"...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

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Vanishing at Euston Square

Euston Station, 1851


A particularly odd international disappearance generated a great deal of copy in newspapers and magazines in the first half of 1872. It is small wonder the case attracted attention, because whatever the truth may have been behind the mystery, it reads like something from that era's most outlandish Penny Dreadfuls.

William Blews and Sons was a firm of gas engineers based in Birmingham, England. They were contractors to the City of Moscow Gas Company. Their manager in Moscow was 26-year-old L.R. Bauer, a Russian of German descent. Bauer was an excellent employee. He had a fiancee in Latvia whom he planned to marry soon. His life, so far as is known, was prosperous and untroubled. On January 12, 1872, Bauer wrote to Blews and Sons, stating that he was coming to England to consult with them about a business matter. He arrived in London on the 25th, where he had a meeting with a member of the Moscow Gas Company. The following morning, he telegraphed Blews announcing that he was about to take the noon train from Euston station to Birmingham. A cabman later asserted that he delivered Bauer to the station at twenty to twelve. However, for unknown reasons, Bauer failed to make his train. He told a porter at the station that he would take the next train at 3 p.m. He sent a second telegraph from the Euston office advising Blews of this change of plan.

Bauer never arrived. No one heard a word from him until eight days later, when Blews and Sons received an envelope containing two notes, both dated January 27. It was postmarked in London on February 2. The first letter read,
Dear Sir,—As a special grace permission has been granted to me to address these lines to you; they will be the last, because in a few hours I shall be dead. In good faith of doing a good deed I joined some people a few years ago. Alas! it was a sad error into which my youth and want of experience had led me. About a year since I discovered my great mistake, because I was not bad enough to carry out some consequences of my vow—the very point of my misunderstanding, and ever since I lived in dread, although I was not prepared for this when one of these devils in the shape of men peremptorily stopped me from leaving London yesterday noon. I was not even aware of being so closely watched. Having no choice left but either to do things against which my whole soul revolts, and which I find utterly impossible to do, or to die myself, I have chosen death, and shall die in some hours hence. It is a very hard thing, I feel, to go thus suddenly for ever without seeing anybody whom I loved once more, and my heart breaks when I think of my family and my poor girl in Russia; but it cannot be helped. I know but too well my fate is sealed, and I am quite composed now. How could I write these lines were it otherwise? My luggage has already been destroyed, I believe, for they will make sure work about me. On account of the trouble that will arise to you, dear sir, through my sudden death, I am exceedingly sorry, because a good many things I had in my mind only to explain; but I hope you will grant me pardon when you see that I am thus cut off from all, O God! everything that could have made me happy. Farewell, dear sir; I am punished hard for my mistake of men, but I have the knowledge, at least, which gives me strength to endure all—I shall, at least, not die a villain!—Farewell, for ever,
L. R. Bauer
The second note said merely, "Sir,—The foolish author of the enclosed brief has informed you right; he is dead. Our safety forbids us to send your property— to wit, some papers, which have been burnt.—We are, sir,
"A Sufficient Number."

Opinion differed on the vital point of whether these letters were both in Bauer's writing, or in two different hands. Everyone was at a loss for words to explain what was going on here. Bauer's father in Russia apparently took these letters seriously. He wrote to the head of the Blews firm stating, "His letter to you, and the enclosure signed 'A sufficient number' speak to my heart as of his death. It seems to me no insanity. The persecution of this gang to which my son alludes in his letter is a truth, because in the summer before last in St. Petersburg he was through it then seized with madness, and spoke of it alone." The missing man's fiancee, Marie Schulze, also wrote to Messrs. Blews that when she last saw Bauer, shortly before his trip to England, he was "filled with evil forebodings." His final letter to her, dated on January 26 and bearing the stamp of the London Charing Cross Hotel, "contained anxious misgivings, and fears of a heavy approaching calamity."

In May, Blews and Sons supplied the newspapers with a letter they received from another of their agents, who was currently in Brazil. It only made the mystery still murkier:
Gentlemen, — I am in receipt of your letters informing me of the disappearance of Mr. L. R. Bauer. I am very greatly touched by the horrible event. When we parted at Moscow we parted as two brothers would; he embraced me as no man save my father has ever done; he promised to write me instantly in any difficulty business might bring about; we sketched out how each was to pull with the other, how we were not to be separated, though we lived in different hemispheres; and I came away satisfied that you had as good and faithful a servant in Bauer as you ever had in any man. Of his connection with one of the numerous associations professing freedom for the Baltic Provinces and for Poland he has informed me fully, and of his bitter sufferings in connection with his vows; and when it became necessary to appoint him in my stead, it was only on the distinct arrangement that he should marry at Christmas, 1871, and then look out for a magasin having store-room beneath or in rear and apartments over it for his occupation. Such an act would, I knew, bring him face to face with the association, and in any such contest, supported by a loved wife, and protected by the position your Moscow business furnished him with, the issue was in his hands. The fact of his youth having been allied to such institutions would not weigh against Mr. Bauer in the eyes of the General Governor of Moscow, and to him I urged any appeal which might become necessary during the strife, and also to myself. I undertook to run over to Moscow at any time on his informing me the hour had come. His appointment to a business position was essential to his marriage, and I many a time dwelt on the urgent necessity there was for marriage among the young men in the Hotel Haldy. Many will remember these adjurations of mine, and they may possibly now see their point. Bauer promised he would marry, and I promised to secure him from your service what would enable him to live comfortably. From this you will see I am not surprised that trouble has befallen him, but I am sorry it did not happen in Russia. In London I know of several such associations, organised, officered, and managed entirely there ; and the consequences of their actions are never traced to them in England. Many a poor fellow falls in an emcute instantly suppressed, and seldom reported; but that does not affect smug John Bull. The organisations are perfect in London; they are only deficient in action in the locality to be advantaged by association. In London, then, Bauer was much less safe than in Russia. It is always a difficulty to a foreigner how police can be useful for protective purposes; they are known only for repressive purposes, and strangers hesitate to utilise them. Bauer, doubtless, arrived at Euston for the twelve o'clock train, and was there accosted by an agent, and unfortunately, in his exceeding great courtesy, would balance his head two or three times, and proceed to address the agent instead of demanding a seat from the guard and leaving the agent to himself. Of course the agent would have a plausible story with which to detain Bauer, and in this, the first minute of the attack, life or death to Bauer were in the scale. Failure was irretrievable. Steady progress towards his seat was salvation. But I have several times found him in Moscow staying in the street to listen to the applications of strangers. This is a habit I have studiously avoided in England and abroad. In a thousand ways it is dangerous. The letter of January 27 is quite Bauer's style of expression. Phrases in it are indisputably his. Russians speaking to Russians say "my bride." Bauer to my wife and me, invariably said "my girl" and other instances I could name, but you have the original and can test the handwriting. If I were in England I could readily ascertain whether he really had fallen under the displeasure of his association, but no assistance would be rendered me at this distance. Satisfaction is quite possible on this head, and also upon the point if he is sent to Russia for adjudication, for I do not think action would be taken in London beyond his being sent to Paris or Russia. I notice the Telegraph points to possible defalcations. My knowledge of the position sets that aside. The sum open to him was valueless to him. I am as certain of his superiority to temptation of that kind as I am certain of my own; and I am equally certain Bauer was quite indifferent to the temptations of London life. You will find no one person charge him with intemperance or immorality, and I am confident Messrs. Laidlaw and Son's manager will join in assuring you that the whole of Bauer's intercourse with him was, as it was with me, singularly pure. From none of these sources will help come to you in your search. If that second letter (February 2) is the production of another, then my first hope that he has been attacked with the fear of those devils being near him, and had lost his reason, vanishes. He would not, under any such attack of insanity, perpetrate the second letter. The first he would; but if the second is not in his writing, then I have little hope of your finding him in England. You have lost a most valuable servant, and I have lost the dearest friend late years have brought me. My wife (who also besought him to marry) is quite unable to believe the story. All seems to her like a miserable dream; it is not possible, she says. Had we been in England he would have been safe.

I await with anxiety further intelligence from you and remain, gentlemen, yours very respectfully, Joseph Edward Jones

It gets even weirder. Several publications indicated that the "gang" Bauer's father alluded to was the sect known as the "White Dove," or "Skoptsy," a fanatical Orthodox cult that practiced voluntary castration as part of their rituals. The Skoptsy first emerged around 1770, and at the time Bauer disappeared, this sect of mystical eunuchs had acquired a great number of proselytes. The suggestion was that the young man had become involved with the Skoptsy, but after finding a girl he wished to marry, Bauer naturally rebelled at the idea of castration. In revenge for this apostasy, members of the cult kidnapped and murdered him.

Was Bauer's disappearance tied to his links with subversive political groups, as Joseph Jones seemed to intimate?

Or, suggested less romantic types, did Bauer simply do a runner? Was this seemingly contented man secretly nursing a dissatisfaction with his job, his life, and his intended bride? Did he fake his own kidnapping and death so he could start anew under a different identity? Did he kill himself? Others noted his father's reference to Bauer having been "seized with madness" in 1870. Did the young man have another sudden attack of "madness," causing him to wander off in a daze? But if that was the case, where was he?

For some weeks, the public prints carried fruitless speculation about the young Russian's fate. Then, inevitably, the story faded from general attention. And L.R. Bauer was never heard from again.

3 comments:

  1. It seems as if Bauer had been mixed up with a revolutionary group, though there is a mystery in that case as to why his body was never found. These were not shy about leaving the corpses of their victim lying around, as warnings to other 'traitors'. And having allowed Bauer to write to his bosses, there would have been no need for them to hide their involvement.

    If Bauer had wanted to leave his old life behind, there would have been simpler means of doing it that would have caused less bother for him and less attention from others.

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  2. Yes, "anarchists" & "nationalists" in the 19th century were as much the "bete noire" as "terrorists" today. It's a bit soap-opera sounding, but completely possible.

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  3. What makes this story hard to follow and understand is the flowery and difficult prose used in the letters of the various parties - rather than clearly spell out the names of the people alleged to have done something sinister to Bauer, it is all done by inference and assumption.

    ReplyDelete

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