Ernie Yost had a deep hatred for Christianity and seemed to be what people today call “a black satanist.” In other words, he perceived the religion from a Christian perspective and infused it with “evil.” Most satanists throughout history have been involved with “white satanism” or a spirituality that has nothing whatsoever to do with nefariousness or depravity.
Yost chiseled “Hell’s Half Acre” onto his front steps and named his power boat, “Hell’s-a-Poppin’.” He made a life-size satanic doll or effigy and possessed occult books—highly controversial in a small, Christian town like Fairmont with a “southern” mindset.
Yost lived in a tiny, brown, wooden house on Chesapeake Hampton Road with a huge basement. Today, the home is painted a charming white, but it is still much the same inside as it was in 1948. The bomb blast marks on the walls of the basement have never been repaired. The gun that was used in the double-murder suicide is kept at this home today.
Yost carved the words “Hell’s Half Acre” on the top stone step located at the front / left side of his home (when facing the house). Yost may have gotten this idea from a traveling ghost and seance show called “Hell’s Half Acre.” On the other hand, Yost may have simply been deeding his house to the devil. The carving was still fully visible in 2012. As of 2016, only the “e” in “acre” was readable.
Yost was an expert mechanic at the Shaft Mine of the Consolidation Coal Company. He was a valuable employee. He had worked as an upholsterer in the past, thus creating a life-size doll was no doubt easy for him.
As stated above, Yost passionately hated Christianity. He became upset when people mentioned the word. On one occasion, a child started saying grace at a meal, and Ernie rose from the table, upset, and angrily fled the room. Witnesses describe Yost as a man 1) who did not like children (except he was good with his two daughters), 2) who had wild mood swings, 3) who was an infidel and into devil worship or the occult, 4) who became easily jealous, 5) who believed Nellie (and possibly Nellie’s lover, if she had one) were trying to flimflam him out of his house and money, 6) who was extremely talented at fixing and building things (for example he carved a beautifully-designed butter churn lid at one point), and 7) who was prejudiced against people of other races.
The newspapers wrote that Yost possibly had a persecution complex, and they took to psychoanalyzing him in articles the way people sometimes do when they want to explain away socially unacceptable behavior.
Yost’s second wife, Nellie, was seeking a divorce and wanted $75 per month in alimony. Tucker Moroose was her lawyer.
Yost believed Nellie and Moroose were having an affair, a rumor that made its way around town and that lingers to this day. However, witnesses to the era and members of the involved families do not believe there is any truth to this rumor. When Moroose was confronted by Yost and blurted out, “That’s a damn lie. I will call the police and have you thrown out of my office,” it is believed that he was responding to Ernie’s assertion that he and Nellie were romantically involved.
The crimes as depicted in Chapter 19 of Devil in the Basement are accurate in their details. Nellie was shot twice: in the neck and in the brain between her eyes. Moroose was shot five times: in the head, in the back, in the kidneys & abdomen, in the shoulder, and in the finger
Yost named his boat “Hell’s-A-Poppin’.” The newspaper wrote that the boat was “new” and cost $2500. (This is the equivalent of $25,392 today). Since Nellie was no longer living in the house by January 1948 and since Ernie knew she was seeking a divorce, it is likely he bought the boat prior to 1948. He was worried about losing out to his soon-to-be ex-wife and would not have wanted to accumulate property that would later be given to her. It can therefore be assumed that Yost probably bought the boat in either 1947 or 1946. It is unknown whether he named the boat upon purchase or did so at a later date.
There was a 1941 Universal Studios kitschy movie called Hellzapoppin. It features well-dressed folks sliding into hell (as if on a fun house ride). They are then roasted alive on skewers by little devils (men dressed in devil attire sporting horns and carrying pitchforks). It is likely Yost named the boat after this movie. It is not uncommon for occultists to get inspiration from unusual places, such as pop culture.
Yost set two bombs in the basement of his home before setting out on his murder-suicide mission. The bomb-making materials are accurately described in Chapter 18 of Devil in the Basement. The bombs were made of colored wires, wicks, two timers, kerosene oil, balance scales, two alarm clocks, two batteries, paper, wood, and gasoline.
The bombs were triggered to go off at four p.m. on April 7, 1948—seven hours after Nellie’s nine a.m. appointment in Moroose’s office. It is believed that Yost planned to diffuse the bombs if Nellie agreed to come home and forget about the divorce.
Yost had made a life-size effigy or satanic doll, which was found after the explosions when police and firefighters entered the home to extinguish the flames. It was sitting at the breakfast room table as if it was a person. It is unknown when Yost created the doll.
Yost had at least one occult (or satanic) book in his basement (according to the acquaintance of a firefighter) and two in his kitchen (according to newspapers) on the day the bombs exploded. The kitchen books purported to foretell future events. One book was open to the page, “April seventh: Favorable. You have twenty-four hours of variable planetary aspects.” The second was titled, What the Stars Forecast and read, “It should now be possible to reach settlements and clear up matters that have been troublesome… there are indications of possible loss, trouble through papers, figures and mistakes, as well as talk and intrigue…”
There is a rumor to this day that Yost robbed a bank, but there is no evidence. The rumor may be related to the $1700 cash that Ernie had at his death and which disappeared. (This amounts to $17,000 today.) It is believed that the money was stolen from Yost’s body or his home at the time of his death, possibly by a policeman or an investigator. Either a neighbor or friend may have seen Ernie with the large sum of money and assumed he had stolen it. An elderly gossip was heard perpetuating the rumor and may have been the person who instigated it.
Tucker’s younger brother (called “Jal” in Devil in the Basement; his real name is withheld to protect his privacy) learned about the double-murder and was upset. He grabbed his gun and went to the hospital to finish off Yost, who was close to death, according to doctors. Jal arrived at the hospital at 12:25 a.m., but Yost had died at 12:20 a.m.. This was lucky for Jal because he would have surely been arrested for murder.
Jal still owns the gun he took to the hospital to kill Yost. Today, he is 94 years old.