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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Because this blog is nothing if not romantic, here's a story from the "Salt Lake Herald," October 1, 1881:
One of the most romantic marriages on record took place in this city [Louisville, KY] yesterday by which Benjamin Ferguson, a stonecutter, was united to Mrs. Amelia Wagner. The story of the courtship and marriage is a singular one and plainly shows in what strange channels love will run.

Several months ago the helpmate of Mrs. Wagner died and his remains were buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in the family burying ground. Time passed swiftly by and after daily visits to the cemetery Mrs. Wagner became convinced that a monument reared over the mound that covered her deceased helpmate would mach improve the looks of things thereabouts. So she had a plain marble slab erected over the grave. This remained there for sometime and Mrs. Wagner resolved that she would have some inscription carved upon the monument setting forth the good qualities of the deceased and leaving some memento of her affection. She looked around for someone to carve the inscription and at length Ferguson was employed and he commenced his task three days ago.

He began work early in the morning and during the day the disconsolate widow came to the cemetery to watch the progress of the work. The stonecutter was very much interested in the widow all the more from the fact that she had a very handsome face and he thought it his duty to console her. He paused frequently between the strokes of his hammer and offered her words condolence, at the same time intimating to her that there was yet a bright page left in the book of life for her. By evening quite an intimacy was established between the two, the widow thinking what a nice fellow the stonecutter was and wondering if there was not some way besides money in which she could repay him for his labors. On the other hand, he came to the conclusion that the most solid comfort he could offer her was by offering to take the place of the deceased husband.

He returned to his work the next day and the widow also came. Matters were renewed upon a more solid footing than before and by night a bargain had been made that the widow was to pay him for his labors by bestowing upon him her hand and he was to occupy the place in her heart left vacant by the death of her husband. On the third day after their meeting yesterday there was a quiet wedding and the two were made one. The inscription on the monument remains half completed, just as he left it on the second day. He will probably renew his labors on the epitaph as soon as his honeymoon is over.
I like that cautious "probably" at the end. In any case, I doubt any further work on the monument was necessary. It probably crashed into a heap from the force of the late Mr. Wagner rolling over.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Great Swinfen Case; Or, Why You Should Never Cross Those Welsh Parlormaids

Patience Williams Swinfen

One of the major legal scandals of the Victorian era, famed as "The Great Swinfen Case," began on a deceptively romantic note. In 1830, a wealthy country landowner named Samuel Swinfen went up to London to consult with his lawyers over some business matter. Accompanying him was his son Henry.

Upon arriving in the capital, father and son found lodgings in a Bloomsbury boarding house run by a Miss Ayers. The parlormaid in this establishment was 18-year-old Patience Williams, the daughter of a Welsh farmer.

Young Henry fell in love with Miss Williams almost at first sight, and in March 1831, this--by the standards of the day--highly mismatched pair secretly married. Possibly with a view to letting the scandal over their mésalliance die down, the couple spent no less than thirteen years touring the Continent and the more obscure corners of Britain. They finally returned to Henry's family seat, Swinfen Hall, in 1844. Samuel Swinfen--who had threatened to disown his son after Henry's marriage--became so fond of his daughter-in-law that he invited the not-so-newlyweds to live with him permanently.

Swinfen Hall, circa 1900

In 1852, Samuel made a will, leaving all of his substantial estate to his son Henry. This would not have been a problem, except Samuel neglected to make any provision for the possibility that his son might predecease him. And, sure enough, in 1854 Henry was disobliging enough to do just that.

Soon after his son's death, Samuel made a new will, naming his son's widow Patience as his heir. Just three weeks after signing this new document, he too died. The former Welsh parlormaid was now owner not only of the grand Swinfen Hall, but of over 1200 acres in Staffordshire.

Well,she wouldn't be owner for long, if some of the other Swinfens had anything to say about it. Samuel Swinfen was the eldest child of his father John's first marriage. John Swinfen had had a second marriage, which also produced children. John Swinfen's eldest son from his remarriage, Francis, was by now dead, but Francis' widow Marianne saw their son Frederick as Samuel's rightful heir, last will and testament be damned. However, legally speaking, the only way she could overturn this will was if she could prove Samuel had not been in his right mind when he wrote this document.

When money is concerned, family sentiment has a way of going out the window. In 1855, Marianne and Frederick Swinfen brought a suit in front of the Court of Chancery that was, in effect, a posthumous sanity hearing for Samuel Swinfen.

At the time of his death, the eighty-year-old Samuel was known to be weak in both body and mind, of "eccentric habits," and completely dominated by his formidable daughter-in-law. Patience's lawyer, Sir Frederick Thesiger, felt Frederick Swinfen had a strong case, so he neatly stabbed his client in the back. Without her consent, Thesiger negotiated a deal where she would give Swinfen Hall to Frederick Swinfen in return for an annuity of £700 a year. When Patience heard of this, she blew her stack and flatly refused to agree. She promptly dumped Thesiger and took on new legal counsel, Charles Rann Kennedy. Patience did not pay Kennedy, but promised he would be amply rewarded when she was able to take control of her rightful estate. In the meantime, Frederick Swinfen attempted to move into Swinfen Hall, but backed off after Patience met him at the front door and fired a pistol at him.

Frederick Swinfen next filed for a rule of attachment, which would have taken Swinfen Hall from Patience by force. The Court of Chancery declined to grant this request, but one of the judges in the case cautioned both sides that they should come to some sort of agreement, lest the entire Swinfen fortune wind up going to no one but their lawyers.

Neither side heeded these wise words. Frederick Swinfen appealed this ruling, and lost. Then, in 1858, Patience and Charles Kennedy filed a new lawsuit seeking to have her ownership of Swinfen Hall well and truly established. Thanks to Kennedy's remarkably skilful--and perhaps not altogether ethical--legal maneuverings, they succeeded. Just for good measure, Kennedy publicly attacked Sir Frederick Thesiger--who was by now Lord Chancellor--for what he saw as Thesiger's unforgivable act of treachery in having tried to broker a deal with Frederick Swinfen. Kennedy's assaults on this now-powerful figure were so immoderate and insulting that they turned him, and not Thesiger, into a legal pariah. Kennedy never found work at the Bar again. He did, however, publish a book of poetry, which included this tribute to his famous client:
England hath need to thank thee, suffering Dame!
For thou shalt purge the volumes of her laws
Of many an idle page, of errors, flaws
By Ignorance traced, the record of her shame.
Thine was a courage singly to exclaim
'Gainst Might perverting Justice. For thy cause
Truth, Wisdom, Virtue, stand. The glad applause
Of millions greets thee. Honour'd be thy name!
The canting tones of dull Servility
In halls of Themis shall be heard no more;
And tricksters shall unlearn their crafty lore:
So potent is thy spell! At sight of thee
Behold where Treason skulks with conscious dread,
And base Corruption hangs her guilty head.
The Great Swinfen Case destroyed Kennedy not just professionally, but personally as well. During the years he acted as Patience's lawyer, the two had become romantically involved, despite the fact that he already had a wife and six children. Patience began to tire of an affair that was clearly destined to go nowhere--or perhaps it was her lover's poetry that cooled her affections--and in 1861 she unceremoniously broke things off with Kennedy and married a wealthy widower named Charles Wilsone Broun.

Kennedy was enraged by what he saw as the gross ingratitude of the woman for whom he had sacrificed so much. He published a pamphlet giving his side of the story where he rechristened his former "suffering Dame" as "The Serpent of Swinfen." He put up libelous posters about her all over the neighborhood of Swinfen Hall. He sued her for £20,000 he claimed she had promised him for his legal services. During the trial, Kennedy mercilessly aired every detail of their relationship--even reading her love letters to him aloud in court--in the hope of using this proof of her "immorality" to utterly destroy her credibility. He won his case, but the new Mrs. Broun was more than a match for him. She appealed the verdict so successfully that the court wound up deciding that not only that Patience didn't owe him a nickel, but that Kennedy must pay all the court costs. Furthermore, they made the landmark ruling that an English barrister's fees were an honorarium, and thus could not be the subject of a legal claim. Upon hearing this verdict, Kennedy made what we are told were such "unsavory statements" that he was disbarred altogether. In 1867, this talented and once highly-promising man died bitter, disgraced, and utterly broken, cursing Patience and the whole Swinfen clan to the last.

Patience Broun was clearly not a woman to be trifled with. She outlasted all challengers and lived quietly and prosperously in Swinfen Hall until her death in 1876. She never had any children, so the Swinfen estate passed to her widower, Charles Broun. After his death in 1883, the property went to a son from his first marriage, Colonel Michael Swinfen-Broun. The Colonel was also childless, so after he passed from this world in 1948, the once greatly prized Swinfen Hall, the center of so much legal bitterness, became a mere abandoned wreck. It was unoccupied until 1987, when it was transformed into a lovely Edwardian-style hotel.

During those years that Swinfen stood empty, it was said to have harbored a ghost. It has been suggested this was the uneasy soul of Charles Kennedy, vainly seeking the vengeance he had never been able to find in life.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Cats of Easter!

What the hell became of Eliza Armstrong?

A footnote to the "Who the hell was Junius?"controversy.

Watch out for those suicidal machines!

Watch out for those Georgian road trips!

Watch out for the Terminators of Dahomey!

Watch out for the Hogboons of Orkney!

Watch out for the Alien Cyclops of Sagrada Familia!

That "solution" to the Bermuda Triangle I posted last week?  Yeah, well.

Using indecent exposure to resolve disputes at work is not recommended.

The typically tangled history of an English manor house.

The lively life and times of Hector Macquarie.

If you're having a bad hair day, here's a 12th century dry shampoo.

The Goofus and Gallant of the East India Company.

Witchcraft in 18th century Bedfordshire.

These cures for warts should be approached with caution, as well.

That time Marie Antoinette's hairdresser did the makeup of a dead Emperor.

That time the U.S. Government studied psychic dogs.

That time severed hands figured heavily in Bulgarian politics.

A mine haunted by a headless ghost.

Are ghosts the dreams of dead men?

A collection of vintage sea monster sightings.

The execution of an "unhappy criminal."

Reviving a Tudor vegetable.   Which brings to mind the unpleasant image of Zombie Henry VIII.

Speaking of the Tudors, here's a look at Mary I's phantom pregnancy.

Thomas Morris is reporting about one very unappetizing profession.  If you've read my previous links from this blog, you can consider yourself warned.

The parrot who was put into a witness protection program.

Why you would not want to befriend John Griffiths.

An egg-tremely strange burial.

Deadly prayers.

Early parachuting.

A night on the town in San Francisco, 1915.

Penis nests.  No, really.

La Salle and the fur trade.

If you're planning to write a medieval historical novel, here are some great names.

It just doesn't pay to declare war on emus.

The Bridport Wildcats.

Fanny Eaton, forgotten muse.

Storytelling through thread.

The medieval hue and cry.

Ancient methods of dealing with fractured bones.

A Lancashire witchcraft case.

The death of the original Romeo.

Victorian confidence men.

A tragic tale of a nursemaid.

A detailed diagram of a magic ring.

The Lion King of Greenwich Village.

Blackie, the last of the great Spitalfields Market Cats.

The first murder?

France's Great Rat Massacre.

The last of the great Piccadilly Goats.

Benjamin Franklin's bones.

Napoleon's King of Rome.

Amsterdam's Cat Boat.

And, finally...


And we're done!  See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at Victorian legal tribulations featuring a gun-slinging parlormaid.  In the meantime, here's Joan Armatrading.  Love this song.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Clipping of the Day

Oh, just another cautionary tale about the hazards of hunting killer ghost rabbits. This one is said to haunt an ancient church at the Cornish village Egloshayle:
If it were otherwise, you might now see—but never save when the moon is bright—a white rabbit gambolling about this open space beside the churchyard wall; a pretty, long-eared rabbit with pink eyes, like any child's pet escaped from its hutch. It goes loppeting about among the grasses by the corner of the marsh; and if any one should pass, will sit and look at him with fearless eyes. And well it may. It has nothing to dread from any one dwelling in those parts. No villager would attempt to catch it. No boy would aim a blow at it. If any one walking late sees the white rabbit lopping at his heels, he makes no effort to drive it away, but quickens his pace, and hopes some good angel may stand between him and harm. A belated postman, terrified to find he could not shake off the pretty white creature at his heels, lost his head and turned and struck fiercely at it with his oaken cudgel. He felt the stick fall on the soft back of the rabbit, such a blow as might have killed a much larger animal. But the rabbit lopped on as if nothing had happened. The cudgel it was which was broken—shivered into splinters, as if it had struck upon a rock.

No one can tell the history of the rabbit; but our grandfathers knew and feared it as we do ourselves; and it was in their time that the last deliberate effort to meddle with the creature took place. The attempt was made by a stranger, and it happened in this wise. A number of young men were drinking together in the bar-room of the chief inn of the town. As the evening wore away, the talk grew high; and, at last, when all the party were heated, somebody spoke of the white rabbit. Instantly the stranger began to jeer—a silly story such as that would never be believed outside a poky country town where nobody had anything better to do than to listen to the first idle tale told him. What harm could a rabbit do anybody? He would like nothing better than to shoot it. 
One of the others drew aside the shutter and looked out. The street was as bright as day, and overhead they could see the full moon sailing, free of clouds. "Tha'd best go now," he said. "When the moon shines like this, tha'll find the rabbit by the church." 
A gun was hanging on the wall. It was taken down and loaded amid a babble of jeers and angry retorts: and then the party crowded to the door to watch the stranger stride down the moonlit street, whistling merrily as he went. They saw him pass upon the bridge, and then went back to their bottles. 
But some strange feeling of uneasiness had settled over them. Not one seemed inclined to sit down again. They moved restlessly about the room, and presently one of them went to the door and looked out. The others asked eagerly if he heard anything, though they knew the stranger could not have reached the church; and then one suggested that it was a shame to allow a man who had no knowledge of his danger to encounter it alone. The others agreed as readily as men will when they have done what does not please them, and without more delay they set off in a body. They trudged along saying nothing; but when they came near the church, they heard a report and a loud cry; and, with one accord, they ran to the open space with beating hearts. Neither man nor rabbit was to be seen. They ran up and down calling his name; there was no reply. He was not in the lane, nor on the high road, nor on the marsh, where, under the bright moonlight, the motion of a water hen could have been seen with ease. At last one of the searchers leapt up on the churchyard wall, and sprang down on the inner side, calling on his friends to follow him. 
There they found him lying dead, with one barrel of his gun discharged, and the contents buried in his body. That happened many years ago; but still the stranger may be seen leaning over the low wall, pointing an ancient flint-lock gun at some object which moves quickly in the long grass. 
~Arthur Hamilton Norway, "Highways and Byways of Devon and Cornwall"
All together now: THAT WASCALLY WABBIT!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Christian Shaw: Satan's Victim or Demon Seed?

Bargarran House

Scottish history is particularly rich in strange, but unjustly forgotten characters. Earning an honored place in this lineup is Christian Shaw, who during the course of her life managed to go from one-girl Salem Witch Trial to self-made Textile Queen.

Christian was the third of five children born to John Shaw and his wife Christian. The family lived in comfort and respectability on the family estate of Bargarran, near Paisley. At the time our story opens, Christian was eleven years old. She was described as a "smart and lively girl with good inclinations," but one who probably showed no hint of just how lively she would become.

The fateful date in our tale was August 17, 1696, and the fateful instigation was a jug of milk. On that morning, little Christian caught one of the maidservants, Katherine Campbell, helping herself to the family milk supply, and she could not wait to tell her mother of this outrage. When tasked with the theft, Campbell erupted in rage against the little tattletale--one senses this was hardly the first time Christian had spied on the servants--and unburdened herself of a torrent of perhaps understandable but highly injudicious maledictions. "In a most hideous rage," says a contemporary pamphlet, Campbell imprecated "the curse of God upon the child, and at the same time did utter these horrid words: 'The devil harle [drag] your soul through hell!'"

Campbell would soon learn that Christian was the last little girl in the world she should have addressed in such a manner.

On August 21, an elderly woman named Agnes Naesmith called at Bargarran House. Naesmith had a rather sinister reputation as someone fond of making threats "which sometimes were observed to be followed with fatal events." On encountering Christian, Naesmith asked about the health of the little girl's mother, who had recently given birth. "What do I know?" Christian snapped in reply.

All seemed normal until the following night, when Christian suddenly began crying for help, as if she was in the grip of some malevolent force. She then abruptly flew out of bed so violently that if an onlooker had not caught her, she would have been thrown against a wall. When she was put back into bed, the girl lay rigid and apparently unconscious for an hour. When Christian came to, she complained of agonizing pains throughout her body. She did not sleep for the next two days. For eight days after that, she would periodically go into strange fits. Her body would contort violently, and she lost the ability to speak. By the middle of September, these "fits" took an even more alarming turn. She would seem to battle with invisible attackers. If anyone touched her during these episodes, "she did cry and screech with such vehemence as if they had been killing her, but could not speak."

Her frightened parents naturally sought medical aid. Apothecaries were brought in, but were unable to provide any relief for the tormented girl. Some time after that, Christian began to be able to speak during her "fits." She declared that Katherine Campbell and Agnes Naesmith "were cutting her side and other parts of her body."

By the time her parents brought her to Glasgow to consult with the best doctors available, Christian had expanded her unnerving repertoire. She began to "thrust or spit out of her mouth parcels of hair, some curled, some plaited, some knotted, of different colours, and in large quantities." By November, she was spitting out coal cinders, "some whereof were so hot that they could scarcely be handled." This was followed by ejections of straw, bones of "various sorts of sizes," sticks, feathers, stones, bits of candle, eggshells, and even manure.

The doctors--all men of high standing in their profession--were baffled by this singular patient. These men of science rejected the notion that Christian could be bewitched, but careful inspection during her "fits" convinced them that she was not hoaxing. Their initial assumption was that she suffered from a form of hypochondriacal hysteria--it was all in her head, in other words--but the prodigious amount of foreign substances she spat out proved to be impossible for them to explain. "Were it not for the hair, straw, etc.," wrote one physician, "I should not despair to reduce the other symptoms to their proper classes in the catalogue of human diseases."

Christian continued to insist that Katherine Campbell and Agnes Naesmith were responsible for her ordeal. During her fits, she would cry out, "Katie, what ails thee at me? I am sure I never did thee wrong; come let us gree; let there be no more difference betwixt us." Although her alleged tormentors were not physically present, Christian wailed that their spirits were in the room, thrusting swords into her.

After the Glasgow physicians essentially conceded defeat, Christian was brought back home early in December. The intensity of her "fits" continued to escalate. Ominously, she began naming other local residents as participating in her diabolic torments.

The local minister, Rev. Andrew Turner, was understandably disquieted by this evidence that Satan himself had set up shop in the neighborhood, and did what he could to help. As the regimen of fasting and prayer he had prescribed for Bargarran had failed to have any benefit, he brought the problem before the Presbytery of Paisley. These men of God appointed Turner and a Mr. Brisbane to prepare a report on the matter, which they would then bring to the King's Privy Council in Edinburgh "in order unto their obtaining a Commission for putting those who are suspected to be her tormentors to a tryall."

The result of these efforts was that on January 19, 1697, the Privy Council issued a warrant designating a number of worthies as Commissioners of Witchcraft. They had the power to imprison and interrogate suspects as well as examine witnesses. While this was being done, three ministers were appointed to monitor the demon-infested Bargarran House and offer what spiritual consolation they could. (Fun fact: One of these ministers was a direct ancestor of famed historian and folklorist Andrew Lang, thus proving that a knack for The Weird was in Lang's DNA.)

Bargarran was not a pleasant place to live at this time. Christian continued suffering horrifying episodes where in her agony, she would shriek and scream like a "wild beast." These spasms, she continued to maintain, were all the fault of the local witches.

At this point, it seemed that Agnes Naesmith caught a lucky break. When she was brought into the girl's bedroom to witness the torments of her "victim," the old lady prayed "that the Lord of heaven and earth might send the damsel her health"--and, last but not least, prove the falsity of the charges made against Agnes. This seemed to do the trick. Afterwards, Christian declared that although she had believed that Agnes was among her attackers, the woman was no longer troubling her. The success of this maneuver led investigators to bring Katherine Campbell for a similar visit.

This sickbed call had a very different result. Katherine, showing a proud disdain for the First Rule of Holes, refused to pray for Christian. Rather, she took this opportunity to curse the entire Shaw family, adding, "The devil let her never grow better, nor any concerned in her be in a better condition than she was in." This ill-timed outburst caused Katherine to immediately be thrown into prison. It was said that when she was arrested, "a ball of hair of several colours" was found in her pocket. After this was burned, Christian ejected no more hair from her mouth.

The girl still found plenty to keep herself busy. Christian was now nearly continuously shrieking, singing, dancing frenetically, and uttering wild, demonic laughs. She tore her clothes and wailed of being attacked by invisible spirit animals. She began to fall into "flying fits," where she was "carried away with a sudden flight, with such a swift and unaccountable motion that it was not in the power of anyone to prevent her--her feet not touching the ground, so far as any of the beholders could discern." She would hold complex theological debates with the Devil and his unseen emissaries. The Presbytery, alarmed by this evidence of "the great rage of Satan in this corner of the land," appointed a day of penance and fasting. Christian continued to add to the list of her alleged tormentors, until it seemed that most of the surrounding neighborhoods were populated entirely by witch covens.

The Commission began their formal inquiry early in February. The people Christian had named as emissaries of Satan were brought in for questioning. The youngest of the accused was a boy named Thomas Lindsay, who was no older than Christian. He was distinguished by allegedly having been fathered by the Devil himself. Among the first of these defendants to be interrogated was a 17-year-old named Elizabeth Anderson. Although at first, she strenuously denied having anything to do with this "bewitching," after being "seriously importuned and dealt with"--whatever that might have meant--she confessed her guilt, and, for good measure, denounced a number of others, including members of her own family, as well as Elizabeth Campbell and Agnes Naesmith.

On February 5, the defendants were all brought into Christian's presence. When they were told to touch the girl, she was immediately "cast into intolerable anguishes." Young Thomas--aka "Satan Jr."--was persuaded to admit not only that he was indeed following in his father's footsteps, but that everyone named by Elizabeth Anderson had also made compacts with the Evil One. After this revelation, the rest of the accused, curiously enough, began to fall into line. They started admitting their guilt, in confessions that piled one lurid detail after another. Elizabeth Anderson stated that she had been introduced to the Devil by her own grandmother. Her father had brought her to meetings of witches held on the moor at Kilmalcolm. She told of one gathering that went to a neighboring ferry, where Satan himself capsized the boat, drowning the ferryman as well as the Laird of Brighouse. Anderson added the charming detail that some of the coven wished to spare the ferryman, but his mother-in-law--who was among the witches present--insisted that he must die, as "he had expelled her out of his house a little while before." She reminisced about the time that she and the other witches had strangled the child of a William Montgomerie with a "sea napkin." Most relevantly, Anderson told of a witch meeting near Bargarran House, when it was resolved that Christian Shaw must die, although there was some disagreement about the method. "Some were for stabbing her with a touck, others for hanging her with a cord, a third sort for choking her, and some intended having her out of the house to destroy her."

Fourteen year-old James Lindsay, a "squint-ey'd elf," confessed that he had assisted his fellow witches in tormenting Christian by putting the coal cinders, hair, sticks, and so on down her throat, in the hope of choking her. He essentially confirmed everything in Elizabeth Anderson's account. Many of the other defendants followed in his wake, some of them denouncing other, hitherto unsuspected persons.

On March 9, the Commissioners made their report to the Privy Council, naming 24 people as suspected witches. Accordingly, the Council issued another warrant, appointing additional Commissioners to bring the accused to trial.

With this development, Satan evidently decided the game was up for him in Scotland. We are told that on March 23, "in the shape of a naked man with a shirt, having much hair upon his hands and his face, like swine's bristles," the Devil said farewell to Bargarran. On the following morning, Christian Shaw announced that she had made a miraculous and complete recovery.

The trials began in mid-April and lasted about a month. Unfortunately, no official record of the proceedings is known to exist, and few details survive in other accounts. All we know is that after all the witnesses gave their testimony, seven people--John Lindsay, James Lindsay, John Reid, Katherine Campbell, Margaret Lang, Margaret Fulton, and Agnes Naesmith--were found guilty and condemned to die the particularly dreadful end assigned to witches. All, apparently, acknowledged the justice of the sentence. However, John Reid managed to cheat the executioner. On the morning of May 21, he was found dead in his cell, hanged with his own neckcloth. The verdict was that he had been strangled by Satan.

The remaining prisoners were executed on June 10, on Paisley's Gallow Hill. It is recorded that they were "first hanged for a few minutes, and then cut down and was put into a fire prepared for them, into which a barrel of tar was put in order to consume them more quickly." Katherine Campbell had to be carried to the execution site kicking and screaming. True to form to the end, it is said that she "called down the wrath of God and the Devil on her accusers." This proved to be the last mass execution of witches in Western Europe. In 2008, a memorial was built on the site where the remains of the "witches" were buried.

After the end of the trial, Christian Shaw vanishes from history until 1718, when she married the Rev. John Miller. It is unknown whether Shaw remained unmarried for so long out of personal preference or because the whiff of brimstone in her past scared off suitors. The Reverend died seven years later, after which his widow returned to Bargarran. Christian Shaw Miller was an expert in spinning linen yarn, and one day, she came up with the idea of twisting it into sewing thread. She gained help in this new enterprise from a relative who managed to spy on the Dutch textile industry, which was then the finest in the world. The results were such a big hit among her neighbors that she was able to build up an extensive business operation. She opened various mills and established agencies in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Her "Bargarran Sewing Threed" became an immense success. Thanks to this former "victim of demon possession," "Paisley thread" became a great local industry that is still famed today.

In 1737, Christian, by now a wealthy businesswoman, married a glove manufacturer named William Gillespie. She died later that same year, on September 8.

Those who have studied this case get into a great deal of futile argument about Christian Shaw. Some believe she was merely a particularly venomous little actor who deliberately sent innocent people to their death--in which case she would certainly earn the judgment of one historian that she was a "wretched girl, antient in wickedness." Others, such as Andrew Lang, see her as a hypersensitive girl who responded to Katherine Campbell's curses with a genuinely neurotic hysteria. The fact that the condemned "witches" voluntarily confessed--apparently without the use of physical torture--only adds to the puzzle.

The full solution to the mystery of the Witches of Bargarran must remain as enigmatic as human psychology itself.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

As this is the final Link Dump for Winter 2016, this week is sponsored by the Cats Who Are Ready to Spring Forward!

"Spring-Cleaning," Louis Wain

Who the hell was Pythagoras?

What the hell was the Sussex Serpent?

What the hell is the Bermuda Triangle?  Now we..maybe know?

What the hell are Australia's fairy circles?

What the hell are the Palpa Lines?

What the hell happened to Betty Andreasson?

How the hell old is the earth?

Watch out for those stomach eels!

Watch out for those honey babies!

Watch out for those cucumbers!

Watch out for those Dubuque fairies!

Watch out for the Tatzelwurm!

The life-saving art of pleading your belly.

The dogs who tried to hunt down Jack the Ripper.

Richard Simmons' life has gotten very, very weird.

Elsie Inglis, WWI doctor.

The man who saved Hadrian's Wall.

A particularly odd Welsh disappearance.

The strange death of J. Robert Oppenheimer's mistress.

Curious tales of phantom plane crashes.

A female WWII pilot.

An overview of Lancashire folklore.

Photos of 1930s Denmark.

The ciphers of the British Library.

How the 18th century poor made a living.

A very ghastly sister act.

The life-saving properties of nightgowns.

The latest on England's "mystery man of the moor."

A historic door in Cornhill.

Basically, we stink.

A complicated tale of deceit.

An ancient Roman girl has a London skyscraper as a tombstone.

Women and the Jacobite Rebellion.

A Scottish novelist discusses French customs.

Fire folklore.

A 7,000 year old megalith.

How to talk to monkeys.

Of Gods and UFOs.

You would not want to be a servant at a real-life "Downton Abbey."

You probably wouldn't be crazy about medieval castle bathrooms, either.

And don't even think about living a couple of million years ago.

The Boxing Baroness.

Having trouble sleeping?  Break out the cow dung!

The Phantom Isle of the Seven Bishops.

The history of Buddy Holly's glasses.

Bawdy medieval playing cards.

The origins of bundling.

Mary Runkle's cup of affliction.  Yeah, it was Mr. Runkle.

That cursed Hope Diamond.

A West African village in South Carolina.

How to drink like a Norman.

Zombie Pirates!

Albino ghosts!

A map of a powder mill includes a little surprise.

The poodle who took part in the Napoleonic Wars.

The Mad Baron of Mongolia.

The Deceptive Baron of Texas.

A guide to Victorian hairstyles.

The execution of a Forest Brother.

This article doesn't surprise me.  My grandmother said that after my grandfather died, she saw his ghost for some time afterwards.  It was a great comfort to her.

Do you like porcelain?  Thank this alchemist.

An Irish setter gets a fine funeral.

Medicinal beer!

What's new, Pussycar?

The Cowman and the Witch.

How to get your money's worth out of Georgian theater.

And that's all for this week, folks!  See you on Monday, with a tale of witchcraft.  Scottish witchcraft, my favorite kind.  In the meantime, celebrate the arrival of Spring with a little Vivaldi:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Gustave Dore, The Severed Head of Bertrand de Born Speaks

Not long ago, news stories circulated that a doctor was planning to attempt a human head transplant. Well, according to report, our ancestors sailed that particular ship a long time ago. This charming tale appeared in various magazines and newspapers in October and November of 1869:

A Florence newspaper, L'ltalie, extracts from the "Annales de la Medecine et de la Chirurgie Etrangere" the following extraordinary history:--

"On the 18th of April, 1868, in the prison of Villarica (province of Minas-Geraes), in Brazil, two men named Aveiro and Carines were executed at the same time. In Brazil executions take place with closed doors, in the interior of the prison. Dr. Lorenzo y Carmo, of Rio Janeiro, well known by savants for his remarkable works on electricity applied to physiology, his surgical skill, and his success in autoplastic operations, obtained permission to profit by this event in order to experiment on the power of electricity, and illustrate its analogy with some of the phenomena of life. The numerous experiments hitherto attempted have been made on the head and trunk separately. Dr. Lorenzo y Carmo's design was, if possible, to unite the head to the neck after decapitation. The heads of the two criminals fell within a few minutes of each other into the same basket; first that of Carines, then that of Aveiro. Immediately after this second execution a compression was effected by a pupil of Dr. Lorenzo on the carotid arteries of one of the heads so as to stop the hemorrhage. The body was then placed on a bed already prepared, and Dr. Lorenzo stuck the head as exactly as possible on the section and kept it in that position. The cells of a powerful electric pile were applied to the base of the neck and on the breast. Under this influence, as in former experiments, the respiratory movements were at once perceptible. As the blood, which penetrated in abundance through the surface of the scar, threatened to stop the passage of air, Dr. Lorenzo had recourse to tracheotomy.  Respiration then ensued regularly. The head was fastened to the body by stitches and by a special apparatus. The physiologist wished to ascertain for how long a time this appearance of life could thus be artificially maintained. His astonishment was great when he saw that at the end of two hours not only did respiration still continue under the influence of the electric current, but that circulation had even resumed a certain regularity. The pulse beat feebly, but sensibly. The experiment was continued without intermission.

"At the end of sixty-two hours it was evident, to the astonishment of every one, that a process of cicatrization had commenced on the lips of the section. A little later signs of life manifested themselves spontaneously in the head and limbs till then deprived of motion. At this moment the director of the prison arriving for the first time in the experiment room observed that by a singular mistake, due to the haste of the operation, the head of Carines had been taken for that of Aveiro, and had been applied to the body of the latter. The experiment was continued notwithstanding. [Ed. note: ??!!!] Three days later the respiratory movements reproduced themselves and electricity was suppressed. Dr. Lorenzo y Carmo, and his assistants were stupefied, frightened at a result so unexpected, and at the power of an agent which, in their hands, had restored life to a body whose right to exist the law had forfeited.

"The learned surgeon, who had only had in view a simple physiological experiment, employed all his skill to continue this work, which science, aided against all expectation by nature, had so singularly commenced. He assisted the process of cicatrization, which progressed under the most favorable conditions. By means of an oesophagian probe liquid nourishment was introduced into the stomach. At the end of about three months the cicatrization was complete, and motion, though still difficult, became more and more extended. At length, at the end of seven months and a half, Aveiro-Carines was able to rise and walk, feeling only a slight stiffness in the neck and a feebleness in the limbs. 
"So ends this remarkable story. Who can tell the results of scientific investigation carried so far? In families natural defects may be remedied by readjusting heads and bodies not originally proportioned for each other, and human beings dissatisfied with their sex may, under the benevolent system of Dr. Lorenzo y Carmo, repair the error of their origin. It will be a question for lawyers to determine to what nationality these future beings are to belong if head and body have previously owed a separate allegiance. But if the system holds good in violent deaths, surely it may be applied to deaths ensuing, as the coroners' juries have it, from natural cause?. In this case we might preserve our statesmen and celebrities forever. Opponents of the system would, however, be found in heirs-apparent."
So I suppose the motto here is: Never lose your head. You might not get the right one back.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Starr Crossed

"Avaunt! avaunt! from fiends below, the indignant ghost is riven—
From Hell unto a high estate far up within the Heaven—
From grief and groan, to a golden throne, beside the King of Heaven!
Let no bell toll, then,—lest her soul, amid its hallowed mirth,
Should catch the note as it doth float up from the damnëd Earth!
And I!—to-night my heart is light!—no dirge will I upraise,
But waft the angel on her flight with a Pæan of old days!"
~Edgar Allan Poe, "Lenore"

"God damn our house."
~Starr Faithfull's entire diary entry for January 3, 1929

Certain crimes become oddly emblematic of their era. To many crime historians, the ultimate episode of 1940s noir is the unspeakably nightmarish unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, the "Black Dahlia." To others, the unsettled period of the 1960s was personified by the Manson family. Jack the Ripper was the dark side of Victorian England. And if you ask a true-crime specialist what, to them, symbolized the Jazz Age of the 1920s and very early 1930s, some might name the mysterious death of one beautiful, alluring, but very damaged young woman. She even had a name befitting the flapper heroine of a silent film or F. Scott Fitzgerald novel: Starr Faithfull.

Early in the morning of June 8, 1931, a beachcomber set out on his daily rounds along the sands of Long Beach, in Long Island, New York. Instead of finding items that could be reused or sold, he stumbled across something hideous: a dead body.

It was of a young woman wearing only a paisley dress and silk stockings. Although the body was covered in sand and marred by numerous small abrasions and bruises, it was clear she had been exceedingly attractive. Police were summoned, and the corpse brought to the local morgue. There was no identification on the body, and the coroner, assuming that it was just another routine suicide, did a cursory autopsy. He quickly concluded that the woman--whoever she was--had drowned herself. Case closed.

Meanwhile, Stanley E. Faithfull, a ferretlike individual with a perpetually shifty air, had gone to the Manhattan Police Station. He reported that his eldest stepdaughter, 25-year-old Starr Faithfull (he made a point of noting the double r and double l) was missing. On June 5, he said, Starr had left the family apartment in Manhattan to have her hair styled, and she had not been seen since. He explained that the family had delayed informing the police of her disappearance because they feared "undue publicity." Faithfull did not give any reason for this fear, and the police evidently did not ask. On the morning of June 8, Faithfull visited the New York Police Station to say Starr was still missing. Before he left, he asked a detective a curious question: "Do you know how long it will take a body to come to the surface in a drowning case?"

Later that day, Faithfull again contacted the police. He said that he had just been shown a "newspaper clipping" regarding a body that had been found in Long Beach. He needed to find out if it was his missing stepdaughter. Again, he stressed his horror of "publicity." He was directed to go to the Nassau County Police Headquarters in Long Island.

When he arrived there, he was shown the dress and the stockings worn by the recently-discovered corpse. He immediately identified them as Starr's. With equal promptitude, he asserted that the girl had been murdered.

Stanley Faithfull

When Faithfull returned to Manhattan, his behavior took yet another odd turn. Despite his earlier words about how nothing must reach the press, practically his first action was to summon reporters from all the New York papers, after which he held an impromptu news conference on the front steps of his building. He described his stepdaughter as quiet, literary, home-loving, with no serious boyfriends and no bad habits. She was, he stressed, "a light-hearted, happy, tranquil-minded girl" with absolutely no reason to commit suicide. He was certain that someone had killed her.

The police took Faithfull's allegations of murder seriously. A second, more careful autopsy was ordered. A quantity of sand, as well as seawater, was found in the lungs. It was clear Starr died of drowning, possibly in shallow water. Later toxicology reports stated that she had had no alcohol for at least 36 hours before her death, but she had taken a quantity of Veronol--enough to put her into a stupor. Some four hours before her death, Starr had a substantial meal of meat, potatoes, and fruit. The medical evidence suggested that she had not been in the water for very long before she was found.

The doctor also believed that many, if not all, of the bruises and abrasions on her body had been inflicted before she died. He thought it was very possible that she had been in a violent struggle.

It was beginning to look like Stanley Faithfull had been right.

When the Nassau County District Attorney, Elvin Edwards, interviewed the victim's stepfather, it soon became evident that the Faithfulls (who also included Starr's mother Helen and younger sister Elizabeth--who went by her middle name, "Tucker") were a very strange lot. Stanley gave oddly contradictory descriptions of Starr. He said she "never had any close romantic attachments." She had never been away from home overnight on her own. He followed up this staid picture with a disturbing story. One night about a year before Starr's death, she had a few cocktails. (Stanley had earlier emphasized that Starr could not hold her liquor.) She then left the house, and the Faithfulls did not see her until the following day, when they learned she was at Bellevue Hospital, badly beaten. Stanley said vaguely that she had "been in a fight with some man," who had left her at the hospital. He talked of how, at Starr's request, he had burned two of her diaries. He gave no clue why she asked him to do this, or what the diaries might have contained, and it does not appear that Edwards asked him. He also mentioned that Starr took frequent cruises to London--usually alone. During these trips, she had become friendly with Dr. George Jameson Carr, the surgeon on the Franconia, as well as a Cunard cruise director named Francis Peabody Hamlin.

Helen, Tucker, and Stanley Faithfull

The assistant DA, Martin Littleton, asked Stanley if he knew of anyone who might have wished Starr dead. Faithfull gave a response that was to transform the case into a public scandal. He said that from the time Starr was eleven, there had been in her life a certain man, who was related by marriage to the family. This man was a prominent politician who lived in Boston. Stanley and Starr's mother thought nothing of this relationship until 1926, when Starr was twenty. He claimed that it was only then that they learned that for all these years, this man had been sexually molesting the girl. The much older man had taken Starr on long trips alone, where he got her into the habit of sniffing ether or chloroform. He would then, in Stanley's words, subject Starr to "perverted sexual acts." Stanley saw this man as a logical suspect for her murder.

This man was named Andrew J. Peters.

Andrew J. Peters

Although forgotten today--aside from his squalid connection to the Faithfull case--in his day Peters was a leading figure in East Coast politics. The lawyer served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, then the state senate, then the U.S. Congress. In 1914, President Wilson appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in charge of Customs. In 1917, he became Mayor of Boston. A contemporary biography described him as "one of the big assets the Democratic party has had in Massachusetts."

In a particularly sordid way, Peters was to become quite a big asset for the Faithfull family, as well. Faithfull admitted freely that he and his wife reacted to the news of Peters' abuse of their daughter with a bit of genteel blackmail. The Faithfulls were chronically broke--Stanley's various business ventures all had a way of dying a quick death--so they sent Peters a series of polite but unmistakable shakedown letters, listing their various debts and expenses, and making it clear they expected him to fund them--or, alas, they would be compelled to make public all they knew about him. After some discreet negotiating, Stanley and his wife signed a document promising to keep their mouths shut in return for $20,000. This was in June 1927.

As far as we know, all was quiet on the Peters front until May 1931--just before Starr's enigmatic death. Peters' lawyer, Alexander Whiteside, received an anonymous phone call from a man. The caller said he had heard that Peters had paid a large sum of money to a young woman named Starr Faithfull, in settlement of certain charges she had made against him.

Whiteside barked out a denial, and hung up. The Faithfulls insisted that they had remained silent, and claimed to have no idea who Whiteside's caller could have been. However, it emerged that the Faithfulls--as is the way with blackmailers--were plotting to squeeze extra money out of Peters. The family had run through the $20,000 they had received years earlier, and were again dealing with a host of financial problems. If their little scheme had worked before, why would it not do so again? And again? And...

It is small wonder that many in the police department and the D.A.'s office were convinced that Peters had had Starr murdered. Others, suspicious of Stanley's decidedly squirrely behavior, began to wonder if he was somehow implicated in his stepdaughter's death. And, for that matter, how could the Faithfulls have been so nonchalant about letting their daughter take long unchaperoned trips with an older man? Could they really have been completely ignorant about what Peters was doing to her? Or could Starr's parents have been--to put it bluntly--pimping her out to the wealthy, powerful man all along?

By this point, investigators had become well aware that Starr was not the cheerful homebody described by Stanley. She was a bitterly unhappy girl who drank heavily (and always behaved extremely erratically when she did so,) took ether and Veronal, frequented speakeasies and sleazy nightclubs, and ran around with many men. She was, in short, an intelligent, sensitive soul who was increasingly desperate to escape herself. Police found a diary she had hidden in her bedroom. In it, she made many entries expressing rage and disgust towards her family--Stanley in particular, whom she regarded with the greatest contempt.

Police pieced together Starr's last days as much as they could. Unfortunately, their main source was Starr's family, who insisted that the period leading up to her death had been completely uneventful. Authorities knew full well by now how much faith to place in their word. (As Martin Littleton dryly put it, there were "strong doubts as to whether the Faithfulls have been sincere and honest when speaking to us of matters directly or indirectly associated with Starr.")

On May 29, just a few days before her death, Starr made an attempt to stow away on the Cunard Steamship Franconia. George Jameson Carr was onboard. Starr had become deeply infatuated, almost obsessed, with the older, avuncular doctor, and was desperate to see him. Unfortunately, she began to drink and created a number of hysterical scenes. Despite having no ticket or passport, she pleaded to be allowed to travel to England. The ship's captain later recalled her saying that "I did not appreciate what a serious thing it was for me to send her ashore." He finally had to have her carried--"stamping and struggling" all the way--to a tug which brought her back to land.

Aside from that incident, we have little solid documentation about Starr's activities until June 5, when she visited the Cunard liner Carmania. She had lunch and tea with the ship's surgeon Charles Young Roberts, whom she had known for about a year. He told investigators that on that day, Starr displayed her usual "sort of fed-upness." She talked of various plans to visit Europe and India, her dislike of her family, her love for Jameson Carr. Starr was, as always, deeply frustrated with her life, and uncertain about the future. She also mentioned that later that night, she would be attending a party held on another liner, the Ile de France. Roberts did not think Starr was under the influence of alcohol, but he thought she might have taken some drug. ("She was more or less dopey...She had a very stony stare. Her eyes were funny.") Some time after 10 p.m., she left the liner to--so Roberts presumed--visit the Ile de France. He put her into a taxi and gave her a dollar for the fare. And that is the last time he--or anyone else--is known for sure to have seen Starr Faithfull alive.

When detectives heard Roberts' story, they felt they had finally solved the mystery of the young woman's death. They surmised that Starr--following her previous pattern--had stowed away on the Ile de France. As the liner neared Long Beach, she emerged from her hiding place, and fell overboard, either accidentally or deliberately.

A simple suicide or accident. And that, as far as the authorities were concerned, was that. The investigation into Starr's death came to a close. Stanley Faithfull made determined efforts for some time to get the case reopened, but even the newspapers had tired of the story, and the tragic death quickly faded from public view.

However, in his 1996 book "The Passing of Starr Faithfull," crime historian Jonathan Goodman noted a fatal flaw in this "official" solution to the case. Around 10:30 on the night of June 5, a policeman standing guard around the Cunard piers saw Starr--whom he had previously seen when she was dragged off the Franconia--get into a taxi and drive off. This corroborates Roberts' account.

The trouble was, the Ile de France had left the dock precisely at 10 p.m. There was no way in the world Starr could have been on the ship that night. For various logistical reasons that Goodman enumerated in great detail, it is extremely improbable that Starr could have been on any other of the four liners at the pier on June 5.

In other words, we are back to Square One in trying to solve the riddle of her death.

Leaving aside the "accidental drowning" scenario as unlikely, we are left with only two possible solutions: suicide, or murder.

The "suicide" theory has some evidence to back it up. Just a few days before her death, Starr wrote Jameson Carr three letters. One apologized for her behavior aboard the Franconia. In another, Starr said bluntly that she was going to end "my worthless, disorderly bore of an existence...I certainly have made a sordid, futureless mess of it all. I am dead, dead sick of it...life is HORRIBLE...I have, strangely, enough, more of a feeling of peace or whatever you call it now that I know it will soon be over. The half hour before I die will, I imagine, be quite blissful."

George Jameson Carr

In her final letter to Carr, written the day before she disappeared, Starr went into more detail about her planned suicide.

It’s all up with me now. This is something I am GOING to put through. The only thing that bothers me about it—the only thing I dread—is being outwitted and prevented from doing this, which is the only possible thing for me to do. If one wants to get away with murder one has to jolly well keep one’s wits about one. It’s the same way with suicide. If I don’t watch out I will wake up in a psychopathic ward, but I intend to watch out and accomplish my end this time.

No ether, allonal, or window jumping. I don’t want to be maimed. I want oblivion. If there is an after life it would be a dirty trick—but I am sure fifty million priests ARE wrong. That is one of those things one knows. Nothing makes any difference now. I love to eat and can have one delicious meal with no worry over gaining. I adore music and am going to hear some good music. I believe I love music more than anything: I am going to drink slowly, keeping aware every second. Also I am going to enjoy my last cigarettes--I won’t worry because men flirt with me in the streets—I shall encourage them—I don’t care who they are. I’m afraid I’ve always been a rotten “sleeper”; it’s the preliminaries that count with me. It doesn’t matter, though.

It’s a great life when one has 24 hours to live. I can be rude to people--I can tell them they are too fat or that I don’t like their clothes, and I don’t have to dread being a lonely old woman, or poverty, obscurity, or boredom. I don’t have to dread living on without ever seeing you, or hearing rumours such as “the women all fall for him” and “he entertains charmingly.” Why in hell shouldn’t you! But it’s more than I can cope with—this feeling I have for you. I have tried to pose as clever and intellectual, thereby to attract you, but it was not successful, and I couldn’t go on writing those long, studied letters. I don’t have to worry, because there are no words in which to describe this feeling I have for you. The words love, admire, worship have become meaningless. There is nothing I can do but what I am going to do. I shall never see you again. That is extraordinary. Although I can’t comprehend it any more than I can comprehend the words “always”—or “time.” They produce a very merciful numbness.

These letters would seem to lead us to a simple enough conclusion, but nothing was ever simple with Starr. It has been pointed out that Starr often made melodramatic empty threats of suicide. Her discussion with Roberts about her future travels could indicate that, despite her words to Carr, she still intended to live.

If she merely drowned herself, how does one explain the pre-mortem cuts and bruises on her body? Apparently, she only had some small change with her the night she disappeared--Roberts even had to pay her taxi fare. So where did she get the large meal she ate not long before her death, not to mention the strong narcotics she had in her system? And what became of the coat and purse she had with her when she was last seen alive?

What of foul play? Did--as Stanley Faithfull insisted right to the end--Andrew Peters order Starr's murder?

Peters had, naturally, been interviewed by the D.A.'s office. He was described as "very nervous and anxious," which is no surprise no matter what you think of the case. He vigorously denied that his relations with Starr had been "anything but of the highest order." He had never had "immoral relations" with her. He evidently failed to explain why, if such had been the case, the Faithfulls had so efficiently blackmailed him. Detectives, while noting Peters' "occasional lapses from complete honesty," concluded that his relationship with Starr--however sordid it may have been--"in no way indicates that he was knowingly responsible for her premature death."

It is impossible to say whether or not Peters' political connections had anything to do with this exoneration, but it must be said that there is no evidence suggesting his culpability in Starr's demise. In any case, the massive publicity surrounding her drowning was the end of his career and reputation. The common gossip that Peters was guilty of sexual crimes at best and homicidal ones at worst led him to have a nervous breakdown. (Although these revelations do not appear to have affected his friendship with soon-to-be President Franklin Roosevelt.) The deaths of his three sons within a period of only a few years exacerbated his mental anguish. When he died of pneumonia in 1938, it must have seemed a blessed release for him.

As said earlier, there were a number of investigators who remained convinced that Stanley himself was somehow mixed up in his stepdaughter's death, but, as was the case with Peters, no solid proof of his guilt was ever found. He died in obscurity in 1949.

Jonathan Goodman had his own theory about Starr's death. He noted that three different police informants independently told investigators that in May 1931, Boston gangsters had squeezed Andrew Peters out of $30,000 "so that the story of the so-called degenerate acts that happened between Starr Faithfull and this man Peters would not be publicly divulged." Soon afterwards, the blackmailers had their ill-gotten gains stolen by a rival gang from New York, which was led by a Vannie Higgins.

Goodman imagined that after this successful heist, Higgins dreamed greedy dreams of blackmailing Peters himself. Higgins--according to Goodman's scenario--decided to go to the source. He gave orders to have Starr kidnapped in order to get out of her every damaging detail she knew about Peters. Goodman pointed out that the taxi driver who picked up Starr on the night of June 5 was never identified. Perhaps the driver was really one of Higgins' flunkies?

When Starr was brought to Higgins' hiding place, she was given the hearty meal that was later found in her stomach. When she asked for drugs, they gave her Allonal, a more potent version of the Veronal she was used to taking.

What if, Goodman wrote, Starr did indeed tell the gang everything about her relations with Peters--but Higgins was dissatisfied? What if the gangster thought she was deliberately holding back on him? What if he then ordered her to be beaten?

Goodman suggested that the beating was more brutal than intended, leaving her unconscious. Higgins then decided that the only safe thing to do was to dispose of Starr, in such a way that her death looked like an accident. So she was carried to a speedboat and quietly dumped just off the coast of Long Beach.

This bleak scenario is not entirely implausible, and it does answer at least some of the many puzzling features of Starr's death. However, it is too based upon the author's imagination to be any sort of satisfying resolution. A simpler murder scenario seems just as likely: Starr flirted with some unknown man, who--as had happened the year before her death--wound up beating her. To ensure she did not report him to the police, he drowned Starr on the beach.

In any case, I fully agree with Goodman when he wrote, "I may be wrong, of course. I rather hope that I am...[I] would prefer to think that for once in her life, in the last few hours of it, she was content."

[A footnote: The Faithfulls had Starr cremated, but never paid the bill for the procedure, leaving her ashes unclaimed. It is apparently unrecorded what the funeral home finally did with her remains.

Poor Starr. Ill-used and abandoned right to the end.]

Friday, March 11, 2016

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is thrilled to be sponsored by the Hey Diddle Diddle Brigade!

What the hell was the Kniveton Stone?

What the hell are these ancient handprints?

Where the hell is Owen Parfitt?  (Also here.)

Baby Peggy, last of the silent film stars.

A multi-part tale of a very strange seance.

Just another heartwarming Victorian family story.

Bustles for your calves.  Yeah, it's the Victorians again.

The sad tale of New York's first supermodel.

On the dangers of married men visiting brothels.

On the dangers of gambling heavily in the 18th century.

On the dangers of dreaming death.

On the dangers of angering Lucy.

Why Chinese Emperors were better off choosing monogamy.

An 1800-year-old letter from a homesick Roman soldier.

A first-person account of what it was like to be imprisoned in the Bastille.

The first photographs of New York City street scenes.

I'd love to see more of this.  But then, I'm a vegan myself. Your mileage may vary, and probably does.

So I'm guessing Chinese television has just become extinct.

Remember Eliza Fenning?  It seems her execution helped save another young woman's life.

The discovery of a Walt Whitman letter.

The corpse collectors.

How one spider became a celebrity.

How to safely commit perjury.

An interesting 2009 look at Nancy Reagan.

Take your girlie to the movies!

Fearing female jurors.

A 1st century tavern.

A Victorian computer.

A French balloon duel.

A dead man walking.

Lightning bolts as medical cures.

Mark Twain's ghost writes a novel, causes no end of legal complications.

The link between Portuguese Jews, floating coffins, and Edgar Allan Poe.

A guide to Victorian perfume.

Analyzing the iceberg that struck the Titanic.

Beads that link Bronze Age Scandinavia with King Tut's Egypt.

Or maybe Henry VIII was just a narcissistic bastard of weak character who let ultimate power go to his head.

Superhuman monks.

Nobody can make up their damn minds if Pluto is a planet or not.

The first photographs of Moscow.

The man who might have been a fairy.  No, literally.

Charles Dickens really could be a jerk.

So could Dick Turpin, of course.

A wedding dress with a remarkable history.

Why Georgian ladies often slept with mice.

How Georgian ladies and gentlemen washed away all the evils of mankind.

Prehistoric dentistry.

18th century laptops.

Judith Defour really couldn't handle her gin.

Cursed pigs and witchy rabbits.

Sex tips from 1861.

A fascinating "lost city."

How cats revealed a forgery.

This week in Russian Weird:  How about some alien emeralds?

And, finally, a peek at one anonymous life of quiet desperation.  Join the club, girlfriend.  It's just part of the curse of being human.

That wraps it up.  See you Monday, when I'll be looking at the mysterious death of a beautiful young woman.  In the meantime, here's some Ludwig: