"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Friday, July 1, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The Strange Company staff is ready for the Fourth of July!

What the hell just crashed into the Moon?

Ancient trees tell of the biggest solar storm in history.

Being a professional executioner does strange things to people.

The poet and the Will O Wisp.

The fairy world of ancient China.

This may be the world's first musical instrument.

Books that are allegedly cursed.

What may be among the oldest artwork in the world.

Why Elizabeth I preferred to secretly murder, rather than execute, Mary Queen of Scots.

Famous writers who gave their pets pretty awesome names.  (Kiddleywinkempoops!)

Old newspaper reports of June brides.

Britain's oldest prayer beads.

Dinner with the East India Company.

William Henry Hudson and Kensington Gardens.

Old Tom, the predecessor to Big Ben.

Here's your big chance to buy a haunted bar.

Spooky rock art in Tanzania.

Centuries after he died, Sir Hans Sloane is causing a lot of people a lot of trouble.

The various meanings of the word "slug."

A misbegotten suicide pact.

The world's deepest shipwreck.

The children of the 4th Duke of Marlborough.

The globe-trotting life of Jeanne Baret.

A life-saving Great Dane.

The "Night of the UFOs."

The strange--and short--life of Thomas Chatterton.

An interview with a photographer of the dead.

Five examples of bodies being found with notes pinned to them.

Mapping ancient trees.

French galleys in British waters, 1707.

A Nigerian bronze head is in the middle of one hell of a custody dispute.

If you get an unsolicited box of chocolates in the mail from someone you don't know, it's probably a good idea not to eat them.

The secret society that's preserving the history of the American West.

Forget Stonehenge; meet Seahenge.

The world's oldest pharmacy.

A brief history of the enema.  (Warning: with illustrations.)

A don't-get-out-the-vote drive.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll have something a little different: a Fourth of July-themed ghost story!  In the meantime, here's the perfect hymn for 2022.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This peculiar--and very sad--story appeared in the “Washington Post,” November 10, 1909:

Somerville, N.J. Nov 9. While Arthur Everton, self-styled professor and traveling hypnotist sobbed in his cell, three calm medical men witnessed a weird performance in the morgue of the Somerset Hospital late this afternoon.  There William E. Davenport, secretary to the mayor of Newark and a student of hypnotism, vainly tried to bring back signs of life in the rigid body of Robert Simpson, a former street car conductor of Newark who apparently died last night after having been put Into a hypnotic trance by Everton before a large audience at the Somerville Theater. 

Davenport failed. Simpson was declared officially dead and an autopsy was held tonight. This disclosed a rupture of the aorta. 

Meanwhile, charged with manslaughter, unnerved and shaken, Everton remains in prison where he must await the action of the grand jury as a sequel to a stage trick familiar throughout this country and abroad.

It was at the piteous insistence of Everton, while in jail after his ineffectual attempts to revive Simpson, that Davenport, a friend of Everton, came into the case today. Notwithstanding the declarations of physicians that Simpson was dead, Everton asked that Davenport be allowed to try to rouse him. Accordingly the autopsy first arranged for 2 o’clock this afternoon was postponed and the student of hypnotism was summoned.

Just as the sun was sinking Davenport arrived in Somerville accompanied by the manager of the Arcade, an amusement place in Newark where Everton had performed last week.  At the hospital they were met by W.H. Long, county physician, and three members of the hospital staff, Drs. Pecht, Stilweil, and Halstead. Davenport explained to them that he had long been a student of hypnotics, that he practiced it only as a student and that he had come in response to a pupil’s cry for help, and would, with the doctor's permission, attempt to revive the subject, Simpson.

Dr. Long, for himself and the members of the staff, said that they had not only agreed that the experiment should be permitted but that it might be made they had postponed the autopsy. In their opinion, Everton’s subject was dead. Besides the physicians there crowded into the room four of the women nurses of the hospital in their white caps and nurse uniforms, Mrs. Everton, the correspondent of The Post and a reporter for a local paper.

Mr. Davenport, after laying aside his coat and hat, pulled the black covering off the body and applied his ear to the chest as if listening for heartbeats. Then he slightly opened the eyes of the man and after bringing his own eyes close to them looked into them intently.  Dr. Halstead, standing close by the body, took the one electric lamp in his hand and swung it out so that more light brightly shone on the white still face. 

Davenport was manifestly sincere in what he was doing. He was impressed with Everton’s belief and he had been moved by the tearful appeals of Everton’s wife. His manner affected all those who silently watched him. The little room was in absolute silence as Davenport again applied first his ear and then the tips of his fingers over the motionless heart. Next he bent his head down low over the head above the black cloth, placed his lips close to an ear of the body he sought to revive, and said sharply and eagerly, “Bob!” 

It was a trained voice, the voice of a man drilled to shock or command the senses, and it startled without moving the intent group of watchers.

“Bob! Your heart!”  There was another silence as tensely dramatic as the mind can imagine. Then followed the words, “Bob! Your heart! Your heart is beating!” 

If after the sound of the operator’s voice the subject's eyelids moved it seemed as if none there would have been greatly surprised.

But there was no motion. But the operator eagerly felt again over the heart and again listened and then again spoke into the unhearing ear. 

“Bob! Listen! Hear what I say! Your heart! Your heart is beating!” 

There was no response, no movement of the eyelids, no fluttering of the heart, and Davenport motioned to the manager under whom Everton had exhibited last week. He stepped to the side of the body and repeated the phrase Davenport had used. After that Davenport pressed upon the breast as If artificially to start a movement of the heart and then spoke into the other ear. 

“Bob!” Now there was an accent of pleading--”Bob! You hear me! Your heart is moving!” 

Davenport stepped a little aside, looked at the unseeing half-open eyes, took up his coat and hat and with a bow to the doctors started to leave the room. As he passed Dr. Long the latter said, “What is your judgment?”

“I did not come here to pronounce judgment,” Davenport responded quietly, and followed by the Newark manager and by Mrs. Everton walked out of the room, up the stairs, through the hall, and out onto the veranda of the hospital. There he was overtaken by a messenger and recalled. 

Dr. Long spoke to the man again.

“Do you think he is dead?” he said. 

“I think he is dead,” Davenport replied.

Then Davenport went out, and the medical men began preparations for the autopsy.  

Eight physicians assisted in performing the autopsy, and they issued a signed statement at its close stating that death was due to rupture of the aorta, the trunk line of the arterial system. This indicated, according to the coroner, that death primarily was due to natural causes, and that the man probably had been suffering for some time from an aneurysm. A generally weakened condition of the organs through the dead man’s body was found and the physicians were disposed to attribute this to habitual drinking.

Death was practically instantaneous and probably occurred just as Simpson was coming out of the trance. Whether the strain he was put under when Everton stood on his body during his rigidity caused the rupture cannot be ascertained. The result of the autopsy will more than likely bring about Everton's release on bail.

Simpson, the victim, was 25 years old and was accustomed, it is said, to drinking heavily. It is generally admitted that he was intoxicated during the test last night. No relatives have appeared to claim the body. 

Everton has employed counsel and will fight the case. It has been suggested that he will make the novel plea that the man was still alive when the autopsy was performed, citing various cases of suspended animation as proof of this. 

Everton on Monday began a week’s engagement in a little 6 and 10 cent vaudeville show called the Somerville Theater. He was engaged only on the day previous. Everton’s terms were to bring with him two subjects and place one of them in a hypnotic trance on exhibition in a show window if that was desired. For himself and his subjects he was to receive $30. 

The men, Everton, Simpson, and a youth named Edward Thompson arrived Monday morning in Somerville and went to board at a little hotel called the Waldorf separated from the theater only by a store and a dwelling.  The hypnotist, a man about 35, rather a good looking fellow with a long and carefully trained mustache, looked like a prosperous showman and wore a fashionable frock coat and silk hat. But he was needy and Weldon advanced him $10 for his and his subject’s immediate expenses. Part of the money which Everton in turn advanced to Simpson the latter appears to have spent in the bars of the town. Of this, however, Everton claimed he was unaware.

The afternoon performance was satisfactory and the manager of the little theater sent out to a number of the local physicians an invitation to attend the evening and witness the performance. At least three physicians of good standing are known to have attended: Dr. Long, the county physician, Dr. Flynn, and Dr Francis McGonaughey. 

Dr. Long said today, “Everton took the subject Simpson, who had been hypnotized, apparently stretched him out with his head upon one chair and his feet upon another and commanded him to be rigid. I watched this performance closely and to all appearances the subject was in a cataleptic condition when the operator stepped from a table onto the subject’s abdomen. There was no yielding of the body. 

“When Everton stepped down upon the stage again he told some of the stage attendants to put the subject Simpson on his feet. This it appeared was to be done by lifting the subject’s feet from the chair and then to raise his stiffened body. But as the assistants were doing this, I noticed that the subject’s body lost rigidity and collapsed sinking to the floor. The operator was apparently surprised and shouted to Simpson, ‘It’s all right.’  Everton also used his hands in the familiar way, apparently trying to restore the subject to a normal physical condition. This was without result however. Then the subject was dragged off the stage and out of our sight. 

“Presently the manager Weldon came down into the auditorium and spoke to me in a manner which left no doubt in my mind that there was some trouble, and of course I immediately responded. Dr. Flynn also accompanied the manager to the rear of the stage and there we saw at once that Simpson was in a bad state. I discovered that there was no pulse and no heartbeat and I ordered that the man be taken at once to his room where we could more conveniently apply restoratives. He was carried out of the rear of the theater and back of the intervening buildings to the Waldorf and there Dr. Flynn and I worked on him. 

“I gave hypodermic injections of strychnine and glycerin. These produced no favorable results. Then I attempted to produce artificial respiration.  Dr. McGonaughey joined Dr. Flynn and me there and assisted us in trying to restore the patient, but after using every method for which we had appliances we agreed that life was extinct. 

“As I am a county official, I could not ignore the circumstances. I sent for a couple of police officials and told them to take Everton into custody. 

“Then the chief and I had a little interview with Mr. Everton. I told Everton I wanted to know If there was any fake in the matter. He assured me there was not. He was in a very nervous condition. He said he knew nothing of catalepsy and had never seen a man in Simpson’s condition. He could not know and could not understand how it came about.  He did say however that before he went on with the exhibition he had learned that Simpson had been drinking.  I then told the chief of police to take care of Everton, and as Everton was so positive that Simpson was still in a catalyptic state, I ordered Simpson to be taken to the county hospital.  I sent then for other members of the staff and they agreed with me that the man was dead.  The stethoscope revealed no heart action whatever.”

By the time the county physician had removed Simpson from the hotel, apparently all Somerville had heard of the affair.  Among those who heard of it promptly was Ralph Edwards, manager of the Bijou.  He at once sent for a hypnotist named Pelham, who is appearing at the Bijou, and told him of the trouble.  Pelham, in evening dress and in makeup as he was, went at once to the Waldorf to see if he could give any aid to his brother performer.  Pelham is a more experienced hypnotist.  In talking today, he said:

“I went to the Waldorf hoping to be able to take Everton's subject out of hiss cataleptic state, if he were in that state. I went first to Everton hoping that he would be in a condition to transfer his control of Simpson to me. But Everton was in no condition to do that. He was in a highly excited state and I could do nothing with him on a hypnotic basis. Then I examined Simpson and I made up my mind that he was gone. It did not look to me like catalepsy. In my opinion, Simpson probably died of shock through the transference to him when he was recovering from his abnormal state of the excitement in the operator, the man who had him in control. Had not Everton lost his head when he saw Simpson collapse, he could, I think, have brought about his recovery.”

In December, the Grand Jury exonerated Everton from causing Simpson’s death.  I have no idea if Everton continued to pursue a career as a hypnotist, but if he did, I’m wagering he had a hard time finding subjects.

Monday, June 27, 2022

The Man Who Wanted to Be Murdered

"I lay my head on the railroad track 
And wait for the Double E 
The railroad don't run no more 
Poor poor pitiful me." ~Warren Zevon

"Omaha News," September 2, 1908, via Newspapers.com

Dr. Frederick T. Rustin wanted to die.  Although he had wealth and a respected position in Omaha, Nebraska society, he was increasingly depressed and morbid.  He turned to drink, drugs, and “evil companions.”  As a result, his reputation, his finances and his career all began to suffer.  All of this just increased his feelings that he had had enough of this world.  However, he wanted his family to be able to collect on his life insurance policies, so he did not want his death ruled a suicide.

This resulted in some of the most extraordinary attempts at self-destruction on record.  They began in 1903, when Rustin told friends that he had malignant throat cancer.  Apparently, he had injected himself with the cancer cells, but despite his dramatic pronouncement, months went by finding him still alive.

His next step was to obtain through a bacteriological laboratory tubes containing pure tetanus and typhoid cultures.  Two weeks later, he came down with typhoid of the most severe type.  For weeks, he lay on his bed, feverish and suffering, but distressingly alive.  He repeatedly injected more of the culture into his veins until he became too delirious to continue.

Months later, he emerged from what for any normal person would be a deathbed, body bowed but resolution definitely unshaken.  Next, he tried the tetanus.  However, no matter how much of the stuff he injected into his leg, he remained appallingly immune.

He turned to more direct measures.  After a train in which he was a passenger was wrecked, he quickly opened a vein in his wrist, but—never forget the gods have a very strange sense of humor—this man who so ardently pursued death remained indestructible.

By this time, Rustin was getting exasperated with all these artistic touches.  He brushed off the pleas of friends that he should take a hint and forget about suicide, vowing, “The next time I try it there will be no doubt about it.  I will be successful.”

Finally, in one way or another, he was.  On September 2, 1908, Rustin was found on the front porch of his house with a bullet wound to the abdomen.  “A man shot me!” he gasped before dying.  There was no gun found anywhere in the vicinity, and there were no powder burns on his body, which would suggest he had not been shot at close range.  However, his friends, knowing of both his determination and his cunning, assumed he had somehow engineered a diabolically clever way to shoot himself.

It turned out that perhaps he had—but if so, it was not as clever as he had thought.

Nine days after the murder, a Dr. J. P. Lord identified a man named Charles E. Davis as the man he had seen leaving the Rustin house minutes after the murder.  Davis was arrested on charges of first-degree murder.

Meanwhile, a previously unknown woman suddenly entered the story: Abbie Rice, Rustin’s mistress.  When called to the stand at Rustin’s inquest, she claimed that there had been a “triple death compact” between Rustin, Davis, and herself.  Rustin, she explained, had pleaded with her to shoot him, so that his death would not look like suicide.  When she refused, he persuaded Davis to do the job.  Davis had a taste for suicide attempts himself, with equally unsuccessful results.  The deal, Rice said, was that Davis would shoot Rustin, after which he would swallow the poison Rustin had previously given him.  Rice added that she now regretted the promise she had given Rustin to kill herself as soon as he was dead.  She now planned, she said, to become a nurse in a charity hospital, “in the hope of thus expiating her sins.”

At Davis’ trial, Rice’s testimony was, unsurprisingly, battled every step of the way by his lawyer, but her story finally emerged.  For many weeks before his death, she said, Rustin “trained” her to murder him.  He would take her to operations, to numb her to the sight of blood.  He then preached to her of the nobleness of self-sacrifice, giving her books such as “A Tale of Two Cities” where one friend sacrificed his life for another.  Sydney Carton, she said, was his favorite fictional character.  He also impressed upon her the fact that he could not kill himself without his family losing his life insurance.  “I guess I’ll have to get some one to kill me,” he would say to her meaningfully.

She could take a hint.  Unfortunately for all the care the Doctor had put into her training, she found that at the last minute, she couldn’t do it.  They made several attempts to “stage” her murder of him, but to Rustin’s indignation, she just could not bring herself to actually pull the trigger.  “The training had not been complete, and I failed him.”

Then, one day Rustin came to her in unusually good spirits.  He told her he had arranged for a man to kill him, someone who wanted to die as badly as he did:  Charles Edward Davis.  

The best laid plans, etc.  Davis did indeed try to kill himself after Rustin’s shooting, but with the peculiar perversity that characterized this whole saga, he met yet another failure.  He took so much of the poison at one time that it acted as an emetic.  And Rice herself was brought in by the police before she could fulfill her part of this ghoulish bargain.  She kept silent for several days, but when she overheard someone comment, “Well, the doctor’s wife gets the insurance anyhow,” the whole story came out of her like a flood.

Davis’ defense was simply that he had indeed obtained poison from the doctor with the intention of killing himself, but he was not Rustin’s murderer.  He claimed he was in his lodgings at the time of the shooting.  (Davis may have wanted to end his life, but he obviously jibbed at the thought of letting the state do it for him.)

After thirteen hours of deliberation and, it was said, nineteen ballots, the jury brought in a verdict of “not guilty,” and Davis was freed.  It is not known whether the jury believed Davis’ alibi and rejected Rice’s story, or whether they believed the lady and figured that the good doctor had merely gotten what he wanted.

It was announced that no further prosecutions in Rustin’s murder were expected unless new evidence was uncovered.  To no one’s surprise, it never was.

[Note: Rustin's widow did "get the insurance anyhow," but only after many years of litigation against the insurance companies, who insisted, not unreasonably, that Frederick had indeed committed suicide.  All of Rustin's curious efforts to do away with himself without directly doing away with himself were very nearly in vain.]

Friday, June 24, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to the first Link Dump of Summer 2022!

Some accounts of encounters with fairies.

Urban legends about being rescued by ghost dogs.

Accepting that we really don't know jack about the paranormal.

The missing bodies of the Waterloo dead.

The UK's National Gallery is hitting the road.

The law code of Alfonso X.

For some reason, there are a lot of John Wayne Gacy paintings out there.

The last train robbery of the Old West.

A female inventor from the Regency era.

A bird's GPS tracker goes very astray.

The long history of the Grateful Dead and the Hell's Angels.

The mystery of Scotland's "bodies in the bog."

The floating coffin of Pinner.

When there was a crisis over the price of whale oil.

The murder of John Meierhoffer.

Campfires may have gone back a lot longer than we thought.

The artist who was Princess Diana's great, great, great grandmother.

Robert Burns' 119th birthday party.

A reminder that you wouldn't want to get into a bar fight with Abraham Lincoln.

That's a wrap for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at one of the oddest "Was it murder or suicide" cases on record.  In the meantime, let's yodel!

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This curious little tale appeared in the “Jamestown Weekly Alert,” December 21, 1883:

LEWISTON, Maine, November.—Two weeks ago Lafayette Cook, an eccentric citizen of Auburn, announced to his family that he would die on Sunday, November 11th. Yesterday his friends came to this city to buy a coffin in which to bury his remains. He was a sewing machine operator, and had been employed on a long job making overalls. He worked at home, and lived happily with his family. For a long time he had been talking about his approaching death, but as he was in excellent health little attention was paid to him. 

One day last week he asked a neighbor to take to town some work he had been doing. 

"Shall I bring down some work for you?" asked the man. 

"No," Cook replied. "I have done all the work I shall ever do." 

At the Sunday morning meal he remarked sadly, "I shall never eat another breakfast with you." He was in his usual good health and in the afternoon he went out for a walk with his grandchildren. Returning to the house he calmly announced that he would prepare himself for his coffin, and that he was ready to meet his Maker. He shaved himself carefully and put on clean clothes. He called for a spread, and lying down upon a lounge, he drew a comforter about him, and apparently settled himself for a nap. 

His wife and family gathered about him, he bid them all goodbye. They were impressed by his gentle earnestness, but had no idea of his dying. They believed that he had given too much attention to religious subjects, and that this whim was the result. Mr. Cook lay with his cheek resting on one hand and with the other arm by his aide. In that position he seemed to have fallen asleep. His friends saw a change in him. At tea time they tried to wake him. He was breathing softly but they could not rouse him. He sank into a deeper stupor. They worked over him all night, and a physician was called, but it availed nothing. Early yesterday morning be died. He had made no movement after he first closed his eyes. Those who were with him scout the idea of his having taken drugs.They say that suicide never entered his thoughts, that he was simply willing to die because he thought it was God's will. Those who have investigated the case regard it as a simple surrender of the vital power. 

LEWISTON, Maine, November 14th— Further investigation of the strange death of Lafayette Cook of Auburn, emphasizes the remarkable features of the case. Coroner Brooks made a careful examination, and found the medical facts to be as first stated. Death was shown to have resulted from natural causes, and yet there was no disease. Mr. Clark and Mr. Cates, who watched with Cook on Sunday night, say the only movements they saw was the slight expansion of his chest occasionally. The death flutter was noticed at five minutes before 8 a.m. on Monday. 

B. N. Chesley of Auburn is a brother of a recently deceased daughter-in-law of Cook, Mr. Chesley was standing in the Mayor's office in Auburn on Tuesday morning when someone remarked on the peculiar manner of Lafayette Cook's death. Mr. Chesley had not heard of it. 

“Cook dead!” exclaimed he. ‘’There is something singular about that. He had been saying for two weeks that he was going to die on Monday morning. Two weeks ago he went into a trance and made the announcement. My sister's child came over to our house last week and said that her grandfather was getting ready to die, and that he was going to die on Monday morning." 

About two months ago Cook's daughter-in-law died. Cook was one of the most sincere mourners. He accompanied her remains to the grave and expressed the tenderest solicitude toward his grandchildren. It was just after the death of Mrs. Cook that Cook made his first statement in regard to his coming dissolution. 

It was ten o'clock in the morning when a grandchild ran into the house with the news that a partridge had flown into the shed and couldn't get out. Mr. Chesley says that Cook manifested great concern. The little girl says that her grandfather turned pale and was afraid. At first he delayed going into the shed. The partridge ruffled its feathers at the children and at Everett Cook, and the latter went into the house after a gun. Then the old gentleman went out into the shed. He did not want the bird shot. Mr. Chesley says that the moment Cook appeared the behavior of the bird changed.  It flew at Mr. Cook and wheeled around in a circle about his feet. Then it perched on his shoulder, pecked at his face and alighted on his hands. At length it was given to one of the children and placed in an apple tree. It flew directly back. The bird stayed half an hour, all the time showing the utmost affection toward Cook. Finally it flew away toward the burying ground where Mrs. Cook was buried. Cook then returned to the house and went into a trance, which lasted two hours. When he recovered, he said that he should die. He said that the first warning was the visit of the bird. He had great faith in such omens.—New York Sun.


Monday, June 20, 2022

The Tobacconist and the Actor: A Murder Mystery

Philip Yale Drew was a moderately successful American actor of the early 20th century.  His biggest screen success came when he starred in the 1919-1920 “Young Buffalo series,” six popular 2-reel Westerns.  In the 1920s, he relocated to England, where he appeared in a number of plays.  Although he had genuine thespian abilities, his increasing addiction to alcohol took a great toll on his career.  Before too long, he was reduced to roles in third-rate theater companies.

A sad story, one that is only too commonplace in the cruel world of show business.  However, it is not Drew’s career problems that I wish to discuss.  In real life, he played the starring role in a murder mystery, and it was undoubtedly a more interesting story than anything he performed onstage.

Not that that was much of a comfort to him, of course.

In June 1929, Drew was in Reading, England, where he was performing at the Royal County Theatre in a thoroughly forgettable play called “The Monster.”  (An ironic title, in the light of subsequent developments.)

One Alfred Oliver ran a tobacconist’s shop on Cross Street, not far from Drew’s theater.  He was a married man with no living children, and apparently led a quiet, modest, but happy life.  As was common among small businesses of the time, Oliver and his wife Annie Elizabeth lived in a house behind the shop, where Mrs. Oliver ran a corsetiere business.

Around 5 p.m. on June 22, 1929, the Olivers had their evening meal.  After they had eaten, Alfred cleared away the dinner table while Annie served customers in the tobacco shop.  After about half-an-hour, Alfred took over in the shop.  At six, Annie took their dog for a fifteen-minute walk.  She did not hear or see anything unusual.

When she arrived home, she called Alfred’s name, without getting any reply.  She saw that the door separating their dining room from the shop was closed.  She found that odd, as Alfred always kept it open in warm weather.  When she opened the door, she found her husband slumped on the floor, holding a handkerchief to his mouth.  He was surrounded by a pair of broken glasses and a pool of blood containing his broken dentures.  When Annie asked what had happened, he could only say, “I don’t know, darling.”

When the police arrived, they too questioned Alfred.  He gasped out, “There was a man came in.  I thought he was from the gas office.”  After he had been taken to the hospital, Annie returned to the shop.  She found that the police had cleaned up the scene.  When she checked the till, she found that all the notes were missing.  It appeared that they now at least had a motive for the attack on Alfred.

Alfred had no memory of being assaulted.  All he could say was that a few minutes past six, he had been sitting in the shop reading a book.  The next thing he knew, he was on the floor, covered in blood.  Although initially it looked as though Alfred would recover, he died of his injuries on the evening of June 23.

On that same day, the Chief Constable had Scotland Yard brought in.  Around the time Alfred died, Chief Inspector James Berrett and Detective Sergeant John Harris arrived in Reading from London.  When they inspected the shop, the pattern of blood splashes suggested to them that Alfred had been sitting reading his book when a customer came in.  When he stood to serve the man, he was attacked.  The miscreant then grabbed the money from the till and fled.

The inquest revealed that Alfred died of multiple skull fractures and cerebral contusions.  The murder weapon had been a heavy metal blunt instrument, such as a hammer.  Unfortunately, although it was easy enough to establish how the tobacconist had died, the identity of his murderer was a complete mystery.  The inquest was adjourned on this unsatisfying note.

The first possible breakthrough in the case came when police were given the name of a young man named George Charles Jeffries.  He had a history of violence--he had once hit his sister on the head with a jemmy--and he had been seen near the shop on the evening Alfred died.  When questioned, Jeffries admitted that at about 6:10, he had entered the shop to buy cigarettes, but he saw no one behind the counter.  When he heard a noise, he looked over and saw Alfred lying in a pool of blood.  He ran home without telling anyone but his mother what he had seen.  He explained that he had not gone to the police because his sister was in the hospital, and he feared that involving himself in a murder case would worsen her health.  The police elected to accept his story--for the moment, at least.

There were numerous witnesses who claimed that on the day of the murder, they saw a stranger wandering in the vicinity of Alfred’s shop.  Several of them stated he was behaving oddly, as if he was drunk.  A woman named Dorothy Shepherd stated that around 6:15 p.m., she saw a man running out of Oliver’s shop.  She couldn’t see his face, but she remembered that he wore a blue serge suit.  One Mrs. Alice James said she passed by the tobacco shop at around 6:10 p.m.  She saw a man standing inside the doorway, wiping blood from his face.  She described him as tall, heavy-set, and dressed in dark clothing.  She estimated his age as between forty and fifty.  He wore no hat or glasses, and his hair was disheveled.  When shown a photo of Oliver, she was certain he was not the man she had seen.

By July, it appeared that the case had gone cold.  Although newspapers had published a description of the man seen in and around the tobacco shop, it was looking like he was fated to remain unidentified.  Then, on July 19, Reading’s Chief Constable, Thomas Burrows, was approached by a man, who told him that he had read the Mystery Man’s description, and believed that it fit an American actor who had recently performed in Reading.  The actor’s name was Philip Yale Drew.

Police learned that Drew had arrived in Reading on June 16.  He left town the day after Oliver was attacked.  His theatrical company was scheduled to arrive in Nottingham on July 22.  On the morning of July 25, police arrived at Drew’s lodgings and brought him to the station for questioning.  He was interviewed again the following day.  Meanwhile, a blue serge jacket that Drew had left at a cleaner’s was collected by detectives.  No trace of blood was found on it, although, of course, it had just been laundered.

Although Drew was allowed to continue traveling with his theater company, it was clear that the police regarded him as their prime suspect--their only suspect, in fact.  On August 7, Drew was interviewed for a third time.  On October 2, Oliver’s inquest would be reconvened.  The authorities wanted Drew to attend, as their chief witness.

At the inquest, the people who had seen the strange individual in and around Oliver’s shop were confronted with Drew.  Every single one swore he was the man.  Charles Russell, the stage manager at the Royal County Theatre, testified that around 1:30 on the afternoon of June 22, he was having a drink with Drew in a pub on Friar Street.  Some fifteen minutes later, Drew told him he was going to Cross Street to buy a newspaper.  A newsagent’s shop was right next door to Oliver’s establishment.

Marion Lindo, the owner of Drew’s theater company, testified that on June 22, Drew had lunch with her and her husband Frank.  Drew’s face was flushed, and she feared he had been drinking.  After lunch, Frank Lindo persuaded him to stay and have a nap.  Drew slept on a settee until 4 p.m.  When Marion awakened him, she noticed an object in his pocket which resembled a small bottle of whisky.  When she demanded to see it, Drew refused.  He went off in a huff.

At 5 p.m., Marion went to Drew’s lodgings, warning him that if he was drunk, he had better not bother showing up for the performance that night.  A few minutes before 6:20 p.m., she was in her dressing room at the theater when she heard Drew--who had the room next to hers--come in.  (She was able to state the time exactly because it was just before the half-hour call before the start of the play, which was at 6:50.)  Although Lindo’s testimony, if accurate, meant that Drew could not have been the man so many people claimed to have seen in Cross Street on the afternoon of June 22, it did not give him an alibi for the time Oliver was attacked.

Another important witness was Alfred Fry, one of the stage-managers for Drew’s company.  He stated that sometime before 2 p.m. on the afternoon of June 22, he and Drew were in a pub together.  He swore that all Drew drank was ginger ale.  Shortly after that, they left.  Drew told him he was having lunch with the Lindos.  Fry was at the theater by 5:45.  He heard Drew arrive just before 6.  At 6:17, he saw Drew standing in his dressing-room doorway.  He was in his stage attire, but had yet to put on his makeup.  As Oliver was bludgeoned on or near 6:10, if Fry is to be believed, it would have been impossible for Drew to be the murderer.

Mary Eleanor Goodall, who had been Drew’s landlady during his stay in Reading, gave her testimony.  She said that on June 22, he left her house at 11 a.m. and returned sometime between 3 and 3:30 p.m.  Soon after that, Marion Lindo came by.  She told Mrs. Goodall that she and Drew had quarreled about a bottle of whisky he had with him.  While the women were talking, Drew went out at about 5 p.m., returning 15 minutes later.  He left for the theater at about 6:10 p.m.  Unfortunately, she admitted under cross-examination that not one of the many clocks in her home gave the correct time (!), leaving it impossible to know if the timeline she gave was at all accurate.

A woman named Elizabeth Crouch testified that at about 6:10 p.m. on the evening of June 22, she was walking past Mrs. Goodall’s house when she saw Drew leave his lodgings.  He was also spotted by Mrs. Goodall’s next-door-neighbor, Winifred Greenwood, although Mrs. Greenwood was not sure of the exact time.

However, the next witness, Bertie Hathaway, gave contradictory testimony.  He stated that at 6:00 p.m. on the evening of June 22, he was standing outside a music shop on Friar Street, talking to a Mrs. Williams.  A few minutes later, Hathaway walked down Friar Street, towards the theater.  He saw a tall, muscular man walking in the same direction.  The man was obviously in a great hurry, muttering to himself and practically shoving people out of his way.  Hathaway saw him go into the theater.  Hathaway insisted that he now recognized the man as Philip Drew, and the time when Drew entered the theater was 6:15.

Hathaway threw a fine monkey wrench into the proceedings.  If the witnesses who saw Drew leave his lodgings were only a few minutes off, it was technically possible for Drew to arrive at Cross Street by about 6 p.m., attack Oliver at 6:10, and be seen dashing to the theater by Hathaway immediately afterwards.  It was impossible to know which witnesses were giving the correct timeline.

On the fifth day of the inquest, Drew himself took the stand.  His defense was simple: he had never been in Cross Street, had never, on any day, entered Oliver’s shop, and had no idea there had even been a murder until after he left Reading.  He admitted he liked alcohol, but claimed he had never been “falling down drunk.”  He denied that on June 22, he said he was going to Cross Street to buy a newspaper.  He explained that he had stated he was going to the newsagent’s across the street from the theater, and that may have been misheard.  On the day of the murder, he was at the theater at his usual time, about 5:50 p.m.

The inquest’s final witness, Alfred John Wells, provided further confusion.  He was a butcher’s assistant at a shop on Cross Street.  On June 22, he noticed that an unfamiliar man was spending the day wandering around the area.  Wells first saw him in a cafe at 7:30 a.m.  The stranger was nearly six feet tall with long dark hair.  He wore a blue coat, gray trousers, and brown shoes.  Wells thought he had a North Country accent.  He saw the man for the last time at about 5:40 p.m., walking from Cross Street into Friar Street.  He was absolutely positive that this man was not Philip Drew.

Wells added that immediately after he heard of the attack on Oliver--which was before the injured man was even carried out of his shop--he went to a policeman and told him about the strange man he had seen.  Later that same evening, Wells went to the police station, where he made a formal statement to a police sergeant.  This officer, Arthur Colbert, was then brought to the stand, where he denied having ever taken a statement from Wells.  The defense then produced the statement, asking Colbert to read it aloud.  It was identical with the testimony Wells had just given under oath.

On October 10, the coroner’s jury delivered the only rational verdict: that Alfred Oliver had been murdered by some person or persons unknown.

Unfortunately, that verdict was destined to remain unchanged.  (As a side note, I am baffled why the police did not give a closer look to young Mr. Jeffries.)  The enigmatic end to the case ensured that Philip Drew lived under a cloud for the rest of his days--thus disproving the old Hollywood line that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  In later years, Drew would wistfully tell friends that he actually wished he had been brought to trial for the murder, so he would be able to officially clear his name.  Thanks to the notoriety, his already faltering career collapsed altogether. At one point, he was reduced to selling newspapers outside the theaters where he had once been a headliner.  In 1940, he died from throat cancer, at the age of only sixty.

Aside from the eyewitness testimony placing him near the tobacco shop--and eyewitness testimony is notoriously the most untrustworthy evidence there is--there is absolutely nothing to suggest that Philip Yale Drew was a murderer.  Despite his problems with the bottle, he simply did not seem like a man who would batter a shopkeeper to death simply to make off with whatever was in the till.  Newspaper reporter Bernard O’Donnell, who had known Drew for some years, once described him as “a kindly gentle fellow, almost childlike in his simplicity, and as incapable of hurting anyone under any circumstances, let alone killing them in cold blood.”  All we can do is wonder: if, as seems virtually certain, Philip Drew did not kill Alfred Oliver--who did?

Friday, June 17, 2022

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

How the Strange Company HQ staffers know when it's going to be a long day.

Why the hell did people think it was a good idea to eat mummies?

Actually, my favorite colors are red and yellow, but never mind.

If you think James Patterson's novels read like they come off an assembly line, that's because they do.

America's forgotten bomber.

An artistic street in Paris.

The birth of the beach read.

The birth of Father's Day.

A whole lot of bodies have been found in wells.

The (largely ignored) grave of a black female sculptor.

The trouble with using Zeppelins in WWI.

The Irish who fought at Waterloo.

A European midsummer.

It sometimes pays to be nice to robbers.

The role of privateers in the American Revolution.

How a summer vacation inadvertently shut down the government of Charles I.

The birthplace of the Black Death.

Antarctica's "hidden world."

The discovery of significant Anglo-Saxon burials.

The evolving reputation of Oscar Wilde.

Etiquette for a widow's wedding.

Artifacts of a mysterious ancient Chinese civilization.

In which Elizabeth II meets Elizabeth I.

This week in Russian Weird looks at Early Modern witches.

A black cat brings good luck to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Partying in Old Istanbul.

Charming photos of mid-20th century Ireland.

The argument that Polonius wasn't all that bad.

A scandalous 18th century newspaper.

Stonehenge and the summer solstice.

Iceland's cats are being put under a curfew.

A miniature book that may--or may not--have belonged to Anne Boleyn.

Chinese astronomers think they may have detected signals from an alien civilization.

A brief history of the modern smile.

A brief history of child maintenance.

The strange case of the Oera Linda book.

The man who spent 68 years hiccuping.

A whole lot of Iron Age frog bones have been found, and people have questions.

Exploring the dreams of animals.

A woman who really got on an elephant's bad side.

The letters of two Englishwomen in early 19th century Madras.

The 1950s DIY fad.

The life of Fred the Mastodon.

The pardoning of a convicted poisoner.

A history of the word "singular."

A look at the Copper King Mansion.

That time when Scottish chickens were forced to wear wooden clogs.

That time when Roberta Cowell was the most talked about woman in England.

The legend of Petrarch's cat.

The journal of Louise de Savoie.

A murder in a church.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an actor unfortunate enough to star in a real-life murder mystery.  In the meantime, here's some bluegrass: