"...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, February 19, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com


Tales of stone-throwing poltergeists are surprisingly common, but this one is a bit more unusual than most. The “Indianapolis News,” June 26, 1909:
Lafayette, Ind.. June 24. For miles around the little hamlet ot Pettit, seven miles east of Lafayette, the residents are in a state of great excitement over the strange happenings at the home of Rosanna Ritenour. A haunted house, dreary and desolate, infested by evil spirits, who hurl bricks and stones through solid walls without leaving a hole, throw chunks of dried clay about the rooms from invisible sources and pour water through ceilings upon the heads of unsuspecting persons beneath--these are the conditions reported at the Ritenour home that have caused all the excitement in the community and made the Ritenour farm such a point of interest as to attract hundreds of people to the scene every day. And while several investigating persons have made rigid inquiries they offer no other explanation than to accuse the old woman and her little granddaughter, who live alone In the house, of concocting the scheme to keep the old home from being sold by relatives who seek to remove Mrs. Ritenour from her dreary, dilapidated surroundings and dispose of the property.

It is only since the evening of Friday, June 18, that the Ritenour house has come into the limelight as the abode of ghosts. The house and its surroundings form an ideal setting for a ghost story and to the superstitious mind they appeal with great force as a fitting rendezvous of spirit forms. The house is a mile north of Pettit and sits back from the road in a clump of trees and shrubbery. It is an old log house, built in 1822, with weatherboards on two sides. Between the logs is a clay plastering that furnishes the ghost with one kind of ammunition that figures in the story.

For forty-nine years old Mrs. Ritenour has lived in the house. She is seventy-five years old and since the death of her husband, a civil war veteran, in May 1908, she has lived alone with little Rosie Julian, age eleven years. Rosie is the daughter of Mrs. Ritenour’s daughter, who has been missing for several years, leaving home and never returning. Five other daughters, all married, are living within a few miles of the so-called haunted house.

Since the memorable Friday night, on which the manifestation of material activity or unearthly power was first noted in the house, many remarkable things have come to pass. Mrs. Ritenour declares that large stones and bricks have been hurled at her and her granddaughter by unseen hands, coming through walls without leaving a mark to Indicate where they passed through the walls. She says the pelting with stones begins each evening at 5 o'clock and continues at intervals until midnight, when all is quiet. Both she and her granddaughter, she says, have been struck repeatedly with stones and pieces of dried clay, water has been poured on them from the kitchen ceiling, bricks have been hurled with great force from above the house, crashing into a stove and tearing it to pieces. In the yard, she says, she and the girl have been pelted with corn cobs without a person being visible but themselves. One brick covered with moss, she says, came Into the house the other night and landed on the bed of her granddaughter, striking on the pillow a few inches from the girl's head.

Every day since Mrs. Ritenour first reported that the house was haunted hundreds of curious people have visited the farm and the less timid or the visitors have remained through the evening. Many report that they saw the stones come crashing into the rooms and heard the water splash. Mrs. Emma Rauch. a neighbor, says she was with Mrs. Ritenour and the little girl the other night and a large piece of clay hit her on the neck and bruised her neck severely. She says at the time the aged woman and the girl were in front of her. There was nobody else in the house, she said. She also saw water come from the ceiling. There is nothing but an empty loft above the living rooms.

Mrs. Frances Meyers, another neighbor, was also struck on the hip with a stone and slightly injured. She says Mrs. Ritenour and the girl could not have thrown the stone. Both Mrs. Ritenour and her granddaughter have marks on their bodies to show that they have been struck by missiles.

For the purpose of solving the mystery and "laying" the ghost a party of Lafayette men headed by Noah T. Rogers, deputy-sheriff, and Perry Moon, treasurer of the Fairfield Lumber Company, made a trip to the Ritenour home yesterday afternoon and proceeded to investigate. They questioned the aged woman and the girl closely, but could get no admissions. They looked into the beds occupied by the woman and girl and found lumps of clay concealed beneath the covers. The investigating party remained at the house six hours, returning late last night to the city. They say nothing extraordinary occurred while they were there. The members of the party declared that the missiles and water must necessarily have been thrown by the woman and the girl. Mrs. Ritenour. they said, assured them the ghosts would not return and that there would be no stone throwing. Mrs. Rauch and Mrs. Meyers, however, are willing to make affidavits to the effect that neither Mrs. Ritenour nor her granddaughter threw the missiles and water.

The neighborhood is much excited today and hundreds of people visited the house. There is a theory to the effect that the daughters of old Mrs. Ritenour have been striving for some time to induce her to leave the old home and allow it to be sold. They have all invited her to come and live with them, but she has declined. She has become so deeply attached to the old horme she says she will remain there until she dies.
The newspapers don’t seem to have carried any more about the story, so I presume the disruptive activity--whether caused by spectral or human hands--did indeed cease.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Who Murdered Mattie?

"Boston Globe," August 19, 1905, via Newspapers.com


The true-crime writer F. Tennyson Jesse suggested that not only are some people "born murderers," others are "born murderees." It is when these two types of people happen to find each other that you get A Situation.

It is an interesting theory, but one that tends to fall apart once you study murder cases. For example, it is hard to find a more unlikely "murderee" than seventeen-year-old Mattie Hackett of Readfield, Maine.

August 17, 1905, was a typical day for Mattie and her family. After her father, Levi, finished his work on the family farm, he joined his wife and six children for dinner. After the meal, Levi went to the barn to do some final chores, and Mattie began washing the dishes. The rest of the family went to call on some neighbors, leaving the girl alone in the house. Mattie was a pretty girl, but in bad health--in fact, the very next day she was scheduled to be operated on for appendicitis.

"Boston Globe," August 19, 1905


As Levi Hackett came out of the barn, he was approached by a stocky, shabbily-dressed young man, obviously a tramp. The man introduced himself as Alfred Johnson of Caribou, Maine. He stated that he had just been released from a jail term for vagrancy, and he asked if he could have a meal and a place to sleep overnight before he returned to his home. Levi replied that his house was full, but the ex-jailbird could sleep in the barn.

The pair walked to the kitchen window, and Levi asked his daughter to get the stranger something to eat. She cheerfully agreed. While the girl began assembling a meal, Levi and the tramp returned to the barn. Just a few minutes later, they heard the sounds of muffled voices coming from the road adjoining the barn. Johnson started to go to see what the commotion was about, but Levi stopped him. It was only some of the children quarreling, he shrugged.

As the two left the barn a short time later, they heard something considerably more ominous: from down the road, they heard a woman scream--in an odd, high-pitched way--"Oh, you dirty nasty thing!"

Alarmed by the cry, Levi rushed into his kitchen. Mattie was not there. As he stood in the doorway, wondering what on earth to do next, he heard even worse sounds: an anguished cry for help, followed by strange gurgling noises.

These cries seemed to come from down the road, around a little bend. Hackett dashed in that direction, leaving the confused Johnson standing in the yard. Not far from his home was a ditch, at one end of a culvert. It was here that Levi found his daughter. She was alive, but unconscious. Blood was flowing from a cut on her forehead. Hackett's yells for help soon summoned the rest of his family, along with a half-dozen startled neighbors, and they carried the stricken girl into the house.

At first, everyone assumed that the sickly Mattie had merely fainted, injuring her face as she fell. Her parents loosened her clothing, rubbed her hands and feet, and even threw cold water in her face to revive her. Despite their desperate efforts, her breathing was clearly becoming more and more labored. As Levi picked the girl up to carry her to bed, her head fell forward. It was only then that they saw that a cord had been tied around Mattie's neck, embedded tightly enough in her flesh so that it was nearly invisible. Tragically, by the time the family was able to remove the cord, Mattie was dead. Her parents were forever haunted by the thought that if they had only seen the cord sooner, they could have saved their daughter.

"Boston Globe," August 19, 1905


Mattie Hackett had been murdered, and in an unusually strange and inexplicable way. Someone had lured the girl outside, led her a short way down the road, and strangled her. But who? And why?

The initial assumption was that the crime was committed by the "usual suspects" of the era: vagrants like Johnson and his ilk. Readfield organized posses who searched the area for suspicious tramps, but no likely candidates could be found. Johnson himself was held in prison for months as a material witness, but he finally had to be released when it became clear that he had nothing to offer the investigation.

In any case, it soon became increasingly obvious that Mattie almost certainly was killed by someone she knew. She would hardly have willingly left with a stranger. And if she had been forcibly removed from the kitchen, surely her father nearby would have heard the commotion. Also, the kitchen showed no sign that any struggle had taken place there.

Within a few days of Mattie's death, law enforcement developed a new theory, one that they never really relinquished: a woman had been responsible for the crime. One particular woman, in fact: Elsie Raymond, the 21-year-old wife of a local hostler. The scenario put together by investigators was this: Elsie's husband Bert had been paying warmer attentions to the attractive Mattie than was proper for a married man. The heavily-pregnant Mrs. Raymond became increasingly maddened by jealousy. On the fatal evening, Bert rode to the Hackett home and called Mattie out for a short talk. Elsie had followed her husband, and, finding him with her perceived rival, went into a rage so violent that she cried, "Oh, you dirty, nasty thing," grabbed a cord and throttled the girl.

"Boston Globe," August 21, 1905


Investigators were not without evidence to support this lurid outline. On the day of Mattie's death, the Raymonds had been overheard quarreling. A woman who boarded with them testified that Elsie had left the house early in the evening, and did not return until after midnight, when she was crying and clearly deeply shaken. Someone else claimed that Elsie had once told her, "If Mattie Hackett ever crosses my path, I will kill her." Yet another witness stated that shortly before Mattie was attacked, she had seen Elsie moving quickly down the road in the direction of the Hackett farm.

In addition, there was what was probably the most intriguing clue in the entire case. Mattie had been living with an aunt in nearby Bartlett, while she worked in a five and ten cent store in that town. However, in recent days she had returned home, due to her poor health. Two of the girls she worked with told investigators that Mattie told them she was afraid of a man in Readfield, and for that reason was reluctant to return home. She went on to say that this man had once courted her, but she decided she didn't care for him, and gave him up. Her former lover married another girl, but Mattie still feared him. She never claimed that this man had threatened her, and she never specified the reason for her unease. Most unfortunately, she also never gave his name. Was this "mystery man" Bert Raymond?

However, there was much in favor of Mrs. Raymond's innocence. For one thing, it seemed unlikely that a woman three weeks away from giving birth could have covered two miles of steep, rocky road in the twenty minutes between the time she was last seen at her home and Mattie's murder. For another, it was soon established that all of Bert's known "attentions" to Mattie consisted of once taking her and her sister Nettie home from work. Most importantly, the footprints found around the site where Mattie was attacked were of size seven shoes. Mrs. Raymond's size was four and a half.

Despite the weakness of the case against Mrs. Raymond, she remained law enforcement's only suspect, and they were determined to pursue charges. However, not one, but two grand juries were assembled to hear the case against Elsie, and both refused to return an indictment. The Raymonds stood the cloud of suspicion over their heads for a year, after which, sick of the gossip which continued to hound them, they moved to a neighboring town.

Time went on, and it looked like the murder of Mattie Hackett would be destined to become a forgotten cold case. Then, in March 1912--almost seven years after the girl's death--County Attorney Joseph Williamson stunned everyone by obtaining an indictment of Elsie Raymond. He had been convinced from the beginning that Mrs. Raymond was a murderer, and he felt he could finally prove it. Her trial was set for the following November.

"Boston Globe," April 7, 1912


The state's case against Elsie was one of the most curious in legal history: in essence, they argued that Mrs. Raymond's advanced state of pregnancy had made her crazed enough to turn savage garroter. The prosecution evidence consisted almost solely of various medical experts testifying that women about to become mothers often developed a derangement of the mind, which quickly disappeared after giving birth. (This must have made the husbands of pregnant women throughout Maine very uneasy.) They offered to accept a plea of "not guilty by reason of temporary insanity."

The defense scornfully rejected any such thing. Their client was completely innocent, they declared, and they would accept only an acquittal. They pointed to the exculpatory footprint evidence. They pointed to the fact that witnesses could not swear that a veiled woman they claimed to have seen rushing toward the Hackett farm that August night in 1905 was indeed Elsie Raymond. Additionally, if the Raymonds were at the death scene, how did they leave? The dying Mattie was found only a few minutes after she was strangled, but no one saw either of the Raymonds anywhere in the vicinity.

The defense argued that not only could they prove their client's innocence, they believed they had found the real murderers. They put on the stand a half-dozen witnesses claiming that in 1906, an army deserter named William Hurd had told them he had witnessed a gang of his fellow tramps murder Mattie Hackett. He subsequently committed suicide, without ever revealing the names of the guilty parties.

Alfred Johnson also took the stand, telling a story substantially different from his earlier accounts. He now claimed that when he was in the barn with Levi Hackett, he heard a man's voice say, "Can't you come down tonight," with a woman replying, "No, I can't come down tonight." The voices moved further down the road. Soon afterward, he heard two women talking, followed by the cry of "You dirty, nasty thing," and a choked-off scream.

Alas for the prosecution, before this--to put it most charitably--imaginative testimony could even be completed, the jury announced they had heard quite enough to return an acquittal. Mrs. Raymond was freed.

It was an extremely popular verdict, one which allowed the Raymonds to live the rest of their lives in peace. However, it did absolutely nothing to solve a puzzle which seems fated to forever remain a mystery: Who killed Mattie Hackett?

Friday, February 14, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn


The sponsors of this week's Link Dump want to be your Valentine.





What the hell are the Lubbock Lights?

What the hell is gravity?

That time when Orwell was a policeman in British India.

The vanishing cats of the Art Students' League.

A collection of children's notebooks.

The world's smallest--and arguably the most sinister--museum.

Why Lincoln laughed.

Love tokens from the Thames.

Secret love letters in the archives.

Some facts about the UK census.

The woman who was hugged to death.

The legends of Captain Jack Armstrong.

This week in Russian Weird:  Kids, do not stick your head inside a particle accelerator.

The complicated case of the Queen's Pearl.

How the heart came to symbolize love.

The funeral of George III.

Female shamans in ancient Ireland.

What may be the oldest story ever told.

Heart folklore.

You want really bizarre Valentine's Day plays?  You get really bizarre Valentine's Day plays.

The theory that ghosts are essentially tape recordings.

Remembering Dorothy Parker.

A murderer and a poltergeist.

The Victorian "bachelor girls."

A demon-infested house.

Nope, nothing at all creepy about this story.

A scrapbook created by a WWII prisoner of war.

I'm not normally big on going to restaurants, but I'd love to visit this one.

The murdered woman in the well.

The differences between American and British theater, and other theatrical links.

The eerie tales surrounding an abandoned resort.

Valentines to send to your favorite undertaker.

Some failed mutineers.

Victorian's modern fashion trends.

Mary Tofts, Mommie Rabbitest.

Do you know what Washington saw as the future of America?  Mules.

How a national treasure came to be found near railroad tracks.

Nostalgia in Early Modern England.

Woolly mammoths: "genetic mess."

DNA solved a 50-year-old murder case.

Homosexuality and a 200-year-old diary.

An "eccentric mimic."

A hint of spring during an East End winter.

Play the Board Game of Death!

The singular life of Sal Madge.

How to create a 3rd century hairdo.

How our sun could turn into a Death Star.  Happy weekend!

Something from another galaxy is sending out radio signals.  Pair this with the above link, and your dystopian sci-fi novel writes itself.

OK, let's talk cross-dressing frog-catchers.

No One Can Explain Why Planes Stay in the Air; Or, next time you travel, consider using Amtrak.

How cats and a dog saved the lives of 37 people.

A famed 18th century American socialite.

A tree grown from 2,000 year old seeds.

A strange burial in Massachusetts.

The unsolved murder of Katie Dugan.

That's a wrap for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at one of Maine's most well-known unsolved murders. In the meantime, this song seemed appropriate.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com


Many things have been known to inspire murder plots, but I believe a broken clothesline is one for the record books.   The "Santa Rosa Press-Democrat," November 9, 1949:

PORT ORCHARD, Wash., Nov. 8 (UP) Jobless, Wilford Piatt, 34, explained today why he "just can't get mad" at his wife, who admits plotting to kill him after 15 years of "too much loving." 
"She was upset," he said, "over the spell of bad luck we've been having, that's all. A wife just doesn't kill a husband who loves her." 
Wilford, who, romantically speaking, thinks he's "only average," visited the petite, blue-eyed Margaret Susan Piatt yesterday, following her arraignment in Kitsap county court. His 31 -year-old wife, mother of two children, has until next Monday to answer the charge of attempted murder. 
After her arraignment yesterday, Mrs. Piatt, dressed prettily in a black and white figured dress and high-heeled pumps, met her husband in the jail visiting room. They kissed and hugged. 
Leaving her with a sack full of apples, Wilford beamed: "She's wonderful!" 
"And I think I know now what the real trouble is," he said. "It's only the way our luck's been going." 
"Two years ago, I wrecked my new 1947 Ford and woke up 21 days later in the hospital. After that the roof fell in. 
"This spring Margaret was operated on for the tumor. Then Jimmy, my 9-year-old son broke his ear drum." 
"It was Fourth of July when Jimmy, his hands sticky from candy he was eating, lighted a firecracker, threw it and then clapped his hands to his face. The explosive had stuck to his hands. 
"Six weeks later a police dog knocked him down and bit his face," Wilford said. 
"Not long after that, my daughter Sherry fell 30 feet and broke her shoulder. That was on my wife's birthday." 
Seven days later Piatt fell and broke his arm while apple picking in Cashmere, Wash. 
"About that time is when she started acting funny. Wouldn't talk to me, reason with me," he said. "Just barely noticed me. Seems like everything in her snapped the next Sunday, when the clothesline broke." 
With her husband unable to work, she had been working two jobs 16 hours a day. Sunday was washday. 
It was that weekend that Mrs. Piatt met Hollis D. Scott and outlined her plot to murder her husband. 
"She was just depressed, that's all," said Wilford. "Then she pulled that fool stunt soon after. That's why you can't get mad at her." 
At the arraignment yesterday, her attorney, Ray R. Greenwood, challenged the validity of the attempted murder charge, arguing that the information as drawn up did not constitute a crime. 
"No overt act was committed," he pointed out. Prosecutor James Monroe contended solicitation to commit murder is the same as attempted murder.


Mrs. Piatt's attorneys, rather amazingly, managed to get the attempted murder charges against their client dropped, but a new charge--forgery--was brought against her. (When she sold her husband's car to pay for his murder, she falsified his name on the title papers.) When she was released on bail, Wilford welcomed her back with open arms, saying "We sure do need you home."

"Akron Beacon Journal," November 9, 1949


I suppose it is a matter of individual opinion whether Wilford Piatt was the most understanding, tolerant man on the planet or simply the biggest idiot on two legs.

The forgery charges were eventually dropped as well, and the Piatts disappeared from the newspapers.  Hopefully, this brush with calamity moderated Wilford's sexual desires and Margaret's homicidal ones, and the pair went on to live happily ever after, but I somehow doubt it.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Cat Trial of the Century

On this blog, I have covered several cases revolving around disputed identity: is person “X” really person “Y”, or aren’t they? I have a great fondness for such stories, as they can make some of the most fascinating riddles.

So, you can imagine how pleased I was to come across one famed court case where the center of the mystery was a cat. And when I learned the feline in question bore the glorious name of “Marmaduke Gingerbits,” I knew I had been blessed by the Blogger Gods.

The tale of this four-legged Martin Guerre began in Woodford Bridge, Essex, in August of 1983. Marmaduke was the beloved pet of PC John Sewell and his wife Anna.

When the Sewells went away for vacation, they left Marmaduke in the care of a friend. On their return, they were met with the worst news a pet owner can receive: soon after they left, the cat disappeared!

Immediately after Marmaduke vanished, a large, handsome ginger cat began visiting Doreen Smythe, one of Sewell’s neighbors. One evening, she saw another neighbor, Monty Cohen, trying to catch the cat. He told Mrs. Smythe that he thought it was his missing pet, Sonny. Although she noticed that the animal displayed a curious aversion to Cohen, Smythe allowed him to take the cat. Or try to, at any rate. “The cat wouldn’t go near him,” she later testified. “He crouched and was spitting and laid on the floor, all hunched up.”

Soon after this, she noticed a flier in a shop window offering a reward for Marmaduke’s return. It included a photo of the fugitive. Mrs. Smythe saw that he was a dead ringer for Mr. Cohen’s “Sonny.” She immediately contacted the Sewells.

When the couple went to Cohen’s house, they noted that the neighbor was “hostile,” but Cohen reluctantly showed them the cat. “The cat immediately turned his head and we knew at that moment that it was our animal,” said Sewell. “He was struggling to get free and get away from Cohen towards myself and my wife.”

Despite this, Cohen refused to hand over the cat. Sewell and his wife got hold of the cat’s front legs, but Cohen stubbornly refused to let go of the rest of the animal. The constable whipped out his warrant card, showing that it was now a matter for Her Majesty’s law enforcement. A friend of Cohen’s, who said he was a black belt in karate, responded by throwing kicks and punches. Cohen and Sewell began pounding each other. The constable called for backup and put Cohen in an armlock.

It was war.

Sewell promptly had Cohen arrested on charges of cat-napping and assault, and the case of Sewell vs. Cohen--quickly dubbed by the British press as “The Cat Trial of the Century” and "The Love-Tug"--was heard in Snaresbrook Crown Court in February 1984.

The Guardian, June 15, 1984, via Newspapers.com


Judge G.N. Worthington opened the proceedings by ordering that the disputed cat be shown to the jury. “What is his name,” he asked.

“Marmaduke Gingerbits, Your Honor,” Sewell replied.

“Marmaduke, who?” Worthington said bemusedly. He eyed certain areas of the cat’s anatomy. “Where are the ginger bits?”

Sewell struggled to answer the question in a manner befitting the dignity of a British courtroom. “Unfortunately, he was christened before he had his operation…”

Cohen continued to insist that Exhibit A was his “Sonny.” Sewell pointed out that Marmaduke has a distinct mark on his right eyelid that was identical to the cat now in court. Marmaduke’s vet gave testimony, agreeing that the cat was “very likely” to be the same one he had treated. Photographs of Marmaduke were introduced into evidence, and compared carefully to the Claimant.

The jury found Cohen guilty of assault, but punted on the matter of the cat. Judge Worthington decided that his court had no jurisdiction to decide whether the Claimant was Marmaduke or Sonny. Ever since Cohen’s arrest, the center of the dispute had been kept in neutral territory--a local cattery--and the Judge expressed concern at the escalating public cost of keeping the cat in custody. It had already amounted to three hundred pounds. Cohen’s counsel immediately asked for the cat to be given to his client. He pointed out that when police officers arrived at Cohen’s house, they learned that his rival was a policeman. “From start to finish Mr. Sewell, working with other police officers, was on the inside rail, so to speak...There was no proper consideration of Mr. Cohen’s account.”

“I am not going to deal with the question of access to a cat,” the judge sighed.

The Guardian, February 28, 1984


Both sides were determined to fight on. In early March 1984, in the presence of cameras from both the BBC and ITV--the issue of this cat’s identity had by now become a nationwide cause célèbre--Cohen and the Sewells went to Redbridge Magistrates Court, each side applying for custody of the cat. A date was set for later that month, but when the magistrates heard that the Sewells had already started proceedings in the County Court, the case was dismissed.

The issue of the cat’s ownership had become a complicated legal puzzle. The Sewells had adjourned the civil case pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings against Cohen, because, no matter what the civil court decided, the cat would have to remain with a third party until the criminal trial was over. If Cohen had been convicted of theft, the cat would be automatically given to the Sewells, making the civil case unnecessary. In the meantime, Cohen went to the Police Complaints Board, alleging that when he was arrested, police officers “mishandled” him. He announced that he would file an injunction if the Sewells were allowed access to “his” cat. (Cohen accused Sewell of paying secret visits to the feline and giving him biscuits to win his affections.) Cohen would have also liked to take civil action against the enemy camp, but he could not do so on legal aid, and, being unemployed, could not afford the costs himself.

Finally, in June 1984--after months of the UK holding its collective breath over the true identity of this mystery cat--these two (in the words of Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jane Shoemaker) “otherwise sane and normal men” appeared in Bow Street Courthouse to learn which of them would have the honor of residing with the UK’s most controversial cat. Marmaduke/Sonny was present as well, reclining in a cage on a “fur-flattering” white blanket, and no doubt thinking uncomplimentary thoughts about human intelligence.

Marmaduke’s vet made another appearance, giving the vital testimony that Sewell’s cat was not allowed to drink milk. It disagreed with him.

The pivotal question: ”Did the cat present in the courtroom drink milk?”

A tense silence fell over the packed courtroom. They knew the cat’s destiny rested on the answer.

His current custodians testified that he did, but it gave him indigestion.

Game over. Registrar John Platt awarded the cat--now legally established as “Marmaduke”--to the Sewells. He stated that the Sewells produced sufficient evidence to show this was their cat. He believed that there truly had been a ginger cat named “Sonny,” and that Cohen genuinely, but erroneously, believed this was his lost pet. An honest mistake rather than sinister catnapping. He also ruled that Sewell had trespassed on Cohen’s home, and that he had had no right to put an armlock on Cohen when they had tussled over the cat. He ordered the Sewells to pay Cohen fifty pounds for the assault and trespass, and two hundred pounds of his costs. In return, Cohen was ordered to pay 80 per cent of the Sewells’ court costs. (In a separate matter, Cohen was also fined for puncturing the tires on four police cars.) The hearing was estimated to have cost over a thousand pounds, in addition to the five thousand pounds for the Snaresbrook hearing. This was, of course, not counting the expenses of keeping Marmaduke in custody as a material witness for months.

This hitherto humble ginger had become the costliest cat in Great Britain.

The Guardian, June 15, 1984


Marmaduke and the Sewells had a tearful reunion in the courtroom, covered in loving detail on BBC radio. As for Cohen, he too cried, but in sorrow, not joy. He fled the court, too upset to even speak to reporters. The Sewells left without comment, as well. A tabloid had bought their life story, and their contract barred them from speaking to anyone else.

I believe the court made the right decision. This cat who, in the manner of Helen of Troy, launched a thousand lawsuits, almost certainly did indeed belong to the Sewells.

However, I also have sympathy for Mr. Cohen. He would not have gone through this long legal hell if he had not been sincerely convinced this was his cat. So we are left with one mystery that, I fear, is fated to go unsolved: Where, oh, where, is his Sonny?



Friday, February 7, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn


This week's Link Dump: tea is served!



Where the hell was Noah's flood?

Watch out for those haunted computers!

Bees.  Golden, mummified bees.

They may have found the skull of Pliny the Elder.

Finding history in a London cesspit.

The life of William IV.

How to go about settling in 1830s Texas.

A dinosaur love song.

An unusual hanging.

Killer corsets.

Killer rings!

Beethoven wasn't as deaf as we think.

Dinnerware for the dead.

The sound of the sun.

An 8,000 year old bone figurine.

A vaudeville performer who acted as a human screen.

Why did the 1918 flu kill so many young people?

A well which might be the world's oldest wooden structure.

Newly-discovered details about the death and burial of Charles Dickens.

Spirits of the unforgiven dead.

The Museum of Interesting Things turns out to be well named.

A puzzling ancient skeleton.

Some medieval medical recipes.

Reevaluating Charles Fort.

A Nazi-killing teenage girl gang.

Ancient board games.

If you've been longing to buy land once owned by a family of serial killers (if you're a reader of this blog, I suppose that's a definite possibility) here's your big chance.

Egypt's City of the Dead.

Mysterious underground cities and rock churches.

So maybe Cahokia wasn't that deserted after all.

The tradition of "Mid-Lent."

Victorian vinegar valentines.

The portraits of Princesse de Lamballe.

The downfall of a dangerous family.

Murder, written in stone.

The man who really defeated King Harold.

David Bowie and his demon-possessed swimming pool.

A mysterious mass burial.

Warrior tax collectors in the 11th century.

Murder and mystery in Los Angeles.

Queen Victoria throws a costume party.

The screaming ghost of a sheep thief.

A Brooklyn fire dog comes to the rescue of kittens.

Klingon Hamlet, and other theatrical links.

Nothing to see here, just a bunch of ancient curse tablets.

A rating sheet of 18th century socialites.

An 1895 film in high definition.

The amazing story of an Auschwitz inmate.

A woman discovers her family ties to the Lindbergh kidnapping.

I now realize what I was meant to do with my life: own a bookstore full of kittens.

A brief history of lipstick.

Dr. Crippen's family want his remains.

The bottom of the ocean turns out to be a pretty noisy place.

That's a wrap for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll meet a cat who inspired an epic legal battle.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Torelli:

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com


I’m just going to leave this one here. I think it speaks for itself. The “Hartford Republican,” September 12, 1913:
Fort Smith, Ark. A creature, conforming with the generally accepted appearance of the devil, stole the body of a man in the neighborhood of Base, Montgomery county, according to S. H. Farrow of Cedar Creek, and vouched for by four supposed eyewitnesses, is the story that has gained much comment at Waldon, according to advices.

Farrow says the body stolen was a farmer's. The eyewitnesses to the spooky occurrence were keeping watch at the house when the weird creature entered. He carried a heavy chain across his shoulders, wore a white robe, and a long growth of red hair, they say.

His face was apparently painted red, and on his forehead a small set of horns had been fastened.

The watchers became so alarmed that they fled, and when they returned the coffin was empty.
I have no idea what really was going on here, but I think we can take it for granted that this farmer was not his neighborhood’s most esteemed resident.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Ballad of Stagecoach Mary

Mary Fields, circa 1895


There are strong women. There are formidable ladies. There are tough cookies. There are female badasses.

And then there is “Stagecoach” Mary Fields, who was surely in a class all her own. As is the case with so many larger-than-life figures, much of Fields’ life history is murky and a good part of the rest shrouded in the fog of mythology, but there is enough reliable information to guarantee her an honored place in the hallowed pages of Strange Company.

Fields was born into slavery, possibly in Tennessee, sometime around 1832. She first appears in the historical record as a slave in the West Virginia household of a family named Warner. When she was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, she made one vow: that no one would dominate her again. As she was over six feet tall, weighed around two hundred pounds, and could “pick up a quarter of beef like a potato,” the wise were happy to oblige her.

The newly-freed Fields took to the road. She traveled up the Mississippi River, working on the riverboats and acting as a servant for families who lived along the river. By 1870, she was again working for the Warners, this time as a paid domestic servant. When one of the Warner daughters became a nun, Fields accompanied her to the Ursuline Convent of the Sacred Heart in Toledo, Ohio. Mary became the convent’s groundskeeper.

It made for an odd mix. It is said that when one of the nuns asked if she had had a good journey, Fields replied, “I’m ready for a good cigar and a drink.” Mary’s proud nature, fiery temper and “difficult” personality brought an unaccustomed volatility to the hitherto peaceful convent.

Especially when you messed with her gardens. Mary was a passionate and skilled gardener, and when anyone interfered with her landscaping, prayers were needed. “God help anyone who walked on the lawn after Mary had cut it,” one nun later recollected.

In 1884, the convent’s head, Mother Amadeus, was sent to St. Peter’s Mission in Montana Territory, in order to establish a school for Native American girls. When Mother Amadeus came down with pneumonia a short time later, Fields, along with several nuns, went to St. Peter’s to help keep the mission going. After Mother Amadeus’ recovery, Fields decided that the wild, wild west was much more her style than the staid atmosphere of Toledo. She stayed on at the mission as a general caretaker: raising vegetables, tending chickens, hunting game birds, doing laundry, and repairing buildings. She had free room and board at the mission, but refused to accept a salary. Fields wanted to have her independence, and remaining a non-contracted worker enabled her to come and go as she pleased. In the words of Fields’ biographer Dee Garceau-Hagen, the former slave relished “the pungency of freedom.”

The locals didn’t know what to make of Fields. An Amazon-sized black woman who drank, smoked, swore, was as strong as any male, hauled freight, and readily raised hell with anyone who crossed her was a whole new experience for them. The Native Americans dubbed her “White Crow” as she was someone who “acts like a white woman but has black skin.” A white schoolgirl wrote an essay about Fields noting, more bluntly, “She drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.”

One day in 1892, she had a row with John Mosney, one of the mission’s male hired hands. (It is surmised that he objected to taking orders from a black woman. Or maybe he walked on her lawn.) The quarrel culminated with the pair pointing rifles at each other. After that episode, the bishop decided Fields was too, well, vivid a personality for their cloistered society, and he ordered that she be banned from the mission.. He probably felt she was just too much for God. As “overbearing and troublesome” as Fields could be, the nuns at St. Peter’s had become attached to her, and felt that the eviction was horribly unfair. Fields, too, had hoped to stay at the mission for the rest of her days. However, orders from up top were orders from up top, leaving them with no choice but to obey. Fields moved to the nearby town of Cascade, where, with the help of Mother Amadeus, she opened a small restaurant.

As cantankerous as she could be, Fields was also open-handed, generous, and unconcerned about money, which guaranteed her failure as a businesswoman. She readily served meals to everyone who dropped in, blissfully unconcerned about whether or not they could pay for the food. You will not be surprised that the eatery folded in less than a year. She went on to do a series of odd jobs, becoming locally famous for her fondness for whisky and her irascibility. The town’s newspaper claimed--with a distinct air of pride--that Fields had “broken more noses than any other person in Montana.” When one man was crude--not to say suicidal--enough to hurl a racial slur in her direction, Mary sent him to the hospital with a broken head.

In 1896, she applied for a job as a mail carrier. Local postal employees were dubious about hiring a woman in her sixties until, much to their astonishment, they saw that she could hitch a team of horses faster than any man. She was only the second woman, and the first black woman, to work for the Postal Service.

In 19th century Montana, delivering the mail was not a job for the weak and timid. On her route, Fields had to face primitive (or nonexistent) roads, often harsh weather, and the occasional highwayman.

None of this fazed Fields in the least. If her stagecoach broke down, she fixed it. If the winter snows grew too heavy for the horses, she would put on snowshoes, toss the sacks of mail over her mighty shoulders, and deliver them on foot. If anyone tried to rob her, she shot them. According to one story, she once took on a pack of wolves--and won. She never missed a day. Before long, her stellar record earned her the affectionate nickname of “Stagecoach Mary.”

Our intrepid heroine--Cascade’s only black resident--became a near-folkloric figure in the area. Despite the inevitable racial prejudice she often encountered, to many people she was a source of local pride, or in the words of the town newspaper, “a sort of landmark.”

Another thing that set Fields apart is that after leaving St. Peter’s, she no longer sought the company of women, white or black. She ignored the black community institutions being formed in Montana, and there is no evidence she participated in any white churches or civic groups. Instead, her main socializing was with white men in their standard pursuits: sports events, billiard halls, and saloons. Her anomalous role in Cascade’s society only intensified her already colorful reputation, giving her a curious license enjoyed by neither black men or white women.

"Great Falls Tribune," March 17, 1904. Note: as Fields did not know when she was born, every year she would pick a date that suited her fancy as her "birthday."


Fields retired from her route in 1903, at the age of approximately 71. She occupied herself with babysitting, operating a laundry service, gardening, watching baseball games (she loved the sport,) and, of course, whisky. Mary stayed Mary to the end. According to one report, when a customer failed to pay his laundry bill, she broke his nose. She would give flowers from her garden to the home baseball team and give the umpire hell when he called against them.

Fields with the Cascade baseball team, 1914. Great Falls Tribune, May 22, 1939, via Newspapers.com


Stagecoach Mary died of heart disease in 1914. Her funeral--held, appropriately enough, at the town theater--was one of the largest the area had ever seen.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn


This week's Link Dump is hosted by a variety of musical cats!






The death of a scheming archbishop.

Bringing light to a very dark town.  I'm speaking quite literally.

A look at the conversation chair.

The King of the Quacks.

A Louisiana university may be the home of the world's oldest man-made structure.

I don't care how rich you are; if you pay $500 million to live in California these days you need your head examined.  (Hell, I'm waiting for someone kind enough to pay me to leave.)

Ration fatigue: a story from WWI.

A ghostly death-chamber.

A pioneering Pennsylvania murderess.

A memorial to the first cat astronaut.

Modern portraits of historical figures.

The man who was hanged for shoes and breeches.

The origins of "East of the Sun and West of the Moon."

South Carolina is looking for piggy cuddlers.

The (long) history of Scottish independence.

French wedding traditions.

An interesting theory about the famous murder of Julia Wallace.

We keep learning that Neanderthals were more human than we thought.

It turns out bees are pretty good at math.

What if we are the ones populating other planets?

England's music halls, and other theatrical links.

A murder mystery from ancient Egypt.

Items of clothing turn deadly.

Why you've probably never heard of history's worst sea disaster.

A brief history of the "last meal."

The painter of the spirit world.

Beethoven's Vienna.

An Englishman in 18th century India.

Sketching WWII.

The fires in Australia have revealed an ancient aquatic system.

Greek vampires.

A tale of rival chiropodists.

How an abused kitten became a police station mascot.

How a British official became tarred and feathered.

A medieval charnel house in Spitalfields.

America's first female doctor.

The cat who was sent through the mail.

The life of Harald Hardrada.

Ladies and gentlemen, the "Plan Nine From Outer Space" of 19th century novels.  (It's killing me that I can't find this book online.)

A first-hand account of the English Armada.

A 3,000 year old mummy speaks!  Albeit, not very well, but that's excusable, considering he's tongueless.  And, of course, dead.

Nothing to see here, just Antarctica spewing particles which nobody can explain.

The life of a celebrated medium.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a notable figure of the American West.  In the meantime, here's my favorite song from my favorite Warren Zevon album.  Listening to this album is one of the things which got me through the horrors of junior high.


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com


Stories of ghostly faces in mirrors or windows are surprisingly common, but this one is considerably weirder than most. The “Sedalia Democrat,” January 16, 1896:
On a farm ten miles northwest of Pittsfield, III., owned by Mrs. Judge Doocy, of that place, but formerly owned by Jacob Parsley, stands a two story frame dwelling. This house is occupied by Albert Wells, who rents the farm. Parsley lived a number of years in this house and died there a few years ago. The neighbors say he protected bushwhackers.

During the war a stranger was hanged in a grove near the house. Several persons are reported to have mysteriously disappeared there. Parsley’s last request was that the trees in the grove never be cut down.

But Mr. Wells cut ten of the trees,and during the past two weeks ten pictures have appeared on ten window panes of the house fronting the grove.

The pictures are said by the neighbors to resemble Parsley, his wife, his grandchildren, a Jew peddler, who disappeared mysteriously, the stranger hanged in the grove, and other people who could not be accounted for.

New glass has been substituted, but the pictures reappear. Hundreds of people visit the place daily—lawyers, ministers and school teachers—yet none explain the mystery. It is supposed missing people are buried in the grove, and an investigation is likely to follow. During the night a sound, as of water dripping from the roof upon the floor upstairs, then upon the ground floor, are continually heard, yet nothing has ever been discovered to cause the sounds.
Unfortunately, this seems to have been an example of those strange little newspaper stories that make one appearance in print, and then disappear with no follow-ups.

Monday, January 27, 2020

In Which Mr. Adamski Weirds Everybody Out



As regular readers of my blog (all three of you) may have noticed, I have, without really intending to, built a subcategory of stories of people who are found strangely, inexplicably dead. All these cases are puzzling, but there are few that top the end of an otherwise completely normal man named Zigmund Adamski.

In fact, some will tell you his death was positively otherworldly.

Zigmund Jan Adamski was a Pole who was forced to flee his country during WWII. He found refuge in Tingley, Yorkshire, where he became a coal miner. He married in 1951. Sadly, before many years passed, his wife, Leokadia ("Lottie") became an invalid. Zigmund was devoted to his spouse, and naturally wanted to spend as much time caring for her as possible. Additionally, his own health was poor, so in 1980, the 56-year-old applied for early retirement. He received word that his application had been rejected. Soon afterward, the company made a review of this decision, and this time his application was accepted. However, by the time this reversal was made, Mr. Adamski's employment status was, to say the least, irrelevant.

June 6, 1980 began as a perfectly normal day for Zigmund. He was, of course, displeased with his company denying him early retirement, (the company's change of heart had yet to be announced) but he showed no sign of being unusually upset. A cousin and her son were visiting the Adamskis from Poland. The trio spent the day visiting the local shops, then returned home for a meal of fish and chips. Adamski was looking forward to the following day, when he was going to give away his goddaughter in marriage. He even had prepared a speech for the occasion.

At three-thirty in the afternoon, Adamski told his family he would go buy some potatoes. The shop was only a few hundred yards away, so he expected to be gone just a short time. He left with nothing but his wallet.

Adamski never made it to the store. In fact, he was never seen alive again.

When he failed to return home that evening, Leokadia called the police. Law enforcement made extensive inquiries, and local newspapers also publicized the disappearance, but no one could offer any information. All anyone could say was that one moment, a neighbor saw him walking in the direction of his neighborhood store, and the next moment...he was gone.

On the afternoon of June 11, Trevor Parker, the son of a coal merchant in Todmorden, a town some 25 miles away from where Adamski was last seen, arrived at his father's yard. He was stunned to find a man's body lying in a hollow at the top of a 10 foot high pile of coal. Adding to his confusion was the fact that he had already been at the yard that morning, and was certain the body and not been there at that time. Between his two visits, the gates had been left unlocked in case any deliveries arrived.

This was the last sort of delivery he had been expecting.

After recovering from his shock, Parker summoned police and an ambulance, even though it was immediately obvious that the man was quite dead. Investigators were quickly able to establish that the body was that of the missing Zigmund Adamski.

Unfortunately, that was the only question in this case anyone was able to answer. The more everyone studied the business, the weirder it got. For one thing, how did he get up there? It would have been extremely difficult for anyone to climb up the coal pile, particularly since recent rains had left it greasy and slippery. For someone with Adamski's health issues, it would have been impossible. Although the body was still wearing the jacket Adamski donned before leaving his house, his shirt was missing, along with his watch and wallet. (Those items were never found.) There were strange oval burn marks on the back of his head, neck, and shoulder.

The autopsy established that Adamski died on the day his body was found, sometime between 11:15 am and 1:15 pm. There were no physical injuries found, aside from those odd burns. The pathologist thought they were caused by some sort of corrosive substance, but he could not say what it had been. The burns had been covered with a gel which the doctor was also unable to identify. All he could say was that Adamski probably died of a heart attack. "Natural causes" was the final verdict in this most unnatural case.

This, of course, did nothing to explain what happened to Adamski. Where was he during the days between his disappearance and his death? His body showed only one day's growth of stubble, so he had obviously been shaving (and presumably eating and drinking) somewhere, but no one reported seeing him. Was he voluntarily hiding all that time? Had he been kidnapped? In either case, how in the world did he wind up on top of a pile of coal? The coal yard was in a busy area, but on the day his body appeared there, no one saw or heard anything unusual. The coal pile showed no sign of footprints or other indentations to indicate what would have been a very arduous climb. And if he had been murdered, this would have been a remarkably stupid place to leave the body.

To date, no one has been able to offer a definitive answer to this mystery. So weird was Adamski's death that it has been linked to--wait for it!--aliens. In the weeks before and after Adamski vanished, there were a number of UFO sightings around West Yorkshire, particularly in Todmorden, where his body was found. Alan Godfrey, one of the policemen who were called to the coal yard by Trevor Parker, reported a most peculiar incident on the night November 28, 1980. As he was driving on patrol, he saw a large object hovering on the road ahead of him. He stopped his car and tried calling the station on his car radio and mobile walkie-talkie, but could not get through. The next thing he knew, he was 100 yards further down the road from where he had stopped. He later found that a substantial amount of time had passed, of which he had no recollection. He later had himself hypnotized, in an effort to learn what had happened during this "missing time." In his trance, he described being taken inside the UFO and examined by the extraterrestrials inside the craft.

Was this, some have speculated, what had happened to Adamski? Did a passing UFO scoop him up to use as a human guinea pig? Did he die of a heart attack during the examination, with his alien captors disposing of the corpse by simply dropping it on a handy pile of coal?

In 2018, Alan Godfrey spoke to the "West Yorkshire Examiner" about the mystery. He was still haunted by the sight of Adamski's corpse. "Those eyes were staring up at me...They were wide open. He had a look of someone who had seen something or someone that had scared him to death. Something or someone put him on top of that pile of coal. And something scared him to death." He added that he "can't rule out," the alien abduction theory.

Such a scenario is, of course, completely outlandish. The unnerving thing is, to date, no one has come up with a better explanation for the death of Zigmund Adamski.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump has run away to join the circus.






Normal people swat insects with a newspaper.  Victorians turned them into jewelry.

The last of the Parisian estates.

A paranormal investigator's seemingly paranormal death.

A soldier, adventurer, artist, and poet.  Who was also a classmate of Napoleon's.

The Union Army's secret weapon.

The Methodist spinster and the communicative ghost.

Vesuvius and the man with the brain of glass.

Oliver Cromwell learns to be careful what you wish for.

This week in Russian Weird brings a new interpretation to "Crazy Cat Lady."

Lemuria and J.C. Brown.

Death and disappearance on Mt. Baldy.

A jilted naturalist on St. Helena.

How Marie Williams went from Windsor Castle to North Dakota.  Probably snaffling from Queen Victoria along the way.

Murder and the Greenbriar Ghost.

The top mythical birds.

Life in a 19th century brothel.

The grave of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

In praise of reading aloud.

The down side to being a medieval heiress.

The loneliest lighthouse.

A bit of post-mortem payback.

The life of painter Johann Zoffany.

In search of Homer.

The last of the Neanderthals?

A young actress' mysterious death.

Serbia's skull tower.

The goblins of Appalachia.

The dognapping that changed literary history.

A casualty of the Perak War.

First-hand accounts of the French Revolution.

Orwell and the anarchists.

The case of the phony serial killer.

The man with the blue grave.

Photos of "everyday life" in 19th century America.

The famed detective Allan Pinkerton.

A lost gold hoard and an execution.

A significant UFO mystery.

A famed highwayman--and escape artist.

So, Lizzie Borden wasn't the only gruesome murderer in her family tree.  (Yeah.  I think she was guilty as hell.)

And that's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an "ordinary" man's extraordinarily weird death.  In the meantime, here's a song I remember well from back in the day.