"...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, October 30, 2015

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the International Coalition of Halloween Cats.

What the hell is this?

How the hell did Bobby Fuller die?

Watch out for those premature burials!

Watch out for those Women in Black!

Watch out for those Goblin Jesuits!

Watch out for those Churchyard Maggots!

Watch out for the Bunny Man!

Watch out for the Goat Man!

Watch out for the Crawfordsville Monster!

Watch out for the Punchbowl Ghost!

Watch out for the Earthquake Ghost!

Watch out for the Mold Ghost!

Watch out for anything written by Donald McCormick!

The history of the British Army Mustache.

The secret to surviving nuclear war?  Why, Spam, of course!

An English saint may be hanging out in a Welsh pub.

A "poor harmless ghost."

Turns out that the Devil is quite a fan of Lancashire.

Ancient Siberian death masks.

Some literary obituaries.  Griswold's obit for Poe isn't mentioned, thank goodness.

Timely information:  a recipe to cure witchcraft.

An African-American suffragist.

The Roman Fall, an "absurdity of fashion" and a chiropractor's best friend.

This could be very, very interesting.  Or a complete letdown.  Who knows?

The incredibly sad, bizarre life of Norbert Grupe.

The amazing tomb of a Bronze Age warrior.

Founders Behaving Badly:  When Alexander Hamilton and James Monroe almost fought a duel.

Just another case of Georgian wedded bliss.

So, something from space came out of nowhere, and in a couple of weeks is going to plunge into the Indian Ocean.  We don't have any idea what it is.  Oh, peachy.

Dr. Coffin and the scythe.  Believe it or not, there's a happy ending.

The very, very chilling murder of a Japanese family.

One ghost I'd very much like to meet.

A tour of Haunted North Carolina.

An 18th century witch dunking.

A volcano explodes in 1812.

That time the Bell Witch visited Alabama.

Unlocking the Middle Ages.

Meet the world's most expensive book.

A haunted Illinois scaffold.

A cursed ship.

Queen Victoria reads a biography of Queen Victoria.  Hilarity ensues.

Talking wolves and severed heads.  Kind of sums up what my blog is all about.

Literature can't have too many cats.

If climbing Mount Everest isn't quite suicidal enough for you, how about a spot of cave diving?

The latest discoveries about Stonehenge.

How to hire women, 1943.

Agincourt and St. Crispin's Day.

Agincourt and St. Crispin's Day, II.

How Victorian babies died.

A photo gallery of the Great Chicago Fire.

Prince Albert, Royal Bodysnatcher.

The blacksmith's ghost.

It'll be 6,000 years before you see this room again.  So if you don't want to wait that long, go ahead and click this link.

The executions that went on without Samuel Pepys.

The voyages of Captain Cook.

Why you wouldn't want to be a medieval bell-ringer.

Because, as I have told you before, Russians are freaking insane.  Next question?

Reviving the oldest known melody.

And that's it for this week! See you on Monday, when I'll be looking at a disputed 19th century will and one hell of a dysfunctional family. In the meantime, this seemed appropriate for Halloween eve: Kristen Lawrence's spooky musical interpretation of "The Raven."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Newspaper Clipping(s) of the Day, Halloween Edition

Practical jokes are seldom funny in the best of times. Pair them with a ghoulishly-themed holiday like Halloween, and the results are often pure murder.

And around this blog, you know that last word can be taken very literally. In the first week or so of each November, the old newspapers generally read like casualty lists from a war zone.

For our annual Halloween celebration, Strange Company style, let's look at some seasonal "pranks" that inadvertently added to the parade of ghosts for the next year's holiday.

"San Francisco Call," November 2, 1904:
San Diego Nov. 1--John H. Scott of this city dropped dead last evening, as the result of a visit from a party of Halloween prank players. He was about to retire for the night when he heard sounds of the mischief makers outside and he became very much excited. He went out and drove them away and upon his return dropped to the floor and immediately expired.

"Fatal Fun"; or, The Joys of Piling Trash. From the "Tri City Star," December 29, 1904:

Combining alcohol and mock hangings isn't such a great idea. Who knew?

"Canberra Times," November 3, 1988:
Cambridge, Massachusetts: A man trying to stage a fake hanging as a Halloween prank choked to death in a bar full of revellers who did not realise he was dying. Mr. Michael Tyree, 41, of Cambridge, was rushed from the bar to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston late on Monday but was pronounced dead on Tuesday morning, said hospital spokesman Mr. Martin Bander.

Theft isn't such a great idea, either. The "Centralia Enterprise and Tribune," November 5, 1898:

From the "Halloween Causes Insanity" File, here's the "Los Angeles Herald," November 11, 1910:

Or the holiday simply scares you to death. The "Logansport Daily Reporter," November 9, 1900:
The authorities of Allegany county are looking for persons who manufactured a skeleton out of bones of domestic animals, which frightened Mary Oldfield, of Karrdale, near Rochester, N.Y., to death the other night. Miss Oldfield, accompanied by two friends, was returning from a Halloween party, where they had listened to grewsome stories until their hair stood on end.

When about to enter the woods a rattling of bones was heard overhead and looking up the trio were overcome with horror to see a skeleton of gigantic proportions sweeping down on them from above. With a cry of terror Mary dropped in her tracks. A searching party found a wire leading from the ground to a tree top to which the skeleton was attached by a pulley.

"Los Angeles Herald," November 2, 1907:
Tuscon, Ariz., Nov. 1. A Halloween prank resulted in murder last night. Ramon Laveta, with companions, stretched a wire across the sidewalk and tripped a Chinese merchant named Wong. The latter drew a revolver and shot, killing Lavota instantly. The murderer attempted to escape, but was caught after a chase and narrowly escaped lynching.

Here's a double play from the "Barre Evening Telegram," November 2, 1898.

Fun With Tombstones! The "New York Times," November 2, 1900:

Trick-or-Treaters beware: Our ancestors had an unsettling predilection for shooting into crowds. From the "Bismarck Tribune," November 15, 1904:

And then there's the "New York World," November 1, 1904:

Not to mention the "Iowa Republican," November 2, 1914:

Let's not overlook the "Little Falls Weekly Transcript," November 20, 1900:

Or the "Marion Daily Mirror," November 2, 1907:

Take note of the "Minneapolis Journal," November 1, 1906:

And the "Sacramento Union," November 2, 1898:

And the "St. Genevieve Fair Play," November 10, 1894:

And the "Atlanta Constitution," October 30, 1901:

In conclusion, feel free to go out and celebrate Saturday. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Murder at Gorse Hall

George Harry Storrs

In 1897, a solicitor named Robert Innes and his wife Emma hired a governess, a pretty young Bavarian named Maria Hohl, to live in their home in the Cheshire area of England and look after their children. Life appeared to run on quietly enough until February of 1907. One freezing winter evening, Miss Hohl, who had shown an uncharacteristic melancholy in recent weeks, slipped out of the Innes home. Her drowned body was recovered from a local canal three weeks later. She had left behind a note saying "Nobody is to blame, only myself. It is heart rending to leave you all. Console my poor parents. Hearty thanks from a miserable sinner."

No autopsy was performed on Hohl, and the reasons for her suicide remained uncertain. However, it has been suggested that the young woman had been pregnant, and that was the reason she took her own life.

If Hohl was indeed pregnant, the father of her child was also never established. However, out of her very small circle of male acquaintances, there was only one plausible candidate for the role--a friend and neighbor of the Innes family, a successful mill owner and building contractor named George Harry Storrs.

This private little tragedy would now be long-forgotten, if not for its possible link to an even more puzzling, and far more famous death that took place two years later.

In 1909, George Storrs was living with his wife Maggie at their comfortable home in Stalybridge, Gorse Hall. The couple had been married since 1891, but the union was childless, and, it was believed, loveless. Adding to Storrs' personal unhappiness was the fact that ever since Maria Hohl's death, he had received a number of anonymous letters threatening him--the assumption is that the writer(s) sought to avenge the young governess' untimely end. Storrs confided to his coachman and general confidante James Worrell that he feared for his life.

Those fears proved to be eminently reasonable. On the evening of September 10, 1909, Storrs informed police that a stranger had fired a gun into a window of Gorse Hall. Police saw that a window in the dining-room had indeed been shattered, but, curiously, found no trace of bullets or bullet holes in the room, and no signs of illegal entry. This has led some to suspect that this "attack" was staged by Storrs himself, as part of an effort to convince police he was truly in danger. If this was a hoax, it was a persuasive one. After this incident, police periodically patrolled the grounds of Gorse Hall, and a bell was installed to serve as an emergency alert system. (The house had no telephone.)

If this attack had been phony, the one that occurred on the night of November 1 was all too real. On that evening, Storrs and his wife, along with their niece Marion Lindley (an orphan whom the Storrs had virtually adopted soon after their marriage,) relaxed in the dining room while the cook, Mary Evans, and the housemaid Eliza Cooper prepared their dinner. Around 9 pm, Evans saw a strange man suddenly appear at the kitchen door. He was pointing a gun at her. "Say a word and I shoot," he said calmly.

Evans instead ran into the hall, screaming "There's a man in the house!"

Storrs, along with his wife and niece, ran toward the commotion, where they confronted the intruder. Storrs and the man began brawling in the hallway. Mrs. Storrs was able to grab the would-be assailant's gun, and ran up to the attic roof to ring the alarm bell. Marion Lindley and the two servants ran outside to seek help. (James Worrall, the only other adult male at Gorse Hall, was in town at the local pub.)

As November 1 was an election night, most of the local police force was enforcing order in Stalybridge, leaving Gorse Hall largely unprotected. However, two constables who were still on duty at the police station heard the bell and made their way to the house.

They arrived far too late to save George Storrs. The policemen found the head of Gorse Hall lying in the kitchen, badly injured from 15 stab wounds. His attacker had managed to vanish into the night. Storrs died several hours later without saying anything helpful to the investigation, although some suspected that Storrs knew the name of the man who had stabbed him, and for whatever reason wished to keep that information to himself. Two local men who had been in the vicinity told police they had seen a man run out of Gorse Hall and down the drive, but it was too dark to be able to identify him. Maggie Storrs and the servants described the killer as a pale man in his mid-to-late twenties, medium height, with a thin build and a slight mustache.

George Harry Storrs was buried on November 11th. The next day, James Worrell hung himself in the Gorse Hall barn. He left no note, and his motive was a complete mystery. A local paper gave the unhelpful verdict that the suicide "may mean something or nothing."

Storrs was evidently not the world's most lovable man, but it was uncertain who might have hated him enough to stab him to death. Marion Lindley told police that she thought his attacker looked like Cornelius Howard, a cousin of the dead man who had been on bad terms with Storrs for some years. Lacking any other suspects, the police eagerly put out a warrant for Howard's arrest.

Cornelius Howard

Not long after this, Howard was apprehended while burglarizing a store. Ominously, he was covered in cuts and bruises, and bloodstains were found on his clothing. A large knife was found in his pocket. At the police station, Lindley firmly declared that he was the man who had stabbed Storrs. Evans and Cooper agreed he looked like the killer, although they were far less certain he was the intruder of Gorse Hall. Maggie Storrs said the killer had been a stranger to her. When facing a line-up of suspects, she initially picked out someone other than Howard. Eventually, however, she agreed that he was indeed the murderer. Although Howard insisted he had spent the night of the stabbing drinking in Huddersfield, he was put on trial for murder.

His counsel produced James Davies, the landlord of a Huddersfield pub, who unhesitatingly testified that Howard had been in his establishment all the evening of November 1 (rather quaintly, he was one of the contestants in a domino contest.) The prosecution, however, produced other witnesses who claimed the contest had taken place the following night.

It was also established that Howard could not have been responsible for the September 10 incident. (He had been in prison at the time--surely a cast-iron alibi if ever there was one.) The failure to connect Howard to the earlier assault, as well as the initial reluctance of Evans, Cooper, and Mrs. Storrs to identify him, were seen as powerful points in his favor. Also, the prosecution failed to present any compelling reason why Howard should have wanted Storrs dead. Aside from the testimony of Marion Lindley, there was virtually no case against him. After deliberating for only twenty minutes, the jury acquitted Howard. It was a very popular verdict.

The search for Storrs' killer remained stalled until June 10, 1910. On that day, a young couple, James Bolton and Gertrude Booth, were walking along Early Bank Road, a "lovers lane" that ran behind Gorse Hall, when they encountered a stranger. This man grabbed Booth, and when Bolton came to her rescue, the assailant slashed Bolton with a knife before fleeing. The description Booth and Bolton gave police of their assailant matched that of the Gorse Hall killer. A local man named Mark Wilde was eventually convicted of this attack and sentenced to two months in prison. When he had served his sentence, he was re-arrested for the murder of George Storrs.

Despite the fact that they had previously identified Cornelius Howard as Storrs' killer, Mary Evans, Eliza Cooper and Marion Lindley now declared that Wilde was the guilty man. However, Maggie Storrs were not so sure. Human blood was found on a jacket of Wilde's. He was known to have owned a revolver similar to the gun Maggie Storrs had wrested from her husband's killer. There was, moreover, a link between Wilde and the dead man: Wilde's ex-girlfriend, Kate Kenworthy, had worked at one of Storrs' mills until he dismissed her for being "a troublemaker." She was forced to leave town in order to find work, and her relationship with Wilde came to an end. Could Wilde have resented this enough to kill Storrs? (According to hearsay, this was the theory entertained by Mrs. Storrs.)

When Wilde failed to present an alibi for either the September 10 incident or the night of Storrs' death, the police felt they had finally found their man. Wilde, for his part, insisted that he was not guilty of either the Early Bank Road attack or the Storrs murder. The blood on his jacket, he explained, had come from a "real Lancashire" fight with another man.

At Wilde's trial, his lawyer, Edward Theophilus Nelson (who had earlier defended Cornelius Howard) pounced on the lack of consistency among the eyewitnesses. If these same people had previously thought Howard was Storrs' killer, how could anyone trust their identification of Wilde? And without these eyewitnesses, there was absolutely no evidence against his client. This was, he proclaimed, a textbook case of "reasonable doubt."

The jury agreed, and Wilde was freed. Soon after he was released, he and Howard celebrated by going out drinking together.

No one else was ever charged with Storrs' death, and although crime historians have enjoyed speculating about the murder, no consensus about the killer's motive and identity has ever been reached. Was James Worrell somehow implicated in the murder? His suicide indicates that he certainly had something on his conscience, but what reason did he have to kill his employer?

Was Wilde guilty after all? When a friend of Wilde's died many years later, he reportedly told his stepson that on the night of the murder, Wilde came to his home, deathly pale and covered in blood. He admitted that he had killed Storrs, and asked his friend to help him clean up. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing whether or not this alleged "deathbed confession" was the truth.

Could the unhappily married wife, Maggie, have hired a hit man? Or was the killing arranged by George's estranged brother, James? What about the relatives of Maria Hohl? It was rumored that shortly before Storrs was killed, two foreign men were seen loitering around Stalybridge. This rather vague clue has led to a theory that Maria's brother John Gottfried Hohl murdered Storrs out of a desire to avenge his wronged sister. Although this scenario presents a plausible motive for the case, there is no direct evidence connecting John Hohl to the slaying. Or was the killing, as some local historians have suggested, simply a case of burglary-gone-wrong, with no personal motive involved? But if this was the case, how to explain the poison-pen letters and Storrs' all-too-accurate fears for his life?

This last question brings us to what is arguably the strangest element of all in this case: Storrs obviously knew someone had a grudge against him that was strong enough for him to feel his safety was threatened. Why did he never say who this enemy might have been? Why, even after he was attacked, did he bring that secret to his grave?

A year after Storrs died, his widow had Gorse Hall torn down--a fitting end for a murder mystery that has lain in ruins.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is proud to be sponsored by the International Center For Feline Journalists.

What the hell was (is?) Hy-Brasil?

Watch out for those Saudi swimming pools?

Watch out for KIC 8462852!

Watch out for the Stamford Wildman!

Watch out for those glowing Winged Women!

Watch out for the Crying Boy!

Watch out for those Banshees!

Watch out for Jane Eyre's Gytrash!

Watch out for the What-Is-Its!

How Venice became...well, Venice.

A "perfect murder" in the Alps.

Napoleon meets St. Helena.  Neither one was overly impressed.

The posthumous odyssey of Elmer McCurdy.

The graffiti at the Tower of London.

What hearing aids were like in the 18th century.

Some medieval wall paintings have recently been uncovered in a Welsh church.

17th century women travelers vs. the East India Company.

John Dee's library!

The Vatican's elephant.

Casting out the Devil can leave you speechless.

Keeping the Devil out of the Tower of London.

A young chess prodigy's weird disappearance.

How Rose de Freycinet circumnavigated the globe.

If you have $45 million lying around, you can buy a castle that's chock full of Weird.

A salute to the great Christopher Wren.

If you're a highly self-reliant vampire, have I got the village for you.

If you're wondering what a sheepskin cloak cost in the Dark Ages, have I got the blog post for you.

How to celebrate a Victorian Halloween.

That time Paris had a human zoo.

That time Coleridge played hooky from Cambridge.

That time your lunchtime salad would be considered a controlled substance.

"The Miracle Worker?"  Or just one very creepy situation?

One for the "We Don't Know Jack About Our History" file.

Another one for the "We Don't Know Jack About Our History" file.

That "We Don't Know Jack About Our History" file is getting mighty crowded.

George Bell, who had to die to finally be noticed by the world.

Old London street slang.

The Great London Beer Flood.

How to be a Georgian supermodel.

A ghostly buddy system.

Cooking, Soviet style.  The "CCCP" on the ice cream cones was quite the festive touch.

A haunted Alaskan castle.

P.T. Barnum's menagerie.

Some legends associated with the famed Bell Witch.

The Palmyra Massacre:  one of the Civil War's more notorious events.

The most enigmatic figure of the Salem witch trials.

Remembering Trafalgar.

A hot date gets very weird.

The Gentle Author's cat gives the universal feline cry of "Feed me!!!!"

New York's first luxury hotel.

The latest research on Machu Picchu.

Ale-ing all day, oil-ing by night.

A Bronze Age Scottish sauna.

A dose of Ukraine Weird.

And, finally, this past week I saw what will probably always remain my favorite tweet ever.

That wraps it up for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll be talking more Edwardian Murder. In the meantime, here's Ella:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Mundy's Landing, via Library of Congress

This tale of murder and unwelcoming berry patches comes from the "Bronson Pilot," August 5, 1886:

Louisville, Ky., July 28. A [Louisville] Courier-Journal special gives the following, which was vouched for by reliable parties:

The inhabitants of Mundy's Landing, on the Kentucky river in Woodford county, are considerably nonplussed and worked up over the discharge of showers of stones descending in their midst. Several persons have been severely hurt and roofs of houses made to rattle like musketry. The scene and location of the mysterious visitations are at and near the house of Mrs. Lucretia Mundy, widow of Lowry Mundy. who died from the effects of poison administered, as charged, by his wife and [her son-in-law] Dr. Davis, the latter now serving a life sentence in the penitentiary for being guilty of the poisoning, and Mrs. Mundy now being under indictment as accessory to the murder.

The first notice taken of the falling stones was on Monday last when parties picking blackberries in a patch some distance from the Mundy mansion were surprised at the dropping of small stones in their midst. These continued to descend at intervals and their surprise changed to alarm and with buckets and berries they beat a hasty retreat from the patch. The next day Mrs. Dr. Davis, when about 100 yards from her house, was struck severely on the arm by a stone from some unknown direction. Miss Annie Mundy was also hurt severely by a stone descending upon her head. Miss Eva Mundy the next day was hit and slightly hurt. A negro man, Henry, was struck and knocked over a cliff Saturday and Sunday several negroes were struck; one or two of them were severely injured. The people of the neighborhood, of course, are stirred up. Some think it the work of some malicious individual or individuals who are creating the sensation. Others think it of the supernatural order. But from natural or unnatural causes all are of the opinion that it is a very strange affair. Several houses besides the Davis-Mundy mansions have been struck, and the stones descend perpendicularly and not horizontally as if thrown by the hand of an individual.

[Note: After no less than three trials, Lucretia Mundy was acquitted of murder--largely because one of the chief witnesses against her was found mysteriously shot to death.  I have not found any more reports about the strange missiles of Mundy's Landing, or if there was any evidence they were somehow linked to the then-notorious murder case. As an aside, this story is very similar to another stone-throwing-in-the-berry-patch report featured earlier on this blog.  Fortean berry fields may be an avenue worth exploring.]

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Unpaid Assistants of Arthur Stilwell; or, Behind Every Great Man is a Great Brownie

So what it comes down to is that the citizens of Port Arthur, Texas, can thank a bunch of fairies for their city.

This statement probably needs some explanation.

Arthur Stilwell was one of the great unheralded entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age. He was born on October 21, 1859, in Rochester, New York, into a family of achievers. His father was a respectable retail merchant, but the star of the family tree was Arthur's grandfather, who was one of the builders of the New York Central, as well as a founder of the Western Union Telegraph Company. Arthur spent much of his childhood in this grandfather's company, and the old man was obviously a big influence on the boy.

When he was fifteen, Stilwell went out into the world armed with $707, a great share of the family's ambitious streak, and, well, some other assets which we will discuss in good time. After working in various jobs in St. Louis and New York, he was forced to return home to help his family after his father--who seems to have been the Stilwell clan's token failure--lost most of his money in bad oil speculations. Stilwell set up a printing business, which soon became so successful that he went "on the road," selling business and legal forms throughout the country. His little empire really took off when he came up with the idea of printing railway timetables that carried commercial advertising. In the course of developing this new enterprise, he learned much about railroading. Before he was twenty, this young sales executive was on the way to becoming a very wealthy man.

He eventually changed careers by becoming an agent for Travelers Insurance Company, a line of work that proved characteristically prosperous. He developed a number of new products that helped revolutionize the insurance industry. As restless as he was industrious, Stilwell eventually left insurance to go out West. In 1885, Stilwell moved to Kansas City, then one of America's fastest-growing cities, to start a venture capital and investment firm. He sold real estate, and pursued his long-held dream of building railways. His great ambition was to build a line connecting Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico. He acquired rail lines that eventually became the Kansas City Southern Railroad. While building these lines, he founded a number of towns, the best-known being Stilwell, Oklahoma, and Port Arthur, Texas. Stilwell faced some disappointments common to such ventures, such as lawsuits, hurricanes, and diseases, particularly the dreaded yellow fever. In 1899, Stilwell lost control of the venture when his railway was forced into receivership. However, two years later, the company discovered a large oil field in Texas which paved the way for its later success.

Stilwell then organized the Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient Railway, with the aim of building a line that would link Kansas City to the Pacific. Unfortunately, this ambition died due to various financial problems, and, more importantly, the Mexican Revolution. The company went into receivership in 1912. However, like Stillwell's previous venture, the next owner, William Kemper, discovered oil beneath the rail lines, making it a very prosperous bargain for him. Stilwell's habitual good luck seems to have been contagious.

Stilwell then went into a pleasant and prosperous retirement. He occupied himself with the usual civic activities. He designed beautiful and popular residential enclaves and amusement parks, and also founded a mission house. However his real passions were more artistic pursuits. This go-getting entrepreneur loved books, art, and music. He was a fine singer and organ player, and was fond of composing novels, poetry, songs, and plays. He also wrote several books of political and social analyses.

His published writings revealed that Arthur Stilwell was not in the usual mold of business executives. In his book, "Live and Grow Young," he said matter-of-factly that "All my life, even when a child, I have received messages from the spirit world, and they have greatly influenced my life." In fact, he attributed all his personal success to the fairies of the spirit world, or "Brownies," as he called them. One notable instance was when he planned to buy a railroad that ran from Shreveport, Louisiana, to Houston, Texas. The "Brownies" warned him against it. His "corps of spirits" told him not to make Galveston the terminal of the Kansas City Southern Railroad, because that city was doomed to destruction. On advice of the "Brownies," he founded the city of Port Arthur to use as a terminal instead. He followed their instructions for his new railway to the letter. Paying a mere $7 an acre for the land, the town blossomed "as if by magic."

Four days after the Port Arthur terminal was completed, Galveston was destroyed by the legendary hurricane of 1900.

According to an article in the June 15, 1922 "New York Times," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said the railway magnate had been through the greatest psychic experiences of any living man. "I have built more than 3,000 miles of railroad," Stilwell said. "Every part of every route had been determined by spirits who have come to me in my dreams and told me what to do...They have never given me a false message."

His otherworldly gifts first manifested themselves when he was four. He began telling his mother that they would be getting certain visitors, long before they arrived. When he was 14, he caught a glimpse of a girl named Jennie Wood, who was a complete stranger to him. He informed his mother that he would marry the girl in five years. And so he did. His "nightly advisors," also helped him with his writings. "The engineering plans that I have put in effect have all come from an engineer who has been long dead," he told the "Times." "I have transcribed scores of poems which have been dictated to me by poets. I have written the music of many songs, which have been dictated to me by musicians." Through the same methods, he had also written twenty-one "spirit novels."  The only explanation the "Brownies" gave him for this spiritual involvement was, "For some reason it is easier to communicate through you than through others. You don't know why and neither do we." (Cf. Rosemary Brown.)  "Today I am telling everything," Stilwell told the "Times" reporter.  "I don't care whether I am called a 'nut' or not."

One has to wonder if his spirit friends approved of this new policy of openness. Shortly after Stilwell spoke to the "Times," he was injured in an elevator accident, which left him an invalid. In 1928, he contracted pneumonia, and died of a stroke on September 26. His wife was left alone and devastated by his death. Without him, she felt she had no reason to go on living. A believer in spiritualism herself, she decided to join him on the other side. Less than two weeks after Stilwell died, Jennie put on her finest clothes and threw herself out their apartment window.

The Stilwells were childless, and had no living close relatives. After their remains had, at their request, been cremated, no one could be found to claim the ashes. Their urns were stored in a funeral home, where they mysteriously disappeared.

Perhaps the Brownies claimed them as next-of-kin.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Alliance of Dissipated Kittens.

What the hell happened to the Alcatraz escapees?

Who the hell were the Celts?

Who the hell killed the Rack Man?

What the hell is this star?

Watch out for those unlucky English castles!

Watch out for those snake trees!

Watch out for those killer corsets!

Watch out for those sky serpents!

Watch out for those poisonous pheasants!

Watch out for the Queen of the Arsonists!

Watch out for those Gabble-Retchets and Tatter-Foals!

Why you wouldn't want to play cards with Napoleon.  Or ask him to sing.

You wouldn't want to trust Napoleon with your credit card, either.

I can tell you that my late grandmother never forgot how horrible the Soviets were.

The widow and the medium.

Why it doesn't pay to have a double.  Especially one who's a criminal.

The assassination of a 19th century Korean Empress.

According to Isaac Newton, we've got 45 years left.  So enjoy your weekend.

Love among the felons.

The folklore roots of the Hound of the Baskervilles.

The sad and mysterious deaths of Emma Legge and her children.

Neasa, Irish Warrior Queen.

King Arthur and the monstrous cat.

This post just completely lost its head.

The King of the Rat Catchers.

A history of Halloween before it all got silly.

I'm calling BS on this one, but here you go.

I'm calling BS on this one, too, but here you go.

Chinese ghost cities.

Visiting the Empire of Death.

The JFK conspiracy theory du jour, this one featuring Allen Dulles.

Speaking of events that draw conspiracy theories like flies to honey, here's the latest guess about the fate of MH370.

John Ruskin and the supernatural.

Stealing our literary history.

Some police officer ghost stories.

Some murders that inspired ghost stories.

Some Old Bailey infanticide cases.

The unsolved disappearance of a modern-day Lily Bart.

The Rev. Septimus Hodson, Georgian skunk.

The Turkish Deep State; or, Just Because You're Paranoid, it Doesn't Mean Everyone Isn't Out to Get You.

Life in the Age of Ubiquitous Technology; or, Just Because You're Paranoid, it Doesn't Mean Everyone Isn't Spying on You.

"The Doodler": a strangely forgotten serial killer.

The doctor who thought monkey glands were the secret to immortality.

Graham Hancock, that little devil.

The theaters of Regency London.

One of Mount Everest's most famous fatalities.

Look, people who climb Everest are barmy.  There, I said it.

Why some "memories" should stay lost.

How to eat like The King.

Better late than never?

Mrs. Patrick Campbell's lucky animals.

Helen Maria Williams, who found that the French Revolution was more than she bargained for.

Sherborne's Pack Monday Fair.

Two questionable suicides.

What the well-dressed 1950s dog was wearing.

New Zealand's cave of wonders.

Restorative Nervous Cordial, anyone?

A working-class centaur.

Stabbing a witch in early 19th century England.

And it still tortures me today.

The coronation of George II.

The Salem woman whose books outsold Hawthorne.

The world's greatest magician, now forgotten.

The butcher's shop that really keeps it all in the family.

Georgian sharpers vs. shopkeepers.

The ill-behaved ghost of Wolstanton.

This week's dose of Russian Weird.

If you've been longing to hear the "Epic of Gilgamesh" in the original Babylonian--and I know you have--here you go.

If you've been longing to cast some ancient Icelandic spells--and you better believe you have--here you go.

An exercise in narcissism as I link to...well, me.

The oldest surviving film footage of New York City:

And, finally...this. Because if I have to have nightmares for the rest of my life as the result of watching this video, so do you.

This is, by FAR, the greatest video I have ever made. Truly my magnum opus. There can be no equal. And now the world shall know that cats... go MEOW!!
Posted by Markiplier on Wednesday, October 14, 2015

And that's all for this week. See you on Monday, when I'll be looking at a successful entrepreneur and his unconventional helpers. In the meantime, here's Haydn:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

"At the Death Bed," Edvard Munch

This account of the inexplicable deaths of a father and daughter comes from the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," May 9, 1882.

About three weeks ago Mr. William Downey, of Blackwell's precinct, [Hart County, Kentucky] died in a very singular manner. His strength began failing on Wednesday without apparent cause, his flesh fell away with alarming rapidity, and by Monday following he had absolutely dwindled away, without having felt sick or suffering the slightest pain or indisposition. When placed on his deathbed a few hours before he died he was laughing and talking, and declared that he never felt better in his life.

Such a singular and unaccountable death naturally created considerable surprise and wonder in the neighborhood where it happened. But these were increased to consternation, when in a few days after Mr. Downey's death his daughter, Miss Sallie, who is about twenty-two years of age, was taken exactly as her father was, and without suffering the slightest pain or sickness has grown weaker and thinner each day, till she is but a skeleton of her former self, and at our last account was lying speechless upon what has doubtless proved her deathbed ere this. The physicians are completely nonplussed, and are unable to form the slightest idea as to the cause or nature of their very strange malady, and to add to the confusion and mystery, the sick bed of the young lady has been almost constantly attended by strange and unnatural noises--sometimes seeming like the roar of a planing mill, then like a sewing machine, and again like many other things, continually changing, but hardly ever ceasing. It has thrown the whole neighborhood into a fever of excitement, and scores of persons have visited the house where the young lady is sick, and are able to testify to the correctness of these statements.

The details about the strange noises around Sallie Downey's deathbed add a supernatural touch to this already eerie tale. In other places and/or other times, the Downeys would undoubtedly have been called victims of some local witch.

I have not found any additional articles about the story.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Distressing Circumstances at Moat Farm

The 1899 murder at Moat Farm was quite notorious in its day, despite its lack of obvious intrigue. There was no mystery about the killer or his motive. The perpetrator--a worthless wretch if ever there was one--paid the ultimate price for his act, and not even the most soft-hearted sob sister could question the justice of the verdict. It was, to put it simply, a sad, dreary affair. However, the case also featured a plethora of almost comically nutty touches--not the least of which was the bizarre personality of the murderer--which compelled me to present it as this week's offering of The Weird.

The tragic figure in our story was a fifty-six year old spinster named Camille Cecile Holland. Independently wealthy, intelligent, and not-half-bad looking. She had all the means at her disposal to build a very nice life for herself. She could have bought a fine home, enjoyed a social life, pursued whatever activities she chose. Instead, her life was a curiously empty one. She seemed content to simply drift from boarding-house to boarding-house. Her only real companion was her little dog, Jacko. She had no close friends. Her only living relatives were a niece and nephew. She was on good terms with them, but they saw little of each other. She apparently had no real hobbies or interests. Miss Holland had had only one serious sweetheart in her life--a young naval officer who drowned many years back. She still wore a ring that had been taken from his body. This estimable, and seemingly fortunate, woman led a deeply lonely and unfulfilled life.

This no doubt explains how the normally sensible Camille Holland became easy pickings for the likes of Samuel Herbert Dougal.

We do not know when and how Holland and Dougal met, but once he learned of her financial status, he began an assiduous courtship. He described himself as an ex-Army captain who was married, but had been separated from his wife for many years.

As was usual with Dougal, this wasn't the half of his life story. After being discharged from the army, he was caught forging checks supposedly signed by his superiors. Thanks to that escapade, he not only served a year in prison, but he lost his army pension. Since then, he had twice been charged with other forgeries, but had--such are the strange ways of juries--been acquitted both times. There was also good reason to believe he had committed arson for insurance purposes.

Dougal also failed to tell Miss Holland that he had been married more than once. His first wife died very suddenly and in mysterious circumstances. Dougal attributed her demise to bad oysters. His second wife died only two months after their marriage. Those infernal oysters again! he sighed. His third wife, Sarah White, was still alive (perhaps she knew better than to eat oysters provided by her husband,) and living in Ireland. And these were just his legal unions. Dougal's resume also boasted numerous mistresses, one-night-stands, and a host of abandoned illegitimate children. Naturally, he kept all these interesting details to himself.

Dougal was a suave character, with the sort of dashing charm that comes naturally to many natural-born scoundrels. When he begged Miss Holland to elope with him, even though marriage was a practical impossibility, she agreed. (So much for the modern-day assumption that respectable Victorian women were all pious prudes.) However, though she may have lost her heart to this man, Miss Holland did not entirely lose her head. She was willing to run away with him, but his other proposal--that she reinvest all her securities in his name--was firmly rejected.

The two lovers settled down in a country house in Essex called Coldhams Farm, although Dougal rechristened it with the more colorful name of Moat Farm. It was a forbidding looking place. The farmhouse--which indeed had a moat--was in a bleak area heavily surrounded by dark, ominous-looking trees. It looked more like the set of a horror movie than a romantic hideaway.

Very fitting, as it turned out.

Contemporary drawing of Moat Farm

Although Camille's money paid for the house, Dougal--without bothering to tell her--had himself named as owner on the property deed. When Miss Holland discovered this, she tore up the document and had a new one issued in her name.

Miss Holland was proving to be a good deal more troublesome than Dougal had bargained for.

In late April 1899, the couple settled into their new home, under the name of "Mr. and Mrs. Dougal." Within the first three weeks they lived there, they went through at least three housekeepers, due to Mr. Dougal's curious notion that female servants should serve as his personal harem. The final servant, a girl named Florence Havies, was so appalled by Dougal's efforts to break into her room at night that she quickly sent word to her mother to come and rescue her. Until Mrs. Havies' arrival, Florence slept in "Mrs. Dougal's" room, and took care never to be alone in the house with Samuel. Camille's reaction to her "husband's" remarkable behavior is not recorded, which is possibly just as well.

On May 19, Samuel and Camille drove off in their carriage. They told Florence that they were going to the nearby town of Saffron Walden to do some shopping. A few hours later, Samuel returned to Moat Farm--alone. When Florence asked him what had happened to "the mistress," he told her she had gone to London.

Poor Florence was terrified at the prospect of being alone with Dougal. She got no sleep that night. She locked the door of her bedroom and sat fully dressed by an open window, ready to flee if her employer came anywhere near. Fortunately for her, Dougal ignored her presence. During that night, he went in and out of the house, busy with his own urgent matters. The next morning, Florence's mother arrived to fetch her daughter. Mrs. Havies chewed Dougal out, demanded a month's wages for Florence, and the two women stalked out. Samuel now had Moat Farm all to himself.

Well, until the next day, at least, when the legitimate Mrs. Dougal turned up at the house. He told her that he had been managing the estate for "an old lady" who was now "away."

It is a sad commentary on how little of an impact Camille Holland had made on the world that no one took any notice of her disappearance. Although all her clothes and belongings remained at Moat Farm, nobody in the neighborhood gave her absence a second thought. Dougal let it be known that she was off on a yachting trip, and everyone was content to leave it at that. The only living soul who missed her was Jacko.

Camille's banker in London soon received a letter--signed with her name--asking to have a new check book sent to her at Moat Farm. These checks were used to turn over all the money in her bank account to Mr. Samuel Herbert Dougal. All of her stocks were sold, with the proceeds also going to Dougal. Another letter from Miss Holland generously turned over to him the ownership of Moat Farm.

The newly-rich Dougal became quite a popular favorite in local society. He was a gregarious fellow, with a cheerful, back-slapping manner and an engaging willingness to buy drinks for everyone at the local pub. He also bought an automobile. As it was the first one in the area, it created quite a sensation.

Dougal's social life also followed some less reputable channels. If half the local gossip is to be believed, grim little Moat Farm had been transformed into a rustic Playboy Mansion. A long string of female servants came and went at Moat Farm. The ones who accepted Dougal's requests for extracurricular service stayed a bit longer. Before long, Dougal was fighting court orders that he support children born to some of these women. When word spread that Dougal was fond of having naked women bicycle through the grounds of the estate, townspeople shrugged and muttered that some of his habits were "not nice." Mrs. Dougal agreed with this assessment. She finally had her fill of her husband and ran away with one of the farm's laborers.

To finally return to Camille Holland: It was not until early in 1903 that people began to wonder why she had yet to return from her yachting excursion. Questions about her whereabouts became so persistent that the local police felt compelled to make a search of Moat Farm. Dougal received this request with his usual geniality. Sure, he told the officers. Feel free to look around. Finding nothing but the occasional nude lady cyclist, the police left, feeling perfectly satisfied with life.

Then, someone showed Miss Holland's nephew one of the checks she had supposedly made out to Dougal. He instantly asserted that it was not in her handwriting.

After this, things unraveled very quickly for Samuel Dougal. When he tried to exchange counterfeit notes at the Bank of England, he was arrested for forgery. When his pockets were searched at the police station, he was found to be carrying some of Camille's jewelry--including the ring that had belonged to her dead naval officer.

Everyone was now very anxious to find Camille Holland. It was the first time ever that the world had taken an interest in the poor woman, albeit a bit too late in the day. A massive excavation was made of the grounds around Moat Farm. Psychics, dowsers, and cranks of various sorts all went to the newspapers giving their "solutions" of the mystery. Thousands of people flocked to the area to enjoy the show. Photographers made postcards of Moat Farm to sell to tourists. Others made a tidy sum selling food and drink at the site. The atmosphere was like a holiday camp. From his prison cell, Dougal threatened to sue the police for the way they were destroying his property.

Finally, after five weeks of searching, workmen dug up the skeleton of Camille Holland. Her remains were identified because they had been buried with the custom-made size 2 shoes she had been wearing when she was shot through the head.

Dougal, true to form, denied any involvement in Miss Holland's death. His line of defense was that the skeleton was not hers. His former lady love, he insisted, was still off yachting somewhere. When that failed to fly, he suggested that Camille had committed suicide, with the admirable thoroughness of burying herself afterwards.

While awaiting his trial, Dougal kept up a lively correspondence with his many female acquaintances, as well a number of those peculiar ladies who seem to find particularly loathsome murderers irresistible. Happily, the text of one of his letters was recorded by a student of the case. It is one of the more memorable missives in the history of true crime. Dougal wrote, “I daresay the girls have received their notices, etc., to attend next Monday at Chelmsford, have they not? There will be several from about there, and it would be a good idea to club together and hire a trap and drive all the way. It is a delightful drive through undulating country, and at this time of year it would be a veritable treat for them all. So much better and more comfortable than the tram with its three changes, and, besides, they have the four miles to get to the station in the first place. I was thinking of a child (Daughter) born on the 11th of this month might be named ‘Draga’ after the poor Queen of Servia assassinated on that day, what a dreadful piece of business. When you feel like it, please drop me a few lines and let me know how you are.”

I cannot improve on crime historian Edmund Pearson’s description of the context of this letter. After noting that what Dougal was describing sounded more “like a Sunday School picnic rather than a plan to attend a murder trial,” he wrote, “When it is further realized…that the participants, or many of them, were the mothers or prospective mothers of his children, most of us will give up seeking for adjectives to describe Mr. S. Herbert Dougal.”

Dougal was the only one surprised when he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. After his appeal of the verdict failed, he admitted killing Camille, but insisted it was an accident. It was not until he was literally on the scaffold with the rope around his neck that he finally confessed his full guilt.

Dougal's victim was buried in Saffron Walden, with a tombstone inscription that is touching in its efforts to be tactful. Her epitaph reads, "In sympathetic memory of Camille Cecile Holland, of Maida Vale, London, who died at Clavering under distressing circumstances on the 19th May, 1899, aged 56 years."

Jacko was taken in by one of Camille's few friends in Saffron Walden, a Mrs. Wiskens, where, we are told, he became "the object of admiring curiosity." Such was his local importance as souvenir of one of the region's most famous murders, that after his death, Jacko was stuffed and put in a glass case in the Wiskens parlor. Reportedly, he is still on display at the Essex Police Museum.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is brought to you by The Order of Vintage Grumpy Cats.

What the hell made these patients luminous?

What the hell is this Massachusetts stone circle?

How the hell did this Chinese disk get into a Kentucky garden?

Watch out for Bigfoot!

Watch out for Spring-Heeled Jack!

Watch out for the varua ino!

Watch out for the ground-puppies!

Watch out for those grim and ghastly ghosts!

The colorful life of John C. Calhoun.

"To make Excelent Pancakes," 1707.

The world of the 12th century woman.

Some charming 19th century anecdotes about dogs.

Sort of a criminal version of "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants."

Poe and his "pathological necro-killer."

Marie Antoinette's hameau.

A Georgian female soldier.

Because you can't have too many decapitation histories.

Because you can't have too many U.S. lunatics.

The first Chaos Magician.

The death of William Wilkinson: accident or murder?

Coleridge's "psychological curiosity."

The female paleontologist who became a tongue twister.  Hold on, I think that might be giving you the wrong impression.

Jeanne de la Motte, one of the most oddly charming of grifters.  [Note:  I don't use the word "charming," sarcastically.  I've read her memoirs, and, damn it, I found myself really liking the woman.]

Did Tutankhamen steal from Nefertiti?

The use of religion in 18th century political propaganda.

If it's The Weird you're looking for, connoisseurs know you can't do much better than medieval Iceland. 

A Swedish "witchcraft island."

The horrifying 1977 Girl Scout Murders.

Astrologer to the Gestapo.

Seeing ghosts?  Take a pill!

Empress Elisabeth, truly a slave to beauty.

An 18th century "limbless magician."

The death of Frances Colpitts: an early 19th century horror story.

Egyptians weren't the only ancients to mummify their dead.

John Barclay, who was not reanimated.

Theories about the causes of Spontaneous Human Combustion.

An elephant gets his revenge.

X-ray and Pompeii.

Victorian clowns.  Click the link if you dare.

The execution of a "gentleman highwayman."


The "finger of providence" nabs an evil preacher.

How advertising shaped the English language.

And...we're done for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll be talking Victorian Murder. In the meantime, here's some early Harry Nilsson.  This has always gotten my vote for the saddest pop song ever--hits a bit too close to home, I suppose--but, man, that guy had the voice of an angel.