"...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

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

When we think of "fairy sightings," probably one of the last settings to come to mind is 1970s American suburbia. Nevertheless, we have this report from the (Rochester, New York) "Democrat and Chronicle," August 6, 1977:
Leprechauns? PURE TOMFOOLERY, RIGHT? Sure well, maybe.

On the afternoon of October 12, 1976, eight-year-old Tonnlie Barefoot was playing in a cornfield near his Dunn, North Carolina, home, when he spotted a curious little man "not much bigger than a Coke bottle." At least that's what the boy claims to have seen.

The creature, according to Tonnlie, wore black boots, blue trousers, a blue top made of "shiny stuff," a black "german-type hat" with a figure that looked like crossed rifles on it, and "the prettiest little white tie you ever saw." The little man, with mouth agape, reportedly shot a glance at the boy, then squealed like a mouse and ran off.

"Was it fast?" the boy was asked.

"Faster'n me," he replied.

In support of the boy's story, two sets of tiny tracks were found in the field. "The tracks were definitely those of little boots," local newspaper editor Fred Bost wrote in the Spring, 1977, issue of Pursuit. "Cleat marks were easily discernible.

"I failed to count the number in the first set, but there were 14 in the second set, which was clearer than the first. Individual prints were 2 1/4 inches long and about 1 inch wide at the broadest point."

Bost and Tonnlie's school principal questioned the boy, and came away convinced that he was telling the truth, or what he sincerely believed to be the truth. Tonnlie's mother concurred. "I know my son Tonnlie," she asserted. "He's telling the truth."

Two weeks after Tonnlie's alleged sighting, 20-year-old Shirley Ann McCrimmon was entering her home when she suddenly heard a strange rustling sound behind her. She quickly turned around and, to her astonishment, saw a tiny man staring at her. The woman reported that she watched the creature for several minutes, and then began to approach it for a closer look. Almost immediately the little man shined a "very bright yellow light" in the woman's eyes. She screamed, and her visitor fled around the side of the house.

The woman told police that the tiny man was either wearing a semitransparent costume or was naked. His skin (or clothes) appeared to be light brown, and he was wearing boots, but no hat. Two miniature footprints were discovered at the scene. The prints were less distinct than those in the cornfield, but they were the exact same size.

"The ground was hard where the footprints were found at the McCrimmon home," Bost noted, "yet around the back where the little man was said to have disappeared, there was a garden area with soft earth but here no footprints could be found."

Bost continued: "The strange part about the footprints was that they led nowhere in any of the locations where they were found. The ground was soft in both areas of the cornfield, yet in both cases the footprints ended abruptly." It was as if the tiny intruder had gone up.

Curiously, a UFO was sighted over Dunn the evening before the little man was first sighted. A witness described it as a "strange orange light which appeared in the sky." Moreover, soon after the little man sightings, a woman came into Bost's office to purchase some issues of the newspaper that contained stories of the weird goings-on. The woman explained that she was buying them for friends in Cleveland. She went on to say that her friends had written her not too long ago about a neighbor of theirs. The neighbor, her friends had informed her, insisted she had seen a man who was "very small, very little."

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Most Baffling Murder: The Death of Margaretta Todd

"Fort Wayne Journal," August 29, 1915, via Newspapers.com

Agatha Christie, meet Margaretta von Hoffman Todd, a woman who could have stepped right out of your books. Like many a Christie character, Mrs. Todd was elderly, extremely wealthy, and decidedly eccentric. Like many a Christie character, Mrs. Todd in one way or another managed to give many people a motive to see her dead. And, of course, like many a Christie character, Mrs. Todd met a mysterious, and very bad end.

Unfortunately, unlike a Christie character, the puzzle of Mrs. Todd's death wasn't neatly wrapped up in the last chapter.

For some years before her death, Mrs. Todd had lived with what was described as "almost Oriental lavishness" in her New York City apartments. The red-wigged, flamboyantly dressed dowager received daily a parade of callers--some of whom, it was alleged, were forced to kneel and kiss her hand, as if in the presence of royalty.

Early in 1902, Mrs. Todd, whose age was vaguely estimated as between 75 and 80, made out her will. Everyone in her inner circle benefited from it in one way or another. She named as executor her lawyer (and possibly lover) 60-year-old Ingersoll Lockwood, who would also be given control of her home, the Von Hoffman Arms. (He was already living in a suite in the building, rent-free.) Friends and servants, most notably her maid (and close friend) Jennie Paine, were given generous cash bequests. The bulk of her estate went to Mrs. Todd's daughter. All in all, no one who knew her had any reason to complain about how she planned to disperse her wealth.

It was later that same year that the Todd story began to get weird. In December, an old friend of Mrs. Todd's named Anna Haight unexpectedly turned up at her door, evidently with the hope of making an extended visit. Mrs. Todd was out of town at the time, but Jennie Paine decided there would be no harm in letting the visitor stay.

This proved to be a mistaken assumption. Two days later, Mrs. Haight began to behave strangely--so much so that Paine thought it best to send for a doctor. However, before he arrived, the houseguest suddenly began shrieking "Let me out! Let me out!" and leaped through an open window to the street below. Haight survived the incident with only minor injuries, but the cause for her bizarre behavior remained a mystery.

In early 1903, Mrs. Todd began acting a bit oddly herself. In a classic Agatha Christie twist, she rewrote her will, naming her daughter, Rosalie Tousey, as executrix, cutting Lockwood out of having any control over her estate. She began dropping broad--and obviously, to certain people, highly ominous--hints that she was preparing even bigger changes to her will.

Jennie Paine was clearly among those disturbed by Mrs. Todd's Adventures in Will-Making. Apparently at the instigation of Ingersoll Lockwood, she went to Mrs. Todd's personal physician, Albert G. Weed, and confided to him that their "dear old friend" was losing her mind. She bluntly recommended that he have Mrs. Todd placed in an asylum. Dr. Weed, who had seen no sign of the lunacy Paine described, curtly brushed off the suggestion.

What the good doctor did do was run straight to Mrs. Todd and inform her about these efforts by her nearest and dearest to brand her a madwoman. Margaretta, understandably infuriated, immediately had Lockwood thrown out of his apartment and informed Jennie Paine that it was time for her to seek new employment. And I doubt she gave the maid glowing references. Mrs. Todd angrily wrote a friend that she was through with both these false former friends. "I have them sized right up and know their game. They have laid plans which will fall through just like themselves." Around this time, her 1903 will disappeared from her home. Mrs. Todd believed that Lockwood had had it stolen.

On October 26, 1905, Mrs. Todd told her new lawyer, George Gordon Hastings, that she had written out a new will--one that, presumably, completely cut out Paine and Lockwood. They agreed that she would go to his office the following morning to sign it. This new will was done in secret. Mrs. Todd, Hastings later said, did not want anyone else to know what she was doing because she believed she was "surrounded by conspirators."

If you have ever read an Agatha Christie novel, you are probably already guessing that she never made it to this appointment. You would be right. Later that same day, Mrs. Todd told Jennie Paine's replacement, Marie Goddard, that she was going out for some fresh air. Mrs. Todd removed some papers from a safe, which she put "into the bosom of her dress," and left the Von Hoffman, evidently with the intention of paying a quick visit to New Jersey, ostensibly to visit a relative.

This was the last time she was known to have been seen alive. Just a few hours later, Mrs. Todd's body was found on some railroad tracks near Philadelphia. Before she was discovered, a train had run over her, crushing her head and severing both legs. She was still wearing the $20,000 worth of jewelry she had donned before leaving her home. The papers Miss Goddard said she had been carrying were never found.

Any idea that she had killed herself was dismissed when the autopsy showed that she died of poison. Then, her body had been placed on the tracks, evidently in the hope that her death would be seen as accidental. The presence of her jewelry ruled out any idea that this had been some common robbery. The timing of her death led to the obvious conclusion that someone had killed Margaretta Todd before she could sign her new will.

At this point, yet another odd person entered this odd case--Louis Todd, Margaretta's third, and most recent, husband.

Well, maybe he was her husband. Although Mrs. Todd had let it be known that the two were married, Louis--a dapper, dashing entrepreneur, gambler, and general man-about-town, came forward to vehemently deny the dead lady had ever been his wife. As he was currently indisputably married--to a Medora Sanford--he was naturally anxious to clear himself of a bigamy charge. As no proof ever emerged that he and Mrs. Todd had gone through a marriage ceremony, it seems to have been accepted that he was telling the truth. (We have no idea why Margaretta posed as his wife.)

Further complicating matters was the fact that Louis Todd was on a train from New York to Philadelphia on the night Margaretta died. His proximity to the site where her body was discovered added his name to the list of murder suspects.

Whoever was responsible for Mrs. Todd's death--and it was beginning to look like "Who wasn't?"--Ingersoll Lockwood lost no time taking advantage of the tragedy. Although he had failed in his efforts to have Mrs. Todd's body cremated before it could be autopsied, he immediately filed her 1902 will, took back his old apartment, and hired a pack of detectives to help him cement his new supremacy.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Todd's daughter--who had been in Europe at the time of her mother's death--wasted no time hurrying home to tackle the usurper. Mrs. Tousey firmly planted herself in the Von Hoffman Arms, forced Lockwood out of his recently-recovered apartment, and announced that she was hiring her own team of gumshoes. She vowed to get to the bottom of the murder mystery.

She never did. Less than a month after Mrs. Todd's death, the police, failing to find any solid leads in the mystery, shrugged their shoulders and dropped their inquiries. In one of this tale's many bizarre touches, one of Mrs. Tousey's detectives, Walter Hoyer, committed suicide. He left a note saying he was committing the act out of despair over being unable to solve the Todd case.

Rosalie Tousey also did not long survive her mother. In July 1906, she married Margaretta's attorney George Hastings. Five months later, Rosalie died suddenly in Nice, France. The cause of her death does not seem to have been publicly recorded. Her new husband received her entire estate.

Mrs. Todd's 1902 will was finally admitted to probate in March 1906. Rosalie , George Hastings, and Mrs. Todd's grandson, Milton Berolsheim, immediately appealed this decision. After four years of legal wrangling, the survivors of the Todd Mystery finally reached a settlement over her estate. We are told that everyone involved was relieved to finally close the books on a case that had come to be regarded as a "hoodoo." Mrs. Todd's final will was never found.

And, of course, her murder was never solved.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the ghostwriting team for playwright John Patrick.

What the hell are ghosts?

For that matter, what the hell are ghost bears?

Where the hell is this Japanese island?

So maybe there are worse things than being buried alive.

A dubious honor: the first person to be executed in Detroit.

I'm not saying it's aliens, but they're saying it's aliens.

If you want to know what the weather in Lincolnshire was like on February 2, 1817, here you go.

The unluckiest soldiers: the last men to be killed in WWI.

Nero's many attempts at matricide.

The perils of posing as a man in 18th century Germany.

Yet more examples of DNA changing how we write history.

So there are people out there giving sharks ultrasounds.

The Case of the Candlelight Killer.

Some forgotten sea serpents.

The story of Subway Nellie.

The woman who didn't marry Napoleon.

This week in Russian Weird: just a boy and his...wolf?

This is your map of Britain on drugs.

The journal of an 18th century East India Company employee.

A ribald poetic look at 18th century London.

The Queen of Bohemia predicts her own death.

The psychic Battle of Britain.

The Great Airship Scare.

A cautionary tale about fireworks.

Laura La Plante and the ghost.

Madame Tussaud's in 1883.

Ancient bathroom humor.

Schrodinger cat is definitely alive.

The ghost of Cork City.

The intuitions of Charles Henry Kelly.

Mary Robinson, 18th century Renaissance woman.

Examples of weird fossils.

"42" may not be the answer to the universe after all. It's "137."

A true house of horrors.

And that's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at the Agatha Christie-like murder of a wealthy woman.  In the meantime, here's one of the prettiest melodies ever written:

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Most dogs bring home bones or dead rats. However, one canine finally had the bright idea of turning herself into her own ATM. Meet Dumpy (or Duchess Dumpy, to give her full name.)

"Reno Gazette-Journal," September 20, 1938, via Newspapers.com

A follow-up to our little tale appeared in the "Battle Creek Enquirer," July 23, 1939:

Dumpy was a handsome crossbreed. Her father was a registered Doberman Pinscher. Her dam was a registered Irish setter. She belonged to Mrs. Harvey C. Stiles, of Granary Cottage, San Jose Mission, San Antonio, Texas.

Always, from puppyhood, she had been clever and original, as befitted the offspring of two such breeds. But not until July 9, 1938, did she develop the amazing trait which was described in so many newspapers at the time.

On that day, Dumpy came home from her usual daily walk; carrying a crumpled strip of paper daintily between her jaws. She laid the paper at Mrs. Stiles' feet, then stepped back waiting to be thanked for her gift.

Instead of thanks, the dog was greeted with a stare of blank amazement. For the strip of paper was a $1 bill.

The bill was badly mussed up and it was crusted with fresh earth. Yet, undeniably, it was a dollar bill, and apparently a good one. Mrs. Stiles' family and one or two neighbors came in to see the treasure trove Dumpy had brought home. Many were their exclamations of wonder.

Next day, she came back from her walk with another dollar bill, similarly rumpled and dirt-sprinkled. And again she was met by the same chorus of astonishment. Day after day she returned from her stroll, always carrying one of the soiled dollar bills she had found somewhere. This continued, week after week.

People tried craftily to trail Dumpy on her daily rambles and to find out whence she got the money. But always the wise dog gave them the slip; using the cunning of a wolf, to elude her followers. And every day she brought home a dollar bill.

Never for a long while did she bring a bill of any other denomination, never more than a single bill. Mrs. Stiles took a handful of this cash to the nearest bank to have experts decide whether or not it was counterfeit currency, and to tell her if it was marked or "wanted" or if it were "hot money."

The bills were proven genuine. Nor were they marked, nor on any list of "wanted" money. And the mystery deepened.

The story reached the newspapers. Reporters tried to shadow the dog, on her walks. But she dodged them as easily as she had eluded the neighbors. And still the money came in, always a dollar a day. The press notoriety was quite enough to have warned anyone who might have hidden the cash in a supposedly safe place where the dog had happened to find it, and to have given him full opportunity to remove what was left of the hoard.

But it was not removed. No neighborhood miser-stories were revived which might have given a clue. No, the money came daily from the earth--as was attested by the crumbs of fresh dirt sticking to it--and only Dumpy knew where in the earth it came from. Within a few months, $166 had been amassed. And the regular flow of dollars did not cease nor slacken. How large the treasure may be by the time you read this if Dumpy is still living and if the hoard has not been exhausted I don't know. Nor if, by that time, the mystery may have been solved.

Now for a letter from Mrs. Stiles. She wrote me:

"I will gladly tell you in detail about Dumpy. So far, everything printed about her finding money is absolutely true; not even exaggerated. Since July 9, she has been bringing me one dollar a day, except once when she was poisoned and again when she had seven puppies.

"The puppies, born November 30, 1938, I named Penny, Nickle, Dime, Two Bits, Four Bits, Six Bits and Dollar. I called them The Currency Family.'

"The money brought home to me by Dumpy was all in singles; except, for several days, later on, five $5 bills; one of them a day. We have followed her, again and again. Always she goes toward an old gravel pit. But always she manages to give us the slip.

"I keep on feeling sure each day's dollar will be the last. But it never is. When she began bringing money home to us we thought some one was giving it to her, though we couldn't guess why anybody would do such a thing.

"So we notified the authorities. It was verified. That is how it got into the newspapers. And since then we have about as much privacy as Cobb's goldfish. But Dumpy's daily deed is doing much good, as I'll explain.

"I decided that the money brought home by her was a Godsend and thus must be used for charity. I spent part of it for a Jersey cow, whose 12 quarts of milk a day I give to the Bexar County Tuberculosis association to be distributed among TB children.

"In Dumpy's name also, I gave out many baskets of food for Christmas. And the money paid me for her pups (one of them, 'Two Bits,' sold for $25) goes to the Dumpy fund, to help the unfortunate.

"This Dumpy fund is really worthwhile. For there are many who need help, in this region. Other contributions have been added to it by generous people."

So, Dumpy s treasure trove consists not only of a dollar a day, but also of a good deed a day which is worthy of the best Scout traditions. When the first details of the mystery were printed, a year or more ago. I wondered what was going to be done with the money.

It adds to one's faith in human nature to hear that it is put to such splendid use. Mrs. Stiles writes me that not one penny of the treasure is used otherwise than for charity. If ever the secret of the hidden fortune is made known to me, I'll tell you about it. Until then, as far as I can learn, there is no hunt as to the source of the money. As to Dumpy's continuing to bring it home, day after day, for such a long time well, to me, there is no mystery at all about that part of the story.
The last news item I've been able to find about Dumpy was in September 1939, where they indicated that the dog was still bringing home the dough. I cannot find when--or if!--the parade of bills ceased, or if they ever found Dumpy's hidden store of loot.

In any case, I'm showing these articles to my cats. It's about time they started earning their keep.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Where is Trevaline?

Trevaline Evans, via Cascade News

An utterly normal person, going about an utterly normal day in his/her utterly normal life. All is well. Not the slightest need for any apprehension. Then, seemingly within a heartbeat, something--we can only guess what--happens. And this person is never seen again, alive or dead. What could be more eerie?

It's small wonder a great many people have found themselves obsessed with the mystery of Trevaline Evans.

In 1990, Evans was a 52-year-old antiques dealer who managed a shop, "Attic Antiques," in the picturesque little town of Llangollen, Wales. She was a loving and content wife, mother, and grandmother. At 9:30 on the morning of June 16th, she opened her store as usual. Llangollen being the sort of place where "everybody knows everybody," Evans had many friends dropping by the shop, as well as the normal stream of tourists. Everyone who saw Mrs. Evans agreed that she seemed her usual placid, cheery self. She made plans to go out with friends that evening.

On that particular day, Trevaline's husband Richard was at the holiday cottage they owned in nearby Rhuddlan, doing some renovations. When he phoned home that night, there was no answer. After calling several times with equally fruitless results, he contacted friends to see if they knew where Trevaline was. When he learned that no one had seen her since mid-day, Richard began to get concerned, and asked a neighbor to visit the antique shop. The man found Trevaline's car still parked outside the store. Attic Antiques was unoccupied. The door was locked, and she had pinned a note to it: "Back in 2 minutes." (The handwriting was later confirmed to be hers.) Richard realized something was seriously wrong, and he contacted police.

Investigators found that Trevaline's purse, car keys, and coat were still in the shop, as well as fruit and flowers a friend had given her on the morning of the 16th. All of this indicated that, just as her note had said, the missing woman had intended to be out of the shop for only a brief time.

Detectives pieced together all the information they could find about her movements on the 16th. Around 12:30 p.m., a friend briefly stopped by the shop. Soon after that, Evans put the note on the door and departed. She bought an apple and banana from a nearby store on Castle Street, Llangollen's main thoroughfare. The town's streets were bustling and full, so Evans was seen by numerous people who knew her. No one noticed anything unusual about her behavior. At 2:30, a friend saw Trevaline near her home. As far as is known for certain, no one has seen her since. Shortly after 2:30, a woman matching her description was reported as walking along the busy A5 leading out of Llangollen. An hour after that, someone believed they saw her walking by the River Dee. However, both these "sightings" have been disputed. A banana peel was found in the garbage can of the antique shop, suggesting that Trevaline may have returned there after buying the fruit, but we have no way of knowing if it was from the banana she bought on the 16th.

The search for Trevaline became the biggest missing-person hunt in North Wales history. Police went door-to-door asking about her. The surrounding countryside was searched. Divers scoured all local waterways. Bloodhounds were brought in. Updates about the case were frequently featured on local TV. Richard Evans offered a reward of £5,000 for any information about his wife's whereabouts. Psychics were even consulted. Everything that could be done to find this woman was done. And the result was...next to nothing.

The most intriguing thing to emerge from the investigation was that in the days before her disappearance, Trevaline was seen several times in the company of a man who was a stranger to everyone who saw them together. On all these occasions, the two appeared to be having intense conversations. On the night before she vanished, Mrs. Evans reportedly had a "heated" talk with this man behind her shop. Unfortunately, this man has never been identified, leaving his role--if he had one--in Trevaline's disappearance a mystery. A police sketch artist made a drawing of this man which was widely circulated. However, police eventually dismissed this sketch as "inaccurate."

Mrs. Evans was declared legally dead in 1997. The investigation was briefly reopened in 2001, with the hope that modern forensic technology might help solve the case. Richard Evans was brought in for questioning--the husband is inevitably always the first suspect when a woman goes missing--but was soon released for lack of evidence.

Police believe that Trevaline Evans did not leave voluntarily. The assumption is that she was a victim of foul play, but the question of who could have murdered this seemingly harmless, innocent woman, and why, is to date still a frighteningly murky puzzle.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Strange Company HQ's receptionist.

Watch out for those haunted beds!

Watch out for those haunted jewels!

Watch out for those Halloween masks!

A mysterious case of "local self-combustion."

A pantomime witness to murder.

The life of an 18th century baronet.

So, there's such a thing as "crop circle tourism."

A 16th century witch trial.

How America's first bird warden became a murder victim.

The importance of historical accuracy of place.  (A footnote: for years now, there's been a lively argument about the true site of the battle of Bosworth.  It may well not be where most think it is.)

A wizard in stone.

The 1918 influenza pandemic was particularly bad in India.

A possible link between Parkinson's disease and the appendix.

A poorly-tailored statue.

The power of the screaming mandrake.

But was their hair perfect?

A look at phantom hitchhikers.

Suffolk's fairylore.

Commemorating the dead of WWI. 

A violent All Hallows' Day.

The ghost of John Adams.

The "Trick or Treat" murder.

The life and times of a famed 19th century publisher.

A tribute to the cats of wartime.

Somebody really, really wants this guy to have pizza.

300,000 year old stone tools.

New findings on the origins of chocolate.

Weird historical artifacts.

A near-fatal encounter with a carriage.

Some handy tips from a century ago.

The only dog to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy.

The oldest weapons ever discovered in North America.

The curious relationship of Queen Victoria and John Brown.

Ghosts in the White House.

Prohibition wasn't just for Americans.


Examining Seabiscuit's DNA.  (Personally, I think some greatness goes beyond mere genetics.)

A bad murderer spawns even worse poetry.

A memorial to two lost children.

A transported criminal comes to a good end.

Some grim incidents from the Victorian era.

The Witch of Moorgate.

Victorian spinsters have a Halloween tea party.

When it was common to picnic in cemeteries.

Why people fake their own death.

A hidden New York park and an unsolved murder.

George Orwell vs. the Joy of Sex.

A man's exceedingly weird death.

A little-known 17th century female playwright.

The ghosts of Hampton Court.

In defense of Gilles de Rais.

Victorian fictional deaths, from A to Z!

Why a murderous coachman got a large funeral.

Alfred the Aetheling comes to a bad end.

A church goes to the dogs.  And cats.

The famed Hammersmith Ghost.

So we bid farewell to yet another Link Dump.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a Welsh disappearance.  In the meantime, here's Le Vent du Nord: