"...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, September 25, 2023

Dead in the Water: The Strange Murder of Benjamin Collings

As I have mentioned before, some mighty strange things happen at sea.  As the following story will show, that includes some mighty strange murders.

Benjamin Collings was the son of a wealthy New York physician, who augmented the family fortune by making a bundle as a stockbroker, then being shrewd--or lucky--enough to get out of the stock market the year before the crash.  He was one of the relatively few people who avoided having their lifestyles seriously impacted by the Great Depression.  He and his wife Lillian and young daughter Barbara spent most of their summers on their 30-foot cabin cruiser, the “Penguin.”  They lived quietly on the Penguin, with few visitors.  This suited Benjamin perfectly, as it allowed him to pursue his love for marine engineering.

Lillian and Barbara Collings, "New York Daily News," November 14, 2004, via Newspapers.com

September 10, 1931 was a clear, starlit night on Long Island Sound.  Around 2:30 a.m., one N.L. Noteman was hosting a fishing party aboard his boat, the “Valentine.”  Off Lloyd’s Point Light, Noteman saw a 30-foot cabin cruiser drifting aimlessly with no lights.  When hailing the oddly ghostly craft received no response, Noteman decided to board.

As the Valentine pulled alongside the vessel--which Noteman saw was named “Penguin”--two members of the fishing party thought they saw someone thrashing in the water about 50 yards away.  They also thought they heard a muffled cry.  However, when they reached the spot, they saw nothing but dark, calm water.  The Valentine returned to the Penguin, and Noteman and another man climbed aboard.

“Captain?” Noteman called out into the darkness.

A little girl’s sleepy voice replied, “I’m not the captain.  I’m Barbara.”

Noteman lit a match for light, but quickly extinguished it when the girl said reprovingly, “Daddy says never light a match in the cabin.”  Barbara turned on the lights.

The five-year-old girl was all alone on the ship.  The men saw that the floor aft of the cabin was covered with glass from a smashed milk bottle and spots of what appeared to be blood.  The anchor rope was severed, and the anchor was gone.  The men took the child aboard the Valentine and asked where her father was.

Barbara said placidly that he had gone swimming--with all his clothes on!

The men did not like the sound of that.  “Where is your mother?”

“She’s gone swimming, too,” Barbara replied.  She then casually said something about a sick man being aboard the boat the night before.  The girl, obviously unconcerned about her parents’ absence, started chatting cheerily with the fishing party.

The men really did not like the sound of all this.  It was decided to take the Penguin in tow and get the child to the police ASAP.

A short time after Noteman boarded the Penguin, Captain Harold Howard was setting off in his boat near Oyster Bay, when he heard someone crying for help.  He found a young, attractive woman crying and shouting hysterically from a small motorboat (named the “Bo-Peep”) that was about 25 yards from shore.  She turned out to be 28-year-old Lillian Collings.  Howard brought her to the nearest police station as well, where she told a tale straight out of some particularly lurid pirate movie.

Lillian explained that the night before, she put Barbara to bed and went above to sit on the deck with her husband.  Around 10:30, she too retired for the night, leaving her husband to stargaze.  A few moments later, she heard two strange male voices telling Benjamin that they had a wounded man in their canoe.  They asked Collings to take them to a hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut.  Collings responded that he could not help them--the Penguin had no running lights, so he never operated it after dark.

The men offered Collings $100 if he would make the trip.  “Ridiculous!” Benjamin snapped.  “I can’t do it.”

Lillian said that the two men then somehow boarded the yacht.  She started to go on deck, but Benjamin ordered her to stay below.  She heard the engines start, and the Penguin began moving.  After a short while, it stopped.

“This isn’t Norwalk,” she heard Benjamin say.  “It’s Stamford.”

She heard sounds of a scuffle and breaking glass, followed by Benjamin yelling, “They’re tying me up!  They’re going to put me overboard!”

Lillian ran on deck just as the two strangers--whom she described as an older, white-haired man with a big nose and a slim blond youth of about 17--dumped her husband overboard.  She dashed back into the cabin, grabbed an inflated mattress, and threw it towards Benjamin. 

The older man then grabbed her and pulled her up on deck.  He gave her a pair of men’s tennis shoes to wear, and threw her into the canoe with them.  Lillian pleaded to bring Barbara along, but the men ignored her and paddled off.

At one point, Lillian said, the older man tried to have “abnormal relations” with her, but she was able to fight him off.  A while after that, the younger man exited the canoe when they were in about 3 feet of water and waded off to shore.  When Lillian was alone with the white-haired man, he again tried to force himself on her, but this time she was too exhausted to resist.  Just before dawn, he put her into the Bo-Peep and disappeared.

It was, of course, all very weird stuff, and the cops weren’t buying it.  For one thing, they found that the Penguin had been equipped with a .32 automatic and a Bowie knife.  Why didn’t Benjamin or his wife go for these weapons?  And why did Lillian, who was a good swimmer, stay on the Bo-Peep instead of wading to shore?  And why would these alleged miscreants attack and drown Benjamin, anyway?  What did they gain from this heinous deed?

A week after Benjamin disappeared from the Penguin, at least one part of Lillian’s story was verified, when her husband’s corpse, bound hand and foot, washed up on a Long Island beach.  Collings had suffered eight severe blows to the head, two hard enough to crack his skull.  However, the autopsy found that he died from drowning.

"Lancaster New Era," September 16, 1931

Suffolk County District Attorney Alexander Blue remained convinced that Lillian was telling a pack of lies.  However, when no less than 11 police interrogations--one lasting 13 hours--failed to shake her story in the slightest, Blue had no choice but to drop her as a suspect.

But if Lillian Collings did not murder her husband, who did?  That, detectives soon learned, was the tough part.  The few possible clues that trickled in were almost laughably flimsy.  A water-logged note was found in the sea.  The only legible lines read, “The Penguin murder…I took May home…Sing Sing…Lena came out…Sold without profit.”

This was about as helpful as you would think.

Police heard a rumor that Benjamin had impregnated an Italian farm girl who underwent an abortion at the hands of a “notorious criminal surgery ring.”  According to this tale, her family murdered Collings in revenge.  A colorful story, but one without a shred of evidence to back it up.  Lillian was shown a parade of all the area’s “usual suspects” but she failed to identify any of them.  A $2,500 reward found no takers.  Eventually, detectives were forced to give up, and Benjamin Collings’ murder drifted into that purgatory known as “the cold case file.”

Friday, September 22, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!  Grab your cup and discuss the latest from Strange Company HQ.

A 19th century Cain and Abel.

A massive ancient underground city.

Public execution as a Mom & Pop business.

The house that was once "The Blue Belle of Brooklyn."

Those underrated Neanderthals.

A husband returns from the dead.

HMS Alexander fights an unequal battle.

Murder at a "swinger's palace."

The "open air schools" from the early 1900s.

Bread in Shropshire folklore.

A wooden structure from half a million years ago.

The worst space-related disaster.

Why it's called an "Irish goodbye."

The women of the East India Company.

A visit to Paddington Old Cemetery.  Complete with dogs.

The 19th century pizza that's a dessert.

An amazing photo from space.

Sketches from the American Civil War.

A case of Victorian negligence.

No money, no funeral.

Cartography and WWI.

Don't forget about those underwater UFOs!

The last intact shipwreck from the American Revolution.

Nearly a century after a woman disappeared, police are just now investigating the mystery.

A very creepy ghost story from Thailand.

Why the British Army was not ready for WWII.

An Englishman in the 19th century Bombay police.

The Old West's last stagecoach robbery.

Something is generating water on the Moon.

Napoleon as a statesman.

The oldest known depiction of the known world.

How carrots became orange.

This is probably not King Arthur's sword.

An unsung survivor.

If a gnome mysteriously shows up in your yard, watch out.

From "chintz" to "chintzy."

The robber baron who caused America's first depression.

In search of the golden owl.

The coronation of George III.

A "lost" Roman city has been uncovered.

The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park.

The opposite of "deja vu."

The grim history behind some cave art in Borneo.

Anna Kingsford, Victorian radical.  (I wrote about the more Fortean side of her career here.)

The strange practice of optography.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a peculiar murder on a boat.  In the meantime, bring on the pipe organs!

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This curious little melodrama was reported in the “Los Angeles Herald,” September 11, 1909:

PARIS, Sept. 10--A strange lost child is perplexing the Paris police. An American mother is claiming the girl as her daughter, but the latter disclaims her mother. The girl is 6 years old, but talks with astonishing volubility. She happened to call on a policeman voluntarily one day, but as she could not speak any apparently known language, he took her to the police station, where all the experts and interpreters at first failed to understand what the girl wanted.

Finally it turned out that she spoke some sort of Armenian dialect, and an interpreter was found. The child said she had been taken away from her grandmother's home in Syria by a strange woman, who wanted to take her to America, and who, in fact, brought her as far as Paris. The little girl said she had taken the first opportunity to run away from the woman. The police were astonished at the fluency with which the girl talked, and were about to send her temporarily to a home when the strange woman of whom she had spoken appeared and said the child was her daughter. "I am not your daughter," retorted the little one.

"I know my mother. She is very different from this person." The police were seriously embarrassed. They put off the inquiry for the day to obtain a second interpreter, for the mother, or alleged mother, herself speaks a strange mixture of English and French.

As soon as the two were again confronted with each other the precocious child threw up her hands and looked at the young woman in horror. "She is not my mother," she exclaimed.

The woman said she was born in Marseilles, but went to New York when very young. She married an Italian in New York when she was 14 years old and had this child. Her husband died the day the child was born. She kept the baby for one year, then sent her to be taken care of by the child's grandfather in Syria. Having heard that the grandfather had died, she went to Syria to secure the child.

On the way the little girl showed a vicious temper and did all the mischief she could. On reaching the Lyons railway station in Paris she sat down in the waiting room and fell asleep. During that time, she alleges, the child took the bag in which she had all her money, amounting to some $600, and gave it to some strange woman, who disappeared. When she woke she slapped the child, who then ran away into the street, and did not know what had become of her child until she saw her picture in the papers.

The child, who does not understand a word of her mother's language, was then told what she had said, and denied it all. For a whole hour the little one contradicted it in every detail.

She insisted the woman was not her mother. Until three weeks ago she had never seen the woman. It is not true her grandfather is dead. She knew her real mother very well, for she left Syria only a year ago, and was married again in a town not far from Jerusalem. She added: 

"This woman came one day to my grandfather's house when I was alone. She told me my grandfather was waiting for me in the train.

“I got in and he was not there. The train started away, and I cried, and wanted to go back. Then the woman beat me, and the train went on. At Beyrouth she took me on board a big steamer and we went to Port Said, Alexandria, and Marseilles.

“As soon as we got to Paris I took the first chance and ran away from her. I do not want to be with the woman any more. She has beaten me and made me suffer. I want to go back to grandpapa. She says my name is Annette.

It is not true. I am called Marianne." 

After this both the alleged mother and the child had a fit of crying, and between the two contradictory statements the police are unable to make out the truth. Curiously enough, however, the child is wonderfully like the woman who claims to be her mother.

Although the story above was published in a number of newspapers in both Europe and America, I was unable to learn how the mystery of the child’s true identity was resolved.

[Note: @JimChaffeeEM on Twitter found this story from the New York Sun, which states that this woman apparently "bought" the child for use as a servant!]

Monday, September 18, 2023

The Haunted Man of Fort Yukon

Illustration by F.S. Coburn

This tale of an unusual haunting appeared in the July 1896 issue of “Borderland” under the title “A Haunted Man, A Strange True Story of the Far North-West.”

Our lot has been cast for some years in the interior of California--not Bret Harte's California, where miners camp in the pine woods of the Sierras--but that hot country far to the south, on whose grey hillsides oranges ripen and green lines of vineyard vary the monotony of treeless plains. The broad level of our valley is protected from the wind by low encircling hills. Month after month the sunshine is unclouded--one wearies sometimes of the pale blue sky--and life seems changeless as the weather. To Europeans the country is very still, very lonely, almost suggesting Matthew Arnold's "Grande Chartreuse," but the passing pageantry of the "distant road" is out of sight and the silence unbroken.

The little town which gives its name to the great county once had a boom, who so has seen, which, according to Rudyard Kipling, may henceforth "talk with his enemies in the gate," so unique is the experience. One of its results was the erection of hotels on large tracts of land in the back country-as the interior is called-with a view to helping the sale thereof. Our quiet existence in one of these for the boom had passed- -was agreeably enlivened by the arrival of a sick friend--unseen for years. A former residence in the rigorous climate of that portion of British territory bordering on Alaska had begun to undermine his constitution, and, after retiring from a government position in Canada, health-seeking had become the object of his life. In hope of alleviation he had wandered far and wide, maintaining with indomitable energy the struggle against mortal disease, and returning to California as a last resort. But the odds were against him. The battle was fought out in the end of 1890--beneath the sands of Arizona he waits the resurrection.

We had known of his years of hardship and adventure in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company. But, in these last months of his life he related to us an experience so inexplicable that the late Professor Spencer Baird, of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, took it down from his lips, intending to publish it. The Professor died--and the story, though set up in type, remained untold--then, and as far as is known ever since. Should it now see the light, will his two relatives, if surviving, pardon its publication without their consent.

Belonging to a Scotch Canadian family, our friend possessed the characteristics of his race. Conscientious, kind, reliable, he added to a horror of exaggeration a deficiency in imagination. A strict churchman free from credulity, his mental attitude toward the supernatural resembled that of the late Sir David Brewster, concerning whom his daughter wrote, "He saw ghosts, but never believed in them." That the story rests solely upon his evidence is its weak point. Nevertheless, being curious, I give it for what it is worth. It covers four years of his life on the Alaskan frontier, prior to 1867, when the Russian province became American territory. The date is only approximate, but I believe it immediately preceded that above mentioned.

The Hudson's Bay Company had an important trading station on the great Yukon River, of which our friend, whom I will call Graham, was in charge, assisted by a partner.

This settlement, known as Fort Yukon, was a rendezvous for the hunters and trappers of the surrounding region-natives, half-breeds, whites-who brought with them furs for sale or in exchange for stores of various kinds. To obtain skins, Graham and his partner would also organize hunting expeditions into the forests of some days' or week's duration. One evening, while sitting at supper, his partner being absent with the hunters, he received information from some of his men that the large store adjoining the house was haunted. The Indians, who always turned to him in perplexity, begged him to come and lay the ghost. Armed with stick and lantern he proceeded to investigate the cause of the disturbance. The store had been closed for the night, a careful search revealed nothing, and Graham extinguished his light. An unglazed window in the wall behind the counter opened upon a shed where skins were stored, it being the custom at busy times to throw furs received in payment through this opening to be afterwards sorted. As Graham deposited his lantern two shining eyes glared at him from this window. He swung his stick vigorously, eliciting a canine yell, and with the satisfaction of having laid the ghost--the natives alone doubting--he retired to his couch and slept the sleep of the just.

But not for long. In the small hours of the night he was awakened by the whines of his absent partner's dogs, who, in evident terror, had come to his room for protection. One of them, a little skye terrier, burrowing among his pillows to find a hiding place. The air was full of curious sound, as of a silken banner flapping in the breeze. He rose and lighted his lamp, nothing was visible, the night still and windless. Closely followed by the dogs, he crossed the passage to his partner's room. The noise accompanied him, and was as loud there as in his own. He returned with the noise, and finding sleep impossible, rolled himself in his blankets in a corner where the flapping sound seemed a trifle less pronounced. Towards morning it ceased. This troubled night proved to be the commencement of the period spoken of, during which Graham, shrewd, sensible Scotchman that he was, became literally a haunted man. There were intervals of respite, the manifestations not being continuous. They took the orthodox form of knocks and rustlings, varied by the sound of carpenters' tools, sawing, planing, &c., going on to such an extent that the hearers would involuntarily look round for some result of the industry.

These sounds were not only "in the dead waste and middle of the night," but more frequently in broad and cheerful daylight, heard by all in Graham's company. According to old exorcists the Monday ghost is the most difficult to lay. "Graham's ghost” became a general acquaintance in the country; anyone might hear him who chanced to meet Graham while he was "walking." The Furies were not then more constant to Orestes than was to him this undesired companion. In the distances of the great North-West the poet's words were fulfilled to the letter. "Where'er he went, a thousand miles, It followed him." To select a few instances from many, Graham was enjoying a shooting and fishing excursion upon the Yukon with a clerical friend from Toronto. It was one of the ghosts' days, and as leading the way he paddled his canoe he became aware of vigorous hammering upon the narrow seat. His friend had previously expressed a wish to hear the unseen visitant, and when within hailing distance Graham shouted, "Here he is!" Arriving alongside, so interested was the clergyman in the repeated sound, that he proposed changing canoes. They did so; the ghost went with Graham. They changed canoes three times with the same result, to the disgust of the ghost's would-be acquaintance, who, if living, doubtless remembers the circumstance. On another occasion a party of eighteen persons from the Settlement, including Graham, started for a camping trip in the woods which skirt the great river. The first night after the tents were pitched upon its banks, a heavy fall of rain ensued, soaking everything, and Graham, who had fixed a waterproof awning to the largest boat, invited everyone to share its shelter. When all were comfortably settled, an inquirer incautiously asked the ghost's whereabouts. "Oh, he's not here,' ," said Graham, "we've left him at home." Immediately, as if in response to the statement, three tremendous blows were struck upon the mast, just above Graham's head. There was no one in that part of the boat at the moment, and the lights were in such a position that sleight of hand would have been detected. The company scattered back to their damp resting places, leaving Graham to the sole enjoyment of shelter and ghost then, a new arrival in Fort Yukon. He was considerate enough not to trouble the party farther, confining his few attentions for the remainder of the trip to his usual victim.

Of the ghost's appearances there are but few recorded instances. Graham's exact mind attached little credence to them ascribing the majority to the imagination or nervousness of impressionable minds. One visible manifestation was, however, attended by such disastrous consequences that it is worthy of note. Graham was on a hunting expedition of some days' journey in the interior, when a messenger arrived from Fort Yukon urgently requesting his immediate return, for Louis, an intelligent half-breed, who lived in the forest near the Fort, was mysteriously dying. As Graham had called at Louis's some two days previously, and left him in perfect health, he was surprised at the news, and went back without delay. He found poor Louis in a sad condition suffering paroxysms of terror which the kindly priest with prayers and exorcisms strove to allay. Louis became somewhat calmer, and told Graham the cause of his fear, seemingly insufficient thus to unhinge his mind. When Graham left his house he left his ghost behind him, probably for the first time in those haunted years. Louis, busy in the room, was suddenly aware of another presence, and saw a young man sitting beside his fireplace. His face was thoughtful, his dress, the style prevailing in the earlier part of this century, even to the voluminous neckcloth. The apparition was not more terrible than was Dr. Jessop's studious ghost in the library of the Norfolk country house. But Louis felt that it was supernatural. His blood froze as the ghost turned to him and "addressed itself to motion." At that moment his wife opened the door. The vision vanished, "passed," he said, "as though across a mirror," and he fell fainting upon the floor. Graham had not spoken of his ghost to Louis, so that apart from his presence there was nothing especially suggesting it to his thoughts. Nevertheless, it proved the beginning of sorrows to the poor fellow, who, shortly afterwards, died insane.

Things had been quiet for some time in the ghostly line. Graham was anxious to visit Toronto, and fearing that the company of an uninvited spirit might render him an unwelcome guest, flattered himself that his ghost was elsewhere. He was rash enough to express this belief in talking with friends one day, and was immediately startled by feeling the grip of a hand upon his shoulder lasting nearly a minute. His coat was off at the time, and he described the grasp felt through his shirt as a firm, soft one, so unlike the horny hand which he had associated with the frequent use of carpenter's tools, that poor Graham wondered how many there were of them. Needless to state, he postponed his journey.

When Epworth Rectory was burned down its tenant at will, named Jeffreys by the Wesleys, appears to have perished in the flames, and the lively Emilia, who chased him down the long passages, "desiring nothing better," to quote John's letters, found on the rebuilding of the house that her occupation was gone. But Graham's ghost--a pity he was nameless--had more vitality. The house and store were burned and somewhat differently rebuilt. A large chamber with wide open fireplace served in winter as a bedroom for Graham and his partner. Their beds were each in a recess on either side of the projecting chimney, so that neither could see the other. One cold morning Graham was awakened by the noise of ashes being raked together, and the arrangement of fuel and striking of flint and steel to obtain a light. Supposing it to be his partner, who had gone to rest feeling unwell, Graham told him not to trouble himself, but if he required a fire, to call one of the men to light it. There was no answer, the striking continued. Graham rose and looked; his partner was asleep, and the grey ashes on the hearth lay undisturbed. The spiritual visitant henceforth frequently diversified his carpentering operations by such attentions to the fireplace, and was as busy in the new house as in the old.

On rare occasions the ghost spoke. Graham never distinguished anything articulate, nor did he encourage its conversation. Others asserted that they understood his meaning. Once with apparent reason. Unfortunately, I cannot describe its voice. The following incident is especially incredible. Were it not for the veracity of the witness, who solemnly averred he saw it, not once, but often, it would not be included in this narrative. In very severe weather, Graham's foreman, with one or two others, would sleep on the floor of the partner's room, as near as possible to the great fireplace, each wrapped in his blankets. The ghost now developed a new and playful habit. At times, an unseen force would actually hold the blankets down on either side of a sleeper's head, effectually waking and almost suffocating him. Graham assured me that he had frequently seen one man or another, for all were alike favoured, struggling violently to free himself from the invisible incubus, which fortunately made itself felt only for a few moments. The phenomenon generally occurred in the early morning, but, though the ghost struck him on various occasions, Graham was not subjected to this unprovoked assault. Eventually it became more partial in the matter to another Scotchman, MacDonald by name, a recent arrival at the Fort and Graham's new foreman. One morning he saw him wrestling longer than usual with the mysterious foe, and when he emerged from his blankets, scared and panting, he exclaimed that the ghost had spoken, informing him that having haunted Graham for years, and made nothing of him, he had concluded to transfer his attentions elsewhere. Hearing nothing himself Graham was as incredulous as ever. Yet, singularly enough, from that time the inexplicable persecution ceased, though why MacDonald rather than himself should be the chosen medium of communication was unknown. Not a suggestion of carpentering, nor a knock remained. The sleepers henceforth lay at peace upon the floor, the ghost went as he came, and, like the ancient king, "departed without being desired."

Four years had passed since the frightened dogs cowered in Graham's room, and his journey to Toronto had not yet been taken. Waiting awhile to assure himself of his freedom, he left the Hudson's Bay Territory, never to return. Nothing more was heard of the unseen presence by anyone; nothing came of it, an unsatisfactory ending to a ghost story. Long afterwards, when worn in spirit with years of suffering, the memory of his former experience cast a shadow upon his failing life. Would the ghost come back to vex him, taking advantage of his weakness? It did not trouble him, however, and the quiet of his death-bed under the odd sky of the South was unbroken.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

It's time for this week's Link Dump!

And the Strange Company HQ choir is singing with joy!

A marriage ends in murder.

Norway's "gold find of the century."

The man who was tried for being a werewolf.

Feeling under the weather?  Try a...uh, rectal dilator.

Here's your big chance to smell like mummified organs!

Why you would not want this pilot to fly your plane.

Mysterious Arabian stone structures.

The airships of medieval Ireland.

Possible life on a faraway planet.

The music of the Holocaust.

The real nurses of MASH.

A look at Victorian "mystery" novels.

The forgotten calotype.

The church that features a mammoth bone.

The lesser-known geysers of Yellowstone.

Mysterious ancient jade discs.

How to reuse all those spare tombstones you have lying around.

Nothing says "fun visit to a hotel!" like having to sign a liability waiver.

The Age of Enlightenment in Slovenia.

The oldest known evidence of footwear.

In search of lost books.

How to smuggle elephants.

A new look at the "magic bullet theory."

London's churchyard gardens.

Science tries to explain why vampires hate garlic.

Mount Shasta's very weird reputation.

The sin-eaters.

A scandalous elopement, 1825.

When the Sahara Desert was green.

When you could send kids via Parcel Post.

Before Count Dracula, there was The Vampyre.

The short life of a "typical" 19th century working-class woman.

The origins of Sinn Féin.

Some mysterious ancient stones.

An 1804 child star.

Early Modern medicine for travelers.

A visit to St. Anne's Limehouse.

That's a wrap for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an unusual ghost story.  In the meantime, the Bee Gees go rockabilly!

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

"An Unmade Bed," Eugene Delacroix

This account of a man with unusual ideas about healthy living appeared in the "Birmingham Journal" on January 11, 1862.  It is a reprint of a story that appeared in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for March, 1753.  (Via Newspapers.com)

At Burcott, near Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, lives John Tallis, whose manner of life is very extraordinary. He was born at Solihull in Warwickshire about the year 1676. In the beginning of 1724, being then about forty-eight years of age, he caused a room to be prepared for his reception, with such scrupulous diligence to prevent the accession of fresh air, that only one window was admitted, consisting but of four panes, and the glass was directed to be more than thrice as thick as common, from an opinion that by a body so subtle as the air thin glass might be pervaded. 
To this room he retired from the world; but still regarding that fluid which supplies to all animals the breath of life, his mortal enemy, he thought some further precaution necessary for his defense.  Therefore he went to bed, from which he has not since risen; and as his head in this situation is chiefly exposed, he has covered it with swathings, wrappers and caps, that consist of near 100 yards of flannel; and he is often as long and as busily employed in adjusting the several strings by which these innumerable coverings are secured, as a sailor in righting his tackle after a storm. 
He has stoppers fitted to each nostril; he usually holds a piece of ivory in his mouth, and a piece of woollen cloth is laid over his face; his shirts are lined with swanskin, and the breast and sides are quilted. When I beheld him, he opened his eyes, and stretched himself like a bat that is just awaking from a sleep of six or seven months: but as he awaked thirsty and disordered, he reached his cup, which was constantly placed near him with some cooling liquor; and having drank, he exhibited his right hand decorated with many rings, which he surveyed with great appearance of satisfaction and complacency, and entered into a description of Babel, the Nile, and crocodiles. 
With respect to his religious opinion, he is a Quietist; and though he is not useful, he is at least harmless. There appears to be some tincture of avarice in his disposition, and the dark corner into which he is retired from the more fashionable vanities of life, does not appear wholly to have excluded affectation and pride. 
There is no need to caution mankind against his peculiar extravagancies, and it might be thought that there was as little reason to recommend them as patterns of imitation. However, though I do not wish the ladies to adopt his headdress of 100 yards of flannel, yet I think they should not sacrifice the vigour of health and the bloom of beauty, to a fly-cap or any fashionable mode of more southern climates, till our air is equally temperate by the return of the sun; and that they would no longer increase the infelicities of our long season of darkness, by giving it power to rob us of that, without which the sweetness of spring, and the splendor of summer, would cease to be the means of happiness.

Although one might assume Mr. Tallis' aversion to air would not be conducive to a long life, it was not until he reached the venerable age of 80 in 1755 that he finally achieved his ultimate goal, and ceased to breathe at all.

Monday, September 11, 2023

A Murder and a Disappearance: The Wood Mystery

As I have mentioned on this blog before, the most horrifying things can--and often do--happen to the most unlikely people.  The following mystery definitely belongs in that category.

In 2011, 79-year-old James William “Bill” Wood had been married to Kaidena “Kay” Lozelle, seven years his junior, for three years.  (The pair were both widowed at the time of their marriage.)  They lived in the rural town of Norwalk, just outside of Des Moines, Iowa.  Everyone who knew the pair described them as very much in love, and very happy with their quiet existence.  Kay, a former grocery store worker, enjoyed collecting china dolls.  Bill was a retired ironworker who was employed at J.W. Perry Inc., a Des Moines florist.  Bill’s favorite toy was a Model A Ford that he kept in prime condition and often drove in parades.  They both had a love for antiques, of which they had an impressive collection.

This pleasant life the couple shared came to a brutal end on the night of July 30, 2011, when a fire was reported at their home.  After the fire department put out the blaze, the Woods were nowhere to be found.

On the following day, the couple’s red Chevrolet Silverado pickup was discovered outside an expensive apartment complex in Kansas City, Missouri.  Several people saw the man who had abandoned the car.  They described him as being in his late 40s to early 60s, slender, short white hair, and well over six feet tall.  He had parked the car some time before the Wood house was set on fire.  That same day, the charred body of Bill Wood was found in the remains of his home.  The autopsy found that he had died of multiple gunshot wounds.  Kay--whether alive, or, as everyone feared, dead--remained missing.

"Des Moines Register," October 5, 2011, via Newspapers.com

To date, that is all we know for certain about this particularly baffling murder and disappearance.  Although the man seen driving the couple’s truck was obviously the main suspect, what motive could this person--who has never been identified--have to destroy this well-liked pair?

"Indianola Record-Herald," August 6, 2014

Relatives speculated that robbery was the answer.  Bill’s brother Henry noted that the Woods were last seen attending an antiques auction in Stuart, Iowa.  “I think there is a really big chance that something happened in Stuart.  Bill probably has some antiques that are very rare.  He liked nice stuff.  He probably had expensive stuff.  If he found something he wanted, he bought it.”  Perhaps at this auction, the Woods were seen buying something valuable, or they told the wrong person about their collection at home.  (The fire obviously made it impossible to know if anything had been stolen.)

Although relatives still hold out hope that Bill’s murder and Kay’s disappearance will one day be solved, as the years go by, that is looking tragically unlikely.