"...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, October 25, 2021

Death in the Driveway: A Halloween Murder Mystery

"Staunton News-Leader," November 1, 1967, via Newspapers.com

The cold-blooded shooting of Dr. William Eugene Lynn is probably still the strangest unsolved murder in Rappahannock County, Virginia’s history.  What makes this seemingly completely senseless crime even more eerie is the fact that it happened on Halloween night, that traditional time for ghosts, demons, and other sinister creatures to freely walk the earth.  One has to wonder if the assassin chose the date deliberately.

54-year-old William Lynn appeared to lead an unblemished life.  He was happily married, had three well-adjusted children, and was a fine doctor.  Dr. Lynn was, in short, both well-liked and respected--a “real old-fashioned family physician,” according to a colleague. However, there was at least one person, who, for reasons still unknown to us, thought differently about the doctor.

On October 31, 1967, after an uneventful day at his Front Royal practice, Lynn and his wife Clydetta--a trained nurse who worked with him--drove home.  They arrived at about 6:30 p.m., amid near total darkness.  When Lynn rounded the curve of his driveway, he saw that his way was blocked by several large bushel baskets--some harmless holiday “trick,” they presumed.  Dr. Lynn paused the car to allow Clydetta to get out of the car and clear the path.

Clydetta had almost reached the baskets when a man suddenly appeared from behind a bush and fired a gun into the driver’s side window of Lynn’s car.  Mrs. Lynn immediately felt a sharp pain (later determined to be flying glass from the car.)  “Gene!” Clydetta cried.  “I think I’ve been shot!”

When she got closer to the car, she saw that she had not been the shooter’s target.  Her husband was slumped over the wheel, covered in blood.  Before she could do anything, Dr. Lynn’s foot slipped off the brake, sending the car rolling backwards down the driveway.  Fortunately, she was able to stop the auto before it went careening into State Route 522.  Clydetta did what she could to stop her husband’s bleeding, while blowing the horn and screaming for help from her mother and one of her daughters, who were in the house at the time.  It was all futile.  The doctor had died almost instantly.  By the time authorities arrived on the scene, the killer had plenty of opportunity to escape into the long darkness of that fall night.

This was one of those seemingly motiveless crimes that tend to baffle even the most acute detective.  Police did a searching examination of the dead man’s private life, hoping to come up with some reason why someone would assassinate him in such a particularly chilling fashion.  However, they came up empty.  William Lynn was that relative rarity in murder cases: someone who really was as nice and blameless as he seemed.  If he had a dark side, or unpleasant secrets, he kept them very well hidden indeed.

Although the Lynn case is still technically open, chances are obviously slim that his killer will ever be positively identified, let alone brought to justice.  However, a retired state police officer named Harry Will, one of the investigators of the murder, believed he had solved the mystery--to his own satisfaction, at any rate.  Many years after Lynn’s death, he told a reporter that he believed the doctor was murdered by an unnamed man who was currently serving a life sentence for a particularly vicious attack on a young woman.  Will suspected that this man had committed not only the Lynn murder, but several other unsolved slayings in the area as well.  This man had been seen in the general area of Lynn’s home, buying a box of shotgun shells.

Harry Will even believed he knew why this man had killed Lynn, and it is one of the more bizarre alleged motives on record.  Will’s suspect had originally lived in a neighboring county, but he fled after being accused of setting several fires.  He found refuge with an uncle who lived near Front Royal.  This relative not only gave him a home, but defended him, no matter what he did.  A few months before Lynn was shot, this uncle developed cancer of the penis, which necessitated a partial amputation of the organ.  Will explained, “Our suspect was a sex pervert and had voiced his opposition to having sex organs disturbed.”  Presumably, according to Will’s theory, the man took his outrage at the medical profession out on Dr. Lynn. 

As a postscript, there is a story which suggests that mere death did not mean the end of Lynn’s medical practice.  In the early 1990s, a Front Royal man was badly injured in an auto crash that put him in a coma.  Doctors did not believe he would survive.  According to Lynn’s daughter Patty--who heard the story from the patient’s mother--the man suddenly woke up and said, “I just saw Dr. Lynn and he gave me a shot.”  This man--who was only five when the doctor was murdered--described him as wearing clothing which was identical to items that Lynn wore in life.  After getting the “shot,” the man stunned everyone by fully recovering.

Perhaps the doctor wanted to save a life, to compensate for the one that had so suddenly and inexplicably been taken from him.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Strange Company Yacht Club!

Why the hell did so many Roman Emperors die violently?  Just do the math!

Afraid of witches?  We have a cake for that.

The British Army experiences some close-run things.

19th century children's book kills off an apple pie.

In which Michelangelo writes a poem crabbing about painting the Sistine Chapel.

Napoleon and suicide.

The County Clerk's office wants people to get married.

We're starting to know how little we know about ancient humans.

The days of professional scissor grinders.

The families who escaped East Germany in a hot air balloon.

The world's oldest known pet cemetery.

Eyewitness accounts of the bombing of Britain.

The legend of Mother Shipton.

In defense of George III.

A ghost in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Two cases of girls killed by their fathers.

In which Harry Houdini gets swallowed by a sea monster.

Ancient drinking games were weird.  And, frankly, pretty unpleasant.

Speaking of weird, let's talk cereal.

Some former Air Force officers are claiming that UFOs are messing with our nukes.

The mystery of the Pakistan mummy.

The diplomat who saved people from the Nazis.

An attempted assassination of King George III.

Some little-known "audacious women."

A ghost in the post-mortem room.

Are young British women being "spiked?"

The link between two 18th century portraits.

The lore of keys.

Turning a bunch of skulls into a "contemplative experience."

The world's oldest ghost.

A 19th century cinchona plantation in India.

Was the Jacobite Earl of Mar a secret agent?

Some tips on how to avoid being buried alive.

Yes, cats can see ghosts.  I know this for a fact, because I have a ghost cat in my home, and my (live) ones see him all the time.  Hell, I saw him the other night. 

A remarkable 500 year old shipwreck.

A brief history of the werewolf.

A brief history of wartime counterfeiting.

Al Capone still has his fans, for some reason.

The evolution of Victorian fashion.

The mysterious disappearance of Masterpiece the Poodle.

Old London as seen from the air.

There's evidence suggesting that Italian sailors knew about America way before Columbus.

A double murder in Michigan.

Ancient ways of toothbrushing.

The mystery of the Barabar caves.

More on the controversy over how to put milk in tea.  And here's why the Brits put the milk in at all.

A strange plane crash in the Andes.

Some ancient Halloween traditions.

Elizabeth I and Parliament.

Why ET might be a computer.

The strange case of the Ourang Medan.

A look at the short life of Stephen Crane.

A visit to Jervaulx Abbey.

That time the Earth flipped on its side.

The most haunted places in Los Angeles County.

An elephant's tombstone.

Margaret Tudor goes to Scotland.

Italy and the Battle of Britain.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a Halloween murder mystery.  In the meantime, here's an oldie from the glory days of Stiff Records.  (Bonus points if you remember Stiff's very NSFW slogan.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

On December 3, 1890, the body of a young woman named Emma Pfitzenmayer was found in the Chester, Pennsylvania home she shared with her sister and brother-in-law, Caroline and Henry Schmidt.  She had died from multiple stab wounds.  Pfitzenmayer had been killed in her bedroom shortly after attending a ball where she had been "the gayest of the gay."  The following year, Caroline Schmidt was tried for Emma’s murder.  The defense put up a vigorous argument that the girl had committed suicide, and the circumstances of her death were just murky enough for “reasonable doubt” to take center stage.   Mrs. Schmidt was acquitted, leaving Pfitzenmayer’s death unresolved.

Well, if this sequel to the case is to be believed, how she died certainly was no mystery to Emma herself.  The “Philadelphia Times,” March 9, 1892:

One of the strangest manifestations known to occult science occurred in Chester last evening in the house in which Emma Pfitzenmayer lived with her sister and brother-in-law, and where she died by violence, either self-inflicted or at the hands of others. The mystery attending her tragic death was most effectually cleared up last night, so far as occult science can do it. 

The Rumford family, who do not believe in ghosts or any kind of spiritual manifestations,and who about one year ago rented the house in which Emma Pfitzenmayer met her fate, declare that for several months past at different times various members of the family have had their attention called most unwillingly to strange manifestations and occurrences, which, though not frightening them, have caused a great deal of perplexity as to their origin or purpose.

First Joe Rumford, tho 15-year-old son of Delaware Rumford, says he saw most distinctly the forehead, eyes and a part of the nose of the departed Emma as if peeping over a chicken coop in the yard just before dusk in the evening. This strange occurrence was commented on and laughed at by the family, which consists of three generations, all living under the one roof. A short time after, as Mrs. Delaware Rumford was passing through the room in which the girl was murdered, she was seized by the arm, but could see no one, and a voice. apparently in dire distress, asked her where her white dress was. Soon after this the spirit of  Emma Pfitzenmayer appeared at irregular intervals to every member of the family except the baby. No particular attention was paid to these strange and peculiar manifestations of an apparently disembodied spirit until about two weeks ago, when Miss Mattie Rumford, the 19-year-old niece of Mrs. Rumford, on going to the room occupied by the murdered girl, was startled to see a young woman dressed in ball costume, with a wealth of blonde hair flowing over her shoulders, rummaging in her bureau drawers.

She was about to speak to the strange intruder, when the blonde turned and seeing Miss Mattie, gave a heart-piercing shriek and suddenly seemed to become enveloped in a peculiar cloud of white smoke. Miss Mattie was so overcome that she fainted and fell down the stairs and when picked up by her sister was bleeding profusely at her mouth and nose. After this strange occurrence the family assembled and discussed the strange manifestations from every possible standpoint, but no definite mode of future procedure was decided upon. 

Soon after the story was made public Mr. and Mrs. J. Jeanes, who keep a photograph gallery and stationery store next door, at 702 Edgemont avenue, and who are well-known Spiritualists, suggested that a competent clairvoyant be brought to the house and that a seance be held in the room in which the girl was murdered.

After considerable persuasion on the part of the Jeanes family it was finally agreed to adopt that course and Mrs. Phillips, wife of Dr. H. S. Phillips, who together have a suite of rooms on the first floor of the Hotel Plunkett at 510 North Eighth Street, and who claim to practice the healing art under the title of magnetic physicians, were engaged to come down and give a seance with the intention if possible of finding out why the spirit of Emma Pfitzenmayer continued to reappear in her old home to trouble the present occupants of the dwelling. 

Last evening was selected as the time to try the gruesome experiment, and what happened at the seance if not calculated to fully convince the most skeptical, was full and varied enough in its features to satisfy the most exacting. Mrs. Phillips has considerable reputation as a platform speaker, besides being considered by the fraternity of Spiritualists as a clairvoyant medium of full power and ability. On the advice of their next-door neighbor, Mr. Jeanes, a small cabinet had been made and put up in the second-story front room, which, however. Mrs. Phillips declined to use, saying she was opposed to all kinds of quackery.

Shortly after 8 o'clock fifteen persons, including the baby, assembled in the room facing the cabinet. Among the party were three patriarchal-looking old men, who have each passed the three score and ten mark. At the suggestion of the clairvoyant Delaware Rumford produced a violin and his son seated himself at the organ. Several well-known melodies were played. All enjoyed the music, but there were no manifestations until the enlivening strains of a waltz floated over the room, when suddenly Mrs. Phillips full into what she terms a trance and exclaimed: "That's It, that's it; it is the last waltz I ever danced!" Her husband, Dr. H. S. Phillips, kindly explained that Mrs. Phillips was now practically no longer herself spiritually and that her body was now actuated and dominated entirely by a spirit of some one not possessed of a living physical body.

"Oh, where is my white dress?" cried Mrs. Phillips, as she got up and walked across the room. As she tried to open the door the knob came off, when she exclaimed: "Not been fixed yet; it was always this way." Proceeding she entered the bedroom formerly occupied by the Pfitzenmayer girl and began rummaging around, all the time asking if any one knew where her white dress was. "Oh, I want my dress; I must have my white dress," and she began to cry in a most realistic manner. Soon she wended her way to the identical room where the tragedy occurred, and a series of performances there occurred that beggars description. The whole scene of the frightful tragedy was rehearsed as if by the living Emma, and if put on or assumed, was certainly artistically done and calculated to fully deceive anyone not entirely bereft of sense or feeling. 

After a time she became more calm and finally returned to the second-story front room. After a long period of silence she suddenly exclaimed: "He put it there; he hid it." 

"Hid what?" was asked by Mr. Jeanes. 

"Why, the dress.”

"Whose dress?" 

"Her dress, her ball dress, the one she wore at the ball that evening." 

"Where did he hide it?" 

"Down by the river, between the boardwalk and the water, in soft mud, and it is there now." 

Prompted by Dr. Phillips, Mr. Rumford asked why she came back to trouble the living? Her answer was, "I did not do it, I was not a bad girl. I did not murder myself and I am troubled because a cruel world has cast a most unjust blight on my character.  I did not kill myself." When asked by gentlemen present if she had ever appeared to her sister, she replied, "Yes, I saw her last week and I will her again soon, but I no longer care to look at her. She suffers worse than I suffer and her tortures are those of the damned. She drinks heavily, but it brings her no relief and when I try to speak to her she shrieks and covers her face with her hands and runs away. I have forgiven my sister, but I no longer love her. No, since the night of the ball, when she told me she would dance with Harry oftener than I and she took Harry away from me." 

"Did Harry cut your throat?" she was asked. 

"No, Harry did not do it." 

"Did you do it?" 

"No, I should not have come back to earth except to tell the world that it has done me an unjust and cruel injury to ever think so." 

After a lapse of considerable time, during which silence reigned, the medium, in the voice of the departed Emma, suddenly pointed her finger to the aperture of the cabinet and said: "She did it!  She did it! It was she who did it all! Poor Harry was asleep on the lounge at the time, and she did it. " 

All strained their eyes toward the cabinet, but to the eyes of ordinary mortals only the dark aperture was visible. After this forcible speech, in which an unseen spirit was denounced as her murderer, the supposed spirit of Emma Pfitzenmayer left the corporal body of Mrs. Phillips, and, with convulsive shudder, she regained consciousness and the seance was at an end.

Well, this was all very entertaining stuff, but just try introducing it in court.  If Caroline Schmidt did indeed murder her sister, she never paid for the crime.  Officially, at least.

Monday, October 18, 2021

A Witch Trial and a Shape-Shifting Apparition: An Obscure Bit of The Weird

The "Memoirs" of Sir John Reresby (1634-1689) contain a reference to a minor witch trial which somehow morphed into one of the oddest "ghost" sightings on record:
Leaving the public affairs for a while, at this untoward pass, I would venture to take notice of a private occurrence which made some noise at York.

The assizes being there held on the 7th of March, 1686-7, an old woman was condemned for a witch. Those who were more credulous in points of this nature than myself, conceived the evidence to be very strong against her. The boy she was said to have bewitched, fell down on a sudden before all the court, when he saw her, and would then as suddenly return to himself again, and very distinctly relate the several injuries she had done him: but in all this it was observed, the boy was free from any distortion; that he did not foam at the mouth, and that his fits did not leave him gradually, but all at once; so that, upon the whole, the judge thought it proper to reprieve her, in which he seemed to act the part of a wise man. But though such is my own private opinion, I cannot help continuing my story. One of my soldiers being upon guard about eleven in the night, at the gate of Clifford Tower, the very night after the witch was arraigned, he heard a great noise at the castle, and going to the porch, he there saw a scroll of paper creep from under the door, which, as he imagined by moonshine, turned first into the shape of a monkey, and thence assumed the form of a turkey-cock, which passed to and fro by him. Surprized at this, he went to the prison, and called the under-keeper, who came and saw the scroll dance up and down and creep under the door, where there was scarce an opening of the thickness of half a crown. This extraordinary story I had from the mouth of both the one and the other: and now leave it to be believed or disbelieved, as the reader may be inclined this way or that.
You have to admit, this is not the sort of thing that happens every day.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Now that all the posts for this week have been completed, the Strange Company staff is getting ready for the weekend.

Shropshire's lesser-known ghosts.

The mystery of Easter Island writing.

A house that really let a burglar down.

It says something about Beate Uhse that being a WWII pilot was the least interesting thing about her.

A greengrocer stands trial for murder.

The biggest whiskey-drinking contest ever.  Warning: just reading about it may make you tipsy.

That time New England got hysterical about vampires.

A new film is based on a real-life medieval rape trial.

In which we learn that Winston Churchill was a firebug.

The Prince of Joinville: an artist and a sailor.

The diary of a "lumber Jill."

A murderous rag-picker.

The world's most expensive garden gnomes.

A tale of a funeral coach.

Spring-heeled Jack visits Sheffield.

An ancient luxury toilet in Jerusalem.

The myths surrounding Victorian post-mortem photography.

The Jacobean trade in peerages.

The 1920s spiritualism fad.

The Nazi-hunting femme fatales.

When Oscar Wilde was a golden boy.

The world's earliest known acrobats.

The Demon Wall of Norway.

18th century naval artists.

The shipwreck and the weird sea creature.

Nothing to see here, just some unknown Thing sending radio waves from the center of our galaxy.

On the difficulty of writing a biography of a court fool.

A triple murder in 1924 Pennsylvania.

A disappearance in the Arizona desert.

Nine surprise military attacks.

The Rational Dress Society.

The murder of "Joe the Quilter."

In which a cobra becomes a murder weapon.

There was a mass extinction about 30 million years ago, and we're only now finding out about it.

In which a woman wakes up to find she's sharing her bed with a space rock.

Isabella of Woodstock, medieval princess.

Caroline Norton fights injustice.

Five writers who predicted WWI.

Kirkstall Abbey and Shakespeare's ghost.

So, let's talk screaming skulls.

A look at an 18th century debtor's prison.

The oldest known footprints of pre-humans.

An art model turned painter.

The world's hardest cheese.

Four audacious women.

Meet the dog who just got into the Guinness World Records.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a short, but very weird ghost story.  In the meantime, our Strange Company HQ staff is here to entertain you:

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Late in 1889, a frightfully mangled corpse was found buried in a shallow grave on the banks of Lake Johanna, near St. Paul, Minnesota.  It was buried so carelessly, one arm was sticking above ground.  The words “A traitor” were carved on it.  It seemed obvious that this unidentified person had been murdered in a particularly ghastly fashion, and the entire community was struck with horror at the thought of some fiend lurking in their midst.  The whole awful business remained a mystery until a report published in the November 12, 1889 issue of the “Saint Paul Globe” published the “story behind the story.”  And quite a story it was.

The secret is out at last. The "victim" of the Lake Johanna mystery may lay his weary bones to rest, secure in the conviction that there is no stern necessity for his wraith to perambulate the earth in a search for vengeance on the heads of foul murderers. It is only a poor, harmless cadaver, after all. 

The Globe is in possession of the story in its entirety. As a result those persons who have been wrongfully blaming Sheriff Bean, Coroner Quinnor, or County Attorney Euan will feel it their duty to humbly ask for pardon. No crime has been committed, and no law--not even the health law--violated. These officials, who have the whole story, were entirely right in all that they did, and simply displayed good judgment in sawing wood and doing nothing. The story is furnished by two reputable physicians of St. Paul and can be relied upon as strictly true. It is given in the language of one of them: 


In the middle of the summer an unknown man was killed on one of the railroads, and the fact only chronicled in the Globe. It was the body of a tramp that was picked up, and it was conveyed to the keeping of a prominent surgeon of the city. No claim was ever made for it, and when a week later two medical students, well indorsed, applied for the body for the purposes of dissection, it was turned over to them, as the law provides. The first demonstration was made in their presence by a physician holding an official position. He dissected a portion of the thigh and groin, showing the femoral artery. That physician was myself. Afterward the body was further dissected, the brain being the especial study, and the top of the skull was removed in a not very scientific way. These students, who are the sons of reputable citizens, attend medical lectures in the fall and winter, and therefore they had completed the dissection of the body the time came for them to return East. They desired to preserve the body until spring, when they could pursue their investigations and finally mount the skeleton. Accordingly they embalmed the body in the approved style, by the advice of skilful physicians. They were directed to then enclose it in a tar barrel and bury it outside of the city limits; and this practice, bear in mind, obtains among all reputable physicians. They properly prepared the body, and then took into their confidence a young man who attended the high school, to assist in burying it. This they left to him, and he buried it safely on the banks of Lake Johanna and blazed a neighboring tree to mark the spot. The students returned to school, satisfied. Thus far all was well. But this young high school man had


in him, and is an inveterate practical joker. A short time ago, actuated by his ruling propensity, he went out to Johanna and dug up the body. He says he thought of boiling down the corpse to get the skeleton, but the probabilities are he went there solely to create a sensation. He uncovered the body, mutilated it, and,after carving the sensational words on the head of the barrel, placed the arm above ground and came away and left it. I have not the slightest doubt  he did it to create just the sensation that followed.  He once went up the river, got a bag full of snakes and turned them loose in a Jackson street restaurant just for a practical joke, which shows the character of the young man.

Now, there is the whole story in a nutshell. The proceeding, aside from the 'joke' of the young fellow, was strictly honorable and legitimate. Coroner Quinn will testify that the body was in good condition, as far as the muscles were concerned, and would have kept for ten years. The students were entirely blameless, and were simply pursuing a laudable


I would have made this statement sooner but for one thing. When I first learned of the discovery I could not understand why the body was in that condition, so I hunted up the high school man and got his explanation, but it was only yesterday. He would not admit any intention of a joke or sensation, and told me he left the hatchet there because it got dark so quickly that he could not find it.

There is the whole story in a nutshell. You will see at once that there was nothing wrong in the actions and intentions of the medical men, and that this howl for justice is all bosh, growing out of a want of understanding of the situation. I do not defend the pranks of the would-be joker, but give the story just as it is.

Hey, these things happen to us all.

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Bogles of Ballygowan; Or, Never Ruin A Fairy's Ruin

"The Goblin and the Provision Dealer," Arthur Rackham

On August 31, 1866, an Irish newspaper called the “Larne Reporter” informed its readers about an unusual problem facing two unnamed families who lived adjacent to each other in Upper Ballygowan.  At varying intervals during the days and nights, the families were having their homes vandalized by mysterious showers of mud and stones being thrown inside.  Unable to catch the perpetrators in the act, the families asked if the neighbors had any idea who the culprits were.  Nobody did; in fact, residents were shocked and angered that these two innocent families were being treated in such a rude way.

One day, their elusive assailants went further with their attacks: a huge volley of stones were hurled inside their homes.  One of the residents was so irritated by the onslaught that he picked up a musket and fired it in the general direction of where the stones had been thrown.  The response was a peal of evil laughter and another bombardment.  This was shortly followed by a large bag of potatoes being tossed throughout the kitchen of one of the persecuted households.  Whoever or whatever was causing these disturbances, they were obviously pleased by the results.

So far, our little tale sounds like what we today would call a bog-standard poltergeist event.  Paranormal researchers would step forward talking learnedly about spectral forces, the power of the subconscious mind, disturbances in the psychic ether, and whatnot.  These 19th century neighbors came up with a far simpler, and, in its way, more logical explanation: angry fairies.

According to some Ballygowan residents, many years before, a homeowner was so plagued by mysterious disturbances similar to those suffered by the two families that he was forced to abandon the house.  The house stood in increasing ruin for some time, and eventually the families at the center of our story took materials from it to remodel their own buildings, which stood on the same land as the abandoned house.  This infuriated the fairies (or, as they were locally known, bogles.)  Having successfully chased out the owner of the building, they considered the ransacked home to be their personal property, and the disturbances suffered by the two households were the bogles’ way of taking revenge.

The report states that the bogles ceased harassing the two families “some several months later,” so presumably the affronted creatures found another empty ruin that was equally to their liking.

So, if you should ever want to salvage materials from some old home that seems untenanted, be very careful: you just might be trespassing on a prime piece of Fairy Real Estate.