Most people with even the most casual interest in true crime are familiar with the name of Hawley Harvey Crippen, who was executed in 1910 for murdering his wife, Belle.
But how many of you have heard of his lively afterlife as a sinister black cat?
Well, vital information like that is what this blog is here to provide. Here is an account of the good doctor's ghostly career from the "Syracuse Daily Journal" for March 10, 1911:
The ghost of Dr. Crippen, the murderer, is said to infest the house at 39 Hilldrop Crescent, where Belle Elmore was murdered. Sandy McNab, the comedian and present occupant of the house, writes his experiences with uncanny noises and weird sights. McNab is, of course, a Schtchman and bought the fated house as a bargain. Directly after a harrowing night he took to his bed. He has now recovered from his fright sufficiently to tell the story of Crippen's ghostly appearance. He writes:
"Just three days before Christmas, I sat typing in the very room in which Belle Elmore is supposed to have been murdered. It was close on midnight. Out of doors the rain was coming down in torrents, and the wind shook every window in the house. On my desk was a heap of letters and telegrams which required answering, and it was my intention to get these off my hands before I retired. My desk was facing the window, looking out on the main road, deserted at this time of the night.
"Suddenly, there was a sound on the pane, as though some one had thrown a handful of gravel, and simultaneously came a heavy thud at my room door, as though a mattress had been throw against it. I stopped typing and listened. I can't say that I was frightened, but I felt a little uneasy. After a minute or so I resumed my work, or at least tried to do so.
"It was no use. My fingers refused to touch the proper keys. 'Bang!' went the door again. Mechanically I raised my hand to my forehead, only to find that I was bathed in cold perspiration. I thought I heard muffled footsteps going upstairs, yet I seemed glued to my seat.
"I felt myself fainting, and with one mighty effort I sprang to my feet and made for the passage. I gave a glance up the stairs. It was perfectly dark, but looking down on me were two eyes resembling electric lights. With all my strength I rushed to the front door, pulled back the latch, closed the door behind me, and sprang down the ten steps on to the garden walk. I doing this I sprained my ankle. Somehow I struggled to the gate, then out into the street, and searched for a policeman.
"In a few minutes I found one, and together we returned to the house. He laughed at my story as I inserted my latchkey in the door. We entered, closing the door behind us, and then we listened.
"At first we could neither hear nor see anything. I began to think myself a fool, when suddenly a slight noise came from one of the bedrooms. The constable mounted the stairs and I followed. It was not until we reached the very top of the house that we found the room from which the noise appeared to originate. We entered it, lit the gas, but there was nothing to be seen.
"We were about to retire, when we heard a piercing cry from a cupboard, the door of which was closed and securely fastened with a catch. The constable opened it and out flew a big black cat, which immediately commenced to rush around the room. Although the door of the room was wide open, that cat refused to leave. It rushed round and round, flew up the walls and dashed into the window. It was only when the constable made a dash for it with his cape that the beast made a bolt for the door. We put out the light, closed the door and systematically searched every nook and corner of the house for the cat, but to this day it has never been seen again.
"I should say that not a single door or window in the house was open, and how that cat escaped is a mystery. It is also a mystery how it got fastened up in the cupboard, assuming that it was the cat which was looking down the staircase on me when I saw the eyes. I am by no means superstitious, but have heard it said that the spirits of the departed sometimes enter the bodies of animals and this incident has set me thinking."
If we were cynical types, we might wonder if McNab's eagerness to relate this colorful tale had any connection at all with the fact that he was at that date in the process of turning the Crippen house into a museum where the luridly-minded would pay him admission to tour the place.
But, of course, we are not nearly jaded and unkind enough to even suggest such a thing.