"...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, April 29, 2013

Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Kidnapper and Empire-Builder

For today's post, let us cast our eyes back to the days of King George IV, an era where an enterprising young fellow could launch his career by serially kidnapping heiresses and wind up—not, as you might imagine, at the business end of a rope—but in the Dictionary of National Biography.

The hero of our story, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, was born in London on March 20, 1796. In 1816, he met Eliza Susan Pattle, orphaned daughter of a wealthy merchant. Miss Pattle soon became infatuated with Wakefield, who was a debonair rascal straight out of the cheesiest paperback romance, and they eloped. Although her guardians were understandably outraged, the fait accompli eventually convinced them to make the best of the matter, and the groom settled down to pursue his career, serving secretarial duties at the British embassies in Turin and Paris. The marriage proved to be a very happy one, but in 1820 the young wife died giving birth to their second child.

The next act of his saga took place in March of 1826, when a girls’ school in Liverpool, England received an alarming note. It was from a “John Ainsworth, M.D.,” informing them that Mrs. Turner, the mother of one of their pupils, had been seized with “a sudden and dangerous attack of paralysis,” and wished to see her daughter immediately. However, Mrs. Turner did not want her daughter to be informed of her condition ahead of time, so that she would not be frightened during the journey.

The note was plausible, the carriage that had been sent to fetch the girl suitably stylish, and the servant who delivered the note appeared both suave and respectable. Mrs. Turner’s fifteen-year-old daughter Ellen, the only child of a rich and socially prominent silk manufacturer from Manchester, was soon trustingly sent on her way.

When the carriage reached Manchester, they stopped at an inn.  Miss Turner was escorted to a private room, where the servant assured her that her father would soon arrive to escort her home. He then told the owners of the house that he would answer the bell if the girl rang.

Not long after her arrival, the young lady was startled to see a good-looking, well-dressed young stranger enter her room. Edward Wakefield calmly introduced himself, saying he had been enlisted to take her to her parents. He explained that the note announcing her mother’s illness was merely a cover story. The truth, he told her solemnly, was that her father’s business affairs had taken such a serious downturn that she would be forced to leave her school. He then introduced his brother William, who would accompany them on the remainder of the journey.

The girl was understandably upset by this latest development, but saw no reason to doubt the courteous, well-spoken intruder. The strange little party set off for Halifax, where, she was told, her father awaited them.

Mr. Turner failed to appear at Halifax. Not to worry, said the unflappable Mr. Wakefield. No doubt, he was in Kendal. In that town they found, if not the man himself, at least a letter from him to Wakefield, bidding them to meet him in Carlisle. During their journey, Edward Wakefield gave Ellen the sad details of her father’s desperate straits. Mr. Turner was “almost ruined.” Wakefield’s uncle had been benevolent enough to loan him 60,000 pounds, but even that had failed to keep him afloat. As a result of this loan, the uncle now held the title for the Turner family estate, and “her papa might be turned out-of-doors any day.”

Turner’s solicitor saw only one hope for the now-destitute family, her escort sighed. Wakefield and Ellen must immediately marry. Then, the property would be hers, not this heartless creditor’s.

Ellen Turner was a highly-sheltered, trusting girl, with little knowledge of the world. She had no reason to doubt the word of this man who seemed so sure of himself and so sympathetic to her plight. Still, even highly-sheltered and trusting girls have their limits. She managed to stammer out that she could do nothing until she saw her father.

When they reached an inn at Carlisle, the men entered the establishment, leaving the girl to wait in the carriage. They shortly returned to give her the bad news that there was more traveling to do. Mr. Turner, said Wakefield, was hiding from the law in a room at the back of the inn, and hoped to soon escape over the border. He sent word to her to marry Wakefield as soon as possible. She was the only one who could save her family now.

Feeling she had no other choice, Ellen gave a confused assent. Their carriage sped for Scotland, where the couple married at Gretna Green “in the presence of a drunken blacksmith, the landlord of a public-house, and a post-boy.”

After this irregular ceremony, Ellen assumed they would return to Carlisle and her peripatetic father. Well, no, Wakefield told her. Mr. Turner had fled. They would probably find him in London. The wedding party—surely one of the most dismal on record—spent the night in Penrith. All of them in separate rooms.

Two days later, Wakefield and his ill-gotten bride arrived in London, having parted along the way from brother William. The next morning, the new Mrs. W. was informed that her father had been forced to flee his creditors by going to France, and was now lying-low in Calais. So off to Calais went the Wakefields.

Meanwhile, Miss Daulby, the headmistress of Ellen’s school, was becoming increasingly uneasy about not hearing any news of her missing student. Finally, five days later, she went to the Turner estate to make enquiries. Several shocks awaited her. The first was the fact that on the previous day, the London papers had announced her pupil’s marriage to an Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Second, Mrs. Turner was in her usual health—or would have been, if not from her horror at suddenly discovering she had not lost a daughter, but gained a son-in-law. Third, no one in the Turner household had ever heard of Dr. Ainsworth, his servant, or Wakefield himself.

As one of the newspapers had helpfully provided the information that the newlyweds were now honeymooning in Paris, the outraged father, accompanied by two of his brothers, the family solicitor, and a Bow Street runner, started for France in hot pursuit.

At Wakefield’s hotel, he courteously greeted his visitors, but declined to allow them to see his new wife. The solicitor informed him that he deserved to be shot. Wakefield commented that he himself had a daughter, “and if any man were to take her off in the same manner, I believe I should send a bullet through his head.”

Edward Wakefield may have been a scoundrel, but at least he was an unusually fair-minded one.

Wakefield eventually admitted to the men that he had been told Ellen was “a very fine girl,” and “heiress to one of the largest fortunes in the country.” As a result, he was “determined to possess himself of her.” After the men had had a brief debate about the legality of the marriage, Wakefield finally allowed them to see his bride. In the cheesy romance novels I mentioned earlier, where Wakefield would have been right at home, Ellen would undoubtedly have announced her newly-awakened love for her abductor and her determination to stay with him no matter what the law or her family might say. Unfortunately for our Edward, he never appeared to learn that real life is a cheesy novel of a more prosaic variety. When one of Ellen’s uncles explained to her how horribly and thoroughly her trust had been betrayed, the distraught—but now relieved—girl begged to be taken home. Wakefield urged her to reconsider, pointing out that he had been “a gentleman” to her. (It is an interesting sidelight on Wakefield’s world-view that a kidnapper was still a “gentleman” if only he refrained from being a rapist as well.) Unsurprisingly, the girl saw things a bit differently, crying that he had “deceived” her and she never wanted to see him again. The Turner party and “Madame Wakefield” quickly returned home.

After their departure, Wakefield immediately wrote his brother William a letter warning him the game was up. He reported that Ellen “told all, and was anxious to leave me when she knew all.” With what seemed to be his characteristic eccentricity, he complained of the way the Turner party had treated him: “Nothing could be more hostile than the whole spirit of the proceedings.” He went on to say that he had given a “solemn declaration that she and I have been as brother and sister,” and he did not know how that would affect the legality of the marriage. He advised his brother to flee England: “I am now in a stew about you, and wish you were safe…For myself, I will meet it, come what may; but if you are able, get away as soon as possible.”

He added, “The grand question now is: Is the marriage legal?”

Indeed. The Wakefields, along with their French valet (who had posed as servant to the mythical “Dr. Ainsworth,”) went on trial for conspiracy and abduction in March 1827. The brothers’ stepmother, Frances Davies Wakefield, who had fed them information about the Turners and provided money for the escapade, was also named in the indictment. (A curious footnote:  Frances and the senior Wakefield had, years before,  also made a runaway match.)  As the stranger-than-fiction abduction had created quite a sensation in the country, this proceeding was a widely-publicized event. William was already in custody, having been arrested for an unrelated debt. Edward could have escaped arrest, but returned to face justice in his own inimitable fashion. “I must stand by my wife,” he declared. “I would have made her love me.”

The hero of the most crowd-pleasing penny-dreadful could not have said it better.

The best the defense could do was to bring forward a number of witnesses willing to assert that Miss Turner married Wakefield not just willingly, but joyfully, even eagerly.  It all went over like the proverbial lead balloon.  To the surprise of no one, the brothers were convicted and sentenced to a visit of several years in Newgate.  Frances Wakefield was also found guilty, but was never called up for judgment.  All this still left the question of the validity of the marriage unresolved. Ellen’s father presented a petition to the House of Lords, asking them to allow a bill to have his daughter’s irregular union annulled. Wakefield presented a counter-petition denying most of the allegations in the Turner document, and asking that he be allowed to present his case in person. To make a good deal of tiresome legal wrangling short, Parliament determined there was precedent for Turner’s request, in a 1690 annulment case, and the result was that Ellen regained her spinsterhood.

After the Wakefields had paid their debt to society, they both found a new, and considerably more successful, life in the colonies. In 1829, William became an agent for the New Zealand Land Company. (Incidentally, he too eloped—with the daughter of a baronet—but with considerably happier results than his brother’s second experiment in that line.) He is best known for founding the city of Wellington. By the time he died in 1848, he had a reputation for being “not more shrewd then trustworthy.”

Edward put his incarceration to good use, by turning his attention to a subject naturally dear to his heart at the time—prison reform. While serving his sentence he wrote a book, “Facts Relating to the Punishment of Death in the Metropolis,” an account of Newgate’s various horrors that is quite powerful and well-written. He later published several pamphlets addressing various social issues.

Upon his release, he went to South Australia and then New Zealand, where he became one of that country’s leading statesmen. Indeed, he is considered among the chief founders of that country, pursuing a career as a “pioneer of Empire” that eventually earned him no fewer than seven columns in the DNB. (That eminent book of record treated his early escapades with a tactful brevity.)

The historical opinion of Wakefield’s career has shifted back and forth dramatically over the years, depending upon the current prevailing view of colonialism. As one can imagine, his reputation is fairly low right now, but during the height of the British Empire, many historians regarded him as a national hero, which caused them to contrive many very curious attempts to defend his abduction of Ellen Turner. It’s a fascinating lesson in how “historical truth” is more relative than we like to think.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield never remarried. The Antipodes were short on eligible heiresses to abduct, and the Wakefield family appeared to be ignorant of any other courtship methods. He died in Wellington in 1862, no doubt seeing himself as the hero of melodrama to the last.

The famed victim of his younger days, Ellen Turner, met a far earlier, and sadder fate. At the age of seventeen she married a Thomas Legh, only to die in childbirth two years later.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

Strange company is watching you.

Along with the cats.

This week's assortment of piping-hot weird internet goodness:

So, what the hell is this?

Jealous ghost or psycho stepmother?  You make the call.

This past week, I discovered The Greatest Blog That Has Ever Been, or Ever Will Be.  You're very welcome.

M. Vincent de Groof, the ill-fated Victorian Batman.

Tut-tut, tutty.

Was Max Jacobson the most dangerously influential doctor who ever lived?

Because around here, we just can't get enough of Medieval Cats.

A four-thousand year old woman who really knew how to take it with her.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand's car may not have been cursed, but it sure was weird.

Archaeologists think they have found Romeo and Juliet in Romania.  Or maybe not.

The L. A. Daily Mirror has Fun With Wikipedia!

Tsar Nicholas II:  Not too weak, but too strong?

In which we discover that F. Scott Fitgerald was much better-looking as a woman than as a man.

A tour of Japan's Crow Castle, one of the most beautiful battle fortresses you'll ever see.

A wonderful glimpse of life circa 1900.  On video!

Bigfoot has been found!  Or, at least, a really big foot.

Ah, for the days when fun-loving Victorians partied by impersonating sides of bacon.

Lions and tigers and raccoons, oh my!  The menagerie of George III.

And, finally, let's wrap it up with the Tweet of the Week:

That wraps it up, folks.  See you on Monday, where this confused chimp will explain how the kidnapping of a young heiress indirectly led to the founding of modern New Zealand.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Of the day? Bloody hell, probably the newspaper story of all time. Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you a harrowing unsolved mystery from Downey, California in 1955: The Case of the Demon-Possessed Garden Hose:

It all began when about 18 feet of green plastic garden hose disappeared into the ground in Mr. George Di Peso’s back garden.

Scientists from California Institute of Technology are on their way to inspect the last remaining few feet of Mr. Di Peso’s home, the activities of which have already baffled police and engineers of the local water company.

Even an amateur prospector with a Geiger counter couldn’t unravel the mystery of where the hose has been going.

The Di Peso’s had a restless weekend. “It’s horrible,” said Mrs. Di Peso. “We can’t get any rest. There was a woman sitting out here most of the night, and every once in a while she’d scream ‘It’s wiggling; it’s wiggling.’

“There were people here all night. Once, I looked out and saw 14 couples, dressed in evening clothes, standing on our lawn.”

Mr. Di Peso has had to rope off his lawn to protect the flower beds from trampling feet.

One enterprising tradesman set up a hot dog and coffee stand, while extra police were sent to the Di Peso home to handle the ever-growing crowd.

A neighbor, Mrs. Robert Breeze, said that her own hose had started to disappear into the ground last Friday, but her husband had cut it off after 15 feet had vanished.

They never did figure out how that hose managed to bury itself, or why they were completely unable to pull it back up.  Di Peso finally just cut it off at ground level, declaring, “If it wants to sink down and disappear completely, my prayers go with it.” However, the burial site continued to get such a stream of gawkers that two months later, he dug a hole twenty-five feet deep and excavated the renegade implement.  “I think I’ll keep it for a pet,” he said.

The following week, the hose strangled Di Peso in his sleep.

Okay, I never found that last bit in the news archives.  But I'm pretty sure that's what happened.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Anna Kingsford, Psychic Assassin?

“It was no human life that was involved in the matter, for that only is a human life which is a humane life.”
-Anna Kingsford

If her own account can be trusted, pretty, delicate, brilliant, charming, warm-hearted Anna Kingsford was one of the most dangerous people who ever lived.

Kingsford paired high ideals and deep esoteric wisdom with indomitable will and an unshakable belief that “ends justify means.” For all her knowledge, she deliberately flouted the truism that everything we do in our lives inevitably boomerangs on us. In the end, this may have literally been the death of her.

Anna “Annie” Bonus was born in Stratford, England on September 16, 1846. Her father was a wealthy merchant who was able to give his frail, beautiful daughter the pampered, cultured upbringing of the classic Victorian belle. Most unusually, though, she was given full rein to follow intellectual pursuits as well. Her original pursuits were along fairly traditional, if precocious, literary and academic lines, but as she reached adulthood the focus of her attentions turned to the occult. From childhood, she believed she had psychic abilities—a friend once described her as a “born seer…seeing apparitions and divining the characters and fortunes of people.”

In order to escape unwanted suitors, when she was twenty-one she married an Anglican clergyman named Algernon Kingsford, on the condition that she would continue to lead a fully autonomous life. (Years after her marriage, after she reread some of her early letters to him, she wrote bemusedly, “What a disagreeable person I must have been to have written to Algernon in this way! They are full of declarations that my chief reason for marrying was to be independent and free. I can only wonder that he took me.") Although on their honeymoon the couple conceived a daughter, Eadith, Anna’s chronic poor health ensured that their relationship became celibate—which may well have suited them both. In their own unconventional way, the Kingsfords remained devoted to each other. The new Mrs. Kingsford continued her life of the mind. She adopted vegetarianism, spiritualism, theosophy. Mrs. Kingsford had visions, and was convinced she communicated with “genii.” Anna was a talented writer who published a number of well-regarded theological essays, poems, short stories, and novels, and she eventually bought the journal “The Lady’s Own Paper,” installing herself as editor. (The magazine failed two years later, as Kingsford refused to accept advertising that violated her beliefs.) She was also a talented lecturer, with a magnetic stage presence.

In 1873 she met Edward Maitland, who became her collaborator, biographer and platonic soul-mate. With her husband’s full approval, Maitland accompanied her to Paris when she decided to take up the study of medicine. Her aim in pursuing this new career was partly to promote her vegetarian, anti-vivisection beliefs, and partly to prove that women were as capable of intense study and rational thought as men. It was while she was a medical student that she was confronted first-hand with vivisection. The nightmarish sights and sounds of live, un-anaesthetized animals being dissected for medical experiments so horrified her that it became her chief mission in life to campaign against something she saw as nothing but cold-blooded, ghoulish murder. (She often volunteered herself for dissection if the doctors would only leave the animals alone, and I’m convinced that if anyone had taken her up on this offer she would have kept her end of the bargain.) However, as it was commonly believed vivisection was necessary for scientific research, her efforts proved futile.

Her failure to stop this animal torture left her distraught. While a student, she wrote: “I have found my Hell here in the Faculté de Médecine of Paris, a Hell more real and awful than any I have yet met with elsewhere, and one that fulfills all the dreams of the mediaeval monks. The idea that it was so came strongly upon me one day when I was sitting in the Musée of the school, with my head in my hands, trying vainly to shut out of my ears the piteous shrieks and cries which floated incessantly towards me up the private staircase…Every now and then, as a scream more heart-rending than the rest reached me, the moisture burst out on my forehead and on the palms of my hands, and I prayed, ‘Oh God, take me out of this Hell; do not suffer me to remain in this awful place…’”

December of 1877 was a crucial moment in her life. While listening to one of her instructors, Dr. Claude Bernard, lecturing on how he had slowly baked live animals to death in order to study body heat, Kingsford suddenly boiled over in fury. She leaped from her seat and shouted, “Murderer!” After a brief, angry exchange with her teacher, she marched out of the classroom.

The man was a tormentor of defenseless animals, creatures she believed had souls as precious as our own. She wanted to see him punished. She would see him punished. She suddenly felt herself become “a spiritual thunderbolt.” With all her might, she willed the doctor dead. And then she fainted.

Very soon after this episode, Dr. Bernard suddenly fell very ill, of a disease no one could identify. Six weeks later, he died.

Kingsford was elated. She wrote Maitland, “Woe be to the torturers…I will make it dangerous, nay, deadly, to be a vivisector. It is the only argument that will affect them. Meanwhile, thank God the head of the gang is dead.”

Anna Kingsford received her degree (graduating second in her class) in 1880. She was at that time the only student to graduate without experimenting on animals. In 1886, her vengeful attentions turned to Dr. Paul Bert, whom she called “the most notorious of the vivisecting fraternity.” (Dr. Bert was certainly notorious to anyone who had the misfortune to live near his laboratory. He often left overnight semi-dissected, but still living, animals. Their agonized cries kept the entire neighborhood awake.)

Dr. Kingsford got out her thunderbolt. And Dr. Bert began to slowly waste away. He died in November 1886.

Kingsford exulted in her new-found weapon. She wrote, “I have killed Paul Bert, as I killed Claude Bernard; as I will kill Louis Pasteur, and after him the whole tribe of vivisectors.…it is a magnificent power to have, and one that transcends all vulgar methods of dealing out justice to tyrants.” (Maitland later defended Kingsford efforts at psychic assassination with the argument she was “under direct divine impulsion,” imparted to her by “the Gods.” He added, “Humanity is enriched by the loss of those who brutalize and debase humanity.”)

She next turned her lethal attentions to Pasteur. Unfortunately for Kingsford, the use of negative forces, no matter how noble the ultimate goal, is an ultimately self-destructive weapon. (Maitland wrote that she admitted that her “projections” against the doctors “took from me my nervous force,” but she saw the sacrifice as well worth the results.) In November of 1886, while on her way to investigate Pasteur’s Paris laboratory, she was caught in a bad rainstorm that left her chilled and completely soaked. It was too much for her chronically fragile physical state. She developed pneumonia, which eventually became pulmonary tuberculosis. It killed her on February 22, 1888. Her friend Sir Richard Burton wrote that she spent her final months “suffering in mind and soul…at the sights and sounds connected with Parisian vivisection.”

Luckily for Dr. Pasteur, Kingsford’s illness also drained the force of her thunderbolts. He nearly died of a sudden, inexplicable illness in February 1887, but soon recovered completely, living and working until 1895.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

In which strange company goes to the dogs.


This week's odd history from all across the 'net:

Death by basketball.

Satanic squirrels.  Take note, Squirrel Who Keeps Digging Up My Herb Garden.  Yeah, I'm talking to you, Beelzebub.

At long last, I have managed to find something that creeps out even me:  Ladies and gentleman, experience the joys of Victorian post-mortem photography.

I'm curiously pleased to learn that Connecticut has a park named after Ernest Borgnine.

The real "Titanic" love story.

The unsettling, mysterious "fairy coffins" of Edinburgh.

Why I love writing this blog:  How else would I get the chance to write "Margaret Thatcher" and "UFOs" in the same sentence?

Yes, scholars are still being driven half-mad by the Voynich Manuscript.

Biblioburros, pink UFOs, Camels, and the Matrix:  The world's wildest libraries.

If medieval peasants had Sears catalogs, this is what it would look like. I was mildly intrigued to find "a lecherous representation of Priapus" among the list.

Maybe those medieval peasants had more fun than I thought.

Meet John Marketman, who confused being hanged for murder with making his debut at the London Palladium.

Meet the ancient Egyptian cat who inadvertently touched off a deadly international incident.

How our ancestors stayed healthy:  Carbolic acid, whisky, lemonade, and strong black coffee.

Around my house, that's usually called "breakfast."

A day with a Victorian East End Photographer.

Finally, on a lighter, utterly delightful note:  Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.  Verses by T. S. Eliot, illustrations by Edward Gorey:
"The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey –
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter –
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum –
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover –
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name."

That wraps it up, folks.  A happy weekend to one and all.  On Monday, I shall return with the story of a woman who utilized a most unusual murder weapon...her mind.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

These brief news stories contain all the information we have about the premature burial--one almost has to call it "murder"--of Frances Burke in 1892. Perhaps I have an unusually suspicious nature, but is anyone else sensing something deeply sinister about the haste with which this young "heiress" was put six feet under?

There seem to have been no follow-up stories giving the results of this "investigation" into Burke's burial.  And, no, we never got an explanation of how her coffin came to be filled with water...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Where In the World Is the Earl of Bothwell?

The only accepted portrait of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell and Duke of Orkney, although  this identification has sometimes been disputed.

Mary Queen of Scots married James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, in May of 1567, only three months after the baffling, and still hotly-debated murder of her previous husband, Henry, Lord Darnley. One month after the wedding, Mary’s enemies captured the Queen and imprisoned her on Lochleven island, where she was eventually forced to abdicate. After a year, she escaped and fled across the border, only to trade her Scottish prison for an English one. Elizabeth I kept her in captivity for nearly twenty years until her execution in 1587.

Bothwell’s end is much more mysterious. After Mary was sent to Lochleven, he made desperate efforts to raise an army on her behalf, but, dogged by the allegations that he had been Darnley’s murderer, he had limited success. After a few months on the run, a storm drove him into the hands of the Danish authorities. Denmark’s King Frederick, in the hope that holding Bothwell in custody might prove useful, kept him in “honorable confinement” while debating how best to manage this international hot potato he had unexpectedly acquired. He proved surprisingly sympathetic to his controversial visitor. Frederick refused to agree to extradite him to England or Scotland until Bothwell could be guaranteed a fair and open trial—which was the last thing Bothwell’s enemies wanted. Whether the Queen’s new husband was guilty or innocent, he knew too much.

Frederick himself was left struggling to find a solution to the Bothwell controversy that he felt was consistent with his own sense of honor. He confided to the French Ambassador, Charles de Dancay (France, for its own mysterious reasons, had done everything in its power to block Bothwell’s extradition) that he would dearly love to have an end to the problem.  However, he did not believe it was right to simply turn Bothwell over to his enemies, particularly as he had consistently and vehemently denied "either killing Darnley or having had him killed nor having in any way consented to his death." Some time afterwards, Dancay, writing to France about the dilemma of what to do with Bothwell, advised that it would be best to simply play for time, adding a slightly cryptic comment to the effect that all parties involved, particularly Mary, might benefit most by news that her contentious husband had simply died. And Bothwell himself, as far as anyone can ascertain, was never directly heard from again after 1570.

At some time during that year, Scottish mercenaries, returning home after having fought for Denmark in the war against Sweden, carried with them the news that Frederick had given Bothwell his freedom. It was feared that the King planned to outfit ships and crews for Bothwell's use. When Danish warships were spotted off the northern Scottish coast, word spread through the country that it was Bothwell, returning to reclaim his wife and his kingdom. This was no trivial rumor. Elizabeth herself appears to have been informed, as a statement of fact, that Bothwell was free, as she was inspired to write Frederick a blistering letter excoriating him for releasing from custody an infamous villain who, if Frederick refused to execute him as he deserved, certainly was entitled to nothing better than chains and fetters!

Nothing more is heard about Bothwell until June 1573. This was an important time in Mary's history. Just days before, at the end of May, Edinburgh Castle, which had been held by the remnants of Mary's party in Scotland for the past several years, finally surrendered, ending whatever small chance remained of Mary being restored to her kingdom. Coincidentally or not, just two weeks after this event--immediately after the news reached Denmark, in fact--Dancay casually remarked in one of his dispatches that Frederick, for reasons unknown, had suddenly removed Bothwell to a "very bad" prison.

Dancay does not say where Bothwell was moved, or why the hitherto friendly King took such an odd and unexpected step. Some time later, a Danish chronicler gave Bothwell's new residence as Dragsholm Castle, which was then the state prison. There are, however, no strictly contemporary accounts of the prison being identified by name.

We have no first-person accounts of his removal to Dragsholm, no witnesses, no reliable records that this was done at all. From this point on, we have nothing but rumors and hearsay regarding Bothwell‘s fate.

We have no idea why Frederick would suddenly move Bothwell to a prison. It was a mystery to their contemporaries. Around this time, rumor spread through Europe that Bothwell had gone insane, and it has been suggested that this was the reason for the change in his treatment. However, Dancay, who had been deeply involved in the intrigues surrounding Bothwell's captivity, said nothing about insanity, and indeed there is no evidence Bothwell had gone mad, other than vague rumor. The story of his insanity seems to have been what is today called an "urban legend."

Soon after 1573, the insanity tales were followed by rumors that Bothwell was dead. His death was reported throughout Europe at various times between 1573 and 1578, which is more evidence of the lack of any reliable information about him. Remarkably, the Danish government itself was responsible for starting these fictitious rumors of Bothwell's death, and for one simple reason--so people would stop making troublesome inquiries about him. Frederick and his ministers were weary of the Scots continually pestering them for Bothwell's extradition, so, in an effort to be rid of the matter, instructions were given that the report should be spread, at home and abroad, that the bothersome Scot was dead. (The previous fables about Bothwell's insanity very possibly came from the same source, and for the same reason.)

This raises the obvious question: Why was Frederick so determined for the world to forget about Bothwell?

The tales of Bothwell's imprisonment lost nothing in the telling. Several contemporary and near-contemporary historians relate, with a rather distasteful relish, that the great villain Bothwell came to an appropriately hideous end in some loathsome Danish dungeon, hopelessly insane, left to wallow in filth, reduced to the level of a wild beast, and completely forgotten by the world.

There is no more evidence for these lurid stories than there is for anything else about Bothwell's end. Historians of that period dearly loved a good moral, and these tales of Bothwell's ghastly fate seem to have grown because the chroniclers felt this was the end he should have had--there is a definite "serves him right!" air to their descriptions. (In truth, many of Mary's modern biographers, relating these "insane in a dungeon" tales as unquestionable fact, do so in a similarly unpleasant tone of moral rejoicing.)

Even if Bothwell was at Dragsholm, there are no clear accounts of his condition. Other stories, which are just as credible (or, if you prefer, incredible,) depict him as living in comfort at Dragsholm, with no reference to dungeons or insanity. One report claims he was even allowed to go hunting!

It all comes down to this: If any of Bothwell's contemporaries, even in Denmark itself, had the least idea of what became of him, they left no record. Frederick, who must have known the truth, whatever it was, never revealed it.

During Bothwell's alleged stay at Dragsholm, a Scotsman, William Lummisden, came to the prison numerous times for the purpose of visiting John Clark, a Scottish mercenary who had managed to run afoul of Frederick--and Bothwell--and thus was incarcerated there in 1571. In the accounts of Lummisden's dealings with Clark, Bothwell is not even mentioned. Nothing is said about him, even though the Scots were still taking a great interest in him. (This is particularly relevant, as the Scots blamed Bothwell for Clark's incarceration. He had informed Frederick of the fact that Clark had, among other crimes, taken a troop of Danish mercenaries, hired to battle the Swedes, to Scotland to fight against Mary. As Lummisden had an interest in Clark, surely it would have been natural for him to show interest in Bothwell, as well.) This omission is inexplicable, unless there was nothing on Bothwell to report...because Bothwell was not there.

Virtually all modern reference books give the date of Bothwell's death as April 14, 1578. This is no more definite than any of the other reports of his death. The sole source for this date is the so-called "Calendar of Eiler Brockenhuus,” which records certain notable events of the period. This "Calendar" is of dubious authority, having been compiled at unknown times by contributors of unproven credibility. (An oddity in this so-called record is that under the year 1575, the same date, April 14, is given as the time of death for John Clark.) A number of contemporary authorities also give 1578 as the year of his death, but others, seemingly with equal certainty, give other years. Dancay, who had always closely monitored Bothwell's situation, reported his death in November 1575. All any of this proves is that all reports dealing with Bothwell seem to have been based on nothing but hearsay.

We are on stronger ground with the question of the body said to be that of Bothwell, which was exhumed from the church near Dragsholm in the 1850s, and that was publicly exhibited there for many years. These remains are not his.

In 1858, a coffin, reputed to be Bothwell's, was opened, apparently out of mere curiosity. There was nothing in or around the coffin to show the body's identity. As the spectators, of course, had no idea of what Bothwell looked like, no one could confirm that the body was his. The head of the corpse (which was found separated from the body,) was fancifully described as looking "like a Scotchman," but as Bothwell was not the only Scot said to be buried there, even that was no help. Everyone, however, liked the idea that they had found the last resting place of the notorious Earl of Bothwell. The fact that a number of people who saw the body could not help but notice that it was dressed in clothes that appeared to date from around 1700 was determinedly ignored.

The body was displayed for over one hundred years, turning Dragsholm, which later became a hotel, into something of a "tourist trap" for romantically-inclined history buffs. (Which is undoubtedly why the body's identity went largely unquestioned--anachronistic burial clothes and all.)

However, there were questions asked in the late 1930s. When certain prominent Scottish citizens vociferously decried what they considered the desecration of Bothwell's body in Denmark, and demanded its return so that the man who was so briefly their King could, at long last, rest in peace in his homeland, King George VI of England became involved. His secretary, Alexander Hardinge, engaged in extensive correspondence with interested parties and directed, in the King's behalf, that the matter be appropriately resolved.

On November 7, 1938, a member of the British legation in Copenhagen wrote representatives of King George that, "investigations have recently been carried out by an expert committee using modern methods, including X-ray photography, to decide definitely on the identity of the mummy hitherto shown as the remains of Lord Bothwell and, if not, whether these remains are to be found at all within the confines of Faarevejle Church."

The letter stated that the report of this investigation was published in the Sunday Illustrated Supplement of the Berlingske Tidende newspaper. "Put briefly," the correspondent, a Patrick Ramsay, went on, "the committee is of the opinion that the mummy generally accepted as that of Lord Bothwell (hereafter referred to as No. 1 mummy) is really that of a certain baliff by name of Chresten Pedersen Poder, who died in 1683..." It must, indeed, have been a proud moment for the Poder family, but a somewhat dark day for Denmark.

Ramsay explained that the crypt in which the No. 1 mummy--formerly known as Bothwell--lay, was not built until seventy-five years after Bothwell's death. Also, the cheap coffin had been carried by poles, a method "dating about 1700, but never earlier." The committee's findings were later affirmed by the Director of the Danish National Museum, Dr. Phil. P. Norlund, who stated that "...the so-called 'Bothwell's Burial' originates in the decades around 1700."

Ramsay's letter mentioned that "three coffins of people known to have been buried in Faarevejle Church about the 17th century could not be found." Obviously, one of those missing coffins had now been discovered: Within was the body that had been masquerading as James Hepburn, Fourth Earl of Bothwell. No trace of any burial that could possibly have been that of the Scottish Queen’s final consort was ever found.

It is strangely appropriate that Bothwell--who many contemporaries insisted was a warlock--vanished into legend just as suddenly and enigmatically as he appeared. This strange, compelling man, eulogized even by an enemy as "a man valiant and for magnanimous powers above all others," disappeared, trusting his legacy to, as he once wrote, "Time, mother of truth." (To which his 20th century biographer Robert Gore-Browne added tartly, "She has abused his confidence with four hundred years of full-throated execration.")

A 19th century defender of Bothwell's, J. Watts de Peyster, in pondering the unsolvable riddle of Bothwell's exact fate, wrote of him as being enveloped in "the opaque mists evoked by a magician, and in them this important personage again sinks into deep obscurity."

And perhaps he was more literally correct than he knew.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

Strange company is still hangin' in there.

Right along with the cats.

Tattooed Love Girls, Victorian Style.

In the 18th century, Thomas Day set out to create the perfect wife.  It worked out about as well as you'd think.

And as for the perfect husband, he turns out to be a ghost.

A duel between a Princess and a Countess.  A half-naked duel between a Princess and a Countess.  A half-naked duel between a Princess and a Countess that arose over floral arrangements.

Kind of thing that happens every day.

Who really murdered Sarah Meservey?  A still-unsettled question from 1877.

Jumping Juliana; Or, Fun With Normans.

From the British Library's Cold Case File:  Two brothers die very odd deaths in the late 19th century.

Was Pablo Neruda murdered?

Horse racing in 12th century London.  I think "full of juice" meant something different in those days than it does now...

No better way to start the weekend than with a few medieval vampire burials.

The double world of Orrill Stapp:  An intriguing manuscript hidden in the Seattle Public Library.

Archaeologists have found something very big and very odd in the Sea of Galilee.  And they want to open it up.

I think every H. P. Lovecraft story in existence started this way.

Murder chic, from the Edwardian Era.

A truly Hellish museum.

And, finally, my favorite current-events story of the week: French President Gets New Camel to Replace One Eaten.  Or, as the folks at Ikea would say, "Soup's on!"

Enjoy your weekend, gang.  I'll be back Monday to discuss the very mysterious fate of one of my top History Crushes, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

I present this story from 1882 with absolutely no comment whatsoever:

Oh, swell. Now for the rest of the day, I'm going to have "Lola" running through my head.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Los Angeles' Favorite Murderesses, Part Two: Madalynne Obenchain

Madalynne Obenchain, via Library of Congress

A certain type of woman has a natural gift for enlisting the support of a certain type of man for doing the damndest things, including homicide. Amazingly, Clara Phillips was not the only notorious example of that breed causing bloody havoc in Los Angeles in the early 1920s. Before there was Clara and her hammer, there was Madalynne Obenchain and her revolver. In both those cases, a man was at the center of the case, and in both cases, these extremely lethal ladies found men willing to move heaven and earth to literally help them get away with murder.

Obenchain’s story opened in what was then a pleasingly rustic Los Angeles canyon named Beverly Glen, where a young man named John Belton Kennedy owned a cabin. On the night of August 5, 1921, a railroad man, George Deering, was driving past this cabin on his way to work, when a hysterically sobbing woman ran into the road, begging him to stop. When he pulled over, she begged him to help an injured friend. The “friend” he found lying on the steps of the cabin was far more than just injured. John Belton Kennedy was dead. The beautiful young damsel in distress, who was the soon-to-be-famous Madalynne Obenchain, begged him to get a doctor—something Deering immediately realized was pointless. As there were no telephones in the area, neighbors watched over the body while Deering and Madalynne drove to the police station.
John Belton Kennedy, fatally uncertain suitor.

The statement Madalynne made there was essentially the same story she consistently stuck to through the end. The dead man, she explained, was her fiancé. On their way to have dinner at the Brentwood Club, they stopped off at his cabin to search for a lucky penny she had once hidden there. She heard a stranger’s voice say something she couldn’t make out, and then there was a gunshot. Kennedy cried, “Goodnight, Madalynne,” as he was shot a second time. She saw two men run off into the brush. And then she fled in horror and flagged down Deering.

Such a simple, heart-tugging tale told with such sweet earnestness by a beautiful, grief-stricken young woman. The DA wasn’t buying any of it. Six days after Kennedy’s death, she and a man named Arthur Courtney Burch were indicted for first-degree murder. Kennedy’s death, it became clear, had its roots in the very beginning of Madalynne’s lengthy and exceedingly complicated love life.

It all began in 1914, when the twenty year old Madalynne Connor became engaged to Ralph Obenchain, a man who later, for good reason, was to become immortalized by the Los Angeles prosecutors as “The Human Doormat.” Before many weeks had passed, however, she broke the engagement and went off to study drama in New York and Europe for two years. In 1917, while visiting her mother in California, she met John Belton Kennedy, son of a wealthy insurance broker. She and Kennedy soon fell in love, but there was one major obstacle to their romance—namely, Kennedy’s mother. Mrs. Kennedy was, as an acquaintance called her, a “smothering” mother. She did not want her baby marrying anyone—or doing much of anything that might loosen the apron strings—and she was hell-bent on preventing her son from having any other woman in his life. This led him to maintain a maddening indecisiveness with his relations with Madalynne that would eventually have fatal consequences.

Throughout 1917 and 1918, Kennedy would sometimes vow that he loved Madalynne and was determined to marry her, and at other times, when his courage faltered and the thought of Mother made his blood run cold, he would back off and urge his sweetheart to be patient. It all was enough to get on the nerves of the most saintly girl—and Madalynne was anything but a saint. In the midst of all this, Ralph Obenchain suddenly swooped into town to offer her his devoted shoulder to cry on. The upshot was, as the lady later put it, she “was engaged to Belton Kennedy, but somehow she married Mr. Obenchain.”
Ralph Obenchain, Human Doormat.

Her marriage did not prevent Kennedy from pleading with her to take him back. Within four days of the wedding, the two of them were again romantically involved. Within three months of the wedding, Obenchain agreed, for his precious Madalynne’s sake, to go back to Chicago and allow her to divorce him. Every week, he sent her $80 in alimony, and, frequently, signed blank checks as well.

Madalynne relocated to Evanston, Indiana to await her divorce, not to mention Kennedy, who had promised to meet her in Chicago. While there, she became reacquainted with yet another old male admirer, Arthur Burch. He took her for car rides and did her grocery shopping. Madalynne got her divorce, but her man failed to materialize. After a few months, she again got fed up with this male tower of mush and wrote Kennedy a letter vowing to go back to Obenchain if he did not immediately come to Evanston. Kennedy stayed in Los Angeles, and Madalynne, again, swore that they were through forever. However, she did not follow through on her threat to give Obenchain another chance.

After several months, she got a letter—rather past its sell-by date—from Kennedy announcing he was coming to claim her. She sent a frantic reply, asking if he had lost his mind entirely, and declaring that “I wouldn’t marry you even if I were free to do so—ever!” 

In January of 1921 she returned to Los Angeles. Shortly after that, Kennedy was begging to be allowed to call on her, and by April, these two masochistic lunatics lovebirds were re-engaged. They planned on May 5th to take the train to San Francisco and get married, Mrs. Kennedy be damned. At the station, however, Madalynne had second thoughts. She went to Chicago instead, to talk the whole situation out with Ralph Obenchain. Kennedy promised to meet her there. He didn’t.

Madalynne consoled herself with some traveling through Canada, down to San Francisco. She was, she later said, on the point of going to Honolulu and forgetting about men altogether when…she was bombarded with letters from J. Belton Kennedy, begging her to come back to Los Angeles and his waiting arms. For reasons that escape me, she did return to L.A., but she held off on the waiting arms.

The two continued their same old dance routine. Belton begged her to marry him, but never worked up the courage to actually take steps in that direction. Madalynne held him off, but never completely severed contact with him, either. In the meantime, back in Chicago, Arthur Burch was also in regular contact with Madalynne, urging his “Goddess” to return and settle down with him. On August 3, 1921, she wrote in her diary, “I am so tired of trouble.”

The trouble, of course, was just beginning.

At the end of July, Burch took the train to Los Angeles. A Pullman porter later testified he was carrying a shotgun with him. Upon his arrival, he took a hotel room—one that was directly opposite the offices where Kennedy worked--and rented a car. The hotel manager was to say that on July 26th, a woman he identified as Madalynne visited Burch in his room. (A quaint touch of bygone days—city law insisted that the hotel room door be kept open during her visit, for the sake of public decency.) The proprietor testified that Burch and Madalynne spent their time gazing out the window in the direction of Kennedy’s office.
Arthur Burch, grocery shopper turned alleged hit man.

On the afternoon of August 5th, a woman phoned the hotel asking for Burch. As he was out, she left a message that his “cousin” had called. When Burch got the message, he left, returned after a while, and soon left again carrying an item wrapped in newspaper that the manager thought looked very like the shape of a shotgun. The next morning, Burch checked out, very unwisely leaving behind him newspaper stories discussing Kennedy’s mysterious murder, and a telegram from Evanston. Having noted from the newspapers that Madalynne Obenchain happened to be from that city, the hotel manager decided to have a chat with the DA. His story—along with the fact that tire marks found on the murder scene matched those of the car Burch had rented—was enough to land Burch and Madalynne under arrest. They were left to reflect on the odd turns romance can take until their trials began.

The prosecution essentially argued that J. Belton Kennedy’s behavior as a lover was enough to make any woman reach for a gun, and to be honest, it’s a hard assertion to contradict. Madalynne, for her part, maintained that her memory simply went blank after she heard the first gunshot. Burch, she stated, was nothing but a dear, platonic friend who was highly supportive of her feelings for her "true love," J. Belton Kennedy.

What one reporter described as Madalynne’s habitual “maimed look of a dying antelope,” had an irresistible force on some men. As soon as she was arrested, she wired an SOS to Ralph Obenchain, who immediately quit his job and rushed to Los Angeles vowing to save her. He topped it all off by obtaining a marriage license and asking to remarry her in the County Jail. An unsentimental judge vetoed the idea.  Obenchain went on to make the most of his new fame by co-producing and starring in "A Man in a Million," a film dramatizing his life and romance with Madalynne.  It was announced that he would make personal appearances whenever the film was shown and donate the profits to his ex-wife's defense fund, but, alas, most theater owners refused to show his project, huffing that they wanted pictures that were “suitable for public showing without resorting to sensationalism as a basis.”

Madalynne's dying antelope look must really have been something. From this distance in time, it’s hard to figure what anyone saw in this woman, but during her incarceration, she made many warm friends among men and women alike. (When Clara Phillips joined her in prison, the two became pals, and oh, what girl-talk they must have shared.) Even some of the jurors would later openly fall under her spell. When she spent her first Christmas in prison, she received over a hundred gifts, including a thousand-dollar bill. The newspapers wrote about her as if she had been Lillian Gish starring in her latest melodrama rather than a murderess awaiting trial. They even published her poetry:
“Oh darling boy of my yesterdays,
If you but only knew
How even now my hopes and plans
Hold no one else but you.
I’m sorry I returned here
For my heart will surely break,
But you said if I couldn’t forget you
To come back, dear, for your sake.” 
It was fortunate for Madalynne that bad verse was not a criminal offense. If it had been, she could have scarcely avoided the electric chair.

Madalynne and Burch were tried separately, with the gentleman going first. Various people testified to seeing Burch and his car in the vicinity of the murder scene, but the most startling moment of the legal proceedings came when Chandler Sprague, a reporter from the “Los Angeles Examiner” announced that—in exchange for $4500—Burch gave him an interview stating that Madalynne had enlisted him to murder J. Belton Kennedy, who was an "evil influence" over her. The lady certainly had a knack for attracting men who were both weak in the will and weak in the head. Burch, of course denied he had said any such thing, even after Sprague also revealed that he had cannily secretly made an audio recording of the defendant admitting that Sprague's initial story about him was true.  Fortunately for Burch, it was ruled that his little moment of soul-baring could not be used as evidence.

Burch's defense was simple: He wasn’t there at the time; even if he had been, he didn’t shoot Kennedy; and none of this mattered anyway, because he was mentally incompetent. The trial ended with a hung jury. His second trial had the same inconclusive result. When a third effort to send Burch to jail ended with yet another deadlocked jury, the D.A. finally gave up and turned him loose.

Madalynne’s trials—yes, I used the plural—were enlivened by the revelation that she had spent her time in jail getting romantically involved with yet another man who saw those antelope eyes and found them a temptation not to be resisted. He was Paul Roman, a convicted felon who had made her acquaintance in the County Jail before he was packed off to Folsom. The two carried on an ardent correspondence where—in exchange for Madalynne regularly sending him money—they arranged that Roman should come forward claiming that he had overheard two men standing on a street corner plotting the murder of John Belton Kennedy. Instead, in the hope of getting a reduced sentence, Roman ratted, and Madalynne had the embarrassing experience of hearing her love letters to him read aloud in court. (“Tonight I have a little pale pink rose near me—the rose will be your soft warm lips, dear Paul.”) The court also learned the quaint detail that Roman composed his replies with the aid of a library book, which he used to copy samples of the standard love letter, adding poetic flourishes such as, “What you need is a lot of attention, and I’m the guy to give it to you.”  All this, of course, made Roman the ideal Judas of the story—the newspapers noted with great approval that his fellow convicts were hanging him in effigy for his betrayal of the lovely Madalynne.

The most curious touch to the Paul Roman interlude is that testimony was given—testimony which was neither confirmed nor refuted—that Roman and Kennedy had been friends. This witness—the owner of a costume store where she said the two men often rented women’s clothing—said that Kennedy once remarked that Roman threatened to beat him up if he ever married. If that was true, it is unknown what all this may have meant in regard to his murder, but it certainly provides interesting food for thought.

Madalynne’s juries were no more decisive than Burch’s had been. Trial number one: Hung jury. Trial number two: Ditto. Five trials, five panels hopelessly unable to agree that these two spectacularly incompetent, stupidly crude, blatantly self-incriminating defendants were guilty. Rumor had it that enough of the male jurors became enamored of Madalynne to ensure hopeless deadlock.

Never underestimate the power of a dying antelope gaze.

After her release, Madalynne spoke dreamily of serving humanity in a leper colony in the South Seas.  She instead settled for a bungalow in Eagle Rock, where she studied acting, hoping to use her undoubted thespian talents for a more reputable sort of fame. (Those hopes were, alas, unfulfilled.)  A few years later, she was back in the news briefly when Paul Roman, who had been released from Folsom, made a nuisance of himself by hanging around her house and threatening to kill her. He was sent back to jail, and her life quieted down again.

Early in 1927 Burch had John Belton Kennedy’s father arrested on a charge of assault and battery.  It seems that John D. Kennedy entered the building where Burch worked and did his best to choke him.  The jurors of Los Angeles may have been uncertain about how John Belton met his death, but Kennedy senior was not.  (An obviously sympathetic judge gave Kennedy a suspended sentence of thirty days and the advice that if he should encounter Burch again, he should simply "go to the other side of the street.")

Our heroine last made headlines when Arthur Burch died in 1944. His will left his entire estate to “my lifelong friend” Madelynne Obenchain. Madalynne tactfully rejected the bequest, and the court wound up dividing Burch’s money and property between his mother and his son.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, strange company'll be watching you.

And so will the cats, of course.

A taste of 18th century News of the Weird.

In which we learn that the hero of the Battle of Britain was one strange dude.  For all his lifetimes.

The horror story of Emeline Meaker, who was definitely, as the Scots would say, none the worse for a hanging.

Meet Spaghetti:  Carnival musician in life, carnival sideshow in death.

The Case of the Killer Socks.

Speaking of stockings, here's a World War I book:  A collection of patriotic songs about sock-knitting called, well, "Sock Songs."
"From a brave and gallant captain,
Has come this message true:
'A pair of fresh, clean, hand-knit socks
Just warms you through and through,
When you come in all wet and cold
And tired at close of day.'
So can a maid her hand withhold
From yarns so soft and gray,
And needles bright? You see you might
A captain win that way!"
The British Library proves that Dumb Criminals are eternal.

A ghostly urban legend surrounding our old friend, Clara Phillips.

Turkey has opened the gate to Hell.  Anyone who keeps up with current events will not be surprised.

When we're not warbling about socks, how about a sing-a-long with Poe's Raven?

While we're on the subject of sheet music, here's the Dill Pickle Rag.

Lord of the Cursed Rings.

Getting high with Haydn.

Another day, another blood-drinking pre-teen cannibal witch cult.

Another day, another decapitated Shakespeare.

Another day, another crank phone call from a Latvian ghost.

How the Welsh calculated the value of a cat.  Although all cats would be the first to tell you they're really worth their weight in gold.

How to dress like, well, me.  Although, frankly, the woman in the photo looks more like Stevie Nicks on a particularly off day.

Rethinking the under-appreciated Zelda Fitzgerald.  I don't believe she was technically "crazy," either, but on the other hand, being married to Scott would be enough to send any woman around the bend.

Happy weekend, kids.  I'll be back Monday, with more female psycho murderers and the Los Angelinos who loved them!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

From 1907:  I'm just head over heels about this story.

Paris.—An elderly lady dressed in black recently asked to see the magistrate of the Ste. Marguerite district privately, and on being shown into his room said: “At the risk of being taken for a mad woman, I must inform you that no sooner do I enter the flat in which I live with my grown-up son and my brother, than I am compelled by some kind of magnetic influence to walk about on my hands with my legs in the air.” Before the magistrate knew what she was going to do, the lady, whose name is Mme. Blerotti, attempted to give a practical demonstration of what happened in the flat. Supposing that he had to deal with a lunatic, the magistrate detained the lady and sent a policeman to her address in the Rue de Montreuil. The policeman returned with the lady's son, a commercial clerk 27 years of age. “What my mother has told you is perfectly true," he said. “I do not pretend to explain it. I only know that as soon as my mother, my uncle and myself enter the flat we are immediately impelled to walk on our hands.”

The third occupant of the flat, M. Paul Reiss, aged 50, was fetched. “It is perfectly true,” he said; "everybody who enters our rooms is afflicted by the malady. Every time I go in I am irresistibly impelled to walk about on my hands—so,” and suiting the action to the words, M. Reiss threw himself on all fours and then began to walk about on his hands. The young clerk began to follow his example, and Mme. Blerotti, herself, who had been brought back into the magistrate's room, joined in the general topsy-turviness.

The concierge of the house was then fetched. “To tell the truth," he said, “I thought that my tenants had gone mad, but as soon as I entered the rooms occupied by them I found myself on all fours and endeavoring to throw my feet in the air.” The magistrate came to the conclusion that everybody in the house was afflicted with some curious kind of malady, and ordered the whole floor to be disinfected by the municipal authorities. The applicants went away perfectly satisfied.

There are no follow-up stories in the papers, so I assume either the clean-up job chased off the whatever-it-was in the building, or the press simply decided that Madame and Company were just too weird for anything outside the likes of this blog.  There seems little for me to add except this:
"If buttercups buzz’d after the bee
If boats were on land, churches on sea
If ponies rode men and if grass ate the cows
And cats should be chased into holes by the mouse
If the mamas sold their babies
To the Gypsies for half a crown
If summer were spring
And the other way ’round
Then all the world would be upside down!"

Monday, April 1, 2013

Los Angeles' Favorite Murderesses, Part One: Clara Phillips

Clara Phillips is a forgotten figure today, but for one brief, but epic period she was the most popular psychopath in Los Angeles.

Phillips’ road to stardom began on a hot July evening in 1922, when the twenty-three year old arrived home, spattered with blood, and announced to her husband Armour, “She’s dead, and I killed her!”

“Her” was Armour Phillips’ mistress, Alberta Meadows.

When Phillips saw that Clara had driven home in Meadows’ car, which contained more blood and Alberta’s purse, he realized his wife was a woman of her word. He asked Clara what she was going to do.

“Nothing,” she replied. “I’m going to bed now, and to headquarters in the morning.”

Armour—who actually comes off as the stranger member of this very strange couple—thought otherwise. 

He had Clara drive Meadows’ car to Pomona, where she abandoned the vehicle. He picked her up in his own car and deposited her in a downtown hotel. Armour then spent the rest of the night frantically raising enough money to send this admitted killer to Mexico.

By morning, he had enough cash to send Clara off on a train bound for El Paso. Only then, evidently, did magic little words like “accessory to a crime,” and “perverting the course of justice” begin to filter into his brain. He went to see a lawyer friend of his, and—to the future disgust of Clara’s fan club—he told all.

The story he gave to this attorney, and, subsequently, to a member of the Los Angeles Police Department, was one that held Angelinos enthralled for weeks. On the day of the murder, Clara had brought a friend, Peggy Caffee, along with her to “have a talk” with Alberta Meadows. When they arrived at her rival’s home, Clara, after a little pleasant chit-chat, asked Meadows to give them a lift across town. Meadows, for who knows what reason, agreed.

During the drive, Clara continued amicably chattering away about this and that until they reached a hilly, remote section of their drive. She asked Meadows to stop so they could talk more privately. When the two women got out of the car, Clara had a couple of questions for Meadows: Had Armour bought the new tires that were on her car? No, Meadows replied. Did he buy that gold watch Meadows was wearing?

Meadows again said no. Then, suddenly, Clara went from Little Bo Peep to Lady Macbeth. “He did buy it,” she growled. Unbeknownst to her rival, Clara had with her a hammer she had recently bought. She pulled it out and beat Alberta Meadows to death with it.

When Clara finished her work, she told Caffee, who was cringing and whimpering in terror at the ghastly scene she had just witnessed, “Don’t you dare tell your husband. Remember, you’re in this as much as I am.” She then dropped Caffee off at her home and went to announce the news to Armour.
Armour Phillips

Once the LAPD got an earful of Armour’s story—they already had had an eyeful of the mangled corpse that was once Alberta Meadows—they wired an alert to the authorities in Arizona and Texas. Clara was nabbed on a train in Tucson, and hauled back for trial and instant stardom.

The “Tiger Woman,” as the papers dubbed her, was a media sensation. Her combination of youth, good looks, and undeniable savoir-faire and can-do spirit kept a growing legion of admirers enthralled. By committing a particularly base, gruesome, shocking murder with an utter lack of any conscience or remorse, she became a heroine. While she was awaiting her trial, one local paper cooed, “In the face of many extreme discomforts, she has taken everything cheerfully. She is tolerant. She has never yet uttered a single complaint, has never asked for anything, taking all things as they come without a whimper.”

Alberta Meadows was unavailable for comment.

A large, admiring crowd met the train bringing Clara back to Los Angeles. She beamed at her fans, posed prettily for photographers, and merrily flirted with the reporters.

When she was installed in the County Jail, (“she said she was sure she would be happy up here, because everyone was so jolly and happy,”) more people were there to cheer her on. They sent her flowers, candy, love letters. In her cell, she spent most of her time eagerly reading the many newspaper reports about her crime. Clara Phillips, the former two-bit chorus girl, had finally become a headliner.

Clara’s first meeting with her husband since the day he saw her off for Mexico was front-page news. Clara dolled herself up for the occasion with a new lace-edged dress, and held a little press conference beforehand. A reporter asked her if she still loved her husband.

“Yes,” she replied sweetly.

Had their nine years of marriage been one long honeymoon?

“Well, I guess so. That is—yes and no.”

To those members of the press tactless enough to mention the reason why they were all there, she replied demurely that she was not allowed to comment on the subject.

Was it true that she had once created a scene in her husband’s office because she was jealous of his stenographer?

“No comment.”

Was it true that she had once stabbed a man in a local theater?

Definitely no comment.

Armour finally appeared on the scene, wearing a dapper suit and carrying a box of candy. As one of the newspapers breathlessly reported, Clara “threw her arms around her husband…she looked up into her husband’s eyes and then buried her fluffy brown head of hair on his shoulder…She cuddled to him as a dove would to its mate, and when he kissed her and whispered to her, she played with the lapel of his coat.”

Clara’s legions of fans were, of course, expecting to see her greatest performance to date at her trial, and the lady did not disappoint. Each day, she swept in and out of the courtroom like a mezzo soprano coming on stage for one more encore. A woman covering the trial for one of the local papers sighed, “There really is some class to Clara. If she isn’t a gentlewoman born, she is certainly what Elinor Glyn would call one of nature’s ladies…” It was Armour Phillips, who cut such a pitiful figure compared to his hammer-wielding dynamo of a wife, who bore the brunt of public opprobrium. One journalist openly expressed his incredulity that Mr. Phillips could have been responsible for all this bother. “As he sat in court yesterday, hearing Peggy Caffee’s sordid testimony, it didn’t seem possible that any woman as bright as Clara could have considered him worth all that agony.” From the contemporary newspaper reports, one sometimes gets the feeling that the reporters rather wished that Clara had taken that hammer to her husband as well.

Everyone wondered what Clara’s defense would be. Her friend said she killed Alberta Meadows. Her husband said she killed Alberta Meadows. There seemed no possible way for her to squirm out of this one.

Clara showed the naysayers a thing or two. When she took the stand, she—with a few demure tears--explained how Alberta died. It was very simple, she said. It was Peggy Caffee—timid, traumatized, mousy little Peggy Caffee, who had practically turned into a weeping, quivering bowl of jello on the witness stand—who bludgeoned Alberta Meadows to death. This would surely be taking sympathizing with the troubles of a friend a bit too far.
Peggy Caffee

Everyone applauded this magnificent playacting, and everyone realized that it was utter hogwash. In the end, Clara was convicted of second-degree murder, which earned her ten years to life in San Quentin, and it seemed that the curtain had at last fallen on her little show.

No one was counting on Jesse Carson. He was a stranger to Clara, claiming to be just one of the many men who had become spellbound by her charms during the trial. He swore that he would see to it that she stayed out of prison, and he meant what he said. His favorite prisoner somehow acquired a hack saw, which she used to cut the bars on her window. On the night of December 4th, 1922, she squirmed out that window, shinnied down a vent pipe, and made her way to where Carson was waiting in his car.

Clara’s play had spawned an unexpected third act.

While all of Los Angeles was working itself into a perfect frenzy over this latest plot twist, Clara hid out in an empty house in Pomona, happily reading in the newspapers about all the fuss she had created. On January 4th, the fugitive, heavily disguised, began the journey to New Orleans, where Carson arranged for her to get passage on a ship bound for Mexico.

Clara, as far as the authorities could tell, had vanished without a trace, and they were frankly stumped about what to do next. It took Morris Lavine, an enterprising reporter from the “Los Angeles Examiner” to do a bit of sleuthing. He managed to uncover financial transactions involving Armour and Jesse Carson which enabled him to deduce that Clara was in Mexico. Unfortunately, by the time the Mexican authorities were contacted, the Tiger Girl had fled to Honduras.

American law enforcement soon learned that figuring out where Clara was would be much easier than actually getting their hands on her. There were some unexpected difficulties with extraditing her. Honduras was in the midst of one of their periodic revolutions, and the powers-that-be were in no mood to cooperate with the despised Yankee government. Besides, it was rumored that some local official had the hots for our Clara.

The chorus girl turned hammer murderer was now an international political hot potato.

The American Ambassador in Honduras did a good deal of politicking with the Honduran government—a special meeting of their cabinet was even called at one point to discuss the Problem of Clara—but the best they could achieve was a stalemate. The Hondurans were quite happy to just turn the lady loose and wish her godspeed.

The Americans were desperate to get Clara back in custody. After all, there were a lot of hammers in the world, and who knew what she might do with them next? In any case, it seems to have become practically a matter of national honor that Clara not be allowed to continue making them look like so many fools.

A plan was hatched to get Clara to return to the United States voluntarily. Morris Lavine had a chummy breakfast with her one morning, where he cleverly played on her considerable ego. If she was truly innocent, he asked her, why not prove it? Since the appeal on her conviction was still pending, she could ask for a new trial. If she could clear her name, what a triumph that would be! The public would adore her more than ever!

Clara was cunning, but not very bright. She was so confident of her own ability to fascinate that she actually fell for this argument. She willingly took a ship back to America. Armour Phillips was there to greet her.

“My darling!” said Mr. Phillips.
“My baby!” cooed Mrs. Phillips.

The two lovebirds hugged for the cameras, as Clara explained how she had never, never wished to flee San Quentin.  She had been kidnapped against her will, she said sweetly.  Armour told reporters, "I would give my life to undo the wrong I have done this little woman."

There was, of course, no way to undo the wrong done to Alberta Meadows, but few seemed to care about that.

In California, Clara’s new show was given a disastrous review by the Los Angeles District Attorney. He informed her that as her lawyer (who had recently dropped dead of a heart attack, and who can blame him?) had missed the deadline for filing an appeal, the law decreed that she be returned to prison, without another trial. It was back to San Quentin for Clara, with no hope of a repeat performance to “clear her name.”

To do her justice, Clara took this defeat gallantly. She went back to jail vowing to be a “model prisoner,” and, for the most part, she kept her promise. (Her one fall from grace was when she entered into a clandestine love affair with one of her fellow prisoners, a handsome young burglar.)  While behind bars, she found religion, trained to be a dental technician, learned to play the saxophone, wrote and directed a play described as "a satire of stage life," and organized a seven-piece orchestra. Clara continued to maintain Peggy Caffee was the real killer of Alberta Meadows.  She was released on parole in 1935, saying that she hoped the world would give her "an even break."

Upon gaining her freedom, she told a reporter, “Please let me be forgotten.” And so she was. For a while, she lived quietly in San Diego with her mother, and then the ex-Tiger Woman changed her name and moved to Texas, where she worked as a dental assistant.  Clara and Armour divorced in 1938. (Armour, incidentally, had had a lively time during his wife's incarceration.  At various times, he faced charges for running a bogus film school, assault--at a Christmas party!--traffic violations, and grand theft.)

Only one man claimed to know this once world-famous woman's subsequent history.  A. R. O'Brien, head of California's State Prison Board, kept in touch with his former prisoner, and in 1939 he reported that Clara was happily remarried and grateful to live in obscurity.  He added the rather startling--and, as far as I know, completely uncorroborated--claim that Clara belonged to one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the country.  According to O'Brien, it was her family connections that allowed her to escape prison and flee the country.

It's nice to know Clara remained such a resourceful fantasist to the end.