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A High-Heeled Haunt: Murder in Manila

It’s been nearly five years now since I wrote my last book,   Queer Hauntings: True Tales of Gay ...

A High-Heeled Haunt: Murder in Manila
It’s been nearly five years now since I wrote my last book, Queer Hauntings: True Tales of Gay and Lesbian Ghosts. And to be honest, I haven’t thought too much about it lately. That’s not out of any type of personal shame I feel toward the book; I’ve been so swamped with researching local hauntings that it’s simply fallen by the wayside. But with the passage of half a decade, I think it’s time to revisit the topic and explore what I left unfinished.
Over the years, I’ve learned about many other locations I didn’t include, mostly in just vague mentions in passing: suicides from high bridges, haunted bars in various European cities, and arguably gay individuals haunting well-known places. Some of these vague recollections still puzzle me and haunt me as yet-undiscovered haunted places known only by local residents of specific areas. And then, there are the updates. Some places close down or change owners over time. Yet in one case in particular, a closing and a forgotten story overlapped.
The place in question is the Manila Film Center Complex.
A High-Heeled Haunt: Murder in Manila
Manila Film Center in recent years.

For those of you who didn’t read the book—and judging by the numbers, that’s pretty much all of you—the Manila Film Center is one of the best-known hauntings in the Philippines; it’s been haunted since it first opened, with good reason. It was one of many construction projects spurred on by Dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe-addicted wife, Imelda.

A High-Heeled Haunt: Murder in Manila

Imelda’s shoe collection is still housed in a museum.
Wish the International Film Festival fast approaching, construction was hurried in a race to finish the building on time. At 3:00AM on November 17, 1981, the scaffolding inside collapsed tossing many workers into the still-wet quick-drying cement below. The Marcos regime refused to allow emergency workers into the building for nine hours. By then, an estimated 168 workers were killed or lost in the now-hardened cement. Betty Benitez, wife of Assistant Minister Jose Conrado Benitez, gave the order to pour the cement over the bodies and continue construction. It remains their tomb to this day.
A High-Heeled Haunt: Murder in Manila
Betty died a few months later in a freak automobile accident. Many Filipinos blamed it on the revenge of the dead workers. When a medium was sent into the Film Center to see if it was haunted, he went into a trance. “Now there are 169,” he said. “Betty is with us.”* For years, people have reported cries and moans in the auditorium. In one strange story, a visitor was approached by a man who gave him a calling card and asked him to call his wife. When the visitor called the number, the woman told him her husband was one of the dead men buried in the concrete of the Film Complex.
Now just another derelict building along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City, what earned it a mention in Queer Hauntings was its short-lived use as the home of The Amazing Show: the largest transvestite performance in all of Asia produced by the Amazing Philippine Theatre. Shows began in December 2001 and lasted until their lease expired in 2009. The shows returned in November 2012, but a fire on February 19, 2013 damaged the building and closed the show yet again.
A High-Heeled Haunt: Murder in Manila
Part of the cast of The Amazing Show around 2012.
But there’s more to the story. And were it not for a chance conversation with a local about haunted places in the Philippines, I never would’ve known about it.
Soon after The Amazing Show began its regular performances, something odd began to happen late at night at Manila Film Center. A few taxi drivers who found themselves at the building reported the same chilling experience. A bloodied and bruised woman would appear to be standing near the building and waive down the taxi. Climbing inside, she would ask the driver to take her to the hospital. But when the taxi arrived at the nearest hospital, he would find the back seat empty.
From what I was told, approximately between 1998 and 2001, a ladyboy—one common Filipino term for a drag queen or transvestite—was murdered in the Manila/Pasay City area and her body dumped at the Manila Film Center. The crime was not thoroughly investigated, since it was easier to write it off as a drug-related deal gone bad than waste time on the murder of a gay male crossdresser. It’s believed that this murder victim is the same one hailing taxis and trying to get to the hospital. Who she is, and what exactly happened to her, is still a mystery. And whether or not she’s still stopping taxis late at night, only the taxi drivers know for sure.


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