"...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, August 17, 2018

Weekend Link Dump



It occurs to me that this eatery's sign would also fit very well for Strange Company HQ.





Who the hell murdered Joe the Quilter?

Who the hell was "Mary Anderson?"

When the hell did the largest volcanic explosion in human history take place?

Watch out for the carpenter of doom!

Watch out for those cursed cheeses!

One of the 19th century's most famous murders.

That time Leonard Bernstein disowned his own performance.

What's believed to be the world's oldest map.

The gruesome mystery of the Woman in the Vineyard.

The trouble with swimming naked is that you might have to stay naked.

I already do this for free, and I have to pay a mortgage, to boot. And God knows I've never gotten enough solitude for my liking.  Sign me up.

The surprising number of people who survived the gallows.

And then there are those who are executed after they're already dead.

The latest theory about Easter Island.

An oozing "miracle house."  Or maybe it has a really bad mildew problem.  Lysol, guys. Just sayin'.

Look, if you decide to call a place "Helltown," don't come crying to me when things get weird.

Hong Kong was shaped by feng shui.

The house of 100 cats.  (No, not Strange Company HQ, although we come close.)

The scientific debate over dinosaur extinction looks like a particularly nasty Twitter war.  (This is a long article, but quite fascinating.)

So, a guy did a study analyzing which world cities have the most perfect temperatures.  Ironically, most of them are cities you'd want to avoid for a whole lot of other reasons.

The unexpected hazards of being a seamstress.

A sideways grave for a sideways dog.

An orchestra of prisoners.

Demonic possession in South Africa.

Radioactive sheep in Australia.

18th century wet nurses.

Hanging is too good for some people.

19th century Indian pension lists.

How tofu was brought to America.

The evolution of the waltz.

The Iranian Saltmen.

Does Egypt have a second Sphinx?

The UK's last public hanging.

William Blake has gotten a new tombstone.

Not a good planet to visit if you dislike the heat.

The importance of mythology in ancient Egypt.

The search for the "Endeavour."

Summoned by the dead.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a well-documented French haunting.  In the meantime, here are the Collins Kids.  I never heard of them until recently, when I discovered the duo during one of my explorations of the wilds of YouTube.  I love these two.  Damn, but Larry rocks.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com


Some homes get a reputation for being, if not haunted, at least extremely unlucky for anyone who has the misfortune to live under their roofs. This account of one particularly cursed residence appeared in the "Pittsburgh Press" for December 19, 1892:
The old Durlan mansion at Hempstead, which is supposed to be a genuine hoodoo, has evidently lost its powers. It was believed to work harm on all who lived in it any length of time. Three heads of families which occupied it committed suicide. In one of the cases a coroner's jury placed the blame for the man's act on the house. The ghost of another of the victims was still said to haunt the place. On fine moonlight nights, it was alleged, the shade of the departed could be seen eating watermelons, a fruit he was passionately fond of in life. However true this may be, I.N. Carmen, who now occupies the house, says he has not seen the ghost.

The house was built in 1844 by Canan Durlan. It is a typical country mansion, with wide and cheery rooms. It was built of hewn oak and is very solid. Recently the present owner, while seeking to break a doorway through the wall, was compelled to employ three men to chop with axes two days before an opening could be made. The house stands on Front street, two blocks from Hempstead's busiest thoroughfare.

The old Huntington railroad, now defunct, was directly in the rear of the house. One day two trains came together with a crash. When the debris was cleared there were not enough people left to run the train. As soon as the framework was in position a carpenter tumbled from one of the beams and broke his neck. Durlan and his wife Margaret lived in the house exactly three months, when they died suddenly within a few days of each other. The house was willed to their only son, Valentine. The young man, who was a stonemason, took up his residence there. He had scarcely been in the house six months when he became morbid and looked upon everybody with suspicion. His ruling passion was avarice. He had a taste for watermelons in winter. He cultivated the fruit in hot-houses. The cellar was filled with fine wines and liquors.

One day in September, 1884, Valentine had a quarrel with a tenant. He worried over the trouble, became ill, and went to the rear of the place and drowned himself. He stuck his head in a pool of water two feet deep. The house was not through with him. Durlan's relatives believed he had money, as be lived in a miserly way. A search was made. Bricked up in the chimney was found $4,871 in bank notes and coin. Bank-books also were there, representing deposits amounting to $4,000. This, with real estate, brought the wealth of the dead miser up to $20,000.

With this wealth in view, relatives sprang forth from every direction, each claiming a portion of the estate. The case reached the courts, and when the lawyers were through with it only $1.54 remained for each heir. Next a rumor prevailed that Durlan's ghost haunted the place. Crowds gathered every night. Several reputable citizens say they saw it in the back yard eating watermelon. They describe it as wearing a long, flowing gown, the face being adorned with gray chin whiskers.

Alfred Weeks, undeterred by the black record, came from Brooklyn, where he was a prosperous truckman. He brought a wife and six children. He occupied the old house. Soon misfortune overtook him. His business dropped, his wife and children grew sick. Weeks became despondent, and In September, 1887, he went to the back yard, looked into the muzzle of a shotgun and pulled the trigger with his toe. The top of his head was blown off. This was the time the jury censured the house, with this verdict:

We find the deceased died of heart failure from hemorrhage and shock of gunshot wound received by the accidental discharge of a shotgun and the evil affects of the Durlan house.

The Weeks family still continued to reside in the house. Three weeks after the father's funeral Sadie, the eldest daughter, fell downstairs and broke her arm. A week later the youngest child died of diphtheria. Then Mrs. Weeks moved away.

John Griscom was the next inhabitant. Like others, he met death by his own hand. Griscom was an inventor. He was rich when he started in. He invented an incubator and squandered $50,000 to make it hatch, which it persistently refused to do. In March, 1890, be went to his office in New York city, attached a tube to a gas jet, put the other end in his mouth and lay down and died.

After the Griscoms moved away the mansion remained vacant a long time. The yard was overrun with weeds. Recently Mr. Carmen bought the place for a mere song. The house was repaired, and to show his contempt for the ghost, Mr. Carmen brought bis wife and two daughters in. Mr. Carmen has not felt the effects of the hoodoo. His business is prosperous. Mr. Carmen, laughingly, said: "I'm not afraid of the hoodoo. I have never seen Old Durlan's ghost and I am convinced there is no more of the miser's treasure in the house. My family are well and we are doing nicely. I am an old sailor and knew all about hoodoos. If I were in a ship I might believe it, but in a house, never. They can't hoodoo anything on dry land."
If you know anything about ghosts and hoodoos, you're probably thinking that Mr. Carmen was positively asking for it And you would be correct.

The sequel to our little tale appeared in the "Fort Wayne Sentinel," January 4, 1893. After relating the Durlan House's unfortunate history, the paper reported, "Two weeks ago Mr. Carmen and his little family were seated around the evening table, discussing the advisability of making some repairs on the second floor. They proposed to cut away the pine partitions and replace them with hardwood to match the first floor. Just as the proposition was made a fierce gust of wind seemed to pass through the room where they were. This was followed by a terrific volley of furniture which seemed to be thrown from one end of the upper rooms to the other. It did not subside for fifteen minutes. Then Carmen and his wife ventured above to see what was the cause of it all. Everything was found in its usual place and not a sign of the racket remained. The couple descended with whitened faces and that night took up lodgings at a neighboring hotel. The house is again for sale. It will in all probability remain on the market."

via Newspapers.com


I couldn't find any later information about the house.  I'm wagering the spooks did wind up owning it.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Rickety Dan and Crazy Jack: A Problem of Identity

via Newspapers.com


Like all conflicts, the chaos of the American Civil War left a number of unsolved mysteries in its wake. Few, however, were as peculiar as one confusing case of unknown identity. Today, DNA testing would have quickly resolved the issue, but at the time, it was fated to remain an unanswerable question.

William Newby, the man at the center of the puzzle, was born in Tennessee around 1825, but his family moved to Illinois when he was a small child. Newby's life was totally unremarkable until 1861, when he enlisted in the Union Army.

The secondary star of our show was an unfortunate Tennessean named Daniel Benton. Soon after his birth in 1845, he developed rickets. The disease so affected his legs that he was unable to walk without wobbling, which earned him the nickname of "Rickety Dan." As an adult, he was unable to hold down a normal job. He became a vagrant, traveling from town to town until he was sent to prison for stealing horses, where he remained until he managed to escape custody.

In 1862, Newby was shot in the head at the battle of Shiloh. Although he survived the initial injury, he was obviously gravely, even possibly mortally wounded. His comrades were forced to leave him on the field. Two days later, burial details arrived on the scene. There were conflicting reports about whether or not Newby's body was found and buried, but in any case he was listed as having been killed in action. Nothing more was heard from him until 1891, when memories of Newby were revived in the most startling fashion: a man turned up in his old Illinois hometown, claiming to be none other than the "long-dead" soldier. According to Newby--or was it "Newby?"--after Shiloh, he was captured by the enemy and sent to the infamous Andersonville prison, where he remained for the rest of the war. At Andersonville, he endured terrible privations and witnessed even more horrific sufferings, such as when a fellow captive amputated his own gangrened legs. Newby's head wound caused such a severe loss of memory that he did not even know his own name. At Andersonville, he was known only as "Crazy Jack."

After the war ended, the amnesiac, broken in both body and mind, spent years wandering aimlessly through the South. He eventually wound up in Illinois, where he was recognized by Newby's brother. This relation brought him back to his old home, where Newby's surviving family members--including Newby's mother, wife, sister, and children--instantly accepted him as William.



A happy ending? On this blog? Oh, come now. In 1893, the newly-resurrected Newby ran into trouble when he applied for his army pension, as well as back pay--a sum which, all those years later, amounted to some $20,000 (around $500,000 in 2018 dollars.) The federal government declined his petition, on the grounds that he was not "William Newby" at all! Rather, the feds asserted that he was Daniel "Rickety Dan" Benton. Newby/Benton found himself facing charges of attempted fraud.

The key issue at his trial, of course, was the question of the defendant's identity. This proved to be harder to establish than either side bargained for. Two former Union soldiers testified that after Shiloh, they had given Newby's body a battlefield burial. On the other hand, several other veterans swore that Newby was Andersonville's "Crazy Jack." Other witnesses stated that when Newby was roaming through Tennessee, he was often mistaken for Daniel Benton. On one occasion, he was even arrested as Benton and taken to the prison from which Rickety Dan had escaped. Newby--or whoever he was--remained in custody until 1889. He told the court that after his release, he made his way to a poorhouse in Mount Vernon, Illinois. He made the acquaintance of William Newby's brother, who immediately recognized the amnesiac as his long-lost sibling. Talking to the brother about their shared past helped William to regain old memories of his true identity.

In the end, thirty witnesses claimed that the defendant was Daniel Benton. However, one hundred and forty people swore that he was William Newby. In addition, doctors testified that the man on trial had never had rickets. Unfortunately for "Newby," this seemingly compelling evidence in his favor failed to impress the jury. After deliberating for only 20 minutes, they ruled that this American Tichborne was "Daniel Benton," and found him guilty of attempting to defraud the government. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

"St. Louis Post-Dispatch," July 23, 1893 via Newspapers.com


Virtually everyone agreed that this was a highly unsatisfactory resolution to the riddle. As the "Otago Daily Times" sighed, "There is a strong possibility that he is Daniel Benton; there is a possibility equally as strong that he is William Newby."

The claimant made an unsuccessful request for a new trial. After he served his sentence, Newby/Benton returned to his vagrant ways, a man without either a home or an official identity. He died in Alabama in 1905, and was buried in the local potter's field.

Modern researchers generally believe that the claimant was indeed William Newby, the victim of a blatant miscarriage of justice. Illinois historian Paul Stallings, who studied this strange case for many years, believes the government's pension board, reluctant to pay out such a huge sum of back pay and veterans' benefits, chose to deliberately railroad an innocent man by means of bribed witnesses, a biased judge, and a rigged jury.

Was Stallings correct? Unfortunately, there is no way we will ever know for sure.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Weekend Link Dump




This week's Link Dump is sponsored by this friend of Marie Prevost.

If you're familiar with the Nick Lowe song, you'll know why the sight of Marie with a household pet makes me a little uneasy.









Who the hell were the skeletons of Grape Island?

Why the hell does the Devil play the fiddle?

Watch out for those Dublin donkeys!

Watch out for those ghost cats!

A brief history of England's witchcraft laws.

A brief history of Ireland's witchcraft laws.

A brief history of posthumous executions.

An influential early 20th century magician.

An appropriately Kafkaesque legal trial.

A Leonardo da Vinci painting sold for $450 million last year.  Well, maybe it was a Leonardo painting.

Could be somethin', will probably end up being nothin': France is reopening the MH370 investigation.

Well, this is creepy.

Some children of famous explorers.

New details about Rasputin's murder.

"Jaws" and an unsolved murder.

Early 20th century cat aristocrats.

A case of murder by medicine.

Have eye problems?  Just consult your cat's tail!

Swan folklore.

The execution of a German witch.

The execution of Purry Moll.

Being murdered is bad enough.  When the Devil is the culprit, you really know you're in for it.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris: do not leap over broomsticks.  Milk churns are to be avoided, as well.

The Super-Silky Sargasso Sea.

The last of the WAMPAS Baby Stars.

Fights and slander at the theater, 1924.

The destruction of the "Empire Windrush."

How Eliza Lewis came back from the dead.

The Croglin Grange vampire: fact or fiction?

Some mysterious ancient artifacts.

A famed "bearded lady."

A very smelly haunting.

A gruesome Pennsylvania mystery.

The librarian detectives.

A mysterious 19th century time capsule.

A dog is arrested for theft.

A curious "near-death experience."

A house owned by Napoleon.

A mystery surrounding a stolen painting.

And, finally, on a somewhat different note:

"Baltimore Sun," September 26, 1925, via Newspapers.com

A while ago I shared the above article on Twitter. I could scarcely believe such a gang really existed, but sure enough they did, and they were just as colorful--and menacing--as this news item suggested.

One thing led to another--as they so often do online--and I wound up receiving an advance copy (to be specific, a complimentary copy--full disclosure, and all that) of an upcoming novel based on the "Forty Elephants."

Anna Freeman's "Five Days of Fog" is set during London's "Great Smog" of 1952. It centers around a teenager named Florrie Palmer, who is a member of a fearsome gang of female criminals dubbed "The Cutters." Florrie faces a dilemma: part of her wishes to leave the gang and "go straight," but on the other hand, London's underworld is the only life she knows, and the Cutters are the closest thing to family she has.  After all, the leader of the gang is her mother.

In short, Florrie fears she's too good to be bad, but too bad to be good.  What's a girl to do?

"Five Days of Fog" is a grim, but ultimately hopeful novel. It's quite well-written, and presents an entirely believable look at the seedy milieu of post-war Britain. I found the story both realistic and immensely entertaining. If you have any interest in the darker side of 1950s London, this novel is highly recommended. Besides, it's hard to resist any book that features the tagline, "My mum always said, a fistful of rings is as good as a knuckleduster."


Well, that's all for this week.  See you all on Monday, when we'll look at a case of disputed identity.  In the meantime, here's another of the songs of summer.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Newspaper Clipping(s) of the Day

Many people go through a lifetime without ever getting their names in the newspapers. Others, in one way or another, provide unceasing copy for journalists.

And then there is Charles Albin of Eastport, Long Island. Some are born Newspaper Clipping of the Day great, some achieve such greatness, and others, like Charles, have greatness thrust upon them. Truly, here was a man who personified the Strange Company Lifestyle.

The first mention I've found of Mr. Albin in the public prints appears in the "Brooklyn Eagle," August 10, 1897:
Speonk, L.I., August 10--When Charles and Henry Tuttle. residents of this village, were returning home in their sail boat from the beach Sunday night they found four young men clinging to the bottom of a capsized boat. They were Collins Jayne, William Jenkins, Jesse and Charles Albin, all of Eastport, and had been caught in a squall and upset out in the middle of the bay. All of the party were drawn into Tuttle's boat in an exhausted condition and brought to shore, where they soon recovered.

You would think that would be enough excitement for one month, but our hero was just getting warmed up. From the August 22 "Eagle":
Eastport, L.I., August 21--While attempting to ride his wheel along a narrow rail projecting out over the Great South Bay, near this place, yesterday, Charles Albin, a young man of this village, fell into the water, his wheel falling upon him. In the attempt to keep his wheel above water he was caught in the frame, from which position he found it impossible to get free. Realizing his danger of drowning, he shouted lustily for help. His cries attracted the notice of some fishermen down by the shore, who immediately ran to his rescue and drew him, his wheel still fastened to his limbs, out of the water.

Bicycles and Albin were obviously magic together. Here is an item from the "Eagle" just three days later.
Eastport, L.I., August 25--A serious bicycle accident occurred here last night by which William Jenkins and Charles Albin, two young men residing in this village, sustained serious injuries. They were returning home on a tandem and were pedaling at a high rate of speed when they collided with a wheelman whom, owing to the late moment at which discovered, and the narrowness of the path, it was impossible to avoid a collision, which resulted. The riders of the tandem were thrown violently to the ground stunned. The bicycle rider was also hurt but succeeded in riding away and concealing his identity. The tandem was so badly wrecked that after Albin and Jenkins were sufficiently recovered from the shock of the accident to allow them to rise, they were obliged to return home on foot.

After this incident, Albin managed to avoid any recorded exploits for a while. Perhaps he was lying low, burning incense and sending up prayers to the gods to remove the curse that had descended upon the good name of Albin. If so, he was sadly disappointed. The "Eagle," July 9, 1898:
Eastport, L.I.. July 9--A horse belonging to Wiggins' livery stable at Center Moriches while being driven by Charles Albin opposite the station here yesterday, became frightened at a passing train and ran away. Albin made a frantic effort to restrain the animal which, however, proved fruitless. The horse broke through a barbed wire fence at the side of the road before it was finally under control. Albin escaped serious injury.

But wait! I have saved the best of Mr. Albin's adventures for last! He has my undying gratitude for inadvertently providing one of my favorite vintage headlines ever:

"Boston Globe,"  Apr 10, 1898


Long Island's crop of spring stories is making its appearance. These alluring tales come with the early flowers and are as full of local color as a whitewashed fence. East Moriches starts the ball rolling with a wild animal story. (N.B. The adjective "wild" in the preceding sentence qualifies animal and not story.)

A muskrat is the hero of it, and Charles Albin the party of the second part. Mr. Albin. whose age, color, and previous condition are not stated, was riding a bicycle between East Moriches and Eastport on Friday evening, when he observed a beast of unknown species loping toward him. Unfortunately the dimensions of the animal are omitted from the reports sent out.

As it drew nearer Mr. Albin recognized it as a muskrat, and, knowing the cruel and ferocious nature of these formidable beasts, put on an extra burst of speed. In vain! The muskrat leaped upon him, bore him to the ground, and. endeavored to chew him to rags.

The unfortunate wheelman fought hard for his life, but was handicapped by the antics of his agile opponent, which darted beneath the fallen bicycle every time he kicked at it. Finally, when his clothes bad been torn to shreds and there were deep wounds on his arms and body, Mr. Albin succeeded in landing a pedal uppercut which lifted the bloodthirsty rodent over an adjoining fence into the dark realm of death. When the wounded bicyclist returned to East Moriches be looked just like a person who had coasted down a long hill with abandon, only to be received in the arms of a barbed wire fence. Had it not been for the story of the adventure with the muskrat many would have believed that this was what had happened.

His wounds were dressed and he trundled his wheel to a repair shop, the muskrat having punctured his tire and bitten three spokes in two. This year these water rodents are said to be unusually plentiful along the Long Island streams, and Long Island story tellers are afraid to go out at night without guns for fear of being attacked by them.

Even after the Great Muskrat Horror, Fate was not through yet with Charles Albin.  The "New York Tribune," December 28, 1904:
Eastport, Long Island, Dec. 27--To the interference of a heavy canvas hunting coat which he wore, Charles Albin probably owes his escape from death while hunting ducks over decoys on the river here yesterday. Another sportsman, mistaking the decoys for wild ducks, discharged his gun among them, the whole charge striking Albin, who was concealed in the grass on the opposite side, in the breast. At first Albin feared he was seriously injured, but on removing his coat it was discovered that the charge had scarcely penetrated the resisting canvas.

There is no other way to put it: the entire animal kingdom was out to get this guy. He inspired another classic headline in the "Brooklyn Eagle," February 15, 1908:



East Moriches, L.I., February 15--Charles Albin of the Moriches Life Saving Station, was attacked by a big bird while on patrol in the fog and mist of the early week, and quite severely bitten and bruised on the legs.

Albin succeeded in killing the bird, which proved to be a loon or Great Northern Diver. He says the night was very dark, and as he was walking above hlghwater mark he heard a peculiar noise nearer the edge of the water, and thinking it might be a man washed ashore, started to investigate.

He was grabbed by the bird's bill and thumped by its wings before he had time to see what manner of creature had attacked him. He had no walking stick and could only defend himself by kicking in tho dark, but won the fight and carried his assailant, dead, to the station.

One of the patrolmen is an amateur taxidermist, and the bird is now set up and on exhibition at the station.

Incidentally, I trust you are all appreciating the irony of Albin working as a rescuer.

After bicycle wrecks, near-drownings, runaway horses, muskrat attacks, killer loons, and being mistaken for wild game, I had assumed this walking hoodoo came to a premature and gruesome end, but by God, the man was even tougher than our old friend Michael Malloy.  Albin died peacefully in 1931, at the respectable age of 69.

I hope you are resting in peace, Mr. Albin. God knows, you earned it.

[Note: All stories via Newspapers.com]

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Baker: Baked?

With some disappearances, it is a complete mystery whether it is a case of foul play, suicide, or a simple desire to start a new life. With others, you can make a fairly educated guess what happened, but lacking a body, it is impossible to have any definitive resolution. This week, we will be looking at a notorious example of the latter, centering around a baker who rejoiced in the impressive name of Urban Napoleon Stanger.

Stanger was born in Germany circa 1843. Some time around 1870, he and his wife Elizabeth emigrated to London, where he started a bakery in the East End. Stanger was frugal, hard-working, and a dab hand with the breads and pies, to boot, so his little business was an almost instant success. The stolid, mild-mannered baker may not have been the most interesting of men, but he was a prosperous and worthy citizen.

Elizabeth Stanger was another matter. Mrs. Stanger was a flashy, indolent sort who spent money as assiduously as her husband earned it. She was also a quarrelsome, demanding woman who henpecked her meek spouse unmercifully--particularly when, as so often happened, she had had a bit too much to drink. She was even known to attack her husband with his own loaves of bread. The Stangers may not have been the ideal couple, but for some years they were a quite ordinary one.

This changed when Franz Felix Stumm entered the picture. He too was a native German who had opened his own bakery. However, his business was not nearly as successful, and he was deeply in debt. Fortunately for him, Stanger was willing to offer a helping hand to his fellow countryman, and often hired Stumm to work around his bakery. Although Stumm was married, he and Elizabeth Stanger also became friends--according to scandalized neighborhood gossip, very, very good friends indeed. Urban, preoccupied as always with business affairs, was either unaware of or indifferent to the rumors involving his wife and his chum. Even more curiously, Mrs. Stumm also seemed perfectly content with the relationship.

On the night of November 12, 1881, Stanger went out to the pub with Stumm and another of his employees, Christian Zentler. All seemed in the best of spirits. Shortly before midnight, Stanger said an amicable good-night to his friends and entered his home.

When Zentler arrived at the bakery the next morning, he was met with a surprise. Instead of being greeted as usual by his boss, he found a "little put out" Mrs. Stanger. She ordered Zentler to immediately go fetch Franz Stumm. Mr. Stanger had suddenly taken it into his head to return to Germany, she explained, and he wanted Stumm to manage the bakery in his absence.

It was soon clear that Stumm was taking Mr. Stanger's place in more ways than one. Within a few days, he completely abandoned his own home in favor of Stanger's. His creditors were paid off with checks purportedly signed by the absent Urban. Franz and Elizabeth were often seen parading through the streets arm-in-arm. Then Stumm painted out Mr. Stanger's name from the front of the bakery and substituted his own. When asked about Mr. Stanger's whereabouts, the pair blandly stated that he "was in hiding somewhere."

The neighbors began saying some very unpleasant things about Franz and Elizabeth.



In April 1882, one of Mr. Stanger's executors, John Geisal, offered a £50 reward for any information regarding the missing baker. He also applied for warrants against Stumm and Mrs. Stanger on the charge of forging checks and conspiring to defraud Urban's executors. Geisal obviously shared the universal suspicions about Mr. Stanger's mysterious "trip to Germany."

Stumm was the first of the accused to stand trial. He was sullen and uncooperative throughout the proceedings. He continued to maintain that Stanger had gone abroad to escape creditors, blithely ignoring the fact that the missing man had left plenty of money in the bank.



Mrs. Stanger, in her role as chief witness, did a bang-up job of blackening the name of her absent husband. Like Stumm, she painted Urban as a hopeless spendthrift who only managed to keep in business thanks to loans from his dear friend, Franz Stumm. She also insisted that her husband had abandoned her. She stated that they had quarreled over his money-wasting ways, which ended with Stanger declaring, "I have often told you I would leave you, and now I will go." She burst into tears and went upstairs to bed. And that, she said defiantly, was the last she ever saw of Urban. Unfortunately, until someone found Mr. Stanger--alive or dead--her story could not be proved or disproved.

As for those fraudulent checks, she stated that she, not the defendant, had signed them. She was accustomed to signing documents for her husband, so she had thought there was no harm in it. She admitted having also forged letters that her husband had purportedly sent from Germany. She only did that, she claimed, to stave off his creditors.

After a three-day trial, the jury had little trouble convicting Stumm. When Stumm heard the verdict, he erupted into a fiery storm of abuse against everyone in the courtroom. He was innocent, he shouted. His lawyers had completely bungled his case. There was, he snarled, "no justice in vile England for a foreigner."

Judge Hawkins--who was known by the charming nickname of "'Anging 'Awkins"--responded to this tantrum by fixing a cold eye on the prisoner and slapping him with the maximum sentence: ten years hard labor.

"Thank you," Stumm sneered. "I am very much obliged to you." He wanted to speak more, but warders quickly hauled him out of the courtroom. He was still muttering vile imprecations all the way back to his cell. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Stanger was also convicted of forgery. She was given a year in prison. It was universally felt that justice had been very incompletely done.

Unsurprisingly, Stumm was such a violent and troublesome prisoner he forfeited any hope of parole, and served his entire sentence. When he was freed, Stumm was reunited with his wife and his lady friend (the two women had been rooming together since Mrs. Stanger's release from prison.) This sinister menage a trois returned to Germany, and disappeared from the pages of history.

So that was that. No trace of Urban Napoleon Stanger was ever found, or even any clue indicating what became of him. Crime historians are generally of the opinion that the baker was done away with--and, as you can imagine, they are not very coy about hinting who was responsible--but if such was the case, the question of what happened to his body will never be answered.

His neighbors, however, had few doubts about what became of Stanger's remains. They noted the fact that his bakery had a nice, large oven--so handy for various purposes--and they came to distressing conclusions about where the poor man wound up.

Suffice it to say that it was a long time before East Enders felt completely at ease about eating a meat pie.

[Note: Sherlock Holmes scholar Michael Harrison believed that the Stanger mystery was the inspiration for "A Study in Scarlet."]

Friday, August 3, 2018

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is proud to be sponsored by Harry Pointer's Brighton Cats!







What the hell happened to Charlotte Corday's head?

How the hell was the Coral Castle built?

That classic true-crime question: Who the hell murdered Julia Wallace?

That classic Fortean question:  What the hell is the Bermuda Triangle?

Watch out for those Morris-dancing fairies!

Thomas Jefferson and the shapeshifting UFO.

The link between James Cook and Adam Smith.

The Domino's Pizza delivery boys of early 20th century Japan.

Oscar Wilde's American book tour.

One of my favorite topics: shenanigans involving wills.

Purple started off as royal, and extremely disgusting.

Da Vinci's to-do list.  It's a bit more ambitious than mine, which generally consists of, "1. Drink coffee. 2. Feed cats. 3. Post stupid crap on Twitter. 4. Write blog posts about talking cats. 4. Gin!"

The Grand Jubilee of 1814.

An archaeological discovery relating to Europe's "lost people."

A side note: let us ponder the symbolism of being married among the ruins of the Titanic.

The haunted house in the Black Forest.

Honoring the first Space Cat.

This little essay struck a chord with me.  I'm generally a complete lazy slob where housekeeping is concerned, but I'm a fanatic about making beds.  I can't stand the idea of lounging around in nightclothes, either.  The rest of my house may look like a train wreck, but by god, the minute I get up in the morning, I'm completely dressed and my bed is tidy.  So I have that much of civilization going for me.

Care to hear an Aztec Death Whistle?  Yes, of course you do.

I'm sure you're eager to talk stomach snails, as well.

It seems that the Great Pyramid focuses electromagnetic energy.

The man behind Fultonhistory.com, one of the best free online newspaper archives.

Some of the earliest photos of London.

Poisoned beer leads to one angry ghost.

A 19th century case of manslaughter.

Shorter version: Sedona is a very weird place.

The Battle of the Crater.

In which Davy Crockett meets Bigfoot.

A famed drummer boy.

The importance of the Hoover Dam.

Amelia Earhart may have sent distress calls.

New York's "spite triangle."

This week in Russian Weird: they had day turning into night.

Committing a crime of passion, and getting away with it.

England's first execution for witchcraft.

When corpses solved their own murders.

Child-stealing in the Regency era.

Anyone care to loan me $150 K so I can buy a haunted island?

Thomas Morris, go-to guy for stories about men sticking the damnedest things where the sun don't shine.

Bellevue's Great Cat Hunt.  (Sadly, it did not end well for the cats.)

And there you have it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a baker's suspicious disappearance.  In the meantime, here's the Waverly Consort.




Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com


This Fortean mystery comes from the "Great Falls Tribune," August 4, 1957:
Tulsa, Okla--Mr. and Mrs. C. V. Wilkinson and their 12-year-old daughter packed their belongings and moved out of the house they claim is "haunted" by an electrical phenomenon.

"I'm about to crack up," Mrs. Wilkinson said. "I wish someone would come forward and tell us what's causing all this."

The family thought their troubles had ended after Wilkinson, an oil company employee, dug up water pipes around the house and removed a new metal fence he believed responsible for creating a magnetic field.

The family slept in their car after tables and chairs went on a weird "dance" and overturned. They are puzzled as to what's causing electrical plugs to blow up without being connected, a sweeper to go on an aimless course through the house, and various household articles to start hopping around.

The "mystery" has damaged their $1,300 electrical organ, caused the refrigerator motor to blow out twice and knocked the clock from its shelf six times.

Wilkinson said be had lived on the property for 23 years without prior incident, until this month. "We don't know if the thing is a magnetic field, uranium, an old gas pocket under the ground, or what," said Wilkinson, "but it has us completely unnerved and so upset we can't live a normal life here. We're moving."
An August 4 article in the "Springfield Daily Leader" added a particularly creepy detail:  One night, the Wilkinson daughter came into her mother's room complaining that the sweeper was "crawling over her stomach."  When Mrs. Wilkinson went into the girl's bedroom, she saw that the sweeper's extension cord had been wrapped around the bed several times, and the vacuum itself was sitting on the bed, apparently waiting for someone to tuck it in for the night.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any more about the Wilkinsons, so I'm unable to say if the "electrical phenomenon" was ever explained.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Adventures of "Indian Peter"



Edinburgh, Scotland is a city with a long history of colorful characters. Among the most famous was Peter Williamson, better known to history as "Indian Peter." It is no small tribute to the man that being kidnapped by Indians was arguably the most normal thing about him.

Our main source of information about him comes from his autobiography, which was first published in 1758. This "accurate and faithful Account of a Series of Misfortunes" was enormously successful, going through several editions, the last of which appeared in 1812.



Peter was born in 1730 near Aberdeen, "if not of rich, yet of reputable Parents." In January 1743, he was playing "near the Key" with some friends. Being of "a stout robust Constitution," he caught the eye of two press-gangers, who lured him aboard their ship. Before he knew what was happening, he was sailing for America, destined to be sold as an indentured servant.

Before the ship could reach its destination, it wrecked off Cape May. The crew and its human cargo were rescued by a passing vessel bound for Philadelphia, where the captain sold his "villainous Loading." Peter was bought by a fellow Scot named Hugh Wilson. Being a former indentured servant himself, Wilson treated his "property" with unusual decency. He provided Williamson with an education and when he died a few years later, he left the 17-year-old with a horse, a wardrobe, and £120.

Williamson did well in his new life. He married the daughter of a prosperous planter, and his new father-in-law gave him 200 acres to farm in Berks County. All was well until the night of October 2, 1754. Peter was alone in his house when it was attacked by local Indians. They plundered the farm, set it on fire, and carried Williamson back to their village. One night, he managed to make his escape. Although his captors gave chase ("The bellowing of Lyons, the Shrieks of Hyenas, or the roaring of Tygers, would have been Music to my Ears in Comparison to the Sounds that then saluted them") he managed, after many misadventures, to return safely to his father-in-law's farm on January 4, 1755. Sadly, he was greeted by news of the recent death of his wife, which "greatly lessen'd the Joy and Rapture he otherwise felt at his Deliverance."

Feeling the need to get a bit of his own back against his tormentors, Peter enlisted in a regiment assembled to fight against the French and their allies, the local Indian tribes. In 1756, he was among the men taken prisoner at the siege of Oswego. He and his fellow soldiers were sent to England in a prisoner-of-war swap. Peter had been too badly wounded during the siege to be considered of any further use as a soldier, so the English discharged him with nothing to show for his army service but "the sum of Six Shillings paid."

Williamson attempted to go back to his hometown of Aberdeen, but could only make it as far as York. In that city, certain gentlemen took enough interest in him and his troubles to arrange to have his sole remaining possession--a manuscript detailing his adventures--printed. The pamphlet earned him enough money to continue his journey to his old home, which he finally reached in June 1758.

He did not exactly receive a hero's welcome. His memoirs had caused offense among certain of his former townspeople. No sooner had he arrived in Aberdeen that he was hauled before the town officers, charged with "publishing and dispersing this scurrilous and infamous libel, reflecting greatly upon the characters and reputations of the merchants in Aberdeen and on the town in general, without any ground or reason." He was found guilty, with the result that all available copies of his book were burnt in the town square by the public hangman. Williamson himself was ordered to make written apology for his offensive tome, fined ten shillings sterling, and banished from the city.

Peter was not the man to take such treatment quietly. He marched off to Edinburgh, where "A Gentleman versant in the Law" helped him to file a lawsuit against the Aberdeen magistrates. In their defense, the magistrates said that when Williamson arrived in Aberdeen, he appeared to be merely "an idle stroller," who sought to "draw money from the credulous vulgar" with an obviously fictitious pamphlet. Williamson countered this charge of dishonesty by producing numerous witnesses attesting to all the details of his early kidnapping. The root of the trouble was that the magistrates and town officers of Aberdeen had for many years been actively complicit in this human trafficking, and they resented Williamson's publicizing of that fact. It emerged during the trial that between the years of 1740-46, some six hundred boys and young men had been kidnapped to be indentured servants in the colonies--some of them sold by their own relatives.

After nearly two years of legal wrangling, the Court of Sessions ruled in Peter's favor, ordering the defendants to pay one hundred pounds sterling, plus costs. "It is the peculiar happiness of this land of liberty," Peter gloated afterward, "to be blessed with a Supreme Court wherein justice is dispensed with an equal hand to the poor and rich." (A quaint literary footnote: Sir Walter Scott's father was part of the legal team assisting the defendants.)

Williamson followed up his legal triumph with an action of damages against the particular bailies he believed were responsible for his kidnapping. The judge who was to arbitrate the matter was notoriously fond of drink, which led to both parties in the suit taking turns carrying off this estimable justice for rounds at the local pubs. Unfortunately, both sides carried their attempts at bribery a bit too far. After several days of the defendants and the plaintiff plying him with wine, punch, claret, rum, and other potent spirits, the judge, "very merry and jocose," took to his bed, and never got up again.

The suit was transferred to the Court of Session, where in December 1768, Williamson was awarded £200 damages, plus one hundred guineas costs.

Having finally won some measure of justice for his early trials, Williamson capitalized on his experiences by taking to the lecture circuit. "For several years," records one of his early biographers, "he used to exhibit himself in the dress of an American Indian, performing the war-whoop, etc., and by this, I believe, he obtained a very good livelihood." He appeared as far afield as London.

Williamson invested his new-found gains by turning vintner, opening a successful tavern near the courthouses, which became commonly known as "Indian Peter's coffee-room." His establishment was immortalized by poet Robert Fergusson with these lines:

"This vacance [vacation] is a heavy doom
  On Indian Peter's coffee-room
For a' his china pigs are toom [bottles are empty]
  Nor do we see
In wine the soukar biskets soom [sugar biscuits swim]
  As light's a flee."

I guess you had to have been there.

Williamson continued his career as an author, publishing an expanded version of his memoirs, along with political tracts and details of a device he had invented for reaping corn.

In 1769, his literary endeavors caused him to take the natural next step of becoming a printer. When announcing his new venture, he commented dryly on his qualifications for the job: "I was born in Aberdeenshire, where it is thought a crime to be honest; and I think such precepts the best lesson a Printer can get." In 1773, he had the proud achievement of publishing the first directory of Edinburgh.

He became so successful as a printer that he abandoned tavern-keeping altogether to devote himself to the congenial world of literature. In 1776, he set up Edinburgh's first penny-post system, which he managed until 1793, when it was taken over by the Government. It was the first continuous postal service in all of Britain.

Alas, Williamson's personal affairs were not as happy and prosperous as his professional endeavors. In 1770, he married a mantua-maker named Jean Wilson. The pair had nine children, of whom four lived to adulthood. For sixteen years, all apparently went well. However, then Mrs. Williamson seems to have gone through what we today would call a "mid-life crisis." As the subsequent divorce suit tells us, "the said Jean Wilson, casting off all fear of God and forgetting her conjugal vows and engagements, has for these several years bygone followed a tract of keeping fellowship, company, and society with godless, lewd, and abandoned men, known not to be the pursuer, one of more; treating, entertaining, and conversing with them privately...and other ways unseemly." Worse still, "the said Jean Wilson has been in the practice of frequenting different houses of bad fame both in this city and neighbourhood, where she used to meet with lewd and wicked men...in which houses she has often got herself intoxicated with liquor."

In short, Jean was having herself far too much fun.

Her husband--never averse to turning personal woes into profitable copy--edited, printed, and published a report on their divorce. To his wife's charge that he himself was not averse "to tippling and intoxication with mean and low people," he merely wrote haughtily that "These are reflections which in prudence she ought not to have made." He complained that when he insisted on a separation, his wife stripped their house of everything not nailed down, and removed herself and their children to her father's house. This despoliation forced Williamson to "leave his house, which he had possessed for thirty-three years with honour and credit, and betake himself to strange lodgings." Not content with robbing him blind, he asserted that his estranged wife and father-in-law spread slanderous reports about him and set up a rival penny-post office.

The divorce suit was heard in December 1788. Although Mrs. Williamson asserted that she had never been involved in anything other than innocent dress-making, her husband produced a plethora of witness testifying that her mantua-making shop was little more than a cover for her older, far less respectable, real profession. Tellingly, the defendant produced no witnesses in her behalf.

Peter's luck in courts of law continued to hold. His divorce was granted, along with custody of his children. Thereafter, his life was uncharacteristically quiet until his death in January 1799. His obituary described him as "well known for his various adventures." It has been theorized that he has gained a more lasting fame as the model for David Balfour in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped."

Friday, July 27, 2018

Weekend Link Dump



Note: this week's Link Dump has been compiled by one of Strange Company's crack team of assistant bloggers.

(via Providence Public Library)





This week's edition of, "What the hell is the Shroud of Turin?"

This week's edition of "What the hell was the Tunguska Event?"

My favorite historical rabbit hole:  What the hell happened to the sons of Edward IV?  (Incidentally, if you're at all interested in the topic, read Lewis' "The Survival of the Princes in the Tower."  It's terrific; one of the best books I've read on the mystery.)

The Duchesses of Devonshire did a lot to enliven the 18th century.

Beowulf and the Great Flame Dragon.

"Undine," you tell me.  "You know what this stupid blog of yours badly needs?  More icky cockroach stories."  Consider it done.

As I have repeatedly said, we don't know jack about our history.

A soldier's wife reports on the Crimean War.

There might be a lake on Mars.

Let's talk bodies in the cellar.

A lavish 14th century wedding.

Why you wouldn't want to be related to anyone who got on the bad side of a Chinese Emperor.

Why sailors in the British Royal Navy used to set rum on fire.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris: men, this is what not to do with a locket.

This week in Russian Weird: in complete disregard for every horror movie that's ever been made, they're reviving 42,000 year old worms.

Was King James I murdered?

Trade cards of 18th century businesswomen.

The Robin Hood of El Dorado.

The mystery of a Jamestown skeleton.

Viking skeletons in Italy.

The enigmatic George Nyleve.

Ancient texts and nuclear war.

Some myths about James Cook.

The only three humans to die in space.

A hanging in West Virginia.

The mystery of the La Salle Street murders.

Kittens, you magnificent bastards:



The "Shark Arm" murder.

The first morphine murder.

A selection of Victorian humor.  Includes, of course, cholera jokes!

Cries of London, 1803.

It seems that being shot in the head at point-blank range does wonders for the digestion.

"You don't want the skeleton juice to go to waste!"

I've noticed that archaeologists spend a lot of time discussing ancient toilets.

The bishop who was also a pirate and general scourge.

Jupiter's beautiful cloud formations.

The disappearance of the Salomon family.

Mourning tat.

Yes, this was a bad neighbor, but at least he didn't practice the trumpet like one of mine does.

And that's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at the remarkable life of an "Indian" Scotsman.  In the meantime, let's dance!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com


On March 2, 1931, the (Bridgewater, New Jersey) "Courier-News" reported on an elderly woman's disappearance:
Bernardsville--Searching parties went over fields and woods on several local and nearby roads over the week-end, seeking Mrs. Anna Christopher, 80, who has been missing from the Order of the Eastern Star Home in the Mountain Colony since an early hour Thursday morning, but no trace of the woman was found.

Several Boy Scouts, under the leadership of the Rev. Vincent C. Bonnlander and Orrin E. Runyon, together with Police Captain Cavanaugh, were in charge of the search Saturday.

Yesterday, State Troopers Wallace and Carmody of the Morristown Barracks, with Captain Cavanaugh, Police Commissioner Joseph Dobbs and Fire Commissioner Edward S. Spinning, and 10 members of Congdon Lodge, F. and A. M., did the searching work, but without success.

Mrs. Christopher had expressed fears of "being killed" and had done considerable worrying about insurance papers supposed to be kept in Hoboken. She had left the home Wednesday afternoon, but was subsequently found along a road leading from the home into Bernardsville.

Mrs. Christopher was for some time a guest in the Isabella Home in New York up until about six months ago, having left that institution upon several occasions. She was sent to the nearby O.E.S. Home by Loyal Chapter, 77, O.E.S., Hoboken, for a probationary period.

No trace of Mrs. Christopher was found. Many years went by, and then...

"Courier News," March 6, 1947, via Newspapers.com


A mystery of 16 years was apparently solved yesterday with the identification of the body of Mrs. Anna Christopher, missing inmate of the Order of Eastern Star home for the aged, which was found in a closed space over a dormer window in the organization's former quarters in Mt. Airy Rd.

Workmen tearing away the ceiling of a second floor bedroom for the present owners, Dr. and Mrs. John Currence, observed a scrap of rag wafted down from between the laths. Probing further they made the gruesome discovery, finding the fragments of bones, clothing and other articles lying in a small space between two rafters over since 1931.

Police and Somerset County officials who were summoned, succeeded in establishing identification through a $3 check, a wedding ring and Mrs. Christopher's false teeth. Mrs. Christopher, who was believed to have come originally from Hoboken, entered the home for a three-months probationary period, after having been in similar Eastern Star institutions in New York. She was 78 years old at that time.

On Feb. 27, 1931, she was reported missing from the Bernardsville home, and a widespread search throughout the area ensued. Police, Boy Scouts and volunteers organized parties and combed the fields, woods and roads. Anxiety was heightened by Mrs. Christopher's frequently expressed fear of "being killed," and she had also openly worried over insurance papers she was supposed to have in Hoboken.

Considerable conjecture was expressed as to how the woman entered the cramped space, and why the entrance she had apparently used was later sealed. One theory was voiced that Mrs. Christopher had found the opening which workmen had temporarily left, and after she had crept inside, her means of escape was cut off.

There appeared to be some possibility that on entering the small area she had suddenly taken a drop of about two and a half feet to a second floor sub-ceiling, which knocked her unconscious, and prevented her leaving before her route was sealed off.

The case is under investigation by Prosecutor T. Girard Wharton and his assistants, with the skeleton--all that remained--in the possession of Dr. Edgar T. Flint of Raritan, county physician, for examination and reconstruction. Prosecutor Wharton said last night no evidence of foul play has been unearthed.

Information as to the woman and the circumstances of her disappearance are being sought through old records of the Order of the Eastern Star. The house stands in Nichols Rd. about three miles from the center of Bernardsville. It was given up by the Order of the Eastern Star in 1940 and recently was purchased by Dr. Currence. Considerable remodeling is being done by V. G. Hughes, contractor. Working on the ceiling when the discovery was made were Jack Ike of Gladstone. John Zovodny or Bernardsville, Henry Skinner of Bernardsville and Harry Sutton of Fairmount. They reported their discovery to Police Chief Clarence Pope of Bernardsville and the prosecutor's office was notified.

Detective Joseph Navatto and Assistant Prosecutor Leon Gerofsky reporting to Prosecutor Wharton on the finding of the remains, said that in the entry way to a bathroom on the second floor are two side panels about three feet high and 14 inches wide leading into attic spaces under a sloping roof. There is some flooring and then only 3 x 10 rafters. At the far end is an opening nine inches wide and three feet high, which runs along for a distance of six feet into a space over the dormer window. In this space there is no flooring, only rafters.

In this space, the remains were found--just the bones, some of which were broken away, and pieces of clothing. To the left lay a small purse and near it a wedding ring, inscribed "A. P. to L. P. May 21, 1887," which apparently had fallen from the woman's finger. In the small purse were three one-dollar bills of the small size and a check for $3, dated Feb. 13, 1931, payable to Mrs. Anna Christopher at the Hoboken Trust Company and signed "Loyal Chapter, 77, Order of the Eastern Star, Edwin G. Irwin, treasurer."

Prosecutor Wharton said that Loyal chapter made a report to the state convention of the Order of the Eastern Star in September, 1931, that the woman had been reported missing, which sets the date of her disappearance between February and September in that year. Dr. Flint has reported to the prosecutor that the bones are those of a small woman, also indicated that she passed into the space over the dormer window through passage only nine inches wide, the only means of ingress. Prosecutor Wharton said the woman was more than 70 years old at the time of her disappearance.
I couldn't find any later information about the mystery, which leads me to assume authorities concluded the poor woman was the victim of a tragic accident. Reading between the lines, it seems quite possible that Mrs. Christopher suffered from dementia, which might have led her to do something as inexplicable as crawling into the tiny space where her remains were found.

Still, I would like to know if Anna's fears of "being killed" were merely an pitiful delusion, or a clue to something more sinister.

[Cf. The disappearance of Carrie Selvage.]

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Tale of Two Murders

Herbert Bennett



In 1897, Herbert John Bennett, a poor but enterprising youth of seventeen, married his pregnant girlfriend, twenty-year-old Mary Jane Clarke. Not long after the wedding, the child which undoubtedly precipitated the wedding was stillborn, although they later had a daughter who survived.

The Bennetts, somewhat unusually for married couples of that era, went into business together. What made them even more uncommon was the nature of this business. To be blunt, Herbert and Mary Jane were grifters of a lowly, if energetic, variety. As Mrs. Bennett was a moderately talented musician, their favorite game involved violins. They would buy the cheapest variety of those instruments and sell them to the unwary for many times their value as "Excellent Strad models." They would also watch the want ads for people wishing to buy secondhand violins. Mary Jane would pick up a cheap violin and visit these people, posing as a young widow, or a clergyman's daughter, or something of that sort. She would explain plaintively that she was desperately in need of money, otherwise she wouldn't dream of selling this precious family heirloom, but...

Mary Jane Bennett


The young couple did so well from these swindles that Herbert was able to expand his larcenous horizons. He bought a small grocer's shop, which, just a week later, was mysteriously destroyed by fire. The insurance company obviously had its suspicions, because it refused to pay as much as the Bennetts were expecting. However, as Herbert had bought all his stock on credit, for which he never paid, the pair still made a tidy profit from the enterprise.

Immediately after collecting the insurance money, the Bennetts left their baby with relatives and traveled to Cape Town, South Africa under the names of "Mr. and Mrs. Hood." They stayed in South Africa only four days before returning to England. The purpose of this trip--surely a long one for such a brief visit--remains a mystery.

Back in London, the pair resumed their career of various petty con jobs, performed under different names. Their personal relationship, however, violently deteriorated. One landlady of theirs, a Mrs. Ellison, later described frequent bitter quarrels between the pair. During one fight, Mrs. Ellison heard Mary Jane warning her husband that if he was not careful, "I can get you fifteen years." Herbert responded with even more ominous words: "I wish you were dead. And if you are not careful you soon will be."

Before long, the Bennetts were living in separate residences, with Herbert taking up an uncharacteristically legitimate job with Woolwich Arsenal. In July 1900, Herbert met a parlormaid named Alice Meadows, and a romance sprang up between them. Miss Meadows had no idea her suitor was married--in fact, nothing he told her about himself was anything near the truth. She believed he had inherited some money from his late mother, which he supplemented with a perfectly honorable trade in used violins.

Alice Meadows


In August, Bennett and Alice took a holiday to Yarmouth. They traveled first-class, and engaged separate rooms at a fine hotel, the Crown and Anchor. The pair took several more brief trips around the country together. Later that month, Alice agreed to marry Herbert the following June. She, along with her family, did not see him as anything other than a kind, courteous, thoroughly decent young man who was always, she later insisted, a "perfect gentleman" to her.

Herbert Bennett was apparently genuinely in love with Alice Meadows, and had every intention of marrying her. This raises the obvious question: what did he intend to do about the current Mrs. Bennett?

On Saturday, September 15, Mary Jane left her lodgings, telling her landlady that "my old man" was taking her to Yorkshire. She took her little daughter with her. However, she traveled not to Yorkshire, but to Yarmouth. She found lodgings in the home of a Mrs. Rudrum. Mary Jane told her new landlady that she was a widow named "Mrs. Hood," and that she had been brought to Yarmouth by her brother-in-law. She went out nearly every evening, but where she went and what she did is unknown. On Thursday, September 20, Herbert told Alice that he had to travel to Gravesend to see his dying grandfather. Of course this story, like practically everything that ever came out of Bennett's mouth, was a lie. However, his exact movements are not definitely accounted for until the following Sunday.

On the evening of the 21st, "Mrs. Hood" stayed out later than usual. Mrs. Rudrum's daughter overheard her talking with a man, who said, "You understand, don't you? I am placed in an awkward position just now." This was followed by the sound of a kiss. Was Mary Jane's companion that night Herbert Bennett? Or some other man? No one knows.

When Mary Jane entered the house, Mrs. Rudrum gave her a letter that had come for her earlier. Accounts vary about what this letter said. Some say Mrs. Bennett told her landlady that it asked her to meet the sender at 9 p.m. the following evening. Other reports say that its contents remain a mystery. It is also unknown who sent it.

On Saturday, September 22, Mary Jane went out at around 6:30 p.m. She was wearing a long gold chain, along with other jewelry and a fine silver watch. She was also carrying a considerable amount of money in her purse. We know little of her movements until 10 p.m., when the owner of a Yarmouth pub saw her in the company of a man, whom he later identified as her estranged husband.

About an hour later, a man named Alfred Mason and his girlfriend, Blanche Smith, were sitting on a Yarmouth beach. Their tryst was interrupted by the arrival of another couple who settled near them. A few minutes later, they heard a woman moaning, "Mercy, mercy." About ten minutes later, Mason and Smith left, assuming the other couple was merely "skylarking." They saw the woman lying on her back. The man with her looked at them, but they were unable to see his face clearly.

It is a great pity the moonlight had not been stronger, because what Mason and Smith saw were a murderer and his victim. Early the next morning, a woman's body was found at that spot. She had been strangled with a bootlace tied in a distinctive knot. Her clothes were disarranged, but it was unclear if sexual assault had taken place. The woman was soon identified as the "Mrs. Hood" who had been lodging with Mrs. Rudrum. Among her belongings was a picture a beach photographer had recently taken of her and her baby, showing her long gold chain--a chain which was now missing. However, a search of her room found nothing to show who she really was, or where she came from. The coroner's jury could only rule that this unknown woman had been murdered by an equally mysterious man.

In the meantime, Herbert visited Alice Meadows on the afternoon of the 23rd. He later went to Mary Jane's lodgings in London, where he collected her belongings. He told a neighbor that his wife was in Yorkshire. He wrote to Mary Jane's landlord terminating her lease, explaining that she was going to America. He gave Alice Meadows jewelry and clothes which had belonged to Mary Jane, stating they had been given to him by a cousin who moved to South Africa. He got Alice to agree to move up their wedding date to December. Alice heard news of the shocking murder at Yarmouth, without giving it much thought. After all, tragic as the event was, it certainly was no concern of hers.

The true identity of the Yarmouth victim finally began to emerge on November 5th, when someone reported that Mary Jane Bennett was missing from her home. The laundry mark on some of "Mrs. Hood's" clothing was linked to her. From there, a Scotland Yard inspector sought out Mrs. Bennett's husband. He talked to a co-worker of Herbert's, who identified Mary Jane as the woman in the beach photo. This was enough to make the officer arrest Herbert for murder.

This arrest was a gamble, but it worked. When police searched Bennett's lodgings, they found their suspect had obligingly retained a wealth of evidence against himself. They found a woman's silver watch and gold chain, a receipt from the Crown and Anchor from when he had stayed there with Alice Meadows, a wig and false mustache, and a bundle of love letters from Alice. When Mrs. Rudrum was shown the watch and chain, she was certain they were identical to the ones worn by "Mrs. Hood." When Bennett was shown the chain, he paused, and then exclaimed that his wife had not worn that for over a year. He also claimed he had never been in Yarmouth in his entire life. (For such an experienced liar, he generally made a remarkably poor job of it.)

"Illustrated Police News," November 17, 1900


During Bennett's trial, the revelations of the sordid nature of his entire life, as well as his suspicious behavior after Mary Jane's death, was enough to convince most observers of his guilt. However, his lawyer, the legendary barrister Edward Marshall Hall, put up a surprisingly strong fight. In short, he managed to make a plausible case that all the prosecution witnesses were either half-witted or corrupt. He dealt with the gold chain found in Bennett's belongings by flatly stating that it was not the same one Mary Jane had worn in the beach photograph. Herbert's had a link chain, and Hall argued that Mary Jane's had been of a rope design. Witnesses for the defense and prosecution, unsurprisingly, gave differing opinions about what sort of chain Mrs. Bennett had worn, or what the type in the photograph may have been. Unfortunately, the photograph itself was not distinct enough for this crucial point to be definitively decided either way. He also introduced a surprise witness, a man who claimed to have talked to Bennett in a London pub on the night Mary Jane was murdered. Unfortunately for Bennett, this last-minute alibi witness was extremely unconvincing, and if he was telling the truth, it was, to say the least, highly curious that Bennett himself never mentioned him before. The prosecution produced other witnesses who claimed to have seen Bennett in Yarmouth on the night of his wife's death, and it is a fact that he was away from his London lodgings on the night of September 22nd.

Bennett himself did not take the stand. Hall later wrote that he had told his client, "If you will only go into the box and admit everything except the actual murder, I can get a verdict, but of course you must admit that when you saw the papers on the day after the murder you knew it was your wife, but that you were afraid to communicate for fear of losing Alice Meadows." Bennett replied, "I cannot say that, because I was not in Yarmouth on the 22nd, and I never knew that the murdered woman was my wife till I was arrested." Hall added, "I pointed out that this was hopeless, and he declined to give evidence at all." (Hall agreed that his client was "a worthless man," but "honestly and solemnly, I do not and cannot believe he murdered his wife.") Bennett's refusal to testify in his own behalf was seen as yet another damning, if indirect, piece of evidence against him.

The jury had little difficulty in finding this immensely unpopular defendant "Guilty." On March 21, 1901, Bennett was hanged, protesting his innocence of murder to the end. His orphaned daughter Ruby was taken in by her paternal grandfather.

Ruby Bennett


At the time, few people believed Bennett, and it does seem most likely that he did indeed kill his wife in a particularly stupid and bungling manner. However, in the years since his execution, some true crime writers have made earnest, if not entirely convincing, efforts to throw doubt upon Bennett's guilt. They point out that it was never proven that Herbert was the "brother-in-law" who had been with Mary Jane in Yarmouth, or that he was the man Mrs. Rudrum's daughter had heard her kissing. Could not this mystery man have been the real killer? Bennett may have wished to be rid of his wife, they argue, but would he have been likely to sexually assault her? Considering that he had recently made himself very well known at Yarmouth, and in the company of another woman to boot, would he really have been stupid enough to pick that town as the site for his wife's murder? Would he have been idiot enough to go to a pub with Mary Jane, in the presence of who knows how many witnesses, on the very night he planned to kill her?

The mystery novelist Julian Symons went so far as to present a possible alternative scenario for Mary Jane's murder. Symons hypothesized that Bennett brought his wife to Yarmouth with the intention of pulling one of their habitual swindles on some mark. He suggested that Mary Jane had spent the week making the acquaintance of this man, with the idea of luring him into some compromising position, after which Bennett would show up, play the outraged husband, and demand money from the victim. Instead, the man somehow caught on to the scheme, and in a fit of anger murdered Mary Jane. Bennett later came upon his wife's dead body on the beach, and decided the only way to save himself was to keep his mouth shut and deny everything.

Although one cannot prove that Symons' theory is wrong, it does smack rather too much of crime fiction than real life. However, there is one postscript to this case that does raise disturbing doubts about the Bennett murder. In July 1912, the body of a young woman named Dora Gray was found on a Yarmouth beach, very near the site where Mary Jane had died. She too had been strangled with a shoelace--a shoelace tied with the same unusual knot used in the previous killing. Also like Mary Jane Bennett, her clothing was disarranged without there being any definite sign of rape. Although some suspicion focused on a local man, no one was ever charged with Gray's murder.

Was this a "copycat" killing? A chilling coincidence? Or, perhaps, a sign that someone had gotten away with murder not once...but twice?