put wood-chips and seeds in it and named it Jeremiah.

On our way out, we passed by this cylindrical black door that you could step inside and revolve to get into another room. While every horror movie teaches you not to do things like that, Justin took the plunge anyways. It must be kept in mind that we were visiting this building at night when the place was all but abandoned (though we still didn’t want to be caught by anyone and questioned why we were there). Essentially, we were on edge already. On top of that, this building is creepy even in the daytime… So this was the context for our nervousness when Justin (the brave one) decided to spin himself into the other room.

The lab where we created our plant, Jeremiah.

Not being able to see where it led to from our side, Justin wouldn’t respond to us and we got a little worried. He then spun himself back around and told us we ought to come with him. Jess was too scared to come at first, but I figured it couldn’t hurt. So we spun in together and I was greeted with pitch blackness.

Justin then turned on the lights so I could see the place. It honestly looked like a murderer’s hideaway… The place was dingy and dirty and creepy. It’s the kind of place where the killer goes to chop up a body before disposing of it. It was awesome!

It took us a few moments to realize this was an old photograph developing room, but it still had no business being so scary. Here we convinced Jess (still nervously waiting in the hallway) to come in with us. She thought it was really cool too, but we were all a little frightened still.

After we’d all swiveled out, we saw a guy walking down the hallway towards us and we freaked out because we weren’t (technically) supposed to be there, so we sped out back down and out of the building.

A couple of cowards making their getaway.

NOTE: The plants Justin stole appeared to be from some abandoned project the year previous… And, FYI, Jeremiah was our resident house plant for the entire year! But the room we found him in was creepy. Lead-lined fridges housing radioactive material took up the centre, while those plant supplies were tucked away in the back corner. A few weeks later Justin developed severe rashes over his entire body. The only new thing he’d handled in that time was Jeremiah. Could those plants have been part of some biological experiment? We may never know…

Our investigation petered out for a long time after this. The smell of that stairwell tunnel had subsided and there were no more explorations to do– or so we thought. Many months later, Jessica visited us again and we investigated another section of campus, which is where we found the following…

MARCH 11th, 2017

​While we were out, we figured we’d do a bit of adventuring around campus (as we’ve been apt to do in the past). Today we attempted to find an entrance to the old tunnel system (underneath the Lassonde building). Justin and I had actually never been here before.

In the basement there are a tonne of sketchy corridors, which we explored thoroughly. I only note them as sketchy because they’re in the basement and we were the only souls down there, so far as I could tell. Actually, we probably would have panicked had we actually run into somebody else (exploring places like this puts us a little on edge).

Eventually we did find an entrance to the old tunnel system at the bottom of a stairwell, but it, like all the other ones, was locked. Unlike the others, however, there was a little card reader next to the door which we presumed opened it. Justin wondered if he might be able to hard-wire this somehow, but we decided against trying anything just in case the attempt alerted security or something stupid…

Having failed in our quest, we took the staircase back above ground. We’d been travelling underground for so long that we’d actually lost sense of which direction we’d been heading. Even more strange: Justin and I had no clue where we were (and we’ve been to most buildings on campus).

Upon exiting and coming back outside, we realized we were all the way over by the track/ football field! I don’t know quite how far that is from where we started our exploration (in terms of a measurement), but it was far enough away that we were surprised at how far we’d come.

Standing in front of the football field in confusion.

NOTE: It was around this time when Justin suggested we write a letter to York University’s administration…

MARCH 13th, 2017

Justin and I were working on that letter to York about the tunnels. I thought it was quite rough, and he was distracting me from everything I wanted to do… Justin flat out stated in his letter that there’s a “conspiracy”. He’s writing it and I’m editing. I don’t necessarily think it’s the way to go, but it’s his letter so it’s up to him. He was trying to flesh out his argument at this time and I was trying dearly to get caught up on some readings…

Justin penning a letter and me being unimpressed.

NOTE: By this point I’d become somewhat disinterested in the investigation, as it had been months since we’d gotten anywhere. I won’t include Justin’s letter, as he requested I leave it out…

MARCH 17th, 2017

Around 5:00 Justin convinced me to go out on another “adventure” and we were out for an hour and a half. This time we went looking for entrances into the steam tunnels (not the pedestrian tunnels that we searched for months ago). To find access to this legendary maze of tunnels, we began by looking in some of the older buildings on campus.

The first place we looked was in the basement of Winters College and then we headed out to the campus walk. In this one building we found an out of the way stairwell that was unlocked. This led us to a higher floor where the lights were off and we had to use a flashlight to navigate the small landing (where all the doors were locked).

When we got back down, the way we came was locked behind us… Fortunately we found a way directly outside that didn’t set off any alarms (though we still got out of there fast just in case the alarms were silent). From here we made our way to the Ross building and tried to find roof access (the one spot we found was behind a locked door). Then we went down to those “tunnels” we’ve found before, underneath one of the buildings, and discovered something new!  

The sketchy entrance to the steam tunnel we found.

​Underneath Central Square there are more underground networks we hadn’t been to yet. There was this long and creepy hallway with the floor covered in water for some reason, and we went down that. Here there was a maintenance door (we discovered these led to what we were looking for). It was actually unlocked! Justin went in first, and immediately afterwards he started running as fast as he could the other way. I followed him as we tore down that hallway, through the puddles, through the doors, into the small tunnel, and over to those other tunnely areas we explored last time Jess came over.

Apparently he’d made eye contact with someone in the tunnel room… He was an old man but Justin got so spooked that he booked it. I guess that makes us even for the time I ran when we broke into that building during Frosh week. We were both out of breath for the next half an hour or so (and even sweating. We ran really fast). Making our way back to the surface, we realized we’d run clear across the campus walk underground and came out further down the path (quite a distance).

Justin running past me like the wind.

NOTE: That building we “broke into” during Frosh week wasn’t a break in per se… The building was technically closed and we found an open door.

This here is perhaps the freakiest part of the investigation: One day, while traversing campus, Justin was tailed by a couple men he assumed were York Security. To Justin’s recollection, they weren’t dressed like normal security guards though. The men followed him through a crowd and into one of the campus buildings. Justin had to employ some clever evasion tactics to lose their tail through the maze of colleges. Were these the MIBs we’d feared from Day 1 finally come to get us? I can’t say I wasn’t followed as well. I’m a notoriously unobservant person…

MARCH 28th, 2017

[Justin and I] met up in the Winters Parking lot before going to deliver that tunnel letter to Kennef tower. We felt really sketchy going up to the tenth floor all alone. The place was empty. The secretary waved us in and we awkwardly declared we had a letter for the president (not even in an envelope or anything). Before we left, he asked if it was confidential and we told him it wasn’t. While waiting for the elevator we caught sight of him reading the letter… Hope he enjoyed it.

Justin confidently handing the unimpressed receptionist our letter.

NOTE: Though this case became cold, Justin’s thirst for adventure only burned hotter. Lucky for him there would be many more in his future. It was around this time when Justin decided to drop out of school to become a private investigator! He actually followed through on this dream, though the career wouldn’t last. But that’s a story for another time. With Justin gone and the school year over, our investigation into York’s tunnel system was left unfinished.

By the way: York’s President actually did respond to Justin’s letter. But nothing ever came from the exchange. 

SEPTEMBER 11th, 2017

It’s the first Monday of the semester… The first place I went was past Founders college (near the sketchy forest) and onto the campus walk to get to the William small centre. Even just walking by here got me all nostalgic for last year…. On the way up to the campus walk, I noticed that the biology building was under construction and completely fenced off, and since we spent so much time there last year I decided to text Justin and let him know there might be something afoot. Probably not, but everything about that biology building was sketchy…

END NOTES: The biology building was under construction and blocked off for about 2 years! I was never able to go back and see if the situation had changed: the smell, or the general creepiness of the place. It nearly seemed too coincidental that the year after Justin and I specifically singled out that building for investigation it was blocked off to the public. I still think something was going on in that biology basement. Maybe nothing sinister, but something nonetheless…

That said, revisiting these journals makes me wonder: were Justin and I the antagonists of this story? Our plotting of break-ins, exploration into multiple areas of campus we should never have been, and Justin’s incident with campus security might not paint us in the best light… But then again, maybe that’s what they want you to think. Just maybe. In our defense, we were only living by York University’s motto: Tentanda Via: The Way Must Be Tried. And try we did…

What do you think was going on in the tunnels? Would you like to hear more stories from TPM’s York U days? There’s quite a few good ones (most not so long). Also, if you have any ideas for future articles, or any general questions, let me know that as well. Be sure to like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *