Inside The 700 Deaths At Georgia’s Lake Lanier, From Tragic Drownings To Freak Electrocutions

Published June 4, 2024
Updated June 5, 2024

Since Lake Lanier was created in 1956, an estimated 700 victims have died in its waters — and some people even believe this reservoir is cursed.

Lake Lanier Deaths

Cavan Images / Alamy Stock PhotoMany attribute Lake Lanier’s dark history and countless deaths to a haunting or curse.

Since its construction in 1956, there have been an estimated 700 deaths at Lake Lanier. More than 200 of those have occurred since 1994, and that number only continues to rise. These Lake Lanier deaths have led to speculation that the reservoir may be haunted or cursed.

Even ignoring these paranormal explanations, however, it is shocking just how many people have died at Lake Lanier. What is it about this body of water, in particular, that makes it so deadly?

Lake Lanier is a manmade reservoir in Georgia, and the ruins of a town once known as Oscarville sit beneath its surface, still complete with intact streets, businesses, and homes. These structures may entrap swimmers and divers, causing them to drown.

The underwater ruins only explain some of the deaths, however. There have also been dozens of freak accidents, boat fires, missing people, and other tragedies at the reservoir — which makes the mystery of the Lake Lanier deaths all the more complicated.

The Dark History Of Lake Lanier

Lake Lanier was created in 1956 when the United States Army Corps of Engineers built the Buford Dam to make a reservoir that would provide water to Atlanta and the surrounding areas. Lake Lanier was also meant to prevent flooding in the Chattahoochee River.

However, while the intention was to help the people who lived in the region, the execution had the opposite effect. Rather than constructing the lake in a large, uninhabited area, the government instead forced residents from the town of Oscarville and flooded it. The resulting reservoir was named after the Confederate poet Sidney Lanier — even though Oscarville had once been a bustling Black community.

In 1912, more than 40 years before Lake Lanier was created, the rape and murder of a young woman named Mae Crow in Oscarville led to the arrest of three young Black men. One of them, Rob Edwards, was lynched by a violent mob. The other two, Ernest Knox and Oscar Daniel, were convicted by an all-white jury and hanged in front of a crowd of up to 8,000 spectators.

While it is widely believed today that these young men were innocent, the trials marked a significant turning point for race relations in Forsyth County. White mobs known as “Night Riders” began to chase Black residents out of the county, burning their churches and businesses.

According to the Atlanta History Center, the 1910 census recorded 1,098 Black residents in Forsyth County. By 1920, there were only 30.

Constructing Lake Lanier

U.S. Army Corps of EngineersThe construction of Lake Lanier.

White citizens seized the property of those who fled, and over the following decades, the government began buying up the land. Oscarville effectively became a ghost town. After the 250 families who remained were forced out for the lake’s construction, the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t even bother to demolish Oscarville.

They simply flooded the area, and the remnants of the town still rest at the bottom of the lake to this day. At the time, they didn’t believe this would cause any problems. After all, Lake Lanier was only meant to supply water to other towns and cities in Georgia.

But as more and more people began to visit the lake recreationally, it proved just how wrong the Army Corps of Engineers had been.

Inside The First Lake Lanier Deaths

All large bodies of water present some form of inherent danger. Waves, currents, and rising tides can pull swimmers under the surface, causing them to drown. In fact, since 2010, more than 1,200 people have drowned in the Great Lakes, according to Detroit’s WDIV-TV.

But Lake Lanier is a fraction of the size of even the smallest Great Lake. For 700 people to have died in Lake Lanier in its 70-year history is out of the ordinary.

Some locals might be quick to blame the so-called “Lady of the Lake,” a purported ghost who stalks the waters of the reservoir. The legend can be traced back to the first two deaths at Lake Lanier.

In April 1958, two women named Susie Roberts and Delia Mae Parker Young vanished after leaving a dance in Dawsonville, Georgia. A year later, a man fishing in Lake Lanier found a body floating in the water. The corpse was wearing a blue dress and had no hands, and it was so decomposed that it could not be identified.

Then, in 1990, workers repairing a bridge over Lake Lanier found a Ford sedan beneath the water, according to a report from The New York Times following the discovery. The license plate was registered to Susie Roberts, and her bones were found inside the vehicle.

Authorities concluded that the women had accidentally driven off the bridge, and the body pulled from the water 30 years earlier must have been that of Delia Mae Parker Young. What’s more, people traveling along the stretch of road where Roberts’ car had crashed reported seeing a ghostly apparition of a woman with no hands wearing a blue dress.

Young, then, was the “Lady of the Lake” — and some believe she haunts the reservoir to this day and pulls swimmers to their deaths.

Sunken Boat

Vincent / FlickrA sunken boat at Lake Lanier revealed during a drought.

Lake Lanier’s deadliest day came in December 1964. A car carrying 11 people careened off a bridge on Christmas Day, much like Roberts and Young had six years earlier. Five children and two adults were killed.

The fact that Oscarville’s cemetery also sits beneath the surface of the water adds some spooky credence to the rumors that Lake Lanier is haunted. And these legends have only grown more popular as Lake Lanier’s death toll rises.

However, it’s also important to keep in mind just how many people visit the lake each year. According to CNN, that number is around 11 million.

Accidents are bound to happen when large groups of people gather in the same area. Boats collide, swimmers drown, and cars lose control while driving over bridges. But some of the more bizarre deaths at Lake Lanier continue to fuel rumors of a curse.

Recent Tragedies At The Georgia Reservoir

Lake Lanier has continued to see its fair share of tragedy in recent years. In July 2023, three men died in separate incidents over a single weekend. Thomas Milner, 24, was electrocuted after jumping off a dock into the lake. Then, a 61-year-old man was found dead after diving off the side of his boat. The very same day, a 27-year-old man vanished while swimming. His body was discovered several days later.

Boat On Lake Lanier

Jam Smooth / Flickr Creative CommonsDespite the number of tragedies at Lake Lanier, around 11 million people visit each year.

It doesn’t help that the waters of Lake Lanier can often be dark and murky, making it harder to find people who vanish beneath the surface. As reported by CNN in 2020, diver Buck Buchannon once claimed he had felt body parts in the lake, saying, “You reach out into the dark and you feel an arm or a leg and it doesn’t move.”

In the wake of the many deaths in Lake Lanier, some people have called for the reservoir to be drained — including Usher’s ex-wife, Tameka Foster. Foster lost her 11-year-old son, Kile Glover, after he was struck by a boat in the lake in 2012.

Despite all this, it doesn’t seem as if Lake Lanier will close any time soon. Given how central the reservoir is to Georgia’s water and power infrastructure — and the number of tourists it attracts each year — the deadly lake will likely be around for a long while.

After reading about the many deaths at Lake Lanier, learn about Lake Natron, the bird-calcifying lake that’s teeming with life. Then, see 23 stunning photos of Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Harvey, Austin. "Inside The 700 Deaths At Georgia’s Lake Lanier, From Tragic Drownings To Freak Electrocutions.", June 4, 2024, Accessed June 21, 2024.