Every community has its myths, and the Danbury area is no exception. In 1989 reality became more powerful than myth when a man was killed across the Danbury line in New York State near what locals called the Jesus Tree. The death sent shock waves through the local communities and forever cemented the Jesus Tree in the minds of area residents.


Since the 1970s and 1980s, The Joe’s Hill Rd and Federal Hill Rd areas had been teaming with an abundance of legends. Teenagers from both Danbury and Brewster were drawn to the area by stories of devil-worshiping, tales of ghosts and other mysterious happenings. The famous Leatherman is said to have had a cave in the area. Some of  tales popular with teens were the appearance of the mysterious “black cars” which seemed to follow the teenagers’ cars as they cruised down the lonely stretch of road on the Connecticut /New York State border. One person who wishes to remain anonymous reports the cars came from the Morefar estate also known as Back O’ Beyond.  Other stories teens heard involved, coffins in Farrington’s pond, the moving in and out of the pond as if breathing and a white lady who walked the road.  Another anonymous source disclosed they had seen Farrington’s pond,  “glow red.” one night.  In addition, they reported, “…the property next to the Jesus Tree had strange things going on there.”  They said, “Behind the fence where it says “Back O’ Beyond” at 2 am there were a bunch of people walking on the lawn near the gate with black hoodies on.”  Another source we’ll call “Nick” tells a similar story about cars from the estate. Nick, says he pulled into the Morefar property to, “turn around” after backing out  Nick says he was followed by ghost cars from Morefar. Nick tells he and a friend who we will call “Lisa” spent time partying in the area in the 1980s. Lisa who came to the Danbury area from Norwalk drove an old hearse.  Nick would not confirm if Lisa took part in rituals in the area; however, he did state that he didn’t. According to the New York Times in a 2009 story, “The Morefar estate is owned by a subsidiary of   Starr International.” notoriously close-mouthed when questioned by the press, officials at Morefar do not comment on the estate or what goes on there. Because of the secrecy , the Times reports that the 500-acre estate is shrouded in myth.  This writer entered the Morefar property in the 1990s  and walked the golf course. Eventually, groundskeepers escorted me off the property.  But not before I had walked the entire golf course. Other than bronze statues, one depicting the mythological god Pan, there was nothing unusual about the estate. Whether the goings-on at the estate are something out of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is another matter since most teens and young adults came to the area because of one legend in particular- the legend of the Jesus Tree.  Some people who viewed the tree especially at night swore they could see Christ’s crucified image in the tree “It looked better from the side.” says one source, “The silhouette was impressive. It showed a body hanging forward over the road with the head hanging slightly and crossed feet at the bottom.”   This writer tried for years to see an image in the tree at day and night and never witness a figure in the tree. Needless to say, people swore they could see an image in the tree and by the late 1980s teens  frequented the tree often and according to one source not all came to see Christ  “People looked at that tree as a symbol of both Jesus and the Devil they would do crazy rituals back behind that tree some would drink and just raise hell but the crazies, they took it farther.” On July 5, 1989, two young men went as far as you could go when their escapade lead to a senseless tragedy, which shocked the Danbury area to its core.


Dean Lockshiss was a 20-year-old gifted Hofstra University student who was “going places”  reported the Danbury NewsTimes in 1989. On July 5th  after ending his shift at Walden Books at the Danbury Fair Mall.  Dean headed home through Joe’s Hill and  Federal Hill Rd it was about 10 pm. The night was dark, the moon was a thin crescent. There are no street lights on Joe’s Hill and Federal Hill Rd and the area near the Jesus tree was particularly dark.  This writer had been in the area a week before the murder it was late at night and during the drive, I had not seen one car. The Jesus Tree sat near the bottom of a slight grade in the road which passed the Melrose School a private school which has since closed. During the day the area can be foreboding. Flanking    Federal Hill Rd are the so-called apostle trees centuries old they are as twisted and gnarled as was the Jesus Tree. It was just after 10 pm when Dean reached the scene where the Jesus Tree grew the area was desolate. There were no large gatherings of teens that night only two young men standing by themselves. They flagged Dean down. Thinking the men had car trouble, Dean stopped. When Dean exited his car Mark Brooks 20 and Michael Mebert 19 robbed him. The Jesus Tree an upside-down cross spray-painted on its trunk was barely visible in the darkness. We’ll never know Dean’s state of mind during the final moments of his life but after he got back into his Plymouth Valiant he may have believed Mebert and Brooks were letting him go. Instead, the young men opened fire on Dean with a .22 pistol and shotgun shooting him in the head and neck.  Michael Mebert and Mark Brooks then took pictures of Dean’s lifeless body, eventually, they drove off. The next day, unable to keep the murder to themselves, Mebert and Brooks bragged about it to whoever would listen and within 24 hours of the murder police took the pair into custody.  The Danbury NewsTimes reported Michael Mebert and Mark Brooks were arrested after several people went to the police. Ironically the pair were arrested at the Danbury courthouse. Mark Brooks had come to the courthouse because of a traffic summons. The crime, front-page news for days in the Danbury NewsTimes, shocked the Danbury area for its senselessness. The killers made off with nothing more than $4.  As reports came in, the news was both appalling and bewildering. Mebert and Brooks came from respected upper-middle-class families. Mark Brook’s father was a ten year veteran on the Danbury police force. But according to the Danbury NewsTimes, the pair never seemed to fit in and gravitate into the wrong crowd. Straightaway the evidence against the two men mounted. Police recovered the guns in the woods outside Danbury. And according to the NewsTimes police recovered a roll of film at the pair’s campsite. Robert Mebert, Michael’s father was in shock. He told the Newstimes “We just found out about it (the murder) this morning we’re still trying to piece things together… it’s a terrible tragedy.” The men had killed Dean in New York State so they were extradited to Carmel, New York for trial. The court found Michael Mebert and Mark Brooks guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced them to 50 years to life in prison  Mark Brooks who is transgender and identifies as a woman now goes by the name Jessica Brooks. He is housed at Green Haven prison in New York State, Michael Mebert is housed upstate at New York’s Coxsackie Prison along the Hudson River. The murder was horrific in its callousness but had the motive been robbery.  Sources who spoke to the Danbury NewsTimes described the killing as a “thrill killing”   Dean Lockshiss a gifted student was killed as one source stated “without provocation” and according to sources the pair planned to kill again. During the days leading up to the murder, Mebert and Brooks had lived in a tent at the Upper Kohanza reservoir in Danbury likely lying in the tent at night talking about murder until talking wasn’t enough. Dean Lockshiss is buried in the old Milltown cemetery on Federal Hill Rd not far from the spot where the Jesus Tree once stood.

Jessica Brooks- Mark Brooks identifies as a lesbian woman today.   Brooks sued for treatment including hormones and sex-change surgery. He lost his suit.


It’s easy to imagine why people would see an image in an old gnarled tree with outstretched limbs.  The phenomena is called pareidolia by scientists but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the myth about the tree began and according to one source the myth was a product of peoples inebriated and drug-fueled imaginations. “It was a ridiculous story,” reports a source who wishes to remain anonymous, “that got embellished over the years and started when a bunch of people were stoned/drunk after leaving the Dial Tone and Fore N’ Aft and other bars in Brewster.” In the early 1990s, The Jesus Tree met its end when according to one source the tree was cut down as a  prank.  In fact, the tree was only sawed into but the cut was enough to concern officials and for safety town, crews from Southeast took the tree down. Today all that remains of the Jesus Tree is its rotting stump. Nevertheless, the legend continues kept alive by people who care to remember the fun and often scary times they had there as teenagers and the senseless murder which occurred thirty years ago this summer. “Well that Jesus Tree brought us years of entertainment in the late 70s says Marie McGuirk, summing things up, “and lots of good stories! So funny… we bought into it hook line and sinker!”