A new local fright site is drawing criticism for more than just its departing owner.
A number of people expressed concern over the fact that the Wicked Warehouse, a haunted house attraction that opened Thursday at 111 W. Montgomery St. in Marietta, was owned by Lester Bowes, a registered sexually oriented offender. Although the Washington County Sheriff's Office says Bowes broke no laws, he said Tuesday he's separating himself from the venture.
Meanwhile, the content of the attraction, and an online video promoting it, are coming under fire from some who believe they promote violence toward women.
The video features an attractive young woman running from an unseen assailant, her nose bleeding. She takes shelter in the warehouse, where she is grabbed from behind by a man in a goat mask who slams her head into a metal door then drags her into the shadows.
"I just find that video so offensive," said Molly Varner, a member of the board of directors of EVE Inc., a local domestic violence shelter and provider of services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. "It's the kind of thing that might make gullible young people think that might be the thing to do."
A call and email to the Wicked Warehouse were not returned Tuesday.
Beverly resident Amanda Beebe, 32, went through the warehouse recently with her 15-year-old daughter and her friends and said she didn't find it offensive toward women. In fact, she's letting her daughter go back.
"It was just like watching a horror movie," she said, comparing it to the "Hostel" films, which feature young men and women being tortured. "There were some guys torturing girls and girls torturing guys."
The Wicked Warehouse website, wicked-warehouse.webnode.com, describes the haunt as R-rated, due to violent content and language.
"This haunted house is not recommended for young children," the site says under its Frequently Asked Questions section. "You know your child best! Bring them at your own risk."
Beebe said the people working at the warehouse were very friendly and quick to address a possible safety hazard when her daughter's shirt got torn.
Marietta Police Chief Brett McKitrick said his office has been aware of what's going on at the warehouse. The fire department inspected the building and signed off on it. Other than some noise complaints, which officers have spoken to the owners about, they haven't had any problems.
As to the content, the chief said, "that's where it's the parents' job - if they don't want their kids to go through it ... they keep their kids from going through it."
Washington County Sheriff's Sgt. Patrice Tornes said the sheriff's office has received multiple calls about the warehouse, mostly regarding its connection to Bowes. A few have mentioned the content as well.
"The content itself, it's being publicized as R-rated for the violence that is taking place," she said. "It's not been reported to us that there's been any sexual gravity to it."
Valerie Belin, 29, of Marietta, said the music from a band performing when the attraction opened Thursday night was loud but it wasn't as bad the next evening. Her main concern was finding out that a registered sexually oriented offender was involved with the operation.
"That's a big concern," she said.
Tornes said Bowes was not breaking any laws by being involved with the Wicked Warehouse.
Bowes was convicted in 2003 on a third-degree felony charge of sexual battery after reaching a plea agreement. He was originally charged with first-degree felony rape for offenses that took place over a five-year period involving one boy who was under the age of 13.
After serving five years in prison, Bowes was released and classified as a sexually oriented offender. That means he must register in person with the sheriff's office once a year for 10 years and notify them of any changes in his address, Tornes said.
"He's always been compliant," she said. "He, on his own, suggested that he would not be in the warehouse when the tours were going on, he would be in a shirt that said 'staff' on it (not a costume)."
Bowes said Tuesday that he purposely took those steps to head off any potential problems regarding his status and the business.
"I was trying to keep everything where nobody could say anything if something happened," he said.
Bowes is listed as the registrant for the company on the Ohio Secretary of State's website, but he said paperwork is "on its way to Columbus" to change that. He said he's transferring ownership "just because so many people have put a lot of time into this thing. I don't want it to be ruined because of me."
"The town needs something to do. That's why I backed down," he said.
The Wicked Warehouse website and Facebook page have both been emphasizing the fact that Bowes is no longer involved.
Bowes said in a separate interview that the new owner and staff plan to change some of the more "offensive" rooms but keep the Halloween haunted house what it was intended to be - scary.