"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, March 25, 2019

Portrait of a Bluebeard

"The Age," December 30, 1960, via Newspapers.com


At the resort town of Scarborough, England, sometime in the mid-1860s, a remarkably handsome and extremely charming Frenchman, Count Henri de Tourville, made the acquaintance of a well-to-do Englishwoman, Henrietta Brigham. A romance quickly developed, and the two were married. After a honeymoon touring Europe, the pair went to live with Henrietta's widowed mother at the family home of Foxley Hall, in Cheshire. They eventually had a son, William Henri.

Unfortunately, the couple did not live entirely happily ever after. The Count proved to be one of those aristocrats who were big on keeping up a glamorous lifestyle without the glamorous income to back it up. He habitually "borrowed" large sums of money from his mother-in-law. She had even paid for the honeymoon. Before long, Mrs. Brigham became weary of dispensing cash, and came to the very reasonable conclusion that the Count was merely a golddigger. She not only announced that he would get no more money out of her, but that she was going to insist he repay the substantial sums he owed.

This uncomfortable family situation found a tragic resolution one morning in July 1868. Tourville later told police that as he was cleaning a gun in the breakfast room of Foxley Hall, Mrs. Brigham asked to see the revolver. While she was examining it, the gun somehow accidentally went off, killing the poor woman instantly.

She had been shot in the back of the head.

Unsurprisingly, many people entertained some very ugly suspicions about this "accident," but the coroner's jury returned a verdict of "death by misadventure." Scotland Yard was brought in to examine the case, but DCI George Clarke, unable to find any solid evidence suggesting foul play, allowed the inquest verdict to stand.

Henrietta de Tourville did not long survive her mother. Distraught at this family tragedy--and, very likely, tormented by fears over what might really have happened that fatal morning--her health gradually declined until she died in 1871.

The Count now had Foxley Hall all to himself. To his chagrin, however, he was unable to exercise similar control over his late mother-in-law's fortune of £40,000. Shortly before her death, Mrs. Bingham made a new will that left her entire estate to her only grandchild, William Henri.

Soon after Henrietta died, a mysterious fire broke out at Foxley Hall. De Tourville easily escaped the conflagration, but his son and his nursemaid were very nearly burned alive. The Count congratulated himself on having had the foresight to heavily insure the house against fire.

It began to occur to the trustees of the Bingham estate that with a father so prone to "accidents" that happened to always benefit him financially, the odds of little William Henri making it to adulthood were small. They put the boy in the custody of a French couple who would bring him up in that country. His father was not allowed to know his whereabouts.

This was the first of a number of setbacks for de Tourville. The insurance company, muttering some unkind suspicions about the Foxley Hall fire, refused to pay up. De Tourville also learned that the will of Henrietta's father William Brigham, who died in 1864, decreed that if Henrietta died childless, the estate would pass to the children of William's brother. As Henrietta's son was out of the country, these Brigham cousins insisted on taking possession of the inheritance.

It finally began to occur to the Count that he had worn out his welcome in Cheshire, and he left the area for new pastures.

He soon met a widow named Madeleine Miller. Miller was considerably older than the Count, but she possessed a fine house in London, a number of valuable possessions, and a private income of £7,000 a year.

De Tourville found her irresistible. After they had known each other for only a few weeks, he persuaded Madeleine to marry him. His next step was to have her make out a will leaving him nearly everything she possessed. After that, he sweet-talked her into taking out a substantial life insurance policy in his favor.

I trust you will not be particularly shocked by what happened next. In July 1876, the Count took his bride on a romantic tour of the Austrian Tyrol. On July 16th, while the newlyweds were staying in the village of Trefoj, near the Stelvio Pass, they hired a carriage so they could take a tour of the famed mountain scenery. The hotel staff strongly urged them, for their own safety, to take along a guide, but the Count cheerfully waved off their warnings. He and Madeleine set out with their driver.

When they reached a secluded spot high on a narrow mountain pass, the Count told the driver that they no longer needed the carriage. He and his wife would walk the rest of the way.

An hour later, de Tourville returned to their hotel...alone. Alas, he sighed, while standing on the edge of a cliff, his wife had taken a bad step and fallen to her death. A search party found her body the following morning.

The police officer in charge of this latest tragedy was no fool. He did not like how the Count's face and hands were covered with deep scratches, suggesting de Tourville had been in a violent struggle.

Despite the suspicious nature of this latest addition to the Count's remarkable number of personal losses, the inquest into Madeleine de Tourville's death ruled that she had merely been the victim of a terrible accident.

After he had buried Madeleine, the Count wasted little time returning to claim the house and money he inherited from her--not to mention the life insurance money. Within only a few days of his arrival in London, he was participating in the social circuit, charming one and all and undoubtedly keeping a private list of all the wealthy and unattached women he encountered.

De Tourville was oblivious to the fact that at long last, Nemesis was on his trail. Soon after he left Austria, a Herr Markreiter, an avid mountaineer who was very familiar with the area where Madeleine was killed, went to the police. He had read about the tragedy in the newspaper and was convinced it was impossible for her to have died in the way described by her husband. The slope from the roadside where she allegedly fell was a very gradual one. If she had fallen on it, she would merely have rolled for a short distance, sustaining no serious injuries. The staff at the hotel where the de Tourvilles had stayed stated that the couple had clearly been on bad terms. It was also noted that the Count had given different people completely differing versions of how Madeleine had died. When the Austrian police recalled how the not-so-grieving husband hit the financial jackpot by her death, they--a bit late in the day--realized they very likely let a murderer go free. They immediately applied for his extradition from England. When DCI Clarke learned of the request, he was more than happy to track de Tourville down and arrest him. The Count was attending a high society dinner party at the time, which must have made it a memorable meal for all present.

During his fight to avoid extradition, a curious detail was revealed: The suave "Count de Tourville" was, in reality, a former Parisian waiter named Henri Perreau. Despite the fact that Madeleine's money enabled her widower to hire the finest lawyers money could buy, a magistrate ordered his extradition. In January 1877, de Tourville/Perreau unwillingly sailed to Austria.

After his exit from Foxley Hall, Perreau had improved his leisure time by training as a barrister. He evidently reasoned that the more he knew about the law, the easier it would be for him to break it. With his usual brash self-confidence, he insisted on representing himself at his trial.

There is that old saying about lawyers who represent themselves having fools for clients, but given the evidence against him, it is doubtful that the greatest barrister in Europe could have saved Henri Perreau. By the time DCI Clarke showed up in the courtroom--carrying Mrs. Brigham's skull--in order to argue that her death had been not accident, but murder, it was all over for the self-made Count. Perreau was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, the sentence was commuted to eighteen years with hard labor. After an attempt to escape his first prison, he was transferred to the severe, high-security Karlau Prison in Graz, where he was put to work in the local salt mines. By the time Perreau died there in 1890, he was very possibly regretting that they had not quickly hanged him. His son, William Henri was about twenty at the time his father died. Contemporary news reports stated that he took his mother's surname and, when he reached his majority, inherited her property.

"Saint Paul Globe," February 21, 1890, via Newspapers.com


After Perreau's conviction, it emerged that the law had probably underestimated his body count. It was said that shortly before his first wife Henrietta died, she had swallowed ground glass. Her husband had been alone with her at the time. Some years earlier, while working as a waiter in Paris, Perreau befriended a rich Englishman named Cotton, who was unwise enough to hire him as his manservant. During a visit they made to Istanbul, Cotton mysteriously disappeared. No trace of him was ever found. Immediately after Cotton vanished, Perreau unaccountably had enough cash to return to England and adopt his persona of "Count de Tourville," sophisticated aristocrat.

The story of this now-forgotten Bluebeard has a curious postscript that gives him a notable place among the ranks of serial killers. It is a story related by Agnes, Lady Goring in "Lord Halifax's Ghost Book" (1936)

One night, Lady Goring had a peculiar and vivid dream. She saw an old house that was unfamiliar to her. She sensed that she was visiting this house for an important purpose, but she did not know what it was. She fixated on one room,that was decorated in a striking and unusual style. Lady Goring saw an elderly woman dozing in an armchair by the fire. Then, she saw a man quietly enter the room. He crept up behind the woman, and shot her through the head. After the woman collapsed, he tried to arrange the pistol so it would look as if it had fallen from her hand. After arranging the gun and the woman's body to his satisfaction, the man left the room. Lady Goring saw this room and the face of the murderer so clearly that they became fixed in her memory.

Some time after that, she and her husband sought to rent a house in the country. They visited various properties, including an old manor in Cheshire. The minute Lady Goring entered the house, she realized it was the house in her dream. The dining-room, she knew, was the place where she had seen a murder. When she asked the caretaker about the house, he said that the previous owners had been a man, his wife, and his mother-in-law. Sadly, the older lady had accidentally shot herself, after which the house was vacated.

Unsurprisingly, the Gorings did not take the house, and Lady Goring does not appear to have sought any more details about her "dream house." However, months later, she was walking down Regent Street, when she was shocked to see a man's photograph in one of the shop windows. She recognized him as the man she had seen commit a murder. When she went into the shop to ask who he was, she learned that he was "Tourville, who was then being tried for the murder of his second wife in the Tyrol."

One way or another, murder will out. Sometimes.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Weekend Link Dump



Welcome to the first Link Dump of Spring 2019!

Time for Strange Company HQ's spring cleaning!






Where the hell did we get the phrase, "red herring?"

How a child's murder became folklore.

Yes, they're still trying to find Jack the Ripper.

And, of course, Amelia Earhart.

This week in Russian Weird: nothing to see here, just mysterious black insects taking over.

There's a town in Switzerland where the answer to the universe is not 42, but 11.

Why the Duke of Wellington should have confined his shooting to the battlefield.

More of the horrors of Victorian food.

Yet another sign that the human race is past its sell-by date.

Parson Patten vs. the ghost.

The red Taj Mahal.

Man deprives koala of air conditioning.

The $1.4 million pigeon.

The last of the leprechauns.

Hannah Martin, Messiah.

Portraits of a notorious Georgian era woman.

The race for the first artificial heart.

La Castiglione: Queen of the selfies.

Hunting for leprechauns.

Ireland is home to what may be the world's oldest pub.

Three early female detectives.  (Reminiscent of Cora Strayer and Alice Clement!)

Searching for dinosaurs in Central Africa.

The sea monsters of San Francisco Bay.

18th century organized crime.

How a recent ancient shipwreck discovery vindicates Herodotus.

There are rocks on Africa that, according to science, shouldn't be there.

The oldest known marine astrolabe.

The execution of two failed regicides.

St. Helena as it is today.

Nice's Avenue of the English.

That time Irish Americans fought for Mexico.

A man who probably got away with murder.

King Charles I's execution vest.

The life of a Tudor courtier.

A heroic dog.

Britain's oldest horse race.

Ancient DNA is...complicated.

Why so many ancient statues are missing their noses.

Marie Corelli, one of the most popular Victorian authors.  (Out of curiosity, I once read "The Sorrows of Satan."  The writing was laughably awful--a perfect parody of Victorian melodrama--but she was one of those authors who keeps you reading, in spite of yourself.  She knew how to hold your attention.  I have no desire to read any more of her books, but I understand why they were so immensely popular in her day.)

A rivalry between undertakers.

Caraboo, the strangest of princesses.

Good luck to ya, guys.

Well.  That taught him a lesson.

An Irish Roswell.

The first female film director.


That's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a once-notorious Bluebeard and his ghostly footnote. In the meantime, here's what was Top of the Pops in ancient Greece.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

This odd little--UFO?--tale appeared in the "Philadelphia Inquirer," September 27, 1950:
South Philadelphia police officers had a new explanation last night for what happens to those flying saucers people are always seeing:

They dissolve.

That's what happened last night to the airborne object first seen about 10 PM. by Patrolmen John Collins and Joseph Keenan. The two officers said they were patrolling in a red car on Vare blvd. near 26th st. when through the windshield they saw what appeared to be a parachute drifting slowly down from the upper air ahead of them. When first seen, the thing was at treetop level, they said, and appeared to be about six feet in diameter.

It settled in an open field near 26th st. After summoning Street Sgt. Joseph Cook and Patrolman James Casper, his driver, they went into the field to investigate.

The four officers stood a few feet from the object, they said, and turned their flashlights on it, whereupon it gave off a purplish glow, almost a mist, that looked as though it contained crystals.

Collins stepped forward and tried to pick the thing up. The part of the mass on which he laid his hands dissolved, leaving nothing but a slight, odorless, sticky residue.

Within 25 minutes, as they stood and watched, the entire substance had evaporated. It was so light, they said, that it did not even bend the weeds on which it lighted.

Sergeant Cook notified the FBI a little sheepishly, since, he pointed out, he'd have nothing whatever to show them when they arrived, except a magic circle on the ground where something purple, and quite evanescent, once had been.
As far as I can tell, the substance was never identified.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Strange Company Book Club:: "The Lost Cyclist," By David Herlihy

Frank Lenz, 1892


In the late 19th century, a new craze swept across America: bicycling. These machines gave riders a delightfully unprecedented sense of speed, mobility, and freedom, and they were available to all but the most modest budgets. Bicycling clubs and competitions soon sprang up everywhere, and, like all fads, spawned celebrities. The fastest and most daring riders won widespread public attention and acclaim.

Unsurprisingly, the most ambitious cyclists sought to build on their prestige. Several decades before Charles Lindbergh won permanent worldwide fame by flying solo across the Atlantic, bicyclists aimed at similar renown by making bold excursions around the world. These "globe girdlers" made long and extremely dangerous rides, often in areas little visited by travelers. The first true "globe girdler" was an Englishman named Thomas Stevens, who successfully circumnavigated the globe in 1887.

Among the many youths inspired by such exploits was a Pittsburgh bookkeeper named Frank Lenz. When he was 17, he took up cycling, and soon became obsessed with the sport. For Lenz, cycling was not merely recreation; it was escape from a gray existence. When he wasn't at his dull, dead-end job at a brass-fittings factory, he was dealing with an unhappy home. Lenz's father, Adam Reinhart, died when he was a small child. A couple of years later, his mother Maria Anna married William Lenz, who, unfortunately, turned out to be a drunken brute. Frank was forced to watch helplessly while his gentle mother was unmercifully bullied. Unsurprisingly, Anna sought consolation by clinging to her beloved only child, a mother-love that Frank likely found increasingly stifling as he grew older. The only time he felt truly happy was on his bicycle.

Frank was strong, confident, and utterly lacking in fear. At cycling competitions, he soon became famous as a reckless rider with remarkable stamina. His dreams grew. Stevens' great exploit filled him with envy. Why, Lenz thought, couldn't he make a similar trek? When Lenz learned that two other prominent young cyclists, William Sachtleben and Thomas Allen, were planning their own round-the-world tour, Lenz vowed that he would not be left out of the escapades. Lenz had an advantage over these other riders: he was a skilled amateur photographer. He planned to make a solo journey of the world, photographing his trip every step of the way. On his return, he would not only have written documentation of his exploits, but visual ones as well. Surely, he thought, book deals and lecture tours would set him permanently on an exciting and profitable path in life. Besides, it sounded like a hell of a lot of fun. In Herlihy's words, "Lenz simply could not fathom how any pursuit could be more exciting or satisfying than touring the world on a bicycle."

Lenz signed a contract with "Outing" magazine (the same publication that had backed Stevens) to send the magazine periodic reports and photos of his trip. On May 15, 1892, the 25-year-old bicycled out of Pittsburgh, with about 800 well-wishers to see him off. He told a reporter, "I have nothing but the most pleasurable anticipation of my trip abroad. Besides, I have never encountered anything yet that I have not overcome."

The only person unhappy to see Lenz go was his apprehensive mother, who had begged Frank not to make the trip.  Mrs. Lenz was tortured with a dreadful fear that she would never see her son again.

Lenz's planned route


Lenz first cycled to Washington D.C. and New York. Then, he made his way westward across the country, making a few side trips into Canada. He reached San Francisco on October 20. From there, Lenz sailed to Japan, a country that pleasantly impressed him. (Although he thought little of the food.)

Any illusions Lenz may have had that his epic journey would be disaster-free were dashed when he began traveling through China. He encountered nightmarishly bad roads, harsh weather, and often hostile locals. (He also just missed crossing paths with Sachtleben and Allen, who were on the way home from their own globe-girdling.) Despite all of his bravery and ambition, Lenz had occasional moments when he wondered if maybe, just maybe, he had bit off a bit more than he could chew.


Lenz in China


Still, he felt there was no turning back now, and he ignored all suggestions that he abandon his increasingly hazardous expedition. Slowly but surely, Lenz made it through China, and then cycled his way through Burma, India, and Persia. Ahead lay Turkey, which he knew would be the worst part of his travels. Westerners he met in Tehran begged him to bypass Turkey altogether and head for Europe via Russia instead. Lenz dismissed their concerns. Turkey was by far the shorter route, and he was anxious to see the "outside world" again.

Lenz had the bad fortune to enter Turkey right at the moment when it was possibly the most dangerous part of the world. The Ottoman Empire's long-simmering tensions with their Armenian subjects was reducing the region to a state of near-anarchy. Armenians were being massacred by the tens of thousands. The lonely roads were exceptionally treacherous and filled with brigands who had a well-known predilection for attacking and robbing vulnerable travelers. It was, in short, no place for a lone American with no protection but a bicycle.

Lenz knew these risks, but was determined--stubbornly, almost blindly determined--to see his journey through to the end. In early May 1894, he left Tabriz, in what is now Iran, bound for Erzurum, Turkey, a journey of about 300 miles.  Lenz wrote to friends back home, "Maybe you fellows think that I am tired of this kind of life. Well, I am not. I enjoy it hugely." He was not without a feeling of foreboding, however. As he prepared to go through Turkey, he wrote "Outing" editor James Worman, "I must confess to a feeling of homesickness. I am very, very tired of being a 'stranger.' I long for the day which will see me again on my native hearthstone and my wanderings at an end."

Tragically, Lenz's wanderings soon did come to an end, but not in the way anyone wanted. When several months passed without anyone back in America hearing from the traveler, his family and friends began to worry. Even more unsettlingly, it was learned that Lenz's trunk, which he had sent to Constantinople ahead of him, was sitting in that city unclaimed. As more and more time went on, it became impossible to deny that something catastrophic had happened to Lenz. But what? And where?

For quite some time, Worman refused to acknowledge the likelihood that Lenz had come to grief. However, facing increasing pressure to track down Lenz's whereabouts, he finally agreed to hire an envoy to search for the missing wheelman. His choice was William Sachtleben, who was eager to take the hazardous assignment. Although he and Lenz never met, the freemasonry of cycling gave him a bond to the ill-fated rider. Sachtleben was determined to find Lenz's remains for reburial in America, and to obtain punishment for whoever had been responsible for his death. It does not detract from the heroism of Sachtleben's quest to note that there was an element of self-benefit. Sachtleben presumed that the story of his mission to find the missing rider would, on his return, make him a hot property on the lecture circuit and among book publishers.

It was a logical appointment in many ways: Sachtleben was courageous, self-reliant, and had traveled through Turkey himself, albeit at a time when it was not as dangerous as when Lenz ventured into the country. However, Sachtleben did not have the right temperament for an assignment that required not just bravery, but diplomacy. However well-intentioned he may have been, Sachtleben was an outspoken sort, with an unsubtle, bull-in-a-china-shop manner that may well have worked against him. Herlihy summed him up as "a loose cannon whose judgment was not always sound."

Thomas Allen and William Sachtleben


When Sachtleben arrived in Turkey, everything he learned seemed to confirm the worst suspicions about Lenz's fate. The U.S. minister, Alexander Terrell, did not have any solid information about the cyclist, but he felt confident Lenz had been ambushed and killed by Kurdish bandits. After some amateur detective work, Sachtleben became convinced that a Kurdish chief of very bad reputation named Moostoe had been behind Lenz's murder. After a great deal of wrangling, the Turkish government finally agreed to arrest Moostoe. (For good measure, they insisted on also arresting some Armenians who had been Sachtleben's informants.)

Despite much diligent--and highly risky--searching, Sachtleben was unable to find any trace of Lenz's remains.  All he was ever able to find of the missing man was Lenz's trunk in Constantinople, which he returned to Mrs. Lenz.  His efforts to seek justice for the young cyclist's untimely death proved to be equally futile. Moostoe escaped from prison, never to be seen again. Two of the Armenians jailed with him died in prison. The others were eventually released. If Lenz was indeed murdered, no one paid for his death other than those two Armenians, who were very likely entirely guiltless.

Herlihy concluded his account of the failed search by commenting, "Perhaps if Sachtelben had taken a slightly less strident approach, not only with the Turks but his own government, and a more critical look at his own behavior, he would have gotten along better with the authorities and achieved better results. One wishes, in retrospect, that he had concentrated on finding Lenz's grave rather than on meting out justice in Turkey. Obviously, the return of the wheelman's remains to Pittsburgh for burial would have given his mother and friends the sense of closure they so badly needed. Such a poignant conclusion to the Lenz affair would also have given Sachtleben the measure of success and satisfaction that his failed mission sorely lacked, regardless of how the legal and diplomatic proceedings played out going forward.

"To be fair, Sachtleben faced a colossal and unenviable task in his spirited bid to unravel the Lenz mystery so long after the cyclist's tragic passing, under difficult--if not impossible--circumstances...

"If Sachtleben did indeed get anywhere near the truth of the murky Lenz matter--and it is quite possible that he did--that was truly an extraordinary accomplishment, and one that should have enhanced, rather than doomed, his budding career as an investigator and adventurer par excellence. A brave and resourceful man full of noble intentions, he too deserved a better fate."

Despite pressure from the U.S., the Turkish government refused to accept any responsibility for Lenz's death. (They felt--as did a good many other people--that the reckless young man had been "asking for it.") Finally, in 1901, after a personal appeal from President McKinley, the Ottoman sultan paid Lenz's mother $7,500 in compensation. She badly needed the money. For several years, her husband had been an invalid, unable to work. Maria Anna was impoverished, ill, and, it was said, unable to fully accept that her son would never return. Mrs. Lenz died in 1923. She, and not Frank Lenz, seems the saddest figure in this whole story.

As for Lenz's would-be avenger, Sachtleben returned to America with a new mission: to enlighten the world about the horrors of the Armenian massacres. He hit the lecture circuit, giving his harrowing eyewitness testimony of the slaughter. However, to his increasing irritation, he found audiences were more interested in the lost American cyclist than a bunch of dead Armenians. Inevitably, even interest in Lenz faded, and the ever-restless Sachtleben turned to other interests. He ran a successful bicycle shop and still occasionally entered local competitions, but as the cycle fad faded at the beginning of the new century, he closed his business and began distancing himself from the now-passe industry. In 1900, he traveled to Cape Nome, Alaska, to report on the Klondike Gold Rush. The following year, he made serious plans to join an expedition to the North Pole, but at the last minute, he bailed from this new adventure, for the most classic of reasons: "the determined opposition of a certain young lady."

In 1903, Sachtleben married his "certain young lady," a wealthy St. Louis girl named Mae Merriman. The pair eventually settled in Houston, Texas, where Sachtleben managed the Majestic Theater until his death in 1953. The world-traveler had well and truly settled down. Two women who had known Sachtleben in his last years described him to Herilhy as "a charming man of extreme intelligence and full of wonderful tales."

After a brief period where his enigmatic end dominated the headlines, Lenz was quickly forgotten. It is anyone's guess what exactly happened to him somewhere on the long road from Tabriz to Erzurum. Herlihy notes that we are not even sure that Lenz was murdered, by Moostoe or anyone else. It is just possible that the cyclist succumbed to illness or any of the innumerable accidents that could happen to someone bicycling through unfamiliar and punishing territory. We will never know.

All we can say for certain is that Lenz suffered a lonely and quite probably terrible end, far from home and abandoned to an unknown grave. A pitiful end for such a plucky young adventurer.

However, I'd wager Lenz would still find such a fate preferable to a long, dreary life as a Pittsburgh clerk.

The last known photo of Lenz, April 1894


"The Lost Cyclist" is a well-written, involving book: part late-19th century travelogue, part detective story, part historical mystery. It is a fine memorial to a promising young man who died before he could reach his full potential.

The "Outing" graphic for Lenz's series of articles.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Weekend Link Dump



Entertainment for this week's Link Dump is provided by the Strange Company Choir!





Watch out for the Ohio River Octoman!

France's first serial killer.

How old newspapers covered the Bell Witch.

The secret to fasting like a 17th century monk?  Beer!

Surgical anesthesia is not as effective as you'd like to think.  (Personal note:  I used to date the son of a former anesthesiologist.  I say "former," because he eventually decided he could not bear the job any longer.  He, the dad, enjoyed telling me various horror stories he had seen in the operating room, and boy howdy, were they doozies.  I once told him, "You know, thanks to you, I will never consent to having any sort of surgery, no matter how bad off I am."  He replied, "You're a very wise girl.")

The history of one of my favorite gemstones, amethyst.

That time a Princess and a Countess fought a duel over flower arrangements.

Facebook needs to be killed with an ax, and Mark Zuckerburg given a one-way ticket to Pluto.

And he should take Google with him.

The link between King Tut and some ancient Nordic graves.

The story behind Britain's Contagious Diseases Acts.

The woman who ran a WWII spy network.

A learned pig.

A treasure map tattoo.

One heck of a treehouse.

A spy's bizarre death.

Emily Dickinson's fruitcake recipe.

Santa Barbara is really getting hairy.

How to ride "en cavalier."

Two swimming vegetarian cats.

Ghosts seeking a higher education flock to Loyola University.

Farewell to the Water Poet.

Cats here,
Cats there,
Cats and kittens everywhere,
Hundreds of cats,
Thousands of cats,
Millions and billions and trillions of cats.

No, we're not talking about Strange Company HQ.  It's the first American picture book.

Eve Babitz, chronicler of 1970s Los Angeles.

How the sun could kill us all.

Then again, the scientists might beat the sun to it.

Stylish mourning jewels.

The saga of the White Rose of Miamis.

The Elmira, NY, suicide epidemic of 1920.

Charles Dickens and the crossing sweeper.

What might happen if Yellowstone erupts?  I'm not a scientist, but I feel pretty confident in saying, we wouldn't like it.

Fortean odors.

The haunting of Rectory Lane.

Early 19th century nursery songs.

Oh, just a peasant woman and her demon cat baby.

Trust me, this is not how to go down in history.

The diary of a visitor to West Africa in 1954.

Horatio Nelson's abandoned wife.

A bequest of bindings.

A remarkable WWII rescue story.

Decoding the DNA of Lil Bub.

The darker side of fairies.

The world's last Blockbuster store.

More evidence that something very, very bad happened to our planet 13,000 years ago.

St. Patrick's day traditions.

That does it for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll look at the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a young bicyclist. In the meantime, here's a bit of Italian Baroque:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com


There have been numerous reports of animal ghosts of various types, but this is the first time I can recall goats getting in on the fun. The Davenport, Iowa "Daily Times," May 12, 1896, carrying a reprint from the New Albany (Mississippi) "Gazette":
Three miles west of New Albany the Rocky ford road crosses a creek which was originally named Big creek, but was more appropriately named Hell creek by persons who have been compelled to cross the adjacent bottom in recent years. Just beyond this is another run called Mud creek, which stream is grown up with thick and heavy underbrush, and on cloudy nights the blackness that surrounds the traveler could be sliced into chunks and sold for ink. The bottom or lowland adjacent to the stream is of unusual width for one so small, and at the best is exceedingly uninviting.

Some years ago a gentleman passing through the bottom at night was almost thrown by his horse shying to one side, and when he looked ahead was confronted by a monster goat of white color rearing upon his hind feet as if to annihilate the animal and rider. One look was sufficient, and, making a sudden turn, he galloped out of the bottom at the risk of his life, swearing that he would drink no more New Albany blind tiger liquor. Not. wishing to put himself up as a target for the jeers of a suspicious public, he held his counsel and heard or saw nothing more of the weird apparition for some time.

About a year later his goatship was again on the warpath and confronted a gentleman of known sobriety, who, not daunted, urged his animal forward despite the warlike attitude of the ghostly visitor. The goat kept in the middle of the road, and when the small bridge was reached disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared.

The gentleman related his experience, which became noised abroad and gave courage to the man who had first sighted the vapory animal to relate his experience, and the two coincided so well that the people began to give them credit for having seen something to disturb their piece of mind. The story was given enough credence to cause an uneasy feeling to enter the mind of the traveler who crossed the bottom at night, and cause a chill to ramble up and down his spinal column as he passed the spot where the ghost had been seen.

Last year Mr.___, who is not a believer in things uncanny at all, and has a supreme contempt for a man who has seen spooks, had been beyond the creek harvesting hay, and was detained until after nightfall on his return home. The night was intensely dark and a slight rain was falling. As he drove through the impenetrable gloom, trusting to the instinct of the mules that drew the rake which he was astride to find the road, the misty and uncertain form of the giant goat suddenly appeared in the road ahead of him. The mules reared and plunged, very nearly upsetting the rake. Leaping to the ground he grasped the bits and was gratified to see the phantom recede as the team moved forward. The mules, trembling in every nerve, carried him along, and when the bridge was reached he disappeared as on former occasions, much to the relief of the gentleman who did not believe in spirits or unnatural apparitions.

Since that time a number of thoroughly reliable witnesses have been placed in positions to vouch for the truthfulness of the existence of the phantom goat. Persons who travel that road to and from town make their arrangements to pass that spot before nightfall, and very few have the temerity to invade the territory of his goatship after darkness has fallen.
An unsettling thing to see during your travels, to be sure. However, from what I know of goats, they're much safer in spirit form than in the flesh any day.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Mystery of the Meowing House

All stories via Newspapers.com


In 1957, a family in Glendora, California discovered that their newly-completed "dream home" had one unwanted surprise feature: a mysterious cat, obviously wailing in great distress. The "San Bernardino County Sun," January 25, 1957:

Vincent Carta's new home is really the cat's meow.

Somewhere in the house there is a cat. Day and night it meows. It has been doing that for 18 days.

The mystery cat is somewhere inside the walls or pipes. Mrs. Eunice Carta said policemen, firemen, veterinarians, friends and strangers have tried to locate the feline.

"Look what they've done to our brand new bathroom." She pointed to big holes in the bathroom wall.

"The meows seemed to center here, she said, "so carpenters sawed into the walls all around the bathtub but couldn't find anything. Then they took some siding off the house, but still no cat."



Mrs. Carta said sound technicians brought in electronic devices but had no luck. "The sound is deceptive," said Mrs. Carta. "You can hear it all over the house. It seems to travel along the pipes. But each day it gets weaker. It can't be long now." She said there are theories that the cat got into a vent somewhere and became trapped in the walls, pipes or possibly a dry well near the underground septic tank in the front yard.
The Elwood "Call-Leader," January 26:
Occupants of a new $20,000 home--labeled as the "cat's meow''--today vowed to move out unless a cat which has been haunting the dwelling for the past 20 days with around-the-clock wails is found "dead or alive."

The cat is believed to be trapped somewhere within the walls of the new home and Friday workmen partially dismantled sections of walls in a futile attempt to find the feline.

"We can't stand it any longer," said Vincent Carta, who along with his wife and two children moved into the house last month. "The meowing is driving us crazy."

But the Cartas weren't the only ones with cat troubles. The home is still in escrow and building contractor H.C. Elliott won't get his money for constructing the dwelling until the cat mystery is cleared up.

The Cartas can't legally tear out a wall but Elliott can. So piece by piece, section by section, walls of the newly furnished home are being ripped out.

Cartas's wife, Eunice, who is expecting a baby in three months, Friday watched workers rip gaping holes in her newly decorated bathroom. Workmen heard meowing but found no cat.

"That cat must have 99 lives," a worker said. "But it's a cinch the animal can't survive much longer without food."

Mrs. Carta said the meows are growing weaker. She said the cat still meows "off and on" all the time and especially "when I call, 'Here kitty kitty.'"
By this point, the Carta's home was a nationwide media sensation. Newspapers all over the country were carrying stories about the poor cat's miserable plight and all the futile efforts to rescue the prisoner. You might say it was the feline Baby Jessica down the well.

On January 27, the "Los Angeles Times" carried a front-page story about the unfolding tragedy:
The cat's meow is weakening. But not the jangled nerves of the Vincent Carta family of 363 S. Glenwood Ave., Glendora.

Yesterday was the 21st day the cat trapped in the Cartas' new $16,000 home has meowed day and night.

Even scientific sleuthing by Los Angeles Police Department detectives failed to turn up any trace of the phantom pussy cat.



Dets. D. A. Wolfer and M. J. Lee used a portable fluoroscope and a miniature amplifier with earphones but were unable to pinpoint faint noises believed to be those of the dying cat.

A Pasadena veterinarian, one of scores who have tried to solve the trapped cat mystery at the Carta home during the last three weeks, said yesterday that after 21 days without food the animal surely couldn't live much longer.

"It's obviously a fat cat or at least it was when it was trapped to have survived this long," he commented.

The generally accepted theory of those most concerned with the perplexing problem--that is the Cartas, policemen, firemen, veterinarians, humane society people, plumbers, carpenters and the contractor, who have been trying to find the animal--is that it got into the structure through roof vents. But where the cat went from there is anybody's guess.

And guesses have been written, wired and phoned to the Carta family around the clock from all parts of the nation.

"Have you checked behind the tub . . . how about the pipes, the attic, under the house, in the rafters?"

Carta, H. C. Elliott, the Pasadena contractor who built the house, and the scores of others searching for the source of the sound have looked everywhere. They have done everything but tear the house down. They have even considered that.

Then there are the other offers. Like the woman who telephoned from Washington, D.C., and offered her dog, "the one that hates cats. He'll find your cat, Mrs. Carta." There have been many offers of tomcats and dogs.

One woman from San Bernardino called yesterday with the information that her family lost their cat at Apple Valley a while back. She thought the cat might have mistaken Glendora for San Bernardino, climbed into the wrong house and...you know the rest.

To the Cartas--Vincent, a retired Navy lieutenant, and his wife Eunice, who is expecting a baby in two months; Vincent Jr., 11. and Sandra, 9--the experience has been trying, to say the least. Have you ever lived 21 days and nights with a crying cat?

When Carta left the Navy eight months ago, he told his wife and children their years of moving from one place to another were at an end. They set out to find a home, their first where they could settle in peace and quiet. After 8000 miles of looking, in Florida, New England, throughout the Midwest and West, the Cartas found their dream home in Glendora.

Last August they paid the down payment on their home. Carta got a job with the Department of Water and Power in Los Angeles. "It's a 25-mile drive each day, but I don't mind," he said. "We live at the foot of the mountains in a nice neighborhood and love our new home, that is, until the cat incident."

The Cartas don't want to leave the house. It's due to come out of escrow in a few days and the damage the cat has caused is considerable. To make sure the cat isn't lodged in a pipe, all pipes were cut and wires were pushed through them from roof to foundation. Siding has been removed. Plaster paralleling pipes and beams has been knocked out. And Mrs. Carta's doctor has said if she doesn't start getting some rest, she may lose her baby.

"But," cried Mrs. Carta, "if that cat isn't found, dead or alive, we are going to move!"

It seems apparent that by today the cat may well die.

Meanwhile, Glendora Police Chief Dan Fay pleaded to both cat lovers and the curious to refrain from calling or visiting the Carta home. Those who persist in calling should relay their offers to help through the Police Department rather than the Cartas, he said.

While workmen continue the job of trying to run down the faint cries--which when louder resounded through the place--the Cartas leave their dream home during the day to find quiet elsewhere.
On the 28th, it was the sad duty of the "New York Daily News" to report that not much had changed.
Vincent Carta had his new house fluoroscoped last night in a desperate "last resort" to find the cat that has been meowing in the walls for three weeks, but it didn't do any good. There was more meowing and purring today.

A police X-ray technician went over every inch of every wall, without picking up the telltale image of a cat's skeleton. He heard the meowing and purring, though.

Even crime experts were baffled by the "case of the meowing house." In addition to a fluoroscope, they tried setting up microphones throughout the house, thinking they might discover the noises were mechanical in origin. But every time technicians said "here kitty, kitty, kitty," a meow came from the walls.

The interloper apparently crawled into the dark recesses of the $20,000 house just 21 days ago, when a telephone man cut a hole in a wall. The cat has been meowing and purring off and on, night and day, ever since. The purrs grew weaker today, indicating the time was growing short for the cat and possibly for the Carta family. Animal authorities said a cat could not live much more than three weeks without food. Living amid incessant purring is bad enough, Carta said, but a dead cat in the walls would make the house unbearable.

Carta, his pregnant wife, Eunice, and their two young children went to church this morning to pray for a way out of their plight. "We can't stand it any more," he said. "The meowing is driving us crazy."
Also on the 28th, the "Oshkosh Northwestern" reported that, like Superman or the U.S. Marines, a construction company was offering to ride in to save the day.
A construction firm offered today to put 21 of its men on the job of trying to find a "ghost cat" whose meowing has haunted the $20,000 home of Vincent Carta for three weeks..

Will Barnaby. head of the Barnaby Construction Co., said he would put his workmen on the job at no cost to the Carta family and that they would "tear down and rebuild the whole house, if necessary" to find the cat.

Barnaby's offer came as Carta said he was being driven "crazy" by the fuss caused over the cat, which is believed trapped in the walls of the house and on the verge of dying from hunger. A futile search has been conducted so far by plumbers, carpenters, police, firemen, technicians, veterinarians. Humane Society workers and others.
"Clovis News Journal," January 28, 1957


However, the Saga of the Trapped Cat was about to come to an end...albeit not in the way anyone was anticipating. On January 29, the "Santa Rosa Press Telegram" reported the dramatic climax to our little cliffhanger:
The "dying cat" in the walls of Vincent Carta's house turned out today to be a squeaky water meter. That was the conclusion of sound engineer Roger Adams.

Equipped with sensitive sound detectors, Adams listened to the walls, traced the "meowing" to the meter, removed the meter and ended the mewing that has plagued the Cartas for 22 days and brought a flood of telegrams, letters, and telephone calls from across the nation with suggestions on how to free the "cat" from its supposed entombment.

"When we got to the meter with Adams' equipment it sounded better than a real cat," chuckled Carta, whose house walls have been ripped into by construction crews seeking the "lost kitty." "They took out the meter, put in the new one and the meowing ceased," he said.

Adams was called into the case yesterday as a last-ditch at tempt to locate the "poor cat" before its nine lives starved to death in the walls of the Carta's brand-new $16,000 home. "We're positive there's no cat in there." said Adams. "It was the meter. But we'll know for certain, with no reservation, in 40 davs. No cat could live that long."

Carta's wife, Eunice, expecting a baby soon, had been frantic at the thought of a cat living or dead within the walls and had threatened to move out. Police, cupping drinking glasses to the walls as "sound detectors," had sworn they believed the cries of the kitten were growing fainter. Firemen and police had to throw up rope liner, to cordon off crowds of curiosity seekers and well-wishers at the house. The telephone buzzed at all hours. Mrs. Carta had told authorities, "I can't stand it much longer."

"It looks like we'll be able to return to living normal lives," Carta grinned.
Don't count on that, Vince. I'm betting your friends and neighbors did not allow you to forget this episode for quite some time.

And, of course, little did you know you would eventually be immortalized in the hallowed pages of Strange Company.

"Mansfield News Journal," February 3, 1957


Friday, March 8, 2019

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is getting corny.




Allan Grant, Life Magazine, 1951



What the hell happened to the Flannan Isles lighthouse keepers?

What the hell happened to the survivors of Vesuvius?

The world of 18th century fans.

A woman gets her wish: she's now a museum exhibit.

Deplatforming Ezra Pound.

Fairy tales are even older than we thought.

America's river communities.

A look at slipcoat cheese.

A look at ancient women.

Speaking of which, here are three ancient rebel queens.

When historians look for Victorian data and get racehorses.

Napoleon's attitude towards women.

Resuscitation in the 18th century. 

The ghost and the murder house.

The man with the elephant nose.

The man who was the Beast of Macabu.  Or was he?

The days when men made a living searching Niagara Falls for corpses.

An ancient tomb containing a mysterious board game and an unlucky looter.

A guide to psychic self-defense.

The real Cyrano.

The Case of the Disappearing Basketball Players.

The Case of the Cursed Soccer Player.

There have been a lot of extinct humans.

Victorian "Ragged Schools."

Let's talk coffin scams.

The strange lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton.

How the Georgian era celebrated Shrove Tuesday.

An extreme example of why practical jokes are very seldom funny.

Hey, doesn't everyone carry around human ashes in a snuff box?

Want to find out the best-selling book from the year when you were born?

How Mardi Gras was celebrated over a century ago.

A man fakes his own murder.

Archaeologists have discovered the first Denisovan skull fragments.

A Chinese tomb containing the elixir of life.

William Bennett, meet your soulmate, Morton Bartlett.

A ghost in a snowstorm.

18th century servant trouble.

Why Paris once had a museum full of forgeries.

The history of Mother Goose.

A mysterious object crashes in Ireland.

Indian seamen in WWI.

A mysterious ancient Scottish stone.

A peculiar man, and a dreadful murder.

The tomb of an ancient Roman baker.

Studying the dreams of the dying.

A grisly unsolved murder.

Isaac Newton, alchemist.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at the time a trapped cat made headlines across the U.S.  In the meantime, there's, uh, this:




Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com



Do an internet search for "Dancing hoes," and you'll come up with some interesting things indeed. However, for a brief period in 1952, the phrase was used in a much different, and entirely literal way. From the "Columbia Commercial Mail," December 12, 1952:
Norfolk, Neb.--The proprietor of a seed store said today visitors have failed to solve the mystery of the "dancing hoes," which swing back and forth on the wall without any apparent reason.

Dale C. Ford promised he would not touch the two implements which have been drawing patrons to his store since the swinging was noticed about two weeks ago. The hoes are among several new ones hung side by side for display on steel book.

The others are just plain hoes. But the "twins", move in a slow sweep 24 hours a day. "They've started slowing down during the day and speeding up after store hours," Ford said. "I don't know the reason and apparently no one else does."

One theory was apparently shattered over the weekend when Ford peeked in the store when no customers were around. The hoes were still dancing.

"They were swinging as much as two or three inches," he said. "That would seem to dispute the theory that vibration causes it. There would be more vibration when more people are around."

Ford says each of the curious visitors has an idea. Some think it might be humidity changes and others believe the swinging is caused by something in the new wood in the handles.

Ford is content to let the patrons keep guessing.

"I'm not going to touch them as long as they continue to perform," he said.

On December 23, the "Penascola News Journal" reported that our little mystery was over, if not solved.
Norfolk's "dancing hoes" have stopped dancing and their owner said he doubted if anyone would ever discover what caused them to swing back and forth.

Dale Ford, manager of a feed store, said many persons tried to solve the mystery of the hoes which swung back and forth in a pendulum motion for almost a month.

Among those attempting to explain the mystery were three "well-witchers."

Ford said the hoes stopped Saturday noon after gradually slowing down for a week. He said he will leave them "right where they are" for a while to see if they will start up again.

Ford said the "well-witchers" tried to prove the motion was caused by the presence of water under the store or by some peculiar property of the handles themselves. This would tie in with the trade of the "witchers" who pace a section of ground holding a forked stick until a jerk of the wood supposedly indicates a likely spot to drill a well for water.

The hoes are mounted on! a display rack in the front of the store. Until Saturday the handles moved back and forth more than an inch-and-a-half at peak periods.
As far as I can tell, the hoes remained well-behaved farm implements from then on.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Disappearance in the Desert: The Walker/Martens Mystery

"New York Daily News," February 17, 1952, via Newspapers.com


Some time ago, I wrote about a 1924 case involving two Royal Air Force pilots who landed their plane in the middle of an Iraqi desert...and mysteriously disappeared. A somewhat similar case, forgotten today, but arguably even more baffling, occurred in Arizona in 1951.

Klaus Martens and June Marajane Walker made an attractive-looking couple. The handsome 28-year-old Martens was a combat intelligence veteran of WWII. After the war, he obtained a well-paying job as a salesman for the Orrin W. Fox Company in Pasadena, a firm which specialized in selling diesel equipment. He was a highly intelligent, well-educated man with suave manners and Continental charm. He was a member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and California National Guard, and moved in the Golden State's best social circles.

Pretty 26-year-old June was a resident student nurse at Pasadena Hospital. In July 1951, the pair had been dating for three months. Martens' feelings towards June are unrecorded, but it's clear that Miss Walker, at least, was deeply smitten. A friend quoted her as saying that Martens had yet to speak to her of marriage, "and I have no right to expect that he will, but if I ever do get married, it will be to a man like Klaus Martens." It would not be surprising that Martens never hinted of wedlock, considering that he was still legally married to Nina Hess, the daughter of a prominent Los Angeles attorney, although he and his wife were in the process of divorce.

On Sunday, July 15, Martens, a commercially licensed pilot who had logged about 400 air hours, rented a two-plane Cessna 140 from the AMVETS Flight School. He planned to go to Blythe for a business meeting, a flight of about 200 miles. Accompanying him was June Walker. It would be the first time the pair had taken a flight together. For whatever reason, Martens did not file a flight plan before they took off from East Los Angeles Airport.  The weather was good, and the flight expected to be uneventful.

When their plane failed to arrive at its destination, a search was launched of their assumed route, without any sign of the couple or their plane. No clue was found to the mystery until August 1, when a ranger from the Arizona Fish and Game Department came across the Cessna 140. It was in the middle of the desert, about 50 miles southeast of Yuma, Arizona, a waterless wasteland where the summer temperatures often went over 120 degrees. The plane was over 100 miles southeast of the couple's destination. This area, a Army practice bombing range, had not been included in the search.

Site where the plane was found.  "Yuma Sun," July 31, 1952


The plane was in good working order, and gas remained in the tank. A note in Martens' writing was found inside reading, "5:45 a.m. Monday. Started walking. Heding[sic] due west on foot." No explanation was given for why he had landed where he did. An arrow had been drawn on the ground pointing to the west, in the direction of the Mexican desert. Two sets of footprints went from the plane for a distance of about three miles. Then they abruptly stopped.

The search for the missing pair was transferred to this area, but everyone, at this point, assumed they were recovering bodies, not attempting a rescue. No one without food or water could possibly survive in the broiling desert for more than a day or two. But here the puzzle deepened. The couple was nowhere to be found. The most intensive search effort the Arizona border country had ever seen produced exactly nothing.

"New York Daily News," February 17, 1952


The more authorities looked into the dual disappearance, the more questions they had. Why did Martens land where he did? The town of Wellton was just a ten-minute flight away from where the plane was found. The path of the couple's footprints showed that they walked across a plainly-marked road leading to Wellton. Why did they ignore this clear route to help and safety, instead choosing to go off into the uninhabited desert? The main east-west highway crossing Arizona was only 30 miles from where the plane landed, something Klaus must have seen from the air. Why was that obvious landing site rejected by him as well? Considering that Klaus had a map and compass, (which he had inexplicably left behind in the plane,) how did the couple get so far off their intended flight path? Considering the plane's radio was in perfect working order, why did Martens not send any messages?

Why did searchers not find any clothing or other objects dropped along their trail?  According to experienced desert trackers, no one lost in the wasteland failed to shed clothing along the way.  Why were there no signs of activity around the plane?  It was estimated that they had landed about mid-afternoon, but there was no sign of the pair taking shelter from the broiling midday sun in the shade of the airplane.

Most importantly, where were they?

The inability to make any sense of the mystery brought forth any number of theories. One Arizona criminologist pointed out that the area where the couple disappeared was a notorious haunt for outlaws and drug smugglers from Mexico. He proposed that smugglers or spies came across the duo and murdered them to avoid being detected by American authorities. Others, such as the missing girl's mother, maintained that Martens and Walker were still alive and living in either Mexico or Martens' native land of Germany.  (Martens' father --who sired him out of wedlock--still lived in Germany.)

However, going against the theory of a romantic elopement was that, according to Klaus' mother, he wanted his wife back. Shortly before he disappeared, he begged Nina for a reconciliation, an offer his wife had seriously considered. (Klaus had actually first asked Nina to accompany him on the ill-starred flight to Blythe, but she declined. Only then did he ask June to come with him.) Perhaps, some suggested, the couple had gone into hiding because they were doing intelligence work for the U.S. government?  Or--said others--was Martens actually a Communist agent?

This last theory was perhaps not as outlandish as you might think.  Klaus' father, a Prussian baron, had been a prominent Nazi, who, after the war, threw in his lot with the East German Communists.  (The old boy clearly knew how to pick 'em.)  According to a close friend of Klaus, father and son were still in communication.  In fact, according to this friend, a few days before Klaus disappeared, he received a letter from his father that made him "very happy."  It might be a great pity that we do not know the contents of this message.

In 1955, reports that were considered to be from reliable sources told of seeing a couple matching the missing pair's description in Mexico.  They were described as keeping to themselves, having little to do with other Americans.  No one could ever say how much--or how little--validity to give these alleged sightings.

Adding to the general air of strangeness were some peculiar comments attributed to the Yuma sheriff, Jim Washum. He pointed out the many odd things about the couple's disappearance, making it clear that nothing about the case made any sense to him. He even contacted the Los Angeles county sheriff's office asking them to investigate the backgrounds of the missing duo, saying "I think someone's making a goat out of me." He told reporters that he didn't think the couple had died in the desert. "They may be out there, but I have my own ideas," he added enigmatically. He also claimed that Klaus and June's footprints heading westward had ended near what seemed to be wheel marks of a plane, as if they had been picked up by another craft.

Later, the sheriff denied having said any of these things. Was he speaking the truth, meaning that reporters put false words into his mouth? Or did someone order Washum to disavow his startling words? Who knows?

Periodic searches were made of the desert for at least three years after the couple's disappearance, but, to date, no trace of them has been found. That enigmatic note which explained nothing, and those mysteriously truncated footprints proved to be the last anyone would ever hear from June Walker or Klaus Martens.

There was one curious footnote to this riddle. In November 1952, Roscoe Hess, Klaus' father-in-law, was appointed trustee for some property belonging to Martens. When the Probate Judge asked why a petition to declare Martens legally dead had not been filed, Hess replied, "Suspicious circumstances surrounding the case have made this inadvisable."

[Note:  In July 1959, it was reported that Hess finally began proceedings to have Martens declared deceased.  I do not know when, or if, June Walker's family ever submitted a similar petition.]